Jackson Bliss has ten essential pieces of advice for his younger self.
Listen up, we’re about to have a Back to the Future moment and I don’t want you to freak out (or ask if I drive a DeLorean). Everything I’m about to tell you, you’ll eventually figure out on your own (so props to you). More than anything, I just want to put your teenage mind at ease and let you know you’re not alone. Here are some things you may wanna know:
- You won’t become the following things (and that’s okay):
A soccer star, a New Wave synthesizer player with moussey hair, a chemically unbalanced abstract acrylic artist, an editorial model for Comme des Garçons, an indie film star (unless Sophia Copola calls you tomorrow, which she totally should), a Japanese (or EU) citizen, the winner of the Tour de France, a fluent Japanese speaker, an opium-addicted French poet, a NorCal beatnik, an international lawyer, or an obscenely rich 80’s heart throb (not that you won’t try).
- You will do these things though (and that’s kinda cool):
Live in Buenos Aires for a year, fly over the Geoglyphs of Nasca, become fluent in French and Spanish, speak Japanese (like a 9-year-old), meet your Japanese family in Osaka for the first time, fall in love and eventually get married with a woman named after a Lady Bug. You’ll publish your short stories, cultural analysis, and lyrical essays pretty extensively. In the distant future, you’ll publish your novels and your conceptual memoir. You’ll travel the world, shave your head, and become a Buddhist in college, get some ink of a Boddhisatva on your shoulder from a Thai tattoo artist, get a bunch of advanced degrees, take a vow of silence for a week, flirt with existentialism, become macrobiotic, become a dog lover, drive to New Orleans on spring break, live all over the US, become a professor, and call LA and Chicago home
- You should never be ashamed of your own learning curve (and everyone has one):
Different people learn the same lessons at different stages in their lives for different reasons, but they’re never the same issues because we’re never the exact same people, even when we learn the same issue later on in our life. Not knowing something is normal and healthy. It’s just a tiny hole in our bare substratum that disappears once we learn it. There’s no fucking shame in not knowing something. Not admitting you don’t know something, however, is an emotional failure. Don’t apologize for what you know and don’t apologize for what you don’t know.
- You’re smart (and there are also tons of smart people in this world):
Even though your teachers treat you like you’re stupid, even though your 1st grade teacher demoted you to the lowest reading level for no reason and your 7th grade math teacher laughed at you when you asked to take the honors test (both of which made you feel like shit about yourself), and even though your parents don’t ask you questions and don’t listen to your answers either, you will do great things.
You’ll get into Vassar and go to Oberlin College. You’ll get into several Ivy-League universities for grad school. You’ll get your MFA at Notre Dame in fiction and your MA and your PhD at USC in literature and creative writing (both of which you’ll someday love).You will write a 520-page dissertation in three and a half years. You will prove wrong the detractors of your adolescence. You’ll prove what you always knew about yourself (which, by the way, is kinda awesome that you knew that back then).
- You’re completely and absolutely lovable (no matter what people tell you, no matter how they treat you, and no matter what they do to you:
Ignore your haters and understand that a lot of harsh criticism comes from the ricocheted pain of self-disfiguration. Also, it’s true, your parents are gonna get a divorce (you’re not being paranoid and you also can’t avoid that collision either). At times, it might feel like your world is coming to an end (which in a way, it is since everything that you know in 8th grade will fall apart). After your mom moves out, she will write you a letter telling you she “died” on mother’s day because you and your brother didn’t call her the day before mother’s day to tell her you’re taking her out to dinner. Instead, the two of you will stop by her apartment to surprise her and then she will give both of you separate letters about what selfish, inconsiderate, and egocentric sons you are. Your letter will be twice as long as your older brother’s, a detail that will crush you. As you read the letter and cry, a part of you will wish you could have crawled into a little hole and disappeared like a subterranean mammal. Her letter will psychically devastate you for years. But you’re not just your pain and your mom is not just her mistakes. You deserve happiness, joy, and love (because everyone does).
- Your creativity will save your ass (that’s not a teenage delusion):
You will go to Interlochen Arts Academy and study classical piano. You will become a talented photographer. You’ll publish your first album of original electronic music on iTunes in 2012. And what started as a consolation project in 6th grade after one of your classmates punched you in the face out of the blue and made your nose bleed will someday evolve into your greatest passion and your greatest talent. Even years before you publish your first short story in a literary journal, or see your first lyrical essay in print, or read the first comment from a piece of your cultural analysis, there will be hints throughout your life that you were meant to be a musician, an artist, and a writer. If you keep working your ass off, you might actually be big someday.
