The Right Words

My friend Michael and I had not a dinner together in a while. We had a regular dinner appointment on the second Tuesday of the month for years. But, then, life got in the way — mostly Michael’s. It changed rather dramatically a few months back. Not the least of which was being in a new relationship after years of not having been in one. So, I was willing to let our dinners take back seat. We’ve known each other for almost 20 years. He’d do the same for me.

So, it was great that we were finally able to get together recently over at a bistro near me. Dinner was great! Made especially good by the conversation. There was lot’s of catching up to do. We talked about life and love and creating the element of surprise in the seemingly mundane. We reminisced about the past and talked with excitement about future plans. Such things are what make a meal memorable.

But the memory of the evening that will stick out in my mind — the one that will last — came with desert. The waiter came over to ask if we wanted desert and describe our options. Among these was a type of pie neither Michael nor I had heard of before — Buttermilk Pie.

“What is that? I’ve never heard of it before.”, I asked. “What does it taste like?”

“It’s really hard to describe.”, explained the waiter. “But, I had a slice the other day and it is my new favorite pie. And, I’m not a big pie guy. If you order a slice. maybe you can weigh in.”

And, with that a gauntlet was thrown down — a challenge neither Michael nor I could refuse. The slices of pie were brought out and happily consumed. It was delicious. Yet, it was also immediately apparent why the waiter had such a hard time describing the taste. It was almost purposely elusive. The flavor was delicate. Not quite vanilla. Not sharp enough to even compare to a cheesecake. Nor was it creamy enough or sour enough or sweet enough to make an even comparison to anything else. It was almost cloud-like — etherial. Michael and I were both still at a loss when the waiter appeared again to take away our now empty plates.

“So, how’d you like it?”

“It was really good.”, I replied. Still unsure as to the answer to the obvious next question from the waiter.

“How would you describe it?”, he asked.

“It whispers tapioca.” Michael said with a sly smile after a considered pause. With those three words he completely nailed it. He managed to capture the entire experience of eating that slice of pie. He nailed the flavor, suggested the texture… All of it. The brilliance and exquisiteness of those three words left us speechless. Only nodding our heads in agreement and repeating them. It gave us all pause.

It is moments like this that I am reminded why I am a writer. I’m in love with and in awe of the power of language. The way a single word or just the right ones strung together can capture the whole of something otherwise only imagined. An entire experience can be encapsulated, examined, and then set free for others to bear witness to, all in an instant, with just three simple words.

This is why, as a writer, I keep a record of such reminders of this power. It’s a text file titled “Bits of Words and Wisdom”. Upon leaving the restaurant, adding “It whispers tapioca” to my file was my first priority. When I hear a cool word or interesting phrase that makes me stop and take notice — especially something that captures the imagination — I add it to this list. Sometimes, it is something from a conversation like the above. Increasingly, it is something I read — be it a book, a Tweet, or on a blog post. Sometimes it is from a video or something recorded. No matter the source it is added to this file soon after encountering it. Expedience is key, lest I forget it and lose it forever. Because these are the times to remember that words matter. Words mean things far beyond what you may find in a dictionary. Words are triggers and keys that blow open barriers and unlock doors to entire unknown universes.

The right ones are, at least.

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A Successful Plan

“Nothing that happened was intentional. Nothing. Everything was about trying to make something cool for our friends that they would like.” — Rick Rubin, on the only plan he ever had for Def Jam Records

This quote has been resonating with me ever since I heard it in a short documentary on producer Rick Rubin. In it, he visits the New York University dorm room where he started and ran Def Jam Records for its first few years. In fact, if you bought a Def Jam album during those early days, the business address printed on the sleeve was the address of that very same room. The album was likely shipped to the record store from the mailroom in the dorm by one of his classmates. They had some memorable parties at that dorm, for sure. It was college after all. But those parties are now even more memorable in hindsight because all of Rick’s friends were there and many of Rick’s friends were people that are household names — Rap music legends — now.

Def Jam Records went on to become, even today, one of the most powerful and profitable labels in music. Rick Rubin went on to produce musicians way beyond Rap. Credited in no small part with resurrecting the careers of living legends and always having the finger on the pulse of the next big thing. By any measure, one could make the argument that he is one of the most successful producers the music industry has ever known.

But, I would be willing to bet that even today he’s still just, “…trying to make something cool for our friends that they would like.” That his current success in no more intentional today than it was back then. The reason I suspect this is because it is a successful plan. A solid plan that worked then and remains a plan that works today. And, it’s a plan that scales. Because, if your friends like it then the chances are good that there are millions of other people just like them who would like it too. And, if you can make something millions of people like and place a fair price on it then you will sell millions of that thing and make millions of dollars in the process.

And, sure, there are many other factors to go from selling to a few friends to selling to millions of strangers. Luck, timing, and dozens of other factors mostly out of your control certainly come into play in order to reach those kinds of numbers. But, the one thing you can shoot for — to make something cool for your friends that they would like — is a measure of success that is achievable by all. And, even if you argue against it being your only measure of success you have to admit that it is a pretty good place to start counting it.

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Sleepwatching (An Ode To Beatrix)

Sometimes, I watch you sleep. I hear you, restless, saying something incoherent over the buzzing monitor box that has never quite worked but has never been bad enough to replace. I wait for a few seconds because, sometimes, you settle and the buzzing box is silent for the remainder of the night. But, occasionally, the restless, incoherent, mumbling continues and sounds like, possibly, you could be having a bad dream. So I venture up the back stairs into your room to check on you. I put my hand on your shoulder or rub your back and let you know that you are OK — you’re just having a dream. You rarely wake up. Though it often, but not always, settles you. Yet, I remain for a few minutes more, to watch you.

I watch and wonder what someone at your age might dream about. I watch because you are just as beautiful, captivating, and as full of life as each moment you are awake. I marvel at how I, we, could have produced something, someone, so magical. I watch to listen to you breathe and to smell the shampoo in your recently washed hair. I watch and envision what you might one day become once you find out that Cowgirl Princess Ballerina’s aren’t in very high demand in this modern economy. Yet, I’m sure, you could probably make it work with the same grace and charm you use with deft skill on anyone who meets you.

I hope to be there, one day, to watch you live every one of those crazy dreams that you dream and watch your every desire lay itself prostrate before you. I know that one day, it will no longer be my job to watch you sleep but, instead, be that of another who I hope will love and cherish you as much as I do and will be filled with the same overwhelming emotions I have in these few moments I spend here watching you. Before I leave the room and close the door and let the angels I’m sure surround you resume their place — watching you sleep.

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