Pay attention. I am not kidding. Really.

Month: January, 2015

Odd #13: Natural Talents

photo of stacked raw oak flooring

What does this have to do with natural talent??

Do you have fond memories of coming home to the delicious aroma of freshly baked cookies? I don’t. Mother wasn’t much of a baker, and my Prevention-reading father didn’t want empty calories lying about.

Cookies-and-milk, the universal kid magnets, did nothing and still do nothing for me. Instead, I wax poetic about the joys of childhood when I get a strong whiff of the heady scents of turpentine and paint thinner. If a little oil-paint undertones are laced into the blend, so much the better. So there you go: one more astounding bit of oddity.

What could account
for such quirky oddity?

When I stepped off the school bus in the quickly fading Indiana winter light and into our home to those scents, I was in my element. Yesss! It was Quality Control Time amidst all those turpentine, paint thinner, and oil-paint fragrances. That’s because, at the tender age of six (or possibly even earlier), I’d accidentally stumbled upon one of my God-given talents – finding the flaws in other people’s work. Because of my parents’ penchant for perennial remodeling, I had plenty of chances to hone my QC skills almost every winter of my childhood.

We’re talking serious remodeling.

By late fall, the crops were safely harvested and winter wheat was quietly growing. Early winter found my father carefully repairing, maintaining, and storing equipment; he wanted it ready for a productive performance the next spring with no unpleasant surprises. With that time-consuming chore completed, the rest of his winter workload consisted mainly of keeping animals fed, birthed, and otherwise happy. That meant, poor soul, that he had “some time to spare” (not to be confused with “leisure time”).

Ever the undeniable progeny of their Puritan and Quaker forebears, my parents undertook a serious remodeling project for what seemed like every winter of my childhood, industriously taking advantage of my father’s “spare time.”

Our Victorian home was built in 1894 by Great Uncle Albert Sinclair. It was graciously allowed to remain in Clan Sinclair for some time but then, like a red-headed stepchild, it was sold with the farm and systematically abused as a rental for many years. My grandfather, ever watchful for a good deal, bought the farm and house back, restoring them to the Sinclair clan, just in time to make his unsuspecting future son-in-law a deal. They would work the farm together while my father made payments to him directly and could eventually own it.

Let me be frank. Grandpa’s deals were rarely deals for anyone but Grandpa. He had his good points; he was the epitome of Yankee ingenuity, though he was a Hoosier and not a Yankee, and he knew how to work hard. But mostly, he knew how to make money. Consequently, there were few men in central Indiana who could outfox him when it came to “deals” and, most probably, the 23-year-old young man who would become my father was simply no match.

On the other hand, my father may have known full well what he was getting but also knew it was his best option as a young man with no great wads of cash in his pockets. He once told me there were gullies large enough to hold a tractor when he bought the farm from Grandpa so when I say it had been abused, I’m not kidding. Yet he had a keen intellect, a strong back, and a stubborn willingness to work hard, so he accepted The Deal.

As it turned out, whipping the acreage into shape was the easy part: that took only ten years. The hard part involved Great Uncle Sinclair’s house. How could my father have known, though? His mother had died during The Great Depression when he was barely sixteen. He had no idea what happens when a woman decides to improve her domicile – and keep on improving it. That part took the next 48 years of his life, and he was a remarkably good sport about his home-improvement gig all 48 years!

The two of them, with Grandma’s help, had cleaned, scrubbed, and painted that house before their wedding day. But it was still an unimproved Victorian house with an outhouse in the back, a detached summer kitchen, and only cold running water. They did have hot water, stored in a tank on the side of the wood-burning cook stove. It just wasn’t running: it was pouring hot water. That first year (1945) they even used oil lamps. (Can you imagine?!)

Pay attention:
here’s where Quality Control
comes into the story.

Before I was born, they’d been very busy as unsupervised, rank amateurs. They had:

  • installed electricity,
  • dug a basement,
  • installed central heating,
  • added hot and cold running water, and
  • converted the summer kitchen into a garage.

All in all, I’d give their pre-QC work an A-. But even after all this improvement, they still had a lot of work ahead of them. That was good news for me because it meant I had roughly ten or twelve years during which I could refine my QC skills, all the while developing an odd attraction to turpentine.

I well remember, during my first-grade year, the momentous conversion of a very large bedroom into a hall, study, and bathroom. A bathroom! We were right up there with city-folk, at last! I have to say they did very well that winter. I don’t remember having to call their attention to a single thing out of order.

The next year, though,
they became careless.

That was the year they remodeled their bedroom. That winter project involved laying new hardwood flooring over the 1890s, five-inch-wide floor boards whose chinking had all but disappeared and covering the original horsehair-and-plaster lath walls with pristine, crack-less drywall.

