Dear Teen Skila,
This is Adult Skila talking. (It’s kind of a Micheal J. Fox/Delorean moment. Just go with it.)
I’m supposed to write you a letter and I’ve struggled with this because I have knowledge of the future and I’m telling you—there’s this thing coming soon called The Internet and it’s going to be on computers (those things where you play Oregon Trail) and it means that when you have a thought or write a letter or keep a journal and share it there, the whole world knows what you’re saying. The whole world is listening.
That’s freaking you out a bit, isn’t it?
Let me make a list. You like lists. Especially To Do Lists. Because you can cross things off and that makes you feel productive, and productivity is your own measuring tool for self-worth, for better or worse. So let’s go with that.
- Tomorrow, first warm day of the year, you’re going to think that even though you’ve never been able to tan before, if you can just slather baby oil on your legs and go outside and fall asleep on the black trampoline, somehow this year it will magically work. You are stupid. Don’t do that. Instead go buy a giant umbrella and a large floppy hat. You might as well Embrace the Pale because it’s not going anywhere.
- Allow yourself to say out loud exactly 15% of what you want to say. The world would be a better place if you would shut up sometimes.
- Buy a tape recorder and spend hours with your grandmothers. (Not at the same time of course. That would be disastrous.) Your time with them is dwindling. One day you’ll wish for just one more afternoon with each of them. Or for that recipe for little fried apple pies. Also, one of them will try to give you a ring soon that has 167 carats of sentimental weight and you’ll want to politely tell her to hold onto it for a while longer. But don’t do that. Take it. Because otherwise it disappears and you’ll always wish you had taken it.
- Go look up Guatemala on a map. You probably don’t even know where it is. (You’re not as smart as you think. But don’t worry—you’ll find that out in college.)
- Stop trying to get out of going to church. All the reasons you don’t want to go are spot on, and you can exercise them at will in just a handful of years, but in the mean time—realize that those four hours a week are training your mind to win a gold in the Daydreaming Olympics. (No, no one has invented that yet. Even in the future. But stick with me.) All those hours of letting your mind wander? That’s going to lead to…drumroll, please…becoming a writer!
Gah! I just spoiled it!
Being a writer isn’t really on your radar because a) No one’s told you that’s a legitimate career choice. B) You’re pretty sure a person has to have a screwed up life in order to be a writer and yours has been almost perfect.
(Cue the maniacal laughter.)
Well – here. Let me tell you. Being a writer is a legitimate career choice. Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield didn’t appear out of thin air, did they? And don’t worry. You’re life’s going to get screwy soon and then you’ll have official permission to call yourself a writer.
I know you want to ignore all this because what can someone who’s almost 40 for God’s sake teach you about anything? But remember, Ms. Know It All, you’re the one writing this letter. You happen to think you’re never wrong. So let that screw with your mind a bit and then get out your pencil and start crossing these off one at a time.
Your Older Self
P.S. One more spoiler: You will choose your college largely because of a boy. The wrong boy. But that’s okay because you’ll go there and find the right boy. Even though he will need a haircut.
Skila Brown is the author of CAMINAR, a coming-of-age, novel-in-verse set in 1981 Guatemala, from Candlewick Press. She holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She grew up in Kentucky and Tennessee, lived for a bit in Guatemala, and now makes her home in Indiana.