Nickels and Dimes

I Want a Book on Shipbuilding

Putting political leanings aside, when asked which one book he would take with him to a deserted island, William F. Buckley Jr. replied, “A book on shipbuilding.”

Sometimes the seemingly simple, obvious answer is the one that makes the most sense.

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Nickels and Dimes is a series of short commentaries on inspiration, decision-making, relationships, and other items. I will post these thoughts every Tuesday and Thursday until I run out of new things to say.

For a daily helping of wisdom, please visit these excellent thinkers: Matt CheuvrontSam DavidsonPaul Jarvis, and Josh Linkner. Oh, and of course, Paulo Coelho.

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Ain’t nobody got time for that

We all have habits we wish we could kick (Taco Bell and dipping are two of mine). Most of us have patters of thinking we wish we could change. These habits and thoughts are often annoying, time draining, energy wasting, and something we plain wish that we could boot to the curb.

Maybe it’s pressing snooze 5-times in the AM before stepping out of bed. Maybe it’s the day-ruining habit of checking your work inbox on your cell phone before leaving bed. This habit is sure to turn a day into one spent responding to the requests of others instead of charting your own course. I know, because I’m a vicious and repeat offender.

Sometimes the difficulty is something as simple, yet impossibly unavoidable as not letting the grating behavior of a coworker, peer, or other acquaintance actually affect us.

Aimless hours spent watching TV, stalking Facebook or Twitter, and browsing Pinterest all suck time away from otherwise productive endeavors.

The point is that although any given day feels like it lasts forever, our weeks, months, and years pass so fast they quickly become nearly indistinguishable from one another. Time is precious. And its fleeting. Realize what wastes your time and fix it.

Because when it comes to losing minutes that matter each day, Sweet Brown said it best:: “Ain’t nobody got time for that.”

Walk With Everyone

“Proud Scholar
Step down from your summit
Fall in love and become a fool!

Become humble like dust
Walk with everyone
Good and bad, young and old

So one day
You may become a king”

Rumi

Should we include or exclude, welcome or shun those we meet? Do we seek to understand the story a person’s shoes tell or ignore the miles that person has walked in them? Can we accept the challenge of listening to, empathizing with, and inquiring about others instead of ignoring or condemning?

We can walk with everyone, good and bad, young and old. Or we can not? The choice is ours.

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Nickels and Dimes is a series of short commentaries on inspiration, decision-making, relationships, and other items. I will post these thoughts every Tuesday and Thursday until I run out of new things to say.

For a daily helping of wisdom, please visit these excellent thinkers: Matt CheuvrontSam DavidsonPaul Jarvis, and Josh Linkner. Oh, and of course, Paulo Coelho.

Ups & Downs Require Ups & Downs

Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin is my favorite book. That I envy the singularity of purpose in his character Corrigan, a radical Irish monk with vague religious affiliations who shares a Bronx slum with pimps, drug pushers, prostitutes, and otherwise dying souls, is a story for another day. Or another life to have been chosen, but that’s not the point of this post.

In June, I read McCann’s latest novel, Transatlantic, a story of people and interconnected families spanning four centuries and two continents. I brought my copy to read at breakfast one Saturday morning at a local Cleveland restaurant. At the table next to me, residents from the nearby hospital sipped the end of another night shift through red aluminum Tecate cans. Their gray-blue scrubs looked as worn as their faces. Get some sleep, I thought, or at least have another beer.

A cute girl who wore funky, square-rimmed aqua glasses and a cute, half-smile that slanted up on the rights side nodded at the pinky-width blue sticky tags waving from inside Transatlantic. Hmm, her eyes eyed as she rang up my bill. If you could only see the margin notes, then you’d really shake your head, I thought.

“Any good?” She asked.

“I like the writing, but not the book,” I said.

“How so?” She tapped at the tip of her glasses with a fingernail splattered, not painted, with green polish.

