Saturday, September 14, 2013

A very good year

Daisy Fae's reprise of her letter to her sixteen year old self reminded me that she had encouraged me to write one of my own. I was originally resistant, mostly because my sixteen year old self was militantly uninterested in advice from his elders. But what the Hell? Let's give it a go.

Dear Clueless,

Try to relax. They can't see you. They see a good-looking, wicked smart athlete and passable actor who lives in a beautiful house with a pool. They don't know that the house and pool were largely built by subcontractors who couldn't pay your father what they owed him, or that the three acres was given to your parents as newlyweds because the owner "just wanted good neighbors."

What are you going to tell this kid that he would possibly listen to? 
People don't seem to remember that your house was in the country a decade ago, and your best friend in second grade was the son of squatters who lived in one of the shotgun houses where the Interstate runs now. Your mother has done a very thorough job of disguising her heritage, so no one suspects that her parents are Opry-loving hillbillies who only recently installed running water inside their Ozark farmhouse, or that they still have no telephone. Your father is a respected architect now, not the second son of an alcoholic carpenter.

Only your teachers, and those with older siblings realize that you are far less athletic than your brothers. Even they can't see that performing in front of people mystifies you, however much you love it.

The girl to your left is suffering greatly. Much more than a few hours after senior banquet will be able to erase. She will die too young. Help her if you can.

No one (including you) understands the pressure you feel to excel academically. Try to find the words to explain that curiosity is not the same as ambition, and that you will need some time to find your way. Curiosity will always win with you, anyway. It works out best when it is pointed in a productive direction.

Because they can't see you, they don't know your intentions. Most people don't mean to hurt you. They just  have no idea how their words and actions impact other people.Your sensitivity is your greatest strength. Try not to lose it. I know it hurts, but try to remember that it's not always about you.  Assume everyone else is as lonely, clueless and self-involved as you are. The people who seem the meanest are often having the hardest time.

There are a few people who truly see you. You know who they are. They are the friendships you can't explain. Like the quiet friend of the girl you are crushing on, and the guy next to you on the bench. Treasure them, and try not to lose touch. They will be important to you later in life.

The triple threat: nearsighted and dead slow, with hands of iron.

While we're on the subject, you could do with a little remembering that other people's feelings matter, too. Sometimes it is worth losing a friend for your principles, but not as often as you think. And just because you can date three girls at once doesn't mean it's a good idea, even if you have been up front with all of them. You're not missing anything. You know who is worth the time, and it matters, even if she says it doesn't.

Oh, by the way, many people consider you handsome. I hesitate to tell you this, since your ego is enough of a problem when you think you are only average-looking. But you are going to find out one of these days, and maybe it will encourage you to look elsewhere for your shortcomings.

Oh, and when you get to college, don't start smoking. She won't really notice, and she's not worth it anyway. Which reminds me, not everything has to be about sex. To be fair, I'm going to have to say that in the letters to all of my past selves, but it starts with you.

Most of all, try to enjoy it. I won't say these are the best years of your life, but they are definitely only for a limited time. Unlike McRib, they won't be back. And try to take it easy on the weed. 


  1. "it's not always about you". great advice at any age - and something i have to constantly remember. in fact, it's tremendous ego that drives us to think that others do what they do just to 'get' us. but i sure as hell didn't know it at that age, either... we were all torqued up inside our own shit. and often still are.

    suspect my 16 year old self would have never gone anywhere near your 16 year old self because you were a pretty-boy athlete, even though we both suffered from imposter syndrome... but i'm thinking we'd have gotten along well. and probably smoked a metric ton of weed....

    1. I looked like a pretty boy athlete, but I certainly didn't feel like one. My total lack of social identity (or awareness that such a thing existed) let me move more or less freely among a number of groups. It also meant I never really felt at home in any of them. I didn't spend a lot of time in the smoking area, but I was allowed.

  2. Well 'Rowe, what can I say? One thing I will say is I've always been glad to have 'seen' you, and vice-versa.....I remember the day L 'willed' us to one another...

  3. You look a little like PatrickSwayze in Point Break.

  4. Great post, Chris. Makes me want to sit down and think about what I'd write to my younger self. There're so many things I wish I'd known then, things I know now and could have really used when I was much younger. My kingdom for a time machine!