This post was written in all its glory by a Dear Reader named Carly Joss. You can find a note from me at the bottom of the page. – Cath
This post is from the angle of an inconsequential 15-year-old who lives in a town of 20,000 in Southern Oregon that bears striking resemblance to the inside of a Whole Foods: occupants are either hippies (whose means of purchasing $74 of organic produce are questionable), overbearing moms towing their grass-fed kids, or secret equity tycoons who outwardly champion socialism.
My name is Carly Joss, and as you might’ve already gathered, I am an extraordinary nerd. My brand is stocky and awkward. I was effectively blindsided by the vehicle of maturity during my parade across the crosswalk of juvenescence, but my lack of grace is a modest display of adapting to the multi-dimensional mind that’ll hopefully endure this convoluted world. Yup, growing up is a f*cking riot.
Stuff I’m into:
- My $15 flip phone
- Science nonfiction
- Tutoring the youths in mathematics and chemistry
- Boycotting romcoms because of their bitter impact on my creativity
Tbh, I had trouble thinking of things to put on that list. I’m not remotely athletic, I don’t have a job, I don’t live in a noteworthy place, and in truth, I haven’t had a lot of significant experiences. But I’m also far from ready to start chasing dreams yet; I’m quarantined in Southern Oregon, and at 15, I’m a f#%king noob at being a human person.
If published, the tagline of my Sophomore year in highschool would’ve sounded something like this: 15-Year-Old Prick of Zero Notoriety Survives Relatively Mild Crisis and Remains Ungrateful and Pessimistic Throughout
Trust me, it’ll be a best-seller one day.
But yeah, I definitely didn’t escape the rock-bottom quagmire of teendom without its telltale bruise. Chronic insecurity, a trying relationship, and existential angst were among the laundry list of hurdles between September and June. But pulling the final threads between myself and my childhood offered ample opportunity to reflect and think critically about who I wanted to be, the new neurons of which hopefully displaced the ones that I lost during a lot of sleepless nights and stressful encounters. Even though I’m still recovering the morals and lessons of the last 9 months, I’m acutely aware of how much better my brain works with each passing year, if you will. The concentration of development at this age is outrageous; if you haven’t yet paused to recognize your basic progress as an aging organism, do it ASAP. It’s pretty remarkable.
I needed a change of scenery after school ended, so I flew down to Palo Alto to chill with my grandparents (because that’s the shit you do without a driver’s license). I spent my week riding horses, reading about moral psychology, meeting Stanford professors, and other fancy stuff that my pretentious friend Dylan would’ve condemned on behalf of elitism. I didn’t workout much, took a lot of naps, didn’t do any SAT prep (I try to average 30min a day), and ate whatever I felt like eating. Lacking that energy and discipline sucked- my blasphemous asshole of an inner critic didn’t make things any easier- but in retrospect I think it contributed to the message that I took away from my week in NorCal (is that a thing? Have you cringed yet?) which I’ll get to momentarily.
A little while after landing in SFO and beamin’ at 80mph back up to Palo Alto, I promptly drafted an email to Catherine without expectation of any correspondence. When she responded at 10am the next morning, I was giddy AF. I’ve only ever fangirled that hard over minecraft mods and websites that pirate full seasons of Adventure Time. Cath in College is like this quintessential indulgence at times when I’m seriously feening to gtfo of Oregon and live a little; I’ve had to moderate video consumption in order to serve my cravings when they so reliably mushroom from my gallingly organic, vegan, and GMO-free environment.
But I digress. After scheduling our meeting, my mind punctually shifted into anxiety mode and I nervously surveyed the unimpressive pile of clothes that I’d thrown into my duffel before departing from home. Having spent extensive time studying emotional intelligence and neuroscience (not to mention growing up with a psychologist parent, eyeroll), I’ve considered myself a seasoned social performer for several years. However, I hadn’t anticipated the months this year in which I lacked substantial relationships, over-focused on test prep, and buried myself in self-loathing. Fact: feeling dejected, irrelevant, and uninspired makes social finesse almost impossible. I embarked upon this engaging week with omnipresent wariness of my newfound social clumsiness.
