Serious advice to 16-year-old Margaret

Serious advice to 16-year-old Margaret

The challenge came in my e-mail at 8 p.m., just as I expected, for Chicago Now's Blogapalooza-Hour. That's our monthly challenge to write a post in one hour.

The topic is "What are three pieces of advice you would give to your 16-year-old self?"

Without further ado, here they are:

Keep playing your cello, even when you're not sure of it. Writing has turned out to be a great part of my life, especially my working life -- but that means that I've had many nights when I've felt like Audrey Hepburn in "My Fair Lady," singing "Words, words, words! I'm so sick of words!"

That's when my cello's priceless. It's "something completely different," in the immortal phrase from "Monty Python's Flying Circus." Music is a great change for my whole mind.

I love words -- surprise! -- but I need a change sometimes, another way to express myself. Music supplies it, and it's invaluable. When I start to write again, my mind is completely fresh.

Don't ignore the ordinary days when you sit down with your diary. That's the verbal equivalent of saying "Don't neglect playing scales or etudes," the little pieces that are written to help study a particular aspect of music. Ordinary days were (and still are) the etudes of becoming a writer.

When something spectacular happened -- when I read a great book, had a strange experience at school, or met someone new I liked -- the diary was easy. But it was easy because I practiced, because I "covered" the ordinary days and got them down in words.

Or at least I tried to. I look back at those diaries from being 16, the ones for 19-forget-it and 19-forget-it-plus-one, and sometimes it's hard to recall just what I meant by my generalized terms and love of abbreviations. "The same old stuff" in 19-forget-it isn't "the same old stuff" in 2018, no matter how many rerun channels there are on TV.

Some things aren't going to change; some things are. No one has much choice. Some things around me right now are less than a year old; I've lived in this apartment for less than five years. Yet I'm writing at the same desk I did my homework on when I was 16, and it's far from the only thing around me that goes back that far.

My record player (and I do have one) is only a few years old, but on it I still listen to LPs I had when I was 16 and younger. (I just remembered the last song I listened to on the last night I was 16: Of course, it was "Sixteen Going on Seventeen" from "The Sound of Music.")

So some things haven't changed -- but some have. Illnesses and losses have come and changed things, sometimes irrevocably. But -- eventually -- the road ahead has cleared and something new and pleasant is the next change. Not all losses and changes are terrible, and every change isn't completely horrible. (Now there would be news to 16-year-old me.)

Margaret Serious has a page on Facebook. 

Filed under: Expressions, Writing


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  • ...and advise your 16 yo self to stay away from Twitter.

  • In reply to jack:

    I'm grateful that Twitter didn't exist when I was 16. My present-day self stays away from it, too. Thanks, Jack.

  • When I turned 16, the song may have been "Sixteen Tons" sung by Tennessee Ernie Ford.

  • In reply to Aquinas wired:

    As in "another day older and deeper in debt." Got it... unfortunately. But thanks.

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