45 things I have learned in my 45 years of life

July 31, 2014

Now that I'm in the middle of middle age, I’m allowed to beg indulgence in sharing some accumulated learning. I can’t be around my nieces and nephews enough, or around many of the younger friends I've made by dint of recent schooling and theatre work, so this is sort of for them.

I personally didn't listen to much of anything that older people said to me, but maybe some of them are a little smarter than I was.

1. There are not enough words in English for all of the different types of love that we may feel. Use the word carefully, and be careful to understand what someone means when they say it to you.

2. Smoking is awesome. That’s why people do it. Duh! It’s cool. It’s relaxing. It is social and fun. You should try it! But don’t get addicted to it, which is very easy to do. It’ll wreck your health in many, many ways. Still, you don’t have to pretend it’s awful when it’s awesome. It’s just one of those awesome things that you can’t do, due to circumstances, like going to Mars. Tough luck.

3. You really can’t recapture a moment, so better capture it the first time. And not necessarily with a camera.

4. If you stare at something too long, it burns into your retinas. Stare longer and it burns deeper.

5. Speaking of staring: If you love what you see in the mirror, be very happy, because no amount of work in the gym will give that gift to someone who despises his reflection.

6. Sex can kill you. And it was nearly always so. More often than not, since civilization began, sex could kill you. There were only one or two generations between antibiotics and AIDS, and those generations gave us the sexual revolution. Now, when we’re not busy dying from sex, we’re busy laughing at those antiquated morals that used to keep us from dying from sex. Since we can’t and shouldn’t go back to the pre-revolution days, if you do have sex, do try not to die.

7. There is no Santa Claus. Not every mother loves her children. Not every father loves his wife. Children are cruel. Pets are probably using you for food.

8. Most of what people say or do, good or bad, is not about you. It’s about them. They’re shucking and jiving, picking and grinning, trying to get through the day just like you are, and they’re saying and doing what they think they must. So, if you can, let them be.

9. We’re all NDT fans and amateur scientists now, but there are charlatans in every field. “That doesn’t go there”. “We weren’t made for that”. “That isn’t natural”. These things were all first said to me by scientists, not preachers. I haven’t forgotten, and never will.

10. The worst curse I got from my upbringing was the curse of self-satisfaction. It leads to a lack of curiosity and a feeling that the world is small, insular, and protected. It’s a constant struggle to stay curious and to remember how far-flung and diverse the world really is.

11. The most mixed blessing I got from my upbringing was knowing who I was, what my virtues and weaknesses were, and what was expected of me, even if it was all in a sort of petri dish and didn’t fully apply to the outside world.

12. The greatest blessing I got was an almost primal connection to the land where my ancestors walked, as far back as the 1760’s, and that’s just the white ones. No one back home considers me much of an outdoorsman, but I express and appreciate it in different ways, and I can tell when I’m gone from there too long how much I need the very air there.

13. Don’t be too enamored with old friends or upset with old enemies. Much of what you experience when you’re young is circumstantial, and based on nonsensical divisions and knee-jerk tribalism. Get a little older and those tribes fade, leaving people that you may or may not find appealing.

14. Drink lots of water; eat lots of veggies. I know everyone says this, but it’s definitely a thing. (Potatoes don’t count).

15. Never show weakness on Facebook. Tell them you’re lying in a ditch, and most folks will lend a hand. But someone will come by to step on your face, or wag a preachy finger, or very ostentatiously cross the road, rendering all those kindnesses moot. When you’re in need, it’s great to be surrounded by friends, and it’s easy to think that Facebook can do that, but, unless you’ve chosen your Facebook friends very wisely, it can’t. If you can’t be surrounded by friends, call someone.

16. What other people think of you is none of your business. This isn’t an original thought of mine, but it has really been helpful to me. I hope you don’t mind that I copied. Oh god. You’re judging me, aren’t you? (See what I did there?)

17. Everywhere you go, there’s a certain type of person. Most of them are in Ohio. If you give this type of person a reason to look down on you, they’ll do it. Your accent, your skin color, your clothes, your appearance, what you drive, what you make, etc. These sorts of people feel a need to thin the herd, and they assume the role of choosing who gets cut, so they don’t get cut, themselves. There’s nothing to be done for this type of person. Their punishment is having to hear themselves think. Walk away.

18. If you laugh liberally at other people’s jokes, they will think that you have a good sense of humor.

19. If you listen to other people and get them to talk about themselves, they will think you are a great conversationalist.

20. If you muster genuine interest in another person, and show it, they will find you interesting in return, unless they are douchebags or a certain type of young gay man.

