45 years ago I had my 18th birthday. The decisions I made those first four months of 1971 affected me the rest of my life. The following is a message for my not quite 18 year-old self.
Greetings from the year 2016.
This is your 63 year-old self, sending you a message from the future. I have enclosed several items from 1970 that you will recognize.
The keys to your pickup, the 1952 Chevy, photos of the girls you were involved with over the summer, photocopies from pages in your senior annual that you won’t see until May but will recognize because you did the layout, and your fingerprints, which you know have never been taken.
Notice that there are only nine, let’s see if you can’t keep your right middle finger this time around.
1. The most important thing I can tell you is don’t drink any alcoholic beverages for the rest of your life.
None. Nada, never, no way, not ever, not one more drop of any kind.
The reason? You are an alcoholic, just like your father and six other blood relatives on both sides of your family that died (of alcoholism) before you were 10 years old.
When you go on the Senior Sneak in the middle of May, the week before you graduate, take a case of Coco-Cola to drink instead of beer. Seriously, what they do to it in 1980 is a travesty and it will never be the same. And you need to go because two of your classmates will not be at your 10th class reunion. One died of cancer, one of heart failure. You will never see them again after graduation.
By the time you attend your 20th reunion, six more of your class of 49 will be gone.
2. Ask her out. If you don’t you will regret it the rest of your life. If there is no second date, that’s the way it goes. Until you try you will never know.
The two of you have been friends since she was a freshman and you gave her your letter jacket at a football game when she was shivering. She knitted you a black and gold stocking cap to keep you from catching a cold. If you need any more clues, I suggest you get your head examined.
You really have no reason to be shy as you have been the first three years of high school. Last summer (June-July-August 1970) you learned how to overcome your shyness, which is actually Anxiety. You started conversations with three different girls your age that were strangers, you became friends and enjoyed each other’s company, then became a couple.
Umm, one at a time of course, you will never be the type who dates more than one girl at once.
Rose was the first at Foreign language camp for two weeks in June and since she lived less than 30 minutes away you stayed friends after you got home and dated nonexclusively off and on for the rest of your senior year. She has a wicked sense of humor and taught you that you could be friends with a girl without expecting anything other than friendship.
Lisa you met through the Highlanders. She liked the way you looked in a kilt and didn’t care that you were shorter than her. The two of you were joined at the hip for two weeks; she went to work with you topping onions, helped repair fence on the farm, went to church, bowling and didn’t laugh when you had your sword dance lessons. She was the first girl you took to a drive in and couldn’t remember a single thing about the Jerry Lewis movie that was playing (hint; it was like every other Jerry Lewis movie). When she went back to Pasadena at the end of two weeks, there were tears. You wrote back and forth the rest of your senior year, then during her first year of college the letters became fewer and will stop the spring of 1972.
Wendy. Sigh. The first girl you courted, the first girl who had her future planned out, and the only girl that sent you a letter a year later (Christmas 1972). She thanked you for treating her like a lady, like she was a person and respecting her. You were the reason that she got out of an abusive relationship at the first sign of abuse.
These three are your most recent relationships and by Christmas you are alone once again and feeling discouraged. Don’t be. You have a good heart but not everyone will see beyond your height, your sense of humor or your honesty. Some girls are looking for all-star athletes or the hottest car or the bad boy. Others don’t know what they are looking for.
Relationships are hard. As a teenager, you are sure that everyone but you is having sex. They aren’t, except for two couples that are in one of the classes behind you. They get married over the coming summer and manage to finish school. One couple stay married until their oldest was sixteen, then divorce. The other couple stay married.
You have been reading Science Fiction since the 7th grade when you discovered Jules Verne. If you aren’t already thinking about the aspects of time travel and paradoxes, now would be a good time.
To put it simply, there are no paradoxes. By changing your life from what I know it to be, to what you make it, the world won’t end or implode and I won’t disappear.
You see, I received a communication from 2021, five years in my future. It told me to take a chance, to write a note to my younger self with advice I had wished I had paid attention to.
I started out telling you how to get rich, where and how to find the perfect woman and how to live the perfect life. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I would never be able to explain what you needed to do and the exact timing for all of it to happen. So I am giving you the knowledge that I felt I needed when I look back on my life.
