Dear Seventeen Year Old Rahul,
It’s hard to remember, but I am pretty sure that you are fairly happy. At least, I don’t seem to have the terrible memories of high school that most people seem to have: you’ve got friends and school is fun enough and all-guys schools turn out to be really good places to ignore your own queer tendencies. But you’re also so far away from what I think of as my real life. In the process of turning into me, you’ve started writing fiction, become an alcoholic, become a smoker, gotten published, worked a real job, become gay, gotten sober, and quit smoking. Those are the things that I think of the real dramas of my life. To me, you’re kind of just a footnote: an “Oh yeah, all that high school stuff totally happened.”
However, I don’t think you paid much attention to the future back then. I still don’t, actually. If I got a letter from thirty-seven year old me, saying, “Oh, this happened to you, but that other thing didn’t happen to you, but don’t worry, since it all turned out like blah,” my response would be…”Err…I wasn’t really worried about it at all. I have spent literally maybe less than a minute in the last year thinking about what life will be like for me at thirty-seven. My planning horizon right now is about eighteen months, tops.”
And, you know, that’s pretty much the way to be. So what if you don’t use your time very productively? So what if you play tons of video games and aren’t very self-reflective and spend all your time working on a series of sprawling Dungeons and Dragons campaign settings (and websites!) that you never actually played. So what? You’re happy (I think).
There’s really no such thing as spending time wisely. No matter how we spend it, the moment is just as gone. All you can do is try to be happy.
If I could give you any advice, I’d tell you to not try to hold onto things that are gone. Your problem tends not to be that you look into the future; it’s that you look into the past. More than most people, I think, you’re very satisfied to keep doing the same things day after day: you’ll find one item on the menu and eat it for years; you’ll find one cafe and never look for another one; you’ll get one job and never want to move higher. And, in some ways, that’s admirable.
But because you can be satisfied with the same thing for so long, you forget that things fail you. The world changes. And it makes old paths untenable.
For years, you’ll try to recover the happiness you got from playing video games and chatting online with your friends and doing well on tests. But you won’t be able to. For whatever reason, it’s inaccessible now.
There’s a time to play video games and a time to put them down. There’s a time for Dungeons and Dragons and a time to put it away. There’s a time to exclusively read science fiction and a time to branch out.
But more than media choices, there’s also a time to let go of your old sense of self.
Usually, changes in your life happen so gradually that there’s an illusion of continuity. Because you are only a little different than I was yesterday and yesterday you were only a little different than you were the day before, you’re able to ignore that you’re very, very different from who you were two years ago.
But sometimes things happen that make this illusion difficult. For instance, you definitely think of yourself as a straight person. And you’ll hold onto that identity long after you should’ve dropped it. You think of yourself as a person with good social skills. And you’ll keep up that self-image until long after the point when you should’ve dropped it and accepted that you don’t really know how personal relationships work.
So, yeah, go ahead. Make your mistakes. Even when they lead to horrible times, those times are usually exciting. But when the times are neither fun nor exciting, but have become merely grey, you should be less afraid to strike out for something new.
Also, waiting until after college to embrace your queerness is a huge mistake. Ugh. So much lost opportunity.
P.S. I just looked at the notes I have from those D&D campaign settings. They were kind of awesome. Although I’m a better writer nowadays, I definitely don’t enjoy it as much as you enjoyed making these.
Rahul Kanakia is a science fiction writer who has sold stories to Clarkesworld, the Intergalactic Medicine Show, Apex, Nature, and Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet. He currently lives in Baltimore, where he is enrolled in the Master of the Fine Arts program in creative writing at Johns Hopkins University. He graduated from Stanford in 2008 with a B.A. in Economics and he used to work as an international development consultant. If you want to know more about him then please visit his blog or follow him on Twitter.
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