Category Archives: Creativity and Creative Love

chance

The Best Advice So Far - chance - silver car, green house and dice on the Monopoloy 'Chance' space

I’ve used the word “kismet” quite a few times lately. It’s the only word that seemed to fit several series of events that have had my head spinning in the very best of ways.

Let me tell you about one of them.

If you read my last post, then you’re familiar with Joe — the hard-working overnight crew member at my gym. Well, as diligent as he is, every so often, he does still take a break. It was during one of those breaks that I saw Joe reading a book.

Being an avid reader and writer myself, I asked, “What are you into there?”

Joe stuck his thumb between the pages to hold his place and flipped the book over to show me the cover. Some peaceful golden sunset colors. Maybe a beach. I think there was a bird flying across it as well. “It’s, like, a book of life wisdom. Just short quotes,” Joe explained. “You could open the book anywhere and read it and then just think about it for a while and get something.” He handed me the book as he said this, with the clear implication that I should put this last bit to the test. My own thumb became the new bookmark and I flipped a page or two forward.

I read a two-line entry at the top of the right-hand page. I don’t remember exactly what it said. Something about Fate. It had an Eastern feel. I remember that I had agreed with the central idea. But at the moment, I was focused on Joe, curious to know more about why he had chosen to read the book. “Why this book?” I asked as I passed it back. “Is it something you’ve chosen to read? Or maybe something for a class?”

“Oh, not for a class. I’m just interested in learning more about life and philosophy, stuff that makes you think, y’know?” Joe said.

“And what do you do with the thoughts you’re pondering while reading this, after you’ve read them,” I asked.

Joe paused. “Ummm, I don’t know. Just kind of think about them and try to find the truth in them.”

Hmmm, I thought.

“Joe, if you’re into this kind of book, I have a recommendation for you. I’m not meaning to be the pushy salesman type, but … I’m actually a writer and author, and my current book is based on collective wisdom. It’s about living life in a way that matters. It’s called The Best Advice So Far.” I brought the Amazon page up on my phone to show him. “Each chapter has a central thought, just like the book you’re reading. And also like that book, you can skip around if you want; you don’t have to sit and read it straight through, cover to cover. Only my book is different because it doesn’t quite fit into philosophy or self-help or inspirational. It’s a lot of true stories, some of them pretty crazy, from my own experience, and the stories sort of illustrate the advice. Then it gets into how you can actually put the advice to good use in your own life, starting immediately.”

Joe squinted at the phone screen, seeming genuinely interested. “I’ll have to check it out. That’s really cool.”

Then an idea hit me. It occurred to me …


reverse

The Best Advice So Far - reverse - one yellow rubber ducky swimming the opposite direction in a line of black rubber ducks

We’ve all seen those bumper stickers:

HOW’S MY DRIVING?
555-123-4567

Ever called the number to report that the driver is, in fact, currently driving respectfully and obeying all traffic laws?

After all, the sticker doesn’t say, “Call if I’m driving unsafely or otherwise annoying you.” Yet isn’t that how we tend to read it?

(Yes, I really do think about these things.)

“I want to speak to a manager.”

“Let me talk to your supervisor.”

“I’m going to email your teacher.”

In my experience, these statements are rarely followed by …

“… to let them know what a great job you (or they) are doing.”

It seems to me that perhaps many of us have become naturals when it comes to complaining, while becoming more and more uncomfortable with giving praise where praise is due.

In my last post, where I wrote about crying during a late workout, I mentioned incidentally that there was only one other person in the gym at the time: the overnight employee on duty.

Well, his name is Joe. Let me tell you a bit about him.

If you’ve ever worked the night shift, then you know …


no words

The Best Advice So Far: no words - wide-eyed man with tape over mouth

It was Wednesday, somewhere between 2:00 and 3:00 a.m. I was in the middle of a shoulder workout. Joe, the sole employee on duty, was parts unknown; so I essentially had the entire gym to myself. I had just finished up a set of lateral raises and was placing the dumbbells back on the rack.

That’s when I started crying.

*****

I received quite a bit of feedback with regard to last week’s atypical post. Responses ran the gamut, with people enthusiastically supporting or decrying in about equal proportions a wide range of things — some of which I never actually said or meant.

What I found even more curious, given the nature of the topic and its accompanying challenge, was that for all the disparate thoughts shared, not a single person asked a clarifying question toward being sure they understood my intent.

And that, of course, only further underlines what the post was actually about — our seemingly inescapable inclination as human beings to perceive through the lens of our own existing belief systems what others are saying, taking as a given that our interpretations are accurate.

As it turned out, that post was one of my longest to date. And yet, for all the words, clarity still had a tendency to remain elusive.

I’ve always felt that language grants us magical powers. Yet like any tool, I’ve found it to be a double-edged sword — capable of being used for both enormous good and dire ill.

