Thursday, October 30, 2014

An Open Letter to My Teenage Self

You in Pisa, 1990. Fashion rule number one: Don't ever wear a fanny pack, for crying out loud.

Dear Teenage Self:

Okay, here’s the deal. You’re currently sitting in a windowless room in a high school built like a fortress; you’re surrounded by other sweaty teenagers, your anxiety swelling. You feel trapped. You think high school is the worst it’s going to get. Sadly, you’re wrong. Your mistakes are going to get more plentiful, meaningful, and painful as you get older. You have it easy. (No, seriously, don’t laugh.) You’re only 16 and barely have any responsibilities. That Algebra II homework you’re stressing about? Don’t. Worried about dropping out of AP Bio and not even signing up for AP Lit? Forget it. You won’t even remember your grades after you get to college. There is no such thing as a permanent record.

I know you’re tired all the time and have horrible headaches when you wake up in the morning, right? Guess what? You have sleep apnea because of a deviated septum. Get a sleep study done now and have surgery. Don’t wait until you’re 31 because you’ll miss about 15 years of deep sleep if you don’t take care of it pronto. You’re welcome.

Those shy high school boys you pine over? Yes, they're awesome, but don’t sweat 'em. The heartsick pain you feel right now is kid stuff. You can’t begin to imagine how much darker and more serious the pain of love will be later. Adulthood is so much more complicated. (Plus, one or more of those cute high school boys will later own cats. Note to self: In the future, you will be allergic to cats, trees, mold, and most severely, dust. Sorry about that.) Sure, high school crushes will be on your facebook page, but that’s about it. (What’s a facebook page? I could tell you, but then I’d have to explain the Internet. You’ll see.)

On that note, you worry too much about when you’re finally going to snag a boyfriend. Enjoy being a kid. You’ll make up for lost time. Trust me. Listen and do as I say. For fuck’s sake, appreciate being able to eat whatever the hell you want and not gain weight. That won’t last. Enjoy those cheese fries and chocolate peanut shakes at Harbor House while you still can, you waif.

Next, when a boy from your typing class senior year asks, “Wanna drive me to a Slayer concert?” it’s okay to say yes. Your relationship will be blissful for awhile. Young love is something you should cherish, but save valuable time and end that road-to-nowhere relationship after a year-and-a-half instead of letting the relationship drag on for four years. He’s going to have about 40 more girlfriends after you, so get over it.

I don’t know what to tell you about your university boyfriend, except that 1995 to early 1997 will be magical years. Soak it up. You’ll have profound memories after it’s over, and you’ll always be able to say you had the stuff of dreams. When he blindsides you outside a coffeehouse in the middle of the night, remember he’s young, stoned, and so not ready for the love you have to give. Don’t let him break your spirit and affect your future decisions. Remember: He’s not the one for you. He’s the kind of guy who would happily bask in the sun at Burning Man. You would rather light yourself on fire than spend a shower-less, hallucinogenic weekend in the desert playing dress-up.

When you finish your bachelor’s degree, go straight to grad school, preferably to study a practical subject that will directly relate to a stable job. Technology is the way the market is headed. (You’ll understand the meaning of “tech” later.) You will hate something called html code, but learn it. Also, learn Photoshop and InDesign. Trust me on this.

Whatever you do, don’t teach high school English in your twenties to spoiled suburban students who drive better cars than you, hold up signs in class that read “Give up,” scale the wall of your portable to the rooftop because they’re “bored,” and etch “Fuck you, Miss Drysdale” on the legs of plastic chairs in permanent black marker. You’ll hate it. It will be the most stressful, debilitating two-and-a-half years of your life. Don't go to college for seven years and not end up with a master's degree, you silly girl.

I was going to tell you not to marry a fellow teacher with a shaved head and a tattoo of frat letters on his back, but if you don’t get a teaching credential, it will be a moot point because you’ll never meet him. If by chance, you do still meet him, when you give him the “let’s be friends talk,” stick with that. Don’t change your mind; your intuition is right the first time.

That goes for other failed attempts at relationships too. Don’t randomly give yourself to selfish people who aren’t in love with you unless you know what you’re getting yourself into, aside from a couple really fun exceptions. (Note: None of this applies to the tall man from Rhode Island. He’s one of the good ones.) Find your husband earlier rather than later, before he marries someone else and has children with her instead. (Maybe put an ad in the paper seeking Midwesterners or Canadians who are sick of the snow and want to move to California? Fuck if I know.) I don’t know who you’ll end up with, even now, but don’t let time pass while you’re pining over the emotionally unavailable. On that note, in 2000, get that guy’s phone number from your health class when he asks for yours. You’ll always wonder why he doesn’t call, and why the hell he ended up in rural Pennsylvania working at a car dealership.

So where does that leave you? If you listen to me, your wiser, older self, your life will be drastically different, like in a “sliding doors” kind of way, won’t it? I don’t know what will become of you if you heed my advice; you’ll be heading through uncharted territory. Sharpen that machete to hack through the thicket. Stay innocent and unjaded as long as possible, and after you finish editing your essay collection, stop dwelling on the past. Don’t compromise your core beliefs about the world and what you want, but cut yourself a damn break if you fuck up, okay?

Oh, and invest early in a company called Apple. Steve Jobs: look him up.


Your 41-Year-Old Self

P.S. If in Venice Beach one night in your mid-thirties you barrel through a bottle of cab and a Laphroaig on the rocks (or three), and your friend asks if you’d like to hit the vaporizer full of medical-grade shit, “no” is a perfectly acceptable answer.

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