A Message In A Bottle To Teens Of The Recent Past (OK, Mostly To My Former Teenage Self)

Inspired by the embarrassing diaries many of us maintained throughout our youth.
Publish date:
June 12, 2014
girls, teen angst, teens, diaries

Hi guys.

First of all, it'll probably be OK.

I know that's like the least useful thing to tell someone ever, especially when you're walking around with your feelings humming beneath your skin, so electric you imagine shocking anyone who dares lay a palm on you. I still wake up like that sometimes: all teeth. Those are the kinds of days you walk around with your breath held, waiting for a fight that never comes.

That state of being is a useful one, don't get me wrong. It drives you to accomplish the improbable just to prove people wrong. But it can get so tiring, too. Yoga teachers like to talk about being "present in one's body," but I can't think of anything more exhausting to sustain. You've drawn your perimeters; you know exactly where your skin begins and ends. You can relax once in a while. Save all that blistering, invincible rage/pain/love/lust for the next time some jerk tries to tell you what you can and can't do.

Plus, and I'm sorry to say this again, it'll probably be OK. At least, most things will be. It might seem like your entire existence has the possibility of crumbling or blooming every day, but the world rarely hinges on a single discrete moment. The C+ on one art project will not ruin your future. The score of your soccer game will be forgotten by everyone within a fortnight. The friends who supposedly talked about you behind your back in sixth-period pre-calc will either be your friends in ten years or they won't be, and you will be completely unable to remember what exactly they supposedly said because you will have been too incensed to actually put it on paper/the Internet.

Instead, a decade later, you will find yourself staring at a paragraph like this wondering what on earth could have pissed you off to such a degree:

That passage is from my own journal, by the way, which is useful to dig back up whenever I start taking myself too seriously. I can only read my diaries in short, sharp bursts before I have to clap my hands over my eyes. That's another thing, too, teens of recent past: Do yourself a favor and write literally everything down. Secondhand embarrassment on behalf of the person you aren't any longer is such a lasting experience, and I'd hate for you to miss out on it.

That may sound facetious, but I'm being totally serious. By keeping a diary, you're taking a perfect snapshot of exactly who you are at this moment in your life, and that's a person worth memorializing, for better or for worse. At the least, it will someday provide a fascinating archaeological dig through your own head.

As narcissistic as I am, I've never been as self-involved as when I was 13, and the minutiae that I saw fit to carve into the wet cement of the Internet truly baffles me. These were the details I found important; these were the songs I loved and books I devoured; these were the people who shaped me, and I have almost no idea which parts of me they helped to sculpt, or what those parts look like now.

Even the tone is so bizarre as to be almost parodic, and I can't tell whether I was trying to imitate the cool-teen jargon I read in first-person young adult novels or whether that's how my brain genuinely worked back then.

These are the mysteries produced by time and my faulty memory, and the only person that could have solved them no longer exists.

Personally, reading back over my journal entries is like getting letters from an old friend who I kind of want to punch in the face. (To be fair, though, reading back over emails I sent five minutes ago feels like that too.) But again, it's also a good reminder: the dramas that shape your day-to-day existence will likely seem minuscule and inconsequential in a matter of days, months or years. Heartbreak goes down much easier with a decade's worth of sugar.

There are also plenty of reasons to be proud of yourself. I know I just sent up most stereotypical Teen Angst scenarios as being insubstantial, but not all of them are. You're dealing with a lot of pressure, expectations, loss and fear, and you often handle them in ways your adult self would balk at. You're sleeping less and doing more now than at any other point in your life, and you're starting to develop a terrifying self-awareness to boot.

That's pretty impressive, and maybe down the line you'll recall that even at your worst, ugliest moments, you have the potential to be articulate, kind, and bloodthirsty in the best way.

And you have no idea what kind of weird, insidious stuff will stick with you ten years on. You'll shake off the mean girl in Student Council's jab that you walk like a T-Rex, but the offhand comment your friend makes about how thick your forearms are will still pop into your head when you try on tank tops. The boys who break your heart will eventually have bad hair and boring jobs, but you'll still remember how hot your best friend always ran, how she always seemed right on the edge of burning up and taking you with her.

Other things worth mentioning: You're definitely cuter than you think you are, and you have so much more to learn than you think you do. You're smart anyway, though, and you matter.

I guess I just want to let you know that no matter what, you're never really alone. You're special, but you're not all that unique -- most of what you're going through has been undergone before, even if the settings differ. And that's a good thing, because as deliciously self-indulgent as it might feel to be constantly misunderstood, it pales in comparison to recognizing the patterns of your life playing out in someone else's. It's like reading someone else's diary entry and briefly, startlingly mistaking it for your own.

P.S. I look forward to writing 20-somethings of the recent past a very similar letter in ten years, because if I've learned anything, it's that I'll want to simultaneously hug and punch my former self in the mouth no matter how old I am.

P.P.S. As always, on Twitter at @katchatters.