here’s to 50

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On September 13, 1968, in a Florida navy hospital I found my way into the world.  Fifty years, which seems hard to believe, but here we are.  I’ve lived an amazing life, or at least that’s the way I see it, and hopefully, I’ve learned a few things along the way.

On my approach to this birthday, I spent some time trying to put some of that into words.  In no particular order, here are fifty things I’ve learned in my fifty years on this earth.ab fab 50

  1. Pay your bills: That may seem obvious, but for a lot of folks who grew up poor, and even some that grew up rich, it isn’t as obvious as you may think.  There are the basics: gas and electric, water and rent, phone, cable, etc which we can budget into each month.  But there are others that we don’t always figure into the budget.  And the truth is, it’s is cheaper to pay them when they are due than to let them slide and have to deal with the consequences.
  2. Take care of your credit: Again with the obvious, right?  But credit is a magic thing, especially to those who were never taught how to manage money.  Suddenly you’re being offered the chance to buy things you can’t really afford, and it is tempting.  Use credit sparingly and pay it diligently.  Don’t let yourself get in debt beyond your means.
  3. Buy life insurance: Now I’m venturing into boring, aren’t I?  Well, not so much when you’re the one left behind with a loved one’s final expenses and no way to pay for them.  If you start when you’re young it doesn’t cost a lot, and it’s important.
  4. Write a will and a living directive: You may think your family knows what you want done with your remains, or even with your health/end of life care before you go, but believe me when I tell you that everything is easier when you have it in writing.
  5. Think about pre-paying for your final needs, your family will thank you for it.

