General Ramblings

Ruminations on Fifty

I was barely into my teens the first time I saw Blade Runner. It was on a rented VHS videocassette, probably eight months or a year after the film’s initial release, so that would’ve been some time in 1983. And I would’ve been 13 years old. The movie has a very specific time setting — November 2019 — and I remember being taken by the idea that I would likely live to see that future, as incredibly far off as it seemed then in the early years of the Awesome ’80s. I once did the math on the back of an envelope to figure out how old I would be when that future arrived, and the answer — 50! — was as fantastical to my 13-year-old self as flying cars, off-world colonies, and genetically engineered replicants.

Well.

Here we are, only six weeks away from November 2019, that once-distant future imagined in the now-ancient past, and today, as hard as it is for me to believe, is my 50th birthday.

Fifty. Five-Oh. Five decades. Half a century. You can’t see this, but I’m sitting here shaking my head in wonder.

My friends and Loyal Readers (assuming any of you are still out there!) know that I struggle with birthdays, and with aging in general. Of course you know that, I write about it nearly every year. The thing is, when this time of year rolls around, it’s very difficult for me not to dwell on what I have to show for the time I’ve spent on this planet… or rather, what I don’t have to show for it. I don’t have children, I don’t own my own home — hell, I’ve never even moved out of the home I grew up in! — and while I do have this thing that can be called a career, I didn’t choose it so much as I slipped on a metaphorical banana peel and fell ass-backwards into it. It works well enough for me, but I can’t help help thinking something else would work better if only I could imagine what.

And I haven’t written any of those novels I used to talk about. That one really hurts.

Bottom line: When I look at pretty much any of the factors that are considered to be markers of success in our late-stage capitalistic society, I haven’t amounted to much. And yeah, that bothers me, as much as I try to shrug it off.

That said, however, the last few birthdays have seemed easier, and I’m surprised to find that I’m pretty sanguine about this one in particular, even though it’s a big landmark. Maybe it’s true what they say about giving less of a damn as you get older. But I think I was also comforted this year by some wisdom I received from an unexpected source, a young lady I’m coming to think of as my work-daughter  (as opposed to a work-spouse… yeah, I’m definitely getting older!). We were chewing the fat a few weeks back, and I mentioned my angst over not having done much with my life, and she responded, “Maybe not, but you’ve seen a hell of a lot.” I asked her what she meant, and she said that I’m always talking about all the things I’ve seen, from concerts to movies to different places to just “the good old days,” and she thinks my stories are cool. As I returned to my desk, I started thinking that she’s right… I have seen a lot of things in my time. (And here we circle back to Blade Runner and its replicant anti-hero Roy Batty: “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe… “)

Not all of those things have been good, of course. The first big headline events I remember being aware of were the death of Elvis Presley and the Jonestown Massacre, when cult-leader Jim Jones coerced hundreds of people to drink poisoned grape punch or else just had them shot. Then there was the Iran hostage crisis. The AIDS epidemic. The Challenger disaster. The terrorist bombing of a 747 over Lockerbie, Scotland. The Exxon Valdez. The loss of another space shuttle, Columbia. The nightmare of 9/11 and all the disillusioning, disheartening stuff that followed it.

Mass shootings have become virtually commonplace.

I’ve seen nine U.S. presidents in my lifetime. One of them was impeached, one of them narrowly avoided it by resigning, and we’ll see what happens with the current one. There have been four out-and-out wars (by my reckoning) and more small-scale
“actions” than I can remember. Lots of economic ups and downs in that time too, though fortunately not a full-scale Depression 2.0 (not yet, anyhow).

