Posts Tagged ‘life advice’

My High School Address As a Returning Famous Alumni

January 7, 2017

       I’ve fantasized ever since high school about returning as a famous and/or accomplished alumni and delivering an address to the assembled senior class.  I doubt that I am alone in this dream.  Also I am not alone, I believe, in not being asked to speak.  But, being in the arts, I am well used to this.   And perhaps we have trained to handle this better than many in the other professions.  Artists, especially I would think poets, know that life burgeons without audience, and for example a fish or a flower (and maybe even a poet) actually does better without us around.  And poets have continued to thrive like weeds, and to produce poems like dandelion seeds, even in those arid locales empty of audience.  In short, I am warning you that I plan to deliver this high school address nevertheless.  Because I feel I have something to say, but more importantly, because I want to.  Poets know that what you want is surely the most compelling reason for anything. More important than sex, fame or money – or perhaps one in the same.   it’s like breath.

WAR & CONFLICT BOOK ERA:  WORLD WAR I/PATRIOTISM

Dear Seniors:

I am limiting my remarks to two nuggets of advice I would offer the young person heading out into the world.  This first nugget is not something I came up with myself.  Most of the best advice you won’t come up with yourself, just like the best words or phrases, or the tools you loan to a friend.  You loan them because you’ve found them to be handy.  So it is with this first bit of advice on contentment:  Don’t try to get more out of something than there is in it.

 I have seen this bit of advice violated all of the time and have even do so on many occasions myself.  Right off the top of my head, the first subject under this heading to discuss would be marriage.  But since you’re graduating seniors I will start with something I had to learn which is much closer to home: your parents.  Stories of parents who pressure their children to either be like them, or to achieve better than them, or to find some destiny denied to them, or simply to continue ‘being’ them after the parents own best years pass are legion.  And almost as legion are stories of parents, especially fathers, who do all they can to prevent their offspring from usurping their glory, or even imagined glory.  You all must know what I am speaking of.  You know it’s wrong.  They may or may not know.  But what it amounts to is trying to get more out of their children than is offered.  What hadn’t occurred to me for many years was that the maxim turns counterclockwise also.  Children often stubbornly demand that their parents offer more than is available: more love, more support, more understanding, more assistance, even more understanding, more knowledge or experience, or even more support.  I wanted mine to be an artist – or at least to value art.  The list is longer than the squalling.   Right away, whether you are the parent or the child in this drama, you can halve your frustration immediately by simply giving up.  Or as one of Arthur Miller’s characters says in a play, “The secret to wisdom is to stop.  Whatever you are doing, stop it.”

Marriages are ruined, tarnished, and impoverished all of the time by a failure also to acknowledge this maxim.  Your partner cannot make you successful.  They cannot keep you from failure, work, or illness, or any of “the thousand Natural shocks. That Flesh is heir to…,” or supply you with discipline or character.”  Don’t expect it.  Don’t demand it.  Things will go better.

My second nugget of observation would be that humans are natural problem solvers, and that this world is rife with problems.  We’re a natural fit.  So when you go out into the world wondering what you should do, what you should become – ask yourself what problems there are which you enjoy working on?  it’s said that the best boss is the one who wants to hear your problems.  The best physician wants to hear what’s wrong.  The best actor asks, “What causes this character to move?”  The best inventor wonders how we could do this easier?  What is it you like to fix?

No one hires someone to enjoy the salary, or the perks, or the status or the adulation.  Everyone is paid to solve a problem.  What problems do you like to solve?

Start solving them.  You are writing your ticket.

That’s it.  That’s all.

Thank you for offering me this opportunity.

1967 Alumni, Carl Nelson

If you would like see published work by Carl Nelson, please visit:  http://www.magicbeanbooks.co/home.html

Advertisements

My Son Doesn’t Like to Read

December 7, 2016

books

My Son Doesn’t Like to Read

 My son doesn’t like to read.  Reading for enjoyment is a mystery to him.  Actually, sitting still for enjoyment is a mystery to him.  About the only thing he will sit still to watch are sports on TV and social media videos.

