You’re 17, I’m 41. Shut Up and Listen for a Minute.

February 5, 2008

Let’s pretend I have a time machine. I do. I’ve been working on it for a long time. I can’t tell you how it works because you’ll do stupid things with it. When you’re smart enough to make your own time machine you’ll probably be smart enough to do smart things with it.

Anyways, I’m writing a letter to myself when I was 17 so I won’t waste time doing the stupid things I did over the last 24 years.

Doug, this is important. I know you think you know everything and that nobody else has a whole lot to teach you but I’m someone you can trust. I’m you. Don’t disregard what I tell you just because I’m 41, though it’s probably generally okay to still disregard what other 41 year olds tell you because many of them have shittier lives that you will have when you’re 41.

For starters you are a Christian. That’s good. So am I. But what you know about Christianity right now is exactly dick. It’s like having read great books on classical music but you don’t really know classical music until you’ve sat on the edge of a cliff, about to kill yourself, when a few Bachian notes drift from your car stereo and rescue you from a jump. You will lose your salvation. You will throw it all away, turn your back on what you’ve studied for your short, ignorant, 17 years on earth. Go with that. It’s perhaps one of the few wise things you do at such a young age. You’ll be oh 22 or 23 when it happens. That’s when you’ll go through the gauntlet.

You think you’re going to be a Disney animator and you won’t. Sorry, kid but that dream will never happen. I’ve got this letter we wrote in 6th grade that says, “When I grow up I want to animate for Walt Disney studios.” Sit down, Doug, I’ve got news for you. Disney doesn’t do paper animation over here any more and for the most part you wouldn’t recognize the stories coming out of the magic kingdom. It’s hard to explain. It would be really easy to blame it on executives and business but it has just as much to do with the story-tellers and crippled audiences. We don’t like steak anymore. We eat free range tofu instead.

Now if I write a letter it goes something like, “When I grow up I want to direct for Disney studios.” and I’m breaking this time machine before I get a letter from myself at 60 saying to give up.

You will think a lot about politics and vote down the line Republican and all it will really do is elect a black man who stands for exactly nothing or a crow-woman drunk on power to sit in the Whitehouse. About 23 million unborn humans will be destroyed and we’ll only be able to sleep at night if we can just twist that fact into some kind of a virtue. We’re going to give the virtue of choice a try until we can invent a brand new virtue that isn’t completely rooted in narcissism.

You will consider marrying your next three girlfriends. You think you’re ugly and you’ll try to trap one into committing to you for life. I thought it might be helpful to tell you that it doesn’t work that way. People can change their mind and leave any time they want. You can’t control them. Hell, you should know by now that you can barely even control yourself. You haven’t really dated yet and the good news is that you will date. You will score. You will fall in love. And you will have your heart broken and experience what I look back on as some of the worst pain in your whole life. You asked for this. You’re the one who wanted to kiss girls and boy you’re going to kiss some. And it will cost you.

I’m happy to report that you will have more sex than you ever imagined. I don’t care how popular your more popular peers are, the actual amount of sex they will experience will fall flacid compared to your 17 years of marriage. Sex will be good, bad, incredible, a let down, stupid, embarrassing, boring, enlightening, passionate, skinny, fat, infrequent, frequent…but there will be sex. Given you spend about 90% of your day pondering sex I just wanted you to know that relief is in site. It drops down to a reasonable 80% preoccupation with sex. That means you will go from 10% of your day to 20% of your day obsessing over JAWS.

Your biggest mistake will be chasing a career that goes nowhere instead of buckling down and having children at a reasonable age. You’ll waste your most reproductive years on creating video game content that will pretty much be land-fill by the time you’re my age. Yeah, you’ll get famous by making a cartoon worm. You’ll make money and be on a perfect trajectory to die alone. Good one, dummy! You claim to love family values but you spend the next fifteen years of your life making video games instead of babies.

By the time you finally have four children you’ll be old. You could do all-nighters in your 20s like it was ringing a bell. Do spend the best years of your life making toys and comic books. Do give the left-overs of your life to your wife and children. That’s how your “family values” will play out.

