To my beautiful sister, on your twenty-first birthday.

Today you’re twenty-one.  How mighty and daunting a number!  We’ve waited for this day a long while.  Well, I have at least.  Because now it means I can take you everywhere.  No border-hopping necessary.  We never need to lie to a New Season’s champagne sampler again.

I’ve known for a long while what it would mean, for me, when you turn twenty-one.  (Pieza, I know this day is about you.  But I need to tell you and the world how our lives will never be the same.)

The most obvious upside: I have the best dance-date for the remainder of my days.  No longer must I do any sort of convincing or conniving (I’ll buy you a drink!  I’ll drive! ), or make empty promises (this is the last time. I swear), or delicately balance addresses (get them drunk here, convince them to congregate THERE by eleven with my charms. BwhaHAHA!)  I no longer need to overplay my cards to the point they no longer work (well, it IS my last night in Portland, guys—when we all know I’ll be back in two weeks); or guilt trip a boyfriend (I’ll love you more if you just dance with me); or frequent bars I’d rather not; or spend money on booze I don’t need, to link up with people who’ve said they might be interested in a bit of dancing later, but refuse to commit and then, just when I’m about to lose all hope and the clock’s rounding midnight, they opt for the sloppy line-up at the pizza window as the night’s cap-off.  And so I do lose all hope, in the night, and in humanity.

Life can be grim, my dear.  I swear I will never do that to you.  We’ll get pizza AFTER the dancing. 

I don’t have to show up to the club alone anymore and push my way through a sea of people intent on milling around the good beat—like a floppy puppy that can’t find the red Frisbee two feet away from his nose, no matter how much you shout it’s right there! THERRREEE! Sophisticated adults, of course, who refuse to recognize the DJ’s skill with anything more demanding or obvious than a lulling head, and are mainly there to black out or have sex (whichever comes first, I guess), and, let’s be real—kill my vibe.

And now, prepare yourself:  I am about to pummel you with a ridiculous amount of advice, most of which you’ve already heard and know, since I can’t be with you today, and nothing else will express my love from a distance quite as well as many, many words. 

Here we go.

Advice #1: go dancing alone. Go out for a beer alone.  Out to eat, alone.   Learn not only to be okay, but inspired and deeply satisfied, when embarking into the unknown alone.

Working up the gumption to do something by your sweet self which is normally done with others is one of the most, if not the most rewarding things I’ve ever done (and continue to do).  Oddly enough, it never really gets easier, necessarily:  I still question the initial jump off the rock, still hesitate, still get the bubbling belly, no matter how hot the day (or guy waving me in) or inviting the water. 

People seem to think those who go out adventuring solo are never strangled by fear, never choke on the pit of loneliness—that to go off without the comfort of another person comes natural and is easy for some, as if bravery were not a wet bar of soap we must grip tight if we’re to attain it and keep it.

Such is a dangerous misconception.  It is human to know fear by name, to be susceptible to the tangling of doubt and despair.  When people assume courage is a quality one either comes by easily or will never possess, rather than a vacillating state we all want a bit more control over, then empathy’s held back for the person who goes alone into the unknown (oh, it’s just in her nature), certainly with fear, but driven enough to push back.  In the same vein, those who never seek adventure without company will continue to make excuses, to accept fear as fate, to tuck adventures that might come with ease deep under their bed, behind dusty boxes of made-up or hyperbolic complications, as if their fear or uncertainty or doubt is uniquely saturating, and without hope of mitigation. 

So I guess what I’m trying to say is: Don’t let fear keep you from doing anything, ever.  Courage is nothing more than habit, really.  You are afraid, you do. Repeat.  Run that race.  Paint that town red.  Kiss that shy boy.  Be confident you can succeed, and even when you don’t, know the going-after is forever worth it. 

Let us break from the exhaustion of advice.  Let’s get back to dance, and how you’ll be my perfect dance date from now until wheelchair.   You have, of course, all the necessary components:

You love moving IT.  You have the Scott-fam musicality, and momma’s butter hips (that sounds weird, but I know you can visualize mom dancing around the kitchen right now, with them butter hips).  You have a natural ability to move IT well; a keen sense of knowing when to move IT (always, really); and a healthy lack of concern for what others may think when you just can’t stop moving IT, regardless of whether or not they are, or can, or even understand how freaking fantasticIT feels when IT doth move.

Oh goodness, my dearest Megan—don’t act like you’re surprised by the girth of this letter. 

My second piece of advice (I’m only at two!  I have eighteen left to go! Holy shit, Ranae! Get it together! This was a terrible idea.):

Don’t dance like no one is watching: that’s the dumbest quote ever. Of course people are watching.   You should—you must—play off that energy.  Draw them in.  Because you very well might be the only one dancing even though everyone wants to be dancing, and it’s up to you to change that—to light asses on fire, as Busta so eloquently puts it.  Have a a hell of a time dancing for dancing’s sake—dancing because that is what your body will do, must do, when it’s pressed up against the bass line of this or that song.  But don’t forget about the others.  Bring them along. Anything less would be rude, really. 

