1 – Don’t leave wet towels on the floor.
You roll your eyes when I ask you to pick up your towel, but it’s important. Picking up after yourself means you have respect for me, for yourself and our home. Plus, when you respect those things it shows you respect the world around you (and hopefully the world far beyond you). So, you see, it’s not about the towel at all—it’s about small gestures that make a bigger impact. (Ok, and it’s about not leaving a damp, stinky mess for someone else to clean up).
2 – Be perfect—Just like Sasquatch.
When you get mad at me you always say, “I’m sorry I’m not perfect.” Let me be clear on one thing, trying to be perfect is like looking for Sasquatch in a million-acre forest. You might think you catch a glimpse of him/her now and then, but most of the time she/he stays pretty elusive. Why has no one ever been able to prove if Sasquatch really exists? Because Sasquatch is a master of illusion—and so is perfection. (Plus, Sasquatch and perfection don’t actually exist—and neither does my expectation of you achieving something that’s completely fictitious.)
3 – Carpe Diem—Sometimes.
“Carpe diem” means “seize the day.” Seizing the day is a good thing and it means you’re living in the moment and paying attention to the “now.” You should definitely do that as often as possible—but not always. You see, Horace (the Latin lyrical poet who wrote this phrase) wasn’t suggesting you just go about life by the seat of your pants, at least, not entirely. What he actually wrote was “carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero.” Translation = “Pluck the day, trusting as little as possible in the next one.” This was Horace’s way of saying, “don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today.” So, yes, have your fun, live in the moment, be mindful, and be present—but don’t forget to make a few plans along the way. Even though there’s a strong possibility that tomorrow might not come—it probably will, so it’s good to be prepared.
4 – Be like Jane.
In Jane Austen’s third, and arguably most controversial novel, Mansfield Park, she wrote, “I was quiet, but I was not blind.” Simply put, this means just because you don’t comment on something, doesn’t mean you don’t know it’s there. Jane Austen was a master of irony and she could turn a story, or even a simple phrase, into something that means the exact opposite of what you expected. When used the right way, this is a talent. But when used the wrong way, it’s just cruddy gossip. This applies to you because you’re growing up and you might find yourself compelled to tell stories or make comments about other people simply because you want to fit in—but don’t do it. Don’t be the girl who tells stories, and don’t be the girl who passes them on. Sometimes it takes way more courage to stay quiet. When it’s time to speak up, by all means—SPEAK UP! But, until then, wait until you know for sure that the cost of whatever it is you’re saying doesn’t come at someone else’s expense.
5 – Find your soundtrack.
When my favorite modern writer, Cheryl Strayed, made her iconic trek along the Pacific Crest Trail, she talked about the soundtrack of music that kept replaying in her head. Because she took this hike before the days of iPods, modern cell phones and portable chargers, Strayed didn’t have anything to listen to—except herself. Sometimes she would hear memories, sometimes she would hear nature, but other times she heard songs that randomly flew in and out of her head without warning and sometimes without meaning (at least not at the time). It wasn’t until the end of her journey when Strayed realized how important those songs were in getting her through fear, anger, resentment, stress, anxiety and all the other bad emotions that led her out on her trip in the first place. This is an important life lesson—whether you hike 1 mile, 1,100 miles, or hell, even 0 miles, don’t forget to bring music—even if it’s only inside your own head. No matter what you’re facing, music just might be the spiritual guide that gets you through all the junk life throws your way.
6 – Be your own artist.
Emily Dickinson is one of the greatest American female poets of all time—too bad she didn’t live long enough to figure that out. During her lifetime she spent countless hours writing poetry and she worked to perfect her craft even when she doubted her talent and made no money from it. Why did she do this? Because she loved to write poetry. That’s it. Real talent always starts with a burning passion to do something bigger than yourself. Right now you’re just discovering your love of drawing and I can see your determination building. Keep going—no matter what. Don’t compare your work to others, don’t measure your success by how much money you make, and don’t let anyone tell you you’re not good enough. Just be YOU. After all, individuality is the foundation of all creativity.
7 – They’re just zits.
We all get pimples. I get them, your dad gets them, your friends get them—heck, even the cat gets them (maybe). Yeah, they’re kind’ve irritating and they sure know how to pop up just in time for picture day or any other important event you want to look good for—but they’re only temporary. The important thing to remember about zits is that you’re better off ignoring them. Sometimes this is challenging, especially when they’re begging to be popped. Popping a zit only pisses off other zits and then they all rally together and form a big group of angry of zits. Before you know it all you’re left with is a face full blemishes who think they can create change simply by sitting around talking about change while never actually doing anything to make change. This is very similar to politics. So, if you want to have a clear face (or maybe run for office someday) make sure you wash your face and don’t go around popping zits unless you’re prepared to deal with the backlash.
