An unrepentant underachiever

by Dave Williams

I don’t remember when I first realized that I was never going to be special. I don’t mean as a person. I’m a good guy and I’m proud of that but when we’re very young we imagine a world of glory and achievements just waiting for us to arrive and pick them up as fate has arranged.

As kids we’re told we can be anything we want to be. It’s a lovely lie.

I wanted to be a major league baseball star. I daydreamed about it for years and played the game joyously. I was decent. I could hit the ball a mile but was a terrible runner and chasing down a fly ball in the outfield was always an adventure. At some point I suddenly understood that hitting World Series winning home runs would always remain in my imagination because I could never be good enough to play center field for the Giants.

The seed of doubt was planted in me early, fifteen or sixteen, maybe. Once they take root doubt seeds spread like dandelions.

I wanted to be a professional actor and as a young adult some pretty knowledgeable people told me I was good enough to study hard, get better and succeed. I’m still not sure what stopped me from trying. Fear of failure, I guess. Though, my wife, the lovely and feisty Carolann Conley-Williams, says I actually fear success. It’s an interesting possibility.

And that’s where I am now: 68 years old, most of my futures behind me and sometimes still wondering why I’ve carried self doubt with me through a lifetime.

I’ve had a very good radio career. I’ve worked morning shows in major markets and learned my craft as well as anyone in the business. I say that with expert objectivity. I’m very good but I’m not great.

I can write but I don’t. I want to but I don’t burn for it. Writers always say they write for their own satisfaction but I think that’s a nifty bit of self deception. What’s the point in writing if lots of other people don’t read your work and love it?

Writing is hard, lonely work fraught with doubt.

Contrary to what I had always assumed I began to learn that doubt can be a comforting friend. He requires nothing more of you than acceptance.

My old friend, Doubt.

I describe myself in social media as, “Happy husband, proud dad and grandpa, unrepentant underachiever.” I wrote it to be charmingly humble but it has suddenly dawned on me that it’s true.

I am an underachiever in one sense but I love my life, every bit of it. I wouldn’t change a thing. Not one instant.

Pushing 70 I’m beginning to understand that finding glory in one’s ordinariness can be a deeply satisfying thing.

My old friend, Doubt, brought me here.

Pictures courtesy of the free online photo share source, Unsplash.com.

Aunt Viettia’s Wise Advice

November 16, 2019:

Viettia Newcomb celebrating her 84th birthday.

Viettia Newcomb is the younger sister of my wife’s late mother. In the 31 years CarolAnn and I have been married Viettia (the second i is silent) has been a happy part of my life and I consider her my Auntie, too. I love her dearly.

At 84 she is a no-nonsense manager of a Northern California mobile home park. She doesn’t suffer fools and will put them in their place but she also laughs all the time and has the most pure and loving heart you will ever find.

Viettia has known great joy, tragedy and hard times in her life and taken their lessons to heart.

She’s also damned smart. She posted the following piece of advice on Facebook today, tagging and addressing specific members of her family but posted for the world to read. With her permission I am sharing it with you here.

This is the best, most down-to-earth parenting advice I have ever read and it doesn’t require a whole book filled with psycho-babble.

Children and parents of all ages, live and learn…

I proudly give you Auntie Viettia:

_____________________

For all my grandchildren and great-grandchildren, I have advice. Remember always – advice is free, and you can take it or leave it.

Sing to your babies. Tell them stories, read them stories, and give them your love and attention.

Dry cornstarch is better than any over the counter baby powder you will ever find, and much cheaper.

You do not “spoil” a baby with love. The spoiling occurs when you allow your child to be unruly, or a bully.

Teach your baby love, concern for others, and teach him or her that while you love them, you will not allow them to be unruly. Our basic concern for our children should be that we raise them to be people others will like and admire. We should not allow our babies to be the kind of people others do not want to be around. This training must start early.

To realize the wisdom of this, look at the children of your friends and relatives, and think how you feel about them and how you would wish people to feel about your children.

This advice comes from Grandma aka Great Grandma aka Big Grandma.

I sincerely love all of you, my dears, and I care every day of the world.

 

 

Of cold wind and warm hearts

The end of October has brought a chilly wind to North Texas. I’m wearing long sleeved flannel. The cold gray sky energizes me.

I love this time of year best. It’s a contemplative time, reminding me that the holidays will be here soon and of the nearly seventy holidays behind me.

It’s the thinky-feely time of year.

I just found this online. It’s a Christmas commercial. Tens of thousands of web browsers agree that it’s the best ever made. Check it out and decide for yourself. Then scroll down for a couple of quick thoughts.

First of all, this is a commercial for a German supermarket chain. You couldn’t know that unless you recognized the very small logo at the end. (I Googled it.) Still, it’s a nice spot.