The life you live with the advice I have given you may end up being the exact life I have lived. The same places, the same people, the same failures and the same victories. This may be only an exercise to clear my thoughts, lay my past to rest and live however many years I have left with peace of mind.
3. Go to college, you idiot.
Take the scholarship you will be offered in January. You do not have to declare a major for the first two years and your goals change so much during the 1970’s that you wouldn’t recognize yourself in 1981. Your SAT scores are high enough and you can get a math tutor. Remember you aced English, Geology, Foreign Language, History and Literature. You were average in psychology and just below average in Advanced Math. Steer clear of chemistry and philosophy, life will be weird enough without them, ditto marketing or business management. Do take either Spanish or French in college, your German is adequate enough for when you finally visit Germany after–well, you’ll know when it’s a good time to visit Germany.
Take your first year at Boise College, live at home and save your money.
Yes, you have to have a job and you are more than qualified for pumping gas, washing windows and light mechanical work, washing dishes, mopping floors. There are dozens part time jobs available in the Boise area. And there is a thing in college called Work/Study.
And you have to get a new vehicle–if you get another pickup, you will end up helping everyone move. This time you must charge an hourly rate and mileage no matter how short their skirts are. Make sure whatever you buy has a working heater and is newer than 1966.
If you manage to be dating the above mentioned girl (who knitted you a stocking cap) or have started dating her during her senior year in high school, then at the end of your first year in college make plans to transfer to U of I for your second year. You will be a sophomore and won’t have to live in the dorms where everyone stays drunk. Move up there as soon as you are done with your first year of college in Boise. Jobs will be much easier to find over the summer and you can work in either Moscow or Pullman.
Yes, this is where she went to school while you will spend 1972 and 1973 working a minimum wage, dead end job for an asshole, where you spent all of your money and time drinking, where you caught a Sexually Transmitted Disease. For Pete’s sake buy condoms (they keep them behind the counters at drug stores and you have to ask for them–at least until the 80’s).
Avoid the Back to the Land movement. You grew up on a farm, remember? You know how much hard work it takes and how little it pays. And 90% of the people just sit around smoking dope and living off of their parents’ money or their trust funds.
4. Write every day. Write about everything. And use pens, the pencils you loved to write with on yellow legal pads have faded to be almost illegible.
Take any and all criticism with a grain of salt and dash of Tabasco.
If it helps, think of all the cow shit you had to deal with that last year that you had dairy cows on the farm. Remember? You were 15 and it barely froze that winter and they had to stay in the corral for three months while it rained. That liquid fertilizer was four feet deep and the fields were too wet to haul it out of the corral. That is exactly what a lot of criticism is–a load of shit. Other people’s opinions are only worth something if they improve your writing. I guarantee that you will be published before anyone who tells you that you need to write literature to be taken seriously as a writer.
Write about growing up the farm, about high school, about water skiing, write about every embarrassing moment you ever had. Use the sense of humor you developed as a defense against all the bullies you had to deal with for 12 years of school.
Buy a copy of Elements of Style and use it along with the dictionary and thesaurus you got at the beginning of your senior year, they will be the most important books in your writing life. Write what makes you laugh and send it off. It’s only the first rejection that hurts and you should receive that before your second year of college is over. Write in all genres of fiction, in all story lengths and talk to people who make a living at writing.
5. You have the skills and integrity to make a living anywhere in the world as long as you are not afraid of getting your hands dirty and working hard.
Staying in Idaho doesn’t work out for you.
Seriously, starting in 1980 Idaho goes downhill so fast that by the year 2000 Idaho is worse than it was during the whole of the 19th century. It ranks dead last in education, the cost of living is as high as any state in the union, wages are among the lowest and Treasure Valley has air quality that rivals Los Angeles. The politicians only concern is to keep women from having abortions and lining their pockets.
You know how everyone told you that you could be anything you wanted, that all you had to do was work hard, do your best? It is a lie. A great big fucking lie. Every job you take, everyone you work for will screw you and laugh while they do.
That being said, I have to tell you that there are good people to work for, you just have to know when it’s time to move on to a better job.
