May 23rd, 2018

I am 40 now listen to me: advice

As probably most people know if they spend time with me: I am obsessed with advice columns. I read and adore a great number of them (current faves include Ask a Manager, Captain Awkward and forever champ Dear Prudence with Daniel Mallory Ortberg.) But show me an advice column and I’ll probably read it.

My dream is to have my own advice column, a dream I am pursuing mainly by wishing for it. I don’t even give advice to people I know that often, let alone strangers, because I am waiting to be asked–ideally, via postal letter. But I turned 40 today and I know some things, and I think I’ve earned the right to share them. Just this once. You don’t need to worry that if you go out to coffee with me I’m going to critique your outfit (unless you are married to me) or tell you how to talk to the loud guy on the train –this is a one-time deal, and then I’ll go back to waiting to be asked. It’s really like a resume: here’s some stuff I would advise about the world and human interactions, learned in my 40 years on earth. If you want more, hit me up! I’ve tried to make it clear whether I learned from interaction or observation or just reading advice columns, but basically, I just know, ok?

1. Don’t touch anyone unless they see clearly that you are going to touch them and have given some small sign that they are cool with being touched. I learned this from cats needing to sniff your hand before you can pet them, but it applies to humans too: don’t hug someone until they’ve opened their arms to be hugged, don’t clasp someone’s arm until they have acknowledged your hand there, don’t pull off loose threads or tags without asking permission. If you never see the acknowledgement nod, you never touch them. Everyone gets their bubble.

2. There is sometimes a second cigarette-lighter-type jack in the car glove compartment between the passenger and driver’s seat (in modern cars with bucket seats), down at the bottom. There also might be an audio jack inside the top of the glove compartment in front of the passenger seat. No one ever tells you this for some reason, you have to go feeling around to check.

3. It’s ok to work on contract for a while, if you are young and flexible and don’t need a lot of non-OHIP healthcare or dental work. People a generation older who had full-time jobs for their entire careers are horrified by contract work but more importantly they are unfamiliar with it. They just find it insulting on principle and it’s not ok to have unexamined principles in today’s economy. If there’s a reason you don’t want contract work–like you require expensive medication and really need drug coverage, or a particular company or industry is known to be terrible to contract workers, do what you need to do, but there is nothing inherently evil about contract work if all sides agree on what is going down.

4. You can double-dip if the only people sharing the dip are people who mouth kiss on a regular basis. Still, it’s polite to ask first.

5. If you ask someone for a favour and they say no nicely, say thanks anyway or something else cordial rather than snark or just stop speaking to them. Sure, you may not be getting the thing you want from this person right now, but keep the relationship friendly because it’s a) the right thing to do and b) it’s not like they’ve lost all their powers (probably); maybe they could do the useful thing or a different useful thing later if you aren’t a jerk about it.

6. Cold water gets out blood–hot makes it worse. It seems counter-intuitive but it’s really not–blood is meat, so think of the heat as cooking the blood in. Gross, but now you’ll remember.

7. It is cruel to declaw a cat–I imagine you want to keep your fingernails, too. However, if you feel you absolutely must have a declawed cat (and if you care to give me a call, I would debate all your reasons for this) there is a loophole. Some people are cruel and declaw cats and then don’t keep them anyway, and those cats wind up at the Humane Society or at cat rescues. If you were to adopt a declawed cat from such a situation, and promise to keep it forever indoors and away from aggressive situations (because it can neither defend itself nor climb trees to flee) you would not only be free of the charge of cruelty but doing that cat a favour. Everybody wins.

8. You don’t have to cook anything for a potluck–anything nice from the grocery store, deli, or bakery is just fine. You can’t bring the ingredients for a dish and ask the host to provide you with implements and kitchen space to make it, though. Seriously, just buy a family size bag of Doritos if you like–no one will be sad.

9. Insomniacs shouldn’t take naps. It’s really sad, but necessary.

10. Cats need to come to you. Do not pursue cats.

11. You need at least an hour to change planes at LAX–probably more if you don’t like to live dangerously. It’s a very very big messy horrible airport. Better advice is maybe just don’t fly through LAX.

