Friday, 30 May 2014

Contemplation: Letter to my 15-year-old Self

This is not an original idea. (Few of mine are.)

But it's something I realised the other day that I almost needed to do to remind myself that while of course I've changed in twenty years, of course, in so many ways, I haven't... or have I?

{Screengrab from Bridesmaids}

The additional realisation that twenty years ago I was fawning over Four Weddings and a Funeral was a sobering one in itself. The fact this film came out right after I'd sat my GCSEs was another -- as was the fact that two whole decades later, exactly, my cousin's elder daughter (who I swear was a toddler ten minutes ago -- what's with that?) is sitting hers and was cramming frantically on Easter Sunday when we visited.

I felt very old and out of touch (largely because my cousin's younger daughter was about to thrash me on the Wii again) but also transported instantly to that time and to all the niggles, anxieties, excitements, of 1994.

Of course, memory is a tricky, slippery eel of a thing, is it not? The way we remember events is very different from how we might have captured them at the time.

So, to give you some context, I give you exhibit a) my 1994 diary. The trusty WH Smith day to a page diary.

{Dear Diary...}
Disclaimer: Anything seemingly quoted from this 'document' may not have been quoted verbatim. Expect paraphrasing, composites and some extremely liberal editing.

{Screengrab from Bridget Jones's Diary}

Saturday May 28th, 1994 

No NYPD Blue. C owes me £1,360 Monopoly money.
Watched 'Go-Between' for English purposes.
Guess what, Diary? I'm getting the English prize!

An A- day!*

* I 'borrowed' this day-grading scheme from the main character, adolescent 'Karen', in Judy Blume's It's Not the End of the World.

It's "adrenalin-pinching", to quote Bridesmaids again.

However. Reading back a day...

Friday May 27th, 1994

English Literature exam. Not too bad but:
1) needed the loo
2) was hungry.

And Sniffy ______ the crap cougher was sitting next to me.

[Imagine here the heartfelt wish I then made that Kenickie from Grease, my biggest crush at the timewould rock up and rescue me from the truly heinous injustice of having to sit beside someone with hay fever during a GCSE.]

...but I'm scared he won't like me. No one else of his sex does, not romantically. WHY AM I A VICTIM OF UNREQUITED LOVE?! ...I know why, it's because I'm ugly and I'm going to spend my life an ugly, single B***H. ...Why couldn't I be semi-pretty? ...It's not that though, it's my S**T personality.


I'm going to put the brakes on there, I think, and start this post proper: a letter to my 15-year-old self -- this girl:
{Oh bless.}

Dear Beth (May 1994)

You might not recognise me, but I'm you, from the future. 


Your world is very small at the moment and to that end it might well feel monotonous. You may well be annoyed by the tiniest shows of unfairness in it: no NYPD Blue? Travesty. Your sister owing you Monopoly money. Someone coughing and sniffing during an English Lit exam for which, by the way, you will get an A. 

Other episodes of gross injustice include: stressing over the fact you think your dance teacher doesn't think you're a terrific dancer, and puts you at the back of the opening number WITH THE YOUNGER GIRLS. (It's all right. In twenty years' time you will still not be a terrific dancer, but you will dance, and you will love it, in the right company. And when you start drinking -- and you will -- you won't care where you are when you're dancing. Trust me.) 

All of this matters to you now because it's all you know, all you expose yourself to. And that's all right. You're fifteen. In three years you'll fly the nest, escape your small suburban town, go to university and that will be the start of your life opening up. 

All right, sometimes you'll come up with a fairly banal fact about a member of the cast of Grease so in that respect you will never change, and you will sweat the small stuff but it'll be different small stuff in a different context. Someone sniffing and snorting on a train. Stressing over the fact that you might not be the most terrific singer (but, you know, you're OK -- the choirs and singing groups you want to join will, for the most part, let you in).

The big difference is that in twenty years time you will know how small this small stuff is. You will put these little niggles into perspective. You'll still gripe about them, it's what you do, moaning Minnie. But you will be very aware of the scale of your issues in the Grand Scheme of Things even if this isn't always evident to the rest of the world.

Some things won't change.

You will always feel left out if you have any inkling that your friends are having fun or significant drama without you. 'But why didn't ______ tell me about what happened at the bowling? It's not fair.' 

No, but maybe it's also not all about you.

