September 14th was my 27th birthday. I don’t remember when I officially hit my “Late 20s,” but I’m surprisingly OK with that. I’m kind of taking a “whatever” attitude towards my birthday this year. In the past, I would either have an existential crisis (The Epic Quarter Life Crisis of 25) …
or plan some elaborate multi-day/weekend extravaganza that usually ended up one big headache (see: The Naked Creepy Party of 20).
My question is: How did I suddenly become 27? It felt like yesterday when I was 17, beginning my senior year of high school and trying to figure out what I was going to do with my life. In the ten years that has passed, so much has transpired. I graduated from Ithaca College with a BA, came out, met the love of my life, graduated from The New School with an MFA, became a college professor (can we say #FullCircle?), and finished writing a book that I can be extremely proud of.
Looking back, I wouldn’t do ONE thing differently; I don’t believe in regrets. Each choice made, each path taken, every single breath leads you to the exact place that you need to be. I wholeheartedly believe that. But there are some things that I would like to go back and say to my 17 year old self, mostly because I was a big bundle of nerves who was thirsty for attention, hungry for love, and in need of direction, and I still carry that 17 year old around with me every day.
If I could go back and talk to my 17 year old self, this is what I would say:
- The friends that you make this year are going to change you in every good way possible.
- Just be careful about getting too close to some of them because in a few years, they will stab you in the back.
- But really, scratch that, because you’re right to love them with your whole heart because you will have some of your fondest memories with them. Live and learn. That’s life’s greatest challenge/lesson.
- Don’t hold grudges. They aren’t healthy and they won’t solve any issues. Talk about issues you may have right away in a calm manner and give people time to process their feelings. You have to try to understand where other’s are coming from. Your biggest problem is that you can’t seem to let go when you need to the most…
- Grace will be your saving grace throughout your college years. You don’t know it yet, but she secretly applied to Cornell University, so if Ithaca College wasn’t already your first choice — which it is, #obvi — it should be. Just remember: she may be your best friend, but that doesn’t mean she has to take your constant bullshit and angry outbursts (from the end of high school through college), so go easy on them because in the long-run, those ugly moments where you hurt your best friend are going to be your worst. The thing is, she will take in all of your ugly moments and still be there for you no matter what. She’s the ONLY person who will deal with you like that. She will be there for you at the drop of a hat, no questions asked. She will teach you so much about yourself and how to deal with your feelings, so try not to be the biggest douche.
- While we’re on the topic of college, only apply to Ithaca College. Don’t even bother with all of the other applications because fees are expensive.
- One of your best friends is about to experience his parents getting divorced. It will happen once you leave for college, but you won’t reach out to him like you know you should. You’ll keep telling yourself that you should reach out to him because you know exactly what it’s like to be in the middle of a divorce, but you won’t. And you’ll carry this guilt around with you for a long time, even though you’ll know that there was probably nothing you could’ve done. Take my advice: reach out.
- Don’t be a fool for “love.” There’s a new girl in school. We’ll call her Valerie (which makes total sense because I know you watch Beverly Hills, 90210 so you’ll get the reference). You’re convinced that you like her. In fact, you’re so thirsty for attention that you’ll write her a letter professing your love even though you’re just in love with the fact that she’s new in town and you’re convinced that she doesn’t think you’re on the down low. Don’t write her a love letter. Her response will kill you.
- While we’re at it, we both know you’re gay. It’s totally ok that you don’t want to admit to yourself. I get it. It’s a journey. But you should know that there is absolutely nothing wrong with you. I know you won’t believe me, but when you do finally come out, none of your friends and most of your family won’t care. And the ones that do care, will get over it eventually.
- Spend more time with Aunt Jay. She’s going to die on your 18th birthday and you’re going to leave for college and completely forget to say goodbye to her. This will haunt you for awhile, even though she barely remembered you who were you because of the dementia.
- Talk to Dad more. Let him in. He’s actually a really good person, even though you harbor a lot of uneasiness towards him still because of the divorce and you never gave him a chance. He’s a bit of a wayward soul, even though you don’t see that because right now you only see him “every other weekend” and he seems like he has everything together. He doesn’t. It’s all surface-level. You just need to give him a chance. Tell him not to move to Lake George. Tell him it’s the biggest mistake he’ll ever make. He’s your biggest ally, but you don’t see that now. One day, though, you will, but it might be at the expense of everything he’s worked for.
- Have more fun. Don’t be afraid to talk to more people while you’re in high school.
- Write more. Don’t be afraid to explore everything through words. We both know you have a hard time verbalizing out loud, but through words, you can — and will — convey everything.
