Earlier today, I was surfing Twitter, as I usually do when I’m smoking or trying to avoid doing something. (I’m @written_lit. Check me out!)

Anyway, one of the Twits I follow in the #WritingCommunity posted a question:

If you could give your 21-year-old self advice, what would it be?

Normally, I would tweet something pithy and humorous, lined with truth, in an attempt to both admit and deflect hints of my human condition. This time, though, I didn’t respond. I actually thought about it, and I couldn’t think of an answer. At least not right away.

The first thought through my mind was, “Don’t marry the first lady that proposes to you!” We ended up divorced in under four years. There’s two things wrong with that though. First, we married when I was 20, so that advice would not be timely! Second, my ex-wife and I have two sons together. If I were to not marry her, then my sons would not be here, and that is not something I want to change. Sure, the divorce was agonizing, but just those two boys alone are worth the heartache of what would happen.

My next thought was, don’t go to the bars in South Korea in September 2000. I was stationed at Camp Humphrey’s Korea as a young soldier, and my unit was in the middle of a field exercise. For some reason, a holiday I think, the unit paused the exercise and brought us all back in for the weekend; but we were forbidden from drinking because we were still “in the middle of an exercise”. Like most other young troopers, I hit the bars anyway. I got caught drinking beer in a bar, but I got in more trouble because I wouldn’t rat out to the command who my battle buddies were. I told them I had come out alone, even though I knew my buddies were with their “girlfriends” in the back of the bar. I lost all my rank, half my pay, and I was restricted to the base for 90 days. My buddies were astonished that I covered for them, and their friendship after that was priceless. I could never give that up.

Then I figured it out. Don’t stop reading.

I was a voracious reader growing up, but when I joined the army at 17, I stopped reading. Well, I stopped reading for pleasure. I threw myself at the army and read all the regulations, field manuals, and technical manuals I could. I learned a lot about leadership from the years I spent in the army’s literature, but I didn’t read anything else. I would probably tell myself to keep reading. Once I retired from the army in 2014, I started reading again. A lot. I also started writing again. I tried writing things on deployments to Iraq, but it was dark, convoluted, and really not good at all. Since I left the army, I read a couple books a week, and I write continuously throughout the week.

I can’t think of any reason not to tell my 21-year-old self to keep reading. If you give me enough time, I’ll think of something!

Has your reading or writing life ever been on hiatus? Comment below to share!

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