He is not ADHD.  He can spend large amounts of time working at the computer on photographs and design problems, and he can concentrate and finish his homework.  He is quite organized.  But the only times he will read is when he needs information.  And if he can obtain that information by listening, or asking a teacher or watching a YouTube video, he would prefer it.  He does not read to understand.  Gaining a deeper understanding of the life around him through reading would seem to be an oxymoron to him.  What he most prefers is being out doing activities with friends.

I’m not much worried about my son’s prospects in life.  He already runs his own business.  He makes money.  He is very active socially.  He’s well liked and well behaved.  Life doesn’t demand that he read that well.  His biggest problem is that school demands he reads that well.  And colleges demand that he read that well.

And speaking as someone who enjoys reading and does quite a lot of it, I wonder if society is best served by the emphasis our educational institutions place on reading.  I realize this is heresy and in a large part probably wrong-headed.  But, as I’ve aged and butted my head up against the world, it has occurred to me that many of the people I know, who have done quite well in life, do not like to read.  And conversely, many of the people I know, who like to read, have not done as well as might be supposed, given their abilities.

I was first struck by this while trying to create a producer for my play.  The fellow was a quite successful graduate from Stanford.  He was somewhat intrigued by the idea of play production.  But he admitted to me candidly that he didn’t like to read, and couldn’t imagine having to make it through “all those scripts”.  Another fellow I met was admitted to Stanford almost entirely on his test scores – not his high school attainments, as I think he might have dropped out.  But he had spent most of his teen years assiduously reading his way through the public library, and so seemed to have wowed the admissions people.   He, however, did quite modestly in life, and much less than I might have expected.  Then, there are others I have run across.  For example, a quite successful CFO, a sought after mechanic who had never learned to read, and the Lord knows how many quite successful salespeople.  In fact, the more successful the salesperson, the less it seemed they enjoyed reading.  It wasn’t the product understanding so much as the numbers of people you met.

On the other hand, I like to read, and find myself among many friends and acquaintances who enjoy reading also, many with advanced degrees.  But, many of these well-read friends have only had modest success in life, if that.  I’ve many well-read friends who have lived on the fringes of poverty most their lives.  And of the ones who have done better, most have achieved some success within a profession.  But, of those within a profession, it still seems that those who prefer to read have still not done as well as those who don’t, or at least as well as their gifts would have appeared to take them.  Of the doctors I know, the most successful does not particular enjoy reading.

So why doesn’t reading help us that much?  This is the question which has occurred to me – especially since I like to read.

The most obvious reason I suppose is that reading is like golf; it takes a lot of time and takes us away from the business at hand, which is applying ourselves to life.  “Always with your nose in a book,” as they say.

There are probably a multitude of reasons, actually.  But the one most dire, that has occurred to me, is that the pursuit of reading is fueled by the belief that a better understanding of the world will naturally make us more successful.  And I wonder if this is necessarily true.  What age has taught me is as Shakespeare noted:  “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”  This idea of getting a step up on life through greater understanding seems to be of limited use!  Life, as I’ve come to know it, seems to be like the weather or the stock market and confound even the most learned.  And those who do best are those who place their bets and get into the game – just as those who do best at investing are those who start.  It’s simple enough, really.

A more troubling aspect is that the notion that we can understand life more successfully through reading – gets extended by the ego of the intellectual among us into the belief than they can fully understand life, at least to the extent that they owe it to the general betterment to legislate how the rest of the less acquainted with the ‘facts’ should live.  Our educational institutions would seem to inculcate this view, if only implicitly.  At one point this was the view of the educated nobility.  Presently, it seems to be the view of everyone.

To read more of Carl Nelson, visit: http://www.magicbeanbooks.co/essays.html

 

April 7, 2016

Ducks

Our Illusory Fears and My Case for Optimism

 

Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine is a huge book of 2016 pages plus an index of 78 pages and some additional ‘plates’ of illustrative photos.  (Which you wouldn’t want placed by your evening meal.)  A joke has it that a medical student fell asleep while reading this thing in bed and broke her nose.  And it would be a nasty thing, heavy as some chunk of earthen conglomerate, to break your nose on, as it is chockfull of infections, afflictions and diseases … many too awful to describe.   On late evenings, studying this huge work myself, I often wondered how it was I stayed alive?  Every sort of organism both large and infinitesimal is out there bent on doing us in, or at least sucking our vital energies and/or gumming up the works – assuming that our own genes and inherent lunacy doesn’t sink us.

