I have been struggling with the concept of self care for the last two years. I have witnessed it co-opted from a radical act (Audre Lorde) to a staple of peak white feminism. Self care typically relies on an availability of resources – time, mental health capacity, physical ability, money, etc. As a student of the Masters of Social Work program at the University of South Carolina, reflecting on self care is a requirement of the program, so there was no escaping it for me. It quickly became apparent that while self care practice looks different to everyone, it is, for me, more than happy hours with friends and spa days. It encompasses the mundane (paying bills on time, going to the dentist) as well as heavy lifting (identifying and working through past trauma, recognizing and addressing privilege). One such area of self care that was recently in desperate need of my attention was cleaning out my desk, whose cluttered appearance mirrored my own life.
Ten years ago, I began a similar purge of the same desk in my childhood home of Oley, Pennsylvania, when my mother walked in on me shredding love letters from a particularly emotionally traumatic relationship that lasted on and off from the ages of 17 to 22. She advised me to hold on to the love letters I had left and revealed that she regretted destroying hers (despite being happily married for 25 years to my father). I decided to heed her advice and left the remaining letters (mostly from a different author) in the desk and forgot about them.
Fast forward to three weeks ago and I’m cleaning out the desk again. Old concert tickets, photos, and diaries are already flooding me with atypical feelings of nostalgia, when I uncover the long forgotten bag of letters. Written in circles on paper plates, on hotel stationary, as a puzzle, on charred paper- I was blown away by the effort and care with which they were compiled. I reflected back on my mother’s advice and realized that she was married at 20. For me, at 32 and single, is it emotionally healthy to hold onto these relics of the past? I kept digging through the letters and quickly remembered why these letters were still so painful. They were from my first high school “boyfriend” when I was 16. We broke up when he went to college, but we got back in touch a couple years later and became best friends. These letters professing his undying love for me were why I eventually, after years of close friendship, had to stop speaking to him. It broke my heart. More digging leads to finding a couple letters that I had failed to destroy before my mom’s intervention; those from my problematic “first love.” At this point I question, “What benefit is there to holding onto such painful memories?” At the same time, I vainly could not reconcile throwing away such touching, eloquent words that were inspired by me.
The following day, at a working Hoechella board meeting, I reveal my dilemma to Page and Brittany (two fellow board members). Page suggested that instead of destroying or holding on to the letters that they be released into the world via public spaces, such as in library books or taped to a bathroom stall (with identifying information removed). To know they are still out there in the world for someone else to read would provide a sense of closure while letting them go. Hence, the idea of #GuerillaLovefare was born.
Do you have old letters it’s time to part with? Do you have a love letter you have written or want to write but cannot send? Bring them to Y’allentine’s Day on Tuesday, February 13 at Nightcaps from 7 PM- 11 PM and read it out loud to eulogize it (completely optional). Then, leave it with a Hoechella organizer who will ensure that this letter lives a second life. If you cannot make the event, feel free to message us on Facebook and we’ll organize a way to get that letter, or submit it to our Sarahah at https://hoechella.sarahah.com/.
Valentine’s Day can be a loaded holiday for a lot of folks. Let’s show ourselves and others love and kindness as we aim to make this a time of healing.