Friday, June 6, 2014

DuBoises Don't Bowl: Wisdom From My Parents

Over the years, my quirky parents have imparted some equally quirky pearls of wisdom to my brother and me that I’ve taken to heart as an adult. I am grateful for this advice, and I strive to put the following gems, and the related lessons learned, into practice as a writer and artist.

When I was a kid, in the early 1980s, my parents bought a TRS-80 III personal computer from Radio Shack – one of the early mass marketed home computers. (It was super cool – it had a whopping 16KB of memory - yes, kilobytes, not megabytes - and sported a separate cassette tape drive for data storage.) Back then, we were the only kids on the block with a computer. In the years to come, as technology improved, my family maintained their early–adopter status, investing in several models of IBM PCs, along with some sweet dot-matrix printers, dial-up modems, and AOL subscriptions.

My brother using the TRS-80 III
One evening at dinner, my parents were trying to justify the amount of money they spent every year on computer gear. Other families didn’t shell out that kind of money on personal computing. But, then other families did things that we didn’t do. For example, we didn’t go bowling. Some families bowled all the time. Not us. Bam! Problem solved.

Since that day, the family joke is that we aren’t allowed to bowl: “DuBoises don’t bowl.” But it’s okay, because the novelty of typing on a PC (and the convenience of the “backspace” key) encouraged me to write countless stories and plays – I started my first novel (now, sadly lost to the ages) in sixth grade on our IBM PC 286. Oh, and my brother has grown up into a badass, big deal Silicon Valley software engineer. I don’t think bowling would have gotten us this far.

Lesson Learned: You can’t do it all. You have to prioritize and decide what you want to focus your limited time/energy/money on. If you don’t, you won’t get very far with anything.

One evening when I was around six years old, my dad came into our room to read my brother and me a story before bed. Toys, tons of Lego, doll clothes, crayons, and pretty much everything we possessed, blanketed the floor. My dad started pushing the clutter aside with his foot, until there was a path of clear carpet from each of our beds to the door. He said, “What if you have to get up in the night; you’ll trip on all this stuff.” Then he sighed and added, “You at least gotta make a path.”

Lesson Learned: Even if you can’t do all of a task right now, start by making a plan. The idea of cleaning up all those toys was incredibly daunting, so my brother and I just let the chaos take over. But by making a path, we could at least function. In the morning, we were able to move around the room and start to picking away at the mess. Now, whenever I feel overwhelmed by a writing project, I just think “you gotta make a path” and I start an outline. Once I’ve begun, even if it’s just a small step, it’s somehow a lot easier to keep going and get the job done.

My whole family is prone to weight gain. Between the four of us, we’ve tried a wide variety of diet plans (Weight Watchers, NutriSystem, Atkins, Low fat, low carb, juicing, Slim Fast, endless calorie counting, you name it) and exercise routines (everything from Jane Fonda records and a stationary bike in the basement to Crossfit and TRX.) But, there’s no magic formula. My mom is right when she says it’s not that one diet is significantly better than another. I ‘ve found that no matter what plan I follow, I only lose weight when I really commit to sticking with a diet or exercise plan and simply do the work.

Lesson Learned: Once you have a plan (a path through the toys), you need to follow through in order to achieve your goals. I’ve found that discipline in my writing schedule -—carving out specific times to work and sticking to it even if I don’t feel like it —is key to really getting anywhere.

I can’t remember why – perhaps someone in my class had gotten a higher grade or someone in ballet was more graceful than me – but when I was about 8 years old I came home one day angry and frustrated. I wanted to be the best. In a kind, patient voice my dad said, “I’m sorry but you can’t ever be ‘the best’ at something. There will always be someone, somewhere in the world, who’s better than you at that thing.” That statement didn’t really make me feel better at first.

Then he added, “Just do the best you can. That’s all anyone can do.”  I started to see what he was trying to say, and I guess I got over whatever I was upset about, considering now I can’t remember what it was.

Lesson Learned:  Perfect doesn’t exist. Work hard, do the best you can, always strive to grow and change, but don’t expect to ever be “the best.” And don’t let jealousy of those who seem more successful or accomplished than you color your self-confidence. Instead, befriend these wunderkinds and try to learn something.

This is what my mother says to me whenever I’m about to sing on stage, or if I’m working on a tough bit of writing. She says it to my dad when he heads out to play volleyball or tennis. We love doing these things – that’s why we do them – but sometimes we get caught up in worry about our performance and find ourselves floundering in stress and self-doubt. And we forget that the main reason we write, or sing, or play games is to have fun.

Lesson Learned: Don’t let worry and stress get in the way of your happiness as you do the things you love. Remember to enjoy the ride.
My parents dressed as The Howells from "Gilligan's Island"
(I told you they were quirky.)