One afternoon, shortly before I was due to arrive home from school, they had cut holes in the new wood flooring where the coal furnace’s registers would be placed. Over these holes, my father had placed scrap pieces of plywood. Tsk, tsk. What was he thinking?

Enter Little Miss Quality Control Inspector. I checked out the new oak flooring. Hmm. Well joined. Smooth. I inspected the new quarter-round molding. Very nice. Perfectly mitered corners. I walked all around looking for flaws, as a good QC inspector should.

Whoa! What’s this? I felt a decided give in the plywood. Turning to my father with a disapproving scowl on my face, I snapped out reprovingly, “Daddy, this is NOT very sustanshul.” Keep in mind, this was well before Sesame Street and children’s educational TV programs: six-year-olds weren’t supposed to know words like substantial. This was still the See Spot Run era.

Of course, I have no memory of all this. I’m just passing on my father’s story, which he told me years later when I was well into my forties. He thought it was hysterical – a seven-year-old reprimanding her father for what she perceived to be sub-standard contracting work. I didn’t think it was all that funny.

Right about now – if you’re even halfway normal – you’re beginning to think you wouldn’t have cared too much for me in my early years. But wait: I can redeem myself. (And just so you know, I’ve learned to apply a little more tact when offering QC input.)

Pay attention, now.
Here’s the pay-attention gem.

When you have a talent for something, you should use it, regardless of your age. If even a seven-year-old, naturally blessed with the gift of QC, can pay attention and spot a QC issue when she sees it, none of us are ever too young to use our gifts and talents.

The children in your life have natural talents that someone (that would be you) can nurture. Those a little older, say, your younger co-workers or siblings, no doubt have talents, too, which could use some nurturing. Even our peers sometimes need a little prodding and encouragement to use their natural gifts. So whether the talents in question are possessed by the odd or the not-so-odd, the young or the not-so-young, can we all agree to pay attention and nurture straight-from-the-birth-canal talents?

Of course, nurturing inborn talents is seldom as straightforward as we would like. Even such a helpful, natural gift as my quality control can run amok, as you’ll see in Odd #14.

©2015, Teresa Bennett

red box with white text: “The person born with a talent they are meant to use will find their greatest happiness in using it. ”  ― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

But the judicious using of it is the tricky bit.

Odd #12: Capitalizing on Oddity = Less Mediocrity

photo of piles of books, notecards, envelopes, paper

Okay, what’s the common denominator here?

Do you get a high from:

  • the smell of construction paper hacked into unrecognizable forms by a six-year-old?
  • pungent, yellow-tinged, coloring-book paper covered with the most improbable combinations of crayon wax?
  • that straight-from-the-press paper smell of a tantalizing new book, begging to be read?
  • slightly musty printer paper filed tidily in manila folders that fill an entire filing cabinet and hold the statistics of a life?
  • the smell of fresh colored ink on Christmas cards stacked up and needing a response?
  • that distinct newspaper smell from a pile of dailies – the paper source that keeps us up-to-speed in current affairs (in spite of our iPads, laptops, and smartphones)?

Okay, I’ll go first.

YES! I admit I get a fix from all these paper sources and many more too tedious to list.

So you can see it wasn’t just odd frugality, odd bookwormishness, an odd entrepreneurial nose for profit, or even the innate bent for taking pencil to paper that led to my summer Spirea Bush & Associates “office.” No, it was something far less lofty; it was the simple smell of paper. Now if that isn’t odd, then I don’t know what is.

During my early years, I could get a fix by simply walking by my father’s desk. Since this was before The Best-Ever Christmas and my membership in The Society of Desk Owners, I had no way of knowing that I would be able to get a fix from my very own desk. That ninth summer, I got it from my Spirea Bush & Associates office. But my perennially favorite treasure trove of paper smells came from Grandpa’s desk, which emitted a rich potpourri of paper perfumes – all calling my name.

Grandpa’s Desk

Grandpa was a modest man with a knack for making exorbitant sums of money and looking like a hayseed as he did it. His unassuming desk was a petite, mahogany, lady’s desk, if you can imagine. (Grandpa was neither petite nor female, just so you know.) A miniscule two feet by four feet, it was always stacked high with shaky piles of opened mail, letters needing replies, farm magazines, church newsletters from all over the world, seed and fertilizer catalogs, and a few (usually empty) file folders.

Here’s the really odd thing: that unlikely little desk was witness to millions of dollars (in 1950s and 1960s money!) of financial transactions. As a quite tidy child, though, I had no way of knowing this and I used to wonder, rather indignantly, how he could find anything in that mess.

