Things I Would Tell My Fourteen Year Old Self by Gina Tumlos

Isa’s Note: I met Gina one Saturday evening a few months ago. We did some karaoke (she sings better than she believes she can), ate my friend’s amazing cookie dough balls and shared a few hours’ worth of laughs. Though she is someone I have yet to get to know better, I can tell you that Gina is incredibly intelligent, warm-hearted and all-around awesome. She is currently taking up her law degree in the University of the Philippines. 

Thanks for being amazing, Gina!

***

Hey, fourteen-year-old-me, guess what? You did turn out to be the serious kind, but still
maybe kind of funny… ish? Don’t beat yourself up about feeling like you’re in the wrong
century; chances are you will feel older than your peers for most of your life or at least until they catch up with you (that is the sound of moral ascendancy, by the way. You will be a sucker for it). Fourteen-year–old-me is probably in the midst of reading J.R.R. Tolkien’s Book of Lost Tales Volume I, but take a break from ye old English for five minutes. My attempt to give you vague, somewhat useful, and downright sentimental notes on what to do and what to expect could be interesting. If not, I’m sure Morgoth enslaving all those elves can perk you up right after. Here goes. Try not to laugh.

Love thy grandmother back as grandly as she loves you now. At this second, she is
probably sitting at her desk editing her book; the distance of three feet is easily traversed
whenever an embrace is necessary. All affection is necessary when it comes to her. No
hesitations, no second-guessing.

Read voraciously, hungrily, and with a passion. Finish that Gabriel Garcia Marquez book
you started a year ago; your life will be better for it. You will never feel alone from now on.

Don’t avoid mirrors. It’s pretty tough out there, especially since everybody is coming out
of his or her own puberty stage and you’re still figuring out what to do with your hands. Yes, people judge you on how you look and will continue to judge you based on that, but the best piece of advice I ever got out of a magazine (Surprise! There is wisdom in your sister’s girly magazines, just maybe hold off on Cosmo for a couple more years) is that beauty means being comfortable in your own skin. Take the uneven proportion of your body, take the pear-shape, the child-bearing hips, the zits on your chin and the acne on your back, take that face you see on every reflective surface, yes the very same one that refuses eye contact, and own it. It’s all yours. It defines you and limits you, but at the same time, it holds something far more essential and affecting than what can be seen: it holds you.

You who are far too intelligent to be rumormongering with girls your age, you who can sense bullshit one minute into any conversation, youwho can discuss Middle-earth genealogy and whether or not Samwise Gamgee should have eaten the lembas bread at great length, you who knows–you know that you are more. As the ghost of your future self, I have come to affirm that stinking suspicion which keeps you up at night: that there is more for you and more to you. So take that advice and runaway with it. Stay true to yourself and you will remain solid when faced with tribulation because sorry fourteen-year-oldme, there will be those in the future too. You will take issue about how you look for many years to come. It’s normal and natural to do so, but steady yourself against the onslaught of objectification. You are more than the sum of your body parts, and that knowledge will protect you just as it ravages everyone around you. Keep a level-head and you will be fine.

Never be ashamed of what you love. Be it a film genre, a TV show, a person, or
something as abstract as metropolitan Grecian art theory. Love it with abandon because it stirs something in your soul. As you get older, there will be fewer things that will excite you. Try to cultivate that love and sustain the wonder you derive from it.

That said, let’s get to what you probably really want to read about. There will be boys,
guys, and men, and not necessarily in that order. Some of them will surprise you, some will stay for years, a couple of them will come and go as they please. Don’t panic. Think of it as fodder for your future novel. Besides, I guarantee you it will all be funny in retrospect.

There will be missed connections, sad smiles from old lovers you pass by on the street, a moment in a book shop, and the love you’re waiting for and will wait for no matter what. You will be frightened, confused, and defensive at first, and the firsts won’t always be the best. The reassurance of continuity, of a second time is what matters. Be fearless, fourteen-year-old-me. Nothing will prepare you for a broken heart. You will feel like an amputee with your phantom pains, and the truth is, it will never leave you. You will write about your sadness many times, but in that space you’ve allotted for fallibility, you will discover many things about yourself: what you want versus what you deserve, what needs to be said, when to say it, and most frighteningly perhaps, you will learn that this is not the end: you will fall in love again, but this time, you’ll be seeing through clearer eyes. And perhaps this falling in love thing will go on and on until you meet that one person who is your equal, someone you respect and admire, someone you are so comfortable with, you no longer are afraid of the shoe that will eventually need to drop. You will let yourself be happy, take the bad with the good, and finally understand that what’s worth
keeping is worth threshing out in detail, breaking in, and rebuilding every day.

