Writing Love, One Letter at a Time.

By Tristan PrettymanJanuary 17, 2014

Tristan Prettyman is a talented songwriter and performer, a friend of TWLOHA, and one of the artists playing this year’s HEAVY AND LIGHT. We’re grateful she’s shared the thoughts below with us, and we’d love for you to join her and us this Sunday, at the House of Blues in Orlando, FL. Tickets are still available here and at the box office.


At some point in my teens, I remember writing a suicide note. Or it may have been that I was planning to run away. In my mind, it felt like a suicide note.

It started with something like a “thank you” to my family and friends, but also that “I can no longer stay in this place. Something needs to change, I need to be heard. The walls are too high, the space is too small, I can’t breathe, I want to scream. I need a change of pace, some different scenery, I need a miracle, and I need it now.” By the time I was finished writing the note, I was terrified. Terrified that I had let it out, all this crazy stuff that had been living inside me. But in this odd way, I felt so much better.

I’m pretty sure this is where my love/hate, obsession/addiction with writing started. It was like this light bulb went off. I wasn’t expecting to feel so free, so OK. Writing became my safe haven. Wherever I was, whatever I was going through, I could always spill it to a blank page.

I’ve kept a journal from a very young age. Always documenting this and that, with whom and where. But it wasn’t until I felt that unbearable, make-you-want-to-scream, out of control, crazy feeling, that I realized what a blessing it truly was.

Speaking of blessings, it would appear, judging from my blogs, Instagram, and Twitter, that my life is just one big awesome blessing. It is. I have been very lucky. But it has a lot to do with the lens that I choose to/try to remember to see life through. Seeing the positive in the negative. The light in the dark. That the shitty times are necessary in order to really know and appreciate the good. Trusting in the unknown. Trusting that when things don’t go our way, when we get bad news, when we’re broken up with, when we don’t feel welcome in a group, it’s all life preparing us for what’s to come. I always try and highlight the positive.

I’m sure there are some people reading this going, “Yea, but you’ve never been raped. You’ve never self-harmed. You’ve never lost a parent.” I haven’t—but I have sat with people who have. And I know it’s not always that easy to just “look at the brighter side of things” and trust “everything happens for a reason.” I know that when you are going through something heavy, that advice is the last thing you want to hear. And so it’s equally important to sit with the energy these events can stir up. It’s OK to take as long as you need to recover, to be OK again. There is no amount of time in which you need to do so. It’s OK to feel sad, to feel depressed, to feel ashamed, or naive. It’s OK to want to sleep for days. It’s OK to want to just tell everything and everyone to just fuck off for a minute, while you freak out for a little bit. Life happens, your reaction to it is valid, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. You are always allowed to feel how you feel.

At the same time, it’s all about perspective. You can make a situation mean whatever you want it to mean. You can let it rule you and make you miserable, or, you can make peace with it, find forgiveness, and be done with it.


A little bit about me: I grew up with a brother seven years older, from a different father, and two parents who worked full-time jobs. I was dropped off at my grandma’s house a lot. I was never allowed to have sleepovers, rarely allowed to have friends over. I was allowed to be in Girl Scouts, which was pretty cool. I grew up playing soccer, had a quick stint in ice skating, and in junior high, I learned how to surf. As a kid, I got in trouble for the stupidest shit: Leaving handprints on walls, spilling food on the carpet, being too rough with the kitchen cabinets. I feel like, growing up in our house, I was always doing something wrong, and as a result of that, I can now be a super perfectionist. I also got in trouble, even when it wasn’t my fault—like when someone poured red curb paint in a circle on our driveway, and my dad handed me a bucket and some sort of cleaning solution and said, “Better get to it.” It took me five days to scrub it off with one of those handheld bristle brushes. To this day, I never found out who did it.

I guess that’s what you get for being an unpopular kid. I’ve never been popular. Even now, I still don’t consider myself popular.

