Tag Archives: judging

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 …

beauty … or the beast

The Best Advice So Far - Beauty ... or the Beast - Belle and Beast dancing

At the ripe old age of 87, my Nana (now nearly 93), did something she’d never done before in her adult life.

She danced.


Recently, I saw the new live-action film version of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (OK, fine, maybe I’ve seen it twice already). And I’m finding my brain churning on several practical considerations posed by what many may have viewed as pure fantasy. So rather than wrestle my thoughts and forcing a post about something else, I figured I’d go with the flow and share one of those personal ponderings prompted by the movie (did you enjoy that alliteration?) …

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 - 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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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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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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impossible - Escher stairway - The Best Advice So Far

For those of you who don’t yet know, I’ve moved. As in just moved – last weekend. (In fact, that is why there was no post last Friday.)

There is an awful lot I could tell you about the months-long process of apartment hunting, the really cool circumstances that finally led me to “The Place,” and the move itself (involving 60+ hours of, at times, grueling exertion which left me bruised, cut and hobbled). However, today, I want to focus on just one aspect of it all – moving the piano.

Some of you may not know that, in addition to being a writer, I’m also a pianist, vocalist, songwriter and composer. So my piano is near and dear to me. In fact, I own the same piano I began playing on at the age of three – back when my feet didn’t even reach the “buttons” down there as I sat plucking out the tune to Sesame Street by ear.

Being an older piano, it is not your typical spinet. It’s solid with an iron frame and weighs over 700 lbs. In short, it’s a beast. It’s such a beast, in fact, that it is the primary reason I stayed for 20 years in a previous third-floor apartment that I had wanted to move from about 15 years before I did. You see, every time the lease came around, I’d think I just can’t take it here anymore. But then I’d look at that piano, remember the four hours and five guys it took to get it up to that third-floor apartment, shudder … and I’d wimp out and sign for “one more year.”

Finally, last year, I just bit the bullet and made the decision. Again, it took four jacked guys; but this time, to my surprise, it only took about an hour. It turns out I’d forgotten that I was basically a boy when I first moved it, as were my friends, all of whom weighed not more than 120 lbs each. So after 20 years of working out, my now-friends and I had some more meat on us (however much we groaned and grunted and sweat all the same). Still, I was glad to have it in place, certain I would not be moving again for a good long time from this new apartment, which I loved.

That was until I found out this July, barely a year after having moved in, that the landlords had decided to sell. Which meant – yessireebob – I needed to move again. And that meant that the darned piano had to be moved again, as well.


Again, I’m going to leave out the details of any other part of the move and just tell you the sequence of events involving the piano. But in order for you to understand what follows, it is important to understand that, barring the few pieces of furniture which I could not physically pick up myself, the entire rest of the move was to be done by my hands and in my car alone. A truly daunting task!

As the final moving date loomed, the thought of moving that piano hung like the sword of Damocles over my head. Even with all my practice at staying in the moment and dismissing worry, my muscles still hadn’t quite had time to forget the ordeal of just last year where moving the piano had been concerned.

Well, I “started from where I was, not from where I wish I were,” (see Chapter 4 of The Best Advice So Far) and began to arrange for the most physically able (i.e., jacked) mentees from the past to converge on my place last Saturday. I made no promises that it would be fun. I basically just threw myself on their mercy.

All right, fine. I begged.

The mom of another kid I work with offered the use of her flatbed truck that day. However, yet another astute young man I work with, Evan, asked, “Once you get it down the stairs to the parking lot, how will you lift it high enough to get into the flatbed truck? They don’t usually have ramps.” Of course, he was right. “Well, he continued, I’m sure my dad will let us use his heavy-duty hydraulic lift that our company uses to get super-heavy aquariums into places. I’ll ask him.”

And so, thanks to the generosity of many people, it seemed that all was as set as it could be for the big stuff to get from Point A to Point B come Saturday.

(I know. Blah-blah-blah. Who cares about the details of my move. But stick with me. This is where it gets crazy.)

The next morning, Evan’s dad, Ed, texted me:

Hey, Erik. Ev says you’re moving and would like to borrow the hydraulic jack to move your piano. But please let me just have my guys at Titan Moving come and do it for you. They’re great and I’d love to help.

I don’t know if you can imagine how it felt to read this. But I will tell you that I immediately felt the stinging pressure of tears welling. What an enormous weight off my chest (and arms, and shoulders, and legs, and back, and butt … and mind)!

Ed’s text continued:

Just call Rebecca at Titan and let them know a time that works for all of you, and they’ll be out to do it for you.

Well, let me just tell you, I hopped on the phone lickety-split and gave my new friend Rebecca a call!

Rebecca asked a few questions about where the piano was and where it was going, as well as what day and time would work for me. Then she asked about the piano itself. I gave her the dimensions, but was careful to be sure she understood just how heavy this thing was:

“Rebecca, this piano is not your average upright. It’s older and it’s extremely heavy.”

