Personal Recipe

Here’s a fact that I’m sure will come as a shock to many of you who don’t pay attention: I’m a Native New Yorker. As a result, I have this bad habit of saying pretty much what’s on my mind.

Here’s another fact: New Yorkers have a reputation for being rude, but they’re really not. Most of them aren’t, anyway. What they are, is they’re abnormally direct with their opinions.

One time I was in Manhattan and I was downtown, in Greenwich Village, looking for Ray’s Pizza (the one on Prince Street, though I didn’t know that at the time). I asked someone for directions and he told me where it was, then said to me, “But you don’t wanna go there.”

Huh. Really. “I don’t?”

“Naw, you don’t wanna go there. You wanna go to Pizza Suprema. It’s the best in the City, up by Madison Square Garden. Try the upside-down slice.” Then he told me where the nearest train station was (you don’t say “subway” unless you’re a tourist, thanks) that would put me on the 1 or the 9 train (“don’t take the 2 or 3, they’re local trains, it’ll take you forever”) and sent me on my way.

In fact, the 2 and the 3 only add two stops between Houston and Penn Station, but what the heck. And Pizza Suprema’s upside-down slice is pretty damn good. But the point here is, New Yorkers will tell you what you want, especially when they realize you don’t know what you want.

This is something I’ve retained, even after nearly ten years in Baltimore. But I’m learning that there’s a fine line between being the guy who’s a straight shooter and being That Guy. The Straight Shooter is admired; That Guy is kind of a jerk. And I think I’ve done my time being a jerk, many many years ago. So my goal is to continue saying what I mean and not varnishing the truth too much, because it’s really not so precious a thing that nobody can look at it, but not to do it by becoming That Guy.

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I do not wish to expiate, but to live. My life is for itself and not for a spectacle. I much prefer that it should be of a lower strain, so it be genuine and equal, than that it should be glittering and unsteady. I wish it to be sound and sweet, and not to need diet and bleeding. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Think about the type of person you’d NEVER want to be 5 years from now. Write out your own personal recipe to prevent this from happening and commit to following it. “Thought is the seed of action.”

You Know

I’m a knowledgeable guy. But there are times when I’m hampered by the possibility that there’s someone out there who’s more knowledgeable than I am.

This is going to happen; there’s almost always someone more knowledgeable than you are. And there are going to be times when acknowledgment of that fact is going to help (I’m pretty sure it got me a job once), and other times when it’s going to hold you back.

There’s a concept in business known as the Peter Principle, which reads that an employee tends to get promoted to his level of incompetency. More specifically, a competent person will continue to get promoted until they reach a level where they are no longer competent. There they remain, unable to be promoted any further. This is something of which I’m hyper-aware; I don’t want to move beyond my own competency. However, I’m usually a quick study and, more often than not, can reach competency without too much difficulty. The hard part, for me, is being comfortable in that level of discomfort.

One of the things we experience throughout our lives, but rarely take the time to understand or to acknowledge, is the fact that you have to be bad at something before you can be good at it. Instant success is rare in this world, and if it comes then it wasn’t a challenge in the first place. So for me I think the question for the future needs to be not “What do I know about this?” but rather “How can I learn what I need to know about this?”

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Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind. Absolve you to yourself, and you shall have the suffrage of the world. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

We live in a society of advice columns, experts and make-over shows. Without even knowing it, you can begin to believe someone knows better than you how to live your life. Someone might know a particular something better – like how to bake a three-layer molten coconut chocolate cake or how to build a website – but nobody else on the planet knows how to live your life better than you. (Although one or two people may think they do.) For today, trying asking yourself often, especially before you make a choice, “What do I know about this?”

Suicidal Behaviors

Given Waldo’s definition of suicide below, I’m quite the suicidal fellow. However, this particular version of self-annihilation I’ve used as a springboard.

I spent an inordinate amount of time in this building. When I was at C. W. Post and working on my Master’s Degree, I was in a cohort with nine other students. Because we took all the same classes at the same time, we got to be quite the well-known little group among the Education Department staff, not to mention the Speech Department and a couple of others. And as we came to be a known element, we each slipped into our own roles within the group. One of us, the only other guy, was the rebel Bad Boy type. One was the Ivory Girl because she reminded you of the women in those commercials,  a sort of fresh-scrubbed All-American type. One was the Mom (naturally). One was the Organizer, who set up the graduation party we threw ourselves.

NEVER did I make it look this good. One of our professors dubbed me The Divergent Thinker, because nobody knew what was going to come out of my mouth at any given time. I had this odd habit, and a “tell” which the others learned to watch for: I’d take a point from the lecture and start turning it over and over in my head, run it through a few permutations and then suddenly I’d have a question. Of course, it was several minutes later, so the question, while reasonable, usually felt as though it was out of the blue. My tell was that I’d start biting on my pen. Once I did that, I was told, they knew that my hand was about to go into the air.

