My life, as with any life I imagine, has had a series of plot twists so frequent and bizarre they’re rather difficult to believe at times. There was a time in my life when it didn’t seem to matter much whether or not I’d ever reach a point where I could turn around and reflect on anything I’d gone through or achieved. However, things are looking a bit different now and, lest I become one of those insufferable assholes that pretends to themselves and everyone else that they’ve always had everything figured out and it was just a neat series of actions like climbing stairs, I’ve taken a moment to write down some advice for myself that I could hopefully benefit from a couple decades down the road. Here is what I hope to bear in mind.
1. No matter how far you make it, never start looking down your nose at people in their struggle.
Hopefully by now you’ve made it. Hopefully those years when, no matter what you did, you could not stand on your own two feet are just a distant memory. Maybe you don’t even think about them at all anymore. Hopefully now you can afford to give your daughter all the things she deserves – that you can’t remember feeling guilty about having to say “no” because you just couldn’t afford “yes.” Hopefully now you’re only saying “no” because it’s not good for kids to have whatever they want. Also, hopefully by now your daughter is self-sufficient! Regardless, I don’t want to you ever, ever forget the way it felt to need. I don’t want you to ever forget the hot tears of shame that spill from your eyes in secret when you have to bend to the will of others because they’re helping support you or the tears that slip out when you can’t give your daughter the things the other kids in her class have. And I don’t want you to ever forget that even though you were grinding so hard, you definitely relied on, and accepted, lots of help – because you needed it. I don’t want you to forget that no matter how many hours in a day you worked, and no matter how many days you worked in a row, there was just no way to make ends meet on your own. You needed help and you got it. Don’t you ever look down on people or believe they are lazy for needing a leg up. Give them the leg up when and where they need it without batting an eye and stand in between them and those hateful folks who will sling mud at them for it. You remember that shame and you remember that no one deserves to feel that.
[bctt tweet=”Remember that shame and remember that no one deserves to feel that.”]
2. Remember your desperation. Stay grateful.
In the same vein as the first point, always remember those long years where you were at the bottom of a pit trying to scramble your way out – and no matter which way you turned, all you felt was smooth muddy walls without a foothold and you thought you’d never make your way out. Never forget those times when nothing was going right, and it seemed like none of it would ever get better. Never forget the way you couldn’t breathe and you cried and prayed that one thing, just one little thing would improve. Never, ever forget the day you finally told yourself no matter how bad things were, it surely couldn’t stay that way forever. Always remember that little bird of hope that beat its wings inside your chest when you told yourself these words. The way it felt to realize that as bad as things were, it was just like running a marathon – that maybe somewhere past the halfway mark it’s feeling like it’ll never end and you’re going to die completely because you just can’t make it, but if you just keep going with one foot in front of the other, you’d eventually reach a point where you could rest and all that pain would fade. Stay as grateful now as you were then when one little thing finally did improve and then, just like dominoes, all the other things starting getting better, too. Maybe just a little better, but better nonetheless. Remember the gratitude you felt for that incredible relief. It was truly a gift. No matter how bad things get, baby, just keep going. And if you need to lean on someone, that’s okay.
[bctt tweet=”No matter how bad things get, baby, just keep going. If you need to lean on someone, that’s okay.”]
3. Just because you found your way doesn’t mean you have the map for everyone.
This one will probably be hard, because hopefully you don’t just have your shit together by now but have it locked down like Fort Knox. With a lot of experience is going to come some wisdom – but be wise enough to realize that what worked for you may not work for everyone else. You got a lot of great advice from some super genius and successful folks, but ultimately you had to go your own way and once you did with full confidence in yourself, that’s when things started feeling really great. So when you encounter someone who’s not quite as far along on the path as you, tell them “Hey, this worked for me, you could try it or you could try something else – I’m just saying what helped me out.” Never start believing you have all the answers for everyone and never trick yourself into thinking someone is doing things wrong when they’re not doing the things the way you did them or would do them.
Remember what Fleetwood Mac said and know that everyone needs to go their own way
4. Stay writing.
Hey, let’s face it, maybe (probably) you’re never going to be famous. You may never be like Erdrich or Heaney – you may never master the craft in that way. Maybe you’ll never win awards or even make a living off your writing. Guess what? Who the fuck cares? You have to stay writing anyway. This is one of the things you came into this world for (along with hugs and dancing). This is one of your greatest gifts. It doesn’t matter if no one knows who you are. When your 2nd grade teacher sent a note home to your parents about a poem you wrote – you knew that you and the written word were meant to go through this life together. Keep writing even if it’s just a pastime for you. You need it. (PS: never roll your eyes your words and never let anyone else roll their eyes at them either. This is your jam. Do it up!)
5. Stay fighting.
Now that you’re (hopefully) not struggling so hard, continue to stay strong for the people who still are. Remember to keep using your privileged position in this society to get in the way of the haters. Don’t get too comfortable. Certainly don’t get complacent. And no matter what, never stop hollering against injustices. That’s what you’re here for.
[bctt tweet=”No matter what, never stop hollering against injustices. That’s what you’re here for.”]