What Will You Find Around the Next Corner?

Yesterday in the bookstore I walked past a mom and daughter in the psychology section. The little girl was around 6 years old, and as I went by I heard her say, “See? They don’t have ANY kids books.”

I snickered because it was cute. Of course the store has children’s books. Many, many more than they have psychology books. More than a section, they have their own department, actually. And it’s just around the corner from the psychology section.

This reminded me how we can each sometimes perceive things in a similar fashion. We can be in a specific spot in our lives and only see what’s directly around us or in front of us. We might yearn for something, but it may be out of our vision; if we aren’t careful, we can foolishly assume what we hope for doesn’t exist or is unattainable.

How often might the thing we’re hoping for be right around the corner?

This is one reason I’m not entirely a fan of the idea of “perception is reality.” Every sensible person knows perception is limited, therefore flawed, and, more frequently than we might acknowledge, wrong.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Have you ever experienced depression? Anxiety? Ever been in a new situation and feel like you’ll never be comfortable there?

Did you move past that?

If you have, hopefully you get my point. If you haven’t, maybe you can take some comfort in knowing that what surrounds you right now is not necessarily all there is. There just might be a big, colorful, fun new place not far away. We just have to keep moving, eyes open.

Being IS Going – Car & Driver Part 1

Not long ago I published a piece about being present in the moment. Being fully present wherever I am has been something I’ve put a lot of effort into, tremendously impacting my well being. It’s a mindset — a mind reset in my case  — that requires work.

A lot of us are conditioned and encouraged to be thinking of what’s coming next. The entire concept of achieving goals requires envisioning and moving away from your present state toward something else, in the future. Existing passively in the current moment, by contrast, seems lazy. Without motivation. Going nowhere.

For me, this misconception was one I had the hardest time overcoming. My 21st century, goal-oriented and ambitious western mind had difficulty reconciling reveling in the present with growth and achievement.

Here’s the thing, though: being present is not a passive state. No, it’s actually quite the opposite. To be present is to actively be aware, to experience, analyze, appreciate, and be with purpose and whole consciousness.

Yes, accepting situations for what they are, not constantly struggling against them, is something that comes with being fully in the moment, but that acceptance is still different than missing the moment altogether because you’re rushing through it.

It’s like driving a car. Ashley and I took a trip to Atlanta last week, and while driving the four hours back, this occurred to me.

When you are driving a car, you are present inside the car. The car is on the road (hopefully), so, yes, you are also on the road, but where you really are is in the seat, inside the car, behind the wheel. The car might be going 60 or 70 miles an hour, but your actions aren’t super-fast. With me?

So let’s relate the car to your life. Or your career, or your relationship(s). The “car” can be anything you’re involved in that is in motion. The distance the car traverses is like the passage of time. Your life moves on similar to how a car moves down a highway. Cars move toward destinations. So do our lives. Sometimes we call the destinations goals.

When you begin a drive, you usually have some idea where you want to go. Sometimes you don’t; life can be like that too. Either way, the whole reason we find ourselves behind the wheel is because we want to go somewhere. Although the car is the means we use to get there, the car won’t take us there on it’s own. We have to drive (at least until we all get those cool Google cars). And driving is an action which requires at least some degree of awareness.

As a driver, the more aware you are — the more present at the wheel — the more likely your trip will successfully reach its destination. Absolutely, we can encounter other things on the road — other cars, weather conditions, deer, and stuff — outside our control that might affect the drive, but being fully present as the driver of our car, gives us the best chances to avoid or deal with such things. Similarly, continuing the analogy, by being present where you are, fully involved in this moment, you are actually more likely to guide your life to the goals you have before you.

We all know or at least have heard that distracted driving is a serious issue. Paying attention to your phone or other things instead of driving can cause accidents and harm. Sure, we may have all had those experiences where we get someplace and don’t recall the drive. It can happen. In life, we can also reach positive results without knowing how we got there. We can also, though, wreck possibilities and miss opportunities if we aren’t alert.

