I’ve Gotta Get a Message to You by
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I wasn't going to write, because I thought you had it pretty well together, and you wouldn't listen to my advice anyway.


Dear younger self,

I wasn’t going to write this letter to you, because I thought you had it pretty well together, and also you weren’t likely to listen to any advice I gave you anyway. But reading what some of my colleagues here in the future have written, I decided to give it a try, to tell you both what I’m proud of, and what you might want to change.

I’m glad you changed the spelling of your name from Suzi to Suzy in ninth grade. Those i-ending names are so 1960s, and will look pretty silly when you are an adult. I’m also glad that when you did use the i, you never dotted it with a big circle or a heart!

When your mother told you in high school that you were pretty, you should have believed her. Your high school classmates may not have thought so, but when you get to college, you will feel like the ugly duckling who turned into a swan!

The attention from boys is nice, but really you shouldn’t spend so much time obsessing over them. There are two in particular who break up with you freshman year of college, one in the fall and one in the spring, and you are devastated both times. Neither of them is worth it! Later on you get better in your choices, so I’m glad of that.

Don’t listen to your freshman advisor when he tells you to take Nat Sci 5. In fact, don’t listen to anything he tells you, he has no idea what he’s talking about! Take fun, whimsical classes freshman year, and worry about fulfilling requirements later on. Specifically, take Music 1 freshman year, because it is taught by a wonderful and brilliant professor who will die over the summer, so if you take the course later, it won’t be nearly as good.

I’m proud of you for your political activism. You never hesitate to get involved in a cause or a demonstration that seems righteous, and that passion will serve you well all your life.

Ask Doris Kearns to be your thesis advisor instead of Marty Peretz. Marty may have known Gene McCarthy personally, but he does nothing to help you get an interview with him to use in your thesis, and he has very little interest in advising you at all. Doris would be much better. And it turns out that she has a much more successful career than Marty does anyway. Marty’s main claim to fame is that he marries the heiress to the Singer Sewing Machine fortune and uses her money to buy The New Republic shortly after you graduate from college.

Before you decide to move to California for law school, give careful thought to whether you want to end up living three thousand miles away from your family for the rest of your life. I know that as a young, single woman this won’t seem like a problem, but after you have children, you may regret it. However, the weather is much better in California, so it might be the right decision in the long run.

I’m glad you keep singing. That will sustain you through every period of your life. That, and political activism, and writing.

Good luck!


Profile photo of Suzy Suzy

Characterizations: funny, moving, well written


  1. Marian says:

    Ah, the times of high school, college, and young adulthood, Suzy. You’ve given yourself great advice. I love the photo of you with straight hair! But natural won the day.

  2. Laurie Levy says:

    I’m glad you decided to write this, Suzy. Lots of good advice. And you were definitely beautiful in your featured image, although you look great at your current age as well.

  3. Glad you decided to write. So much good advice. Somehow I get the impression that you got the duckling-to-swan transition down pretty well. And whew on the hearts for dotted i’s. They were cute in sixth grade but after that… I certainly could have done well with your advice re: freshman year classes. I took some toughies and one deadly boring pre-Socratic philosophy course that almost bored and/or smothered me to death. Why I took that, I have NO idea! Also congrats over your choice of Doris Kearns Goodwin. I knew Peretz and he was a boor and a bore. I’d say the California move also worked out. I confirmed my commitment to California after many East-to-West commutes and have never regretted it. Glad you finally jumped in!

    • Suzy says:

      My choice of Doris was only made in hindsight, 50 (gasp!) years later. And Marty was a terrible thesis adviser, as I think I made clear. As for California, I only regretted moving here when my kids were young and my parents were still alive, because they never developed the close relationship they might have if we had been on the East Coast.

  4. I’m so glad you wrote, Suzy! Once again I’m struck by your unique voice…it’s a rich blend of humor and smarts, and it always makes me smile.

  5. Betsy Pfau says:

    Suzy, this is a wonderful look back and I relate to so much of it. First, I love your photo; what a beauty! My mother didn’t compliment me, so my jump to popular girl in college was also head-spinning – I get it! I wish you had listened to your mother. From all we know of her from your writing, she sounded extraordinary. You were lucky in that regard.

    As to your college course and advisor choices, hindsight does give wisdom. I think coming into contact with Doris would have been transformative, but who knew back then?

    The CA/East Coast trade-off is an interesting one to contemplate, pros and cons on both sides. You are close to your family and it has been difficult to be so far away. Great choice to keep singing. I understand entirely how that feeds your soul!

