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100 things I know
Tidbits I've learned that have made my life better
In this newsletter I’m more interested in exploring what I don’t know rather than what I know, but I’ll make an exception to share a few things that have made my life richer, and could potentially make yours a bit easier:
I witnessed email evolve from a fun toy to something more tedious, but I know there are ways to make it better. One: When emailing someone to ask for a favor, start by asking the favor first, THEN move on to small talk. I always rush through the “Hope you’re well!” paragraph to get to the Big Ask. It reads as much more genuine when it follows after the request.
I know that grief never ends. When a friend’s loved one dies, put the loved one’s birthday on your calendar. Send them flowers or a card on that date, and never stop doing that.
I also know that support during grief tends to end at some point. Mark your calendar for six months after the death of a loved one’s loved one. This is the time they stop receiving cards and offers for help, but they’re mired in the grief. Step in, with a box of ice cream or a call.
I know a thing or two about connecting with strangers. Here’s a tip for connecting more easily with them: Learn about geography. While traveling, it makes any conversation so much richer to have a good idea of where different countries are situated (and, as a bonus, which languages are spoken there!). Knowing geography and languages of Africa, Eastern Europe, and India has accelerated so many of my interactions; it really means a lot to people when you understand where they’re from! (Americans: Learning all those states in the middle has the same effect ;)
I know the mechanics of an argument, and I’ve learned that everything is about feeling. We have 9x more information going from body to brain, than brain to body. Logic and language were the last frontiers of human evolution, and they will never win over emotion. This is good to keep in mind during an argument when you’re trying to speak logic to feeling; it doesn’t work. Feeling is pre-verbal and needs validation. To resolve an argument, begin by saying “I can see why you…” which is a way to make the conversation about feeling rather than facts.
I know how to cook. And my tip to any non-cooks is: If you learn to cook one thing, learn to make a vegetable taste really good to you. (It usually involves a lot of lemon and salt)
I know that I can make my own self feel loved, and here’s how: An automatic coffee maker. It’s the most loving thing to buy for yourself. Waking up knowing your coffee is already made for you is like having the sweetest spouse/maid/mama in your kitchen who wants you to wake up right.
I know my way around air travel, and here’s what I’ve learned: Board last on the plane. Ignore your boarding group. It’s okay.
I don’t know too much about hiking but I learned something last weekend: Bring cucumbers on a hike/bike/strenuous activity! They’re 96% water and provide a big burst of hydration if you’re running low on agua.
I know that it’s hard for me to get motivated to do a chore. Here’s my trick: When you feel glued to the sofa or to your phone when you KNOW you have something else to do (for me, it’s always unpacking my suitcase, which sits like an open Venus fly trap for weeks), count down ‘5-4-3-2-1’ and then get up. The countdown switches my brain into Action Mode.
I know that we’ve heard “Nobody is thinking about you” but I’m here to say that, actually, people are thinking about you. And can’t that be so lovely? While I’ve been learning to roller-skate, I always mentally plead Pleeeeease nobody look at me!!!!! But when I’m rocky while rolling over cobblestone or when I get thrown off-balance, people are usually happy to swoop in and offer to help (which is mortifying for me, but nice). Being thought about, even in your most self-conscious moments, can be a relief rather than added pressure.
I know that Ayurveda is an intricate medical system whose wisdom has transformed my life. One practice to try: Eating a warm, cooked breakfast is like stoking your digestive fire for the day. My fave is cooking seasonal fruit in coconut oil with cinnamon and cardamom.
I know that I think my way is the best. So I have to remember that people have different motivations than I do. (PHEW!) Whenever I think “I’d never do it that way,” I really try to take a beat to imagine which value or priority is guiding their decision. Studying The Enneagram can help point out some of these different motivations.
I know that I have a hard time managing heat and emotions. For both, I keep a bottle of rose water in the fridge. It feels so good to spray it on your face and arms when you feel overheated in the summer, but it’s most useful when you’re overwhelmed with frustration or sadness. Spray on your face and be jolted back to your calm cool collected self.