I’ve seen all kinds of social mores and paradigms evolve, reverse themselves, or completely vanish in the last 50 years. I was an impressionable child during the free-loving, post-sexual-revolution years of the ’70s and I’ve long held something of a grudge that AIDS and a social backlash came along right about the time I was coming of age myself. I feel like I missed the party by that much. On the positive side, though, same-sex marriage is a thing now and, generally speaking, seems to be more and more accepted, despite the forces that are trying to push people of all descriptions back into their closets. Marijuana is becoming legal in more and more places, and practically everybody I know over a certain age is using CBD products to deal with their aches and pains. Meanwhile, cigarette smoking has gone from near-ubiquitous to barely tolerated, and probably soon to disappear entirely.

And then there’s technology. Good lord, the technology. Sometimes my childhood seems like it was in the 19th century, not the 20th. I remember when computers were something you only saw in science fiction movies, and then they were always the size of refrigerators, with spinning tape reels behind glass doors. The idea that it’s only a few decades later and we’re all walking around with one in our pockets, smaller in many cases than a paperback book, is truly boggling.

Home video — which didn’t even exist when I was young — has gone from video cassettes to DVD to BluRay to streaming. My earliest TV was a 17-inch black-and-white “portable” with a finicky vertical hold and rabbit ears. Our “big screen” during much of my childhood was a color set housed in an enormous solid wood cabinet, and you changed channels by walking across the room and turning a physical knob.

Music: from vinyl LPs to cassettes and 8-tracks to MP3s, Napster, iTunes, Spotify, and now, improbably, vinyl LPs again.

Fashion: I’ve lived long enough to see the fashions of the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s all make comebacks.

Cars were enormous when I was a kid. My first one, a 1970 T-Bird, was approximately the size of a supertanker. They’ve become smaller, then somewhat bigger again. Sedans are fading away in favor of SUVs and minivans. Driverless vehicles are on the horizon (I’m not thrilled about that one).

I watched as our civilization survived the Harmonic Convergence of 1987, Y2K, the Mayan calendar “end of time” in 2012, and any number of near-misses by asteroids.

When I was a kid, we had nine planets in our solar system and knew of no others anywhere else. Today, Pluto has been downgraded to not-a-planet and we’ve spotted hundreds of exoplanets orbiting other stars.

But that’s all big, societal-level things. On a more personal note, I’ve seen the farm town I grew up in become a suburb, and Utah itself change from a somewhat isolated outpost of civilization — I always related with Luke Skywalker’s lament that Tatooine was the point farthest from the bright center of the universe — to a well-known and even desirable place to be.

I’ve seen Big Ben and the tomb of Sir Richard Francis Burton and swans lazily gliding along the river behind the colleges of Cambridge, England. I’ve seen the Grand Canyon and the Golden Gate Bridge and Hoover Dam and the Hollywood sign and the great cathedral of Cologne, Germany. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater and a house shaped like a shoe. The lights of Las Vegas. Gettysburg. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The Mustang Ranch. The Lincoln Memorial. At the Smithsonian Institution, I’ve seen Julia Child’s kitchen, Kermit the Frog, Archie Bunker’s chair, Lincoln’s blood-stained top hat, and the star-spangled banner itself. In the British Museum in London, I saw the Rosetta Stone and the body of a man from the Iron Age. I’ve seen Hadrian’s Wall and Glen Coe, Loch Ness and Culloden, the Falkirk Wheel and the Kelpies. I’ve seen buffalo and alligators in the wild.

I’ve seen ditch banks burning in the springtime and alfalfa swaying in the June breeze. I’ve seen wide-open spaces and the enormous skies that tower above them. Two-lane roads and superhighways and turnpikes. I’ve seen a stash of dirty magazines hidden in a barn for the neighborhood kids to find long before anyone even imagined the Internet.

And I saw the Twin Towers before the bastards knocked ’em down.

Getting back to the subject of my birthday, I’d be lying if I said I’m not bothered by the physical signs of advancing decrepitude or by the idea that I now have more years behind me than ahead (referring to Blade Runner again, the scene where Batty confronts his creator: “I want more life… fucker.”) But when I look over this list, and I think of all the things I could add to it if I didn’t fear I was already straining your patience, I feel pretty good. All of that is more than enough to do my own version of Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” So Work-Daughter was right. I do have quite a lot to show for 50 years after all.

