I regret deeply that I caused so much pain around me as I floundered with my emotions. You will find ways around this kind of mess in your life (of course, I hope you are spared, though I’m afraid it’s kind of inevitable), but the best way is through it, not around it. If you don’t slow down along the main drag of Paintown, past Heartbreak Hotel and that lonely self-service station at the edge of town near the on-ramp to the Blue Highway, the Paintown Police will catch up to you sooner or later, and they’ll be pissed.
The third most important thing you will ever do — and I sorely hope you do — is to become a father. The moment you were born at, I think, 3:02 a.m. at Beth Israel Hospital on Manhattan’s east side, I remember thinking: I have never done anything important before. If you are lucky and have a kid like yourself and the asshole gene doesn’t skip a generation and my traits crop up in your child, you will have a large degree of happiness in your life, and it will help you weather the worst of things.
I’ll let you ponder that while I fish into the nettles of my experience for more gems.
Speaking of police: don’t argue with cops. Be polite and cooperative. Otherwise you’re shafting yourself.
Eat a lot of protein (steak, fish, chicken), shine the carbohydrates (unless you have liver trouble like I do), and eat vegetables even if you have to force yourself; they will, if nothing else, often provide gratifying farts. But probably you shouldn’t listen to me about dietary matters.
Be generous with people who are less fortunate than you, and, as a strong man, defend those whom you can: those who need a little help — and it’s usually just a little. Don’t break the law unless the law strikes you as so asinine or immoral that you must. Jail is horrifying. If you ever find yourself in a cell, try to make sure that it is for a higher reason than you just fucked up. That may happen; if it does, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and try to make it right with anyone you’ve hurt.
You are already in the habit of reading for pleasure as well as education, but I notice you limit yourself to fantasy and science fiction. That’s all right, but you are what you eat, and, like vegetables, you simply need certain nutrients. John Gardner, a good writing teacher and a novelist, advised young writers (and you already are one) to read Faulkner (you already have) and then read Hemingway to get the taste of Faulkner out of your mouth. Hemingway, too, can provide gratifying farts. Someday read Graham Greene for the way a sentence should be balanced. Read Elmore Leonard and Richard Price for the way that people talk; Dickens, not science fiction writers, for the way a world is created and a mass of life is set in motion on the page. Read every chance you get because there isn’t enough time. You’ll find life gives you just enough time for many important things but never reading. A lot of us die hungry for more. If you don’t get to Proust, don’t worry about it.
Let me see, I think I’ve already tried to impart to you some things I have learned the hard way, like that strategy in line at the movies for popcorn and Coke when the movie has already started: never get in a line behind an obese person — to say nothing of an obese family. It is like trying to pass a convoy of 18-wheel trucks going downhill. Forget about it.
Don’t go to war for any reason; it’s not a video game. The world never suffers from a shortage of patriots and lunatics who think war is glorious. Meat will always be provided for the grinder. If you feel the need to take part in some kind of war effort, do what you can to stop it.
Which leads me to politics. I have no advice here other than, choose your battles carefully; the cynicism rule of your mother’s applies here.
As for religion or spirituality, every time the subject has come up with us in the past you start talking about the Big Bang Theory or something. That’s all right; unless you’re an atheist or agnostic at 21, you’ll never, later in life, glimpse the true, majestic proportions of what we’re really dealing with here.
When in a hurry to get out of the grocery store, get in line behind a single, middle-aged, lonely-looking guy buying TV dinners and soup for one.
Pay attention to everything, even fools and idiots. You’ll be surprised what you can learn from the most unlikely people. Know that you are going to be smarter than most people around you and be patient with them, unlike me. Remember what little knowledge any of us ever really has at the end of the day.
When you think you’re going to die, it is the things you haven’t done, not the things you have, that you most regret. No matter what you do, you’ll probably have regrets, so don’t be afraid of temptation. Give in to it as least as often as you resist it.
Question authority — bumper sticker advice, I know, but still. The exception in this case is if the authority in question is carrying a firearm (see police above).
Music: this can be one of the major joys in life. It is the closest thing to actual magic that I can think of. Music can save your sanity. Music can make you cry when you need to and every impulse in your body is fighting it desperately. Bach can help you think, Mozart will offer you transcendence, a momentary reprieve from mortality, Wagner can make you seasick, Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters can mirror a longing and dogged joy that is otherwise hard to articulate. Charlie Parker and Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Chet Baker can paint abstract pictures in your head, making a kind of sense out of the modern world that is otherwise unavailable. Rock and roll can set you free for a while. I don’t know what that heavy speed-metal crap is that was on the tape deck in your car the other day, but I hate it. And as long as at least one parent hates and misunderstands the music you’re into, you’re probably on the right track.