riddles

riddles - silver and gold gears interlocked and turning - The Best Advice So Far

I was driving recently with my cousin’s son, Seth. He’s 19, but having lived with a mentally and physically ill mother until her recent death, there are some areas in which Seth is still quite “young.” Until now, he’s never paid a bill and did not know how to write a check. It’s been a steep learning curve. Yet I find most aspects of Seth’s greenness refreshing, to be honest. It’s as if he’s seeing much of the world for the first time.

As we drove between offices, settling yet more paperwork in the wake of his mother’s passing, Seth was checking social media from his phone. Somehow, he wound up coming across a riddle and read it to me. You may have heard it:

A doctor and a boy went fishing. The boy is the doctor’s son, but the doctor is not the boy’s father. How can this be?

After a mere few moments, Seth quirked his mouth quizzically and said, “That doesn’t make sense. It’s impossible. Do you get it?”

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m more about teaching a man to fish than handing him a fish. In fact, Chapter 21 of The Best Advice So Far has this central advice:

THE BEST ADVICE SO FAR: Asking the right kind
of questions works better than making statements.

There are, of course, times when a straightforward reply is best. In this case, however, with a young man who suddenly finds himself needing to approach life’s problems with a new level of independence, it seemed the process of solving the riddle might be more beneficial than simply impressing him with my own ability to arrive at the answer.

The Best Advice So Far: Asking the right kind of questions works better than making statements.

I glanced quickly at him out of the corner of my eye as he waited in expectation of my reply.

“Seth, you just told me that ‘it’s impossible’; but you also asked if I could solve it. You can’t believe both of those things at the same time: that it’s impossible to solve and that I might be able to solve it.”

I let that sit for a few seconds. “I guess you’re right,” he conceded sheepishly. “But I don’t see how it could be true.”

“You only spent about 5 seconds before you decided your own idea was right and that the riddle must be wrong. But many times in life — most times, in fact — the first perspective we have on something isn’t the right one. At least it’s not entirely right.”

“How’d you get so smart?” he asked.

“I’ve lived a while and paid attention,” I said with a smirk and raised eyebrow, “which you can do just as well I can.” I wasn’t going to let him sidetrack me that easily. “So back to that riddle. First rule of problem-solving is …

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fire in the sky

fire in the sky - The Best Advice So Far - paper lanterns floating Chinese lanterns

I’ve had a document open since the 4th of July with title and picture in place, ready for me to write this post.

Each day since, I’ve sat down in front of a blank page. I’ve stared. I’ve thought. I’ve thought about what I’m thinking. I’ve done the self-talk to convince myself: This is going to be the day.

It’s been over two weeks of this routine.

Usually, a blank page excites me. Since I was a child, a blank page has always represented endless possibilities. Lately, a blank page has felt like … just a blank page.

Today is the first time words have come out.

I’m hopeful.

While it’s true that my head is still a bit scrambled due to the accident in April, I think there’s more to it where this particular post has been concerned.  I had what I can only call “an experience” over the holiday weekend. I don’t often use the word profound, but this was. I felt something. I made connections I hadn’t before. Parts of what lay within the scope of my physical senses came into crystal clear focus while others seemed to fade to nothing. Invisible. Inaudible.

It came in pictures. It came in inklings and suspicions that burgeoned into something close to ideas. It came in emotions.

The problem is that it did not come with words.

It has felt like it needs to be written. I tried getting around it and on to other topics, chalking it up as perhaps something that should remain with me alone. But it has stayed put, unyielding, like an avalanche that simply has to be cleared from the road if there’s to be any hope of moving forward. And yet in the last 24 hours, a realization struck me: I’ve actually been afraid to put it to words …

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golden

The Best Advice So Far - golden apples / Golden Rule

I’ve gotten to know the clerks at a certain convenience store in my neighborhood over the course of many years of visits. As I entered recently and made my way to the back coolers to grab a protein shake on the run, the clerk was fiddling with his cell phone behind the counter and did not look up. I called out to him as I passed, “Hi, Mike!” A muffled “hey” emanated from somewhere in Mike’s vicinity.

In rounding to Mike’s side of the counter from the back, I was amused to see posted to the pull side of the scratch ticket kiosk (and within full view of customers) a sign that read as follows …

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little big things

little big things - scallop shell on sunny beach sand - The Best Advice So Far

My last blog entry was posted over a month ago. It’s not for lack of trying, I just haven’t been able to write. I don’t mean to say that I’ve been too busy to write; I mean that I haven’t been able to write.

Shortly after I wrote that last post, I was in a car accident. The short version is that I wound up being ambulanced to the nearest hospital with neck and back immobility, a skull-wracking migraine and loss of peripheral vision. I was terrified that it was going to be a repeat of 2007 and the accident that left me incapacitated for more than six months. Fortunately, after about five days in bed, my neck and back righted themselves and, though the headaches have persisted, they’ve been intermittent and manageable.

