Advice to Myself at Sixteen by special guest Lucille Lang Day

“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?”

Advice to Myself at Sixteen

Dear Lucy,

Believe it or not, you will want to know that the aggregating anemone is green because photosynthetic algae live in its tentacles, that the first William of Orange saved Leiden from the Spanish by flooding the province, that there is a difference between Projectivist and Objectivist poetry, that learning to say “Where is toilet?” in as many languages as possible is a useful skill. What I’m saying is, “Go back to school, the sooner the better.”

Aging is not a disaster, like war or famine, and it certainly beats the alternative. There are far worse things than failing eyesight or white hair.  Still, it’s true that firm, plump breasts and skin that does not hang in lumps are not forever, so don’t create a life and self-image that depend on these things.

If you think you’re in love with a guy you’ve just met at Doggie Diner and haven’t been out with, or even after your first or second date, don’t trust these feelings, no matter how handsome you find him. You’re probably just reacting to his pheromones, in other words, his scent. You must stop kissing guys you’ve just met at parties. Such boldness is not glamorous and does not prove you are irresistible. Most people will assume you are either drunk or a fool.

Spend more time with your parents: go shopping with your mother, watch movies with your dad. In forty or fifty years, you will miss them far more than the man you married at fourteen, the one you will marry at twenty-six and have another child with, or any of the boyfriends you’ll never marry (that you didn’t marry them will one day make you glad). Also spend more time with your daughter. Being a good parent is difficult even for adults, and having had a child at fifteen does not help the matter. If you don’t try harder, at sixteen your daughter will resent you more than you ever resented your own mother or even the vice principal of your junior high.

Also on the subject of children, you can expect to spend more than fifty years with one or more children or grandchildren under eighteen in your life. I know you want to be a writer (and you will!), but the kids will suffer more than your books if you ignore them when they want your attention (the books won’t even care at all if you disappear for a few days). The joy you get from the kids will be an incomparable pleasure, and you will be sorry later if you don’t give them the time they need. So in addition to holing up with the typewriter (later it will be a computer), make plenty of time for playing Candy Land, watching Dumbo, and setting up the miniature horse ranch. The kids will eventually sleep or go off to school, and you will not always be their first choice for a playmate. In a pinch, you can write with one of them on your lap or at your feet.

Romantic love is never easy. It’s nothing like in the movies, but more like a complicated dance you’ll never fully master, although you’ll marry for the last time at fifty-four. Even with this partner there will be stumbles and missteps, but he will give you much more joy than sorrow, so try to recapture the rhythm as long as the music lasts.

Advice to Myself at Sixteen by Lucille Lang DayFrom Your Future with love

_________________________________________________© 2012 Lucille Lang Day


Advice to Myself at Sixteen by Lucille Lang Day

Lucille Lang Day


Lucille Lang Day’s bio:  Lucille Lang Day is an award-winning poet and the author of eight poetry collections and chapbooks, most recently The Curvature of Blue (Cervena Barva, 2009). She has also published a children’s book, Chain Letter, and her memoir, Married at Fourteen, will appear from Heyday in 2012. Her poetry and prose have appeared widely in such magazines and anthologies as Atlanta Review, The Hudson Review, The Threepenny Review, and New Poets of the American West (Many Voices, 2010). She received her M.A. in English and M.F.A. in creative writing at San Francisco State University, and her M.A. in zoology and Ph.D. in science and mathematics education at the University of California at Berkeley. The founder and director of a small press, Scarlet Tanager Books, she also served for seventeen years as the director of the Hall of Health, an interactive museum in Berkeley. She lives in Oakland, CA, with her husband, writer Richard Levine. Visit her website at:



  1. Lucille,
    This is such smart and caring advice. Your piece is especially true for writers and other busy women who are constantly pulled between pursuing our dreams and taking care of our loved ones. Thank you for sharing your advice.

  2. I especially like “aging is not a disaster!” And it’s true. I’m much happier at my present age than when I was 16. I can’t imagine being married at 14, but I am looking forward to reading your memoir (and I love your poem, Reject Jello). Your post reminds me that at 16, my hormones overpowered me too, making rational thought pretty hard. Thank you for this thoughtful letter.

  3. Thank you, Erica. My hormones were going pretty strong for about 15 years, starting at age 12. I’m glad that’s over. Whew! I loved your own poem/letter to yourself at sixteen–so eloquent and moving.

