Taken the year after her back brace came off, this photo still captures the generally, um, distant attitude Nina had toward photographers. She’s studying between classes at school, wearing her mother’s clothes, and listening to her Walkman. Yep. A Walkman.
Dear Teen Nina,
I know that stupid back brace makes you feel like a lumbering Frankenstein’s monster. That half-black tooth leftover from your bike accident makes you feel like a Halloween witch when you forget and smile with your lips open. It’s awful to be sixteen and feel ugly, and clumsy, and like nobody wants you.
Here’s one thing to try to remember as you go through this crap: how you feel about yourself right now is not necessarily how you actually ARE. Yep, that’s right. Sometimes your feelings lie to you.
Feelings still hurt and sting and gnaw, of course. I’m not denying that the brace is evil. It’s not fair that you’re encased in hard plastic, in pain, and afraid to let anyone, particularly a cute boy like Roger, touch you. They might think you’re made of wood, like Pinocchio. You tell yourself, “Once I get rid of the thing I’ll be a real girl.”
But you’re so quick to question your good feelings: No way Ted Peters could like a girl who wears a back brace; My hair can’t really be as pretty as that stranger said it was, and on and on.
Why not question the crappy feelings too? Continue reading Dear Teen Me from author Nina Berry (THE NOTORIOUS PAGAN JONES, THE “OTHERKIN” SERIES)
(Yeah, I know Mom hates nicknames, but you’ve always wanted one and it’s the best we got.) Before I get started, I already feel your eye roll coming on. Save it. You’ll have plenty to roll your eyes at as you learn more about this world, so don’t waste it now on people who really care.
There are a lot of things that are personally making high school suck. Boy troubles, frenemies, parent stuff. It happens. It feels lonely and targeted right now, but it’s not. There are a lot of people all around you who know exactly how your feel. Use them.
You’ve created this walled off personality, lovingly called Scarlet (after the woman who won’t let anyone see how bad it hurts). This allows you to show only the surface feelings to everyone so that everything looks great. The perfect daughter. The perfect family. The perfect student. The perfect friend. Unlike most people surrounding you, I see the gulf of emotion underneath. I see everything you’ve stuffed down and tried to squash into a box that doesn’t fit.
STOP IT. You plan to carry this trend, and it hurts. You’re making the mistake so many do in their teens and early twenties. Get ahead of the game and stop it. We are raised to think the world is built for independent people, that they are the only people of value on this planet. Human nature has built us into social creatures. Seek out and become an expert at interdependence rather than independence and the world will not only be easier, but the ride will be a hell of a lot more fun. Continue reading Dear Teen Me from author Courtney Sloan (OF SCIONS AND MEN)
Dear Teen Me,
You don’t have to have sex.
We said no once and you were proud of yourself then and I’m still fist pumping for you now. There was this guy, you really liked him, and you thought he really liked you and he had a car. Man, that was freedom…a car. He called you up, showed at your door, and you escaped the crazy for a few hours and that was heaven. He promised to take you to the mall and you were seven shades of excited, but you didn’t go to the mall and you were fine with that.
You loved kissing this guy, you loved cuddling with this guy, you loved how your body zapped to life in his presence. You were very comfortable with your current engagement of sexuality, so when he suggested skipping the mall for the park to make out, you were all in…all in until he asked permission (and that’s it girls, a guy asks for permission) to go further than what you felt comfortable with and you said no.Honestly, you didn’t just say no, you laughed. Uncontrollably, manically because you were so in shock, so uncomfortable, so terrified, that you didn’t know what else to do and then you cried. You felt so ashamed for not being ready and he seemed really cool with you saying no, almost romantic in how he hugged you in the back of his beat-up junker. Continue reading Dear Teen Me from author Katie McGarry (NOWHERE BUT HERE, PUSHING THE LIMITS, CRASH INTO YOU)
Dear 15-year-old Me:
Marie hanging out on a New Jersey boardwalk, at about age 15.
