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Advice for the Human Experience

It's the end of a school year, and a transitional time for a lot of people, myself included.

It's easier, I think, to look forward to "what's next," rather than peek in the rear view mirror and reflect about what's happened. And yet, it's important to do just that.

Giving advice can be a bullshit thing. I mean, I'm certainly no expert on living, but I've done my fair share of it. Other people too have asked the deeper questions about how to do this thing we call life. Whitman was onto something with his question and answer in "O Me! O Life!":

The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?


That you are here—that life exists and identity,

That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.

So, I asked my students on their last freewriting of the year to provide some advice for someone who might take an English class next year. I twisted the advice angle a bit for an extra credit option, which went like this: "I need some advice. Not about anything in particular. Just give me some random advice."

I was curious what my students had to say. A lot of next-year student advice had to do with not procrastinating work and getting stuff in on time because "nothing tanks your grade faster than a zero." General advice ranged from being true to yourself to picking a good partner (and staying away from red-flag people) and how best to apply wingtip eyeliner. *do it before any caffeine, according to my young advice-giving makeup artist.

Having read and scored my students, I started to think of my own random recommendations. Advice is bullshit, as I said before, because people live their own lives according to their own set of principles, which are shaped by unique life experiences. I can't tell anyone how to live inside their own skin because I've only had mine this go around. That said, I'm going to contribute a few verses from my life's play (thanks for the metaphor, Uncle Walt).

In no particular order:

Believe in magic, or whatever you want to call it.

Find something outside of yourself to care about and support that cause.

Love with your whole being, even if it breaks your fucking heart.

Speak and/or write about things that are important to you. Your voice matters. It does. And only you can tell your story.

Cultivate a love circle. Tell these people you love them often.

Take care of your body. It’s the only one you have.

Give a shit about people, animals, and the environment.

Don’t make assumptions. No one knows the lived life experience of another person, not truly. We don’t know the inner landscape of others–their happiness, sadness, worries, or concerns–so be careful where you step. If you’re going to assume, then assume the best of people, not the worst.

Pursue pleasure.

Give fewer shits about what people think about you.

Do kind things for others, and do kind things for yourself too.

You can dress conservatively, but wear the leopard bra underneath. No one needs to know.

Season your language with colorful and spicy words like “vellichor,” “incendiary,” and “fuck,” but don’t use words to intentionally obfuscate or confuse others.

Don’t wait to do the thing you love. Seriously. You have less time than you think.

To quiet monkeymind, engage your senses. Tune in to what you see, hear, smell, taste, feel, and sense.

Say what you mean.

Don’t be an asshole. We all screw up from time to time. Apologize and do better going forward.

That said, don’t be afraid to speak up if you see or experience injustice. Buy a doormat; don’t be one.

Humor is a good thing. In fact, it can save your life when you give yourself permission to see the ridiculous sides of things.

If you don't totally love it, don't buy that thing. Whatever it is. How much crap do you really need junking up your place? Save room for stuff you really, really like.

Do your best, even when (or maybe even especially when) others aren’t looking. Do it for yourself.

Life is short. Wear the glitter, drink the wine, and eat the potatoes.

Listen to more music. Most of us watch too much TV and spend too much time on social media.

Speak nicely to and about yourself. This is a hard one because it takes practice. Commit to that practice.

Learn CPR and basic first aid.

Wear sunscreen and a hat. Your skin and hair will thank me when you’re older.

Try not to take things personally. Most often it’s the other person working stuff out for themselves, and you’re just a convenient target. Pointing the blame finger at others is much easier than pointing it at yourself and figuring things out.

It’s okay to feel lost sometimes or to not know the answers. Focus on one thing at a time and take positive, consistent steps in that direction.

If you find yourself overthinking things, turn the focus outward. Do something for someone else, someone or something in need.

Being persistent is much more important that being perfect. There’s really no such thing as perfect anyway.

Don’t yuck someone else’s yum. Choose for yourself. You don’t get to choose for others.

Call your mom (or the person who represents mom to you). Do it right now. I'll wait.

Read and/or listen to things that inspire you to greatness. Don’t limit yourself.

Speaking of... Read, for fucks sake! Read, read, read. Books about platypuses, car repair, cultivating Bartlett pears, sports, or sparkly vampires. Just do it.

Use the fine things now: the pretty soaps, the good china, the silky underwear. Make your moments count today, not sometime in the future.

Support artists, writers, musicians, craftspeople, and local businesses.

Wash your hands. Often.

Be curious about the planet. There are a lot of adventures out there to be had.

Surround yourself with caring and creative and crazy people. Your ride on the planet will be much more interesting.

Psst! Not everyone is going to like you. And that’s okay.

Do art. It helps us discover and understand the world around us. It helps us to problem-solve, redefine, and recreate. As my friend Lidia Yuknavitch says: "Make art in the face of fuck."

Read the syllabus in life, and all will be revealed. Or as my mother would say: When in doubt, read the directions. If there aren’t any directions, ask someone you trust, do some research, and/or write your own.

Take responsibility for your own healing journey and the energy you bring to that process. Everyone is damaged in some way or another. Be kind.

Be a lifelong learner. Don’t let your brain or your heart calcify.

Always leave a tip, a good one. Don’t be that person.

Pay attention to deadlines. You don’t want to miss out on something important.

Be mindful of anger and how you consume it. But don’t suppress your anger. Instead, speak kindly to it and hold its hand.

Remember that other people have to figure stuff out on their own. Refrain from giving advice (like this, hahaha!). It's better to be a good friend.

Listen more than you talk. No. I mean really listen. Most people don’t.

If you find yourself despairing, get outside your own self-absorbed orbit. Go commune with nature, pet an animal, or do something kind for a stranger.

Finally, be a good noodle. You get to decide what that means.


And how about you, your own Via, Veritas, Vita? Do me a favor and contribute your own bits of wisdom in the comments. 💜

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