Monday, 9 September 2013

5 Bits of Advice That Don't Make Sense Until It's Too Late

A lot of what grownups say is bullshit. You figure this out in your teens, and wind up just tuning it all out. By 15 I got to where every time I was offered advice, I just nodded in mock agreement and then laughed at them behind their back. "Can you believe that pompous douchebag tried to tell me that? Christ, I'm not 14 anymore!"
So it winds up taking years to filter out the bad advice ("Son, don't ever loan your car to a negro") from the good ("That Def Leppard tattoo isn't gonna be relevant five years from now, John.") I think I heard all of the below at some point, but it would be five or ten (or more) years before I'd realize it belonged in the good advice pile.

#5. Butterflies in the Stomach is Not Love

When I was in school, I lost track of the number of couples I knew who got engaged at age 16, and went right into wedding planning after graduation. And why not? Try to talk a 17 year-old out of it, and they'll tell you that of course you don't understand -- you've never felt love like this. No human has. What they and their guy or girl has is the kind of love that freaking changes the orbits of planets. In all of the universe, there has never been a love like this, so back off, old man.
And you sure as hell can't point out to the couple that their hormones will never be at these levels again. They'll think you're dismissing what they have as teenage horniness, not realizing that those hormones also mean that every emotional impulse is piped into stadium-ready stack amplifiers and cranked to Woodstock levels. You will feel that burst of adrenaline and stomach flutters when you touch their hand or just glance at them from across the room, and think, holy shit, if this isn't love, nothing is. God knows I thought that. Over and over. The songs talk about your "heart" but the feeling kind of radiates from the gut. Close enough.
Look, love is clearly located somewhere in the torso area, that's what matters.
Yep. This is exactly what love looks like.
That feeling is as addictive as any drug, and once you experience it for the first time, you'll start to crave it, or think that a relationship is dead without it. The problem is that a lot of the fluttery feeling you get is a physical reaction to anxiety and the physical reaction goes away as you adjust -- that's part of the mechanism. So the longer you're in the relationship, the more comfortable you become around that person, and that rush disappears. And if you're anything like me at all, you'll mistake that for "falling out of love." It's most likely the reason only 14% of high school sweethearts make it to the marriage stage.
The difference between that rush and actual love is the difference between seeing a picture of an adorable puppy and actually owning a dog. Yes, part of the experience is its adorable brown eyes and soft fur, but it's also about you carrying its poop around in a little plastic bag. The teenager in love thinks that's cynicism from a boring old man ("He says our love is just dog shit!") but that's not it at all. The point is that love is the whole package. It's not a single emotion that can be identified and distinctively felt like anger or happiness. It's a series of connections that exists above and beyond day to day emotion or circumstance, something you feel even after you wake up to find she has grown a third arm shaped like Randy Quaid.
Why You Won't Believe it for Years:
I can harp about it all I want but the truth is, the next time those butterflies gut shot you into a drooling stupor, all of the text I just typed will evaporate. Because this relationship is the one you've been waiting for. You can feel it.
"The one." That's the key, because every single love song or romantic movie insists that you only get "one true love," one "soulmate." So you get used to the idea of a supernatural King of Emotions that bestows "true" love upon you exactly once in your life... and if you don't latch onto it when it arrives, that's it. That was your only chance. So when you're hit with that tide of emotions the first time, you think, "Well, I'm one of the lucky few to have found my 'one' on my first try. All the more proof that it was meant to be!"
Then, about the sixth or seventh time in your life that you feel this emotion, you'll realize that the idea of "one true love" is bullshit. Unfortunately, the only way to truly learn this is to experience it for yourself, to feel it come and go and come again. Just ask the dozen or so of my old classmates who had to drop out of high school to take care of a baby. Or the ones who married right after graduation and now can't say more than two sentences to each other without breaking down into a violent fit of screaming and crying.
Every. Fucking. Day.
Don't misunderstand the message, I'm not saying the feelings you have for your partner are just side effects of an unruly burrito. But... hold off on the wedding and the babies for a while.

