Dear 15-year-old me:
I’m 59-year-old you and this is the sort of thing we do to pass the time while self-isolating during the pandemic. Yeah. The pandemic. I don’t want to jump straight into that, if you don’t mind. I mean, I’m not going to totally blow it off; I’ll get to it eventually. Just not right now. Baby steps.
I don’t know how these things are supposed to work. Does this letter show up under your pillow on some random day after your fifteenth birthday? Or does it show up in your mailbox like a regular letter the morning of your fifteenth birthday? The fact that I don’t know doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. I can’t remember a lot of things that happened when I was fifteen, so first things first: Keep a journal. A diary. Whatever you call it, get something to write on and write something, anything at all, every day, even just one sentence about that day. I can’t tell you why yet, but trust me, you want to do this.
Speaking of things you want to do, start working on your dad to chip on the flying lessons. He’ll do it if you sell it to him the right way. Like, you know how he wants you to go to college? You absolutely should go, so promise get a 4.0 GPA if your parents chip in 50% for flying lessons. They don’t have that kind of money, but they’ll chip for some fraction of your expenses if you deliver good grades, because your mom thinks it’s pretty great that you want to learn to fly. She’ll talk your dad into helping you out, and anything is better than nothing.
Here’s an FYI about that 4.0 GPA: you’re not that smart. I mean, I’m not. Maybe *you* could be that smart, I don’t really know. I didn’t try very hard for good grades. Sort of the point of this letter, right? To warn you not to make the mistakes I made? Well, I know how much you hate to study, believe me, and I know how much you want to piss away the afternoon playing pinball instead of doing your homework. But promise good grades, hen work your ass off for at least a 3.4 – that’s an attainable goal. Even I managed to do that. And guess what? Mom and dad were happy with that.
Why am I talking about college in a letter to 15-year-old me? Because you’re taking flying lessons now, and you should keep on taking them, but you have to get better at math to fly. Ugh. I know. You think math sucks. Well, it’s not math, it’s you. You suck at math. I don’t know how to say it any other way. I still suck at math, but I’m better at it because I had to be. I had to learn math years after high school – pretty basic stuff, stuff I would have known if I gave it more attention in high school. You’re gonna hate it, but you won’t hate it as much later on if you just pay attention now.
Speaking of paying attention, you should not only give your full attention to your flight instructor, you should try to be his friend, because he’s a pretty great guy, which you’ll realize years down the road. He seems a little odd now, but all adults seem pretty odd, don’t they? Like, really weird? Yeah, that doesn’t change as you get older. Everybody just gets weirder, and avoiding them doesn’t help you get over it. And Bill’s not the weirdest guy out there. Really, he’s one of the best guys you know right now. Learn everything he can teach you about flying, learn all his dad jokes, ask him how he’s doing today, *talk to him,* he’s really very interesting. And keep in touch after you move on from this place in your life.
Your best friend’s dad, the guy who gave you your first ride in a plane – you should keep in touch with him, too. You’re going to not want to, and I’ll tell you why in another letter, but if you do, he’ll appreciate it in ways you can’t comprehend right now. Okay, that’s going way past the line I wanted to stop at in this letter. The fact that he introduced you to flying is a rock-solid reason to stick by him and learn from him, and from all his friends who have planes, and especially his friend Don who builds planes in his garage. You should spend as much time with them as possible. Hang out with them a lot more when you go to the fly-in. Drooling over high-performance planes is fun now, but show them how much you’ll work to get behind the stick and they’ll draw you into their circle, teach you everything they know. That’s how Pete Conrad went from sweeping hangars in exchange for lessons and worked his way up to walking on the moon. You don’t know who Pete Conrad is, do you? You only thought you were smart about the moon landings. Go look it up.
By the way, there’s a space station, and I mean A SPACE STATION with an international crew of six people orbiting the earth as I type these words. It’s not impossible that you could be part of that crew – *if* you learn math and *if* you learn to fly, and those are not impossible things to learn. Believing you can work on a space station seems like science fiction to you now, but reality has a funny way of sneaking up on you. Like for instance, I’m living in a world-wide pandemic is kicking the shit out of the United States because American voters thought it would be a good idea to elect a con man president who rose to fame because his television show was a hit in spite of the fact that he couldn’t find his ass with both hands, a map, and a flashlight. Sounds like a Phillip K. Dick dystopia. Which reminds me: Get your hands on all the Phillip K. Dick you can find. I discovered him too late to appreciate him. I think maybe 15-year-old me would have loved him.
Well, 15-year-old me, this has been fun but I have to clean the bathroom. Sorry, but I let it go way too long and it’s pretty gross now. I still put everything off until way past the last minute. Maybe that’s something you can try to stop doing. Just an idea. I’ll be back with more later, promise.