Dining on Life and Leaving Myself a Tip

Andy and I are easing into our first attempt at establishing a new Sunday tradition: Cafe Writing Time (CWT). Not to be confused with its more annoying relative, CMT.

A chocolate croissant the size of a Yorkshire Terrier is plated in front of me, and the ice is still swirling in the fresh mocha sweating near my hand. And then, amid the writing and remembering, I venture into that annoying time suck: Facebook.

Chocolate + bread + massiveness = amazing.

And there, I read an article that makes me laugh and nod. But then I keep reading, and the grasp on my mocha tightens, and I want to throw it out the window, past the man on the sidewalk wearing massive headphones and using a broken balustrade as an ad hoc microphone while he waits for the bus.

***

Good writing elicits emotions — good, bad, or ugly cry worthy. It works you up and makes you ask questions: Why in the hell am I reading this? Who the fuck cares? Who made this person an authority? Why can’t I ever get anyone to publish something of mine?

You know, the essentials.

So I give the author props for doing just that. And I don’t disagree with a lot of the things she wishes someone would’ve told her. But there’re a few that just get my blood boiling. Partly because I’m emotionally reactive and tend to shoot off at the mouth. But mostly because I’m tired of reading the same things — the whole “giving up control to a greater power” line or “argument” people use to rationalize life (which is the most contradictory enterprise ever).

Of not getting the other — less rosy — take on things.

Now, some folks may just mark me as a crazed atheist or godless heathen or insane gay or all three, and they’d be dead on, regardless of their choice. But I think the author sells twenty-somethings a bit short with haphazard advice. But then again, according to her, twenty-somethings’ minds are jelly and fairly incapable of rational thought. (Alright, I’m paraphrasing.)

So, instead of blathering on and advising people I don’t even know about how they should act — or with whom they should have a relationship, or to whom they should listen — I’d like to tell my early twenty-something self a few things.

Dear 21-year-old Matt,

Stop plucking your eyebrows with such conviction. You always look startled. Now, listen up.

(1) More often than not, patronizing people will try to shove off their life lessons and sell them as fact, faith, or inspired wisdom. You’ll come to find that they lead really dull, empty lives filled with missed opportunities that they’re trying to reclaim by hogging your valuable time at the party’s punch bowl. (Or they’re just trying to get in your pants.) Most of their sad soliloquy is drivel, and the rest will fade into the background as it should. Because, really, you’re at this party to have promiscuous sex with someone else, so leave the pontifying to the evangelicals on television wrenching money away from hollow shells of human beings, cross that living room floor — channeling the confidence you lacked at middle school dances — and introduce yourself to the hot guy on the other side of the room. No, not the one drinking Pabst. The other one.

(2) Learn everything you can, whether through failure or victory. There’re lessons to learn with every missed opportunity and sealed deal. The real crime is not being open to experience both in equal measure.

(3) Sometimes, life is like an imbalanced dryer: You’ll think you have the right measure of friendship, family, and happiness until you throw everything together and set it to “spin.” It takes a lot of trial and error to get through an entire cycle without your life shutting down. You’ll get it eventually. You just have to keep at it, and take some of those tattered sweaters out along the way. (Plus, they shouldn’t have been in there in the first place!)

(4) Don’t listen to people who claim they have it “all figured out.” They’re the biggest bullshitters of all. In case you missed it, revisit (1). No one has it figured out. Mostly because everyone has a different “it” to figure out. That includes your parents and grandparents and educators. (After all, they’re people, just like you. You’ll realize this when you get shit on during graduate school.)

(5) Friendship is like the ocean. (I know, what a painful analogy! [I sort of hate myself for it.]) There’re high tides and low tides. But keep yourself anchored. Chances are, you’ll figure out how to keep your head above water or, at the very least, your feet ankle-deep. Acknowledging that friends will have kids and drift; move and drift; seem completely absorbed by their new life and drift; or be happy in a far away place and drift doesn’t mean that they don’t think of you, or value the time y’all spent together forming the friendships that y’all did. Life speeds up, and it’ll be hard to keep in touch as much as you’d like.

(6) There’s a reason that, throughout the course of human evolution, basic instincts kept some of our ancestors from becoming dinner. So, listen to your gut. Not some voice from the clouds. Because that most likely means someone spiked your drink.

(7) Experiment responsibly, but only if you want to. Peer pressure is part of life. Good friends will try to get you laid. And better friends will know when you just need a good, stiff drink and carbs. And amazing friends won’t dub you a social pariah for wanting to do nothing more on a Friday night than order in, watch Death Becomes Her, and fall asleep whilst swaddled in a Snuggie. (Actually, scratch the Snuggie. It’s just creepy.)

(8) Faith and prayer won’t save you from anything — they’ll just make you feel as though you have reliable outlets to channel all of the guilt you feel when you see photos from Third World countries, or help you rationalize buying a shirt that probably cost a Bangladeshi garment worker their life. The world can be cold and calculating. Once you realize this — and that good things won’t always happen to good people — the faster you’ll realize how you can do as much as you can for as many as you can.

(9) If you feel as though the path you’ve started paving for yourself isn’t the right one, don’t beat yourself up for leaving it. (Because you’ll do both.) You’ll meet so many more people who hate what they do for a living than those who do. And while you’ll initially think it’s a personal failure to acknowledge that you’re unhappy, you’ll come to realize it’s one of the most liberating experiences you’ll ever feel. Especially when you do something proactive about it.

(10) Being an asshole doesn’t help anyone. Especially not you. So don’t be an asshole.

***

Sure, this isn’t anything ground-breaking. Especially since I’m ridiculously sarcastic. And I sure as hell haven’t had the Huffington Post beating on my door to write an advice column.

But you don’t have to be an authority to know what works and what doesn’t.

You just have to be honest with yourself and anyone who asks. Even if it hurts. Because all things super saccharine belong in cake recipes, not life.

Because life is a whole bunch of recipes — and it’s up to you to make up your own damn version. After all, you’re the chef.

So, whip it up.

Sample it.

Spit out the sour.

Revel in the sweet.

And move on to the next course.

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