What We Haven’t Learned

Yep. I stopped. I smelled ’em. Would you?

Flowers my husband has clipped to decorate our table in the last week: 11

Things I learn each day: at least 2

Things I don’t learn or forget: 2

When I was a young 20-something, living in my college town but graduated and working at a job that barely enabled me to eat chips and queso dip and a Coke ($1.99) once a week as a treat, I was once standing in a checkout line at the grocery store. A friend and I were discussing marriage or love or a couple who had just gotten married and was blissful or something.

The old lady standing behind us in line felt obliged to weigh in. “You know, it’s all about settling anyway,” she said. “You’re never going to get all the qualities you want in a husband, so give up that fantasy right now. We all just settle.”

Mean old witch.

Still today, I have decided that old people should not share what they consider to be “wisdom” with those of us too young to handle the truth. I feel that they should have learned compassion and wisdom and when to keep their mouths shut. Remind me of that when I’m old, which let’s face it, will never happen. Someone once told me it would, but I have chosen not to believe her.

I had book club the other night, and I hadn’t read the book. My friend used to be in a book club that they called “The No-Read Book Club,” but ours isn’t like that. You’re kind of expected to read the book. There have been a few times I haven’t, and when the other members start reflecting back on books we’ve read in the past seven years, I’ll start to disagree, like, “Oh no, we haven’t read…” and then my voice trails off, because I remember that I skipped that one or didn’t have the interest to continue after the bad first 723 pages.

Anyway, only three people out of five had read it, so I avoided a potentially meandering conversation about characters I didn’t know, and they didn’t drum me out of the group.

Our next book is Catcher in the Rye. I read it when I was about 13, and I remembered nothing. Pretty much nothing… except “Holden Caulfield,” and I wasn’t very impressed. A friend in my book club said, “You know, everyone read this book when they were younger, but no one remembers what it’s about.”

So I started reading it because I was desperate for something to read while my daughter was in dance class yesterday. I finished half the book, and, well… I’m not sure I’ve learned anything.

The writing? So good. The speed with which I can rip through it? Excellent.

The memory of what it’s about when I talk about it ten years from now? Nonexistent.

Have I learned nothing? Because I’m older and wiser, aren’t I supposed to be gleaning some wonderful morsel of intelligence as a sign of how far I’ve come since age 13? Am I on a course to being an old lady who accosts innocent young people in a grocery store and tells them to be prepared for a life of disappointment?

Should I start visiting middle schools and telling them to skip Catcher in the Rye and read The Hunger Games instead?

Here is what I have learned. And I know a lot of people will disagree with me. I can handle it.

1. Life is too short to read bad books. I don’t mean Catcher in the Rye. It’s pretty good, just somewhat forgettable. But I am firmly on the side of skipping or stopping reading any book that doesn’t resonate with you on some level. Drop it. Move on. Learn from the good writers; don’t waste your time with the bad ones. There are too many good books in the world to waste your time with bad ones.

2. Stop and smell the roses. I know; so Pollyanna. But they’ve proven that we all remember the bad stuff much better than we do the good stuff. Take your time to let the good stuff sink in so you don’t terrorize idealistic young ‘uns someday.

3. Give other people some good stuff to remember. I followed a teaching assistant down the hall today to tell her that my daughter’s class loved getting her for a substitute. Simple, right? She started crying. She said last night had been really horrible, and hearing something nice really helped.

4. When you’re an old person, give young people something to look forward to. Climb a big mountain or take up paragliding. Stay out of the grocery stores; send those young whippersnappers to do your chores. Hopefully, you’ll have more interesting things to do.

What are some life lessons you’ve learned? What would you never tell a young person? What do you wish you’d known?

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11 thoughts on “What We Haven’t Learned

  1. Daryl says:

    I have learned many life lessons, and by learned I don’t necessarily mean ones that I put into practice.
    a) People in authority are only human. Don’t put them on a pedestal. Listen to what they have to say, but understand that they are not infallible. Listen and believe in yourself.
    b) Don’t be half-assed. If you set out to do something, do it properly.
    c) Don’t buy cheap C$@*. Pay more, and buy better quality; it will last longer—that is unless it’s a Maytag.
    d) Don’t buy a Maytag.
    e) Marry someone who makes you laugh. Being cute is a huge plus.
    f) Don’t jump to medicate yourself because it’s convenient. Do the research, make life changes, inform yourself and you cannot go wrong.
    g) Live in the moment (this is my nemesis)

  2. crubin says:

    I’m with you on not reading bad books, but I’ll add to it books you don’t enjoy. There’s some books that may be very well written and other people love them, but I can’t seem to get into them. I used to finish them out of guilt. Now I stop reading guilt-free. Ahhh, the power of aging.

    There is something I often tell young people and wish someone had said it to me years ago. I heard it from Dr. Phil, and it is now one of the quotes on my quote page: “You wouldn’t worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do.” Words to live by…

    • annewoodman says:

      Ooooh. Good quote. Although my mom always used to say, “Don’t worry, they’re not looking at you–they’re too worried about themselves.” I think she was right to an extent. As I’ve aged, I’ve realized they probably are/were looking at you; don’t worry about it!

      And I think you make a terrific distinction about bad books. Some are good books… that I don’t like. I’m glad you’re guilt-free now, too. ; )

  3. jmmcdowell says:

    1) Living by the simplest rules is usually best and can be summed up as “do unto other as you would have others do unto you,” and 2) We rarely get second chances at the big goals, so make the most of the first. I try to put those into practice!

    And I agree on putting aside a book that isn’t good or, as Carrie said, enjoyable to the reader. I tried to read “The Time Traveler’s Wife,” but I just couldn’t get into the characters, even though the book is beautifully written. So I never finished it. Some writers might consider that heresy! But there’s only so much time in a day….

    • annewoodman says:

      Yes. So true on your rules.

      Time Traveler’s Wife is one of my favorite books, but the librarian I talked to about it said it was also one of the most polarizing. People either loved it or hated it… not much in between. I didn’t like her next book, but I still think about TTW.

  4. Melissa says:

    I wish you could find that old lady, show her your husband and say “see what happens when you DON’T settle?” That would keep her out of the grocery store 😉

    What I tell the boys…don’t worry about tomorrow. It’s going to get here regardless, so enjoy now because you might miss something.

    • annewoodman says:

      Yeah, my hubby’s pretty impressive. ; ) It’s especially difficult to put the “don’t worry about tomorrow” philosophy into practice at your sons’ ages. I remember worrying so much about college–whether I’d get in and then how I’d do. You’re a good mama.

  5. Daryl says:

    Following on Crubin’s response: This goes for dancing too. I would tell my kids that those who look weird at the party, are not the ones dancing, but the ones sitting around the periphery of the dance floor. And for those on the dance floor, everyone is so self conscious, that they are only thinking about how they are dancing, and not your two left feet. So just cut loose and boogie.

  6. beaglemama says:

    If anyone wants to hear more about “settling” you could do worse than listen to Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford University’s commencement address: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UF8uR6Z6KLc. This video is only 15 minutes long and it includes an introduction and Steve’s speech. It’s had almost 14.5 million views.

    Yes, I am part of the crowd that does not continue reading a book, or anything else, if I don’t like it. I’ve even added a personal resolution to never go anywhere if I really don’t want to go there, such as an event that I “should” go to because everyone else is going.

    Anne’s Dad

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