  4. Gary T. says:

    This is lovely, lovely, lovely.
    every word of it,

  5. Elizabeth says:

    Tough, tender love — and what a voice in this piece. My favorite: “If you think you’re in love with a guy you’ve just met at Doggie Diner and haven’t been out with, or even after your first or second date, don’t trust these feelings, no matter how handsome you find him. You’re probably just reacting to his pheromones, in other words, his scent. You must stop kissing guys you’ve just met at parties. Such boldness is not glamorous and does not prove you are irresistible. Most people will assume you are either drunk or a fool.”

  6. I wonder what your life would be now had your 16 year old self taken this wise advice?

    I love your letter.


  7. I appreciate all of these comments. Thank you, everyone! Naomi, I did take a lot of the advice: I went back to school, created a life and self-image that depend more on work and my relationships with other people than on my appearance, and stopped kissing and/or thinking I was in love with every cute guy whose path crossed mine (I can’t believe what an idiot I was in this department!). However, I didn’t spend as much time with my parents and children as I now wish I had. If my sixteen-year-old self had taken this advice, I would have less guilt and regret about this. More importantly, my children would have felt more secure and certain of my love, and I think my daughter Liana, especially, would have been spared a lot of unhappiness and confusion.

  8. Jeannie says:

    Dear Lucy,

    So much power and passion and beauty and a sense of LIFE-fully-lived moves in the heart of the young girl — then and Now. How really could you ever have dissuaded her. Was she bold? Indeed. Fearless to follow her own conviction? Yes! Without love or compassion? Never.

    The wisdom of years makes you ever so much more beautiful. What an _honor_ it is to know you.

  9. Jeannie,
    Thank you for appreciating my sixteen-year-old self. I think she needed that as much as the advice.

  10. Ah, Candy Land, ah, watching Dumbo, ah, setting up the miniature horse ranch. I love your letter and it is full of what an ancient Greek writer might have called “fabulous symbols,” but I think there is a secret unsaid thing in it: that as we are multiply selved, so we are multiply aged. Our bodies age–you betcha–but that 16-year-old me is still somewhere roaming my consciousness, having his 16-year-old say even as my nearly 72-year-old self makes his wisdom-of-age pronouncements. What would your 16-year-old self say to your good, well-meaning, sage advice? Do you know the lines in Robert Burns?–“Ah, gentle dames, it gars me greet [makes me weep] / To think how many counsels sweet / How many lengthened, sage advices / The husband from the wife despises.” I canna help but wonder.

  11. Lucille….a lovely post. It make me want to know this sixteen-year-old and follow her journey because the advice so skilfully points to many lives. Thanks for this! I can’t wait to read your book.

  12. Dear Lucy,
    Wise advice to your 16 year old self! She might have replied “Bug off, Mom!” and wished she were on the back of a boyfriend’s motorcycle, zooming off. Recently, I heard that “venerable sage” Garrison Keillor quote Kierkegaard: “Life can only be understood backwards, but it has to be lived forwards.” Ultimately, it seems we are most often guided by experiential learning which your letter well illustrates. I look forward to your memoir!

  13. Loved this letter, Lucy, and we’re looking forward to your book. Your sixteen-year-old self (and most likely your current self) would love Eve Ensler’s new play Emotional Creature at Berkeley Rep. We saw it lat night. Seven young women play various teen roles representing girls from all over the world and their various plights. Some powerful stuff in it. Anyway, thanks for the letter. I’ve tackled this assignment myself, but there is so much to say I could never winnow out the main things. You’ve done that really well!

  14. Lucy, Your letter reminds me of my 16-yr-old self, the extraordinarily lucky one that did not get pregnant. I would have been a less-than-desirable mother in those years. And though I made the choice to be a mother in my 40s (now 50s), I still find myself fighting the selfish urge to hide and write. I hope my son forgives me. I look forward to reading your book.

  15. Jack, Thaisa, Judy, Gail, and Jilanne,
    Thank you so much for your wonderful, insightful comments. I love the Burns and Kierkegaard quotes, and I will definitely try to get tickets to Emotional Creature.

  16. Your letter is full of compassion for your young self. And as we overhear the wise and sometimes playful advice, I am soaking in your words about children and writing. Thank you.

  17. Thanks, Nina! I wish I knew a formula for determining just the right balance of time to spend on writing (or any other profession or passion) and time to spend with one’s children. It’s so hard to work this out!

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