At age sixteen, I did a lot of staring out of windows—filled with terror, worrying about who I was or what I was going to be. Was I good, clever, hip, decent, fun enough? Was the world going to end? (This was the 1980s, after all, and the cold war was no joke.) Was I going to make it? I wore a troubled brow.
As we get older, some of our teenage intensity will ease, but when in the maelstrom, we don’t know that. When we are young, we so rarely take the advice of grown-ups, but would you have taken advice from someone like you? From your older self perhaps?
My family have always been letter writers, and pens have always been precious to me. My mother’s beautiful italicized script flowing from the left-handed gold nib of her Parker pen always struck me as the height of adult elegance. When, as a child, I would go away from home for any period, there would always be a long and comforting letter from her in my bag. And, of course, writing thank-you letters was as much a part of the holiday season as tinsel.
A few years ago my partner showed me a heartbreaking letter that he had received from a troubled classmate while he was still at school. It made me want to send a hug back in time to say, “You’re okay, you’re just fine.”
But in reality, of course, that’s impossible. (Time-travel mailbox in development anyone?) Instead, the “Dear Me” letter was born. Writing my own letter to myself and hearing what this experience has meant to this book’s generous contributors has proven to me that composing a letter to your younger self is a cathartic process. The act of addressing yourself with kindness and adult understanding can give you a better sense of who you are now—for indeed, in many ways our childhood self is our parent. As Bob Dylan sang, “I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.”
Reading this collection is to be rewarded with an intimate glimpse into the backgrounds and emotional makeup of a wonderfully varied group of fascinating people, without the filter of the usual interview process.
I hope that you will smile, laugh, shed a tear, and take some comfort from these time-traveling missives and remember once again what it was like to be sixteen.
June 19, 2011
© 2011 Joseph Galliano