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Use All the Crayons!The Colorful Guide to Simple Human Happiness
By Chris Rodell
iUniverseCopyright © 2012 Chris Rodell
All right reserved.
Chapter OneReading Instructions
This book avoids chronological construction that may have helped ease confusion. Flow is random, logic evasive.
Each item, whether historical, current, or futuristic, took about thirty seconds to type. By that narrow calculation, the book you're holding took about four hours and seventeen minutes to compose. My recollections suggest it took a good bit longer.
Once typed, I didn't deign to put any of the items in any mystical order; there are no hidden codes that once deciphered lead to greater intellectual or materialistic treasures. It is what it is.
Persons referred to in the text may on one page be eight years old and then on a later page travel back to when they were just four. At some parts, the stories suggest my office is in a basement, and in others it is above a friendly tavern. Do not let the change of location inebriate your mental equilibrium. It doesn't matter. It is helpful, but not necessary, to read first the items preceding the Colorful Days Diary extrapolations and treat both the way polite people treat an introduction to a married couple; that means being simultaneously attentive to both.
Other than that one suggestion, the book is nimble in its options for any readers eager to engage it. It can be read the traditional way or in reverse. You can open pages at random or create some numerical-based routine—spend one reading session perusing only the items divisible by seven—understood only by you. Or you can start at the last page and go in reverse.
The book is not a mystery. There's no surprise ending. The butler didn't do it. Backwards or forwards, either way really isn't that important. I think the best way to explore what follows is with an open mind, a playful heart, and without any ambition that any of it is ever going to make perfect sense.
Sort of like life.
1. Make time for the important things—and consult a nearby five-year-old anytime you forget what's important.
Colorful Days Diary
Resignation mingled with euphoria when I heard my daughter describe to her friends just what her daddy does for a living. She and her little trio of chums were busily cluttering the kitchen table with colorful scraps of construction paper while I was cluttering the nearby countertop with discarded wheat bread crusts that would have rendered peanut butter and jelly sandwiches inedible to the quartet of five-year-olds.
It's a conversation all children get around to, and I was standing right there when the little redheaded neighbor girl brought it up.
"What's your daddy do? Mine helps sick people," she said with estimable pride.
They went right around in a little circle.
"Mine fixes cars."
"He builds homes."
Then, in a matter-of-fact voice, my beloved daughter drove a stake through any remaining ambitions I'd nurtured that one day I might achieve something notable in my profession. What does her daddy do?
"He plays with me."
My first thought was, Man, that's not going to look good on the loan applications.
I should have seen it coming. For the past few years, the dawning day would greet me with the very same challenge: achieve or enjoy?
During that time, the record was clear: if I chose to enjoy, I succeeded every time.
I'd go golfing, fish, picnic with the family, and revel in the simple joys of being a father. That meant I'd drop whatever I was doing the instant my daughter marched down the stairs into my basement office with her Barbie dolls and said, "Daddy, let's play," with a voice that left no room for artful refusal.
There are few things more entertaining than fully engaging a wound-up five-year-old at play. In my basement office where I earn my living writing stories about unusual events for offbeat news sources ("Town Saved by Giant Ball of Twine!" ... "What People Named Pat Downs Think about Airport Pat-Downs"), I've seen things too amazing for jaded editors to believe. For instance, I've seen my daughter fly. I've seen her slay dragons. I've seen her carry on intelligent conversations with the dog and even laugh at his stupid jokes—and that dog's not funny.
It's an unstructured jolliness that begins to slip from the grasp of children even one year later, an age when chalk-wielding adults first begin imposing conformity on classrooms of fidgety kids.
On the other hand, my record of achievements is skimpy. I've toiled at my profession, contributed meager amounts to worthy charities, and have built nothing that will endure beyond my mortal years.
That's the kind of self-assessment that ought to depress someone who, like most wage-earning adults, was born with a kernel of ambition that's been culturally nurtured to burst like Jack's beanstalk clear to the clouds. By middle age, we're all on a uniform march to do better, earn more, and build a legacy that others will admire.
Not me. Not since the day I read a prominent obituary about the passing of a man who'd certainly awakened nearly every day and opted to achieve. And he did. He did in ways that will forever enrich mankind.
That great man had developed multiple vaccinations that literally saved the lives of millions of people. Who knows? Perhaps even mine.
Yet, I'd never once heard his name. Through a selfless life of enduring professional victories, that man of greatness had never achieved the kind of notoriety that would land him a significant mention in the newspapers until he passed away.