I knew, though, that touching a single piece of paper on his desk was just about as ditzy as shouting out, “Would some grownup around here like to switch my bare little legs?” For forty-some years, clean-and-tidy Grandma had tried to tidy it up and received you-know-what for her efforts. Little could rile Grandpa more than someone messing with his organizational “system.”

After watching this drama play out over the years, I was content merely to snoop and sniff, hands clasped prudently behind my back. If he’d left his desk’s sole file drawer open, that was indeed a fragrant bonus. I just bent a little lower and inhaled deeply, hands still clasped behind my back.

Eight years????

So you see, my parents had plenty of reasons to know that their daughter needed her own desk. I’ll cut them some slack and assume that, distracted by their adult responsibilities, they were too busy to pay attention to all this paper-addiction oddity. But apparently, sometime between my very early years and The Best-Ever Christmas, they started paying attention to this characteristically odd behavior. Recognizing and accepting their daughter’s true inclinations (no matter how odd), they finally gave up on the whole nurturing-mother-doll-thing in favor of a desk and the aromatic paper goods that should accompany a desk. (Yum.)

It’s a wonder it took them as long as it did, now that I think about it. Would it take you eight long years if you knew a little girl who:

  • becomes giddy from the smell of paper?
  • sets Christmas doll after Christmas doll on a high shelf and never once looks at them while she doodles industriously on a make-shift desk of a stool all year long?
  • reads books till her eyes complain?
  • begs to be taken to the library but, once there, spends as much time sniffing as she does choosing books?
  • spends as much time with her nose pressed against the pages of a coloring book as she spends coloring in it?
  • loiters around adults’ desks, like a rabbit in hot pursuit of delectable greens?

You see my point? Though my parents did eventually arrive at the party, it took them eight years to recognize the supreme oddity of all the above and the type of gift appropriate for such extraordinary oddity.

Are there some pay-attention points
to all this childhood reminiscing
and parent-bashing?

Of course, and here they are.

  • Pay attention to the odd people around you, especially if they’re family members. Yes, yes. I know you’re busy but, really, paying attention doesn’t take that much time. And it for sure doesn’t take eight years to see what’s right in front of your face.
  • Oddities that incorporate an extreme and/or innate interest in a certain subject (if it isn’t unhealthy, illegal, or immoral) should be encouraged. My odd love of paper, invigorated by gifts from The Best-Ever Christmas, has lead to a life of richness (which has nothing to do with money), gave birth to a satisfying career that helped small businesses, and spawned all sorts of paper-centric hobbies. 

Now let’s talk about YOU.

What’s the in-your-face oddity of those close to you that you need to pay attention to and encourage? Do it. You might be the only one in their lives paying attention and willing to endorse a languishing and very odd penchant for _______ , which could turn out to be the very impetus they need to do something really spectacular with that oddity. (And just think how cool it’ll be to say someday to one and all, “You know, I helped her discover her talent for _____.”)

Okay, you know how I’ve said the whole purpose for this Odd Series is to demonstrate that even those of us who are odd-beyond-belief can stumble upon pay-attention tips that are quite helpful for the more “normal” amongst us?

Well let’s just pretend that you have a little oddity. No panic: I’m not saying you do. I’m just saying what if you do? If you do, then maybe you need to pay attention to your own little oddity, cultivate it, and turn it into a benefit for yourself and others. I’m just sayin’. As unwelcome a thought as it may be, it is possible you have some oddities, too, you know. (If it feels less threatening to call them idiosyncrasies then, by all means, use that semantic workaround.)

And, FYI, capitalizing on your odd/idiosyncratic talent for _______ might very well set you apart from all your competitors, co-workers, friends…. In fact, it could set you apart from mediocrity.

red box with white text: “People who are unable to motivate themselves must be content with mediocrity, no matter how impressive their other talents.” – Andrew Carnegie
Odditymediocrity are seldom seen together.

In Odd #13, ready for your enjoyment, you’ll see how another bit of oddity led to my smoke-em-if-you-got-em mentality. (FYI: it has nothing to do with cigarettes or marijuana and everything to do with using your straight-from-the-birth-canal talents, regardless of how odd they may be.)

©2015, Teresa Bennett

Odd #11: Recycling can lead to all sorts of entrepreneurial ventures.

photo of basket filled with paper to be recycled

Recycling paper (or anything) is an OLD idea.

Warning: if you have an entrepreneurial spirit, get ready to recognize that you, too, are ODD. But then, you may already know that deep down inside and simply have been indulging in denial as you’ve read about all my oddities and said to yourself “thank goodness I’m not like her!”

But, as I’ll keep saying, the oddest amongst us can learn and pass on pay-attention lessons that are of value even to the not-so-odd. This blog post gives you more than your money’s worth in pay-attention lessons, FYI.

