Recently, I spent 20 collective hours in a car alone, driving very fast. My heart has been hurt twice this year. Not only will I be away from the two most important people in my life for the first time this Christmas, I’ll be away from my family and most of my chosen family. I just finished reading Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things.
For all these reasons, I have been very much in my head lately.
The last chapter of the book, which is a compilation of letters sent into the “Dear Sugar” advice column Strayed wrote for The Rumpus, asks Sugar what advice she would give to a 20-year-old version of herself. As a woman who lives her best to have no regrets, trying either to learn from experiences or apologize, the idea of advice for or against what I did 12 years ago was oddly appealing. Maybe because I’ve had to do quite a bit of thinking about how I seem to fall for men who are kind of assholes, or maybe because it’s the end of a year, or maybe because I recently told someone I was living my third life now and he and I got into this amazing conversation about how we evolve, I felt compelled.
Writers, when you feel compelled, just write.
Advice for a 20-Year-Old Laura:
Stop trying to straighten your hair. First, it never works and you end up, at best, with a kind of Nancy Drew flip at the bottom that isn’t your style, babe. Second, you’re always bored when you’re doing that, and third, it’s fucking Alabama and hot enough already without some fucking radioactive metal stick millimeters from your scalp.
Stop blow-drying it, too. Again: boring and hot and stupid.
You’re not really fat, babe. Only when you fuck around with food do you fuck around with your weight, so just eat what you really like and you’ll be fine.
Keep every cassette tape you buy. Keep every record.
Yeah, that professor WAS totally hitting on you that time, and you probably should’ve stayed after class for office hours because that fucker was HOT.
If a pretty girl walks into the room, her beauty doesn’t lessen yours. Her intelligence doesn’t mute yours. Her confidence doesn’t dampen yours. You’re the same person you were.
People will forget how short you are if you’re loud enough.
Men are going to tell you sometimes that you’re intimidating. Those are the men that won’t want to date you, they’ll just want to try and fuck all the charm and awe out of that situation. Don’t let them, if you can help it. Look for someone who will see you on a Sunday morning with your cardigan buttoned wrong over a slip, your knee socks falling down as you laugh and make coffee in your messy kitchen, and will fall in love with you because of a moment like that.
It’s okay if you love to fish but you get too sad every time you kill a cricket to bait your hook and you make someone else do it.
Write down what your grandpa tells you.
If some dude gets weirded out because you didn’t want to shave your armpits or legs for a few weeks, then that’s not a dude you want to fuck anyway.
Yes, you like women too. Stop wondering about it; it’s fine, you’re fine, that chick over there is fine.
When you pull up to a red light, don’t stop singing.
Be as thrifty as you like, but spend money on these things: sheets. Underwear. Cheese. Whiskey. Other people.
Don’t trust a man who doesn’t have any woman friends.
Take that fucking fake ass engagement ring off your finger when you go to bars and just start telling dudes to get their dicks off your ass on the dance floor.
Always carry this on your person: your keys, a condom, a knife, matches, and $5.
When a man watches you get ridiculously drunk on your 20th birthday and takes you to his house and helps you undress in the dark so he won’t unfairly see you naked and wakes up to get you water after you vomit in his bathroom and tells you, as you lie beside one another in the pale pale morning, that you’re beautiful, believe him. He means it.
Whiskey in coffee is real, real good.
Tell your friends you love them whenever you think it, and stop worrying if that’s weird or not.
When Alison Wolfe invites you back to her hotel room at 3 AM after a show so you can talk about feminism in the South YOU FUCKING GO, ASSHOLE.
In reality, you don’t often have to do things you don’t want to do. Your life is yours alone, and you choose how to spend it. Don’t spend it with people you don’t love, don’t spend it wishing away your time, don’t spend it frivolously. Spend it letting yourself be happy.
Always tip at least $3, even if you just order a cup of coffee.