Worse, I forgot his name by the time I got to the sports pages and immersed myself in the fine-print box scores that detailed how my fantasy league baseball team fared the night before.
That's the way it is with the deaths of prominent poets, soldiers, and statesmen. Men and women of true greatness are forgotten with the turn of a page. The most they can hope for is that their life's work will endure long enough to bore eighth-grade history students twenty-five years after they're gone.
Who among us will be remembered by anyone other than our loved ones twenty-five years after our passing? Fifty years? One hundred?
Humanitarian rock god Bono—and is there a cooler job description in the world?—recently remarked that the music he makes with the band U2 will not be forgotten in one hundred years. (He's wrong. I love U2, but the churning pop culture will render their music irrelevant twenty-five tidy years after Bono's demise.)
The odds of us accomplishing anything are long and stacked against us. That ought not to depress.
It ought to liberate.
A test: ask ten people, "Hey, how've you been?" Ten will likely respond with some variation of, "Man, I've been busy," as if to be otherwise somehow violates the very laws of nature.
If that's the case, then consider me an outlaw in every sense of the word. See, I'm a wanted man.
Just ask my daughter.
That's her I hear marching down the stairs. She has her Barbie dolls. That means it's time for me to, for now, end this silly little diversion. It's time to shut the lid on the laptop, to disengage my brain from striving for coherent thoughts and structured sentences.
It's time for me to get back to work.
2. Learn to say "Thank you!" in three different languages. Example: "Yakoke!" means "Thank you!" in Choctaw; "Arigato!" in Japanese; and "Efcharisto!" in Greek. Remember, always say it with a smile.
3. Write a letter to a TV star who was popular when you were a kid but hasn't done anything lately. Explain how much the actor's character meant to you. You'll probably get a letter back and may have an exciting new pen pal.
4. Make up a risqué toast you can use at parties to liven things up and draw some flattering attention your way. Or use this old Irish gem: "May you be found dead in bed at the age of ninety—shot—victim of a jealous lover."
5. Plan a dream vacation using colorful brochures and an itinerary of places to stay and things to do. Put them in a large envelope in a secure place. Mark the envelope, "Things to do the day after I win the lottery."
6. Get a $75 tattoo of an $18,000 Rolex for your left wrist (see No. 310).
7. When people do something uncommonly considerate, thank them. Then send an urgent letter or e-mail insisting they call their parents right away to congratulate them for having done such a fine job of raising an outstanding human being.
8. Buy an expensive belt, pair of shoes, or other accessory. The cost may make you gulp, but it's a one-time purchase that will likely last you the rest of your life. You'll feel good about yourself every time you wear it, and friends and strangers alike will respect you for having impeccable taste.
9. Write an impassioned letter to the editor of the local newspaper about an issue you care deeply about. One week later, write one about something silly.
10. In the wee hours of the night, superglue a quarter to the sidewalk outside of a busy downtown office building. Then pack a lunch and spend the noon hour watching frustrated executives try to surreptitiously pick it up.
11. Colorful conversation starter: tell people that in 1968 when the Rolling Stones released "Jumpin' Jack Flash," gas, gas, gas was thirty-three cents a gallon, gallon, gallon.
12. Add your own spices, but the five main ingredients for any loving relationship are these: play, tickle, cuddle, kiss, hug.
13. Spend a thoughtful Sunday morning in church, listening carefully to the sermon. When you get home, write down some honest, soul-searching theological questions about the lesson and make an appointment to discuss them with the preacher.
14. Learn how to tie a balloon into the shape of a simple little horse. Then be sure to carry some slim balloons to the next party or family gathering where children will be present.
15. Try to conform to expert recommendations by getting eight hours of sleep a night. Then, just to be safe, get another hour or two when the sun is up.
Colorful Days Diary
Many fine Americans are eager to stand up and fight against perceived flaws they believe are harming the nation.
Me, I'm about to lie down and nap over one.
The stigma against sleep is costing America. No one is getting enough of it. That's obvious in our stress, our productivity, and our spiraling ethics.
Well-rested people aren't prone to violence, sloth, or felonious business practices.
We should be inviting sleep, not fighting it. If sleep beckons, we should obey, the exception being people like train conductors and airline pilots.
We've all heard hyper-productive type-A busybodies brag about needing just four hours of sleep per night, but you never hear anyone bragging about enjoying ten hours of sleep each night.