8 – Frankenstein was a badass girl (kinda).
Believe it or not, the idea for Frankenstein came to Mary Shelley as cure for boredom. At the time, Mary Godwin (Shelley) and her future husband, the poet Percy Shelley, were staying at Lord Byron’s house in Italy. After days of rain and nothing to do, Byron came up with a challenge for his house guests—they would all write a ghost story and decide amongst themselves which was best. Though Mary felt ill-equipped next to Lord Byron and Percy Shelley (both successful writers) she accepted the challenge anyway. Though there’s much more to this story, what followed became history in the making. However, when Frankenstein was first published in 1818 it was done so anonymously because Mary’s publisher didn’t believe it would be successful if people knew a woman was behind it. Of course, it was a HUGE success. When people found out it was a girl who wrote it, they were astonished. Still, despite all its success, it took another 4 years before Frankenstein was published with Mary Shelley’s name on the cover. So, my point is this, when the odds are stacked against you and you think you can’t do something—just remember Frankenstein, and then go out and kick some serious ass, just like Mary did.
9 – You’re going to college.
I’ve heard people say college isn’t necessary anymore. I’m here to tell you, this is horse pucky. College is a place of higher learning for a reason. Is it expensive? Yes. Is it difficult? Yes. Does it guarantee you a high-paying job? Hell no. (I mean, really, look at your mom.) But, what college does do is open your mind to possibilities you didn’t even know existed. All the writers I’ve mentioned here (with the exception of one) I discovered in college. Their stories inspired me to start writing, and their stories are the reason I keep writing. Of course, I discovered a few other things in college too, but that’s a conversation for another day. So, unless you can come up with a compelling argument as to why you shouldn’t go, my money (aka, your college fund) is still banking on your attendance.
10 – Squeeze in the love.
You know how your fat cat loves to sit in boxes she doesn’t necessarily fit in? When it comes to love, be like that. Sure, love is weird, and tricky, and painful, and hard. But it has its good points too. I could use a bunch of fancy quotes here and tell you stories about other artists and writers, but frankly, I don’t think we need them here. When it comes to love, you really only need to know a few important things—1) learn to love yourself first (this way you won’t take shit from anyone else); 2) give as much as you take (because equality goes a really, really long way in any relationship); and 3) fall in love with whomever makes you happy (black, white, Asian, Muslim, male, female—whatever, as long as you give me grandkids, I don’t care)! Life gets busy, and it gets crazy, so please, just squeeze as much love into it as you can, whenever you can—because without it, you’re just an empty box waiting for a fat cat to fill it up.
11 – Rip out the pages.
You get frustrated when you start a project and it doesn’t work out the first time. Sometimes, it’s really ok to stop what you’re doing and start over. You like to think the things I write come easily to me, but I’m here to tell you, kiddo, they don’t. My words fall flat about 97.8% of the time, and when they do—I start over. In fact, I’ve started this list over at least three times. When I get frustrated, I scribble things down in my notebook. If I like what I see, I leave it there and maybe come back and read it later and turn it into something more. But, if I don’t like it, I just rip out the pages and throw them away. Failure only happens when you let it happen. So, if you need to, just keep on scribbling and keep on ripping, baby!
12 – I hear you.
I lost half my hearing this past year, and this has been rough on both of us. You mumble a lot, so I get easily frustrated and sometimes I snap at you. This makes you shut down and stop talking to me. I just want you to know that even though I might not show it at the time, I’m so sorry for doing this. Believe me, I always want to hear what you have to say so it’s hard for me when I can’t. The sound of your voice is precious, and it’s something I never want to lose. You’re getting older and I know there’s things you might not want to tell me, but I still hope you do because the words you say, no matter what they are, will always be important to me. Wherever life takes you please remember that I will always listen to you, and I will always hear you (but please make sure you’re talking on my left side and not mumbling, ok?).
Whew, that was a lot, right!? Every year this list gets a little longer and a little harder to write, but I’m so glad I do it because if I forget to say some of these things out loud, you’ll always have them here. (And, if you think this list is long now, just imagine what it’ll be like when you’re 45!)
Happy 12th birthday, Kiddo, I love you.