Monica Valentinelli is the reason I started a 30-day social media break that became 50 days (and is now 100 days). She’s also one of the minds behind Speak Out With Your Geek Out, an online celebration of geeky hobbies. (There’s also a SOWYGO Tumblr page.)
In an entry on the blog listing some ideas for Speak Out With Your Geek Out blogging ideas, #15 is writing a letter to a younger version about yourself. When I started juggling, I had no idea what to expect. So here’s my letter to my 12-year-old self…which is really just a veiled love letter to juggling and my wife.
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September 12, 2011
Look down at the ground, you fuzzy-headed little geek! See how the grass is worn flat from your hours of dropping things during juggling practice? Remember those spots of grass you’ve worn flat and bare in the future; let them be a symbol of all you do and will do.
Right now you’re probably reading this and thinking, “Shit, not only does my handwriting not get better — it gets worse?!” And you’re probably also thinking, “So, is this juggling thing I’m really getting into worth it?”
I write this letter to you, today, to tell you that if you ever give up on this “geeky” little hobby, your life won’t be as good as it gets if you quit.
You’re going to be a writer when you grow up. I know you’re thinking you’ll be a wildlife biologist, but I’ve got bad news for you: you’re always going to suck at math, and college chemistry classes will kick your ass.
You’ll change your major from biology to English. You’ll stick with writing and everything else you’ll do with a drive and passion some will find unsettling. But that’s not such a bad thing: you won’t give up as easily as most people because pretty soon you’re going to stick that under-the-leg throw and be able to toss that tennis ball behind your back and keep juggling. (Hell, one day you’ll do it in the streets with knives and torches because you’re a tenacious little booger, and that tenacity more than almost anything else in your life will serve you well.)
But you’re only 12 right now, so that probably doesn’t seem as impressive as it really is. So I’ll talk about what’s really on your mind right now: girls!
You know how you like girls, but are terrified of them? Yeah, that’s not gonna end anytime soon–sorry. But…all your time juggling does pay off. Don’t believe me? Look at this photo — that’s your future wife.
Beautiful, huh? She’s also smarter than you and deceptively funny. She’s also patient and kind — a good thing for anybody sharing their life with you.
And get this: she juggles!
In eleven years you’ll meet her and still be terrified to talk to her…until she finds out you juggle.
Right now she’s in 4th grade (yeah, I know you’re in 7th grade and that seems weird), but in the future that 3-year age difference won’t matter so much when she tells you she was taught how to juggle in 4th grade and always wanted to learn more. You will meet her at a little independent comic book company you both work for. She will ask you to teach her more about juggling, and you will.
I’m writing this letter to you more than 19 years after you first meet her, and I’m happy to report that you two are even happier now than you were when you’ll be when you first meet.
More than nineteen years after meeting, you still go on little juggling dates.
That alone should make you practice even harder, but you’ll find that all the hard work fixating on your geeky hobby pay off in other ways, too.
There will be a time when all those around you at future jobs will freak the hell out when impossible deadlines are dropped on them. You’ll see people fighting, stressing, and getting sick. You’ll see grown adults who feel trapped every day of their lives; it’s pretty sad stuff! But you’ll generally be all right. Here’s why: you are a juggler!
You know how you think juggling 4 things is impossible? Well, you’ll get to 4 and then move on to 5, 6, and 7 things one day. Each time you add another object it will seem impossible. Then, one day, it will feel natural — and you’ll see how much extra time there is in between all the throws and catches.
The very hobby you’re just wandering into will serve as a constant reminder that no matter how overwhelming something initially seems as an adult, it’s usually not as bad as we initially imagine. While people around you panic, you’ll know that it’s just a matter of practicing to get to a point where things slow down and aren’t so bad.
Some people die not learning this lesson.
You don’t know it right now, but you’ll eventually find out there are all kinds of other juggling props out there beyond just old tennis balls.
Yeah, you’ve seen juggling clubs at circuses and Renaissance festivals, but there’s even more than that. And you — since you’re a curious little grunion — will not be content until you have at least a basic mastery of them all. The lesson in your obsession is this: you will believe in yourself. I know that seems like the most unlikely thing in the world right now, but you will
Because you try every prop available to you, you will realize that you can do anything you put your mind to. And the best thing is you’ll come to discover that the more you challenge yourself, the more succeeding in the early stages of everything that will come your way becomes.
You won’t be afraid to speak to groups of people, you will do all you can to share what you know with others, and you will have fun doing it. Read that line again — especially the part about sharing.
The one thing you will do better than most people around you is connect on some weird, empathetic level and make others believe that they can do things they’ve been told their entire lives they can’t do. You will first feel the joy of helping others when you begin teaching others how to juggle. When you train people at future jobs, you will often talk about juggling to prove your point. It may not seem like much, but truly listening and helping others is a basic thing that many people can’t do.
And speaking of basics: three-ball tricks!
Even though you’ll be able to juggle fire, knives, and not be afraid even at the thought of juggling chainsaws if you happen upon a modified set ready for juggling, you will always love three-ball tricks. You will always love the basics in everything you see and do and try to build on them.