Okay, let’s move on to things that aren’t as dark…

  1. Learn to be comfortable in your own company: Now, I know as an agoraphobe I have this one down, but I think it’s equally important for everyone.  Learn how to be alone, how to spend time in solitude without it making you crazy or lonely.  Buy yourself dinner every now and then just you, a nice meal and some quality time.
  2. Not everyone is going to get you, and that’s okay: We all want to be liked, and it stings when we can’t get that one person to warm up to us, but the truth is, no one can be everyone’s friend.  There are people out there who just aren’t going to *get* you, and that’s okay.  You’re still an amazing person.
  3. Eat the food: Life isn’t all about compromise and austerity.  Sometimes it’s about decadence and deliciousness.  Don’t be afraid to eat amazing things, to try dishes and indulge in a favorite.  Just remember moderation, and balance.
  4. Love the thing: We all have some random subject or thing that brings us joy.  Embrace it.  Don’t let anyone discourage your passion, whether it be My Little Ponies or World War I history or knitting or cross country skiing.  See #7.  No one else needs to get it, it’s yours.
  5. Love yourself: This is a hard one to learn in a society that is constantly pointing out our flaws. We are told we’re too old, too young, too fat, too skinny, too athletic, too smart, too dumb, to introverted, to extroverted, too something…no matter who we are.  But that person in your mirror is the only one in this life that is with you from the cradle to the grave.  Love her (or him).
  6. It isn’t selfish to take care of yourself: While we’re on the subject, learn how to do the things that are right for you, to take the time to take care of your needs so that you are able and ready to take care of others.  There is nothing selfish about saying no to some event that you know is too much for you, or to going out to eat when you know you can’t afford it.
  7. Drink your water: Again with the obvious, but so many people don’t hydrate well.  Drinking enough water can help you control your weight by both aiding with digestion and helping you eat less.  Your skin and hair need water as well.  This is one of those things you just need to do.
  8. Take your meds: Whether they are prescribed for a physical ailment or for a mental one, take your meds.  Take them as prescribed, even if you need to set alarms on your phone or have friends call you and remind you.  Do what you need to do to be healthy.
  9. Stop dieting: Eat well, eat the right things, and eat the right amount.  Stop with the crazy fad diets and the cleanses and the detoxes, they’re all crazy and not helpful.   Feed your body with a variety of foods, in the right quantities and remember to get some exercise.
  10. Move: No, I don’t mean out of your house…and I don’t mean to immediately jump into some huge exercising regime.  I mean move.  Do what you can right now.  Park a few more spaces from the door.  Walk around your house, around your block, around the park, to get coffee.  Just move.  It doesn’t have to be a huge thing, just do what you can.  You’ll be surprised how after a while, what you can do becomes more than what it is today.
  11. Do the dishes: Okay, this one is a bit more…mundane, but also important.  When I am having a hard time mentally, dishes are one of the first things that let me know, because I leave them sitting.  If you’ve never had to tackle a week’s worth of dishes after they’ve been sitting in 90 degree heat, you’ll never understand the smells that they can produce.  Do the dishes.
  12. It’s okay to not be okay: As I alluded to in #16, I have times when I’m not “okay” and I often feel a lot of shame over what does or doesn’t happen when I’m not.  Usually in the area of housework.  But I’ve learned that it’s okay to not be okay.  You don’t have to be UP all the time.  And there isn’t anything shameful in it.
  13. It’s okay to ask for help: While we’re on the subject, it’s okay to ask for help…whether that means asking a friend to help you clean, or to listen to you talk through your problems, or seeking out a medical professional, or taking meds.  There is nothing shameful in asking for help.
  14. Don’t hide/temper/play down your emotions:  Obviously, I don’t mean to scream at people all the time, but your emotions are valid and you shouldn’t have to hide them in order to make others comfortable.
  15. Speak your mind: People aren’t mind readers.  Don’t expect them to know what you’re thinking or to give you what you want if you don’t ever tell them.
  16. Talk to people who aren’t like you: We all tend to live in our little cocoon worlds, and we surround ourselves with people who are like us.  Make time in your life to talk to people who aren’t like you; people from different cultures, different religions, different backgrounds.  People are astounding.
  17. Listen: We don’t really listen too well in today’s world.  Even when others are talking, we’re so busy thinking about how to respond that we fail to listen.  If you don’t hear what people are saying, you can not fathom who they are or what they need.
  18. Learn: Never stop learning.  Hunger to know things.  Feed that hunger with new information.  Use that information to better the world.
  19. Change the world: There is only one way I have ever found to change the world.  I did it by changing myself.  You know the saying, “Be the change you want to see in the world,” right?  Well, as cliché as it might sound, it’s the truth.  When I found that the world needed compassion, I found that compassion within myself.
  20. Forgive: Here’s the thing; anger, hurt, fear, fury…these things are heavy and painful and they weigh us down.  They don’t produce anything but more of themselves.  They make us bitter and weak.  They have a physical toll on us as well.  When we forgive, we let go of those things and that gives us room in our lives for better things.  I’m not saying we should cut ourselves off from those emotions.  Be angry, be hurt, be afraid, even be furious when it is appropriate.  These are human emotions, they are part of us.  But they don’t need to be all of who we are, and they can become who we are if we don’t know how to put them down when we are done with them.  So forgive, even if just for your own well being.
  21. Mistakes are an opportunity to learn: Forgiving includes forgiving yourself too.  We all make mistakes, well, unless you’re Bob Ross and then you just have happy little accidents, but he too saw them as an opportunity to learn.  It’s a humbling thing to admit you were wrong and ask for help understanding how to do the thing better…but it’s also amazing, because it gives us a chance to grow as a person.
  22. Follow through: This applies in so many situations, but even when it’s difficult, follow through. If you make a promise, keep it.  If you commit to something, see it through to the end.  Yes, I know it’s hard and yes  there will be exceptions when your mental health requires you to withdraw or a physical impairment limits your ability, but even then, when you are able, do what you can to follow through.
  23. Travel: I know people who have never been more than twenty miles from home.  That idea is alien to me.  There are so many places to see, so much history to learn, so many people to meet.  Even just within driving distance of where you are right now. Even if all you can afford is an afternoon and a car ride, there are things to see and do.  I hunger for it, for travel and road trips and new sights.
  24. Spend money on experiences, not things: This is something I relate to #28.  When I realized how much money I was spending on *stuff* and how that affected my ability to have money for traveling and experiences that made me happy, I made a shift in how I use my money.  As a result, I’ve had some of the most amazing experiences and have some of the best memories.  Whether your experiences are traveling, meeting people, going to gigs/concerts/festivals/conventions….it doesn’t matter what it is, just do it.