Turn down your Black Crowes CD, put down your black eyeliner, and pay attention.
You’re about to have the biggest surprise of your life, and that’s saying something. I mean, in the past year, your parents split up, you left Catholic school and started public high school, and you moved from Philadelphia to rural Pennsylvania, an area you’ve referred to your whole life as “up the mountains.”
Still, through it all, you know a couple things are true. You know friends are forever and being the new girl is a chance to carve out a new identity. No one in HS has to know that bully in Philly said horrible things to you, and how none of your classmates who’d who been your friends since you were five stood up for you like they do in the movies. Maybe the old you didn’t deserve support. That’s what you think, right? But another possibility is that no one even knew you were hurting so badly. How could no one have known? Hear me out.
Everything seems to be going A-okay right now. You’ve already made an almost-as-good-as-your-old best friend, and even fallen in love with a guy.
He asked if he could be your boyfriend the minute he met you. But you weren’t sure because you think certain things about guys–and what they really want from girls. But he is so persistent in his pursuit, that eventually you give in and say yes. You’ll be his girlfriend. And it’s awesome. He makes you laugh. When you have those lonely moments and feel like no one understands you–he holds you and says that he loves you more than anything. He helps you put your pieces back together. Continue reading Dear Teen Me from author Marie Jaskulka (THE LOST MARBLE NOTEBOOK OF FORGOTTEN GIRL AND RANDOM BOY)
Dear Teen Me:
You’re fourteen, and you don’t remember how to smile. It might because of those stupid braces or it might be because you can’t find anything to smile about. Your friends are moving on to bigger and better things, and you can’t keep up. This makes you sad, and when you fall into your emotions, you have trouble clawing your way back out.
You’re wondering what’s wrong with you.
Something bad will happen to you soon. You will keep it bottled because you don’t ever want it to define you. It will make you swallow your words. You will stop talking. You just want to be invisible. And part of you will be glad it happened because you will finally have a reason to feel the way you do.
Your parents will separate (and don’t worry- it has nothing to do with you). It’s a blessing in disguise. You will go to a new school. You hate change (and you always will) but this is a change you desperately need. Continue reading Dear Teen Me from author A. Lynden Rolland (OF BREAKABLE THINGS, OF DELICATE PIECES)
BB (far left) displaying a rare smile at a family picnic, circa 1994.
Dear 17 year old me,
Remember all those times you wished someone would just tell it to you straight? Just tell you what you need to know without the distraction of their condescending tone and judgy eyes? Well, I’m here to do just that. But, before I get started, there are a couple of housekeeping items I need to get out of the way before we dive into the real meat of the message.
First and foremost, tight-rolling the bottoms of your jeans does not look good. I mean, not even a little bit. And secondly, your hair is too thin to wear it that long, and the perm gives you a poodle effect. Just do us both a favor: cut it short, get some highlights, and move on.
Okay, now that we’ve gotten that awkwardness out of the way, I’ve narrowed down your forthcoming life lessons into the top ten that are most important. Here they are in random order:
B.B.’s senior picture!
Your acne never goes away. Never. So pay for good quality makeup. Seriously, it does make a difference, no matter what anyone says. Continue reading Dear Teen Me from author BB Cruz (DANGEROUS DECISIONS)
Which way is 1963?
Dear Teen Me,
You know that shaggy, floppy mass that hung from your freshman scalp? The hair that, just out of the shower, looked like some dead sea invertebrate you’d find wave-battered in a tide pool? Yes, a “surfer’s cut” is what you and others called it, despite never setting foot on a surfboard even though you grew up in Los Angeles and can see the ocean from your high school. You resisted the parental pressure to get a “crew cut”, those boxy militaristic rebuttals to all things loose and hippie, yet you finally relented. Hey, it’s easier to wash, right?
Well, an even easier wash job is this long-receded hairline that you knew, based on Dad (who went bald at what looked like 12) was on your genetic horizon. But don’t worry, it actually works for us. And for what it’s worth, we did wind up having more hair than Dad at this age.