When I was 5 years old, I became best friends with the girl who moved in next door. She was instantly popular. One day in elementary school, I remember asking if I could sit next to her at lunch. She kind of just shrugged as the table filled up around her with the cool kids. I was an outcast. I had freckles, and my mom liked to put rollers in my hair on the first day of school. I was long-limbed, pale, and awkward. When I started playing soccer in the 5th grade, there were some older girls on the team who always picked on me. One day, when I was dropped off early for practice, they started teasing me, pushing me around. I continued down toward the field, as they gave me the first and only wedgie I have ever received by another human. (Years later, those same girls tried to connect with me on Facebook and come to one of my shows. To that I say, “Suck it, b*tches.”)

High school was a little better. I was growing into my long-limbed, weird, little body. Plus, high school was where a couple different junior high schools merged, so I was excited to start a new chapter with different peers. I joined the surf team, and surfing became my identity. In my freshman year, the surf brand Roxy came to our school to interview our girls’ surf team for possible candidates to be a Roxy girl. One other girl and I were picked, and that was like someone finally cut me a break. I was kind of cool, and boys begin to look at me like I was pretty. But then I was made fun of by some of the other girls for being excited about being a Roxy girl, told I was “changing,” told I was becoming really “conceited.” I couldn’t win either way. I learned early on: You can’t make everyone happy. I wasn’t a Roxy model for very long, but I did get approached by a local, little modeling agency—so I became a model anyway. How’s that for some self-confidence?

I’d say it was probably around this time, age 15 or 16, when I wrote that note I was talking about earlier. This was when I started managing my feelings, my thoughts, and hormones on paper. What a release, and a relief. It was then that I began writing love letters to myself.

Modeling didn’t really go anywhere. After a couple castings in LA, I realized I didn’t really have what it took to be pretty and put together all the time. I started teaching myself how to play guitar. I would sit on the front porch and annoy my best friend—the one I met when I was 5 years old. I would pluck strings and try to make sense of the fret board. We would listen to Ani Difranco cassettes over and over. We would say, “She understands us,” and, “Where has she been our whole life?” I would write, and write, and write. I would stay up late, until 4 am, writing journal entries and poems. Eventually, when I could play chords, I would put my writing with the music. I became a songwriter, and I didn’t even realize it.

In high school, I also worked at this awesome little pizza restaurant. My mom used to take me there as a kid, and she knew the owners. Hard to believe now, but back then my parents were strict, paranoid, and protective. The pizza place seemed like a safe place for their 15-year-old daughter to work. I ended up working there until I was 20. It was probably one of the best things to ever happen to me. I loved being around people, being of service—even if it was making someone an Italian sub. I liked knowing I was efficient and valuable to the “pizza team.” I liked being on a first-name basis with the regulars. I liked the feeling of community.

At the pizza shop, I had an amazing boss. He taught me more about life than maybe anyone I’ve ever known. He was a bass player in a little jazz trio, so when I told him how I played guitar and wrote songs, he would give me 4-track recorders and distortion pedals to play with. He became one of my best friends, a mentor. He went through all my high school bullshit with me, from boys to rebelling against my parents. Some days, I would come into work so pissed off about who knows what, and he would take me out back, where there was this huge stucco wall. He’d hand me a Snapple bottled and be like, “Chuck it at the wall.” And then he would hand me another and say, “Again.” I would throw as many as I needed until I felt better. I will never forget that. I definitely have days when I really miss that stucco wall.

I eventually quit modeling altogether. I realized I had better things to do with my time. The modeling wasn’t very fulfilling. (Eh, actually, what really happened was, after high school, one of my best friends and I went backpacking around Europe. When we got to Italy, we pretty much ate all of Italy. When I got home, I got put on time out because I had gained 10 pounds. I didn’t even care; heck, I didn’t even notice. And that’s when I knew me and modeling were done-zo.)

