Tag Archives: perspective

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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big kids: part 4 of 4

big-kids-4

Today marks the final installment of the current “big kids” series. I hope you’ve been enjoying the trip down memory lane. But more importantly, I hope you collected a few things during your journey and brought them back with you, dusted them off, and started playing with them again in the now.

In case you missed them, be sure to catch up to speed on PART 1, PART 2 and PART 3 (particularly PART 1, which sets the stage for each following post, including this one!).

Let’s take one more look at something we used to know as kids, but maybe have forgotten as we’ve gotten older:

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big kids: part 3 of 4

big-kids-3

DON’T BE FOOLED: THIS POST IS NOT ABOUT KIDS.

IT’S ABOUT YOU.

Last Thursday, I began a short blog series on some of the best parts of ourselves that may have accidentally (or even intentionally) been left in the past. Be sure to catch PART 1 and PART 2. Not only does PART 1 lay some important groundwork, they’re quick reads; and I believe you’ll find that the potential benefits outweigh the minimal time commitment.

3. Children are pretty comfortable just being themselves.

Kids don’t feel overly concerned about how their runny nose looks or about the grass stain on their pants.

To a certain age (before we condition them otherwise), boys don’t think anything of draping their arm around the neck of their best bud while walking down the street; and girls will toss their dolls aside to make an impromptu mud pie if the mood strikes.

They sing made-up songs on the swing or in a restaurant booth, without regard to who might be listening.

They put on roller-skating shows and dance in the living room.

They skip if it feels right.

They giggle and make faces in the mirror and experiment with character voices in conversations.

Then there are the adults. What happens to us? We stifle the giggles, look in every mirror we pass to be sure our hair is in place and there is nothing in our teeth, and adopt flat-lined voice tones with one another in order to appear “well-adjusted.”

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big kids: part 2 of 4

big-kids-2

Yesterday, I wrote the first installment in this four-part series.  It had occurred to me in a new way that, for all children don’t yet know, there is an equal amount that adults have forgotten. While it’s not absolutely necessary, I do recommend hopping over and catching up to speed by reading “part 1″ from yesterday, since it contains important groundwork for today’s post (as well as the next two).

2. Children know how to give simple gifts.

How many times have you struggled over what to buy for someone in your circles on their birthday or for a holiday?

Wondering if the gift will be taken as too little. Or too much.

Laboring over the fact that there is nothing they really need.

Or resorting to just grabbing a gift card or cheese wheel at the last minute.

Kids aren’t torn up about such things. Yet somehow, in the absence of high-paying jobs or cash flow, they still manage to excel at gift giving.

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grand

I shared with you in a recent post about Brandon, the boy I had taken in for a year-and-a-half when I was just out of college.  He was not the only one.

I first met John in a crack house.  Lest you pair this information with patchy memories of my cat story and really think I’m shady, I went into said establishment to retrieve another young man I thought might be in trouble there.  John was slouching in a dirty green recliner.  Though the room was already dark and filled with smoke, he wore aviator-style sunglasses, partly covered by his long black hair, which hung in front of his face and across his shoulders.  The rest of his outfit was composed of a black Guns-N-Roses T-shirt, faded black jeans, and Doc Martins.  A cigarette hung from a corner of his mouth in a way that seemed set on letting everyone know exactly how much he didn’t care.  I smiled and said, “Hey.”  He jutted his chin at me, which I took as a form of greeting.  That was the whole of our first encounter.

After that, I’d see John hanging out around other kids in parking lots in Attleboro.  I always stopped to say hi.  Chin jutting turned to “hey” or ” ‘sup,” and after a period of gradually lengthening exchanges, we had our first real conversation, sitting on a curb late one night.

John was 15.  He had been smoking since he was in grade school, drinking and using since junior high.  He lived with his mother, also a user who got her drugs from John, who could buy them for her cheaper at school than she could from her adult sources.  He didn’t know his father, though he’d heard that he lived somewhere in Attleboro.  John was a poor student.  His life’s dream was to be an auto mechanic, and so the other courses seemed a waste to him.  At the time we talked, he had never been on a plane.  He had never been out of state.  He had never seen the ocean.

In fact, he had never been out of the city of Attleboro in his life.

My first attempt at broadening John’s horizons was to invite him over the town line to my home.  I told him that I had a movie I wanted him to watch.  He was sure he wouldn’t like it.  So I made him a deal.  He could “make” me watch any movie he liked, and afterward, he would have to watch my movie without complaint.  He raised an eyebrow and formed a devilish grin.  “Any movie I want, huh?”  I confirmed, hoping against hope that it wasn’t going to be of the naughty variety.

The night arrived.  John and I got pizza.  He was being very mysterious about the film to which I would soon be subjected.  He said it was one of his favorites.  I couldn’t begin to guess.

As it turned out, his movie choice was Harold and Maude, a dark comedy about a depressed teenage boy who falls in love with a 79-year-old woman.  It revealed quite a lot about John and how he thought.  I don’t know if he felt more disappointed or flattered when I expressed how much I loved it.  It remains a favorite of mine to this day.

Afterward, I revealed my own cinematic wonder — The Lion King.  He fussed and fumed and protested that he wasn’t watching any baby movie (I later learned that he had never seen a Disney movie).  But I had already watched his choice.  And a deal was a deal.  So we watched.  He slumped back with a disdainful face as the castle appeared and Tinkerbell swirled around it to “When You Wish Upon a Star” during the opening credits.

