BY LAURA JANE/ ILLO BY JEN
I cut my really bad walk short, changed into jammer shorts and ate peanut butter out of the jar, knelt down on my bedroom floor and, using my bed as a desk, wrote a list of "THREE GOALS FOR MY TWENTY-SEVENTH YEAR" down in my notebook.
1) Drink less,
2) Quit smoking,
3) Get rich enough to afford air-conditioning by the time I'm twenty-eight.
This past Monday- June the 24th- I turned twenty eight. I loved being twenty-seven, it was a cool and formative year for me, I really whipped my ass into shape, and twenty-seven's also just a cool-seeming and well-loved age in general. But I'm okay with not being twenty-seven anymore. Really, I could care less which age I am. I'm always the age it makes the most sense for me to be. Plus, isn't it so gauche when people in their mid-to-late twenties complain about how "old" they are? Like, you're in your twenties, dipshit; that's obviously known to be a young decade. That's what people mean, when they say "when I was young." They don't mean "when I was ten." Nobody remembers what the fuck they did when they were ten. It's boring. You learned some math and liked whatever fad.
Anyway, over the course of my twenty-seventh year, I accomplished two of the goals I set out to, and- perhaps even more importantly- quit shaming myself about how I find drinking alcohol to be very much fun. I also learned a whole lot more, and the things I've learned have helped me turn into a happier, stronger, and richer person- and I mean richer in both ways. I will now present them to you in the format of "a list of life-lessons," none of which relate to the extremely dull subject of air-conditioning. I promise I won't mention air-conditioning again in this blog post. I'm twenty-eight now; I'm so much better than that.
1. DON'T SMOKE CIGARETTES
When I was twenty-seven, I quit smoking. Sometimes, people asked me how I did it. "I stopped smoking cigarettes," I told them, sounding very bored, feeling cool to myself. I like when the tone of my voice is a shrug.
People like to make an unnecessarily big spectacle out of everything; I know this because I am one of them. I quit smoking loudly and on the Internet. I am not going to link to the eight thousand blog posts I wrote about quitting smoking because I am too lazy to search things and then copy and paste them, ew. Anyway, people who quit smoking are obsessed with "waxing philosophical" (EWWWWW waxing philosophical), extremely long-windedly and often condescendingly, in social situations, about how they accomplished such a feat. I'm going to cut this paragraph short for fear of becoming one of them-
In conclusion, the only way to quit smoking is by quitting smoking.
2. MONEY ENABLES GENEROSITY
The other day I was sitting at a bar talking to my friend about how much I love making money, which is true. Here is me:
My friend didn't like this. She said, money is awful. She was disappointed in me for liking money. Money is the root of all evil, she reminded me. We value money more than we value our relationships with people. I made it sound like I agreed with her more than I actually did, because I don't like arguing with people. I think it's a silly thing to do. I've literally never been in a situation where I was arguing with another person and then the other person convinced me I was wrong, and I changed my opinion, or vice versa. That's not a thing that happens. Arguing just makes peoples' faces red, and who wants that? I'd rather just agree to disagree, I'd rather not have to justify why I like contributing to society and earning a living and exchanging money for goods and services. I think the reasons why I like doing that are fairly obvious, and not particularly fucked up. And even if they were fucked up, I doubt I'd really mind. Being a "good person" has never been a huge priority of mine.
But the thing is, the weirdest part of all of this, is that I think making money has made me a much kinder person than I was when I was broke. I never used to know I was generous because I never had anything tangible to give any person I liked, or loved, but now that I do, I'm learning that it's my preferred method of expressing affection ("writing you into a short story" was my old number one), that it can mean a fuck of a lot when done right, and that it's rarely done wrong.
3. EXCUSES ARE WORSE THAN COMPLAINTS
A thing I know about the manager of the restaurant that I assistant manage is that he hates complaining, which I can't blame him for, because complaining is fucking annoying, especially since nobody's ever complaining about something worth complaining about. It's like that Louis CK bit about how even "the shittiest cellphone in the world is a miracle"- I think about that every day. ("People say 'my phone sucks'- no it doesn't! The shittiest cellphone in the world is a miracle. Your life sucks. Around the phone.") At work, everyone's always freaking out about some "fucked up" (/boring/inconsequential) thing some customer, or the kitchen, or I did- "They ordered a regular-sized margarita instead of a large. Ugh, what misers." Or, "Ugh, the kitchen forgot the salsa. What idiots." Or, "You punched in tonic instead of soda, you worthless asshole," and you're just like, "There's no way in the world you actually care about that," but the thing is, I've realized, I think it makes people happy to complain. Let them. Also, when you hate on complainers, you're just complaining in your own right, so you kind of have to love complainers, for that reason. It's an interesting catch-22.
