Tag Archives: peace

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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candy canes

The Best Advice So Far - candy canes

I finally got my tree this week.

The front lot at Hanson’s Farm up the road glistened with new-fallen snow. They had fewer than a dozen trees left, having started with nearly two hundred just three weeks ago. This actually worked in my favor, given my longstanding tradition of choosing the Charlie-Browniest tree I can find — the one least likely to be picked due to some flaw or other.

Some I had to rule out on account of their being too tall or too fat to fit in the space, nestled between a window, the bookshelf and the low pitched ceiling in that corner of my second-story farmhouse living room.

Yet even with the further reduced selection, they all seemed perfect. Too perfect.

I gave them a second looking over and then a third, before deciding on the only one that appeared to have any gap at all in the branches — a little Fraser fir.

The owner, a kind-faced farmer with weathered skin and calloused hands, sold me the tree for just twenty dollars, including trimming the trunk by half an inch and settling my purchase into the trunk of my car.

It started to snow again on the drive home — that kind of gentle snow that looks like tiny perfect circles and falls straight down.

Once home again, I hoisted the tree onto one shoulder and edged my way up the narrow, steep stairs, seemingly without losing a single needle. As I settled the base of the tree into the heavy cast-iron stand, I noticed that the trunk was actually bent. I’d have to work a bit to get it to stay upright. I smiled. I’d chosen the right tree after all.

Lying on my back, branches outspread above me, I steadied the tree with one hand while turning the three keys bit by bit.

Check.

Tighten this one three times.

Check.

Loosen that one twice.

As I worked, my face mere inches from the stand, something rather magical happened. So cold was the tree still that, though the room was plenty warm and cozy, I could see my frosty breath.

At last, the tree was standing plumb.

I gave the frigid tree a day for its branches to settle. And by the next morning, the house was already permeated with the rich scent of evergreen. All of the water I’d poured just the night before was gone, having slaked the thirsty tree, and so I added more.

It was time to string the lights.

My lights are white, never the colored variety. No LEDs. No blinking. No fading. Just the old-fashioned, steady white bulbs — the kind where the whole strand goes out if one of them fizzles.

It’s very important that the lights wind deep inside the tree as well as to the tips of branches, as opposed to simply wrapping them round and round the outside. It gives the tree depth. And as much as possible, wires should be strategically hidden, since they break the magical effect.

Once the lights were in place — with just the right number remaining to weave into the wicker star on top — I gave myself an evening to enjoy the tree in that simple state.

Friday night, serenaded by Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters, I decorated the tree with ornaments spanning a lifetime.

A set of six intricately painted Fabergé-style eggs, unpacked from their rectangular, satin-lined case.

Cookie-cutter shapes — a holly leaf, a stocking, a gingerbread man and others — each made by hand with nothing but applesauce and generous amounts of cinnamon, and smelling exactly as you might expect them to.

Classic glass bulbs, their crackled gold paint casting multiple reflections.

And, of course, the candy canes.

Actually, the candy canes are the first to adorn the tree. There are only five left from the set of twelve that first decorated the tiny tree in my dorm room during my freshman year of college.

That makes them exactly three decades old this year.

And, yes — they are real candy canes.

When Chad was still in high school, I had a group of his peers over around Christmas time. The crowd was bigger than anticipated, so I ran out quickly to grab some more food. When I returned, Chad told me, a look of comical disgust on his face, “I think something’s wrong with your candy canes. I ate one of them. It tasted gross and…[click the button below to continue reading this post at the main site]

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traffic

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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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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fear

The Best Advice So Far - fear

Today, if I’m being honest, I’m not exactly sure where I’m headed with things.

I’m starting with a broad topic: fear. But beyond that, it’s all vague notions at this point, shifting shadows on the walls. Or maybe it is clear notions — just too many of them.

All I can do is invite you to buckle your safety belt, place your seat backs and trays in the upright position and enjoy the ride, trusting that this flight will eventually land.

*****

Wednesday of last week, I was out at a local snack shack with one of the kids I mentor — a young lady I’ll call Hailey. Other than us, there were only six other customers in the place. One elderly couple sat at a small table not far away, chatting quietly. A group of four teens huddled near the counter, placing their orders.

If you’d been there, you would likely have thought the place was “dead.” Hailey, however, looked panicked. Her shoulders were hunched, body rigid, as wary eyes darted back and forth between the other patrons. I could hear her tense breaths going in and out.

When one of the young guys wandered in our direction to grab a straw from a nearby dispenser, Hailey cringed away as if he were wearing a black ski mask and brandishing a weapon at her. “I don’t like this,” she murmured in a ragged whisper, her lips pale and barely moving. She swallowed hard. “I really don’t like this.”

In that moment, Hailey was experiencing intense fear.

