birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

I Do Not Recall

I like giving advice. There are few things that make me happier than giving advice that I know is sound and that people find helpful.

I also like getting advice. For example, I have a plug-in electric car because I was advised to get one, and it’s been great. I got a lot of advice on buying a house, all that was useful. I’ve gotten tons of advice from a friend on how to get a job - that was really invaluable.

Then there are all those pieces of advice about childrearing that turned out to be fantastic. Never buy your child a stuffed animal because other people will buy them more than they can ever use. My cousin’s wife said she counted once and they had over two hundred; they had a pile of them as high as the ceiling. “You should have them hang onto the ones they want,” I told her. “And get rid of the rest.” “I did that,” she told me. “Those were just the ones we were giving away, there was another pile just as big that we kept.”

There are a few pieces of advice I wish I’d taken. People told me to spend time with my kids when they were little. “It will go fast,” they’d say. I didn’t really believed them. Their infancy had been interminable, so why wouldn’t their childhood be? But I was totally wrong. It did go fast. And now I regret not being more attentive, more fixed on them. I didn’t keep scrapbooks, I didn’t keep a journal, and even in this age of digital everything there are very few photos or videos of them. In contrast, I have a vast number of pictures of notes on whiteboards. I am pretty sure I will not treasure those in my old age.

There is advice I wish I had not taken. People told me not to take a job where I had to travel a lot, because I’d hate it. I think this was incorrect. I do not mind being on the move all the time, I actually like it. But when I was young I didn’t know myself well enough to know when people were wrong about me.

I give out an awful lot of advice, most of which I do not remember. Other people do, though, which I find disconcerting. I have often heard people say “I’ll always remember what you told me about X,” and then describe an exchange I do not recall at all. I would make a great witness if I am ever involved in a political scandal because I can’t remember anything.

When I was teaching I would often come to moments when I’d be rabbiting on about whatever and then, suddenly, everyone in the class would sit bolt upright and start writing. This was always alarming. I generally had no idea what I had said that had so caught their attention. Technically, I was not really giving out “advice,” but it is somewhat the same phenomenon as my poorly recalled admonitions to friends.

I think advice - both the giving and the getting - tells us a lot about how much we know ourselves. I suspect I do not know myself that well at all.

Give Less, Get More

Advice from my Father