by Jo Keroes
Yes, text and e-mail messages are the stuff of our lives; by the minute we send furious signals demanding instant gratification. Sometimes, though, only a real letter will do. The epistolary form has a long tradition, after all. But there are letters and there are letters, if you know what I mean. Consider two recent publications – mini books, really, both cast as letters.
For What I Know Now About Success  Ellyn Spragins has asked a bunch of “extraordinary” women to compose letters to their younger selves. Thus, people like Bobbi Brown, Susanne Somers(?), Liz Lange, Barbara Walters, Paula Deen and Barbara Corcoran, among others, imagine themselves young again and offer themselves “recipes for success.” Despite the variety of professions and accomplishments these women represent, what they tell their younger selves is mostly predictable. Yes, it’s useful to learn that Barbara Cochran, real estate titan, did really poorly in school or that gregarious Paula Deen was once agoraphobic, or that Soledad O’Brien is one of six kids, all of whom went to Harvard and was programmed to be a doctor. But you don’t really need them to tell you to trust yourself, to be daring and follow your dream, to build on your mistakes, turn left or right when you hit a cement wall or embrace your competitive spirit. No matter how inspiring or impressive these women may be, in the way they’re represented here, at least, they don’t have much original to say.
Not to worry, for in Lift , Kelly Corrigan, whose wonderful first book The Middle Place was reviewed on MommyTracked and everywhere else, has written a letter to her young daughters that’s the real thing. Corrigan has the writerly gift of precision, the ability to select just the right detail to make an idea resonate and come alive. Her daughter’s cry sounds like “a sewing machine going at full speed”; when two year old Claire stepped naked into the ocean for the first time she “greeted the sea like an audience.” Corrigan weaves the daily mistakes of parenthood – checking her blackberry as her daughter tells her a story, plopping the kids in front of a movie because she loves them but doesn’t want to be with them anymore, coming unhinged by a pile of dirty towels– into the narrative of how much she wanted these children, her terror at her baby’s bout with meningitis, her tendency to burst into both tears and exuberant song. Her voice is strong and funny and true – “Titanic is a crap movie that got too much credit”; “I used to be ‘pretty chill’ before I had kids, but all that ‘it’s cool’ came out with the placenta,” and now “my default answer is no.” To everything.
I suspect we’ve all harbored the wish to stop time, at least long enough to write our own kids a letter capturing even a brief moment in our lives with them. But most of us don’t. We’re too busy or we think we can’t put our thoughts and feelings into the words they deserve. As she watches her daughters walk out on the first day of school, Kelly Corrigan shows us how it’s done.
Here is a letter to all you moms from Kelly Corrigan: