This year I turn forty. I am spending all year considering the meaning of this chronological milestone, if any exists. Mostly, I want to give back to people who have made my life so rich.
Most days I feel ignorant and frivolous in the face of a universe I can only perceive with a brain designed for the Stone Age at best.
What I have learned thus far
The following list attempts to chronicle lessons about the world that I found to be particularly hard-won and useful. These are not just aphorisms I read, but things I have learned through my own experiences. As always, your mileage may vary.
On morality and character
- Religiosity is what you talk about. Religion is what you do.
- The most trustworthy people are those who speak plainly to the powerful and respectfully to the downtrodden.
- Doing the right thing does not pay quickly, but it pays big.
- A satisfying majority of people who sow bad energy in the world will pay the price if you wait around long enough.
On the pleasure of life
- Fine musical instruments are a necessity, not a luxury.
- The gods want you to be happy. Proof: fresh garlic, Mediterranean olive oil, the French baguette, sushi-grade raw tuna, medium-rare beefsteak, Lagavulin 18-year-old scotch, San Marzano tomatoes, Vermont cheddar cheese, Southern barbeque, Belgian beer, premier grand cru Chassagne-Montrachet…
- You might as well eat the full-fat version of everything. You’ll eat less and it will taste better.
- Tourist areas are most fun at the very end of the season – the beach in September, the mountains in April. The staff is more relaxed, the locals are taking their town back, and there are no madding crowds.
- Young men would be wise to dedicate themselves to a few pleasurable arts: cooking, dancing, and poetry. They are valuable in and of themselves, but they are invaluable in the pursuit of women.
- Really nice shoes are worth it.
- Mental health is not optional. Take care of your mind, body and soul.
- Misery tends to expand, like a gas, to fill the space you allow it. There are well-kept housewives in luxurious settings with every advantage who wallow in bitterness and despair, while a destitute woman picking through garbage in a landfill outside of Manila is telling jokes and cheering up people around her.
On forming a personal identity
- The person you are at 23 is largely a product of your parentage. The person you are at 40 is much more a product of your innate character and the decisions you have made year after year.
- If you are on a great spiritual or intellectual journey, not every person in your life will be able to make the trip with you.
- Much of the story you have constructed about yourself and your family may be constructed on illusions, half-truths, mistaken beliefs and total subterfuge. That story may have nothing to do with who you really are.
- Your parents, it turns out, are just people. They probably did the best with what they had.
- The ultimate product of modern media is you; people pay big money to define your identity through appeals to authority and attacks on your self-worth.
On social interactions
- Wealth has nothing to do with a number of dollars in your bank account, but how much money you need before you can do what you like without fear of social repercussion.
- Only choose business partners who stand to lose as much as you if things do not work out.
- Racism is a horrific cognitive failure, a communicable disease most often transmitted by family members.
- Do not cower from bullies. When aggressed, fly into a psychotic rage as soon as possible. It saves time and energy.
- The interaction among seriously powerful people on the world stage is usually no different than the dynamics of your high school – it’s just that global economies and nuclear weapons are involved. I haven’t decided if this is comforting or terrifying.
On intimate relationships
- You can make diesel fuel out of fryolator grease, and sweatshirts out of old soda bottles, but you can only make old friends through time and love.
- A lifetime of friendship can be destroyed with a single word or action.
- Romantic relationships come and go, but love can go on forever.
- Marriage takes a lot of work.
- When somebody lets you know that they are not your friend – believe them.
- When someone close to you is going through a terrible life event – a death, a divorce – it is usually best to make them a cup of tea and let them decide when to fill the silence.
- Lacking extenuating circumstances, try not to have sex with people to whom your friends have said “I love you.”
- In matters romantic, observe the Campsite Rule: Leave them better than you find them.
- At the end, the most important thing is love.
General observations about civilization
- White people really don’t dance very well, on average.
- “The battle goes not to the strong, nor the race to the swift, but that’s where the smart money bets.”
- When someone in Washington, DC tells you they are smart, well-connected, or powerful, the opposite is true in proportion to the vehemence with which they tell you.
- The mediocre usually resent and sabotage the talented.
- Lie to your lovers, lie to your friends, lie to yourself if you must, but tell the truth to the IRS.
- The people most excited about war are those with no intention of fighting one.
- Nobody understands addiction.
I’ll revisit this in ten years. I hope I have a different, much wiser list.