When the 70 year old was asked one piece of advice she'd give her younger self, the glorious Dame Helen answered, "It would be to use the words 'fuck off' much more." She went on to explain there is no value to being polite at all times, especially as women, and that it is empowering to tell people "no," "get lost" and well, "fuck off."
I can't count the times I've been held hostage at a meeting, in a corner at a party or once in the waiting room at my gyro's office where I was corralled by a total stranger into agreeing to distribute pamphlets on behalf of the World Help Organization, which sounded like it would be an organization of worldwide helpers, of whom I thought I should be one.
Once I had a chance to look at the material I saw the organization's motto; "Uniting People and Maximizing Our Authentic Selves." Uh oh. The lady who runs the thing has written a book, "Living Your Chosen Eulogy." I'm sure this is a very worthwhile group, but it is not really me. But there I was, walking out to my car with a box of pamphlets and too much conscience to toss the damn things into the trash.
Had I the cojones to channel Dame Helen when the woman with crazy eyes and mismatched shoes asked me if I'd like to "help people who need help" (which always seems more productive than helping those who don't need help) I would have said, in my most authentic voice, "Fuck off, and I hope someone mentions this in my eulogy because it is how I wish to be remembered."
A lot of people adhere to the old adage "you don't ask, you don't get." In 2017, they should expect to hear the new adage, "Fuck off."
2. Go all in on friendships.
We're busy, we're telling people to fuck off, we're saying "no," "I can't" and "I won't" more this year in an effort to guard the precious commodity of time, but what are we saving all that time for?
Willhelmina's accordian recital is important, sure. And Exley's squash practice is right up there, but some day your family will desert you and you will need friends.
As we learned in kindergarten, to have a friend you must first be a friend, so in 2017 we are going to be the best friends possible. Of course there are degrees of friendship--many people whom I consider friends are the same people I will tell, in 2017, to fuck off (but I will say it in a friendly, helpful manner).
I'm taking about that handful--if you're lucky--of real true blue friends; the ones who would rescue you at 3AM if you needed rescuing, who are fully present when you have the chance to get together or chat on the phone, the people you wouldn't hesitate to give a kidney.
Big heroic gestures of undying friendship are rare occurrences in real life, but being fully present is every bit as difficult as donating an organ--maybe more so. When a friend calls and we are only half paying attention because Exley wants to know how poop is made and Willhelmina has decided that next to you is the best place to practice her 'bad touch' scream, we are not fully present for the person on the phone. (I frankly don't understand why people with children even have phones. Awake or asleep, there is nothing that gets a kid going more than the sight of a parent on a phone. It is the universal beacon of "wait until you hear 'hello' then unleash the Kraken!")
So in 2017, whether we've got children, dogs in heat or a mate to whom hearing "Hello?" is a signal to inquire about missing socks, we will go all in on friendship by making sure we give our friends our undivided time.
Even if it's just a minute or two, knowing that someone is right there with you--fully present and fully engaged--is a wonderful gift, and lets that person know they are important to us, that what happens to them matters to us.
Oh, and saying, "I love you." It's awfully good to hear and feels wonderful to say.
3. Write a note and mail it.
Texts and emails are great for instant communication and convenience even if we are losing language as we know it as a result. wtf. Schools no longer teach cursive writing, which (age alert! age alert!) just feels wrong. Receiving a hand-printed letter or card (you cannot call something printed hand-written; that would be like serving fish boil and calling it fish fry) is a delight like none other.
When I sift through the junk mail, requests for donations and bills, and I see a hand-written envelope my heart sings because someone thought enough of me to take the time to organize paper, envelope, a pen that works and a stamp and put that all together in a fashion acceptable for the United States Postal Service to deliver right to my mailbox. My cousin Colleen has five children and a massively weighty full-time job, and yet she drops a note in the mail every couple of weeks. I feel loved.
Note: If you fear Exley and Willie-girl won't give you the time to jot a note, simply pull out paper and pen and tell them you want to teach them something. You will have time to write and enjoy a leisurely cup of coffee or bottle of wine. If hubster pokes his head in, tell him you are writing a to-do list of household chores. You will not see him again until he wants sex or a sandwich.
4. Floss daily.
Every time I go to the dentist I am reminded this is a critical gingivo/odonto ritual that I generally neglect by January 3rd. 2017 is gonna be different.
On January 1st we have every intention of getting healthier, quitting something or someone who is bad for us and beginning a regimen of something or someone who is good for us. Less than .2% of the population adheres to their resolutions past January 3rd, but telling people to fuck off, well, it seems like that one could last all year, if not a lifetime. And being fully present for the people we love...that's about the best use of time imaginable.
If we keep a stack of note cards and stamps in a place other than where the dental floss is stored, there truly is a good chance we'll write a note now and again, and the absolute certainty that in doing so we will have made someone's heart sing, if only for a moment. In 2017, as at all times, those are the moments that mean the most.
Happy New Year!
Wisconsin Public Radio has rerun my essay "Wisconsin Tough" so if you missed it the first time and you need a good laugh, check it out!