Wednesday, April 2, 2014

How about...advice you would give yourself at 18?

On Day 2 of 30 Days of Blogging, I'm going to use a topic suggested by my friend Justin:

How about...advice you would give yourself at 18?

Dear 18 year old me:

I am currently exactly twice your age, but I like to think that I remember being you pretty well. I'm hoping that you are receiving this letter through some sort of method that will make you trust it, rather than having a hideous vision from the future fling it at you from the back of a black horse while you shriek in terror. Either way, I'm writing to you on this, your 18th birthday, because I want to give you some helpful advice before your freshman year of college ends. My goal in doing so is to have you end up, more or less, the same person, but maybe to smooth out some of the bumps along the way.

At this point, I'm certain that you're thinking about how this is bound to interfere with the timeline, and that things have to happen the same way or else I wouldn't need to write to you, so the fact that I am is just proving that our efforts at change will fail, but let's pretend otherwise. In "Runaways" v2, issue #4, a comic that you will read and enjoy in 2008, Gertrude says, "The future is a threat, not a promise," and that's the premise that we're going to work from.

Change is possible, and these are my three suggestions:

1) Change your major. Keep the English half, but drop the education double major and get that theater minor that you wanted instead but didn't have time to complete while still graduating in four years. You will not student teach until your senior year of college, and you will hate it. You will then leave college with a degree that you have no intention of using, so you might as well just change it now and save three more years of classwork and a semester of teaching that you will not enjoy. I realize this is going to worry you, because your parents will be alarmed that you are leaving college without a usable skill, but we're going to cover that in Point #2.

2) In the spring semester of your current year, most of your friends are going to apply for positions as student staff members, and you're going to do it because everyone else is. Please be sure to do this! This decision will shape the rest of your life. You will enjoy working with college students, and it will make you happy. It will also become your professional career. Stay on staff your entire four years of college, like I did, and then in your senior year apply to graduate programs in College Student Personnel, like I did not until later. Get a graduate assistanceship in a housing department to pay for grad school, and then go be a hall director and stay in higher education for ever. Trust me on this one.

3) You're gay. You kind of know this already, and eventually you're going to be fine with it, but you're going to waste most of college avoiding that realization and won't really figure it out until your senior year. I'm trying to give you a three year head start on addressing that, and maybe you can go ahead and avoid that whole senior year relationship and ensuing mess entirely.

Listen carefully, and pay attention, because you need to recognize this moment when it arrives.

Right now, you have a friend in the building named Jared. You and he have the same last name, and you've become a weird sort of friend because Tami, the girl who does the mail, continuously mixes up your letters and J Crew catalogues since you have the same first initial and the same last name. She means well, but she's kind of grumpy. You will also be kind of grumpy next year and the year after, when you have her job in a different hall. You get a lot of letters because you write a lot of letters, and email isn't available on your campus yet. You also have a friend in the building named Brendan, who lives a door or two down from you. I don't remember his last name, but he has black hair, blue eyes, lost 40 pounds by smoking a cigarette instead of having a meal every time he was hungry, and dates a boy in Clark Hall sometimes. You talk to him in the floor lounge a lot, because he sits on the windowsill to smoke (his roommate with the enormous teeth is a Mormon, and won't let him smoke in the room) and you like to read your Psych 101 book in the lounge instead of your room because the chairs are more comfortable.

As you already know, since you are already in your freshman year, you go out to house parties a lot on the weekends. During one of these parties you will manage to steal one of the Deltas from the basement wall of Delta Psi Delta and will hang it in your room for the rest of the school year, which I think is kind of hilarious. Some weekend soon, when your roommate is away for the weekend (he goes away every weekend, actually) you are going to go out, and then you're going to come home a little tipsy but not full on sloppy blackout drunk. You will be buzzed, not smashed. Your friends will deposit you on your floor while they take the elevator up two floors to their floor, and you will go to the community bathroom to brush your teeth. While in the bathroom, you and Brendan will start talking about pretty much nothing, or at least nothing I remember, and he will flirt a little. Since you are tipsy, you will giggle, and then head to your room, and Brendan will start to follow.

At this point, the two of you will encounter your friend Jared in the hallway. I'm not sure why he's there, because he lives on the floor below you, but he will immediately recognize the situation and tell Brendan to leave you alone. He will then push you into your room, because he thinks he's being helpful, will close the door behind you, and will tell you to go to sleep. You will pretend to do so, but instead you will sit on the floor with your back against the door and listen carefully while Jared explains to Brendan in the hallway that you are not interested, but are instead just drunk and friendly. Brendan will argue that no, you are gay and just haven't figured it out yet (he's right; you totally are), but Jared will continue to disagree. Eventually they will both decide that this discussion is a waste of time, anyway, because you are probably passed out (you're not, because you really aren't very drunk). Jared will again advise Brendan to leave you alone before leaving, and then you will get in bed and go to sleep. You and Brendan will never discuss this again, and at midyear he will move to another building.

Speaking as adult you, my advice to you is that once Jared leaves, you need to open the door and invite Brendan inside.

Trust me, you will enjoy whatever he wants to do, even if it's just talking and smoking. I suspect that it's not.

As an honest person with a good sense of self, you figured out that you were gay within weeks of hooking up with a boy. I'm trying to move that timeline forward for you three years, and to substitute a boy who was not in the closet, didn't make you feel bad about yourself, and wasn't a jerk. Sure, he's not as cute as the other guy, but maybe you won't spend the entire back half of your senior year in alcoholic depression.

Abs aren't everything.

You may not believe that right now, but by the time you're my age, you will.


36 year old you


leonor said...

I love this letter a lot.

Lauren said...

Joel, this is one of the warmest things that I have ever read from you. It is so a caring but also genuinely painful. I love how seemingly small interactions stay with us in such a detailed way. Being able to recall that in a way that resonates with others is a rare gift.

I also think it is a strong opener to a collection of essays that you could get published.

30 days of blogging is off to a great start!

Marcheline said...

Excellent post! I think that one of my pieces of advice to my younger self would be "That day when you and your best girlfriend get drunk and you almost decide to kiss her? DO IT." The friend ended up being gay, and to this day I have still never kissed a girl. And I still want to. So it totally would have worked out with her, only I missed the opportunity.

DonnaD said...

I think you are lying about your age here...exactly half of 36? I think not.

Joel said...

Yeah, I figured out after I wrote it that I have no idea how old I am. I accidentally shaved a couple years off.