Tag Archives: Advice On How To Live Your Life

The Amazing Fact Generator is the new I Ching

Or Magic 8-Ball or what-have-you. This morning I asked Mental Floss’s Amazing Fact Generator, “Can I afford to go to graduate school in New York City?” It responded, “The University of Wyoming opened its doors before Wyoming became a state.”

Me: Clearly you mean that I should go even though I can’t afford it because soon after graduating with an MFA I will be a bestselling novelist?

AFG: “O’Hare airport is named after Al Capone’s laywer’s son, Lt. Cmdr. Butch O’Hare.”

Me: Now you’re just toying with me. That fact doesn’t even qualify as amazing.

AFG: “Since 2002, Henry Kissinger has avoided visiting both France and Spain—and for good reason. If he does, he might just be hauled into court. Apparently, Kissinger is still wanted for questioning in relation to French deaths resulting from the American-led war in Vietnam, and Spanish deaths that occurred during America’s military opposition in Chile.”

Me: This seems to insinuate that my credit card debt will preclude a student loan, and I resent you for mentioning it.

AFG: “In 1946, Ed Waldmire, Jr., revolutionized the meat-on-a-stick world when he debuted the Cozy Dog—the first corn dog on a stick. At first, he wanted to call his creation the ‘Crusty Cur,’ but his wife convinced him that people wouldn’t want to eat something described as ‘crusty.'”

Me: Assholes like you are what’s running the web into the ground.

Pregnancy rehab

I have always believed that the surest way for a woman to quit drinking is for her to get pregnant, which is why I encourage all female alcoholics to get knocked up. The same goes for crack addicts. Don’t spend tens of thousands of dollars on rehab; just make the small investment of having a child. Once you’re pregnant you won’t need the same substances that you needed before because you’ll be so high on being a mom.

I have to laugh when I see all those rich celebrities entering Promises or the Betty Ford Center. Use your brains, ladies! Use your brains by using your uterus (uteri?). Your own bodies contain all the tools you’ll need to combat your deadly addictions. And these days semen is so readily available that people are cooking pastries with it.* So please, fertile alcoholics, take my advice by putting down the bottle and picking up a baby. Your liver, if not your progeny, will thank you.

Wait, what’s good advice again?

*Eating semen pastries will not make you pregnant.

Death by port-a-potty: a story with a happy ending

This is something that happened to me today: I was driving home from Richmond with Abbey, daydreaming about wedding dresses, eating Junior Mints, naming my future children, when BAM! – the truck in front of us on I-64 lost part of the shit-shack it was towing and we swerved at high speed to avoid a spectacular death.

Everybody’s okay, in case you were wondering. The truck driver got off at the next exit and we resumed our conversation about Twilight or whatever and I feel confident that many more people will hold their noses in that port-a-potty in the future. But I’m still a little shaken. I’ve had near-death experiences in the past but they’ve never been so. . . stupid. This one had so many. . . poop connotations. It so much resembled the way I would kill off a hateful character in a novel that I wonder if someone wants me out of this awesome book.

I have good advice for how you can avoid this kind of tragicomic accident. 1) Do not giddily tailgate an unstable port-a-potty for 30 miles secretly hoping something crazy dangerous will happen. 2) Never hang out with me or Abbey.

How to sunbathe topless on European beaches (not that I have)

You can do it, but try not to be provocative. For instance, cultivate a leathery chest area. Chain-smoke while you tan. Place a dirty towel over your face. Cough a lot. While you lie on your back, pretend you are an asexual, sand-colored rug. If you feel the need to move, put your top back on. Movement draws attention. Pretend that topless sunbathing is normal in your country. Apply sunblock beforehand. Don’t get drunk. Don’t engage the sunglass or watermelon salesmen. You have a strict business arrangement with your sunbaked chest. Don’t overdo it. Thirty minutes is plenty. Close up shop, buy an ice cream cone, don’t make eye contact. Avoid lounging in the same spot two days in a row. You’re so European.

A few links about critters and the people who love them


1. They’re bisexual, especially in captivity.

2. They’ve enjoyed a short history of radical human advocacy.

3. They would prefer it if you didn’t touch them there.

4. But if you do touch them there, at least make flan afterwards.

Woman’s search for meaning during her 10-year high school reunion

This week I started reading Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl. I also attended my 10-year high school reunion. Initially these two events appeared to have nothing in common. Frankl survived internment at multiple concentration camps, including Auschwitz, during World War II, whereas I spent my tenth grade year at an alternative high school that tutored children in self-expression, basket weaving, and pot smoking. Whereas Frankl had to endure starvation, the threat of gas chambers, and a constant assault on his human dignity, we students had to free-write in our journals for 15 minutes a day, hold yoga poses, and drive to Taco Bell for lunch.

