Me, on my 18th birthday.

I looked in the mirror this morning and saw this woman – this thin (sort of), thick plastic-rimmed glasses-wearing woman wearing a wool coat and fancy shoes and holding a coffee without sugar. And I thought, “This was never what I truly thought I was going to be like.” So the question is, whatdidI think life held for me seven years ago? That girl who showed up at university residence all those years before may have been pretty unassuming, shy and still shell-shocked from her overweight high school days and sober graduation, but she comes with her own merits too — she could probably teach someone like me a few things about life that I’ve maybe forgotten.

1. Never take your friends for granted.

When I was in high school, I never had friends. All I had were peers and enemies, and I was never able to truly nest into a niche. Why? Well, I was different; I was shy; I wasn’t really into going to bush parties and doing trash laps around town and lighting off firecrackers by the creek or getting tattoos or loitering around chain-sm0king on patios after class. I was a nerd, a geek, an introvert, a goody two-shoes. And that rendered me friendless and very much alone. Suddenly, my 18-year old self had friends. Good friends, who were just like her. They were fun, witty, random, and shared a common life, common interests and common goals. That Christmas, she bought all eight of her friends in her posse a moderately expensive Christmas gift because she never had friends to spend money on before. She would tell me, now, to never take for granted that there are people who love you unconditionally because on the other side of those people, there is total isolation and she remembered more clearly than I did, just how that felt.

2.Always keep the faith in naive notions of love!

18-year old me had all these silly notions about getting married and rose bushes and that perfect ‘first kiss’; a few years later, this was all thwarted for her when her first kiss was by this insulting, all-encompassing pervert while she was so drunk she could barely stand up.But something can be said about wide-eyed innocence; it allows us not to see life as a cynical place, but to have hope for the future; to look at movies and read children’s books and chick-lit and see value in these frivolous storybook ideals instead of shooting them down. I may have been 18 going on 12, but I’m proud that I stayed a kid for as long as I possibly could.

3.Be spontaneous

Lately, there’s been so many times on the bus, or on the train, or even on the campus at the school where I work, when I see 18-year olds being loud and obnoxious and talking about all their drunk dramas and adventures from the weekend and I roll my eyes at them and make fun of them. When I was 18 and I lived in residence with 40 other 18-year olds, I was just as annoying if not way more annoying than these kids on the train who are wearing teeny tiny little tank tops and 5″ stilettos; the difference was, instead of getting wasted and going clubbing, I was trolling around Lister with my friends crashing parties and knocking on random peoples’ doors and sitting in the cafeteria while I was supposed to be “studying” aiming wads of paper into an empty Tim Hortons cup and tying licorice into bracelets. I was so incredibly annoying I’m amazed I didn’t annoy myself. But I was fun, and spontaneous, and totally uncaring about what people thought of me; I didn’t think twice about it. I just acted on what I felt like doing at the time and I am here now, 7 years later, with a wealth of hilarious memories about that time I brought my stuffed animal to the mall and took photos of him all over.

4.Communicate creatively.

Seven years ago, there was no YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, or really any social media at all, which I think probably made my residence experience very, very different from nowadays’ 18-year olds. What we did instead, was exchange hotmails. What we did instead of Facebook-stalk was google people; what we did instead of post on each other’s walls was msn them. And what we would do to get the attention of our neighbours on the floor was leave our doors ajar all the time and yell down the hallway. We exchanged keys, we had “shower parties” where we’d all shower next to each other and chit-chat or listen to music while we did; we’d pile into someone’s room for the duration of an evening and have daily slumber party-type hangout sessions. We sent letters to each other’s mailboxes because it was free to do so; and we passed notes in the quiet study areas. We didn’t need social media; in fact, texting wasn’t even that big of a deal in 2005. We worked around it and we never relied on devices.

5. Write everything down.

A writer at heart ever since I was very young, I always kept a journal or a diary. When I turned 18 and my life took a turn for the dramatically more interesting, I began to write down, almost on a daily basis, excerpts about my life, my feelings, the goings-on of residence, and I’m so glad I did. There are so many instances, inside jokes, events and the exact days and times in which they occurred, that I would have forgotten entirely if not for constantly recording them all. I can refer back to these books any time and see a written record of my entire life – all the best times and formative years – and recall so many memories. I still journal today, almost every day or whenever there’s something burning or worthwhile to say. It’s an extremely valuable exercise in discipline and self-reflection and I owe it to my 18-year old self for deciding then that these are memories my 25-year old self would want to look back to seven years later.

6.Discover music that’s outside the box.

When I was 18, ‘radio’ was a novel concept; we only had one radio station in Jasper — a terrible am station — and when I moved to the city and was getting tons of stations of all sorts, I listened every morning, just because I could. And for the first month of school the radio countdown was where I got all of the songs that ended up on mix CDs on my Discman. However, come Christmas, being a university student had finally rubbed off on me and I began scoping out music that was a little more interesting. Almost all of my now-favourite artists were “discovered” between December and April of that year in the following ways: established indie artists’ mySpace friends; picking up random CDs at the HMV listening bar and giving them a spin to see what they sound like, or just picking them up without listening and taking a big risk; seeking out new music on the featured artists homepage on Windows Media Player; and searching online message boards for music fans’ suggestions. Soon I was picking up Q, NME and Paste magazine to help out with my constant quest to find good music, but I got the ball rolling when I was 18.

7.Take Chances.

I had established myself, even at 18, as someone who knew herself incredibly well. I had said of myself that I was never going to get drunk, I was never going to be pretty, I had a preppy sense of style, I didn’t like dance clubs, I didn’t want to participate in floor parties, and that my time and money were better spent on things other than alcohol and partying. Really though, I was just afraid. I was afraid of being made fun of, I was afraid I was too ugly and fat to ever be asked to dance, and I was afraid of being at the centre of attention for messing up and doing something stupid and embarassing. So pretty much the only drinks I had all year were margaritas at Earl’s on Mondays, and the bellinis I had on my 18th birthday (the first drink I ever had). I really was like an oversized child in that regard – not that there’s anything wrong with not drinking and partying obviously, but that I never even gave all of these new foreign parts of my new foreign life – bars and clubs, new people, parties, being an adult and exploring ‘adult’ fun – a try to see if I liked them. Later in life — too much later — when I was 23 and 24 years old, I realized I do love going out and partying and creating new bonds with people. But by then I wasn’t young enough to feel at home at a dance club anymore. I don’t like to live with regrets but these are things I wish I had done. I look back to a certain lack of experience when I was 18 and it serves as a reminder to never box myself in ever again.

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