I live in a small town. I’ve lived here almost all my life. Now that I’m married (almost two months and going strong!) I’m looking forward to moving to a bigger city, looking forward to embracing the hustle and bustle of city life, and, perhaps mostly, looking forward to hanging out with creative people, sharing ideas, and growing my own creative impulse.
Small town life is…interesting. Everyone knows everyone. Mostly everyone ends up staying here their whole lives, raising their children here, putting their roots down here, building careers and homes and lives.
It came as no surprise, therefore, when an email landed in my inbox a couple of weeks ago from my high school English teacher, asking if I’d like to grab a bite to eat at a nearby hole-in-the-wall and catch up. I had made a point to leave high school (and pretty much everyone related to high school) in the past where they belonged, but I had always been closer to this particular teacher than some of my others, so I agreed to meet with her.
On a particularly cold and rainy November afternoon we sat down to a roughly cut wooden table in a bistro, where several from my graduating class were coincidentally waiting tables. One girl, who had always been rather sweet to me, waited on us. The conversation between my teacher and I of course began with reminiscent stories of our time together in high school; there were laughs as she told me stories of things I had forgotten about. “And you tried so hard to fit in,” she said over her coffee. “But you know, you were just….different. You would’ve never been popular. Your family didn’t have money and you weren’t interested in the things the other girls were.”
The words stung at first, but the more I thought about them, the more I realized she was right. In the next breath, she asked a question. “If you could tell your high school self anything, what would you say?”
I took a moment to think about it. What would I say?
I would say this:
Dear 16-year-old Blair:
High school is shit. Don’t ever listen to someone who tells you “these are the best years of your life” because they’re not. Things get so much better, especially for creative people. These years are probably the worst for people like you. People don’t understand you. They have no idea what it means to pour yourself into a project only to have it criticized.
Let yourself have fun. Let yourself experiment without fear of judgment. Art is messy and people are, too. Extend grace to those who jeer at you, and laugh behind your back because your hairstyle is a little different, or because you skip lunch and classes to spend an extra thirty minutes in a practice room in the band suite.
Pour everything you’ve got into everything you do. Unapologetically. Shortly, very shortly, the people who laugh at you now will be paying you for the talent and skills you’re spending your waking hours honing and nurturing. You see, you can be taught to format a spreadsheet, or fix a car, or code a website. These skills can be learned. But your passion, your creativity, and your mind cannot be replicated. They cannot be bought. They cannot be stolen.
Love yourself for the person you are. You probably feel very lonely. This is the price you pay for individuality and it’s worth it. No one can be YOU.
And for God’s sakes, do your homework. The sheet music can wait.