The Novelty Effect OR Little People, Big Problems

Everybody’s got something that they simply can not put up with.

Some people can’t ride elevators. A friend of mine will visit anyone in the hospital and traverse numerous stairwells to visit the bedridden, as long as they’re on a single digit floor. If you’re on your death-bed in a hospital above the ninth floor, you’d better make sure you’re all prayed up and have dispensed your last goodbye to that particular angel of mercy because she’s not taking an elevator or climbing up ten flights of stairs to wish you auf wieder-bye-bye.

Another friend of mine can’t stand crazy people. He’s a generally well-liked, people person who can handle himself in any situation, except one that includes a nut job. He knows what to expect from a jackhole or a liar; but when he’s dealing with a person who’s a big plate of crazy, he doesn’t know if they consider him their savior or if they want to cube him up for a permanent stay in their deep freezer. Once he’s dubbed someone mad as a hatter, he’s pressing the eject button to catapult out of that tea party post haste.

What’s the bane of my existence?

Children.

Not all children make me want to open a vein. Only the ones that breathe. I say that because those are the only ones who talk.

Some might argue the point that I, myself, was a child once. Chances are, if you’re reading this, you have no idea what I was like growing up. So to you I say, wrong.

If you knew me during my formative years, you would know, as sure as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, that while my chronological age may have been that of a child my wisdom exceeded my years . . . as evidenced by my then nickname: Mr. Clay. My peers never really held my interest. I thrived in the company of adults. They engaged me and always had something stimulating to say—and I always had a witty response at the ready.

Children, those not old enough to drink in all fifty states, make me nervous. What do you say to them? They know everything. You’ve seen the type. The kids who are too smart for their own good and try to assert their claim to the title of Brightest Crayon in the Box. If they had any sense at all they’d know that yammering on only ruins the chance of getting a graduation present.

To use one of the more colorful colloquialisms of the day: fail.

Then there are the children who claim to know nothing at all. My own nieces and nephews fall into that group on a daily basis. I lived in California a while back, and typically almost a year passed between visits with them. And when I asked them about how their lives were going, invariably I received one of two responses: either the ever-ready “idunno” or the all-purpose “nothing.” You’d think I asked for a minute-by-minute debriefing of a frog dissection.

Epic fail.

They’ve since grown out of that phase. Now I just get a “nod.”

And younger children are no better. They’re born with an innate ability to see right through anything that is disingenuous. Not that that’s bad. But if you engage youth with even a hint of insincerity—game over. They won’t give you the time of day. I’m convinced their clarity of vision is the result of a secret prenatal micro-chip implant. What else could it be?

Keep in mind, I’m four feet tall. That’s forty-eight inches. A fully grown adult male who stands forty-eight inches tall is not something you see everyday, unless you’re me or you’re related to or friends with someone who’s my height. Dang it, children know this and they’ll tell you and everyone within the sound of their voice that they see someone out of the ordinary.

I call this “The Novelty Effect.”

The Novelty Effect occurs most often in my favorite obstacle course: the grocery store. I can’t tell you how many times the following scenario has unfolded. Indulge me, if you will…

I was in the snack aisle trying to figure out who to ask to help me snag a bag of Cape Cod Sea Salt and Black Pepper potato chips off the top shelf (because as Fate would have it, that’s where all the things I love in the grocery store live, on the top shelf), when some mom—it’s always mom, trust me—approaches with one kid in the cart and another in tow. True to form, little Billy is squealing in delight at little Susie’s tormented whinings, and the mom must have been hearing-impaired as her offspring’s caterwauls didn’t faze her at all.

The a cappella concert continued until Billy and Susie spied me. Then deafening silence, followed by dueling slack jaws. And…

“Mom! Mom! Mom! Mom!” in stereo.

I guess the kids assumed their mom was unable to see the forty-eight inch tall Black man standing only a few feet away from her in front of the potato chips. At this point one of three things happen.

