Citizen, Human

Look for the Helpers

One town north of me, a tragedy has unfolded. Problems with an over-pressurized natural gas line led to dozens of explosions and 70+ houses on fire. Three towns have evacuated their residents.

Local news has been reporting nonstop on the craziness. But they’ve also been pointing out the places that evacuees can go for help. Firefighters from dozens of miles away rushed to the town to help. Churches and schools on the outskirts are opening their doors as temporary shelters for hundreds. Local hotels are offering their extra capacity rooms to displaced families. A local pet boarding service has offered boarding for free to displaced pets. Neighbors and friends are opening their doors and setting up air mattresses.

Fred Rogers was right. The world is full of people willing to jump in and help.

Father, Human

The Day Back

At some point on vacation, it can hit you.  No matter how much fun you’re having.  No matter how relaxed you are.  No matter how far the rest of the world has melted away.

At some point you’re ready to go back.

You want to sleep in your own bed.  To have your shower, your covers, your pillow, your kitchen, your routine, your diversions, your comfort food, your familiar everything.

It’s the corollary to “how can I miss you if you don’t go away” — how can you vacation without a baseline every day that you’re leaving behind?

Embrace the return.  Celebrate the ordinary.  Be glad for normalcy.  Before you left, it was the rut.  After you return, it’s the comfortable routine.

 

Human

The Night Before

The night before Christmas was always a mini-celebration.  In my family we’d sometimes open up one present to whet our appetites.

The night before your birthday is often a good night, even if you can’t get to sleep so easily.  You fall asleep thinking about what a great day it’s going to be.

Or the night before your wedding.  Or the night before a big vacation.  Or the night before you start that new job.  All the possibilities of the next day, caught up in your visions of sugar plums dancing in your head as you envision success.

The night before is for visualizing the next day.  It’s for the same anticipation that you feel before you check to see if your lottery numbers won, except it’s the entire time falling asleep.

Always cherish the night before, and treat it with the respect it deserves for welcoming the happy tomorrow.

Human, Marketer

Vacations, not quite unplugged

It’s really nice to take a vacation unplugged.  To leave it all behind… and to know that there’s nothing you can really do to help out with all those responsibilities you left behind.  (Like the responsibility of writing daily blog posts.)

And yet… there are advantages to a vacation that’s not quite unplugged.  When you’ve told everyone who depends on you that you’re available in emergencies, and will be checking just in case.  Then you’re not bottlenecking everyone while you’re gone.

A not-quite-unplugged vacation gives you the best of both worlds.  You’re aware of any work issues.  But you’re not on the hook to respond to each and every urgent incoming message demanding your attention.  Best of all, you can pick and choose the messages to respond to, at your vacation-enabled pace, so that when you do return, you’re not buried in rampant problems.

(As long as there’s not, like, an actual work emergency, because then you’re not enjoying the rest of that vacation…)

Human

Beyond Your Expectations

One of the best kinds of joy is when you set what you think are high aspirations, and then to your surprise do so well that you blow those aspirations away.

Three examples for you to contemplate:

In 1899, one of Thomas Edison’s first inventions, the stock ticker, got the attention of the President of the Gold & Stock Telegraph company for which Edison worked.  This president, General Lefferts, wanted to pay him for the rights to use it.  Edison was trying to muster up the courage to ask for what he thought the invention was worth.  From Edison, His Life and Inventions:

He called me into his office, and said: `Now, young man, I want to close up the matter of your inventions. How much do you think you should receive?’ I had made up my mind that, taking into consideration the time and killing pace I was working at, I should be entitled to $5000, but could get along with $3000. When the psychological moment arrived, I hadn’t the nerve to name such a large sum, so I said: `Well, General, suppose you make me an offer.’ Then he said: `How would $40,000 strike you?’ This caused me to come as near fainting as I ever got. I was afraid he would hear my heart beat. I managed to say that I thought it was fair.

In the early 1970s, Stephen King was a school teacher making $6400 a year, raising a family and selling short stories to men’s magazines for a couple hundred dollars each.  He had a minor breakthrough when his novel, Carrie, became the first to be accepted by a publisher.  Doubleday paid him a small advance of $2500.  He and his wife discussed the possibility of the paperback reprint rights being sold.  It was a dream, he acknowledged, but King’s best guess was that it might bring between ten and sixty thousand dollars, of which he’d get 50%.  Thirty thousand dollars was 4+ years of teaching.  “It was a lot of money.  Probably just pie in the sky, but it was a night for dreaming,” King recounts in his book On Writing.

King goes on to recount the Mother’s Day in 1973 that his agent Bill Thompson called, long after he had forgotten about Carrie.

“Are you sitting down?” Bill asked.

“No,” I said.  Our phone hung on the kitchen wall, and I was standing in the doorway between the kitchen and the living room.  “Do I need to?”

“You might,” he said.  “The paperback rights to Carrie went to Signet Books for four hundred thousand dollars.”

