Tag Archives: advice

Alexandria Living – “The Future is Up to You”

Just a little announcement:

I’m excited to let you know I have another essay appearing in the current issue of Alexandria Living magazine!

It’s always a thrill to work with the kind folks at the magazine and as an Alexandria, Virginia resident it is especially fun to contribute.

Below is the link to my piece in the online version of Alexandria Living. If you like, please comment on the magazine website in the space they provide just below the essay.

We love the feedback!

https://alexandrialivingmagazine.com/lifestyle/the-future-is-up-to-you/

Thanks again to all those who’ve asked what I’ve been up to lately. Blogging continues to be great fun and has proven to be an exciting pathway to opportunities such as this. Exciting!

Stuart M. Perkins

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Hand on the Plow

I watched the morning news but turned away when feelings of hopelessness washed over me as they reported infection rates and death tolls. Isolation is helping end this nightmare, they say, but for any one individual it can sometimes seem an exercise in futility. When a reporter stressed the importance of continuing our social distancing practices, an old memory crossed my mind:

“No.” Ms. Wade shook her head. “Here’s what you’re going to do.” She put her arm around my shoulder. “Keep your hand on the plow and hold on.”

I knew what she meant.

Having grown up around farming and plows I understood the metaphor, but until then I’d never heard anyone describe so succinctly a situation pertaining to myself. Don’t dismay, was her message. Simply continue doing what I’d been doing.

It was early 1980s and I was a twenty-year-old kid working a part-time retail job. Ms. Wade was an older African-American woman who had done that same job full-time for decades. She trained me, showed me around, and only a couple weeks into the job had become my mentor and good friend.

New in the position, one day I rang up something incorrectly. Technology not being then what it is now, that was easy to do. My inadvertent mistake, realized later, cost the store less than twenty dollars but that was serious stuff for them – and I assumed it would be for me. I waited to be fired.

For an entire week I came to work expecting the worst and it was a tense few days. During that time Ms. Wade listened to my worries but encouraged me to keep my chin up and just keep doing what I was doing. I didn’t feel like it. I thought maybe I should quit.

“You can’t quit when things seem worthless. That’s exactly when you don’t quit.” Ms. Wade looked at me and put her hand on her hip. “Just hold on, I told you. Keep your hand on the plow and hold on.”

I whined to her again anyway, so bothered by the thought of being fired and having to explain the embarrassment to everyone as well as find another job. For me that situation seemed pretty gloomy, and I told her so.

Ms. Wade patiently encouraged me to keep going, even through moments of confusion and fear. It was ok if I didn’t know the outcome. The point was to push on, doing all I could do, taking it day by day.

“This is a mustard seed moment, honey.” Ms. Wade said as nonchalantly as if she were telling me the time of day. I was getting the impression she’d kept her hand on the plow many times in life.

A few days later I was informed, unceremoniously, that personnel had discussed my mistake and chalked it up to inexperience and a learning curve. Because I’d continued working and demonstrated my determination, they decided to let it all go. Wow. Just as Ms. Wade said, the best thing to do was carry on, regardless of apprehension.

Yes, what a memory of the valuable lesson that good woman taught me.

I turned back to the television. More reports of infections and deaths. So much uncertainty. When will this end? How much can any of us really do? I’m not the only person experiencing moments of confusion and worry, those feelings are swallowing the entire world as we wait for a resolution.

For now, our responsibilities are to be careful, follow advice, and keep at it even during moments of doubt. Especially during moments of doubt. A solution will eventually come. In the meantime, I can’t offer an answer to this mess, but I can offer one bit of advice.

Just hold on. Keep your hand on the plow and hold on.

Stuart M. Perkins

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Alexandria Living – Life is Like a Loaf of Bread

Just a little announcement:

I’m excited to let you know I have another essay appearing in the current issue of Alexandria Living magazine!

It’s always a thrill to work with the kind folks at the magazine and as an Alexandria, Virginia resident it was especially fun to contribute.