To summarize:  Dance like everyone is watching, and only YOU can show them what ecstasy resides in music and movement and the inexplicable, elegant mingling of the two.  

Which brings me to #3:  Don’t care about what people think.  Unless you care about the people, and know their opinions are worth considering.  That complicates things, because then you really should care what they think, but only to a point, of course; and if you don’t know the people, but you have a sneaking suspicion they might be thinking what you would think if you had some perspective outside the moment, then you should consider what they think, too.

And advice #4:  Use exclamation points only when being ironic or facetious.  Neither take them seriously nor employ them seriously.  I’ve breached my annual quota in this one letter.  I am ashamed.

Back to your twentyone-ing.  I remember thinking, years ago, how long it would be until it came.  How I would be twenty-eight, reading Agatha Christie novels in a knit sweater and mismatched socks on the weekend with a cup of hot cocoa and far too much quiet. How that would be the magical season you turn twenty’s corner and see all the flashing lights downtown promising endless newness and adventure.  (And some dried puke in the hair.)

I’d be living a completely different life—careered, a husband, maybe a kid or two or a dog or something to pet when the husband is being a piss-ant—and probably wouldn’t enjoy your turning twenty-one as much as I’d enjoy it were I twenty-three or thereabouts, and still had a bit of reckless abandon left in them loins.

Well, I’m twenty-eight now, and will happily avow how wrong I was.  How insular!  How naïve!  Of course I can still dance and party and drink my pants off at twenty-eight, and use exclamation points and silly clichés, to boot!  I live in a car and climb things with my time, for goodness sake.  Obviously things don’t always pan out as you anticipate.

You and I will be shaking our hips to trap music at eighty-two (well, you’ll be a sexy, swanky seventy-five). Just might need to wear some Depends.

#5: Don’t underestimate Time’s haste.

#6: Don’t mourn Time’s passing.  Live life so you don’t need to.  Decide when old feels old; when to answer opportunity’s knock on the door; when to invite opportunity over in the first place; what you’ll be serving for dinner; and how long opportunity gets to stay if he’s being presumptuous, or simply tiring. 

#7: Try on a pair of Depends, just to see what it feels like (more a note-to-self than word of advice.)

Back to 21. Forever21.

Twenty-one is interesting.  You wake up one day as a wholly legitimate adult according to the nation in which you’ve been raised and its law-abiding citizens. You no longer have external barriers that suggest you aren’t mature enough to decide whether or not drinking is appropriate, or anything is appropriate, really.  All the doors are now open to you, literally.  You can walk into a bar, flash a date of birth, and get any drink you fancy.  A glass of wine alongside a good book at a terraced café, for those delicate moments of solitude—yes   A Bloody Mary at family brunch, if you’re feeling bored, or crave pickled snacks—por que no?   Das Boot at Prost! (you’ll know soon enough what that is: Nikki and I will make sure of it), when you want to get dangerous with a group of rowdy hoodlums (Nikki and me)—abso-fucking-lutely.

You get to go frolic with the ad-ults, doing ad-ulty things (getting slightly tipsy and saying what's on your tipsy mind which you’d probably say before twenty-one, but with less residual embarrassment, maybe), because now you have lived exactly long enough to know exactly how to deal with that bubbly feeling in the belly that’s new and warm and wonderful.  You’re old enough to know how to say no when no’s rather far away and yes is much, much more enticing.

All this talk about drinks is rather silly. I know you—I know you aren’t going to be drinking much at all, and when you do, you will do so with elegance, poise, and stringent self-regulation. You are an exuberant, charming and smart social-butterfly alcohol will neither improve nor sully.    

Even so, some drinking advice is timely.  So here it goes.

#8: Say no when you want.  Without shame.   And definitely any time you’ve decided previously that no is a good idea (were the hypothetical to arise you’ve so diligently planned for.  I know you).

#9: If you say yes in the moment, and realize in the harsh light of the morning you should’ve said no, get over it. Call me and we’ll laugh about it. Call mom and she’ll say all the right things I should’ve said before laughing.  You’ll have plenty of future choices to make nice, I promise.  Everyone deserves a break from being good all the time, and you’ll be incorrect, anyway, if you believe you know what good is at twenty-one—even in that harsh morning light.

#10:  Don’t waste your time with people who don’t heed your no’s.  They’re unsure or confused or too drunk or just mean-spirited, and will leech off your self-awareness and pick at your resolve until you’re left with little respect for them, and a jarred respect for yourself. 

#11: Try very, very hard to not judge people.  (It’s a struggle to not judge the shit out of drunk people, or even drinking people, so this piece belongs here).  Note what they say and do with a keen eye—this is how we differentiate between whom we want to be around, and whom we don’t.  Be aware of potential motivations, and ask why all the time.  But try not to jump to conclusions, or box people in some sort of perimeter of good and evil, right and wrong.  Give others the benefit of the doubt, and the respect of a perspective beyond your own. Believe alternate ideas and principles and lifestyles exist because they have validity, not because the other is flawed or stupid or just doesn’t get it.  Basic beliefs differ, and that’s okay.  (Of course we know this better than most, with all the debates on religion we’ve had and will continue to have until death do us part; I think all the practice has provided us heaps of empathy, but the advice stands regardless.  Empathy’s always a work in progress.)

