notes for my teenage self

With graduation at the fingertips of many, here are some thoughts:

Hey you.  I get it, I do.  Everything is so intense, and the things that aren’t get jazzed up to make them so. Sometimes I still feel it.  Feel like I’m in high school, feel like I’m that funky sprite dancing down long corridors, mostly too loud, sometimes too quiet, never tied down.   But what I’ve lost in funk I’ve gained in perspective.  I have distance from everything that felt so burning.

Here’s what I can tell you:  life is more nuanced than you can see it for now.  The gray far outweighs the black and white.  I know, now you need to cast those shadows, draw those lines in order to carefully, safely break through the cocoon and into the world, but give it time.  Every one has a story.  Learn to listen for it. Explore the gray: but know that all actions have reactions.  These can be unpredictable and not always fairly applied, but for every choice there is a consequence.  Some things can’t be undone.  Know that you’ll screw it up.  Be kind to yourself.

The memories grow fuzzy but you’ll have strong feelings attached to the blur.  Proms were never as much fun or as drama-filled as everyone hoped or feared.  It was just another thing to do.  The pictures you’ll have when you squeeze your eyes shut and throw yourself back are of soccer games, and car rides.  Of football games, and bus rides.  Of freedom that comes with new legs, new friends, new faith. Of crossing the bridge into town to eat greasy french fries at the local pizza joint.  Of water ice and lying in prickly grass, sun on your face.  You’ll remember every word to those songs, still, years and years later.  You’ll smile and turn it up loud when it plays through the car radio, and you’ll be right back in that moment again.

Hold your friends loosely.  You’ll be surprised at the ways you all will go, and you’ll be proud to have been part of their stories.  Many will weave themselves back into yours.  And there are others that are friends in spaces and places.  This doesn’t make them any less true.

Those hurts that feel so sting-y and so immediate become less so, with time.  It still hurts now, yes.  There is no solace in the waiting.  But that seven page handwritten letter that a friend gave you, listing the disappointments?  The wisdom gleaned from this was not in the content of the letter but in letting it wash over you.  Not surprisingly, this friendship didn’t last, and you didn’t mourn it long.  Others are truer, wiser, kinder and you learn to seek out these qualities in the ones you share you soul with.

Speaking of soul sharing: be kind to that boy who drives you too fast in his car, the one that makes your belly all bubbly and causes you to say things without thinking.  The one who makes the five hour drive to upstate New York to visit you, countless times and in the wee hours.  He takes a knee, asks for the future.  He grows man-hands and works harder than any one you’ve ever known.  He loves, and gives, and loves some more, and together you go far.  He dials down his expectations, you learn that he far surpasses yours.  And he still makes your belly all bubbly.

Don’t worry: it may seem like everyone has it all figured out.  They spell their plans A, B, C, but what I can tell you is mostly nobody accounts for the Qs, or the Ns,  or the Xs.  Don’t let that throw you: stick it out, follow through, and eventually you’ll get where you want to go.  And you’ll have better stories for the telling.  Here’s what I would say:  do the thing that you’re scared of doing.  Choose to major in English, even though it seems silly, and you’ll have to take a foreign language.  You’ll see yourself reflected in words.

Don’t always be nice, but be kind.  Nice doesn’t bother anybody, doesn’t ask questions — ask away.  But be kind in the asking, be kind in receiving the answers.  Be kind always.  The seeds of your words and actions may not be reaped for years.  Likewise, lavishly give grace.

Yes, life gets harder, but easier, too.  The scope narrows.  Things gather weight and speed, so the pull of momentum is strong.  Don’t be afraid to stop and adjust your course.  There is no hurry.  No prizes for getting there (wherever that is) first.  Time seems to be something to bank on. It’s yours to fill.

And don’t forget that funky sprite is in there always.  The one who doesn’t care what people think.  The one with the mismatched socks.  The one who knows her own insides.  You’ll need the reminder, because sometimes it can be hard to recognize her.  She’ll dress differently, sound softer.  But ask her to dance every once in a while.



2 thoughts on “notes for my teenage self

  1. Campbell, wonderfully marvelous!!! I recognized you over and over again. And such truth in the advice.
    And thank you for reminding even those of us who are long past any graduation that there is still a sprite left in each of us! A joy to remember!

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