  1. The mom will cover the kids’ eyes. (No joke. What am I? Porn?)
  2. The mom will calmly bend over and whisper something into the kid’s ear that silences them. Frankly, I’d kill to hear those sentences. I’m sure it’s something like “…I will give you a bag of candy as big as your head if you don’t say a single word till I tell you to.”
  3. The parent will openly say to the child in a voice loud enough for me to hear, as if to reassure me that she’s up on her parental skills, “You’re little, too, Billy” or “Everybody’s different. Some people are tall and some people are short.

That particular day the mother did nothing. I assume she became Sphinx-like because she was having an out-of-body experience. I calmly told the mother as she rolled by with her brats who were still screaming, “If you’d like to make sure your children’s pictures don’t wind up on a milk carton, I’d teach them some manners.” She was aghast and I was relieved.

I’m not normally that irritable. I think earlier that day my first dog died or something.

Another species of child who makes my blood absolutely boil is the child who has no concept of boundaries as they relate to time, space, or decibels. I’m referring to kids who have tantrums. You’ve seen them. The ones who consider any public place their personal stage to perform their own Masterpiece Meltdown while their parents half-heartedly try to talk them down.

What am I supposed to in those instances when I’m the unwilling participant in a public spectacle? I can’t tell the kid “Sit down and shut your Jell-O hole! Now!” And I can’t tell the parents “Look, you have until the count of five to turn that child’s frown upside-down. One!  Two . . .”  While both those options would be most satisfying, I don’t think they’d go over well. Another solution might be for pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca to tap into this new niche for its sedative, Propofol.

Keep in mind, I’m not referring to my friends’ kids. There have been kids who’s company I have relished. For fifteen minutes, tops. David, Josh, and Katie; Bo, Will, Elizabeth, and Olivia; Aimee and Spencer; Erin and Frankie; Jessica and Jason; Andy, Al, Allie, Joey M., Catherine, Malcolm, Juliet D., Madison, Aiden, and most of that lot; can’t forget Ryliegh; and the fruit of all my friends’ loins not named here. Generally, these kids are thoughtful, well-mannered, and a joy to be with well past the ten minute time limit.

Do I want kids?

As tempting as that prospect seems . . . I’ll pass.

Do I want others to have kids? Only if they parent responsibly. And if they can’t, may AstraZeneca can help.

What the Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster Taught Me About Facing Challenges

I can tell you exactly where I was thirty years ago today with absolute certainty. January 28, 1986, at about 11:30 a.m., I was giving autographs and taking photographs with tourists in front of the Train Station at the entrance to the Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom in Florida. The air felt unusually cold that against my legs, but the rest of me felt toasty warm thanks to the Donald Duck costume I wore. The two pairs of yellow-orange duck tights afforded my legs no protection from the unusual cold snap that gripped the state.

Kennedy Space Center, located in the city of Cape Canaveral, sits fifty-five miles due east of Orlando, and is only an hour’s drive away. So I grew up with the space program and watched many a launch from my own backyard. Literally.

Before Disney and Anita Bryant, the space program put Florida on the map. NASA and the Apollo program were so popular, they inspired a TV show: “I Dream of Jeannie.” Central Florida residents readily took pride and a vicarious ownership of NASA’s accomplishments. Because of the success rate of the launches, they became commonplace. Wanna go outside and watch the launch? Nah, I’ll just watch it on TV. But in the early 1980s, the Space Shuttle program brought a renewed interest locally and nationally. Few people missed stepping outside to see a shuttle launch with their own eyes. And if you missed seeing the shuttles’ return, its signature sonic booms heralded its return.

January 28, 1986, at 11:38 a.m., Disney Cast Members, tourists, and Characters in front of floral Mickey—and just about everyone within eyesight of the launch—stopped their activities and turned their attention to the eastern skies as the Space Shuttle Challenger made its ascent. I watched the enormous plume of smoke rise into the air. Having seen a million various launches over the years, my habit was to wait until the rocket or spacecraft climbed and disappeared into a pinpoint in the sky.

The space shuttle rose, rolled over, and then disintegrated a little more than a minute into its ascent.

I couldn’t believe my eyes. I couldn’t comprehend what had happened, but I knew it was horrific. People gasped, screamed, and burst into tears. All anyone talked about before the launch was how Christa McAuliffe was to become the first teacher in space. All seven astronauts, gone.

The catastrophic loss shook the nation to its core and the future of the space program looked bleak. A few failed rocket launches followed and almost three years passed before another shuttle flight took place.

But on September 29, 1988, NASA was back. The teams at NASA went back to the drawing board and regrouped, deconstructed, reconstructed, and rebounded with new and different safeguards in place and achieved their goals.

As a side note, on the night of March 2, 1995, a few weeks before I was to leave Orlando and relocate to L.A., my neighbors wrangled some security clearance passes for a nighttime shuttle launch!! Like I said earlier, as a native Floridian saw plenty of launches, both day and night, from a distance; but a nighttime shuttle launch? WINNING!!!

My friends and I parked the vehicle, cleared security, and waited in the restricted area near the Astronauts Memorial. Even though it was pretty dark out, we could make out trees in the distance. Did I mention the countdown clock? Iconic. Ginormous. Fantastic.

1024px-KSC-95EC-0394So anyway … the Space Shuttle Endeavor launched at 1:38 a.m. and the experience far exceeded my wildest dreams. I heard the engines/thrusters/whatever-they’re-called begin to rumble off in the distance and the sky slowly began to take on the dim light of a sunrise in the distance. The ground began to rumble like nothing I’ve ever experienced. And the rumbling seemed to get closer. Within a matter of seconds, the light on the horizon became brighter, the rumbling increased to the point I thought the state of Florida was going to break off the continental shelf, and the sound traveled out toward us in one massive palpable wave.

See Endeavor rise and provide its own spotlight as it disappeared into the clouds that night was a truly spectacular experience. And not one I’ll soon forget.

Okay. So there’s a lot to take away here, but I’ll keep my list short.

  1. Never give up. This whole thing screams of determination and focus. Nothing worth having ever comes easily. People aren’t going drop your dreams into your lap. And if you do have folks who are answering your every beck and call, you’re in for far bigger problems than you can even begin to imagine.
  2. People need people. Setting goals is tough. Attaining those goals is even harder. And it takes people to make things happen. Despite what certain political groups would have you believe, no one in this world has anything solely because of their own efforts. We all need and benefit from knowing others.
  3. Learn from past, work for the future, but live in today. You can figure that one out. Don’t let yesterday’s setbacks and tomorrow’s dreams deter you from continually learning and living in the present.
  4. No matter what challenges rise up to meet you, follow through with your dreams/goals because you never know how they’ll ripple out and affect others.

I’ve found these little nuggets helpful in keeping me grounded and focused when facing challenges, large and small. I hope they offer a different perspective that proves helpful in facing your challenges.

And may God give eternal rest to all those who make the greatest sacrifice in their service to others.

• • •

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BOOK SUGGESTION – 3 THINGS I KNOW – By Clay Rivers – Gratitude and Trust: Six Affirmations That Will Change Your Life

Source: BOOK SUGGESTION – 3 THINGS I KNOW – By Clay Rivers – Gratitude and Trust: Six Affirmations That Will Change Your Life3 Things EPK Cover

Author, actor, designer and motivational speaker Clay Rivers has recently published his third book.

It’s called 3 Things I Know – Facing and Embracing Life’s Challenges.

There is no question we all face challenges, but for most of us, if we are lucky they come and go, ebb and flow. But Clay was born with several challenges that he has walks gallantly through life with.

He is a small person, forty eight inches tall. He is an African–American male, which we know in this country is not always easy to be.  And he has several other checks in the “I might not fit into your preconceived notion of what a person might be” column.

Yet, there is no one I know who handles life, its challenges, its curve balls, and its valleys better than Clay Rivers. He is a constant source of inspiration for me. And I think anyone who reads his book will walk away with many new tools to put in their facing life’s challenges tool box.

I don’t want to spoiler alert 3 Things I Know.  I will tell you he has labeled the three things, Flow with the Go, Show Your Face–Face Your Show, and Get A New View.

One of Clay’s many strengths is he intrinsically understands that we have challenges we cannot walk away from, numb ourselves out of, or cloak in any number of ways. So, how do we deal? How do we cope? How do we live rich, meaningful lives despite what might be considered drawbacks, setbacks and challenges? How do we turn our challenges into lessons and friends? How do we embrace our challenges and not push them to the side or under a rug?

If you (and who isn’t) are grappling with challenging situations or conditions. I advise getting a copy of 3 Things I Know.

Many of us will be snowed in this weekend, so it’s perfect to curl up with a copy of Clay’s book and a cup of tea. Those of you who can go outside and sit on the porch or in the sun and read it with an iced tea, lucky you! It doesn’t  matter where you read it, just pick up a copy. You will know more than 3 things after you read this – I promise.

__________

Tracey Jackson is author of the New York Times bestseller Gratitude and Trust.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day 2016

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This quote by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is one of my favorites because it not only resonates with black Americans’ fight for Civil Rights in the 1960s, but on a universal level it speaks to the human struggle of accepting one’s self while holding fast to dreams and abilities in the face of doubt and hubris, and humbly offering it all to the Creator for the fulfillment of his purpose.

The Right Thing to Do

the right thing

Yesterday I asked my Twitter friend and member of the Johns Hopkins literati, Kim, for some ideas about getting reviews for my new book, 3 Things I Know. She forwarded me the masthead of a well-known Washington, DC, magazine and suggested that I reach out to them for a review of my first book Walking Tall. I followed her lead and prepared the query letter for book she recommended.

The masthead contained names and the email addresses of the paper’s department heads, but I was unsure to whom I should send my email. Something just didn’t seem right. If you’ve ever queried literary agents and the like, you know they don’t take kindly to misdirected query letters.

So I called the phone number on the publication’s website, followed the prompts—”press 1 for this, press this 35 for that, blah, blah, blah”—and wound up speaking with the receptionist. Finally, a real human. Score!

“Hi, this Andrea,” the receptionist said.

“Hi, Andrea. I have a question for you: do you guys review books?” I asked. I had to. I wanted to make sure I was going down the right road.

“Yes, we do.”

“Great, what’s the process for that?”

“We receive hundred of query letters. We’ve got a reviewer out in Portland who handles that.”

I think she said Portland. All I remember for sure was that it was some west coast metropolis far away from DC and even farther from me. My imagination kicked in and in a split second images of a flannel wearing reviewer with one of those butcher block beards hanging off his face, sitting in a vegan mom and pop coffee house sorting through his email popped into my head. All the while he’s dutifully clicking “delete” on all submissions, including mine. No, Andrea. Nothing worth reading today. Late. Butcher block bearded man ends the call and closes his laptop just as a piping hot mug of artisan brewed coffee arrives at his table.

I pressed on. Undaunted.

“Portland. Wow.”

“Tell you what, send your letter to [name redacted].

“Oh, okay!”

Because of its tricky spelling, I recognized the name as one of the movers and shakers listed in the publication’s masthead.

“Since we get hundreds of submissions all the time, be original. Do whatever you can to stand out from the crowd.”

I’m a four-feet tall, black, Christian, gay male. Trust me, standing out from the crowd for me is effortless.

“Thank you!”

And here’s where things took a turn for the unexpected.

“Is there a preference for printed or electronics queries?” I asked.

“No. I’d say it’s pretty much 50/50,” the receptionist said. “You know what? Why don’t you put my name in the subject field of your email.”

“Great! I’ll do that,” I said and asked for a confirmation of the spelling of her name. “Thank you so much for your time, Andrea. I really appreciate it.”

“Good luck!” she said.

We both hung up. And as I finished up my email to the designated contact at the magazine (with Andrea’s name in the subject field), I glanced over at an open window on my laptop and there staring back at me was the receptionist’s name listed as the publisher of the magazine.

No joke.

I picked up the phone and regaled the serendipitous call to Kim. We laughed heartily about the chat and agreed that I should cc the “receptionist” on my query letter. After sending it, I began writing a separate thank you letter to the publisher and in the middle of composing *that* letter I received a very pleasant letter from her (with her official publisher signature) in which she ranked our chat in the “top 1% of calls.”

Talk about making my day!

We exchanged two more letters that afternoon.

The Take-away  Even in this day when nastiness is the norm and cruelty is king, my parents’ admonishment to treat everyone with kindness and respect—not just those who are in a position to do something for you—still rings true. Kindness and respect are always the right things to do as they ripple out in ways you may never know of. Are you doing the right thing to those you encounter?

I’m sure there’ll be more to this story. I’ll keep you posted.

2016: The Year of “No.”

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I don’t know about you, but I was glad to bid 2015 a fond “GTFO!” Mind you, I’m thrilled to have witnessed all of 2015, but still . . . despite its blessings, 2015 left a lot to be desired.

In just about all situations, I try to be an agreeable guy and say “yes” to most things as often as I can, especially if they don’t involve pit bulls or babysitting. But looking back, during this last trip around the sun, I said yes to too many things I shouldn’t have. And in doing so my “yes” lost its potency.

But this year’s going to be different. Radically different. This year it’s all about the no.

2016 will be “The Year of No.”

I’m saying no to procrastination. Why not put off till tomorrow what I can do today? How about because tomorrow’s not guaranteed. Within the past year, a number of friends have died. Several of them were younger than me. That doesn’t mean I think death is lurking around every corner; but it does mean that if there are things I want to do with and say to people, I’d better get on it, and start being the change for the better I’d like to see in others.

No thanks to self-centeredness. (This so classic me, it’s not even funny.) Just two days ago, I had coffee with a friend and I shared my frustrations about how a situation I hoped would work in my favor had not and verbalized my resentment at the person who dared deny me my deserved prize. Once my fangs retracted and I stopped foaming at the mouth, my friend shared his insight into the situation and I instantly realized that the reason the situation worked out the way it did had nothing to do with me at all. All my hand-wringing and disgruntled mumblings were of my own making. And for no valid reason. Once again, it wasn’t all about me.

No to following someone else’s dream. This seems to be a recurring lesson in my life that I doubt I’ll ever fully grasp because at the moment I think “I got it,” I get dragged to a whole new level for remediation. Case in point: a few years ago, a friend suggest that I follow x pursuit. X was never on my mind, x never even crossed my mind. And oddly enough, x’s orbit and my orbit overlapped. And I guess x’s gravitational pull was so great that all of a sudden I found myself trying to pursue my friend’s dream of x for me. And after I put all my effort into pursuing x, and x evaporated, it was then I realized that I was never supposed to have anything to do with x in the first place.

No to dimming this little light of mine. There’s this one passage from the late Brennan Manning’s book, Reflections for Ragamuffins, that has always stuck with me. (I guess it hasn’t stuck me too well, otherwise it’d be ingrained on my brain.) It says the following —

” . . . the spiritual life might be defined as the development of personality in the realm of faith and grace. My Christian personality is not just a vegetative existence; I am a unique and radiant center of personal thought and feeling. Rather than living a routine existence in mere conformity with the crowd, the emerging child reminds me I have a face of my own, gives me the courage to be myself, protects me against being like everybody else, and calls forth that living, vibrant, magnificent image of Jesus Christ that is within me waiting only to unfold and be expressed.”

To me, that passage applies to my writing, my art, my living life, and my loving people the way God would have me love them—without limits or conditions—the same way some rather awesome people have loved me. Just so you know, I’d like to say, “oh, I’ve got the whole ‘without limits or conditions’ thing mastered,” but that’d be untrue. If you ever saw me before my first cappuccino of the day, you’d know I need a lot of work in that area. And many others.

What it all comes down to is this: there’s no one else like me. I’ve got to remember to embrace all that I am and strive to become all that God’s created me to be and share that with people. With no shame, and no apology.

No kidding. I mean it. =)

What you resist, persists.

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What-you-resist-persists. – Carl Jung

One of the top five worst ways to handle life’s challenges. Explore the pitfalls of this tactic and discover better coping skills in my book, 3 Things I Know: Facing and Embracing Life’s Challenges.