Tag Archives: curiosity

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 …


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 …


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 …