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Rules for the Unruly

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Simon and Schuster, 2001

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Marion Winik, Rules for the Unruly

From the introduction...

...I didn't know many people in the audience that night, but as I watched their faces, I started to imagine I recognized a few of them. This one with the long hair and glasses was a little smartypants who thought she was going to win all the academic awards at graduation and then march off to Harvard. This one looked really haggard because she had just had a positive pregnancy test and couldn't tell her parents, and the boy with whom she was in love wouldn't even talk to her. This one wasn't listening because she was looking down at her thighs thinking about how fat she was and wondering how she could have been depraved enough to choose this skirt to wear tonight. The one next to her wasn't listening either, because he had more important things to worry about, like the chemistry test and the history paper and the SATs. The one in the back in the motorcycle jacket and black jeans was a disaffected bohemian type who liked to drink and take drugs and smoke cigarettes because that was the best way to become a famous musician, and also the best way to drown out all the hideously self-conscious voices in his head. And then there was the pissed-off-looking one with the frizzy hair, her parents on either side of her, who couldn't even believe they made her come to this stupid thing, and what's worse they were to making her go to college even though she couldn't stand any school of any kind for one more goddamn minute.

All my little freaks and dreamers out there, my insomniacs and vegetarians. My poet-geniuses, my mad hackers, my eggheads with dreadlocks and my maniac brainiacs, all those Gifted and Talented and Crazy for Sures – I only hoped I knew how to talk so they would hear. Their dreams were big and strange and their hearts were tender and breakable and the bright shiny mass-produced moment was half blinding them to the weird and perfect futures that awaited each one just over the horizon. They were wrong about half of everything they thought they knew, but totally right about one thing. They were going Somewhere to be Somebody Someday. And if they didn't know where or who or how, this lack of certainty wasn't going to stop them from throwing themselves into the project as hard as they could. These were my people. Like the friends I had back then and the ones I added along the way, they were the misfit musketeers who kept each other company and told each other jokes and made each other brave. And when I looked down at my paper and saw the seven things, I knew they were exactly what I had to say.

As I started to speak, I noticed that even my freaky geniuses with better things to think about were paying attention. And afterwards, after I was done and the other speeches were over, and all the kids had paraded across the stage to receive their awards, they started coming up to me and saying thank you, and their parents were hugging my mom. Everybody wanted to know if I had this thing written down somewhere.

I didn't, but now I do – though it's turned out to be kind of an extended remix. So this is for them, and for you.

Seven Rules for the Unruly:
∼ The path is not straight
∼ Mistakes need not be fatal
∼ People are more important than achievements or possessions
∼ Be gentle with your parents
∼ Never stop doing what you care about most
∼ Learn to use a semicolon
∼ You will find love

Excerpted from Rules for the Unruly, Marion Winik (Fireside, 2001). Reprinted with permission of the author.

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