Everybody’s free (to write an advice list).

Hi, guys!

Remember me? I used to write around here occasionally. Then I started using all of my available brainpower on work and entered seemingly day #4,459 of my dating dry spell and had nothing more to say. But a few of you have mentioned you miss me (very flattering, btw), and so I’m going to (once again) try to be more diligent about updating here more often.

And what better way to get back into it than by passing on all of the knowledge I’ve amassed in my almost 34 years to my first niece, who turns one today. Contrary to popular belief, not having kids does not mean hating kids or not being interested in kids, and I, as a somewhat accomplished, smart, rational woman with good self-esteem, see it as valuable to pass on some wisdom and advice. So, to T, and to all of you who may have daughters or nieces or friends’ daughters that you care about, this one is for you.

Happy birthday, T. You are living in a very different world than the one in which I turned one. I sometimes don’t even want to consider what the world will look like when you are my age, but that’s something neither you nor I can completely control. What we can control is how we live our own lives, and what follows is my advice to you: my attempt to make your life the best life it can be.

When I was graduating from high school (a lifetime ago, when email had to be read on a computer that you couldn’t move from your desk, on a connection that made a sound like this), there was this weird song that was popular called Everybody’s Free to Wear Sunscreen. (That link is to a thing called a music video, which used to air on this channel called MTV, which used to be short for Music Television. Trust me, at the time, it was really cool.) Anyway, this weird little song was basically a list of life advice that, for a few months in 1999 became the bible for the rest of your life.

I hope that, one day, an award-winning director of one of my favorite movies turns this list into a spoken-word radio hit, but let’s be honest: even today, no one cares about radio except old people and the characters on Empire.

What’s Empire? We’ll get into that later. For now, just take this advice:

  • Read. Every single day, as soon as you are able to, read. Read The Giver, read The Secret Garden, read the Harry Potter series. Then read them again.
  • It will be easy for you to live your life inside a computer screen. It will be more fun to live it out in the world, in your own imagination.
  • Enjoy the next ten or so years of your life when boys are icky.
  • After that, boys will break your heart – at least once if you’re lucky, many more times if you’re not. What makes you different isn’t how you got your heart broken. What makes you different is what you do next.
  • Girls will break your heart, too, and if someday you realize you like girls, come talk to me. It is my greatest hope for your generation that this won’t matter and you won’t need to, but I’ll still be here in case.
  • High school doesn’t matter. It will suck. Or it will be awesome. But as much as it feels like it matters for those four years, trust me – it absolutely does not.
  • Trust me also when I say the dorky boys and girls you grow up with will be the coolest, most interesting, richest men and women in adulthood. The hottest people in high school will probably end up fat.
  • When you’re in high school, we will watch Friday Night Lights. None of the boys you meet in those four years will be as intriguing as Tim Riggins. None of the men you’ll meet in adulthood will be as perfect as Coach Taylor. We’ll enjoy the show anyway.
  • Whatever music you’re listening to in ten years will in no way be better than anything released in the ’90s. It won’t stop you from listening, but I just wanted to let you know.
  • Many teenage girls are among the worst of God’s creations. The ones who aren’t will be your friends for life.
  • Someday your dad and I will talk about what it was like to watch your uncle Sidney play hockey in his prime. Humor us and listen.
  • You’re not fat. Just trust me on that one.
  • Get a job in high school.
  • Study abroad during college. Preferably somewhere where the language isn’t English.
  • Don’t ever, ever, ever, under any circumstances take naked photographs of yourself. EVER. Just don’t.
  • Sports are awesome. Girls who love sports are even more awesome.
  • Don’t ever buy a pink Steelers jersey. I will disown you.
  • You do not have to have sex until you want to, no matter what anyone tells you.
  • Try new things: new food, new music, new classes, new people, new cities. Life is best lived when you are out of your comfort zone.
  • There are few problems in this world that a new haircut or a manicure or a cute pair of shoes can’t fix – at least for a little while.
  • No matter where you end up, you will be a Pittsburgher. It’s a badge of honor. Wear it proudly, but don’t be a yinzer.
  • When you’re older, you can move away, or you can stay in Pennsylvania. You can get married or not get married. You can have kids or not have kids. You can start your own business, or become an astronaut, or work in a restaurant, or stay at home with the kids. Whatever it is you decide to do, remember a few things: first, it’s your decision. Whatever you decide makes you happy is right for you; it might not be right for someone else, and their life may not be right for you. Don’t compare yourself to them. Don’t do things because you’re “supposed to.” Don’t ever think it’s too late to change. And whatever it is you do, do it wholeheartedly. Give it your all. Work hard. No one in this world is going to hand anything to you – you have to grab it, and you have to earn it. Never forget that.
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