Unsolicited Advice

I smelled her before I saw her. A floral-fruity sweetness clouding the crisp morning.

I looked up in time to see her path cross mine. Just long enough to see her finger the hem of her silk dress–a frock that belonged in a Free People catalog, not on an actual body in 48-degree weather. A handful of other college students were milling about on their way to the cafeteria, sleepy-eyed and wearing some combination of sweatpants and pajamas.

She, though, was on her own.

I stopped for just a moment, compelled to turn back (almost), to jog up alongside this freshman and shout, “You’ve got time! For goodness sakes, you’ve got time.”

“Here,” I wanted to say, pulling her inside where it was warm. “Put a sweater on, and some sweats; leggings, at least. Go read a book, eat some breakfast, study something you love. Don’t be in such a hurry! I’ve got close to two dozen years on you; trust me, you’ve got time. You want to find your soulmate? Fine. But can I level with you? Only a handful of people find their soulmate before turning 20. The rest, well, it’s something else entirely.”

Now, I know enough about myself that when I’m getting wound up on someone else’s behalf, there’s likely a wound somewhere on me.

I haven’t published a book yet. I’ve written two, but with no discernible movement forward, no outward validation. I dabbled in an MFA program, sent my work out to dozens and dozens of agents, signed up for workshops, sat at my desk for long stretches, edited, and edited, and still no deal.

Only, here’s the thing, as I was getting all riled up on behalf of this girl, it was as though my older self, with 20 years on me, dragged me somewhere warm and said, “For goodness sakes, Claire, you’ve got time. Go read a book–Abigail Thomas, would be good. Or eat some breakfast. Put on a sweater. You want to be published? Fair enough. But can I level with you? Very few people reach their creative peak in their 30s. So loosen up. Don’t stop writing. Don’t go into hiding. Don’t panic. You’ve got time.”

And, you know what? This time I actually believed her.

CLAIRE CAREY DEERING works part-time at a small college and spends her day writing her thoughts and biting her tongue.

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