It's almost the end of the year so the media is even more chocka with lists than ever, or listicles as they seem to be called now. So here are 16 Important Things I Learned This Year. Actually they are not all important or even new, but I'm a slow learner.
1 It is okay to say nice, complimentary things about other people, even when a surplus of other people are also saying nice, complimentary things about them. Eleanor Catton is extraordinary. Lorde is like an old soul. See? Don't always have to be contrary.
2 If you're fixated on being the impressive one, the special one, the smart one, the sexy one, it really does prevent you being a person at all. You are effectively "marketing your product" rather than living. These days, sometimes when I see people being especially glamorous or cool I just quietly think "great product". Still, I am happy to compliment them. (See point 1.)
3 There is a unique fug when you walk into a classroom where 40 pre-pubescent boys have been playing Minecraft for eight hours straight.
4 Granted, I already knew many "right-wingers" are especially unable to bear other people's pain. But this year I learned there's a proper name for that. It's called the Just World Phenomenon: the tendency of people to believe that the world is just and therefore people get what they deserve. To acknowledge the truth that sometimes random horrible shit happens through no fault of your own is too terrifying as it means accepting terrible things could befall you, or me. Some people can't cope with that truth.
5 I have learned that I don't understand the Auckland property market. The suburbs of Ponsonby and Grey Lynn are like an elite club with a $1.5 million entry fee. But isn't it interesting that all those liberal Grey Lynn luvvies choose to live in the one part of the city that has practically no immigrants?
6 When life seems overwhelming it's best to focus on "uber-small" achievements. Sometimes it is hard to pull the foil lids off my contact lens containers.
7 To live creatively you have to let go of satisfying people, even yourself. You will be a failure, but you need to be okay with that.
8 Perversely, even good things are stressful. I won a short story award. I thought this would make me deliriously happy but it just proved the Yerkes-Dodson law: you get a stress response from events if they are novel, even if seemingly pleasant. Think of kids who get overwrought at birthday parties.
9 Be yourself. Unless you can be a glittery purple dinosaur. In which case, be that.
10 One of the unrecognised side-effects of coming from a rooted, oppressive society like apartheid-era South Africa means I'm deeply suspicious of social norms and of groups. Personal failings grow out of the social distortions of a warped community, but even so, I'm learning we all need other people and that is not a bad thing.
11 To lose your husband and your marriage is to dismantle yourself piece by piece and then put yourself together in another form. That can take a bit of time. But then again, "to be rejected is the beginning of being free", said Germaine Greer.
12 "You can't be strong until you can see the funny side to things." Ken Kesey, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. (See point 11.)
13 Stop buying more Lego. Building it is fine but then it falls apart and you can never put it back together again.
14 Brushless car washes don't work. After going through one I could still read "Clean Me" on the back of my car.
15 Nothing matters very much and few things matter at all.
This is a quote from former British Prime Minister Arthur Balfour who Lord Beaverbrook claimed was a hermaphrodite whom "no one ever saw naked". Not that it matters.
16 I have learned to try to imagine myself on my death bed. Often.
(You can do it right now.) See yourself taking your last breaths. The older you knows how crucial and wonderful the present moment is because the older you has run out of them.
Death is the powerful reminder there are only so many moments in life. Don't waste them.