An ancient paradox of social manners is that people in the public eye who have messy personal lives – people who are open to and deserving of our ridicule — can sometimes provide useful insights to guide modern youth, or “yutes.” (A corollary of the observation that the trouble with liars is that they sometimes tell the truth.
One such individual is Woody Allen, the filmmaker responsible for some of my favorite movies such as “Annie Hall” and “Manhattan.” At the height of his powers, Woody lived the creative trifecta: critical success, support of the Hollywood superstructure, and a personal life that was interesting and inspirational.
On the personal front, his long-time lover was Mia Farrow. Yes the same Mia Farrow who had once been married to Frank Sinatra (that fact alone bestowed on her an eternal patina of cool sexiness). They also raised adopted children, an act that marked them for sainthood.
One of those stepchildren was Soon-Yi Previn, whom Farrow had adopted with her second husband, Andre Previn. Soon-Yi was a child in the household of Woody and Farrow, though technically not as Woody’s stepchild. So it came as a surprise to 99.999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999 percent of the world when Woody left Farrow and took on Soon-Yi as his lover (and subsequently wife).
Wow! Woody really turned out to be a douchebag.
However, before he became a douchebag, Woody observed, “80 percent of success is simply showing up.”
OK, after that gigantic disclaimer, this posting can now begin.
We can haggle over the actual percentage, but I accept the underlying presence that “showing up” will create a lot of benefit, even if we don’t see it in immediate, tangible ways.
The challenge for oldsters is to help yutes understand what it means to “show up.” So…here some examples:
Challenge: Your grandparents invite you to lunch. Solution: You go. You arrive on time at their home, early if you are going to a restaurant. You dress to please them, which includes covering the tattoo you know drives them crazy. You ask a lot of questions and listen (or at least pretend to listen). You tell them how much their child (your parent) is driving you crazy (because their child, your parent, drove them crazy, too). You thank them for lunch, tell them how much you enjoyed lunch, and express a hope to do it again (but do not allow yourself to be committed to a date – that’s what email is for). Benefits: Several: 1) You might pick up some helpful tips on dealing with your parents; 2) You might learn something about aging, or at least what to expect as you get older; 3) You might come to understand that your grandparents could be your greatest allies; and 4) You might be remembered in their wills.
Challenge: A friend or family member offers help in a time-sensitive fashion. Solution: Can you or can you not do this thing on your own? Be honest with yourself. Whatever you do, make sure you respond in a timely fashion to this offer of help. For example: “Thank you, but I want to learn and prove something to myself.” Another example: “Thank you, I could really use some help. Are you free tomorrow or the next day?” Last example: “I really want to try to do this by myself, but if I figure out that I need help, can I call you next week?” Benefits: Clear and timely responses to offers of help will: 1) Help; 2) Strengthen family and friendship bonds; and 3) Avoid miscommunication and hurt feelings.
Challenge: Your divorced and busy father asks for a date to take you to dinner for your birthday. Solution: Within 24 hours, give him a selection of dates that work for you and acknowledge the date he chooses. Benefits: Relationships with parents, especially those who have divorced, can be emotional minefields for everyone, exacerbated by the child’s desire and need for independence. However, it benefits everyone to take a long-term view of these situations, since the way you treat your parents now will have an affect on how they treat you in the future (and visa versa). You are under no obligation to suck up to your parents, but if you go out to dinner with your father, you will: 1) Get a free dinner; 2) Get some free drinks; 3) Get a present and/or cash; and 4) Help ensure that he will pick up the phone when you are calling from jail in Tijuana.
Challenge: You injured part of your body or are sick, but it’s not life threatening and you do not want to go through the hassle of dealing with the complexity of the American health care system. Solution: Call the doctor. Show up at the appointment. Call the specialist. Show up at the appointment. Get the prescription filled. Perform the prescribed therapy. Benefits: Let me put is this way. I knew a young woman in college who was a world-class athlete. She hated going to the dentist and so avoided going to the dentist for years. Finally – I do not remember how – she ended up going to the dentist. Not only was the visit painful and ugly, but she left her parents with a $3,000 bill. If you think this outcome will not happen to you, you are delusional.
Challenge: You have just graduated from college. You are staring into the abyss. Solution #1: Watch these two movies: “The Graduate” and “Garden State.” If nothing else, these movies will help you understand that you are not alone. Solution #2: If your parents give you a job application to fill out, fill it out. Solution #3: Marry rich man or woman. Caveat: Solution #1 and Solution #3 are not really solutions. At best they are distractions. Benefits of Solution #2: Not filling it out that job applications means that you are the person saying “no.” Don’t be the person who says “no” to himself or herself. The worse thing that can happen is you get offered the job, you take the job, you hate the job, and you quit the job. That is not a bad thing because: 1) You got experience interviewing for a job, which will come in handy after you quit; 2) You got paid; 3) You learned something about working in order to pay rent; 4) You made some friends and/or business contacts; 5) You successfully narrowed down the list of things you will consider doing for money.
Challenge: Your significant other has been invited to a company social function or family function. Solution: Part of the solution is recognizing that you do not want to go to this function, but that you love your significant other. And so you will not only go to this function, but you will fucking shine at it. You will talk to as many people as possible. You will laugh at their stupid jokes. You will dance with the boss. And you will do all this without getting drunk. Benefits: Your significant other will come to understand how truly awesome you are and will repay you in many, many ways. Also: 1) Your significant other might get promoted and/or get a raise; 2) Your (future) in-laws will not hate you; and 3) You might discover that your significant others’ colleagues or family are not all douchebags.
“Showing up” can manifest itself in many ways, but mostly it means resisting many of our natural impulses to laziness and sloth and instead giving our best effort. It means being kind to strangers and children. It is the Golden Rule wrapped up in a warm tortilla with a splash of salsa.
More than likely, you were raised in an environment where you can recognize the right thing to do and that doing this thing will benefit you most. As a child, you could rely on your parents to do this thing for you. But as you get older, you have to rely on yourself. It’s hard. We know it’s hard, but do you want to be that 30-year old still living in your parents’ basement? Don’t be that 30-year old.
Also, don’t end up marrying the adopted child of your lover. People will have a hard time remembering that you once were a wise person.