Often, I’ve imagined how fortunate it is that I’ve managed to travel the miles and do the plethora of tasks I do every day – meeting with the unforeseen, the unpredictable, dealing with the marginally employed and the intensely volatile – and stay alive.

I still marvel that I’ve been able to stay out of jail, as virtually nobody – even lawyers – fully or often partly understand the reams of city, county, state and federal laws and regulations we labor under.  In Three Felonies a Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent by Harvard lawyer Harvey Silverglate – “The average professional in this country wakes up in the morning, goes to work, comes home, eats dinner, and then goes to sleep, unaware that he or she has likely committed several federal crimes that day.”  Imagine that.  Our over-reaching laws and regulations seem vast as an ocean and as hazardous nowadays as going to sea ever was.

It’s a wonder I’ve been able to maintain some standing in a society which doesn’t allow much margin for error.  Say the wrong thing, or even burp or laugh at the wrong time and you lose that sale, that career opportunity, that sexual opportunity, that social opportunity…  I remember an article in the Seattle Times some years ago which was advising single women on handling home repairs.  A general contractor advised that they could find a plentiful supply of cheap handyman labor, by utilizing those whose personalities had proved too volatile for steady employment.

I’ve wondered how the average person avoids bankruptcy.  Monthly bills and direct withdrawals attach themselves like leeches.  Insistent invitations to buy fill the media.  Credit card prospects flood the mail.  Contracts and guarantees are a minefield of fine print.  The wife and kids always maneuver for another purchase.  And when you go broke, as my brother advised me:  “You don’t just run out of money.  They gut you like a fish.”

I’ve wondered – in places beyond my grasp – how in the world the technology we depend upon doesn’t fail us?  Each day I fear the Y2K equivalent of cyber crime, or cyber terrorism, or a simple identity theft.  Or will some preteen hacker take control of my ‘smart’ car and run me into a tree?

As the years pass the devices we use pass beyond our ability to comprehend.  I no longer fiddle with the car.  My computer does things…  I can’t say what they are.  I can’t figure out the Apple TV buffering.  Even the remote baffles.  And the thermostat has become like Hal in 2001.  If you happen to stumble and brace your hand against it in the night on the way to pee, the Lord knows when your next heating cycle will occur.

I worry about how us average Joes will stay employed.   Statistically, we’re expected to retrain ourselves several times throughout our careers, while surviving to land that next job.  We’re expected to rope up through networking, maintaining contacts, and staying on top of our fields through continual re-schooling by controlling our mindset and maintaining a positive outlook.  What is going to happen to me when I get tired?!  (Author’s note: I’m tired.)

I’m puzzled how the average person raises ‘survives’ more than one child.  There is barely time to listen to all their demands!  They have activities, destinations.  They have medical, dental, and therapies.  They either want lots of your complete attention and right now – or they can’t hear you!  Their school work is a haystack of handouts, online links, and hop scotching through a textbook of printed and written assignments whose directions are far harder to understand than the assignment itself – and written as if for a fellow PhD in Educational Theory.  They don’t attend every school day, nor always for a full day, nor do they always begin or end consistently.  They need shots and permission forms and fees for anything detachable, plus lunch monies.  And lately a community activity has been added to the required electives, plus a dollop of “zero tolerance” up to and including felony time, for an ala carte of adolescent transgressions.  And, they’re up for anything their ‘in’ crowd peers might want to do, including jumping off a cliff, I would hazard.

How do we survive?

Well, in my optimism, I think of that weekend in my youth when my brother organized a trip down the Deschutes River in Western Oregon.   Being the youngest member of the entourage and in a straggler position, I got the small two person life raft with these cute little oars.  The river rushed past as I stood on the bank.  I had to use the outhouse twice before embarking.  But once I pushed off and gained river speed the travelling was quite pleasant.  There were emerging rocks and downed trees and whirlpools and rapids with tall standing waves.  There were lots of dangers to thwart by wiggling my two cute little oars.  And looking back, this looks a bit like the situation of our lives.

