Q & A: To the sixteen-year-olds of the world.

By | January 14, 2010

So it seems my new hobby as a fat advice columnist is coming along swimmingly. I’m especially fond of the Q & A below, and want to thank the anonymous person who posed the question to me.

If you have a question, or want to read the rest of the questions I’ve answered, you can visit my Formspring page. Thanks, dears.

Q. If you had the opportunity to address a room full of 16 year olds for 15 minutes, what would you say?

A. Besides, “wear sunscreen”?

I would say,

Everything to you right now is vivid and surreal and overwhelming. Your life is like a film you’re composing with bandaged hands and serious case of writer’s block. Everything is open to you, though, and little is impossible now, and this will eventually change, so embrace it.

The older you get, the quicker time will pass, like a microcosm of the universe that is expanding faster and faster as everything flies away from everything else. Today things that are a month away seem impossibly distant, but when you are twice your current age a month will become a devastatingly brief period, surely not long enough to do everything you need to do before then, surely not. At this future time you may look back on these days wistfully, longingly; or you may look back and think, “There is no amount of money in the world that could compel me to be 16 again, not for a day, not for an hour.” Either way your experiences and choices now will have profoundly shaped the person you become.

You will, slowly, cease to feel everything so acutely. Pain will hurt less, but joy will be more fleeting. Injustices that once seemed outrageous and blinding will fade into the grey background noise of life. Some of you will be relieved to leave this behind; some of you will fight ferociously to chase after your enthusiasm and your rage and to not let it slip out of view over the horizon.

Do not forget your friends from these days, but do not let them be the only friends you keep over your life. Someday you will look back at the people you knew and the things you did and shake your head with sheepish embarrassment, but hopefully with sympathy for your younger, stupider self. It is okay to be stupid. It is okay to not know what you’re doing. It is sublimely okay to make mistakes and cause catastrophes, so long as you learn from them.

Do not hate yourself. Have regrets, engage in second-guessing, be insecure, scared, desperate, lonely. But do not hate yourself. Do not hate your body, because whatever about it bothers you today will seem patently ridiculous years from now. Do not punish yourself, mentally or physically, for failing to look a certain way; for not striving to be an athlete or a model; for being socially awkward; for never quite living up to the expectations others set for you. Do not punish anyone else. Even the most confident and popular among you struggle with insecurities and pressures, no matter what you say. Be kind.

This is a magical time of your life. I don’t mean a sparkling Disney magic, but a cataclysmic wrath-of-god magic. Everything is changing, all of the time, but years from now it will seem nothing is changing, ever, and change will only come through a whole lot of effort, or with resistance, or with crisis. In the meantime, eat ice cream, listen to music that speaks to your soul, go on long pointless late-night drives to nowhere with your friends, windows down. Walk in the rain. Wear whatever you want, even if people stare. Have fun. Be safe. Most importantly: have fun.

And then I would say,

Does anyone have any questions?

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