1. The Watched/Read It List
Right now, write down the name of the book you're reading and the last movie you saw. Keeping a list of all the books you have read and movies you have seen will help you remember where your mind has been and also, over time, will reveal your changing tastes and moods. Like any journal, the list will start to show you your own patterns. It must mean something, for example, that every 10 years you go through a vampire stage, then a poetry palate cleanser, before diving into some classics. And if you keep a list, you won't ever have to reread the first hundred pages of Finnegans Wake before realizing why things seem so familiar.
2. The Mistake You Never Want to Make
Once, while hiking the rim of the Grand Canyon, my husband and I saw a parent flipping out at his sulky child, shouting (as we now repeat daily), "You're ruining everything, Mr. Complainer!" We didn't have children, so of course we thought this was hilarious—the kind of parenting error we would never in a million years commit. The dad was too irritated to see how his outburst made the child a thousand times less likely to stop complaining, bizarrely laying responsibility for how fun the entire vacation was, possibly the vast Grand Canyon itself, on the kid's grouchy little blond head. Now that we have a couple of Mr. Complainers ourselves, we use it as a cautionary tale; when whininess eats at our eardrums, we remind each other, "Don't 'Mr. Complainer' him, okay?" Maybe yours is a life-level whoops you never want to commit—your sister's bad marriage, your best friend's ill-suited career path—or a smaller matter, like having witnessed at the next table over the horrors of a first date marred by a mouth-full-of-food talker. If it's an act you want to avoid, make a note of both the mistake and why it was so bad.
3. The Most Unexpected Compliment You Ever Got
I will never forget the day in high school when I was driving somewhere and my friend's cute older brother told me, from the backseat, that I had nice shoulders. I had never in my life considered my shoulders and certainly never, ever considered they might be nice. It was so unexpected and so unusual that I was forced to conclude it must be true. What was the most unexpected compliment you ever got? The time your co-worker said, "You know, he's really smart—like you"? The time your toddler heard Aretha Franklin singing and wondered aloud if it was you? Store it up for those times when you really need a random "Nice shoulders!" and the world is not complying.
4. Your Best Friend's Recipe for Gazpacho
We all have our go-to recipes for weeknight family dinners. (I mean, I'm assuming you do. I just have a really skilled microwave.) That's not what this is about. This is about your go-to recipe for yourself. This is about the refreshing, spicy, cilantro-loaded, garlic-chunk-studded gazpacho your friend served at your book group that you couldn't get enough of—but that you know no one in your family will eat. You may well never make it. You may just end up reading over it on steamy days and remembering that lovely meal. Ask for the recipe anyway.
5. A Deep, Dark—Shhh—Secret
The mystifying thing about secrets is that everyone around you has one, but you don't know what it is. What's the secret no one would suspect about you? And, as Martha Beck suggests, ask yourself, Does knowing this information make my inner life feel brighter or darker?
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