I got my first penpal when I was 9 years old. Her name was Claire and she was the 11 year old niece of one of my mother’s colleagues, a woman who had migrated to Australia from Scotland. Claire wasn’t very nice, she thought everything I told her about in my letters was “stupid”, including me, but I was hooked on writing and receiving letters, so I kept writing to her.
When I was about 12 and started buying Countdown and Smash Hits magazines, I started writing letters to the people advertising for penpals in there. Some of them wrote back. One who was fairly local (Brisbane to my Rosewood, about 45 minutes drive apart) and I became friends for a few years. Later in High School, I wrote to people who had advertised in Dolly magazine, THE teenage girl magazine of the time. When I was 16, I had a penpal advertisement in Dolly myself.
It went in to the January 1989 edition. By Easter, I had received over 500 replies. I wrote to all but a handful of them (I got free postage in those days!) and struck up a correspondence with more than half. They ranged in age from a 12 year old girl to a 45 year old man.
I know what you’re thinking about the 45 year old man writing to a 16 year old girl. But you know, I wrote to Nicholas for about a decade, I still have most of his letters and he never said anything inappropriate, never asked me personal details, just told me about his farm and the music he liked and we talked about TV, movies and books we loved. We would trade mix tapes and I found so much amazing music through him. We lost contact during one of my frequent moves. I often wonder what happened to him, he’d be in his 60’s now.
Almost 22 years after I placed that ad in Dolly magazine, I still write to one of them. Her name is also Kath, she’s about the same age as me and lives on a farm in Western Australia. About 5 years ago we finally met when she and her husband and daughter came to Queensland for a holiday. The following May, I flew to Western Australia and had a holiday with her and her family. We still write fairly regularly, but these days it is via email. I consider her one of my best friends, despite the fact that we live so far apart. We’ve watched so many things unfold in each others lives over the years that we are fairly well connected despite the distance, and always seem to know just when we need each other, and what to say. She’s one of the special people in my life.
Nowdays, I do all my writing online. I keep in contact with friends via social media. I miss writing on paper with a pen. Sometimes at lunch time I will go and hide in a nearby cafe that always seems fairly empty, and write in a notebook. Quite often I write blog posts, or just thoughts about something down, but the act of writing with a pen and paper is something that is soothing to me. I hope I never lose the skill of being able to write the old fashioned way. My handwriting is never going to be called anything special, I learnt to write just as they were changing from cursive to the standardised printing, so I have a funny mix of styles, and my mother used to say my handwriting was like me, big and loopy. But it’s as much mine as my fingerprints, so I like it.
Do you write with a pen and paper? Have you ever been a letter writer? Do you like to read letters? Tell me your stories.
How long is it since you were sixteen? It’s an awful long time since I was sixteen, and if you’ve been reading earlier posts, you’ll know that my 20 year high school reunion was just a couple of weeks ago (for those of you who haven’t read earlier posts, I didn’t go).
I had a conversation with a friend recently about if you knew then, what you know now. Which kind of got me thinking, what would I say to myself if I could sit down today and write a letter for 16 year old me, that 16 year old me would actually receive. So I thought I would give it a go here.
I know right now you just can’t imagine being 36 years old. I know you’ve thought about the Year 2000 and how you’ll be 27 when the new year hits and and that’s totally unfathomable to you. But it does happen, and it will sail right by you really quickly, and before you know it, 2010 is racing up towards you at a phenomenal rate.
But that will be ok. Because unlike the years gone by, you feel more comfortable about time passing than you have when you were younger, and you’ll not feel like you have all these deadlines and rules you have to stick by in your life.
I know right now in your life, you are all you have that you feel you can depend on. Things are changing all around you, you’re finding a little bit of the strength you are capable of, and you’re making decisions for YOU for the first time in your life. You’re well versed in making adult decisions, you’ve been making them since you can remember, but this is about the first time you’re making those decisions with yourself in mind. Even though you don’t quite recognise it yet, and you’re still trying to please everyone else, you’re starting to get your first inkling that you do need to look after you before everyone else. That’s good, because the sooner you learn that, the easier it gets honey!
You’re scared, and you feel like things never change. They will. Boy oh boy will they change for you very soon. You’re going to meet your first true love very soon, and you will still love him with your whole heart over 20 years later, even though you know he’s not the man for you. And I promise you, he’ll never break your heart. He’ll teach you that men can be gentle and loving and giving, that they don’t have to be about violence and humiliation. Watch out for him, you’ll know he’s a kindred spirit the moment you meet him.
Don’t worry so much about what other people think about you. Worry about what you think about you. That’s not an easy lesson to learn, but it is the truth. Especially don’t worry what strangers or people you don’t like think about you. They matter NOTHING. And if someone thinks bad things about you, then they’re not worth caring about. The ones who matter love you to bits, and they’ll prove it in a million ways.
Oh and your family? You’re the one that’s getting it right sweetie, it’s ok. You will find a happiness that their selfishness and bitterness will never, ever afford them. You will be free.
Your body is not who you are. It’s hard being different to everyone else, I know, but it doesn’t define you. Who you are is in your heart and soul and mind. Again, those people who don’t love you for who you really are, well, they’re not worth caring about either.
Believe it or not, you can learn anything you put your mind to. A fucking brilliant TV show called Mythbusters is going to teach you that. Yep, a TV show. It will end up being one of the few things you bother to watch. Because every time it’s on, it awakes a new curiosity in you for something else you can learn about. It will send you off to the library or the internet (don’t worry, you’ll learn what the internet is in about a decade, and you’ll never look back) to learn more about a gazillion other subjects. Through that learning you’ll discover a confidence in yourself that you would never have believed possible. Here they are, keep an eye out for them:
And guess what? The stutter goes away. Not totally, but enough that most people will never know you suffered from it, unless you choose to tell them. So much, that you’ll even be public speaking one day.
But what I really want you to know is, you’re awesome. Not in a wanky conceited way, but just you, as you really are, with all your flaws, mistakes, fuck-ups, goofiness and traits that some people put you down for, are actually awesome. You don’t have to be perfect to be awesome. You are a smart, beautiful, funny and HUGELY open hearted woman. And the day you realise that will be the most liberating moment of your life.
I love you.