[…] I was completely speechless.  I stood there in the doorway, casting the same shadow as always, but I couldn’t talk.  Bill asked if I was still there, kind of laughing as he said it.  He knew I was.

I hadn’t heard him right.  Couldn’t have.  The idea allowed me to find my voice again, at least. “Did you say it went for forty thousand dollars?”

“Four hundred thousand dollars,” he said.  “Under the rules of the road” — meaning the contract I’d signed — “two hundred K of it’s yours.  Congratulations, Steve.”

I was still standing in the doorway, looking across the living room toward our bedroom and the crib where Joe slept.  Our place on Sanford Street rented for ninety dollars a month and this man I’d only met once face-to-face was telling me I’d just won the lottery.  The strength ran out of my legs.  I didn’t fall, exactly, but I kind of whooshed down to a sitting position there in the doorway.

“Are you sure?” I asked Bill.

He said he was.  I asked him to say the number again, very slowly and very clearly, so I could be sure I hadn’t misunderstood.  He said the number was a four followed by five zeros.  “After that a decimal point and two more zeros,” he added.

Not even sure what to do, Stephen King felt compelled to go buy his wife a Mother’s Day present, so he went to the local drug store and bought the most extravagant thing he could find there… a hair dryer.  When he returned home, she was there.

I took her by the shoulders.  I told her about the paperback sale.  She didn’t appear to understand. I told her again.  Tabby looked over my shoulder at our shitty little four-room apartment, just as I had, and began to cry.

A final story, which I captured in a podcast interview.  Kristen Wylie, a former coworker of mine from Franklin, Massachusetts, had been taking her two daughters Amanda (12) and Katie (9) to singing, acting, and dancing lessons. On a whim while attending a class in New York, they joined about five hundred other girls during an open call auditioning for the musical Annie. the third national touring production of Annie.  They were thrilled to get a callback for the next day, calling that alone a victory.  Little did they know that they’d work their way through callback after callback, and both succeed in earning a spot as two of the six orphan girls for the third national tour, performing a couple hundred times across over 90 U.S. cities.

The lesson?  Work hard, aim high, and expect success… but don’t stop when you get there. The best rewards may be yet to come.

 

Human

The “Aha!” Moment

When you’ve been staring at a clue like “First of cubs housed in lion building’s storage bin (8)” on and off for a couple mornings…

…let’s see, ‘first of cubs’ is probably the letter C, and that goes inside a word that means ‘lion building’ … what the hell is a lion’s building? a den? a pride something? do they mean like at the zoo? Okay, forget that, let’s look at the definition part… the 8-letter answer is ‘storage bin,’ like what? a garbage can? bother…

and then, suddenly, you realize the answer in a flash.  Aha!  Got it, you bastard cruciverbalist who constructed this cryptic crossword.

Cryptic clues can be confounding to look at at first, and may take a little bit of instruction and a lot of practice before you can solve them regularly, but they are so rewarding to your brain every time you get one right.  The lateral thinking required can mentally tie you up in knots trying to bend, twist, and mangle the words in front of you until you shape it into an answer that you immediately know is correct.  There’s no catchall approach that solves each clue; you have to keep plugging away, trying to keep the definition separate from the wordplay, until suddenly everything clicks.  The dopamine rush when that happens can be anything from a half-smile to a fist pumping YEAH! when the answer comes to you. It’s one of many reasons I crave doing a good cryptic crossword, preferably with a tall mug of foamy tea by my side and nowhere to be.

This is part of the resurgence of interest in Escape the Room style franchises. Everyone loves to feel that rush when you solve a puzzle and feel smart. “Aha! We did it!”

(Oh, you didn’t get the answer to that cryptic?  Well, it’s one of the words in this post, if that helps.)

Human, Musician

Conservation of Creativity

Every once in a while, we can get in a “creativity consumption” kick.  Binge watching a TV series, or getting engrossed in playing a particularly creative video game that tells a story with you as the hero.  It’s not all electronic, either; I know I can easily get sucked into a book series and then be trapped reading til 2 a.m. because I want to inject the whole story directly into my veins like a junkie jonesing for another fix.

At times like that, you’re oddly out of balance.  You’re taking and not giving back.

You fix the balance by adding creativity back to the world.  Making music. Writing a blog post. Crafting, whether it be with Legos, with yarn, with clay, or with that oversized cardboard box from your latest Amazon purchase. Even sitting and thinking can give birth to creative thoughts that restore the balance.

The balance is important because the creativity you consume fuels what you create. You get ideas. You see how things work (or fail). You imitate and improve. You admire and try to get better.

Likewise, the process of creation powers your appreciation for what you later consume. You didn’t really think about how hard it was to write that story until you tried to write your own. Or that watercolor. Or that preternatural soccer move. Or that guitar picking.

The best way to break the cognitive bias of the Dunning-Kruger effect is to develop enough ability to recognize your lack of ability, enough to demolish your illusory superiority and return to a state of childlike awe of those who really are experts.  And, like all children looking up to a role model, strive to be as good as them ‘when you grow up.’

And that means consuming more creative. And creating more for others to consume.