And to continue with the bigger-picture things:

#12: Decide early on what makes you happiest, and never let other preoccupations (or occupations) consume you so much you neglect those very things that make you happiest. 

#13: Don’t be ashamed of or hesitant to do what makes you happy, even if it isn’t what you think others know (read: think) will make you happy.  A happy person is a wonderful person to be around, and enriches the world just by existing, and smiling, and sharing. So be (stay) happy.  (You’re already brilliant at that, and pretty much everything on this list.  But twenty-one deserves twenty-one advices.)

#14: Live a little.  Experiment for the sake of experience.  Test what’s what and why a rule’s a rule.  I’m giving you this advice because you, like me, have lived a life of goody-goody.  You hate the thought of letting people down.  But you know what? Sometimes people need to be let down, if only to realize their invisible expectations of you are superfluous and annoying, with all the potential of being toxic and restrictive.   You need a shove in the opposite direction (from a bad influence or two, perhaps), or you might grow into a bitter old hag who longs to paint but only knows black and white, and is without ridiculous stories. I know you have plenty of ridiculous stories already, but they need to be updated (preferably more often than IOS). The point of young adulthood is to blunder and discover by accident, mostly, but sometimes on purpose.

 If you cease doing anything blush-worthy I can laugh at (with you) later on, then Christmas won’t be all that fun anymore, you know?  Presents are nice, but I want cookies and stories. 

#15: This one’s my throwback to college. Make buddies with your professors.  Talk to them like they’re human beings with shared interests and faults, too.  One regret (yes, I only have one, of course) I have from the haze of University days is that I never developed longstanding (or even short-term) relationships with my professors.  I was too afraid they’d think I was a doofus or not worth their time.  I revered them to the point I forgot our shared humanity.  Don’t do that. With anyone.  Even Tom Hanks.

#16: Be compassionate.  Not when it’s easy, but when it’s a struggle:  When you can’t understand a person’s perspective, or what he’s saying, or why, or how he can’t grasp what you see as self-evident. Make an effort to bite your tongue.  Respond with patience and love.  This is something I’ve spent a lifetime trying to hone, and still struggle with pretty much every day. (shout out to all my homies!)

#17: Eat all the foods. I know you already do this, but don’t stop. EAT. ALL. THE. FOODS.  (And consider that metaphorical. Read all the books, try all the athletics, make all the friends, etc, etc.)

#18: Go abroad regardless of “lack of funds”, or a clear undertaking. You’ll figure it out. I wouldn’t say that to eighty percent of people I know, but I know you: You’re resilient and savvy enough to make it work and make it meaningful, and make up for a little present foolishness later on.  Never, ever let money stand in the way of you having an adventure.  You’re too responsible to worry about.

#19: Read books you think will suck but others recommend.  If anything, it teaches you more about that person.  And if it sucks, put it down and pick it up later; so much about a good book is the timing.  (I couldn’t get through a chapter of Moby Dick this summer, but it was once my favorite book of all time. Yet I read You Before Me in a whirlwind of a rest day, and really liked it, and even cried at a couple parts. So HAH, literary arses!)

#20: Never take yourself seriously (note above). Never take anything or anyone too seriously.  Allow a serious moment here and there.  Then laugh at my inappropriate joke when I make it (unless it’s cruel). Laugh at yourself in your most serious moments.  And never, ever stifle laughter (unless it’s inspired by cruelty).  Like dance, it should just be happening all the time.  Don’t put Baby in a corner.

#21: Strive to always know yourself, through and through.  Don’t stop exploring what you think, why, what you do, why, how you’re seen, why, how you might change, and what roads you could take to get there, if you wanted to.  Be skeptical and curious, without shirking conviction.

 And above all else, be honest.  The quickest way to understanding is through truth, and being honest with yourself is the only way you’ll ever get anywhere close to fulfilled. 

All these words you already know, and I know it.  But I wanted to write you a bit of a love-letter meets I’m-your-older-sister-and-hopefully-have-a-shred-of-relevant-experience-and-advice novella.

I’m so proud of you—you, who’ve figured so much of this out already, at the ripe and ever-anticipated age of one-and-twenty.  

You’re by far the BEST little sister a slightly wonky and currently stinky sister could ever have, and I will always, always love you to the point my eyes water and my heart hurts if I think about it too much. 

In conclusion, a poem (which I wrote in the throes of extreme exhaustion, upon the precipice of hanger):

My love shakes and shimmys for you like momma’s butter hips (oh Lord have mercy). 

If you were in front of me right now, I’d kiss you on your lightly-freckled nose-tip.

Let’s get married when we don’t like men anymore.

My precious, precocious, bodacious little omnivore. 

And when you’re done (or take a break) from being

The Scott-family legacy

Come find me in the desert so our tenor howls

Can hum the world awake.