Sunday, August 5, 2007

Waiting for an Opening

Today's nice weather let me spend the morning and afternoon doing overdue work in the yard and garden. There's nothing like several hours spent communing with nature to remind you of what's really important. For example, it reminded me of why I chose a career at a desk in an air conditioned office.
As the peace and focus cleared the cobwebs from my brain's ceiling-corners, I found my thoughts wandering to great advice I'd received over the years. Not the standard stuff - don't stick your finger in an electric outlet, never draw to an inside straight, etc. - but rather real things too easily forgotten once the starting gun goes off on Monday morning. I've compiled some for sharing. Since I don't make nearly the good use of these that I should, perhaps someone else might get some benefit from one or two of them. Other than the first two, which are my favorites, they are given in no particular order.
Item 1: Keeping Things In Perspective
Some years back, I was driving and my father was in the passenger seat, and we were trying to pull out of a parking lot onto a busy highway. Getting impatient waiting for a break in the traffic, I said something like, boy, this is going to be hard. My father, who, as I've written in previous posts, was very good at keeping things in perspective, said, "There's nothing hard about it. If there's an opening, you go. If there's not an opening, you don't go." I don't know about you, but for me this was an epiphany. It was the greatest driving advice I ever got, but it's really about so much more than that, about going with the nature of things instead of frustrating myself trying to hammer it into conforming to me. I'm still working on it.
Item 2: Responsibility
Even more years back than Item 1, I got up in the middle of the night and walked into the kitchen in the dark to get a glass of water. My bare foot hit the side of a floor-mounted cabinet and I broke the little toe. The next day, the doctor patched it up, explained to me what I needed to do to take care of it, and finished with words I still think about after almost twenty years: "...and if you ever go walking barefoot in the dark again, you'll deserve whatever happens to you." I can't tell you the number of times I've seen someone else, or myself, making certain choices and I'd say to myself, man, you are walking barefoot in the dark.
Item 3: Time Management
I could not compile a collection of wise words without including my grandmother. Like everyone, I'm pulled in a lot of directions most of the time. I often stop and repeat to myself the words of my grandmother. (A grammar school education didn't prevent her from being one of the smartest people I've ever met, a summa cum laude graduate from Real Life University.) With unadorned wisdom, she'd say, "You can't have your butt in two places." (Ok, that's not exactly the way she put it, but this is a public forum.) There's a Yiddish saying that translates to, "You can't dance at two weddings." I like my grandmother's version better.
Item 4: Common Sense
A friend from Alabama once told me that during hot weather people in the north would frequently say to her, "Well, you're a southerner. You know how to deal with the heat." She said, yes, southerners know how to deal with the heat. We go where it's air conditioned. For some reason, northerners feel a need to go mano-a-mano with 90 and 100 degree days.
Item 5: Humility
I'm not proud of this, but between the ages of 18 and 21 I spent a lot of time hanging around stage doors asking for autographs. This one day, through a series of happenstances, I found myself at the dressing room door of a well-known actor who was particularly hot at the time. It was an army-themed show, and when I knocked on the door, he opened it wearing his fatigue pants, shirtless, and smoking a cigar. Having read countless newspaper stories about actors throwing hissy fits because their dressing room was not the right color, or didn't have the proper flowers in it, etc., I was struck by how modest the star's dressing room was, only slightly larger than a residential bathroom. As he signed my Playbill, I said, with a teenager's blissful ignorance, "A big star like you should have a bigger dressing room than this." Rather than having a security guard wrestle me to the ground for my insolence, he was very gracious and said nonchalantly, "It's just a place to change your clothes." I try to remember his demonstration of the difference between seeing yourself as a star and seeing yourself as an actor who other people think of as a star. Especially when I find myself in a metaphorical dressing room that's less than stellar. It is, indeed, just a place to change your clothes.
Item 6: Guarding Your Flank
Another from my father. He told me never to get a tattoo of a woman's name. I never did. This advice might have helped a good buddy of mine who, as a Marine stationed in the Philippines, made two poor choices: the woman he married, and having her name tattooed on his arm. Years later, getting rid of her was a lot easier than getting rid of the tattoo.
As for me, I'm still working on what sage advice to give my own sons. So far, we've got "patience keeps you out of trouble when you're driving," and "spreadsheets are our friends." When the situations are there and the ideas come, I'll give the advice. Till then I'm not going to force it. If there's an opening, you go. If there's not an opening, you don't go.


vkmay said...

love that...especially the "opening" advice from your grandfather, says it plain, but true.  But, maybe I'm an undeclared idiot, or just plain outa the loop, but what the h*ll does mano-a-mano mean?  I get the jist of it just in context, but never heard that expression...where did it come from and what is the reference?  thanks-nora

silverdoe64 said...

I think i'll print this out and tape it on my mirror..I love them..and "If there is an opening go.." would be my favorite.  You had me cracking up with the opening about your gardening-which is exactly how ive been feeling about the nice green lawn that I finally have....this whole entry was a bit of an attitude adjustment for it made me smile!  Thanks..and take care...Julie

csandhollow said...

The tat one is a goodone.

demandnlilchit said...

Our Grandmothers sound related...Sometimes is good to sit with the elders they have so much to tell us if only we would slow down and give them more of our time...even out of the mouths of babes a pearl is dropped...I remember driving home in a pretty rough thunderstorm ( I adore them tough) and the sky finally opened up and fingers of sunlight came shimmering through and my then 3 and a half year old son said, "See that Mommy....that is what GOD looks like!" Still moves me to this day! Have a good week Ben!

oldhousegal said...

Lots of good advice here.  I just remember one thing my mother always told me whenever I was unhappy about something:  "If you're gonna let things like that upset you, you're gonna have a very hard life."  I didn't get too much advice from my grandmothers.  My father's mother used to grumble in German sometimes -- when she growled "Raus!" my cousins and I all knew to get the heck outta there!  My mother's mother was more easygoing, probably due to her generous daily beer consumption.  We used to joke that she singlehandedly kept the Genesee brewing plant in Western NY in business.  Although I've been told that it was dangerous to mention the name of Richard Nixon in her presence -- it could set off a storm that wouldn't clear for days...

rdautumnsage said...

Wonderful advice. Unfortunately I didn't have parents that offered any insight to life. I was pretty much left to my own devices. I think we tend to learn advice that sticks to us throughout our life either way. For me was the advice I once recieved from an old Shaman, "When your head slows down to listen to your heart, then and only then will you find the answers you need." Wise advice indeed my heart has yet to steer me wrong these past few years. (Hugs)