(With thanks to Miscellaneous Mum.)
February 24, 2007
September 1, 1989
I expect you’re a bit surprised to receive this letter. Get used to it: more surprises are coming. A few weeks from now, the Berlin Wall will come down, and you’ll watch in amazement as the world wakes up from history. (You haven’t heard that song yet, but you will. And you’ll find that history has a longer shelf-life than people are giving it credit for.)
You’re feeling nervous about the upcoming year, your last year of high school. A decade from now, grade thirteen will be abolished, but don’t let that stop you from enjoying it. You’re stronger than you think: those three months in Germany last spring have given you some perspective, emboldened you to make a terrifying move – joining a new lunch table. Your terror is not unfounded: there will be some snubs, a few red-cheeked moments of humiliation. But it’s a calculated risk, and it will pay off rapidly: the friendships you make this year won’t last a lifetime, but they will change you, make you happier and more adventurous.
I know you worry sometimes about what I think of you. Do I read your diaries and laugh at you? Am I embarrassed by your earnest ideals? Well, sometimes, maybe. But more often I envy you for your drive, for the confidence you place in your future. What you may not realize is that I worry, too, about what you think of me. Have I disappointed you? Have I repaid the effort you’re putting now into this last year of high school? I’ve made a few compromises along the way, I admit – I’ve balanced one dream against another, balanced ideals against reality. The results are a bit mixed, to be sure.
I have no advice to give you, my eighteen-year-old self. I could tell you that you’re beautiful (astonishingly beautiful, and almost totally unaware of it), I could tell you that you’re smart, likable, and not inherently disgusting to boys – but I know it won’t make any difference. Your mom tells you that stuff, too, and it helps less than it should. I could warn you to beware of handsome Italian men, or advise you to check your tendency towards narcissistic projection (if you think you’ve met someone just like you, it’s not because you have) – but these are lessons you need to learn for yourself. I don’t want to change the path you have ahead of you, because eventually that path leads you here.
What you really want me to do, though, is to give you a sneak preview of what’s up ahead. I’ve always been prone to self-indulgence, so I won’t hold out on you: here it is, the good and the bad.
The Good News: You’re going to get married – and way sooner than you think.
The Bad News: It won’t be to Jeff – or even to the right person. The right one will come along eventually, but don’t start looking for him just yet – right now he’s about five feet tall and about to enter grade 9. (Sorry.)
The Good News: Eventually you’ll find yourself teaching that Children’s Literature course you’ve been looking at so covetously in the university syllabus.
The Bad News: You’ll be teaching it in London, and not the one in England either. Don’t worry – you do get to go away for a few years, but eventually the white-bread blandness of home will start beckoning you away from your dreams to live in Germany and England.
The Bad News: All those warnings about the ubiquity of computers turn out to be completely true. (I realize you don’t know the word "ubiquity" yet, so go ahead and look it up – it's one of several words you’ll pick up in the next couple of years, along with "diaphanous," "paradigm," and "continuum." University really is everything you hope it will be – and good for the vocabulary too.) Tell Dad that the top-notch typewriter you’re going to purchase in a few months is really not the good investment that it seems: if you go whole hog and buy a brand-new 386 IBM-clone you won’t regret it.
The Good News: Computers aren’t nearly as scary as you think they are. Pretty soon, there’ll be a few innovations like "Windows" and a "mouse" that make them a lot easier to use. One day, you may even find yourself using a computer voluntarily in your spare time.
The Bad News: I know how much you want children, or, to be more specific, a daughter. You’ll get one (and you’ll even give her the name you’ve had picked out since you were sixteen years old, with one or two variations in spelling). But first you’ll have a boy. I know that sounds kind of scary (it was scary for me too, even after fourteen years’ experience in actually talking to boys). But it will be okay. Really.
The Good News:
(Need I say more?)
So there you have it: your future, both less and more than you’re expecting. I can give you no warnings or advice, my dear self, but I can give you this encouragement. You’re desperately hoping right now that the people who call high school the best years of their lives are either (a) dead wrong, or (b) the washed-up former prom queens Bruce Springsteen sings about in "Glory Days." Don’t worry – the answer is (c) both of the above. The worst is over – it only gets better from here.