Tag Archives: responsibility

un-dumb frog

The Best Advice So Far - un-dumb frog

With age comes wisdom,
but sometimes age comes alone.
~ Oscar Wilde

As I start this post, there are just a few more hours left until my birthday.

Birthdays for me are still a time of celebration. They are also a time of reflection:

Where have I been?

What have I done?

Where am I going?

This time around the sun, I find myself thinking about the life advice that’s been passed along to me and that I have, in turn, passed along to others over the years. It’s an ongoing process. Sifting. Sorting. Testing. Honing. Much has been discarded. What I’ve kept has become all the more precious.

From books to broadcasts, seminars to sermons, political missives to posted memes — everyone seems to have “truer truth” than everyone else. I can’t help but wonder, amid the onslaught of voices, why anyone should be inclined to listen to mine. How’s anyone to know what to believe when it comes to advice?

What is factual — and what’s no more than loudly proclaimed opinion?

Somehow, all of these thoughts coalesced into a scene from my childhood. Or rather, I should say scenes from my childhood and adolescence; some tend to blur together on account of their repetitious nature.

There I am, sitting in a church pew. The side pieces are white, trimmed with dark-stained, ornate armrests. The back side of the pew in front of me is the same near-black wood, and at intervals along its length are matching outcrops that hold hymnals with gold foil lettering and faded maroon covers made of cloth that makes a zzzip! sound when I run my fingernails lightly over them.

Oscillating block chords emanate from the organ, reverberating from high ceilings, only to be pulled back down into the pits of stomachs by the weight of pulsing bass tones played on long, black foot pedals.

As the last echoes retreat, a suited man with slick hair solemnly ascends crimson-carpeted stairs and stands before a ponderous, stark white pulpit that matches the end-caps on the pews. As hymnals thud back into their places, the pastor’s eyes dart to parishioners, cowing any last whisperers into awkward silence, until he is sure he has everyone’s full attention.

His speech is slow, measured, punctuated with pregnant pauses. Authoritative. He knows what others do not — could not — know, mysteries that the masses would have no hope of understanding unless by his impartation.

He begins with an object lesson, as a principal might to abashed school children who had played hooky. He tells us that a frog placed into boiling water will jump out; but a frog placed into a pot of cool water that is heated slowly, degree by degree, will sit motionless, unaware, until the water reaches a boil and…


what not to say

The Best Advice So Far - what not to say

I always seem to have some crazy story or other to tell, don’t I?

I was asked a thoughtful question recently, as my birthday nears: “What would you like to see more of and less of in the year ahead. After The Zinc Fiasco of 2015/2016 and last month’s visit to Death’s door (aka, The Black Pill Debacle of 2017), my “less-of” response seemed a given”

I’d like to have less … in the way of health issues.

Don’t get me wrong. I consider myself very fortunate. Yet when birthday presents past include a medical dictionary marked with sticky strips on every page containing some strange malady I’ve encountered … one might have reason to suspect that something’s up.

And many have told me I’m the healthiest sick person they’ve met so far. (I suppose that’s true to my nature, being a lifelong “balance of extremes” as I call it.)

Well, wouldn’t you know, a week ago today (just after I finished writing last week’s post, in fact), I wound up adding another sticky to that medical dictionary of mine.

The hedge along the driveway had turned into a jungle; and the worker the landlord had hired to take care of it had just informed her that he’d have to postpone — until the second week of September. Well, that was just not an option. The drive would literally be impassable by then. So the landlord asked if I might consider taking care of tedious job for some cash. I agreed.

Picture it if you will:

  • Eight-foot overgrown hedge
  • Five-foot ladder on an uneven gravel drive
  • Electric hedge trimmer

So there I was, tip-toeing on the second-to-last rung of the too-short ladder, stretching as far as I could over the top of the hedge to get those last few outcropping branches at the far side … when the ladder began to wobble.

I reached out instinctively to steady myself … on nothing … and in doing so, let go of the heavy, two-hand-operated saw …


superstition

The Best Advice So Far - superstition

It was Thursday, well past the witching hour. I was on my way to the gym, the silent back roads lit only by the cold white light of an occasional street lamp. As I approached an intersection, something darker than the surrounding night dashed out from the woods in front of my car, stopping just long enough to fix bright green eyes on me before continuing into the thick brush on the other side.

A black cat.

And it had crossed my path.

