Lady Bird and a letter to my 19-year-old-self

I’ve been a massive fan of Greta Gerwig for a while now. The indie darling has never failed to melt my heart, whether with writing or acting; from Greenberg, Frances Ha through Mistress America, 20th Century Women and Maggie’s Plan, her natural aura and intelligence has always added a certain je ne sais quoi to almost everything she picked up. I’ve just liked her from the first film with her I’ve seen. Frances Ha – a story of a woman making it through jobs and flats in a big city – resonates with me, being one of my all-time film favourites. My millennial side is just astounded by the deep cut into a seemingly ordinary life that celebrates its quiet hopefulness and complexity in moody black-and-white with awkward love speeches, arguing with your best friends, going to Paris on a whim, and waiting tables while trying to break into something you really want to be doing. And reading up on her bio, I knew we bore many similarities (for I want to make myself sound more important than I actually am). She made a big jump across the continent to study, didn’t have it all figured out straight out of uni, and decided to pursue her passion while doing other stuff to pay her bills. I knew I could relate. I knew she could see what I see.

Watching Lady Bird is like reading a diary that you’ve written a couple of years ago. It’s never failed to make me smile, weep or shake my head; I simply think that so many women could find themselves in the heroine’s shenanigans. And once again, while I’m writing up the review and will be posting it on Beside, I decided to write something more personal about this film. I’ve seen it twice now, and it never fails to stir up a storm in my heart. As I’ve said so many times before, I try my hardest to avoid conflating art with my personal experience – I simply had problems with others interpreting what I’ve written as personal before and making inconsequential conclusions – but it’s difficult not to when you see a character that duplicates your younger self in so many areas of life. And this is what Psychedelly’s for, anyway.

When I first saw this film, it made me want to revisit my high school years and read a couple of old blog posts I’ve produced through my teenage years. It left me both shaky and giddy. I realised I found that teen hilarious, uber-dramatic, heartbreakingly naive, sometimes annoying, stubborn, torn apart and lost, but sometimes a bit endearing. She’s never had it easy but when your hormones and conditioning are all messed up, it’s easy to fall deep into a life-destroying illness. At sixteen, she developed anorexia and depression that wouldn’t let go of her for a long while, and because she had no outlet for expressing her emotions otherwise, she’d sit down to write. Freshly out of it, she would hide her experience meticulously, too, blaming herself for being the way she was. It drove her into bulimia months after, a common swing for those who didn’t complete their journey to escape an eating disorder.

But besides the record of her calorie-controlling, over-exercising, paranoid-about-food self, her online diary hid little gems, too. Crushes that she experienced ever so poignantly. The memories of her friends, of late-night walks, of the scrapbooks that you passed on to your friends so that they could write a poem and draw something for you in memoriam (I don’t know, don’t ask me, it was a thing for Polish kids of the noughties). Driving lessons and passing the exam that you always summed up with a one-word Facebook status that told everyone it’s a “positive” score this time. And school issues. Lots of school issues, actually. Nothing beyond your average teenager. She was always better at writing than she was at speaking, and I think that trend lives on beyond her adolescence. And I do hope that my thirty-year-old incarnation finds my current self funny as hell, too. Otherwise, this life wouldn’t be bearable, would it?

But how does this tie into the film? As the story approaches its end, Lady Bird moves to New York. Her mum isn’t pleased with this decision to say the least; she refuses to speak to her daughter or even say goodbye to her properly. She does write a handful of letters, though. Christine’s father salvages these from the bin and puts them in her suitcase. She finds them as she settles into her new life, and they give her a different perspective on the relationship with her mother.

I’ve seen a wonderful, moving post on Little White Lies that’s a collection of letters to mums of some of the most interesting, inspiring female film writers out there. I decided I couldn’t borrow their fantastic idea. It makes little sense for me to type up a letter to my mother, who doesn’t speak a word of English, in the language she doesn’t understand. In Polish, it’d have a different tone and emotional load, too. It does, however, make sense to list the things that I’d remind my younger self about that came up in the film. Sometimes, I wish I could tell her to pay attention to certain things, and I really wish she found a letter with some insight in her broken, huge, blue suitcase she dragged up the escalator in Victoria station when she first arrived in London. Her older self might need some of these, too.


Dear 19-year-old Kasia,

You’re at the crossroads. It’s time to say goodbye to what you’ve known for almost two decades and head for the unknown. Sometimes, when I’m sat down typing late at night, I wish you knew what I know, and this is why I’m writing. You might scoff at me because I’m only four years older than you are, but drop unpacking for a moment (why the hell have you taken so many things with you?! You surely should’ve predicted there ARE shops out there in London… I’m sorry, I won’t be snarky, though you might want to take it as a proof that I’ve still got some things to work on). Make yourself a cuppa. I promise to be brief, hopefully not as annoying as you expect me to be, and I’ll tell you a bit about your future. I wish you could do better out there than I did in another timeline, though I want to regret little, and that’s mostly because I’m not as strong as Edith Piaf, and far from perfection. We aren’t more than a sum of our experiences and if I never had a chance to live through them, I’d never have discovered so much. After all, we learn best from our own mistakes and successes.

You’ve decided to make a big mad move against almost everyone who seemed to think rationally. You’re about to start your life in London, where you don’t know absolutely anybody, and your only guidance is the document confirming your university entry. A dream coming true thrills you, and you can’t wait to see what it’s like to be a part of the bustling metropolis with so much to offer. It’s so different to what you saw all your life in the disadvantaged industrial area of central Poland, but it’ll surprise you how some things stay the same no matter where you go.

