Edition #82: Twenty Nine Pieces of Unsolicited Advice

Happy early birthday to me, and to Beyonce

A Note From the Editor

I’ve always loved my birthday. Not in a way that demands people celebrate it for an entire week, but in a way that carries a certain degree of expectation. I expect to feel acknowledged on my special day, I expect those closest to me to remember it, and I expect it to be celebrated in some capacity. For the past few years (and, to be honest, since I was a child) I’ve hoped for a surprise party. I’ve dropped not-so-subtle hints to my friends with each passing September 4th about how nice it would be to have one and I’ve even straight up asked why the fictitious party has not yet transpired. The rebuttal is reasonable; because I am an over-planner who never lets a birthday pass without a celebration plan in place, making it difficult for my friends to catch me off guard.

This year is one of the first in which I did not plan a formal celebration. As such, two of my closest friends came over this past weekend to celebrate. They brought me an incredible almond cake with raspberry jam from a local baker who set up as a vendor at our most recent mutual aid event, we lit a candle and ate generous slices, washed down with equally generous pours of red wine. After, they urged me to open the gift they had brought. I love gifts, especially joint gifts, and I reveled in the feeling of their expectant eyes glued to me, waiting for my reaction.

The moment I removed the final piece of blue tissue paper from the small book, I began to cry. It was hand-made, constructed out of colorful paper, and bound by three rings. The cover said, “29 Things We Love About Meghan”. As I opened to the first page, I found a note signed by my sister, alongside a beautiful hand-drawn illustration by the very friend who sat before me, and the full breadth of the situation began to reveal itself. At this point, all of my mascara had already been washed away by tears, and as I flipped through page after page of kinds notes from people in my life—my mother, my niece, my best friends from growing up—I was slammed with the most intense spell of gratitude I’ve ever felt. I could not read all of the notes in the company of others, so I closed the book and cried, thanked my kind friends, hugged them, and cried some more.

It was the greatest, most thoughtful gift I have ever received, far better than any surprise party could ever be. It made me realize that what I was looking for in my surprise party fantasy was not the party itself, but the idea that the people I loved cared about me so much that they would go to great lengths to make sure I knew it. Every time I catch a glimpse of that handmade book, I imagine my friends sitting on the floor together, cutting shapes out of construction paper and gluing them to the pages. I imagine them reaching out to the people in my life, some of whom they do not know, and writing out their notes by hand. Hole punching the pages. It is almost too much to bear, the thoughtfulness of it all.

I was struck by the consistency of the messages in the book. The language, the sentiment, it all came together to convey something inadvertently cohesive, and it enabling me to identify the virtues that I do not recognize on my own. In short, it made loving myself feel easier. I felt proud of the friend I am, the sister, the daughter. And so, on the eve-eve of my 29th year on Earth, I start you off with this piece of unsolicited advice: let the people you love teach you how to love yourself.

Cheers, my dears, and as always, thank you for reading. I come to you today with a special birthday edition of my favorite pastime; doling out unsolicited advice. If you have any advice for me as I edge nearer to 30, please share it below. And to my new subscribers, I’m happy you’re here. I hope you find something in today’s edition worth discussing.

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Twenty-Nine Pieces of Unsolicited Advice

  1. As often as possible, actively seek out opportunities to put yourself in situations where your ego can go to die. By that I mean, find scenarios that do not revolve around you and make them a regular part of your life. Volunteering is a good example, as is working with children, teaching, and tutoring.

  2. Don’t buy meat at the grocery store. I’m not asking you to be vegetarian (I am not one), but not buying meat at the grocery store will teach you how to cook and eat less meat, which is the single greatest way to lessen your impact on our hurting planet. This recipe is still a favorite for warmer months and this one for cooler months.

  3. Write your friends letters or cards of appreciation, by mail, for no good reason other than to remind them precisely what you love about them.

  4. On that note, invest in some good personalized stationery and always keep stamps on hand.

  5. Don’t bring your phone to restaurants. Relish in the company, the taste of your food, and the ambiance of the place. Your phone will be waiting for you when you get back.

  6. Do less intense cardio. Instead, find low-impact workouts that make you feel good and excited to move your body. Lately, I’ve been into this yoga class.

  7. Practice listening in a way that does not automatically relate back to yourself. When someone is telling a story, can you hear what they are saying without retorting with a similar story you experienced? Give it a try. You’ll be amazed at how often you used to process things only in relation to yourself.

  8. Give up spray sunscreen! It’s terrible for the environment and it doesn’t work nearly as well. Go back to the old-school rub in kind, preferably one that is light and does not have the dreaded sunscreen smell (this one is my favorite).

  9. Take a note from Japanese culture and slow down your morning coffee ritual. I get my beans from here every week, use an electric kettle, and make my single cup of ultra-strong, smooth coffee via French press. The laborious process makes it taste that much better and it gives me a built-in moment to slow down each morning.

