Friday, December 30, 2011

Top 5 things I would include in a letter to my 16 year-old self

List by Tosca

"I'm writing this on the first piece of paper I could find. It's the kids notepad - yes you have three of them (kids, not notepads...)..."
- David Arnold in Dear me : more letters to my sixteen-year-old self edited by Joseph Galliano

I spent Tuesday evening reading a book I randomly picked up from Manukau Library's display shelf. Some of my best finds happen that way. The book was Dear me : more letters to my sixteen-year-old self and is a collection of letters by celebrities who wrote words of advice, assurance, humour for their 16 year old selves. Some are funny, some are blunt, some are truly sad. All are quite poignant and touching. (Wait. Do those mean the same thing?) My favs were those written by Jodi Picoult ('He won't remember hurting you. But when you write, you will always remember what it felt like to have that bandage ripped off your heart. And that's why, when people read your stories, they'll bleed a little on the inside'), Amistead Maupin, David Arnold, Gillian Anderson (P.S. Follow your dreams not your boyfriends') and Alan Rickman ('Make your own unique messes, and then work your way out of them'). They all made me teary eyed and a little wistful. They also made me wonder what I would write to myself if I had to. If I'd have known at 16 what I know today...what kind of person would I be? One I'd like? One I could live with? I mean, think about it, if we could send our 16 year old selves a letter with a heads up about who to love/not to love or what opportunities to grab/ignore, then I'm not fully sure we'd any of us be the people we are today. And, speaking for myself, I'm actually ok with who I am. I don't regret anything I've done. It's more a case of regretting chances I hadn't taken, or things I hadn't just gone out and done without all of the planning and lists and angsting. If I could, though, if I could somehow write a letter to myself without adversely affecting time and history (think Bradbury's 'butterfly effect' here, people), this is what I'd tell myself...

Honourable mention:
  • You were born to read. Your love of Austen, Dickens, Ludlum, Plato et al. at 9 years of age is not weird. In fact, read more. It's your ticket in life. You won't believe me but you will find a profession full of people just like you. It will all make sense later :)
  • Mum and dad were wrong. You *can* get a job being fluent in Māori, with a nose piercing and a tattoo. Cut them some slack. They just worry about you and are incredibly supportive whatever you choose to be in life (except possibly a serial killer but we've never tested this so I can't say it with any certainty, just a niggling suspicion that it is the case)
  • You've always believed that the people you choose to surround yourself with can say lots about your values and ethics. Stick with that, and temper it with a little more forgiveness (honest forgiveness not just lip service) and a little less grudge holding
  • That boy? And I know you know the one. He's a total frog. Kiss him, anyway, because he's not worth feeling like you can never open up to people again. Mark the experience up to 'just one of those things' and move on. At 16 you shouldn't be thinking about 'happy ever after,' anyway. Worry about finishing your assignments on time, instead. It'll stand you in good stead later in life, trust me. In a few years you'll twice consider marriage, but remember that if you can look at the mother and see the daughter twenty years on, then the same could be said of fathers and their sons as well

  • December 2011

    Dear Me,

    This is you/me/us, twenty years into the future (yes, people do live that long) with a little bit of advice for the 16 year old you/me/us from then. (Doesn't that just do your head in?) Ignore this if you will. (We both know you probably will). Know, though, that I do this with the best of intentions (ignore the trite old saying about 'The road to hell...' etc.). Here are five things I want you to know:

    Life is for living!
    Stop making lists! Maybe not altogether, because we do love lists. Just don't make so many. At 16 we were using them to talk ourselves out of experiences. How about instead of making a list you just go out and DO whatever the list is about? Sometimes, it's the only way, the best way, to be.

    Learn how to give to others without expecting anything in return
    Volunteer for community based projects. It'll help you build character. And if it doesn't, it'll stop you from being so self-obsessed. ('Cause honey, we were/are self-obsessed and can definitely do with being a little less so). Being intense and edgy is all well and good but living in your head too much means you're stuck on the sidelines of your own life. If you're living it well and helping others at the same time, you'll be a halfway decent person.

    Control what you can, enjoy what you can't
    High school is confusing. Grown up life even more so. That doesn't mean that confusing can't be wonderful. That doesn't mean there isn't some kind of beauty to be found in chaos and disorder. You don't appreciate either of those right now. There will come a time, though, when you will crave it. In fact, you will revel in it. To some extent you will make a career out of it. Feel ok about needing to control what you can to the nth degree. Just remember that there is freedom in not being able to control everything. Learn to enjoy disorder and order in equal measure.

    Your family are all mad
    Get used to it 'cause they're as crazy twenty years on as they are now with you. Embrace the madness. Learn to love the McClutchie kink. To stay some kind of normal, though, stick at the guitar and singing. Most especially the singing. Music will keep you grounded and, let's face it, life is so much better with it. You know how you wanted to try out for the school musical, but were too afraid? DO IT, ANYWAY. You'll kick yourself forever if you don't. What have you got to lose except five minutes of your time?

    Normal is overrated
    You're going to take the scenic route in life. There's no other way to put it. All of your friends will pick out their careers, their husbands, their baby's name before they even start third form. Let them. That was never your pathway, anyway, and some part of you knew it. Your biggest concern is that you haven't quite found your voice, yet. It worries you endlessly. Know, though, that the moment you do, you will speak up, speak out and be heard. (Forever, and I'm still not sure this is a good thing). Although you could do with being a little less blunt and ensuring that you listen as much as you speak.

    Life is good to you, so you can relax and trust yourself (and others) a little more.
    - tosca

    Please note: You might want to start with Galliano's first book Dear me : a letter to my sixteen-year-old self (which I'm reading, and enjoying, today). And my apologies, apparently I had more to say to my old self than I ever thought I would.


    Kelly M said...

    I love this post Tosca....what a fabulous idea....I'm off to request the book now :)

    catatonia said...

    I enjoyed the second book (the one the post is about) more than the first one. And, well, I tried to keep my letter short but I've never been good at that. Not even when I was 16 LOL

    breve711 said...

    i love this post! it's very eerie timing, i've been thinking lately about some of the decisions i've made in the past that i would go back and change if i to go request the book now :)

    catatonia said...

    Happy New Year :) And thank you. Me, too, I sometimes wonder what I would change if I could, although not usually enough to write a letter. Certainly not a public one LOL Enjoy the book!