To The College Student At a Crossroads, Foolish (And Sweet) Enough To Ask Me For Life Advice
Dear “Young & ready to run south of nowhere,”
Thank you so much for all the kind words, for real.
But I think it’s imperative that you hear directly from me just how much of a falsehood my — and everyone else’s, though I often have a hard time grasping that — online presence is. The chasm between what I present and my day-to-day life is massive, and it’s a dichotomy that is a source of endless anxiety for me.
I really don’t want to be one of those people who talks to you as though you’re “so young,” since it’s not like I’m ancient compared to you. And I’m sure that you feel the same pressure I do, thanks to social media, that everything has to be done *right now* so you can catch up to all those people who seem to be so far ahead, living the life you think you want.
Nevertheless, the fact is that when I was 19, I was about as far from who I am now as I was when I was 5; maybe more so, actually. I was a virgin, for one. And like you, I was in my sophomore year of college, at NYU. Where I grew up, it was not a question of whether or not I, or anyone else, would go to college; it was a competition of how prestigious of a college it would be. My parents happen to not be especially pushy in terms of what they feel I should do with my life; and that’s a problem in and of itself, as I often feel that, if they were, it would have been more obvious for me to rebel specifically against that. And rebellion is a direction, as misguided as it may end up being.
In any case, I applied only to NYU (early decision) because I was convinced I belonged in the city, that I was too much of a special snowflake to have blossomed in my suburban adolescence, and that I would be “at home” in NYC. At this point in my life, I was obsessed with live music, and wanted to pursue a career in that. But at NYU, although there is a Music Business major, you have to audition to be considered. And since I quit every instrument lesson I ever started (along with dance, gymnastics, painting, learning to ride a bike, etc.) because my parents didn’t want me to resent them for forcing me into anything — and wanted me to genuinely find my own way — that was a non-option. So I ended up in the Media, Culture, and Communications program, with absolutely no direction or aspirations once the concert fascination wore off.
I ended up essentially sleepwalking through college. I did the bare minimum academically, and because I’ve always done well in school without trying, I was able to graduate with honors and give the impression that I was actually being diligent. Although I must have been in the nascent stages of disillusionment with this college to grad school to career to family trajectory, I kept it entirely to myself because I felt guilty that I had “wasted” so much of my parents’ money pursuing a degree I have, as of now, done zilch with.
And when you go to a school like NYU in a city like NYC, it’s very easy to isolate and not meet people as you likely would on a smaller, traditional campus. Which is exactly what happened once my “friends forever” group from freshman year fell apart at the beginning of sophomore year, when my supposed BFF started dating my supposed BF (Zach and Tessa, I am truly so glad you found each other 😘).
The point of all this is that after I graduated, I had absolutely no fucking idea what to do. (Apparently this isn’t that rare, especially with our generation, but that doesn’t really matter when you’re in the midst of the maelstrom.) I hadn’t taken advantage of all the “resources” available at NYU, and had, true to form, phoned it in at my two academic-credit internships. So my post-college years — up til rehab in autumn of 2015 — ended up being a very delayed adolescence, in which I tried to make up for all the exploration and experimentation I had pussied out on in high school.
This led to my doing sex work, first getting into modeling and art, a series of extremely unhealthy (though in a variety of ways) romantic/sexual relationships, and ketamine addiction (it’s a thing). I do not list these together to imply that they are equivalent or necessarily related to one another; they simply encapsulate my early twenties, for better or for worse.
Basically, I think of myself as being two years old. Or, like, thirteen. After rehab, I became aware of just how little I had successfully acclimated to the real adult world, which was terrifying. And my inability to face how to begin to remedy that contributed to my many relapses.
Once sobriety finally stuck, things started to change…very slowly…at times, almost imperceptibly. And even though I’m awful at giving myself even an atom of credit for any accomplishments, it is true that I have made a shitload of progress in the past year and a half.
But it never feels like enough. I look at other artists/models/writers/just about anyone anywhere, and am resentful of them for what seems like massive success/fulfillment/serenity on their part. It’s extremely difficult for me to comprehend, in the moment of obsession, that their presentations of their lives and achievements are just as curated as mine.
I’m not quite at the point where I am able to say “wow I’m so glad everything that’s happened to me has happened, since it’s made me who I am today!!! :)” It is possible, though, that had I gone to art school, for example, I would have burnt out on anything creative and ended up hating it. Or I could have an entirely different “style.” OR I could be hugely successful and famous and rich. The point is that I’ll never know, because it’s one of the many unlived lives I have, just as everyone has an infinite amount that increases with each tiny decision.
Just yesterday, I had a 15-minute phone consultation with a “career counselor.” (I keep saying I’d still like to, maybe, be a librarian or archivist. I don’t know if this very shaky “Plan B” of sorts is a smart, proper backup possibility. Because it could also merely be a way for me to appease people who wouldn’t understand/support transforming what I do now into a long-term profession; and, in a sense, it’s another way for me to be only half-committed to any one pursuit.) It scared the shit out of me. Not just because of the rates she informed me I would have to pay if I wanted to continue, but because I still have no idea if I want to work my ass off trying to make “art” my actual career or if I want to do something “safer,” more “conventional,” with a far clearer trajectory.
The “moral” of this long-winded response, basically, is that there is no answer. No one can tell you what you should do, including yourself. Do I think you should drop out of college and flee the city? Probably not, but I can’t give many valid reasons why I think that. (Though I will say that NYC is likely one of the absolute worst places to be if you’re prone to comparing yourself to others. At the same time, beware of the “geographic,” which is AA terminology for moving somewhere else and thinking it’ll solve all your problems.)
Just remember that perception is not reality, and that the life I’m living on a day-to-day basis — wracked with constant full-body fear, obsessing over money, endlessly seeking male validation, living in a state of permanent disarray and filth — is probably not really the life you imagine or the one you want.
But what you want will change, so fucking often.
And, no matter how it seems, you don’t have to make all these huge decisions right now; which should actually be considered good news, because you quite simply *can’t*.
No one can.