No, it’s more than nice. It’s ruthless.

Beautiful images of beautiful people, lovely music, a floppy eared dog, a sweet old man sadly chopping carrots and eating all alone at a huge, empty Christmas table.

Suddenly we’re apparently in a hospital somewhere in Asia where a Caucasian family seems to be getting terrible news from a doctor and we get a glimpse of what appears to be a card announcing a death in the family. Could it be Grandpa? How could a white doctor in Asia know about this and why are they getting their mail there?

I could be wrong about all of this but it moves pretty quickly.

The family suddenly realizes how shitty they’ve been. They feel bad about their selfishness but good old Grandpa, the wise elder, dissolves all their heartaches by magically showing up unexpectedly, arms open wide as they invade his home with what appears to be a group of mourners dressed in black arriving to celebrate his life or loot his home, who knows?

I’m just spitballing here.

Anyway, they reunite and share hugs, tears and the joys of lifetimes of love.

It really is sweet but it’s also shamelessly manipulative and cheesy. Look at it again and see what you you take from this.

It’s a German commercial filmed in Korea or Japan; the background song and the Christmas card are rendered in English.

I’m confused.

I want a daddy do-over

Tyler’s first day of high school

This past week our youngest grandson, Tyler, started high school. His parents are shocked by how fast he’s grown and I find the whole thing amusing.

Been there, done that.

I was a single parent from the time Jeremy was four years old. The term “single parent” isn’t accurate, of course. Our son had two parents who adored him regardless of our inability to continue living together. Maybe more so because of that. He was the glue that secured the broken bond I had with his mother and he still is. Karen and I remain close because our little boy is 42 now with a rapidly aging son of his own.

I’m just going to say this once because I know he’ll protest and because I don’t want to come across as a nostalgic whiner:

Sometimes I think my son is a better dad than I was.  I want a do-over.

Wait, hear me out.

I’m not saying he loves his kid more than I did. Not possible. It’s just that he’s more deeply involved in his son’s daily life and activities than I was when he was little and I’m sorry about that.

Jeremy & Tyler
Theatrical nuts don’t fall far from the tree.

Aside from the obvious, that one-parent-at-a-time thing, there is a difference in us as people.

For one thing, Jeremy has a sharp mind for mechanics and can build stuff. I’m a mechanical idiot. I will offer that as an excuse for never building him the tree house I always wanted him to have. (That and the fact that we never had the requisite tree, but it still haunts me.) I didn’t have a tree house when I was a kid and I wanted one for both of us.

Jeremy and Emily are scout leaders. I actually tried that when he was little but his Tiger Cub pack of four kids broke up after two or three outings. That group was led by all dads, no moms. Go figure.

More than anything I just wish I had taken my kid to see the world when he was old enough to appreciate it and to give him cherished lifetime memories of the great times and big things we did together.

We didn’t do those things and I’m still kicking myself.

CarolAnn reminds me of all the things we did do when our boys were growing up. We took them on a cruise, we took them to Disneyland and the Grand Canyon; Mt. Rushmore, Yellowstone — certainly far more in the way of adventure than either of us had when we were growing up.

Still, there are regrets and I suppose that’s true for every parent who ever watched his or her child leave the nest far too soon.

I should have taken him to New York for Broadway theater, we both love that stuff. Why didn’t I ever take him to London, for that matter? Or to Boston, the cradle of American history?

Regret is just a memory written on my brow, and there’s nothing I can do about it now. -Beth Nielsen Chapman

Missed opportunities never fade completely but like everything else you get over them, you learn to appreciate what you have and reluctantly shrug off the things you just didn’t get around to doing. Sometimes I still want a do-over but these days the thought barely passes my mind before a soothing explanation follows:

Your son is a better dad because you set the bar pretty high and taught him how to clear it.

It took me a long time to spin that story and I’m sticking to it.

 

Opie and me

 

CarolAnn and I recently cleaned the tool shed out back and evicted three rats in the process. We went to Lowe’s to get rat traps but disagreed on what kind to get. I wanted a quick kill. She wanted the kind that would stick to a rat’s feet and hold them until we could throw them in the trash because, as she rightly reminded me, the snap traps don’t always work. The rats are wily, they grab the bait and make a clean getaway. The sticky traps are a certain though torturous death sentence.

In the end my emotional sensitivity won out. She loves that about me, though she doesn’t agree. We didn’t buy either. I guess I’ll have to depend on the dogs to solve the problem.

Dad, showing me how to use a slingshot.

When I was a boy my dad used to take me fishing but it upset me to hook a fish, yank it out of its home and eat it. Once Dad took me rabbit hunting in Wyoming because that’s what he did when he was my age growing up in Wyoming. He gave me a rifle, we found rabbits and I intentionally fired to miss.