Likewise, if you’re feeling overheated and sweaty but can’t take a full shower, I know that it’s a game-changer to wash just your hands and feet.
I know what it’s like to go without medical care and I’m saying to you now: Go to the dentist!!! I love going to the dentist; it’s the time when I feel most aware of how privileged and lucky I am in my life. I’ve briefly gone without access to dental health and it’s hellish. Even when a dental cleaning is annoying I am enormously grateful that I get to have clean happy teeth.
I know more than I ever dreamed possible about animals, and I insist: Adopt a senior pet. The love you can feel for an animal who can’t cater to your exact desires will teach you lessons you never knew you needed.
I know that every great religion commands us to take care of one another. One way I do this: I carry dollar bills in my pocket at all times for people who ask me for money. (As a former barista, I know how good it feels to receive a dollar in the jar rather than a handful of change!) If you hesitate because you think “I don’t know what they’re going to do with that money,” imagine someone judging you for the way you spend money. If I spent my own dollars on sparkly tennis shoes, I have no business worrying where my “generosity” is going. You’re not going to change a life with $1 or cure the disease of addiction by withholding it, but you will connect for a moment with a human whose humanity isn’t always honored.
I know that the most advanced students get into some of the worst habits. So, be a beginner in order to become an expert. I’ve been doing yoga for 22 years but recently I took a two-hour workshop solely about Downward Dog, and my practice has changed entirely. Who knew I was making so many small mistakes?? Also, while my Spanish teacher tells me I’m fluent (🤩!) I just read a children’s book en español and realized I’ve been making the same simple grammar mistake forever. Woopsies!
I know that life is so precious, so I seek to reduce the number of lives I take. If you’re a spider-killer, a mouse-trapper, or a fly-zapper, consider first that this is the full and valuable life of a being with its own free will and intelligence beyond what we can understand. You don’t have to walk on tip-toes to avoid squishing bugs but it’s a beautiful thing to see all life as sacred and meaningful (even if that means a quick “I’m sorry!” when a fruit fly gets caught in your soda).
I know the importance of documenting a good trip—particularly solo travel. If you’re going on a trip and planning to have your photo taken at some point, pack a red outfit. It always looks good in pictures even if you don’t.
I know the value of tangible memories. Print photos and send them to people. (Such a nice thing to slip into a thank you note, as I learned from my newlywed friends who sent pictures of me & guests from their wedding)
I know that I’d like to age with energy. So if I only have a few minutes to exercise, I focus on hip mobility and balance.
I know I don’t want to look at my phone when I’m sleepy. If you don’t either, use an alarm clock instead of your phone. This one’s my favorite.
I know that fretting over other people’s choices is one of my favorite hobbies. To stop myself, I repeat this golden phrase: “Not my circus, not my monkeys.”
I know now that I have a severe mental disorder, but I was 35 when I was diagnosed. I’ve known I had OCD since I was a kid (shout out to my fellow light switch fixation queens), but I didn’t know that OCD was the reason I felt like my brain was torturing me with jealousy to the point of panic attacks and psychosis. The moment I realized it was when I listened to the podcast below (starting at 16:30) and understood that this disease had been limiting my life for years without me knowing what was going on (and of course being called “crazy” over and over). I recently re-listened to this episode and cried on the subway, all because my brain is so much healthier now with the right therapist and medication. I can’t believe how much I was unnecessarily suffering, all day every day.
If there’s stuff going on in your brain that doesn’t feel like YOU, there may be a name for that, and possibly a medication.
I know eyeballs are gross, but LASIK isn’t as scary as it seems. If you’re thinking about it, do it. Just don’t go to the place that’s constantly offering a Groupon.
