The Unauthorized Guide to the Universe: Volume 1

Welcome to the Unauthorized Guide to the Universe, an advice column written by yours truly, The Universe. Listen in to others’ questions about life, love, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness or submit your own by DM-ing @prhs_bear_truth on Instagram or leaving a comment below. All questions are anonymous.

Sincerely, The Universe.

“Any tips on how to live an interesting life? I feel like I’m wasting my teenage years.” -Wannabe-Breakfast-Club-Member Wolfgang

Dear Wolfgang,

TV and movies have really placed an unnecessary expectation on teenagers: all fictional teens must fall in love (multiple times and in triangular formats); must be 16 but look like they’re 22; either be super into sports, school, drugs, or horses (choose only one); either be addicted to their phone/social media or despise technology; only read mid-century penny dreadfuls; and somehow go on crazy adventures (revenging their father’s murder, running away with their true love, getting mixed up in a hidden fairy realm, or finding their lost brother) while still maintaining perfect relationships and a 4.0 GPA. Also, there’s no such thing as a platonic friendship between a girl and a boy. They must fall in love. It’s in the fine print.

But anyways, enough about my vendetta against Hollywood’s portrayal of the “average” teen. As a (probably too enthusiastic) consumer of books, TV, and movies myself, I totally get where you’re coming from. How the heck are they going to make a documentary about my life when all I do is sit on my couch and eat those really good crispy coconut rolls from Costco??? I feel the need to provide some material for my future obsessed fans who will no doubt do a deep dive into the Early Life section of my Wikipedia page. (I’m not narcissistic, I promise.)

Even if I don’t have a limited-time HBO docuseries made about my teenage years, I still want to look back as an old lady and know that I lived life to the fullest. I want to be able to say “Back when I was your age…” to my kids and follow up with a really epic story about how I went on a road trip to Utah with my friends one summer and accidentally got lost in the Sevier Desert, surviving on nothing but melted Otter Pops and San Pellegrino… or something like that. (**Do not attempt that at home, please.**)

Here’s my (slightly long-winded) solution for you: focus on the little things. Plan out mini adventures to do alone or with your friends. Document it all with an old film camera or in a tattered journal to show your kids/adoring nieces and nephews/audience at your high school reunion. Be spontaneous. If you’re afraid to do something, make that your primary reason to do it (Within reason. Please do not put your life at risk or go cliff-diving without supervision because you need an adrenaline rush to see hallucinations of your ex-boyfriend). Here’s a list of (generally safe but with just the right amount of reckless) ideas for smallish adventures, if you will:

  • Find a grassy field to have a picnic in / frolic in / read Jane Austen / look at the clouds
  • Go to Walmart in the middle of the night and dance through the aisles to the song you have stuck in your head
  • Drive around with the windows down, blasting Chopin at the highest volume (singing along is required)
  • Take a walk or bike/car ride without any destination in particular (make sure you know how to get home safely though)
  • Have a photoshoot with random props bought from Goodwill/Dollar Tree
  • Go to a museum/library/fancy intellectual place and pretend to understand the meaning of life as seen in the works of [insert artist here]
  • Compliment strangers endlessly
  • Have a New Year’s Eve party (preferably after the pandemic is over) on any night other than New Year’s Eve
  • Try a new hobby and pay absolutely no attention to how “good” you are at it (I suggest pottery, cricket, bridge, fishing, taekwondo, cross-stitching, or the recorder.)
  • Wake up at 4:00 AM, drive to the highest point in your town, watch the sunrise, and eat croissants.
  • Find a lake/pond/river/stream/body of water other than a pool or your bathtub and go swimming (make sure that you’re accompanied for this one and don’t go swimming in a raging river or anything on private property)

The moral of the story: pursue adventure with reckless abandon, spontaneity, and only half an idea of what you’re doing.

“Is 42 REALLY the answer to life?” -Truth-Seeking Tillie

Dear Tillie,

No, you’ve been lied to. 42 is totally meaningless. It’s the answer that humans give to any question that has no answer. As the Universe themself, I can directly tell you that the Answer to Life is-

Now, I’m bending a few rules to tell you this… The higher-ups may not be too happy with me, but you know what? You deserve it. By the way, I’m sorry about 2020.

Anyways, the Answer to Life is

“[How do I get] through the rest of freshman year?” –Suffering Susan

Dear Susan,

Freshman year is usually a time of great self-awareness (or self-consciousness) and the era of finding your “place” in the world and yourself. Or so it’s advertised. From my own experience, freshman year is hardly that deep. Freshman year is for making mistakes, trying out clubs/interests/mindsets, meeting new people, and, most importantly, being able to leave middle school in the dust. Of course, 2020 had its own plans for this year.

I can imagine how weird and difficult freshman year can be during such a strange and unimaginable (dare I say… unprecedented?) time, but ya know what? You just gotta make it work. You’ve made it this far. You know what to expect (mostly). We have four-ish months left of this year of school, and though it sounds like the biggest freaking cliché in the Hall of Fame of Clichés, you have to make it count. Of course, the advice that is generally given for people struggling through something, especially high school, is nice and vague and intangible and unrealistic. But if you imagine the first semester of freshman year as a “free five-month trial,” and you treat this semester as the real deal, the paid subscription to Season 1 of high school, you might be able to figure out how to “make it count.”

Take what you loved about high school from last semester, or from the expectations you had, or from stories you’ve heard and apply it to this semester. Did you love drama club and putting on the play? Put time aside every day to read a famous play (no, it doesn’t have to be Shakespeare) or have a Google Meet with your drama buddies and put on a mini musical, just for yourselves. Did you love sports or P.E.? Now is the perfect time to get a workout routine down or try a new (maybe individual) sport or start conditioning for next season. Put your focus into whatever passions you may have and explore things that actually make you happy.

Another thing: don’t put all the weight of your happiness or well-being into school. If you just can’t find anything to be excited about in school, anything to help you enjoy the 7-hour day, be excited for the afternoon. Don’t get me wrong– you still need to give your best effort, as much as you can, into your studies, but save some energy for after school. Find something you love to motivate you to finish your homework, i.e., if I get this Algebra packet done, maybe I’ll treat myself to an episode of The Office / 30 minutes with my dog / a walk in the park / a game of chess with my sibling.

Lastly, the thing that got me through my second semester of freshman year (yes, I have indeed been in –almost– the same shoes as you) is the idea that I could just not care. Again, still care about school and your studies a healthy amount, but drop all expectations for yourself and others. Don’t care about what people think of you when you walk down the halls. Don’t care if you don’t have a huge friend group or the “popular kid” didn’t say hi to you. It takes practice, trust me, but it’s worth it. If you find yourself worrying if your hair isn’t in just the right place as you walk to class or what to say when [insert love interest’s name here] asks about [insert biology topic here], remind yourself that it’ll be a rare occurrence if you see anyone from high school (other than your close friends, hopefully) ever again after graduation. So what does it matter what they think?

Anyhow, I might just be projecting my own social anxiety onto your question, but the moral of the story is to take life one day at a time, focus on the things you love to get through the things you don’t-quite-love, and be perfectly, incandescently, and undeniably yourself, whatever that may be. Focus on what will make the rest of freshman year memorable: when you look back on this semester a year or two from now, what do you want to remember?

“Are you in love with me? Be real.” Very Confident Victor

Dear Victor,