Tag Archives: humility

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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fear: two

The Best Advice So Far - fear two

The previous post wound up being a sort of flight of ideas on fear. I had no intention of taking it further than that when I hit “Publish” last week. But the theme of fear has continued to rear its … well … rather common head in the time since then. So it seems worthwhile to take another walk on the dark side.

*****

I wound up getting to the gym quite late last night — 4:15AM to be exact. (Yes, that was late, not early, considering my usual arrival is between midnight and 2:00.) As you might imagine, the place was pretty empty. Other than myself, there were only two people working out.

One of them was a woman. We were busy at opposite ends of the gym, but I noticed her. She was quite thin, perhaps in her mid to late fifties. Her gait was unsteady, hinting at a neuromuscular disease. And she was tearing the place up (in the best of ways). She moved non-stop between machines, taking only minimal breaks between sets before she was back at it.

By the time I moved that way to use the cables, she was on the mats doing bicycles (an ab workout) for durations that would make me cry. I thought about wandering over, introducing myself and telling her that she was putting me to shame. But she was wearing headphones; and so I kept my admiration to myself for the time being.

We both finished up about the same time. The sky was still black with just a hint of cobalt on the horizon as I headed out to the parking lot, only a few yards behind the woman. I walked a bit faster, thinking now might be a good time to introduce myself. Perhaps hearing my footsteps on the pavement, she cast a wide-eyed glance over her shoulder and then turned abruptly, quickening her own pace.

I decided to let the moment pass, heading for my car instead. By the time I got my things inside and was finally situated, the woman was in her own vehicle and slowly rounding the corner in front of me. Just then, she hit the Caution: Pedestrians crosswalk sign. There was a * thunk * as the plastic yellow tower tipped to the side and scraped along her rear fender before righting itself. She stopped, her face worried. She craned around backward but still couldn’t see what she’d hit.

I knew that getting out of the car and back in would be no mean feat for her. So I hopped out to tell her there was nothing to worry about, that there was no damage to the sign or her car. Our eyes met in her rearview mirror. Her brow furrowed more deeply, so I smiled and waved, moving toward the side of her car where she might be able to see me more clearly.

She gunned the gas, tires chirping, and hightailed it out of there.

As I stood there holding my good intentions, it felt odd to consider that anyone would see me as a threat — that I could ever strike fear into someone.

On the drive home, an interesting thought occurred to me…

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eating my words

The Best Advice So Far - eating my words

I was in a hurry. I had company coming any minute and realized that I was out of a few things. So I dashed out to the closest grocery store, had the car door open before I’d even turned off the ignition, and made a beeline for the entrance.

However, once I’d traversed the crosswalk and arrived at the outdoor gourd display, I was stopped short by an elderly couple who shuffled, a quarter-step at a time, toward the automatic door, which opened, then closed, then opened …

The man seemed to be the root of the hold-up. His back was hunched, his head stooped and shaking, as he leaned heavily on a quad cane in his left hand while his wife supported him on the other side. Once they’d gotten through the first door, they doddered a few more laborious steps and the woman headed right to retrieve a shopping cart — leaving her husband in just about the only spot that could have completely blocked the second door.

A backup was now forming, others patrons unable to circumvent the painfully slow couple to get inside.

I sighed in irritation, feeling a pressure build behind my eyes. Why now of all times? I need to get my things and get home.

The man was too close to the door — which continued to open, close, open, close — for his wife to get the carriage around him. She let go of it, assisted him in stepping sideways a few times, then pushed the cart through the door … where she left it to block the inside of the doorway while she returned once more to aid her husband.

I saw my opening. I quickly maneuvered behind and around the old man. Yet even on tiptoes and sucking in my breath, I wound up knocking his left elbow as I passed. I slipped to the front of them and through the doorway, where I moved the cart forward a few inches to scoot around it and on my way.

A minute later, somewhere toward the back of the produce section, I heard a voice…

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umbrella

The Best Advice So Far - umbrella

Singin’ in the Rain just may be my favorite movie of all time.

I watch the film at least once a year, and I reference lines or scenes from it often. It still gives me the same feeling it did the very first time I saw it. I laugh just as hard. My eyes still get wide at some of the dance numbers. And, of course, I sing along through the whole thing.

I dare you to watch it and not at least smile.

In Gene Kelly’s big number, his character, Don Lockwood, is feeling giddy with new love; and so, despite the torrential rain, he waves his driver on and walks home, using his umbrella as a dance prop rather than as any sort of protection. Soaked and smiling broadly as the scene ends, he hands his umbrella off to a shrug-shouldered and miserable-looking man passing the other direction.

Between gorgeous sunny streaks, we’ve also had our share of heavy rain here in Florida, where I’m spending the month of August. In fact, within my first 24 hours here, I was caught driving in the most blinding storm I can recall — the sky, road and crushing downpour all blending into one continuous sheet of gray.

And I hadn’t brought an umbrella.

