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Rules for the Living

You have another year ahead, and this band of goofs, co-conspirators and doofs is all you’ve got. Here's how to make it the best year yet.



As a death and dying expert, I don't do much business in the beginnings side of things. My bread and butter is last days, epitaphs, legacies and memorials. So, what do I have to say at the dawn of a new year other than, "In case this one is your last, don't make an ass of yourself"? Guess again. Here's the Rev. Death's 2014 list of starting things off right, or at least memorably.

1. Fall stupid in love with someone or something completely uncool. Not uncool hip. I'm talking stinky sock, might-give-you-ringworm, can't-possibly-dance-to-it uncool. Collect Pope memorabilia, but not from John Paul or Francis. Spring for commemorative plates and bobble heads of the ironically named Innocent IV, who was the water-boarding Pope, or for good ole "I'm still alive but hanging out in the cool Pope's mother-in-law suite" Benedict.

2. Find yourself a partner who still buys CDs — off TV. Or jump into the deep end of a May to December romance. The cougar craze may be hot on cable, but in the booths of Richmond eateries, normal-looking people get stoned for it by other patrons. This year, do it anyway because you'd rather be impassioned and ardent than cool. Besides, romance is better when it's drenched in the flavor of crazy that people shy away from because they aren't sure if that's your date or your former third-grade teacher.

3. Learn from the 1 percent. Sock some money away in case this is not the last year of your sketchy existence. Get some life insurance. Start a savings account. Pay off some debt. When my grandmother died, my mother's proudest statement was, "She died with all her own teeth and money still in the bank." Just imagine living in such a way that you'll be starting off next year with dentition and at least one account in the black. It's more than just a white-collar dream, but you're going to have to resist smart phones, bar Groupons and Bangladesh-made fashion if you want to keep those molars and at least 10 C-notes in the bank. Should you manage that in this consumer-crazed era, you win the moral upper hand as well. Triple score.

4. Stop waiting for Dr. Who to come and spice things up — go somewhere groovy even if you go it alone. This is your time. This is your life. Find your spaceship and hit the road. Skip the Outer Banks and the ski trip and zoom to Nepal if you can. Your grandchildren will want to hear about that burlesque show you caught in Petersburg only a limited number of times. But the night you drank absinthe from a shoe in New Orleans, or that hobo/guru you met in the gritty islands who stole your wallet and blew your mind? That's Thanksgiving chats for a lifetime.

5. Get down and get ridiculous. Why do people hang onto friendships for decades? Because the people with whom we were young, dumb and humiliating ourselves are the ones who know the depths to which we can stoop and love us anyway. Why stop gathering this ring of miscreants at age 24? Maybe we truly are at our best roller-skating on Easter or hip-hop dancing the Monument Avenue 10-K. At the very least, you'll finally have a decent photo for your holiday card. More likely, you'll laugh harder than you have since you broke your tailbone in a conga line in 1994. (Or was that just me?)

Living with the end times pretty much keeps me out of the Don't village, unless it involves carcinogens, but there are a couple of obvious ones that can really turn your year around.

1. Don't run for office unless you have a terrible, but not sex-related, back history and stellar civic ideas. Two vandalism convictions for graffiti art and a plan to turn Richmond's public schools around? Run. A penchant for nudie married lawyers and friends in high places? Sit it out.

2. Don't get a new pet. Just this once, trust me and put the sugar glider adoption ads and the ostrich rescue league flyers down. Your carpet, your lover, your boss, your neighbors and your Facebook friends all agree with me on this. What the world needs now isn't you and another animal. That said, if you want to go totally uncool enamorado on a blind, three-legged cat with a nasal discharge problem, it may be wretched enough to work.

3. Don't take up a new instrument, killer workout regime or language. Your friends aren't sure what they want to see less in these endeavors: your success or your failure. Instead, improve this stubby neck of America's economy by going to see a band with a cover charge, paying a buff person to help you do push-ups in your living room and seeing foreign movies. I don't give a rip whether you can count to 20 in Mandarin and can bench press my weight, but if you can speak Swedish like the vampire girl in "Let the Right One In" and are wearing a signed No BS Brass! T-shirt, I'll invite you to my birthday party.

And that's the other thing:

Do throw yourself a birthday party and give your friends gifts at it. You have another year ahead, and this band of goofs, co-conspirators and doofs are all you've got. Celebrate them while you're stumbling about together above ground. Those memories will make it much more pleasant when you inevitably have to meet me. S


Alane Miles is a hospice chaplain and host of "Death Club Radio" on WRIR-FM 97.3. 

Opinions on the Back Page are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.


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