The best advice I ever got was from my maternal grandfather when he counselled me, “Never go partners on anything with anybody unless it’s a real big watermelon, and you’ve got the knife.” This same advice was echoed years later in a slightly different context by one of my first writing teachers who said, “Never collaborate with anyone, unless it’s God and He signs a release.” Though this same advice has been spoken and written in countless ways for centuries, it still took me a while before I finally realized that ultimately there can be no partnerships or collaborations. We are all the watermelon, and each of us must wield his own knife. Or, as the saying goes, “I ain’t much, baby, but I’m all I’ve got.”

Cindy McGary Munoz
Orangeville, California

The best advice I ever got was when I was too sick to fight it. I don’t remember my exact age at the time; the year escapes my recall, too, but doctors still made housecalls.

Old Dr. Hoover’s black-bagged, tobacco-breath version of the housecall left me with three little white envelopes (filled with very big pills) and a sore spot on my rear end. I felt sick when he came. I felt very sick when he left and held little hope that I would feel better soon.

The dark corner of my grandmother’s bedroom where my rumpled bed sat seemed smaller than usual and my pillows were damp and warm. The lingering scent of the old woman’s floral cologne caught in my throat as I tried not to think about the soft-boiled egg I had eaten for lunch. Anxiously, I wondered if I could make it to the bathroom down the hall if I had to.

Then, through the fever’s fog, I heard my mother’s laughter in the kitchen below followed by the steady murmur of Mrs. Eckman’s neighborhood gossip. How could my mother be so happy when I was so miserable? Had she forgotten that I was up here, alone and ill, in this tiny, still room? I needed to feel her cool hand on my forehead but my stomach didn’t feel strong enough for me to call out to her. There was only one thing to do.

Gradually, I slid my legs out of bed and stood up. A few steps brought me to the top of the stairs and, grasping the shiny, wooden bannister with both hands, I descended. Halfway down, my mother came into the living room from the kitchen.

She seemed shocked to see me. “Kathy! What are you doing out of bed! Go back upstairs honey and I’ll be up in a minute with some ice.”

“Mommy,” I whined, “my tummy feels so bad.” But she was having too good a day to give in to my sickness.

“Now,” she began firmly, “I want you to do something special for me and for you.” She moved to the railing and looked up at me intently. “Go back upstairs, lie down and say to yourself, ‘I don’t feel sick, I am well,’ over and over. Don’t let any other little words or thoughts creep into your head. Over and over until I come up.”

I was too weak to object. Besides this was something new that didn’t involve swallowing big pills. Obediently, I dragged back to bed, exhausted by the effort.

Turning the pillows, I was encouraged by the discovery of a cool spot and laid back, closing my eyes. Lips moving, I repeated the phrase she had given me as though the words were one long sound. I didn’t want any others to sneak in and break the spell.

When I opened my eyes again, it was the next morning. The air in the room was cool and my body felt light and empty. The hammers in my head were silent and the cement in my stomach was gone.

Dr. Hoover was quick to give credit for my speedy improvement to his pills and shot. Then and now, I give it to my mother’s advice and faith in the power of mind over matter, one of her finest gifts to me at a very early age.

Kathryn Rand
Raleigh, N.C.

Some of the best advice I’ve ever received: “Don’t smoke, drink or go parking with guys at least until you’re 18,” from frazzled parents. “Be sure and check your oil before you go on a long trip,” from my mother. “Don’t ever play cards for money,” from my grandfather. “I suggest you remain celibate until we get these problems cleared up,” from my doctor. “Don’t ever go out with that jerk again,” from numerous friends. “Always ask the good Lord for guidance when you’re in trouble,” from my grandmother.

The best advice I’ve ever received that I am trying to heed came from a stranger who reads palms: “Balance your life. Don’t set stringent goals, yet don’t drift.” Balancing is such an apt image: sometimes I’m happily skipping along an imaginary fence, in harmony and love; other times I fall right on my rear and see good intentions and good advice on the other side. Thank God, we can try and fall and try again.

La Rochefoucauld said, “Old people like to give good advice, as solace for no longer being able to provide bad examples.” Yet actions don’t always speak louder than words, especially when you’re young, and eager, and a little careless. Unheeded advice can be just as rewarding as advice taken. As Keats wrote, “That which is creative must create itself. . . . In Endymion, I leaped headlong into the sea, and thereby have become better acquainted with the soundings, the quicksands, and the rocks, than if I had stayed upon the green shore, and piped a silly pipe, and took tea and comfortable advice.”

Name Withheld
Chapel Hill, N.C.

“We should be careful to get out of an experience only the wisdom that is in it — and stop there; lest we be like the cat that sits down on a hot stove lid. She will never sit down on a hot stove lid again — and that is well: but also she will never sit down on a cold one any more.”

— Mark Twain

“Give me all the other advice you like, but don’t tell me how to: bring up my children; train my dog; fish for trout; scramble eggs; cast my vote; select a football game; buy meat; eat lobster; appreciate good music; improve my disposition; relax; or prepare myself for heaven.”

