“Son of a…”
My friends could not contain their laughter. I had just opened my basement door into my own forehead. Seriously, who does that? I reached my fingertips to the scene of the crime to check for blood. Thankfully, there was nothing external, but I had what can only be described as a line-lump percolating beneath the surface.
Sadly, this was not uncommon for me as a teenager. I was the kid who was incapable of paying attention. I was unaware of my surroundings, my responsibilities, my reality. At seventeen, a girl walked up to me at an under twenty-one disco, put her hand on my cheek, and said, “Hi baby!”
While walking out of the club that night, when asked by my friend why I didn’t pursue the pocket-hottie, I asked, “What girl?” My friend looked at me and said, “You and your stupid A.D.D.”
While Attention Deficit Disorder is a highly over-diagnosed disease, no one had heard of it when I was diagnosed back in 1989…one year before graduating high school. It didn’t do much for my cumulative sub 2.0 GPA, but the Ritalin did really help me pay attention in situations where I lacked a maturity to pull it off on my own, especially school.
(Senior year was the only year where I didn’t have to go to summer school. I wish I was kidding.)
However, I noticed that years later, I continued to take the drug when going out for fun. I loved the effects…kinda like I could take on the world. My nickname for them were “haps” – short for “happy pills.” I wasn’t overtly worried until someone told me, “You know, three tablets of Ritalin equals doing a line of coke.”
I used to pop two or three in a four hour period of going out, and I have an abhorrence and fear of hard drugs, so this really scared the shit out of me. That very second, I quit cold-turkey. And I have to tell you: I was scared out of my mind to quit, but the desire to beat the burgeoning addiction overrode any fear of not being able to concentrate.
Quitting forced me to work my ass off to pay attention to everything around me. I was about twenty-four at this stage, old enough to know my weaknesses and finally dogged enough to try to overcome them. I realized that I’d been using the pharmaceutical as a crutch, an excuse, a boost. The time had come to stand on my own, consequences be damned.
In reality, I had no choice but to overcome them. I worked for the Steve and DC Show, a five-hour, five-day-a-week talk radio show where the lifeblood of our on-air breaks was storytelling. After a year of having “Save it for the air!” and “This is theater of the mind!” drilled into my head, I finally became really good at being aware of my surroundings.
It taught me to be present in whatever I did, to imbibe sounds and sights and smells. It taught me to remember the minutia of details that would have forever escaped me had I not made the conscious choice to pay attention. And because I worked it every day, I made this part of my DNA. It allowed me to become a storyteller which is the greatest passion of my working life.
What it also did was teach me that it takes very little to solve most problems that you encounter, as long as you have an open mind and open senses. Even when things seem at their bleakest, it’s usually one small trigger that opens the floodgates to an answer.
And there is possibly no greater example of this than a thirteen year-old named Richard Turere, a young Maasai man in Kenya.
There was an issue on Richard’s father’s grazing land which abutted up to the unfenced Maginot line of a natural game preserve. Because there was no barrier between the two properties, wild animals like zebra would pay a visit to the grazing cattle. But never trust a zebra, because very rarely are they alone. Often, they would be followed by lions looking for food.
Now Zebras are fast, but grazing bulls aren’t. Hell, the lion could take a nap and then attack before a poor bull would have the time and wherewithal to say, “What the fu…?!”
The livestock is some of the lifeblood of the Maasai. They’re also considered fairly sacred, so the young warriors were fifty shades of pissed. Barbecued lion, anyone?
The tit-for-cat could not go on. Something had to give.
So Richard, all thirteen years-old of him, tried to come up with a plan. At first, he put up a spotlight. In reality, he might as well have put an airport sign on the poor cattle, because this was essentially a landing light for Simba.
So then Richard thought, “I could put up a scarecrow.” But he soon discovered that lions are far smarter than the average bear. By night two, they were turning Richard into a bigger dummy than the dummy.
And Richard is no dummy.
So the next night, while patrolling the cattle against the lions by himself (imagine what you were doing at thirteen), his open mind and open senses realized that his moving flashlight flustered the lions, keeping them at bay.
Richard had always been a curious kid. He once took his mother’s radio apart to see how it worked. She almost took him apart because of it, but as he says, “I learned a lot about electronics.”
So check this: he got an old car battery that he kept powered by a solar panel. He attached it to a motorcycle blinker box that he’d procured, and then a switch to the blinker box. He then took some of the bulbs from broken flashlights, and attached them to the wire which came from the switch. He faced the lights toward the wildlife preserve, and had the lights continually blink on and off at different intervals.
Guess what didn’t show up anymore? Guess what doesn’t even try to show up anymore?
And then he set it up for seven more houses in his community, with the same result. And then it spread throughout Kenya, not only working on lions, but also hyenas and elephants. The idea is so brilliant that it earned Richard a scholarship at one of the most prestigious schools in all of Kenya.
I think I was still eating my own boogers at thirteen…not single-handedly figuring out how to let people, predators, and prey all live in harmony with each other.
Now I can’t equate my story to Richard’s, because if you don’t pay attention in his world, you might get eaten. If I don’t pay attention in my world, I miss an episode of The Black List – which hurts, I’m not going to lie. But while the rationale is different, the methodology is the same.
I’ve always said that I get most of the ideas for these blogs by what I see and hear every day, and you never, ever know when something life-altering will drop itself in your lap. Just yesterday, I had the great fortune of talking to my dear friend and fellow HuffPo blogger Jason Stuart, and I told him a story of something so random that he said that changed my life forever.
I’m a hugger by nature. I hug everyone…women, men, dogs…makes no difference to me. Once when Jason was in our radio studio (he’s a phenomenal actor and comedian), I went to give him a hug as we had gotten to know each other over the years. When I gave him a pat on the back, he said, “Oh Christ, complete the hug!”
Jason didn’t remember it, but that has been with me for twenty years. And it will forever be with me because I was open enough to actually hear it, listen to it, and live it.
Now if you don’t already do this, don’t get mad if you try this and it doesn’t take right away. Like all things worth doing, it takes practice until it becomes part of you. And if it takes a week, a month, a year, so be it.
But imagine the joy you feel when, one day, while reminiscing twenty years from now, you’ll be able to sit with your friend or your spouse and you’ll be able to embrace the little things that made a memory so vivid and wonderful.
Because this would just suck:
Husband: “Remember that night we made love in the back of your dad’s Buick?”
Wife: “My dad never had a Buick.”
Richard Turere told his story to TED: the link is here.