See, you’re an artist. And Doug, you’re a pretty good one. But life is not about the arts. In fact, art is just another commentary on life. It’s a satellite. A byproduct. A tiny handful of people really care about your self-expression and it’s probably because they think what they have to say is less important, or worse, less interesting. Do keep drawing because that’s how you’ll make a lot of money and it will fund your empire, your legacy. But even the income you make is a satellite. A byproduct.

I don’t have many more messages to give you because you seem to do pretty well just bumbling your way through life. But this, this one thing you must do. Take better care of your Beloved. Nothing you do will compare to taking care of that awesome rose. You’ll ignore her for a good two years at the peak of your career in the the 90s. It will almost end at that point. If it had ended you would not have your four children. So this letter is a warning…you can fuck up a whole lot of things in your life but don’t fuck this up.

You will be poor together. You will be rich together. Then you will be poor again and it won’t matter. She will expose you for the fraud that you are and still hold you in her arms like you are a king. In her arms you will be a king.

In short, you will live a life that most of humanity would die for. You didn’t earn it. You’re too stupid to have calculated it, but you’re going to do it. Your friends and family know your secret. Strangers will envy your career for the fame, money, notoriety and expression you pull off in one of the Earth’s greatest scams…but you know that crap is meaningless outside of what it provides for your deeper values.

Of course, when I was 17 I didn’t have an internet so I won’t get this message.

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9 Responses to “You’re 17, I’m 41. Shut Up and Listen for a Minute.”

  1. Andy Bates Says:

    I probably spend too much of my time thinking about what I did wrong when I was younger, and how I could have improved things and made my life less of a self-imposed hell.

    Then I realize that my past self would have looked at my future self and said, “Wow, you have a huge TV and a crapload of DVDs?? Awesome!” Plus the loving wife and kids are nothing to sneeze at. All in all, I think that future me has things a lot better off.

    That said, let me know when I can borrow that time machine.

  2. Sam Says:

    Lovely letter (except for the politics bit, heh).
    This was kind of inspiring, suddenly I want to write to my younger-self. But I guess I’ll wait some more till I have something more important to report.

    And Doug, since you have so many friends, would you like to have an enemy? or you already have those too?
    I might not yet be worthy of being your enemy, but someday I will.

    Best,
    – Sam

  3. doug Says:

    Sam,
    I’m turning away applicants to be my enemy too. I reached my quota for the last couple of years and we’re not trying to expand my brand into a new demographic just yet.

  4. Maxwell Morgan Says:

    Whats past is past, I have no regrets ever. Remorse, yes, regrets, no.
    As for family, my parents were/are abusive in every sense imaginable, even going so far as to remind me each day they didn’t love me. Literally.
    So I prefer solitude to the company of others most of the time. I’m sad to say I can’t understand your logic Mr. TenNapel.

  5. chris Says:

    doug, glad to see you writing publicly again, and i can’t find a way to say this without it seeming condescending, but you’re writing has really improved. (as opposed to your story telling, which is always awesome) thanks!

  6. Joel Loukus Says:

    Nice to read something like this.

    As a 23 year old that has talked everyone’s ear off about topics like this since I was 18, I’ve realized that explaining that my career is one-hundred-and-fifty-percent for the purpose of enabling of my future family life (which I would welcome any day, now), is generally a lost cause.

    Oh, well. Here’s to another X years of celibacy.


  7. […] Oh, and Doug TenNapel is back! If you miss his old blog, check out his new one. For a sampling, read 41-year-old Doug’s letter to himself as 17-year-old Doug. […]

  8. Craig Says:

    Powerful stuff. Thanks for sharing it.

  9. j. Says:

    i don’t know if you’ll get this. but i’m fifteen and i want desperately to keep drawing no matter how miserable and hopeless i feel about the outcome. just keep drawing and drawing and drawing because that’s all i’ve got, or it’s all i want. i have a potential to pursue a life of prestige in biochemistry or publishing or editing or whatever the hell i wanted as long as it’s english or science – based. but i’ve always had a passion and a talent for drawing. i have adaptability and perserverence many people lack, and i should embrace that instead of leaving it dormant for perhaps higher-paying jobs or more reliable jobs or whatever it is that attracted me to english or science careers.

    anyway, i came across this post accidentally and i thank you for posting it, it’s been a recent dream of mine to chase careers at cartoon network, maybe revive its old spirit and bring it back to life and all that. i don’t know but anyway anyway anyway thanks so much for posting this. :)


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