Friday, August 3, 2012

In which I have a conversation with a fairly strange 12 year old girl

I just read an article with advice that readers would want to give their middle-school aged selves.

Even though this one was only a runner-up, it was my favorite:

"Stop dressing like a 60-year-old grandma because you're not confident enough to wear anything else. Light-wash mom jeans, turtle necks, zip-up fleece vests, and sweatshirts with puppies while wearing hiking boots are not exactly good looks. You can wear everything all the other girls are wearing, even if you don't think you can. Don't use bad fashion as a way of hiding yourself." 

While these were specifically fashion-related posts (and boy howdy, could I give twelve-year-old me a whole lotta advice there- namely, stop wearing sweatsuits. Now.) it got me thinking about what it would be like to meet 12 or 13-year-old me and offer her some advice.

Me (39): Hey there! Sorry. Didn't mean to scare you.
Me (12): I wasn't scared. I just thought you'd be cooler.

Me (39): Gee, thanks. That's in no way related to the great head start you gave me, there, is it?
If only mine only had a skull.
Me (12): What are you talking about? These neon colored animal print bow headbands are really awesome!

Me (39): I should let you know now, you can't pull off calling something 'awesome' for at least another twenty years. Yes, I know it's well past the age people should be using that word, but you get much better at it.
Me (12): Oh. Okay.

Me (39): So, listen. There's a lot we have to talk about, and definitely some time is due in your closet.
Me (12): All my sweatsuits are in my dresser.

Me (39): I know. That's problem numero uno. Look, it's not that your instincts are terrible. A lot of the stuff that you think looks really cool now (ankle socks with pumps) will be all over the runways in the future. Several times. But you're still figuring things out and mistakes are being made. And kid, you have to carry the burden of coming of age in a truly grotesque time for fashion. Seriously. Look at the decades you're stuck with- child of the 70s, teen in the 80s, college kid in the 90s. You were screwed from the start.
Me (12): Huh? Garanimals were pretty cool. Are the 90s going to be that bad, really? 

Don't do any of this. But plaid flannel's okay.
Me (39): Yeah, 'fraid so. But at least it's not too labor-intensive.
Me (12): Huh.

Me (39): But, you see, you've got some interesting ideas. You've put some things together that work. Wearing your dad's weird bright green hawaiian shirt with a belt as a dress? Really cool. Nice color, too. Keep that in mind.
Me (12): I thought it was cool, too. But I got laughed at.

Me (39): Fuck them! Oops, sorry. Don't pick that up, okay? Swearing's a bad habit. Shit. Never mind. Too late. 
Me (12): A ha!

Me (39): Focus, please. Here's the thing- we all think we need to grow up and have all these life experiences to really know who we are, but the truth of it is, our absolute essence was formed by the time we are ten. Seriously. We're on the right track by the time we finish our first decade, but then, blammo! Hormones. Even worse, other people's hormones. We forget who we are as we try to find ourselves.
Me (12): I think I wanna lie down now.

Me (39): Now, wait. Just keep listening. You are who you are. You're already there. You just need to not let anyone else convince you to get in your way.
Me (12): You sound like Mom and Dad's Sergeant Pepper album.

Me (39): You were a brave, tough, funny kid. A perceptive kid. With a dry sense of humor and better intuition than a lot of the adults around you. You knew what you liked, what made you happy, what you disliked and stuck to it. But now, even if you're not coursing with hormones yet like the rest of your classmates...
Me (12): Thanks for reminding me.

Me (39): No, it's a good thing, trust me. As I was saying, even if you're not crazy from the hormones, they are and you're letting them make you doubt yourself.  Which you shouldn't. They all do the same thing and wear the same things because it makes them feel safe. And honestly, they don't really know any better. They're lacking the guts and imagination it takes to be different. And it scares them to think there's someone around who has those things they're lacking. Who's not afraid to wear a size XL men's green hawaiian shirt with little bongo players printed all over it as a dress. And that's why they talk behind your back, shoot their little barbs- "Oh, you're wearing that?", try to cut you down to their size. Because they want to be brave like you, but they aren't, and they can't. They get their strength in numbers, not from talent, creativity or chutzpah.
Me (12): I thought that was pronounced "chutz-pah."

Me (39): It's not. Get a dictionary, kid. I know you don't need it to spell, but you could definitely use some work with pronunciations. Learn "detritus" now and save yourself some anguish later on.
Me (12): Okay. But how do I deal with them? I hate feeling like people are watching me and picking me apart.

Me (39): Well, that's never going to go away. But not everyone who's watching you is picking you apart. Here's the thing you don't know yet:  there's more out there like you. They're not easy to find. They keep a low profile- that's their defense against the snotty girls. You can't rag on what you can't see, right? But they're out there. Damn, I so wish the internet existed for you now. Social media was practically made for you. You're gonna love it.
Me (12): Whah?

