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)
Dear Teen Me,
Teen Sarah (far right), with friends!
You’re seventeen and, to be honest, you’re almost too boring for me to write a blog post about. No, seriously. You’re not really one for drama. In fact, you steadfastly avoid drama like the plague because it’ll get in the way of you acing your algebra exam.
Boys? Nope. No need. Not that there aren’t boys you have a crush on, but you honestly just don’t care. Right now, you’re probably taking a break from studying by watching an episode of Slayers (omg which ep??), the one from the box set your friend lent you and you kept for over a year because you periodically forgot to give it to her. Or maybe you’re watching Sailor Moon Super S, even though you spent your childhood trying to deny that you were an unabashed Sailor Moon fangirl.
Actually, now that I think of it, you were always far more comfortable with fictional characters then you ever were with people, which kind of made you feel like a freak. Continue reading Dear Teen Me from author Sarah Raughley (FEATHER BOUND)
Amy in her final year of boarding school at Choate Rosemary Hall.
Dear 19-year-old Amy,
I’m a mother now (shocker, right?!), and that maternal side of me wants to tell you to stop. Stop taking crazy risks—like lying down in the middle of Houston Street at 4 a.m. or kissing random strangers for your “Kissing” series of Polaroids. I want to tell you to stop hanging out with dangerous people in dangerous places at dangerous times of day (Save the Robots on Avenue B at 6 a.m., for example). But, no, I cannot tell you to stop because that’s what makes you who you are. Doing the crazy things you do will give you rich stories to tell—characters, situations, and intense experiences you never would’ve had at Vassar or Barnard. You will remember these faces and places and you will write about them.
Amy around age 19. From her Polaroid collection (not the “Kissing” series).
Furthermore, that fearlessness will come in handy later in life. For example, when you’re directing your first feature film or haggling with Gene Simmons over the money he owes you or trying your hand at trapeze artistry or giving birth to your second child on a sidewalk in Los Angeles or facing pretty much any given day as a screenwriter in Hollywood.
“Okay, but what else? You’re grown up, give me some answers,” you might demand, looking fierce like you want to kick me with your Doc Martens boot. Funny thing is, although I’m older than I care to admit, with a house and a car, a husband and two kids—I don’t feel grown up. Honestly, I can’t say I know much more than I did when I was you. Nobody really knows much of anything. Everybody’s making it up along the way. Nothing much will change with age except your knees will make that unsettling sound of Rice Krispies in milk as you climb the stairs.
A self-portrait Amy painted in college.
But that’s not entirely true. You will change a lot. For one, you will come to appreciate your parents. You’re so angry at them now—you’re not even sure why—but you will forgive them their faults (and they’ll forgive yours) and they will become your best friends for many years.
And you will learn—through much pain and stupidity—that you are worthy of being loved and that you can love well. I know you’re grumbling right now. You don’t want to admit you feel unworthy of love. You act like you think you’re the shit (and you do a really good job of it).
But it’s a lie, and until you realize it’s a lie, you won’t love yourself or anyone else. It takes a long time to get there, but you will get there. And eventually you will write a book about a girl who feels a lot like you do now. Yes, a book.
Grown-up Amy! Photo by Katrina Dickson.
Anything else I could tell you would sound like a cheesy cliché and you might burn this letter, writing me off as some hokey loser (because, let’s face it, that’s what you think most grownups are). But, here’s another painful thing you will learn: most of life’s clichés are true (including the cliché that most clichés are true).
For now, though, forget about clichés. And about rules. And the future. And the past. And just live. You’re doing that pretty well, and you’ve carried me this far. Carry on.
Soho Teen, May 2014.
Amy Talkington is an award-winning screenwriter and director living in Los Angeles. Before all that she wrote about music for magazines like Spin, Ray Gun, Interview, and Seventeen (mostly just as a way to get to hang out with rock stars). As a teenager in Dallas, Texas, Amy painted lots of angsty self-portraits, listened to The Velvet Underground and was difficult enough that her parents finally let her go to boarding school on the East Coast. LIV, FOREVER is her first novel. Visit her website and on Twitter.
AdriAnne at the end of her junior year, looking incredibly harmless and almost laughably normal, and feeling anything but.
