1. When you reach the age that people start telling you (or you read/listen to) your generation's version of: There are no rules, all things are permitted ignore them. This is utter rubbish and will lead you to wasting way too much of your time (it was probably five years in my case) mooning around the place, believing that everyone older than you is something of a mongrel between robot and moron. Mostly they're not. On the other hand, there are no rules, all things are permitted. This is not a cheap joke. All things are permitted in your heart, it is precisely what you decide to permit yourself that becomes the sum of you. I grant that this seems somewhat paradoxical, but it is the rote I am railing against, the repetition of something as a mantra which affords you entry into some imagined elite, rather than the reality contained in words understood for their true meaning.
2. Being true to yourself is a fine notion, but only sometimes. And mostly only as a feel-good device after the event. This may sound confusing, but trust me, it’s true.
3. An almost infallible way to make accurate judgments about a person's character is to watch how they treat the help, be they waitresses, bellboys, or the man who kneels before you shining your shoes. When you get the check, aim to add about 20%, if you can afford it. These folks don't make too much money in the first place, they're generally nice, and they bring you things you want. They're just like you and me, no more, no less. Have I told you I once worked in a bar?
4. Try and become a good mimic. In doing so, develop an English accent (copy mine, but add even more BBC resonance if you can). I know that at school (you see if I was American I would have said 'in school') you will probably want to sound like your friends, but the ability to speak 'English' when you want to can be a tremendous advantage in this America. My guess is that people here unconsciously add an extra 25 I.Q. points (some more) when they’re listening to an English accent. I must point out that my own father, who at that time had never been to America, gave me the foundation of this idea before I left England. He was right. Despite your suspicions, fathers can be.
5. When you see rational, intelligent (admirable even) people doing something that kills them, yet they cannot stop, take it as a sign that what they're doing is something to stay away from.
6. Distrust the personal value of quotations derived from televised sports and other carnival-like activities: "There's no 'I' in the word Team" "Winners never quit; Quitters never win" "Nice guys finish last" "Show me a good loser and I'll show you a loser" "Never give a sucker an even break" "Grab them by the balls and their hearts and minds will follow".
All of these things are meaningless and have only become totems because they appeal to the cynical in pursuit of hope, having fallen from the mouths of the momentarily famous.
7. I regularly preach, to others, as to the value of achievement psychology. These past few hours I have washed dishes, done laundry, and gone through the tiny old built-in wardrobe (my American closet) in the Blue Room searching for things not worn in the near year that we have lived here. Two large black sacks were filled, labeled (how unlike me) and dispatched into retirement next to my office in the dusty attic. And I do feel better than I did earlier. I have achieved. Albeit little somethings. And now I am sneezing (the dust), but happier. I lead such a sedentary life, from perfect black chair here in front of my one true friend (or cathode drug dealer) to the old brown velvet couch in front of the television downstairs and then back up somewhere in the middle to bed. On a bottom, on a bottom, and then supine in a bed. Such a map deepens my habitude. And so the advice (to both you and I) is that when you can’t be bothered; do something. Anything. Slowly if needs be.
8. Don’t worry about the things you buy, but always keep the things you make.
9. Read J. P. Donleavy's 'The Ginger Man' (currently he’s number four on my all-time list). Please understand however that this is not the kind of father I want to be. You may hold me to this.
10. It really isn't worth mouthing off to police officers (or cab drivers). It seems as though it is (sometimes), but all it'll bring you is trouble, and at the very least prove to be time-consuming. Suck it up and be polite as you can manage. Especially while driving down South.
11. When you're seven or eight and find yourself being reprimanded by a teacher or other authority figure who is staring down from a great height and intoning mournfully about the poverty of your future if you keep this damn stuff up, say: "Look I'm only seven years old, don't you feel foolish lecturing me on morality and the roots of my certain downfall when puberty is a word I can't even spell?"
12. Three out-of-the-way books worth looking out for:
- B. S. Johnson’s own double entry
- In Milton Lumky Territory
- Writing in Restaurants
Of course it would be easier if I told you who wrote them, but that would make them far less out-of-the-way. Clues: 1. Set mainly in Chiswick, West London, where I used to live. 2. Same man wrote the book upon which (to you) the very old cult classic Bladerunner was based on. 3. Lots of good stuff about this (to you) old American playwright shooting pool in Chicago and so on.
13. No one truly ever expects to find love. It is an impossible feeling to know of, before the finding. We talk of wanting to be loved, of adoring, of passion, but only ever in the hopeful abstract, until the hammer explodes our heart. Watch out for that.