“Well,” I started, “it’s sparse but descriptive. If that makes sense. His verbs make me pause and think. They’re original and surprising. The text has an easy rhythm. I like the pace and language. But the stories lack punch. They don’t interest me. It’s not as good to me as his other stuff.”

I wondered where in my brain that description came from.

The waitress shifted her weight off both legs and leaned to her right side away from a young man with a wispy mustache who balanced a tray of tortilla-wrapped scrambled eggs and balsamic dressed greens.

“Well, I guess to have ups and downs there need to be ups and downs,” she said after a few seconds of thinking.

“You’re right,” I said. “That’s wonderful. Thank you.”

And she is right.

Ups and downs are normal. Tomorrow might be better than today, which might be worse than yesterday. One story resonates less than another does, or a new project at work goes better or worse than the ones before and after it. Basketball players make shots in bunches as if they might never miss again only to hit a drought where everything they shoot bangs against an iron rim and falls to the hardwood court.

Daniel Day-Lewis sandwiched Nine between Oscar wins in There Will be Blood and Lincoln. Emma Stone dated Kieran Culkin (Fuller, grrr) and Andrew Garfield before she found me (oh wait, I guess I’m still waiting for her phone call).

Deion Sanders made “Must be the Money” in the same year he did this and won NFL defensive player of the year.

The point is that nothing can be perfect. We’re never as good as we want to believe during the ‘ups,’ and we’re never as bad as we might think during the ‘downs.’ The challenge is to continue working and producing. The challenge is to accept that the only way to have ups is to endure some of the downs that come along for the ride.

The Shots We Don’t Take

Every moment is a chance to do something. Anything. Because when the moment passes, it’s gone. Forever lost to memories. Conversations pass before we know they’re gone. Subtle pleas for help go unheard until screams whimper goodbye.

Sure, conversations swing around later, and we can ask the question “how are you doing” any time other than now. Time, after all, slips past without concern for its participants. Tomorrow’s promise teases us with what we can do then instead of asking us what we should do now. Tomorrow is a perpetual plan B, a mistress causing neglect for any particular moment.

All we really get is one crack at each moment. Every conversation. Every encounter. Even with the people we will see again tomorrow, the moment is never the same. Emotions always change. Time leaps forward and it won’t let things be the same as before. The now flashes before us and doesn’t return..

We store moments already gone in the past, and we long for things to come in the future. But every “now” is our chance to do something, to make a difference for someone, and we only get one shot before its gone.

Fall on that Damn Sword…

Listening to the radio yesterday, I heard a former NFL offensive lineman turned sports commentator discuss quarterbacks in the NFL. He said that this position receives the “lions share” of the credit when the team wins and the majority of blame when the team loses. As the default leader of the team, to earn the respect of his teammates, the quarterback must be willing to deflect the praise he receives for wins while accepting the blame thrown his way over losses.

I think these words resonate in all instances that involve others: work relationships, school projects, volunteer efforts, side businesses, and coed rec sports leagues (yes I still play as you’ll read about in a few days).

Respected, honest leadership is borne from our willingness to shoulder blame for mistakes (whether our individual screw-ups or those of our team) and exalt the efforts of our teammates above our own when celebrating successes. Everyone wants attention. Hell, I want it so much I acted in a play at Huntington Playhouse in June to feel the adrenaline rush of performing onstage for a crowd.

The real goal, though, should be to resist the temptation to pursue recognition, while seeking the responsibility of accepting fault. If we do this, others are likely to follow our example.

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Nickels and Dimes is a series of short commentaries on inspiration, decision-making, relationships, and other items. I will post these thoughts every Tuesday and Thursday until I run out of new things to say.

For a daily helping of wisdom, please visit these excellent thinkers: Matt CheuvrontSam DavidsonPaul Jarvis, and Josh Linkner. Oh, and of course, Paulo Coelho.

Meeting Beyond What is Right and Wrong

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing
there is a field. I will meet you there.”
Rumi

Life is ambiguous. It plays out in shades of gray more often than black and white. Sometimes the answer to the question of who is right and who is wrong doesn’t matter. Sometimes good people do bad things. Sometimes bad people do good things. Incessant judgment of others pursuits and passions can be futile, energy wasted that is better spent somewhere else.

