Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Nick Cernis of Put Things Off.
On 11 December 2007 author Terry Pratchett announced online and with glorious good humour that he’d been diagnosed with a rare form of Alzheimer’s disease.The news still shocks me, partly because it’s the first time I’ve heard the phrase “eat the arse out of a dead mole” in a press release, but mainly because it’s always a crying shame when terrible things happen to brilliant people.I wanted to help. In an interview with The Times two days later, Pratchett cheerfully told me that I simply wasn’t qualified: “I know it’s a very human thing to say, “Is there anything I can do?” but in this case I would only entertain offers from very high-end experts in brain chemistry.”
I flunked chemistry and biology with crying colours, so I turned to a more traditional way of exploring the problem; I picked up a good book. The hardback I chose was “Going Postal” by the great man himself. On page 17 Pratchett gives a wonderful life lesson that I’d like to share with you today.
Getting past the pineapple
Going Postal tells the story of a skilled con artist forced to turn his life around to change the world for the better. In the opening scene, our troubled trickster ponders the meaning of life while seconds away from death at the gallows:
“What you had to do in this life was get past the pineapple, Moist told himself. It was big and sharp and knobbly, but there might be peaches underneath.”
What a wonderful little nugget of philosophy—a lesson in living from a fruit bowl! Only Pratchett could take a pineapple, add the word “knobbly”, and create a neatly-formed metaphor for overcoming hardship. Here’s what it teaches us:
10 lessons in life from your fruit bowl
1. The juicy fruit is often underneath
There will be times when life gets sharp and knobbly. Your challenge is to keep on smiling and look for the tasty treats underneath. It’s a question of balance: without hardship, the good times wouldn’t exist. Never give up—getting past the pineapple is what it’s all about.
2. Wear lightweight armour
Ever bitten into a whole pineapple? Didn’t think so. They’re tough old beasts at the worst of times, and so should you be. You want a solid outer shell to repel anyone trying to attack you, but you don’t need to harden up as far as the pineapple and dissuade people from talking to you altogether. Those in a full suit of wet copper armour don’t tend to be very approachable. (As Pratchett jokes—especially not in a thunder storm.)
3. Be patient
The moment a pineapple is picked, the fruit stops ripening. It’s a simple idea and a powerful one. Many people seem in a rush to ‘become’ something. Whether it’s a famous musician, a great designer or a problogger, don’t hurry to ripen. Your heroes became famous through hard work and good fortune and you’ll have to do the same. There’s no magic ticket — just take your time and enjoy the ride. Fame should be an added bonus; never a goal.
4. Aim for the sun
Few fruits grow in heavy shade. Fewer still revel in the darkness. This creates a lovely two-step metaphor for living: first, you have to leave the darkness of anonymity and actually put yourself out there, both online and off. Second, you have to do something unique if you want to really be noticed — the tallest fruit trees rarely grow in the shade of others.
5. Respect your parents
Most fruit ripens to the point where it’s mature — then it drops and is no longer dependent on the tree. If you’re a parent, you’ll be laughing heartily at this metaphor! People aren’t like fruit, of course — we can call on our parents for life. (I chose simply never to mature!) Treasure the connection with your folks and try to really get to know them through your adult life. They probably have more to offer than you think.
6. Don’t be a banana
The banana exudes ethylene, a gas that accelerates the ripening process in other fruit. It’s punishment? Many people separate it from their apples and pears altogether. The life lesson is simple: don’t be a banana. The underlying messages are these: firstly, let others develop at their own pace. Secondly, if you don’t want to live in isolation, play nicely.
7. Find beauty in simplicity
The Carambola or “Star Fruit”; is a beautiful little treasure. Its cross section is a simple 5-pointed star. Nature creates beauty in simplicity, and there’s a lot we can take from this and apply in our lives. Before you add complex systems and pick up new devices, first strip your life back to the basics. There is a world of magnificence hidden in simplicity.
8. Look after your assets
The wise farmer plants the tree and reaps the fruit for years to come. She doesn’t chop it down to sell the firewood. Look after your assets: your money, friends, family and health. You’ll gain more benefit in the long term by hanging onto them than you will by giving them up early on.
9. Pass it on
All apple varieties share a similar trait: they can’t pollinate themselves or any flowers of the same apple variety. The best fruit comes from pollinating with completely different varieties. Before your one track mind reads too much into this, the actual message is innocent: share your knowledge. Pass on your thoughts and ideas to everyone whether they’re part of your circle or not.
10. Never judge a tomato
You wouldn’t find one in a fruit bowl but, speaking scientifically, that’s exactly what a tomato is: a fruit. It’s important not to judge a tomato purely on its ability to work well with pasta. Lessons from the tomato: don’t label things unnecessarily, and don’t judge too early on.
What all this means for you
Apart from looking at your fruit bowl more suspiciously from now on (who ever knew fruit was so cunning?) I sincerely hope that, if you only take one thing away from this article, it is this:
When life bowls you a pineapple, dodge it and keep running.
As Terry Pratchett puts it: “Frankly, I would prefer it if people kept things cheerful, because I think there’s time for at least a few more books yet.” I look forward to seeing what fruits the new ones bring!
Nick Cernis writes at Put Things Off, the laid-back productivity blog.
Leo’s Book-Writing Update: I wrote for a little over an hour and finished another chapter (I had started it yesterday). I am taking a break to do a couple errands, but I’m gonna go back and write for another hour or so pretty soon. Making great progress! Thanks for the encouragement, everybody. - Leo
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