Letter to my British best friend’s daughter

My Lovely One,

You write, “It’s not that there is anything wrong with anything, I’m just going through this weird thing. It’s hard to explain. I’ve always been really into reading, but over the past year I’ve begun to get really really obsessive over books and stories and anything that doesn’t exist, and I’ve started reading everywhere: in class, when I’m supposedly hanging out with my friends, all night, EVERYWHERE!! And it’s started to really hit me just how insanely boring life is, because I’m probably never going to converse with dragons, or make life-threatening deals with demons, or find out I’m secretly a shadowhunter, or be turned into any species of downworlder, or fight a bald noseless evil guy, or anything mildly exciting. I’m just gonna finish attending a boring school, go to college, become a form of artist, yada yada yada, without even riding a broomstick or running from a single vampire. So yes, I guess I’m just bored.”

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I so wanted to embrace you when I read these words, because you don’t yet understand that adulthood is all about conversing with dragons, making life-threatening deals with demons, running from vampires, and finding out that you’re really a shadowhunter.

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Dragons and vampires and demons come in all forms – in the shape of lawyers and mothers-in-law and ex-husbands and bus-drivers and reflexologists. You just have to look a little harder to discern, beneath the face-lifts and layers of small talk, the fangs, red eyes and forked tongues.

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Boredom isn’t an option when you’re dealing with demons and vampires and dragons in adulthood, and the only possible solution is to be a shadowhunter.

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The evil you fight may not be bald and noseless, but you will fight it nonetheless, and there will be tears and pain and all those unfun things that come with fights with evil, and you will feel everything that Harry and Ron and Hermione felt and so very much more (including the realisation that the best possible author for this life would be Enid Blyton and not Cassandra Clare, because Blyton is all about strawberries and lemonade on sunny afternoons and Clare trades in disintegration and suffering and exclusivity, which grows old real fast in adulthood).

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I’ve been watching House of Cards, a beautifully written and acted series about evil in the guise of vanity, pride and ambition. The show reminds me of Roy Cohn’s quote from Angels in America, my very favourite play: “This is gastric juices churning, this in enzymes and acids, this is intestinal is what this is, bowel movement and blood-red meat, this stinks, this is politics, Joe, the game of being alive.” You may watch House of Cards and think it’s boring, but it’s not at all – it’s about dragons and vampires and demons in a different dimension, if one in which justice reigns.

“Justice?” you ask. “You call this justice – this boring world of school and work and politics?”

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I do. Death is just in that it comes for all of us, whereas in the universes created by Clare et al, death is punitive in essence, or the hallmark of the weak. But death isn’t ever punitive, not really. I suppose it sometimes seems punitive just for want of variety – how tedious it would be if we all died in bed – but it’s just death: nothing more, nothing less. The one really great thing about this life is that all the evil you will confront will one day die, and then you can dance on its grave and write its epitaph in glorious detail, which will, of course, be a great deal of fun.

Or paint it, as you undoubtedly will. Think of Hieronymus Bosch or Francisco Goya. Start from there. Or maybe you’ll start painting them before they die. Why not?

Remember one thing: truth will always out. Always. And part of that truth is this: life is a fantastic adventure, all of it, even when it doesn’t seem to be any kind of adventure at all. Like Edmond Dantès, you may merely be in the Château d’If chapter of your life, seemingly without hope. That kind of bleakness feeds not only art, but wisdom, as does evil in the end.

Above and below, photographs of Bethesda, who is, as you know, only nine. She is years away from confronting her Château d’If chapter, but it will come. In the interim, she finds dragons and demons and faeries everywhere. Like you, she reads all the time – everything from J K Rowling to Charles Dickens and political pamphlets (this election, she forced me to vote Green). She thinks of me as her moon and stars, but it is she who has brought magic to my life and not the other way around; she just doesn’t get that yet. And you have done the same for your father, whom you saved from the Château d’If chapter of his life, although you may not know that.

So, you see, you’re already a hero; you just have to change the way you perceive your life. And if you still can’t see the dragons and vampires and demons, call Camila Batmanghelidjh’s crew and ask if you can volunteer there teaching or helping with art. You’ll hear about all manner of dragons and vampires and demons there, I promise, and you’ll have a lot of fun, besides.

If there is one thing I know, it is this: your life is going to be so rich and textured that one day, you will – however briefly – wish you’d settled for the colour-by-numbers prism of school and work and politics. But then a broomstick will land beside you, and you’ll be off.

My love to you,
Antonella

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