Go where culture is. You’re convinced you’re shooting for the moon this time. That excites you: the best cultural events at your fingertips, the artsy people that you hope you’ll meet, those who will be your mates and understand you, and the degree focused on what you love. All that creative writing you’ll do, eh? Make use of this wonderful opportunity. You’ve always dreamed of journalism, and you’ve wanted to write a novel since you were a kid, so put the hours in and work for it. You’ll discover that the new environment will give you the courage to explore potential creative endeavours, so pick up on them and don’t get discouraged. If you need to do something else for a living for a while, don’t dip into melancholy, but figure out how you can learn from it. Sometimes it’s good to do what you’re supposed to do when you’re supposed to do it (that’s Frances Ha, by the way). It’ll take some tinkering with, but remember to stick to your soul search. Tell the stories within you, amplify the voices of the marginalised, remember where you came from and let it fuel you. If not you, then who?

Whoever you perceive the coolest, be of their music taste that helped you build a fantasy in your head, or because of their endless stories of glory, probably have their own issues too. Don’t let yourself be influenced by anyone’s snobbery (or so you believe… cool kids need a cover-up too, we all do) or their moods or impressions which probably are impacted by their own lives. Be warned: it’ll freak you out when you hear them mauling a person you’ve never met in the second ever conversation with them, but don’t panic and get self-conscious just yet. That’ll most certainly make you close off. But, despite all, try to understand where they’re coming from. Never forget that there’s a story behind every human being, so don’t confine yourself to your own head and its products. Look for compromise and not isolation. And remember that there’s plenty of people out there who won’t make it their utmost goal to make you feel awful. Not everyone in this world is out to get you, and you’ve always got a choice to change things. You’ve just about managed to say goodbye to anorexia, so please make sure you stay on course of your recovery journey. Don’t try any new food restricting tricks, because you’re still so fragile and it’s far too easy for you to cross the line. Don’t wait until it’s too late. Seek support.

We both know you slip into rage easily, particularly when you think something’s unjust and there seems to be an obvious way of solving the problem. That’s what being an adolescent is like, plain and simple. But not everything is black and white, as you’re only starting to learn. You tend to bottle things up, too, which doesn’t do you any good – you’re basically setting off a time bomb. Instead, talk things through. Don’t explode on them, try your best to be patient, and try to see things from their perspective. Please don’t get annoyed now, but you’re also awfully self-righteous. You really need to work on it because as much as people have always admired your ability to think outside of the box, your attitude could get you into trouble. See the nuance, the gradation in the world in front of you. And when somebody brings too many problems to you that you, as a teen, can’t solve, don’t feel like you must fix them. Sometimes, grown-up people need to fix them on their own. Just listen. That’s the best you can do.

Don’t be salty. It’s the worst way to go about things, you know. Go out there instead, develop your taste and enjoy what you wanna enjoy. And oh, don’t give up your hobbies because of someone else! Lady Bird decided to drop out of the school theatre to hang out with a new pack – but was that a right thing to do? Dare to think for yourself (by the way, you’ll get that tattooed on your wrist in Latin as you always wanted to!) and never doubt the pool of your knowledge and personal experience. If you love films, don’t take a long break in watching them. Listen to music and don’t try to be the coolest kid on the block when it comes to your taste. Read whatever the heck makes you happy. You like what you like and that makes you who you are. Besides, your taste and worldview will evolve if you expose yourself to things, which is inevitable in the city you’ll fall in love with, so get on with it as soon as possible. And do it with people who have your back no matter what happens. If they’re far, call them up – because even if you haven’t spoken for months, you’re gonna end up chatting for four hours straight when you finally do.

And let’s think of a Frances Ha moment again, the scene in which the heroine stops by in Sacramento, the place where her family is, and tie the films together so that you can learn something else. The time you return from London to your hometown in central Poland for a couple of days, your mum will tell you, “I knew it from the moment I saw you at the gate that you’ll never come back home to stay. You’ve grown so much and there’s much more for you there, in England.” But don’t let this make you forget who you are and where you came from. Call your mum regularly! She roots for you. She always did. She’ll offer advice and keep you grounded sometimes. And we’re all humans, so whatever’s unsolved and heavy, try to understand the reasoning behind it.

Boys are boys and there’s plenty of them anytime, anywhere. It might seem like your crushes are the biggest “love” stories to date, but hun, you’re only nineteen and you’ve got plenty of time, so squeeze of it as much as you can. Nobody informed you (maybe because it’s staggeringly obvious, or because you wouldn’t listen to it in your unfazed idealism and romanticism), but literature and films aren’t always correct models for real-life social skills. Sometimes, the reality makes people come and go; there’s no reason for you to tear yourself apart or change yourself to suit whatever you think they’d like. Oscar Wilde said it better than me: be yourself because everyone else is already taken. I need you to keep that in mind at all times. You are enough. Never let anyone tell you that your experience is invalid. Just give yourself a little time to feel what you feel, and you’ll heal in no time. If they do cross your mind in five years time, you’ll think of them with a cheeky smirk or an outburst of sentimental laughter, and you’ll wish them all the best without a tinge of pain in your heart – I promise you that. Neither should you settle for anything that makes you feel violated or controlled. Also, you bloody need some courage, girl.

Finally, I need you to understand that nobody on this planet has any business in being the yin to your yang. Strive to be complete on your own. Do what you love, invest in your own happiness. That’ll attract good things and people into your life. I just want you to be the very best version of yourself that you can be. And I know you’re trying hard and maybe this is the best version, but I want you to know that there’s always space for improvement. Do it step by step if need be.

Take care of yourself,

23-year-old Kasia

PS. Watch that Lady Bird film when it comes out. It’ll be worth it.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *