An impactful acquaintance once asked me what my 16-year-old self would think of my current life. At the time, I was twenty-three and completing my final senior year of college (why I had more than one, and how many I had, is a tale for another time) while working three part-time jobs. I had just helped organize and participated in my first academic conference. I had also been accepted to the MA program at UIUC. In short, it was an optimistic time for me and I thought my sixteen-year-old self would have been both surprised and proud of what I had accomplished at twenty-three.
Since then, I periodically check in with myself with this exercise. I’ve heard that one way to make a difficult decision is to think about what you would wish you had done when you were eighty. Personally, I often find it more useful to make a decision by asking myself what my sixteen-year-old self would think of a decision or a situation.
Like my 23-year-old self, I am currently facing a lot of changes but feel, and while I feel optimistic overall, I have been doing a lot of thinking about what my 16-year-old self would think about my life at the moment. Thus, this imagined conversation between my present self and my 16-year-old self.
Me Now: Hey, girl, hey!
Me Then: [side eye right. side eye left.] hey?
MN: I’m you from the future!
MT: So, is this a thing in the future? Are there actually time machines and people go back to see their old selves, or. . .
MN: Nah, this is a thought exercise.
MT: Yeah, that makes more sense. I like your dress.
MN: Thanks! You pretty much only wear dresses now.
MT: What? Why?
MN: Many reasons, but I feel like I should let you figure that out for yourself.
MT: That’s less than helpful. Is this, like, a future person thing? You’re not allowed to tell me why things happen?
MN: I mean, idk, what the rules are here, but I think this is more one of those things where it won’t to a lot of good to tell you because you won’t really get it until you get it, you know?
MT: Two things. First, what does “idk” mean? Second, you mean it’s like those times when your friend is dating someone terrible but if you try and tell her then she’ll just get mad at you?
MN: Sorry, “idk” means “I don’t know” and, yes, just like that.
MT: Okay, then. Well, uh, what’s the future like? What year did you come from?
MN: I’m from 2017 and shit is way weirder than you can begin to imagine. I’m not even going to try and get into all of that, but you are about to get a PhD.
MT: That’s so cool. What’s my PhD in? Also, do I swear in the future?
MN: Yeah, dude, you swear a fuckton. Our PhD is on the rhetoric of virginity in the contemporary United States.
MT: That sounds cool. Almost everyone I know talks about virginity all the time.
MN: Yeah, that’s because everyone you know right now is super into purity culture.
MT: Purity culture? Yeah, I hadn’t thought of it in those terms but that’s a perfect description. So, like, purity culture is what youth pastors talk about all the time, right?
MN: That’s definitely part of it. Speaking of which, you still have that walkman, right?
MT: Yes. . .
MN: So, you should go to a lot more youth groups and record the conversations people have.
MT: Ew, why? I hate youth groups. They are lead by youth pastors who are creepy. Why are they all so skinny? Why do they have so much energy? Why do they choose to spend their time with people my age instead of people their own age? Why would you want me to do that?
MN: Jesus. Slow down, kid. Yes, youth pastors are super creepy. I still don’t know why anyone would choose to spend all their time with someone your age and it’s even creepier when you think about the fact that most of what they do is talk about sex with teenagers all day long. Sure, it’s under the guise of talking about why not to have sex, but still. I have no idea about why they are so skinny and so full of energy. It’s still creepy. However, if you record the youth groups you go to as a minor, and its your property, you can use it for our dissertation without having to get IRB approval.
MT: What is irb approval? What is an irb?
MN: Sorry, girl, gotta go, but one more thing: wear more scandalous clothes. Your body is perfect. You won’t regret it. Oh! And no one notices your acne as much as you do. Love you.