Dear Teen Me from author Robyn Bavati (DANCER IN THE DARK, PIROUETTE)

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Dear Fourteen-and-a-half-year-old Me,

I can see you now, in your green-and-black T-shirt and denim jeans, your hair long, loose and a little frizzy, ambling down Howitt Road looking lost, even though you’re right on the street you have always lived in. (On weekdays you’re in school uniform, but today is Sunday – the weekend is always a welcome break from school.)

A few hours ago, life felt good, but now it’s as if a dark cloud has enveloped you and you don’t know why. You’re sure that no one else has experienced the extremes of emotion that you experience on a daily basis. Nothing has happened to account for this mood swing – at least, nothing you can pinpoint. (In years to come, you’ll learn that mood swings are common in adolescence, and you weren’t the only one who felt that way. You’ll also learn they are part of your makeup, and you’ll handle them better as you mature.)

You don’t yet know that life is cyclic. As surely as day follows night, joy follows sorrow. I wish I could gift you the knowledge that dark times pass, because whether they last minutes, days, weeks or months, knowing they’ll pass accelerates the passing, and makes them so much easier to bear.

Unfortunately, you can’t read this letter – it has yet to be written. Unaware of your future self, you continue on down the street. Your mind wanders. Inexplicably, the feeling of desperation lifts and you’re grateful, though none the wiser. Soon, you’re lost in thought again, carrying on one of your habitual conversations in your head, oblivious to the world around you, though a part of you is enjoying the warmth of the sunshine and the gentle caress of the breeze on your skin.

I’m not surprised that you’re on your own. It’s easier than being surrounded by people. In social situations you’re self-conscious, though you don’t tend to experience the kind of peer pressure that plagues others your age.

Sometimes you’re lonely, but you’re never bored. It’s an interesting place, that head of yours.

Just occasionally the loneliness, though familiar, feels hard to bear, and when that happens you phone Melinda Korman, your best friend from school. Your conversations are insightful, analytical, mutually rewarding.

Though you’re one of five children (number four), you rarely have long, meaningful conversations with your brothers and sisters. They’re usually busy, and in any case, everyone says you’re different from the others. Even your parents think so. The rest of the family all seem so sure of their opinions, but for you, life is confusing.

You used to think there was some sort of conspiracy against kids, something adults weren’t telling you, and that if only they’d tell you, you’d understand everything. You equated adulthood with knowledge and wisdom. But you’ve learned that most grown-ups don’t know nearly as much as you once thought.

Except for your father. No one on the planet knows more than he does. No one challenges him or disagrees with him. He’s a successful lawyer, with a reputation for not suffering fools.

Remember how, when you were twelve years old, you figured out that he could be wrong? You challenged him with your discovery. ‘Human beings are fallible’, you said, ‘and you’re a human being. That means you must sometimes be wrong.’

He thought about this for a moment before saying, ‘In theory, that’s true. But the fact is I’m almost always right.’

Though you know, intellectually, that your father is fallible, you haven’t internalised the knowledge. You can’t digest it, and it will be many years before you do. Mostly, he appears so sure of himself – though once or twice you’ve glimpsed his vulnerability. It scares you when you see that insecurity, that underlying humanity. His godlike stature is your security. So you’re drawn to agree with him and your mother – who defers to him on all matters moral and intellectual – on every issue, but sometimes, deep down, you have other ideas.

With your parents’ voices loud in your ears, it’s difficult to find your own. Besides, you’re easily persuaded by both sides of an argument, so you sit on the fence. People say that fence-sitting is an undesirable trait, but you don’t see it that way. You never will. Too many people hold fast to their beliefs and opinions without challenging them or holding them up to scrutiny.

You suspect a thinking person would occasionally change their mind, but despite your predilection for considering other points of view, you don’t like confrontation, and rarely challenge others out loud.

Finding your voice – exploring what you think and feel, and having the courage to express it – will become an important part of your life’s work. But living and speaking your truth is not the only lesson you’ve still to learn.

Through loss and adversity you’ll learn compassion. Through heartache you’ll learn to ask, not ‘Why me?’ but ‘What can I learn from this experience?’

You’ll learn the value of a good joke or a long, loud belly laugh – they have the power to heal and restore.

And you’ll learn the immeasurable worth of a few close friends.

Good times will bring you knowledge, but darker times will bring you wisdom. Don’t seek out sorrow (that would be madness, and in any case, sorrow will find you of its own accord), but don’t fear it either. There is nothing ahead of you that you cannot cope with – you are so much stronger than you realize.

You’ve reached your house now – it’s warm and familiar. In you go. Your mother’s in the kitchen, chatting on the phone. You wander down the corridor, stopping on the way, as you often do, to look at the books that line the wall. You pull one out, read a snippet or two. You’re not in any particular hurry, as you have no plans. You never were a planner, never did think past tomorrow…

That will change, of necessity, once you have children. I’m glad you have this time in your youth to be thoughtful and aimless. There’s a lot to be said for living in the moment, and anyway, life rarely goes according to plan.

In time, you’ll formulate some goals. Don’t let your happiness depend on achieving them. Live life according to intrinsic values, not extrinsic goals. And remember that words like ‘mistake’ and ‘failure’ have no tangible reality. A mistake is just ‘another opportunity to learn’, and ‘failure’ is only ‘one more landmark on the way to success’. Embrace them both – they’re a valuable part of your evolution.

Be curious about life and other people; don’t harbour resentments. It’s better to be kind than right, so be kind to both yourself and others.

Do things you enjoy, things that bring you satisfaction, and always remember to count your blessings.

Sorry – I’ve been lecturing you. I didn’t intend to be so didactic. All I meant was to offer support. And to assure you that you have a rich and fulfilling journey ahead, though I won’t tell you what the future has in store for you. You’ll enjoy the good times more if you don’t expect them – part of the pleasure is in the surprise. As for the bad times, you’ll use them as a chance to grow.

Forty years on, your journey isn’t over yet, but I think I can say, in the words of Douglas Adams: ‘I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.’

As will you (for you are me).

Enjoy the ride!

Love always,

Your Future Self  XOXO

Robyn Bavati has taught creative dance in schools and worked as a shiatsu therapist. These days, she writes fiction for teens. Her debut novel, DANCING IN THE DARK, first published in Australia in 2010, was released in North America in February 2013. Her second novel, PIROUETTE, will be is out now.

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