Remember, Alanis Morissette has and always will be your friend. She will help you
navigate through these awkward and unfulfilling relationships like the goddess she truly is. She has known loss and desolation and you worship her for her resilience. So when she tells you “I’m in no hurry; I could wait forever/ I’m in no rush ‘cause I like being solo,” you better make her proud. In a couple of years, you will come across Leslie Feist who will ask what was it that made you think your boy could become the man who could make you sure he was the one, but I’m getting ahead of myself. The point I’m trying to make is that the romantic in me (us) can and will hold out for a very, very long time because we believe in that almost mythical Someone. Our Someone will come along, and all that waiting will be justified.

On a final note, I’d like to be honest with you. At age twenty-four, you haven’t gotten
even a quart of it figured out. You’re okay though. You have friends and family who’ve got your back and an incontrovertible sense of humor to keep you sane. There will be nights when you’ll want to jump off a bridge, but it’s always just temporary despair (your despair will range from large issues i.e. neo-fascism, pervasive devices of male oppression, your crushing inability to commit to veganism, to small things like why isn’t there a collective noun for squids) rather than an actual desire to end your life. Self-harm is not your style, nor will it ever be. You’re a fighter, through and through, so fight fourteen-year-old-me. Fight and you’ll always get what you want.

Oh, and buy hair mousse. Those babies will change your life.

Make Things Matter

The first of many, written by Isa Garcia.

***

Care.

About something. About everything.

Care even though it’s counter cultural to your generation. Enjoy simple pleasures and don’t be afraid to dissect what makes your heart come alive. Whether it’s God, history, music, geology or even just the way the light hits the surface of the ocean at a certain time of day.

Study. Learn.

The world will tell you to shrug your shoulders, to be the ‘whatever’ kid in the corner who never aspires or hopes or tries.

Let me tell you: you’re better than that.

You’re worth the exploration and the discovery. You’re worth getting hyped up over something that moves you, compels you or inspires you. You deserve to get excited about the workings of the world, to tremble with humble affection when you meet someone who feels the exact same way about that thing: that hobby, that talent, that issue, that cause.

Care.

Because what you invest your heart in will speak volumes about who you are. Don’t allow your identity to be marred by disinterest. Be known for what moves you. And despite what they say, know this: it is far too easy to go with the flow, to let life carry you anywhere – even to places you don’t want to go. Be the person who stands, roots and cheers for something. Better yet, be the person who stands, roots and cheers for something great.

Care about beautiful things like love and friendship. Care about ugly things like injustice and loneliness. Care about people, care about the environment, care about the things that make life worthwhile. Care about something so much that you wouldn’t be afraid to die for it.

Caring opens a door. The moment you feel for something, you can’t look away. And it’s a messy thing but it’s a good one. Caring is the catalyst that drives a person to do something. To save a life. To shape the world. To make the story better.

Care.

Life is far too good to be spent on anything less than all-consuming passion. Care because when you choose apathy, you miss out. Care because the people who go and actually give a damn are, in truth, the most interesting people in the world.

Why would you, with all your golden potential and beauty, ever want to be anything less?

Questions For A 15-Year-Old

 

Isa’s Note: When you invite a great writer into the conversation, you get something real. Something raw. Kyra Ballesteros shares poetic prose with Better Story. We couldn’t be more honored.

***

Questions for a 15 year-old from 8 years into her future

 

1. Rough over your thighs, the plaid skirt had been woven with the smell of rubber and mint. It was the color of crushed gumamela and you wore it five times a week for more than a decade. Neither you nor I were (or ever became) overly fond of that uniform: black leather shoes, ankle socks, and a blouse with a navy-collar. All standard fare. Remember, you stared and stared at yourself (daily) trying to understand how the garment fit, how it hung loose, where it went wrong. On you, you were convinced, it looked ill-fitting (it was square) and, vaguely, too masculine (it was square!?).