Until recently, Hailey had always met me at my house for our sessions. When we first started five years ago, fear engulfed her. She barely spoke, answering me with gestures where possible; and when words were absolutely required, her voice was so timid that I had to lean in to hear her, even though we sat a mere two feet apart on the same couch.

We took baby steps.

I had her work on speaking with gradually increased volume.

I helped her learn to smile. And her mother intimated to me that she’d never heard Hailey laugh out loud before her visits to my home.

I’d have her sit just outside my door where a passerby might hear her while we continued talking (though I don’t know if any ever did).

Her parents worried and wept, fearful that Hailey would never drive. Never graduate. Never be able to work a job.

I’m happy to say that Hailey received her high school diploma this past May. From side streets to highways at rush hour, she drives (and parks, I might add) like a pro. And she’s even worked a few jobs already.

But fear still limits her. So now, we do “field trips” out in the wide world. Little by little, I’m exposing her to small doses of the things she’s afraid of — unfamiliar people, decision making in public, and more — all carefully meted out with the safety net an inch further away each time.

*****

I have a close friend who used to have to open her front door, close her eyes and count to three, then run to her car, ducking and squealing the whole way. Why? She was terrified that…

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brand you

The Best Advice So Far - brand you

This past Wednesday, I was invited to be a guest lecturer at Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology in Boston, where I taught a group of opticians-in-the-making about branding and marketing.

I love teaching. And by all indications, I’m good at it. But as a rule, I’m more interested in people than I am in imparting information. As such, I found myself naturally sliding into the role of mentor throughout the two-and-a-half-hour class. Whether these students ever wound up becoming opticians or not, I wanted them to go away from our short time together thinking differently about life, themselves and how they interact with others.

It’s actually not all that big a stretch to get personal when talking about branding and marketing. After all, in essence, every single one of us is an individual brand.

That is, whether we like it or not — or are even aware of it — we are constantly engaging in the same core functions as any business where marketing is concerned. We face similar challenges. And we are therefore subject to many of the same “rules” concerning success or failure.

Maybe you rail against commercialism. Maybe it gets your blood up that I’d be using capitalistic terms as a comparison in interpersonal matters. And that’s all well and good. But I’m afraid it won’t exempt you from experiencing gains and losses all the same, based on the foundational principles that follow.

Or perhaps you’d claim that you really don’t give a flying leap what anyone else thinks about you. And that may be true. Nevertheless, just as any company operating with such a mindset would suffer negative consequences, so will an individual who doesn’t qualify that statement and adjust accordingly.

Allow me to share a few terms from my Wednesday class, as well as some thoughts on how they might apply to brand you


poison

The Best Advice So Far - poison

A few weeks back, I nearly died.

I don’t mean this in any figurative sense. I. Nearly. Died.

I didn’t write about it close to the event, because it felt a bit glib to do so at the time. But now that we’re a few weeks out, I’m more of the mindset that “all’s well that ends well.” What’s more, I experienced something I don’t believe would have been possible had it not been for my visit to death’s door and back.

If you’re a regular here, you know that I experienced some prolonged and progressively worsening health issues over the course of a year and a half, from spring of 2015 until late 2016 — a situation that mystified specialists until I realized around Christmas time that I’d been severely overdosing on zinc of all things. That day, I cut zinc entirely. I even replaced my daily multi-vitamin with one that contained no zinc or other minerals. Within two weeks, all symptoms that had been plaguing me for so long subsided.

As fate would have it, my doctor decided to take a blood test before re-upping my regular thyroid meds — a dose that hasn’t changed in eighteen years. My research on the zinc situation had revealed that, along with everything else, too much zinc interferes with the uptake of thyroid meds. I had a feeling the test would come back wrong. It did. I suggested that we simply wait a few weeks for the excess zinc to be out of my system and then do another blood test. The doctor, however, decided that I was “way overdosed” on the thyroid medication — that after eighteen years, my thyroid must’ve started working again somehow, putting out some amount of its own hormone.

*sigh *

He cut the dose by 20%.

And within just a few days, I was so tired, lethargic and unable to focus that basic daily living became a struggle.

I began drinking bottles of 5-Hour Energy regularly, and even started into Red Bull for the first time in my life … just to stay conscious. And of course, that created its own set of problems.

While picking up my next refill of the lowered dose of thyroid meds at the pharmacy, I happened down an aisle that offered supplements claiming to boost metabolism and provide “natural energy.”

Anything had to be better than continually feeling that I was just waking up from anesthesia, or having the all-over body buzz and subsequent crash cycle caused by all the energy drinks.

I’d be willing to bet that you see where all of this is going …

I grabbed the black-and-gold box from the shelf and had the pharmacist ring it in with my regular prescription. Nary a word did she say by way of warning about the product as she punched it into her computer and I swiped my card. Nope. She sent me off with a smile and a “Have a good day.” And that was that.

Once home, I opened the box, read the directions and shook out the first of the magical pills that would surely finally solve my energy problems: two large, oval pills.

Black …