Life and How to Live It

When I was eighteen I wrote an essay called "Life and How to Live It" for a composition course. The title came from an R.E.M. lyric in which Michael Stipe intoned, "If I were to write a book, I'd call it 'Life and How to Live It.'"

I was attending Garden City Community College in southwest Kansas on a baseball scholarship. I'd transferred there after a ridiculously fun fall semester at Bradley University because I missed playing center field, missed making sweet contact with a low-and-away ninety-miles-per-hour fastball.

I wrote the essay on my Brother word processor, this clunky but functional machine that allowed me to either type on it like a typewriter or save what I'd written--in green characters on a black background. I wrote a couple epic poems on that machine, and lots of descriptions of the neighborhood where I lived in Kansas, and lines that I overheard people say, like "In Kansas, there's a pretty girl for every tree." In Kansas, or at least in southwest Kansas, there were not many trees. The ones in front of our apartment complex were small and gnarled, ready to die.

I remember the epic poems--one was about a homeless woman wandering an alley in Logansport, Indiana, collecting aluminum cans--and the little bits of dialogue I'd overheard, but I have no idea what that essay called "Life and How to Live It" was about. I try to remember sometimes, but my mind completely blanks. I do remember conferencing with my instructor--this mustachioed, middle-aged fellow whose office shelves were lined with books by and about Hart Crane--and the way he delicately addressed my paper's ambition. He seemed to be saying, in as nice a way as possible, "You have no idea what you're saying here." He may have actually said, "I hope you have a chance to read this ten or twenty years from now, so you can see what you had to say."

But the truth is, that Brother word processor is long gone, and I have no idea what I would have had to say at the age of eighteen in a paper called "Life and How to Live It." Really. I can't even imagine.


Kyle Minor said...

You ought to revisit that essay, now, and make it didactic as hell. I sure could use a little help with life and how to live it.

Avery said...

I just drafted a handful of responses to your blog post, but none of them worked for me.

Let's just say I see where you're coming from. But, I can't imagine what else to add.

Which somehow seems appropriate.

Chad Simpson said...


I don't have any more of an idea about what I'd say now than I do about what I said then. Didactic certainly isn't one of my strong suits.

I'm glad to hear things are going well for Dylan. I've been thinking about y'all. And congrats on your recent essay acceptance--that piece is excellent.


I imagine your response is more appopriate than the ones you drafted, but I wish you'd included them: If you have any ideas about life and how to live it, Kyle and I could use the help.

Avery said...

Maybe I'll have my students compose an essay that must be titled, "Life and How to Live It."

Who knows. Maybe one of them will stumble on something. At the very least, their essays would bring back memories, I'm sure, of a more idealistic time.

Chad Simpson said...

I totally think you should. One of my grad school friends had her 101 students write their first paper on "Ten Things I Know Are True," and she always got great responses. I even remember one from five years ago: Never trust a man whose cowboy boots are too pretty.

In the same way I don't have much of an idea about what I'd say in a "Life and How to Live It" paper, I'm not sure I could come up with "Ten Things I Know Are True."

Maybe those kinds of assignments are better suited for idealistic (and, um certain-of-themselves) youths.