12. You shouldn’t brake on the highway unless you are in heavy traffic. That was advice I got from a truck driver I had a crush on in my teens (I know!) and it’s really good. If you find yourself braking to regulate your speed or because you’re accidentally tailgating or you want to let someone in, all that is bad. I still do it occasionally when no one is behind me, but I feel that cute truck driver shaking his head at me.

13. There are no questions you need to ask anyone about their fertility ever unless they are your partner or your patient. Not when they will have children or why they haven’t yet or why they had the children they did have when they did or why so many or why not more or if they had “difficulties” or “accidents” or conceived “naturally” or whether they are happy to be pregnant or sad that they are not or ANYTHING ELSE. If you are a warm, interested friend, people will volunteer what they feel comfortable sharing and if you feel like you need more information than that, you must ask yourself, before you say anything aloud, why you need that information. Because unless you fit into one of the two categories mentioned above, I cannot think of a single reason.

14. Always ask permission before posting photos of other humans on the internet. Obviously this applies especially to minors, but I have been trying lately to apply the rule to everyone. It took me embarrassingly long to get with this one–I genuinely didn’t see why I’d have to ask. But I get it now–your face, your call.

15. Advice repeated from neurologist: Eating protein first thing in the morning is good way to stave off migraines. Advice repeated from naturopath: If you are struggling with your health–migraines or otherwise–protein at every meal and even in every snack is probably a good bet. Doesn’t have to be a huge portion, but at least a bit.

16. It doesn’t matter whether someone can document a food allergy or prove an intolerance–if they don’t want to eat it, their reasons are not open to discussions. However, if I’m hosting them for a meal and their needs are really complex or obscure, I am allowed to say that I don’t think I’m able to accommodate them adequately and ask that they either bring something they know they can eat or suggest a takeout place that works for them. Everyone should get to eat what they need, but that doesn’t mean I have to cook it.

17. “Perfectionism” is supposed to be that flaw that’s not really a flaw you mention in job interviews, but after a couple decades of working in actual jobs, I can tell you–it’s really a flaw. At best, perfectionists are smug, assuming that they are capable of Platonic ideals in everyday life. At worst, they are bitter and resentful that they must work with imperfect colleagues. Sure, we all have a little perfectionism in us–I have a lot less than I used to, owing to the chronic failure to write the perfect stories that live in my brain–but it’s nothing to humble-brag about.

18. Ditto romantic jealousy. Happens to the best of us? Sure, but something to work on, nothing adorable.

19. If the ends of your tomatoes in your garden are all gross and grey, there might not be enough calcium in your soil. You can fortify it with bonemeal in spring and fall, but for an immediate fix, there’s actually such a thing as calcium supplements you dig into the garden–you can buy them at a garden centre. Fixed ours right up!

20. Coordination of benefits–possibly my most boring advice, but useful! If one partner has medical/dental benefits, they can be used by the other partner if cohabitating and by their children. Most people know this and it’s lovely. If BOTH partners have medical/dental benefits, the assumption seems to be that they will just have both and use the second to cover copays and whatever is not covered by the first. Which can be great in certain situations but in others is nutso–just a bunch of insurance covering everything twice, essentially. Please, if you are in this situation, look at what you actually need and what your options are–some plans will allow you to cash out your benefits if you have other coverage, and others won’t but you can have a health care spending account so you can put ALL the money towards whatever health-related expenses you want (all the massages!) Some companies will insist you keep all your benefits, period, and like I said, some people actually can make use of two plans, but you need to think it over and read the fine print!

21. “Self care” isn’t ditching plans at the last minute and leaving people in the lurch/wasting their time (except for extreme/surprise situations). I’m so sad that I’ve seen the opposite advice repeated so often. Real, everyday self care is looking at invitations and requests and the other demands on your time and what you actually can and want to do and politely RSVPing no thank you to the rest well in advance.

22. The best thing to give to charity is money. Money does not require transportation, can be used for literally anything, can used flexibly at the charity’s discretion (they thought they were going to get a new sink, but then the stove broke) and many charities have much better buying power than the average citizen because of their charitable status and because they buy in bulk (your four cans of tuna might cost $4 versus the 400 cans they bought for $100 or some such). If money is not something you have to give or feel comfortable giving, there are myriad other things you can give away that will help, but research is required to find out which charities take what and how. Giving something to an organization that doesn’t accept it–used clothing to a group that only takes new, or expired food to a food drive that asks you not to–because you didn’t research the rules or think the rules are dumb is unethical, because it takes resources away from the actual charity and expends them on sorting and disposing of a useless donation. I have learned this from countless articles, and a number of volunteer stints.

