09 June 2009

What I've Learned

Today I am 50 years old.

Esquire magazine has a regular feature called “What I’ve Learned” in which a person of note and “of a certain age” is interviewed about the things he has learned over time. Since I’m sure the editors of Esquire will never interview me, I decided to make my own list. These 50 things I’ve learned over 50 years aren’t in any specific order of importance. I was just pondering on what I’ve learned in life now that I’ve reached this milestone birthday.

The number on the scale isn’t an accurate indicator of your value.

Neither is your clothing size.

It’s easier to stay fit than it is to get fit.

Dance. Even if you have to close all of the doors and cover the windows, turn up the music and dance. It’s good exercise, and it’s fun. Back in the 1980s I went to a gay nightclub several times because it was a place where everybody danced. You didn’t have to be either pretty or partnered. Everyone got on the dance floor and had fun. It reminded me of when we were kids, when gender and appearance had nothing to do with whether you enjoyed yourself.

I stopped going to the gay nightclub when some guy there thought I was a man in drag. I’d have been insulted if I hadn’t been laughing so hard.

Sex is not a substitute for self-esteem.

Neither is chocolate. (But I’ve had some chocolate in my day that was nearly as good as sex.)

My mother always says that God never gives you more than you can handle. I disagree. God often hands me tons more than I can handle. I keep giving it back.

Your relationship with God (as you understand Him/Her/It) is personal; it is not for anyone else to determine how or what that relationship should be.

Not everyone who professes to care for you has your best interests at heart.

Just because someone is talking louder than everyone else doesn’t mean that person is right.

Just because it was on television (or the Internet) doesn’t mean it is true or important.

Television news is primarily interested in getting ratings. Newspapers are primarily interested in attracting readership.

In this day and age, fear sells. Don’t buy it.

Advertisers work very hard to figure out what key words and phrases are appealing to the people they want to buy their product. That doesn’t mean the product is good.

Never give a customer/client the opportunity to choose something hideous. You can show them everything from your best work to an average concept, but never show them something that you’d be embarrassed to point out as your own.

Some clients/customers will still ask for something tacky/crappy/hideous no matter how much you try to steer them away from it. Give it to them and then let it go.

Some people never have time to do things right, but they always find time to do it over.

Creativity is not a “neat” process. If you want to be creative then you have to allow yourself to make a mess.

Learning to tidy up while you work will save you from the despair of cleaning up the whole mess at the end.

Begin before you’re ready; stop before you’re done. (Advice to doctoral students working on their dissertations which applies to messy creative people.)

Cleaning up someone else’s mess is annoying, but it’s easier than cleaning up your own stuff because you have no emotional attachment to it. This is probably why we’re all so good at solving one another’s personal problems but can’t resolve our own.

Housework is annoying and tedious, but it still beats the depression that comes from living in a constant mess.

Clinical depression is a combination of biology and attitude. You can’t always change the biology, but you can change how you deal with it.

Having the right medication is like having the right shoes for playing the game. There’s a very good reason that basketball players don’t arrive on the court in ski boots.

Knitting has helped me to be more patient. If I can do something positive and creative while I wait, then I am able to wait calmly.

Just because I’m knitting while you’re talking doesn’t mean I’m ignoring you. Science has shown that the brain is more engaged and focused when people doodle (or knit) while listening.

Life should have choices beyond mere survival. (I think that’s one of the tenets of the Adult Children of Alcoholics organization, but it’s one I take to heart.)

If it’s the challenges in life that show what you’re really made of, then I must admit that I am made of Jell-O.

Humility is not a trait of a weak person. Only those who are truly strong in character are able to admit to being human.

Everybody lies. It’s how we’re able to get along with each other. Most people would call it manners (and they would be right).

In fiction, conflict is what drives the story forward. In “reality” shows, conflict is what drives the audience numbers up.

Never underestimate the power of a humble apology to calm down an angry situation.

Forgiveness is essential for good relationships.

Pets are joy in tangible form.

In the end, it’s not what you think that matters to people; it’s what you do.

We are Santa Claus for each other. (That’s why I like to sign my Christmas gifts as coming from “Santa Judith.”)

There’s nothing wrong with giving gifts at Christmas. There is everything wrong with believing you must.

If a gift were somehow deserved or merited it would be a payment, not a gift.

If people were to employ the proper use of the past subjunctive of the verb “to be,” then I would in all likelihood stop correcting them under my breath.

You have to know the rules before you can bend the rules. My sixth-grade teacher, Mrs. Holdsworth, repeated this aphorism constantly with regard to grammar and composition. I’ve found that it applies to all sorts of things in life.

Good writing isn’t just about putting words on the page or documenting the facts. Writing is more like having a jigsaw puzzle of sounds and images that fit together into a whole picture.

Learning a language other than your own will help you to understand better the grammar of your own language.

Each language has its own music.

Email is nice and it’s fast, but it will never equal the sublime joy of applying ink to paper.

There are few things more gratifying than receiving a personal note among all of the bills and advertisements that usually come in the mailbox.

A thank-you note – even if it’s scrawled by child – never fails to touch the heart.

We are not born “naturally good.” We are born necessarily self-centered. All of maturity is gradually unlearning that trait.

Maturity isn’t for sissies or whiners.

Never confuse maturity with age. It’s not how many years old you are that’s important; what’s important is that you remain open to learning, that you approach life with the curiosity and wonder of a child and the wisdom of an adult.


Lady Euphoria Deathwatch said...

Happy Birthday Judith,

Great to have you added to the ranks of the fifty and over crowd.

You've learned a lot already so the rest is the easier stuff.

Have a great rest of your life.

Hugs, Euphoria

Villasukka said...

I've been reading through the whole blog now - and I'm late: Happy Birthday!
"You have to know the rules before you can bend the rules" - that's what I tell my students! And I saw that you're a lynx (the cat test), well, there are wild lynxes around here, even thought I've only seen one in my life. It's easier to drive about 65 km to the next "town" and go to see them in a Finnish animals' zoo.