Not to get too sappy as I’m winding this up, but maybe I shouldn’t have been thinking about Blade Runner in connection to this day. Maybe a better choice would have been the movie I’m going to see this afternoon, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, the tagline of which is “The human adventure is just beginning.” That feels uncharacteristically optimistic for me… but to my surprise, it is the way I’m feeling. And isn’t that weird?

 

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Happy 88!

Another year, another birthday for the one and only William Shatner, 88 years young today.

Although his latest television series Better Late Than Never (which I wrote about on his birthday last year, and from which today’s photo was snatched) was cancelled after two seasons, the irrepressible man of the hour isn’t letting that slow him down. He’s a force to reckoned with on Twitter; his annual Hollywood Charity Horse Show is coming up in June; he’s hosting screenings of The Wrath of Khan at various locations around the country (sadly, none in Salt Lake!); and he has a number of conventions on the calendar, as well as a Star Trek cruise a year from now in March 2020. As I’ve said before, I admire his vitality and drive to stay engaged, to stay curious, and to keep having fun. I hope I age with a fraction of that grace.

So happy birthday to the once and future Captain Kirk… and as always, my offer to buy him a celebratory drink applies any time he (a) hears about it and (b) wants to take me up on it.

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Welcome to the Future

(Remember, Blade Runner takes place in the year 2019… I can’t tell you how weird it feels to be arriving in the landmark years in which the fantasies of my youth were set. The next big one that comes to mind is 2029, the “Year of Darkness,” according to the original Terminator. That sounds fun.)

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Summing Up

Tomorrow is New Year’s Eve, the final night of 2018.

Is it just me, or did the past 12 months feel more like 72? A lot of stuff happened in 2018. A lot.

There was the brouhaha over kids eating Tide Pods. A false alarm scared everyone in Hawaii into thinking they were about to be nuked — welcome back to the Cold War. Not long after that, Kilauea erupted. Then Hurricane Florence hit the Carolinas hard.

Around the world, a bridge collapsed in Italy, killing 43 people, many of them motorists who were just unlucky enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Ireland legalized abortion and Canada legalized recreational pot. Saudi Arabia decided to let women drive. The National Museum of Brazil in Rio was destroyed by a fire, along with 90-something percent of its collections. And the “yellow vest” movement in France is being called the worst civil unrest in that country since the infamous protests of 1968.

2018 was the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, once thought to be the “war to end all wars.” It was also the year the northern white rhinoceros became functionally extinct (there are still a few left, but they’re all female, so…)

A Chinese scientist claimed to have altered the DNA of human babies, provoking much controversy and protest. A subway station in lower Manhattan reopened for the first time since being wrecked in the 9/11 attacks 17 years ago. A journalist for the Washington Post was murdered by the Saudis inside their consulate in Istanbul. And the Camp Fire in California destroyed 18,000 buildings and killed 88 people.

The Avengers: Infinity War broke our hearts and Solo: A Star Wars Story was deemed enough of a box-office failure that Disney has cancelled any further “standalone” SW films (despite Solo being, in my humble opinion, the best, most purely fun SW film since 1983).

Bill Cosby was convicted of rape. Enough said about that.

There was an average of one deadly mass shooting incident in the U.S. per month, including the one at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida (17 killed), another at Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, Texas (10 killed), a shooting at a Maryland newspaper office (five killed there), and the 11 worshipers killed at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.

Former president George H.W. Bush died, as did Stephen Hawking, Aretha Franklin, Burt Reynolds, Star Wars producer Gary Kurtz, and the travel writer and TV presenter Anthony Bourdain. Meanwhile, Britain’s Prince Harry married a biracial, divorced American actress, and… everybody was pretty cool with it, so there’s some progress for you.