#4. Learn How to do Stuff Around the House, You'll Need It

"Chores." That's the word they use to mean the tedious, bullshit tasks Mom and Dad make you do around the house before you're allowed to have fun.
Chores suck seven shapes of dick. And most of you do them, begrudgingly. Or you split them with a sibling, or whatever the system is to make sure they interfere with what you really want to do as little as possible. But much, much sooner than you think, you're going to be responsible for all of that shit, from top to bottom. And if I could go back in time, I'd grab my teenage self by the shoulders and say, "Go learn how to do all of that shit Mom is doing. And I mean all of it."
Bed, clothes, food, dishes, floors, bathroom... everything. Pretend that you're the only one living there, and just completely take over the things your parents normally do for you, for a week, or a month. Because in just a few short years, you're going to be living on your own, you will be fucking shocked at how fast your living space turns into an unlivable shithole. God help you if you get stuck with roommates who treated "chores" the same way. Hey, did you know if you leave dirty dishes out long enough, flies lay eggs on them and then you have maggots on your dishes? You will! Ever wonder how those people on Hoarders can live with garbage piled on every piece of furniture? Just live with some dudes who refuse to take out the trash, you'll see -- that shit piles up in the blink of an eye.
The scratch 'n sniff version would make you vomit your own soul.
For several years after moving out on my own, I treated doing dishes as a task on the same level as painting a house. So I found the majority of my sustenance coming from The Dollar Menu and little frozen boxes that are prepared with a microwave and the ability to push "4," "0," "0," (which is not only an expensive way to eat, but will kill your ass eventually).
If you haven't already, learn to use the washer and dryer. There's nothing sadder than sitting in a laundromat and watching a newly divorced husband stare at a washing machine like it was a nuclear reactor. And I'm telling you, go to a laundromat right now and you'll see this guy, with every single piece of clothing packed up in trash bags because he wore literally everything he owned over and over until his neighbors sniffed the air and asked him if he was cooking mushrooms.
"Mom, I've bought a new outfit every day for a month. I need help."
Why You Won't Believe it for Years:
Because you can put this shit off for years without being judged for it. You can haul a bunch of laundry home over Labor Day weekend and Mom will do it. And let's face it, when you're in college, you're not going to be rejected for sex because your bathroom is dirty. All dorm bathrooms are dirty. But after you're out in the "real world," with your own job and apartment, the rules change. If you're 25 and your date smells the stagnant rot of week old dishes and strewn garbage, she's thinking, "What a lazy fucking slob. I'm not doing the whole 'date a teenager' thing again. Just tell him you're on your period and then change your phone number."
"No, Rob, it's disgusting because it hasn't been cooked yet.
I know guys who are older than me who still can't take care of their place, and every one of them is alone. Their houses are so bad that I can't visit because the smell gives me a headache. I helped one of them clean once, and we found dead birds and mice under the garbage on his living room floor. And the frightening part is that it's easy to get into that mode because if you live in it long enough, it becomes normal. And they can't break out of that idea of basic cleaning and maintenance are just lame "chores."

