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On this, the first day of my new life: Things I have learned. Am trying to learn. Have learned, but forget. Will never learn.

The collection below essentially amounts to what happens when an agnostic attempts to articulate her own personal prayer beads into words. I stop, I kneel, I clutch them, and I let them slip through my fingers, one by one, all while muttering these sorts of things at myself.

And then I go out into the world and fuck it all up again, and how.

I write them out because it helps me, because it makes them more solid and strings them all together. I write them out because I am moving to a new place that offers a new chance to lean on them a little harder, to have a little more faith.

It’s not technically spiritual, I guess, but it’s the best I can do. I invite you to take what helps you and leave the rest.

******

With the occasional exception of your close friends, no one wants to hear you complain. If they do, I will bet you ten dollars that it’s usually just to make themselves feel better about how much THEY complain.

There is no point in following through with a goal if it is no longer what you want. What are you trying to prove, and to whom? If some people were more fickle, they might not spend their lives painted into a corner. You are rarely truly painted into a corner as long as you don’t mind getting a little dirty on your way out.

The more you have, the harder any of it is to appreciate. Make your lavish purchases carefully, rarely, and relatively sensibly, and you will discover that “everyday treasure” is not an oxymoron.

It is pointless to sit around and feel appalled at the state of the world. If you have no intention of taking action, you might as well have spent that time enjoying yourself. At least then someone would have benefited. Unless, of course, you are the sort of person who simply enjoys the superior feeling you get from being appalled about everything, in which case, fine, but in that event, any feeling of charitability you’re enjoying is probably unfounded.

Don’t expect anyone else to be nearly as invested in your trials and tribulations as you are. You’re a grownup now. Your dance-recital days are long over.

Those who wrong you are your best teachers. They are walking, talking opportunities for you to become a better person. Also, sometimes? They’re right. (I am paraphrasing wisdom stolen from the Dalai Lama himself. I don’t think he would mind.)

Unless the person in question is a child, you can’t care about someone’s welfare more than they do. I mean, really. That’s just silly.

No one else is responsible for your happiness. If you expect them to be, they will deeply disappoint you eventually, if not frequently.

It could always be worse. It could always be better. But only allow those facts to be relevant to the extent that it actually helps you to make things better, because they are true for everyone.

Talking about this awesome thing that you are going to do is not an accomplishment in and of itself. Save your breath and just do something awesome. Then you can talk about it. You’ll look like less of an idiot that way, all while neatly reserving the right to change your mind about writing a book or running a marathon or giving up sugar. If you need accountability, skip the showboating and just tell your good friends of your intentions and ask for their support. (If you do change your mind, good friends can generally be trusted to gauge whether you’re wussing out or simply returning to reality.)

Don’t assume, and don’t take it personally.

Your love for someone does not imply an obligation on their part to do what you want. Nor are you obligated to humor those who love you. You exist in a tribe of passionate people; you could lose your every waking moment to their concern for you if you let yourself.

It’s not okay to spend all of your money now and save nothing for the future. It’s really not. Carrying a balance on your credit card while you continue to spend money on non-necessities is not cute, and it’s not something you can laugh ruefully about as if you are Bridget Jones or Carrie Bradshaw. Both of those characters are fictional for a reason: reality eats people like them alive, the filmed portrayal of which would be considerably less charming or endearing. You? You’re debilitatingly, inescapably nonfictional, so please don’t sell shares of your future welfare in order to buy a new pair of rollerskates. You’re smarter than that. Finance is not rocket science; it’s addition and subtraction, for God’s sake. If you can’t master that, it’s because you prefer not to, and that is some seriously weak shit right there.

Speak on what you care about, without aggression but also without apology. It can be hard, when you know how to be funny, to stop being funny, sometimes, but if you fail to be sincere when it’s warranted, you are selling yourself short. Let them think you’re an uncool blowhard. Maybe you even ARE an uncool blowhard. But caring fiercely is not so terrible, and not much would happen if no one ever did.

Make a bucket list if you like. Want things in life if you like. But understand that the best moments will come unbidden and unexpected; after all, their exciting novelty and breathtaking revelation will be what makes them the best. Don’t plan to the point that you cheat yourself out of genuine discovery.

Do something. Anything. You’ll feel better.

Feedback is one of the most valuable accomplishment tools in the universe. Check your bank balance. Use a stopwatch. Count your words. Feedback is neutral and objective. If you’re afraid of feedback, you’re hiding something.

Practice is the other most valuable accomplishment tool in the universe.

It all comes down to who you know, yes. It all comes down to golden opportunity, yes. So become known to the right people by deserving recognition, and take advantage of golden opportunities by rising to the occasion. I don’t know why you’re complaining that you don’t have a literary agent for a best friend when you wouldn’t have a thing to show them even if you did.

If you love it, tell everyone about it. If you hate it, try to shut up about it. Use your buying/communicating power to promote the things that are good, rather than telling everyone about that awful book they should forget about immediately and not buy. Not only are you promoting it whether you mean to or not, but you have also left the reader no better off, and you have shortchanged the person who DID write a good book or make a good movie. Plus, you aren’t such hot shit yourself, and who’s to say you could have done any better? As the saying goes, “Criticism is like showing up on the battlefield and shooting the wounded.” Criticism is also one of the easiest writing prompts; it requires less talent than almost anything else. Challenge yourself.

It’s great that you consider honesty to be such a virtue, but your secrets belong to you; keep them if you like. If you find yourself forced to lie in order to do so, forgive yourself; you are probably doing it either to allow yourself to speak of another truth or because people are asking questions they had no right to ask. Either way, it was never any of their business.

Having a wild array of options in your life can be overwhelming, but it is also a privilege that relatively few members of the human species have been so lucky to enjoy. Try not to whine about it too much. It makes you sound like an asshole.

It is later than you think—or it will be, faster than you think. And really, what’s the difference? Go.

Say it with me: “I don’t know.” Respect people enough to say it to them, too, when it’s true, which is often. It will not affect their opinion of you the way your overacademic inner child expects. (P.S. Tell your inner child that “gifted” is just an adjective that someone just totally made up in like, the 1600s. It’s not, you know, a blood type. Good grief.)

When in doubt, wait a while. When in yet more doubt, just flip a damn coin or something. It’s not that likely that there is only one right option. (If you’re convinced that one option is your happy ending and one equals CERTAIN DEATH, you’re probably wrong, no matter what the Choose Your Own Adventure books taught you.) In contrast, it is VERY likely that if you don’t learn to simply make a decision and commit to it for the time being, you will probably lose your mind.

Keep your eyes on your own work. You have plenty to do.

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