Just One Yes

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It’s hard not to get discouraged sometimes, but remember, all it takes is one “yes” to put you on the road to a better place.

Dr. Seuss was rejected by every major publisher of his day and went home with his first manuscript And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street. He got together for lunch with a friend and told him how disappointed he was that nobody wanted his book. His friend had just become an agent with a local publisher a day earlier. He told him he’d run it by his boss. The rest is – well, you know.

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence.
Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent.
Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb.
Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts.
Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”

– Calvin Coolidge

 

Beaten Over The Head

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I’ve got a very old, rustic wood plaque with a poem called Desiderata on it, one of the best motivational poems ever written, with lots of great advice like “go placidly amid the noise and haste”, advice that applies very well to where I live (Los Angeles) and I sometimes find hard to follow.

I was cleaning out the garage today and knocked it off the wall. It hit me on the head. Hurt like the dickens. So I have now literally been “beaten over the head” with it. Do you think someone is trying to tell me something?

The poem is below in case you haven’t read it. It’s definitely worth your time.

The only line I take exception with is “. . . listen to others, even the dull and ignorant.” I mean, it may be true that some people are dull or ignorant or both (a few come to mind, actually), but it makes Max sound a bit on the arrogant side. Other than that, this poem is pure gold.

Desiderata
by Max Ehrmann

Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs;
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.

Max Ehrmann, (c) 1952

Poem from Chicken Soup for the Soul’s The Joy of Less

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The sole purpose of many of the things I do in life is to annoy my wife (in a fun way.) It’s kind of a hobby. For instance, doing my Al Jolson imitation drives her nuts. Or singing Nights in White Satin at full volume. Or pranking her with rubber spiders on fishing wire hanging from ceiling fans. I once put a full-sized, foam rubber alien at the bathroom window and said, “I thought I heard something in the yard. Can you take a look?” When she opened the window, that alien accessed her primal scream. It was downright blood-curdling. I was proud of her, though, because she punched it right in the nose. However, because I had propped it up with a metal rake in it’s lower back, it just bent backwards and sprung forward to its original position again, which made her scream a second time. I got pummeled but it was worth it. 

She also can’t stand it when I stop at yard sales. She never knows what she’s going to find in the house on a Saturday afternoon. I once replaced the couch with a purple chaise lounge, hoping she wouldn’t notice. When she came home, I just said “what?” like nothing had changed. It didn’t go well for me. 

She calls the stuff I buy “tacky junk.” I call it “eclectic home decor.” So to annoy her further, I wrote a poem a few years ago about my love of yard sales. It was published in Chicken Soup for the Soul’s book The Joy of Less. I hope it gives you a chuckle, and reminds you of the junk collector in your family. (There’s always one.) 

Slightly Bent Flugelhorn, Best Offer

God, please save me from garage sales.
Whenever I see one, it just never fails.
I always have to stop and look around
at all the junk laid out on the ground.

Oh, the excitement! What might I find?
What treasures await? It boggles the mind!
It’s usually worthless, but you just never know!
I might find an authentic Vinnie Van Gogh!

We’ve all heard the stories about some typical fool
who paid ten cents for some tacky, cosmetic jewel
then a week later, the same guy found out with a thrill
that it was Cleopatra’s ring and it’s worth twenty mil’!!!

Doesn’t that make you just want to puke?
I mean, don’t we deserve to have such a fluke?
It’ll happen to me, though folks say it can’t.
Someday, I’ll score an original Rembrandt!

But so far, I’ve only bought stuff I don’t need
like a mountain of books I can’t find time to read,
old clothes that are already starting to fray
and old records that are too scratched to play.

I have tons of toys (though my kids aren’t yet born.)
I’ve got a stuffed iguana and a bent flugelhorn,
a velvet painting of Elvis that nobody can stand
and a baseball mitt that doesn’t quite fit my hand.

I have a cymbal-banging monkey, an old tambourine,
a lava lamp, some hula dolls and MAD magazines,
a banged-up surfboard and a magic eight ball.
I’ve got enough stuff to start my own mall!

My den looks like the set of Sanford and Son.
I know I should stop but it’s just too much fun!
Some people like neatness but I’d be in a funk
if I wasn’t surrounded by cool, kitschy junk!

