Dear Teen Me,
ROCK ON! RIGHT ON!! Kick out the jams! You’re tough, you’re lean, you’ve got a dirty mouth. Some people might think you’re brave as hell, but you and I both know that it’s easier for you to fight the power than for many folks your age, since your parents are beyond cool. They’d never have you committed to a loony bin for smoking pot like your poor messed-up friend. They smoke it themselves. They’re constantly running off leaflets and going to scary demonstrations where white racists spit at them. They’re constantly writing articles in the underground paper that insult the police chief. They’re the ones with stuff to lose. Like the living room window that someone threw a rock at. Like their goddamn jobs.
So far, at seventeen, you don’t have much that anybody can take. So what if they kick you out of that fascist high school where they flip out about how short your skirt is but don’t seem to notice that you used to get all As and then stopped giving a shit? Your mother wrote you a note saying you had to go to the dentist and then the principal saw you on TV at a civil rights march yelling at a cop, and when your mother was called into school she called the principal a racist and stormed out. So what if you get busted at a demonstration and ooh have a record? The bail fund will pay your tiny bail and you’ll be released that same day, along with the others who wouldn’t move out of the street with their Peace Now signs. The government hasn’t started shooting white kids yet, but they will before you’re twenty. Continue reading Dear Teen Me from author Julia Mary Gibson (COPPER MAGIC)
Heather with her favorite accessory—the angel wings she’d hoped would spring to life one day.
Dear Teen Me,
There are several ways I could’ve started off this letter. I always thought when given the chance to do this—and I’ve attempted to write something like this once before—that I would focus on the things that really damaged me, and you.
I could go over all the things we both know have changed who we are. But without those things, I wouldn’t be me. And you wouldn’t be you.
Sometimes I picture those days high above the ground, that tree out in the backyard where no one ever thought to look. You’re probably there now. In fact, I know you are. I can see you perched on that thick branch, the one deprived of too many leaves. That same one we always liked because it was smooth and perfect and just high enough that you felt free.
You’ll soon become deathly afraid of heights, but luckily you haven’t reached that point yet. You’re still too wrapped up in the thought of escape to notice the distance. You’re still looking down at the ground and asking yourself: What if I fell? Would the pain be too much? Would anyone care?
And they would. Believe me, they would.
Despite that part of you that gave up on yourself a long time ago, you’re afraid of what it would mean if you let go. Afraid enough to rethink your options and decide, once more, to close your eyes…and listen. Continue reading Dear Teen Me from author Heather Marie (THE GATEWAY THROUGH WHICH THEY CAME)
Dear Greg as a 16 year old:
Even at 16, Greg’s future was certain.
I am writing to you on your birthday; our birthday, I would suppose. We have just turned 53 (I am going to henceforth refer to our disparate selves in the singular; Teen Greg as you; current self in the first person—the royal-sounding “we” sounds a bit on the pompous side). In two days, I am leaving for Italy. Italy! As a teenager, you are perhaps lying on your bed, either reading a book (if I recall correctly, that summer before your senior year you worked your way through James Michener; CENTENNIAL being the last one you read before school started) or daydreaming of being a writer, of being an adult, of getting out of Kansas, of being a success and traveling the world.
I know there are times when you wonder if you will ever leave Kansas, if your dream of being a writer will come true. I know there are times when you despaired of this; but please rest assured that on your 53rd birthday you will have published over thirty novels and fifty short stories. You will be president of the local chapter of Mystery Writers of America as well as serving a term on the national board and chairing several committees. You will have edited almost twenty anthologies, and been nominated for awards more times than you can remember—and will have even won some. Continue reading Dear Teen Me from author Greg Herren (DARK TIDE)
Dear Teen Me,
Karen, age 15, in her yearbook photo.
There’s no denying you’re kind of nerdy and geeky, and I know neither of those qualities are considered positives, at least not in the time and place you are now. And you are a little hygiene-challenged (yeah, showering and only washing your hair once a week isn’t a good way to keep the Mean Girls off your back). It probably doesn’t help that you’re a little chubby without much talent for athletics.
Then there are your crooked teeth (sorry, not enough money for braces) and awkward shyness. Not to mention that issue of being the new girl, the one that suddenly showed up in seventh grade instead of living in Lake Arrowhead all your life. Your mother is a hardworking waitress, your home is in Twin Peaks. Those Mean Girls all seem to be part of rich families from the North Shore. You being on the edge of poor puts a target on your back.
So yeah, they make your life miserable whenever they can. Like that day when your very short skirt hiked up in the back, and you were on your period, so God only knows what was showing. The right thing to do would have been for someone to quietly say something, but no, one of the Mean Girls had to scream across the classroom so everyone heard, “Stier, pull down your skirt!” Continue reading Dear Teen Me from Karen Sandler (CLEAN BURN, TANKBORN, REBELLION)
Dear Teen Me,
Mindy in Central Park in 1971, a year after her release from the hospital. Photo by Michael Weisbrot.
Child of the Sixties, I see you, daydreaming with the seagulls on a pier by the East River in your army shirt and bellbottoms, eyes hidden behind your bangs. You iron your long wavy hair and wear Erase on your lips, but you can’t erase yourself. Dazed and confused, you’re at war with the establishment and most of all, your mother, off to work in her high heels so she can buy hamburger at the A&P, sofas to cover in plastic, and Earth Shoes for you, ungrateful kid.