Did you (really? really?) feel repelled by your body and the way it was designed? Was there ever a time you didn’t feel that way?

Students were allowed (and encouraged, remember) to carry small vanity kits (a comb or brush, a small mirror, a towel, hand soap, and lip gloss the only luxury) but you will never admit how afraid you were of your reflection: four feet and nine inches, your round face pockmarked, small hands balled tight (I kept everything). You were (in)famous for two things: your hugs (still popular) and your vocabulary (don’t worry, it improved). 

Despite grievances easily and readily aired by your classmates (Ang pangit ng legs ko, ang daming pantal! My boobs are too big. Why are my feet huge?!) you resented all the clothes they wore and all the clothes you never had the courage to try on. Even now, you can’t admit it. Come, come: you were fat. You resented the sleek button-downs, you bought no tank tops (not even the red one you wanted), and the shirts you did buy were two sizes too big (to hide your girth).

At the end of it you convinced yourself you were too much of a tomboy to wear summer dresses with empire-cut waists. And quietly, you embraced the belief that you were, perhaps, not cut out for all that girly nonsense (those were your words, not mine).

Then, you were wicked. You believed you were above clothes shopping (abhorred it and was bored by it!) and forced yourself into loose denim jeans, the sneakers your brother outgrew, and shirts your father could have worn. Because the thought had crept in, nested deep, twisted so far down it had hatched into something hideous. At first, you didn’t like how you looked. Then you began punishing yourself for it.    

 

2. Shielded on one side by a gray wall, the lawn adjacent to your high school building overlooked a parking lot. Weevils and ants nested in the deep shade of a large acacia, its sole occupant.

One day during lunch hour, you joined four friends you can’t remember. You sat under a tree on a blanket spread over itchy carabao grass to serenade your geometry teacher with Iris (Goo Goo Dolls) and Torete (Moonstar 88) their voices strained and frayed. 

You did not remember the conversation, only light and heat (mid-February’s cloudless sky and the humidity). Friends peppered the teacher with questions but you consciously limited your participation to giggling at the edge of the blanket.

They all knew, of course. Girls grew up attuned to that frequency. You played with grass, fingernails stained freshest green. 

Your teacher wasn’t (and never became) particularly guwapo, that was common knowledge, but he was made exceptional by his sex, Adam in an Edenic all-female exclusive high school. You and your peers romanticized him because there had been no other choice, no other subject. But he was kind and he walked like an orc. In the cafeteria his gait was part strut and all confidence, unmindful and ignorant of your staring; during class, he danced a jig, knees bent, sometimes tiptoeing to reach the top of the blackboard. He remembered his students’ names.

You heard he skipped lunch to tutor your classmates who had trouble with high school algebra, calculus, or trigonometry. That was how you convinced yourself you had fallen in-love with him (convinced yourself everyone who was kind or charitable was easy to love). Did you know you would remember that harmless afternoon? 

Di ba mainit? That was a friend. The teacher looked over, nodded, and looked away. He stood up and brushed blades of grass from black slacks. He wore cracked  leather shoes and you were impressed at how different they were from the pointed suede pairs your father favored. Your Pa remained a standard, a given, a natural law other men either defied or followed. 

You shook your head. You were wearing a bulky, shapeless maroon jacket (with a detachable hood) to hide in, ashamed of the way your body had been formed. Remind me, when did you learn to blame yourself for the way you did not look? 

Your classmate asked: Okey ka lang? A nod.

 

3. During college a professor will ask: how do you know you’re bisexual? I learned the answer was another question: how do you know you’re straight?  

I will withhold her name for my sake because we remained acquaintances: black hair tumbled above olive shoulders. At that time, she smelled of new-washed linen and fresh milk. Her blouse was too short; it hung loose, a tantalizing tease, just long enough to hide her navel but she was the kind who, during class, raised her hand so often you anticipated the appearance of a constellation of moles and blotched birthmarks (on her waist, already the deep valley that defined her shape).

She was a leader and charismatic in a way that you found irresistible. (You asked: how can other people, your classmates, ignore the way she was?) She was magnetic with a brilliant smile and dimples to match. I have put on a crooked grin just thinking about her. She was the kind of person you never wanted to disappoint (for one reason or another) because she was the kind of person who forgave and forgave and forgave again, whose mercy and empathy were readily available. You never wanted to take advantage of her.