I did well enough until I drifted into a whirlpool and started sinking.  The raft filled.  I went down, down… until the river was just under my arms.  What a perspective.  Again, just about as our lives as I’ve described.   When, with a big whoosh! the inflatable sprung to the surface and further down the river we glided.

In retrospect we’re forced to say – in face of the evidence – that many of our fears and dangers are illusory.  Though it certainly doesn’t seem so.  But the evidence is – that we’re still here!

Which forms the wellspring of some real optimism.

And as long as we are alive, this evasion of all of these certain dangers keeps happening!  There is no doubt about any of this!  And surely this is the cause from some credible optimism.

Now I haven’t suffered the misfortunes of many, many people.  Disease, tragic death, terrible accidents, war, famine, poverty and strife have stayed their distance.  But even those for whom it hasn’t… as long as we are alive, it is hard not to make the case for optimism.  Our lifeboat is still working.

So let’s have a smile, people, and thank our Creator, or as the atheists would have it,  Mindless Happenstance.  After we’re dead, it might be easier to build that case for pessimism.

Or, we might just be dead.

Ad1

From the Editor’s Perch…

September 19, 2013

Japanese Gardener1

Want a Better Character? / Find a Good Japanese Gardener

 

            I’m not a big fan of “If it bleeds, it leads,” psychology.

Perhaps it’s lazy thinking.  Or perhaps it’s a lack of information.  Or perhaps it’s a lack of imagination.  But it seems to me, people often rush to grasp at the largest, most traumatic historical event for explanations of the creating force behind, for an example, something like character.

To my thinking, people grow much too slowly to be influenced largely by extreme events.  We are more like trees.  A storm might break us, or topple us, or shear off a few branches – but short of that, it hasn’t changed the trees nature much.  What changes and creates our natures are slow, consistent events over a long period of time.  Perhaps this is because I’ve never witnessed a person’s character changed radically by one event – though I’ve heard stories of such.  We’ve all heard every sort of story!  But I have witnessed a bonsai, and studied somewhat their creation by the patient Japanese gardener.  And I’ve observed people.

Japanese Gardener5

What I have witnessed – as far as people are concerned – is the power of Operant Conditioning, (as I remember them calling it in my day.)   (Perhaps they still do.)  Behavioral Modification was quite the rage when I was in school.  And while it may not be in the forefront of thought today – just because something isn’t in the news, doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.  Little by little and bit by bit, it seems to me, is how our character is formed and grown.

Japanese Gardener3

One of my favorite stories of my student days was of the students in a psychology lecture who would look down every time the psychology professor turned from the blackboard to address them – eventually causing the professor to avoid looking towards his audience altogether.  Of course the lecture subject was Operant Conditioning.

Which brings to mind a most fascinating fact regarding Behavioral Modification:  It doesn’t matter whether the subject knows that their behavior is being ‘modified’.

            A favorite story when I was on the medical wards was of the doctors doing their rounds for the Pain Clinic.  Studies had shown that when the patient spoke about his discomfort, it actually increased the level of the patient’s perceived pain.  So these doctors and interns, when visiting their patients on rounds, after asking the patient how they were doing that day – would turn to look away whenever the patient spoke about their pain.  This went on a couple days with one patient, until he finally broke off in mid-complaint to shout, “I know what you sonofabitches are doing.  Whenever I talk about how much I hurt, you all turn to look out the goddamned window!”

 

Being a dad is a fascinating business.  One of the oddest things I’ve witnessed, after a couple years of being in the job – is that your child will begin to act and do as you do.  (Sometimes bringing you up a little short, for example, as when they lick their fingers at the table.)  And even teenagers, I’ve noticed, will modify their own behavior – even if it’s in a way they wouldn’t particularly choose.  I’ve come to think that most parenting books could be greatly truncated, if they only advised the parents to ‘become’ whatever they want their child to ‘be’.  Apparently a powerful figure, (like a parent), thrives within a powerful aura of behavioral mandates, to which those around are minute by minute bent into submission.

 

Which brings me to the takeaway of this essay.  There are a lot of books out there explaining how to become something we currently are not; how to change ourselves.  But, it would seem that one of the best ways of ‘improving ourselves’ would be to place ourselves in a situation which bends us to be as we would like to become – especially if our own ‘will’ and ‘discipline’ is not the strongest, or if we are just lazy.  Find a good Japanese gardener.

