To my brother on his graduation

Dear Fran,

So you've arrived at this day -- your college graduation. Congratulations! If you're reading this post, it means you successfully opened my card telling you to read your "real" card here.

Surely, this is a harbinger of future brilliance.

Your reaching this point is significant for several reasons, outlined here in no particular order:
* You survived freshman slide.

* You survived sophomore slide.

* You survived living in North Philly.

* Because of the aforementioned freshman and sophomore slide, you passed on the senior slide and instead worked your tail off, graduating in four years with a strong grade turnaround.

* Mom and Dad didn't kill you. Even better -- they are very, very proud of you and all you've accomplished.

* This means I'm four years out of school. Good god.
But before we send you off in a blaze of moneyholders, awkward snapshots, and tears from Mom, I feel it is my civic -- nay, moral -- duty as your older sister to tell you what's really going to happen now.

FIRST, you are going to feel stressed, anxious, and frightened about the job search. You will wonder if English was the right degree to pursue. Job hunting will exhaust you. Job interviews will terrify you. Job rejections will depress you. Job acceptances will delight you. And through it all, you will still have bills to pay.

SECOND, you will feel like an imposter -- a watered-down version of a "grown-up." When you arrive on interviews, you will feel like you've just come from playing dress-up in Dad's closet. You will pray you don't look at young as you feel (even though you know you do), so you'll then pray you can use enough big words correctly to distract would-be employers. This is the verbal equivalent of throwing sand in someone's eyes and bolting from the room.

THIRD, you will have a crisis of faith. Not necessarily a spiritual one (though that's quite possible if you're a prayin' sorta man). More of a crisis of faith in yourself. The degree will vary, and for your sake I hope it's low. In any event, your confidence in your own abilities will hiccup. You will question what you're worth and if you're deserving (of what, tbd). You'll ponder the vagaries of fate, destiny, and dumb luck. You'll contemplate your purpose, and find you might not have an answer right away.

FOURTH, you will want to move out of our parents' house. Badly. But you won't be able to until you find a job, and even then you might have to stay and save money. So, I suggest cleaning up after yourself, turning off appliances when you're done with them, doing your own laundry, occasionally telling Mom and Dad where you're going, and taking regular showers. It will make your stay much more pleasant for everyone.

FIFTH, prepare yourself for this reality: The answers will not come all at once. Some may never come at all. The world will continue working around you, and you will change within it and in response to it. What you want to do might change. Whom you choose to surround yourself with might change. Your address, bank accounts, wardrobe -- all will eventually change. So the trick is not to see your life as a monolithic cliff to be leapt in a single decision, but rather as a series of stepping stones. Just focus your energy on putting one foot in front of the other, because there are no maps, and damned if you can create one.

I don't say all this to scare you, Fran. Lord knows you've dealt with worse than this blog post. I'm telling you these things to ameliorate the shock that comes with being a "grown-up," in the hopes that you can direct the energy you would have spent wandering around in a daze to actually enjoying your newfound freedoms.

Because there are freedoms, believe it or not. You will earn money. You will pick up new skills. You'll learn more about human nature (yours and others). You'll learn when to speak up, and when to shut up. You can go to bed when you want. You are not beholden to anyone but yourself. With every choice and act, you can work your way toward what you know in your core you are meant to do. And you can revel in the satisfaction of feeling the next stepping stone beneath your foot.

Plus, you can eat cookie dough straight from the bowl. And you can leave extra on the beaters to lick off. This freedom came as a pleasant surprise to me, so I just wanted to give you something else to look forward to.

I think the best part, however, is having the space and time to become your full self. (And I'm not referring to extra girth from the cookie dough.) For example--

* All that writing that pours out of you? Its direct source is your perception, depth, and emotional insights -- qualities most people can only dream of. Use them to your advantage, not just in your writing, but to improve the way you relate to people and events.

* All that kindness, intelligence, wit, and charm we've lauded you for all these years? Nurture them so your heart and mind thrive in tandem.

* All that passion that emerges in your writing, your conversations, and during Eagles games? Tend it as you would an open flame, and use it to power the risks that fulfill your dreams.

Little brother who's bigger than me, I tell you all this because I was once there. Am still there. Will be there for quite some time. I have quivered and quaked, cried and laughed, fallen into the pits of despair and walked on air -- all for want of someone telling me it will be ok.

It will be ok, Fran.

Because here's what they don't tell you: Adulthood isn't about being a "grown-up." It's about becoming YOU. And that's a far more daunting -- and far more exhilarating -- proposition that what we'd expected.

You will make it, Fran my man. You will do better than fine. You will live and you will laugh and you will love and you will write better schlock than this and you will eat cookie dough. Preferably when I'm visiting. Because I will visit you quite a bit. We grown-ups need to stick together.

That's it. I'm done. Get outta here, you crazy kid. Go throw your cap or revise your resume or something. And please ... call every once in a while?

My love always,