Straighten Up and Fly Right

Today, Peakers, I’m posting an article I wrote for an online magazine called Dear Teen Me, where authors pen their teenage self a note from the future. An exercise in memory, humor, advice and forgiveness, writing a letter to your former self is a worthy task and a labor of love.

Also, a shock of realization regarding your naiveté with savvy hairstyles.


Dear Shelley,

Buckle up. I mean it. Your life is going to be like a long, long ride in a SIAI Marchetti aircraft doing countless aerobatic maneuvers until you toss your cookies across the glass-roofed ceiling and finally land. Then you’re going to scrape all that Keebler off the canopy and get back up there.


And if you’re having a hard time imagining what it’s going to be like in that Marchetti, picture the Blue Angels, or the Thunderbirds mid-show. Picture speed, panic, and an occasional loss of equilibrium.

And then realize that your answer to all those hair-raising, stomach-churning, lunch losing flights is to learn how to fly the damn aircraft yourself.


I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking we’re an idiot, right? Well, we are and we aren’t.

We’re an idiot for letting so much scare the hell out of us, but we’re not too duff in the brave department. It nearly evens out.

There’s so much I could tell you right now—warn you about, but I’m thinking if I do that, we might have ourselves a Back to the Future situation here where I could end up altering the past. And I’m not willing to risk that.

I know what you want to hear. Did you get the guy? Is your name in lights? Did all those wishes you made on candles, eyelashes, and falling stars come true?

Sorry. I’m not going to tell you that. Even though it would be tremendously easy for me to do so. Why not? Because you like surprises. And because life would hold no magic if I let you read the end of the book.

Do you remember that one time when you were eleven or twelve and finally got the new hardcover everyone was talking about in school, and everyone was nearly finished with it and you were so behind you jumped to the end so that you could at least talk about the ending with everyone else the next day? Do you remember how it made you feel?


The book meant nothing to you. You found out the plot, but you missed the whole point. Yeah, it totally sucked and I’m not going to do that to you. I want you full of wonder. Because wonder is the thing that motivates the hell out of you. But you already know this. I’m not spoiling anything here.

So what might be the point of this letter? Why write to you in the first place? The answer is such a simple thing—such a tiny message, but it might have a big impact. This letter is nothing more than a request. I want you to make a habit of carrying around a small plastic bag in your pocket. Think of yourself more like a Girl Scout. I want you a teensy bit more prepared. Prepared for those “I’m so scared I could toss my cookies” moments. I want to at least eliminate the fear of having a “visual burp” where you can’t get rid of the evidence within the amount of time it takes to tie your shoe, or swat a fly, or download a song from iTunes when you’ve got unbelievable Wi-Fi coverage and computational speed. Okay—ditch that last reference because you’ve got no idea what the hell I’m talking about.

It doesn’t matter.

But because we carry fear around in our invisible backpack of ‘can’t leave home without them’ obstacles, it’s best you just stop trying to overcome it or destroy it and maybe just embrace it.


I’m not saying the two of you have to become best friends, but you are both riding on the same bus and you’d better find a few things to talk about in order to pass the time. It’ll be so much easier this way.

Get to know this fear entity as quickly as you can. Explore it, like the dark side of the moon people write songs and poetry about. It’s really not such a mystery, more like a family member no one wants hanging around when the shit hits the fan. Fear is one of those things that ends up getting in the way of solving a problem when you really wish it would grab a bucket of water and start helping to put out the fire. Fear is the person who screams, “MY BABY!” instead of wrestling the longest ladder she can find off the fire truck and slamming it up against the house beneath the nursery window.

It doesn’t have to be all panic and suffering. It can be more like accomplishment with a little sprinkling of panic and suffering.


Think of fear as a seasoning like salt and pepper. You can live without them, but ask anyone who’s on a low sodium diet what they think of their dish and the first thing out of their mouth is going to be about how bland everything tastes.

So, here’s my definition of fear: not necessary, but greatly needed in order to provide life the depth and breadth of its true dimensions.

I promise I’m not just blowing smoke out of my pie hole for fun. At forty-five, we’ve had enough experience with the annoying companion to qualify as a crackerjack connoisseur on the subject. Trust me. Just roll with it.

And don’t forget the plastic bag.

Lastly, just so we don’t waste time with the whole ‘get your debut book out there quicker’ issue, I’m attaching the manuscript of a little book I wrote which I think might do well. It’s a tale about a boy who finds out he’s a wizard.



Shelley Kids Photo 2Shelley Kids Photo

*ROBIN GOTT’s NEW POST* (click) 

Today, he’s posting a sketch that BELONGS in DEAR OPL!

