Best Advice

by Amy Bloom

The best advice I ever read was from King Solomon in Proverbs. Both of us should have followed them more closely.

The best advice I ever heard and unfortunately didn't listen to was, giving away your heart can hurt, having a broken heart can be life threatening, even to the strongest people. But, receiving one is the greatest gift. I was also told by someone who has since died that the world will always be awful, but it never seems that way unless you are facing it alone. Ironic words to me now. Lastly, that you have to be awake to have hope. If you succumb to the dark, you may never find your way out.

A Buddhist lay minister once offered this sterling advice: "You can't have it both ways." I was in love with two people at the time. She was right! I had to choose. Since then the advice has worked again and again for I often find myself wanting two things at once, like freedom and money; company and solitude; yummy food and a svelte bod!

An older woman whom I had looked up to for years was always exasperated by my over-explanations, which she said made me look vulnerable and lacking in confidence. Very gently she told me, "Don't complain--don't explain."

Omit needless words (E. B. White).

The best advice I received is from a talk I heard by Isabel Allende: "Never miss an opportunity to be generous."

My mother told us: Never turn your back on the ocean.

The best advice I've ever received was also the most upsetting. My father told me (about working), "No one is irreplaceable."

The best advice I ever got was disguised in the form of a question. When I was a teenager in the early 1960’s, my father, who didn’t live at home with us anymore, phoned me nearly every afternoon and posed this: “And what have you contributed to society today?” As the coddled, country-club child of comfortable middle class parents in an era when girls weren’t required to do much of anything but marry well, I never had an answer. But the question stuck with me. I always wanted to respond with a list of accomplishments that would please him. And so, as I grew into adulthood, I began to conduct my life so that I would. Were he alive today, nearly a half-century later, to pose the advice disguised as a question, my answer would make him proud.

Once I complained that my eldest teenage daughter couldn't keep her room picked up and, generally, that she celebrated her adolescent angst through unmitigated mess and unprovoked conflict. I constantly corrected her bad behavior. She called it nagging. A seasoned parent of older children wisely asked me, "Do you prefer war or peace?" . . . He asked what I wanted -- a resentful, obedient daughter or one with whom I might someday have a meaningful relationship after the temper-driven winds of independence carved out a real person. "Bite your tongue and close her bedroom door to the mess," he advised. I've had more peace ever since.

The best advice I ever got was from a crusty old Coast Guard Master Chief after I slapped him and delivered an angry lecture about how I shouldn't have to explain to every drunk sailor that I wasn't a whore just because I served on ships at sea. "Baby," he guffawed, "don't blame a guy for trying! But don't waste your breath hoping to convince everyone about who you aren't. People are going to think what they think no matter what. Just do your job. Sooner or later the good ones will respect you for who you are and to hell with everyone else." The next day he apologized for his behavior. True to his word, he covered my back as long as we served together.

I was told to live. Really live. And taste it to really know it. And then go and tell it. And finally, when you've done all that? Show it by really sharing it.

This guy I work with told me, "You're sixteen years old girl, you don't know a thing about love." It wasn't worth correcting him on my age, because either way he is right.

Writing is a craft; publishing is a business.

The single most memorable advice came from my high school English teacher. I use his advice professionally, but it applies pretty well to personal matters too: All criticism should be in plus values.

"You can try and make another person wrong, or you can be happy. "

The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears, or the sea. --Isak Dinesen

My English professor, referring to a poem that was obscure and muddled, emphasized to the class the need for clarity and intent by saying, "Never assume that people love you so much that they'll be willing to work really hard to figure you out."

My mom used to say to me in times of real stress, "Expect the worse, hope for the best, and trust in God." But then, in moments of youthful and young adult terror (usually romance related) when I begged for consul, she would say, "My advice... is no advice."

I don't know a single thing about anything, but a lot of people are going to believe the contrary. They'll expect me to live up to their beliefs, and I'll pretend to comply. Pretending makes life easier for everyone--though many teachers have tried to convince me that this act of pretending is confidence. Pretending isn't confidence. Confidence is acting as if my pretended world is absolutely real and laughing on the inside that some crazy part of me believes myself.

After a long conversation about self-expectations, my friend Connie said, "In the end God only asks how well did you love?"

The best advice that I received was from my dad. He always told me to pick my battles very carefully. If it won't matter in a week, a month, a year, or in five years, let it go. Life is too short to worry about the small things.

The best advice I ever received was from my uncle who said "Just write. Forget about grammar, forget about spelling, forget about selling your words. Just write what you feel, when you feel it. You can always go back and edit."

I think sometimes I get caught up in everything around the writing and forget it's the writing itself that's important.

A good therapist/friend/teacher told me, "If you think you're lonely, ask yourself what it is you want to share." When you have something to share, someone will arrive to receive. Loneliness is just kidding yourself. Another best advice is, you can afford anything you really, really want. Anything? Yes, anything. My father told me to enjoy life; my father-in-law always admonished us to be kind to one another.

A children's book editor told me, "Study poetry."

My husband told me, "When you think you are doing so much for so many, stop and ask yourself whether you are giving them what they want or just giving them what you think they need." When I'm ready to curse him, my parents or my children for using and abusing me, I ask myself whether my baby son wants me to do his laundry or would he prefer a good tickle.

The best advice I ever had was from an elderly Indian woman: "Clean each rice bowl one at a time."

I received, and still do, a lot of good advice. One piece of advice that echos around in my brain, especially the older I get, came from my very wise father. He said, "Never go to Hell on someone else's sins. If you're going to commit it, at least let it be your own."

Laurens Van der Post wrote, "We live not only our own life but the life of our time."

The best advice I received was from my Dad: "You don't have a problem until you have a problem."


We would love to hear from you.
To make comments, join Narrative.
It's FREE and easy!