The next time I looked, he was wide eyed, his face responding unwittingly to every turn in the plot.  When Mufasa died in the canyon, he actually blurted out an imploring “No!” despite himself.  He stealthily dried his eyes on his sleeve.  I did the same, but for different reasons.

I began to help John with school work and he passed tenth grade somehow.  With the onset of summer, I took John to the beach — another first for him at sixteen.  The issue of wearing shorts was no mean hurdle, but I finally managed to cajole him into cutting a pair of his older black jeans into something at least in the ballpark.  He wore them to the beach with a leather belt.

Reaching the shore involved passing through several more towns John had never been in, and we named them off as we passed the borders of each, causing him to feel like quite the seasoned traveler.  As we neared the beach, he noticed the difference in the treeline and smelled the salt in the air, commenting with no little wonder at these things.

Finally, we arrived.  His eyes were large, darting around to take it all in.  The parking lot, that is, as the ocean itself was still obscured from view by the dunes.  I felt like a father watching his young son learn to walk as John’s feet hit the sand for the first time in his life, struggling to work muscles in ways he’d never had to, navigating his way up the shifting incline uncertainly.  Halfway to the top, he heard what lay beyond, roaring and shushing.  “Is that … the ocean?” I remember him asking incredulously.  He really seemed to have no idea that it was only yards away, just out of sight.

And then we crested the dune.  The ocean spread out before us.  John stood there, unable to keep walking for a moment.  He almost seemed confused, overwhelmed, as he took in the foreign scene.  Then he made a run for it, taking no care for the strips of rocks in his way.  He “eeked” and “ouched” his way to the water and splashed right in.  “It really is salty!” he exclaimed, as if he didn’t believe this fact from the books he’d read about it.  Suddenly, he pointed as if at a ghost, his mouth agape.  Something was moving across the sand.  “Is that … a real crab?

John was tasting of innocence and possibility.  His world was enlarging.  And it was already changing him.  He decided that he’d like to try kicking the drugs.  He believed that he could.

John’s mother was anything but happy about the changes in him.  She seemed to take his sharing of every new adventure as a barb, as though he were gloating instead of merely expressing his new-found happiness.  She was young and self-centered.  Personal conflicts continued to mount until she finally told him that he was just taking up space and money.  At sixteen, he found himself homeless.

At first, John hopped from basements to cars to couches, trying to make his way.  But he soon realized that he would have no success laying off the drug when all of his benefactors were users themselves.  Still in my twenties, I offered to take John in, until he finished high school.  He stayed with me for nearly two years, working odd jobs and attending night school.

While with me, he continued to struggle on and off with drinking and drugs.  I knew that he really wanted to change; but at every turn, there were people all too willing to share their wares.  And it had been his life for a long time.  Still, he kept trying.

The first summer John was with me, friends made plans to do a whitewater rafting trip down the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon, and they asked if I’d like to join.  I knew I could not really afford the trip, especially now that I had another mouth to feed.  And of course, I couldn’t leave John by himself that long.  So my first response was that, no, I wouldn’t be able to go.  But inside, I kept imagining John at the beach that first time.  I knew the sight of the Grand Canyon would be stunning for me, even having seen some of the world.  But for John?  Ten days away, out in nature — and not just any  nature, but the Grand Canyon.  I couldn’t get it out of my mind.

Throwing caution to the wind, I held my breath, got out my credit card, and booked us both for the trip.

The plane ride itself was an unimaginable thrill for John.  And then, along the road from Albuquerque to Lake Powell, he was further introduced to Native American culture and lizards for the first time.  The first cracks began to appear in the distance — narrow slivers.  John was stunned: “Oh, wow! It’s so cool!”

I informed him, with great pleasure and amusement, that we were still hours from the actual Canyon yet.

When we did arrive at the first legitimate lookout point, we parked the van and walked to the edge.  Here was John, cresting another hill, unaware of what he would see on the other side.  And there it was.

Breathtaking.

No postcard or picture can capture the awe of that place.  It really can’t.  Yet, as taken-aback as I was, John was suddenly transported to some fantasy land that only existing in movies and dreams.  He literally could not move.  He swayed a little bit.  His eyes glassed over.  And then he just wept, falling to his knees, his black jeans kicking up the red dust: “It’s … so … beautiful!

The rafting trip and the hike out were indescribable, particularly in their effect on John.  Here, sleeping out under night skies that held more starlight than blackness between, he was changing yet again.

It was not a straight path from there for John.  But it was a different one.  And I’m happy to say that John made it.  Today, he is a hard-working chief mechanic.  Trusted.  Respected.  Optimistic.  Compassionate.  And, last I knew, drug free.

I’m a firm believer that there is always — more.  Something new and wondrous to behold and experience.  I don’t have the finances to jet set off to African safaris or the Taj Mahal.  Dibby gave me a book one Christmas a few years back called “1000 Places to See Before You Die.” To date, I have only seen two or three.  But it’s not just about the ability to travel to faraway places.

Here are just a handful of things that keep my view of life expanding:

Trying new foods.

Appreciating dance.

Reading and sharing poetry.

Watching Discovery Channel programs.

Studying other languages and using them where I can.

Tucking away new vocabulary words and finding ways to use them.

Listening to music and reading books outside my preferred genres, whether I particularly love them or not.

Learning anything new at all, however minute.  How to fold an origami creation.  How to tie a particular knot.

Meeting and talking with people who appear at first to be very different from myself.  The more diverse, the better.

It’s  a mindset.  It’s purposefully keeping that sense of wonder and imagination.   It’s getting uncomfortable with staying in your comfort zone.  It’s living as if there is more to life than the path I walked yesterday.  Because there is.  Much more.

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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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