  10. Read more James Baldwin. I repeat, read more James Baldwin. Start with this and this—both biting, short-form essays exposing many truths we choose to ignore. These should be required reading for every American.

  11. Bring an extra umbrella when you leave the house on a rainy day. You’ll quickly make someone’s day, and it’s a great way to pay more attention to the people around you as you search for someone who needs a shield from the rain.

  12. Refuse to adopt the “recycling is pointless” trope; it only breeds further environmental indifference. Instead, do your research. Actively discover and adopt new habits that can lessen your impact on our warming, freezing, flooding planet and encourage your loved ones to do the same (see: number two).

  13. Learn to appreciate poetry. To start, subscribe to this newsletter and start your day off with a poem. If you’re not yet convinced, let this poem or this one change your mind.

  14. Buy a silk sleep mask, splurge on fancy silk pajamas, or do both. Then, get a herbal pillow spray and watch as your evening routine becomes a thing to be cherished, bedtime morphing into a nightly spa-like expereince.

  15. Walk yourself like a dog, especially if you work from home. Do it multiple times a day if you can—and you can. Work will be there upon your return. Use your walks as a reminder that life exists outside of your four walls and beyond your screen. Leave your phone at home.

  16. Find a chocolate chip cookie recipe to live and die by. There is no right answer for what constitutes the perfect cookie, it’s merely a matter of preference. For me, it is this recipe. Bonus points for sprinkling flaky Maldon salt on top.

  17. Get to know your shadow, and learn to embrace it. Your shadow is compromised of those aspects of your personality you find unlovable, and it is often the root of what holds us back. If you’re into meditation and energetics, I highly suggest this workshop to guide you through the experience (warning: it is intense, but it significantly changed me).

  18. Play a game with yourself where, if you choose to broadcast an opinion (particularly of the political/ideological sort), you must back it with n action, i.e. a donation, a call or email to a relevant influential party, etc.

  19. Wear vitamin C serum daily, regardless of your gender or age. This is an affordable alternative to this famous serum with virtually identical ingredients.

  20. Speaking of affordable alternatives, use this tool to find dupes of any of your favorite skincare/beauty products. Some things are worth the splurge, but for products you use ultra regularly (see above), finding an alternative that won’t make you guilt-ridden each time you purchase it is a useful trick.

  21. Learn to express your needs in the simplest, most effective way—by using your voice. It can be uncomfortable at first, but when you get into the habit of going directly to your loved ones when you’re struggling with something or feeling insecure or down, you’ll be amazed by the support they can lend you precisely when you need it most. In short, learn to ask for what you need.

  22. Call your mother more regularly.

  23. Stop asking your dentist about it every six months and just get the damn Invisalign already. Better yet, get OrthoFX, a slightly more affordable competitor started by the co-found of Invisalign. I finally did it this year and it has been a game-changer for my confidence and my smile.

  24. Start your day off on a positive note.

  25. Decide on your dream trip, one that feels out of reach now, pick a milestone birthday a few years in the future, and begin to plan for said trip. This will give you something to look forward to, it’ll give you plenty of time to save, and it’ll show you that nearly anything is possible with enough planning. Here’s to looking at you, 30th birthday.

  26. Find a mutual aid network in your neighborhood, join, and become an active member. If there isn’t one around you, get together with a few friends and form your own. Because direct, person-to-person giving and care is the only way to trudge forward during these endlessly challenging times and everyone has something to give.

  27. Listen to your Discover Weekly each week to find new music, and heart the songs you like to teach Spotify’s algorithm to serve you more music you’ll like.

  28. Make time for silence. Take walks, lie in the grass or on your bedroom floor. Don’t be afraid to sit with yourself and your mind; it is restorative and necessary.

  29. Keep a thin notebook on your person and use it to write down anything that inspires or interests you—be it a line from a song, something you overheard someone saying on a walk, an idea for a TV pilot that came to you whilst showering, etc. Doing this regularly will teach your brain to notice your natural creative impulses and you’ll begin to find inspiration in everything, everywhere.

This birthday list was inspired by this superb piece by Kevin Kelly, which I’ve shared before but is always worth another visit.

Perhaps You Should…
Test Your Creativity

This simple test, developed by Harvard PhD’s, asks you to come up with ten unrelated words and uses your results to analyze your creativity. Take it and let me know how you score! Mine was 84.34.

**Bonus Content** (The Perfect Music Video)

Watching this music video feels like a meditation on happiness.

A Quote From A Book You Should Read:

“For the first time, he heard something that he knew to be music. He heard people singing. Behind him, across vast distances of space and time, from the place he had left, he thought he heard music too. But perhaps, it was only an echo.”

-The Giver by Lois Lowry

This newsletter is best served with a side of conversation, so drop your opinions, reflections, and thoughts in the comments below and let’s get to talking.

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Or, share the most thought-provoking piece from today’s edition with someone you love, then call them up to discuss, debate, and percolate. As a wise woman once said, “Great minds discuss ideas.”

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