What I would say to the person
I wasn’t at Reed
That’s a trick headline: I didn’t go to Reed, though perhaps I should have, and would have, had the Fates been in a different mood. As it was, I went to Swarthmore and came to Reed as a fully formed adult (complete with children, profession, and mortgage). Nevertheless, every year at Reunions, when I meet Reedies of the Class of 1984 (or 5 or 6) who stewed in the same sort of intellectual crucible as I did, I get a glimpse of who I might have become, had I known then what I know now.
Sending a message to one’s former self is exactly what we asked 11 Reedie writers and artists to do in this issue. We have published their letters,
essays, poems, artwork, and cartoons in response to the question: What would I say
to the person I was at Reed? Many of the contributors will be returning to the scene
of the crime this spring to teach creative writing workshops during Alumni College at
Please do try this at home, by the way—it’s better than therapy and
cheaper. Send submissions to email@example.com; we will
post more testimonials on this website. Here is my own modest attempt.
First (a bit of reverse psychology): don’t listen to any advice from that older, wiser you. Nobody in his forties could possibly know anything about the meaning of life, the solidarity needed to save the world, or how hard growing up will be.
Strange but true: a Democrat will one day live on Pennsylvania Avenue again, though that seems implausible in the wan light of Morning in America. Woody Allen will not make a funnier movie than Sleeper. Paul Simon will get better without Art Garfunkel. TV will not learn any new tricks after Hill Street Blues. Monogamy will make a big comeback. The internet (just “the internet”—more than that you’ll simply never understand).
Surprise! In spite of being anti-capitalist and anti-money (as in, earning a lot of it—that’s for capitalists), you’ll be a business reporter, then host of a public radio business show, then editor of a business magazine. And you still won’t play golf, proving that resistance is not futile.
Things you already know deep down: the one you’re with is the one you should be with, and will still be with 25 years and two children later. You can’t keep eating New York cheesecake and Nathan’s hot dogs with the works. You will Go West, Young Man. You cannot stop dancing. You will continue boogieing until you’re the only one left on the dance floor who was born before it was Morning in America.
Things you are just now learning: You hurtled into the “real world” from college convinced that power and money matter less than ideas, then realized through a series of real-world bummers that power and money are a potent pair. At 45, you will find yourself back at a place where ideas matter way more than power and money. And so you will decide that, on the whole, you were better off not coming to Reed at 17, so you could end up there a few decades later instead, with a job description that includes expostulating on Hum 110 and the honor principle; chronicling communism, atheism, and free love; and championing the notion that ideas can change the world.
Nice work if you can get it.
—Mitchell Hartman, editor