Friday, November 8, 2013

Excellent advice.

So often we struggle with life, wrestling it triumphantly to the ground only to have it redouble its efforts and throw us off the cliff. This lovely, funny, warm mother gives her daughter some excellent advice.

The main thing is just to try to be nice. You already are – so lovely I burst, darling – and so I want you to hang on to that and never let it go. Keep slowly turning it up, like a dimmer switch, whenever you can. Just resolve to shine, constantly and steadily, like a warm lamp in the corner, and people will want to move towards you in order to feel happy, and to read things more clearly. You will be bright and constant in a world of dark and flux, and this will save you the anxiety of other, ultimately less satisfying things like ‘being cool’, ‘being more successful than everyone else’ and ‘being very thin’.

One of my favorite quotes of all time is from the movie "Harvey" when James Stewart is explaining the first rule of life. "Years ago my mother used to say to me, she'd say, 'In this world, Elwood, you must be - she always called me Elwood - In this world, Elwood, you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant.' Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant. You may quote me."

The fact that this rule of life completely eludes me is of no importance. It is still the first rule. But because the Rule of Nice consistently dances out of reach, my mouth always able to easily slip the bonds of good manners and deliver the direct hit before I even realize I've taken aim, this advice is especially pertinent to me.

Second, always remember that, nine times out of ten, you probably aren’t having a full-on nervous breakdown – you just need a cup of tea and a biscuit. You’d be amazed how easily and repeatedly you can confuse the two. Get a big biscuit tin.

I think I may just start drinking tea and eating biscuits. It might go a long way to keeping me out of trouble. Wine hasn't helped.

This is brilliant. Everyone memorize this.
Four: choose your friends because you feel most like yourself around them, because the jokes are easy and you feel like you’re in your best outfit when you’re with them, even though you’re just in a T-shirt. Never love someone whom you think you need to mend – or who makes you feel like you should be mended. There are boys out there who look for shining girls; they will stand next to you and say quiet things in your ear that only you can hear and that will slowly drain the joy out of your heart. The books about vampires are true, baby. Drive a stake through their hearts and run away.
 I am a fixer. I am constantly getting involved with people that - right up front - I know are complainers, whiners, disappointed in life, unhappy with themselves. I'm not really sure why, but I think it is rooted in the fact that generally I find life pretty easy to navigate and always believe I can just tell others how to do it and -- PRESTO! -- they will be happy. So far this hasn't worked. Ever. I'm going to start carrying stakes.
But this is the advice that is near and dear to my heart, because it is exactly what I have always said and always remind everyone every time.

This segues into the next tip: life divides into AMAZING ENJOYABLE TIMES and APPALLING EXPERIENCES THAT WILL MAKE FUTURE AMAZING ANECDOTES. However awful, you can get through any experience if you imagine yourself, in the future, telling your friends about it as they scream, with increasing disbelief, ‘NO! NO!’ Even when Jesus was on the cross, I bet He was thinking, ‘When I rise in three days, the disciples aren’t going to believe this when I tell them about it.’

The best experiences and the worst experiences are the ones we remember with the most emotional energy. They are the ones that most directly shape our lives and give us shared memories that create our history. There are the peak moments -- the weddings, the births, the graduations, the birthdays, the promotions. Enjoy them; celebrate them! But the god-awful catastrophes are just as meaningful, just as powerful in teaching us how to live life. The Thanksgiving when the oven door fell off with 12 guests arriving, the storm that blew out the power for seven days, the moments of embarrassment, disappointments, failures, and screw ups. These moments add meaning to our lives. If we let them. And we should. We allow them to add meaning to our lives by laughing at them...remembering incidences that were once horrifying with humor allows us to embrace our frailties and humanness, and the silly, impossible, messiness of life. People who struggle with depression are often those who can not find the humor in the awful moments; they cling desperately to the initial feelings of frustration or humiliation or disappointment, relieving them until they define how they view life.

Laugh at the mess. It's a better way.

Read it all, the way she wrote it. It's great.



  1. Oh, it's beautifully written and I'm sure she meant it.
    But I don't find it particularly good advice - to be nice, always and on crescendo "turning it up steadily". That really does lead to a nervous breakdown, and no biscuits will help. Although the more biscuits, the more relevant that next advice, about loving own body no matter what shape it is and not worrying about "being thin".
    Besides, the advice re: niceness contradicts the other one, about vampires and uncomfortable friends: logically, the more you "shine", the more attractive you make yourself for vampires, and more helpless.

    No, if I had a daughter and if I was still a smoker - I would leave her a different advice: grow teeth and not be afraid to bite those vampires. You will have good and bad experiences in your life, and they are not the problem - you will survive both and will be able to laugh afterwards. The problem is condition "in between", when you are unsatisfied with your life and unable to change it, by various reasons - and that phase last, and last, and last and seem to never end, and you feel suspended in the fog and lonely, and and you grow sad and grumpy and old before your years. The main thing during those times is to remember - it'll pass eventually. Give yourself a biscuit - not a real one! remember, you have to have your weapons with you - and your body is your armor! - and recall those bad and good days that were so extreme, you can laugh about them now and pass the gloom.

  2. I think there is a difference between being nice and being a victim of someone's neediness or manipulations. You don't have to allow anyone to bring you down or control you or sap your energy. You can smile, be VERY kind, and simply walk away. THAT is like driving a stake through their heart, walking away. They NEED you to let them suck the life out of you - at some point, you are agreeing to it, if only unconsciously. When you no longer agree, you might as well drive that stake. HA! Believe me, I know. I've had far too many in my life and I always finally relearn the same damn lesson and then it's actually easy. You just leave. Period. You can be lovely and kind and nice, but you simply withdraw.

    As for the times when we're stuck, it sounds as if you're hinting at having experienced times like that. That sucks and I'm sorry. "This too shall pass" always sounds rather insensitive and not terribly comforting. Being stuck in the fog can make you crazy or depressed...or both.

    But, no matter what, laughing at yourself and your circumstances ALWAYS lightens the load. Laughter really is the best medicine.

  3. Having read the entire article, I think Caitlin is using "nice" where perhaps "good" would be more what she means. I think Americans tend to view "nice" as very wishy-washy, and doormat-ish, and Brits may not feel the same way about the word. (It's been too long since I hung out with Brits, so I'm not sure about that.)

    If you take her advice on being "nice" and turn it into being "good", that makes it perfect, and very, very easily allows for staking vampires.