The book was on the yard sale table underneath a stack of romance novels and James Patterson mysteries. The title was intriguing: "Dear Me: A Letter to My 16-Year-Old Self." Opening it, I read a touching inscription to a granddaughter on the occasion of her high school graduation.
I thumbed through it, scanning advice from household names like Stephen King, Jodi Picoult and Hugh Jackman. I dug in my pocket for a couple of quarters. This little gem was coming home with me.
The teenager in charge of the checkout table took my money and resumed texting without giving any indication that she was parting with a special gift. Hmmm. Maybe next time Nanna should just send a check.
I read the book in one sitting. The premise was simple. If you could send a letter to yourself aged 16, what would you write in it?
Alice Cooper (remember Alice Cooper?) had some advice that I found surprising: "Trashy girls are exciting for about five minutes. ... Keep your eye out for a really good-lookin' church girl. Then you'll have the best of both worlds."
Jim Belushi wrote to the 16-year-old self who was spending three days in a jail cell. "You really don't know the difference between positive and negative attention, do you?"
He continues, "Trust me, even in this moment when you hate yourself and want to disappear, you will be able to mine these feelings in your career in the not-so-distant future. You will have great mentors ..."
And finally: "... you don't have to marry everyone you sleep with. It gets costly."
There were two pervading themes in all of the submissions" "follow your dreams" and "it gets better."
If I were to write to my 1970 self, I would certainly echo those thoughts. I'd also say, "Forget the safe major when you get to Alabama. Social work is a noble profession but what you really want to do is write. And here's a chance to study with the best, people like Thomas Rabbitt and Everette Maddox. This opportunity won't come around again. Grab that brass ring and hang on with both hands. And for heaven's sake, don't throw out all your journals when you graduate. Plus, you're really going to like your children. So start sooner and have more."
I'd also mention that it would be a good idea to sell that Mindspring stock in 2005 for $50,000. In a year it won't be worth even a 10th of that.
I asked some friends what their advice would be. Their responses were insightful, charming and rueful in turn. Here are just a few of them:
Poet Donna de la Perrière covered a lot of ground, writing, "I'd tell her to be easier on herself, and much much kinder. I'd tell her that her current sense of the world is so very small -- and that the larger, 'realer' world is wonderful. I'd tell her that none of the people who cause her even a moment's worth of grief now will mean a thing to her in five years. I'd tell her to have a whole lot more fun. And I'd tell her to ditch the boyfriend ASAP."
Hall County native and former ABC News correspondent Al Dale wrote, in part, "Ask questions. Be curious about things you don't understand. ... There is no such thing as a stupid question.
"Be skeptical but not cynical. There is a critical difference. Skepticism is a form of healthy inquiry. Cynicism is dark and unhelpful, and too often people confuse the two.
"Read, read, read. Keep a journal, even if it is only a simple line or two a day. ... You will be so glad that you did as you relive those moments later on. Sadly, I have not followed that latter advice, and it is one of the certain things I would change about the past if I could.
"Tell your parents you love them."
Diane Fitzpatrick wrote from San Francisco: "Be good to your friends and make more of them. Always choose a friend over a boy, even if he's really cute and popular, because chances are, at your 20th class reunion he won't even be worth a minute of your time. You will, however, have a blast with your friends from back then."
Dr. David Westfall cut right to the chase: "1. Commitment and perseverance will pay off in the long run and, 2. Even if you think your parents aren't 'cool,' the values that they are modeling for you have long term importance."
My daughter, Molly, now 27, had a couple of pithy pieces of advice: "Name brands don't matter." and "Keep in touch."
This column comes with homework. Jot down a quick note to yourself at 16. Unless, of course, you are 16. In which case, buy the book and take copious notes, grasshopper.
Are you reading this online? Please share with the class in the comments section. What would you write to your 16-year-old self?
Teressa Glazer is a Gainesville businesswoman. Her column appears biweekly on Fridays and at gainesvilletimes.com.