During the past month, my Facebook newsfeed has been covered with lists.
“40 Things I Now Realize at 40” (stuff sags)
“30 Surprises of Becoming Parent” (you’ll smell like puke)
“20 Pieces of Advice to Ignore If You’re Getting Married” (you don’t need fancy china)
“10 Words You’re Using Incorrectly” (exponentially)
“5 Sexual Positions You’ve Never Tried” (only lithe gymnasts with no spinal columns SHOULD be trying them)
So basically I’ve seen this:
“100 Lists of 5+ Things That Will or Won’t Apply to Everyone or Just a Few People in Every Situation or Some Rare Instances”
Awesome. I’ve been looking for that.
The lists themselves are innocuous enough; it’s simply people who have figured out truths in their lives who want to help others discover their own pathways to bliss. At least that’s how I’ve seen them.
But to others, it’s not that — at all.
Based on the majority of the comments under the lists, I’d say the altruistic purposes of the authors are completely lost on the cadre of internet trolls who almost instantly post how “stupid” or “wrong” or “idiotic” the list and/or authors are. The venomous vitriol spit by these vipers is filled with personal attacks and hurtful comments of another person’s opinions. Let me say that again – oh-pin-yuns. Not facts. Not societal mandates. Just one person’s view of life as they know it. Relax people.
And if you have one, take a pill.
What I don’t understand is why these Bitter McBittersons don’t just hit the “back” arrow, or close the page, or walk away from the computer. But as we know some people will always look for reason to be pissy. To that, I give them an emphatic “Ew.”
Personally, I find the lists amusing. I’ll read them simply to keep an open mind about the shifts – or a lack thereof – in the social mores of the time. Sometimes they’re funny; sometimes they’re ridiculous.
But here’s the bigger issue: maybe advice from others on very personal matters isn’t the way to go. How about if we give OURSELVES advice about lessons learned? Can’t get more personal than that.
And it’s exactly what I started doing with the 12th graders in my English classes in 2008.
The “Letter to Me at 23” has been given to my seniors each June since 2008. There are some guidelines for writing, but it is up to each student to decide what is important enough to include. It’s a way for the 18th year old teen in my class to speak to the 23 year-old young adult of the future
I wasn’t sure how well it would go over; however, the first five-year letters were mailed in May of 2013 and the responses were overwhelmingly positive; the students strongly urged me to continue to give this assignment.
And it all started with a letter that I wrote to myself in 1985.
Let’s go back to that year for a second, shall we?
When I was in the spring semester of my sophomore year in high school in 1985, not only did I have a bad attitude , but one side of my head was shaved, I wore black from head to toe each day, and I continually listened to The Cure.
Yeah, I had an emo phase. And I also thought that everybody should Wang Chung.
(Nope. Not a costume. Just a Tuesday)
Then one day, in a fit of teen angst and depression, I became more and more disgusted with all of the happy quotes that adults would say to me to break me out of my funk. My response eye rolls were almost audible.
For some reason, instead of taking their advice, I decided to record all of the frustration I was feeling, NOT in a sappy poem so typical of teens, but in a letter – to myself – that I was to open on my 30th birthday.
I wrote pages about what was wrong with my life, what I hoped the future would be, and the names of some of my closest friends.
I vividly remember signing it, “Isn’t that true 30 year-old Jessica?” but in all the years I looked at the sealed envelope, that’s all I could remember of the content of the letter.
Years passed. I went to college, got a job, got married, bought a house, and still the letter to myself remained sealed. I was determined not to open it before the deadline of my 30th birthday on June 11, 1999.
So I waited… and waited…until the day of my birthday finally arrived. Four of my best friends from college came to stay with me for the weekend. They all knew about the letter, so the anticipation was building.
After the party, the five of us gathered around the kitchen table and the letter was brought out. For 15 years this letter to myself sat in a plastic Capezio bag with all of the notes I had ever written from third grade on.
It was time. I unsealed the letter and I began to read it aloud.
As I read, there was silence. Mouths were agape and there was no movement. I got to the end and read the only line I had remembered, “Isn’t that true 30 year-old Jessica?” and with that, 15-year wait was over.
And then, like a bag of quarters to the face – it hit me:
I was an idiot at 15.
As this realization hit me, it also hit my friends who responded with every-so-supportive hysterical fits of laughter. I started laughing too.
I laughed because I had no idea who 90% of the people were that I had written about; my problems could have been labeled #firstworld; my roller coaster emotions could be explained by the fact that I inhaled too much Aqua Net and was not getting married to Jake Ryan from Sixteen Candles.
But the lessons I learned – from myself, and not someone else’s list – were this:
Change can be a great thing
My problems will all work out
My obsession with George Michael from WHAM! was more futile than I thought
(And to think he didn’t respond to this picture/fan letter)
The milestones I achieved, the memories I made, and the laughter I shared over those 15 years were things I couldn’t even image as an immature teen. Likewise, where my students will be later in their lives might be vastly different from what they are expecting at the end of their senior year. Who better than themselves to help guide the way with their own words? It is a “do this/don’t do that” specifically tailored to them – without the snarky comments from cyber ogres.
So the next time you see a “30 Things” list, be kind and give the author a “like.”
And then sit right down and write yourself a letter.