To My Newly Sixteen-Year-Old Self, Summer 2000,
I know you hate surprises so much that you peel back little corners of wrapping paper on your Christmas presents (you need to stop doing that—and you will soon), so I’ll just lay it all out for you:
You’ve been through a rough patch with the sexual abuse you suffered as a kid, but you’re finally starting to feel like you can make friends and keep them and actually, occasionally, enjoy their company a whole lot—even in Elko, Nevada, where you’ll spend your junior year of high school. But be warned. Things are about to get rougher.
You are about to meet a boy with a whip-crack sense of humor and dyed black hair. He will have serious problems of his own. You will feel closer to him than anyone ever before, but still not in the ways society has determined that boys and girls should interact. You will want to play zombie-slaying video games with him, but this boy will want more from you. In fact, he will decide you are everything he needs. You will love him, and yet not be able to give him what he wants. Brace yourself, because here is the hard part:
This boy will kill himself. And it will nearly destroy you.
But it doesn’t. (This is so, so important.) You will despair, hating life more than you hate surprises. You’ll briefly consider dying, but you don’t die. You will recover. You will move to a new city before your senior year of high school and make zero friends, but eventually you’ll find that you can still love people, in spite of the risk of losing them, in spite of the fact that they might want more from you than you can give. This seems utterly impossible at the time. But time passes. Continue reading Dear Teen Me from author AdriAnne Strickland
Dear Teen Me,
Hello from the future. Yeah it’s kind of like a Doctor Who thing only without the nasty side effects of meeting up with yourself. Oh, and by the way, that show comes back on the air in a big way. Also anime – all those animes that got you through the dark times as a kid (because how could your life be worse than an entire space ship full of people trying to save a doomed Earth), well, Japanese animation just explodes. There are entire conventions for people who like it, and you get to go to them. Also, the internet – I know, I’m talking over your head now. Let’s just say, the future is good.
No, I’m not here to gloat. Just listen. I want to tell you something important.
You are worth it. Continue reading Dear Teen Me from author Kim Firmston (STUPID, TOUCH, HOOK UP)
Dear Missy, age 17,
First of all, I know you hate how people call you Missy after that stray dog, and I promise that’s going to change in a few years.
But first you have to live through high school, and that’s a lot harder than it seems.
I know your secret. On the outside, you’re the responsible Valedictorian with the part-time job, writing poetry for the lit mag and painting sets for Drama Club. But when you go home, you’re never good enough, and you’re too weird, and that’s why your father drinks so much. Because of you. Because you’re too proud. And so he drinks a case of beer and makes you sit on that stool and shouts at you so hard that spit lands on your glasses. Sometimes he puts you in chokeholds and laughs. And when he finally goes to the bathroom, you sneak upstairs and put a chair under the doorknob and think about the bag packed in the trunk of your car for the day he really tries to hurt you.
You’re going to use that bag soon. Continue reading Dear Teen Me from author Delilah S. Dawson (SERVANTS OF THE STORM, the BLUD series)
Ann’s amusing attempt at being a serious actress. She’s glad to say this was not the usual amount of make-up she wore at that age.
Dear Judd Nelson’s girlfriend wanna-be (yeah, never gonna happen),
Even though I’m now twice your age (plus some change), I still know you. Which worries me—because I’m not sure you’ll be smart enough yet to take my advice. Because you always do the opposite of what anyone says. Tell me something—why wouldn’t you cut your nails when your piano teacher asked you to? You kept clacking those long daggers on the ivory keys until you took your last piano lesson, then cut them short and they have remained nubbins ever since. And another thing—you’ll regret that ill-fated decision to dally in the valley of 80s perms, which you only did because someone told you never to perm your hair (BTW, they were right).
What the hell is wrong with you, anyway? I’ll tell you. Reacting to people in a quick and stubborn fashion is not being independent. It’s the opposite. What you really need to do is to sit your butt down and decide what you want in life, regardless of others’ input. Make up your own damn mind and stick to it. Decide on a career path (veterinarian and writer—I’m just going to tell you this because you took so long to figure it out on your own, and I’d like to save you a little time), be firm on what you expect in a romantic relationship (aim high, don’t settle, it’s so much better to be alone than to be lonely because you’re dating the wrong guy), and make more of an effort to be nicer to your parents (you’ll miss them when they’re gone and they’ll be gone a long time). Continue reading Dear Teen Me from author Ann Noser (HOW TO DATE DEAD GUYS)