NASA declared the Kepler space telescope dead after nearly a decade in space, during which it discovered nearly 2,700 planets orbiting other stars. In other space news, the Mars InSight probe successfully landed on the red planet, Voyager 2 entered interstellar space, and Elon Musk’s SpaceX successfully tested the Falcon Heavy rocket by sending a red Tesla roadster with a mannequin at the wheel into deep space.

I won’t even mention the barking chaos that is the Trump administration.

***

Also in 2018, Anne and I met my main man Rick Springfield at an album launch party in Los Angeles, and we spent a week in the New Orleans, something that’s been on my bucket list for decades. We attended two instances of FanX, the convention previously known as Salt Lake Comic Con, as well as numerous concerts and other events. In between the fun stuff, my job at the ad agency seemed to keep me busier than ever. And a year-long construction project finally wrapped up, transforming the two-lane road in front of our house into a seven-lane highway. Yay for progress.

I turned 49 in September. And then in October my Mustang got rear-ended during what had been a pleasant Sunday afternoon drive. It’s repairable, but it’s still dry-docked three months later — long story. I miss it.

But you know, in spite of all the things that were happening in 2018, one thing that most assuredly was not happening was this blog. I averaged only two entries a month during the past year, and many of those were just poems or quotations that I reposted from other sources. Not much original content, mostly just book reviews, Friday Evening Videos and a handful of my patented celebrity obituaries. (And doesn’t it just figure that the best of this year’s obits, the one I wrote for the aforementioned Anthony Bourdain, was vaporized by a server failure? Why do those damned hiccups always take my favorite pieces?)

I had such grand ambitions for this blog, once upon a far more innocent time. I wanted it to be something along the lines of John Scalzi’s Whatever or James Lileks’ Bleat, a daily long-form essay that would be insightful and entertaining, good writing that was worthy of whatever talent I might actually have, something that actually meant something. And maybe I did hit that mark from time to time — I like to think I did — but that was long ago. In the immortal words of every Hollywood producer who ever held a writer’s ambitions in the palm of his hand, “What have you done lately?” As much as it pains me to say it… not much. Not much.

Much of the day-to-day chitchatty stuff I used to do around here has been supplanted by social media, and as for longer thinkpieces… who has time to think anymore? It’s hard to explain to someone who doesn’t work in my industry just how draining it really is, and if I try, it just sounds like I’m making excuses. “Well, make the time,” people say. Believe me, I’ve tried. Maybe someone who’s wired differently from myself can do it. I haven’t been able to.

Not that it matters. Blogging is pretty much over, isn’t it? It certainly feels like it. I’ve poured so much energy into this thing over the years, thinking my words were becoming immortal, that it was making some kind of difference… the reality is I was just pissing into the wind, one more voice among the millions contributing to a cacophony… and then the cacophony went elsewhere. My words still live here, as long as the server stays up, but nobody is going back and looking at them. And just lately I’ve been thinking about how I could’ve better spent all that time and creative mojo on other things… the novels I used to imagine myself writing, perhaps. As the song says, “Regrets, I have a few.”

All of which sounds like I’m gearing up to sign off for good, doesn’t it? Well… I’ll be honest, the thought has occurred to me. End of one year, start of a new one, good time to clear out the metaphorical closets, right? But… I’m not there yet. Not quite. I’ve been the proprietor of Simple Tricks and Nonsense for a very long time, and it’s hard to imagine not being that any more. I just don’t know how to improve the situation any. I’d like to get back on track, get my rate of posting up to at least once a week again. Of course, I’d also like to write some fiction again… try to reconnect with the ambitious young dreamer I used to be. And I don’t know how to do that either…

It’s about to be a new year, though, right? A fresh beginning, endless possibilities… at least, that’s the story we like to tell.

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Forty-Nine

On my birthday a year ago, I wrote about the noise of construction equipment demolishing the homes across the street to make way for a road expansion project. Now that project is nearly completed, and the workmen and their machines have moved on down the way, and I’ve been enjoying a few weeks of relative peace and quiet before traffic is unleashed onto the newly added lanes in front of my house. Meanwhile, here on the eve of this year’s birthday, my main sensory impression isn’t auditory, but olfactory: The air is thick with smoke from a wildfire burning out of control in the next county south of mine.