I started to pursue music, and through some mutual friends, I met a guy who had a little studio out back behind his house. There we recorded my first 4-song demo (You can listen to it for free on my Soundcloud.) I sold the little demo at the pizza place, and life was good. A couple years later, I ended up recording a 7-song EP, and then got an offer to go on tour with G. Love & Special Sauce, where I met my manager, who was with me for the past nine years. Within months, I was signed to Virgin Records, had a booking agent, and was on the road.

Music was a career I never planned, dreamt of, or hoped for. Music found me. Nothing in my life had ever felt so right.


Fast forward to now …

The past couple years have not been easy, but they have been so rich in life, in experience, I would not take them back for the world. Things could be better, things could be worse—such is life.

I often think back to my childhood; being made fun of so much as a kid really toughened me up and prepared me for the future. I’m pretty much in a business based on popularity, largely based on interacting with people through social media. People can tear you down as much as they can build you up. I’ve been scrutinized for the people I’ve dated, I’ve pissed off managers and booking agents because of it. I’ve been embraced and praised by fans, and I’ve been told I suck. But one thing I am proud of is that in all of those moments, I always only root for love. Even if it meant pissing someone off, even if it meant someone thinking I was only dating someone just to get to the next level. Sure, I’ve made some terrible decisions, but that’s love for you. And, I’ve always believed in love. It’s burned me, it’s proposed to me, it’s broken up with me, it’s left me in the middle of my house bawling my eyes out. It’s caused ex-girlfriends and ex-boyfriends to freak the fuck out. It’s ruined friendships, it’s brought friendships closer together. It’s healed me, it’s inspired me to write some amazing songs. It’s always lifted me up, it keeps me going. It’s my light at the end of the tunnel. And it’s something you can NEVER give up on.

And, if there is anything I have learned in this life, it’s that you gotta do you. Regardless of what that means: fighting for something, ending something, moving to a new town, telling the truth, being honest with your partner, your best friend, with your parents, with YOURSELF. Sometimes it seems like it might be easier and quieter to dig yourself into a hole. But it’s not. There is so much beauty out there, so many people out there to meet, so much more to live for, SO MUCH MORE than letting your fears and challenges win.

I recently parted with my manager, the one who has been with me for the past 9 years. It wasn’t easy. But in my heart, I knew it was the right choice. I didn’t know why, but I just knew. It was time for a change. I’ve met with many managers since then, and they have all given me great advice. But none seem eager to take me on. The last manager I met with, I was for sure he was my guy, but he came to the show, and he didn’t love it … How’s that for a reality check?

It’s hard when life slaps you with some truth. It’s easy to feel like maybe I should give up, maybe I’m not good enough, maybe I’m getting too old to stay in the game. But that would be throwing away everything I have ever worked so hard for. And, let me tell you, I have worked my ass off. I haven’t been handed anything, no golden ticket, no easy way to the top. There have been a lot of setbacks—but there also have been a lot of victories. I’m a fighter, an underdog. Giving up is not an option. It just means the perfect manager hasn’t come along yet. And while it can be frustrating, I try to see it as the Universe looking out for me. I will find the right manager. These things take time, and it will work out the way it’s supposed to. So, I’m using this down time to really focus on me, come up with a new plan, tune in and find out what I really want for my career and this next chapter of life. It doesn’t mean my career is over. It doesn’t mean my life is over. It’s just life. I get to choose what I want and where I want to go. I get to choose my own adventure.

While my career is in somewhat of a holding pattern, my boyfriend proposed—so, he rules. He is probably one of the best things to ever happen to me. I have never met a man who fought for me like he does. He stayed by my side, even when I tried to push him away, even when I got super emotional—to the point where he looked at me like, “Is that the same girl who was just in the room 10 minutes ago?” He’s got so much patience, so much love to give, and he’s amazing. It took 31 years to meet him. I’m glad I didn’t settle. I didn’t know what I deserved until I met him.

I was engaged once before, for 4 months, until my then-fiancé broke it off. I’ll admit, once that happened, I didn’t really fight for it. Normally when someone breaks up with someone, your initial reaction is to prove them wrong, win them back, list all the reasons why you are meant to be. But with him, I never did. I think I knew it was done. For a long time, I felt like it ruined me. It was like an old building being torn down. It destroyed my world. But when the dust settled, it was like a clean slate, and it left me feeling empowered. For that, I will always be grateful.