This is still a habit of mine, although I’m learning to channel it into making my own work better. Start with the intention of imitating, then work it and massage it and make it into something a little more mine. By the time it’s popped back out, the originator would have very little idea that it was their own work that was the nucleus of what I’d presented. And while good writers borrow, and great writers steal outright, perhaps it’s time that I spent a little more time seeking the Original Me.

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Imitation is Suicide. Insist on yourself; never imitate. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Write down in which areas of your life you have to overcome these suicidal tendencies of imitation, and how you can transform them into a newborn you – one that doesn’t hide its uniqueness, but thrives on it. There is a “divine idea which each of us represents” – which is yours?

Five Back, Five Ahead

Five Back:

The Safe Place, by Daniel Peci. Click the pic to see this guy's stuff. Hey! Let go already! You’re allowed to say things. You’re allowed to express yourself. You’re in a safe place, at least when you’re at home. Relax a little bit. Maybe things will go a little more smoothly for you if you do.

Say your piece, but work on your diplomacy skills. There’s a fine line between candor and being abrasive. I still haven’t figured it out yet, but who knows. Maybe you will.

Good Luck!

 

 

 

 

Five Ahead:

I hope you think it was all worth it. All the bullshit, all the politics, all the general crap you put yourself through, and to what end? Was it worth it? Are you in a better place now than you were then? If it was, then good for you, I guess. If not, maybe something needs to change today. Or perhaps tomorrow. Heh. (That’s an inside joke to myself. Tomorrow I’ll know if it was funny.)

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There will be an agreement in whatever variety of actions, so they be each honest and natural in their hour. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

What would you say to the person you were five years ago? What will you say to the person you’ll be in five years?

Travel

There are a lot of places in the world on my “bucket” list.

I’m not an adventurer, not really, so it’s not as though I have any pressing need to, say, climb a mountain. Let’s face it, I get winded when I get up to answer the telephone. But I do want to see more of the world.

When I was a kid, I remember seeing an ad campaign that was pretty much everywhere. An image search wasn’t helpful, but in my memory there’s a kind of weathervane-looking object and the logo underneath: “See America First”. Apparently it was an outgrowth of a 1906 campaign that the train systems used to encourage travel to the West. I’m pretty comfortable with that idea. The United States is a pretty big place, after all: our climate runs from wintry most of the year to tropical; from lush growth to desert wilderness. I’ve seen a bunch of it, but I want to see more.

It’s kind of interesting to me how so many Americans are comfortable with traveling all over the USA but they get a little woozy at the idea of international travel. You’re going to Mexico? There’s so much to worry about, with the crime and the needing to know Spanish and all. It’s so different from, say, New York City. Heh. Africa? You need all those shots. Europe? You could find yourself driving on the LEFT. Canada? But, that’s like America, Junior. Even when it’s similar to us, we’re afraid that we might not be able to find a McDonald’s within a few blocks. That’s not really the case for me; I just want to see what else my nation has to offer.

crazy horse aerialI’ve been up and down the East Coast, thanks to my family’s Great Diaspora of the 1980s. I spent a weekend(!) in San Francisco; I think I’d like to go back there. I’ve been to southern Utah and at points in-between on the highway; I think I’d like to go again and actually be able to stay awhile here and there. I’d love to see Mount Rushmore and the still-in-progress Crazy Horse monument. I want to have a beer in Milwaukee, try to find the basement of the Alamo, have a steak in Kansas (Wife did this awhile back but she had it well-done, so it doesn’t count) and find out whether potatoes are all over the menus in Idaho the way crabs are in Maryland.

I need to devote more of my leisure time to this sort of thing; the overwhelming majority of my vacations are either to visit family or are quick “staycations” that do well for my budget but not my spirit.

That’s going to be a priority for me, before much more time has passed.

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If we live truly, we shall see truly. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Not everyone wants to travel the world, but most people can identify at least one place in the world they’d like to visit before they die. Where is that place for you, and what will you do to make sure you get there?

One Week!

Curiously, today’s prompt is something that I’ve been pondering for awhile. Of course, it’s been longer than a week so I’m all dead now and stuff, so what are you going to do.

There are so many obstacles that we perceive to be making it difficult for us to move forward with our aspirations—if only this, if I didn’t have to deal with that, if the other thing were more cooperative, if I knew someone in the business, if, if if if ififififififif.

