08 August, 2010


This is a letter I wrote to my sister, who is 15, back in May. She was frustrated with fitting in and figuring out what she wanted to do. Here is my response.

Hello to you, my dear sister.

Because of I suffer from the same kind of predicaments, I don't know how much merit my advice carries, but I'll take a stab at doling some out.

As weird as this sounds, I think these are the best kinds of problems to have. You and I are very fortunate to have extremely supportive parents in everything we do, so our problems are diddly-squat compared to what some kids deal with. Starting with that in mind helps keep everything in perspective; We're lucky we can be concerned with such nuances of existence (e.g., besides survival).

It's tough, isn't it? What are we to dooooo? We're different, we're unique. I don't mean this in an egotistical way at all, but I think we can agree that we think differently than the majority of people you meet on the street.

In my  quasi-philosophical thinking and writing, I have found that people are searching for relevance. People get in relationships, people apply for certain jobs, people move to specific cities, and people write blogs, among many, many other things. They do all this because they want to be recognized in some way. It doesn't have to be a grand parade with trumpets and cheering, but they want to feel like they fit in.

We are no exception. I, at least, certainly want to fit in. I want to be in harmony with my environment. While it is very important to be able to adapt to whatever situation you find yourself in, it's even more important to be able to create and shape the environment you want to live in. Only you can make things the way you want them to be.

If you don't know what you want (because I certainly don't know exactly what I want), it becomes a search. A noble quest, my liege! Indeed! You look and look and look for things you love, and when you find them, grab them! Pick those things up and keep them in your knapsack of life. Whether you're committing something to memory, taking a picture, or writing down the name of an author you want to devour when you get home after listening to NPR, it's all being added to your arsenal of resonance. It all becomes ammunition to attack the onslaught of mediocrity and apathy, sustenance for your voracious mind, and a palace of solace and peace.

Putting all ambiguous alliterations and analogies aside (heh heh), it's about finding and deciding who you want to be, and doing absolutely everything in your power to become that person. Be the independent pillar of  thought and reason, compassion and caring, knowledge and insight.

I realize this is all very abstract and broad. When I ask someone for advice or help, I usually want specifics. Nitty-gritty details about the steps I need to take to solve a problem. Unfortunately, you'll rarely find that you get that level of specificity. This apparently unfortunate occurrence is actually a blessing in disguise. It may seem ridiculously frustrating and stupid in the beginning, but the fruit is so much sweeter at the end. By figuring out the steps and working through the trenches yourself, you will find out more about yourself and get a greater reward at the finish line. Sure, you might fall on your face in the mud, and you'll feel like a absolute fool, but get up. Wipe the mud off your face, spit it out of your teeth, and forge ahead. That's where you will truly gain useful experiences and build your character.

I think, at the point in life you are in right now, preparation is the key word. Start good habits now, because when you get out in the battlefield, everything reverts to muscle memory. If you start forming habits of reading a lot, critically thinking about just about everything, and approaching everything with an open mind, those resources will be there for the rest of your life.

Through various pursuits in my growing world, I am finding that my best friends are those who wholly accept me for who I am. But more than interacting with others, I am finding that I have to be my own best friend. I have to know myself, try to objectively analyze myself, and strive towards my goals.

As for specifics, the only one I will offer is this (broad though it is): Identify the first step. Pick whatever it is that you want -- be it a new iPod, a better attitude about getting up in the morning, or knowing how to fix cars -- and pick out what the first microscopic step is to achieving that goal. If you want to feel better in the mornings, look at your sleeping patterns. What makes you feel good or bad? Does eating affect it? Would a different alarm help? Once you figure out what will help, do that. Then move on to the next step.

(That "think of the first step" thing also helps a lot when talking to people, whether you love them or hate them. Figure out what you're trying to say, analyze how you're feeling at the moment [so you don't blow a gasket or something], and decide on the first step to communicating as clearly as possible.)

And if you're swimming in the sea of everything life has to offer (thinking about everything often leads to thinking about nothing), make your picture frame smaller. If your canvas is enormous, it's hard to fill. Instead of thinking of "Holy cow, what am I going to do with my ENTIRE LIFE?" think about something like "What kind of theatre do I want to do in the next three months?" Giving yourself a tighter framework and constraints of some kind often helps spur creativity and insight.

You want to know the best part of giving advice (or bizarre images and stories, as it may be)? It helps me figure out a lot of stuff to. Please write more deep questions like this. :-)

As I said, I know this doesn't touch on many specifics, but I hope it helps. You are unbelievably advanced and amazing as a human being, and it's only up from here. You're on the right track, so forge ahead and blaze a trail.

Talk to you soon.

-- James


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