In my teens, I figured out that a lot of what grownups say is bullshit. I just tuned in out. By 15, I got to the point where every time I was offered advice by an adult, I just nodded in mock agreement and then laughed at them behind their back.
So it winds up taking years to filter out the bad advice (“Don’t ever loan your car to a negro.”) from the good (“A rock band tattoo isn’t gonna be relevant five years from now, Glen.”) Everything I’m about to say, I think I heard it all at some point in my youth, but it would be years before I’d realized it belonged in the good advice pile.
YOUNG LOVE IS NOT LOVE
I’ve lost track of the number of young couples who got engaged and went right into wedding planning or making babies. Try to talk a teenager or young adult out of it, and they’ll tell you that you don’t understand because you’ve never felt love like they do. No human has. What they have is the kind of love that freaking changes the orbits of planets. In all of the universe, there has never been a love like this, so back off.
And you sure as hell can’t point out that their young hormones are just ridiculously maxed out. They’ll think you’re dismissing what they have as silly horniness. They can‘t understand that every emotional impulse they feel is piped into stadium-ready amplifiers and cranked to Woodstock levels. They feel that burst of adrenaline and stomach flutters when they touch their lover’s hand or just glance at them from across the room, and think, holy shit, if this isn’t love, nothing is. God knows I thought that. Over and over.
The feeling is as addictive as any drug, and once you experience it, you’ll start to crave it, or think that a relationship is dead without it. The problem is that a lot of the fluttery feeling you get is a physical reaction to anxiety and the physical reaction goes away as you adjust. That’s part of the mechanism. So the longer you’re in the relationship, the more comfortable you become around that person, and that rush disappears. Young people feel this as “falling out of love.” Sort of funny, considering it probably wasn’t even love in the first place.
The difference between those young stomach flutters and actual love is the difference between seeing a picture of an adorable puppy and actually owning a dog. Part of the experience is its adorable brown eyes and soft fur, I admit that, but it’s also about you cleaning up its poop and doggy vomit. The young will think that’s just cynicism from a boring old man, but it isn’t.
Love is the WHOLE package. It’s not a single emotion that can be identified and distinctively felt like anger or happiness. It’s a series of connections that exists above and beyond day to day emotion or circumstance, something you feel even after you wake up to find your mate has lost their hair or gained fifty pounds.
I can harp about it all I want but the truth is, everything I’ve just said will evaporate the second those butterflies transform you into a drooling dork. Because you know this relationship is the one you‘ve been waiting for. You can feel it.
Every single love song or romantic movie insists that you only get “one true love,” one “soulmate.” So you get used to the idea of a supernatural King of Emotions that bestows true love upon you exactly once in your life . . . and if you don’t latch onto it when it arrives, that’s it. That was your only chance. So when you’re hit with that tide of emotions the first time, you think, “Well, I’m one of the lucky few to have found my ‘one’ on the first try. All the more proof that it was meant to be!”
Then, about the sixth or seventh time in your life that you feel this emotion, you’ll realize that the idea of “one true love” is bullshit.
Unfortunately, the only way to truly learn this is to experience it for yourself, to feel it come and go and come again. Just ask the millions of people who had to cancel their life plans to take care of a baby. Or the millions who married right after graduation and now can’t say more than two sentences to each other without breaking down into a violent fit of screaming and crying.
Don’t misunderstand the message, I’m not saying the feelings you have for your significant other are just side effects of a monster burrito. I’m just saying maybe you should hold off on the wedding and the babies for a while.
LEARN HOW TO FIX AND CLEAN STUFF
That’s the word they use to mean the tedious, bullshit tasks your parents made you do around the house instead of allowing you to have fun.
Chores suck. And most of you do them, begrudgingly. Or you split them with someone else, or whatever the system is to make sure the chores interfere with what you really want to do as little as possible. But much, much sooner than you think, you’re going to be responsible for all of that boring stuff, from top to bottom.
Bed, clothes, food, dishes, floors, bathroom . . . everything.
If you’re a teenager and still live at home, pretend that you’re the only one living there, and then just completely take over all the things your parents normally do for you, for a week, or a month. Learn how to do it all. Ask questions. Because in just a few short years, you’re going to be living on your own, and you will be absolutely shocked at how fast your living space turns into an unlivable shithole. God help you if you get stuck with roommates who treated “chores” the same way you did. Hey, did you know if you leave dirty dishes out long enough, flies lay eggs on them and then you have maggots on your dishes? Well, you’re gonna find out. Ever wonder how those people on Hoarders can live with garbage piled on every piece of furniture? Just live with some dudes who refuse to take out the trash, and you’ll find that out too.