“OK,” Rebecca replied casually, “You’re all set. We’ll have the guys out Friday morning between 9:00 and 11:00.”

Now Rebecca seemed very pleasant, well-meaning and efficient. But she did not seem to have grasped the importance of what I’d just told her about the weight of the piano. It was a little awkward, because this whole piano moving thing was a generous gift; yet at the same time, I didn’t want an insufficient crew to come out, realize it was too heavy and either lose time on other calls by having to wait for more help to arrive or, worse yet, not be able to move the piano at all, when my final move-out date was just the next day. So I bit the side of my lip and interjected:

“Before you go, Rebecca …”

“Yes?” she replied.

“Just to be sure … how many guys do you think you’ll be sending out to move this on Friday?”

“Well, we usually send two for jobs like this,” she said.

Oh, boy, I though. She doesn’t get it.

“Um … I’m sure you know what you’re doing [I wasn’t in the least bit sure], but … when I say that this piano is extremely heavy, I mean it’s really heavy. Maybe 750 lbs. It’s got an iron frame inside and it took four guys who can each bench 300 lbs or better to get it out of the old place and into here, and that was a stretch. Even if your two guys are the size of defensive tackles, I think they’ll have a tough time with just two of them.”

Rebecca paused a beat, then responded, “Well, again, we do usually just send two. I’m sure it will be fine.”

I sighed silently to myself. But what could I do? Again, this was an unbelievable gift I’d been given! So I just politely thanked her, told her how excited I was that someone else would be taking care of this for me, and said goodbye.

Come Friday morning, the two Titan guys showed up. The first appeared to be in his mid-fifties. His name was Chuck. As Chuck surveyed the situation, I asked him, “How does your back handle moves like this all day every day?” Honestly, I felt like apologizing. Chuck hefted one end of the piano himself to test its weight. He whistled, “Wow, that is heavy.”

As I had figured, it was impossible for any two people to move this thing! I grimaced in sympathy and weakly asserted that I had tried my best to let Rebecca know on the phone just how heavy it was.

Soon after, Rob – a shorter, younger guy, but by no means a football player – emerged around a corner with blankets and straps. He threw the blanket over the piano like a tarp and started to fasten it on with the straps. It was as if they were just ignoring the 15 stairs they’d had to come up in order to get into my apartment. I mean, it was conceivable to me that they might get the piano onto the deck outside – but not down those stairs! I was afraid for them to try and, to be honest, afraid of the damage I already knew was imminent, when my piano went crashing down to the bottom of those stairs. I’m telling you the truth here – somewhere in those few moments, I mentally said goodbye to my childhood friend, the instrument I’d first played and had owned my whole life.

Chuck and Rob managed to shuffle the piano the few feet out onto the second-floor deck without incident. Then they left it and trotted down the steps and around the side of the house.

Well, I was glad they weren’t foolish enough to attempt the descent themselves. They’d gone to call for back-up help. I felt kind of bad for Rebecca, because she’d likely be the one to get the call and have to hustle to get more guys to make the hour-or-so-long trip down from Malden – all the while knowing that she hadn’t given credence to my warnings.

Only Chuck and Rob hadn’t left to call for help.

Into my back lot, Chuck maneuvered a mammoth vehicle sporting a giant crane with a wrecking-ball looking gadget hanging from one end. Rob hopped two steps at a time back up to the piano, deftly tied knots of this type and that and produced ends with sturdy metal clasps, which he bundled together. Meanwhile, Chuck was at the vehicle working a panel of some sort. Two huge mechanical appendages emerged from the truck bed, like something from a space pod landing on the moon. Fiddle, fiddle with the panel. Soon, the behemoth extend-o-arm swung over and up, telescoping outward the whole time, until the wrecking ball and hook were inches above Rob’s waiting clasps. ::clank, clank:: It was attached. And up, Up, UP went my piano, over the edge of the deck railing, swinging far overhead, until it was slowly lowered into place within a cage-like enclosure on the back of the truck.

I laughed. Yes, out loud. My cheeks hurt from the grin, like a kid seeing low-flying aircraft for the first time. And my face flushed.

What a know-it-all idiot I’d been.

But …

They were going to have to get that thing up the 15 steps into the new apartment.

You see, the new place is the upstairs of an old farmhouse, and so the windows are smaller than normal. And the only other way in was a fire door, off of which a very small porch and staircase had been built. The porch is no more than two feet wide from door to railing; and the steps are definitely steep and made for one person in an emergency – not two people and a massive piano! So, while Chuck and Rob had amazed me at Phase 1, there was just no way around it: they’d have to go up the front stairs at the new place.

I’d asked the owner if we could remove the railing in the stairwell if necessary, in order to get the piano in, and she had said that was fine. So, worst-case scenario, it’d be slow going and I’d have to help. Sure, I’d hoped not to have to be involved. But half the work was done. So things were a far cry better than they could have been. I wanted to focus on that silver lining and remain positive about it all.