21. Most people don’t believe in god. They believe in being Catholic, or being Jewish, or in America, or in the South, or in a certain culture of God and Guns, or in religious fervor, or in The Bible. They make associate that thing or culture with god so closely that they can’t tell the difference. It’s very nice when people can enjoy their things without making them into god.

22. Tabata is best for building lean muscle mass.

23. Don’t ask “How’s your mama ‘nem” unless you’re quite sure the person’s mama is still alive.

24. Shelling peas used to be done in red states by small farmers on porches; now it’s done in blue states by Whole Foods yuppies. Southerners are always griping about the loss of their most awful traditions, but they let the good ones fade unmourned.

25. There is no neverending story.

26. Rod Stewart didn’t sing “Bette Davis Eyes”. That was Kim Carnes!

27. The United States is not the greatest country in the world by any single measure. Our citizens aren’t the smartest, by a long shot, or the healthiest, or the tallest, or the best fed. We don’t have the most exports, or the most capital, or even the biggest army. We’re not the most free, as many of our citizens don’t enjoy the benefits that others do, and many of our residents exist as second-class citizens. You might argue that, taken together, all the measure point to the U.S. being pretty awesome. I might even agree. But let’s not get it twisted. Realize you life in a fallable place and maybe you can help fix it. Still, all in all, I’d rather live here than elsewhere. All my stuff is here.

28. The LGBT movement in this country is completely screwed up. It worked so hard to make sure we could be soldiers, but doesn’t seem to care much that we still can’t teach.

29. Friends come and go, but family is forever. I don’t necessarily mean this in a nice way.

30. Try to live your life so that you are quite comfortable telling anyone you know to fuck off at any moment. That way, when you don’t, it’s sincere.

31. There is a great joy in being an amateur singer, or actor, or instrumentalist, IF you are working with a group and not trying to pump yourself up into some sort of karaoke primadonna. Those who do it as a profession might look down on you, and those who don’t don’t participate might wonder what’s the point. But there is something very special about making art with a group of people, and this joy, this bond, should not be denied to anyone.

32. I think everyone gets at least one miracle, maybe more. But who knows how many more? So use it wisely, and don’t expect to get another one.

33. Music was objectively better when I was in my 20’s, and when the previous generation was in its 20’s, and when the next generation was in its 20’s. This is true for every generation. I know that this isn’t what “objectively” means, but it’s still true.

34. There are angels.

35. Working for a big famous company is a very strange thing. It impacts your identity, how you are seen, and how people see you. Even if you have to work for one, don’t soak that stuff up. Dig their taters if you must, but don’t shop at the company store.

36. I’m nothing special. That is to say, I’m a unique and transitory being made of stardust and the divine and molded into something as individual as a fingerprint. But so is everyone else. Everyone else, including the slow-ass idiot in front of me at the Safeway, the douchebag at the gym, and the Republican next door.

37. Nihilism is a real thing and it’s hiding everywhere, left and right. Talk to your neighbor for 20 minutes and eventually he’ll point out that he’s pro-abortion because “they are having too many babies”, or maybe West Nile virus “isn’t such a bad thing. Survival of the fittest, right?”, or “humans are destroying the environment, so I’m looking forward to the day when they finally screw it up and mother nature strikes back”. … They? Nihilism’s great arrogance is that it it makes an exception of itself. The Nihilist assumes he’s far enough removed from the annihilation that he will survive. I look forward to seeing that guy get wiped out. (See what I did there?)

38. Humans learn by repetition. This sucks. Humans learn by repetition. This sucks. Humans learn by repetition. This sucks.

39. Whether he loves you are not isn’t in his kiss, it’s in what he’s kissing.

40. When I sit in my childless home, pet my 11-year-old Boston Terrier Hambone, and drink a glass of wine made from grapes, I can safely say that Tom T. Hall got it exactly half right.

41. I believe that everyone has an instrument that’s right for them, and that I haven’t found mine yet.

42. I’ve observed that, generally, best guys are named some variation Rob or Bob or Rob or Bobby or Robert. I’m not saying they’re all gems, but if you’re going by names, get yourself some kinda Robert.

43. Your parents have lives quite apart from your existence. They did so before you were born, and those lives continue to this day. You’ve been warned.

44. It’s not essential for any human to be in a lifelong committed sexual romantic relationship. You don’t need a man. You don’t need a woman. Stop letting people tell you that you do.

45. But if you do happen to find someone that is right for you, who makes you feel so happy that you want to be with forever, and you choose to invest your time and energy that way, don’t let that investment lightly slip away, due to pride or spite. Don’t allow anger to sit between you. Don’t go to bed angry. Don’t wait for them to make the first move. Fix it if you can, or you lose not only your future but a lot of your past.

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