And though this happened at an age when no one is certain of anything — least of all themselves — you never attempted a serious courtship. A small hard part of you had grown up attuned to the electric energy of romantic love and so you knew with the same dreadful and precise knowing (rooted there in a solid place in your heart) that she would never feel the same way. She had never been like you (that was part of her appeal). 

You sat next to her for an entire (school) year but the friendship never deepened past paper deadlines and rearranging book bags around respective seats to make room for each other. You were only acquaintances. It wasn’t for lack of trying (rehearsed conversations, a volley of autograph-book questions, giggling during class). It wasn’t because you were uninteresting. She was, simply (and most painfully), disinterested.

You, a victim of (feminine) beauty, were certain it wasn’t just a crush. I made a big deal out of it and built an identity around it. 

 

4. I will not lie: I forgot what was important to you (I don’t know when it happened). I had forgotten how you were and what you liked. Your voice in my no longer exists. That’s how far you’ve come. We are wholly different.

What questions have you asked? It’s what you do not know (the future, how to make sense of your past, and where to go) that colors your choices. Suddenly, you will be afraid of different things. You will be a junior in college when you take your first few writing classes. One of your professors will teach your class never to use that word ‘suddenly‘. Of course you believed in him and in uncomplicated sincerity.

If this had been addressed to me (from the thirty-five year old we will both become), I would appreciate some vindication. I would demand it, in fact. So here it is:

You will keep believing in a lot of things: kind strangers, safety during (the long and necessary) commute to and from home, the irresistible pull of deep currents, fresh apples during a hot day, friendship, the loyalty that comes with it, and (despite all odds, and all your reservations) you still believe in the all-consuming power of passion and perseverance.

You will discover: your friends will still make you laugh (albeit in different ways and the laughter will mean different things); good food does (and always will) help you feel better; despite griping about it, you enjoy spending time at home more than anywhere else; time is the only real currency and we barter it in exchange for money, experience, the chance to feel shame, regret, love, happiness.

You will forget: why you never talked about yourself, your first tattoo idea (conceived, I remember, at some point during sophomore year in high school), the first time you bought anything for yourself by yourself, the first time you wanted something enough to starve yourself of other luxuries, why you chose to cultivate your loneliness (every 15 year-old girl is lonely because every 15 year-old girl harbors the fatal and desperate belief in her own individuality), and how you convinced yourself that the loneliness was healthy. 

 

5. Do you want to meet me and what would you say about me? I knew you, once upon a time. And although there is no chance of visiting you, you remain the only person I have to answer to. 

 

Jennifer Lawrence: Hollywood needs more women like her.

“I’m never going to starve myself for a part… I don’t want little girls to be like, ‘Oh, I want to look like Katniss, so I’m going to skip dinner. That’s something I was really conscious of during training, when you’re trying to get your body to look exactly right. I was trying to get my body to look fit and strong- not thin and underfed.”

Becoming Hermione

Fat is usually the first insult a girl throws at another girl when she wants to hurt her.

I mean, is ‘fat’ really the worst thing a human being can be? Is ‘fat’ worse than ‘vindictive’, ‘jealous’, ‘shallow’, ‘vain’, ‘boring’ or ‘cruel’? Not to me; but then, you might retort, what do I know about the pressure to be skinny? I’m not in the business of being judged on my looks, what with being a writer and earning my living by using my brain…

I went to the British Book Awards that evening. After the award ceremony I bumped into a woman I hadn’t seen for nearly three years. The first thing she said to me? ‘You’ve lost a lot of weight since the last time I saw you!’

‘Well,’ I said, slightly nonplussed, ‘the last time you saw me I’d just had a baby.’

What I felt like saying was, ‘I’ve produced my third child and my sixth novel since I last saw you. Aren’t either of those things more important, more interesting, than my size?’ But no – my waist looked smaller! Forget the kid and the book: finally, something to celebrate!

I’d rather they were independent, interesting, idealistic, kind, opinionated, original, funny – a thousand things, before ‘thin’. And frankly, I’d rather they didn’t give a gust of stinking chihuahua flatulence whether the woman standing next to them has fleshier knees than they do. Let my girls be Hermiones, rather than Pansy Parkinsons.”

J.K. Rowling