Tag Archives: curiosity

peepers

The Best Advice So Far - peepers - woodland wetlands in moonlight

Snow fell well into spring this year. So whenever a day’s temperate now peaks 50°, there’s a palpable buzz in the air that feels more like summer. As far as the eye can see, sidewalks teem with bikers and joggers, dog walkers and pullers of little red wagons.

By the time essential work wound down this past Friday, I found myself facing a laundry list of domestic tasks that “needed” my attention, not the least of which was, in fact, laundry. But heeding my own advice to prioritize time for stillness, and with the extended hours of daylight beckoning, I made the choice to head out to the park for an evening stroll.

It was the right choice.

As sunset gave way to twilight, I heard them.

The peepers.

At first, they were timid, tentative, sporadic. But the first bold few lent their courage to more, until the entire perimeter of marshy woodlands was alive with their cadence.

I wondered how many others in the park around me even noticed. Or, I should say, took notice. There’s a difference—a choice that draws us beyond vague awareness to intentional appreciation and further exploration.

Well, speaking of “further exploration,” I mentioned back in January that my theme for 2018 would be to further explore ideas I’d already covered in my book The Best Advice So Far from a different angle. Here’s one of the shortest pieces of advice in the book:

Do something new every day.

My friend Chad was the very first person I blogged about back in 2011. He now owns his own (fun and uniquely people-centered) company, called We!. And he’s got his own spin on that advice. Whether he’s speaking at a camp, college or corporate conference, Chad’s famous for putting it this way:

Follow your natural curiosity.

It’s even shorter than mine—just four words—but it’s so packed with potential life change that I dare say it’s the cornerstone concept every single time Chad speaks or facilitates.

Join me back at the park, surrounded by those peepers.

I stopped. I noticed. I took notice.

As a child exploring the acres of dense woods and wetlands behind my grandparents’ house, I’d seen the peepers up close and personal many times. Hundreds upon hundreds of them lining the marshy edges of some little swamp—popping up like corn kernels in hot oil.

But I realized that night in the park that, while I’ve heard peepers each year and cherished their songs until the very last of them quiets in the fall, I’d not ventured out to where they were in three-and-a-half decades or more.

And so, follow my natural curiosity I did.

I veered from the packed-dirt path and off into the trees, down a hill, crunching through a mat of dead leaves and twigs only recently released from the last of winter’s snow. Bits of green poked through—a wayward crocus here, a fiddlehead fern there—just visible in the last waning light of dusk.

A mere two yards in and—all at once…

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choice: the wall

The Best Advice So Far - choice: the wall - dilapidated building inland Bahamas

In my last post, I invited you to celebrate with me the successful completion of a yearlong writing goal I’d set for myself in 2017.

Since that post, I’ve allowed myself a break from all things blog. It was strategic. I knew that if I were to just continue on writing at the previously set “goal pace,” I would have felt locked into it rather than having been able, as I did, to have closure on that goal—and to then begin a new one.

Well, today is the day I begin that new goal where this blog is concerned.

As my focus turns toward writing the next book—currently entitled Tried and (Still) True)—I want to be sure that I continue to give the concepts in The Best Advice So Far adequate development. They are, after all, timeless—just as true and life-changing now as they were at the start of things.

I imagine it’s much the same as having a second or third child: being sure, with all the time and attention that the new addition requires, to continue to love and foster and invest in the firstborn.

An idea coalesced during my short writing break: Why not revisit the advice in every chapter of The Best Advice So Far again, but from an as-yet-unexplored angle or with new stories?

As soon as the notion hit me, it just felt somehow right. Familiar and yet at the same time fresh and exciting. And so, for most if not all of 2018, that will be my new goal and focus. I’m not committing myself to stick stringently to plan, if something outside the express realm of the first book should happen along the way and burn to be told. But I believe it will make for a good guiding force.

*****

Sometime back in the early fall, I caught wind of a great deal on a three-day cruise out of Miami to the Bahamas. Little did I know at the time, when I booked a cabin for the MLK holiday weekend, that winter in New England would be plunging the region into weeks of sub-zero temperatures. During the worst of it, temperatures dropped to -19°F with wind chill affecting -35°F. Attempting such simple tasks as pumping gas (should one have run out of the house quickly without donning gloves) was not only painful but downright dangerous. And try as I might—whether by standing awkwardly with my toes tucked under the old-fashioned radiators in my home, or standing in the shower several times a day for no other reason than warming up—I was never quite able to thaw the blocks of ice that had replaced my feet.

So when the day finally came, I was beyond ready to walk barefoot on sun-warmed grass or sand, to squint with hand-shaded eyes at a too-bright sky—and to bask in the profligate luxury of feeling too hot.

As it turned out, the day I left for Florida, my own home area had a freakish warm streak approaching 60°, while Florida saw a relative cold spell, with one night dipping into the 40s. Still, their “chilly” was shorts-and-flip-flops weather for me.

The cruise was all I had hoped it would be, a real soul restorer. And yet, again, I was surprised by the abundance of generally bad behavior around me.

Before we even set sail, during the mandatory safety drills which required that all hands (and guests) be on deck, many people were disruptive and outright rude to the staff: crying out angrily in the middle of instructions that it was taking too long, or that they were bored, or that the (extremely patient) muster leaders were keeping them from the bar and drinks they had paid for.

I frequently passed people grumbling (to whom, I wondered) about the overcast sky.

Several cruisers with whom I tried to engage in friendly small talk while waiting in a line or on a transfer ferry (not, God forbid, keeping them from the bar or their drinks) were unnecessarily aloof—even dismissive.

Late one night, after a full day of fun on shore and a posh dinner in the formal dining room, I came up to the main deck and slid, smiling, into one of the large hot tubs. I asked the two other guests sharing the spa—a father and his college-aged daughter—how they were enjoying their cruise. They immediately began to complain:

…about the weather,

…about the “small” size of the (eleven-story) ship,

…about the “inferior quality” of the food.

Within fifteen minutes, able to tolerate it no longer, I politely extricated myself from the conversation in search of cheerier company.

Mind you, there were numerous dining options available at all times, each allowing all-you-can-eat access to, I dare say, several hundred varied and exquisitely prepared foods.

You’ll have to trust me when I say that I’m being generous to a fault as I describe the rude behavior of many aboard the ship. More than once, it was not only sad but uncomfortable, even for me.

*****

On Sunday morning, we docked in Nassau, Bahamas.

It’s not a beach sort of place. Rather, you exit the ship and are immediately greeted by a cacophony of urgent voices crying out from just beyond the iron fence:

“You! You! Taxi! Taxi!”

“City tour! Come now! I show you the best places only!”

“Beads! Necklaces! Good price, mon!”

Security guards usher cruise guests out of the melee and into a long, narrow—and carefully presented—strip of shopping options, where one can buy anything from Gucci watches and handbags to Vera Wang shoes at prices that hint at (if not outright tout) the use of slave labor.

The tourist shopping area pops in bright pinks, yellows and blues.

Walking beyond the shops funnels the wayward invariably toward Queen’s Staircase.

Approaching Queen's Staircase, all was looking picturesque and tropical.
A stone wall topped by long-rooted and lush trees funnels visitors toward the steep Queen's Staircase

The tall, steep set of stairs leads upward to—more shops on the periphery of what alleges to be the central attraction: Fort Fincastle.

A bright red cannon beside the manicured lawns around Fort Fincastle, Nassau, Bahamas.

For those who chose to look only as far as the wall or back toward the port, it’s idyllic:

Two luxury cruise ships (Royal Caribbean and Norwegian) dock at port, Nassaue, Bahamas.

But turn the other direction—to where the majority of the island lay beyond that wall—and the illusion quickly evaporates.

I stood on the barricade and hopped down a few feet to a square landing made of cracked concrete. From this perch, drifts of garbage became visible, piling up yards high against the wall. Peering through the nearest thicket of palms, I was able to just make out a shanty. A young woman slumped on the porch, watching a naked child and a chicken totter about in the dirt. A rope drooped low to the ground, laden with a few articles of clothing hung out to air.

