Dear sixteen-year-old Erica,
I know. I know. I was there. It’s like you don’t fit in and you don’t fit in and you don’t fit in and you’re the weird kid that everyone knew since kindergarten and you never really outgrew being the oversensitive kid who cried too easily—AND THEN you find a whole new world of kids who didn’t fit in at their high schools either and suddenly you’re in the quick of it. And everything, even your moodiness is poetic.
And then there’s hanging out and coffee shops and you trade music and write in your notebooks and in the margins of books by Simone de Beauvoir and you drop out of high school and you take classes at the community college—poetry, music, jewelry-making, not a single math or science class, and the memory of mandatory P.E. is a joke—and you realize that your high school wasn’t the center, no, THIS is the center. And everything is long conversations on the phone and kissing and hanging out and clubs and boys who wear eyeliner and The English Beat and drinking and drugs.
Nothing hard. A little acid, a little pot. Beer and vodka. And you aren’t much of a drinker, you’ve never been much of a drinker, and beer especially leaves you cold.
But pot. Pot makes everything more poetic and it makes time different and smoking pot and listening to albums makes sense. It even makes sense alone and listening to one album over and over and crying makes sense.
The pot makes it meaningful. And your friends have pot and pot’s cheap. And you can buy $5 bags of pot and you can bring pot places in the little front pocket of your blue jeans and people want to hang out and smoke with you.
And you’re going to be a writer and you take all these writing classes at community college and you can’t write if you’re not stoned, so there’s that.
I don’t know, Erica, when you started smoking every day. But it was right away. Right away a bunch of your time was spent getting pot and meeting people to get pot and going over to people’s houses who had pot and meeting people in parks who had pot. It’s just pot. It just makes time different and things more meaningful and it makes you more artistic and your friends more meaningful and this is the center.
And I’ll be honest. It didn’t stop you from doing things. You smoked every day, but you still traveled and went to college and got a job and were in relationships. But you smoked every day and the fog of that smoke clouded things. It dulled things. And it made things OK, but it kept you from seeking out things that were more than OK. It kept you from reaching. From wanting more. And it kept you from writing.
And I’ll tell you something crazy. You would smoke pot for 20 years and never question why. It would never occur to you to stop.
Until you wanted to write again. After not writing for years and years, you started writing again and of course you could only write stoned.
But then, 20 years after you started smoking pot, someone you respect would say: Did you ever think about quitting? And you would say no. But it made you think. And then you tried quitting and then you quit and then your writing group would say WHAT HAPPENED TO YOUR WRITING? Because suddenly it was SO MUCH BETTER. And suddenly all the stuff that was OK, and all the time you spent watching TV, wasn’t OK anymore. It wasn’t enough. You wanted more.
And you wrote. And you wrote. And you wrote like a motherfucker. And you quit your job and you fell in love and you tried and you failed and you reached and you felt things and you reached out and the fog was gone.
And instead of OK, things are great. Or they suck. But you try and you reach and you feel things and all I’m saying, sixteen-year old Erica, is try it. Try going a day without pot. Try going every other day without it. Try going to the beach without it. Or listening to an album without it or hanging out without it.
Because I think you’re pretty fucking poetic without it.
As a teenager, ERICA LORRAINE SCHEIDT studied writing at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University and later received an MA in creative writing from University of California, Davis. Now a teaching artist and longtime volunteer at 826 Valencia, Erica works with teen writers in the San Francisco Bay Area. She’s a 2012 Artist in Residence at Headlands Center for the Arts and is currently at work on a second novel for young adults.