You Know It’s a Problem If….

Sometimes my back hurts, but certainly not all the time, and never very badly. I figure an achy back goes along with wrinkles, gray hair, and other blessings of continued life. My brother Tom is a few years my senior, and has been through more after-factory replacements of hips, knees, and parts thereof than anybody else I know. So I when I was wondering about my own twinges and aches, I asked him, “When do you know if it’s a problem?”

His response was immediate and simple, “If it keeps you from getting sleep you need, then it’s a problem, whether it’s your hip, your marriage, your job. Anything that persistently comes between you and your rest qualifies as a problem.”

Wow. That is so simple and accurate, it qualifies as wisdom. I define wisdom as truths that can save you time, resources or heartache. My brother Dick is the first person to share this piece of wisdom with me: “If I’m contemplating doing something I’d be uncomfortable telling my adult children I did, then I’d better rethink the decision.”

My mom passed this one along early in my life, and it has had frequent application: “Don’t make decisions when you’re tired. If you can, wait until you’re rested and then take another look at things.”

Wisdom drops into a troubling situation with a sense of bringing relief, of shedding light into a murky darkness. My dad has come up with a few of my favorites:

“If you don’t know what you want to do, pay attention to what you’re sure you DO NOT want to do, and maybe the decision will seem simpler.”

He is also the guy who told me, “I don’t care how besotted I am with a person, a job, a social group—I do not want to spend my time around people who don’t want to be around me.”  Which is to say, pride, or at least self-respect, can save us from some falls.

When next I see my daughter, I will ask her what wisdom sayings she attributes to me, and hope the question isn’t met with awkward silence.

As I list these personal proverbs, it occurs to me that they are exactly the kind of advice a good secondary character will pass along to a hero or heroine at some critical juncture of a romance novel. So what are your personal proverbs? And be warned: You might see the hero’s best friend reminding him of your granny’s favorite quote in some future Grace Burrowes romance.

To one commenter below, I will send a signed copy of “Lady Maggie’s Secret Scandal.”

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46 comments on “You Know It’s a Problem If….

  1. My grandma always told me that a good person was made up of 90 percent horse sense and 10 percent book learnin’.

    • Gail, that reminds me of something my great-grandfather said: Most women are better than most men, and an average woman will beat most men in the things that matter: courage, kindness, honesty, and so forth. But a bad woman is much, much worse than a bad man, and a violation of the natural order.
      He was the town doctor in Leadville, CO, during the Silver boon in the late 1800s, and he probably saw a lot of goodness and badness from which to judge.

  2. My Uncle always used to tell us not to judge people. That the earth is a big place and there is room for all of us.

    • Sheila, who among us hasn’t lived to heed this bit of wisdom, and if we still don’t get it, there’s that wonderful country song, “Unanswered Prayers,” that comes at the same insight from a different angle.

  3. We call my mother’s wisdom, “Gramma-isms.” One of my favorites is when she talks about putting your family before the housework saying, “Don’t worry about the dirt. They’ll throw six feet of it on top of you when you’re dead and you’re never gonna sweep that off!”

      • When I was a kid and would whine “I caaaan’t” his reply was the above – personify “I can’t” then it might make better sense. The irritation comes from knowing he was right – if you say you can’t do something, you never will. But I hated being called out on my complaining. 😉
        I guess it worked though, because I never have an “I can’t” attitude – if I start to feel like whining, that phrase creeps up on me!

  4. My 14 year old has a figure most playboy bunnies would envy, and she gets the attention that goes along with it. I recently told her to”be the girl everyone wants, not the girl everyone has had”

    • Youch, to have to have that talk with a girl of fourteen, but heaven help her if she doesn’t understand your point, and how important it is. Once a young lady has parted with her reputation, it’s virtually impossible to restore it–and this has been true since Regency days, at least.

  5. My husband told me the other day, “sometimes you just have to forgive people for what they say on social media.” Your characters probably wouldn’t be able to say that to each other, but I thought it was pretty good advice–no point in raising my blood pressure over dumb stuff well-meaning folks say.

    • Emily, I think he’s right, and I also think email in particular sometimes doesn’t convey tone of voice, or subtle intentions. What was meant as a joke can come across as a judgment, and so forth.
      I have often chimed in on somebody’s string of unhappy comments, only to ask myself: Do I have to post this? Is this kind, or just my version of judgmental?

