Dear Jimmy – “Advice” to a Former Student

(Back in 2020, the mom of one of my former students reached out to me and asked, as she was asking others, to write a little note to her son on the occasion of his 25th birthday. If I recall correctly, she was asking influential adults in his life to offer him some advice. I was pleased to get her request and spent more than a little time considering and then composing my note. Searching for another piece of writing on my computer, I found my note last week and decided to archive it here. I hope some of you find it entertaining, if not full of decent advice. –Andy)

Dear Jimmy,

As your 25th birthday was approaching, your mother reached out to me and with great dignity and honor suggested I may have something of value to pass along to you. I understand I’m not the only person to whom she put in this request, which in some ways lets me off the hook. I mean, somewhere in the vast compendium of letters you are undoubtedly receiving on the occasion of doing nothing more extraordinary than having a pulse for a quarter century, you’re bound to get something more useful than anything I can cobble together.

For instance, the first thing that came to mind was to plagiarize something that was a meme before there were memes – “Wear sunscreen.”

Honestly, that is pretty decent advice, given that climate issue we’re having, but I’m betting you received it as a little kid or, failing that, figured it out by yourself by now. The really juicy stuff at this point in your life needs to be advice that gets you to stop what you’re doing, cock your head to the side, scrunch your eyebrows, and say something profound like, “Damn.”

Just for effect, you’re a director after all so take some direction from me, go ahead and imagine I just gave you some good advice:

Stop what you’re doing (reading, I imagine), cock your head to the side (600 mg of ibuprofen might aid with this – I know it helps my 25 + 32 year-old knees before I go for a run), scrunch your eyebrows (that’s the fun part), and say, “Damn.”

Don’t you feel better?

Yeah, it was probably just for saying, “Damn.”

To digress from the digression and on the subject of strong language, I’ve been working to promote a new swear word. It probably won’t catch on because it’s not four letters and our collective 21st century attention span can’t stand things that take too long (see: Twitter). Anyway, I invite you to take it for a test spin, see how it comes off your tongue. To really try it out, hold the first syllable for an extra split second, put emphasis on the second syllable, and then let the third syllable slide out, a denouement of sorts. Here it is, my new swear word for 2020:

Pandemic.

Hmmm… It seems now that twice since I began this letter, I have offered you direction. And thinking about that, isn’t direction just a form of advice? This is what you do for a living, as I understand it. You direct actors to do stuff. That’s a form of advice, directing actors to do stuff, at least in my mind. You don’t know whether or not those actors are going to do the stuff you direct them to do. The actors get to make up their minds whether they’re going to take your direction, your advice. There is still free will, right?

Right?

Back to your mom. It occurred to me that she might be worried about you, given she is seeking out people like me to knock some sense into you on the occasion of you taking 25 tours around the sun on our collective blue-green spaceship.

So, Jimmy, here goes, my third direction to you: Humor your mom.

How? PRETEND you’ve gotten good advice from those to whom she reached out, including me. I’m sure it will make her feel good. See, when you PRETEND you’ve gotten good advice, you actually have to look inside yourself to find what to do. This makes the advice you’re pretending to have gotten be GOOD advice.

Funny thing about looking inside yourself… When you do it with a dose of trust, you find you’re not pretending at all.

Your old pal,