But the more I thought about it, the more I could apply Frankl’s wisdom to my own experience of high school, and to that of reuniting with high school friends ten years after graduation.

Man’s Search for Meaning stresses the psychological freedom of the individual. We possess the unique ability to choose how we interpret our lives and our environment. We can find meaning in the most painful of circumstances, and that meaning can sustain us. Frankl tells a story of walking to a work site at the concentration camp, focusing his attention on his hunger, his foot sores, his brutal foreman, the freezing wind. Suddenly he becomes aware of how “trivial” these thoughts are.

I forced my thoughts to turn to another subject. Suddenly I saw myself standing on the platform of a. . . lecture room. . . .I was giving a lecture on the psychology of the concentration camp! All that oppressed me at that moment became objective, seen and described from the remote viewpoint of science. By this method I succeeded somehow in rising above the situation, above the sufferings of the moment, and I observed them as if they were already of the past. Both I and my troubles became the object of an interesting psychoscientific study undertaken by myself. What does Spinoza say in his Ethics?. . . .”Emotion, which is suffering, ceases to be suffering as soon as we form a clear and precise picture of it.”

The message is that we can transcend our daily troubles, even if those troubles are the incomparable atrocities of a concentration camp. We are blessed with the resources to rise above our own lives. The book’s thesis reminded me of a commencement speech given by David Foster Wallace at Kenyon in 2005.

. . .learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed.

Wallace uses the example of concluding a long day at work by first getting stuck in traffic, then getting trapped in a long line at the grocery store, then being treated like a nonentity by the check-out girl, and essentially being annoyed with the world and everyone in it. But he challenges this interpretation of reality:

It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down.

Not that that mystical stuff is necessarily true. The only thing that’s capital-T True is that you get to decide how you’re gonna try to see it.

This, I submit, is the freedom of a real education, of learning how to be well-adjusted. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t.

[Read the whole piece, by the way. It’s not Jon Stewart’s 2004 commencement address to William & Mary, but it might change your life.]

So last night I sat at the bar with all these high school kids who are now bona fide grown-ups, but we’re still talking about mostly the same stuff, and we’re still smoking the same brands of cigarettes, and we still look basically the same as we did ten years ago even though there’s a pregnancy or some swelling here and there, and I thought, “I am happy.” And that’s the last thing I would have thought when hanging out with the same people in high school. Not because there was anything wrong with them, but because I was so self-conscious and pitiful due to my own myopic interpretation of life.

And maybe it’s because I now have a novel and a nice boyfriend, and maybe it’s because I’m heavily medicated, and maybe it’s because I’d been drinking the whole day of the reunion, but I also submit that life gets better, even if it doesn’t actually get better. The same exact life can feel good, whereas once it felt bad. So remember that, you down-and-out high school graduates with your unmarketable basket weaving skills. One day ten years will have gone by, but they won’t actually have gone by.

10 tips for dating a writer

1. Try not to speak in sound bytes, because they will be stolen.

2. Would you interrupt a supercomputer when it’s cracking a code? Would you interrupt a jumbo jet when it’s refueling? Then don’t interrupt a writer when she or he is napping.

3. Sometimes it seems like your writer boyfriend or girlfriend doesn’t do anything during the day. It’s like suddenly spending five hours at a coffee shop isn’t as intrinsically worthwhile as performing heart surgery. But you know what? Those people whose lives were saved on the operating table will eventually die of old age, but the writer’s blog entry will live forever online. At least until link rot sets in.

4. An unpublished writer is still a writer. Every rich and famous author was once a wannabe. Keep that in mind the next time the rent check bounces.

5. Only writing well and honestly can make your significant other truly happy. It’s nothing you did wrong. Words mean more than love to the writer. Words are love. But lucky for you, your writer will keep trying to put her love into words.

6. If you guys have a fight, it’s going to be transcribed into prose, and like it or not, the kids will probably read it one day. If you guys have sex, yikes. I hope you fare better than you did in the fight.

7. Make sure you fall in love with both the person and with the person’s alter ego who ceaselessly translates that life into prose. The two are equally important, and they are different. But you can’t have one without the other. You have to love the girl’s poetry, and you have to love the girl who makes fun of her poetry. It’s a tough job, but someone has to pay the writer’s bills.

8. Is it pretension, or is it creative license? Is it entitlement, or is it art? Are you dating the best writer in the world, or the biggest asshole in the world? Be willing to repress these questions if you date a writer.

