- 1. There is no shame in finding out when you get there that you made a mistake. You’re 18 going on 19 and to expect to know what you want to do with the rest of your life is ridiculous. I’ve met men and women—accomplished men and women—who didn’t find that out until their thirties. So don’t worry if you go in to school with aspirations of Sociology, switch to Engineering, then end in English. It’s fine. You’re young.
- Existential crises and coffee are things you may not go a day without.
- Want to beat that freshmen 15 before it hits? Find an intramural sport. I guarantee you, unless you’ve packed on the Freshmen 21 Credits, you’ll have spare time. It’s a great way to meet friends in a time where loneliness abounds and the dining hall’s late night Grab-n-Go is a better friend than your roommate.
- On that last one—learn the art of understanding everyone is different and come from different walks of life—and that in the grand scheme of things a small thing like a sock left on the floor by your roommate is not something to start a blood feud over. Breathe. Talk. Make rules. It will be alright.
- If you—like me—like to listen to a song on repeat forever and ever when you first buy it, invest in some sound cancelling headphones. You may love them, but I’m sure the rest of the study lounge or your roommate doesn’t love hearing White Blank Page over and over.
- When you do move out of the dorms, know your plans. Make backups. And most importantly, make rules. The dorms had these nice little resources called hall mates and RAs to settle issues. And you shared one room. When you’re sharing an apartment or a house, the problems WILL multiply.
- Coffee is a beautiful thing. And if you don’t like coffee, a Dirty Chai is a good substitute.
- There is a difference between being cocky and confident—weather it comes to the dating world, that exam you’re planning on not studying for, or giving a speech.
- There is a difference between “an education” and “learning”. It’s amazing how the latter doesn’t usually happen in the class room. Pay attention.
- Reading for fun, reading a book you yourself found, is a rare thing when the work is piling up. But if you manage the time well and get some leisure reading in, it’s amazing how good it is for you in the end.
- Sex isn’t really the end all be all of everything. If you spend your time focusing on it, you may find it’s not like the expectations all those college movies gave you.
- The on-campus health center is great for free condoms, STI tests, and in and out screenings, but possibly the worst at diagnosing illnesses. Consider second alternatives.
- It may suck, but sometimes all-nighters are essential for getting shit done.
- Buy a plant and do all you can to keep it alive. It reminds you that there is more out there than College Related Stuff.
- Late Night Karaoke is by far the best thing to distress from studying/essay writing/assorted homework.
- Learn to cook, and cook with creativity. You can’t imagine how tiring Annie’s Mac n’ Cheese or Ramen gets. But you can still cook on a tight budget. College Cookbooks don’t lie.
- Sometimes it may suck later, but a bit of irresponsibility with money may actually help you. There is nothing with wanting a little for yourself.
- Don’t ever take your parents’ or guardians’ support for granted. You never know if it will suddenly disappear. Or when you’ll need to call for someone to bail you out of jail. Or someone with a Costco membership.
- Pita bread. Pizza Sauce. Cheese. Choice of toppings, like pepperoni. Poor man’s pizza. Plus you don’t even have to bake it. The pocket form of the pita makes it like a pizza taco and it makes angels sing.
- There is some value in writing essays in which you know little to nothing of what you are writing. Bullshitting is a skill. And it takes a bullshitter to recognize bullshit. Use this BS detector to sort through the information you’re given every day by everyone. Like CNN, that angry guy on campus spouting about Jesus or the nutrient label on your food.
- Rules are the last refuge of the unimaginative.
- Resort to the idea of a journey. They can come anywhere.
- When what you do—your job, your title, your bank statement—becomes more important that who you are, you are lost.
- Consent is sexy.
- Be prepared to completely be disillusioned with your reality. But don’t stay there. Make an active attempt to fix it, or change your beliefs.
- Be open to the possibility you are wrong. You were always wrong and sometimes offensively so. Then change that behavior.
