Dear 16 year old me,
I’m writing to you in 1995/6 for two reasons. Firstly, I have just read a lot of other people’s letters to their sixteen year old selves and it was inspiring – they were, by and large, both writing to their past selves and their present selves at the same time: telling themselves that little truly matters in the grand scheme of things, to stop dwelling or beating themselves up about their pasts and to recognise what they regret from back then so they won’t accumulate the same regrets now and going forward. I also presume that because they have all found a way to write to their younger selves, my letter will be able to take advantage of the same time/space anomaly.
Secondly, I was going through a load of our old things the other day – clearing out the chaff and enjoying the wheat. I went through the black suitcase you have under your bed right now and the pastel coloured folder you had in Year 8 and still use for misc papers now. I found a lot of nonsense in the folder (thank heavens we’re not that idiot any more, amiright?) but in the suitcase, I found some gems, including the “me file” we had to write for English in Year 7. You might remember that in it, we had to list various tidbits of information about ourself including our likes, dislikes, fear and hopes for the future. It turns out that at 11, just five short years ago for you, our hopes for the future were to get a “good job”, a “nice house” and to have “lots of cats”. I think 11 year old us would be proud of me, but I’ve always had doubts about you: I think you’d be disappointed with my small fry existence. I think your disappointment will stem partly from the, true, fact I have never really escaped the small town in my mind but mostly it’ll be because you are an idiot – sorry, but you are, but don’t worry, you’re in good company: I’m an idiot too. Over the years I’ve figured out some stuff but I’m not 100% of the way there by any means – perhaps in another 18 years time I’ll be writing a letter to 34 year old self lamenting about what an utter dunce I was/am then/now. At least I know I’m an idiot now though, which leads me neatly onto:
1. You’re not as great as you think you are. I know why you think that way even if you don’t (clue, read #2), but you’re really not all that. You’re pretty mediocre really but that’s ok, no really, it is – and the sooner you realise that, the happier you’ll be.
2. But you’re not as shit as you think you are either. You have really shockingly bad self-esteem now, for reasons that should be as obvious to you as they are to me. You’re teetering on a dangerous edge and your survival mechanisms are strange and often counter productive (see #1). But you’re not that bad, honestly – don’t be so hard on yourself, kid.
For a sheltered 16 year old, you’re clever, creative and funny, and your youthful naivety gives you confidence that you’ll lose as you get older and grow even more introspective. You’ve also got some good friends – just possibly not the ones you think.
Finally, I hate to bring it down to anything as superficial as physique but do note that you also have cracking legs and an awesomely flat belly: these things will not last forever. I know your wardrobe is full of crop tops, hot pants and mini-skirts so I don’t have to tell you to flash your skin but I will say this: in just a few years, you and everyone else alive in the mid-90s will look back in horror at their high waisted jeans and skirts. It’s not too late to make a positive change in that regard.
2b. I’m not promoting the idea of young women using fancy dress parties as an excuse to go out as “sluts” but seriously, don’t pick a cavalier outfit instead. Even a full bear suit would be better. (If this letter reaches you after the party, note that what you stopped you going in the end was painful [and the memory of emotion will stay with you for ages] but it was probably less painful than the audience you would have received if you had actually made it to the party dressed AS A FUCKING CAVALIER.)
3. The “PE” situation, which even you know is one of your survival mechanisms, will work out in the end but will be a let down and isn’t worth it. (Silver lining: it’ll have a fun rom-com punchline.) Listen again to that Alanis Morisette cd you love at the moment – you’ll come to look back on it as super cheesy but there are a few random lyrics in there that you are already chiming with you right now, and you should use their wisdom. I’m not mentioning this to say “don’t do it!”, I won’t really say that about anything except that stupid cavalier outfit, but I want to remind you, tell you really, that you are in control of how you process it emotionally. This goes for everything. Take control.
