Poor Man’s Feast: What I Know

Posted inCreative Voices

My birthday was June 29th. I turned sixty.

This is incredibly hard for me to even believe, because I just turned twenty-one, and my mother keeps telling people I’m forty.

I am not a good birthday celebrant; they tend to be very hard for me and always have been. I recently spoke to a good friend, another Cancerian, who described how we feel as utterly self-conscious. A spot-on description. This year, I gave some thought to where sixty years has gotten me —to what I believe and what I don’t, to what I’ve learned and have come to understand, and to what continues to leave me scratching my head; I thought I might share the list with you, and invite you to add to it in the comments.

  1. It’s true what they say: it goes by very fast. Don’t roll your eyes. Trust me.
  2. Don’t spend a lot of time thinking about whether or not to get the tattoo, the puppy, the breast reduction, the advanced degree. You do not have all the time in the world. Do it. If you don’t do it, don’t complain about not doing it. Said with love.
  3. Ditch the heels unless you eventually want hip surgery.
  4. The only men who look good in Speedos are Mark Spitz in the 1972 Olympics. Don’t kid yourself.
  5. If you’re pretty sure that someone is being an asshole, they probably are.
  6. If you’re pretty sure that you’re being an asshole, you probably are.
  7. Measure the time you devote to the charismatic whims of others; it’s a slippery slope. Be kind but remember: boundaries are your friend.
  8. Tell your spouse you love them, every single day, assuming you do. Even when you’re driving each other crazy.
  9. Don’t get rid of your film cameras.
  10. Wear a traditional wristwatch — the kind that won’t allow you to check your email while you walk the dog.
  11. Don’t get rid of your grandmother’s pearls, even if she wore them like Margaret Dumont.
  12. If someone tells you they can be difficult, believe them.
  13. Know where your important papers are, and let your family know too.
  14. If someone begins a conversation with I’m really sorry to say this but, they’re not.
  15. If someone picks a fight with you during three out of three conversations, it’s time to mull.
  16. If you do not have children, give some thought to where you want your stuff to go.
  17. If you do not have children, the likelihood of all those photos you took in the late 70s being tossed out is extremely high.
  18. If you do have children, the likelihood of all those photos you took in the late 70s being tossed out is extremely high.
  19. If you haven’t worn it in a year, get rid of it.
  20. The shoes will never eventually be comfortable.
  21. If you are an artist or a writer, keep a process journal.
  22. It’s okay to want something frivolous every once in a while, but buy it well and with the intention to pass it on to a younger person who will love it and remember you. Enjoy it forever.
  23. Learn how to say No. Be prepared for negative responses from the people to whom you have always said Yes.
  24. Get rid of the curling iron; get a better haircut.
  25. Treasure your friends; if you’ve had a falling out, find your way back to love. Long silences wreak havoc.
  26. Drink responsibly; if you can’t, stop.
  27. Don’t eat canned olives.
  28. Don’t be afraid to dance badly.
  29. Post-modern politics is designed to divide; remain close to your friends on the other side, unless they’ve gone down the hate route.
  30. Listen to St Matthew’s Passion from start to finish. Turn the volume up.
  31. Read poetry.
  32. Read more poetry.
  33. The poems you write in your journal are probably not publishable.
  34. Your journal is not your memoir.
  35. The least likely person to trip you will always be the first one to stick their foot out.
  36. Learn how to roast a chicken.
  37. Don’t assume that your wife doesn’t want the birthday celebration just because she said she doesn’t.
  38. Don’t post photos of your meditation pillow if the only person who sits on it is your dog.
  39. Dust off the record player; buy it a new cartridge.
  40. Listen to your childhood albums on a Saturday night; you’ll remember all the words, even if you don’t know where you put your car keys.
  41. Never order the seafood salad.
  42. Invest in an annual meeting with a financial planner.
  43. Listen to your financial planner.
  44. Eat less meat.
  45. Move your body daily.
  46. People will disappoint you.
  47. You will disappoint people.
  48. Learn to shuck an oyster.
  49. Sex is important.
  50. You will never again have the sex life you had in your twenties. This is appropriate.
  51. Count the grams of sugar.
  52. If you do something numbing for more than a quarter of a century — like drinking, or smoking weed, or whatever — and you stop, you will feel like your skin is melting off, like that Nazi in Raiders of the Lost Ark. This is apparently normal.
  53. All people keep secrets.
  54. Abandonment is a primal fear.
  55. Pick up the phone and call. Even if it weighs 9,000 pounds.
  56. If someone frightened you as a child, they will frighten you as an adult. Give them a wide berth.
  57. If you don’t heal the trauma, it will take up permanent residence in your body.
  58. When you weep, do it in a safe space and/or around safe people.
  59. It is okay to dislike someone your entire family loves; chances are, they don’t like them either but are too afraid to say.
  60. Stand up for what you believe in, so long as what you believe in doesn’t harm anyone or anything.
  61. Don’t fight on social media; you won’t win, and it’s a waste of time.
  62. Never hesitate to block anyone on social media.
  63. If you think they’re gossiping about you, they probably are.
  64. Gossip is the devil; don’t get roped in.
  65. If a friend speaks ill of someone else to you, you can be assured that they are also speaking ill of you to someone else.
  66. Drink far more water than you think you need to.
  67. Give people fair warning, but leave the party if you must.
  68. Save money, even a little, every week.
  69. Take good care of your car.
  70. Put your stuff away.
  71. Tip well.
  72. Your pets are family.
  73. Some people you trusted with your grief after a profound loss will prove themselves cruel. It’s not you.
  74. Make your bed every morning.
  75. Make an illustrated journal, even if you can’t draw a straight line with a ruler; show it to no one.
  76. Write letters. On paper. With a pen.
  77. Learn to make a good espresso in a Moka.
  78. Get up as early as you can and make that time yours and only yours, even if it’s just a few minutes,
  79. Take a young child to a museum. Then take them for lunch.
  80. Tell the people you love that you love them; don’t assume that they know.
  81. Keep an old-fashioned date book.
  82. If you use expletives, you will eventually use them in front of young children; be aware. This is not being prissy; it is being appropriate.
  83. Swim in the ocean. If you can’t swim, then wade.
  84. If you’re struggling, let someone trustworthy know.
  85. Let the dog sleep on your bed; they live short lives of great devotion.
  86. Don’t do anything to impress people; do it because you love to do it.
  87. Don’t mow on early weekend mornings.
  88. Don’t put your knives in the dishwasher.
  89. Take Sunday off.
  90. Grow something in a pot every year. If you have the space, create a small garden.
  91. Learn how to bake a simple loaf of bread.
  92. Visit at least three national parks.
  93. Wear the good jewelry.
  94. Multi-tasking is highly overrated.
  95. Go for a daily walk by yourself, without headphones; pay attention.
  96. Blow out a candle on your birthday, without fail, every year. Even if you have to tell the server that it’s your birthday and ask them to stick a candle in a sliver of cake.
  97. Believe in something greater than yourself, even if your higher power is a middle aged surfer with a paunch and a puka shell necklace, like mine is. Believe in something greater than yourself, even if you have absolutely no idea who or what it is. Celebrate your birthday; make every one count.

This post was originally published on Elissa Altman’s blog Poor Man’s Feast, The James Beard Award-winning journal about the intersection of food, spirit, and the families that drive you crazy. Read more on her Substack, or keep up with her archives here.

Photo by Cristina Matos-Albers on Unsplash