The Freshman and The Fortune Teller: a Letter to First-Year Me

NB: Feature Image by the amazing Chris Taylor.

Happy November, friends and fellow humans–we have one month left of fall semester. That is mindblowing to me.

So far, this school year has been a capricious and ever-shifting thing, and while that changeability and that unbridled momentum is propelling me into all sorts of golden opportunities, it’s also left me unmoored from a sense of steadiness or serenity. I’m moving so fast that I’ve hardly had a moment to stop and reflect.

So we’re gonna reflect here a mo’. Prepare yourselves for maximum levels of nostalgia and verbosity.

I journal a lot when I need to ground myself, and in those journals I make frequent reference to ‘Future Sienna’–I write her tips and tricks for navigating specific situations so she’s not as stuck for what to do Next Time, I write encouragements about her projects and passions for the days where she needs reminding that she isn’t useless, I write lessons that she has learned, is learning, needs to learn still. I’m used to leaving a trail of wordcrumbs to follow back to the moment where I knew what X was, or how to do Y, or how to treat Z when they’re upset. But I don’t think I appreciate Past Sienna as much as I should for the work she’s gone through to build me up to where I am now.

My eAmbassador kith and kin have written various letters to their past selves before; it seems like a really good way to organize thoughts, to put life at present in perspective to life in the past, to reconcile what’s gone with what’s only just arrived, with what’s still waiting on the horizon.

Thanks to my journals, I have a pretty solid monologue trickling up to Future Sienna. So today I’m going to switch directions, turn that into a dialogue, let it trickle down instead.

Dear Past Sienna–

Well, first-year Sienna, to be specific. You’ve just moved into residence, your long-distance boyfriend is in Canada for a year, you’re dead-certain you’ve chosen the program for you, and some people you thought were friends have progressed from giving you a hard time to not bothering to give you the time of day. You’re full of fire and vibrancy and the high-reaching hopes that come from all New Beginnings. You are intense to the point of intimidation–that hasn’t changed, by the way–but you haven’t yet learned that people actually appreciate you for it. You’re still vaguely stuck in twelfth-grade, people-are-scared-of-your-blunt-honesty mode. You are fond of plans–you have the week planned, and the month, and you have goals to meet for the next year, the next five after that.

You are wise beyond your years, but don’t let that turn you arrogant. Listen up. You have a lot to learn, still. And so do I, but between the two of us, I’m the one who’ll be listened to today. You might be clever, but so am I–and I’ve been clever for longer. Let me give you a heads-up–it’s the least I can do.

Let me tell you your fortune, little one, just between us. Let me tell you your future.

Left: Past Sienna, drawn 2012; right: ‘Future’ Sienna, drawn 2015.

Spoilers Ahead

You know those stories of students who decide on a major, invest themselves body and soul in the thing for one, two, three years, and then realize they can’t stand it and switch to something completely other? You aren’t one of those stories. That day in 11th Grade where Tobi from Recruitment came to your French class and passed out a Glendon booklet, the day your ironfisted decision to become an animator suddenly had something to contend with–‘linguist‘–that really was a pivotal moment in your life. Linguistics has kept you afloat for four years, and after all this time the inner workings of that most complex and intricate tool, language, still leave you breathless with excitement. You still make up languages for fun–and the hobby will save you about five hours’ worth of exam studying in second year Phonetics and Phonology, when you realize you already know everything the textbook is saying because you learned it on your own while trying to create a phonetic inventory for a language in your own creative writing. This is only the first way that your artistic and your academic/professional lives are going to gleefully collide.

Acharrioni Symbol Chart
An early draft of a constructed language’s phonetic inventory. The more I learn, the more it changes.

Speaking of creative writing, make as much time for your writing as you possibly can. Keep frenetically typing your thoughtswirl into document after document. Later in first year you’re going to have some of those poems of yours published–and later still, at the end of your first year, a philosophical talk in Lunik is going to spark a story in your brain that is going to grab hold of you so tightly that you’ll still be writing it now, in fourth year, and be every bit as in love as you were the very first moment it came to you. If not more so. You will go to open mic events and one night an angel of a woman will pay you five dollars for the two poems you brought with you to read, hurriedly printed at the library before you left campus. Someone will tell you that your words remind them of what the inside of their own imagination sounds like; someone will tell you that your words help them to cope with their anxiety, with their depression, with life as we know it. Your writing will bring you jobs, bring you money, bring you clarity and contentment, bring you soul mates. Learn as quickly as you can that art deserves every bit as much attention as working or studying, that it is not secondary to more “practical” uses of time. In five years, nobody will remember your grades, but your books and your poems just may outlast your own body. Learn fast.