      No, I do not have to post those sentiments, so I erase before I post and remain silent.

  6. When I was learning to drive a car, my mother told me “Don’t let the person behind you drive your car.” I had to think about that for awhile, but it really hit home. I made sure to tell my kids the same thing when they were learning to drive!

    • Barb, you put in mind of a trip I took with my brother Joe down a slushy mountain road. The guy behind was tailgating, so Joe sped up to create distance, which the idiot behind us promptly closed, before hugging our bumper again. The first place we found to pull over, we did, but geesh…. for a few miles, there were no good options.
      Your mom was right!

  7. I have two comments to pass on: 1) My mother used to tell me, when I was in my teen-age angst, that “Mr. Average will come out first in the end.” 2) The other was President Nixon’s unfortunate realization that you should never make a major decision when you’re ill; he authorized the break-in at Watergate while recovering from pneumonia and regretted it the rest of his life.

    • Trudy, I know in the State of Maryland, you’re considered legally non compos mentis for twenty four hours after waking up from general anesthetic. No matter how chipper you feel, you aren’t hitting on all eight cylinders. I hadn’t heard that President Nixon was recovering from pneumonia when the Watergate decision went down… interesting!

  8. After years of dating I finally learned “Believe people when they show you who they are, not who they say.” Talk a good game, nice, but if they don’t back it up…walk the talk, believe that walk, not that mouth.

    • Larisa, if I could only have grafted that lesson into my brain prior to age sixteen, I would have saved myself a world and a half of heartache. I love words, love using them precisely and in volume to tell stories, but the downside is, I took forever to learn that other people use them to create entirely different kinds of fiction.
      And still, I catch myself…

      • Yes! I’d only agree to be younger again if I would get to keep every scrap of wisdom and knowledge I’ve (l)earned.

        Otherwise, no way. Not for a million bucks.

  9. Think before you speak is a good one. I usually do, but, unfortunately when I mess up, it’s usually a whopper! Removing a foot from one’s mouth is not pleasant.

  10. Two come immediately to mind. Maya Angelou said ‘The first time someone shows you who they are, believe them’. That has proven so true. But the one I get the most out of is asking yourself ‘Is it good for the children?’ It was a campaign in our city for a while and has really stuck with me. I say it in my head all the time when I’m at a crossroads. I think it has led me down the right path time after time.

    • I hadn’t heard, “Is it good for the children?” If we enforced that way of thinking, fast food menus would look a lot different, and there’d be no Mortal Kombat, etc. Wonder what other changes we’d make.

  11. I have my Lady Maggie, but I thought I’d contribute my two cents. The comments about seeing who a person really is reminded me of a discussion I have with my students every time I teach Geometry (where we learn proofs). We talk about how you can never assume anyting, you must base your decisions on the information you know for a fact. Seems to work just as well as people as it does with math 🙂

    • Cora Lee, that puts me in mind of another one from my dad: What’s the simplest hypothesis that explains all the facts? Sometimes a simple question that yields an uncomfortable result.

  12. Would love to have a copy!

    One of my characters says, “Fate and faith puts us where we need to be” and that came from something that came to me when my father was so ill. I’ve found it to be true very often.

    Some great stuff–thanks!

  13. When ever I have an especially bad day, I call my grandmother. She remains quiet while I vent letting me get it all out. When I finally run out of steam, she always says: this too shall pass. And you know what? She’s right because whatever I’m upset about at that moment won’t (usually) be important a couple of days or even a month later.

    • Grandma’s right: At the end of the day, or the week, or the month, an awful lot of what frosts our cookies doesn’t matter. It’s the smiles that count–the ones we give, the ones we receive.

  14. Great post. How wonderful that you have so many wise siblings, Grace. The one thing I remember my father saying was “A good name is to be valued above all.” What I hope people say about me after I’m gone? That I believed each person no matter their station, age, or race deserved to be treated with kindness and dignity, especially the innocent and defenseless.

    • Livia, there’s a quote somewhere in language more elegant than I can muster that says you know a gentleman not by how prettily he waltzes around the ballroom, nor how elegantly he trots through the park. You know him by how he treats his social inferiors and his dependents.
      May I aspire to be a gentleman (sorta–however a gentleman would be who doesn’t hold with the notion of social inferiority).

