Tag Archives: patience

if i can do it today

if i can do it today - The Best Advice So Far - Barrel of Monkeys monkeys forming a chain across a blue sky

I was a skinny kid with a big butt.

Just calling it like it is.

By skinny, I mean that I’ve been five-foot-nine since eight grade—haven’t grown an inch—and yet, when I graduated high school, I had a 26-inch waist and weighed 105 lbs.

Alas, a disproportionate amount of that sleight weight was carried in the caboose.

For a too-long stretch growing up, I ripped the tags off all my pants, picking the threads apart stitch by stitch with my teeth if need be, just to get rid of the blasted thing. Why, you ask? Well, regular clothes never fit me. And we didn’t have money for alterations. So my mother wound up getting me a “special” brand of “slacks” that, to my recollection, seemed to only make wide-wale corduroys in burnt orange or puce green. But the tag and slogan were the real kick in the pants:

 

HIMALAYAS

For Full-Seated Boys

 

Feel free to cringe aloud as a show of solidarity at the awkwardness and indignity of it all.

(And doesn’t it just figure that burnt orange wide-wale cords are now considered fashionable, all these years later?)

In the 80’s, I discovered the magical properties of mouse and a hair dryer. So at least my hair was big enough to balance out top and bottom.

Still, the voluminous do did nothing to stem the comments and “nicknames” people attributed to me on account of my backside. Basketball Buns. Rhino Rear. Or the more straightforward Big Butt.

The nicest thing anyone ever said to me about it was “Don’t worry about your big butt. Everyone likes them in New York.”

Alas, the closest I would come to New York for many years was driving through on my way to college—where the coach for my freshman gym class wouldn’t allow me to do the one-mile timed run, because my body fat percentage was less than 3% and he feared a law suit.

Bobby was one of my early college roommates. Bobby had a feathered mullet like Don Johnson. He was also the first person I’d ever met who was a serious “weight lifter.” I remember lying on my bunk one day when Bobby came back from the gym. He peeled off his string tank top and started “making muscles” in the mirror.

Turn. Flex. Make tough face. Shrug. Turn. Flex.

I liked Bobby, but this peacocking irked me. (In retrospect, I wonder if it was mostly due to the fact that I was the skinny big-butted kid and he was the movie star.) Rather than scoff, I simply asked him about it. “Hey, Bobby, I’ve seen guys flex at themselves mirrors before but never known any of them well enough to ask why. So… why?”

I’ll never forget Bobby’s response. He didn’t stop his flexing. He didn’t seem the least bit irritated, just took it in stride. “Well,” he said matter-of-factly, “you write music and compose it on your keyboard, right?”

“Right…”

“And I’ve seen you work and work on a song that sounds fine to me. But you keep tweaking it. Listening to it again. Changing this one note or volume or sound or drum hit. Because it’s your song and so you know it best. You know what you want it to sound like in every detail. Well, my body and muscles are my song. I might look fine to you. But I know what I’m looking for, whether everything is even or not, proportioned, weird looking or whatever. So I’m ‘listening’ to my body in the mirror and then I know what needs fixing when I ‘compose’ my workouts.”

It was one of the first times I remember being aware that I’d judged someone unfairly. Bobby was no “dumb jock.” He knew what he was doing and expressed it eloquently.

In fact, the way he answered that question caused me to follow up with, “Would you mind if I… went to the gym with you sometime and tried it out?”

And so, at the age of 18, I swallowed my pride and shuffled my skinny-big-butt self behind Bobby into a gym full of clanging metal and grunting and sweaty socks smell and people I wanted to be. And I picked up a dumbbell and put it down again.

Bobby was unbelievably patient with me. A good teacher. Protective even. He introduced me to people I never would have thought were like me at all. And I made many friends who all seemed to make it their personal project to get the big-butt beginner buff.

I went irregularly at first, but I stuck with it. And by the time I graduated two-and-some years later, I thought I’d really arrived when I tipped the scale at…

… 112 lbs soaking wet.

But it was a different 112 lbs somehow. My butt didn’t look quite so much like the Himalayas in context of the rest of me.

I was sold. And ever since, I’ve continued to hit the gym, pick stuff up and put it down. It’s more than a hobby; it’s a way of life. And while I still haven’t grown an inch in height, I’m now generally in a weight range considered “borderline obese” on the BMI chart, even though my body fat is still quite low.

Yay, me.

Before I lose anyone who isn’t a gym-goer, this post isn’t about working out. I use that only as an example.

There are things each of us enjoys doing, things we’ve worked hard at, invested time in, grown to love and depend on.

For me, in addition to working out, I’ve studied languages for a lifetime.

I’ve played the piano, sung, composed music and recorded original songs.

I’ve mentored hundreds of teens and young people.

I write (obviously).

Your “thing” might be gardening. Or painting. Or dance.

Playing chess. Jogging. Surfing.

I’m talking about pursuits that take time. Skill. Endurance. Dedication. Brain space.

