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The hardest writing of all – a letter to my 21-year-old self.

By May 7, 2020October 22nd, 2021No Comments

Madeleine Grummet Postcards From Tomorrow .JPG


When I was very young, and actually, as far back as I can now remember, I have wanted to write. Be a writer. Try and capture the mad hurtle of life and love and loss in words.

In fact, of the 16 houses I have called home across the years, I have always had a notebook and pen tucked away somewhere in my bedside drawer or stowed under my bed, secretly waiting for me to snatch it out in my bolts of compulsive scrawling – whether poetry, or prose – or written snippets of the tumult and spaghetti of my everyday.

That’s not to say that what’s been littered amongst all those pages over the years should see the light of day – or is fit for human literary consumption. Much of it is probably, actually, completely crap.

But I did wind up in journalism at the age of 22, so clearly there was some spark in the course of my chaotic scrivening. And in that relentless practice of the act and art and refining of writing itself, there is no greater thrill than seeing one’s work and name – finally – in print, with a crafted set of words that create a picture of a story that did not exist before.

For me, this is true not just for a piece of news retold, but for those deeply personal, storied pieces of writing that can transport, transpire, take one’s breath away – or land us in a moment in time.

I wrote in a post a few weeks ago about a piece of writing I was asked to contribute in the form of a short letter to my 21-year-old self.

The letter would be added to a book just published, and today in my hands, by award-winning author Kim Chandler McDonald, and form part of a compilation of never before told stories and truths revealed in letters from 270 women including The Hon. Julie Bishop, Jane Caro, Margie WarrellLord Mayor of Melbourne Sally CappMarina Go, Kathy Lette, Rebecca Poulson and many more – including Oprah (yes, as in, THE OPRAH).

It was not an easy scrawl, sitting down to write the letter to my 21-year-old self as a now 48-year-old. But the process of writing in the end was worth it in itself – a chance to reexamine my life and make sense of myself, then and now. Part catharsis, part paralysis and part synthesis – by winding my way back to the young woman I was, I freshly discovered how far I’ve come, and yet how similar I still am to that younger self I met in my memory.

You can read my letter below.

My letter now sits amongst the 420 pages of Postcards From Tomorrow, an extraordinary collection of heartbreak, hilarity, insight and inspiration from an incredible array of women of influence and integrity writing to their younger selves.

Letter authors include Australian and international luminaries from the worlds of comedy, theatre, TV and dance, solo adventurers and Olympic champions, broadcasting and journalism, activism, philanthropy, politics, business, innovation and adventure – and I’m completely honoured to keep their company.

During a time when the world needs more good stories and wisdom traded, I hope you have a chance to read this book and learn from the many completely amazing women within it – who have examined their lives and themselves, and brought their reflections, regrets, revelations and foolish youthfulness to the surface to be shared. Meet the Postcards From Tomorrow Letter Writers here.

A reminder that all proceeds from the sales of Postcards From Tomorrow will go to Lou’s Place, to support women in crisis and experiencing domestic violence. PURCHASE POSTCARDS FROM TOMORROW.

Letter to my 21-year-old self – MADELEINE GRUMMET

Look at you! Way back when.

Just sitting there. Unaware.

Little-big old 21-year-old you.

Emerging. Unfolding. Undone.

Half-full. Ripe and readying for what’s to come.

Smoking!! Jesus! There’s so much I need to tell you!

I’ll sit with you on Smith Street til late by a fire with Beat poetry and wine and Velvet Underground and stolen words, and tell you that the great and seismic unfurling that awaits you in your 20s and 30s will make you who you are in your 40s – a leader, gender advocate, educator, writer, founder, friend, sister, daughter, wife (and somehow the lucky Mum to four fierce and fabulous girls).

I’ll tell the 21-year-old you who senselessly writes to make sense of the world (and has just begun to collect old books) to never stop reading and writing and fighting for people and politics and injustice and imperfection, because you don’t yet know you hold in your heart a dangerous weapon of strength and sensitivity and power, and in your mind a lust for knowledge that will define who you are, where you spend your days and how you go on to take your seat in the world.

At 21 I’ll see in you your rising power, and tell you to let it come up, to go with it – to trust your gut. Harness those surges. Don’t back down. If your hairs stand up, there’s danger. If it doesn’t feel right, it’s not. Stretch to the edges. Act with bold. Stand in your skin. Catch your courage – and use it as armour when crap gets hard. Oh, and keep your bullshit detector well oiled – it will go on to serve you well across the years.

At 21 I’ll see you in your beautiful restlessness, and say ‘It’s all okay’. That your questions and desires and curiosity will deftly lead you where you need to go next.

You just watch. The road will make total sense once travelled.

Because what you don’t yet know, and I do, is that at 21 you’re feeling the first sharp stings of feminism as the deep cracks in the world around you are exposed, and soon those sparks will rise and catch fire and make you say the unsaid, slam sexism, speak your truth to power, smash the status quo and seek out the people at the periphery in order to bring them into the light.

Their stories will matter to you most. And their stories will go on to define your days as you move from journalist to feminist to activist to humanist (and betwixt those states for the next two decades).

At the edges, your work will be varied and challenging and full of sliding doors. You’ll work out that the most famous are truly flawed, that tall city buildings are no place for you, that big egos can pop like balloons, power is taken not given, and that you will often need to go to war with yourself and the world in order to get to who you really are.

You’ll work long and travel far and study hard and start stuff and win awards and learn and unlearn – and still you’ll want more. That’s a good thing. Stay hungry. It’s your fuel.

You will live in many places. Meet amazing people. Have lovers enough. And then you will find one at 23 you’re still with 24 years on. (He’s truly ace.)

But I’m sorry to say there will be dark days, too. Days of deep unquiet.

So to you, wide-eyed and world-hungry at 21, I would say brace yourself and dig deep, because ugly big stuff is coming at you and those very near to you, very soon. Cancer and heartache and death and hopelessness and grief and pain and the heart-ripping howls of madness.

You will witness it and weather its storms and come through it wiser … but of course you have no idea what you are capable of, yet.

No idea that actually, when pushed, you can carry enormous loads, that the unimaginable sadness of disease and mental illness you watch ravage the minds and bodies of the people you love, won’t break you.

That still you will stand. Half full.

Because you’ll realise soon enough that searching for meaning is time ill-spent. You’ll look everywhere, and find there is none. No rhyme or reason or balancing out. No justice dispensed in the end. Everything just is, same as it ever was. Shit happens. Ergo. Ad infinitum.

And so you’ll gradually understand that in fact life is not about fairness but about fullness and tiny moments and endurance and acceptance and old friends and making of change an opportunity.

You’ll learn that confidence is a choice. Honesty is everything. And – I promise – you will astonish yourself with the courage you find when you push through the white noise of your fear.

You will absolutely want everything but over time realise you can’t have it all. And that’s ok. You will have it bit by bit. And that’s plenty.

You’ll keep living out loud, using long sentences and taking languid baths (it’s where you’ll do your best thinking).

And you’ll see, eventually, that the inalienable truths of rich, lived experience matter so much more than empty rhetoric and flashy new cars and shiny faces and fake tits.

Mostly, much later, you will learn that while everything will change, so much of you will stay the same.

That despite the secrets and sighs and stars and shit and seasons of life all around, you will still count yourself lucky. Absolutely half full, unfolding, in the chaos of it all.

This is who you are. This is you, emerging.

Bursting with latent talents. Unfurling. Undone.

Yes. I see you.”

To support Lou’s Place and women in Australia experiencing domestic violence please visit their site here#stopdomesticviolence