A western blackheaded budworm, common to Southeast Alaska, just hanging around. (Photo courtesy U.S. Forest Service)

A western blackheaded budworm, common to Southeast Alaska, just hanging around. (Photo courtesy U.S. Forest Service)

Gimme A Smile: Classic wisdom for the new year

Here we are, at the end of 2023. Time to reflect on how to improve in the new year. This year, rather than list a bunch of New Year’s resolutions, I plan to consult some classic wisdom to guide me on my path forward. Consider these wise nuggets:

• The early bird gets the worm. For some unfathomable reason, being early is a value in our society. It’s not enough to show up, you have to get there early if you want to get the worm. Yeah, no thanks. Worms are wiggly and squishy — not something I want to encounter early in the morning. As a motivational image, getting my hands on a worm is not going to spur me on to herculean feats of earliness that defy the natural human impulse to stay tucked into bed until the last possible second. I’ll pass on the worm.

• Sleep on it. That’s more like it! Good, sound advice, to allow your brain some down time to think about important decisions rather than rush into things too quickly. Unfortunately, our achievement-oriented society takes a dim view of this one. Sleeping on the job is a universal no-no in corporate America. If you tell your boss that you were wisely sleeping on it, you risk losing your job and then having no reason to get up early and snatch up that worm.

• Quit while you’re ahead. I’m sure my swim coach would never have uttered this motivational phrase. Picture the scene: Peggy is improbably out in front in the final lap of the 200-meter breaststroke. The crowd is on their feet as she powers towards the wall with five opponents right on her heels. But before tagging the wall, she stops and treads water, allowing her rivals to secure the victory. What is she thinking? Is there a worm in the water? No, she just decided to quit while she was ahead. Nope, Coach would definitely not approve!

• Go the extra mile. All right, which is it, “quit while you’re ahead,” or “go the extra mile?” You can’t do both. If you choose this path, you’re going to keep on going even when it makes sense for you to stop. Don’t try this in a swim meet, or any other race measured by feet, yards, or miles. It’s hard enough for friends and family to sit through a swim meet or a cross-country race, watching the athletes go back and forth or round and round. Nobody wants to see the frontrunner take an extra lap just to go the extra mile.

• You can’t judge a book by its cover. Nice thought, but is it realistic? Step into a bookstore and glance around — what catches your attention? Books. Or rather, the covers of those books. There are thousands of books in the bookstore. You can’t look inside each one of them to determine if you want to commit to the story. But if it has a catchy title and an eye-popping cover, preferably featuring a worm, then it has a better chance of getting you to crack it open to look at the words inside. Let’s face it, you are going to judge a book by its cover. We all do it.

• Read between the lines. Oh, brother, they expect you to do a whole lot of work when you’re reading, don’t they? First you have to judge your book by its contents rather than its cover, and then you have to decipher the white space between the lines in addition to reading the words the author intended. No wonder people prefer watching movies instead of reading!

• Make a long story short. Every time that someone says this, it’s because they’ve already been talking too long. They must think that since they got there early and now possess the worm, they have the right to corral the conversation for as long as it takes.

To make a long story short, these are but a few of the kernels of classic wisdom that I can take to heart for the new year. But it’s not even 2024 yet. I’m early — does that mean I get the worm?


• Peggy McKee Barnhill is a wife, mother, and author who writes cozy mysteries under the pen name “Greta McKennan.” She likes to look at the bright side of life.

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