For several years after moving out on my own, I treated doing dishes as a task on the same level as mowing the lawn with a pair of scissors. It was an unendurable torture. So I found the majority of my sustenance coming from fast food restaurants and little frozen boxes that are prepared with a microwave and the ability to push 4 – 0 – 0.
That’s an expensive way to eat and it will kill you eventually.
If you haven’t already, learn to use a damned washer and dryer. There’s nothing sadder than sitting in a laundromat and watching a newly divorced husband stare in confusion at a washing machine like it was a nuclear reactor. And I’m telling you, go to a laundromat right now and you’ll see this guy, and he’ll have a piles of clothes stuffed in trash bags because he literally wore every scrap of clothing he owned over and over until they all smelled like sour milk.
Don’t put this stuff off. You’re gonna be judged for it someday.
You can haul a bunch of laundry home to your Mom and she will do it. And let’s face it, when you’re young, you’re not going to be rejected for sex because your bathroom is dirty. Every young person’s bathroom is dirty. But after you’re out in the “real world,” around seasoned adults, the rules change. If you’re 25 and bring a date home to your apartment, and they smell the stagnant rot of week old dishes and strewn garbage, they’ll be thinking, “What a lazy slob. I’m not doing the whole teenager thing again.”
I’ve known grown men who couldn’t take care of their place, and every one of them was alone. Their houses were so bad that I couldn’t visit because the smell gave me a headache. I helped one of them clean once, and we found dead mice under the garbage on his living room floor. And the frightening part is that it was easy to get into that mode because they’d lived in it long enough for it to become normal.
Those guys couldn’t break out of that idea that basic cleaning and maintenance are just lame “chores.”
LEARN HOW TO WRITE
During my work history, I’ve had to pick out applications for potential hires. Keep in mind, we weren’t hiring rocket scientists. We just needed people who could do a job without somebody standing over their shoulder every second of the day.
I came across an application from a 21 year-old man who had a high school diploma and two years of college. Half of the application was filled out in blue ink. Large, loopy, pretty writing. In other words, his girlfriend’s writing. The other half (personal information, the stuff that his girlfriend didn’t know) was in black ink, and written in a way that suggested he may have been filling it out while being attacked by bees during a gang related drive-by. Nothing was in the disability section, so I assumed it was not a physical or mental problem.
But what made me put the application in the Not a Chance in Hell pile was when I saw his response to the question Why would you like to work for our company?
2 C some $$$ 4 a chng!!!
This is an online world, folks. It’s important that you learn to type in your native language better than the average 12 year old.
I swear that some schools still treat the subject of writing the way they did in 1911, when only a few select people would actually need to be able to write eloquently and all the rest just needed to know how to fill out a check at the feed store. Hell, when I was in high school, typing class was optional. Maybe it still is. But you can’t function today without a computer and every job makes you write.
Even if you’re working in some lowly position at a warehouse, odds are that every day, you will have to write something. An email, some kind of report, a maintenance work order, whatever. It will be something. And if your messages are full of typos and jumbled words, your bosses and co-workers are going to make assumptions about your intelligence.
You don’t have to be Hemingway. You don’t need to know how to write descriptions that touch the human soul. But you need to learn to be concise and clear, or it will be coming back to bite you in the ass over and over.
I’m not going to bullshit you. If you’re still in school, a significant portion of what you’re learning right now will be absolutely useless once you settle into your adult life. No, I don’t use my Algebra, and in fifty years, I’ve yet to encounter a life decision that hinged on me knowing what year the Battle of Hastings took place.
Writing is one of those things that gets thrown into the “useless bullshit” pile because so much of English class is spent on obscure grammar rules and categorizing words. It comes off like another boring, arcane and ultimately useless subject. You don’t need to know what a dangling participle is, but you need to know how to not write the opposite of what you meant. You need to know how to spell. You need to know how to punctuate. In an online world, your writing is going to form a shell around you, and most of the people who interact with you will only see the shell.
But again, until you’re in the break room and you overhear someone talking about how unfixably stupid you are, it’s not going to hit home.