  15. My brother who passed recently loved to nag me about my self confidence, or lack thereof. He was tall, handsome, a great dancer and someone everyone wanted to be around. I remember a specific time, when my two kids were driving me up a wall, I had three deadlines looming and relatives judging and nagging me, he would look at me and tell me he was envious of me. It always baffled me, I wondered why would he want my hectic life when he makes everything look easy. His response to that was, “Sissy, you are a single mother of two, with two demanding jobs. You’ve had people do you wrong, you’ve had people tell you that you can’t do it, and you know what? You’ve shown them exactly where to put their opinions. I envy your strength and your heart.” One month exactly after he told me that I lost him tragically and as I think back on it, I know he was right. I could have given up, I could have begged, but I didn’t. I guess it just all boils down to this, “Your strength of heart and will reflect in everything around you.”

    • I like the term “strength of heart” better than attitude. You don’t have to dish out any attitude to anybody to get up in the morning, and get your kids off to school with a smile. I agree with you and your late brother: You show people what to do with their negativity, you don’t bother telling them.

  16. I never thought I could ever enjoy blogging, but here is my contribution (hoping to use the right English words):

    1) coming from Goethe’s “Faust” (ever so often recited by my father!):
    “If you can’t feel it, you will not hunt it down.” (chase it down/catch it)
    as in: If it doesn’t rise from your inside, your heart, your soul, then you will not understand it/get it right/achieve it/… , no matter how hard you try. Basically: You can’t, if you can’t feel it.

    2) A heart can break but it keeps on beating.

    3) Friendship means to pay great regard to a small request.

    Surprisingly so, I ‘ve already got a copy of Maggie’s story, having come over the pond (and not surprisingly so, have enjoyed it enormously!!!!!)

    • Connie, those translations work for me, particularly the notion that we hunt down on the outside what moves us on the inside. Glad you liked the book, and hope you’ll pass it along once you’re back home.

  17. Since my parents and I often spoke German together, it’s a little difficult to translate their little sayings, usually from my mother’s side into English. One that I remember more and more often is: “What you don’t have in your head, needs your feet.” “If you forget something that you need, your feet will have to do double duty.” She told me her mother used to say the German equivalent quite often and it’s very a (with Fr. accent on it) propos for me right now.

    • I love how the German sometimes translates better for being literal. I grew up in central Pennsylvania, where a lot of Teutonic syntax was taken for granted because the Pennsylvania Dutch preserved it. “Throw your father down the stairs his hat,” worked fine for me, and so does the idea that the body might know things the conscious mind can’t quite see.

  18. When I complained about my siblings, friends or colleagues, my mom would always say,”If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything.”
    When I was tempted to avoid a challenge, my dad would tell me, “If you’ve got it, flaunt it!”
    I didn’t always follow this advice, so I guess I have not turned into a nice show-off.

    • Cathy, I understand that “if you can’t say something nice,” admonition better than I used to. Following it will spare the feelings of whoever’s in my gunsights, but more significantly, it will preserve me from saying something I regret.

      For my purposes I’ve modified the saying, “If you can’t say something nice, try for something honest said nicely.”

  19. The venerable Mrs. Burrowes (senior) gave me this gem when I was first married. It has saved me all kinds of trouble:

    There are no bad boys, only tired or hungry ones.

    And from Grace herself, when I was seventeen and worrying to her that I would spend my adult life bored and unhappy professionally, this piece of auntly (it has always bothered me that we girls don’t enjoy an adjective like avuncular) wisdom:

    No, you won’t. You’ll pick something that gets you excited to wake up in the morning every day and makes you happy to be alive.

    It was the best piece of career advice I ever got. And thankfully I followed it. I wake up every morning happy (and sometimes out and out thrilled) to be doing what I do.

    So thank you, Grace!

    • Ona, I refer to it as being in Scrooge McDuck’s money bin. I have an image from the comic books of old Scrooge swan diving into his filthy lucre, literally swimming in it with a huge grin on his duckly face. When I have a writing day, I have that sense of reckless abundance (sic), of overweaning glee at what I get to do with my WHOLE DAY… I hope I never lose that, but if I do, I will call you up for some advice.

  20. I would so much love to once read one of my favourite wisdoms in one of your books, so I decided to have another go:

    I like the things the way I like them, but from time to time I do think it’s wise to:
    “Rather stumble while breaking new grounds than treading water (walk smoothly without any progress) on the old ways.”

    Among others, that made me take up an extra-occupational correspondence course where I am still stuck with my thesis, damn it!