“You keep trying to outline exactly what you’ll do and exactly what you’ll find there and exactly how it will change you, and in the process you cut out any possibility of surprise, of the glorious unknown. It is the unexpected things that impact us the most.” -Part I, ???

And speaking of soul mates–that boy who flew across an ocean for you? He is going to fly back. He is good for you, will teach you how to stabilize your tempestuous emotions, will teach you how not to be quite so serious all of the time. He will teach you that sometimes relationships between asexual people and allosexual people just don’t work. He will teach you a lot of valuable lessons. One day, he will run out of lessons to teach you–and you him. That is how it is meant to work. You will call three people whose opinions you value before you decide to leave–your mother, your best friend Sophie, and the human explosion of creativity that is Anna Meehan. All three will tell you they saw this coming. You will be relieved instead of affronted. You will delight in the fact that, when the time comes to break things off, he will want to talk to you about the exact same thing at the exact same time; you’ll part amicably, you’ll keep in touch, and forever after you’ll laughingly refer to your utterly civil breakup as ‘demoting’. Don’t compromise your identity or your passions for him, or for anyone else–it is your dedication to your self-expression that is going to draw a whole new community of friends and fellow artists about you.

But remember to be grateful to him once in a while.

Also, you need to thank Andre. About a hundred times. Because he’s the one who told you about the incredible yoga studio that opened up a five-minute walk from your home, which means he’s responsible for the summer affair you had with yoga, an affair which has since blossomed into a devoted, committed relationship. That re-introduction to a spiritual practice in the transition period between high school and university? It’s going to save your life. Don’t think I don’t know you, Little Miss Gifted, Type A Overachiever Extraordinaire–you think you’re going to complete an international double-major plus D-TEIL Certificate, plus Certificate of Trilingual Excellence, and that you’re going to get it done in four years. You’re cute. Let your high hopes sustain you, but let your yoga practice sustain you further–it will teach you the values of flexibility, of interconnectivity, of understanding when to surrender, when to relinquish control. You have a hard time letting go; you have a hard time slowing down. Yoga will teach you to slow down, and trust me, you’re going to love living at a leisurely pace for once. Keep coming back to that mat, keep remembering to breathe, keep lengthening that spine–because your body is worth as much as your mind, and the both of them are worth as much as your soul, and keeping everything in balance is what’s going to deliver you from the gnashing teeth of the nervous breakdowns you will see so many others succumbing to. Surprisingly, you will never get quite that overwhelmed. The secret is in your Balasana.

Some Things To Keep In Mind

So, this is what you have in store for you; this is the gauntlet the Universe is setting up, right now, while you sit in that tiny half-size room listening to music through your tinny laptop speakers. (Don’t worry, you’re eventually going to have the largest single room on campus, with a wonderful third-floor view of the Rose Garden to wake up to every morning. And your father is going to gift you with good speakers, which is going to change everything, like good music always does.)

But it’s only a tiny, tiny taste of it. You know that really cool school newspaper that you picked up on a stand at Experience Glendon in March? You’re going to work with them for a very, very long time. And all that drawing you do that you think is just a hobby but stubbornly refuse to stop doing regardless? It’s going to get your foot in the door for the coolest Master’s degree you’ve ever seen.

To come in post-grad studies: a graphic novel of Ojibwe aatisokaanan (traditional stories). What was that about how art is secondary to academics, again?

I could go on, but I don’t want to spoil all the surprises. Instead, let me sum it up nice and neat for you: by fourth year at Glendon, your life is going to look exactly like how you envisioned it, and also not like that at all. You’re going to go exactly where you think you’re going, but it’s going to be a very twisty and unexpected road between points A and B. You’re going to take some detours; you’re going to get sidetracked, and the sidetracks are going to turn into great splaying promenades of possibility, and somehow they’re all going to loop back to the same passions you’ve always harboured because, lucky little one, you’ve always known what it is you’re here to do. You just need a bit of encouragement to actually do it.

So here’s your encouragement, free of charge: go forth blazing and bright and unapologetically enthusiastic. Take your art and make it into your academics; take your hobbies and make them into your jobs. It is possible, and easier than you think. Keep pouring your energy into the world–people will love you for your zeal. They will love you period. Remember this on hard days, of which there will be many. When you are feeling useless or unproductive or inadequate, ask people to remind you of the truth. They will be more than happy to tell you. And remember to remind them in turn, because here is a secret: under the public face, the how-are-you-fine-and-you-also-fine-thank-you exterior, everybody else also fears the label of Not Enough. Let them know they are More Than Enough instead. It’ll work out great for everyone.

Trust me. I’ve been there. I should know.

With wonder, and with love,

-‘Future’ Sienna


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