Outhouse Wisdom

I’m working on two nonfiction books in my spare time and spare thoughts. One deals with what I’ve learned about writing since becoming published. I add to this one as insights occur to me, or I come across good resources.

outhousesThe other book is broader, and its working title is “Outhouse Wisdom.” Everybody has a draft of this volume in their heads, though they probably have a more genteel way of phrasing it. I’m trying to keep track of the everyday lessons that have added up to smooth out my path, help me around the blind turns, and otherwise add meaning to my life.

Some of the lessons have arrived to me in clever phrasing. An engineer friend, trying to express a sentiment about some processes having to unfold over a prescribed time, said, “You can’t make a baby in one month with nine women.”

Love that. He said it better than I ever will.

Woman+in+BarrelAnother friend, a guy I’ve known all my life who builds houses pretty much single-handedly, and has never really left the valley where we were raised, came out with, “Everybody gets a turn in the barrel.” He meant we all have bad days, make bad decisions, look like fools.

I like how he said it better. His version is friendlier, and more homey.

Homespun wisdom is great fun for putting into the mouths of the Duke and Duchess of Moreland, or the occasional child character, but it’s also a real comfort to me as I muddle through my little life, occasionally stubbing my toe, bouncing checks, saying the wrong thing, and generally being human.

A few more:

You don’t want to be with anybody who doesn’t want to be with you. (From my dad.)

We’re here to learn how to love and be loved. (A long time therapist.)

wearing a barrel storyYou can get through nearly anything if a) your suffering has purpose, b) somebody’s enduring it with you, and/or c) you know it won’t last forever. (Me.)

Weak people give up and stay, strong people give up and move on. (Attributed to Maya Angelou, and not always that simple. I could do a whole blog post on this… hey, wait…)

OK, those are few of mine. What are the homespun lessons that you keep in a mental pocket to pull out when the Undertoad is having a good day at your expense?

To one commenter, I’ll give a complete signed series of the eight Windham novels in print, plus Douglas: Lord of Heartache.






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76 comments on “Outhouse Wisdom

  1. Love that title…

    My “motto” has always been: If you don’t ASK, you don’t GET

    I don’t mean that in a selfish way, but say you deserve a promotion. Sometimes asking will at least get them to look at you.

    I’ve asked for things for schools, for work, for friends. And most of the time, I “get.”

    I’m not a diva, and I don’t DEMAND, but sometimes just the fact that you asked, will get you a return. I’m always polite and after I ask, I let them make the decision, without nagging…lol

    I’ve encouraged people to ask for jobs, for help, for dates, for HORSES, for a hug.

    I always say, they may say no, but they might say yes.

  2. Love that title.., can’t thing of any good quotes at the moment, as soon as I close this, i will think of 100’s. Love to read your blogs, and your books, you really have a way to tell stories, and fact that keep my attention. Keep up your great work…

  3. One needs to talk WITH people’s not TO people. Taking with people allows a conversation so you can understand others’ opinions and thoughts. Talking to people is telling them what to do, think, etc.

    • You remind me of another: You command respect, you do not demand respect. THAT ONE, I have occasion to recall around all manner of adults working with children. The grown up think these kids should respect them because they’re older, taller and they weigh more? WHAT?

  4. One of my favorites is a quote by Robert Frost “In three words I can sum up everything I have learned about life: It goes on.
    So no matter if it is good or bad life continues on.

    • One of my most respected writers buddies chose a license plate based on Galileo’s parting shot to the Inquisition. They wanted him to admit the earth was the center of the universe, stable, and fixed, and all the heavens rotated around it.

      He backed down–a dead Galileo can’t make any more contributions to science–but as he left the hearing room, he muttered, “IT MOVES.”

      Life goes on, and the truth shall out.

  5. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Usually thought in conjunction with my workouts, but also applies to a lot of other things in life, too.

    • Apt, given last week’s discussion about Post Traumatic Growth Syndrome–provided you have good support, a caring audience, and time to integrate the upheaval.

      A bottle of tylenol (or fire water) can help a lot too.

  6. My favorites are “the only constant is change” (François de La Rochefoucauld) and it’s only a bad day, not a bad life, or something like that! 🙂

  7. One of my favorites: “Karma is a bitch.” Usually said with a smile and often accompanied with a fist pump.

    Felt the need to share with you that I am about a third into “Douglas” and am loving it/him. Other loves include all scenes with Kate and Douglas’s love of cakes. I also want Douglas to brush and braid my hair. Thank you very much!