  25. Challenge your fear: Hello, my name is Natalie and I’m an agoraphobe.  Some of what I do terrifies me.  Small venues, big crowds, unknown places, sometimes just walking out my door.   I made a vow that I would never let it completely rob me of the things that I love.  Every time I walk into a gig or a con or get on a plane or train I am challenging that fear.  So far, I win most of the time.  Every now and again, the fear wins, but I don’t let that stop me from trying the next time.
  26. Don’t compare yourself to others: Aside from the fact that no one is like you, wasting your time comparing yourself to those around you will only handicap you mentally.  There will always be someone prettier, smarter, better than you and when you compare yourself to them, you set yourself up for bitterness and disappointment.  Be yourself and be the best you that you are capable of being.
  27. Be a dork: You know what?  We’re all great big dorks about something.  All of us.  Embrace it. I work in an office full of grown adults who use their lunch hour to go out hunting Pokemon.  Our conference rooms are named after movies and video games.  Our walls are decorated in Star Wars posters.  I work with a man who carries a My Little Pony that I think is like a purse or something.
  28. Smart is sexy: I grew up watching TV where the women were largely window dressing and always, always expected to be less intelligent/learned than the men.  I grew up hearing how women, even if they were smart, should never let a man know that she’s smarter than he is, or he won’t want her.    Smart is Sexy.  Which leads me to:
  29. Don’t play dumb to make others like you: If they can’t handle your brain, they don’t deserve the rest of you.
  30. Love yourself, literally: Hopefully, you’ve already figured out that masturbation isn’t going to make you blind or whatever other thing they tried to tell us to keep us from doing it. Ladies, I’m looking at you here.  Figure yourself out, what makes your motor run?  What’s the fastest way to get yourself to orgasm?  What feels the best when you’re fooling around?  Do you know how to tell your partner what you want?  Practice makes perfect, and trust me on this, it is one area you want to practice regularly.
  31. Use your words: In relation to #35, cute names for genitalia aren’t actually cute, especially not when we’re so caught up in the “naughty nature” of the actual names that we’re raising children to adults who don’t actually know the real names.  Practice using the proper terms and teach them to your children; penis, vagina, vulva, clitoris, etc.
  32. Family is important, but so are you: I am fortunate to have not only a blood family that loves and accepts me, but also a chosen family who does the same.  If your blood family can not love and support you, there is nothing wrong with limiting your exposure to them or even cutting them out of your life.
  33. Love is love: If you’ve gotten this far into my blog and haven’t learned that I am very supportive of the LGBTQ family, you should check your reading comprehension.  Love is love is love.  As long as all of the involved parties are of legal consenting age, there should be nothing preventing them from being together.
  34. Gender is a societal construct: Much like marriage, gender is a construct of the society in which you live.  All one needs to know to see and understand that is a brief survey of history and the roles of the various genders across the thousands of societies around the globe.
  35. Gender is not bound by physical factors, but my mental and emotional ones: Sometimes babies are born with the software for one gender, and the hardware for a different one.  This conflict will permeate their lives until something is done to resolve it.  For the sake of their lives, don’t let suicide become the only resolution left to them.
  36. Act with Kindness at all times: A while back, I made a choice to live my life based on the kindness principle, essentially reminding myself with every single interaction I have in life that I don’t know what the other person has going on in their life and it hurts me not one bit to offer them kindness.  It has changed my life.
  37. Choose happiness: This goes hand in hand with #41.  By choosing kindness, I choose happiness.  They are intertwined.  If I am happy, I am kind.  If I am kind, I am happy.
  38. Let others be happy: As a follow on to that, let others have their happiness too.  Don’t criticize their loves, don’t harsh their squee.  The world needs more squee.
  39. Fall in love with history:  History can teach you so many things.  I think it’s my love of history that draws me to cemeteries, at least in part.  I’m not talking about who started what war over what perceived slight, I’m talking about the personal histories, the mundane lives, how they lived.  Start with your own family history, talk to your grandparents about their lives, about the stories their parents told them of lives before them.  Or look at the area where you live, find your local historical society.  Learn stuff.
  40. Make art: However you define art, whether that’s painting, drawing, sculpting, music, video, writing poetry, novels, non –fiction, movies, sewing…the list is endless.  It doesn’t have to be what art experts would consider good.  The act of creating is good for your heart.  Just ask Bob Ross.  Well, we can’t ask anymore, but anyone who’s ever watched his TV show knows how much he believed anyone could make art and should make art.
  41. Use your privilege to the advantage of those without it: If you are fortunate enough to be a white person, a rich person, a male person…or really any other privileged person, take some time to learn how your privilege works and take steps to level the playing field.  Equality is achievable in our lifetime, but only if we systematically attack the system that supports inequality.
  42. Question Everything: In this era of fake news and click-bait headlines it is so easy to get drawn in, especially when the story reflects our own bias back to ourselves.  Think critically, search out sources, recognize biases, question motivations.  Don’t just blindly follow along.  Ask the questions.
  43. Form your own opinions: This relates to #47 too.  Don’t just accept the opinions of your parents or your friends or whatever group of people.  You don’t have to agree with everything they think or believe to remain friends.  You are allowed to follow a different faith, have different political opinions, etc…as long as you can all agree that people are deserving of basic life, love and the opportunity to be safe and healthy.
  44. You are worthy of life and love and beautiful things: Sometimes we get caught up in what others have said about us, whether that’s specifically us or some nebulous group of us.  We start to believe a church that tells us that homosexuality is evil and that means you’re evil because you are homosexual.  Or we let an abusive partner tell us we are not worthy of being loved, and we start to believe it.  Or our own brains sabotage us and tells us that we are ugly and unloveable and no one will ever love us.  I call bullshit.  You are beautiful and amazing and you are worthy of so much love and a life more abundant and overflowing with beauty and affection than you can even conceive.
  45. Love with abandon: It took me a long time to figure out what unconditional love actually looked like, what it felt like…but once I found it (and I’ll give you a hint, I didn’t find it in religion), I’ve never been able to put conditions on love again.  Love with your whole heart, with your whole being.  I’m not talking romantic love necessarily here, but all of your love…family and friends and lovers and people on the train and the homeless man who says good morning every day.  Open yourself up to that kind of love and watch the world change around you.

I guess that’s it…some of it practical, some of it a little esoteric, but as I head into my fiftieth year, I hope you find some of this useful.

I set this post up before I left for my trip, while I was still hanging onto my forties.  It’s set to post on September 13th, when I’ll be in Venice (thus the pic).  Raise a glass my way, if you’re so inclined.  It’s been a hell of a 50 years.  Here’s to 50 more of the same!


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