Dear Teen Me,
In pre-computer days, Teen Alma and her typewriter.
You stand in the cusp between the What Was and What Is To Come.
When you were four, you taught yourself to read, and then never stopped – you read any book that came to hand, you read EVERYTHING. You knew early that words were your thing. Back when you were five, six, seven – in the days that you and your cousin played the make-believe games, playing pretend with the aid of Mom’s blue satin dressing gown which doubled as a princess robe and wooden spoons which served as swords, rewriting the story of the Three Musketeers, parceling out the parts between you and her (you were ALWAYS the more complex characters, like Richelieu…) – even back then, you knew what you wanted. You knew what you wanted to be when you grew up. So did you cousin – she always wanted to be a vet. She became one.
You wanted to be a writer.
So you wrote. You read, and you wrote. Continue reading Dear Teen Me from author Alma Alexander (WOLF, WORLDWEAVERS, THE SECRETS OF JIN-SHEI)
Dear Teen Me:
Teen John and his brother in 1981!
Yeah, you, the poster child for over-compensation.
You wasted our childhood trying to impress our father just so that he’ll take notice that you exist. You even dragged our younger brother into one of your ill-planned shenanigans to gain his attention.
Climb one of Alaska’s highest mountains . . . just the two of you.
Were you smoking something?
You could have died up there. Your brother almost did. I read somewhere that one reason teenagers make bad decisions is because their brains are in turmoil as they mature, short circuiting as it were. You must have suffered some kind of head injury. Mom must have dropped you on your head when you were a baby.
(When I was a baby. When we . . . This is so complicated.) Continue reading Dear Teen Me from author John Smelcer
Linas at about 16, with his high-school theater group.
Look, I’m just gonna come right out and say it: You’re gay. Gay, gay, gay, gay, gay.
I know you don’t really know that now, and you won’t for a few years. You may wonder about it now, and hope – and literally pray – for any bit of certainty.
Yes, everyone else your age seems to be hormonally inclined right now, but you’re not that different; you’re just far behind. Wayyy behind.
But that’s totally OK! Keep enjoying your fast-changing obsessions – being onstage, Chris Van Allsburg’s illustrations, daydreaming about guinea pigs, architecture, the Muppets – because that’s what really gets you going right now. When all the sex stuff comes around, it’ll be so friggin’ fun, and you’ll be in a much better place for taking advantage of it.
At first I thought I wasn’t going to tell you about being gay, that I would write this whole letter euphemistically about how you will find your own way, in your own time, blah, blah, blah. I know you, and you’ll be annoyed to see me write about sexuality, as if that’s the most important thing about you. But the more I thought about any other subject, the more I saw how radically your life is going to change in a few years, and it will all come back to that one, inescapable fact: You are gay.
Sorry, but it’s going to define your life. Awesomely. Continue reading Dear Teen Me from author Linas Alsenas (BEYOND CLUELESS, GAY AMERICA)
Dear Mitchell at 17:
Stop. Okay, you only have a few moments to read these words. I know you’ll agree with me…because…well, you are me. What I’m about to tell you is what you believe deep down inside anyway…for obvious reasons. By the very act of composing this letter we are conflating the time space continuum….so be careful to…oh never mind. Just stop and read quickly.
Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in, breathe out.
Okay here’s the thing: Stop trying to get along with Mom and Dad. They are crazy. You’re right. I won’t go into the details that we both know. Besides I’ve written a memoir and hidden it in my closet that you can read someday, unless of course you actually listen to my advice, which is unlikely unless there’s some high concept Freaky Friday magic fairy reading this.
But back to facts. They’re crazy. Especially Mom. Yes, they are. Get out of there as soon as you can. Put wax in your ears until you can leave. Tell them anything they want to hear until you find an opening. Then slip away and don’t look back.
You know how when the family goes on a trip you always try to get lost in the woods, or the shopping mall, or the convention center. Wonder why. Duh? Go for it. Maybe you’ll find a pack of wolves that will take you in. Being raised by wolves would be better, I can tell you that now.
So just stop. Stop trying to go out with all the normal girls in high school, too. You’re just too weird for them and that’s okay. Really it is. Some day in the future they will tell you that you were totally cool in a nerdy way that they couldn’t accept back then. It’s okay. Just don’t spend sooooo much time trying to convince them you’re normal. Because. You’re. Not. And why the eff should you be? Continue reading Dear Teen Me from author Mitchell Kriegman (BEING AUDREY HEPBURN, THINGS I CAN’T EXPLAIN)
Dear Teen Me,
Sandra in her Sophomore year of high school. Eyebrows and hair in full effect.
Yes, you are a geek.
Pretending otherwise would just be insulting for us both. Your hair is poodle-curly. Your eyebrows are overtaking your face (dear Lord, did no one tell you about waxing?). Your style sense is “all your own” (no, Chuck Taylors should not be bedazzled). And your jokes lead to comments like “wow, you’re really weird” instead of raucous laughter. In a school where catching a lacrosse ball is close to godliness, you manage to drop every one. When you stride up for your “most compliant throughout high school” award at graduation, you wonder if people are snickering behind your back. Let me end the suspense – yes, they are.
But, I am here to tell you: don’t despair. You will find your people!
It starts in college, at Harvard, where everyone else is smarter than you. This is not surprising, but is indeed delightful. You are not an outlier, merely an oddball among oddballs. No one cares about your hair, your Chuck Taylors, or the fact that you can’t catch a lacrosse ball. Continue reading Dear Teen Me from author Sandra Block (THE GIRL WITHOUT A NAME, LITTLE BLACK LIES)
Dear Teen Me,
Cristin with her prom date!