3b. The PE situation – the actual PE situation, the one which has seen you miss every sports day for the last few years and every gym class for the last two – won’t change: you will never experience another sports day or mandatory exercise class again. Be grateful for small mercies, though do stick with swimming because you like that.
4. You’ll get a phone call on Valentine’s Day which will knock you for six for a few days, because it’s a surprise more than anything else. Remember you don’t really care about him anyway because he is a bit of a dick who gets angry at Monkey Island and um, in fact, you cheated on him twice in the last month. Also note, it will be, to date, the only time you’ve been dumped. Take some solace in that, maybe?
5. Further to the Alanis Morisette comment, I think you’re beginning to figure out that your love of Bon Jovi and other such nonsense is beginning to wane: let hanging around the Little Room at Rock Night rub off on you.
5b. Quiggins. It’s kinda behind HMV in Liverpool, if that makes sense – you’ll be a little intimidated the first time you go but you’ll find all you need in there. Shop there and in charity shops (which you’re already starting to use) rather than just from the sale rack in New Look. (Though there are some good bargains there too; just steer clear of anywhere even less classy than that.) In general though, buy less clothes – you’re just starting to get interested in clothes but you’re already starting to buy items that you’ll never wear just because they’re cheap. Recognise that they’re a waste of money.
5c. When you’re 18, when you’ve just started uni, you’ll find a leather coat in a charity shop. You’ll be a little unsure of it because it’s more than you’d usually spend and you’re worried the lining is real fur but don’t worry – the lining totally comes out and the coat will make you feel invincible, like proper flashing Mario star invincible. Buy it! Buy it!
6. Speaking of uni, you don’t go where you want to go; you don’t do what you think you want to do – you clearly know on some level that it’s a pointless pipe dream. Miss Sharman might have been right about you being better off if you’d picked “more academic” subjects at A-Level and the same is true about your uni course – but you do love the subject so don’t fight it too much. Uni is just like school in many, many ways but at least it’s for a shorter amount of time, and your instincts are right: pick the Microsoft project topic to meet two people who will be very important in your life for the next three years.
6b. I’m torn – I kinda want to tell you that you should forego or at least delay something that defines your uni life in favour of more youthful frivolity, but through all the angst and banality, you’ll have lots of laughs together and it’ll lead somewhere really fucking awesome in the end. Somewhere with the best cats and the best human in the world.
6c. On that note, if you possibly can, get a coach to Bradford one Saturday night and go to their version of Manhattans’ Rock Night. Bradford and the location of the club will scare the pants off you but if you go, you’ll probably find a tall chap, with a big nose and a shaved head (possibly with a mohawk). Make a joke about the Hitchhiker’s Guide, Amigas or some such nerdiness – if he laughs, you’ve found the right one. For two people who are growing up so far apart, you’ll have a lot in common and will amuse each other silly. Even if you think he’s a bit of a gangly loudmouth now, you’ll like him a lot when you get older and he’ll grow out of the gangliness. Trust me.
7. I think you’ve already figured out that you don’t like drinking alcohol. People will make all sorts of incorrect assumptions from the fact you don’t drink and will repeatedly spike your drinks: correct them and call them a dick for trying to spike you. You’ll wonder what you’re missing out on by not drinking etc and there is no denying it would make some things a whole lot easier (see #8), but it’s really the right thing for you: stick to sobriety. All the versions of us between you and me (and probably beyond) will be grateful.
8. You are pretty socially broken. It’s hard to say whether this is a cause of or because of the issues expressed in #2 but you’ll feel awkward a whole lot of your life – it’s not something you’ll grow out of, sorry. You’ll be pretty good at faking it for a long while though: you’ll feel better in yourself once you figure out your discomfort but after that, faking it will be hard and will result in a lot of even more awkward situations.
9. There are a lot of arseholes in your life right now, a lot of utter cunts* in fact, but don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. In trying to escape from them, you’ll cut some ties with some decent people and you won’t ever be able to reconnect with them again.
