40 Things I’ve Learned in 40 Years

1. Things to do every day: Meditate, call your mom, say thank you. Hold open the door. Help carry a stroller up the subway stairs. Give up your seat. Give a Clif Bar to a homeless person. Drink water. Have an orgasm. Do 25 jumping jacks. Write a postcard.

 

2. That British rock star with the blond shag and blue Mustang from the Whiskey Bar who ripped your heart in half at the age of 18 will one day be a thinning-haired has-been who calls at two in the morning from his East Village walkup weeping: Come fuck me, where’d time go? I blew it, I blew it, I blew it.

 

3. Pressing snooze is never a good idea.

 

4. Learn to code. Learn Photoshop. Learn InDesign. Learn another language. Learn to play pool. Learn to change a tire. Learn chess and stick shift and American history and how to stuff a chicken. Learn to upholster a chair. Despite what your left-leaning liberal arts education instilled in you, reading, writing, and creating is a luxury not a right. Entitlement is thinking otherwise.

 

5. Smoking cigarettes is the stupidest thing you can do.

 

6. When one of your friends from fifth grade develops stage four Hodgkin’s lymphoma and spends Christmas in quarantine, quit bitching about your problems. You already have everything. Take stock. Give thanks. Real wealth is health.

 

7. If you have the time to count calories, then you have too much time on your hands.

 

8. Comedians do bizarre things in bed. Actors must be reassured constantly in public. Grinding naked with your college roommate in 1997 does not make you a lesbian. Musicians are jerks. Use a rubber, always. Guys named Jason are trouble.

 

9. Never look at your body naked under a fluorescent light.

 

10. Stop thinking about what other people think of you. Don’t reread what you wrote. Don’t rewrite your Friendster/Myspace/Facebook/profile more than once. Save the children. Donate your money. Cook for the poor. Tikkun olam. The time you spend worrying if you’re fat and if you should cut your bangs or yoga versus pilates and has your ex looked at your Instagram is time better spent on being of service to others. Do it now.

 

11. Don’t believe the hype about high school sex. Anything you learned about losing your virginity is a marketing ploy invented by Aaron Spelling to make your 14-year-old self feel ugly and in need of new breasts. In two decades a lady named Lena Dunham will appear on the scene and relieve gals everywhere of the burden to be a mute hairless newt with no subjectivity during sexual intercourse. In the meantime, if it doesn’t feel good, say no and stop.

 

12. When you sit next to Jim Jarmusch at a wedding in 2004 and he tells you religion is my imagination, write it down on a napkin, put it in a box in the back of your closet and dig it out at a later day when you don’t know where God has gone.

 

13. Miracles happen. That girl you thought would never fall in love will fall in love. That sibling who pledged to never speak to you again will speak to you again. Your friend with three failed rounds of IVF and two miscarriages will soon call you from the hospital cot post C-section, a baby on each breast. After a lifetime of wishing you were a different sort of person living a different sort of life, you will one day be walking down to the train, look at your feet on the street and think: I am where I want to be.

 

14. Terry Richardson’s muse is not an acceptable ambition.

 

15. It’s only okay to bounce a check once.

 

16. Fuck luck. Results equals humility plus hard work. Suit up, show up, shut up. Do the same thing, day after day, year after year, and good things will come your way. Talent is nice but not necessary.

 

17. Read: Beowulf, Blake, Beckett, Wharton, Brontë, Browning, Woolf, Wilde, Walker, Baldwin, Angelou, Ellison, Morrison. Canterbury Tales is torture; get it over quick. James Joyce will save you when you are 16. All of Arundhati Roy. Flowers in the Attic forever. More Mary Gaitskill. Stephen King is not smut, Mom. One day The New Yorker will publish his fiction.

 

18. Take your black boots and bags to the shoemaker for repair twice a year.

 

19. Hindsight is 20/20. Obsessing over what you could have done differently is dumb. Who you hurt, how you hurt, years wasted, red wine. Pee and tears all over the sheets. One day the pieces will fall into place and your dark past will be your great gift.

 

20. Don’t mess with the IRS.

 

21. Stan Smiths never go out of style.

 

22. If a certain famous celebrity bum rushes you in the bathroom of a country club, says she loves your dress, is your cosmic soul sister, and emails you later that afternoon to make plans, do not be fooled. Even though you will reach out twice in the hopes of becoming besties with her, she will never make contact again.