23. The best way for women to not get urinary tract infections is just not to be physically disposed towards them aka lucky. The second-best way to avoid them is to pee after sex and ideally before too, though that is a lot of peeing. I learned the second half of that from an issue of Seventeen magazine back in 8th grade, when I didn’t know what a single word of it meant.

24. There is no reason not to repeat every compliment you hear or even think about everyone you know. All the nice words should be known!!

25. There are no books you have to read. There are no TV shows or movies you have to watch. There are no places you have to travel to. (Unless any of the above are your job, I suppose.) It was weird when I stopped feeling guilty about not watching Breaking Bad, reading Moby Dick, or going to Hawaii, but it was definitely better.

26. Inviting a single small child to an adult-oriented event means some adult is going to spend the event with that child or the child is going to watch tv. No little kid has ever “just coloured quietly” for longer than 10 minutes, no matter what their parents say, and it’s not fair to expect it. Invite at least one more kid, get a tablet out, or say goodbye to at least one adult.

27. If you get a tax refund because you put money in an RRSP, you haven’t actually gained the money–you’ve borrowed it from your future self. The refunded money is tax you didn’t have to pay on the cash in the RRSP, but you will wind up paying tax on sheltered money when you take it out, post retirement. It might be at a lower rate if your income is lower at retirement, as many people’s are, but then again it might not. SO if you use the refund to put yourself ahead for the future–savings, paying off debts, buying something you needed anyway–you are winning because you get the interest/use value years ahead. But if you use the refund to incur an expense you wouldn’t have had otherwise–a random vacation, new clothes–you are actually putting yourself in the hole against future taxes. If you can afford it, it might not matter, but most people don’t think of it that way so just fyi. Sorry, I know this is a depressing one.

28. If you melt chocolate in the microwave, you have to take it out and stir every 10-15 seconds or it will burn. Still easier than doing it on the stove, in my opinion.

29. The idea that women cannot manage their own grooming is incorrect. If a woman wants to pay a professional to make her eyebrows/toenails/leghairs/whatever look different, that’s a very legitimate path. But so is doing her own grooming at home, or deciding that whatever body part does not require grooming. I’m startled to be living in an age where not paying to have someone paint your toenails and wax your legs could actually be considered lazy or sloppy. The aesthetics industry exists for no benevolent reason–it’s there to make money. We all know that, right?

30. Sitting all the way at the back of the bus or streetcar cuts down on the need the need to watch for elderly/pregnant/disabled people who need your seat–the accessible seats are at the front and it’s unlikely someone with a mobility issue is going to come to the back of the bus anyway, especially up the stairs, though one should still not be completely oblivious. The subway is harder, for though the blue accessible seats are scattered throughout. One needs to pay more attention on the subway, or when in doubt, just stand if you can.

31. It hurts my heart when parents tell their kids–or adults tell themselves–that they can’t be writers because they need to earn a living. As if the only stories we need are those of the independently wealthy! With a few extremely brief exceptions, I have always worked full-time to support myself while I wrote my books and it’s tiring but fine. That won’t work for everyone, but there are many other paths! Really, many! Please, always look for ways to tell your stories!

32. Unsolicited advice is almost never cool unless someone is about to drive into a ditch or do something else immediately dangerous. Thanks for humouring me–I promise this is it unless I’m asked…until 50!!

5 Responses to “I am 40 now listen to me: advice”

  • Fred says:

    all of this is deeply useful. can’t wait to get home and check for those second car jacks. That bit about not braking on the highway is super important as well.


  • Julia says:

    I would read your advice column. ANY DAY. xoxo.


  • Emily says:

    You just reminded me to reinvest my tax refund!


  • Sharon says:

    I love this list and especially #6 (how have I gotten to almost 40 and not figured that out yet??). I also love advice columns (especially the Dear Sugar podcast/ column). So I would also read your advice column. Can you please start one?


  • Rebecca says:

    You guys are so supportive–thank you!! Someday…


  • Leave a Reply

So Much Love by Rebecca Rosenblum

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