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Keep Painting Castles

Dear Jacqueline,

You’re probably freaking out right now. Not because a big test or dance or event is coming up, but because you’re pretty much always freaking out. You have a crush on yet another boy who doesn’t like you that way (but so far he doesn't know, thank god). Your skin hasn’t been clear since you were twelve. Your boobs are too small and your hair doesn’t do anything you want it to. Ever. You love your best friends but they seem prettier and more fun than you are. You’re second, fourth, or fourteenth best at something again and can never quite reach that number one spot not matter what you pursue. You said or did something stupid and you haven’t learned how to forgive yourself yet. Meanwhile, your D&D group is amazing and the mural you painted in your basement looks awesome, even if other people think it’s immature that a giant castle and dragon fill your wall and that yes, you kinda wish you lived in that painting. Not just kinda.

Jacqueline as a teenager

The things you’re freaking out about now may, in fact, become your strengths. Okay, not the skin thing. You’ll never fully come to terms with that. But all those crushes mean you like people. You’re drawn to them and inspired by them. You appreciate beauty, joy, creativity, and kindness. You care what others think of you, which, despite self-help articles to the contrary, actually helps make you a decent human to be around. You also pay attention to what other people think and feel. This will feed into what will become your artistic career. No one can make good art without good observational skills. Remember that time you hung out on the fringes of the party and just watched? (Okay, all those times you hung out on the fringes and just watched?) You were absorbing your world. Harness that ability. It will serve you well, even if you eventually learn to fake comfort at group events so you can engage with all the amazing people you’ll encounter. That frustration with never being number one? It’ll drive you to work hard, to not settle. It’ll also make you interesting, because you may not be number one at anything, but you don’t totally suck at a lot of things. This diversity of strengths will help you adapt as life throws you unexpected obstacles. You’ll have options. You won’t crumble in despair. You’ll figure it out. And that mural? That will be your jumping off point. One day you’ll be helping a student a lot like you make dragon puppets. And that task will be part of your job.

You’re probably getting tired of people asking you what you want to do with your life. Accept it. They’re going to be asking for a while yet. And then, eventually they’re not. The questions stop because people will assume you’ve settled into something. But you’re not a settler. You will always want to try new things. And when people stop asking what you want to do, you’ll kind of miss the questions because you’ll still be asking them, yourself. So if you can, embrace them. Not because they require an answer, but because they indicate you have potential, possibilities, choices. You have skills and talents to nurture and employ. People ask because they believe you have something exciting to offer the world. Hear the questions. Don’t ever feel like you have to answer them. Just enjoy the asking, the thinking, the infinite possibilities for the future that lies ahead. Live in the unknown. Embrace the diversity of your interests. Be proud of your affection and your drive. And above all, keep painting castles on walls.

Yours. Truly.

Someone You’ll Become. Maybe.

The letter above is part of an ongoing weekly series featuring letters from authors to their teen selves. If you're a published author who'd like to participate in this series, we'd love to have you. Just click here and let us know you're interested.


About The Author: Jacqueline's a writer, costume designer, and lover of beautiful things. She's on the fulltime faculty in the Department of Theatre & Film at the University of British Columbia where she also takes any writing class they’ll let her into. When not obsessing about where to put the buttons or the commas, she can be found running by the ocean, eating excessive amounts of gluten, listening to earnest love songs, and pretending her dog understands every word she says. Her debut novel Hearts, Strings, and Other Breakable Things comes out this December from HMHTeen. You can connect with Jacqueline through her website or on Twitter and Instagram at @jfkillsdarlings.


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