I can’t face the idea of killing a creature just because it wandered into our garage or even our home. I don’t like rats or spiders but I also don’t see that I have a right to kill them. I told CarolAnn, who comes from a family of hunters, that this extreme sensitivity comes from my childhood when I fired a slingshot at a bird on a fence. I actually killed the thing, I told her. It destroyed me.

Now I doubt it happened.

Research has proven than human memories are highly fluid. The events we remember as sure as we know our names are actually reconstructed from bits and pieces of actual experience mixed with impressions from any number of sources pieced together by our emotions and imaginations. (For more fascinating insight, see the link at the bottom of this post.)

Lately I’ve been binge watching the old Andy Griffith show from my childhood and I came across this powerful scene.

I suddenly doubt that I actually killed a bird with my slingshot.  I think I’ve been channeling Opie for 60 years.

Doesn’t matter. It’s why I stopped fishing decades ago. I’m not going to start again now. I still won’t torture a rat simply because it wandered into our declared space. I’ll continue to carry spiders outside on a piece of paper.

Yes, I’m a hypocrite but I’m not sorry or embarrassed. I love eating meat and fish; I have no problem with hunters and people who fish. I just can’t do it myself.

Opie’s pain is mine.

——————

If the uncertainty of memory interests you, I strongly recommend listening to this podcast by Malcolm Gladwell. It will change your view of your own life and the world in which we live: http://revisionisthistory.com/episodes/24-free-brian-williams

Biometrics: killing yourself for fitness

Listen here and/or read below:

My wife wears a FitBit. It’s a device that fits on your wrist like a watch. It can measure your heart rate, how long and deeply you slept last night, how many steps you’ve taken each day and other personal fitness data. Sooner or later I’m sure it well be able to tell you your weight without making you stand on a platform we call a scale. (Now that I mention it that seems pretty archaic, doesn’t it?)

Sometimes CarolAnn comes home from work chirping, “I walked ten thousand steps today!” On sleepy weekend mornings she occasionally moans, “I only slept 6 hours and 17 minutes. No wonder I’m so tired.” My immediate reaction to these proclamations is to chuckle and then roll my eyes in something bordering annoyance. I manage to avoid both.

In a desperate attempt to be healthy we’re stressing ourselves to death.

“Felix, why don’t you leave yourself alone. Don’t tinker.” – Oscar Madison

A couple of days ago I discovered something new and it delights me because I think it may signal the jumping of the shark in the biometric self-worry industry:

It’s a smart fork.

No shit.

HAPILABS 105 Bluetooth-Enabled Smart Fork (Pink)

For 60 to 100 bucks you can buy a fork that lights up and buzzes when you’re eating too fast. It connects via Bluetooth to iOS and Android apps to watch your eating stats in real time. It will tell you how long it took to eat your meal, the number of “fork servings” (each time food is brought to the mouth) per minute and you can upload your eating data for analysis and coaching to help improve your eating behavior.

Coaching!

This is not a joke. Amazon and eBay are both sold out. People who bought it are leaving loving reviews. Here’s my favorite:

I personally loved it! Never used it to eat, but did use it with my bow to shoot and stop some bad guys during my stay in Vegas this past summer. It saved my ass! – Vilma Valdez

I seriously doubt that Vilma really bought a smart fork. She’s seems smarter than that. But I also think  P.T. Barnum is laughing his ass off in the hereafter.

The junk drawer

My keys. I know what two of them are for.

I have seven keys on my key ring. I only use two of them and have no idea what the others are for. I should probably just throw them away but I if I did I’m sure I’d suddenly need one.

In our house CarolAnn and I have a lot of stuff in rarely opened drawers, on tables and counter tops, stuff we never use but don’t throw away.  Pens, for example. Many have dried up and don’t work but do we throw them away? Nope. We just put them down where we found them believing, I guess, that they will eventually heal themselves and be good as new.

We also have batteries lying around, though not as many as when our boys were still living at home. Our youngest had a weird compulsion to remove batteries from every device in the house and then lose the little plastic covers designed to keep them from escaping and sneaking off inside and under the furniture. Eventually we had to tape down all new batteries in toys, cameras and TV remotes.

(This is embarrassing. Before I wrote this CarolAnn apparently organized our junk drawer behind my back. It looks neat but it’s still junk.)

The problem with loose batteries is I have no idea whether there’s any juice left in a stray Duracell so I throw it away. Sure, it’s a waste of money but it avoids the aggravation of trying three or four dead batteries the next time I need a live one.

In our kitchen we have a junk drawer where we keep stuff we don’t want to get rid of but have no immediate use for. I think junk drawers are standard features in American homes, probably in homes all around the world. In Alaska you’d probably find a lot of rusty fish hooks and blubber jar lids. At our house it’s rubber bands, business cards and bent paper clips. I think I have a yo-yo in there, somewhere in the back. Really.