And don’t even get me started about online relationships. No amount of intelligence or degrees or life experience can make up for the fact that the majority of online contact is in the form of writing. The other person won’t see you as educated, loyal, and cool. They will picture you as a slobbering four year old, slamming your palms across a keyboard and hoping it forms a thought. Because to them, this is stuff that should have been learned in elementary school.
BE MENTALLY HEALTHY
I tend to harp on this a lot. Your teens and early 20s are one of the most dangerous periods of your life. Those same hormones I mentioned earlier don’t just amplify the “feel good” emotions. They also work for the Dark Side.
For many, many years, I found myself always irritable, sad, tired, and angry for no discernible reason, without provocation or warning. I had heard of depression, and I knew the definition, but I didn’t really know what it was. It wasn’t until years later when I started figuring out psychology that I began to get a deeper insight as to what was making me involuntarily moody for most of my life. And as it turned out, it’s pretty hard to fight a monster if you don’t know there’s a monster.
Unfortunately, even if I had the internet back then, and a link was handed to me, and someone was there to click it, and another person held my eyes open, and another read the page to me through a megaphone, I still wouldn’t have absorbed the information. Depression has a way of doing that to a person, it tricks you into defending it against all attacks. You will feed and protect your misery like it’s your first born child.
But the odds are that nobody would have given me the link anyway. Society was, and still is, in the dark ages when it comes to any kind of mental or emotional problems. Practical advice on dealing with your own emotional swings is not a subject you’ll find being taught at schools or home or, well, pretty much anywhere. To this day, if you need physical therapy on a knee you sprained playing football, you’re a badass. But if you need mental therapy, even simple counseling, you’re crazy. Damaged. All talk of it is awkward. It‘s the subject of jokes. So the stigma keeps us solitary, shameful, and quietly accepting life with the monster.
The reality is that seeing somebody about your dark moods is no harder than going to see a doctor about that rash on your ass. Yeah, it’s awkward and intrusive but you get over it. Don‘t let the monster take root until you‘re bedridden. You do something. Do something before it murders you.
You’re too young to realize that, culturally speaking, most people are behaving like total douchebags these days. It’s not normal or healthy. We’ve gotten way too used to incivility, exhibitionism, and celebrity obsession. It’s taken for granted that a baby bib saying “Supermodel” is cute. Trust me when I tell you people haven’t always acted like this, but the cultural change has happened and society is blind to the transformation.
Things have gotten turned around. Some people argue that self-adoration is good, that it has some beneficial quality to it, but I’m saying its actually poisonous and not good for other people, for our society, or even yourself.
Listen. Our culture’s focus on self-admiration is a flight from reality to the land of fantasy. We have phony rich people (living under piles of debt), phony beauty (plastic surgery), phony athletes (performance-enhancing drugs), phony celebrities (reality TV), phony national economy ($11 Trillion of government debt), phony feelings of being special (parenting and education focused on self-esteem), phony friends (social networking), and phony genius students (grade inflation).
It’s all a bunch of crap.
Don’t let all of your technological advantages fool you. From my high school days to now, math scores have risen by about 1%. Congratulations. But academic performance in other subjects have dropped. The scary part is this: In 1976 only about 18% of students averaged an A. Today, the percentage of A students is at 33%. That’s a whopping 83% increase, while performance levels are decreasing.
That’s how screwed up our culture has gotten. We’ve decided to go with the strategy of boosting the fantasy of success rather than success itself. The whole situation is just like those amplifiers in the movie Spinal Tap that “go to eleven.“
A teenage girl posts revealing photos and videos of herself on the internet, and everybody thinks the poor girl just needs higher self-esteem. So parents redouble their efforts, telling the girl she’s special, beautiful, and great. That’s like suggesting that an obese person would feel much better if she just ate more doughnuts. You don’t compliment her, you punish her. She already knows she’s special, she’s been told that all her life. Remember the bib you made her wear that said “Supermodel”? Now she’s trying to show everyone just how beautiful and special she is. She thinks she’s hot. She thinks that because you told her that, and because she lives in a narcissistic society where she’ll garner praise, status, and “friends” by displaying sexuality.
Take my advice kids. Be humble. Self-adoration causes almost all of the things that parents hoped high self-esteem would prevent, stuff like aggression, materialism, lack of caring for others, and shallow values.