* (I know you’re not comfortable with that word – in fact it’s not really in your vocabulary but it’s the perfect word to describe those people making you utterly miserable at the moment. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt – in 2014, they might be jolly nice people but right now, for you, they’re fucking cunts.)
9b. You’re an arsehole too, as far as some other people are concerned. Realise where and to whom you were a dick and apologise, before it’s too late. It might not repair things but at least you said it while you had the chance. This goes for shit going on right now – at 16 and thereabouts – and for later. You’ll know what I’m talking about when you get there.
9c. There are some people who you are, I don’t know, too proud? to talk to, or at least a combination of the issues listed in #1, #2 and #8 stop you talking to them. But you know, I bet you’d have a lot in common with them if you did. (For a start, you know you have things in common with one of them because you were good buddies five years ago.) They might take you on another path, and make things less hellish in the meantime. GET OUT OF YOUR FUCKING SHELL, YOU IDIOT. It can’t make you exactly more miserable, can it?
9d. In a year or so, in the spring of ’97, do act surprised when A comes out. You won’t be surprised, in fact you don’t even recognise it as an event because you’ll already assume he is out, but out of courtesy, do pretend. Who is A, I hear you asking? You don’t know him yet but you’ll like him and you’ll have a riot together.
10. This is a minor one but there is a general studies photography elective class thing: do it. Photography using dark room processing will be practically obsolete in a few years but it’ll bug you that you didn’t do that class when you had the chance. Ms Kaye doesn’t seem particularly interested in running it but she probably will if you push her.
10b. Related to that, you’re really stupid to stop doodling just because you’re suddenly around lots of people who are wonderful at drawing and painting. Keep at it, and keep at all that random crafty nonsense you like doing too: I’m having to play catch up now thanks to your slackness. Get Mum to teach you how to knit properly so I don’t have to learn again later, and with her help, learn how to make clothes from patterns. You probably won’t make many but it’ll mean you have the confidence to alter clothes so they fit better, and the fun fur dress you make at 19 won’t be so restricting on your chest. You will have finally figured out the “sexy animal” law of girls’ fancy dress (you will, of course, be a cat) but the sexiness is reduced if you can’t breathe.
11. There is a program on your computer, or on the disks you got with the computer, called ChemQuiz: I don’t know if you’ve found it yet but when you do, you’ll become obsessed with learning chemical symbols. It’s a fun, if useless, pastime – dig it out if you’ve not found it already: it’ll help you pass the time until you’re me and give you inspiration for cat names in the future. Also, that game Marc brought home from you, the Dungeons and Dragons-ish one called Moira? I know you think dragons are a bit stupid but you’ll find it well fun. It’ll also set you up for something called World of Warcraft in a few years – you’ll frickin’ love that.
11b. Speaking of things in the fantasy genre, Ned Stark gets beheaded in episode 9 of the first series. I know you don’t know what any of that means right now, but in about another 16 years, you’ll hate me for telling you. Ha! (See #9b and our arsehole status.)
12. Speaking of computers, you know that Internet thing you tried when you were down with Marc in Loughborough? You already saw its potential but YOU WILL COME TO FUCKING LOVE IT. It will come to be more important to your life than you can imagine right now. Even though you have to travel to Liverpool to go to an internet cafe so only have access once a month or something, use your early time on it a bit more wisely than I did though – start learning how to make your own website while you’re at college rather than leaving it ’til uni — making your own websites will be far more productive and beneficial than just downloading Friends scripts.
You will not believe the amount of money people make on the internet these days. While you’re in Bradford with that big nosed geeky punk, enlist him in making some sites with you. I’ll attach some ideas to this letter. Yes, I know the word “Google” sounds like nonsense, that “Facebook” & “YouTube” are no better (and sound clumsy rather than cute), and that there doesn’t seem much reason why people would pay to use an online auction site to sell their old stuff when they can advertise for free in the Visiter, but trust me.
