Advice for a Young Poet/Advocate

You have three options at all times arising out of one principle.

Option 1: Follow the Rules

Sometimes people lean into this option more than the others, that’s known as playing it safe. But when you used in moderation it’s a way of honoring your ancestors or respecting your elders or being considerate of the people around you. The rules as the currently stand are a starting place, common ground where you can touch base and make you and those you want “on your side” are on the same page as you even as you each go off in your own direction to do the thing that needs doing.

Option 2: Break the Rules

This is the obvious alternative to doing what is expected or wanted or comfortable. As soon as you know what even one rule is, you immediately have the option of going against the grain of it. This requires its own balancing act. If you only ever break rules after you’ve learned them, you are just as predictable as a person who always follows the rules. You’ve inadvertently gone with Option 3, but it’s possible you’ve taken it to a point of avoiding true growth because you don’t have any sort of base camp or flag by which to say “Look how far I have gone or taken this thing!”

Option 3: Make the Rules

You’ve followed some, you’ve broken some, and now you’re cobbling together your own little rulebook on how to do things your way: writing poems, making a difference, taking a shower, etc. This is how you take ownership of what it is you’re doing and how it is you do it. Even if one of your rules is word-for-word someone else’s rule, it’s still your rule because it’s working in concert with all the other little rules of you life that you choose to follow (because they’re tried and true, or broken and rebuilt, or made to fit you exactly).

Principle 1: Know the Rules.

This begins with knowing what rules you are being taught to follow. Then you acknowledge there are rules you are forgetting or are not mindful of, but which no doubt influence your behavior so that you are following or breaking them or making them your own however unconsciously. Thing is, you need to know what rules are currently in play if you want to wholly take control of how you play.

It’s easy to say that you “ignore” the rules and “just do [your] own thing.” But if you don’t know what the rules are, how do you know what your thing is? How do you know you’re not just on autopilot doing the same thing as so many other people have done all while expecting a different result?

Never knowing that you’re just engaging in collective insanity (to riff on a paraphrase of Einstein, oh the levels of following/breaking/making at work there).

Play by your own rulebook, by all means. Just realize that it wasn’t written in a vacuum, but as a result of living in an ever-changing world among other living creatures.

Also published on Medium.