Being present doesn’t prevent moving forward. It’s actually your best and easiest way to help you do just that, successfully.

The More We See the Less We Know… Or Maybe the Other Way Around

I am always learning things on my walks with my dog. Sometimes he teaches me things, sometimes I discover them on my own. Sometimes, maybe, it’s the universe.

Today while we were out I spent a lot of time admiring the pretty blue sky. When Milton would make a stop to sniff around, I looked upward, appreciating the gorgeous weather. It was sunny, bright, not a cloud to be seen. One of those days when the sky was so clear it seemed like you could see forever.

In a moment, while I admired the perfect, expansive, clear sky, it occurred to me that for as far as I could see, there was still even more that I couldn’t. Looking up, I was struck with the realization that the sunny day was actually preventing me from seeing the greater universe that was actually out there. All the billions and billions of stars with all their billions of orbiting planets were totally hidden from sight. Not because something was blocking the view, but because the light was so bright.

The idea that, figuratively speaking, the more light we shed on a thing, the more we possibly restrict our view of what might lay beyond got me thinking.

As skeptical as I can be — I don’t often accept anything at face value — I have, for as long as I can remember, also allowed for possibilities that seem contrary to rational explanation. I wouldn’t say I’m a believer in all things mystic, but I definitely recognize there are limits to what we know. It’s kind of my mission statement for this blog, after all.

When I was just a kid, the Mighty Marvel Calendar for 1975 exposed me to a quote from Hamlet that I accepted as reasonable: “There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in your philosophy, Horatio.”

1975MarvelOct
Marvel Comics… always teaching me something

That’s been one of the recurring lessons from history, right? That right when civilization thinks it has something nailed down, someone or something comes along to prove otherwise.

I’m not advocating ignorance. Awareness is essential and vital. True awareness, though, includes being aware of what you don’t know. Accepting there may be truths outside your experience is a HUGE component to real understanding. Real knowledge.

The lesson applies to all sorts of things. It’s what keeps us studying, exploring, and experimenting. On a personal level, it hopefully teaches us to not judge other people or jump to conclusions. No matter how well illumined we think a situation might be, or how clearly we think we see others, there’s likely more behind the scenes that we don’t know.

I’m still happy and appreciative of the clear sky today. Not at all disappointed that I can’t see the stars. I know they’re out there, and I’ll enjoy them also when the time is right.

 

 

What I Don’t Know About Being Present in the Moment

The single most profound adjustment I’ve made in my life in the last few years has been learning to be present in the moment. And I still don’t entirely know what that means.

As I’ve mentioned before, I was influenced by Eastern philosophy at a kind of early age. “Going with the flow” was my lifestyle choice for decades. In a way, I’d been practicing for — albeit not actually practicing — mindful presence most of my life.

Accepting and being pleased with the present wasn’t natural for me, though. Even acting on impulse more often than not, I was nearly always more interested in the future than the current moment. Those impulsive decisions were more about getting somewhere else, creating new stories to tell, than celebrating where I was.

Generally, I lived expecting things, including myself, to be better and better in the time to come. Generally.

I suffered plenty of worry about the future too, though. Tons of regret, guilt, and issues from the past as well.

I’m no expert on being present, but I’ve learned a lot and become pretty good at it. Good enough to be happier than ever before. While I’m still developing stronger habits and skills to improve my mindfulness, here are a few things that I can share:

1. It ain’t easy. But it’s easier than you think.

Being present in the moment is challenging for us modern folks. There is so much to do, so much to see, so much to tweet or post or ha ha emoji to. Distractions are distracting. Then there are responsibilities. Stuff’s got to get done.

There’s just not enough time in the day, right?

It’s true that being present takes time. In fact, it’s all about time. But the present is never the present long.