In writing, at work, and in everything else you encounter, you will know without a doubt that once there’s a foundation beneath you, you’re damn-near unstoppable when you put your mind to something. You will never get a big head about the simple things in life because when you finally discover and master Mill’s Mess and other advanced tricks based on the basic cascade, you will know the strength of fundamentals.
One of your greatest assets will be seeing in the basic building blocks of things that there are patterns and ideas many people will never see because they either think the basics are beneath them, or that mastering things they want to do is often too hard or takes too long.
Right now, your mom may shake her head as she bites into bruised fruit you dropped as you juggled it behind the family’s back, but remember that you’re lucky to have a mom who knows there will be a day that the plums won’t be bruised. She will support this hobby and all you do as you get older; not all your friends will have that kind of support. You’re a really lucky kid!
I want you to be surprised about some of your accomplishments in the coming years, so I’m going to stop babbling now. I can see in your eyes that you want more answers, though. This much I’ll tell you: because of juggling, in 2011 you will be able to say, “I am Christopher Gronlund, and I’m a damn-good husband, friend, and person.”
Just like the three-ball cascade, master those three things and the world is yours!
All the best, you little geek,
Your Future Self
P.S. There will be a time in the future when you’re performing at a college. As you’re preparing juggling torches for the finale while your partner is doing his bit, the lead singer of a crappy punk band will rush up and almost set you on fire. Nobody would slight you if you “accidentally” broke the fucker’s nose and kicked him in the head a few times…
P.S.S. That John Irving “Garp” book you’ve seen around the house? Pick that shit up and read it! It will change your life almost as much as juggling will…
What’s Your Hobby?
Do you have a geeky hobby? Or a “normal” hobby?
What do you enjoy doing when you’re not working or relaxing?
Consider sharing your geeky hobby with a Speak Out With Your Geek Out entry.
I enjoyed that letter, it makes me want to grab some stuff and juggle right away. The bit about your mom and the bruised plums made me giggle, but nothing is quite as valuable as supportive parents when growing up (and later on).
Christopher Gronlund says
Thank you for the reply, Jennifer. I liked your Speak Out With Your Geek Out entry about insects. Insects play an important part in my most recent novel. I have an even greater appreciation for them than I did before researching for the book.
I’m very lucky to have had such a supportive mom. In every thing I ever wanted to do, I was always supported. I was never told that I couldn’t or shouldn’t do something based on her view of what it was that caught my interest. I don’t know how many times I interrupted what she was doing to show off a new juggling trick I finally did, even if it took a long time to do it again.
The people I know who seem to be the most unhappy are those who didn’t seem to have that support when they were younger. Not that we all grow up and make a living with the things we love, but the people I know who had supportive parents when they were younger tend to do well later in life and still make time for the things they love.
I can’t imagine not juggling or doing something else I enjoy, simply because it makes me happy.
Here via SOWYGO. I learned to juggle a bit in college, and I’m teaching my son what I know – this was inspiring. Thanks for being an outspoken geek!
Christopher Gronlund says
Thanks for the reply, Meg! I hope your son enjoys juggling. I had a lot of problems with school when I was younger, but the focus issues went away when I learned how to juggle. I don’t know if it was the result of fixating on juggling carrying over to other things, or something else, but after I learned to juggle, I found that I was able to concentrate on even things that bored me better.
Maggie Slater says
I love this letter! I can only imagine how encouraging it would have been to a little you, and it sure inspires me to want to write a letter to my own little me. Now if only there were a multi-dimensional postal system that would allow us to mail them back in time! 🙂 Thanks for sharing!
oh my GOD you are so awesome. 🙂 I love this! A wonderful exercise in writing, life, and having a fantastic sense of you.
Now I seriously want to juggle…..
Christopher Gronlund says
Maggie: Yes! Actually receiving this letter when I was 12 would have made life soooooo much easier. But then, I suppose, part of where we’re at comes from all the lumps and bruises sustained along the way…
Tammy: Well, you DO hang out [somewhat regularly] with circus people! I’m sure they would be more than happy to teach you how to juggle in exchange for the cool photos you’ve taken of them. I’m glad you liked the letter 🙂
This is adorable. And it makes me wonder what I’d say to me at 12. Yikes. I’d probably plead the 5th.
I don’t have any hobbies at geeky / cool as juggling. I do have a bunch of interests that I take up on rotation. The only thing I seem to be doing consistently lately is writing, and that’s more of a vocation at this point.
Oh yeah- I didn’t know your wife is a Bond girl! 🙂
Christopher Gronlund says
CMS: Thanks; I’m glad you liked the entry! There are definitely things I wouldn’t tell my 12-year-old self. (Or maybe I would to avoid some of the trouble I got into as a teenager.)
And Cynthia as a Bond girl, eh? Those things only appear to be juggling clubs — they’re really deadly weapons only she has mastered!
Dear 12 year old Curtis,
MSFT goes public March 1986. BUY!
George Lucas will finally make Charpters 1-3 of Star Wars. DO. NOT. WATCH.
Christopher Gronlund says
No matter how many times you mention how bad the prequels are, you can never mask your love for Jar Jar!
Anybody who know you knows you’d invest in Microsoft so you could have the world’s largest Jar Jar collection.
CURTIS IS ALL WIN.