Tag Archives: labels

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

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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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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hope floats

hope floats - cruise ship at sunset

For those avid readers of The Best Advice So Far: the blog, you’ll have noticed that there was no Friday post last week. This is because I was out to sea, unplugged from WiFi and Internet access, as I headed out from Miami to the Bahamas as part of my younger brother’s wedding celebration.

As a side note, I should tell you that, as much as I enjoy digital connection and writing, the break did my soul good. You should give it a whirl sometime. However, my focus in this post will not be on making room for silence in your life or how important it is not to let technology interfere with our human interactions. Those are both important topics. But today, I want to let you in on an intriguing human phenomenon I witnessed during this oceanic excursion.

We arrived in Miami on a Saturday evening. My sister-in-law-to-be picked us up at the airport, where we promptly got lost in construction and confusing signage, turning a 7-minute ride to the hotel into nearly an hour-long “adventure.”

The hotel was a tall gray building, standing out above the downtown Miami skyline. There was some kind of circus in town, as well as a concert by a major artist and a prominent bike race. It was mayhem. There was no parking at the hotel, even though it had been paid for.

Once we checked in, our small traveling group was tired and hungry (they didn’t even have little bags of pretzels or nuts on our flight). But feeling frazzled, most of them didn’t feel like hunting down a restaurant; so they just made their way down the block the multi-level grocery store and decided on grab-and-go “meals” they would eat back in their rooms.

Some of the wedding party had already arrived and were out and about. Others had to be picked up in shifts as they arrived mere hours apart back at the airport.

I myself wasn’t particularly fazed by all of this. I enjoyed the change of scenery and multicultural population of Miami. But in addition to interacting with strangers on a regular basis, I’m also an observer. And what I noticed was that people seemed very guarded. The streets were crowded with people, but even huddled at crosswalks, elbow to elbow, people went to great lengths not to look one another in the eye or greet each other – not even with a silent nod or smile.

Some of my party hid for the rest of the evening in their rooms, exclaiming that they’d been “stared down” by the “sketchy” and “scary” people on the streets. Constant stern reminders were doled out regarding keeping money and valuables in your room (hidden well, because “these people will steal it right from your room”).

The next day, Sunday, I made plans to meet up with an author-friend I’d connected with online. As I waited for him to pick me up, I was chided curbside by a relative stranger who sucked his teeth and questioned my judgment and warned me about “these people down here,” expressing in ominous tones, and with much wagging of head, that I’d likely be kidnapped or chopped into little pieces and hid in a dumpster, and just what did I think I was doing?

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sentimental

sentimental - moss covered trees during a sunny day rainshower

My last three posts were written from the table in a beautiful vacation home in Naples, Florida, where I spent three spectacular and soul-refreshing weeks around my birthday. Though I was there by myself, I never felt lonely. And anytime I wanted, I could wander outside “the palace” into the wide world and create alternate realities at will.

The night before my flight to Florida, I had gone out and bought one of those giant pill organizers for people who have to take meds four times per day. It had 28 little snap compartments, all of which I clicked open once I got home. I grabbed my thyroid medication and systematically plinked out two pills per compartment for 23 of the 28 compartments. Then I grabbed a handful of my daily multivitamin and added those, one by one … plunk, plunk, plunk. Next was my Super B-Complex, then the supplemental Zinc, D3, and on it went. It took a long time, but I got into the rhythm of it and didn’t mind in the least.

When I was done, I called my best friend: “Wow! I’m looking at all the pills I’ll have to take while I’m away,” I chimed. “I’m going to be gone for a nice long time!” We both snorted with sudden laughter at my unlikely “hourglass” and how fitting a marker it was of yet another birthday around the corner. I mean, when you start merrily marking the length of a vacation in pills, let’s face it – you’re old.

I remarked many times while away that a week seemed like a month, in the best of ways. But at some point during my time away, as I wandered into the kitchen to grab a tangy lime pop, I happened to peek down through the clear multi-color lids of the pill organizer and noticed that more were empty than full. It’s silly, but this was significant to me.

Then there was the day I could definitively count the number of filled compartments at a glance. Suddenly, there was a catch in my throat, and a prickly pressure built at the front of my eyes. It’s almost over.

That was the day I began writing “i am here,” which I posted last Friday. The time had come to put into practice those strategies I go to in order to stay fully present, to enjoy this moment and not let thoughts of future or past moments rob me of it. And I’m pleased to report that it did the trick. (You should give it a try, because it really does work.)

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