 

23. Don’t forget to floss.

 

24. Ask for help when you don't know what to do next.

 

25. When you laid out at Johnny Depp’s pool. When you were invited but declined (idiotically) to attend seder with Gwyneth. When Axl Rose said you had pretty eyes. When David Spade called you from the green room at Letterman. When Madonna, pregnant with Lourdes, looked you up and down at the Beverly Hills Barneys. When you saw the movie Trainspotting with Leonardo DiCaprio. When Julian Schnabel swung by to say hi. When you drank lychee martinis with Liv Tyler. When David Blaine levitated in the parking lot. It was all fun and games for a good minute, wasn’t it, and every old party girl has some stories up her sleeve. One day you can compile some in a small paragraph for a few people to read.

 

26. Contrary to what your mid-20s, intoxicated, star-fucking, smeary-eyelinered self might think, the warm, worn body you have now is beautiful. It has housed and fed two humans who like to lie on your lap and legs like furniture.

 

27. Sparkly people are not the answer to your pain. The girls and boys who shine brightest at first dull quickly without daily maintenance, and you don’t have time to tend to their patina nonstop. All that glitters is not gold. You will find your own light down the line.

 

28. A bar of goat milk soap makes a good gift.

 

29. In third grade, when your Nana picks you up at school for a library and Baskin-Robbins outing, don’t roll your eyes and demand instead she buy you Lee press-on nails and a VHS copy of Revenge of the Nerds. Say yes and thank you and fasten your seat belt.

 

30. Cocaine is not cool.

 

31. The gay boy you meet in eighth grade with blue eyes who looks like Bobby Brady will become your best friend. His hand in your hand, running through the hallways of the Chelsea Hotel. Holes on the hem of the red dress he knit you. The torn blue Heavenly T-shirt in your bottom drawer. Do not blame yourself for his death. He had his own fate, just like you have yours.

 

32. Girls will break your heart harder than any man can. Brace yourself. Woman love is so wild but so worth it.

 

33. Salad dressing: maple syrup, shallots, lemon, olive oil, dijon. Roasted vegetables: olive oil, salt, pepper, 425 degrees for 20 minutes. Smoothies: milk, yogurt, frozen blueberries, banana, honey, blend. Seamless pad thai when you get home past 6:30 p.m. String cheese and pear in purse, always.

 

34. It’s hard for a dad to know what to do with a daughter. Go easy on him. One day you will end up holding hands on the porch watching the lightning.

 

35. Faith is the opposite of fear.

 

36. Don’t acquire aimlessly. Stuff you buy should be directly proportionate to what you toss in the trash. A lean life is the key to a sane brain. Order is the answer to a lot of your issues.

 

37. When you kick your husband out of the house so he can deal with his problems, you will be disturbed to learn that you have just as many. Work to change your own mind, know you cannot change his. This is the key to your freedom.

 

38. Beware your big sister, that vicious brat with sprayed bangs in a Betsey Johnson baby doll dress. When you grow up, she will be the most calm and wise woman you know.

 

39. During Hurricane Sandy, nurses and doctors from NYU's medical center carried 20 premature infants from the neonatal intensive care unit down nine flights of pitch-black stairs, each one swaddled in blankets and a heating pad, manually squeezing bags of oxygen into their lungs. The floor slippery and wet beneath their feet. Secretaries and security guards lit the way with their cell phones. Not one newborn was hurt on the way.

 

40. Don’t forget that blonde chick you tried to bum a cigarette from at Spy Bar in Soho back in the day. Don’t go back to the booth and make fun of her red lips and red heels and bad blowout and mutter “what a bitch” under your breath when she breezes past you. Twenty years from now, in the middle of the night, while holding your sleeping daughters to your chest, you will watch her on TV, standing next to her father, the president-elect, one of the most powerful women in American politics, and he is threatening to tear down the life and liberty and pursuit of good freedoms that your parents and grandparents and great-grandparents came here to fight for. Instead, say “hi.” Put out your smoke. Put out your hand. Tell her your name. Get her number.

 

Originally published on vogue.com, February 28th, 2017