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.



78 thoughts on “Straighten Up and Fly Right

  1. Oh, my dear, you still got it. How can you still look so much like you did in these photos of yesteryear? But better. You look more of yourself, I can see it in your eyes. What a wonderful idea, to write to your younger self. I’m not sure I have any advice at all for my younger self that would end up any better than my current situation. But it’s something to cogitate. Have a fearless week.

    • Thank you, Ardys, for such lovely words. Whether or not I may “look” more of myself today than yesterday is one of those tricky things I try to avoid spending too much time mulling over, but I do most definitely feel like I’ve finally morphed into the person I’ve wanted to become. And that was a bit of a muscling, effortful adventure, but oh, so worth it. So all in all, I’m coming out even in the wash.
      I’d love to read a letter of yours to your younger self. Maybe you’d consider it one day for a post? It’d be dynamite, no doubt.

  2. A few years ago I spent an entire day looking at everything I was doing through the eyes of 16-year-old me … if she could be fast forwarded into the future. When I started to focus on all the little details in my life 40 years later, it became an amazing eye opening experience.
    The message I would have given myself is .. don’t worry so much. It turns out ok. Your message is very similar – it’s ok to be afraid, but do it anyway 🙂

    • An entire day? Now that would require some serious acting chops and a well-developed imagination. Well done, you, Joanne. I wonder just how long I could muster before I’d have to slap my sixteen-year-old self upside the head and shout to pay attention.
      And yes, the worry, that’s always getting in the way, isn’t it? I think I spent way too much time wondering where I would be in ten years rather than focusing on the moments all around me.
      Lessons learned.

  3. Fantastic advice to your not much younger self Shelley. I’m puzzled by the paradox though. Before you wrote it, you must have known whether the advice had been followed. If it had then maybe you changed the past to get to this point and I wonder what it made you miss in the period between then and now.
    If it hadn’t then don’t you risk the chance of making a change now, in which case you may lose many of the memories, the experiences you’ve lived so far?
    My brain hurts now! But,one thing I’m sure of is that previous commenters are right, how little you’ve changed.Still as beautiful now as then.
    xxx Massive Hugs xxx

    • Well … I was trying to avoid that whole enigma of potential conflict between then and now. My guess, David, is that my teenage self hasn’t yet found the letter because it’s likely buried beneath a pile of music scores and sequined costumes. So maybe there’s hope she’ll never see it, right?
      Sorry bout the brain pain. o_O
      And thank you for the super lovely compliment. xoxo

  4. Hey Shelley,

    What wonderful pearls of wisdom to send to your (equally as gorgeous) self. Of all the things I’d tell myself, a heads up about a wizard would never cross my mind. How clever of you. Now I just off to find a mad scientist and a DeLorean 😄


  5. Great post. I liked your words about the process of morphing into the person you wanted to be. It’s always so tough to accelerate to the next level of yourself and to be content with who you are. You definitely know how to do it. Thank you for this post!

    • You’ve hit on a really good point, Marta–one that sages across the world have uttered in nearly every languages: stop living for the future and find your bliss in the now. A life-long pursuit for so many of us. I’ll keep chugging along on my end, and I hope you do too. Cheers!

  6. Wonderful advice Shelley but still so hard to follow! Sometimes I think my younger self was braver than my current self, naiveté can go a long way and I think you can become more fearful as you grow older and life conditions your expectations, but I agree wholeheartedly that the easier things are the less fulfilling they turn out to be. I think I would tell my younger self to stop analysing, worrying and planning the future and get on with smelling the roses! 🙂

    • Apparently, I used to annoy the bejeebies right out of a lot of people when I was in my teens and early twenties because I spent so much time pondering where I’d be in ten years. From where I sit now, I can easily understand how folks would want to swat me like a fly, but I also understand that the query came from a place that was provoked by my field of work. Jobs were never permanent positions. You auditioned (fearful), got a contract and hoped to do well enough to keep the position for the run of the tour or show (fearful) and then when it closed down you had to show up for the same routine repeatedly. No stability. (fearful) I suppose it was a good thing to be driven by the fearless joy of that art though. It was a boundless source of fuel.
      And I so agree with your assessment of the blissful benefits of being naive. Ah, youth 😛

  7. Profound served up decked out in fun, and great great advice to one who knew she HAD BEEN afraid, only I can’t help wondering ( with Jane Morley) whether it was really SHOULD HAVE BEEN (but wasn’t, not really). That would be certainly true for me, always walking along a precipice but refusing to look down, and now, looking up, realising I SHOULD HAVE BEEN terrified. If I wrote to my sixteen year old self it would be more like ‘Whatever you do, don’t move!’ A great idea, this post for any ‘creative writing’ workshop only I hope none of them expropriate.