- You’ll be the new kid four times in four years in high school (and it will totally suck):
You’ll be the outsider the moment you step on campus. At the same time, because you’re the permanent stranger, you get to reinvent yourself over and over again, which will help you later to define yourself polymorphously. This skill will be crucial growing up. You’ll have no problem seeing yourself as a complex, contradictory, and hybrid man. You’ll have no problem defining yourself elastically. You’ll see your life as a continuous project of self-invention, which is a good way to create stability in the influx.
- Your ability to love is one of the best parts about you (because this is who you are):
There are many things you can’t do, things you’ll try and fail to do, things you’ll never understand either (like html coding and Paul Ricoeur). And that’s cool. But one of the things you’re amazing at, is knowing how to love. You love the characters in your novels. You love the smell of forests, fresh rain, and Beethoven symphonies. You love a perfectly coordinated outfit, Kandinsky’s Painting with a Green Center (your fave painting in high school), video games and teenybopper flicks that make you cry, Mazzy star melancholia, studying foreign languages, traveling to new countries, and playing piano in the dark. You love LB more than anyone or anything in the whole world. And though it’s classic hubris to admit this, you finally love yourself. People will tell you you’re a narcissist. They’ll judge this essay. They’ll judge you for thinking these thoughts. They’ll judge you for publishing these thoughts. And humility is a crucial lesson to learn, but one of your greatest skills is your ability to fall in love with a singular moment, with the meter of a word, with a flawed memory of an old city, with fall color tour in Chicago, with your sweet pups Gogo and Zoe, with a smile from a stranger on the subway, with a Smiths’ song, and with the smell of your wife cast on the pillowcase like an invisible portal. Don’t apologize for who you are. Don’t apologize for anything except not loving enough.
- No one gets to decide who you are (and no one gets to tell you what you are either):
You’ll go through an identity crisis of not reading as part Japanese but being part Japanese (both culturally and racially). At times, you’ll wish you looked as Japanese as you feel inside and other times you’ll understand that racial ambiguity is a godsend. Sometimes, other Asians will say you’re just American even though your Japanese grandmother was born near Matsuyama and your mom was born in Yokohama (which means you’re Nisei, and therefore, a hyphenated American). Sometimes, white people will tell you you’re not really Asian because you don’t look Asian.
Other times, you’ll be told you’re not a real man because you don’t believe in wars, you don’t believe in fighting, you don’t believe in violence, and you don’t see women as conquests (or points). Your sexuality will be questioned continuously in high school because you coordinate your clothes, value communication, and dare to feel emotions besides anger. But you’re not the problem. You’re just a historical refugee waiting for the right era. Fortunately, in 2006, you’ll walk into a Tower Records in New York city and skim through Kip Fulbeck’s book, Part Asian, 100% Hapa, and it’ll change your fucking life. Suddenly, you’ll realize that cultural identity is different than racial identity and that the construction of race (like gender, sexuality, and identity) is a broad spectrum. You’ll learn there’s a word for mixed race Asians like you. And this word saves you from having to look Asian in order to be Asian: hapa. Hapas look Asian, black, white, Latino, or mixed race, but they’re all part Asian. They’re all mixed race. They’re all the “other” both in terms of race, culture, and gender construction. It turns out you were never alone. You were never insane. You were never delusional. You’re just a complex mosaic of identity and masculinity.
- You will learn to embrace the role of the outsider (as much as anyone can):
You will learn that the center (of culture, in-groups, organizations, social structures, and institutions, for example) is a lot clearer from the margins of society. And just so we’re clear, that’s not an apologia either of social, gender, sexual, racial, class, ethnic, and cultural exclusion, it’s just a reminder that you will have a unique cultural optic of the world and a unique voice to tell your own story. Also, your obsession with the underdog will have everything to do with your belief in social, economic, and political justice for all people (hence your staunch support of feminism). Your ability to relate to and root for the underdog will also connect to your concerns about institutional discrimination, economic exploitation, environmental destruction, and class chauvinism. You’ll fight this battle of identity in your own art in your own way and on your own conditions, and you’ll be a better person too because of this struggle.
Okay, now, it’s your turn. You’ve done an amazing job listening while I gave you unsolicited advice (and from the future, no less). I couldn’t ask anything more from you. So, ask me everything you’ve ever wanted to know about the world and everything you want me to know about yourself. Whatever you ask, whatever you say, I promise to listen until the end.
Photo credit: ursulaleguin / flickr