god, let me think clearly and brightly; let me live, love, and say it well in good sentences. -sylvia plath
i’ve recently found myself pining for my misspent youth–dreaming about those carefree days that were wide open, when everything was still possible. when my flesh was smooth and not puckered. when i was just an innocent little flower about to bloom.
and then i remembered what a total moron i was, and it made me feel a lot better about being old. it also made me think of all the things i wish i’d known back then, the things that can really only be learned the hard way.
so here are the things i’d say to all of my younger selves–everything that i know in my bones is true, even if i can’t always remember it all when it matters.
- there is very little that can’t be made better by a freshly made bed with sheets just out of the dryer.
- strive to be better, not perfect. perfectionism is a search for reasons to hate yourself. being better is so much more possible—and interesting.
- you’re going to make some mistakes over and over and over again, and you’ll wonder, “how the hell am i back here again??” but you’re not. you’re never “back here.” repeating a fuck-up means there’s a lesson you haven’t quite learned yet, but it doesn’t mean you haven’t made progress. were you a little nicer to yourself than the last time you messed up? did you apologize after a week instead of two? were you able to walk away from an unhealthy situation quicker this time? these are the real markers of change, and they aren’t always easy to see. you have to look for them.
- when making macaroni and cheese, never use as much milk as the box tells you.
- when you say you’re going to be somewhere, be there.
- please stop trying to write poetry. it’s embarrassing.
- let mom and dad off the hook. it will be the most freeing thing you’ll ever do.
- the truth is always many truths snarled together—a ball of knotted string—and the only way to get one parsed out from the rest is to cut it, which, of course, changes that truth entirely. be brave in the messiness and remember it when trying to understand other people.
- “at the risk of appearing foolish, a writer sometimes needs to be able to just stand and gape at this or that thing – a sunset or an old shoe – in absolute and simple amazement.” (ray carver)
- life is supposed to hurt sometimes. don’t struggle against the pain—lean into it.
- don’t waste your time with kurt when you wait tables at that country club. he’s a walking cliche who falls asleep right after sex. just go talk to that adorable chef with the dimples already! you are young and crisp, like a perfect granny smith apple, and it’s summer—when everything is possible. and those dimples.
- attempts to fill internal voids with anything external will fail every time. men, sex, shopping, food—they’re all just different versions of the same placeholder, and they’ll all help until they don’t.
- your 10th grade chem teacher will give you some damn good advice every time you raise your hand and start answering a question: SPEAK LOUDA!
- you are worth more than your temptress-quotient.
- life is not fair—and thank god for that. one day you’ll need grace to work in your life when you least deserve it.
- humility is mostly about a pause: it’s waiting until help arrives. until you talk to someone or have more information or get quiet enough with yourself to see the answer.
- don’t be a moron and start smoking to impress dave and his friends. be cooler than that.
- “yield up what scares you. yield up what makes you want to scream and cry. enter into that quiet. it’s a cathedral. it’s an empty football stadium with all the lights on. pray to be an instrument of peace.” (mary karr)
- fuck popularity. get to know the interesting people.
- fear can make you hallucinate solutions to your life, and those hallucinations can lead you to some dangerous detours.
- be nicer to yourself. it will make you so much more useful to the world.
- one of the people who will come to change your life will give you two simple principles by which to live your life: grace and dignity. reach for them no matter what, and when you fall short, get up and reach some more.
- surrendering to your limitations isn’t the same thing as admitting defeat. to say “i don’t know” or “you can’t be in my life” or “i know i’ve lost” is empowering.
- naming the things that are ugly about yourself makes them less terrible, and naming the things that scare you makes them less powerful.
- the knicks will always break your heart. the sooner you accept that, the sooner the healing can begin.
- you’re going to be tempted to do donuts in the parking lot next to school late one winter night. resist the temptation. there will be a snowbank that comes out of nowhere and rams right into your car, and dad will never let you live that one down.
- fuck it, do the donuts. they’re worth it.
- try out for that goddamn play senior year of high school. i know up until then you’ll have only gotten roles like old man, villager #2, and a peacock in peter pan. do it anyway. otherwise you’ll find out later that the director thought one of the leads was perfect for you, and the role had been yours before auditions ever took place.
- when a song that you love comes on the radio, turn that shit up and sing your little tone-deaf heart out. and if it’s a really embarrassing guilty pleasure like air supply’s “all out of love,” roll the windows down and turn it up louder.
- about anything you will ever do, think or feel: this too shall pass.
- “THE MOST BEAUTIFUL THING DANI–IT’S THE SEARCHING. IT’S CONSTANT.” (MITCH, ON A COLD MARCH DAY IN 2010)