Dear Teen Me: Three Things by Dean Gloster


            This month we’re supposed to write letters to our teen selves, which sounds dangerous.


            Lots of my youth and young adulthood (and since) has been a collection of unlikely wonderful developments: Yes, you will escape, find best friends, get to do comedy, fall in love, get married, go clerk at the Supreme Court, have children, and eventually get to be what you always wanted: a writer.

            I don’t want to screw up that perilous narrow path to the present with a letter to my past self that would change things.

            But we are all, still, everyone we used to be. Our past doesn’t just inform our present. The coping mechanisms we adopted long ago often become our default settings. It takes imagination, effort, and mindfulness to see and try other, better menu options for having a fulfilling, open-hearted life.

            So I’d like to take this opportunity to write a letter to my teen self still inside me, still trying to stay safe in this uncertain, dangerous world we learned about so young, growing up in the shadow of a self-destructive alcoholic mother, a woman who desperately wanted something like the life I have now, but never saw the path to, even before it all got blurry:


Dear teen Dean—

            It’s going to be okay. Good, actually, despite how in this world all of us eventually die. Since our mom was enthusiastically drinking herself to death through our teen years and completed her journey when we were twenty, we know and appreciate that. So, in the time we have left, three quick things we can both work on:

1.     Let people get close. I know how hard this is. How any time we allow anyone emotionally closer than casual acquaintance, it feels like someone unpredictable has slipped into knife range and can hurt us. Breathe through that feeling, and let them in anyway. Now we literally know lots of knife-disarm techniques from Aikido. More important: We are not a rock. We are not an island. Almost all the magic in this life, in this world, is in connections. Have them. Let people in.

2.     Enjoy your life. Mom suffered. And there aren’t much even hieroglyphic or cuneiform hints to Dad’s inner life, beyond, “How was your golf game?”

          Coincidentally, Akkadian cuneiform writing is entirely in golf tees

For most of our life, we’ve had to turn something fun into a discipline in order to do it: To justify going skiing, we took up ski racing.


Yes, we are having fun yet.

To justify writing, we turned it into a career. (But in fairness, teen Dean, if we had to live entirely on our writing income, we’d have to give up our favorite hobbies of eating food and sleeping indoors.)

But things are good now. We can maybe unclench a little, realize we’ve done better than just survive, and think about what would be fun and fulfilling to do in the time we have left.


New, previously unasked question

3.     Cultivate gratitude. I know it’s startling, teen me, how these days we have to allow a little more recovery time between hard exercise days, and what a shock it is to see this gray hair in the mirror (or, ahem, the lack of hair.) But we know lots of people further down the glide path. Down at that other end, with almost no altitude, it’s hard to make quick changes. So, in the time we have left, along with healthy habits, let’s cultivate gratitude. In the end, even if we’re stripped of some of our other functionality, we’re left with that. Gratitude. When you think about it, it’s a better way to go.


            And, as long as we’re in conversation here, inner teen Dean, could you send some of your youthful resilience and rapid recovery to our right knee? Thanks. I’d be very grateful.


Dean Gloster is a former stand-up comedian and a former law clerk at the U.S. Supreme Court. His debut YA novel DESSERT FIRST is out from Merit Press/Simon Pulse. School Library Journal called it “a sweet, sorrowful, and simply divine debut novel that teens will be sinking their teeth into. This wonderful story…will be a hit with fans of John Green's The Fault in Our Stars and Jesse Andrews's Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.” His YA short story “Death’s Adopted Daughter” just came out in the anthology Spoon Knife 6: Rest Stop from Autonomous Press. He is at work on two more YA novels, one in draft and the other in revision.



  1. This is truly lovely. And brave. Not sure I could bear to revisit me teen self.

  2. Ah gratitude. How I used to snarl when my fellow AA members used to say I needed an attitude of gratitude...Funny thing, they were dead on.


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