    • Suzy says:

      I did come into contact with Doris, she was my sophomore tutor, so it would have been natural to ask her to be my thesis advisor. (I wrote about her on the Unforgettable Person prompt in 2019.) But I was blinded by the fact that Marty knew McCarthy personally and I thought he would get me a meeting with him. In those days, as you know, I lived and breathed Gene McCarthy.

  6. John Shutkin says:

    So glad you found the time in the midst of saving democracy this week to write this; it is a really wise and moving piece, showing your typical insight into both yourself and those around you.

    And, I must admit, I had a particular enjoyment of your letter from the fact that I have known you since your freshman year at college, and thus witnessed — from varying distances — a good many of your decisions along the way. I particularly resonated — and laughed — at your point about Nat Sci 5; I shouldn’t have taken it either.

    More seriously, I remember your love of music and singing from the start and am so glad that that continued to be an important part of your life. Such a wise choice! (Though now I have a Bee Gees earworm going and my disco shirt is in the wash.)

    • Suzy says:

      I think you are the only person on Retrospect who has known me that long, and witnessed my decisions, both good and bad. You knew the two boys who made me cry freshman year, and you probably agree that they weren’t worth it. Did we sit together in Nat Sci 5? I can’t remember, I had a lot of friends taking that course with me, although probably nobody hated it as much as I did.

      Not all Bee Gees songs are disco – this one is slow and mournful, it would be good for a slow dance, so you can wear any shirt you want.

      • John Shutkin says:

        Fully agree on your two idiot freshmen boyfriends. But I don’t recall sitting together in Nat Sci 5. Mainly, I just remember trying to memorize the Krebs Citric Acid Cycle and never knowing why I should care.

        And I agree about the Bee Gees’ songs. This was a slow one and you could dance to it. Lyrics OK, but a bit on the pathetic side. I’d give it a 6, Dick.

  7. Jeff Gerken says:

    Any of your high school classmates who didn’t see that you were drop-dead gorgeous were blind, jealous, or just plain stupid.

    I do wonder about the hair. Did you straighten it when you were younger, or do you curl it now? Both are striking, but the difference is pretty amazing.

    • Suzy says:

      Thank you, Jeff, what a nice compliment! My hair is naturally curly, and I spent years ironing it in high school, college, and even law school. For a detailed description of my hair travails, please see my story “The beauty, the splendor, the wonder of my hair” from 2016.

  8. What? They gave you Radcliffe girls freshman advisors! I would be envious except you say they had all the wrong advice anyway. I always heard Nat Sci 5 was terrific, though. All we boys had was a proctor who told us to “beware of town-gown relationships.” I’m not sure I understood what he was even referring to.

    Peretz always struck me as a self-aggrandizing bloviator; too bad your older self wasn’t around to warn you away.
    My dad waited till I was in my 50s to tell me, to my surprise, that I was the best looking of the men in the family; I think it’s sweet that your mom deigned to weigh in on that when you were young.

    • Suzy says:

      I still have PTSD from Nat Sci 5! If you want a detailed description of my awful experience, see my story “Give Me Just A Little More Time” on the Exams prompt.

      My mother was wonderfully supportive and inspirational in all ways. Whenever I faced a problem with one of my own kids, I tried to think what my mother would have done (WWMD), and that helped. But she couldn’t have told me I was the best looking, like your father did, because my middle sister actually won a beauty pageant – she was the Cherry Blossom Queen of 1964.

    • John Shutkin says:

      We definitely had freshman advisers, Dale; they were usually the same guys who were our proctors. The problem was that they weren’t very good. Mine was a really nice guy at Harvard Law, but he had gone to Yale undergraduate and had no idea what our Gen Ed distribution requirements were. I ended up wasting a year taking a physics course with a lab component — as well as Nat Sci 5 — because of his lousy advice.

  9. Suzy, I checked both Funny and Moving because indeed it was both.
    And yes, Suzi with an i and dotted with a heart would have looked pretty strange on your Georgia poll watcher badge!

    And you turned out good, girl, so does it matter if you – or any of us – followed all that great hindsight advice? (But I do hope you bought the shoes.)

    • Suzy says:

      Thanks, Dana. No, I never bought the shoes, that wasn’t one of my extravagances – and now I’m trying to think whether I lusted after anything else that was comparable.

      • Good Suzy, I’m not a clothes horse either but once did splurge on great-looking strappy shoes to match a cocktail dress I bought for a wedding – truth is they hurt from Day 1 and I couldn’t wear them after that very uncomfortable wedding!

        I think at this point in our lives we should take it metaphorically and buy whatever strikes our fancy!

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