12b. The book ‘Microserfs’ will change your brain when you read it. It’s at the library, the one in town, right now. Go borrow it. (You’ll like it when you read it but possibly question my “change your brain” comment – it’s a slow burner, like The Way of the Peaceful Warrior, which you’ve read half a dozen times now. You know that you only picked up the latter because Christian Slater claimed at one point that it was his favourite book, and you don’t really get it, even though you did try to. Both books will seem terribly clumsy in a few years but their underlying messages will stay with you and colour your life in ways that even I don’t really understand.)
12c. On the subject of books, go down the road between the market and the Carlton. On the right, there is a bookshop which looks haughty and expensive but it is, in fact, awesome. There are lots of books on the left of the ground floor that you’ll like – films and whatnot – but go upstairs to the top floor too. You’ll be amazed. I had to wait until I was daytripping back to Southport in my uni days to fall in love with it. You should take advantage of it sooner.
12d. While you’re there, see if you can order a copy of I Capture The Castle. Like with whole existence of the above bookshop, I Capture The Castle has somehow evaded your attention. Perhaps it’ll be a bit close to the bone right now, but before too long, you will LOVE it. Don’t make me wait more than another decade to find it.
13. Take a camera to Manhattans one evening, especially one evening in the magical summer you’ll have next year. You’ll come to realise in a few years that hiding behind a camera will stop you truly living in the moment so don’t take one with you every time, but once, just once, take some picture of your friends and that hallowed place, because your memories of faces and facades will become blurry over time.
13b. And get people to take some nice photos of you too, because you have very few pictures of yourself from that time and you look like, I quote, “an evil wizard” on some of those. Do pick people who know how to take photos though and not people who think their fingers are transparent (see above).
13c. That last two will be a whole lot easier if you don’t lose Dad’s camera on the last day of college in 1997. You’ll be at the aforementioned Carlton and distracted, and you won’t notice it’s gone until you get home. Don’t lose it for two reasons: firstly, it’ll rightly annoy Dad; secondly, it’s got some photos on it that you’ll never have a chance to take again.
13d. And on that day, don’t trust S. S is a great guy – you probably know that already that by now – and you’ll have lots of fun times together but don’t let him out of your sight on that last day. What he does has no real consequences, except for fostering the distraction mentioned above, but it’ll make things uncomfortable with some people for the rest of the summer for no gain. Strap him to a chair or something. Tie the camera down at the same time. Two birds, one roll of gaffer tape.
14. Keep more consistent diaries. I know you write to T about everything which helps with your processing in the same way as a diary would, but you won’t have those letters to look at when you’re old like I have our patchy diaries. You’ll, thankfully, get into the journal habit by next summer but then you’ll drop it again once you get to uni, and only pick it up sporadically after that. You already know that we like our memories – the black suitcase I mentioned at the very start of this letter is a testament to that – so do me a favour and get better at keeping records. As Ferris Bueller says, life moves pretty fast; if you don’t stop and write about it every day, your 34 year old future self will miss reading about it*. The entries don’t have to be 2000 words long with every movement noted for posterity (I do not care that you went from Our Price to Andy’s Records to that little second hand place behind the market then back to Our Price again because a single was 20p cheaper there) and it would be nice if it wasn’t all lovesick whining. In fact, it would be good for both you and me if they weren’t so negative – I say that about the diaries you’re writing now and will write in the future. You don’t have to be all PollyAnna about it but don’t dwell, it’s not good for you.
* (Or he says something like that. You know the film better than me and it’s not like there is a huge online database of film quotes and trivia that I can search with ridiculous ease – oh wait a minute, IT TOTALLY IS LIKE THAT. I wasn’t lying when I said the internet will become awesome.)
15. Vegetables taste nicer than you think they do. You will not believe how much you eventually like peppers, cauliflower, olives and also aubergine when it’s cooked well. You are right about fruit though – it’ll only make you gip when you try it, so don’t try it in front of any boys (or girls) you’re trying to impress.
