Dear Teen Me,
At thirteen your dreams are so big they make your head explode. You obsess about being a famous actor and an award-winning writer while living in a cool metropolitan city. Instead, you live on a farm in Melbourne, Australia. You are surrounded by wild rabbits, snakes, heaps of sheep poo and dust. Lots of dust. Thousands of miles away from anything exciting. The actors you see in movies are all perfect looking, American and dust free. You have big bangs, a thrift store wardrobe and a face like a potato.
The only acting and writing you do is in your bedroom where no one can see. You're too shy to actually let anyone in on these grand dreams. At nighttime you study your reflection in the window as you perform made up scenes from pretend movies. You practice your Oscar acceptance speech nightly, which Crosby the dog has been made to listen to more times than a hound deserves. You tap away at an old typewriter bought from a thrift store and write novel ideas you think are brilliant. This drives your older sister crazy. She's different to you. She's a girly-girl who has boyfriends, rides horses and wears makeup. You guys fight a lot. She's the only kid within five miles, you should really buddy up, but that'll never happen. Why does she detest you so much? It hurts, but you pretend you don't care. I know this is hard to believe, but when you are in your thirties, you guys will be really close. So don't let it bug you too much.
At school you feel like an alien. You hide in the library reading biographies of Hollywood movie stars, while the other girls giggle about boys, clothes and wild parties. Just like your sister. Maybe you're not a real girl? Maybe you having missing DNA? Sometimes you cry in the toilets during break between math and science. You feel so awkward, nervous, threatened and out of place. When kids talk about sex, smoking, drink or drugs, you feel scared, not cool or excited. Is there something wrong with you? There must be. And you can't even imagine talking to a boy let alone 'go' with one. The idea of kissing makes you feel sick. Pimples, bad breath and greasy hair are the only things you see when a boy appears. But it's better to feel like the odd one out than to pretend you're something you're not. That's soul destroying. You know this from all the movie star biographies you've read. They felt alien too. Marlon Brando, Audrey Hepburn...they came from being the strange kid with strange ideas. But they did something you haven't had the guts to try yet...
It's time. You take the acting and writing out of the bedroom. It is the hardest thing you've ever done. After your first acting class you're horrified at how bad you are. In your room you're Meryl Streep, but in class, you can barely spit out a line. You feel like a fake. You send a pitch idea for a new book series to a literary agent. You get a bemused rejection letter. You want to vomit. You may not be a girly-girl, but guess what, you're also not a writer or an actress. You're nothing. You scrunch up and hide in the hammock that sits under the plum trees on your parent's farm. Away from all the girly-girls, your sister and your failed dreams. Crosby curls up next to you as you desperately disappear into your only comfort - fiction. Suddenly it dawns on you, all the characters are outsiders and weirdos. Strange girls who overcome insurmountable odds; So Much To Tell You, by John Marsden. To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, Came Back To Show You I Could Fly, by Robin Klein. Slowly, the fight bleeds back into your bones. You may be a rejected writer and a lame actor with a potato head, but that doesn't mean you'll always be. You read a quote that blows fireworks through your body - there are no shortcuts to any place worth going. So this acting and writing thing is going to be hard, huh? Well bring it on!
You pound the unwelcoming high school pavement with fresh determination. You don't care that you're an outsider anymore. In fact, you're proud of it. Who cares if you're not interested in parties and pot? People notice. You make some friends. Kids are interested that you take acting classes after school. They like listening to your short stories in English. You get chosen for a writers group and cast in the school play.
You embrace your weirdness. You refuse to be embarrassed for being different. Your career councilor tells you that acting and writing aren't real jobs and to focus on physics. You smile politely and vow to prove him wrong. You are still scared of kissing boys, but that's OK. You're only fifteen. You'll kiss a guy when you're seventeen, when you actually want to, and you'll enjoy it...sort of. Let's just say kissing gets better as you get older.
Your obsession to succeed as an actor and writer is exhausting, tiring and often painful. But on your sixteenth birthday, you land a lead role on a big Australian TV show. You star alongside the hilarious Isla Fisher. You guys get in trouble for giggling a lot. But you're not giggling about boys, clothes and parties - you're giggling about acting...and it's awesome.
Finally you've made one of your dreams come true. You realize, that with faith, determination and lots of rejection, you can do anything. Your next goal is to become a published author. Everyone tells you you're kidding yourself. Professional authors have creative writing degrees from fancy universities - you're just an actor. An actor who didn't even finish high school 'cause they were too busy staring in a TV show.
But you've been in this position before. You know what to do. You hold your head high and strategize. And most importantly, you never, ever listen to people who say you can't. Because guess what? You can... and you will. That's the great thing about being an outsider, you think outside the box.
Tempany Deckert is a young adult author, actress and motivational speaker for kids. She now likes being an outsider, no longer thinks her head looks like a potato and lives in the exciting metropolis of Los Angeles with her quirky husband Brian and grumpy dog, Cosmo. She has eighteen books published by Scholastic, Random House and Macmillan. Her book series include: The Shooting Stars, The Fashion Police and Radio Rebels.
Her latest book, ITS YR LIFE, was co-authored by novelist Tristan Bancks. The pair met as teen actors on Australian television. For ITS YR LIFE, Tristan and Tempany combined their acting and writing talents by playing email buddies, Sim and Milla. Emailing back and forth in real time for three months between Australia and the United States, the acting-writing exercise resulted in the page turning young-adult mystery that will have readers guessing right till the end.
You can check out Tempany's books, acting and writing advice at: www.tempanydeckert.com
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