9. Be honest with yourself. You’d probably be happier with a 9-5 bank teller who brings home a steady salary instead of an unemployed writer who brings home crumpled-up paper and mood swings. But the writer you love would probably be happier with a billionaire patron who asks no questions. So count your blessings.

10. Please excuse the occasional suspension of reality. Sometimes your loved one’s life doesn’t make sense until it’s written down. If the writer needs to delay the resolution of an argument for a year in order to write a novel that will prove she was right all along, just be patient. If you were a writer, you could also be right all the time. But you chose to pursue more challenging goals – like loving a writer. Just pray that one day this will all pay off in book royalties. At the very least you’ll be featured in the acknowledgments.

How to catch a ride on an elephant

A few years ago Washington D.C. resident Kimberly Zenz discovered a strange loophole in the elephant polo bylaws. An elephant polo event must provide elephants for all participating sportsmen. So Zenz formed a team – the Capital Pachyderms – and her players have since traveled to Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Nepal to compete on the backs of real elephants.

You can find the full story on Mental Floss.

Elephant polo

I might steal a page from Zenz’s playbook and start a Charlottesville yacht club or hot air balloon squadron. Then I can compete in circumnavigating the globe without any initial investment. I also wonder if NASA might provide me with a space shuttle if I challenge George W. Bush to a race to the moon.

Life lessons learned on April Fool’s Day

1. If you’re applying to an MFA program at a prestigious university affiliated with Thomas Jefferson, perhaps the fiction you submit shouldn’t be about the following:

a) oral sex

b) dildos made out of balloons

c) shit smell

In case there’s anyone else out there who didn’t know that intuitively, consider this cautionary tale my gift to you.

2. If a big-name New York literary agent tells you that MFA programs are a waste of time, and then two days later you are rejected from an MFA program, guess who is your new hero.

3. Don’t waste your time being hateful, just find out how to be employed during the 08-09 academic year.

4. The best revenge is blogging for the VQR, my spectacular new gig.

5. The second best revenge is curling up on the couch for two hours. That’ll show ’em! Yesterday I babysat Tula, my sister’s puppy, and she was so happy eating my slipper and peeing in the grass and sniffing dead worms while I miserably buried my head in the couch cushions, and I thought, “There’s probably a life lesson in here somewhere.” But no, in fact there wasn’t. I took Tula home so I could grieve in peace.

Hallmarks of good gym etiquette

I recently joined a gym, and boy would I be looking good if working out didn’t make me so hungry for Mexican food. And it’s not just any gym – it’s the most state-of-the-art, LA/Manhattan/Madonna-worthy gym in Virginia. I get a discounted membership because of my mob connections. Also, my sweat doesn’t stink.

I have been loving the gym, but here are some tips to make my personal fitness experience even more enjoyable.

1) If you can get away with wearing only short shorts and a sports bra when you work out, please mount the machine in front of mine. This will inspire me to work harder so I can have your body.

2) I feel a lot of goodwill between strangers at the gym. The natural amiability seems totally asexual, which is understandable because everyone looks so gross. But boundaries can still be crossed. If a girl is doing a stretch that involves bending over or spreading her legs, it’s not appropriate to talk to her. Whatever you have to say, she is going to feel self conscious about you looking down her jog bra or into her perspiring crotch area. Wait and talk to her when she is performing a less provocative stretch, like the neck stretch:

Neck stretch

3) If you like to make locker room conversation, at least make a show of getting dressed while you’re talking. For most people, it’s hard to think of smart and funny things to say when staring at a naked body. Putting on clothes should be your first priority, not making small-talk, clipping your toenails, or blow-drying your hair.

4) Be creative with your gym outfits. It always makes my day when I run into the guy who works out in jeans, bare feet, and a halfshirt.

5) Don’t leave clumps of your hair in the shower. I am actively trying to contract a foot fungus as a gym rite of passage, but I still balk at stepping on other peoples’ hair wads. Figure it out, ladies.

6) If you are way into Nia dance aerobics classes, try not to look like such a dork. Just kidding – dance is all about free expression. And you can do what you want because I won’t be taking any more of these types of classes.

7) Please spray down my machine after I use it.

8 ) Don’t throw down your iron barbells after every set. The loud noise scares me to death when I’m on the treadmill trying to watch Drumline. Last time I had my headphones on so I couldn’t hear myself cursing, but everyone else could. If you’re strong enough to lift the heavy weights, you are strong enough to set them down gently.

That is all for now. Does anyone else have advice for uncouth gym-goers?