Dear 17 Year-old Self,

The fictional American version of high school inhabited by Molly Ringwald and Andrew McCarthy and John Cusack simply does not exist. I know this is hard for you to hear. But you will never wake up and just be Samantha Mathis in Pump Up The Volume.

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YouTube Pump Up The Volume trailer

One day, the people in the John Hughes-era movies will look strange to you. Too old for high school, yes. And too stylized. But sharp, odd, different from today’s too-polished Greek gods of the campus. Samantha Mathis was once a romantic lead. Now, Emma Watson is supposed to pass for a nerd, for an entire generation. And wait until you meet Tim Riggins

Accept this now: No one will ever hold his boombox up outside your window, playing Peter Gabriel. I am reading about development and brain chemistry, and I have to tell you… These scenes, these movies, they are shaping your very synaptic pathways.

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YouTube Say Anything boombox scene

The A.S. Byatt binges, those are better. But you should really get some sun. You have the rest of your life to watch these movies, because in a way, you will always love the movies that ruined you best of all. It’s true that there is something adolescent about our state of mind as a nation. Fictional American High School is just our metaphor for Life When Everything Feels Extremely Important. But these movies makes you feel like life is being lived without you, somewhere else. I wish I could make you see, no one gets to live in Shermer, Illinois.

In other news:

  • Acne is not magically lifted away with the issue of a valid ID at age 21.
  • Get ready for the Internet! There will be personals on it, and you’ll meet your husband there. Trust me. It’s both much more and much less revolutionary than it seems at first.
  • Here is a secret about your hair: Just leave it alone. It is still damaged from that terrible cut-rate perm. (I blame Top Gun for that one.)
  • Somewhere in your closet is a dress from junior high. A kind of long, tailored, mock-turtle-neck sweatshirt. Neon — but neon — yellow. A triangular patch of black leopard print cuts down over one shoulder. Don’t throw it away!
  • About that Internet, and “options.” Read my lips: Diversify. The. Stock.

That Bryan Adams song that you like, Summer of ’69. “Those were the best days of my life.” A friend of yours said — offhandedly on the phone, sometime early senior year — that Bryan Adams was right. “These are the best days of our life, you know?” he said. And you burst into tears.

I still like that song. And we do look back through a golden haze. It’s in our brain chemistry: Sometime around age thirty we go over something called the “reminiscence bump” and start down a long hill where recent memories fade faster and adolescent memories burn brighter and brighter. High school is a defining metaphor for our lives in the sense that we are always still becoming adults, right up until the end, and things often feel important, and there is never any justice in love and war and in-crowds.

But I promise you, Bryan Adams was wrong.

They have these other videos now. About bullying and being gay. I think we all like them because we all wish we could reach back and tell our younger selves, it gets better…

You, Later

P.S.  There will be boys who like The Indigo Girls! Or at least, there will be boys who will like you enough to play Closer To Fine on their guitars for you. Just hold on!

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YouTube Closer To Fine

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14 Responses to Dear 17 Year-old Self,

  1. Dude, Pete can tear up Closer to Find – I bet we could even do harmonies…

  2. Alas, Jon still hates the Indigo Girls even though I have tried my best to force them on him.

  3. “…you will always love the movies that ruined you best of all.” So, so, so true.

  4. this is great! and, as i tell all my teen clients, being a grown up really rocks!

  5. Heh, thanks guys. Am I actually a grown-up now? I still like them Indigo Girls, so maybe not. Kat, I’m surprised Jon has managed to fight them this long.

  6. Jon is messing with you Kathleen – he just doesn’t want to play those tunes because we saw the Indigo Girls like ten million times when we were kids. Seriously, those girls toured the shit out of the 80s.

  7. Another triumph of the famous Beston Barnett memory. I have never seen Indigo girls in concert. I may have played along on guitar at some point whilst someone sang that “I went to the doctor” song. I once taught a girl “Romeo and Juliet” – but that is ultimately a Dire Straits song.

  8. but I got you on the defensive so, you know, win-win…

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  10. Tsilli Pines says:

    Yes. This is still the content of my brain, years later:

  11. PamW says:

    I totally remember you in college with that song. Sometimes I remember times when I was schooled by some mean comment when I was an adolescent – and then I think about how I would respond now. Like the time when I thought I was so awesome by telling a boy in 8th grade: “Why don’t you bite the big one,” and then he responded “I DO have a big one.” And I don’t think I even knew what we were talking about. Let me tell you, that kid has been zinged COUNTLESS times in my head over the years. Oh and also, watching Veronica Mars doesn’t help this weird nostalgia.

  12. thisblue says:

    I love Veronica Mars. Absolutely tv made for people on the other side of the reminiscence bump.

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