Currently reading What I Know Now: Letters to My Younger Self as part of my nonfiction book’s competitive research. The book is on my list because my blog has been a lot of advice I wish I’d gotten when I was a younger person (and, ideally, been willing to listen). The letter I’m writing here is for a much younger Bart, the kid who hit rock-bottom emotionally when he was 12 or 13 years old and wanted to die rather than go back to school and face his peers.
I know you don’t want to hear this, but you have to go back to school today. You’ve been fighting an illness for six weeks that your doctor basically told you is psychosomatic: that is, there’s nothing physically wrong with you, you’re just so stressed out, your body can’t handle it. Your much older self is here to offer you some reassurance, and God and I both know that you need it.
You prayed to Jesus to let you die. You didn’t. Jesus sent you back from your fever dream and said you’re not done yet, right? He’s right. Wow, was he right. And here’s the really good news: life will get a whole lot better from here on. Looking back from the fantastically futuristic-sounding year of 2017, I can assure you that this is as bad as it gets. 1981 will be the shittiest year in your life. You’ve just survived the worst of it.
You will be a writer. You will work for Disney and live in Orlando (twice!). You will work in the space business. You will get away from the jerks and assholes who are making your life such an awful pain right now. You will grow to get along with and respect your parents. You will grow up to be a responsible, respected adult known for your kindness and integrity. Indeed, while you might not appreciate it now, they’re the ones who are keeping you steady when everything outside of home is making you crazy. Don’t forget that, and don’t forget that Colleen has your back, too.
Now the bad news.
It’s going to take a long time to get where you want to be. Partly that will be because you have so many ideas about what you want to do and so few ideas about how to do it all. So for now you need to try some new thoughts and habits. You need to remember that people can, do, and will respond to what comes out of your big mouth, so it’s better to be polite and considerate, even if it’s not appreciated at the age you’re at. Next: you have to learn to think about the long term. You know you’re going to be successful as an adult. That’s what you’ve been hoping for as long as you can remember. But you have to do the work, you have to make the effort, and you have to suffer through the foolishness that your peers inflict on you for the next few years. How many years?
Here’s some perspective. Your last physical beating will be within a year. That’s it.
You’ll get out of high school early so you can get away from the jerks and start working.
You’ll get out to Florida to live by 1991.
You’ll get your first writing job by 1996.
You’ll get your first full-time space job by 2006.
Sound like a long time? It is. But you’ll be learning and progressing the whole time if you learn to listen occasionally–eventually you’ll learn to like it. If I could have one wish for you for those long years between your now and my now, it would be that you learn to trust other people, let them in, and be your friend. That will not be easy given what you’re going through now, but just for perspective, your buddy Karl is still your best friend, these many years later. I might not always be Mr. Cool, even at this age, but I’m happy with the person I see in the mirror.
That’s worth living for, surely?
Your much older self,