Thing is, I could easily have bought one. But — call me crazy — I just figured, why bother? So I get a little wet. I’m getting wet in the ocean and pools and hot tubs anyway, right?

During one such storm, I ventured out to get a few things at the nearby grocery store. I hadn’t quite stopped dripping by the time I got in line at the register. Yet there in front of me, right in the store, an even bigger storm was brewing, lashing out at everyone nearby…


un-dumb frog

The Best Advice So Far - un-dumb frog

With age comes wisdom,
but sometimes age comes alone.
~ Oscar Wilde

As I start this post, there are just a few more hours left until my birthday.

Birthdays for me are still a time of celebration. They are also a time of reflection:

Where have I been?

What have I done?

Where am I going?

This time around the sun, I find myself thinking about the life advice that’s been passed along to me and that I have, in turn, passed along to others over the years. It’s an ongoing process. Sifting. Sorting. Testing. Honing. Much has been discarded. What I’ve kept has become all the more precious.

From books to broadcasts, seminars to sermons, political missives to posted memes — everyone seems to have “truer truth” than everyone else. I can’t help but wonder, amid the onslaught of voices, why anyone should be inclined to listen to mine. How’s anyone to know what to believe when it comes to advice?

What is factual — and what’s no more than loudly proclaimed opinion?

Somehow, all of these thoughts coalesced into a scene from my childhood. Or rather, I should say scenes from my childhood and adolescence; some tend to blur together on account of their repetitious nature.

There I am, sitting in a church pew. The side pieces are white, trimmed with dark-stained, ornate armrests. The back side of the pew in front of me is the same near-black wood, and at intervals along its length are matching outcrops that hold hymnals with gold foil lettering and faded maroon covers made of cloth that makes a zzzip! sound when I run my fingernails lightly over them.

Oscillating block chords emanate from the organ, reverberating from high ceilings, only to be pulled back down into the pits of stomachs by the weight of pulsing bass tones played on long, black foot pedals.

As the last echoes retreat, a suited man with slick hair solemnly ascends crimson-carpeted stairs and stands before a ponderous, stark white pulpit that matches the end-caps on the pews. As hymnals thud back into their places, the pastor’s eyes dart to parishioners, cowing any last whisperers into awkward silence, until he is sure he has everyone’s full attention.

His speech is slow, measured, punctuated with pregnant pauses. Authoritative. He knows what others do not — could not — know, mysteries that the masses would have no hope of understanding unless by his impartation.

He begins with an object lesson, as a principal might to abashed school children who had played hooky. He tells us that a frog placed into boiling water will jump out; but a frog placed into a pot of cool water that is heated slowly, degree by degree, will sit motionless, unaware, until the water reaches a boil and…


superstition

The Best Advice So Far - superstition

It was Thursday, well past the witching hour. I was on my way to the gym, the silent back roads lit only by the cold white light of an occasional street lamp. As I approached an intersection, something darker than the surrounding night dashed out from the woods in front of my car, stopping just long enough to fix bright green eyes on me before continuing into the thick brush on the other side.

A black cat.

And it had crossed my path.

Of course, being a rational person, this didn’t cause me to turn back the way I’d come and find an alternate route. Yet I was clearly still aware of the superstition associated with the incident. And it occurred to me that this awareness did have a subtle effect on my emotions. I drove onward as I normally would have; but some part of me felt I was doing so despite the superstition. And that would seem to indicate that the superstition had credence, if only in a residual way.

In other words, it seems to me that we don’t do things despite other things, unless those other things are perceived to hold some power or sway.

We wouldn’t say, “We had the picnic despite the forecast” — unless we perceived that the forecast had at least the potential to disrupt our plans.

Back to the example of the black cat crossing our path, it’s almost as if some small part of us feels we’ve accepted a dare, and that by crossing that path, we’re somehow giving the proverbial finger to the universe, proving we’re not one to be controlled by such nonsense.

No one could deny that we don’t have the same reaction when, say, a squirrel or turkey crosses our path. It wouldn’t even occur to us to think such a thing. Why? Because, well … we really don’t believe squirrels or turkeys crossing our path makes a lick of difference.

I guess what I’m saying is that all of us are affected to some degree — maybe even more than we might be aware — by …


creative love

The Best Advice So Far - creative love

Due to an unexpected turn of events this week (a stolen wallet, fraudulent charges to my bank card and all that goes along with getting your life back to normal afterward — a topic about which I may write in more detail at a later time), I’m still not quite over the finish line where the audiobook release of The Best Advice So Far is concerned.

In the meantime, I thought I’d share one more audio chapter — Chapter 14: “Creative Love.”

This chapter has remained one of the most popular and most talked about chapters of the book. What’s more, the chapter combines memories from 4th-of-July celebrations both recent and long past. So in honor of Independence Day, Tuesday here in the U.S., I thought sharing this chapter would be apropros.

Click the link below to continue at the new site and listen to the official audiobook recording of Chapter 14: “Creative Love” (the full chapter text is there as well, if you’d like to follow along) …