15b. When you’re 20, you’ll move to Yorkshire. Then you’ll understand what gip means. You’ll also discover how good curry is. You already known the yellow sweet stuff from the chippy on Grantham Road is delicious and you quite like “Chinese curry” too, but neither of those things is actual, proper curry – the curry waiting for you in Yorkshire is SO MUCH BETTER. Just don’t eat too much of it – and by too much of it, I mean a three course meal with D’s parents then a full two course curry a couple of hours later every night for a week. You know I mentioned you won’t have an amazingly flat belly for too much longer? This is why.
16. You shouldn’t be quite as scared of children as you are. In a few years time, someone will show you that children are just, you know, people and once you’re happy to embrace your immaturity again, you’ll realise being silly around them is fun for everyone. Like with fruit though, your fear of babies will remain as strong today as it is in, um, your today: you’re lucky but it is dumb luck, and could easily have swung the other way. Be more careful, you fucking idiot. Do some research – there are options out there for us. Still, even if you don’t do anything better than me, you’ll figure it out by the age of 22: you’ll have to fight for it but it’ll be one of the best things you’ll ever do for yourself.
i) You’ve got your skin relatively under control now – keep up with it. Aside from a brief window in your early 20s, you’ll always struggle with spots unless you use a good cleanser twice a day. Oxyclean pads don’t count (too rough) and neither does Nivea (not tough enough) – don’t waste your time with them. Have fun with make-up – you’ll grow bored of it pretty soon – just remember to wash it off before bedtime.
ii) You will never tame your hair. Throw out your hairbrush and only use a widetooth comb on it from now on though – it’ll ease the frizz far better than any expensive product.
iii) Whatever bra size you think you are right now, you’re not. You will have it wrong for nearly another decade if you don’t do something about it now. You don’t have to do anything as embarrassing as having a fitting: just go to Marks and Spencers (which, spoiler warning, is called M&S now) and grab a lot of different sizes and try them on until they fit properly. You probably want a smaller backsize & a larger cupsize than you think. You should only have two boob bumps, not four. And you need to learn how to put bras on properly too: after you pull up the straps, lean forward and scoop your boobs out of your armpits into the cups – the underwire should be flat against your rib cage at the side and in the middle. Boys of mid-90s Southport: you’re welcome.
18. As your various teachers keep telling you, you need to learn how to be more concise in your writing. Learn how to edit your writing for clarity and succinctness. From the length of this letter, you can tell I’ve not learnt how to do this. You still have time to figure it out.
19. You should probably start trying to swear less. Not because it’s unfeminine or uncouth or anything like that, but because potty mouth-ed habits stick, you’ll end up swearing far too much in nostalgic blog posts and you’ll accidentally say/shout ‘fuck’ at really inopportune times*. As you will see, I have still not learnt how to do this. Again, you can do it for the both of us.
* (some of these will be hilarious though, so don’t cut back entirely)
20. Don’t be so hard on me. Early on, four thousand words ago, I said don’t be so hard on yourself but don’t be so hard on me either. It’s… it’s tough out here. You have super big dreams because you can’t imagine smaller ones; I couldn’t live up to those dreams and now I feel like I’ve let us down. You’ve got it easier than some people, but don’t know how much the world is stacked against you, through no fault of your own. Added to that, your self-hatred, your social brokenness, and your survival haughtiness & knee-jerk humour make it even harder to make progress. It’s easier to become bitter than resilient. Plus, that mental nonsense you’ve got in your head right now doesn’t go away – it’ll keep rearing its ugly head and it’s wearing.
But, you know what, you’ve got what you wanted when you were 11. You’ll end up with a fantastic boyfriend too, which is something you didn’t state at 11 but is very much your number one goal at 16, isn’t it? Plus, you’ve got a dog and the boyfriend is well open to the idea of more cats. Count your chickens. (Six, you’ll have six chickens.)
Be excellent to us, dude,
-34 year old Louisa :)