I can see the light up ahead. The gloom of last week’s post is shrinking behind us, giving way to the Promised Land of this week’s post of valuable lessons sure to brighten your day. The cream skimmed off the top of my experience this past summer, if you will.
When it was clear I had to leave Berkeley as a result of circumstance, I remember being in the park around the corner from my sublet house and asking myself, “I know everything happens for a reason, so what was the reason for my being here?” And that kicked up my brain to take stock of what I’d learned and how I’d changed after the mental and emotional grind I touched on in The Best of Times, The Worst of Times. Now, the short answer is that if I hadn’t come out West, I wouldn’t have stopped clutching the idea of writing a book series and try a standalone, as I spoke about in Let Her Rest.
I’m serious. If I learned nothing else or if I even became dumber as a result of being in Berkeley, the fact that I learned that lesson would have made it completely worth it. But I learned extra stuff too. And maybe you can benefit! MAYBE!!!
So here, organized in somewhat of a timeline, are a few things I learned during the summer:
Family and Friends Are More Important Than You Think
Sure this is a bit cheesy, and I’m totally not putting it first to butter you up for the more semi-offensive stuff below, but it’s true. When I first set out on the road, I hit some bumps, and oftentimes didn’t know what to do or who to turn to.
And as much as I was dancing on the edge, I was lucky enough to not only stay with a relative after giving up the room in South San Francisco I reserved, but oftentimes when I didn’t know what to do or was feeling down, I would call or text friends and family, and they would cheer me up. But more importantly, they reminded me that I wasn’t alone.
(One big happy.)
College is Essentially Adolescence Part 2
Living with and meeting mostly college students this summer really opened my eyes to their mentality. See, even though I went away to college in Pennsylvania for a year immediately after high school, I took a few years off to work, and came back to get my diploma when I was in my mid-twenties, so I never really had that uninterrupted flow of first day of high school all the way to college diploma.
And what I saw reminded me a lot of high school. Like high schoolers, the majority (not all!) of the undergrads I met came across as living very much in the now: partying and their friends were extremely important, stuff like a job and their student loans were an abstraction they’d handle later, and they had this air about them that because they’re at a top school, life will handle itself.
(From the bottom of my heart, I wish all college grads well.)
I Really Do Live for my Work
During the summer I would write my thoughts down in a word doc whenever I was wrestling with my feelings, and I noticed something in early June. I spent the first two weeks or so I was running around, settling in to my new room, and also trying to get the lay of the land.
For whatever reason I wasn’t working on the sequel to the book I had on submission, and fell into these periods of desolation and hopelessness. But as soon as I would work on it (and especially when I placed it aside to work on a new standalone) my life suddenly had purpose and real meaning. I learned that if I were to ever stop working or striving towards some sort of goal, there wouldn’t be much reason for me to get out of bed, would there?
(“Today’s writing can wait until 10.”)
There’s More to Life than Being Happy All the Time
In this age of social media, everybody’s posting pictures of themselves having a great time on vacation, laughing it up at parties, or just hugging a close friend who shares their smile, in an effort to perpetuate how awesome their life is. Don’t buy into this ideal.
The truth is that if you’re happy all the time there’s a strong chance you’re either playing it safe / not challenging yourself / or not living up to your potential. Emotions like sadness and anger are a key part of the human experience, but no one is posting pictures of them screaming at their friends or a picture of them crying their eyes out and snot dripping from their nose. People only share one side of their personality (the happy side) and ignore the whole other spectrum, creating a false image of their life, broadcasting one that’s better than it actually is, and for a while I thought that if mine wasn’t like that, something was wrong with me. But after having some tough times this summer, I realize there was nothing wrong; I was just experiencing life like a normal person.
(What he said.)
Tread Carefully When Comparing New Yorkers to Californians
Being the curious and inquisitive type I am, I couldn’t help but compare the Californians I was meeting to the New Yorkers I had grown up around. The stereotype is that New Yorkers are more direct and will tell you to your face if they don’t like you, while Californians will be more passive. Personally I feel that New Yorkers mouth off because they have a shorter fuse, and Californians are more in touch with what’s important in life (ie Not everything is about chasing wealth and status) so they’ve got a higher threshold for what bothers them.
However, my opinion of Californians is that they’re operating at a lower frequency. This does not mean they’re dumb or that they’re asleep; it simply means that by comparison New Yorkers are hyperkinetic: when they speak they get their whole body in on the action, often waving their hands and stomping their feet, depending on how they feel, and they also want to perpetuate themselves as being very busy busy busy, often leading to “work for the sake of work” which research has shown, time and time again, decreases productivity as a result.
I told a New York friend who moved to SF about the whole “lower frequency” thing and he thought I had really hit the nail on the head. But the lifelong Californian I told it to?
Let’s just say I’m not expecting her and her brother to accept my Facebook friend request anytime soon.
(“Geez Louise why did you have to go and say that, ya goofball?”)
