The Blog

What constitutes nice?
December 7, 2016

If I was in charge of training telemarketers, the first thing I’d tell them is not to be surprised when people are unhappy they called. I mean, really. Did they like calls from telemarketers before they became one?

Even some of the nicest people in the world aren’t shy about telling callers (1) they’re not interested, and (2) they want to be removed from the call list. Then they hang up.

Why is it different in person? Why do so many of us feel obligated to be less direct when someone’s at the door? I’m not talking about little kids selling something, or people in trouble. They get a pass. Otherwise? What about someone who wants to convert you to his religion? Then what?

First let me say I would never interrupt his day to suggest he entertain my views. I would never barge into a stranger’s life to talk about something that personal with no invitation whatsoever.

So when I saw a man and a woman walk up our driveway recently, I was ready. I was in a hurry to be somewhere else, and I didn’t wait for them to knock on the door. I went outside and asked what they needed. The guy said something about wanting to talk to me about the Bible. And I said, “Thanks, anyway.”

And that was it. Do you know why? Because that wasn’t all I said! I prefaced my thanks by letting them know when I wanted to see them again. I used the word “never,” I admit.

I regret nothing.

I didn’t see this coming, not really. But I’m going to love being the old woman who speaks her mind. That’s one benefit of making it this far, isn’t it? When someone speaks his mind you speak yours right back. You’ve earned it.

How do you live?
December 6, 2016

birthday dessertI took it right up to the line on the show recently. I kept after a guest about what could possibly be the point of sending birthday wishes to hundreds of Facebook friends. I don’t get it, but Darrell -- sweetheart that he is -- stepped up. “That’s just not your thing,” he said, with so little judgment I wanted to give him a hug.

When I finish recording another installment of the show I usually have at least a couple of things I want to try, habits to experiment with, to do a better job at life. Not this time! Keeping track of that many people to acknowledge each other’s birthdays? Nope. Not enough time left on the planet to get me interested in that one.

I live deep, not wide. I love it that way!

You?

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photo courtesy of Katie Anderson

What do you want most?
November 29, 2016

Once upon a time, in an attempt to fix what I most hated about my life, I accidentally torched all of it. Everything. It was stunning, actually. Maybe I’ll tell you about it someday. I doubt it. But maybe.

I bring it up because I’d become friends with a freelance writing teacher by then. I felt comfortable confiding in him. When I told him how thoroughly I’d destroyed everything in my path he said, “You are so lucky! This is such a good story!”

He wasn’t kidding. I couldn’t get over that. He wasn’t kidding, and while I didn’t feel lucky at the time -- not one teeny, tiny, little bit -- I considered the possibility he was right.

You can guess where this is going. I can trace everything I love about the life I have now to my decision to change the life I had then, and I learned something that’s helped me on every bad day I’ve had since. Which is, “This might be the start of something really good.”

You just don’t know, do you? And if you did? What would be the point?

What I want most is a good story. I’ll take it a page at a time, and hope it inspires.

“If everyone put his problems on the table, you’d probably take yours back.”

Ever heard that?

Elizabeth Vargas reminded me how true it is!

Are you kind to yourself?
November 20, 2016

“Whenever you can, do something kind for Future You.”

That’s Wil Wheaton, echoing the inverse of Jerry Seinfeld’s comical contention that staying up late, for example, is fine because it’s “Morning Guy’s problem.”

I don’t think it has to be one or the other. I don’t think what feels good in the moment is necessarily at odds with what feels good long-term. It depends on your definition of good. I don’t like eating meat, but not because of a potential health problem years in the future. I don’t like knowing I’m going to have a headache from it in (seriously) five minutes. I don’t like staying up late because knowing I’ll be dragging from too little sleep spoils any fun I might have in those wee hours. I don’t like putting off chores because I’m not good at putting them out of my mind.

I don’t like screwing over Future Me. That makes me feel bad right now.

Pretty WomanWhen people tell you who they are, Maya Angelou famously advised, believe them. Just as important, however? When people try to tell you who you are, don’t believe them.

When you figure out how to do that I hope you’ll spill!

I’m probably not so unusual in that my psychological makeup is disproportionately skewed in favor of people who were mean. I say “probably not so unusual” because the mind supposedly stores information in negative form. I heard that in a workshop, anyway. And it rings true. As Vivian told Edward in Pretty Woman, “People put you down enough, you start to believe it.” Edward tells her he thinks she’s a very bright, very special woman. And she says, “The bad stuff is easier to believe. You ever notice that?”

I have. I think it’s a matter of context. If you’ve always been surrounded by cheerleaders the “bad stuff” might roll off. It might strike you as hilarious, actually. But I can’t tell you how many people we’ve (accidentally) featured on the show who are still smarting from a barrage of not-so-nice messages as they grew up.

Vivian’s character transformation in Pretty Woman is inspiring. By the end of the movie she so thoroughly believes the good things Edward’s told her she isn’t interested in anything less than the fairy tale with him. He balks, and she bolts. She’s heartbroken, but she bolts.

Then he comes around! I don’t care if it’s corny, I love that. That’s what a movie should inspire. It gets us thinking that maybe, just maybe, we can keep doing better by each other every day.

Once upon a time a good friend confided in me about how heartbroken she was about breaking up with her boyfriend. I don’t remember any tears -- they weren’t necessarily her style, so I doubt it -- but I do remember thinking she’d chosen the right person to talk with. I’m nothing if not a good listener. At some point I asked if she wanted my impression. She did. So I said something like, “I think now you’ll be able to find someone even better.”

As offerings go, it wasn’t Shakespeare. To the contrary. It strikes me now as well-meaning but lame.

But you know what? My friend quoted that line back to me more than once over the years -- as if she’d been so lucky to hear it. One year in a Christmas card she told me I’d taught her to look at difficult things as learning experiences.

Don’t be afraid to offer up something sweet, even if it seems silly. You never know how much someone’s will to live might hang on it. At least temporarily!

Did you hear the one about the woman who went to the emergency room with a life-threatening problem, worrying not so much that she’d die -- but that her family would have to deal with all the stuff she’d accumulated when she was alive?

Productivity expert Barbara Hemphill took that story -- which I shared on the show recently -- and raised it one. Her friend’s husband had gotten a terrible infection and went to the hospital, where he fell into a coma for three months. The friend’s first words to him when he woke up were choice: “What is the password to our computer?”

Yes, it would suck for your family if something happened to you. And if you refuse to deal with those pesky piles of paperwork, you can make it suck worse!