My nights are interrupted by two tiny sleep bandits, miscellaneous woodsy creature noises, and the nervous yipping of a dog with a BB-sized bladder capacity.
I'm on a quest to get everybody under my roof to go to bed two hours earlier and get up two hours later.
The kids would be asleep by eight and would wake up at nine. Sure, my daughter would miss her first hour of fourth grade, but nothing important happens in school until ten—and I don't mean 10:00 a.m.
I mean tenth grade.
My wife and I would be under the covers by 9:30 p.m. and up at 8:30 a.m.
Doesn't that sleep schedule strike you as nirvana? It does me.
Not my wife. She got mad at me recently for dozing off at 9:30 after reading to one of the kids and, ahh, just staying there in our bed like a sedated mental patient clear through the next morning.
For the first time in months, I reached the most hallowed state of sleep. Yes, I hit pillow-puddlin' slobber sleep.
In sleep terms, that's like bowling a 300.
To her, it seemed like a waste of time. She thinks we should stay awake so long that we become actual zombies so we can enjoy adult shows about things like fictional zombies.
In an ideal world—and in any ideal world, there are no children—we'd have about an hour of bedtime unwinding, reading, TV watching, or couple cuddlin' from 9:00 to 10:00 p.m. each and every night.
But years ago, we made the cheapskate mistake of not getting a DVR for our bedroom.
Without the bedroom DVR, we are forced to stay awake in the living room long enough to execute a series of maneuvers similar to what happens in far-flung US Army outposts around the globe.
We need to secure the fireplace, check the perimeter, and do a quick head count before finally getting to bed at eleven sharp in time to watch a 1996 episode of Seinfeld we've only seen 114 times before.
It's so bad it took us four nights to watch one two-hour, forty- five-minute movie. We'd recorded the outstanding 1959 Alfred Hitchcock movie, Anatomy of a Murder, starring Jimmy Stewart.
We both kept falling asleep during key segments and then spent breakfast trying to unravel plot lines and determine if we'd spied the Hitchcock cameo he so cleverly inserted into each of his films.
It wasn't until the movie finally concluded that we realized it would have been Hitchcock's most clever cameo ever.
Because in our sleep-deprived state, neither of us ever realized it was an Otto Preminger movie.
Everything would improve if we got more sleep.
Our families would have less time to bicker. We'd all get more done in less time.
Me, I'd have time to dream up better story ideas and, thus, would start receiving a better class of rejection letters from more prominent sleep-deprived editors.
Sleeplessness is often confused with physical virtuosity. It's a quality we've always sought in our elected leaders and a keystone critique of those who every four years spend the frosty months tromping around desolate Iowa.
It should be the other way around.
So wake up, America!
And go right back to bed.
We'll all be better off.
From sea to shining zzzzzzzzz ...
16. Learn to juggle three beanbags. It'll take you a persistent month or so's worth of bending over, but the reward will be a lifetime of show-offy enjoyment.
17. Buy a carton of your spouse's favorite expensive ice cream, make a big presentation of it, and share a sample bite. Then, before your spouse can enjoy a real splurge, secretly consume the entire contents and place the empty box prominently inside the freezer. Watch for the outraged reaction. Better have a full spare hidden behind the frozen dinners, though.
18. Ask a six-year-old what God looks like. Then ask if God rides a bike.
19. Whenever you finish a roll of toilet paper, blow through the cardboard roll like it's a trumpet. The announcement will let everyone know it's time to shop for more TP.
20. Unplug the TV for one week. Studies show that 70 percent of parents who watch fewer than six hours of television per week (a fraction of the national average of twenty-eight hours), report their kids have fewer fights. Those same people report by a whopping 99 percent that they are generally happy and satisfied with their home life. Next time, unplug it for two weeks.
21. Invent a heroic figure from your family tree and inspire your youngster with bold tales of ancestral adventures fighting evildoers down through history. Have this ancestor serve under important generals, rescue damsels in distress, or slay dragons on behalf of fair maidens. It may be untrue, but it'll take some of the pressure off you to be so historically heroic.
22. Keep a stack of useless papers by your desk at home in case your child comes in and wants to play. Make a big show of tearing the papers in half and tossing them into the trash, telling your child, "Your time's more important to me than anything the boss needs me to get done. Let's go play!"
Excerpted from Use All the Crayons! by Chris Rodell Copyright © 2012 by Chris Rodell. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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