In the days leading up to meeting Catherine, I had the pleasure of introducing myself to a couple members of Stanford STEM faculty and one postgrad biotech researcher. I expressed my interest in bioengineering, asked for advice, and was surprised by the congruity of their responses. Every professor that I spoke with stressed the importance of maintaining a sort of non-fixation; almost all of them provided examples of colleagues and associates who’d been too decisive about their lives early on and ended up unhappy and with few options. I was startled, guilty of settling on a narrow path before I’d even opened every door: All throughout junior high/high school I’d boasted a computer science major with a focus on human-computer interaction, and even knew what I wanted to minor in and how I wanted to apply my education post-grad school. So there I was, dumbfounded at the news that choosing a path early could actually endanger my chances of becoming a huge success and tasting the satiating nectar of validation from a family of overachievers.
Objectively, I am/was aware that my impulse to take absolute control is/was a manifestation of my lack of self-assurance, fear of mediocrity, and abysmal belief in my worthlessness as just an existing being (alternating forms of auxiliary verb ‘cuz I ain’t even close to overcoming this conflict). But a long track record of subconsciously learning to rely on others to build my self-worth meant that I am/was totally closed off to discovering anything new.
The good news: I’m slowly beginning to comprehend that being deliberately noncommittal in some respects will broaden my horizons in miraculous ways. In addition, trying to predict the future and gauge probable scenarios has played a devilish hand in cutting me off at the knees with self-doubt. I truly am invested in engaging with a more compassionate, contemplative, and open-minded consciousness and with maintaining as much receptivity and willingness as possible.
There’s a really great quote that condenses this entire notion:
“What you can plan is too small for what you can live.” – David Whyte
Damn straight, poet-that-my-mom-shares-on-Facebook-all-the-f*cking-time.
Of course, my ungainly, humbled self was sanctified by Catherine’s presence at dinner later on, over which we discussed a broad range of related subjects and I embarrassed myself into a magical mango/jicama/avocado salad that took the kitchen approximately .04 seconds to make. I have little recollection of the entire encounter due to the nerves and actual ass-chafe from riding horses in the woods all afternoon (not to mention still dumbstruck by my interactions with Stanford professors), but you can bet I’m glad it happened, and that I get this chance to synthesize my thoughts into a cohesive essay for the benefit of the best blog out there.
You’re the greatest, Cath,
I don’t often interact with fifteen year olds. Most of the teen years blend together in my mind with the only standout exception being year 13, for no other reason than just being phenomenally sh*tty. So when Carly first reached out to me in an email as equally well-written as this post, I didn’t bat a lash at the “inconsequential” mention of her age– I was far too absorbed in the fact that someone who chooses to expose their brain cells to my blog writes things like, “As my (our) minds undergo the profound process of gradual expansion, values, aspirations, etc., they develop new dimensions that oblige crisis and reconsideration.” In an email.
As Carly mentioned, I had the pleasure of meeting her irl during her recent visit to Stanford campus. Rest assured, Carly’s intention, curiosity, and wisdom don’t just shine forth in the words she writes on paper. These qualities, combined with her striking, soulful voice (and her unapologetic $15 flip phone), emulate Carly’s aura of total badassery.
After a delightful hour of basking in our mutual musings of life, privilege, and other simple things, I asked (begged) Carly to write a guest post for Cath in College, with the hopes that Dear Readers of all ages would be as inspired by her words as I have continued to be. That being said, I invite you, DR, to not be inspired by a phenomenal 15 year-old intellect, but by a phenomenal intellect. Period.
All you DRs and your beautiful minds are consistently the object of my admiration. For all the love you have shown me, I promise I give it all right back.
Um abraço enorme,