Oregon, Washington and yes, even California are excellent areas to find and keep jobs, raise a family and enjoy life. The western part of Washington and Oregon, between the Cascade range and the ocean, where the weather is milder. Most of Northern California above San Francisco is a great place to live. And you’ll love the Redwoods.
6. Take care of your health.
Keep running at least 4 days a week, eat healthy, balanced meals (by the way you have a talent for cooking) and while in college, swim. Out of college, use the YMCA or whatever they have where you end up living. And don’t slack off, you need to keep working out. Keep backpacking, walking, running, moving heavy things (work or volunteer at the library, help people with gardening and painting houses). And if you develop an ulcer even though you are not drinking, don’t worry. In a few years they discover that they are caused by a virus.
Working out will keep your asthma under control and keep your bones strong. It turns out the medication you take when you have asthma attacks sucks the calcium out of your bones, then to make matters worse, the medication you will take for your ulcer blocks calcium from getting back into your bones. The simple act of daily exercise keeps you breathing and strengthens your bones. A balanced diet and not drinking takes care of ulcers and excess stomach acid.
From this moment on you must wear hearing protection otherwise you will be deaf as a post by the time you are 40. Even if you do nothing more than stuff playdough in your ears, do it. Find a pair of shooter’s earmuffs because that’s how it starts, you go out target shooting and develop tinnitus, which is ringing in the ears. It gets worse over the years because of the profession you were finally able to find steady work that paid more than minimum wage.
7. There are things that happen in life which have no explanation. It won’t matter if you follow the suggestions I have outlined for you or not. Things will happen that break your heart that you will never understand.
Just as there are things that will bring you more joy than your heart can handle
As I look back through my life, I come down to the 4 months you have ahead you after this Christmas of 1970. The advice I have given is exactly the same advice you have heard since the beginning of September when your senior year started.
You’ve read it in books, seen it on TV, heard it from friends that graduated last year, 4 years ago, 20 years ago. You’ve heard it from all of your teachers, from relatives that you didn’t know you had, from total strangers when they find out you’re a senior.
Eat healthy, exercise, never do anything that you wouldn’t want to read about in the paper, treat everyone as you would treat yourself.
And give yourself a chance to fall in love.
Love may come out of nowhere like a bolt of lightning, leaving you dazed and confused like the Coyote in Roadrunner cartoons.
Love may grow so slowly that one day you realize that you can’t live without someone.
Sometimes it scares you so much that you run away, other times you hold too tight and smother it. Your heart is strong even when it’s breaking and you want to die rather than go on. Don’t build a wall around yourself so that you never feel the pain of a broken heart again. The joy that love brings will heal all of your hurts, you will survive to love again.
The only advice I can give about love is to be honest, don’t expect more of them than you do of yourself. Oh, and no one is a mind-reader, if something is on you mind tell them. Keep your words sweet, but honest. And listen.
8. Get a dog. Spend more time reading than watching TV. Keep learning even when you are no longer in school. Be constantly surprised by life.
In conclusion.
1. Don’t drink alcohol in any form. Wine, beer and hard liquor are all the same and they are all addictive. One drink leads to another in an never ending spiral that you cannot afford to start. You have too much to do in your life to waste any time on drinking.
Drinking is not one of the indicators that you are an adult. Smoking or tobacco in any form is also not an indicator of adulthood.
Voting is. If you can’t cast your vote for someone or something, choose the lesser of two evils.
2. You are going on a date, not picking someone to spend the rest of your life with. You are getting to know someone one on one, in a setting that is comfortable for both of you. You talk and share ideas, views on life, things that make you laugh. When in doubt, ask. Whether it is for a kiss, a second date or just another soda, ask.
Oh, forget every seduction scene/technique you have seen in movies or on TV. You are two real people getting to know each other.
3. College, it’s a no-brainer. Being a forest ranger never happens.
4. Work. During college find anything and everything you can. Washing dishes, walking dogs, pumping gas, mopping floors–just do it. After college, you’ll have a better idea what kind of job you want. And don’t limit where you look for work.
5. Health. This is very important. Take care of yourself and whoever becomes part of your life. Staying active feels better than anything else in life. Losing your hearing is a bad thing to have happen, take care of your hearing just like you would your eyes.
6. Love. It makes you sing, it makes you cry. Don’t give up.
7. Live.