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Letter To My Teen Self: Jamie Beth Cohen

Hey Jamie -

It's me, you! It's Jamie!

It’s 2019 and we're forty-three years old, which must seem ancient, but I assure you, it’s not as old as it sounds. You're reading this in 1992, when we're sixteen years old. Freaky, right? There are some things I think you should probably hear, but don’t worry, I’m not going to tell you everything. See, there are a bunch of lessons you’ll want to learn on your own, the hard way, and I respect that. But there are plenty of lessons that weren’t worth the damage they caused int the learning, and since I’ve been given this opportunity, I’d like to give us just a few shortcuts…

#1 - First and foremost, right now, at this very moment in 1992, you are absolutely underselling yourself in a variety of ways. I know it’s going to take a while to learn your worth and believe in yourself -- don’t worry, we’ll eventually get there -- but I urge you to fake-it-until-you-make-it for the time-being because that’s what everyone else is doing. Promise.

#2 - You are so, so hard on yourself -- spoiler alert: we will continue to be unnecessarily hard on ourself -- but as you get older, people will seek you out to tell you how smart or nice or pretty or funny or confident they thought you were “back then” and you will be in awe of these revelations. So, please, dear gawd, stop popping the zits you think make you unlovable, stop biting your cuticles because it’s gross, and just smile, because you’re really doing mostly ok.

#3 - That is not to say you should smile all the time. In fact, you should never smile just because someone tells you to, but … but … and here’s the thing: You’re being so much harder on yourself than anyone else is being on you. If you could find a way to be satisfied with yourself, you’d have a lot to smile about. So just give it some thought, and maybe ease up on yourself by like, half a notch.

#4 - By the time you are sixteen, you will already have been the victim of sexual violence. In the timeline I live in, you do not admit that to yourself or anyone else until you are in your 40s. That may have been a self-protective measure, and part of me doesn’t want to take that away from you, but the other part of me knows that giving language to the experience broke your world open in the best possible way, so maybe consider talking to someone.

Jamie at 16

#5 - Systemic oppression is real, and it’s bullshit. Do everything you can to fight it every chance you get. Capitalism is no better.

#6 - This is not news to you, but I want to confirm something you’ve always suspected: Adults do not have everything figured out. They do have more experiences than you, but that doesn’t mean they were paying attention while they were having those experiences or thinking deeply about them. You are a pretty good judge of character, but you frequently dismiss your instincts because you’re surrounded by more seasoned people who are contradicting you. You can trust your gut, I promise.

#7 - You will date a guy in college who is not a jerk. He will make you wonder why you spent so much time dating jerks. This is just another way you’ve undervalued yourself. Try not to do that.

#8 - Here’s some good news: Your friends when you are 16 will still be your friends when we are 43. Some of them will be our friends our whole life. Others we will lose and find again (there’s this thing called Facebook, it’s a cesspool, but it will help us find some people we thought we had lost for good). Just know, the people who matter to you right now will always matter to you, you have chosen well. Same goes for the music you’re listening to, which will get you through so much. However, it turns out Morrissey is actually a bigger jerk than anyone could have imagined (not an easy feat!), and I’m so, so sorry about that one.

#9 - We’re a writer now. Like a real, honest to gawd, writer with a novel out and essays that people pay us for. That probably just made your head explode -- it still makes our head explode -- but here’s the best part: we write for teens and we wrote the novel we needed when we were a teen and it’s helping people. Because fundamentally, the most important thing I can tell you, you already know, even if you don’t have the words for it yet: Teens don’t get to decide when people start looking at them as sexual objects. The best anyone can hope for is to be prepared for that kind of attention and respond in a way that is true to oneself. It’s ok to like that attention but please, dear gawd, when it doesn’t feel right, trust your gut. Like I’ve already said, your gut is worth trusting.

#11 - And lastly, speaking of your gut, you really shouldn’t be eating dairy. I know that’s a tough thing to hear, and you’re right, there’s no passable substitute for chocolate ice cream, not even in the future that is the 21st century, but seriously, stop eating dairy and you’ll feel a lot better. The story about pulling off the highway and interrupting a church service to find a bathroom is hilarious, but it’s one of those lessons that really wasn’t worth the cost of learning it.

Love ya, Chicken! You got this!


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: Jamie Beth Cohen writes about difficult things, but her friends think she's funny. Her debut YA novel, WASTED PRETTY, is about being noticed for the first time and all the things that are exciting, annoying, and sometimes dangerous about that.


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