12. March 2020 · Comments Off on What I’d tell myself · Categories: Olio

This photo is over 40 years old. I’m on the left, my brother is on the right. My parents used to refer to us not by our names, but by our sizes. I was the small one (der kleiner), my brother was the big one (der groyser). In his teens, my brother got a different name, the wild one (der vilder). He was self-destructive. When I was thirteen, my mother made me promise that I would watch over him and make sure he stayed alive. For ten years, that’s exactly what I did. I was successful. It was exhausting. I did what I had to do out of love. Then his wife did the same until my brother’s heart gave out. This picture was taken toward the end of my watching over my brother period. The following year he’d get married. We’re as happy to be together as we’d ever be.

When you’re twenty-two, my age in this picture, you think you know everything but you’re a baby. You’re filled with hubris or at least I was. I look at this picture and I’m reminded of two things: 1) my love of my brother; 2) what a pisher I was. I want to go back in time and tell myself what to do and not to do. Of course, my twenty-two year old self wouldn’t listen. But I’d still try. You have to try.

I have few regrets. I’ve loved and been loved fully. I’ve achieved a great deal. I’ve been lucky with my health, my finances, and my family has been healthy, too (pooh, pooh, pooh, as my mother used to say). I’ve been one lucky s.o.b. I wouldn’t, looking back, do a whole lot differently in terms of major steps. But I could have made those years a whole lot smoother along the way. That’s what I would tell my young self if I got inside a time machine and went back to 1979. I’d keep it simple. Maybe I’d just hand my younger self a piece of paper with a list. Then I’d go to Skokie and get a decent piece of kishke, something I haven’t found anywhere in decades. Here’s the list.


  1. Do not worry about every step you take. They don’t all have to be perfect. Every day you’ll make a few missteps in your work and your relationships. It’s like a jazz musician hitting a bad note. Even the best do it. You just need to keep on, keepin’ on and be sincere and honest in what you do.
  2. Hold on tight to the ones you love. Most of them will die far sooner than you think and you’ll miss them every day. Enjoy every minute with them and don’t get bent out of shape on days when they or you misbehave.
  3. Life really is about the company you keep. About 1/3 of the people you meet are truly wonderful. Another third are unreliable, but can surprise. The final third will always hurt and disappoint. Stay away from that final third. Try to spend as much time as possible with those in the upper third and aspire to be like them (because face it, you’re in the middle third).
  4. Your parents are smarter than you think. Listen to them now because later on you’ll remember what they once said and think, damn these people were geniuses.
  5. Yeah you’re smart, but there all kinds of smart and you’re book smart. You’re not people smart. You’re not emotionally smart. You don’t think that stuff is important but it is. Watch others who have those kinds of smarts and learn from them.
  6. Your depressions will come and go and miraculously will diminish with time. That thing your father did – physically shadow boxing his depression – turns out to be a marvelous exercise.
  7. You are not static, your personality will change. You’ll get louder. You’ll in fact be as loud and out there as your mother by the time you’re in your 40s (yes, I know this sounds ridiculous, but it’s true). You’ll slowly get some of those emotional smarts you think you’ll never possess or need. Strangely people, complete strangers, will want to be around you and tell you about their lives; scary but true.
  8. Keep taking intellectual risks and expect that most of the time you’ll fail and hear no from the powers that be. But the rewards from those yeses will greatly outweigh the pain from all the nos. Take even more risks than you think you should.
  9. You’ll live longer than you expect so don’t be in such a hurry. Take time to hang and be with friends.
  10. Keep striving, but the fact is that you’re no Shakespeare, Mozart or Einstein. You’ll be remembered a healthy little, not a lot. But you will be remembered. Embrace what you do accomplish.
  11. Eventually you’ll get to an age where conquering the intellectual world is still important, but who you love is more important. Nurture every one of your friendships along the way because you have no idea how much you’ll love to see the faces of the fat, bald and droopy versions of those people decades later.
  12. Those obscure languages you know that you think will never be of use will come in handy one day. Don’t let them get too rusty.


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