- You are not—despite what your loving family has told you coming into college—the center of the universe. Hell, you aren’t the center of attention for your friends, your family, or even your girlfriend/boyfriend/lover. Once you realize people have their own shit they care about/have to deal with, you’ll be happier with stepping to the side. And who knows, maybe they may make a conscious effort to help you when you are in trouble.
- Late night Gym Sessions are golden opportunities. Take them and cherish them.
- Your concept of finding love and acceptance in college is wrong. This is not a Judd Apatow film, it’s not a Nicholas Sparks book and though he’s awesome, not everything turns out like a John Green story. Life is wonderfully more complicated.
- There is a difference between not giving a fuck and not giving a damn. Give a damn about things. Don’t give a fuck about how people think about you.
- You cannot eat your Amazon wish list. Don’t spend every dime of your paycheck on that list at once.
- Get a job in school. Seriously, even if you don’t need the money or if you don’t have a lot of time, even a 5 hour a week job is enough to show you how the real world is starting to work. Plus it gives you the opportunity to manage time better.
- Taking time off to do nothing isn’t always laziness. Your brain can’t run 24/7 forever. Using spring break to do nothing, not even travel can give you a second wind.
- Don’t let them use you. It’s fine if they don’t love you, but if they keep you around for the attention, it’s time to leave.
- There’s no such thing as the friend zone. People are not machines in which you put in affection, attention, and kindness and get out sex and a relationship. That makes you the dick, not them.
- Write every day. It helps. No matter the affliction.
- You will fall out of contact with a good 95% of your high school peers. If you stay in contact with some friends, that’s awesome. But don’t be sad when you grow apart from someone else. It’s part of life.
- Keep holiday lights for year round occasions. Fuck, leave them up as lights. Ambiance is a good thing.
- Spend some time researching something you know shit about. You may learn something you’ve been raised was wrong. Like what the word “Jihad” actually means, or that Feminism isn’t about hating men, or that Fedoras were originally cut for women, or that all cheese is made with enzymes.
- Save your shit. You may find that essay you wrote in Freshman year about the relationship between Benedick and Beatrice comes in handy in your Advanced Sagas class in Junior year.
- On that, save your computer files in two places. They have a funny habit of breaking right before a big essay is due.
- “Printer issues” may have worked as a half-assed excuse in high school. When you come to college, expect to never get away with that one again.
- Never forget what you are passionate about. You don’t have to major in it, but don’t let your major drive it away from you.
- Group projects suck. Make them suck less by getting to know your group members outside of class. When you’re a group of some semblance of friends, you’ll get shit done.
- Keep contact with the professors that changed your time here. They are more than just teachers. They are good resources for ideas, conversations, and networking step stools. They are people too. Sometimes, getting a beer with the Poetry teacher who inspired you to write more is a powerful opportunity.
- That kid you meet in Freshman English that you get along with may not even talk to you in a semester. Don’t take it personally. You yourself are exposed to so many people in your time here that you can’t possibly expect to become BFFs with them all.
- Professors don’t know everything. And what they do know isn’t always right. And it rarely is the final word on the matter.
- You are young. Don’t let the weight of the impending “real world” crush you. You will drown in your failed expectations.
- You do however, have a voice and don’t let anyone tell you that you don’t or that it doesn’t matter because you are young or in school. Call people on their bullshit, on their fucked up ideas, on the stasis that isn’t working. You can start a change.
- Waking up on a stranger’s couch after a night of partying is a strange thing that everyone should experience. Spontaneity is a beautiful thing.
- Commit to the bit. Always.
“Not so,” said Chezzy, “humans aren’t inherently good.”
“Such an optimist, you are,” Cal bit.
“People aren’t inherently anything but human. We fail. We triumph. We turn to evil and we turn to good, sometimes in the same day. To say we, as an entire species, are inherently anything other than capable of constant change is boring. I’ve had just about enough of this good versus evil thing. It drives our every move, every thought, every action or inaction. Today, I bought a homeless girl a meal. But two weeks ago, as you plainly remember, I called Paul a lying sack of shit with the tiniest dick I’ve ever seen. I said that to his friends, in public. Now, am I evil or am I good? I’m not inherently anything. My emotional range—and that is true of every living person on this earth—is not at the mercy of black and white definitions.”