Sometimes, when we are in something, we don’t see how toxic it actually can be. We see no other way. We don’t see how it gets better than it is. And sometimes it takes something so powerful, so devastating, so unbelievable, to get our attention. To get it through our heads that there is another way to live. There is another path waiting for us. And it’s filled with joy, and love, and people who care.


I was inspired to write this because, this year, I am a part of To Write Love On Her Arms’ HEAVY AND LIGHT shows. We already played one last Saturday in Los Angeles, and there’s one more coming up on January 19 in Orlando. TWLOHA is all about this shit. Real life, ups and downs, being OK with not being OK, and knowing you are not alone. Life isn’t just pretty selfies, toned bodies, dogs, and cute kissy romantic pics. It’s snotty, depressed, heartbroken, unbearable feelings as well. I like honoring both. I like being proud of both. I like to feel like it’s nearly impossible for one to exist without the other. And I like to think that it’s OK to be human.

I will leave you with one last thought, something that Jamie Tworkowski, founder of TWLOHA once shared with me. He said, “People have stories, they need to be heard, and everyone deserves to be surrounded by people who care about that story.” No matter how long or self-involved, however major or minor that story may be. Everyone deals with shit differently. People have feelings and those feelings are valid. Sometimes there is not a “wrong” or “right” story. We just all have our own experiences, and we should all be able to feel safe to share them, because at the end of the day, we could all learn a lot from each other.

Thanks for reading this novel of a blog. It took me about a week to finish.
We’ ll see ya Sunday the 19, at the House of Blues in Orlando, FL. It’s going to be a special night, and I am stoked to be a part of it.

xx TP

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Comments (5)

  1. Dawn Parker

    I just finished reading your post and i love your story. I’ve been writing my whole life, and it is truly the best form of therapy i’ve found that helps me in such profound ways. I’ve been writing a particular project, for a year now, of trying to learn to love and care for myself and to look out for my own well being, and i’ve gotten to a point where i’m good and i think i’m ready to share it, so I’m working on the beginnings of my own blog and reading your post makes me excited and feel encouraged to share my story.
    Just as Jamie’s words at the end of your post say, everybody has a story and i absolutely believe that we can all help each other and learn from each other by sharing those stories! I think i may finally have mustered the guts to start sharing mine!!
    My son and i lived in the same little beach town neighborhood as Jamie, way back, and he and my son are good friends, and actually even if that were not the case i would still follow him and his amazing heart-filled, soul-expanding, selfless work. i guess you can tell i’m a fan!!

    thank you Tristan!

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  2. Cathy Koss

    Hey Tristan, just wanted to say what a great post the above is! I run a youth group at my church and your blog SO speaks to what most of my kids are going through. What all of us humans go through. I wanted to thank you for sharing about yourself so beautifully. I want to learn more about your music ’cause if it’s anything like your writing it must be AWESOME! Keep up the good work +

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  3. Maiesha Zarin

    I’m glad the time was taken for you to write this post. I really enjoyed reading it and I feel like I have a whole new perspective on something. I completely agree with everything, all the advice. That’s it’s OK to feel what you feel but soon you’ll have to believe in yourself and start to realize that your life is what you make of it, and you can make it a great, beautiful, scaring adventurous thing. Really great to have read about your experience Tristan, you are what I call a trooper, I think we all are if we look hard enough. x

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  4. Alexandra Telluselle

    I am so glad you shared, I have wondered what you and I might have in common. Lots it seems, especially avoiding toxic powergames in the future. I’d love to see you come and play in Sweden some day. I know I would listen.

    Reply  |  
  5. Anonymous

    Thank you for your post. It spoke volumes to me. Honestly it kept me from hurting myself it or running away to hide, like I so desire to do, for now.

    Reply  |  
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