I know how to soothe myself. One way is to call myself a term of endearment in my head. Whenever I make a mistake, feel bad about myself, or get flustered, telling myself, “It’s okay, sweetie” works a small wonder.
I know that you don’t have to tell people that they have a sunburn or a bug bite or a zit. They are aware.
I know that listening is a skill that must be practiced and worked on. My trick: In order to listen to someone, try to really understand what they are saying.
I know that playing is the opposite of fighting. If you’re in an argument that’s going in circles, suggest switching roles: “I make your point, and you make mine.” It helps with empathy, yes, but also brings humor and levity to a strained situation.
I know that public speaking scares me, and that I love it. My tried and true ritual: Before I begin, I take a moment to look around and smile at the audience. I identify someone who looks particularly engaged, and keep going back to them throughout my speech.
I know that when I hear the question “What’s new?” I instantly forget everything that’s ever happened to me in my entire life. On any given day, I try to think about something interesting going on in my life right now to avoid this paralysis. It really helps to have a go-to answer to “How was your week?” that isn’t along the lines of “Fine, nothing.” (Jury Duty was GREAT for this. Now I have to come up with something else!)
I always know the answer, deep down inside, and so do you. When making a big and difficult decision, flip a coin. You’ll either get the answer that you (secretly, subconsciously) wanted, or you’ll get the answer you realize you DIDN’T want, and all will become clear. Don’t trust the coin; trust your inside guts.
I know how much it means to be thought about during a celebration. If you know your friend is out to dinner for their anniversary, birthday, job promotion, whatever, call the restaurant and send a bottle of wine or dessert to their table. It’s thrilling to anticipate how surprised and delighted they’ll be.
I know the power of cold stuff. Always keep popsicles in the freezer: They’re the only food I want when I’m sick, and they’re wonderful to offer guests on a hot day.
I know that often I don’t know what to say. “That sounds really hard” is usually a solid option.
I know by now that I crave communication but I’m not a great texter. If you’re like me, buy postcards whenever you see cool ones on a trip (or in your local gift shop!). Write to someone you want to keep in touch with but don’t talk to often; it’s a fun and low-stakes way to say hi without a tedious text interaction to follow. Bonus: Mail always means a lot to your elderly and kiddo friends.
I know how amazing it is to be seen by your friends. Every once in a while, tell a friend “I really admire that you…”
I know how going to the bathroom in the night can ruin your whole dreamworld vibe. Buying a nightlight for the bathroom fixes this! Turning on a bright light after you were just in the middle of sleep is not cute.
I know how easy it is to discourage oneself. I used to teach gymnastics to little kids and before every class we would say in unison: “We don’t say I CAN’T. We say I will try, or I need help.” This is also a helpful phrase for adults.
I know that you can get a $30,000 bill for getting sick in Spain. Always always always always buy travel health insurance.
I know that my nervous system is a piece of work. If you too are easily agitated by certain sounds, music, fabrics, or smells, google “HSP” and change your life. I used to experience rage to the point of tears while listening to my dad chewing or whenever I heard a type of rock music. Now I know how to exit the situation with more grace than covering my ears and screaming :)
I know my emotional responses, and encourage you to learn yours. I know that any transition for me will trigger a few days of low-level despair and a profound feeling of helplessness, even if I’m excited for the change ahead. I don’t know why, but I know it happens, so now I can prepare for it. Some people feel overwhelmed and worried when they make a big decision, even if it’s a good one. This is all normal; you just have to know the way your cute little brain works.
I know that a nice card can extend a beautiful evening into the week. Write a thank you note for an enlivening conversation or for a good listening ear or a delightful dinner. It’s really nice to memorialize these things and treat them like the gifts that they are.
I know the key to happiness: It’s not self-care, it’s caring for your community.
Likewise, if you’re stuck in a place or situation you hate, see what you can do there for others. I learned this through experience: When I hated working at a law firm, I’d think of ways to brighten my co-workers’ days. When I hated living in [City Name Redacted], I signed up to teach ESL lessons.
