Dear Eighteen: A Linkup with Chosen Chaos

Over at Chosen Chaos, Jamie has been running a series called “If I Could Turn Back Time,” in which writers are asked what they would tell their eighteen-year-old selves.  I posted this piece on her site a while ago, and now she’s doing a wrap-up week, inviting the entire year’s worth of writers to re-post their letters on their own blogs.  It’s hard to  re-post without tinkering and tweaking (or hiding information), but I’m going to sit on my hands and let this one go, just as it is.

Plus you get the picture of me at eighteen. Ah, the hair of youth:

 Dear Eigh­teen

You’re almost ready to go to col­lege and although you’re not really talk­ing to your par­ents these days, I’m hop­ing you’ll lis­ten to me.  After all, I’ve got sort of a vested inter­est in hav­ing you come through col­lege alive. The last two years of high school have been tumultuous, to say the least, and your par­ents are ter­ri­fied about leav­ing you alone at school half-​​way across the coun­try.  You keep insist­ing that once you get the hell out of the Mid­west, you’re going to be FINE, but I know that under all that hair and bravado, you’re also scared about embark­ing on this new stage of your life.

So do your­self a favor and before you go stomp­ing off to lis­ten to the Grate­ful Dead on your super-​​cool eight-​​track cas­sette player, just lis­ten to me for a few min­utes? If you lis­ten to me, maybe the next four years (and, er, three decades) will be smoother.  It’s true that some of this advice might echo what your mother has been say­ing to you all these years, but here’s my first piece of advice: your mother is a hell of a lot smarter than you think she is.  Try lis­ten­ing to what she has to say. 

Sec­ond piece of advice? Don’t bother bring­ing that eight-​​track player to col­lege. Trust me on that one.  

Now, a few other things:

I know you’re going to this single-​​sex col­lege under extreme protest and that you have every inten­tion of trans­fer­ring at the win­ter break, but please don’t do it.  Being in class with­out boys will feel like a huge rock has been lifted off your head: you have bet­ter things to think about than whether some boy has noticed you notic­ing him.

Now that you’re in col­lege, it’s time to bury “Dizzy Deb­bie,” the per­sona you adopted to sur­vive in high school. Remem­ber? Try­ing to hide that you were in 4th year Latin and AP every­thing else, pre­tend­ing you didn’t know how to work the com­bi­na­tion on your locker, never talk­ing about any of the things that mat­tered to you?  In col­lege, let your­self enjoy being smart. It’s a lot more fun than being ditzy.

In addi­tion to what you’re learn­ing in class, do your­self a favor and learn to say no. To drugs, to drink­ing, to stu­pid men, to “friends” who try to help you by point­ing out all your flaws and none of your strong points. And while you’re learn­ing about “no,” take a minute to learn this phrase “when she says no, it’s rape.” Remem­ber that night in high school, when you said NO and STOP but he laughed and kept going?  Yeah. That was rape. It shouldn’t have hap­pened and it wasn’t your fault. Take that guilt you’ve been car­ry­ing around for three years and turn it into anger that some football-​​playing jack­ass could do that to you and get away with it—brag about it, in fact, to his friends.

Once you find that anger, though, you’re going to have to let it go. If you don’t, you’re going to get stuck think­ing that sex is a power tool and not an expres­sion of inti­macy.  Men are not like ram­shackle old houses. Do not get your­self a “fixer-​​upper.” Please fig­ure that out now, and save your­self thou­sands of dol­lars in ther­apy, years of mis­er­able rela­tion­ships, and one bro­ken engage­ment (a nec­es­sary break-​​up, true, but bru­tal nonethe­less).  Yes, rela­tion­ships are work but being in a grown-​​up rela­tion­ship doesn’t mean end­less fights. Learn the dif­fer­ence between com­pro­mise and com­pro­mised; live with the for­mer but not the latter.

Don’t shake your head at me, Eigh­teen. Am I harsh­ing your mel­low? Bum­mer. Stop flip­ping your hair at me and lis­ten for a few more min­utes. Then you can get back to per­fect­ing your Farrah.

Actu­ally, let’s talk hair, shall we?  In a few years, when you’re study­ing in Eng­land, you’re going to be tempted to be a hair model at the Sas­soon school. Here’s where I want you to prac­tice that “no” we talked about ear­lier. You’re going to think “a model! How cool!” RESIST! They’re going to cut your hair really short and you will look like a brunette broc­coli.  The hairdo they’re going to give you requires scimitar-​​like cheek­bones, not a jaw­line that Churchill would envy.

Writ­ing kept you (mostly) sane dur­ing high school and it will con­tinue to be your great­est joy dur­ing col­lege, but then you’ll start studying for your doc­tor­ate and start hear­ing voices in your head. They’ll say things like “maudlin,” and “deriv­a­tive,” and “juve­nile,” and “under-​​theorized.” Tell those voices to shut the hell up. Keep writ­ing your own stuff, in addi­tion to your aca­d­e­mic stuff, so that you don’t have to wait until the inven­tion of some­thing called “blogs” to find an out­let for your ideas. 