Below is the link to my piece in the online version of Alexandria Living.  Check it out, and if you like, please comment on the magazine website in the space just below the essay. We would love to hear your feedback!

https://alexandrialivingmagazine.com/lifestyle/life-is-like-a-loaf-of-bread/

Thanks to all those who’ve asked what I’ve been up to lately. Blogging continues to be great fun and has proven to be an exciting pathway to opportunities like this. Exciting!

Stuart M. Perkins

58 Comments

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Perfect Fit

“Hopefully I’ll have that again someday.” my son Evan said wistfully over the phone.

“You will!” I encouraged him. “Just give it a while.”

“Best that it’s over but there were still some fun times.” he went on.

“You’ll have that with someone new.” I said. “You’re only nineteen. Plenty of time.”

“Yeah.” he said solemnly. “Just not sure it will happen again or be as good.”

“It will only be better!” I said confidently.

“But how do you know it will be better?” he asked.

Oh no. He wanted an answer.

I’m absolutely no relationship expert. I’ve been in several and calculate I’d have done things differently in every case. I’m just no fountain of good advice. Still, my son’s lamenting after his unpleasant breakup triggered memories and I searched for words of wisdom to help him through this momentary setback.

That strong parental desire to offer profound guidance washed over me. I prepared to launch into weighty philosophical input that would surely embolden him to dismiss his temporary breakup regrets. I took a deep breath and began my lofty speech.

“Well, it’s like this…” I began.

With the spotlight squarely on me and my son listening intently, paying more attention to a parent than any nineteen year old ever has, I went into a panic. Ideas had flashed before me while Evan spoke. Where had they gone? What had I intended to say? What was that clever tidbit again? Gone. All gone. But Evan waited eagerly.

“Well, it’s like this…” I began again. “Relationships are like underwear.”

I had no clue where that came from even as I heard myself say it.

“Ok…?” Evan chuckled in anticipation.

That wasn’t enough? I had to say more?

“You put on a new pair of underwear and it’s great. Feels good, nice change, you like them, and soon find you prefer them over all others. How wonderful life is with this new pair of underwear.”

“Ok…?” Evan chuckled again.

He expected even more? He’s a nineteen year old boy. Time to break it down.

“Well, then one day you realize the new underwear is up your ass.”

Evan chuckled loudly this time. “Ok…?”

“So you say wow, didn’t expect that. You make a few adjustments and you try to move on. It happens again. A few more tries to make things right but it’s just not working. No matter how much you’d loved the new underwear and no matter how many adjustments were made there has now come the point when you realize you need to take them off for good.”

Silence.

“So, unfortunately you say goodbye to that pair but at some point you come across another new pair. You put them on and maybe something about them reminds you too much of the pair that hadn’t worked out so well in the past. You pretty quickly take this pair off having learned from the last just what works for you about underwear and what doesn’t.”

Silence.

“None of us know when or where we might ultimately find underwear with the right fit, but we keep trying with yet another new pair if an old pair fails. So, I know your next pair of underwear will be better than the last because you learn something each time you try one on. Never settle for the wrong fit. Remember, none of this means that you or any of the pairs of underwear were necessarily bad. It simply means the fit wasn’t right.”

Silence.

“One day you’ll put on that next new pair of underwear and they’ll feel pretty nice but  you may hesitate. Ignore the fact that any one pair of underwear, or maybe all underwear, has disappointed you in the past. If this newest pair feels good then enjoy it and see what happens. One day you’ll put on a new pair and the fit will be so nice, so perfect, that you’ll skip along every day for the rest of your life not even realizing you have on underwear at all.”

There, that was all I had. I knew I’d fallen short but I’m just not good with relationship advice. I waited for the dial tone I knew was coming…

That” Evan said through a hearty laugh, “was the dumbest, grossest, and best thing I’ve ever heard! That was awesome.”

Phew! I wiped the sweat from my upper lip.

Evan hadn’t necessarily asked for relationship advice nor had I been eager to give any. What do I know? His angst was serious and my response may not have been, but I recognized his feelings and let him know in the wacky way he probably expected of me that I understood.

