In Carmen Maria Machado’s memoir In the Dream House, she addresses the younger version of herself, the person who is in the abusive relationship as “you.” In the chapter “Dream House as an Exercise in Point of View,” Machado writes, “You were not always just a You. I was whole—a symbiotic relationship between my best and worst parts—and then, in one sense of the definition, I was cleaved: a neat lop that took first person—that assured, confident woman, the girl detective, the adventurer—away from second, who was always anxious and vibrating like a too-small breed of dog.”
Often the second person point of view is used by the narrator to address a younger, former version of themselves as this author does. In other chapters, Machado speaks of her intellectual self—the one writing, the one researching abusive lesbian relationships through legal cases, literature, movies, TV shows —as “I.” It’s a fascinating and experimental treatment of memoir in which the “I” and the “you” exist in the same work each with a clear role to play.
In the Dream House inspired this month’s writing exercise. Yes, the assignment is to write in the second person, but with an additional element. Add in some lovingkindness.
Writing in the second person is a very mindful act, if you step back and create space between the present you and the experience you are recounting. In becoming the observer and not getting pulled under by the raw emotions of the memory, you can gain perspective and see your former self in light of all you have learned, with compassion and understanding. So, remember to treat yourself with kindness, even humor, as you write this month’s exercise.
If you are unfamiliar with lovingkindness meditation, here is one from Palouse Mindfulness that is under 15 minutes. I recommend listening to the meditation before you do the exercise to put yourself in a lovingkindness mindset.
For this exercise, think of an event, situation, or time in your past that stands out to you. Perhaps, you got an asymmetrical haircut, or met someone you admired, or started a new job, or left your hometown. Address that former version of yourself with lovingkindness, with wisdom, and with humor. What would you say to them?
Let me know how this exercise worked for you.
It occurred to me in writing this that one of my favorite poems is in second person. I always thought of Mary Oliver addressing me personally, but perhaps she is speaking to herself.
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
The world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.