Create, share, and love. Embrace. Care. Place acceptance above condemnation. Prioritize understanding.

Seek the distant field that exists where we overcome thoughts of right and wrong. There are good people there.

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Nickels and Dimes is a series of short commentaries on inspiration, decision-making, relationships, and other items. I will post these thoughts every Tuesday and Thursday until I run out of new things to say.

For a daily helping of wisdom, please visit these excellent thinkers: Matt CheuvrontSam DavidsonPaul Jarvis, and Josh Linkner. Oh, and of course, Paulo Coelho.

Congratulations, by the Way

Writer George Saunders delivered a commencement address at Syracuse University this past spring urging us towards kindness.  Chances are you’ve read it already, or someone has at least shared it with you as the speech tours social media and flies in and out of work emails. Random House plans to publish Congratulations, by the Way next year, similar to This is Water by David Foster Wallace.

During his speech, Saunders says that “although it’s a little corny, and don’t quite know what to do with it: ‘What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness.’ The words resonate because, as David Ulin writes, “we’ve all been there.”

I know my failure (or one of them because if you know me well you know there are many). The image is clear, a vision more crystal than the memory of exploding convenient store glass in my parent’s Trailblazer. The moment, or moments, occurred in high school. Senior year. Lunch. I sit and eat with a pack of friends. A young kid a grade or two below me sits alone at a table. Day after day. Lunch after lunch. Alone.

Nobody mocked him. Nobody poked fun. Nobody teased. We would have had to notice him if we wanted to be jerks. And we didn’t even take that step. Or at least I didn’t, ever, not in any meaningful way. And I think about this lack of kindness, this complete and utter indifference to someone else. It eats at me, most days,

This is just one example of many regrettable actions (or in-actions) on my part. Live, learn, and improve, I suppose. It just sucks that sometimes how we learn what we learn never leaves our side.

Perfection is impossible. This is fact. But if we’re all going to screw up anyways, shouldn’t we aim to “err in the direction of kindness”?

George Saunders: Congratulations, by the Way

“Down through the ages, a traditional form has evolved for this type of speech, which is: Some old fart, his best years behind him, who, over the course of his life, has made a series of dreadful mistakes (that would be me), gives heartfelt advice to a group of shining, energetic young people, with all of their best years ahead of them (that would be you).

And I intend to respect that tradition.

Now, one useful thing you can do with an old person, in addition to borrowing money from them, or asking them to do one of their old-time “dances,” so you can watch, while laughing, is ask: “Looking back, what do you regret?” And they’ll tell you. Sometimes, as you know, they’ll tell you even if you haven’t asked. Sometimes, even when you’ve specifically requested they not tell you, they’ll tell you.

So: What do I regret? Being poor from time to time? Not really. Working terrible jobs, like “knuckle-puller in a slaughterhouse?” (And don’t even ASK what that entails.) No. I don’t regret that. Skinny-dipping in a river in Sumatra, a little buzzed, and looking up and seeing like 300 monkeys sitting on a pipeline, pooping down into the river, the river in which I was swimming, with my mouth open, naked? And getting deathly ill afterwards, and staying sick for the next seven months? Not so much. Do I regret the occasional humiliation? Like once, playing hockey in front of a big crowd, including this girl I really liked, I somehow managed, while falling and emitting this weird whooping noise, to score on my own goalie, while also sending my stick flying into the crowd, nearly hitting that girl? No. I don’t even regret that.

But here’s something I do regret: (more…)

The Parable of the Fisherman and Investment Banker

This story, written by someone much wiser than me, is an oldie but a goodie…

An investment banker stood at the pier of a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. Inside the small boat were several large yellowfin tuna. The banker complimented the fisherman on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took to catch them.

The fisherman replied, “Only a little while.”

The banker then asked why didn’t he stay out longer and catch more fish?