I had no interest in the veneer that had been set up for tourists. I wanted to know the real people of the island. So it was that my travel companion and I decided to venture over the wall and into…

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what to say (reprise)

The Best Advice So Far - what to say (reprise)

Back in the spring, I introduced you to my writer-friend Diana by way of a unique book review with a personal twist. (By the way, this four-book series, The Rose Shield, would make a perfect, no-fail gift for any choosy Fantasy readers you may know; and Diana’s also just released a beautifully illustrated children’s book, Grumpy Ana and the Grouchy Monsters, for the little readers on your list.)

Grump Ana and the Grouchy Monsters

Sally Cronin of Smorgasbord revived one of Diana’s previous posts entitled “Write and Change the World.” It was written nearly three years ago, before I came to know Diana. As I read it early this week for the first time, it felt current. It reminded me of important things. And I would have missed it, had Sally not seen the value in shining the spotlight on it again, these years later.

*****

A couple of days ago, I treated myself to a meal out. It’s second nature to me to ask the server’s name and give my own, and then to ask at least one others-centered question that has nothing to do with waiting ts.

Holly told me she was a Christmas baby … well, her due date was Christmas, but she’d been born on the 21st. My light non-server question was this: “What’s one thing you love to do in your life outside of work?” She smiled broadly and talked about spending time with her Long-Haired German Shepherd, including pictures of “her baby.”

You’d have thought I’d given her a $100 bill, the way she responded to that simple moment of exchanging names and showing even that little bit of interest in her as a person, outside of her role — of what she could do for me. She just kept shaking her head in wonder that anyone would think to do such a thing, thanking me at least three times thereafter when she came back to check on my table.

It struck me once again that what feels quite natural to me … isn’t, for many people.

This interaction with Holly, on the heels of having read Diana’s wonderful post from yesteryear, got me thinking. I’ve been blogging now for nearly seven years. When I first started, I was posting daily (how I ever managed it, I really can’t fathom); and yet that first few months was when my readership was new and quite small. In other words, most current visitors to my blog have never read those early posts, though they were the foundation upon which the entire blog since then has been built.

Add to this the slate gray sky and rain that has presided over the last few days, and waking mornings to find the car encrusted in frost, and my mind was made up.

This week, I’m [click below to continue reading this post]

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why we do: part three

The Best Advice So Far - why we do part three

I first came across the term “curse of knowledge” during my reading of Made To Stick by Chip and Dan Heath. (Incidentally, it seems the Heath brothers delivered on the promise implicit in this particular title, since a lot of what they covered in this book … well, stuck.)

curse of knowledge: a cognitive bias that inhibits communication

This definition seems ironic to me, since whoever wrote it apparently had a curse of knowledge going on.

Let me give it another go here.

curse of knowledge: when you know something so well or are so familiar with a topic, that you talk about it using words and terms that assume everyone else knows it equally well

For me, the curse of knowledge can slip in when I write in ways that assume all or most readers have read my book or followed my blog for a long time, and therefore understand fully what I mean by things like “You always have a choice”; or that they are already familiar with certain people I talk about, such as Dib or Chad. It even happens when I use terms like “the election” or “this holiday weekend,” forgetting that not all of my readers live in the United States.

It happens to all of us at some point, no matter how intentional we may be about clarity and inclusivity.

Well, one reader’s response to last week’s post caused me to suspect that perhaps a bit of the curse had crept in. You see, I’ve thought and written and talked so often about perceived gains over the years that it feels like everyone knows what I’m talking about. It occurred to me in the last week, however, that the meaning of the term is not necessarily self-evident.

In my first year blogging, I wrote quite a bit about perceived gains, including a series of posts called “why we do,” part one and part two. These were later combined and edited to form a chapter in my book, The Best Advice So Far. Today — more than six years later — I’m adding a part three, in hopes that I might “reverse the curse [of knowledge]” where perceived gains are concerned.

Here is the statement I made last week:

“Virtually everything we do in life is done for a perceived gain.”

At least one reader took this as…


puzzles

The Best Advice So Far - puzzles

Many of you know that I just returned from the longest vacation of my life — a full five weeks on Florida’s West Coast.

Prior to the trip, I began concocting plans for all I wanted to do, see and accomplish while away:

Get the audiobook up and available online.