Words allow us the ability to mitigate or to manipulate.

To clarify or to confuse.

To liberate or to label.

To draw people in — or to draw lines that keep them out.

I recall having seen a movie where an inmate at a high-security prison killed someone with a plastic spoon. It occurred to me that, much like words, the spoon was not the problem. The intent of the user was.

Still, this great capacity to help or to harm only accounts for willful uses of language and words.

Some years back, I read a memorably strange news article. A woman had waded out some distance from shore at a beach and was dunking herself under, perhaps seeing how long she could hold her breath. Suddenly, a pelican dove, apparently mistaking the bobbing hair on the surface of the water for an injured fish or squid. But instead of finding an easy dinner …


’tis a gift

The Best Advice So Far - 'tis a gift - open hand showing silver stars

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the seeming ever-presence of sea glass in my world, along with five ways that it reminds me of what’s important in life. Well, it occurred to me in the last few days that many of my pieces of sea glass were gifts. And that got me noticing anew the many other gifts that I see around me on a daily basis.

In this particular case, I’m not talking about “gifts” of the figurative or abstract sort, such as sunshine, our sense of taste, or the emerald sheen of a beetle’s wings. I’m talking about things that have actually been given to me by other people in my life.

Allow me to list just some of the gifts that lie within 10 feet of where I sit writing …


walls

The Best Advice So Far: walls — 1950s subway riders crowded and ignoring one another

Today, I saw a snail
on the sidewalk in front of our house.
And I thought, I too am like that snail.
I build a defensive wall around myself, a “shell” if you will.
But my shell isn’t made out of a hard, protective substance.
Mine is made out of tin foil and paper bags.

~Deep Thoughts by Jack Handy, SNL

Growing up with three siblings, all close in age, there were frequent and often ongoing sibling rivalries. As such, we learned tricks for being in close proximity while simultaneously erasing the offending party or parties from existence. And mind you, we didn’t have customized media to aid us. We had to be creative when it came to ignoring one another:

Holding an issue of TV Guide up to one side of our face like a blinder on a horse while watching television, so as to block out the person sitting beside us on the couch.

Placing three cereal boxes in half-hexagonal formation at breakfast time, to build a fortress around ourselves that would hide us from the enemy who sat kitty-corner from us at the table, arms-length away.

Car trips were the one time when shielding ourselves became almost impossible, especially as we got older and our bodies grew.

First, with four of us, your status during the trip was immediately determined by which seat you wound up managing to get for yourself. It was a fight to the death for a window seat. But eventually, a tight-lipped parent eventually threatened us with “that look” that meant just get in the car already (somehow oblivious to the obvious stakes); and whoever wound up getting the windows would turn and …

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after the vote

after the vote - empty voter stations - The Best Advice So Far

Let me start by making this clear: just as I have never told anyone how I’ve voted, I am not going to talk politics here. But I do have something I believe is vital to say to each of us today (including myself).

*****

I played soccer for eight years in high school and college. I usually played fullback and was a grass-in-the-teeth kind of player. I remember once being pulled from a game after my leg got mangled. I needed help to even get up and hobble off the field. More than the considerable pain, though, I felt anger. I shouted over and over at the coach, “Don’t you pull me from this game! I can play!”

I loved soccer. But, as contradictory as it may seem, I hated (and still do hate) competition. You see, in every competition, there are winners and losers. And that was always a conflict for me, being the highly empathetic sort.

After each game, it was more or less required that each team line up facing one another in single file and then walk by each member of the other team. Typically, you’d low-five, saying, “Good game, good game, good game…” in rapid succession. But most of the time, you knew neither team meant it. It’s what passed for “good sportsmanship” and was supposed to teach some lesson or other.

For me, on the other hand, it was never quite that easy.

If we lost, I took it personally. I should’ve done better. At the same time, I wanted to encourage every downtrodden member of my team, or help talk others down from their adrenaline-fueled rage. And yet, I also truly wanted to congratulate individual members of the other team who had played well and won.

If we won, we would jump up and down in a close-knit huddle cheering, or smack one another on the back harder than we knew was necessary. However, I also felt keenly aware of the losing team members and knew how dejected and disappointed they felt. So I’d pull myself from the next teammate’s growling embrace and head on over to specific players on the other team, telling them what I admired about their game or a particular play they’d made.

*****

Last night, an important decision was made.

Upon learning the result of that decision, half of the people I love and care about began celebrating, filled with a sense of relief and hope for the future.

The other half of the people I love and care about were shocked, mourning, fearful — even visibly and uncontrollably shaking and weeping in panic.

Statistically, the above scenario more or less sums up our country today. About 50% are celebrating, and 50% are terrified.

Had the race gone the other way …

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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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