Dear Teen Me from author Steve Watkins (JUVIE, WHAT COMES AFTER)

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Dear Teen Me:

1. Just because your brother’s gone off to college, that doesn’t mean you can shed your old identity as dorky little brother, no matter how many fake names you give people or how many stories you make up about your life so far, or how long you grow your hair. Not that you won’t try.

2. Put down the hash pipe every now and then, especially during lunch break at school. You need to be sharp for those debates about the War in Vietnam during Government. Or, at the very least, you should try to stay awake so you can pass the class.

3. Do not take LSD and drive your motorcycle. Once is enough.

4. Do not feed marijuana seeds to lab rats.

5. Do not mouth off to that sheriff’s deputy at the jail when you try to visit your friend David, who’s been arrested for drugs. And when you’re turned away at the front desk, do not go behind the jail and yell up to David at the window of his cell on the second floor. The deputy will find you, he will punch you in the face, and he will drag you inside to a cell of your own until your dad comes down to bail you out. Agai

6. Do not leave your grandmother’s old ’51 Chevy on the street next to your house during a hurricane. The river will flood the street, you will see the Chevy bobbing up and down in the water, it will never run again, and you will no longer have the best car you will ever own.

7. When you and your fellow anti-war protesters march around the Cherry Point Marine Air Base, remember that those guys in uniform on the other side of the fence, with their weapons pointed at you and your friends, are probably just as young, and just as scared, as you. Some of them will be dead soon, killed in Vietnam in service to their country, while you get to go on living.

8. You mean well but you are often unkind. That’s the cold, hard truth of it. The unkindness will be what too many people remember about you. They will not care about your intentions, only that--and how careless you were with their hearts, and how unforgivably much you took for granted.

9. Your mother will be keeping a prayer journal during these years, and far too much of what she writes in it—and far too many of her prayers—will be for and about you. You will find the prayer journal in an old box many years later, after she dies, and you will feel a terrible heartache reading about all the worry and pain you caused her and your dad.

10. There are some things to be proud of during this time when you feel as if your only true job in life is breaking free of anything and everything that’s holding you back, even if you don’t have a clue about where you want to be going. That underground high school newspaper. Poetry. Being true to your friends. Your music. Taking a stand against the war. Becoming a vegetarian. Stepping up when a cop finds pot on your girlfriend and you somehow convince him that it’s yours, not hers. Stepping up to take care of your little sister and the house when your dad has his breakdown and your mom has to go be with him to help.

11. Remember these good things and don’t judge yourself too harshly, then or now, for everything else.

12. After graduation, when you refuse to go to college and hitchhike out to California instead, don’t hide your money in your boot for safekeeping. It will fall out somewhere in Iowa and boy will you ever feel stupid, broke, scared, and alone as the real adventure begins.

Steve Watkins is the author most recently of JUVIE, a young adult novel released this month by Candlewick Press. He also wrote WHAT COMES AFTER published in spring 2011, which was named by Bank Street College as one of the best YA books of that year, and selected as a finalist for the Georgia Peach Award for YA Fiction. His YA novel DOWN SAND MOUNTAIN won the 2009 Golden Kite Award for Fiction from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Both were also published by Candlewick Press. He is currently at work on two middle grade novels for Scholastic and another book for Candlewick, a post-Iraq War novel titled GREAT FALLS.

Steve is also author of a short story collection, MY CHAOS THEORY (2006, Southern Methodist University Press), which was a finalist for the Paterson Fiction Prize, and an Honorable Mention for the Library of Virginia Fiction Award.

He also wrote the award-winning non-fiction book THE BLACK O: Racism and Redemption in an American Corporate Empire, published in 1997 by the University of Georgia Press, which tells the story of the largest employment discrimination class action lawsuit in U.S. history. THE BLACK O won the 1997 Virginia College Stores Book Award, was an honorable mention for the Gustavus Myers Award, and was a finalist for the Southern Regional Council’s Lillian Smith Award for Nonfiction. It has recently been re-released by the University of Georgia Press in paperback and e-book.

Steve’s fiction, poetry, and non-fiction articles have appeared in numerous publications, including The Nation, Poets & Writers, Mississippi Review, 100 Percent Pure Florida Fiction, North American Review and The Pushcart Prize Anthology.

A graduate of Florida State University, Steve taught journalism, creative writing, and Vietnam War literature at the University of Mary Washington for 22 years, a job he left in spring 2012 with the title professor emeritus of English. He now writes full time–when he’s not teaching yoga, working as an advocate for abused and neglected children with the child advocacy organization CASA, and planting trees with the urban reforestation organization Tree Fredericksburg.

Steve lives in Fredericksburg, Virginia with his wife Janet, and is the father of four daughters–Maggie, Eva, Claire, and Lili. Steve and Janet worked for three years as co-directors of the religious education program at the Fredericksburg Unitarian Universalist Church, where Steve also served most recently as president of the fellowship.

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