Ariel Gore

Women and Happiness

Seven Days to Wake Up & Live Intentionally

How would you live if you knew you only had 37 days?

Posted Sep 17, 2010

Let me listen to me and not to them.
--Gertrude Stein



I bought Life is a Verb: 37 Days to Wake Up, Be Mindful, and Live Intentionally because it was listed on Amazon.com as "frequently bought together" with my own book, Bluebird.

(Surely there are worse reasons to buy a book).

And anyway, author Patti Digh's concept seemed apropos. Patti's step-father was diagnosed with lung cancer and, 37 days later, he was dead. The time frame got her thinking. I'm living with my own mom these days. She was diagnosed with lung cancer 11 months ago and told that she had 12 months to live.

The day I ordered the book, I did the math: If we were to believe Kaiser's prognosis, my mother had 37 days to live.

And so the book arrived.

The first suggestion: Dance in the car.

I always do like seeing other people dance in their cars. It's one of the things that makes me happy. But when I got in the car to take my son to preschool and again when I got in the car to drive away, I didn't feel like dancing.

At work later that morning, I liked leafing through the book. It's quite beautiful, with these great illustration-collages done by various contributing artists. And Patti's writes like a friend.

Still, maybe I liked the concept of the book more than the book itself.

37 Days to live?

But maybe I'd rather make my own to-do list.

So I tried it for a week...

Day One
Accept People as They Are

Stop critiquing people, stop imagining that people will change, really stop imagining that I can do anything to change them--either with loving advice or passive aggression. Jeez. Even as I write this I think I'm picking something too hard for the first day. But I'll do my best.

Day Two
Invoke the Gypsy Spell for Happiness
Remember every morning to say "A miracle is going to happen today." This attracts good luck and has a cumulative effect, magnetizing happiness, love, money, and--of course--healing miracles.

Day Three
Write Letters

OK, this one is actually from Patti's book: Hand-write & maybe even illustrate a letter to folks who have been important in your life. I used to do this all the time. A traveler before email. But when's the last time I hand-wrote anything beyond a simple thank-you note? Today I will write to my friend, C.

Day Four
Call a Jerk Out for Being a Jerk

Tonight I was out to dinner with my mom at a small restaurant. The place smelled delicious and the lighting made it feel all the more intimate. Imagine our annoyance, then, when one of the guys at the table next to us simply would not shut up. Enthralled by the sound of his own voice, he went on and on about "the situation in the Middle East" (a situation about which he seemed to know nothing), his own good taste in fashion, and the obnoxiousness of loud Americans. If my mother's days were indeed numbered--as all of our days are, ultimately--why should she have to spend an evening listenting to this idiot? I wondered if it was possible to accept people for who they are AND to offer occasional feedback. Finally I slipped him a note: Tapa Boca, YOU are extremely loud and obnoxious. He accepted the piece of paper graciously, with a wink. It was only then I realized that he probably thought I was giving him my phone number.

Day Five
Write Not for Publication

Before I published anything, I dreamed of publication, but I didn't actually write for it. I imagined that writing for an audience was something for fancier people. I aspired, but mostly I wrote for myself. I wrote because it made me happy. Today I will write not for publication. Maybe that's what Patti meant about dancing in the car. Doing something that makes you happy by yourself, neither in relationship nor for an audience.

Day Six
Anonymously Send Money to Someone
When I was pregnant in Italy more than half my life ago, someone sent a twenty dollar bill wrapped in a blank piece of paper from California. To this day I don't know who sent it, but I can't tell you how happy it made me--I was absolutely starving as well as being broke and I marched up to the little bank in the piazza and changed the dollars into lire and ate the best pasta and broccolini I had ever tasted. And I even had a few thousand lire leftover to help pay the rent. There was something especially sweet about the anonymity of the gift, the way my fairy godmother or godfather didn't need to hear "thank you."

Today I'm sending cash to a friend's son who I've never met but who I know is broke. It won't be nearly enough to pay his rent, but maybe it will help. Maybe at least he will have some really good pasta with broccolini.

Day Seven
Read Patti's Book

On the seventh day of my little exercise, I figure, shit, that's a pretty inspiring book if it could encourage me to do all that without even reading it. Maybe I'll give it another chance. Don't have to dance in my car if I don't want to, but I can read someone else's book without being a brat about it and always wanting to write my own.