The aftermath of this particular ball of wax has also included fatigue, insomnia and a record-breaking stretch of nightmares. This morning, I woke up from my two or so hours of sleep with my heart racing. Some end-of-the-world-meets-mind-control number this time.

Do I sound like I’m kvetching? I’m not meaning to. I’ve tried to keep it to the basics, but it’s important that I set the scene.

As I said at the start of this post, I haven’t been able to write. I’ve set aside time to write. I’ve done all the right things to set myself up for success to write. But the sheer fact of the matter was that, circumstances being what they’ve been, my brain was just not able to focus, and no amount of discipline was going to change that for the time being.

If you’ve read my book, The Best Advice So Far, or have been making yourself comfortable here on my blog for any time at all, you’ll be well familiar with the central credo:

You always have a choice.

I use the word “credo” here, because I want to focus on a particular point: that this is more than a motivational platitude for me. It’s a core belief, a guiding force in my life. And it is at the heart of any advice I may share with others along the way.

best advice so far - you always have a choice - tweetable

However, that doesn’t mean it’s always easy.  It’s a guiding force, yes, but a force to be reckoned with all the same.

As I sat again last week in front of an empty page for the third week in a row, I felt it happen. My heart was pounding. My chest felt tight, like I couldn’t get a full breath. An acrid tingle crept around the back of my jaw. At first, I thought it was yet another manifestation of general weirdness from the accident; but after a few minutes, I recognized it for what it was.

In a word, what I felt was …

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it is what it is(n’t)

hand-drawn 3D friend egg

So that fried egg in the image above … it’s not real.

Nope. The original isn’t a photograph, either, nor was it digitally created.

In actuality, it was hand drawn – completely flat, shadows and all – by Sushant Rane, a 19-year-old kid from Mumbai.  Don’t believe me? Check out Sushant’s Instagram page HERE.  (Just scroll down and hit “Load More” to see the start of his 3D artwork, including progressive photos and videos to prove they are, in fact, flat; I hope you have a free hour or so on your hands, because you’re about to say goodbye to it.)

There’s no doubt that this young guy has an almost uncanny talent. But he also has something else: perspective. He saw what was not before it was. Then he took an ordinary, blank piece of paper and the same art supplies available to you or me, and he made them come alive in a way that fascinates and stretches the imagination. In a very real way, then, his unique perspective is changing the perspectives of every person who views his art, as well.

Oh, by the way, Sushant first put his hand to attempting 3D art like this less than a year ago.

In a very real sense, bad writers (or poor communicators in general) can make the most interesting topic feel stilted or dull, while strong writers (and communicators) can hold audiences rapt talking about nothing more than the grass. I was working today with a high-school student on connotation and the power of words to create mood. We first had a short discussion about the concept of mood continuum, from negative on the left to positive on the right, with neutral dead center.  I then pointed to a simple wooden chair that sits in the corner of my living room and asked, “Is that chair positive, negative or neutral on our continuum?”

I love that look that comes over someone’s face, especially in the eyes, when real curiosity and learning are happening.  And it was happening.

The fact is that the chair in the corner is neither positive nor negative.  It really doesn’t even stand a good chance of being neutral, due to …

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how i vote

how to vote - The Best Advice So Far - red elephant and blue donkey head-to-head

I vote.

During each of the seven previous presidential elections that have occurred since I turned 18, I have voted.

I will do so again come election 2016.

However, in these nearly 30 years of adulthood, only once have I ever told anyone how I voted.

For that year’s election, I opted for a write-in nomination, neatly printing the name of a friend of mine. It was the only way I could think of to continue to exercise my right to vote while not being able to, in good conscience, get behind any of the officially proffered candidates that year. My friend was amused when I told him; and he can now truthfully tell his children and grandchildren that he was once on the ballot to become President of the United States.

I’m a pretty open person. But there are some things I just don’t talk about. My vote (in fact, politics on the whole) is one of them.

Why all the secrecy? As is my way, let me start with a story.

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say my name

say my name - The Best Advice So Far - graffiti big mouth on brick wall

When’s the last time you had a real honest-to-goodness “aha!” moment? For me, it was quite recently. It was so simple that I wondered how I’d missed it up until now. And yet it was so profound that I actually felt the perspective shift happen and knew at once that it would change things moving forward.

I don’t know if you’ll find it as revelatory as I did or not. I suspect some of you will. For others, perhaps, it will serve as a timely reminder of something you’ve merely forgotten for too long.

If you’ve read my book, The Best Advice So Far, or if you’ve been reading along on this blog for any length of time, you know that I devote a good deal of focus to the importance of using people’s names often, whether it be with the cashier at the convenience store, with the other patrons working out around you at the gym – or even with sketchy neighbors. Most of my stories of cool personal interactions with strangers begin with our having exchanged names. I mentioned in one post that I make a point to ask homeless people their names (just as I would with anyone else), and recounted having met one woman who hadn’t heard her own name spoken in so long, she’d actually forgotten what it was.

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