Visit Captiva and Sanibel Islands.

Spot a wild dolphin.

Start writing my next book.

The list went on.

And I’m happy to say that most of my goals were achieved, including each of the above.

But among my aspirations was one that may seem strange to some:

Complete a difficult jigsaw puzzle.

When I was a child, and into my teen years, I always had a jigsaw puzzle going. And as far as I was concerned, the harder — the better.

I did an all-black puzzle with only a tiny pinhole of light at the center.

One was just bubbles.

I enjoyed the square variety where the same picture from the front was displayed again on the back, only rotated 90 degrees.

I did puzzles where the frame was irregular instead of having flat edges.

And though finding room was a challenge, I often did puzzles of 4000 or 5000 pieces.

Still, as big a part of my growing-up years as puzzles were, it struck me recently that I hadn’t done a single one since high school.

As crazy as it sounds, setting into that jigsaw puzzle — whatever it would be — was cause for just as much anticipation as watching a tropical sunset. I’d been given a Barnes & Noble gift card for Christmas and had tucked it away in a special place, just the occasion.

Within 24 hours of arrival in Florida, I’d chosen a first puzzle. I decided to ease my way into it with a puzzle of a mere 500 pieces: a colorful underwater scene featuring sea turtles. (After all, I did have other things I wanted to be doing on this vacation besides puzzling.)

Working on the puzzle, I was transported back those three decades. I often became aware that I was biting my…


i spy

The Best Advice So Far - i spy

 

My tank top clung to my skin with sweat. After temperatures that had topped 100° over the last several hours I’d been exploring, the air conditioning that wooshed out to greet me as I opened the metal and glass doors felt like an ice bath. I settled briefly onto a blue sofa, across from a young couple who had also just entered.

“See anything good?” I asked them.

The man rolled a shoulder. “Nah, nothing really. Just a couple of the usual lizards.”

I was mystified.

We’d each just emerged from an incredible Audubon-protected swamp sanctuary here in Southwest Florida, having traversed the same boardwalk that meandered through six different ecosystems. How had they seen “nothing” … when I’d seen so much?

Just a few paces in, I’d spotted a small alligator lounging along the far side of a murky pool.

Yes, I’d seen lizards, noting which were green anoles and which were brown. But I’d also seen black ones, trying to hide among the puzzle-like pattern of tree trunks covered in red and white lichens. There were skinks as well.

Great egrets sauntered among waist-high marsh grasses, one only perhaps a yard away, its slender neck undulating side to side then straightening regally.

I’d lingered in the shaded areas where possible, canopies of giant palm and ancient cypress overhead. At times, I just closed my eyes and listened. I wondered what creatures were making the slurping, splishing, crackling sounds in the water around me. Birds laughed raucously somewhere among the trees as sonorous grunts ping-ponged back and forth from among the tall grasses. Pig frogs, as it turns out.

There on a moss-covered log, motionless at first, was a fairly rare species of turtle, Deirochelys reticularia. After watching a while, however, I was rewarded with a full extension of his yellow-striped neck.

Another alligator, much larger than the first, blinked its eyes at me from among some reeds around a bend. I was patient and he was curious. Before long, he glided lazily over — so close I could have reached down and touched him — before continuing on his way into unseen spaces.

Just moments later, something caught my eye to the right…


double take

The Best Advice So Far - double take

Yesterday, already behind schedule for the morning, I emerged from the house to find my car completely covered … with caterpillar poop. My parking space is beneath a large maple tree inhabited, it would seem, by thousands of inchworms. And the tiny black pellets don’t just brush off. Oh no — they stick like tar.

Add to this the fact that it’s been overcast or raining for more than a week now. And last night’s downpour only made matters worse, turning the worm poop into a tenacious sludge that now also filled the rubber ravines around all of the door seals.

For weeks before this, the car was buried daily beneath a clogging downpour of yellow buds from the same maple.

I got in and maneuvered the muck-mobile closer to the hose then, using the highest pressure the nozzle afforded, I did my best to power wash the goop away.

Tick-tock. Tick-tock. This was all making me even later.

As I worked my way around the car, I noticed …