#3. Pay Attention in Writing Classes, It Turns Out You Need Them

Several years ago, when I was working at a low-level manual labor job, I was tasked with picking out a few applications for potential hires. Keep in mind, we weren't hiring fucking lawyers here. We just needed people who could do a job without somebody standing over their shoulder every second of the shift.
I came across an application from a 21 year-old man who had a high school diploma and two years of college. Half of the application was filled out in blue ink -- large, loopy, pretty writing. His girlfriend's writing, in other words. The other half (personal information -- the stuff that his co-author didn't know) was in black ink, and written in a way that suggested he may have been filling it out while being attacked by bees during a gang related drive-by. Nothing was in the disability section, so we assumed it was not a physical or mental problem.
But what made me put the application in the "Not a Chance in Hell" pile was when I saw his response to, "Why would you like to work for our company?"
2 C some $$$ 4 a chng!!!
I don't have to tell you that this is an online world, and I've touched on this subject before in a past column. So I won't repeat the same point beyond stressing how important it is that you learn to type in your native language better than the average 12 year old.
I swear that some schools still treat the subject of writing the way they did in 1911, when only a select few people would actually need to be able to write eloquently and all the rest just needed to know how to fill out a check at the feed store. Hell, when I was in high school, typing class was optional -- and that was in the 90s. Today, you can't function without a PC and every job makes you write.
If you're working in the warehouse at Cockrings International, odds are that every day, you have to send out at least one email -- maybe you have to file some kind of report, or send a request for forklift repairs, or maybe you'll be in charge of ordering, whatever. And I don't care how uneducated the guys in the buttplug department may be, if your messages are full of typos and jumbled words, they are going to make assumptions about your intelligence.
"Ok, let's all point and laugh at Bob's rampant fucking idiocy!"
Don't get me wrong -- I'm not saying you have to be Hemingway by any means. You don't need to know how to write descriptions that touch the human soul. But you need to learn to be concise and clear in print, or it will be coming back to bite you in the ass over and over.
Why You Won't Believe it for Years:
I'm not going to bullshit you -- if you're still in school, a significant portion of what you're learning right now will be absolutely useless once you settle into your adult life. No, I don't use my Algebra, and I've yet to encounter a decision that hinged on me knowing what year the Battle of Crunchfist Fuck-Knuckle took place.
"Fuck you, we use Algebra all the time and we live under a mountain of panties."
Writing is one of those that gets thrown into the "useless bullshit" pile because so much of English class is spent on obscure grammar rules and categorizing words. It comes off like another boring, arcane and ultimately useless subject. "Why do I need to know what a dangling participle is?" You don't, but you do need to learn how to not accidentally type the opposite of what you meant. In an online world, your writing is going to form a shell around you, and most of the people who interact with you will only see the shell.
But again, until you're in the break room and you overhear a coworker talking about how unfixably stupid you are and questioning whose dick you sucked to get your job, it's not going to hit home. No amount of intelligence or degrees or life experience can make up for the fact that the majority of her contact with you is in the form of emails and memos -- so the person she knows isn't the educated, loyal employee and cool guy. She pictures you as a slobbering four year old, slamming his palms across a keyboard and hoping it forms a thought. Because to her, this is shit that should have been learned in elementary school.
"Screw you, I'm going to be a princess when I grow up!"

#2. Going to a Counselor Doesn't Mean You're Crazy

I tend to harp on this a lot, and I'm about to do it again -- your teens and early 20s are one of the most dangerous periods of your life. Those same hormones I mentioned earlier don't just amplify the "feel good" emotions -- they also work for the Dark Side. This means it's also harder to tell the difference between what the grownups dismiss as being a "moody teenager" and a life-threatening problem.
For many, many years, I found myself getting irritable, sad, tired, angry, and even suicidal for no discernible reason, without provocation or warning. I'd lay in bed for hours, fantasizing about ways to just end it all because nobody understood, and there was nothing anyone could do to help me. If I was gone, the world would be a better place.

I pictured my funeral full of these things.
I had heard of depression, and I knew the definition, but I didn't really know what it was. It wasn't until years later when I started taking psychology classes that I began to get a deeper insight as to what was making me involuntarily goth out for most of my life. And as it turned out, it's pretty hard to fight a monster if you don't know that one is there in the first place. Recognizing depression when it hits is half the battle.
Luckily, the Internet now exists, so access to that information doesn't require any other action than clicking this link.
Or if it's easier, these boobs.
Why You Won't Believe it for Years:
Unfortunately, even if I had the internet back then, and the link was handed to me, and someone was there to click it, and another person held my eyes open, and another read the page to me through a megaphone, I still wouldn't have absorbed the information. Depression has a way of doing that to a person, it tricks you into defending it against all attacks. You will feed and protect your misery like it's your first born baby.
But the odds are that nobody would have given me the link anyway. Society was -- and still is -- in the dark ages when it comes to any kind of mental or emotional problems. Practical advice on dealing with your own emotional swings is not a subject you'll find being taught at schools or home or... pretty much anywhere. To this day, if you need physical therapy on a knee you sprained playing football, you're a badass. But if you need mental therapy, even simple counseling, you're crazy. Damaged. All talk of it is awkward, the subject of jokes to be made when they're well out of earshot. So the stigma keeps us at home, quietly accepting that there's something wrong with us. Something shameful.
The reality is that seeing somebody about depression (or anxiety, or anything else) is no harder than going to see a doctor about that rash on your ass. Yeah, it's awkward and intrusive but you get over it, you don't just fucking let it spread until you're bedridden. You call, you make an appointment, you see what needs done. Shake off that shame you feel about needing help before it fucking murders you.
Wanna know a secret? You are completely normal. It happens to all of us.
But understand this (and if you're in the age group I'm talking about, I hope to God that I'm wrong about you not getting this for years): You have more people who care about you than you think. Back when I was fighting that demon (I like to picture myself using a giant anime sword that's on fire), I swore on my soul that not a single person in the world gave a shit whether I lived or died. As I got older and that smothering black veil lifted, I realized how incredibly wrong I was. There were dozens of people who would have been negatively affected by my early check-out.
You'll find the same. Even if it turns out that number is two, that should mean something to you because it translates to this: Those two people live in a better world simply because you draw breath.
Even if those two people are complete douchebags.

