Sunday, June 28, 2009

Polonius to Laertes on his 21st birthday

Laertes and Ophelia

I was taken out of the moment two summers ago, watching Shakespeare by the Bay’s production of "Hamlet": As Polonius advises Laertes before he leaves to study abroad, I could see the day coming when I would be Polonius. What would I say? This, for starters:

Your car: Don’t fiddle with the CD player when you’re driving in heavy traffic. Don’t talk on the cell. Always buckle up. Don’t follow too close or drive too fast. Clean it out. Wash it. Check the oil and other fluids. Don’t lose your key. No hitchhikers. Use that GPS Mom bought you.

Hygiene: Bathe. Wash your hair. Brush and floss your teeth. Shave. Wear clean underpants. Wash your hands. Flush. Use that deodorant your Mom bought you.

Apartment: Don’t leave stuff scattered on the floor. Never light a fire indoors (trust me). Wash your dishes. Take out the trash. Use the vacuum Mom bought you. Clean up spills. Don’t open the door for a stranger, and know who you invite over.

Health: Don’t eat much junk food, and don’t skip meals. Use that microwave Mom bought. Water is good for you. Alcohol isn’t. Wear a raincoat when you know you ought to. Get outside and keep active — toss a Frisbee or jog at the track. If you start smoking, I’ll break your fingers.

People: Be friendly, but know not everyone wants to be a friend. Don’t let it bug you. Be slow to anger and slower to fight, but don’t let anyone wipe their feet on you. Respect yourself. Respect women and old folks unless they show you they don’t deserve it.

Religion: There’s more than this. Don’t get hoodwinked by anyone, and don’t fool yourself that you know it all. Remember what Hamlet told Horatio. Don’t scoff at believers, but don’t believe everything you’re told.

School: Go to class. Once you start skipping, you’ll never recover the semester. Visit professors during office hours. Make sure they know who you are. Don’t fade into the woodwork — participate. Take notes. Do homework. Write papers early and in the right format. Keep up with important dates. Always have a pen and paper.

Work: Hard work is good for you, but don’t let yourself be badly used. Don’t let work interfere with school right now. Later, find something you enjoy. Don’t get stuck in a bad job just to pay the bills.

Things: Don’t borrow unless you give it back in the same shape as when you borrowed it. Don’t loan anything you can’t live without. Watch your money; it spends faster than it grows.

In general: Don’t do much you don’t want your Mom to know about. Be yourself. Enjoy being young. Have fun. Sing and dance. Laugh. Play. Create art. Whatever you do, don’t follow my example — learn from my mistakes.

Finally, Laertes: Remember Ophelia, who loved you for you. What would she expect? Do that. What would she want for you? Chase that.

You won’t go wrong.

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