“But you’re a good guy, Chezzy. Most people wouldn’t do what you do.”
“No, but you can’t call me wholesomely good either. This is what gets me. People look at a stranger who helps another stranger change their tire. And they say their faith in humanity is restored. But how ridiculous is that? For all they know, that Good Samaritan could be on his way home to give his wife a good beating. You don’t know. You can’t sum up the entire machinations of every human ever and feel confident in your station in life based on the fact you watched one person do something nice for another person. That’s not living. That’s a fairy tale.”
“What a lovely perspective.”
“It is. It’s wonderfully freeing to know we’re not living in a fairy tale. Your actions suddenly give you purpose. You suddenly have control when you realize you’re not at the mercy of some arbitrary label of “good” or “bad” person. When you break free of what the world expects of you, suddenly you are as you should be. Inherently human. And that my friend, is what I call nirvana.”
A bit of context here—the story [The Small Disaster Heart Breaker’s Club] is about a young man, Cal, who returns to his home in Chicago after eight years of being on the lam. He had a mental breakdown at his graduation and fled, without telling anyone where he was going. He ended up on a fishing boat for eight years on the other side of the country and returns after a while to try to repair broken relationships. Cal and Gabrielle were dating seriously before he left. The following is a scene I just randomly compiled, so it’s really rough (and a touch too dramatic. Though the premise sounds depressing, the story is rather comical and lighthearted in many places). As I re-read it, I dislike it more, but here you go internet.
“I’m not asking you to forget it. All I’m asking is for you to forgive me, Gab.”
“I DID—I did forgive you, Cal,” Gabrielle said, her voice quivering, “I forgave you a long time ago.”
“I spent a lot of years hating you, Cal. Hating ever fucking inch, every bit of skin that touched mine, everything you ever told me.”
“I spent years—years, Cal,” Gabrielle shouted, her eyes filling with tears, “asking myself if it was something I did. If I had said something wrong, if I hadn’t heard something—”
“No of course not—”
“Well you weren’t there to fucking correct it now, were you? Marianna told me to move on, and I did, but I didn’t stop hating you for making me hate myself. And then I realized. I realized that it wasn’t me. I came to forgive you.”
Cal moved forward to hug her, but she punched him hard in the chest, “that’s not an invitation. It doesn’t mean I want to get back together, you shitweasel.”
“I realized it was your fault you left. I realized you ran away from everything because of some messed up shit that was going on inside your head and you refused to tell anyone about it. You keep telling Chezzy we just didn’t listen, that none of us listened to each other, but that’s such bullshit, Cal and you know it.”
“No. We didn’t. I didn’t listen to you when I should have. We were all wrapped up in our own little worlds.”
“Fuck you. No. I cared. I wasted hours on end trying to make you happy. I listened when you bitched about your father and your mother and every fucked up thing in your family. For what? So you could tell me you never listened to me. Fuck you, Cal.”
“I listened. I just didn’t hear what you were saying,” Cal said, keeping his voice low. Gabrielle was no longer crying. She didn’t look angry either. She seemed to have resigned talking to him at all.
“Oh really? Is that all? Well gee, why didn’t you say? I would have understood that. That makes all the more sense why you ran away.”
“I know, I fucked up by running away. I know that now and that’s why I came back. To fix whatever was left to fix. And I realize I can’t do it. Even coming back it—it was selfish. But I can’t leave having you not understand.”
“I understand completely. You had some mental thing, you didn’t talk about it, and you left. I said I forgave you for leaving.”
“And if I had told you what was going on, what in the hell would you have done? I keep hearing everyone say ‘well you should have told me what was going on.’ What in the chucklefucking hell do you people think you would have done or said?”
“I don’t know—maybe try to talk you out of running away?” Gabrielle said darkly.
“Exactly. And I knew that. I knew everyone in the world would try to talk me out of running away.”
“That’s usually a sign that you’re about to do something asinine.”