I know how easy it is to get disoriented. When you don’t want to get lost on your way back, look backwards frequently. Everything looks completely different from the opposite view. Shout out to Nature Daycamp for teaching me this when I was 8; it’s come in handy a zillion times.
I know all about writer’s block. If you get stuck while writing, pretend you’re writing to a specific friend or family member (my newsletter is written specifically for my mom every time :)
I know that tragedy can strike suddenly. For that reason, have stamps and addresses handy. You never want to have to bother the bereaved for their address. (I realize a lot of these tips are about cards. I don’t mess around when it comes to cards.)
I know that, against evidence to the contrary, my iPhone is not actually an extension of our brains. Memorize a few phone numbers. A memorization trick: Clap your hands or hop while saying the numbers out loud. It’s easier to memorize when your body gets involved.
I know good and well that recipe could use some chili pepper flakes or lemon juice.
If you never learned how to dance at parties/weddings/clubs, you can teach yourself by watching videos of Motown and girl groups of the 60s. The songs are slow and the moves are simple enough to follow along to. You’ll get the rhythm and the basics down, then it’s easy to start embellishing with your own style. I identify as a good dancer, and I learned everything I know from spending a summer watching live performances of The Supremes.
I know that your personality is a treasure in this world, so bring your full self to new environments. I’m the only one wearing a pink skirt to my weightlifting group but I don’t feel like myself without a feminine flair! I feel slightly silly, but isn’t it cool that I’m figuring out a way to make this intimidating activity my own?
I know there’s something in your home that drives you crazy. We all have one. I’m telling you: take care of it this weekend. For me, it was the bedroom curtain that was too long and dragged on the floor. One day, I trimmed it. Life-changing. Or the wires that always plagued me near the TV. I bought a $6 basket and buried them in it. Or the disorganized shoe shelf that made me panicky to look at. I put on a podcast and tidied it up. There will always be another thing, but man it feels good to take care of a couple of them.
I know that you’ll feel better once you make some food for a family in your community. Sign up for Lasagna Love tonight. There’s no commitment and you can do it on your own schedule. Make a lasagna with a friend; give it to your neighbor in need. Everyone involved will benefit.
I know we’re all more forgetful than we think we are. Write stuff down: The movies you saw, the books you read, the things that upset you so you know what never to do to others, the things that made you feel loved so you know what to do to others, the funny things your toddler niece says, the wines you like, the restaurants you visited this year. You expect you’ll remember but you won’t. Use the Notes App if you simply must.
I know how far a little gesture can go. If you’re meeting up with someone in the morning whose coffee order you know, bring them a cup. I walk a dog every Friday morning and last week I brought coffee to her owner on my way back. “It’s so nice when someone brings you coffee,” the owner said. It’s also LOVELY to be greeted this way as a houseguest.
Speaking of houseguests: After you stay with someone, send them a little photo booklet of pictures you took on your trip. Cheap, cute, thoughtful.
I know apologies are tough. When someone expresses that you hurt their feelings, don’t defend yourself. Just say “I’m so sorry. I never want to hurt you. I can see why you’re upset.” That’s what they want to hear, I promise. And if someone consistently hurts your feelings and consistently goes into details why your feelings should not be hurt…reevaluate that relationship.
I know Brazil’s got it all. Do yourself a solid and get into Brazilian music: Bossa Nova for cocktails/dinner, samba for waking up, forró for fun.
I know every path is different. Remind yourself of this by reading memoirs and biographies. If you feel like you’re way off-track from the life rut that everyone else is on, these books can affirm that you’ve found your own special one.
I know that no therapist is better than a bad therapist, and a good therapist can take years to find. I finally found the ideal therapist fit for me and she costs 5x my last one, but seeing Dr. A once a month is 5x more valuable than seeing another once a week. Talking with her is like the difference between splashing water on my face vs. getting a facial. I learned it was important for me to talk with someone who has a PsyD and specializes in OCD, and now I demand nothing less. It’s normal and okay to take time to learn what you need.
