Some of the things I have learned in ’08 prepare me for ’09

by Brian Clarey

Some of the things I have learned in ‘08 prepare me for ‘09

If you’re doing it right — if you’ve got your eyes and ears on and you can process those things you take in — you’re gonna pick up some knowledge along the way. I’m at the precise age where I realize just how little I know. I’m barely halfway around the tack, and I’ve only really been paying attention for the last 10 years or so. And every year, in this week between Christmas and New Year’s, I like to take stock of the things I’ve picked up over the last 12 months. Here is what I’ve learned: High school reunions are fun, especially if you liked high school, which I did, but it’s interesting even if you didn’t. I went to my 20 th reunion this fall, and I haven’t had that much fun since my wedding. Serious flashbacks: I even took a ride in the back of a station wagon with the usual culprits. High school was a very small detail in the grand scheme of things — not insignificant, mind you, but nowhere near as important you think it is at the time. You should try something new every year. In August 2007 I got the opportunity to work with the Keene Collaborative for the 48-Hour Film Project. I had never written a film before, but when Dustin Keene asked me to help, I figured, What the heck. The film ended up in the Top 12 in international competition, and we got the chance to screen it at the Short Film Corner at the Cannes Film Festival in France. You should say “What the heck” more often. If you ever get the chance to screen a film at the Cannes Film Festival, you should definitely do it. Bring a black suit, a decent pair of sunglasses and a big bunch of money. And don’t expect to get any sleep. It feels good to succeed. But your own success can only be defined on your own terms. For some people, it’s money or power. For others it’s earning enough money to buy a decent used car. And as good as it feels to succeed, it might feel even better to help another realize her dreams. I guess the country is ready for a black president. Also, I had forgotten how nice it feels to be in the mainstream of public opinion again. Marriage, if you’re doing it right, gets better with each passing day. Mine grows deeper and more profound every time we have a huge fight and make up before bedtime. This one came from my mother, who has been teaching 12- and 13-year-olds for 25 years: Sometimes little girls need to cry. It’s cathartic for them to get themselves all worked up about something, wring out a little drama and just let the tears come pouring out. When my little girl comes weeping into my arms, I no longer try to fix her problem. I just hug her and let it all come pouring out. This sometimes works for big girls, too. Charm will only take you so far. Actually, it will take you a pretty good way in some circles, but you can’t go all the way on charm alone. It is a lesson I wish I could impart upon my youngest son, but I’ve also learned that some knowledge can only be acquired firsthand. As far as the kids go, it remains that the more you put in the more you get out of them. There is no substitute for long hours in the same place at the same time. I am capable of making many simple home repairs and improvements as long as I have the right tools. And if there is a household job you can possibly imagine, there is a tool made specifically for that job. Play the player and not the cards. Unless you’ve got really good cards. Doing a good job is its own reward. Getting paid well is nice, and recognition feels good. But if you always do the best you possibly can, everything else will fall into place. The people calling the shots — in politics, in business, in everything — don’t always know what they’re doing. When I was a kid I just assumed that the ones steering the ship were primarily concerned with keeping the ship afloat and moving it forward. But really, some captains will sink the ship just so they can have the nicest lifeboat. This comes from a wealthy Southern gentleman who made most of his money by not spending it: If you can’t eat it, you don’t need it. Remember that life is short, and love is real. At the end of the day, all you have is the people you’ve touched and the lives you’ve changed. Happy New Year, everybody. See you in 2009. To comment on this story, e-mail Brian Clarey at