Things we get good at. Take pride in. Things we become known for.

Maybe even things that have become integral to our identity, a core part of who we perceive ourselves to be.

Are you with me now?

Keep your “thing” in mind as you continue…

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The Best Advice So Far - traffic

You’re a contestant on an episode of Family Feud. You’re starting the round, facing off against your opponent, your palm hovering tensely above the buzzer. The host presents the next challenge:

“One hundred people surveyed, top five answers on the board … Name something that causes people to feel angry of impatient.”

:: BZZZT! ::

What’d you guess?

I have a strong suspicion as to the Number 1 answer on the board.

Despite the host of major issues happening across the globe at any given time, it seems few things in life routinely get people worked up quite like traffic.

In fact, this is so much the case that I wonder if we’ve conditioned ourselves at this point to start seeing red once the brake lights ahead of us get to glowing.

Likewise, in becoming comfortable with viewing frustration on the road as “normal,” we justify the bad behavior that so frequently accompanies it.

I’ve seen some of the most mild-mannered people I know get Manson eyes (Charles or Marilyn; both apply) in traffic…

Charles Manson and Marilyn Manson

…hands flying off the wheel in all sorts of interesting gestures as they [yell / screech / curse] at all the other people who dare use the same roadway and make “me” to have to sit in this @*$#! mess.

Which reminds 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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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…


golden ticket

The Best Advice So Far - golden ticket

I’ve got a golden ticket
I’ve got a golden chance to make my way
And with a golden ticket, it’s a golden day …

OK, so the ticket wasn’t golden. It was orange.

And it wasn’t a free ride to the Chocolate Factory. It was a $40 ride to the poorhouse.

I drove up to Boston recently, to take part in a celebration dinner for a graduating class of opticians I’d taught as a guest lecturer back in the fall.

Driving in the city doesn’t bother me in the least. It’s the parking that gets me. I’d only ever been to the location with my best friend, Dib, who drove each time. And even with her knowledge of the area, parking had never been easy. So I’d set out two hours before the event, to give myself more than adequate time to find street parking or a nearby garage.

To my surprise, I found an open spot by a meter, not even a block from the school.

The digital message on the meter informed me that operational hours were 6:00AM to 6:00PM. It was 6:05. Kismet!

Still, ever the conscientious sort, I inquired of a passerby who said he lived in the area. “This meter says it’s only operational until 6:00. Is there any reason you can think of that I shouldn’t park here?” The man assured me that I was good to go.

However, when I returned to the car after the event, there it was: the bright orange ticket, placed under a wiper.

I was aware of my pulse rising, feeling it in my throat, just under my Adam’s apple. I unfolded the citation: Resident Parking Only. $40.

Resident Parking Only? With furrowed brow, I looked both ways along the sidewalk. Nothing to the rear. Ahead, perhaps 30 feet or so, was the metallic back of some kind of sign. I walked to it and read the other side: Metered parking 6:00AM – 6:00PM. Resident Parking Only 6:00PM – 6:00AM.

I’d done my due diligence. I’d even asked a resident. How could I have guessed that a back-to sign way up the sidewalk applied to a metered area … or that the metered parking became resident parking after a certain hour?

Here, I faced a choice …


the grumbles: part 2

The Best Advice So Far: the grumbles part 1 - many purple sad-face balls

Today’s post is a continuation of last week’s discussion on complaining.

If you’re coming in late to the game, I highly recommend reading the previous post first, since it lays some groundwork about what constitutes complaining and what does not. However, I’ll sum up the gist of it.

My friend Chad shared something with me that had resonated with him recently:

“Complaining is a waste of time
unless you’re telling someone
who can do something about it.”
 

And that got me thinking. It occurred to me that not only does this statement warrant some self-reflection, it also allows us to redefine terms this way:

Complaining: sharing negative information, thoughts or emotions with someone who cannot do anything about the situation

I’m a firm believer that virtually everything we do in life is done because of some perceived gain. In other words, there are reasons behind most of what we do. This says nothing of the existence of ideas like altruism, which would simply be doing something based on a perceived gain for another person. My point is that we tend to believe “If I do this, then that should happen — or at least there’s a high enough likelihood to make it worth my while.”

Quid pro quo.

The problem with perceived gains, however … is that “perceived” part. You see, perception offers no guarantee of aligning itself with reality. Yet, since most of our perceived gain system becomes automatic, even subconscious, we lose track of asking ourselves, “Is what I’m doing here actually working?”

The Best Advice So Far: Complaining is a waste of time unless you're telling someone who can do something about it.

With these ideas as a springboard, let’s take a closer look at why we complain. Then, for those who are suspecting that complaining isn’t getting us where we had hoped it might — and in keeping with the theme of The Best Advice So Far, that “You always have a choice” — I’ll offer some thoughts about breaking free of the “grumbles” and trading them for greater overall peace and happiness.

Before you even continue reading, however, I want to pose a challenge …

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