You don't have to love excuses, however. There is no reason in the world why you ever would. I hate excuses as a manager, and I hate excuses as all the parts of me that aren't a manager, just sitting here, writing words and fucking around. I am managing nothing, and yet I still hate excuses. And I guess there's no real two-word phrasing that describes how I feel about excuses any better than good old "fucking annoying," but maybe their fucking annoyingness is a bit pithier than complaints', or maybe I just require them less:
Say, for instance, that someone forgot to put something away. (This is a work-related "for instance," by the way. Which is cool, because I know that everyone reads Strawberry Fields Whatever for "managerial solutions.") "You forgot to put that thing away," I'll tell them- very gently. Lovingly. "Here's why you shouldn't forget to put that thing away! I totally don't mind that you forgot to put that thing away! It's a perfectly natural mistake! I've done it, myself, thousands of times! We're the same, you and I!" And then they say, "Oh, well: I forgot to put that thing away because, you see, at the exact moment I was about to put that thing away, this other thing happened. This very, very important other thing. And, had I not attended to that other thing, this business would have fallen apart. So, by not doing the thing I should have done, I was actually being a better employee than I would have if I hadn't done it, and now I will continue speaking until you lose interest in dealing with this situation and walk away," and you're just like "Well yeah- I hoped that was the case. I was hoping that you made a dumbass mistake for a reason and not because you actually thought that was the correct way to do things."
Some words don't need to be said. Sometimes you can just say "Yes," or "Okay," nod even, and the problem, like a soap bubble, will vanish before your very eyes. The memory of that non-major thing you sucked at will turn to vapor and slink away into a peaceful and silent nowhere. Nobody will ever have known.
4. THERE ARE RARELY REPERCUSSIONS
I don't do as much weird and out-there shit as I used to, but I still do way more weird and out-there shit than the average person; you've got to. You've got to remind yourself that you're allowed to do whatever you want, and you've got to keep reminding yourself that's a fucking gift, being the type of person who GOES THERE. And I think that if you're a person who isn't naturally inclined to stir the pot, you should force yourself to stir the pot more. Do it! Stir up that damn pot. One day, every single person who is alive on the planet right now will be dead, and none of it will ever have mattered. No one, in five hundred years, is ever going to be like, "Wow, that was lame of Laura when she chased a dude down the street and went apeshit on him five hundred years ago. How embarrassing for her." Like, even when I fuck my job up, it's always completely fine. Someone's like "You fucked up" and I'm like "Oh, that's true," and then I stop fucking up that particular thing. So that's my cool new approach to striking the perfect balance between laissez-faire and laissez-insane. Just coolly do all the weird things that pop into your mind. Nothing bad will ever come of it (unless it's a crime).
5. LOOK WITH YOUR EYES, NOT WITH YOUR MOUTH
I was in the walk-in fridge with my old sous-chef and I asked him where the limes were. "Right in fucking front of you," he said, and they were. I laughed. I said "Oops" or "Sorry" or whatever.
"Look with your eyes, not with your mouth," he said, "That's what my mom always says."
"That's amazing," I said, "I'm going to steal that from your mom," and I did. I say it all the time. It's the most badass manager-y sentence in the world; an ace up my sleeve, if you will.
6. HONESTY IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN KINDNESS, BUT RESPECT IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN HONESTY
Kindness is fine, but I don't understand why people act like it's so much better, or more important, than wisdom or ingenuity or charisma or dignity or any other of the virtues. Often, I find myself in situations where I say something rude, and another person will react like, "Oh my God! That's so mean!" and then I say, "What have I ever done to give you the impression that I'm not a mean person?"- I mean, I'm not fucking evil, and I'm often very sweet. But my goal has always been to live my life honestly- not nicely. I think that honesty trumps kindness in every situation, and I think that people often use kindness as an excuse to validate their own dishonesty, which is disgusting.
It wasn't until the last few hours of my being twenty-seven that I was forced to consider the concept of 'respect.' It was the last lesson I learned. I'd like for it to drive my next year.
I don't think I've ever used my commitment to the truth as a mechanism for validating cruelty, but I know I've used it to justify selfishness and, worse yet, to explain away disrespect. It's possible to be honest and disrespectful, but I don't think it's possible to be respectful and dishonest, nor respectful and unkind. I think that if you strive to be respectful of every human being you encounter, you'll always be a perfectly honest mishmash of honesty and kindness, which even a semi-asshole like myself has to admit is an awesome-sounding balance to strive for.
