Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Educate Emma: Books: Dear Teen Me edited by E. Kristin Anderson and Miranda Kenneally

I hope you've heard of Dear Teen Me - an anthology of various authors writing letters to their teen selves, because it's awesome. I've been in love with this project ever since I glanced at the site, and the book has cemented my feelings.

When I got Dear Teen Me in the mail, I knew it wasn't going to last a week being unread. The end of September was largely an unfun time for me. I needed a pick-me-up to help me deal with all the existential angst of youth, and I figured the anthology would help.

It really, really did.

I can't explain my adoration for the book is long paragraphs, only moments.

  • Miranda Kenneally's letter reminded me that it's okay to be adventurous, to let go, and really pay attention to the people who care about you. 
  • Lauren Oliver and Elizabeth Miles wowed me with their long term friendship, and made me hope to maintain my favourite relationships for the years to come. 
  • The last words of Mitali Perkins' piece filled me with a sense of deep relaxation - knowing that the firsts of adolescence are just that, firsts, and to remember that I'm nowhere near being a fully-formed person. 
  • I reread Cheryl Rainfield's words of advice to her former self over and over again. Something about "Stop hating yourself. The hatred doesn't belong to you" stuck in my head for a long time. 
  • Jennifer Rush's letter allowed me to recall crazy, cosmic coincidences and truly believe in them. 
And those are just a handful of the important stories in Dear Teen Me. Just skimming through the words that resonated gives me a sense of new-found confidence and peace. Sure, some of the letters fall flat, but it's the personal hit-and-miss nature of the book that makes the important words magic. And the important words will vary from teen to teen.

I used the words allow and remember in those bullet points I wrote, and ultimately, that's what Dear Teen Me does. The book is one, big safe place created by a whole community teen authors. They say "let go of the expectations for a second, come here and we may be able to remind you." I needed that. You may need it, too.

As for the concept of writing a letter to your teen self, I may not be able to say anything to my teen self, but I do have something to say to me when I was eleven. I figured it may be good to share here. (And if you want another letter from a teen, check out Maggie's excellent piece)

Dear Eleven Year Old Emma,

If I could tell you one thing, the thing that you could carry through the entirety of your parents' separation, the thing that would make the pain ahead easier to take, I'd say something you wouldn't expect.

I'd tell you that you're capable of love.

I know it sounds ridiculous, like a self-help guide, but don't laugh at me yet. I know that you are well-acquainted with loneliness, that it is the kind of feeling that engulfs you often and that you feel impossible most days.

You are going to be told that there is something strange about you for being mad, that you are cynical and morbid and hardened and off and wrong. You will be deemed unlovable by that secret part of you that always thought the loneliness was your companion for a reason.

Worse than that, you'll assume that you could never love anyone, because you are too hard and worn and hurt to really feel.

That is a lie.

You will love fiercely, unconditionally and in all kinds of ways. In fact, it is your very nature to love people. Your sensitivity and awareness and interest in people is no coincidence - there has always been something softer about you.

Even that word - soft - brings tears to your eyes now, because the relationship between being soft and being cast aside had been so thoroughly engrained. You will vow to never be overly emotional or sensitive because being gentle means that you need to be handled with care, and no one thinks soft things matter.

But I will tell you a secret.

It is only something you've encountered in the odd message or glance, the few moments you perform a poem or sing a song, but here it is: people love soft things.

You are so open with your raw emotion, and so willing to acknowledge other people's that they will be fascinated by your nature. They live in that space of emotion too, but you are the rare one who tries to reach those around you on a regular basis.

You are no removed, untouchable thing no one wants to see, my love. You thrive on meaning and interest and care. You thrive on love. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

And Emma? There's one hell of a story waiting up ahead for you. We're both just going to have to see how it unfolds.

Fifteen Year Old Emma

And check out more Dear Teen Me blog posts here.