As I did last year, I’ve been straining to find some metaphor in all these impressions and coming up with nothing. If there is any meaning to be found in sparkling new concrete and hazy air, I’m not sharp enough to find it. And maybe that’s my metaphor right there, the encapsulation of exactly what it feels like to be only one planetary orbit away from the half-century mark. I’m just not quite sharp enough. Not anymore.

I can feel you rolling your eyes and muttering, “Oh boy, here he goes,” but it’s okay. I’m really not depressed about my birthday this year, at least not to the extent I have been in previous years. And I’m not feeling particularly old either, at least — again — not as much as I have in years past. But I have become keenly aware in the past twelve months of how very young many of the people around me are, if that makes sense, and also just how much the world no longer seems to be geared toward me and my preferences and priorities. I keep thinking of that scene in The Last Jedi where Yoda tries to get it through Luke’s thick head (and those of a significant percentage of Gen-X Star Wars fans) that the story is no longer centered on him. It’s about those new characters, now, and the best Luke can do is help them in their own hero’s journey. “We are what they grow beyond,” he says with that impish chuckle in his Muppety voice.

Or something. I don’t know, maybe it’s just the late hour and the scotch talking. As I said, I am surprisingly un-depressed this year. But damn, I can’t help feeling like summer is winding down before I even really noticed it had arrived, you know?

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Twenty-Five Years

Twenty-five years.

You probably think that’s a long time, don’t you? Well, let’s think about that.

Twenty-five years ago, Bill Clinton was in the first year of his presidency and nobody had heard of Monica Lewinsky yet, including Bill himself. The big headlines that spring had been about a truck bomb at the World Trade Center that left the twin towers damaged but still standing, and a long siege by the FBI of the Branch Davidian religious compound near Waco, Texas, that left more than 70 people dead.

Twenty-five years ago, the Unabomber was still mailing out his explosive packages from a cabin in Montana. Women pilots in the U.S. Air Force were just gaining the privilege to fly in combat. And “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was a new policy solution that didn’t really satisfy anybody.

The Internet had been around in one form or another for a couple of decades, but most people didn’t know much about it, and the World Wide Web was just in its infancy. Even though Windows was an established thing, it wasn’t unusual to encounter a computer display consisting of green or orange letters glowing against a black background. Boxy CRT-style monitors were still in use, and only stock traders and Hollywood agents carried cellular telephones, which were roughly the size of a brick at that time.

Music was delivered primarily on compact discs then. And while many cars still came with cassette decks as a standard feature, nobody was buying vinyl records except aging hippies and jazz fanatics.

The biggest song of the year twenty-five years ago was Meatloaf’s “I Would Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That).”

A gallon of gas cost slightly over a buck, and that same buck with some change would get you three crisp tacos at Taco Time.

Twenty-five years ago, the name “Loreena Bobbitt” made men everywhere reflexively cross their legs, and Gen X was shaken by the tragic (and tragically squalid) drug-induced death of one of our own, the actor River Phoenix, on a Hollywood sidewalk.

My favorite television shows were Highlander: The Series and Star Trek: The Next Generation.

I was building a collection of movies on VHS, and I dreamed of someday being able to afford a laserdisc player. In the theater where I worked, the movies opening this final week of April were The Dark Half, Indian Summer, and Who’s the Man?, but The Sandlot was still playing if you’d rather see that, and the original Jurassic Park was coming up in June.

I still had most of my hair twenty-five years ago, as well as a lot fewer pounds around my middle and a pancreas that worked reliably.

Yeah, twenty-five years seems like a very long time ago, doesn’t it? Except it wasn’t. Not really. To steal a line from the Boss, it all passed in the wink of a young girl’s eye. And for some mysterious reason, that girl is still with me, even after all that time. I’ve given her a million reasons to not stick around, but she’s done it anyhow.