Untold Treasures Lie on the Other Side of Fear
I had a lot of fear back in April when I was getting ready to head to California. There was a voice in my head that said, “Don’t go! PLEASE don’t go!” But I knew that I was getting older, and if I didn’t take the plunge I’d probably never get around to it. So I moved past that fear only for more to show up, encountering situations that, in the past, I would have avoided because I was scared or they were new, because so often we humans have a fear of the unknown.
But what I discovered was that whenever I gritted my teeth and pushed through the uncomfortable or scary phase the pay-off dwarfed the feelings of fear at about ten to one! Simply put, and without going into examples, doing stuff that scares you is a key way to grow and develop as a person, even if the experience differs from what you expected.
(Because faceless, wooden dolls chillin’ on park benches don’t lie.)
Don’t Get Paranoid About Stuff, Especially Your Age
This is more of a minor one. I’m in my late twenties and was rooming with guys about to start their senior year, mostly. I kinda sorta felt weird sometimes that I was in my late twenties and they were in their early twenties, because I worried they might treat me different in some way, but it really wasn’t much of an issue.
Virtually no one I’ve met in my life has guessed I’m older than I am, partly because I have all my hair and I look young. Most people guess my age at 25 and I always get carded when I go out. But not always. One night I went into the city with a couple of the guys and we ran into this group of girls from Maine or somewhere, and with none of us asking them to guess, they looked at me and guessed I was 23.
But in the end it really didn’t matter. Of course, I never went around advertising my age, because who knows? There are some jealous and insecure people in this world and what if I were at a party and some dude got all paranoid and told the host to get rid of me because he suffers from ageism?
“Huh? That guy’s almost thirty?” he’d say. “QUIT STANDING THERE AND GET HIM AWAY FROM THE WHITE WOMEN!”
(I wisely let my inner old man out only when I’m around people my own age. Otherwise I keep him away from the college kids.)
True Love Exists in 2016 After All
(It just happens to look like this, though.)
Subletters are not so much people as they are Ghosts
Ain’t it the truth, though? Subletters are a peculiar species of human, because they’re here today and gone before you know it. What’s funny is that about a month or so into being a subletter I noticed that a lot of people who were either friends of the housemates or would be moving in themselves grouped the subletters together and made an unconscious choice about how they were going to treat us.
And that treatment ranged from “They’re people like you and me, so let’s be friends!” to the other side of the spectrum where certain people wouldn’t even look us in the eye or talk to us because, “What’s the point? These ghosts don’t go to my school and I’ll never see them again, so who cares?”
(“Then again, if we had any female subletters, I might be inclined to chat them up.”)
Don’t Worry Too Much About Your College Student, Mom and Dad
Did I mention that my room had a large window that faced the street? Well, it did, so in addition to having a front row seat to all the traffic outside, I often became a part of conversations I had no interest in. One time I was in bed in the late afternoon and a mother and daughter were having an argument. At one point the mom screeched, “I’M TRYING TO PROTECT YOU FROM MEN!”
Parents, you do not need to worry about your college student. I’m serious. If you took a break from smothering them, you’d see that they are adults who don’t require rules established and enforced from a remote location. Other than some money to help with their rent and food, they’re at the point where they can figure out stuff like dating and wiping their butt on their own.
I met a lot of college students during my summer in Berkeley; if not a solid hundred then very many dozens, and let me tell you, they are FINE. No once did a fight break out or did someone die or get seriously injured. Then again, it could just be that a lot of smart, wordly kids go to Berkeley.
(And while we’re on the subject, how come parents warn their daughters about men but not their sons about women? I’M JUST SAYIN’!)
The Good Stuff is Quiet but the Bad Stuff is LOUD
Oh my God, are we done yet? For the past three weeks I’ve been working on my novel AND these California posts, every day. Do we really need an eleventh lesson? Isn’t ten a nice, even number for this ENDLESS blog post?
No, you say, because this one is super important? FINE, I’ll do it, but I’ll keep it short. At the end of the sublet, I was aware that I had grown a lot. You might even say I “leveled up.” But I noticed that it wasn’t this elevated, euphoric state where I’m walking down the streets and glowing. In fact it was the opposite: my brain was QUIET.
See, depression and insecurity and doubt and all the rest of that negative stuff is like a sort of gunk clogging your brain, and when you make peace with yourself and your inner demons, you don’t so much experience a high as just an ABSENCE of that gunk. Make sense? No? Well, I’m spent so I’ll leave you to think about it.
Ugh. Jesus Christ, can I go now?
(“You may rest, little lamb.”)
That’s all for today, and quite frankly the rest of this month. I’ll see you in October for this year’s state of the blog post, which has excellent timing, as I can discuss the direction I’d like to take the blog in; I’m pretty much done with risky adventures in other countries and states, so stay tuned for a different type of content.
I’m off to have a cocktail and soak my head, but what you can do is SUBSCRIBE to the blog so you don’t miss a post, COMMENT if any of these lessons were useful, and last but not least, SHARE it to spread the word.
See you in October,
J. F. Seegitz