Dear Teen Me from Author Karsten Knight (WILDEFIRE, EMBERS & ECHOES)

Dear Teen Me:

Teen Karsten at Homecoming!

The year is 2012. Britney Spears is as popular as ever, and the Real World is in its 730th season. Best of all, you finally have a job that is nap-friendly and pants-optional, where someone pays you to stare off into space and make things up for a living.

Great success.

Yes, I realize that “published author” and “preschool student” have identical job descriptions, at least once you replace “juice box” with “bourbon,” and “apple sauce” with “more bourbon.”

They suggested I write this letter to you, my teen self, because as an “adult” I am supposedly wiser, more intelligent, and have learned from mistakes that could benefit you in the past. The honest truth is (and I hope you’re sitting down for this):

You have actually gotten stupider in the future.

Teen Karsten, voted "Most Likely to Succeed."

Maybe it was all those episodes of the Jersey Shore you watched (you don’t even want to know what that is). Maybe you partied too hard in grad school. All I know is that when you were 17, you had the periodic table memorized and debated quantum physics with your friends over pizza…and now, at age 27, you yell at inanimate objects like your car keys and iPhone when they go missing, and the most “cosmically important” question you’ve grappled with this morning is which pair of sweatpants to wear to “work.”

So instead of teaching you something, I’m going to crush your cheeky, naive optimism with some hard but important truths.

Myth #1: “I will eventually grow out of my awkward phase.”

False. You will never grow out of your awkward phase. You will just transition into a new stage of it called “young adulthood.” If you want proof: pick any awkward story from your teen years, and I promise that you’ll eventually experience a nearly-identical-if-not-potentially-more-awkward story in your mid-20s.


Age 18: As she walks you to her dorm room door, you lean in to kiss A____ goodnight…and you clumsily knock the Pepsi out of her hand. It explodes on the floor, spraying you both. Her roommates, who you didn’t realize were spectating, laugh hysterically at you. The end.

Age 24: As you’re dancing with her in a seedy bar, you’re about to lean in and kiss J____…. and you clumsily dump a Rum & Coke down her dress. The occupants of the dance floor laugh hysterically at you. Years later, when you are friends, she will still remind you of this on a daily basis. The end.

Then what is the stage after awkwardness called, you ask? Death. In summary, the three stages of life are: Birth > Awkwardness > Death.

So when your voice cracks for the first time at age 14 while you’re speaking to an auditorium full of 400 other students, embrace the awkwardness. Speaking of which…

Teen Karstn at Homecoming.

Myth #2: “I will eventually grow into these gangly limbs.”

False. Embrace your gangly-ness. Yes, I realize that your body has the proportions of an orangutang, and your arms are so long that they more-or-less drag on the ground. This will never change. In fact, one of your future girlfriends will nickname you “the quadopus” and describe your limbs as “mantacles.” Go with it.

To help convince you that your gangly limbs are an evolutionary advantage, I’ve provided the following list:

The Perks of Being Gangly

a)  Everyone will want you on their intramural volleyball team.

b)  You will never need to purchase a step ladder.

c)  Your attractive neighbors might need help reaching something on the top shelf.

d)  If The Little Mermaid ever becomes a Broadway musical, you can audition to play 50% of an octopus or 40% of a squid.

The good news is that you’ll discover the gym in college and pack on 50 lbs, and in time you’ll no longer have the physique of a coat rack. That said, here is a gym membership and a 5-pound tub of whey protein. Please start now and save me some hard work later.

Grown-up (sort of) Karsten.

Myth #3: “Nice guys finish last.”

False. Boring guys finish last, then blame their boringness on their niceness. Most women just want a guy that will make them laugh, so stick with the standup and improv comedy you’ve been doing. The best part: you’ll eventually reach a point in your twenties, maybe around 24 or 25, where every woman you date starts to proudly describe herself as “just a big dork looking for another big dork.” This is you in your element. Suddenly, you’ll no longer have to cover up all your dorky interests–directing a cappella groups, your comprehensive collection of Goosebumps books, your ability to solve a Rubik’s cube in 90 seconds–by bragging about how good you are at beer pong, because women will actually find those dorky things alluring.

Why would you even complain about finishing last anyway? If you’re 17 and reading this, look at your girlfriend. She’s a gorgeous, brilliant painter who likes to climb mountains, introduces you to French martial arts werewolf movies, and buys you books on how to translate Hieroglyphics for your birthday. Plus she’s for some reason dating you, the human coatrack, so she must not be very superficial. We have a word for a girl like that in 2012: keeper.

Myth #4: “These Hawaiian shirts and chinos are as stylish as it gets.”

False. Douse them in lighter fluid and burn them immediately. I’ve enclosed polo shirts and bootcut jeans to get you started on the path to enlightenment.

So there you have it. Ten years of wisdom compiled into four bullet points. Closing advice: I sincerely hope you still make all the same mistakes I did. Date people who are all wrong for you. Get your heart broken. Buy a pink button-down shirt.

Because those are the kinds of life experiences that you’ll be able to pass off as fiction in ten years when you become an author.

Yours (literally) truly,

“Adult” You

Simon & Schuster, July 2011.

Karsten Knight is the author of WILDEFIRE (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers) and its forthcoming sequels EMBERS & ECHOES and AFTERGLOW. He has been writing since the age of six, when he completed his first masterpiece: a picture book series about an adventurous worm. In the two decades that have followed, Karsten worked as a proofreader, a bookseller, and a college admissions counselor before finally deciding that his true calling was as a volcano goddess biographer. He resides in Boston, where he lives for fall weather and football, and is on a far-too-successful quest to visit every restaurant in the city.