- When you go off to college, you’re going to meet this guy who will shake your entire world and completely change how you see and interact with the world. Nothing will ever happen between you two, but your interactions were so super-charged that you’ll live off of them for a long time. It won’t end well, and you’ll retreat into a black hole of despair. But that’s ok, because out of that, you’ll be so desperate for human interaction, that when you’re finally ready for friends, you’ll meet four girls who will be your future roommates and best college friends.
- Don’t take shit out on others. The demise of your whatevership with the above guy will send you into a spiral that will effect how you treat your other new friends at college, including telling off one person who could’ve become one of your best friends. Don’t do that.
- Stop being afraid to make friends. The above friend mentioned you’ll meet at your college orientation, right after you graduate from high school. You’re going to want to be his roommate, but be too afraid to ask him. He’ll later tell you the same thing, that he was going to ask you but was afraid. Just know that your actions have reactions, and your inability to be outgoing will haunt you with what-if’s for a long, long time.
- Study abroad in college. This will be your only REAL regret in life. When you get into college, you will be heavily looking into studying abroad. The prospect of finances will stop you from doing so. THIS IS BULLSHIT because it would’ve cost the same. You’ll be in the same amount of debt. Trust me. Go to Italy, like you always wanted to do because you won’t ever have that chance.
- Study more in high school. I know it’s your senior year, you finally have friends and you’re not the sad, depressed lonely soul that you were two years ago, but that doesn’t mean that your grades should slip. Seriously. Be better than a C. You’ll come to understand one day when you’re a professor that “potential” is not just a word that teachers throw around willy-nilly. It’s a real, attainable height; reach it.
- Dude, stop “frosting your tips.” It’s not a look. It’s actually pretty bad. You want your hair to be blonder because you hate the ashy color that it’s become. But really, that ashy color is pretty sexy. And even if it wasn’t, in no circumstance is it ok to have your mom yank your hair through a blue cap and bleach random strands of your hair. #CheetahSpots are not a cute look.
- Discover fashion. I mean, turtle necks and vests and ripped jeans are not a thing. You can wear clothes that flatter your fat ass that didn’t come from WalMart.
- Start eating healthy. You seriously love wings from Candlelight Inn, and McDonalds for lunch because you have two free periods in a row, but when the waistline of your jeans digs into your big fat stomach and cuts off the circulation, you should really stop eating that crap. Maybe if you stop eating crap now, I wouldn’t have such a hard time staying healthy 10 years down the road.
- SparkNotes is not a thing. Stop taking the easy way out in high school and actually the read the books you’re assigned. You might actually find that you like some of them!
- Be a better person. Don’t be afraid to love with all of your heart. Be a better friend, son, brother, cousin. Love with every fiber of your being, even if those you love won’t ever truly love you as much as you love them. There’s nothing worse than not giving 110% of yourself in everything and you’ll know when you’re giving something your all and it will hurt your pride.
- Don’t hold onto the past for too long and don’t be afraid of change. I can tell you with certainty that, years down the road, you’ll constantly be telling yourself, “that person is not the same person that I loved in high school.” That’s ok. Nobody stays the same.Things will change. Friendships will evolve. People will move away. Fights will happen. You’ll be afraid to adapt to Ithaca for a long time, and because of that you’ll be afraid to fully immerse for a solid year. Don’t be afraid of change. Nothing ever stays the same. Change is actually the most fun part of life.
- Don’t give up on your art. I know this wound is still fresh, but remember when you were 15 and your high school art teacher, we’ll call him Mr. Dick because he name is another word for penis, told you that you didn’t have a future as an artist because you had trouble painting a house on canvas, even though you had never done it before? Yeah, he was a dick. And he made you give up completely on your dream of applying to CalArts and becoming an animator. Don’t let him get the best of you. Maybe your path won’t lead you to become an animator for Disney, but don’t let him stop you from taking art classes and losing sight of that person. Take it from me. I let him defeat me, and I still wonder, “what if…”
- Don’t regret anything. You’re going to regret so much. Why didn’t I come out in high school? Why didn’t I tell that boy from freshman year of college that I loved him? Why did I fight with that friend? Why did I say those things? Why did I waste time on that? Who gives a fuck? Just live your live with the philosophy that everything happens for a reason.
- YOUR FUTURE IS PRETTY FUCKING AWESOME. You will meet your Prince Charming. You will fall so deeply in love that it will completely alter your world. And the best part? He will love you back with all of his heart! Remember all the nights you dreamed the same dream that every little girl dreams about a White Knight and an epic love that will change you for all the right reasons and completely fill you with so much purpose and love and everything you EVER wanted? You’re going to get that. It won’t come until your early-to-mid 20s, but when it does, that will be it. You will love teaching. You will still be friends with the people that matter because they know that, no matter what, you matter too. You will write because writing allows you to do the impossible. You will be the man that you never thought you would become.