    • Douglas has that subtle charm thing going. He pays attention, he listens, he notices. He’s also genuinely concerned for those around him, despite his shyness.

      I wanted to start the series with Douglas, but Westhaven could never have kept his hands off Anna for another few years merely for the sake of series coherence.

      • Finished and loved it. I don’t know why I wrote Kate above when I meant Rose. She is one of my favorite child characters. Going to add to my loves: paper snowflakes and the scene at the church. So glad to see Douglas get a worthy HEA. Thanks again for another keeper.

    • Yep, them is I’m outta here words. If you love me, you will see who I really am even when I lose track of myself. If you love me, you will Pay Attention even when I’m asleep at the switch. If you love me, you will have faith in me…

      Not you will start contorting me to adjust to your pathology. Probably the greatest disrespect one person can do another.

  8. I live by a simple motto…”life is like a fish tank, some times you’ve got to change the filter.” For me, it works. Everybody needs a little motivation now and again! Thanks for sharing!

    • VERY interesting perspective. Whenever I ask an author who’s quit the day job if they have regrets about taking such a dicey step, their response is invariably, “I regret not doing it sooner.”

      A new filter always cleans up the water and reduces the stink.

  9. Not really sure if this is a gem of wisdom or a warning or what, but my grandfather would say this to my dad, my dad said it to me and now I’m really starting to get it: “Keep Livin’ and you’ll see”

    And then for my optimists that like to give folks a little twisted, slightly morbid pick-me-up: “Every day above ground is a good one” or “You woke up on the right side of the grass this morning”

  10. Everything happens for a reason. This one has gotten me though a lot of really bad times. It also helps me to step back from a seemingly unfortunate situation, on a smaller scale, and see how it could possibly be leading to something better, or away from something worse.

  11. I believe I have heard a few of these from you a time or two. I really love the one on being here to love and be loved, because that just sums it all up.
    Today in church we discussed the much used “love the sinner, hate the sin.” which is not even biblical. Our pastor said be “love the sinner, love the sinner, love the sinner” and that if we wanted to hate sin we should hate our own sin. My narrowed down version of it would be “just love”.

    • I like this pastor. Way too much neglecting the log in our own eyes to carp at the speck in our brother’s.

      And “just love,” probably wouldn’t use up the obligatory twenty minutes of the service, though it can absorb an entire lifetime.

  12. Mine is one my grandpa always used to say, cheer up buttercup, tomorrow is another day. It flowed from him whenever anyone came to him with a problem. It was usually followed by is this really going to change your life if you worry about it this much? Then he would sing “You are my Sunshine”. Those thoughts and memories get me through all types of rough patches and frustrations.

  13. My two favorite “thots” are: (1) Expect ALOT and you will be frequently disappointed…Accept ALOT and you will frequently be delighted. (2) Somedays you are the bug, somedays you are the windshield!

  14. A Navy captain I once worked for had a question he always asked new classes at our training facility – “How do you eat an elephant?” The correct answer – “One bite at a time.” – has stuck with me. It reminds me that if a task or goal seems overwhelming, I just need to start. Then I can spend my energy working towards the goal instead of on worrying or avoidance.
    Another saying that I just encountered today might end up sticking with me: “It doesn’t cost you anything for someone else’s voice to exist.”

  15. A lot of my favorites have already been mentioned by others here but one that made an impression on me at the time was something my mother wrote in my high school yearbook. It was a quote from Shakespeare and I’m sure I’ll mess it up royally because I’m too lazy to go look it up.

    “First to thine self be true and it shall follow as night the day, thou canst not be false to any man.” In other words, be yourself!

    By the way, I knew a few outhouses as a child and all I ever wanted was to get in and out as quickly as possible. I was always afraid a spider would bite me in the butt.

    • Mary your last comment reminded me of an author who commented to me recently about just that happening. She was bitten on the butt by a black widow spider in an outhouse while vacationing with her family. She said she called that her “summer of hell” as that wasn’t the first unlucky thing that happened to her.

      I remember them from childhood myself and don’t think I actually sat down on one after becoming tall enough to back up to it and stoop over the hole.

  16. I was always told that if you watch the pennies the dollars will take care of themselves. It always come to mind when some political pundit explains that this many millions spent on this (insert whatever) is a drop in the bucket compared to the overall budget.

  17. “This too shall pass” – I think that mostly when going thru a bad period, like my parents health issues – things will continue to change, one way or another.

    “If money can fix it, it’s not a problem” – I have to remember that when I have to pay for something to be repaired or anything that is aggravating, but can be fixed with money that I do have (just don’t want to have to spend). A real problem is when there is a health issue that all the money in the world could not fix.

