woman anc children
Photo: Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
1. The Godchild's Plea
Parents have the unenviable job of having to saying no to almost everything: No, we don't scream and hit and shove; no, we don't take all the toys; no, we don't eat sprinkles on our breakfast cereal. But aunties, uncles, grandparents and godparents? These eminent personages can be the beacons of yes. Not being the kids’ parents, you can.

2. When It Can't Be Done in Dubuque
If only every day could be lived like a travel day (with access to one's own bathroom, of course)—when you have that buzzy ability to notice the sparkling other-ness of everything. Instead, and it's probably inevitable, we start to get lazy, treating our neighborhood the way we do our spouse: barely noticing changes, even forgetting what attracted us to it in the first place from wherever it was we were before. To take best advantage of where you are right now and follow the "If it can't be done in X, then I'm in..." rule—X is where you grew up, where you used to live, where you're going to live or where you hope to never live again. As in "Green-chile bagel? They sure don't have those in my hometown Chicago. Lay it on me." Or "Hike a mountain? Not really possible in Kansas, so...count me in." If nothing else, you'll have some great dinner-table-story material next time you're back in good old X.

3. To Garlic
Even on a date.

4. When You're Invited to Sunday Dinner with the Smiths
One of my main regrets in life is having said no to a delicacy known as "baby squid in its own ink." This happened 13 years ago, when an outrageously kind family in Spain's Basque country invited me to dine with them. I doubt I thought at all about how much work it was for them to put me up for the night, let alone to prepare the feast they offered. What I mostly remember is a vegetarian's panic at the lush array of regional delicacies. But now I know: Inviting an outsider to a family dinner is such a sweet variety of hospitality and trust. Whether it's a friend, boyfriend or people you barely know setting a place for you at the table, family dinners are always dos.

5. Any Chance to Ice-Skate
You're going to make a fool of yourself, and it doesn't matter. Ice-skating is made for the uncoordinated. There is nothing quite like that "deer skittering on the frozen pond" feeling to make you feel as if you're getting the most out of the puffy-breath, pink-cheeks season.

Next: Why you should say yes to going to bed early
6. The Pre-Dark Bedtime
Going to bed early is one of the greatest luxuries there is. Because everything, repeat EVERYTHING, is going to seem better when you're well rested.

7. Helping an Aspiring Whatever-You-Are
Admit it, no matter how invested you are in your "pulled myself up by my bootstraps" mythology, at some point you must have been helped out in one way or another by an older-and-wiser executive/restaurateur/teacher/artist/whatever. Maybe someone scored you your first interview, maybe she passed along a job lead, maybe she just offered you a gem of eerily relevant advice. She might not even remember it. But you do. It's possible your life wouldn't be the same without it. So yes, of course, you're too busy, but take a moment to look over a friend's niece's résumé or have lunch with someone who thinks they want the soul-sucking job you used to have.

8. After the Final No
There is something you've been saying no to for years. Only you know for sure what that is. It might be a slight matter—a daring haircut, a second slice of pie. It might be a deeper, primordial thing—allowing yourself to dive into a friendship with the abandon you once afforded love affairs, revisiting your religion—but it's there somewhere, huddling between the maybes and impossibles. As Wallace Stevens wrote in his poem "The Well Dressed Man with the Beard," "After the final no there comes a yes; And on that yes the future world depends."

9. A Bath Before Dinner
My grandmother taught English at a public high school—and came home to four children to contend with. So she made it her habit to, as soon as she'd walk in the door from work but before she started making dinner for the family, go into the bathroom, lock the door and take a bath with a peanut butter sandwich and a mystery novel. This is the bath we all need in our lives. The bath has to happen before you are too tired (when instead of relaxation time, it becomes a risk-of-drowning time). The moment to oneself can be put off indefinitely, until the possibility dissolves, as it will, if you blink. It doesn't matter that you need to do a million things first. It doesn't matter if you took a shower earlier. It's not about getting clean. It's about getting calm.

10. When Love Is on the Line
Always—you know this—say yes to love. It is, after all, the only way to live.

More Life Lessons


Next Story