Every summer before The Best-Ever Christmas, Mother would shoo me outside to get “some fresh air and sunshine” (her favorite cheerleading topics). Personally, I thought fresh air was overvalued. She, however, was convinced that fresh air and sunshine would be good for her bookworm daughter.

I intuitively figured she was wrong, wrong, wrong. Remember the melanin-deficiency thing? Even though I didn’t understand why, I knew the sun sapped my energy and made me want to take a nap. A nap! Ick. Anything was preferable to taking a nap in the middle of the day, especially at my grown-up age. I was so beyond the whole nappy thing.

Being infinitely more in touch with my body than she, my fiendishly clever strategy was to quietly dawdle in my room. Eventually, though, she’d work out that I was still in the house and forcibly shoo me outdoors. In her frustration, she sometimes resorted – depending on how long I’d been inside resisting her commands – to latching the screen doors behind me. (Did this ever happen to you? See? More oddity.)

The summer after The Best-Ever Christmas, when Mother started her cheerleading, I was ready for my enforced prescription of fresh-air-and-sunshine. Yessirr. I marched pertly past her without so much as a whimper with my attaché (cleverly disguised as my red-and-yellow-plaid book bag) and an old blanket tucked under my arm. Taking a sharp left, I headed for my favorite shady spot in the yard.

Mother, bless her soul, was left at the door – trout-mouthed – as I purposefully marched out like the woman on a mission that I was. Pay attention: here’s proof she was bumfuzzled. She forgot to latch the screen door behind me.

Spiraea Bush & Associates

Settling myself in the shade of an ancient spiraea bush in a comfy little corner made by the house walls, I spread the old blanket. (Even my nine-year-old, very odd mind sensed that asking clients to sit on bare dirt smacked of the worst sort of unprofessionalism.) Opening my “attache,” I began organizing my piles of catalogs, magazines, papers, envelopes and, of course, the stack of precious carbon paper – all valuable resources my profligate father had been tossing into the wastebasket by his desk.

With my Spiraea Bush & Associates “office” shaded from the sun’s sapping rays and everything duly appointed, I was ready for business. And just in the nick of time, too, for my first client.

Well, not a client in the true sense of the word. More like a nosy curiosity-seeker named Mother. Mouth closed and well recovered from her trout-mouth condition, she sauntered up to Spiraea Bush & Associates, peered under the bush, and asked what I was doing.

I’ve set up an office. Do you need some secretarial work done?”

“Not that I can think of.”

A pity, as I had the play typewriter from The Best-Ever Christmas, ample carbon paper, plenty of paper with blank back sides, and could easily have produced even the longest of letters – in duplicate or even triplicate. But, no. She had no business for me.

If I was disappointed, she was even more so. It was not, as you can imagine, exactly what she’d had in mind. But hey, she knew better than to complain. You see she’d been a mite duplicitous about fresh air. I thought she meant fresh air. It turns out she really meant physical exercise. But as I was in fresh air, she reluctantly settled for that – for the time being. 

Clearly, though, my desk-type entrepreneurial efforts didn’t qualify as a healthy childhood activity in her mind. Apparently, she wanted to see some running, jumping, or skipping – all activities I found highly overrated then. Now I know I missed my chance for building bone and will be fighting osteoporosis till I die. Odd, isn’t it, how parents know what they’re doing even when they don’t know what they’re doing?

Right about now would be a good time to come clean: Spiraea Bush & Associates was short-lived, as in two days. That’s because Mother shared the enterprise with my father, who initiated a serious father-daughter talk. It seemed he wasn’t keen on the idea that the contents of his wastebasket might end up as flying bits of paper all over our little neck of the woods. Yes, entrepreneurs sometimes meet with insurmountable roadblocks from the startlingly uncreative amongst us. And that’s all I’m going to say.

Well, not quite.

Here are the pay-attention bits
from this entrepreneurial enterprise.

  • Perhaps age nine is a little early for a sedentary desk job.
  • Parents often know exactly what they’re doing, even when they appear clueless.
  • Entrepreneurs almost always have an uphill battle. Get used to it.
  • When you discover a cache of good stuff some unimaginative soul has discarded, ask yourself in what inventive ways it could be recycled. (Need ideas? Ask a kid.)

Odd #12 blog post is ready: it’s all about that seldom encountered weirdness – paper addiction. (Yes, there is such a thing.)

©2015, Teresa Bennett

red box with white text: "It’s important to know who has the best, the most, the cheapest, the best delivery time, etc. Kids look through junkyards, yard sales, ‘free’ ads and under rocks. That’s all aside from keeping a list they’ve acquired through the grapevine of those who can offer the best fish bait, fireworks, homework help and bike repairs." – Joel Brown, Addicted2Success

Need ideas? As I said, ask a kid.

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