At this stage in your life, you are getting a lot of advice from people – some good, some bad, some utterly wrong.
So instead of joining that chorus of people telling you what you should do, this letter is going to focus solely on how you awesome you already are—doing what you are right now. Girls like you aren’t complimented enough for being girls like you.
And damn it—you deserve a couple of buckets of compliments, woman.
YOU ARE ABSOLUTELY RIGHT: YOU ARE GOING TO LEAVE THE NEIGHBORHOOD, MOVE TO NEW YORK CITY AND MAKE YOUR LIVING AS WRITER
I know you know this. You’ve known it since you were ten, knew it so hard you can taste it. It’s all you think about… aside from the occasional boy. Ever since you first announced this as your dream when you were in the fifth grade, every teacher, relative, friend of a parent, parent of a friend and well-meaning neighbor has given you the same look, basically: Um… who’s going to tell this sweet girl that things like that don’t happen to girls like her? And each time you stared at them right back saying, Nobody, that’s who. You were right. Keep reading. Keep writing. Keep defying those expectations! Continue reading Dear Teen Me from author Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz (DR. MÜTTER’S MARVELS, THE YEAR OF NO MISTAKES)
Teen Anna-Marie, coming back to life.
Dear Teen Anna-Marie,
You were not asking for it.
That’s what you need to know now. Continue reading Dear Teen Me from author Anna-Marie McLemore (THE WEIGHT OF FEATHERS)
Dear Teen Me:
Teenage Russell Scott Anderson poses for a photo with his young brother, Jim.
This is one of the few pictures I have left of us, me, you, and Jim sitting at the piano. The bad news is that there is no becoming the next Led Zeppelin for us. Jim does become a great guitarist for a while; he plays like Peter Frampton, for a while. Be a better brother to him than I was. Muscular dystrophy takes him while he’s still a young man.
You’re becoming the rebel, I can see it in your eyes…it never goes away. Do the right thing; I’ve been following that dictum for 60 years now. It brings a lot of heartache, and you wonder why you always have to take the hard way. Even now, I don’t know why, you just do, but it works out. You’re building a man that will become a warrior, a scientist, a healer, an artist, a writer, eventually a good husband, and the father of seven children. It takes a strong heart. Remember how you feel now. You’ll need that to be a father to your children. They will be strong too.
There are times when things go bad, that you think you’re going to die…DON’T. Find a way. Be calm, trust your instincts, and find the way to survive. That’s one of the secrets I need to let you in on…the world tries to kill you. You’ve already fallen free-climbing a cliff, wrecked a cattle truck, and think you’re in love. It doesn’t stop there, so learn the things you need to stick around. Continue reading Dear Teen Me from author Russell Scott Anderson (TIME DONORS WANTED, THE HARD TIMES)
Dear 17 year-old me,
Alexandra and her future husband on their way to senior prom.
You know that time when you were standing in the kitchen and you were angry, so angry you thought you might actually say something out loud? You thought you might talk back? Remember how your stepfather smirked and told you, “It’s all material,” because he knew you wanted to be a writer, even then? He was right, but not in the way he meant. You’re never going to be able to tell this story, not the whole story, not to everyone.
You’ll tell the funny parts, like the time your stepfather had the puppies’ tails docked and saved them in the butter drawer of the refrigerator, because he wanted to have them taxidermied and turned into a necklace for your mother. You’ll try writing the painful parts, but when you show those stories to your teachers, all they’ll say is that they hope it isn’t true. You’ll put it down in your composition book diaries, along with terrible poems and sketches that are better than you think they are. Hang onto those books. Later, when you’re wondering if it was all real, if you were blowing it out of proportion, if it never happened, the way your stepfather says, those diaries will prove you weren’t making it up. It was real. It happened. Continue reading Dear Teen Me from Alexandra Duncan (SALVAGE, SOUND)
Dear Bob (you didn’t start calling yourself Robert until you got out of college, and moved to New York to become a world-renowned author – stay tuned on that),
Robert at 17.
I’m going to tell you something now, while you’re 17, that everybody else — your friends, your parents, your teachers — is going to contradict.
And I’m going to tell you that you were right all along.
Okay, you have fallen in love with one of your good friend’s girlfriends. We’ll call him Bill (not his real name), we’ll call her Susan (her real one). But since you and Bill are friends, you don’t do anything about it. You all just hang out a lot, you get pizzas in downtown Evanston at The Spot, you comb through the album bins at Rose Records, you go to outdoor concerts at Ravinia Park and throw down blankets on the ground, and then, once the lights go down and the concert starts, you try to jump the outside rails and sit in real seats inside the actual amphitheater before the ushers nab you.
But Bill is going to start dropping hints now and then about feeling tied down, and about checking out some other girls in the class. Still you hold off – until one night in Susan’s basement, when you’re all playing pool on her dad’s regulation-size table. Bill leaves early, so do Dave and Pam and Richard and Lauren, but you stay late, and before you know it, it’s just you and Susan – and Eric Clapton playing “Layla” on the stereo. That song will forever bring back the sight of Susan dancing in blue jean cut-offs and an embroidered Mexican blouse, and you, finally getting up the nerve – after she has sent you everything but an engraved invitation – to kiss her.
Continue reading Dear Teen Me from author Robert Masello (THE EINSTEIN PROPHECY, THE MEDUSA AMULET, THE ROMANOV CROSS)