I know that you don’t need to get hung up on “finding your style.” Your style will find you. I like to wear a different look every day, but a few friends of mine have described my taste as “romantic,” which I love. I wouldn’t have sought it out, but it’s a lovely through line.
I know that everyone wants to be witnessed. If you don’t know what to say to your friend, and you’re in their presence, just sit next to them. Put a hand on their back if it feels right.
I know you’re not the only one. Tell that to your insecurity, and to your ego: You’re never ever the only one.
I know that if you’re overheating, dribble some cold water down the back of your neck and you’ll feel sooo much better.
I know that if you look uncool in a “cool” space, you will be the coolest one there.
I know that curiosity is a cure-all for social anxiety. If you’re nervous on a date, ask more questions than you answer.
I know how quickly the body can fail us. When I was in a wheelchair and couldn’t walk, I felt envious rage toward people who were out jogging (but also so happy they were taking advantage of their mobility). Think about would you do today if you had limited mobility and were magically transported to a completely able body, and then do it.
I know insomnia like the back of my foot. If you can’t sleep, pretend you’re lying in a canoe.
I know how desperately tourists want their picture taken. Always offer to take photos of strangers who are attempting selfies. And take a bunch of angles so they have options!
I know we put too much pressure on our trips to be flawless. When you’re traveling, assume that at some point you will 1) overspend, 2) have a disappointing experience. You can put these on a Bingo card so it feels more like a game than a catastrophe.
I know I feel like a champion adult when I get a new ‘go-to.’ I don’t eat chicken anymore, but if you do, this is the most perfect go-to recipe for when you’re having guests and don’t know what to cook. Or if you want someone to fall in love with you. It’s easy, crowd-pleasing, impossible to mess up, and divine with greens and crisp white wine.
I know that showing up is the ultimate act of love. Go to every wedding and every funeral. But more importantly: Go to every sick person’s bedside.
I have been at many an event without a plus-one and intimately know the pain of entering a ballroom full of new faces. If you’re at an event where you don’t know anyone, stand in the longest line you can find: for the bar, buffet, bathroom. Strike up a conversation and you’ll be set for the evening!
I know how important it is to avoid seeing others as ‘The Other’ and maybe you do too. But if you really, really, really do not understand someone’s social or political stance: Assume that they’re avoiding being afraid. They don’t necessarily want to feel safe; they just don’t want to be scared.
I know anticipation can soften despair. Always have something on the calendar that you’re looking forward to.
I went to Rockaway Beach recently and now I know that if you’re caught in a riptide, you shouldn’t swim against it. Instead, let it take you as far as it needs to. You may be far from shore but you’ll have enough energy to swim back. Go with the wave, not against. This is a helpful metaphor.
I know you feel like you should, but you don’t have to finish a book or a journal. A few pages is significant enough. Move on!
I know that Instagram sucks your brain out of your body. If your goal starts with “I wish I were less…” or “I wish I were more…” the first step is quitting social media.
I know it’s important to listen when a stranger shares a sliver of wisdom. I was fortunate enough to visit a woman on her deathbed as a hospital chaplain. Her advice for marriage: “Don’t marry anyone you can’t laugh with or dance with.”
I know the cuisines that offer the most for all! If you don’t know what to do for dinner, ask the other person (whether your sibling or a complete rando), “Mexican or Thai?”
I know we’re all putting too much energy on that one part of our body that isn’t cooperating with the rest. If you tend to get compliments on a certain feature of yours, focus on and put effort toward that feature rather than the ones you don’t like.
I know that if you hate a certain type of exercise yet feel like you should do it, you can quit and find something else. During my three-month relationship with CrossFit, the most valuable thing I learned was: Some humans are meant to run fast, some humans are meant to run long, and some are meant to carry others. Less literally, it means that every person is built for a different type of physical activity. (I love the type where you’re lying down.)
