There’s this young woman I want you to know about. She’s a Puerto Rican girl from the projects of New York City, with a fractured and tragic family history. She had this mom who was a remarkable woman herself. She raised this young woman as a single parent, which was no small feat. Her mom had a mental illness, schizophrenia to be exact. When other parents were taking their children on college visits in high school, her mom went missing and was sitting in a psych ward during her daughters’ final months of high school. The young woman wasn’t sure if she’d be able to go far away for college. That’s what she wanted to do. She wanted to get away from her mom, her nonexistent family and her life of poverty, so she chose a college in the far reaches of upstate New York; as different from the city as it could get. But then her mom told her that she didn’t have enough money for a bus ticket to get there and that she’d have to let that dream go. She didn’t listen to her mom (she rarely did), and she didn’t let it go. Somehow, her mom found a way to get her there.
She made it to SUNY Oswego to get her bachelor’s degree. College for her was a remarkable experience. It was her first time away from home, in a new environment and surrounded by people completely unlike her. She flourished there in many ways. Meeting friends that would become family, taking classes that tapped into her potential and using school as an excuse to travel by studying abroad. But she didn’t do enough. She barely read the books assigned to her, she never used much time to study and she changed majors more times than she’d like to admit. She did 30-page papers hours before they were due, strolled in late to her own class presentation once and missed more assignments than she should have. She should’ve been a better student. She coasted on her natural abilities, the fact that teachers liked her because she always had something to say in class, and her knack for knowing how to get the most by doing the least amount of work. This was a mistake. She shouldn’t have done this. There was so much value in the books she didn’t read and the assignments she should have completed. She learned a lot outside the classroom but there’s more she should have learned in it.
She settled on Creative Writing as her major, begrudgingly at first. She never wanted to consider herself a writer. Writing always came so naturally to her that it bored her. Besides, it always felt like such a hopeless pursuit for a girl like her who came from nothing. What good would writing do for her? Nobody worth anything in the world ever pursued anything creative. Nobody she knew thought writing was a worthwhile pursuit. In some ways, they were right. And in many ways, they were wrong. She loved her writing classes and writing helped her make sense of her own life. It helped her reconcile all the angst of her mom’s illness. It helped her wrestle with all of her own existential angst. But after college, she ran away from writing. She spent the majority of her adult life searching for more practical things to do with herself rather than anything creative. She worked in schools, universities, and in serious, professional environments. She did everything from sweeping popcorn at a movie theatre to giving government tests. She never found fulfillment in any of it. At one job, where she served as an administrative assistant at a construction company, she was treated as an afterthought by her supervisors and performed tasks that required no real brain power. She was miserable. But that misery led her to determine that she never wanted to do anything like it again. She wanted to be a part of making something, using her voice and rediscovering the potential she had long since given up on. In short, it took her 10 years to discover that she needed to write again. She needed school again. And this time, she needed to do it right. So, she applied for an MFA in Writing and Producing for TV at Long Island University, on a whim. She wasn’t sure she’d get in. What did she know about scripts and screenplays? The only scenes she had ever created were the ones that played in her head, when she allowed herself to daydream. But on the strength of her undergraduate writing samples, she got in. And she flourished from the moment she stepped into class. She wasn’t the same person she was as an undergraduate. She was better.
Not long after graduating with that creative writing undergraduate degree, when she was 23, she lost her mom. The mom who had worked so hard with so little. The mom who had managed to find a way to buy her a ticket to get to college, when she had no money herself. The mom who sent her a box of 20 underwear of the same color and style when she called home and said she needed new ones once. The mom who encountered so much adversity in her own life and still managed to be a truly kind, generous, happy human being in spite of it all. The mom who deserved so much more in her own life, never got to see her daughter enter graduate school. Though she was the one who ultimately inspired it. She’ll never see the woman that her daughter was meant to become.
I wanted you to know about this young woman because she is me. And I am you. I’m writing from a time far in the future. There are no flying cars yet. And the world never ended in 2012. But it’s a different place than you could possibly imagine. Scarier in some ways but unremarkable in others. I want you to be strong. Life has a lot in store for you. And not all of it is good. But do me a favor: read those books, do those assignments, chose English as your major as soon as you get in to college. Do a double major with creative writing. Be a better student. Try to be a better person. Be patient with your mom. She has her own struggles and demons. She loves you. Cherish her.
College (undergraduate and graduate school) will save your life. It will give you purpose, meaning and focus. It will lead you into realizing that mystical potential you’ve always been told you possess. So, try harder in school. Go farther. You’ll be a better person for it. I’ll be a better person for it. Maybe you’ll get another letter in a few years from a Madonna who writes her screenplays in Hollywood and has seen more of the world than you can dream of. You’d like that. I would too.