    • Diane, you make an excellent point. Often, toward the end of the month, I’ll realize I’m anxious. I check my email repeatedly, can’t focus on my scenes, and otherwise act like the angel of awfulness is hovering over my life. I’m just broke.

      Get a grip, Grace. It’s ONLY money.

  18. ‘If the wind will not serve, take to the oars’-Latin Proverb

    ^^^Some days you can coast through simply because of those days you’ve put all your heart, strength, and sometimes love into ‘taking to the oars’.

    Thank you for sharing your talent with us!

  19. Several of mine have already been posted like: “This too shall pass,” “Every day above ground is a good one,” “What goes around, comes around” (although I’m still waiting for that to happen in a couple of cases),etc. I also use: “It could be worse” and when I was going through a particularly tough year, “Satan, you’re not going to win this one,” or something to that effect.

  20. “Never make a decision based solely on money. You will regret it.”

    One of the great lessons my mom taught me. While money is always a factor, making it THE factor will not yield desired results.

    “Once I realized failure WAS an option, life got much easier.”

    From my dad. Letting go of failures and moving forward – intending of holding onto them and trying to change the outcome – is VERY liberating!

    And my personal favorite: “If you’re going to be able to look back on something and laugh about it, you might as well laugh about it now.” Marie Osmond

  21. The one that I use the most is :Treat others as you want to be treated!I don’t have a clever way to say it but the attitude has landed me a few jobs.

    Those in glass houses… or walk a mile in someone else shoes…grass is always greener…

    In my mind they are all related. Don’t judge and be thankful!

    When I was a young teen, in Madrid, my girlfriend and I were catching a bus when we saw a mother hollering at her child. We confronted her and berated her. When we think of that day we wish we could find her and apologize.

    • I lent somebody a trumpet I wasn’t using when I was a teenager. After about a year, I asked for the trumpet back, and never learned to play it. The family that had borrowed it from me had done me incalculable kindnesses, and I had to go and be stingy with them.

      I am still ashamed of myself for that, forty years later. It helped a little when I gave away a cello to a foster kid, but not enough.

  22. Oh my goodness! I grew up on sayings thanks to my mother’s prolific use of them in everyday language.
    I think my two favorites were those I got from men, the first was the brother of the man I was dating back in ’72. I don’t remember what we were talking about but I said “ears have walls” in answer to something he said instead of the saying “wall have ears”. He replied that he knew just how I felt and to him it fit the saying “I just open my mouth to switch feet”, which I promptly adopted as a motto since I often “put my foot in my mouth” as I often heard while growing up.
    The second was told to a young lady by a man I knew when she was moaning about her then boyfriend leaving her for another woman, I’ve always thought it worked both ways: “If he leaves you for someone else, he wasn’t worth having in the first place”. Switch the he for she and it works the same for a man as a woman.

    Most of what I grew up with hearing was nothing special, many baby boomer children grew up hearing the same things from their parents and grandparents.

  23. A co-worker and I on really bad days would look at each other and remind ourselves to take a deep breath and say “in with the good” and exhale and say “out with the bad”.

    It always made us feel better and I still remind myself to breath in the good and exhale the bad when things become overwhelming.

  24. I have to say the one that I learned the hard way was “never say never” which has a couple of meanings for me. For one, you would close yourself off to so many possibilities. But the other is that you never know what you will do in any situation until you are in it. A general example would be: When I have kids I would never… I grew up saying I would never marry an only child (my dad was one) and yep, I did that very thing.

  25. I keep seeing words of wisdom like these posted on facebook. It’s a little habit that I have to find the ones that “speak” to me and save them. I keep a copy on my mobile phone and once a month or so, I print them out and paste them in a notebook so that I always have something to cheer me up when I’m hitting a low patch.

    For a solitary creature like me, these written words sometimes have more power to cheer me up than all the well wishes and spoken words combined. I don’t know, maybe because once it’s written it makes me think about…things. What I have (a job, my family, health) and what I don’t have (domestic troubles, serious financial and medical issues). Sometimes they make me reflect on the past and the people who have come and gone and had a positive influence on me (as well as those not so positive influence that I have learned valuable lessons from them, too!). Inevitably, they always bring a smile to my face.

    Some of my favorites include:

    “Everything happens for a reason” – This has proven true on more than one occasion.

    “The Truth Is Out There” and “I Want To Believe” – I confess, my nerd side borrowed this from “the X-Files”. But how true is this? How many times do you want to believe in something, want it to be true? And that truth we all seek, it really is out there we just have to be willing to look for it.