Statistically, almost every teenager reading this will try booze or drugs before they graduate. I’m the last guy in the world who is going to burst through the doors and break up the party. I’ve drank enough alcohol and done enough stupid things in a single night to put any random four of you in a grave. And this is the last thing you want to hear, because the whole point of partying is that for one night you don’t have to worry about anything. So I’m not going to be the asshole who starts preaching about childhood obesity to trick-or-treaters on Halloween. I had my fun, you should have yours.
But, there’s a huge yet invisible difference between innocent experimentation and damaging yourself, and when it decides to blindside you, it happens so hard and so fast that, in the words of Warden Samuel Norton: “You’ll think you’ve been f**ked by a train”. Learn before that happens.
If it’s addictive, leave it alone.
Things that are addictive aren’t a “find out a couple of years later” kind of thing. Get addicted, and they will eat up a giant size portion of your total lifespan.
There are millions of people out there who can party with the best of them and then walk away unscathed. They can forget about it the next day and not come back to it for months or years at a time. Maybe you’re one of those people, and I won’t be the guy who points a finger in your face and tells you that you’re wrong. All I’m asking is that you stop and consider for a serious moment. Is it worth the gamble that it might damage you and everyone you love?
You spend years in school listening to D.A.R.E. programs (or whatever anti-drug stuff they do where you live) telling you that one hit off a joint will put you in a coma. Then you actually try the stuff and realize that’s bullshit, so you immediately ignore all other warnings, too. All the adults sound like a bunch of puritans clutching their pearls at the thought of you spending Friday night ingesting anything other than Bible verses. Right? It’s hard to imagine that your parents were young too, at one point, and may have done the things you’re doing right now. It’s hard to separate the good and bad advice, especially when you’re young and healthy and invincible, and your hangovers are over after breakfast.
And hell, when you’re a young adult, that’s all about partying, right? That’s the stereotype. The weird kids are the ones who aren’t getting wasted.
And in the years after, you don’t take kindly to words like “alcoholic” and “addict” because they’re not a diagnosis, they’re insults. They’re terms used to describe selfish, weak people who ruin families. Nobody wants to be that. Even if you find out that you are addicted, you sure as hell can’t admit it.
So you’ll ignore it. You’ll get defensive. You’ll make excuses like, “I have a job. I pay my bills. I’m not hurting a damn thing. I’m an adult, and this is my decision.”
Yep. That’s what addicts do.
They don’t want to admit, that at some point, it stops being their decision. Willpower has nothing to do with it anymore.
I’m almost fifty years old, and I’ve only got one vice left. Smoking. I’ve smoked two packs a day since disco was popular and Obama was still in college.
What’s it like to quit smoking, you ask? Remember the worst flu you’ve ever had. Body aches, lethargy, stomach cramps, nausea, headaches, sore throat, coughing that makes your lungs feel like they’re on fire. Then imagine the angriest you’ve ever been, and try to picture being in that state for a solid week. When people try to cheer you up, it only makes it worse. Everything makes it worse. Now concentrate on physically clenching every muscle in your body all at once and hold it for as long as you can. Just when you think you can’t take it anymore, hold it for another week. Now, combine all of those into one cohesive army that’s constantly attacking your body and mind, and the whole time, you know that smoking a single cigarette will take all of that away in less than five seconds.
Christ, everyday, I wish I’d never started smoking.
So, to end this blog, I’m gonna thank all of those people and factors who helped me get to this point in my addiction:
My old Army buddies, who talked me into my first cigarette.
My girlfriends, for also smoking and not making me feel stupid for doing it too.
The mullet-sporting bartenders who sold those packs to me when I decided it was more interesting to get drunk than hang out with the girlfriends.
The cigarette machines at gas stations back in the days when cigarette vending machines were a thing and anybody could keep up their heroin-like nicotine addiction as long as they had enough quarters.
Movies for making it look cool.
The asshole who wrote the article I just read that reminded me that if I quit now and stay smoke free, I’ll be collecting Social Security before my body is fully repaired.
The tobacco companies who’ve made it rain slow death on the human species for a century.
But I save the biggest thanks for myself. My stupid, young self for not listening to good advice and deciding instead to jump into these killing addictions without one second of thought to the future. And then the older versions of myself in all the years since, finding excuses to never change despite family and friends begging me to quit.