Speaking of high school, you know your school’s literary magazine, Making Waves? Where budding young authors and poets publish their work? You don’t? Not surprising, as for whatever reason you’ve completely stopped reading and writing, your hands evermore cemented to that Nintendo 64 controller. Yeah, I know what you’re gonna say. You want to be a game designer. You’re just rerouting your natural creative energies into a new venture. Beneath that trim crew cut stirs a fantasy of making your own EPIC GAMES, as well as (Holy Lord-balls, you’re a dreamer among a Millennial million) running your very own game studio.
Your very own game studio!
What’s amusing to me is that you look back on those old stories we wrote in elementary and middle school, where we drew our own covers and proclaimed some handwritten 15-pager to be the New Bestseller from Michael Robinson! How you chuckle at that Child Mikey who knew, just knew, that it was our destiny to write books, and at how wrong Child Mikey was. Because it’s actually videogames, you say! Games: the penultimate medium. Games: a cauldron of arts. Games: where the future lies.
Charged by a lap-cat carburetor, I’m hard at work … instant messaging.
Except, here’s the thing: Child Mikey had a clearer crystal ball than you. All that AOL Instant Messaging you’re doing, for game-business and for pleasure, will amount to a cumulative typing course that will pay its dividends in the books you’ll start cranking out when, surprise surprise, the game thing falls away, when you get sick of wrangling together and relying upon the feral felines that are unpaid, volunteer college programmers and artists who’ve agreed to “help” with your zygotic game company.
You’ll rediscover the imaginative purity and cleansing solitude of the written word. Except, for an author name, you’ll ditch the stodginess of ‘Michael Robinson’ for ‘Mike’. More casual, right? How many ‘Mikes’ do you see on covers, anyway?
There’s something else I should probably tell you. For this part I feel like I may have to secure a tie and a smoking jacket, and prop your scrawny frame on my somewhat lean leg (you develop a taste for swimming). In other words, this is the more solemn part of our trans-temporal occasion.
Though on the whole you will, as an author, have far more individual creative freedom and fulfillment, your more social, collaborative side will begin to poke and prod you. Not a bad thing by any stretch, as it will prod you into the path of many a wonderful friend (and, on occasion, a more-than-friend), but you’ll find that you do sacrifice a sense of noble involvement, of being swept up in an awesome, World-Pay-Attention-to-Us kind of wave, however delusional it may be, for that of the outlier, the more loner raindrop falling and trickling its hopeful way toward some ambiguous greater.
*Strikes match to stogie, puffs*. Yes, you like cigars now. The smell isn’t quite so bad when coming out of you, trust me.
If you’ll indulge me: I have noticed that, as one grows older, so grows the difficulty in maintaining a sense of whole-ness and present-ness. In youth’s immediate and daily encounters with friends and family, there is nourishing collectivism. But I also think there is a more metaphysical level to it, too — as teenagers (or even early-twentysomethings), we tend to have an energetic unity with the world, to harbor great guarantees of its potential. We are more prone to feeling Part of Something. This sense of unity is probably at its peak when we are infants, freshly portioned out from the Earth. Throughout our earlier years we dwell and subsist on it, slowly lifting away with the seasons toward the lonelier orbit of adulthood. Even with more concerted efforts to be whole and present, the task becomes more difficult.
Okay, this place is filling with smoke, and you’re not a fan. Can you go play Ocarina of Time now, you ask?
A note to future, Middle-Aged Mike: make sure to have injected the word “trans-temporal” into the lexicon. Unless it’s already there. I should probably Google that now.
Over and out.
TOO MUCH DARK MATTER, TOO LITTLE GRAY was released by Curiosity Quills Press on April 9, 2014.
