Last year, my wife’s company asked its male employees to write a letter to their 12-year-old selves about the meaning of manhood as part of a gimmicky ad campaign. (She works for a large ad agency.) As my wife is not male (last time I checked), she asked me if I’d be interested in participating as part of a creative exercise, since she knows how obsessed I am with that age, so I did. I realize the subject of this entry is only tangentially related to the theme of this blog (namely, writing and publishing my novel), but my book is about childhood and growing up, so I’m giving myself a pass. My blog, my rules. Here it is:
Well buddy, you made it! I bet you didn’t think you’d live to see 44 years old, but I’m living proof that you did. Congrats! How do you feel now that you’re all grown up? Pretty good, actually! How do you look? Uh…try to remember how you feel is more important than how you look. But let’s just say you should enjoy your hair while you still have it.
If you’ve just turned 12, you’re at the tail end of what will become your favorite school year. Keep studying hard, but never forget to have fun. Rally around your friends, and enjoy the time you have left in elementary school. Not to frighten you, but it goes fast. The year you’re living in will end up becoming your favorite, but I don’t want to say why. I’d like to leave at least a few surprises. I do want to give you some helpful hints, though, so after you get it out of your system, maybe put down your cartooning pencil. It’s fun to doodle, but it won’t be your career. Sorry, but you will not become the next Jim Davis, as a few art teachers predicted. Use that pencil for writing instead.
Also, don’t be afraid to date in a few years. You will be asked out by exactly one person in your entire life, so you may as well take her up on her offer. It’s only pizza and a movie, dude. It’s not the end of the world. (It’s not even necessarily the end of your childhood.) Dating is surprisingly fun and not the harbinger of bad things to come as you fear.
Now for some tough love: You need to take exercise more seriously. Remember that physical health contributes to mental health. I’m not saying you have to join a gym (you do in your teens, and it’s a waste of time and money), but you should play outside with your friends more. I know all too well how fun and addicting Nintendo can be, but it’s no good to play it all day every day, especially when you’re playing it by yourself.
It’s good to challenge yourself once in a while. You might want to think about taking the Honors classes you were assigned to in junior high instead of settling for Regents. Speaking of which, and there’s no way to sugarcoat this, but junior high and high school are going to be hell on earth, particularly high school. You will be called every name in the name-calling book, including ones you hadn’t even realized were invented yet, like the oxymoron “stupid nerd.” Not only do new people attack you (verbally, not physically, though you will be challenged to fistfights after school), but your old, close friends will seemingly abandon you, too. And yes, there are even cruel teachers in your future. It sucks, but it’s all part of growing up. It gets better, but be aware that it first gets worse before it gets better. But it does get better. Just know that through it all, it’s not your fault. Please don’t take it personally, though I obviously know you better than anyone else, so you will. But at least try. If you take nothing else away from this letter, always remember their mocking you is a reflection of their character, not yours.
Part of being a man is to defend yourself — not to start fights but to learn to stand up for what you believe. If you don’t do it, no one else will. Being wishy-washy like your comic heroes Charlie Brown and Jon Arbuckle is not a virtue. The cliché is true: If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.
Anyway, I rambled on long enough, and as I wrote at the beginning of this letter, I don’t want to give everything away, so stay strong, keep hitting the books, and learn to relax a little more. And please never lose your sense of humor. It’s invaluable in more ways than you know, and it may one day literally save your life.
P.S.: Don’t forget to see “Batman” this summer. You’re going to love it. Also, check out the premiere of “The Simpsons” in December. Trust me. This show has legs.
Back to present day Mike: Don’t forget to sign up for blog updates to snag your free book! (Do I even need to keep reminding you? Yes, I think I do.) Also, I noticed that several people began “following” my blog over the past few weeks, and I greatly appreciate that, but if you want a free book, you need to enter your email address and click “Sign Up” in the opt-in box at the bottom of the Blog/FREE Book page. Without your email address, I have no way of sending you the book. Next week’s blog (when we’re back to Thursday updates): How to Write a Novel in Seven Easy Steps