Advice From Auntie Mara

by Mara

One of the potential benefits of having an “interesting” childhood is that you get to make many of your biggest mistakes young. Ideally, you will then be able to reflect on them and move on. And, if you have a blog, you will be able to share some of your reflections with the world! Huzzah!

Honestly, though, most of the below are guidelines I try to live my life by. Others are just practical concerns. Some I have come up with on my own, but most are amalgamations of what I have learned from others. If you find them helpful, I’m glad. Feel free to share, but please credit, or I will subject you to a lecture about how the future is Creative Commons, etc.

(And yes, I actually am an aunt, though my sibling’s offspring — henceforth known as “Oxytocin Boost” — is far too young to need the kind of advice listed here. When I do give Oxytocin Boost advice, it’s mostly along the lines of “Let’s just put the sand back in the sandbox, not throw it,” and “No, no, no, we don’t put Chapstick on the cat.”)

In no particular order:

1. If you are voluntarily spending an inordinate amount of your free time doing something, consider that something. Think about yourself at end of your life, looking back on all you have done. Will you want to remember yourself doing this something, or is there something else more worthwhile you could be doing? If there is, do that something else instead. (This is why I no longer argue with people on Internet forums.)

2. Don’t automatically assume you are right all the time. Let others correct you when you are wrong, and be gracious about it; welcome an opportunity to learn. Truth is more important than ego.

3. You do not “need” a boyfriend or girlfriend. You are a complete human being on your own: another person should complement you, not complete you. You may WANT a girlfriend or boyfriend, but that is different.

3A. On a similar note, try being single voluntarily. If you are in a happy relationship, by all means, stay in it, but if you are single, learn to enjoy it. Most people spend the majority of their life in relationships or marriages; time to yourself is a limited resource. Enjoy it. Get to know who you are when you aren’t trying to impress someone. And ironically, it’s often when one is spending time by oneself that they meet someone.

4. Sarcasm and snark are not substitutes for wit. Think of snark like salt: it can add flavor, but should be used sparingly. For every Dorothy Parker there are a million YouTube commenters.

4A. Being offensive is also not a substitute for being funny. Yes, George Carlin said things that were offensive, but they were couched with brilliant observations and social commentary. You are probably not George Carlin. (If you are, hi, George! Everyone thinks you are dead.)

5. Saying “I don’t like Rap/Country/Science Fiction/Nonfiction, etc.” is a cop-out. My response is always “I don’t like people who dismiss entire genres due to their own stubborn preconceived notions of that genre.”

6. As a teacher of mine once said, “being famous is a bad goal.” I agree, for several reasons: first, very few people who want to be famous will ever reach the heights they have dreamed of. Andy Warhol was right when he said that “in the future [i.e., now] everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes.” It’s very easy to be temporarily famous these days, but that is not what most people hope for when they hope for fame. I doubt there is a point where you will be able to recognize that you are famous enough: more likely, you will never feel you are famous or successful enough. Or you will, but it will be fleeting.

In addition to that, fame alone does not bring happiness. In fact, it may be antithetical to happiness. Sure, you’re known by everyone, but more people knowing you also means more people detesting you. You will be under constant scrutiny. You’ll have no privacy. You’ll have no freedom. Enjoy doing what you want and having fun with your friends without being judged? Then you don’t want to be famous.

7. Don’t say anything about someone on the Internet that you wouldn’t say to that person’s face. What the fantastic Austin Kleon says here is true: “be nice, the world is a small town.” It can and WILL get back to them. The Internet shouldn’t be just a bigger high school bathroom wall.

7A. Don’t put any pictures of yourself on the Internet you would not want a future employer or family member to see. Don’t send them via phone, either. Even if that person keeps them private, phones get stolen, hacked, or picked up and rifled through by careless friends.

8. Yes, it’s important to be honest, but some things do not need to be said. If you feel a compulsion to confess or tell something, ask yourself why. Is it solely to clear your own conscience or to make yourself feel better? In that case, tact should win out. Unless someone is in serious danger, keep it to yourself.

9. This one is more practical and less philosophical: if you are getting an apartment in a city, be sure to go through it first to make sure there are no holes bugs or mice could potentially crawl through. If there are, patch them up right away. You do not want the constant maintenance and exterminator consultation fees, let alone the ethical dilemma of what to do with the living intruders in your home.

10. If someone knows more than you about something, regardless of what it is, listen and show some respect. As my father, who works behind the scenes in television, says, “the best actors are the ones who are nice to the tech crew.” (He has a great story about a news anchor who was so rude to the technicians that one of them changed the lighting so she looked sickly. He was fired, but a few years later she was on a different channel and the same thing happened again. It turns out that he was working at that station, too. Techies never forget.)

11. I don’t care if you’re turning twenty-one, you need to impress your sorority/fraternity siblings who bought them for you, you listen to nothing but Ke$ha and Katy Perry and thus embrace a life philosophy of glorified self-destruction, shots of alcohol are never a good idea.

12. I have been thinking of many ways to put this, but I think @TheTweetOfGod said it here more clearly and succinctly than I can: “The first person who says you’re a jerk is just threatened by your talent. But the hundredth person who says it is probably on to something.” Thanks, Tweet of God!

Alright, I lied. This is in some sort of order, because this next one is the most important:

13. Enjoy being alive. Please. Yes, sometimes life is miserable, but misery passes, and the mere fact that you able to experience misery and happiness and anything in-between at all is astounding. Seriously: you exist, and you are able to comprehend that you exist! How many creatures can do that?! (Hint: very few. Possibly only one on this planet at this time. That is to say one species, but if you want to get into Shirley MacClaine solipsism, you are free to pretend that yours is the only independent consciousness.) I honestly believe that life is the best thing going. Well, technically speaking, it’s the ONLY thing going, but still, appreciate it. Take some time every day to remember that YOU ARE ALIVE.

That’s all the advice Auntie Mara (who is as unsettled as you are that she is speaking in third person) has for now. Go to sleep now. Or, if you are in a different hemisphere, stay awake. Either way, enjoy being alive.