Jerry Seinfeld did a bit about silver medal winners in the Olympics that illustrates how fleeting the present moment actually is.

This cracks Ashley up every time. How long is the present? “Now. Now. N-n-no, now.”

You might want to enjoy more than .03 of a second at a time, but, you know, the present moment IS only a moment. A few seconds pause is all it has to take to acknowledge what’s going on around you and how you’re feeling. In the time it takes to read the subject line of an email, you can re-center yourself and appreciate the moments you’re living in.

ferris-life moves pretty fast

2. Being here, now doesn’t prevent you from being there, later.

In fact, I believe it provides powerful help to get you where you want to be.

This may have been the greatest misconception I’ve had to deal with. I’ve mentioned how I’ve always been sort of future focused. I believe in goals and taking methodical steps to achieve them. Settling for the present, it seemed to me, was at odds with ambition. Even going with the flow at least meant going somewhere.

I just made the point that the present moment can be an exceptionally brief time. Thing is, the present isn’t just that one moment that’s here then gone. The present continues to be the present, stretching on into what had been, a second ago, the future. In my mind, to concentrate on each moment as it comes meant not concentrating on the times yet to be. Like a twist on Zeno’s dichotomy paradox, I mistakenly assumed truly being in the ever changing moment meant never moving.

As with Zeno’s paradoxes, though, common sense and experience proved the theory wrong.

Being present is not being stagnant. Hardly. Being present is, believe it or not, an action. It’s not doing nothing. It’s being fully aware of… being. It means connecting to the truth of a situation, taking in reality as it is. It also means connecting with the truth of yourself.

Having that awareness of who you are, what your strengths and character are, being grounded in reality — that centers you on your best path forward. Outside influences will still require reaction, but a present state of mind can help you maintain focus. And that will keep you moving in a positive direction toward your goals.

3. Living in the present heals.

A couple years ago I struggled with a dangerous bout of depression. I was lucky to get some good help, starting with my loving fiancee and a couple of doctors. It took several different steps to escape that awful situation, but you probably don’t have to guess what I’m going to tell you was one of the most important.

In my case, the state I was in had roots in serious regrets about my past AND anxiety about the future. While there was a lot of good in my life at the time, I was also experiencing a horrendous time at work. I dreaded every day.

My present was terrible. Why would I want to dwell in it longer than necessary?

Because, more than anything else I did, that fixed me.

Focusing on the present helped me finally let go of the past.

Taking a minute to focus on my breathing calmed my anxiety.

Allowing full awareness of what I was experiencing at the time, of what people were actually doing and saying, of what I was feeling and thinking cleared up apprehensive assumptions and misjudged motives.

Reflecting on the present instead of the past opened my eyes to possibilities.

Greatest of all, being truly open to the reality around me helped me realize all the reasons I have to be grateful and happy.

Enjoying the present is great when the present is good. Even when it’s unpleasant, centering yourself in the actual here and now is healthier than getting lost in imagined fears.

On the Other Hand, Maybe Don’t be Like Taco Bell

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about a lesson I learned from Taco Bell. Following their lead, I encouraged readers to give lots of extra sauce, more than they might think people need, whenever serving other people. The extra sauce was a metaphor for added value. Most people will happily deliver on expectations; distinguish yourself and heighten your own satisfaction by OVERdelivering.

On the other hand, there’s something else I’ve learned from my (too frequent) visits to Taco Bell:

Don’t call something SUPREME just because you put some sour cream on it.

Okay, sure, they also add tomatoes. Still, this seems surprisingly in contrast with the generous sauce packets policy.

Yes, Taco Supreme IS different from the regular taco. Yes, it IS more delicious. And yes, the price difference really isn’t that much. But ‘supreme’?

Supreme should be SUPREME! None better! The Ultimate! Does adding just a couple of ingredients really qualify? In this case, The Bell is demonstrating the problem with overpromising.

When you present your work to others, it’s best to be honest. With yourself as well as your audience. Misrepresentation will inevitably only lead to disappointment.

Being honest with yourself might be more challenging than accurately laying things out for other people. Pride, hubris, and plain excitement can make us overestimate our accomplishments. If you put tons of effort into a project you rightly want to make sure it’s recognized as having value. It’s important, however, to be careful not to overvalue what you’ve done.

Carefully consider your offerings before you describe, publicize, promote, or market them. Analyze yourself and your work as objectively as possible. If you have trouble with that, get help and opinions from people you trust.

Telling the world, in essence, a result was the best you could do — “it’s supreme!” — can lower expectations of your future work. It can make you appear dishonest, arrogant, or unrealistic.

Honesty does mean taking credit when you DO create something extraordinary. By no means play down or minimize your work when it is far and above the average. If it IS supreme, let the world know! If you’ve been careful to not cry wolf (or taco), they’ll believe you.

 

What I Don’t Know About Once in a Lifetime 

Friends of mine were making fun of music appreciation classes the other day. I’ve never taken one, but I did go through a period where I fell in love with classical music. Studying and exploring classical on my own really helped me learn how to listen. To music, especially, but also in general.

Another friend shared a really cool video of Kermit the Frog performing Talking Heads’ “Once in a Lifetime.” She remembered I’m a Talking Heads fan, and she must also know I’m a good bit silly. I didn’t expect her to know how much I like the Muppets. The video clip is fantastic. Kermit (‘s muppeteer) does a terrific David Byrne impersonation. See for yourself:

I love how the video production nicely imitates the official video while paying tribute to the performance — and the suit — from Stop Making Sense.

Some folks see this and go, “ha,ha, that guy dances funny! Look at those weird, twitchy movements!” Some hear it and like the cool bass line; some go to the lyrical hooks. “Ha, ha! ‘This is not my beautiful wife!‘”

Me, I’ve always been interested in the lyrics and meanings of songs. Part of my character is always looking for deeper meaning in nearly everything. Music is particularly magical to me. The blend of meaning in the mix of rhythm, melody, harmony, AND words presents many layers to be interpreted.

And, yeah, I’m drawn to the weirdness.

Having been involved in collaboratively creating songs in a band, I am ever more in awe of the art in which each band member adds their viewpoint to the developing composition. All art being participatory, there’s the additional element of how the listener hears, feels, and interprets the song. It’s been said that communication depends not only on what is said but also, and more importantly, on what is heard. The listener’s point of view informs their understanding of what the musicians put out, and that informs their appreciation of it.

Considering that, when I hear “Once in a Lifetime” these days, I realize I maybe should have listened better long ago.

Go With the Flow

Not long before I first heard the song, when it came out in 1980, I read Alan Watts’ Tao: The Watercourse Way. It was one of Dad’s interesting books I found the book lying around the house. Being the impressionable kid I was, I adopted a lot of the philosophy in the book as great advice. Be like water, it says; when flowing water meets a rock, it goes around it. Eventually, as water gently washes against the rock, it wears it away. In short, go with the flow and you’ll avoid stress.

The Watercourse Way continues to be one of the most influential books I’ve read. And I did let it dramatically influence how I lived my life for decades. More on that in future posts.

As a  teen, the Taoist philosophy I’d picked up led me to incorrectly hear what Talking Heads were saying in “Once in a Lifetime.” The imagery, all the “water flowing” references; I thought they were also saying, “go with the flow.”

Most folks probably don’t actively choose to use pop music as a guide for living.

I’ve never really been exactly like most folks.

Older and Wiser?

The story of my 20s and 30s is mainly one of going with the flow. Not that my life was completely rudderless, but I did get involved in stuff and head in unexpected directions I — looking back — might have been better off avoiding. Now that I’m near (at? past?) midlife, I believe “Once in a Lifetime” may be a cautionary tale about exactly that.

Listening to it with the experience and earned perspective I have now, the “you may find yourself…” lines and “how did I get here?” hold a lot more relevance than they did when I was young. They’re a little less funny and a bit more whoa.

I hear the song now as being from the perspective of someone at the end of life, looking back. Similar, I guess, to that god awful Sinatra song, but with a much funkier groove and postmodern poetry.

Don’t pay attention, let life carry you around without you navigating your way, and before you know it, everything’s over. And you weren’t ready for it.

Not exactly the message you’d expect from a young(ish) group for a young(er?) audience. I, and perhaps others, didn’t get the importance of the lyrics because it was unexpected. Sort of the same reason we don’t really hear advice from older, wiser people when they tell us we need insurance, or to save for retirement. It just doesn’t align with our beliefs of how life is based on our experiences at that age.

But — WOW — isn’t THAT exactly illustrating the point ? “Same as it ever was.”

ONE Lifetime

Here’s something: even if you live a supremely directed life setting and going after goals, time still goes by. Everything you do, whether by choice or circumstance, occurs, in each moment, surrounded by the unique characteristics of that moment, once in a lifetime. You may drive the same route to work every day, but the weather, the other cars on the road, what you hear on the radio, all that stuff and more changes, so each drive is different. Singular. Unique.

The lesson I hear in “Once in a Lifetime” is a kind of old one, directed at the population who follow a plan, or at least a pattern of behavior, letting the days go by one 40 hour workweek after another. They might get the beautiful house and the beautiful wife, but don’t even know how they did. It isn’t purposefully choosing to go with the flow that makes one actually skip living; it’s staying busy with busy-ness, unconsciously going through the motions of work, societal expectations, and even leisure that keeps one so occupied that you don’t realize life is passing by.

I could totally be mishearing the song again. I’m fairly certain I’m overthinking it. Regardless, I believe it is extremely important to know we each have only the one life to live, and it’s a damn shame to waste it away punching timeclocks and watching sitcoms.

Mindful living, being present and fully aware in each moment, I truly believe, is the key. You can’t live every minute like it’s your last — you’ll never get laundry done if you act like you aren’t going to wear those clothes again — but you can choose to live each one like it’s the first and only one that will be exactly like it. What you decide to do with it can make the difference between looking back someday knowing how you got where you did rather than wondering how.

 

 

What My Dog Showed Me I Didn’t Know About Relating to People

I never expected to be so fortunate as to spend time with a great teacher every day who not only gives me daily encouragement and excellent lessons but makes the learning incredibly fun. I am talking about my dog, of course.

I love my dog. He really is my best buddy. As much as we relate especially well to each other, I recently noticed how much time we spend trying to figure out what the other is doing and thinking.

I see it from him all the time, watching whatever I’m doing, or what Ashley is doing with curiosity in his expression. He’s a smart guy, and like a lot of other dogs I’ve known is either psychic to some degree or just picks up on instinctual signals, so he knows in advance when we’re going to take a walk. Of course, he knows when we go to the fridge or certain cabinets, we’re likely getting some food. A whole lot of the rest of the time, though, he looks like he’s wondering what we’re up to.

We play a lot. He likes toys, and a lot of our play involves them. Sometimes he’ll come up to me with a toy, but once he gives it to me, he acts uninterested in it. I don’t know why he does that for sure, but I like to think he’s giving me something he knows he has fun with, and he thinks I’ll have fun with it too.

I’ll never really know why he behaves in certain ways. Smart as he is, he’ll never know why I do everything. Our brains are different, our worldviews worlds apart. But even though we will always see the world differently and we will never totally understand each other, that hasn’t kept us from sharing fun and won’t keep us from taking care of each other.

(Even though I can’t tell what’s going on in his mind, don’t think I’m presuming too much by saying he takes care of me. He most certainly does.)

So that’s one lesson my dog taught me. Whether he meant to or not, he’s helped me see how this dynamic holds true in interactions with other people, too.

There was a time when I got worked up wondering why people behaved the way they did. Working with the public, there were numerous occasions each day for people to act curiously. Particularly when another person’s actions affected me negatively, I’d try to figure out why. Worse, sometimes I’d make assumptions, believing I had an understanding of their mindset.

That was a frustrating, less rewarding time.

The truth, as my dog has helped me see, is I don’t and never will truly comprehend all the experiences, emotions, thoughts, and motivations that lie behind other people’s actions. What he’s also helped me realize is it doesn’t matter at all whether I do.

Oh, I absolutely do advocate for understanding. The more we know about each other, the better we all are. I love learning about other people, and strongly believe the more I know about someone, the better we can relate and help each other. Communication is a wonderful and necessary thing.

I also believe, however, that I don’t HAVE to know why someone does something in order to react positively, with consideration, respect, and a desire for mutual benefit.

I’ve mostly stopped trying to figure out why my best bud does things that seem weird. Likewise, I try not to spend energy analyzing why people act the way they do. That energy, seems to me, is better used ensuring we share good times together.

 

What I Don’t Know About the Fleeting Importance of Important Events

I had a fantastic Valentine’s Day this year. That makes about 10 years of great Valentine’s Days, thanks to my luck finding and being with an incredible, loving woman. This year we both had the whole day off, so we enjoyed a peaceful morning, shared gifts, went to a movie, and had a delicious meal at a favorite Vietnamese restaurant, Ben Thanh.

While the rest of the movie-going country was checking out Deadpool, we celebrated the holiday and the 80s by going to a 30th anniversary showing of Pretty in Pink. It was a fun experience, and I really enjoyed seeing the movie in the theater. Pretty in Pink has never been my favorite John Hughes teen movie. It is a good movie, and I like it just fine, but if I were to rank his teen films from the 80s on my personal enjoyment scale, I think it comes in last.*

Thinking about the movie this morning, I felt it odd that the prom (should it be The Prom?) was represented as such an important event. Granted, I’m not a high school student, and as a movie directed at that market, The Prom might seem to be an obvious touchpoint for the filmmakers to hold up for their audience, but the presentation of the dance as a critical life event is bewildering. Especially in this story, with these characters.

I mean, Molly Ringwald‘s character, Andie, an otherwise demonstrably independent and strong non-conformist, appears to regard attending the prom as an idyllic objective. Even though nothing goes well on her date with Blane as she stands her ground as an independent thinker all night, all Blane has to do is (somewhat desperately) ask her to prom and she immediately, gleefully throws herself at him.

Iona, Andie’s boss at the record store and an even more obvious non-conformist, also romanticizes The Prom. Not only does she become wistful recalling her high school experience, but she tells a cautionary tale about a classmate who didn’t attend prom and ever since has recurring periods of dread that something is missing in her life.

The thing is, that’s not the way I recall the senior prom. Not now, and I sincerely don’t recollect holding it in such high regard even when I was in high school. Did you?

Maybe it is different for some folks. Certainly others were more invested in prom and similar social gatherings than I, just as I’m sure there were concerts and other experiences I expected to be totally life-changing that many other people easily overlooked. I can’t think of any, though. And that’s the thing. It’s not about The Prom, per se. It’s that most of the events in our lives we anticipate as being monumental and ultra-important turn out… not.

I came to this realization way back when I was a young adult. Perhaps you did too. It’s still a truth worth revisiting every now and then as anxiety about impending activities can still pop up for many of us time and again.

In five years, is that Big Deal still going to be such a big deal?

Without doubt, there are experiences that stick with us. Some crucial events really do make us who we are. There are moments we each revisit recognizing their immense importance. What I’ve found, though, in my life, is it less often the major ceremonies and more often the unplanned, serendipitous encounters that wind up mattering the most.

Even if we expect the grandest possible outcome, setting high expectations on singular events might not be completely realistic . Or healthy.

These points are effectively illustrated in, interestingly enough, another John Hughes movie — a whole franchise of them, actually. In National Lampoon’s Vacation, a father’s overwhelming drive to achieve a perfect family vacation (The Vacation) results in a series of mishaps and tragedies. After the calamities escalate, the dad eventually realizes his absurd determination to create an ideal experience and the stress associated with it has caused the opposite of his intention.

So what is one to do? Live in the present. Make the most of each moment, and maybe expect great things to result from them. I don’t know about prom, but try treating each day as if it’s a big deal. It might turn out to be.

*Opinions differ, but I believe Hughes and director Howard Deutch did a better job telling the same story a year later with Some Kind of Wonderful.

What I Didn’t Know About Wildcat’s Origin Story

I’m a comic nerd. Have been all my life. Being a superhero fan, I feel lucky to have been a kid during the 70s and 80s when comics were arguably the best they’ve ever been (go on, argue with me about it). Not only were Marvel and DC producing monumental new books at that time, but both publishers delighted readers (while saving some bucks) by reprinting material from as far back as the 1930s — what’s known as the Golden Age of comics — too. In addition to comics, I’ve always liked history, Old Time Radio, and old pulp action heroes, so this was great for me.

Wildcat was a character from that Golden Age. An old-fashioned kind of vigilante, he didn’t have any true super powers. I thought he had a pretty cool costume, though. Ted Grant, his alter ego, had been a championship boxer, so he was a pretty tough guy. For whatever reason, Grant decided to put on a costume and fight crime. It was a thing some tough guys did in those days. He called himself Wildcat and wore a solid black cat suit, complete with cat mask.

That might sound a little silly to you, but if you can believe it, a similar non-powered fella had turned hero wearing, of all things, a suit that made him look like a bat, and that character’s books sold incredibly well. For 75 years.

Wildcat’s popularity never came close to Batman’s, but DC Comics did bring him into the modern age, along with the rest of the Justice Society of America, in the 1960s. He was featured not only in reprints, but also in new stories. He was even shown to have trained Batman and other crime fighters. DC had a whole multiple earth scenario that explained where the Golden Age heroes came from. If you watch The Flash, you’ve seen a little of that. And if you watch Arrow, you’ve seen Wildcat. A version of him, anyway.

For decades, Wildcat has been portrayed as kind of a lunk. Undoubtedly a hero, full of heart, but more a jock than a thinker. Not simple-minded like Johnny Thunder, a more humorous character, but not as bright as the rest of the Justice Society, being mostly scientists, doctors, and industrialists in their secret identities.

I recently lucked into a copy of The Greatest Golden Age Stories Ever Told at The Last Word which includes Wildcat’s first appearance and origin story. Written by Bill Finger, who happened to also co-create Batman and the original Green Lantern, among others, the story is classic pulp, full of tragedy and heroic determination. As superhero origins go, it’s really good. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole thing, but was bowled over by a revelation early in the story.

On page two, in only three panels, my perception of this character was totally changed.

Ted Grant not only went to college, he went Ivy League.

So it looks like the ol’ pugilist grew up somewhat privileged, and not only went to college, but Yale of all places. To top it off, he didn’t want to be a professional boxer. HE WANTED TO BE A DOCTOR.

I know this is just a comic book story, and I’m sure it lacks some impact if you haven’t read the treatment of the character for decades, but it got me thinking. Have you ever thought you had someone pegged, then found out something about them that changed your view of them?

Most of us are probably guilty of categorizing acquaintances and coworkers in simple terms. It’s unfortunate that we make assumptions about people based on limited information. We might encounter one side of a person, or deal with them in only one kind of situation. I understand why we make the judgments we do, but it’s kind of a shame we can’t read everyone’s origin story.

You’ve probably heard some version of “everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about.” I do believe that’s true. In our day to day dealings, we rarely know where folks are coming from or what they’ve been through. I’d like to say it doesn’t matter, but being the social creatures we are, knowledge and understanding do affect our relationships. Even and especially our briefest and most casual.

I happened to be studying marketing recently (I don’t only read comics), and a message I encountered with repetition is that no matter what you’ve done, no matter how good you are or what you’re capable of, if people don’t know about it, you’ll not make as much of a difference as you should. That it’s up to you to “market” yourself so your accomplishments and experience don’t go unnoticed. Well, if we’re wise enough to understand that, can we be wise enough to flip it around and understand that there are folks out there doing incredible things who AREN’T good at marketing themselves? What might we be missing? If I’m smart enough to know I need to put myself out there, I hope I’m smart enough to know to look deeper at who people are, what they’ve been through, and what they’ve done.

You certainly don’t need to know everyone’s background in order to be friendly or have a good relationship. Rapport is built in the present as easily as on similar past experiences. I do hope, though, I’ll be careful to consider there’s more to the people I meet than the impressions I interpret.

 

 

What I Don’t Know About Duckies and Distractions

Productivity is important to me. I think it’s because I know my time is limited, and I want to make some impact while I’m around. So I generally intend to make smart use of my time, get good things accomplished, move forward in one way or another.

I’ve been working to develop better habits to help with my focus, but, you know, sometimes things come up that interrupt my flow. Not that I’ve ever wanted to be all work and no play — far from it! — but I can’t help feeling some personal disappointment when I know I’ve wasted time.

It’s not always easy to be aware of distractions or just how much time they can take up. One nudge off course can lead to lots of twists and turns before you get back on the right path. So being cognizant of what you’ve spent time on is the first step to finding your way back.

For me, one of the worst distractions is social media. Facebook, specifically. I know I’m not alone. I’ll decide to check in, see what’s happening, find out if anyone’s tried to contact me, and if I’m not careful I’ll wind up scrolling and scrolling through my news feed mindlessly, letting precious minutes add up to precious hours. Now, I’m not a Facebook hater. If I was, there’d be no problem. I believe there are benefits to social media, not least of which is being in touch with good people. Most days I see or read something that improves my life in at least a small way. To get to those gold nuggets, though, I do find myself sifting through a lot of silt.

While I’m not always happy that I let myself get detoured so easily, I am happy to know what it is that distracts me. Because I know it’s something totally under my control. I allow things to distract me; I can choose not to let them as well.

I know people have lots of suggestions to solve my particular issue. Delete the Facebook app! Set a timer! Unfollow people and pages that clog up your feed! Just don’t use it at all! At one time or another I’ve either considered all these options or actually done them. What’s worked the best for me, though, is listening to Ernie.

When I was a young dad I was lucky to enjoy a good bit of children’s music. I think a lot of folks are familiar with the Rubber Duckie song from Sesame Street. If you aren’t, it’s been around since 1970 (I just found out it was even nominated for a Grammy in 1971!) and is sung by Ernie to his favorite bathtub toy. In the late 80s a new song debuted on Sesame Street with a pretty good message:

“Put down the duckie” started popping up in my head when I caught myself wasting time on something a couple months ago. I’m not sure exactly what brought it to mind. It may have been because I got sets of rubber duckies for my co-managers for Christmas. What I found, though, is that it helped. Your mileage may vary, as they say, but for me, having a mantra, if you will, silly as it is, that I actually said out loud, got me back on track with a smile.

Social media isn’t the only duckie I have to set aside for a while in order to get things done. With all the good new comic related TV shows, TV has become a real temptation these days. Sometimes I don’t realize something’s a duckie until it takes up a certain amount of time. It’s a challenge, since I’m also working on being more present and giving people more focused attention. Whatever distractions you find impeding your productivity, maybe Hoots the owl’s advice will work for you, too. You don’t have to totally eliminate entertainment or non-productive stuff from your life. Just put it down until you meet whatever goals you have set for yourself.