#1. Stop and Figure Out How Much Partying You Can Handle

Statistically, almost every teenager reading this article will try booze or drugs before they graduate. I'm the last guy in the world who is going to burst through the doors and break up the party -- I've drank enough alcohol and done enough drugs in a single night to put any random four of you in a grave. And this is the last thing you want to hear, because the whole point of partying is that for one night you don't have to worry about a bunch of shit. So I'm not going to be the asshole who starts preaching about childhood obesity to trick-or-treaters on Halloween. I had my fun, you should have yours.
But, there's a huge yet invisible difference between innocent experimentation and addiction, and when it decides to blindside you, it happens so hard and so fast that, in the words of Warden Samuel Norton: "You'll think you've been fucked by a train". It's important that you recognize it before that happens. And, just like with the mental health example, society isn't great about giving you the tools because parents prefer to just tell you to never touch the stuff instead. You're probably not going to listen to that, so you wind up with no help at all.
It never looks like an after school special. It looks more like a call to 911.
My advice isn't complicated, and if you respect yourself or anyone you know at all, I ask you this one simple favor that will take five minutes per month. It's as easy as reading a grocery list. Bookmark that link, and once a month, visit it. Mentally check off any of those things that apply to you. If you have even one, it's not a good sign. But as you check things off, if you find that your mental pen is starting to run out of ink, it's time to take some serious steps towards finding an adult to talk to.
This wasn't a "find out five years later" case for me. It ate a third of my total lifespan, and I let it.
As I always point out with this issue, there are millions of people out there who can party with the best of them and then walk away unscathed. They can forget about it the next day and not come back to it for months or years at a time. Maybe you're one of those people, and I won't be the guy who points a finger in your face and tells you that you're wrong. All I'm asking is to visit that site. Give it an honest read... and if you find yourself checking off more and more of those points, come to terms with the idea that unless you put a stop to it, it's going to hurt you and everyone you love.
There's no shame in saying, "This isn't where I want to be. Can you help me?"
Why You Won't Believe it for Years:
You spend years in school listening to D.A.R.E. programs (or whatever anti-drug stuff they do where you live) telling you that one hit off a joint will put you in a coma. Then you actually try the stuff and realize that's bullshit, so you immediately ignore all other warnings, too. It's all the same shit -- puritanical adults clutching their pearls at the thought of spending Friday night ingesting anything other than Bible verses. Right? It's hard to imagine that your parents were in college too, at one point, and may have owned more than one bong. So trying to separate the anti-drug propaganda from the useful warnings becomes next to impossible. Especially when you're young and healthy and invincible, and your hangovers are over after breakfast.
And hell, once you're in college, that's all about drinking, right? That's the stereotype. The weird kids are the ones who aren't getting wasted.
And in the years after, you don't take kindly to words like "alcoholic" and "addict" because they're not a diagnosis - they're insults. They're terms used to describe selfish, weak people who ruin families. Nobody wants to be that. Even if you find that you are addicted, you sure as fuck can't admit it.
So you'll ignore it -- I ignored mine for 22 years before I finally swallowed my pride and admitted that I had a problem. You'll make excuses like, "I have a job. I'm a good mother/father. I pay my bills. I'm not hurting a damn thing -- I'm an adult, and this is my decision."
Totally your decision.

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