“I didn’t want talking out of it. I don’t think I would have wanted anything. I made up my mind. Telling you would have only made everyone do their most to stop me.”
“Yeah. We would have. Stopping you from running out on a promising career, a great slot at Harvard, the shot to be what you always wanted—”
“NO! And that’s exactly the point,” Cal said exasperatedly, “I have been talked out of things my whole life. I have been convinced, deceived, hoodwinked, and guided through my whole life. Up to that point, I couldn’t even decide what I wanted for dinner without consorting with people for opinions.”
“That’s hardly the same—”
“No, it is the same. The second that diploma touched my hand I realized—I didn’t want to be a lawyer. My father talked me into it when I was a young boy, because it’s what he wanted. My mother wanted it because my sister was a lawyer. And by the time I got to Northwestern, all of my friends were pre-law, gearing up to be lawyers. Every single damned person in my life—except me—wanted it.”
Gabrielle said nothing. Cal sat on the wet bench beside her, sticking far to the opposite side as to not make her jump up and leave. She did not move. She wasn’t even looking at Cal. The rain continued to drizzle down. The tree above them constantly depositing large drops onto their heads as the leaves became too filled with water.
“And so yeah, I left. I didn’t want talked out of it. I didn’t want to give up that single moment of freedom I had so randomly walked into. I can tell you now, it did a lot of damage to me to run away and not say anything. To drop everyone. But I needed it.”
“Glad you found yourself at the cost of everyone. Real noble of you—”
“And if I had stayed? Tell me, if you suddenly realized you didn’t want that thing you had been prepped for since you were three years old, would you stay? I didn’t want to become my father.”
“You’re close now. I would expect him to not care about the feelings of his friends. Not you.”
“I did care! I saw everything that could have gone wrong. I didn’t want to be that dad who took his five year old son to a random graveyard and tell him ‘this is where you’re headed from now on. Make sure your name means something before you get here,’ when pointing to a headstone. I didn’t want to grow up hating my wife and my job so much that I slept with interns without discretion to the family.”
“Cal, you would never—”
“Who knows if I would have? I can’t imagine my father was always such a prick. He could have been normal at one time.”
“He really did that? Took you to a graveyard?”
“Yep. Right after baseball practice. He never was a fan of me playing. Said I didn’t have a shot.”
“You wouldn’t have done that. It wouldn’t have happened.”
“I guess we’ll never know now, will we. But I’m alright with that. Can you be alright with that?”
That’s twice this week
that I’ve smelled your aftershave
when you weren’t there.
I catch it on the air
even when I’m not thinking about you.
Though at Red Lobster
we had the Ultimate Feast
in your honor
and as I said, “he would love to be here”
there it was.
Old Spice mixed with Mitchum.
Maybe you were there.
Maybe you’ve decided to hang around
when I don’t think I can do this anymore.
It’s the smell I remember
breathing in when I greeted you
after work every day.
Even when I was 17
when I wasn’t supposed to hug my dad
anymore because that’s for kids.
But how could I not help being a kid around you?
All those nights talking about the stars
giggling like idiots to two robots and a man
ripping on terrible movies?
Those times I came down from my room
when mom had cancer
and you were holding it together by a thread
and a glass of cheap wine?
I tried not to let my fearful heart jump from my throat
because you were supposed to be strong.
It’s only now I realize how strong you were.
For my sister.
For the family you proudly talked about non-stop at work.
Something we only found out about
once you were ashes in a box.
I’ll be alright, some day.
I’ll be on a stage the eve of the one year
anniversary of when you left us
It won’t be the same without you.
Then again, if things go the way they have the past week.
Perhaps I’ll catch a whiff of Old Spice and Mitchum
on that stage.