Searching through old boxes gives me such pleasure.
It makes me feel like a pirate searching for treasure!
It’s prob’ly wishful thinking but I know that someday
I’ll find something to sell for big bucks! I just may!

But half the joy of garage sales is passing the time
with old folks and children and neighbors of mine.
Just shooting the breeze like folks did in the past
is less common now that the world moves so fast.

I have no excuse. I guess I’m a hopeless case
but I run into garage sales all over the place!
My home’s filled with junk. My family’s in a huff.
I’ve got to have a sale to get rid of this stuff!!

(c) Mark Rickerby

I Love Rejection

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Okay, I don’t “love” love it, but I have come to accept and even be a little bit proud of it, in terms of my chosen career – writing. As anyone in the arts – particularly acting and writing – knows, you’re going to hear “no, thanks” a lot. Or the classic, “Don’t call us, we’ll call you.” Or the dreaded, “Don’t quit your day job.” But a writer’s rejection is usually silent – a polite email that reads something like this.

“Thank you very much for submitting your material to us. Our agents have now had a chance to look at it and we are sorry to say we don’t feel that we can offer you representation. Because of the high volume of submissions we receive, unfortunately we are not able to give you more detailed feedback than this. However, these things are very subjective and someone else may well feel differently about your work.

Thank you again for letting us take a look at your material, and we wish you the best of luck in finding an agent and publisher.”

Isn’t that the nicest no you ever heard? The literary world is a polite one.

Of course, I don’t like receiving rejection letters. I’d much rather receive nothing but yes’s and have agents and publishers fighting with each other to represent my work, but I don’t really mind no’s.

So why am I so proud of rejection?

Because 98% of humanity doesn’t even try. Many have artistic inclinations and leanings – singing in the shower, drawing, playing an instrument a little, jotting down a line or two now and then – but they don’t pursue that side of themselves. There are good reasons – working hard to provide a good environment for children, for instance – and there are bad reasons – self-doubt, fear of failure, shyness, etc.

Someone once wrote, “We recognize in every work of genius our own discarded thoughts.” Plenty of people have ideas and think, “Wow! That would make a great book/poem/movie/song/painting/invention.” They’re full of fire and passion for a little while. They tell all their friends about it. A few go out and buy a “how to” book so they can learn everything about it before they actually start working. (Which is a big mistake – as Dan Millman wrote, “You don’t need to know everything about the ocean to swim in it.”)

Even fewer actually put pen to paper, or paint to canvas. But the vast majority do none of those things. They get the ego stroke from their friends and family telling them how brilliant their idea is, and that’s good enough. Or worse, some significant other tells them they’ll never make it – to be realistic – to get a good, steady job – that making it in the arts is like winning the lottery – and they let that person’s lack of belief prevent them from trying. But that nagging feeling remains – the question from that other voice – the one that knows greatness lies within – the one that asks, “Why aren’t you at least trying?”

The English writer Sydney Smith (1771-1845) wrote, “A great deal of talent is lost to the world for want of a little courage. Every day sends to their graves obscure men whose timidity prevented them from making a first effort.”

So that’s why I have made rejection my friend. The same goes for confusion. They are both necessary doorways to a better place. To continue moving toward that glorious dream – whatever it is – artists must embrace confusion (the portal to higher knowledge) and rejection (the proof that they’re trying hard.) The alternative is being crushed by every rejection and giving up. That’s not an option.

An even higher step is to ask people who rejected a work what they didn’t like about it, learn from that, and work hard not to repeat that mistake. There are very few spectacles in this world sadder than someone who just doesn’t have the talent to make it as an artist, yet constantly struggling to convince themselves that they do, blind to how much they don’t know, and unwilling to put in the hours of time and effort required to educate themselves properly. Of course, everyone wants to have great accomplishments without working, but that’s not how it works. Someone once wrote, “Success is often hard to recognize because it’s wearing dirty overalls.” The only place where success comes before work is the dictionary.

Clint Eastwood was told by an agent, “You’ll never make it. You’re too tall, you squint too much, and your voice is too soft.”

Harrison Ford was told by a director, “You’ll never make it. I’ve been around and I know star quality, and you don’t have it.”

J.K. Rowling’s first Harry Potter book was rejected dozens of times. She was even advised by one agent to take a writing course!

