Dear Teen Me from Author Nora Zelevansky (SEMI-CHARMED LIFE)

Dear Teen Me,

Teen Nora, center.

I am tempted to start this letter with a conversation about eyebrows; why you should let an expert pluck them a little for shape, but why you should not—on a whim in your own bathroom mirror—turn them into pencil thin crescents à la RuPaul.

But maybe I have more important wisdom to impart: For instance, it might interest you to know that “cool” parents are not actually the ones who serve alcohol to preteens.  Oh, and while we’re at it, though it may be sweet, schnapps does NOT have the same incredibly low alcohol content as Zima, so maybe skip downing that entire bottle in 10th grade.  Thanks to the residual twelve hour puke fest, you can otherwise expect epic nausea at the mere scent of peach for the proceeding decade.

Please ignore boys’ taunts about how you stick your chest out—thanks to ballet—because bad posture is impossible to correct and makes you look like a troll in photographs later in life.  Also, wearing baggy Champion sweatshirts and Girbaud jeans when you have an awesome sixteen year old’s body is just plain wasteful, even if it is 1992, hip hop reigns supreme and Mary J. Blige is doing it.

Speaking of which, please commence eating as much brie and ice cream as possible because one day you will be lactose intolerant and learn about things called “muffin tops” that will put a serious damper on anything creamy.

Also, I am sorry to have to tell you this, but your high school boyfriend is cheating on you.  Though I think you already suspect, right?  That does suck; your anger and weepiness is valid.  You should dump him pronto.  But I promise that it will seem a little funny in retrospect, like ten years later, to have expected a fifteen-year-old boy like him—too adorable, charming, revered and indulged for his own good—to be monogamous.

Some other things to give up now in order to save yourself frustration: Forget dark lipstick, or any matte makeup for that matter.  It will never do you any favors.  You will always hate roller coasters and horror movies, so you might as well stop forcing yourself to go.  You will never have much of a butt, so you can give up that J-Lo dream, but your boobs are good, so stick to underwire push-up bras.  Also, you don’t tan.  Even when you think you do, you don’t.  That’s just blotch.  So don’t bother scorching yourself in the sun.

Teen Nora, with her friends.

Don’t buy anything with spaghetti straps, especially maxi dresses, because you’ll just feel trashy with your bra straps sticking out and you’ll never actually put on that strapless corset bra.  Also (and this is really important so pay attention): Stay AWAY from short sleeved sweaters!  No matter how many you buy, you will never actually wear one because there is no season or place on earth in which they make sense.  They’re just one of those universal lies.

Some urban legends debunked: Combining Pop Rocks and soda will not make your stomach explode.  Smoking oregano will not get you high.  If you do acid once, you will most likely not lose your mind and believe that you’re a glass of orange juice for the rest of your life, but you still shouldn’t do it.  You’re neurotic enough as it is.

Nora in high school!

No matter what you suspect, you will not have an aneurism before your braces come off just because it seems too good to be true.  Also, if you just say you’re sorry when you get in trouble instead of fighting back, your parents will forgive you more quickly and maybe even listen to your point of view.  Please, please, be appreciative of the fact that someone is taking care of you because one day you will have to buy your own paper towels, fruit roll-ups and bananas and you will realize what an incredible luxury it was to live with parents.

As for that teen angst your teachers keep referencing, you may be willful and difficult … that’s true, but don’t believe anyone when they tell you that you’re headed in the wrong direction or that you have to live your life in the traditional structured way.  Your stubborn streak and fire will actually get you far.  You can sense your own direction.

Most importantly, those stories that you’re writing for the high school literary magazine are called personal essays or memoirs.  And writing them instead of fiction doesn’t mean that you don’t have an imagination.  It just means that you’re fascinated by real life relationships and happenings.  Read Joan Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem now instead of waiting five years.  And, if you want, be a literature major in college.  You might as well spend four years reading brilliant books.  It will serve you just fine in the long run, I’m sure.

Grown-up Nora!

And don’t be frustrated because, unlike some others around you, you’re not immediately sure about what you want to do with your life.  It will take you a minute, but you’ll carve out a life for yourself and it will be special.  The right path will eventually emerge and the time you spend searching will make you better equipped to succeed when you find it.  (I’m sorry in advance for those early twenty something years, during which Sunday nights, in dreaded anticipation of hated jobs, might elicit some tears; but it gets better!)

Here’s a sneak peek (if you don’t mind a spoiler): Know that you will be a journalist, essayist and now a novelist with a newly published book (even fiction came with time!).  And know that this accomplishment, among myriad other gifts in your life including a husband and two cats and an invention called Hint Water, will make you happy and very very proud.

Lastly … and this may be the most important lesson of all … do not ever, under any circumstances, cut your own bangs.  I don’t care if you’re under duress by murderous kidnappers or, worse, friends at camp.  Always let the hair stylists do their jobs.

xo – Nora

St. Martin's Griffin, July 2012.

NORA ZELEVANSKY has written for ELLE, the Los Angeles Times, Town & Country, SELF,, Travel & Leisure, and, among others. She grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and still lives in New York City.