Of course, being a rational person, this didn’t cause me to turn back the way I’d come and find an alternate route. Yet I was clearly still aware of the superstition associated with the incident. And it occurred to me that this awareness did have a subtle effect on my emotions. I drove onward as I normally would have; but some part of me felt I was doing so despite the superstition. And that would seem to indicate that the superstition had credence, if only in a residual way.

In other words, it seems to me that we don’t do things despite other things, unless those other things are perceived to hold some power or sway.

We wouldn’t say, “We had the picnic despite the forecast” — unless we perceived that the forecast had at least the potential to disrupt our plans.

Back to the example of the black cat crossing our path, it’s almost as if some small part of us feels we’ve accepted a dare, and that by crossing that path, we’re somehow giving the proverbial finger to the universe, proving we’re not one to be controlled by such nonsense.

No one could deny that we don’t have the same reaction when, say, a squirrel or turkey crosses our path. It wouldn’t even occur to us to think such a thing. Why? Because, well … we really don’t believe squirrels or turkeys crossing our path makes a lick of difference.

I guess what I’m saying is that all of us are affected to some degree — maybe even more than we might be aware — by …


overload

The Best Advice So Far - overload - Frankenstein-like coconut with lightning striking ear bolts

I’ve mentored teens and young adults for more than 25 years now, and part of that role is inextricably linked to education in some form or other. Whether it’s finally helping kids make sense of the quadratic equation, or teaching them new strategies for dealing with conflict, I love the look that comes over kids’ faces when they finally get whatever it is that’s been stumping them up to that point.

(I equally love the feeling of learning a new thing myself and knowing “that look” has crept over my own face, though I’ve never actually seen it … which is good, because that would be weird.)

As you might imagine, over the course of a couple of decades, I’ve worked with an awful lot of kids and covered an awful lot of topics. One especially fun exchange is whenever I get to explain to a kid for the first time how money works. (And mind you, this is often during high school or even early college years.)

I take out a dollar bill and ask, “How much is this worth?” And they generally say, “A dollar.” And I reply, “Nope. It’s worth basically nothing.”

Mouths quirk in a mix of confusion and curiosity. It’s clear that I’ve got their attention.

I then take out my checkbook and show them a blank check. “How much is this worth?” They generally try to guess the “right” answer at this point. “Nothing?” they’ll ask more than state.

“Yes, that’s right. Nothing. But what if I write it out for one hundred dollars? Then how much is it worth?”

“A hundred dollars?” they suggest, still unsure.

“Nope. It’s still worth nothing. It’s just paper with printing on it, and now some of my handwriting. It’s worth nothing.”

Here’s where I really get them.

“Hold the dollar up to the check. What do you notice?” I ask, handing them the money and the checkbook.

First, they’ll look for words or numbers that match. Not finding any, the realization I was after soon dawns on nearly everyone …


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?) …


influence

The Best Advice So Far: Influence - multi-colored light waves on a black background

During my six or so years of blogging, I’ve met some stellar people online. One of those people is Diana Peach, a fellow blogger and prolific novel writer in the fantasy genre.

Just last week, Diana released Catling’s Bane: Book I of her four-book series known collectively as The Rose Shield. And — lucky me — I got to be a beta reader for the entire thing, the final installment of which I’m currently reading.

Catling's Bane: Book I of The Rose Shield series by D. Wallace Peach

If you’re a true lover of fantasy, do yourself a favor, read my Amazon review, get yourself a copy of this book — and prepare to lose some sleep over it. In short, I’ve read hundreds and hundreds of books in this genre and this series makes my top five of all time. (She will, no doubt, decry my high praise as “stuff and nonsense,” but it’s true nonetheless.)

Now, my site isn’t a book review site. And Diana has no idea I’m writing this (surprise, Diana!). But I’m telling you, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about this Rose Shield series. And so, I’ve decided to go with the flow and incorporate some of those thoughts into this week’s blog post, in a way that I trust will be consistent with who I am and what this blog is about.

If you’ve read even a few pages of my book, The Best Advice So Far, or more than two blog posts here, the theme that runs through everything I write should be apparent: “You always have a choice.”

Building upon this foundation, I’ve also proposed such notions as these:

No one can make you happy.

No one can make you mad (or jealous or insecure or a host of other negatives).

And while compliance can be forced, we cannot make others respect us.

Nor can we make another person love us.

But … what if we could?

What if it were possible to …