The Advice I Will Not Be Giving To Students on Tuesday
Through a combination of wacky hijinks and a friend asking for a favor, this coming Tuesday will find me speaking to a class of impressionable high school minds, who love English, about what it’s like to write for a living. No, I’m not going to tell any of you where this is happening, so if you’re a parent whose child goes to school in the DFW area you’ll just have to keep them home that day out of caution. Kids who I just bought a free day off for, you’re welcome. Buy a book on the way out if you want to say thanks.
As you might imagine, I’ve been thinking a lot this week about what I’m going to say to them. Okay… so I’ve mostly been focusing on showing up sober and not using “fuck” like it’s punctuation, but I have spared a few brain cells to consider what I’ll tell them about living the glamorous life of an author. In the end, I imagine it will mostly be stuff like what I put on here, my honest impressions and experiences from managing to by lucky enough to live this life for a year.
But of course, in the process of wheedling down what I won’t say, I hit across a few things that I actually might want to say to these teenagers on the cusp of leaving the confines of K-12 for the first time, but there is noooo way I can get away with it. So, yeah, blog post!
(Post-Script: After actually going and doing this, I think there's little said here those folks didn't already know. Also, I have to say it was a lot more fun than I was expecting. If you're one of the kids who I spoke to and found your way to my site, now you now that those occasional pauses were me trying to think of something besides a curse word to use.)
1. Before we talk about writing, I have a note for all of you. Unless you’re gunning for a scholarship or a top university, literally nothing you do matters here so long as you pass. Good or bad, unless you cure cancer or stop an alien invasion, no one cares what you did here the minute you’ve graduated, and people will probably even tell you to shut up about the alien thing by junior year of college.
2. For those of you who want to be writers, don’t get a degree in English. Get a degree in something productive, because the vast majority of you aren’t going to be able to live that dream, and take it from me that you don’t want to be in this job market with an English degree. I’m not trying to be negative; it’s just a statistical truth that very few writers get to the point where they can make a living at it. I’ve stumbled ass-over-teakettle into lucky break after lucky break and there’s still no guarantee I’ll last another two months at this. Make a back-up plan. Make a lot of back-up plans. Disney lied: most people’s dreams don’t come true.
3. The other reason I say don’t get a degree in English is because it’s kiiind of a jerk-off degree. I love literature, but literature and the courses taught in most colleges aren’t the same thing. Trying to quantify art is pain in the ass even on the best day. The only thing I learned in that 4 year degree was that I could show up to class still drunk and no one cared. You learn to write by writing a shitload and reading everything you can. There might be people who can impart wisdom through lectures, but I promise the average state school can’t afford them.
4. Always use a condom, unless you are actually trying to get or become pregnant. (Off-screen whisper). I know that has nothing to do with books, but fuck all if they can ever hear it enough, especially in this abstinence-only state.
5. Buy a quality holder for your shower beers. Don’t look at me like that you little bastards, we all know you drink, and in a few years you’ll be doing it away from home, which means things like drinking in the shower. So be sure you buy a quality one, because nothing ruins a good morning shower like you’re crappy holder giving out and losing half a cold Keystone down the drain. It’s like spilling happiness; don’t let it happen to you.
6. While we’re on the subject of leaving home, I want to clear something up. A lot of authority figures have probably been warning you that college is where the real world starts. Horse Shit. College is the victory lap you would be too old to appreciate when you actually retire from a lifetime of working, so we take it at 18. Everyone around you is young, uninhibited, eager to make friends/hook up, and almost entirely without responsibility. That will never happen again. High school is closer to real life than college, because high school fucking blows. You get four years on Olympus, enjoy the fuck out of them, because once it ends you’re back to toiling away at shit you don’t care about to buy things you don’t need. Kids from rich families: as with most negative things in life, this doesn’t really apply to you.
7. Remember kids: winners don’t do drugs. Unless they’re hanging out with people who have won more than they have and they want to impress them. Like, a rising filmmaker isn’t going to turn down a bump of cocaine from the head of a giant movie studio. In that moment, you’re damn right that the winner does drugs, because that’s how he keeps winning. FYI, that’s called networking, and I don’t give a shit what your parents tell you, that is exactly how it works. Also sometimes winners do drugs because they have lots of money from winning and feel like it. Or they feel like experimenting with something new, then decide it's not for them. Your DARE officer is a fucking liar, is what I’m getting at here.
8. For those of you who do pursue professional writing, I really hope you come from broken homes or got the shit kicked out of you at school. If you’ve grown up with people loving and supporting you, then putting your work out for the world to evaluate, especially on the internet, is going to be a real ball-buster. No matter how good it is, someone is going to spend an afternoon writing paragraphs about how it would have been better if you’d just slapped at the keyboard with a mouth full of severed cocks you were gargling. You’re better served if you’re at least little used to people calling you horrible names. I was a guy who liked musicals, loathed sports, and was active in the theatre department in a south Texas high school. Trust me when a say that the coping skills you learn will come in very useful as a professional artist of any type.
9. Look, the most honest thing I can tell you here is that life is goddamned clusterfuck. I know most of you have plans and an idea of what you’ll do with your time on this rock, but the vast majority of them may as well be made of sunshine and fairy ashes for all the power they hold in the face of reality. Life is about hanging on while all manner of unexpected crazy shit comes at you, forcing turns and choices you could have never possibly anticipated. People don’t like to talk about it, we prefer to portray this narrative that things are going according to plan, but it just ain’t true. You’re better off knowing the real score. Learn all you can, make friends wherever possible, and hope that you make the right calls at whatever shitshow of a path you end up on. ‘Cause that whole unpredictability thing is simultaneously the best and worst part of what lies ahead.
10. Oh, and buy Rumchatta when you’re old enough. That shit is alcoholic and tastes like the leftover milk from a bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Seriously, its’ the fucking jam and I just saved you all years of not knowing it existed. Boom. Drew out!