Do you pay attention, or not?

“A writer – and, I believe, generally all persons – must think that whatever happens to him or her is a resource. All things have been given to us for a purpose, and an artist must feel this more intensely. All that happens to us, including our humiliations, our misfortunes, our embarrassments, all is given to us as raw material, as clay, so that we may shape our art.”

                        -Jorge Luis Borges, writer (1899-1986)

I saw an interview with Chris Gardner, the true life inspiration for the movie, The Pursuit of Happyness (2006), the movie starring Will Smith and his son Jaden Smith. I was sitting in O’Hare International watching TV as I waited for my plane. 

If you aren’t familiar with the movie it is the amazing story of Mr. Gardner’s rags-to-riches trials as a homeless father raising and caring for his small son–literally in the streets, public bathrooms and hallways in San Francisco– before finally triumphing over all of the hardships and becoming a financial prince on Wall Street. If you need an example on how to persevere, this movie would be a good choice. 

In the interview Mr. Gardner said they often had to make a choice to either pay for a bed in a hotel, or to eat. They often chose to eat, making it necessary to sleep on the floor in public bathrooms at night. 

As the interview progressed he spoke of how he started to buy and do nice things for his kids, once he was making good money and could afford to do such. He thought he wanted to give them more than he’d had but he soon learned that was not the best way to love his kids. 

He went on to make a statement that not only showed his wisdom–but to me—his creativity in expressing himself: 

“My kids became like little chocolate Kennedys,” he said, and he realized that he wasn’t doing them any favors by spoiling them with materialistic love. 

There’s a ton of wisdom in that sentence, but it is the little chocolate Kennedys expression that I’ll never forget. Look at all that he revealed with such few words. 

At the conclusion of the interview I looked around the waiting area. There weren’t many people in there, and I wondered if Mr. Gardner’s skillful use of words affected any of them as much as it did me. 

Didn’t matter, really. I pulled out my notebook and jotted them down along with some other thoughts that came to me about the interview. It was a good moment that taught me something, and I was lucky enough to take notice. Eyes and ears are the best friends writers and artists have. 

There’s pretty good advice hidden within a quote by the late George Carlin:

“If you nail two things together that have never been nailed together before, some schmuck will buy it from you.” 

His comment is as valuable as Mr. Gardner’s articulated example whether you’re writing fiction, or non-fiction.

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2 thoughts on “Do you pay attention, or not?

  1. Great thoughts and yes, what a line about the Kennedy’s. I love when a phrase can create a thought/story in such a concise manner. And like you, I love being inspired by a comment in a situation out of context, like being in an airport and it comes unexpectedly from a source unplanned. Great piece.

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