    “Nothing’s impossible” – Another nerdism snagged from the “Star Wars Radio Drama”. I love this. It makes things so much more interesting when you challenge yourself. 🙂

    “There is no chance, no destiny, no fate
    That can circumvent, nor hinder, nor control
    The firm resolve of a determined soul.” – Quoted by my high school music teacher on many an occasion. Not sure if they are his words or if he got them from somewhere else, but they always come to mind in tough times – and make me want to be THAT determined person. Kind of goes hand in hand with Nothing’s Impossible.

    “If you have to ask, you don’t want to know” – Okay, I confess. I came up with this all on my own and has proven true too many times to count.

    “No matter what happens, it could always be worse.” – Another “me” creation. I just love this. It makes me really think about what I have, who I am and makes me so thankful for all that I have. If I had to pick one phrase to live by, THIS WOULD BE IT. And not just for me, but the people I work with, my friends, family, I’m always quoting it to them. It takes them a minute, but they always stop and think about it. It’s the best feeling in the world when they look at you, smile and say “That is so true.” It just brings a different outlook on life.

    • Your teacher was quoting Ella Wheeler Wilcox, Christina, who also penned the lines:

      Laugh, and the world laughs with you;
      Weep, and you weep alone.
      For the sad old earth must borrow its mirth
      But has trouble enough of its own

      I leave court on Thursday a far more grateful and humble person than I walk in. Some people have it so awfully, unrelentingly tough… and I am not one of them.

  26. Mine comes from my grandmother.

    When I was about 12, I stayed with my grandparents for a week or so and one night they got into a discussion about some of their bills and my grandfather’s concern about whether they had enough money to cover one of them. (We were in the car; I was in the back seat; just to clarify that there was no way for me to avoid hearing them.)

    My grandmother tried to settle him down, and he shot down all her arguments aimed at calming him.

    Finally she just started to laugh. And he said “I don’t see what’s so funny.”

    And she said: “If I have to choose between laughing and crying, I choose to laugh.”

    Many, many times in the 40 years since I have counseled myself or a friend with the advice that we can indeed “choose to laugh.”

    (Interestingly, tied to the blog post about post traumatic growth syndrome, I would note that my grandmother was the survivor of a very difficult childhood that included the deaths of all her siblings, her father’s abandonment for a time and her own health problems including spending much of her sixth and seventh years in a Shriner’s hospital. She lived into her 80s and she had a beautiful, exuberant laugh.)

    • Interesting, what we overhear from the backseat, or the living room. I used to share a bedroom with three siblings, and we’d fall asleep, listening to my parents parse the day in the living room directly above us.

  27. The Three Rules:
    #1: Always look cool.
    #2: Never get lost.
    #3: If you get lost, look cool.

    Actually, I’m a big fan of various versions of “you can do anything for a short period of time.” And while you’re there follow Cadre Lou’s advice and “punch your demons in the the throat.”

  28. I am fond of the “with pain comes strength.” I feel I can only grow stronger if there are times that I am feeling beaten down.

  29. Two pieces of thought that have been floating around my head in thinking about difficult professional situations…..
    1. Round pegs do not work in square holes – and it is ok to try a different option.
    2. You cannot be the first to see this fact situation – keep researching.
    Both of these nuggets came from one of my first managers. One of those extremely difficult people to work with whom I highly respect and like as a person even if our volumes ended up being raised.

    From him I also learned and have passed on to many peers and subordinates the following:
    1. You can like some one as a person and disagree with them professionally.
    2. Clients who want to cheat the government on their taxes are bad clients as they are demanding, think they are more important than everyone else AND will certainly not pay you fairly for your time in dealing with them. This is a classic round hole & square peg situation – find a new spot quick!

    • Beth, it’s axiomatic among family law attorneys that at some point in a divorce, your client will treat you the way they’ve treated their ex. All the animosity, blaming, shaming, blah, blah, whatever will come you way. That’s when you wished you’d stuck with the clients trying to get through a tough situation with their dignity and honor in tact, and a fair outcome for everybody.

      Of course, you don’t stumble across this “axiom” until you’ve been retained by the Client from Divorce Lawyer Purgatory, whom every other lawyer in town has fired.

  30. “You had a bad day, you are not a bad person”! A reminder that sometimes its our turn to have everything go wrong, and that you need to keep it in perspective.

    “What you own will come to own you”. Also a reminder that having the best, most expensive, etc does not guarantee happiness and that most of the time, less is more, but we never are grateful for what we have, only regretful of what we don’t.

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