You Are a Person, Not a Pickle
and other gifts of experience.
This week I’ll turn 39.
The targeted ads are jazzed. They swarm like vampires, heralding promises of firmness and fertility and infinite forms of “glow.” I am haunted by those filmy, comma-shaped masks that promise to make your eyes “get younger.” (If you’re anywhere near my demographic, you know the ones.) Everywhere I turn, I see preservation on the menu. But I have so much growing yet to do.
In honor of the occasion, here are 39 things I’ve collected over the years — observations, lessons, reminders, and other gifts of experience.
1. You are a person, not a pickle. Your identity does not hinge on preservation. Use the eye cream or don’t. Do whatever moves you.
2. Mundanity and profundity often arrive hand in hand.
3. Withhold judgment. It’s not just for them, it’s for you. Think of all the people, shows, stories, and experiences you’d miss out on if you never gave them a chance. Give the world an opportunity to surprise you.
4. Mary Oliver is always a good idea.
5. …even at 3 A.M.
6. The dictionary is full of recommendations. It’s pretty clear on spelling. But some words — “success,” “worth,” “value” — you get to define for yourself.
7. Negativity does not pay more in rent. So don’t give it more space in your brain.
8. Keep your eyes and heart open, in equal measure. Neither cynicism nor naiveté makes a capable captain. But together, they can cover a lot of ground.
9. “I’m actually not looking for feedback.” Employ as often as needed.
10. Remember The New Yorker. You subscribed because you liked it. Then it taunted you with its endless words, pages and pages demanding to be read. It reminded you of all the time you didn’t have to spend reading The New Yorker. Whenever you glimpsed the growing pile, you felt mild panic. Every time you recycled an unread issue, you felt like a wasteful failure. So, you cancelled your subscription but continued to wear the tote bag all over town. You didn’t unsubscribe because it was bad, but because of your own human feelings — The New Yorker kept right on going. The moral of the story: If your work doesn’t resonate with someone, that’s okay. Maybe they just wanted a tote bag.
11. Everything takes longer than you think it will. It takes approximately 140 hours to establish friendship; 300 hours to make it a close one. The path to success is circuitous and not without detours. But oftentimes, that only makes it sweeter.
12. If you want something, but it doesn’t exist, make it. This goes for books, newsletters, nail polish shades, companies, recipes, products... Everything started somewhere.
13. Every stranger is a potential friend. And also a potential teacher.
14. Sometimes, quitting is the right move. Other times, you might just need a vacation. As much as possible, try to see the difference.
15. Do not confuse subjectivity with worth. Opinions are not absolute.
16. Trust that life unfolds in seasons. If you look closely, inside every flower is the winter that came before it.
17. Everyone is making it up as they go along. Even and especially the people who seem like they’re not.
18. Thoreau had the right idea: Simplify, simplify. As relevant to writing as it is trips to Target.
19. Choices are good, because it means you have options. If you pick wrong… guess what? You can choose again.
20. There is nothing wrong with your appearance. There may be something wrong with people who feel the need to comment on it, but that’s another story.
21. Thinly veiled insults (“Really??”/“That’s weird”/“…interesting”) are often compliments delivered by people who are at odds with themselves. Take them in stride.
22. Fear is a yield, not a stop sign. It doesn’t always mean not to proceed. Sometimes it just means you care.
23. Everyone is people. Oprah is people. George Saunders is people. The cantankerous dude at the grocery store is people.
24. Humans are simpler than the instructions would have us believe. We’re all looking for the same things. To be seen. To be accepted. To connect. To matter. This is true for readers and writers and kids and strangers and the cast of Love Is Blind.
25. There are many kinds of value. Time, space, personal freedom. Monetary worth is just one of them. You choose what you give weight to.
26. Life’s not a race, it’s a party. Arrive whenever you want.