My brother was getting his Ph.D in chemistry last week, and my mom and dad and my two brothers and I went to the dissertation defense. I would like to tell you what my brother talked about but I have no idea. Seriously. The topic was alcohol dehydrogenase.

I remember from the chemistry class I failed in high school that -ase is a suffix that means something. I just can’t remember what. And let me tell you, listening to my brother talk about whatever he was talking about cleared up nothing in the suffix department. Or in any other department.

1. Focus on others instead of yourself.
It’s so traumatic for me to be in the same room with my mom and my dad that I had to take a Xanax before the dissertation. In fact, I had to take a Xanax to sleep every night the whole week before the moment when I’d be in the same room as them. And even then I had such panicked yelling every night during dreams about my parents that Matthew would have needed a Xanax as well if it had been much longer.

But this is the part of my post about my brother’s Ph.D, and it is truly a huge achievement and also, when I was googling to see what other people wrote about making a good first impression, I read that people who shine their light on others are the most charismatic. And I want to be charismatic. So I’m not going to dwell on the shortcomings of my parents. Even though just saying shortcomings is a huge understatement. You can just read about it here. Or here.

2. Take the ten-second rule seriously.
So anyway, my brother got a fellowship at University of Wisconsin. The odds of him landing an hour away from me were so slim, so I feel really lucky. And while I was watching diagrams of particles or mico-things or whatever they are flash across the PowerPoint slides, I was thinking of that research about how money doesn’t make you happier but living closer to family makes you happier. And I believe it. And then I think really, I have never gone wrong living my life according to research. Or, if I have made bad decisions, positive psychology research says we should teach ourselves to bounce back fast from bad decisions, so I do. By forgetting I ever made them.

Except that I look down at my mom’s feet, and realize that she has the cutest shoes and cutest pedicure and I don’t. I wore closed-toe shoes because I haven’t gotten a pedicure in months. Which is upsetting because I want to be fun and cute. People make a decision about us in just seconds. We know this. But when we pretend it’s not true when we cancel appointments for pedicures.

3. You can’t cut corners on personal grooming.
So my mom is reading this and already freaking out that she’s on my blog. Because really, no one with good sense wants to show up on my blog, and my mom is smart. She was on Jeopardy. She can do the New York Times crossword puzzle on Sundays. With a pen. And she knows she destroyed my childhood with violent triangulation between me and my mom and dad, so she knows no good can come of her being in anything I write. (Note: She would agree with me about the destroyed childhood, but not the triangulation). So at this point in the post she is getting ready to call my brother who did not come to the dissertation defense because he was out of town. (And his absence makes it seem justified that it’s his job to field my mom’s calls about how it’s not fair that she’s on the blog.)

But in this blog post my mom is the star example of the one who makes a good first impression. It’s not just that she has adorable shoes and a hipster pedicure. She also has very white teeth. Not stupidly too-white, but good casual-white. A white that says, “I take care of myself and I am not retarded about making a good first impression.”

You need white teeth to make a good first impression. Don’t tell me exceptions to the rule, okay? They are exceptions so they are not useful. It’s like starting out teaching Chinese kids to write english by teaching them to spell said.

4. Get competent advice about your visual impression.
I got my teeth bleached when I first moved to Wisconsin and it was traumatic. They burned my lips. This is when I gave up on personal grooming stuff in small cities. It’s why I fly to LA for haircuts and it’s why I don’t have a pedicure, probably. Because I make too big a production of it.

So my mom has gorgeous white teeth and I don’t and you know what the killer is? Luster, a teeth whitening company, is paying me to be part of their career makeover contest. I should have told them to keep the money and just whiten my teeth. And I worry the only reason the teeth-whitening place thinks my teeth are okay for their contest is that Melissa made my teeth look white when she edited the photo they used.

I wish Melissa could edit my reality. All I want is to just blow people away with how charismatic I am. And please, don’t tell me it doesn’t matter. We are programmed to make excellent snap judgments based on appearance. We can decide with surprising accuracy who will win an election by looking at two photos for a microsecond.

5. Listen more than you talk.
I tell my brother (later, when I am popping a Xanax to prepare for family dinner), “great job” and rah rah rah, because charismatic people talk about other people instead of themselves. Also, charismatic people are good listeners, which I will never be, so I go to the bathroom to take a break from family banter. I google charisma. I think I’m losing mine. I find that I can get coached for charisma, and then I realize that I have already been coached for charisma. Which is maybe why I would have a lot if I could just loosen up.

Or be on time. I google “how to make a good first impression” and the first article I read says to be on time. I tell myself for sure I’m asking for free white teeth, because I’m at a stage in my life where I know my own first-impression limitations, and I’m going to have to focus on the stuff I can buy.