When he submitted the now legendary book Moby Dick to an agent, Herman Melville was asked, “Does it have to be a whale?” (It did.)

Rudyard Kipling was told in a rejection letter, “I’m sorry, Mr. Kipling, but you just don’t know how to use the English language.”

So, you see, rejection isn’t even rejection most of the time – it’s just someone who doesn’t have the ability to recognize talent and should probably be doing something else for a living. Or it’s just that their agency has too many books like that already and doesn’t need another one. Or your submission landed in that agent’s email box when they were annoyed or preoccupied about something else. It’s not always about your work, and all you need to catapult you to that next level is one yes.

Sorry to get all Tony Robbins on you, but I received a rejection letter today and needed to remind myself why it doesn’t matter. I’ll still keep on doing what God put me here to do. I’ll still write even if nobody ever reads it. I’ll still devote my short life to something that inspires me and makes my heart beat faster and stronger. I’ll still do what I love. So that when I’m 95 and sitting by the fire, whether or not I reach the loftiest heights of my chosen path, I won’t have the regret of thinking I didn’t try hard enough, which is far worse and harder to live (and die) with than rejection.

Here’s a collection of rejection letters famous authors have received for now classic books. (And a few parodies.) Enjoy!

https://www.wiltgren.com/2016/10/31/12-rejection-letters-of-massively-popular-authors/

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All these books were rejected by agents/publishers who now hate themselves.

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Messin’ with Mark – God’s Sitcom. Episode 18 – The Rocket Pop

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Welcome to episode 18 of Messin’ with Mark! For those of you who are unfamiliar with this series, let me tell you how it started . . .

When I was very young, Jesus was walking around in His heavenly area up there when he saw his Dad looking down through the clouds, laughing His head off. Curious, he walked over and asked, “What’s up, Pop?”

“Oh, just pranking that Mark kid again,” He replied.

Again?” Jesus asked, “Why are You always picking on him?”

I don’t know. There’s just something about him,” God said. “I mean, look at his face right now.”

Jesus looked down and started to chuckle, then stopped Himself. “Okay, I admit it’s kind of funny, but this is wrong. I mean, You created him. With all due respect, what kind of an example are you setting for the angels? We’re supposed to love and protect humanity, not single one out from all the rest for humiliation.”

God thought for a moment, then looked at Jesus and said, “You’re right. I should stop.” They looked at each other seriously, then said, “Naaaaaaaahhh” and laughed some more.

Jesus suggested that he make a regular show of his pranks on me. They named it Messin’ with Mark. 

Remember Rodney Dangerfield’s bit about getting “no respect” from humans? It’s kind of like that, but on a cosmic level.

So, to today’s episode – The Rocket Pop.

It was a typical, blistering hot day in Los Angeles. I was employed as an insurance claims adjuster. And yes, it sucked. I was early for my appointment, sitting in my car on a street with no shade. It was such a bad neighborhood, even the trees had moved away. To make things even more enjoyable, the air-conditioning in my car had gone out. The sweat was lashing off me like someone had installed tiny faucets in every one of my pores. Then I saw him coming – the ice cream man.

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No celestial vision had ever been more dramatic. I crawled out of my car and flagged him down. 

I’ve always been a sucker for ice cream trucks. Who doesn’t have wonderful memories about them?

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I love the ice cream truck so much, I seriously considered becoming an ice cream man so I could be the purveyor of that perfect combination, joy and sugar. Writing is a lonely profession, but handing treats to tots isn’t lonely at all. The ice cream man is the hero of every street in America.

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I hadn’t bought anything from an ice cream truck for years so I was excited and nostalgic when I lined up with a bunch of kids and started to order my childhood usual – a Rocket Pop. 

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Some call it a Bomb Pop but I prefer Rocket Pop. Rockets are shot up into space for exploration. Bombs are dropped on people. The choice is obvious.

The only problem with the Rocket Pop is I enjoy the red (cherry) part and have to suffer through the white and blue parts when it’s gone. That’s when I saw it – the Bomb Pop JUNIOR! All cherry. No white and blue at all, just red cherry-flavored goodness. Yay!