The fisherman said he had enough to support his family’s immediate needs.

The banker then asked, “But what do you do with the rest of your time?”

The fisherman said, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siestas with my wife, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine, and play guitar with my amigos. I have a full and busy life.”

The investor scoffed, “I am an Ivy League MBA and could help you. You should spend more time fishing and with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat. With the proceeds from the bigger boat, you could buy several boats, and eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats.

“The investor continued, “And instead of selling your catch to a middleman you would then sell directly to the processor, eventually opening your own cannery. You would control the product, processing, and distribution! You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City, then Los Angeles and eventually New York City, where you will run your expanding enterprise.”

The fisherman asked, “But how long will this all take?”

To which the banker replied, “Perhaps 15 to 20 years.”

“But what then?” asked the fisherman.

The banker laughed and said, “That’s the best part. When the time is right you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich. You would make millions!”

“Millions. Okay, then what?” wondered the fisherman.

To which the investment banker replied, “Then you would retire. You could move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take siestas with your wife, and stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos.”

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For many reasons, I’ve enjoyed the above story for many years. Yes, it’s simplistic, but this simplicity provides much of its punch.

If there is something that you love, something truly fulfilling and happiness inspiring, then work to make it a part of your life. Find hours in the morning and discover time on the weekend for your passion. Ten minutes here, twenty there, add up quickly, and trust me, the more you love what you are doing, the less it will feel like work and the more it will become something fun you can’t live without. The goal is not to become concerned with magical riches far off in the distance, but to spend time every day doing something that inspires you to be better.  Work, practice, improve because it’s what you love doing.

Storytelling – and using emotions from a story to connect people – is one of my passions. It’s why I enjoy writing as much as I do, and something that excites me to approach the other areas of my life (family, friends, work, volunteering, etc.) with  more enthusiasm than without it.

What’s yours?

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Nickels and Dimes is a series of short commentaries on inspiration, decision-making, relationships, and other items. I will post these thoughts every Tuesday and Thursday until I run out of new things to say.

For a daily helping of wisdom, please visit these excellent thinkers: Matt CheuvrontSam DavidsonPaul Jarvis, and Josh Linkner. Oh, and of course, Paulo Coelho.

Where’d You Get the Tenement on Wheels

I’ve been silent on the blog for the past three weeks, but there are some good reasons for it. First, I started a new job working for Findaway World, an audiobook and audio content company. I spend my days thinking about the future of books, storytelling, education, audio content consumption, and the intersection of all these worlds. It’s wonderful and has spawned many creative ideas that I look forward to incorporating on this site.

Second, my family and I went on a vacation to South Carolina. The trip confirmed that my 4-year old niece is a rockstar, cooler than her Uncle, and maybe the cutest thing on the planet. This is her dancing to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Simple Man. She is a showstopper.

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Finally, I’ve been busy aggregating content. I’m excited for three upcoming items that will start this week.

1. Nickels and Dimes: Every Tuesday and Thursday, I’ll post a short piece as an attempt at wit or wisdom, motivation, and idea sparking. I’m calling it Nickels and Dimes because ‘a penny for a thought’ or even ‘my two cents’ seemed too cheap. And nobody would pay a quarter for anything. Nickels and Dimes sounded about right.

2. 30 on 30: For 30 days starting August 14 and leading into my 31st birthday on September 12, I will post one observation per day about my first year as a thirty something. Hangovers suck. Pulled groin muscles from touch football are worse. And Skyline chilidogs purchased by the several dozen will never go to waste. I know these things now.

3. What I Talk About When I Talk About Love…and Coffee. Raymond Carver wrote a short story collection titled What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. It’s beautiful in its sparseness and magnificent in its loneliness. My collection of three short stories isn’t nearly as good, but I borrowed from the title nonetheless.

The stories mix love with loss and hopefulness with desperation. I talk on the risks of two people falling in love and the heart wrench of having something or someone stolen. They are works of fiction that contain truths from my life and others. The emotions, though, are all real.