Theodora Goss

Tried and True

Life is uncertain, we know that. We know that we’re on a small blue globe spinning through the darkness of space. We’ve seen maps of galaxies with the little arrow pointing: “You are here.” We know that in a moment, life can change, or end. Our planet can be hit by an asteroid. We can be hit by a bus. We know all that: the uncertainty, instability, unreliability of it all.

Which is why I like finding things that are tried and true. Things I know I can rely on. They’re always small things, because the larger things you can’t rely on: home, love, peace. Those things change and slip away. Come back and slip away again. So I hold on to small things, even silly things, the way a child clutches a favorite blanket or toy. But the small things matter in life: raindrops, fireflies, minutes all matter. If you experience it in the right way, a minute can last an eternity. In the same way, small things can keep you grounded, safely on this spinning globe. They can fill you with happiness.

So I’m going to list some of the things I rely on, and I think you should make a list of your own. What is your tried and true, no matter how small or silly? What do you know will not let you down?

1. Revlon lipstick. The cosmetics company Revlon has been around since 1932, and they’ve figured out how to make lipstick by now. The colors are rich and varied, the lipsticks are moisturizing. And they are cheap. When I wear my favorite color (Fig Jam), I feel adventurous and as though I could conquer the world. Happiness in a tube of lipstick: that’s like a small miracle, really.

2. My rice cooker. I put in dry rice and water, and an hour later I have cooked rice. How perfectly brilliant! Would that other things in life were so reliable.

3. Cotton cardigans. Is there anything better for fall in New England than a cotton cardigan? (I can’t wear wool because it’s too itchy.) You can put it on, button it or not, take it off, depending on the temperature — which, in fall in New England, is unpredictable. The cotton cardigan: an ingenious device that allows you to regular and respond to unpredictability. And it comes in pretty colors . . .

4. Alstroemeria lilies. I know, they’re not the most beautiful flowers. But the most beautiful flowers are delicate — if I bring them home and put them in a vase, they last a day or two. Alstroemeria lilies last, reliably, for a week. And over that week, I can see them open up, pink or yellow or crimson, with green veins. They bring something living and beautiful into my apartment.

5. Cetaphil face wash. If you have sensitive skin, your skin itself, the thing you live in, can be unpredictable. Will we break out into a red rash today? We never know . . . This is the gentlest and most reliable way to clean my face, the face I present the the world and that tells people what I’m thinking or feeling. Considering how much work my face does, I think it deserves to be well taken care of!

6. Agatha Christie mysteries. When I can’t read anything else, when I’m exhausted or despairing, I can always read her mysteries: the gruesome death, the labyrinthine case, the logical deductions. I think it’s because they tell me that in an uncertain world, there’s always an underlying logic, if we can just see it.

7. The sea. All right, this isn’t a small one. But the sea . . . it moves, it has moods, it gets angry sometimes. Sometimes it breaks things. You could say that it’s the principle of uncertainty itself. And that’s why it’s so reassuring. The sea is always different, yet always there. Whatever changes on the surface, underneath the sea is the same. Until our planet itself dries up, it will be with us, in constant motion. By the time the sea goes away, we will be long gone.

8. Ballet flats. You can squash them flat and pack them into a suitcase, and when you arrive in London, they’ll be ready for you. They’ll carry you through cities and down country roads. Sure, there are places where ballet flats are impractical, but I wouldn’t travel without them. With a pair of ballet flats and a pair of Keds, I can go almost anywhere . . .

9. The English language. All right, this is another big one. But it’s like the sea: it’s so uncertain, such a mishmash of other languages, always changing, and yet always the same underneath. It’s reliably unreliable. Cough? Dough? Plough? I mean, really, it’s crazy . . . And yet I love it. (Hungarian, which I also love, is also crazy, in a completely different way.)

10. Timex watches. Time slips away, but a Timex watch will at least tell you what time it is, reliably. Mine don’t even need to be wound. I have two, in case I lose one or the battery stops working and I need another watch to wear while I get it replaced. They are comparatively cheap, and they do what they’re supposed to — tell the time — perfectly. How many things in life can do that?

All things fall, all things change. Which is why we hold on to what we can, whether it’s a favorite shade of lipstick, or a dogeared book, or a walk by the seashore . . .

(This is a photo I took recently, in the park by the Boston Common. That’s the swan lake . . .)