A Life Without Pictures by Victoria M. Johnson

“Here is the question: If you could talk to your 16-year-old self, what would you say?  What advice, warnings, or encouragement would you give your younger self?”

A Life Without Pictures by Victoria M. JohnsonMe At Sixteen—A Life Without Pictures

Have your yearbook photo taken.  Even if you can’t afford to buy any for yourself at least it’ll be in the yearbook and there’ll be one snapshot of you in high school.

You know how you hate your uncommon Mexican last name because no one else has it; and you long for an ordinary last name like Rodriguez, Chavez, or Lopez?  Well, guess what?  In a few years you will love your last name for this same reason—because it is rare.  Eventually, you’ll love it because it is who you are.

Don’t worry so much about boys; you’ll end up marrying the man of your dreams.  However, that boy you had a crush on (and never told) will die in a car crash before his 18th birthday—you’ll wish you’d told him.  Maybe, just maybe, your revelation would have delayed him a few hours, or five minutes, or even ten seconds.

It’s one year after your quinceañera and you spend much of your time in activities that aren’t photo-worthy.  You want to be a writer but you think you have nothing to write about.  You will suffer from this self-imposed writer’s block for many years until a creative explosion inside you unleashes a torrent of words and ideas that will keep you up at night.

Your favorite Beatle, George Harrison, will marry a Latina!

Your love of Santana music will never waver; it is in your bones, just as much as mariachi music and The Star Spangled Banner are.

Your interest in Drama, French, and Science will stay with you forever.  Unfortunately, you’ll have to learn math and English the hard way.  In college, many years later, you’ll wish you had never cut these classes in high school.

Sports will always be a part of your life.  Spending three nights a week and Saturday mornings in the tae kwon do studio teaches you lifelong discipline, and so much more.  You’ll exchange martial arts and the field hockey, volleyball, and track for jogging and zumba.  You’ll learn how to swim.

You believe yourself to be strong and in many ways you are.  But you could stand to worry less about what others think about you, to speak up more, and to give your opinion instead of holding it inside.  You’ll learn to open up and this attribute changes everything.

There are a wide variety of college majors—like filmmaking and creative writing!  If only you hadn’t cut school so much you could’ve found out sooner.

I know San Jose is a city you can’t wait to leave.  You fight against being stuck in a rut here.  You resolve to break free, to expand your possibilities.  You can’t wait to turn 17 so you can join the Air Force.  You’ll join when you’re 19 so don’t be in such a hurry.  You’ll meet your future husband, father of your children, and you’ll travel the world together.  (You’ll even adore your in-laws, I swear). And, in time, you’ll think fondly of San Jose.  Crazy, isn’t it?

Here’s something crazier: millions of people will be Star Trek fans.  You won’t have to be embarrassed to admit you’re one, too.

Believe it or not you’ll give birth to two great kids.  A girl and a boy and at least one of them will give you the pleasure of being a grandparent.

You will be asked to, and will attend, a big dance with the high school quarterback, the captain of the football team!  No, not any of those cute jocks you went to school with who never knew you existed.  Your date is someone much more special—your son!

Though your mom will live to age 92, you’ll be devastated when she leaves this earth.  Spend more time with her, before the Alzheimer’s takes her memory.  You’ll spend plenty of time with her after.

You’ll stumble upon a fundraising career.  You’ll greatly enjoy your years in this profession helping nonprofits earn money for worthy causes.

Taking the extra long road, you will become a published author and even a filmmaker.  How cool is that?

It’s true; you only have two pictures of yourself as a child, and none of your adolescent or teen years.  But I assure you; you will have a lifetime of photos, of happy memories.  There’s a thing called scrapbooking—and you will never be caught up—because you are so busy living a full life.

Sure, you’ll make mistakes, use bad judgment, and focus on the wrong priorities.  That’s a part of growing up.  You’ll face challenges, setbacks, and disappointments.  That’s life.  You’ll have your heart broken.  Numerous times.  Know that everything works out the way it’s supposed to.  You’ll be blessed with a loving family of your own, extraordinary friends, and lots of adventure.  And, you’ll learn to trust your writing, each piece a candid photograph of your soul.  Each piece a snapshot of a moment captured in words.

_________________________________________________© 2012 Victoria M. Johnson

This post concludes the special guest blog series. My deepest appreciation goes to all the phenomenal women who participated.  Click on a name below to read each writer’s frank and enlightening words of wisdom—and feel free to post a comment for the author.

Neringa Bryant, Lucille Lang Day, Elizabeth Eslami, Thaïsa Frank, Erica Goss, Parthenia M. Hicks, Lita A. Kurth, Signe Pike, Harrison Solow



  1. Parthenia Hicks says:

    Victoria, Thank you for your wonderful piece that brings closure to the rich responses to the question you posed. I love the Star Trek piece and I relate to the worry that your young self carries. Love that you are a filmmaker and recognized this at an early age. Especially love this line: Your favorite Beatle, George Harrison, will marry a Latina!

  2. Elizabeth says:

    I’m grateful to have met you through this exercise, Victoria. Indeed you learned to trust your writing — to share those moments, your soul, even — and we are all the better for it.

  3. Parthenia–
    Thank you for the kind words and understanding of the piece. And deep thanks to you for your profound essay. Each author’s contribution was amazing and I’m pleased how it turned out.

  4. Elizabeth–
    Thank you for your comment and thank you for sharing a bit of your soul, too! I am grateful to have met you through this exercise as well and I look forward to reading your book, Bone Worship.

  5. My last name was Urbonavicius, then a judge cut it down to Urbon when we immigrated to this country. Then you slap Neringa before it– and I won’t even get into my middle name, and the battle stood before me every day, but I am so proud of the woman I grew into and the opportunity to tell a tiny part of my story because of you, Victoria. Thank you for the opportunity to tell it and thank you for sharing a part of yourself. You are an incredible lady, a friend. And one more thing, I too am a huge Star Trek fan. Two women, two worlds, yet we share many similarities.

  6. Victoria, Thank you for sharing so much of yourself and for bringing so many terrific women writers together in this series. It has been a deep pleasure to read all of the contributions, including your own.

  7. Neringa–
    I had no idea you had a last name that caused you difficulties, let alone a middle name. It’s hard to grasp at the time that these things shape us into the women we are today. I was so pleased to include your story in this series. Thank you for sharing your unique journey here. Isn’t it incredible how different our beginnings were and yet we were connected by so many similarities?

  8. Lucy–
    I am so pleased to bring you and the other writers together. Each of you had unique stories to share and I agree, each was a pleasure to read!

  9. “…a snapshot of a moment captured in words.” How beautifully put, Victoria. And what a wonderfully rich series. Kudos to all!


  10. Hi Barbara,

    Thank you for stopping by and thank you for your kind words!


  11. Victoria,
    Thank you for a wonderful opportunity…

  12. Neringa–

    Thank you for participating!


  13. denise alicea says:

    Hey Victoria, what a great post. I enjoyed reading it. I think that it’s so important to come and talk about your experiences. Our experiences and memories are what shape us and drive us.

  14. Thanks for this post, Victoria – a mini-autobiography that imparts wisdom, hope and humor. How I wish I’d known you in high school. We would have been great friends, I’m sure. Thanks again for the opportunity to participate with you and the others in this project; I’ve enjoyed reading all of them.

  15. Hi Denise–

    So true! Thank you for visiting and commenting!


  16. Erica–
    Oh, we would have been great friends back then! But I’m so happy to have you as a friend now. Thank you for sharing your wisdom and hope with your participation here.

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