My best advice

January 18, 2012

I’m participating in Mel’s Free Advice Day as an alternative to blacking out my blog in protest of SOPA and PIPA. But, because I’m a pedantic librarian type person, before I give you my advice, I want to give you some information on SOPA, because I think it could be very damaging, to the internet at large and also to this particular corner of it that has saved my sanity.

Wikipedia has a very good overview: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:SOPA_initiative/Learn_more. They explain quite well how devastating it could be for web site owners to be legally responsible for policing content, for search engines to block blacklisted (or potentially blacklisted) sites from searches, of the ways that these pieces of legislation will damage the effectiveness and stability of the internet while making adding content to the internet scarier, less collaborative, and more difficult. For a more personal look at all of this, Shreve Stockton’s brief but poignant explanation of how SOPA would have affected her blog, writing, and life, is worth reading and can be found up over at The Daily Coyote.

For my part, well, I hate to think about what would have happened to me if I hadn’t been able to read blogs from around the world – the people and support that would have been lost to me. I wonder if glow in the woods would have been available to us under SOPA and PIPA. I wouldn’t have been able to write so freely about my boy. I wouldn’t have felt so supported. I wouldn’t have met all of you.

What to do? If you’re a U.S. citizen, call or email your representatives. Wikipedia makes this easy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special:CongressLookup. Calling is more effective, but if you have a longstanding fear of telephones like I do, know that emailing makes a difference, too.

And now for the best advice I have:

Like what you like.

The world is full of people telling us what we should like, what is beautiful, what is worthy, what is noteworthy. And in many respects, these messages are good things; they help us to situate ourselves in the world and they help us discover new and wonderful things. I notice this especially in the world of literature, where awards often lead to increased exposure and recognition for deserving authors and books.

Where this becomes problematic is where all of these messages about what is good, about what we should like, make us feel like there’s something wrong with us if we don’t like the Mann Booker prize winner, or don’t have the supermodel body, or don’t enjoy the beluga caviar. I used to make covers out of wrapping paper for the novels I loved to read on the bus. “Moby Dick,” I would write on the outside, and on the inside would be the latest Laurel K. Hamilton novel, full of vampires, were-things, and improbable sex. I loved those books even though I didn’t want to. I felt like I should be loving literary giants instead. It took me a long time to realize that loving genre fiction doesn’t mean I’m unintelligent or uninteresting.

After Teddy died, I no longer had the emotional energy to pretend. When my heart was full of aching void and each day seemed to drag on gray and dull and sad, books gave me some ease and comfort and relief. I read what I wanted and needed to read. I read to take me out of myself and to find new perspectives. I read to remember that laughter was possible. I’m much better at liking what I like now, especially when it comes to books. I will never consider this a silver lining, but it’s something I learned,  something I learned that doesn’t completely suck. And now I’ve re-discovered romance novels and unashamedly read them. I read fiction written for adolescents and enjoy it whole-heartedly. I read other things, too, but I will never again pretend that I only read great works of literature. I respect Saul Bellow and Faulkner, but I’ll never love them as I do Robin McKinley.

This holds true for more than just books. My mom bought me a pair of jeans and mailed them to me this month. They are well-made and comfy, but they are baggy at the thighs and have tapered legs, and after trying them on once, I was reminded of all the times I spent with Mom in dressing rooms, listening to her explain that I should find pants with pleats to flatter/camouflage my hips. I never liked pleated pants, or thought I looked good in them, but I tried to since she told me I should. It was years later when I realized that generally accepted fashion advice wasn’t in sync with the advice coming from my mother. The lesson here isn’t that I should have listened to Stacy and Clinton rather than Mom, it’s that I should have trusted what I liked. I’m sending these jeans back and getting some curvy fit, boot-cut ones instead, jeans I know I’ll wear comfortably, jeans I’ll really like.

It’s okay to like Cheetos and avoid caviar, or to like people, and places, and things that aren’t (or are!) in fashion. It’s okay to like yourself and respect the things that you like. The fact that you like something is a big hint that it has value, no matter what other people say; what you like is important, because you are important. It sounds easy even though it isn’t, but it’s worthwhile.

Like what you like.



  1. So true! So very true!
    We fake a lot so that people like us better, and then we are hurt they don’t love us for ourselves.
    So sorry for your losing Teddy. It is cruel and undeserved, as any child losing.

  2. I love this. I came to similar conclusions, although through a different rout. I’ve always liked what I liked and done (mostly) only what I enjoyed, and I was continually surprised, and hurt, as a child, when I was strongly informed by my peers that I should like or enjoy something else. My mom encouraged me to like what I liked, but it took me years to feel really comfortable with this, because my peers thought that I liked the wrong things (and never let me forget it).

    I’m glad you wrote about this today. I really needed the reminder to be myself.

  3. Wonderful advice!!! It reminds me of a time we toured a bunch of California wineries and, although I like wine, I was not at all into the wine vibe with it’s somewhat elitist feel. There was one unassuming winery where the tour was led by a really great guy and I remember him saying that nothing really matters other than what you actually like to drunk. Duh! Unfortunately, I think that this kind of wisdom only comes with maturity. And maturity is sometimes brutally hard won.

  4. Love this! I also unapologetically read trashy novels and YA novels on a regular basis. Fantastic advice. If everyone did this, I think we’d all be a lot happier.

  5. […] didn’t have the energy to write that yesterday, or the time for it today, and then I read this post about liking what you like and I thought, I’m going back to my original idea. Because it […]

  6. What great advice. Strange that as adults we’re still so worried about liking what we are *supposed* to like, rather than what feeds us …

  7. This is lovely and true. Thank you! Although, I do love a good caviar 😉

    I grew up in a family of book snobs. I hid my romance novels from my Dad (he always wanted me to read War & Peace, which I finally read last year and loved much to my annoyance). I read voraciously in high school in college and loved every genre moment of it. I loved Amanda Quick in particular.

    Now my brother (getting his MFA in Creative Writing and being Insufferable) gives me crap about my love of Jennifer Weiner and goes on about how I need to read Richard Ford. And I just laugh, because? Not gonna happen, dude.

  8. Very true and a great reminder. We so easily look to others what the latest is, what’s acceptable and trendy. I don’t really buy that. I don’t follow fashion but wear clothes that’s comfortable. Otherwise I wouldn’t be me. The same with books, why spend your time on something you don’t really like? makes perfect sense to me.

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