— William Feather

Shirley Moody
Cary, N.C.

The best advice I ever got:

From George Cushwa, giving a pre-game pep talk to the Roxboro High School ’58 football team, and passed along to me by one of the players: “Do your best and remember you can’t make chicken-salad out of chickenshit.”

From Amon Liner, “little comet’s hair comber” extra-ordinaire, in his Chrome Grass: “Love the silence that endures.” (Shine on, compadre.)

From my grandmother: “When you try to kill a copperhead, be sure you start at the right end.”

From an attorney-friend: “Don’t expect any miracles from the judicial system here in America, because justice has very little to do with our laws. We’ve got the best justice money can buy and if you’ve got a nickel, you’ll get 5¢ worth of justice and that’s how it works.”

From Dr. Mike Bleyman, on how he separates new tiger kittens from their mother: “Grab them and run.”

From my father: “Never fight unless you intend to kill, and if you mean to kill, don’t waste time fighting, and then kill quick and clean.” Also, “Whip your children with your tongue.”

From D. K. Ormsby: “You must realize that at times certain things don’t work out, but it is only to make room for other things in life you can’t see yet.”

From Cicero: “I can never have less for all that I give.”

From Simon de Beauvoir: “Woman must stop making love a religion or stop loving.”

From Dr. Raymond Jenkins: “Remember the frigid wisdom of Theognis, Nothing Too Much. Don’t let your feelings burn you up.”

From Lord Byron: “. . . thank your stars that matters are no worse, / And read your Bible, sir, and mind your purse.”

Lastly, from Harry Golden, in an early ’60s letter: “The only advice I can give you about writing poetry or anything else is that you shouldn’t listen to any advice.”

’Nuf said!

Virginia L. Rudder
Hurdle Mills, N.C.

The best advice was equally given during two occasions. The first time was when I was in the army and watching Nixon deliver a state-of-the-war speech on TV. Behind me a voice said, “Don’t believe him. He’s lying!” To which I said, “What do you mean he’s lying? He’s the President!” To which my advisor smiled. And with that smile, I had to choose between this advisor, whom I loved dearly, and the President, whom I revered. And so, as my trust in the President evaporated, so did my trust in government, the army, the church.

The other time was when I was living in Miami, Florida. Riding my bicycle in the morning, I noticed old people lined up in front of the big grocery stores before opening. When the doors opened, they rushed in to buy the marked down, bruised, and old produce. After leaving the store, the advice came from “The Source”: your generation and generations thereafter do not have to suffer these inequities. Go forth and organize and plant an abundance of fruit and nut trees — on both public and private lands, until there is enough for all, without purchase price in money. And thus, I am doing this with an organization called “The Fruition Project.”

Clay Olson
Santa Cruz, California

I’ve gotten a lot of advice. Everyone I know, including me, loves to give it. Often I dismiss it, because the advice consists of psychological projections from someone on to me.

A former friend at THE SUN gave me the best to date. He asked me why I was trying to be a good person. He said that you could map the evil and the good of humanity on a bell curve: there will always be Gandhis and Hitlers; take the middle path. As long as you hurt no one intentionally, you’re living decently. You cannot force goodness.

At the time, his words freed me from guilt. I agreed that I should accept myself as I am. But an irrepressible part still says, “Help others.” For me, the best advice is the toughest to live by.

David Belsky
Lacoste, Vaucluse

1. No one can forgive you until you forgive yourself.

2. You are not alone, and you are loved.

3. The truth cannot be improved upon.

4. Don’t be a giver; be a sharer.

5. No matter how many enlightening moments you experience, no matter how much you learn “the hard way,” you cannot keep, acquire, or store spiritual freedom. It must all be re-experienced, yet again.

6. You are always dying, sometimes more so than others. Death is a moment of mutation when you are at the core of the creative universe, in the midst of a massive transfusion, at the heart of change, seeding patterns to come.

7. When thinking makes you struggle harder, enhances confusion, deepens depression, or feeds the fear: get into the water. The colder the better if it’s summer and the hotter the better if it’s winter.

I am lying on my back, naked, floating, and the sky is a clear empty blue above me. Babyhood is back — the circular moment, the silence beyond an evaluative world. I am landscape within this water, landscape in the sky’s vast spaciousness, bodiless, weightless, a part of the pond playing with itself.

Why was I so anxious? Because I’ve been driving around with a carload of dirty laundry for three days? Because I have a new dream I can’t make sense of? Because I have a pimple on my ass?

I flip off my back, close my eyes, hold my breath and dive straight down into the darkness, six feet, seven, find an icy pocket and slice through it. The blackness, the weight of the water, is nothing. It is enlightened sleep, an empty mind, a womb awake, sure of its destiny, of everyone’s.

Elizabeth Campbell
Saxapahaw, N.C.