    • Such a great point, Philippa. Sometimes the thought of introducing even an ounce more of common sense to our youthful selves could result in us never having taken those flying leaps with boundless amounts of faith. Unfounded confidence is a source of miraculous fuel. God, if I could tap into that pipeline whenever I felt the need of it I’d be leaping out of planes rather than just trying to remember how it was to fly one.
      cheers to you!

  8. I’m a little surprised about you being a teen with issues about fear. Most teens are fearless or, at least think they are. I know my only conscience fear was getting in trouble with someone of authority in my life.

    • My work world was a little on the harsh side, Glynis. It was steeped in a soup of judgement, criticism and expectation–but also tremendous joy. The two did manage to balance one another out, but life often required an extra dose of Wheaties in the morning.

  9. So much to love about this post, especially since I’ve been dealing with anxiety all week. A great reminder not to be fearful of fear, and embrace it from time to time.

    Robin’s comic was darling. 🙂

    I loved the photos, too! What a neat throwback… what kind of show were you doing in the picture on the right?

    Here’s to another sixty years of adventure, Shelley. 🙂

    • The anxiety of packing? Is it nearly time to haul up and head out? I keep thinking of you two and hoping that you’re squeezing the last precious drops of delight out of your time in Japan.
      And yes, I love the color with the comics this week (and, of course, the sketches themselves!).
      That show was a tour of 33 kids all ages 16-20. 22 singers/dancers and an 11 piece orchestra. Two years of enormous work, but the most amazing experiences ever. If you didn’t mind sleeping on the floor of a tour bus, it was a spectacular life.

      • I’d sleep on a bus in a heartbeat for an experience like that, but alas, my music skills truncate at “The Alphabet Song.” 😉

        Yes, anxiety about the move, and a need to be more independent from certain people in my life (not NJ, we’re golden!) have left me feeling pretty not-Alex this week, but I seem to be slowly recovering.

        Today we went out to a lovely, small village north of Kyoto called Ohara. We visited a temple with bloody ceilings (not a slang term… actual blood on their actual ceiling). The ceiling is made from the floorboards of a castle that fell to siege over 400 years ago. 2,000 samurai fell that day (depending on who tells the story) and afterward, the floorboards were moved to various temples in the area so monks could pray for their souls. It was really trippy.

        • Wow, Alex. I am so hoping you write a post about Ohara and the temple – or the castle and its fabled past. That is the stuff pure magical stories spring from!
          I hope the week improves and you get your groove back. I had to laugh the other week when my daughter told me about a conversation she had with her brother because she’s going through some similar issues. He advised her to weed out those purely cancerous people from her life, that she should simply strap on her ‘bitch boots’ and get on with real life. Sheesh, I love the confidence of that kind of sibling support.
          Now you go gettum, tiger.
          PS – there were also plenty of stagehands. No musical ability necessary. Just had to have a steady supply of all black clothing. 😛

          • NJ claimed the historical post for a paid article, and we generally don’t fight over topics, but I’ll definitely touch on it with a photo essay. 😀

            I also have plenty of black clothes. Stage hand, ahoy!

  10. I have no idea what I’d say to my teen age self. Probably accept that nothing is going to be as you expected. I probably should have had a little bit more fear! A very thought-provoking post and bravo for writing it!

    • such an interesting point, Jan. I wonder, if polled, how many people in their 40s, 50s and 60s would answer that, yes, the road was clear from the getgo and life unfolded just like they planned for it to? That would be illuminating.
      Many thanks for the lovely compliment too. Cheers to you!

  11. Interesting concept! If I wrote a letter to me it would probably say three words…. DON’T DO IT.
    But then the fun part would be which bit of my life between ‘then’ and now would apply because they all sort of muddle in. If I hadn’t done it, I wouldn’t have done the next bit not to do, or the next, and at the end (ie now), I wouldn’t be happy because I wouldn’t have met Hubby, or had Maggie, or the boat……………………. 🙂

  12. Wow. This got me, Shelley. I don’t know what I could tell my younger self that would have been heard way back when. All I know is that if I had the chance to go back for a visit and relive some of those moments, maybe do a few things differently, I’d be there in a flash. That’s some great advice you have there about embracing the fear. Still haven’t got that part right, but working on it!

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      • I did not intend to usurp your initiative! It would be a good ‘pick-up-gauntlet’ exercise but for me the episode shed incredible light on temperamental early signs. If only someone had made us privy to their implications! We could never do it for our own children but we maybe could for the children of close friends!

