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I am maniacal about attribution. I don’t always know where my ideas come from, but I never pass them off as my own when they aren’t.

The word “never” belongs in quotes, though. I’ve borrowed things by accident. You know how it is with books you love, books you read over and over. They become part of you -- and you can’t remember a time when you didn’t “know” what you learned from them.

In Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, he talks about a cartoon character who’s just walked beyond the edge of a cliff but hasn’t fallen yet because he hasn’t realized his predicament. Which reads, to my dismay, almost exactly like a passage in one of my books, Do-Over. I was always so proud of it. It’s a good one. But it wasn’t mine.

My apologies, Mr. Pirsig!

The first book I wrote was about a local celebrity. He’d gotten second place in the 1982 Boston Marathon, one of the few athletic competitions where people remember who got second place. He’d been in the news many times since, first after a horrific farm accident when he almost lost a leg -- and then, for a long time, as he battled an addiction to prescription painkillers.

So I wasn’t surprised, many years ago, when a middle schooler chose this gentleman to write about in a “hometown hero” homework assignment. I found out about the assignment the same way everyone else in town did. There was a big wall in our little mall covered in posters the students had made. I perused this particular poster with great interest, since it included excerpts from the book I’d written. But there was no mention of me or even the book.

As I surveyed the other posters, with passages “borrowed” from other books -- with nary a nod to those books or their authors -- I wondered who’d been teaching their teachers. Those teachers went to college. Didn’t someone introduce them to the concept of attribution?

It’s important. As a professional photographer who graced us on the show pointed out, you can get in big trouble by “borrowing” celebrity photos to publicize your radio station programming -- just to use one example.

People like to be paid (or at least credited) for their work. You don’t have to take my word for it. But if you don’t, some people might suggest you see them in court.

One other thing. After I wrote this post but before I published it, Dr. Nick Morgan shared a similar sentiment on his blog. Maybe it’s obvious why I felt the need to mention that.

Who’s in your corner?
January 11, 2018

more flowersA gal I used to know not only survived a traumatic childhood but transcended it. I loved hanging around her. She was well-adjusted and happy, and she brought out the best in me.

One day I asked how she did it. How did she emerge from such chaos so intact?

She credited her husband. They’d married young, and he’d been a continuing education class on emotional health. They were a great team. I spent a lot of time with them over the course of many years, and it was always such a treat.

They remind me of someone I started working with recently. She’s helping me reach a broader audience. She describes me in terms so flattering I’m tempted to look over my shoulder to make sure she is, indeed, corresponding with me. I’m tempted to reply to the latest with, “Ha! That’s a good one.”

Instead I’ve considered the possibility that, given how much this gal gets right, there might be at least a morsel of truth about what she says about even me.

Yeah, I know. Self-esteem’s an inside job. But if a friend inspires you to look at yourself through a kinder lens, do yourself and her a favor. Live up to that image.

Are you wasting time?
January 10, 2018

What do you most want, and what are you willing to give up to get it?

Michael Levine’s worked with the best of the best in his public relations career, and says everything boils down to that.

Are you doing what you came here to do, or not?

“Being sixty means your long-term goals are now short-term.” I heard Steve Martin tell David Letterman that when I wasn’t even fifty, but it still rang true. Even then I could see one advantage of growing older, more of a reverence for time -- as Michael Levine would say -- and less willingness to waste it.

I used to try to hold the attention of people who were stingy with it. One person in particular comes to mind, who’d recite “uh-huh, uh-huh” -- with a complete lack of anything on her face -- when I shared the occasional story. Maybe I relished the challenge. Not anymore!

You can’t always avoid people who don’t pay attention. But you can save your breath and practice deep listening yourself. Everybody wins.

What is it about happy gas from the dentist that makes me cry? “How much it costs?” Darrell teases me. Nope. That’s what makes him cry.

Me? I relax, and suddenly it’s okay to admit: “Oh, gosh. A lot of this has really sucked.”

To read almost anything I’ve written, you’d think my life was an embarrassment of riches -- and it is. I’ve also weathered things I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. Like you probably have.

“The truth will set you free,” David Foster Wallace is quoted as saying, “but not until it’s had its way with you.”

What helps you tell the truth?

My parents spent a fortune on dentistry for my brothers and sisters and me. If our teeth weren’t perfect to begin with, they made the appointments and wrote the checks. I’ve never gotten over it, and it’s one reason I’m maniacal about taking care of my teeth.

Honda for the blogThat’s how you show you appreciate something, right? You take care of it. You pay attention -- to the job, to the relationship, to the Honda no one can believe has hundreds of thousands of miles on it because it looks almost as spiffy as the day you drove it off the lot.

And those gifts, those talents, you were born with? The things other people would practically kill to have themselves? I hope you nurture those, too. That’s the point, right? To develop your potential to the best of your ability, and to leave the world a better place.

We need you.

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photo courtesy of Katie Anderson

If you were in charge of passing out cosmic goodies, who would be more fun to bestow them on? Someone who’s forever complaining about “The Man” or his parents or how impossibly rigged the system is? Or the person who can’t believe her good fortune -- when her life, objectively speaking, isn’t even all that great?

Maybe you know people who can best be described as entitled. Do you ever crave more time with them?

Didn’t think so!