It’s hard to imag­ine right now but you’re going to be both a wife and a mother.  And, fur­ther­more, you’re going to have boy chil­dren, not girls, which I know you think is totally nutty.  I mean tomato plants don’t sud­denly sprout beans, so how a girl body can give birth to boys is anyone’s guess.  But it’s going to be okay—you’re going to love your boys despite, and some­times even because of, their boy-​​ness.  In fact, you’re going to love your hus­band in much the same way—he can’t help that he’s a man, but you’re going to love him anyway.

That’s about it for now, I think.  Let’s review:  Be nice to your mother, stay in col­lege, say no to stu­pid men and bad hair­cuts, keep writing, have babies, have a mar­riage, have a career (but not nec­es­sar­ily in that order).

That about cov­ers it, I think.  In the long run, just as you sus­pected all those long years ago, you’re going to be FINE.  It’s just going to take you a lit­tle while to get there.







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17 Responses to Dear Eighteen: A Linkup with Chosen Chaos

  1. Stasha August 10, 2012 at 9:33 am #

    Oh the 18 track and the Farah hair. I loved reading it the first time and I love reading it today!!!

  2. The Bright Side of Life August 10, 2012 at 10:31 pm #

    Oh, I loved reading this, although I am sorry to read about the rape…… yep, sounds familiar! Fancy that, something else in common besides Africa, I am also 48! 🙂

    • Deborah Quinn August 12, 2012 at 2:14 am #

      I have to say that my date rape story is a bit like talking about a miscarriage: once you start talking about it, you’re amazed to hear how many others have had similar experiences. Rather depressing, and yet also, somehow comforting. So where are you in Africa, and what are you doing there? I’m going to stop by that there blog of yours and see what I can discover.

  3. Mama and the City August 10, 2012 at 11:25 pm #

    Oh. I feel bad for the rape portion. That just made me so furious! Sometimes I just hope I can be wise enough to have this same talk to my future 18 yr daughter.

    Thanks for sharing your experiences – not an easy thing.

    • Deborah Quinn August 12, 2012 at 2:12 am #

      I thought about leaving that icky bit out, but then, if I had a daughter (which I don’t, snuffle snuffle), I’d want her to be strong enough not to be flattered by big blue eyes and a football jacket. Such a cliche. Sigh. It was bad, but it was also a really really long time ago. So. Now it’s just a story…thanks for stopping by!

  4. Julie August 11, 2012 at 5:19 am #

    I worry since I’m raising my kids in the Midwest if they’re going to hop the first bus outta here when they hit 18. But I guess no matter where we raise our kids, they want to go somewhere else immediately anyway.

    Oh, and I hope that dude got the most raging case of gonaherpasyphales ever in college and that his rapey penis fell off. GRRR.

    • Deborah Quinn August 12, 2012 at 2:07 am #

      Guy was a jerk. Probably still is. But eh, it was a longass time ago. And as for leaving home? My husband grew up in the heart of it all-NYC–and even *he* beat tracks away from home as soon as he could. Of course, unlike me, he went back to New York. For me the midwest is strictly visiting country. Where is your midwest? Mine is northern illinois…

  5. dusty earth mother August 11, 2012 at 7:06 pm #

    Oh, Brunette Broccoli… I loved this. xxoo

    • Deborah Quinn August 12, 2012 at 2:06 am #

      you know how there are some people for whom the pixie cut is perfect? yeah. i’m not one of them.

  6. Lady Jennie August 13, 2012 at 9:07 pm #

    I love this. And my heart hurt about that football playing jerk. Great advice.

    And I wish I had your hair – so much you can do with it.

    • Deborah Quinn August 14, 2012 at 5:18 am #

      there was a lot of hair back in the day. sheesh. there’s much less of it now, and much of its color comes from an expensive box. sigh. but at least the football players are in the dim recesses of memory. So delightful to see you at BH12. Any chance that Chicago in 13 might be in the cards?

  7. Jamie August 14, 2012 at 11:58 pm #

    So agree with the sitting on your hands… that is SO hard! And still I love the hair!! thank you!

  8. Ado August 15, 2012 at 2:40 am #

    BRUNETTE BROCCOLI! Love you. And the hair.

    • Deborah Quinn August 15, 2012 at 6:14 am #

      those were the days when it was all about the hair. i spent HOURS braiding and twisting and diddling around … amazing. and now? eh. it’s just on my scalp to cover the head wrinkles.

  9. Mirjam August 17, 2012 at 7:16 pm #

    You are so very wise, I’m so sorry you had to learn some things the hard way, but at least you learned how to avoid the brunette broccoli look. (I would so love to see that picture..)

    • Deborah Quinn August 20, 2012 at 2:07 am #

      The brunette broccoli evidence is deeply, deeply buried in storage at this point. Given that at the same time in my life, I was carrying about thirty extra pounds on my hips, I looked like a whole festival of round vegetables: a broccoli crown perched atop a potato, stuck on toothpicks (I always have skinny legs, no matter what).

  10. brand December 27, 2012 at 11:02 pm #

    I cannot agree a lot more with what you wrote you and I enjoy the exact same thinghs as you ! Please write far more and I bookmarked you !

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