Happy anniversary, Baby Duck. Here’s to another wink of your eye.

 

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Just Another Day on Social Media…

I’ve had this happen to me. Well, metaphorically speaking. No actual restroom confrontations, thank the Force. But yeah. The haters are… tenacious. And I’m so very tired of everything being a fight. Not just Star Wars, but pretty much everything that has a fandom. Sigh…  Remember when that stuff used to be fun?

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Happy Birthday, Mr. Shatner!


Well, the planet has made another trip around the sun, the hard gray skies of winter are softening into the rain clouds of spring, and it’s time once again for my annual tradition of wishing a very happy birthday to the irrepressible William Shatner. The once and future Captain Kirk is 87 today, and, as always, my offer to buy him a celebratory drink applies any time he (a) hears about it and (b) wants to take me up on it.

In case you’re wondering, this year’s birthday photo comes from The Shat’s latest television project, a short-run series called Better Late Than Never, in which he and three other older celebrities — actor Henry Winkler, ex-football player Terry Bradshaw, and former heavyweight boxer George Foreman — along with a young sidekick named Jeff Dye, travel the world and experience other cultures. It’s admittedly a pretty silly show that sometimes labors a little too hard to generate its fish-out-of-water laughs; nevertheless, I find it weirdly endearing, if not downright inspirational. Given my fears about aging and letting too many opportunities slip past when I was younger, it’s reassuring for me to see old people still out there trotting around the globe in their Golden Years, and Shatner in particular is amazing with his curiosity and sense of adventure. He was a hero to me when I was young for playing Kirk; he’s a hero to me now, in my middle age, for setting an example of how to keep living instead of simply… diminishing.

I hope I’ll still be traveling, discovering the world, and spending good times with friends when I’m in my 80s, just like Bill…

 

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Letter to a Teenager

I’ve never gotten around to having children, and being an only child myself, I have no nieces or nephews of my own to play surrogates. Nevertheless, I occasionally find opportunities to insert myself into the life of a younger person and act vaguely dad-like for a while… or maybe it’s more like a half-assed Dumbledore. I’m never entirely sure.

One of these opportunities popped up recently when a friend of mine solicited people to write down some “words of wisdom or important life lesson” — her words — to give to her son on his upcoming 13th birthday. I said sure, no problem, figuring I’d just toss out a few pithy bullet points that would fit nicely on a 3×5 card. Instead, I ended up writing a two-page letter to the boy. To borrow a phrase from the irrepressible Han Solo, “Hey, it’s me.”

I’ve vacillated over posting that letter here, fearing that (a) my Loyal Readers wouldn’t be interested, and (b) it’ll come across as self-serving or pompous or maudlin, or just plain lame, but I’ve decided to go ahead and do it anyhow. I believe in what I wrote in that letter, and I think it’s fairly good advice, if I do say so myself. Perhaps someone reading this right now knows a teenager they could pass these words to. Perhaps someone reading this actually is a teenager, although why one of those those would be reading this old-man’s blog, I couldn’t begin to fathom. But you never know, do you?

In any event, here’s what I wrote:

Sunday, March 04, 2018

 

Dear Sam,

 

As a present to you on your 13th birthday, your mom and Mike asked their grown-up friends if they would give you some words of wisdom and important life lessons. I don’t know that I’m particularly “wise,” but I am almost half a century old, and I’ve got the white beard to prove it, so I must’ve learned something in all that time, right? Well… we’ll see, I guess. Here’s what I’ve got:

 