Over the next twenty years you will learn the most valuable lessons about friendship. And it will take you more than twenty years. You will always struggle to make those initial connections -- you can sometimes come across much too clingy and needy. But the people who acknowledge that, look beyond that and still become your closest friends are the ones worth keeping. The friends who want to spend time with you, who invite you out spontaneously on a Friday (and a Saturday!) night when otherwise you might still be bewailing the temporary absence of NYPD Blue (we have CSI: NY these days -- you'll love it) are the ones whose friendships you need to treasure. Not the ones who can't put up with the weird, complex you-ness of you. 

You'll stay in touch with the people who value this.

And maybe your personality age fifteen needs some fine-tuning. Your personality at thirty-five does, too. But it's not a s**t personality. It's flawed, and you're unduly negative and yes, you're a little needy sometimes. 

You could definitely also work on being more tolerant.

And, brace yourself, Beth, because in ten years' time you will be at your absolute lowest. You'll teeter on 'self-destructive'.

But you will make it to thirty-five. Trust me. You'll hit that rock-bottom, and you'll climb out again. You're essentially a good person. A good person who does and says silly, misguided things sometimes. You're funny. Ha-ha and peculiar. The people who matter will know this and love you for it. You're quick with a pun and a quip. You think you're thick and you're scared you'll fail Maths and Science, but you're not, and you won't, and besides, you'll find you have strengths in other areas. You're a bit good with them words, for starters.

And you'll walk.

No, seriously. You will. You laugh now, because you moan and moan on holidays about walking -- you'd much rather be back in the cottage writing out your fantasy life to the strains of, let's say, Richard Marx's Paid Vacation album. But you will clock up those sedentary hours, and one day something in you will click into place, and you'll make up for all those miles you never covered. You'll walk to widen your tiny world and to stamp out all those negative, tiny, niggly thoughts. It'll be good for you. And this isn't your mother telling you that, it's me. It's you. Trust me.

Now, you and I need to have a little talk about your language. I'm not so much concerned with your potty-mouth – although it's not pretty -- this is about the verbal abuse you give yourself.

See, here's what you'll come to learn over the years: nothing will damage you more than the names you call yourselfThe person continuously calling you those awful names will never go off to college or a university far away, and lose touch with you. She's always going to be with you and until you tell her to shut up, or to mind her language, she'll persist.

And it'll be because of her, because of that belief you've instilled in yourself that you are all these things, you can't see that you are capable of being loved if you stop listening to the negative voices and live by the positive things people have to say about you. And that includes the positive things you say about yourself

Tell yourself that you're awesome. I dare you.

Of course, you will learn that being 'single' is a blessing, not a curse. And it's another choice you have. Maybe in twenty years' time you will be single. (And you are, by the way, but don't be afraid of that.) You're also independent. You can also go out or stay in as you please. Your world may still be quite small -- you may still be living in a small, suburban town. But you'll be there of your own making. You'll have people you want around you, and not just because you were at some point thrust into the same classroom and told to co-exist for five years. 

You'll do what you love -- you'll write (because it's what you're good at and probably love more than anything else you'll ever do with your life).

You'll dance -- wherever you may be. Front or back of the formation -- you'll rock out. 

You'll sing. Twice, three times, four times a week in public.

You think that looking like the girls in your year who attract the boys is the key to your happiness (...or at least to Kenickie's heart). 

It's not. Simply put. 

(I will keep coming back to tell you this.)

You won't do anything radical to alter your appearance in twenty years. You won't ever get a nose job. And the effects of the ghastly nine months you spent in braces will be eradicated over time. (Sorry.) 

But something will change. Something will shift and you will come to terms with yourself. You will accept this package of hair, skin, blood, muscle and bone, and you will work with it, not vow against it. 

And you won't use those words about yourself again, you hear me? Good.

You will grow and change. You will always be growing and changing. And yet you'll still be recognisable as you.

Trust me.

Love from Beth (May, 2014)

{See? You're surviving so far. | Photo by Anthony Gould-Davies for Voicerox Choir}

PS You need to put the brakes on that Kenickie fantasy. It's really not going to happen. Sorry.


  1. Something I've wondered before but could never decide - if you had the chance to go back to being fifteen again, knowing what you know now, would you do it?

    E x

  2. I'm not sure if I would go back – even if I knew life would definitely improve, I'd always want to fast-forward to that time and not have to run the gauntlet of teenage awkwardness again! :-) x