Japanese Gardener4

 

I can’t think of a simpler way of creating who we would wish to be, than clustering around people who we admire.

Isn’t this just what kids do?

Photos pulled from Google Images

From the Editor’s Perch…

September 8, 2013

How to Succeed: Part Two

When to Quit?

Portrait of the Artist as an Old Man

Portrait of the Artist as an Old Man

 

Too many artistic life choices and too many ahh-ha! moments have left their mark on this poor asthete.

 

            Self promotion will only take us so far.  Sooner or later the Universe has to step in and promote us, if we are to succeed.  For example, I’m writing a serialized fiction story which I uploaded onto Authonomy, a serialized fiction webpage.  I created my best cover.  I wrote my best blurb.  For a month it just sat there.  It wasn’t until another author noted, and recommended it, that I began acquiring readers.

I remember Merle Haggard announcing at one point that he was hoping to win the Entertainer of the Year Award at the Country Music Awards Festival for the coming year.  Now I love Merle, but a notable entertainer he is not.  His style is bluegrass stoicism.  He’s as flashy as a wooden Indian.  I remember him saying, when he announced his ambition, that if he didn’t toot his horn, nobody was going to toot it for him.  That’s pretty much how it turned out.

But Merle learned.  And we can learn. 

Most advice on how to become successful discusses what we should do.  The problem is most of us are what we are, and so, we necessarily do what we do.  Character is destiny.  Human beings are not as plastic as those sitting across from us think we ought to be, or should be, or could be.  I know, your mother always told you that you could be anything you want to be.  Well, if you still believe that, stop reading – or, more to the point, why are you reading this?  Head back to Facebook and enjoy all those pictures of kittens.  There is usually a fairly narrow range of activities which the normal person is good at performing, and an even narrower range of activities at which they are very good at performing – if, in fact, there are any.  (A certain number of us aren’t very good at much of anything.  …Here’s a tissue.)

More useful advice would tell us what to quit.  Because anyone with a little resolve can do that.

Know Yourself

            Let me expand.  Before you become successful, you have to have been unsuccessful – or ‘not yet successful’…   And to stop being that, you first have to quit.  An old Jewish household furnishings estimator in one of Arthur Miller’s plays remarked, “The first step on the road to wisdom is to stop.  Whatever you are doing, stop it.”  I can’t think of better advice.  When you remove something from your life, it creates a vacuum.  And because ‘nature abhors a vacuum’ – this in turn employs the tremendous pressure of the Universe in a sort of jujitsu maneuver to re-fill this vacant space.   The effort required is all on the front end, in emptying yourself of what is burdensome, in creating that vacuum.  After that, the Universe acts as a big buffet, pushing stuff upon you, until you select.  Here again wisdom is required not to re-fill yourself with a past mistake.   It’s the same maxim as is choosing a mate:  Off with the old before on with the new.

So, how do we trim out the deadwood?  A  problem to becoming successful is deciding what to quit?  Should you quit this, or should you quit that?  Or, is it just a bit of this and that which you should quit?  Understanding this, will also help you to prevent acquiring another mistake – it could even prevent you from wasting your life!  Something which hangs over all artists like the Sword of Damocles.

So, how do we trim out the deadwood?

One way is to ask ourselves what we enjoy doing?  We are usually fairly good at something we enjoy doing.  So this first step is pretty easy and quite enjoyable.  Stop doing things you don’t want to do!  

The second way to prune your self is to look into a social mirror.  That is, try to see ourselves as others do.  Though asking them how they see us is called ‘prompting the witness’, and gives skewed results.  It’s best to just listen and observe.  If someone says you have a great ability to tell a story, then keep telling stories, and perhaps try to contextualize other ways you have of communicating in a storytelling manner.

Once a person discovers what they are good at, they simply need to do that with energy, and success is at its likeliest to follow.

So here you go.  Here’s my advice.  Just quit doing that!  Find where the deadwood is in your personality and trim it out!  Let the light in.  Let your green parts flourish!

Photo by Carl Nelson


%d bloggers like this: