Jumping to Conclusions In Life and in Writing

One spring, several years ago, I discovered that my chickens were smarter than I was. That did not bode well with me. I have college and graduate school degrees. I speak 2.75 languages (meaning besides the two languages in which I’m somewhat fluent, I speak enough French and Spanish to order a glass of mineral water in a small, uncrowded European cafe). I even know how to color coordinate clothes.  And I’m capable of realizing that I should feel full after eating three slices of lemon meringue pie. But still, my chickens were smarter.

I feed them every morning. I give them water. All I expect in return, are a few eggs now and then. They’ve been fairly cooperative. But one hen, Coco, feeling rather broody, gathered sixteen eggs beneath her bottom when I turned away for a few moments. Then another hen, Ethel, climbed into an adjacent nesting box in a concerted attempt to monopolize all eggs.

Although their nesting boxes are separated by a two inch high wall, these hens managed to drive me crazy with their silly chicken games. One morning, I’d arrive to find Coco with ten eggs beneath her and Ethel with six; the next day, Coco sat on two with fourteen under Ethel and so on. When I dared reprimand them, they gave me the evil eye, throwing me looks that said,

“Don’t even think of touching these eggs or you’ll be at the bottom of our pecking order.

After two weeks of this nonsense (or hensense, in this case), I announced to my family that I planned on collecting all coop eggs and tossing them. These hens’ behavior was not conducive to hatching chicks.

“Doesn’t it take three weeks to hatch a chicken egg?” I asked. Son #2 reminded me. “Can’t you just give them another week?”

I caved in, knowing full well that there’d be no chicks. The same thing had happened last year.

Early one chilly morning, I stumbled out to the chicken area for the feeding. As usual, I peeked inside the coop to exchange dirty looks with the hens, but they ignored me. Instead a tiny gray head, no bigger than my thumbnail, stared back, covering me with a thin film of guilt.  A beautiful little chick.

I always periodically jump to conclusions about people and situations. It’s a habit that’s hard  to break.  You’d think I’d know by now that thoughts should be weighed carefully before being expressed, and only then with wisdom and understanding. Giving careful consideration to our thoughts, and our writing, gives time for ideas to fully develop and hatch into something that could end up quite beautiful. When I don’t give the written word the time and attention it deserves, I end up wasting energy and words. Pondering even just a bit, can make all the difference.

Philanthropy and Writer's Block or Escaping the Mental Funk Zone

An article in a magazine catering to upscale readers advised its audience “to be philanthropic in these times.”  It suggested recruiting friends to join in giving, and meeting with financial advisers to see how and where to best make a gift (e.g.., $30,000,000 to build build a new residential college at Yale or $1.2 billion to the first scientist who can find a cure for stupidity). I’d like to add that there’s another vital reason to be philanthropic and this mode of philanthropy won’t cost a penny.

Last week, our postal service sent postcards requesting the donation of cans which workers would pick up and distribute to the needy. My neighbor stated that, regrettably, she could only afford to donate six cans this year because of the times we live in. I explained to her that philanthropy means, literally, “the love of humankind.” Throwing money around is certainly a delightful, helpful way to show some love, but there are other, pro bono ways to demonstrate charity that provides the additional boost of making one feel instantly uplifted.

There are organizations (animal shelters, hospitals, schools, to name a few) that could use volunteer help. And, if you don’t have the time to volunteer, there are even simpler ways.

I waited in a long line at a grocery store when I noticed the sullen cashier. He barely looked up at customers, nor did they acknowledge him when he muttered some sort of unintelligible greeting (at least I think it was a greeting).

I was self-absorbed in a killer mood, as I’d spent the day on writing my second book and managed to pound out a whole paragraph. And it wasn’t even a good paragraph. However, watching the cashier snapped me out of my funk.

I greeted the cashier like a long lost friend, and the next thing I knew he told me about two barbecues he was invited to that weekend and invited me to join his family at either one or both. He also made sure I had assistance with carrying my goods to the car. I noticed that he greeted the next customer in a more friendly, happy fashion.

My point is that kindness is a powerful form of philanthropy, one that can be easily and readily practiced with little effort, and could be mind and mood altering, which is a particularly good thing when one is experiencing a writing funk. It’s a wonderful experience to help others and to help oneself at the same time.

Persistence Cuts A Path

Prior to graduating law school, I was very fortunate in obtaining an almost perfect job. I loved my extraordinary boss. She hired me despite my being an average student from an average school. My talent, if it existed, was completely hidden to the naked eye.

I worked for a company that represented movie studios in labor negotiations. There was just one problem. I disliked labor law like I disliked finding a stray hair on my tongue after an innocent bite of salad. After graduation, my boss generously allowed me to continue to work for her while I hunted down the right job.

I desired a spot as business affairs counsel for a studio. My securing this position seemed as likely as my growing a beanstalk, climbing up, and sharing a mug of hot chocolate with Jack’s giant. To succeed in my endeavor, I needed either: an ivy league degree, gilt-edged law firm experience, inside knowledge of the secret fetish of an important movie executive, adoption by a Brangelina type couple or willingness to engage in unmentionable activities (as this is a PG-13 rated blog).

Not one to stand still, I opted to take virtually every business affairs attorney in town to lunch in an attempt to display my sparkling personality and to convince them that I was the chosen one. I ended up with empty pockets.

Soon after, almost everyone I knew advised me to seek work in another field of law. Business affairs jobs were hard to come by. And one needed plenty of solid experience.  Unfortunately, like money, experience didn’t grow on trees.

My boss suggested I go where all other newly minted attorneys go when first seeking employment: the government. Specifically, the District Attorney’s office. Even my dear mother seconded that motion reminding me of the splendid benefits, as did my friends, former professors, and the beautician, even though she said the head DA was a terrible tipper. The postal carrier, tired of seeing me perched atop the mailbox, day after day, awaiting a positive response to the countless resumes I’d sent out said,

“Why do you do this to yourself? You like being rejected?”

Damn right I didn’t. But my sights were fixed. I didn’t want to work anywhere else. Picture an incredible craving for an ice cream sundae and settling instead for cold mashed potatoes. I didn’t want to stop trying. Yet every seemingly authentic human I knew advised otherwise.

I caved in and nabbed an interview at the DA’s office. It did not go well. Let’s just say, a dust-laden legal treatise accidentally landed on the assistant DA’s foot with a fairly strong downward force, mid interview. I left knowing I’d not be back.

Despite the rumblings from all that chances of getting the job I wanted were slim, I snagged my perfect position a few months later. Success had been lingering just around the corner,  appearances be damned.

The majority of writers know the sting of rejection well, myself included. But we manage to lick our wounds and carry on. How many of our dreams, large or small, are dashed or sidetracked, due to well meaning advice or criticism? Ultimately, the voice we must listen to is our own. Life is filled with good intentions. And you know where that road can lead. Think for yourself or someone else will do your thinking for you.