A Letter to My Teen Self

a guest post for Dear Teen Me (published on 1/23/13)

Listen up, Amy --  

Me with Radio Shack's TRS-80

Me with Radio Shack's TRS-80

We are not alone. 

Our conversation will be on a ‘blog’ in 2013. A ‘blog’ is searchable by ‘Google’ on the ‘World Wide Web’ (a.k.a. the ‘internet’), which means that it will be available across the globe in browsers (named ‘Safari,’ ‘Explorer,’ ‘Firefox,’ and ‘Chrome’) to be read on computers, ‘tablets,’ ‘Androids’ ‘Smartphones,’ and even something called a  ‘Blackberry’ (completely inedible, by the way).   

Yeah, I know -- I sound like I’m speaking baby talk gone sci fi. But it’s your future and it involves computers, and something like radio waves, and a lot of complete strangers. 

To reiterate: We. Are. Not. Alone. 

Despite this, our conversation is an opportunity, and it would help me if you could get your head around a few facts. Sorry for the bluntness, but you say you appreciate things said plainly. Anyway, I am you. And if you don’t care about the future-2013-you (which is me), there’s no hope for us at all.

First, you’re doing better than you think you are. Here are a few things I like about you: 

You’re passionate. You’ve got guts. I could use more of that now, so figure out a way to hold onto that, okay? 

You’re earnest. Accept this. Being earnest turns out to be an essential Amy character trait, a signature ingredient (like cinnamon, soy sauce, ginger) in your molecular stew. You tend toward hot rather than cool. You’re a truth-seeker. You want answers. Yeah, earnestness has probably cost you a joke or two. You’re not, ah -- what do they say in the 1980s? -- with it? Earnestness doesn’t become more acceptable later either. In the next century, the hippest people tend to be detached, witty, and cynical. Look, what’s so bad about being earnest? It’s solid. It’s real. So make the most of it. Hey, somebody’s got to ‘mean it.’  

The God-stuff is necessary. You can’t go too far – seek, seek, seek. Don’t second-guess it. Dive in. Yes, it keeps you out of trouble – which is fine and dandy – but keeping out of trouble is not the main point. It’s the cosmic-eternal thing I’m concerned about: God is the rock on which you find footing time and time again. Some people will consider this a mental illness, but whatever. You, Amy, need God.  

Other stuff?   

Hormones are real. Trust me, when I say you are experiencing the dreaded, textbook hormones of adolescence right now. I know I sound superbly condescending, but for you and me, Amy, hormones are best known by comparison: You experience life with them. You experience life without them. Then, you compare. 

So in 2013, when I want to know if hormones are influencing my feelings, I remember back to say, 1983 (that’s you). In the Amy-body, hormones amplify every anxious thought, every iffy conversation, every dumb crumb of conversation that slipped from your lips, and every glance that seems to say that you are the ugliest, fattest, stupid-est, untalented-est, (the list does go on) that has ever crawled out of the mud, proving that yes, evolution is possible because you, Amy from Wisconsin, are the missing, mucky link. 

Usually, you have seen or overheard something. Maybe you did or said something undeniably dubious. You feel badly. Okay. This is normal. But then (trumpet blast) -- hormones! Now your feelings -- and particularly your fears about the situation -- go way louder than they would normally go. This is emotion strung up, wound tight, plucked mercilessly with a metal pick and plugged into an amplifier that “goes up to 11,” as they say in the movie, This is Spinal Tap. (Spinal Tap comes out in 1984. You won’t like it as much as you will Amadeus, but see it -- your future husband adores this movie.)   

Anyway, if you know about the amplification, it helps. You tend to be nicer to yourself and take it easy. You tell yourself to read a mystery, or go for a long, long, long walk.

Math: It’s not your thing. This does not mean you’re dumb. And for the record, your kind of smart doesn’t appear in envelopes marked “Scholastic Aptitude Test.” (Don’t open that envelope. It’s as you feared, and there’s no need.) 

But with math gone missing, please toss that little blue, calorie-counting book. Look, you’re not going to lose weight until you’ve got your own small pocket computer (called an ‘iPhone’) with a software program (known as an ‘app’) titled ‘LoseIt.’ (That’s not a typo. In 2013, some words are smashed in typographic intimacy. Like similar situations, you’re supposed to look away.) Anyway, until you’ve got your computer, follow this advice: Don’t eat fast food or food that comes in pre-prepared packages. Learn how to cook and eat your own cooking. If you do these three things, you’ll do fine. 

You will become a writer. You’ll even publish books. Don’t think of writing as a hobby, as something to do on the side after you’ve got a “real job.” You are a writer (well, eventually you’re a writer – after much work). But if you start thinking of yourself as a writer now, you can take all those “fun” classes in high school and in college. Those classes are not impractical. Given who you are, it’s a practical decision. Drawing, sculpture, photography, graphic design? Sign up.  

 Finally, trust your instincts. You’ve got great ones. Most of the time, they are right.  

You will screw up. Others will hurt you too. There’s no avoiding this. You’ll feel grief, regret and a whole host of other emotions. But there’s good news! It all works out. From my vantage, I can even add (and mean it) “for the best.”

Note the Original Macintosh on the desk. I had that thing for 10 years! Loved it too!

Note the Original Macintosh on the desk. I had that thing for 10 years! Loved it too!

There will come a day – which happens after you’ve ignored your instincts -- when you’ll find yourself driving from Get-the-Hell-Out to Anywhere-But-There. You’ll have wasted months of time, a job opportunity in Portland, and large chunks of your family’s money. You’ll find yourself emotionally spent too. You’ll cry in jags. You won’t be able to read a novel for pleasure because the text swims off the page.  In that car, you’ll be driving away from that part of yourself who wanted to prove themselves “promising,’ “special” and “talented,” because what you’ve shown is an exceptional ability for failure. This is not what you (or your parents) hoped. 

But then, you pick yourself up. You seek out friends. You confess to all who need a confession (mostly your parents, maybe your grandparents too). You turn the car around and come back. You face it all. Your method isn’t tidy – it tends toward blunders, awkwardness, and blurts. But you do face it. I’ve always been proud of you for that. 

It gets better -- and then, life is very, very good. 

I promise,

Amy