Thursday, May 21, 2015

Letter to a Curious Kid

Hey kid,

I'm one of the librarians, and I noticed that humongous stack of books you were hauling out today. It reminded me of somebody: me. I did that too when I was your age, so I know how you feel. You know how sometimes you get so interested in something that you can hardly stop thinking about it? Or you look through the books in the library, and you can't even believe how much cool stuff there is to learn? That was me. In fact, it still is. I was always amazed what a big, incredible world it is.

But I don't have to tell you  how incredible the world is. At your age, nothing could be more obvious. Kids your age notice things. Like, did you ever look at the squirrels outside the library, and notice how they have little hands like people? Maybe you wondered what it would be like to jump though the trees like they do? I know I did. Or maybe you've seen how the pigeons have little rainbows on their necks that change colors in the sun, and you wondered what caused it? Did you ever go out and stare up at the stars until you feel like you're going to fall over backwards wondering how far away they are?  Or you totally drive your parents crazy asking "why" and "how" all day long? Yep, that's the kind of kid I was, too.

So I remember why you bring that big stack of books home from the library. There's something you're just burning to learn more about. And maybe some other kids don't get this, but times like that are when you really feel alive: when you're looking up at those stars, or reading those books, or wondering about those questions you keep having. Sometimes it feels like your brain's on fire, and you'll never run out of fuel, because the whole universe is made of it.

So yeah, you know how amazing the world is, and how much fun it is to think about it. But there's one thing you may not know, and it's something you're gonna have to figure out how to deal with. The thing is, not everybody sees things the way you do. Believe it or not, all that stuff that's seems so amazing to you seems totally boring to some people. They just don't get it, and some of them are going to give you a hard time about it.

Actually, I bet you know some people like that already. I guess I'm just warning you that you'll run into a lot more of them. Especially when you're a teenager--that's when people really get like that. They start spending all their time thinking about being cool and fitting in with everybody. I did it, too--I didn't think I would, but I did. Things get real weird for a few years. Everybody starts forming little groups where they all dress the same, and talk the same, and walk the same, and listen to the same music (music turns into a really big deal then, for some reason). Everybody starts looking in the mirror too much, and worrying about whether they're cool enough, or tough enough, or pretty enough.

You'll probably do it too, and that's fine. But you have careful not to overdo it. Here's why: if you worry too much about what other people think, you can forget how to be yourself. You can forget something you know right now: how amazing and interesting the world is. You might think there's no way that could ever happen, but it can. Believe me, it happened to me for a while.

You might think it's easy not to worry about what other people think, but it isn't. Some people can really give you a hard time. You probably know that already, too. Maybe some of the other kids laugh at you when you talk about something you've been reading about. Maybe somebody's already called you a geek when they saw you reading one of those books. I wish I could say they'll grow out of it soon, but they won't. A lot of kids get worse about it during those weird teenage years. They'll make fun of you if you talk about stuff they don't consider cool, or if you don't act or dress just like they do. You just have to try not to worry about it too much. I don't mean you should be a know-it-all, or act weird just to annoy people, or try to talk to people all the time about stuff they don't care about. That's just rude. I just mean you shouldn't ever let them make you feel ashamed for wanting to think and learn about things.

Most of them will get over it eventually, but a few of them won't. You'll meet people all your life who don't understand why you like to think about the stuff you do. Believe it or not, even some grownups get embarrassed by people who like to talk about books, or science, or nature. I know it sounds crazy, but there are actually grownups who worry about what's cool and what's geeky. So there will always be people who'll say you're weird for thinking about why galaxies look like whirlpools, or whether different people see colors the same way, or whatever other "weird" thing you like to think about. But here's what you have to remember. You're actually not the weird one. They are, even if they outnumber you. That's because it isn't weird to be fascinated by this totally incredible universe. It's weird not to be, and I hope you always remember that.

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