Dear 13 year old W____,
You will not be cool. Destroy these aspirations and instead focus on your studies. Your studies won’t get you anywhere, but if you’re concentrating on the differences between electrons and neutrons, maybe you’ll think up less to lie about. You lie too much about too little. Your lies are never whoppers; you don’t invent dead grandmothers or relations to presidents or where you were last Saturday night (because you were at home, being boring). Instead, you lie about what you know and what you like. You couldn’t tell the difference between Blues Traveler and the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion until you were 17, kid, so don’t even try.
In 1996 (and seventh grade) you’ll take a newspaper class. You’ll take this newspaper class because despite your crippling lack of self-esteem you are beginning to realize that you enjoy writing, and because the teacher is sort of dreamy. (Caveat: watch out for this “having-a-crush-on-the-teacher” thing, because it’s going to get you into trouble later. Older men aren’t wiser or stronger than you; they’re just older and more-manipulative.) When you sign up for the class, you ensure (as you always do) that you will have a small-but-necessary buffer of friends between you and the Others, the Others in this case being students that may not like you, or worse, like to pick on you. Because you’re you, you don’t realize that if you get picked on, you should fight back with every ounce of bile you can muster. You don’t understand that getting picked on in middle school and high school is (usually) not personal; it’s a simple marker to separate people like you from the Others. It’s a roadmap: do not go this way. This way lies asking permission to breathe and giggling nervously at everything Other people say.
You have three friends who say they’ll take the newspaper class with you, so you’re safe! However, three months later when you show up to the first class, you’ll realize that you have been thrown to the wolves: there is you, and then there is the Others. There will be precisely one kid less-cool than you and you can’t even find it within yourself to pick on him, not because you’re all that nice (you aren’t), but because if you draw attention to yourself, the Others might realize that you’re only a rung or two above this kid. So you sit down on the far right of the class and you stay silent.
This works for three weeks. And then, out of the blue, you are Noticed. A guy one year older sits deliberately by you and engages you in pleasantries, and you answer them all while quietly panicking because he is being nice and this kid is not nice usually. You will remember this kid’s first and last name 15 years later when you write this letter to your past self and make the conscious decision not to identify him. It is a form of forgiveness, maybe. Or another mark of cowardice.
After playing with its food, the snake strikes. “Do you like Nirvana?”
Your mind goes white. You have never heard a song by Nirvana. You listen to Broadway soundtracks, not anything on the radio. You try so hard to remember who Nirvana is. You have a vague impression that they’re pretty heavy rock and roll, but that is all you suspect. “Yes,” you lie, because this is the sort of lie in which you exceed.
The kid smiles. He’s taking his time. “Yeah, me too. Did you know they’re coming to town?”
Another lie. Your grin widens. “Yes. Can’t wait!”
“So you’re going!” The kid is really having a good time now, and there are several Others watching.
Your palms are beginning to sweat. “Oh yeah. I have tickets.”
He moves in for the kill. “I can’t wait to see Kurt Cobain. He’s awesome.”
“He’s amazing!” You will say, and then because you’re feeling extra-bold, you gush a little: “When he plays, it all just falls away. His songs just– they’re great. They really speak to me. I can’t wait to see him. Are you going to try to meet him? I am.”
There is a silence. The kid lets it gather and settle for a moment before informing you: “Kurt Cobain is dead. You don’t even know who Nirvana is.”
The laughter is instantaneous and you will be sure that everyone in the entire class had been listening and is delighted to catch you in a lie (several lies, actually, I remind you now). You will be so embarrassed that you can’t even leave the class room to go cry in the bathroom like a normal teen disgrace; instead you will curl into a ball and pretend to be concentrating on the definition of the word “libel”. You will ask your mom to stop by the CD store on the way home and you blow your month’s allowance buying all ten of the current Top Ten CDs.
By senior year, you will listen to cool music and you will know every. goddamn. thing. about Nirvana.
And that is really stupid of you. Not because you eventually legitimately enjoy Nirvana, but because you did it to play catch-up to an invisible measuring tape. I guess every kid your age does it. I probably still do it now, in one form or another. But listen to me, W______. You won’t be cool even after you learn more about music. And that’s okay. It really is. What you need to learn to do is breathe on your own and focus on what makes you happy. Because you’re going to spend a long time playing catch-up, and you will never catch up.
Grow in other ways.
And for fuck’s sake; when Ryan P____ asks you out on a date, tell him to fuck himself.