There’s no way to escape her voice or correct the imbalance of power. Each day you watch the carnage in Vietnam on TV. You’re in junior high when Kennedy is assassinated; soon will come Martin, Malcolm and Bobby. Violence is just a shot away, it’s the season of the wolf, and people are strange.
You’re heading down a slippery slope, you who wander barefoot in Greenwich Village, thinking you’re a bad seed but ashamed of your innocence. At 13 you started drinking, smoking pot, sniffing glue, taking pills, anything to stop the questions. How can you be an artist if you don’t exist? Why speak if there’s no truth? Continue reading Dear Teen Me from author MINDY LEWIS (LIFE INSIDE, DIRT)
Yup. You look happy here. Maybe it was the huge fluffy blue-green jacket, or the dress underneath. You still hate dresses, BTW. Well, mostly.
Dear Teen Me,
You are not a freak. There is nothing wrong with you. You are the goody-two-shoes, and it’s okay. Later on, people will get your weird humor and like you anyway. When you finally decide not to allow people to only be your friend when the “who’s who” of the world are around—it’ll be the best decision. It will be one step further into determining who you are. It’ll be hard sometimes, especially right after college, but it will be worth it.
It’s okay that you will be the only one in your group going to Prom without a date. Being “one of the guys” isn’t a bad thing. Some of the girls (you’ll find this out later) will be jealous of that. I’d love to tell you not to take your crushes’ failure and bad choices to heart. You may think you should have known, but it’s not true. It doesn’t make your choices bad because you didn’t know he was smoking pot in his car with his friends on his way to school. You’re going to be the single girl for a long time, but don’t be jealous. When you finally find the right man, he’s worth all the waiting.
You’re not as fat as you think. Stop comparing your body to others. People love you for you, and you will always see yourself worse than you are. If I could tell you to stop worrying about it, I would. But you probably wouldn’t listen anyway. You’re stubborn. Some things never change. Continue reading Dear Teen Me from author Vanessa Barger (A WHISPERED DARKNESS)
Dear Katie, aged 15,
I was going to say it’s been really hard to write this letter without sounding like a pale imitation of Baz Lurmann’s Sunscreen Song, only that won’t be released for another three years, so you won’t get the reference.
First thing’s first. If I know you, which I do, you’re probably beating yourself up about your weight. It’s a pretty constant background noise. You feel like ‘The Fat One’ in your group of friends, and I’m here to tell you that is absolutely not the case. You have a perfectly nice figure and things are going to get a hell of a lot worse, so enjoy your fifteen year old body while you can, girl. I’m totally serious. Revel in being your young, hot self. Do not let self-consciousness stop you from doing one single thing.
I guess that’s what I’d tell you to do differently in a nutshell. Worry less about the superficial things. I can assure that all that insecurity and envy is exhausting and it’s futile, because nothing you can say or do will keep someone by your side if they’re not happy. Save your tears for when it actually happens, and know that however much it hurts you will get through it.
Oh, and look after your dodgy knee. I can’t stop you drunk dancing to Pulp at that birthday party, but maybe don’t do the twist. I know you want to be Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction, but you have a world of pain ahead…you have been warned! Continue reading Dear Teen Me from author Katie Young (THE OTHER LAMB)
Dear Teen Me,
13-year-old Lori. Skorts should never have been a thing.
I’m not going to lie—you’re pretty awkward. I mean, you’re still pretty awkward, but it’ll be a while before you own your awkwardness instead of just being embarrassed by it.
Let’s take quick stock of what you currently think makes you so awkward and self-conscious:
1. Painfully skinny. And flat chested. You’d always looked forward to the day you’d have breasts. I’m sorry to tell you it never arrives.
2. Glasses. You’ve spent the majority of your life in glasses too big for your face. You will never think glasses are cool or attractive, even when they become a fashion accessory people wear without lenses.
3. Your hair. That middle split has got to go. Also, please stop trying to cut your own hair. That never ends well, no matter how many times you tell yourself you know what you’re doing this time. Continue reading Dear Teen Me from author Lori M. Lee (GATES OF THREAD AND STONE)
Lisa Ann O’Kane is SO proud of her paper mâché ant mask.
Dear Teen Me,
I almost don’t want to write you this letter. I don’t want to warn you about all the challenges you will face in your twenties and early thirties, because one of the most beautiful things about you right now is your innocence and idealism.
You truly believe life is fair, and you think everyone around you shares your compassion and pure intentions. You want to become a Disney animator, to adopt that adorable giraffe you have been volunteering with at the zoo, and to marry that sweet, simple football player you have been dating for the past two years.
You won’t. You won’t do any of those things.
The art of hand-drawn animation will become extinct right before your eyes, and your giraffe will live out the rest of his days in that not-quite-good-enough-for-him zoo. That sweet, simple boy will make a mistake that will forever alter your idea of trust, and you will go on to date many more decidedly NOT sweet boys who will break your spirit more times than you would have ever thought possible. Continue reading Dear Teen Me from author Lisa Ann O’Kane (ESSENCE)
April at 18
Hey, Teenage April. I’m Adult April. I know what happens to you and so we’re going to play a game. A game called TWO LIES, ONE TRUTH, APRIL’S FUTURE. Guess all three truths and you win, kid.
- The girl with the red hair who lives in the forest is not a ghost. Go talk to her.
- The neighbors that you been spying on…they did what you think they did.
- You aren’t what those other kids say you are. You’re so much more. They have no idea how much more. Continue reading Dear Teen Me from author April Tucholke (BETWEEN THE SPARK AND THE BURN)