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So I bought one, returned to the sauna (my car) and ate the living heck out of that Bomb Pop, Jr. I was like a bulldog gnawing on a bone. I finished it and was basking in the warm afterglow when I happened to glance at myself in the rear-view mirror. In a moment of pure horror, I was reminded that no part of the Rocket Pop, Bomb Pop, or any other pop is natural. No, it is saturated with RED DYE NUMBER 5. And so were my lips. 

This was turning into a real trip down Memory Lane! Another item came to mind from my childhood that was both novelty and candy – wax lips. 

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Yep, that’s what they looked like, and my appointment was just arriving, pulling into her driveway. She saw me and waved as she pulled in so it was too late to duck behind the dashboard. I grabbed a warm bottle of water, got out of the car, and splashed my face repeatedly but nothing worked. Nothing could make a dent in the red dye #5. In fact, the frantic rubbing only made the redness worse. I might as well have put on a fright wig and completed the clown outfit. 

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There was nothing left to do but face the music. I walked to the lady and extended my hand, hoping she had poor vision. She didn’t, and she wasn’t one for subtlety.

“What happened to your lips?” she asked, looking slightly frightened.

“I ate a Bomb Pop Junior,” I replied.

“Why did you call me Junior?” she asked.

“No, the thing I ate is called a Bomb Pop Junior,” I explained.

“Oh, well, whatever you ate, it sure painted you up,” she said, laughing unguardedly. 

I then had to conduct an inspection and take a recorded statement looking like Bozo the Clown, a statement that was interrupted repeatedly by her laughter. She would apologize every time, then do it again. By this point, I just didn’t care anymore. 

I said goodbye, got back into the sauna, and drove back to the office, being stared at by people who must have thought I was a drag queen with terrible make-up skills. 

Of course, this episode ended the way they all do – with me looking up at the sky, hearing faint laughter from somewhere above the clouds, and saying, “Well played, God. Well played.”

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Becoming My Father

I did two things for my father in the ten years or so before he passed away in December of 2014.

The first was to help him finish his memoir, The Other Belfast – An Irish Youth, and self-publish it so he could hold a real book in his hands and know the stories he told and wrote for forty years would finally be read by others around the world.

I’m proud to say I helped him accomplish that because his last five years on this earth were not good ones. He was whittled away to nothing mentally and physically by Parkinson’s Disease and Dementia until he couldn’t even remember me most of the time. This is his book.

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The second thing I did was dig up every old cassette I could find of his karaoke recordings and turn it into a CD with help from Rick Balentine – Composer (remixing) and Ryan Silo (cd design). I’m so glad I did because it’s a treasure to me now. Good Lord, could that man sing. If you like American standards, click on the link at the bottom of this post and have a listen to the song samples. Here’s his CD – 

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I named it “Get Rickerby Up For a Song!” because that’s what somebody would inevitably yell every time he was at the pub.

Every now and then, I mention his book and CD on some social platform because promoting his legacy helps ease the grief of losing him, particularly to diabolical brain diseases that leave only a shell of someone who was once full of passion, and the life of every party.

I remember listening to these old songs on the car radio for hours during long road trips and banging my head against the window hoping to knock myself out. (jk)  Now I love it, as my dad predicted I would, eventually. He tried to tell me the music I listened to when I was a teenager was garbage. and that someday I would come around and realize what real music was, but I refused to believe it. I’m pretty sure he’s laughing at me in heaven. I hope he’s still singing up there, too, because it was his greatest joy down here. 

A Plethora of Piñata’s

An interesting bit of synchronicity happened today.

The family and I were on the freeway and I was joking about that scene from Three Amigos when El Diablo picks on his friend for not knowing what the word “plethora” means after he tells him he has a plethora of piñata’s for his birthday party. A minute later, what rolls by – a plethora of piñata’s!

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Even though I’ve lived in Los Angeles all my life, a city with a large Hispanic population, I can never recall seeing a truckload of piñata’s like this before.

Is this mere coincidence, the law of attraction, or God’s sense of humor?

Here’s the scene from Three Amigos. Cracks me up every time.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-mTUmczVdik

This photo is titled The Last Ride – the final voyage for these unlucky (is there any other kind?) piñatas before getting the hell (okay, candy) beat out of them by a bunch of stick-wielding kids while bystanders laugh and cheer. Look at the fear in the eyes of the two on the left.