Dear Younger Self,

It’s 1984. At the beginning of the school year your freshman biology teacher assigned a big project: a leaf collection.

You’ve been charged with finding, identifying, pressing, and displaying an extensive catalog of leaves from local trees.

Because it was your first big project as a high school student you were kind of excited, weren’t you? You were feeling a little more challenged. Real school. Real learning.

Once the calendar turned over to October you already decided you wanted no part of collecting, identifying, and cataloging leaves. It would involve going outside and walking around. You might even have to stroll through the woods to collect the allotted 30 or 40 specimens.

You have more important matters to ponder. You have a crush on a boy who won’t call you. Your parents are inattentive sometimes to the point of negligence. You want to go outside only long enough to walk fifty feet to the home of your best friend who lives across the street.

No leaf collection could ever hold your interest like watching–over and over–the same six episodes of “The Young Ones” taped off of MTV. You absolutely must watch the movie Paris, Texas at least three times a week.

And there are books to read, for heaven’s sake. You can’t believe the sheer volume of volumes sitting on the school library shelves ready to be cracked open and guzzled.

(You don’t know yet that you will never be much of a drinker, but you are already a bookaholic.)

Now it’s mid-October and that biology project does little else but taunt you. The leaves have all changed colors and fallen or been blown off the trees by wind and rain.

You have no album, no identification reference books at the ready, not a leaf to speak of. You haven’t really had the time or desire to even start it because you are so busy with other things.

After you’ve dwelled on and attended to all the important thoughts and activities that occupy your time, the only way to decompress is to bang the keys on your beloved typewriter.

You’ve already decided that nothing–not watching TV, not sleeping, not eating and especially not doing homework–is as important as your work as a writer.

There are so many words to type, so many sentences to write, so many stories to finish. A beautifully bound album of perfectly pressed and accurately identified leaves could never compare to the beauty of a stack of typewritten pages that have sprung from your own imagination – worlds created to the exact order and loveliness that your own life lacks.

When you sit down at your typewriter you are the force of nature. You move the leaves around, not the wind; you make the rain fall; you control the horizontal and the vertical.

The idea of even attempting to collect leaves at this point is laughable. But please, Younger Self, please: go. Go now.

Collect those leaves. Ask anyone you can to help you figure out what the hell kind of trees they come from. Press the leaves between the pages of any book you can find and then transfer them to any old photo album you can scrounge up.

You’re not artistic and you’re not a botanist. It doesn’t have to be pretty or even more than 80 percent correct: just get it done. Make the effort, any effort.

Why? I’ll tell you why.

If you don’t do that leaf project you will panic for many years after high school is officially history to think that the days of autumn are passing and you’re not doing your project. You will dread seeing the leaves change colors and blow off the trees for actual decades because of your failure to complete that project.

And the feeling of failure will rise up in you the moment you look around and realize there is not a single leaf left on any tree as far as the eye can see.

Really, trust me on this one.

Older and Wiser