And I won’t be scared anymore.
these are not places
but rather feelings
when your unnecessary
and down to toes
at the thought
you ever could sway
there is enough anger
without your prescription
cut you out
if it wasn’t already
Ten Items or Less:
Eggs, eggs, eggs, can’t forget the eggs; Kari will kill me if I forget them again. Eggs. Eggs. You ever say a word so many times it stops sounding like a word? I get freaked out. Like my brain is melting or I’m stroking out or something. Okay, Jesus, where am I? Canned goods. Do I need any canned goods? Do they have canned bads? Why is food called a “goods”? Isn’t the simple fact we need it to survive already a good thing? Why call it good? I don’t call running “sweaty walking”. It’s implied. Cranberry sauce. Odd. You ever realize it’s the only food item in a can where the part you open is on the bottom? What’s up with that? Who decided the best way to can gelatinous cranberries was upside down? Communists. I bet you. Have you ever been at a dinner where they have cranberry sauce and pickled beets and you get the latter thinking it’s the cranberry sauce and you bite into it and die? Alright, what produce did we need? Eggplants? No. Did you know they are called aubergine everywhere else in the world? And pineapples in every other language besides English are derived of the Latinate base Ananas? Why are we so weird? Eggplants look nothing like eggs. And Pineapples aren’t apples. Wait, I think she said buy some carrots. I don’t usually eat veggies. Can’t really justify skinning something just to boil it so it tastes like cardboard. Except broccoli. I like that stuff. I guess I always just pretend I’m a brachiosaurus eating a tree when I eat it. I make the sounds and everything. I think Kari hates me a little more every time I do. Maybe that’s why she stopped buy it. Speaking of dinosaurs, I should go to the museum soon, I haven’t been in a while. Oh, bulk—Gotta get some nuts for these brownies. Brownies. Brownies. Oh there I go again. another odd word. Kind of a lazy name. Like oranges, though I don’t know if the color or the fruit name came first. But brownies. It’s not like I go out and call pies “breaded fruit circles” or call powdered doughnuts “white-ies.” Oh man, that would be a bit racist if I said it out loud. Nuts, alright here we go. I always wondered what would happen if I came to the register with a single almond to purchase. What would they say? Oh, Oatmeal. I am always curious as to how someone decided to make it. I mean, someone had a lot of time on their hands. Look, I mean they take a seed from a strain of grass, flatten it out and stick it in hot water and let it sit. I cringe at making food with more than four steps. You know Pop tarts have multiple directions? What moron needs help making them? Okay, at the check-out line, here we go. Take a penny leave a penny. I always wonder what happens if you take two. Does the cashier hate you? Man, I wonder what it’s like asking people how there day is going for eight hours a day. Must be exhausting. Maybe I’ll shake things up today and tell them I’m doing horribly. Oh, he’s checking the 100 dollar bill. I think he needs a laugh, “Ah, it’s real, I printed it this morning!” Okay, I’m laughing but he’s glaring. I thought that was funny. Alright, I guess I should get going. These bags are packed weird, maybe next time I won’t get so much fruit.
Home, home I want to make these damn brownies.
I forgot the eggs.
It is strange. There is this young woman, someone I have not had the pleasure of knowing for long. I met her in Anthropology. She exuded bubbliness. I will confess I know little of her, other than she worked with my old roommate. And that she was in theater. And that she is a kind soul.
And now she lies in a hospital bed, unconscious and in critical condition for something of which I know nothing about.
But I consistently check to see if there is any updates.
And what I have come to realize is that you can affect everyone around you. I barely know this girl, and yet I want to make sure she pulls through. Because she was kind. Because she constantly put herself above other in regards to treating other with kindness.
So, Caitlin, though I may not know you, or ever speak to you again, know this. You have, by simply being a good human being, changed the way I see things. The way I see myself. That my negative energy and thoughts may have more of an effect than I realize. I will try, from now on, to remain more positive.
Because you just never know.
I hope you make it through.
In later years,
after the children had run off
and the missus wanton and vile
he would think back
on the choices
masquerading as grenades.
The buxom red velvet dress,
the late night steak dinners,
the impressions in the snow,
the dents on the hood of the car
from a luscious endeavor.
He chews on the end of a cigar.
He thinks of that dress
splayed out in the back seat.
Filed away in a leaking mind.
He looks to the sickly body
next to him and craves steak
raw and fresh.
he wonders if she remembers.
The children have not come home.