But a lot of these obstacles are self-imposed. Not all of them, but certainly some of them. I think our lizard brains tend to hold us back with the little nagging “what if I fail?” fear. We think there’s far too much at stake: I could lose the house, my credit rating will suck, my family will disavow knowledge of me.

The website I nicked this picture from notes that balance is only found in retrospect. Whenever we try to balance, we lean to one side. Thirty years ago, I had no house, no credit rating and a family I didn’t get along with very well. And it took several years before any of it improved. Was I in such a terrible place then? The higher we climb up life’s ladder, the more we feel it sway. It wasn’t swaying back then; I just wasn’t aware of it.

“Yes,” one might argue, “but you had your whole life ahead of you.”

All I have now is the life ahead of me. Everything else is just stuff.

The key is balance, and the maintaining thereof. What can I do to restore the balance to my life? I don’t think that’s going to be so difficult to figure out.

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Life wastes itself while we are preparing to live. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

If you had one week left to live, would you still be doing what you’re doing now? In what areas of your life are you preparing to live? Take them off your To Do list and add them to a To Stop list. Resolve to only do what makes you come alive.

Bonus: How can your goals improve the present and not keep you in a perpetual “always something better” spiral?

Today

Although the truncated school day meant that many people I needed to speak to weren’t available, I still managed to make progress with helping out several schools today.

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Your genuine action will explain itself, and will explain your other genuine actions. Your conformity explains nothing. The force of character is cumulative. – Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance

If ‘the voyage of the best ship is a zigzag line of a hundred tracks,’ then it is more genuine to be present today than to recount yesterdays. How would you describe today using only one sentence?

Apology Tour

Blog posts often kick around in my head for awhile before I actually write them. This would be one of them.

There are invariably songs that connect us to our past relationships. Don't pretend there aren't. In the film High Fidelity, John Cusack plays Rob, a record store owner and compulsive list-maker. He visits the objects of one of his lists, his All-Time Top Five Breakups. The trips to each successive former girlfriend winds up being a tour of his midlife crisis, as he tries to explore the reasons for the breakups. I’ve often wondered what it would be like to confront some of my exes and try to finish the unfinished business, but I think this movie talked me out of it. I’ll tell you what, though: if you haven’t already, go to your Netflix and watch it. You’ll see exactly what a bunch of sad sacks guys are.

At any rate, here’s a taste of what I’d say to some of my breakups, in no particular order. I’m not naming names in this particular forum, but I may throw out a clue that the target may recognize.

  • You broke my heart, but in retrospect I realize that you were pretty broken, too. We were doomed from the start so it’s probably better that we never really got very far off the ground. I just wish you’d said something instead of letting me find out the hard way.
  • It’s telling that, after all this time, you still harbor so much resentment toward me. It sort of warms my heart that I’m still worth that much energy on your part.
  • We had a very rough breakup, but in the end I don’t harbor any ill will or hard feelings. And yes, I do have some good memories. In the long run you did well, and you Did It Yourself. Kudos.
  • I’m sorry things didn’t end the way I’d hoped they would. People have big mouths, and I was sick as hell the day I’d chosen to tell you (and you already knew). And the hell of it is, that wasn’t even the worst I’d done at breaking up with anyone.
  • Yes, I was bad, but kicking my broken limb wasn’t cool, even if you were angry with me. I’m glad we managed to get past that, though.
  • The last time we had contact was the day after Mother Theresa died. I wonder what happened to you?
  • We were the original On Again, Off Again couple. I was so easily distracted; I think it’s part of the reason that, in retrospect, I think I was kind of a jerk in my younger days.
  • My second Great Summer Romance started at the end of the summer and ran into October. I kind of wish you’d been more persistent (and I, less passive). We were both too neurotic to last, but it would have been fun for awhile longer.
  • One of the things that led to this post was the overwhelming sense that something bad had happened to you. I wrote you a letter but you never responded. I wonder why.

 

  • To the one I didn’t break up with: thanks for putting up with me.

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We are afraid of truth, afraid of fortune, afraid of death, and afraid of each other. Our age yields no great and perfect persons. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

You just discovered you have fifteen minutes to live.

1. Set a timer for fifteen minutes.
2. Write the story that has to be written.

A Month of Writing

My blog posting has been all kinds of spotty for the last few months, and I want to remedy that. Fortunately, I’ve gotten a goose from the folks at The Domino Project, who are sending out writing prompts every day for the next thirty days. It’s not like the novel writing in November thing; each prompt is supposed to be different but introspective.

What I’ll do here is run the post (I won’t open with the media quotations during this period), then I’ll reveal the prompt. I’d be grateful if you’d put your comments here; many times I see nice responses on Facebook, but they’re a bit on the ephemeral side as a result.

Okay, let’s have some fun!