  1. You’re about to become a teenager, and I won’t lie to you, being a teen can be pretty tough sometimes. Nobody takes you seriously, your feelings are all dialed up to 11, and everything seems like it’s going to be the end of the world. Trust me, though… it’s not. You’ll get through it, whatever “it” is. Also, don’t overlook the bright side of being a teen. At your age, you’ve got a universe of possibilities in front of you, and you’re about to start doing a lot of things for the first time. That’s exciting, or at least it should be. Cherish that feeling, because the “firsts” get a lot farther apart when you get older.
  2. On a related note, don’t hesitate to sample the possibilities. At this time of your life, you have the freedom to try out a lot of different things, so do it. Get a weird haircut, wear some flashy clothes, eat some bizarre foods. As you get a little older and move out into the world, try out different jobs, and if you go to college, different majors, to figure out what you’re really interested in and what you really enjoy. My biggest mistake as a young person was always thinking everything I tried was going to be permanent. I ended up paralyzing myself because I put so much pressure on myself to get it right the first time, for fear that I’d be stuck someplace I didn’t want to be if I chose the wrong thing. Don’t do that. Experiment. Look around for what makes you happy. Not what other people think will make you happy, but what makes you happy
  3. If something’s making you unhappy—a major, a career path, a relationship—don’t just hunker down and put up with it. Find a way to fix it, and if you find you just can’t fix it, then move on. I’ve wasted a lot of time and energy on situations I hated because I thought I just had to endure them. The old “you’ve made your bed, now lie in it” thing is nonsense. You only have to lie in it if you keep lying there. I’m not saying you ought to spend your life bouncing around from one thing to another and never settling down, but don’t think that you have to stay someplace you don’t want to be either.
  4. Be decent to other people. You don’t have to like them, you don’t have to agree with them, you don’t even have to respect them, but there’s really no reason to be unkind or hurtful to them. You don’t know what they might be going through, what kinds of things might be hurting them already. Besides, people tend to give back what you put out there, so if you don’t want others to be a dick to you, don’t do it to them.
  5. Here’s a big secret that grown-ups usually try to avoid admitting to kids, and often even to themselves: nobody knows what the hell they’re doing, and everybody is just trying to do the best they can. Everybody. Celebrities, athletes, the president, your parents, girls, even old guys like me. So don’t be too hard on yourself when you start thinking you’re clueless. We all are. We just get better at dealing with our cluelessness as we grow up and grow older.
  6. Learn some history. See old movies. Listen to old music. Talk to older people and really listen to what they have to say. Understand where things came from and how we got to where we are now. That may seem really boring and pointless to you right now, but it will become more important as you get older. Really.
  7. It’s a big world with a lot of wonderful, crazy, beautiful stuff in it. Explore it. Travel as much as you can. Experience as much as you can. Don’t let yourself live inside a safe little bubble surrounded by people who look and think and talk just like you, and where you see the same damn scenery all the time.
  8. Life is always worth living. Always. There may be days when you wonder what’s the point, and why should you struggle on and keep banging your head against the wall. On those days, you might find your thoughts going to some pretty scary places. But I guarantee you that there’s always something worth living for, whether that’s Buster Keaton movies (some of the funniest things ever filmed) or warm spring days or the taste of your favorite ice cream. Never give up, never surrender. And never be afraid to ask for help if you’re having days like that.
  9. Don’t be afraid to fail, and don’t beat yourself up too much when you do. Just try to improve the next time out.
  10. Don’t be afraid of other people. It doesn’t matter what race or religion or political party we belong to, we all want the same general things, to live a good life, to find love and good friends, and to feel like we matter to somebody. But you only learn that if you’re willing to talk to other people.
  11.  

    I’m almost done… bear with me…

     

  12. Seek out an old song called “Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen).” It’s from the 1990s, so you’ll probably think it’s ridiculous and cheesy, but listen to it anyway. Pay attention to the lyrics, because there’s a lot of good specific advice in them that I haven’t covered here.
  13. And lastly, print this letter and put it somewhere safe; in the future, you will wish you’d kept things. Trust me on this.

 

Happy birthday, Sam. Thirteen was a pretty awesome age for me; I hope it is for you too.

 

Sincerely,
Jason Bennion
(some weird old guy)

I hope the boy I wrote this for will read it and find something of value in it. If he doesn’t, maybe somebody out there in Internet-land will. Hey, anything can happen, right?

 

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