Keep trying. The perfect fit is out there.

Stuart M. Perkins

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Stay and Change It

A passenger on the bus this morning finished a phone call as he sat down beside me.

“Nope. All I got in my fraternity was hung over.” he said.

I remembered a hangover from my fraternity days, but that wasn’t all I got. I also got an excellent piece of advice.

I didn’t want to join a fraternity. The last thing I needed was to squeeze frat parties into a busy class schedule. However, a friend whose reverse idea was to squeeze classes into a busy party schedule somehow convinced me.

The next thing I knew, I was wearing a toga.

Prior to that were weeks of pledging. I’ve never enjoyed being told what to do, when, how often, and where – all while being criticized – and requests from the brothers were constant. Check in at the frat house, go on scavenger hunts, paint a room, make posters for a party, and so on. Daily requests were impromptu and numerous but my friend and I, along with five others, took them seriously. We had to, of course, in order to be accepted into the fraternity.

Oh, I made friends and had some great times as a pledge. It wasn’t all bad. The community projects and neighborhood clean-ups were no problem. Being blind-folded and told to eat the unidentified, cold, slimy contents of a bowl while wearing only my underwear, well, that wasn’t the finest evening. It was being constantly “on call”, though, that was the real nerve racker. We pledges never knew when to expect a note demanding we immediately report to the frat house. I began to have second thoughts about pledging.

Weeks wore on and I wore out. Keeping up with classes was never an issue, but I tired of dishwashing, running errands, wearing silly hats around campus, and being at the beck and call of a house full of guys who delighted in the drama they commanded. The other pledges were at times frantic to complete their latest assignments. The stress wasn’t worth it and I walked to the fraternity house one afternoon to tell them so. No more pledging for me.

Based on what I knew of him, I assumed the fraternity president would listen, probably laugh, and then tell me to go clean the basement. I was wrong.

He did listen. In fact, with several brothers in the house that afternoon, he took me onto the porch to talk privately. This guy, who for weeks I’d seen only in the role of Commander-in-Nonsense, partier and beer lover, was suddenly very serious as he asked me what was wrong.

I told him I had nothing against him or the brothers and it had been quite the experience, but weeks of daily nonsense requests didn’t seem worth it. I didn’t enjoy being bossed around, putting out “emergency” fires, and I had my classes to think about. I told him I quit pledging.

What he said next has stuck with me for over thirty years.

He listened to my whining then looked at me and said, “If you’re involved in something and you don’t like how it’s going, don’t leave it. Stay and change it.”

Wow, I thought. Suddenly my irritation over being “bossed around” seemed shallow and silly. What excellent words to give someone on the verge of quitting anything. I said ok then, I would maintain for a while and see how it went. As luck would have it, the next day we pledges learned that on the upcoming Saturday night there would be a secret ceremony and we would learn who had been accepted.

I was proud to hear my name called first that night.

Excellent advice had kept me on track: “If you’re involved in something and you don’t like how it’s going, don’t leave it. Stay and change it.”

No longer a pledge now, requests from the other brothers halted. I enjoyed my time in the fraternity, kept up with my school work, and even learned what it was I’d eaten from the bowl that night while wearing only underwear and a blindfold. I also kept in mind our fraternity president’s advice. I had stayed, now what could I change?

When the next batch of pledges signed on, the brothers’ shenanigans began again. I remembered all of the nonsense I’d gone through, how insane some of it seemed, and how I would have quit except for the wise words of advice I got on the porch that afternoon.

When the pledges were told to report to the house after class I proposed that they be given time for homework first. When the pledges were told to paint rooms in the fraternity house I proposed that we help to make it go faster. When the pledges were asked to participate in community clean-ups I proposed that those of us with cars give them a ride.

And when the pledges were told to wear only their underwear, be blindfolded, and eat the cold, slimy contents of a bowl placed before them, well, I was happy to hand them the bowl.

If they didn’t like it, they could stay and change it.

Stuart M. Perkins

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