7. DO WHATEVER THE FUCK YOU WANT AND NEVER LISTEN TO ANYBODY
I didn't learn "do whatever the fuck you want and never listen to anybody" when I was twenty-seven; I've always known "do whatever the fuck you want and never listen to anybody." It's probably the first complete thought I ever thought, when I was two. (Shortly after thinking it, I cut off all my hair with safety scissors- there were zero repercussions.)
But, when I was twenty-seven, "do whatever the fuck you want and never listen to anybody" started meaning something different. Sometimes, I realized, you've got to listen to somebody. Sometimes other people are right, and you're wrong, and when you listen to them, you learn something. And sometimes, people are your boss, so you do what they tell you, so you don't lose your job, because you like your job. And other times, people are wrong, and you're right. Those times, you can choose not to listen to them, but you still probably shouldn't do whatever the fuck you want. You should probably communicate your objectively correct opinion in a respectful and dignified manner that gives your boss, or whoever, no choice but to love you.
I guess it's not so much about people trying to tell you what to do as it is about people trying to tell you who you are. Sometimes, people don't want you to be you. They want you to be some other thing, some crazy thing they need and have arbitrarily assigned you to take responsibility for. Some antidote to some weird fragment of their psychosis that you'll inflame if you don't soothe. Sometimes they want you to stay as the person you were when they first met you, sometimes it's something else entirely. Sometimes people want to keep you around so you can be the one who's always worse off than they are; sometimes people need someone to envy.
Stop being that. Stop doing that. It doesn't make any sense. It's dishonest, disrespectful and unkind (the holy trinity of FUCKED UP) and if people can't see what they're doing, it's not your job to let them know. Run away fast; happiness is waiting on the other side.
8. YOU ARE UNIMPORTANT AND UNSAFE
At the end of January I was on acid in my bedroom. I was bored of being on acid; I was bored of looking at things and seeing through them. I wanted to find something I couldn't see through, so I called Liz Barker. "I'm on acid," I said, and she said, "Oh, cool!" It was a cute throwback to three Januaries ago- I'd called Liz on acid that January, too. January is the best month for taking acid, since there's really nothin else doin. On acid in the summer, you just get too obsessed with thinking about nature. It's pretty juvenile.
The last time I'd spoken to Liz on acid in January, we'd been writing our Beatles book. Remember our Beatles book? Maybe you don't. It was a thing for awhile. We cared about it a lot. We were rewriting every single Beatles song as a story, essay, or story-essay; I was John, and Liz was Paul. At some point, we gave up, and abandoned the proj. We never really talked about it until this past January. I don't even think we meant to talk about it; it just came up. Liz made a cool Liz point about how strange it is, to think of how huge it used to be for us, and how casually and confidently we just stopped giving a shit-
"Yeah," I said, "I mean, people delude themselves all the time..."- and when I said the word 'delude,' because I was on a psychedelic drug, my life snapped into two and I saw every delusion that everyone I know relies upon, I saw them all for what they were and I knew it, and I knew I'd never stop knowing it. I'd sleep, wake up the next morning and feel exhilarated, I went on a 'pyjamas shopping spree' the next day, thought about a bunch of LSD-propelled revelations that never stuck, and more time passed, and everything else fell away.
I started noticing those delusions in everyone. And I kept on thinking about it, about why we do that, why we make up these weird lies about who we are and what we do and why do it, for ourselves and for everybody else, and eventually, I figured it out:
1) to make ourselves feel like we're important, and
2) to make ourselves like we're safe.
But we're not, and can't be. I'm unimportant. I'm a speck in a Universe. You think about people who are important here on Earth, or were, at least, in the recent past- Gandhi or Beethoven or John Lennon or whatever, and then just think about the Sun. And then it's like you're six years old all over again, wondering "Where does the Universe end?" and you're just as meaningless as you always were, and will be. And you think of all the men, your friends, your mom and your dad and your job, and your home, and your money- they all make you feel like you're safe, but, even if they're beautiful, you won't be. The whole world could burst into flames in five minutes, for wild reasons no scientist ever thought to predict, or a piano could fall on your head, or maybe you'll get sick next year, or maybe somebody's going to murder you, or your parents, or your kid, or maybe the dude you think you're in love with's going to get hit by a car on his way to work and you're going to write a cool novel about it, which may sell terribly and depress you, and then you're probably going to get cancer, or dementia-
And there's nothing you can to do protect yourself from any of it. And there's nothing you can do to turn yourself into a planet, or the ocean. You are unimportant and unsafe, and once you fully understand and accept that, well then- oh my God. It's amazing! You're free.