Award-winning author Mike Robinson began at 19 by selling short fiction to magazines, journals and podcasts. His first novel, Skunk Ape Semester, debuted in 2012. Next came the supernatural mystery The Green-Eyed Monster, voted by HorrorNovelReviews.com as one of the 10 Best Horror Novels of All Time and which, alongside the novel The Prince of Earth, was noted in Stephen Jones’ “The Mammoth Book of the Best New Horror”. The Green-Eyed Monster links with his surreal thriller Negative Space to form two entries in the “non-linear trilogy” The Enigma of Twilight Falls, the final installment of which, Waking Gods, will debut in January 2016. Mike is also the author of Too Much Dark Matter, Too Little Gray: A Collection of Weird Fiction.
A charter member of The Greater Los Angeles Writers Society, he edits their official magazine, Literary Landscapes. He is represented by the Azantian Literary Agency. You can view Mike’s work at www.mikerobinson-author.com.
Dear Teen Me,
T.A. on graduation day.
I know you hate chitchat so I’m just going to dive right in and get to the gist of what I want to tell you. You’re not going to want to hear this, but trust me you need to. If I could give you one piece of advice it would be to stop being so afraid. I can hear you scoff right now and I can see those arms on your hips in dismay—“I am not afraid,” you say. “I jump big horses over big fences. I’ve got nerves of steel.”
Only you don’t. Not really. Sure you can do the horse thing and later you’ll even do the skydiving and hang gliding thing but really you’re scared of most things. Boys are high on the list. Yeah, you have guy friends but heaven forbid one of them might want to date you, then you panic and end the relationship before it even begins. And let’s be honest, you would NEVER put yourself out there and face the possibility of rejection by asking a guy out yourself. But really, what would a little rejection matter in the grand scheme of things? That’s right, it wouldn’t really matter at all. A momentary sting is far better than never taking a chance. Continue reading Dear Teen Me from author T.A. Maclagan (THEY CALL ME ALEXANDRA GASTONE)
What enticements the chance to speak to your past self offers, almost all corrupt. There’s nothing more specious than offering wisdom — as though one is, at thirty-four, materially wiser than at sixteen; perhaps less ignorant of the world, but no wiser, surely — to the no-longer-existent and utterly miserable and forlorn youth of that time.
So I do not know what to say, or how to say it, except that your miseries are voluntary and imagined. You suspect this, of course. Even then you had the sense for rhetoric, for pointless oppositionism, that still hobbles and afflicts you today, and your miserabilism is rhetorical before all else, consists in pure speech, nothing else, not acts, not even what could be called — with charity — thoughts. You wasted your adolescence on these imaginings, and I look back with pity on that thoughtless expenditure, but with the pity one feels for a stranger snared in some public embarrassment. Continue reading Dear Teen Me from author Sam Munson (THE WAR AGAINST THE ASSHOLES, THE NOVEMBER CRIMINALS)
You’re too young to date. Clearly you have some karma to work out with that guy, but you don’t need to do it at this age. Karma will keep finding its own opportunities, but you will never be able to be a kid again. Be a kid.
Teen Beth with friends on a trip to Greece — they’re still friends today!
Well, you went ahead and did it anyway, didn’t you? I get it – you just started high school and your hormones were crazy and you wanted to have a boyfriend so you didn’t feel like a loser. But this relationship is too serious. You’re missing out on a lot of fun!
Ah, well, here we are. I didn’t want to freak you out by telling you what was coming. I tried to warn you! Now your heart is broken and you feel like you will never be happy again. Please start listening to me now – you’ve got to stop crying. You’re ruining your nervous system and you’re not gaining a thing! I know you’re trying everything you can to get stronger and feel okay, so I’m going to tell you something that only time is supposed to tell you: after you wreck yourself for years over this, and waste some really excellent time you could be spending enjoying your skinnyness, he’s going to come back and want to marry you. And when he does you’re not going to care anymore! So how about we just skip all the crying and start dating so you have a lot more fun memories for Current Me to reflect on? Continue reading Dear Teen Me from author Beth Harbison (IF I COULD TURN BACK TIME, DRIVING WITH THE TOP DOWN, HOPE IN A JAR)