“Junk drawers are the perfect resting place for the random assortment of items that you want quick access to and use often,” says organizing expert Tova Weinstock. – Huffington Post, April 2015.

(Some expert. She doesn’t even understand the definition of ‘junk’. – Moi, today)

Modern technology is adding to our pile of unusable stuff that never gets thrown away. We have a million cords and cables, old cell phone chargers and even old computers that are prohibited in the landfill.  You have to find a hazmat disposal site to get rid of a computer these days.

There’s something about a judicious amount of junk lying around our house that makes me feel comfortable. It makes a house a home, as they say.

Occasionally I’ll go into someone else’s home and know immediately that something is very, very wrong. They have no stuff in sight. Everything is neat perfection. It looks like a model home; the only thing missing is a little sign on the kitchen sink reading, “Decorator item”.

I worry that the people who live there have very neat and quiet lives.

Some day, probably a Saturday morning after I’ve had an unusually long and deep night’s sleep, I’m going to wake up energized and filled with a burning desire to finally deal with all the stuff and junk in our house.

I’ll take it all out to the garage.

 

Big round numbers

June 13, 2019

Highlands High School, Sacramento, 1969

A couple of days ago marked the 50th anniversary of my graduation from Highlands High School outside of Sacramento. A few days later I began my radio career.

50 years. It’s a stunning number. And that was quite a week, as I recall.

June 10, 1969 was a Tuesday. School was out and for some three or four hundred of us assembled in the football stadium the entire world of opportunities was laid at our feet.

I gave one of the two student commencement speeches that day. I waxed eloquently and metaphorically about those opportunities and warned my classmates, “You must be quick to grab the world by the tail (dramatic pause)…or be left holding the shattered fragments of a Crystal Dream.”

Our parents and teachers applauded my youthful wisdom. My classmates drank from hidden flasks, fired off a couple of illegal bottle rockets and laughed like hell.

One guy in the front row flashed me his junk under his graduation robe.

I said goodbye to my childhood that day with a handful of close friends who are still close and the girl who would become my wife.

Then 50 years slipped away.

KLIF, Dallas, 2019

In our fascination with big, round numbers we look back on our lives and try to find meaning in the journey.  We measure ourselves, comparing then and now.

I’ve been anticipating this big round number for quite awhile and now that it has arrived I’m surprised to learn that it’s not that big a deal except for two things:

I’m alive and happy.

Next stop, the big, round 7-0.

#SayItNow

Do you know someone who always seems happy and brings sunlight into every room she or he enters? Is there a colleague at work who brings joy and laughter to the office everyday or is just consistently great at his or her job?

You should tell them. Say it now before you say it at a funeral.

Happily, I haven’t attended a lot of funerals but when I do I listen intently to the many heartfelt  words of praise spoken through tears and wonder if anyone had said these things to the deceased when she was alive.

Throughout my life words of praise have sustained me through rough times and inspired me through good times. It started when I was a child, as it should; timely, deserving praise nurtured me as I grew and learned about relationships, my career and life itself.

I learned a lot from sincerely constructive criticism too but I couldn’t have without a sense of self respect. That came from honest attaboys.

Nothing else can quite substitute for a few well-chosen, well-timed, sincere words of praise. They’re absolutely free and worth a fortune. – Sam Walton

I think we spend too much time praising people behind their backs rather than to their faces. That’s sad.

So, today I am going to begin a personal effort to praise someone daily, someone who really deserves it but probably doesn’t hear it very often.

Like Sam said, it’s free and worth a fortune.

Photo by Aziz Acharki on Unsplash

Let’s spread the good word together on social media. I’ve created a new Facebook page that has no membership requirements except to praise someone worthy. Find it here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/312252449723087/

 

Don’t talk to me

“Hey, watch the road!”

This morning on our radio show (KLIF, Dallas) my friend and on-air partner Amy Chodroff and I were talking about a new service offered by Uber, the rideshare company. For a premium you can now put in an order for a car with a driver who will keep his or her mouth shut.

No, really. If you don’t want to have pleasant chat with your driver just select that option from the Uber menu on your smartphone app and pay extra.

Here’s Amy and me on the radio this morning:

Everyone under the age of 30 has grown up in a world where they can express thoughts in brief bursts of 140 characters or less without having to listen to a response. They don’t actually communicate as much as they simply swap thoughts expressed in abbreviated code.

They don’t have to talk and they don’t want to.

Every generation goes off in new directions that their elders can’t understand or follow. For all our annoyance and worries I’m sure today’s young people will grow up just fine and they will somehow make their world work, probably better than we can imagine.

And guess what? It’s not my problem.

I wish them well.