Notes to Myself (pace Hugh Prather)

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As my 56th birthday looms, I find myself unhappy with the present, pessimistic about the future, and wondering — foolish woman that I am — what advice or warnings I’d share with my younger self, were it possible to do such a thing. (Not that she’d have listened.)

In no particular order, here are some of the things I’d whisper in her ear:

  • Sure, you read a lot — read even more.
  • There are more career possibilities than you realise. For fun, investigate the following: biographer; obituaries writer; location scout; continuity girl; set decorator; comic; talk show host.
  • Sports really aren’t your thing but you can pump iron. Start young and don’t stop. You’ll love the muscles and once lost, they’re damned difficult to regain.
  • When the time comes, have as much sex as possible (if it feels good). Enjoy it for what it is. Do not worry where it is going; “straight on till morning” will suffice.
  • Money does solve a lot of problems. Don’t let it slip through your hands. (Top tip: try not to let your appendix explode in 1995 when you are uninsured. See also my advice about marriage later on.)
  • People who are assholes will not magically reform when you sarcastically point it out to them. Save your breath. (Though there will be a cracker of a put down in a Durham pub in 1982 and another in Glasgow circa 1998.)
  • Misbehave more. Rebel more. Be less afraid of your parents’ disapproval. You’re going to fall out with your mother anyway because she has more problems than you can solve.
  • You are not here to solve your mother’s problems. Or your father’s. Don’t take that shit on board.
  • Being in with the in crowd isn’t all that. Here your mother is right: “Don’t be a sheep.”
  • Always carry paper and something to write with on long walks. Take lots of long walks.
  • Fight harder with your parents about music versus riding lessons. If you lose this battle, switch to an instrument that doesn’t require breathing, since it turns out you have asthma. Cellos sound beautiful. Drums are cool.
  • You, however, are never going to be cool. Give it up as a pointless aspiration. Aim elsewhere.
  • You’re going to meet a Green Beret. Things will get hot. Your life will change. This is good. But speak up. Ask more questions. Get clarification. Be bolder and braver with him, not just because of him.
  • Sometimes people you think are friends will drop you because they are crazy, not because you are bad. Nevertheless, try to be good.
  • Flip flops are the most dangerous of all shoes.
  • Culturally speaking, people often dismiss something as bad because they don’t understand it, and this frightens them. Try to understand what you don’t like, and then feel free to hate the hell out of it. Feel equally free to change your opinion later on.
  • Some of what you like now is going to embarrass you one day. Style it out.
  • Be a kid while you are a kid. It’s a limited time opportunity.
  • An annoying but useful phrase will arise. It goes like this: “He’s just not that into you.” It will apply to 95% of the men you fancy. Face facts and don’t mope. You’ll gain time and sanity by not daydreaming, scheming, mooning and chasing. It will cut down on the humiliation, as well.
  • By the way, the guy who does chase you will turn out to be a psycho-killer.
  • If you have to marry that guy — and to be fair, it opens up your life in the UK and much else — then keep it brief. Cut your losses after two, three years max. It ain’t gonna end well and the physical and economic fall out will dog you to the end of your days.
  • 99% of self help books will make you feel worse about yourself. Except Lorrie Moore’s Self Help. (PS: One day you’ll get to meet her and commiserate about ex-husbands.)
  • Happiness is fleeting so when you feel it, stop and enjoy the sensation. “Everything’s actually okay,” and “Nothing’s really wrong” turn out to be surprisingly satisfying. Appreciate this.
  • The more you laugh the more you’ll laugh.
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