  14. Oh gosh, I remember 16 all too well. Being a teenager in the 60’s was no easy feat for me. I would tell my 16 year old to have a little fun and lighten up. Wait a minute, I still need to tell my 60+ self that. I’m better at having fun now than I was then. I think doing that letter could help uncover lots of interesting information. Fear is a tough one to get through. I’ve done lots of things I was afraid of. Maybe that’s why I had so many cracked teeth. 🙂 Great way to look at things.

    • I love the idea of loosening up and becoming more carefree or even childlike as I grow further away from childhood. Giving ourselves permission to let down our hair is a goal I can definitely get behind.
      I’m glad to hear that at 60, fun is still a worthy goal–cracked teeth be damned, right? Cheers, Marlene!

  15. What an empowering exercise–and in your example, so gracefully done, Shelley. Your younger self would have been truly proud and delighted to know she was going to grow up so well!

    • Thanks, Melissa. I’ve had some surprising conversations with a few folks about it–some who have determined that my talking to myself is a sure sign I need to up my meds. Ah well. Like you said, I felt it was empowering too. o_O

  16. I tried writing once to myself, but right now I am not really in a stage to clearly differentiate the changes/developments that have come through. I feel I am still winging it 😀 Maybe a little later in the future? The only marked difference is in my hair and boot-cut jeans!
    P.S. You still look so gorgeous!!! 🙂 There is barely any difference!

    • I’ve always been in favor of doing an every once in a while overhaul on the “look.” It keeps things from getting stale and predictable. So I say keep at it, Prajakta, swivel some heads that think they’ve got you figured out. Winging it can be wholly liberating.
      And many thanks for the super lovely compliment. I’m mentally sending you a mailbox full of fudge.

  17. Wow! Never thought I would ever see an analogy between Fear and a low-sodium diet. In hindsight, it makes perfect sense. After all, without risk, the unknown element (which segues with your steadfast refusal to give away the plot to your younger self 🙂 ), life is indeed a little bland..

    Hope your younger self got the message, although I’m pretty she did, LOL

    • What lovely comments, Longeye, and yes, I can’t imagine ginning up the enthusiasm to get out of bed each morning if I already knew what was about to unfold–of course, unless it was something quite spectacular. Yep, I’d probably be sleeping past my alarm A LOT.
      Cheers to you!

  18. Oh heavens, I wish I could write a letter to my younger self. I would tell her to buy Apple stock, see Patrick Marber’s play “Closer” on Broadway, and start listening to Nat King Cole…

  19. I did something like this in my early twenties. I have a feeling that my advice to teen me would be different now that I’m entering my early thirties. I feel like one of those comedy time travel sketches, where various future mes from different decades keep going back to give the younger me more and more conflicting advice. 😛

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  21. Love this letter, Shelley. I wish my younger self had the benefit of this wisdom on fear. Without some form of risk-taking, we’re never going to get close to developing our best selves, but wow, is it ever hard sometimes! Especially for those of us who are introverted perfectionists. 🙂

    Those pics of you are wonderful, but I have to say you look even better now!

    • Okay, Sue, I owe you fudge in your mailbox too. Anybody who is willing to verbally defy what my morning mirror reveals must be rewarded. Even if it’s virtual fudge, it comes with a warm internet hug.
      Now … let’s go climb Fear Mountain!

  22. What a wonderfully witty and wise letter – I could have done with receiving that letter at some points in my life. Not necessarily when I was 16 – I think I was quite a risk-taker back then, but definitely a bit later on when life seemed overwhelmingly serious and full of responsibilities (ie children and mortgages and boring grown-up stuff like that).

    As others have already said, using salt as an analogy for fear is a stroke of genius, I shall try to remember it whenever I’m needing to give myself a kick up the backside to get on with something!

    All of Rob’s cartoons this week are wonderful – I couldn’t help noticing the theme of red, reflecting the colour of your stage costumes in the photos. That was deliberate, yes? In any case they made me giggle and the pictures of you are stunning, Shelley!

    • I agree with you body and soul, Laura, that even now we would likely benefit from a letter from the future–reminding us to be bold, find courage, be vulnerable. Responsibility can easily suck the spontaneity and spirit right out of our lives. I don’t want to live a life that protects and fosters frailty. I might just have to sit down and pen myself a pretend letter from 2040.
      And yes, I LOVE the cartoons for this week too. Funny enough, I can’t remember if Rob saw the photos before he did the sketches. Maybe he’s actually using the time machine I need? 😉

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