I know how valuable long-term friends are. If you’re lucky enough to have friends of over a decade, carve out intentional time to ask them about all the years they lived before you blasted onto the scene. I recently did this with my dear friend while we were on a hiking trip: What was Peace Corps like? Tell me about your extended family? What did you want to be when you grew up, in high school? It felt like making a brand new friend.
I know that “I don’t know” is a full sentence.
I know that intergenerational friends are the best friends. If you’re stuck in the narrative of “It’s so hard to make friends as a [age]-year-old,” make friends who are older or younger. Three of my best friends are 30 years older than I am; two of them are ten years younger. My soul is so much richer for it.
I know how much I take for granted. If you write a daily gratitude list and you’re feeling stuck, start with “Water.” I’ve spent significant amounts of time in places where hot water was scarce and clean water was a gamble. If you’re able to rely on clean water in either a cold or hot temperature…you’ve hit the jackpot in life.
I know that finding time to read won’t happen as long as you have your phone handy. a book wherever you go. For unexpected wait times, it beats scrolling around your phone (and you can feel superior to those who do so ;)
I know more than I ever dreamed possible about animals, and I insist: Adopt a senior pet. The love you can feel for an animal who can’t cater to your exact desires will teach you lessons you never knew you needed.
I know that ‘Harriet the Spy’ is the best book I read this year. If you feel like you should read more but you have a short attention span or aren’t used to reading, check out children’s literature. It’s straightforward, plot-driven, and page-turn-y. OR, re-read a book you remember loving. You’ll find new things in it, and it’s bound to enrich you more than a brand new book that you can’t get into.
I know to embrace magazines: Read them at the nail salon, put them out for overnight guests, buy a few before a long flight. Magazines are candy bars for the brain: indulgent and satisfying.
I know the importance of creating a will. Sorry to be a bummer but you have to do that. Include wishes for death and ideas for a funeral. Mine include: Pull the plug, play good music, wear bright colors, drink champagne. In lieu of flowers, do something lovely for yourself.
I know that if you have an unexpected guest coming over in 5 minutes and the house is a mess, just clean the sink. A messy house just looks quirky and bohemian so long as there’s a clean sink.
I know that you need to understand your hair type. If you have thin fine dumb hair like me, you’re going to have to wash it every day. I’m sorry. But knowledge is power here. Wash and be free.
I know that kids love absurd questions. If you’re trying to connect with a kid, ask them an adult question like “What kind of car do you drive” or “What do you do for work?” They will crack up and the more you continue the bit, the more they will loosen up with you.
Everything I know is what my best teachers taught me. Write to your old teachers and let them know what you still remember from their classes. I’ve had a couple wonderful exchanges after doing this, including one with a teacher who recalled only that I had “great style” (what a fun way to be remembered!).
After spending time with my fabulous hairdresser whose daughter lives in a hospital, I know it’s dumb and offensive to answer, “We don’t care, so long as the baby’s healthy!” to the question “Do you want a boy or girl?” Just say “Praying for a girl!” and leave it at that.
I know that returning from travel can age you 100 years. Before you leave for a trip, put a bottle of sparkling water in your fridge and a frozen pizza in the freezer. Your returned-home-self will be so touched by your generosity.
I know what it’s like to be in an apartment fire. I know that breathing in smoke is as difficult as breathing in an object and I know that you can die within minutes of smoke inhalation. I know that not every building is equipped with ladders, and in the case of mine, I couldn’t open the emergency door. I know that when there’s an emergency, your logic is compromised and you can’t think straight (I had a phone with me and never thought to call 911). I know how deadly fires can be. Make a fire escape plan today.
All photos by the talented, sensitive, and wholehearted Kevin Parada.
Edit: I didn’t meant to write the “Adopt a senior pet” one twice, but I’m going to stand by the double emphasis. :)