Chuck and Rob followed me over to the new place and parked a ways before the property, roadside. I assessed the situation aloud once more to Chuck and Rob, pointing out that, as I’d explained, the piano would not be able to go up the fire stairs. Aside from the staircase not being meant to bear that kind of weight, the entire affair was blocked by a tall and sprawling tree. And other large trees blocked access by crane from any other angle. This is all not to mention the telephone poles and wires that would not allow the flat-bad vehicle to access the yard at all.  I apologized to Chuck and Rob about having to use the stairwell this time, but there was just no other way. It was truly impossible.

Chuck and Rob followed me to the front stairwell, agreeing how fortunate it was that the owner had agreed to the removal of the handrail if necessary. Then they conferred in the yard for a few moments. Chuck walked off toward the parked truck, presumably to get it as close as possible to the house. Meanwhile, Rob told me about his numerous back injuries in other jobs. I wondered that he was still in a lifting job like this!

Chuck pulled past the house and away he went down the road in the other direction. Hmmm …

A minute or so later, Chuck returned on the other side of the road, across the street from the house. Rob moved into the roadway to slow traffic, while Chuck pulled the truck up on the traffic-facing side of the road, slowly yet surely, until the nose end of the thing was mere inches from a telephone pole. The telescoping arm seemed to be no more than a foot yard-side under those overhead wires, and the wrecking-ball end was brushed up against the outstretched upper branches of the trees closest to the street.

Down came the arm. Under that branch. Up and around. Weaving inch by inch through the intertwined branches of that three and the next. Zig. Zag. Up, up, up. Not a branch broke.

As the angle of the arm increased, it brushed right up against the power lines, which stretched like the a bowstring under an archer’s pull.

Rob was already prepping the piano, removing knots, retying them in other places. The ball and hook from the robot arm slowly descended to the left of the truck and piano, too far away! Oh no! But Chuck hopped out of the control booth and onto the platform, where Rob handed him the hook. Soon the piano was attached to the slack and sagging wire.

The wire retracted. Rob guided the edge of the piano to the edge of the truck and, at the last moment, the tension pulled the piano up off the truck bed – hanging at a 45-degree angle! After all of this, I thought, my heart in my throat, my piano is doomed anyway!

But up and up and up the piano went at that wonky angle. I literally held my breath as my piano dangled there. Up and over the roof of the house it went, and then down the side.

Rob and I moved inside the apartment and out onto the tiny porch. I held a cellphone on speaker up near Rob’s head as he called out commands to an unseen Chuck who was operating the boom. I won’t even pretend to reproduce a simulation of those commands. But down the piano came, a foot, over a foot, back six inches, down some more. Rob grabbed a hold, continuing to give directions. And that wonky angle I mentioned … turned out to be exactly the right angle to get the piano over the railing, through the door, and, guided by Rob’s steady hand, landed (gently even!) on the floor of my parlor.

Chuck and Rob had done “the impossible.”

Let me repeat: I was an idiot. A chagrined but happy idiot.

I had been completely sure that my assessment and knowledge of the situation was accurate and comprehensive. I mean, I owned the piano. I knew all about it. And the way I’d always moved it was correct. It was as heavy as I’d said. The four guys who moved it in last year are as strong as I said we are. My measurements were spot on.

But I was still wrong.

And I actually love that I was wrong! Not only did I get to witness the thrilling spectacle of two guys making the impossible happen with ease, it reminded me of something very important – something which I myself make a point of reiterating to others through my writing, speaking and mentoring (yet which, in this instance, I’d forgotten somehow):

The “impossible” is most often quite possible given belief, tenacity and the right perspective.

Best Advice So Far: The impossible is most often quite possible given belief, tenacity and the right perspective.

What situations in your own life seem impossible right now? Are you willing to be open and believe that, perhaps, they are not so impossible after all? How might you invite new perspective into those situations? Who else in your life could you humble yourself enough to ask if they might take a second (or third, or fourth, or fiftieth) look with you?

I’ll leave you with a few really fun quotes that inspire me, the last of which was passed on to me recently by my trusty friend Chad (who is often that “new perspective” voice in my life):

“Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” ~Lewis Carroll (the Queen, to Alice)

Best Advice So Far: "Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."

“It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.” ~Walt Disney

Best Advice So Far: "It's kind of fun to do the impossible."

“Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t.” ~Bill Nye (The Science Guy)

Best Advice So Far: "Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don't."

A HUGE thank-you to Ed Warman of Aqua Vision; Rebecca, Chuck and Rob from Titan; Jody and Elena Zeuli; Evan Warman, Matt Shrago and Dom Shea. You guys rock!

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The Best Advice So Far is about choice. Filled with wit, humor and poignantly real stories, The Best Advice So Far shares collective wisdom through a new lens, as well as practical application for living like it matters (because it does).


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