  Me (39): Never mind. In spite of the chicks you're surrounded by now, you're going to find girls who like to read- and not magazines, but big, thick books on serious subjects. Girls who get excited about tackling something really difficult. Girls who love those old movies like you do, who worship Katharine Hepburn and Grace Kelly, not Julia Roberts and Demi Moore. Who will think those odd things that make you laugh are funny, too. Who get why Monty Python is hysterical. Who will enjoy your Vegetable Superheroes stories. (By the way, get going on that before those Veggie Tales wusses take over the talking produce scene.) Who will clamor for those photos you take of your toys posed in odd locations. Kids who appreciate you are out there. You just gotta sniff them out. And that means you gotta keep your eye out for fellow nerdlings, too, and bring them into your inner circle.  And by the way, it's not to say there won't be boys who are like this too. You're just gonna find a hella lot more of them in college than you will here. 
Me (12): Get right outta town. Hot damn!

Me (39): Shit. It's already started. *sigh*  Nope. It's true. So my advice to you- just stay weird. Hold onto it, even when normalcy is gripping on your ankles, trying to pull you overboard and underwater. And yeah, maybe you'll want to keep some of it underground for awhile. Hide that Social Distortion album in the Motley Crue tape case. Wrap Seventeen Magazine around Through the Looking Glass
For now.

It's all gonna change once you get to college. You're going to meet people so strange you're milquetoast. You're gonna be vanilla compared to Edward Scissorhands down the hall. So go ahead- wear your alligator wristwatch on your ankle and sneer at the kids who make fun of you for doing so. Twist your hair up like Lauren Bacall in the 40s and ignore the girls who use a 2 by 4 to tease their bangs. Wear those black and white spectator oxfords, but for the love of peanuts, wipe them down and polish them every night. Do you have any idea how hard it's gonna be to find another pair that nice? Don't focus on blending in. Stick out. It's hard, it's wearying. And it never ends. You're gonna face a lot of pressure to conform, from some surprising sources, too. But resist! It is sooo worth it. And one more thing- most important of all- don't stop writing. Whatever you do. Even if it's just a journal for awhile. One of the hardest things you'll ever do is make yourself back into a writer.
Me (12): Okay. Got it. You've given me hope. I guess you're cooler than I first thought. And hey- I'm guessing from the surprising lack of crows-feet you're sporting that stealing dabs of mom's eye cream is working?

Me (39): Totally. Keep it up. And wear lots of sunscreen. Pale will be in before you know it.
Me (12): Can you tell Dad that? He thinks I look sickly.

Me (39): And one more thing. Don't ever go chasing black cats under stairwells. Okay?
Me (12): Huh?

Me (39): Just trust me. It did make for the most awesome halloween costume ever, but it hurt like a sonofabitch.
Me (12): Hmm. Whatever you say.

Me (39): And give up on running.
Me (12): What? Why the hell would I run? Ever?

Me (39): You'll do it to get out of gym class. Don't fall for the hype. It won't ever feel better, even if you "just keep at it." There's no "runner's high" waiting for you.
A toast to you, girl with the shades.
Me(12): Good to know. Hey- good luck with turning 40.

Me (39): Thanks. I think I'm gonna rock it.
Me (12: Totally. It'll be awesome.

Me (39): What did I tell you about using that word?


  1. Oh this was just absolutely fantastic.
    So you tried to get into running!? I KNEW IT! Everyone says you gotta keep at it and blah blah blah. I have always known that is never for me. Ever. Screw runner's high. I don't need it. I can get walking-and-looking-at-cool-things high. Plus, runners seem to have all sorts of body troubles. They can say it's not due to running...but it's totally due to running. And when they have to recuperate, somehow they are sooo addicted that they can't wait until they are fully healed. Running is dangerous.

    I don't even know what I would say to my 12 year old self. A lot would be similar. I would let myself know that I didn't have to do people's homework for them. They won't like you regardless and you don't want people that can't do their own homework to be your friend. Your small town's small town ideas of what you are don't matter. The things that everyone hates you for are eventually going to be what make people like you.

  2. I wish I'd known you when I was 12. I think we would've formed a pretty cool alliance. And by 'cool' I mean hopelessly nerdy but happy to be so. :)
    And yes, I ran track and cross country for 2 years in high school, ran throughout college for fitness and tried one last time when we lived in Ohio. I finally realized I would never stick with something that felt so bad and there were other ways to get in shape that didn't make me want to open my veins with a grapefruit spoon.

  3. We would have been so happy and dorky!!
    The only exercise type activity I've really liked was pilates classes. That felt alright. There was a ball and everything was just okay and chill. You can't bend like other people? That's okay! I liked that. I'm sure there are diehards, but I wasn't in a diehard class. I was at a Y in the suburbs.
    I did try yoga once in college. Before class I had convinced myself that this would be my thing. Then I got in there and there was all this breathing super loud and calling things silly names. And I laughed. And people looked at me. I tried to stop. That made it worse. I went outside. Got control of myself and returned. My roommate looked at me with the often given, WTF face. Then I laughed again. Had to go in the hall. Cried with laughter as people were walking by and went back in and packed up my things. Then my roommate met me in the hall and I told her I just couldn't take it. We didn't return. All my big yoga thoughts were dashed just like that.

  4. Yes. We would've rocked the bathroom. (I can see us huddled together, seeking refuge from the mean girls doing their hair and making fun of them under our breath.)
    Fortunately the two yoga classes I've taken weren't focused on heavy breathing. I do have a yoga dvd that I love except for the fact that they shove "ooh-jai" breathing down your throat every five minutes.