“Stay present!” And other grating advice…
“Stay Present!” has become an instruction as common as “drink your water.” Such common things are sooooo easy to ignore. It’s valuable to take another real look.
The most common things of all (like the Common App? like Air? Like, dare I say it, subtle kindness and subtle cruelties) are often incredibly important, but they don’t catch your attention automatically. Unlike, say, that absolutely aware Meerkat, pictured above. (The Meerkat is eye-candy for your odd-animal spot. If you have one.)
Reader, you may not even be 17 years-old yet, hoping your college essay will magically start (or finish) itself. Or maybe you’re a parent of a kid applying to college. You’ve surely heard people say “stay present” or its cousin instruction, “be in the moment.” Maybe you don’t want to hear any more generic advice.
To stay present is a virtue (in some circles), and it’s not easy. But it will enrich everything. No, really.
My Present is Your Present (and I’m bad at writing subheadings, so bear with me!)
While I write (and rewrite and rewrite and rewrite) this one blog post, and attempt to do what I am writing about, I can hear my husband, stepsons, and 15 month-old in the boys’ bedroom, jamming out to Otis Redding’s “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay.”— “wastin’ time” (Listen to Otis, he’s so smooth. In a moment of total affection for his songs, I once told a student he was my dad. The student replied, “That’s so cool!” Hmmmm.).
When your aim is to “stay present”, Otis croons, sometimes you have to just sit there.
In our case: Sit with your self. Sit with your essay.
Dig into the wildly mundane, wildly telling moment of… right now. Even if your “right now” feels pretty lame, pretty empty, pretty challenged. You get to cut right through that stuff. To the essence.
The essence is NOT lame, is NOT challenged. The essence is something about yourself– about all of us– my present, your present, The Present– that defies qualities.
Our blog tries to pass on worthwhile and actionable advice–like this– that will help young people to write college essays, and, more than that, to love their one life. This instruction does both. Don’t ignore it. I’m trying not to ignore it right now.
The Small Print of Stay Present
The subtext? As much as you want it all, the Now is all you get
, sucker! Or –as much as you want to avoid XYZ, XYZ clings to you like popcorn kernels! (And don’t even get me started on LMNOP).
After years of practicing, I can tell you that the present is as cool and weird and arresting as the Meerkat pictured above. (You’re welcome for the Meerkat!)
To get the goods from the present, you have to enter it on purpose.
In fact, “stay present” is also an important warning– maybe as important as the traffic sign for”children crossing.” No matter our pedigree, circumstances or background, most of us have a tendency to spin out mentally–or to fixate on the past (What did I do?!?!) or the future (What will happen to me?!?!?!).
We have to be reminded so often to focus on “the here and now” that you might mistake The Present for some kind of irritant, like ambient jellyfish tentacles. Or assume the Present has a colossal eject button, that spits you out every time you try to enter.
And what do you do with this instruction to stay present when you’re honestly grappling with your past, because, say, you’re figuring out if your academic path made you ready for collegiate critical thinking at LMNOP school?
Grappling with mistakes you made or managed not to make?
And what do you do when you’re honestly trying to imagine the future in a longer-term way, maybe for the first time?
Staying Present Applies To Everything
“Stay Present” is definitely spiritual advice, it’s mental health advice, but it’s also writing advice. Doing it will help you tune into details, emotions, insights…the stuff that makes your writing memorable. It doesn’t solve your problems. Instead, it let’s you notice what’s what. Like how weird that Meerkat is. You challenge your own sense of normal, or what you have grown used to.
You feel the air, really feel it.
That’s cool substance, that air.
Your life can get simpler for a moment.
You cut through all the adjectives you can come up with to describe who you are and your circumstances. As a result, oddly, your perception and honesty can sharpen. Your essay gets better from this as if by magic. Because how you see, and how you think, and what you’ll choose to say, are all clearer.
But there’s more. Stay tuned for the next post, to find out how, exactly, to weave the present– the actual present– into your conclusion for a convincing narrative.
Already curious about the deeper stuff? Do this meditation by Tara Brach, first.
Think this is all BS? Well, you’re in good company too. But this “meditation” with its foul language might help you laugh.