The Blog

Billy JoelThis is a tale of two concerts. Billy Joel at Madison Square Garden, the Barenaked Ladies at Newman Field in Fargo.

Seeing Billy Joel in New York with my sweethearts had been one of my lifelong dreams. Sitting on lawn chairs watching the Barenaked Ladies with Katie’s friend -- he’s another sweetheart, by the way -- was Darrell’s idea.

So which experience lingers? Which one are we most likely to wax dreamy about?

Yep. The Barenaked Ladies. Which surprised me. I could barely contain my excitement about the other, after all. As we walked to the Garden I pretended to tell the people looking at us through restaurant windows, “We’re going to see Billy Joel!”

We had fun waiting in line for that one, and cracked up at Katie’s observation: “I haven’t seen this many old people since the community band concert!” But several songs into it I turned to Darrell and said, “I feel like I’m still waiting for it to start.” We had good seats. That wasn’t it. He was playing our favorites. That wasn’t it, either.

It almost felt like I was watching it on TV. Yes. That’s it! We weren’t so close to the stage we could see Billy’s face -- the way we could with Ed Robertson and his pals on the stage in Fargo -- and I found myself watching the monitor a lot. No wonder it felt like watching it on television.

Going to a Billy Joel concert used to be a religious experience. I was so fired up after watching him use his microphone as a baton and crawl on top of the piano and the speakers I felt like I’d had an energy transfusion. Billy’s older now. He doesn’t have as much energy.

I do, though. I can’t get over that. The older I get the more energy I seem to have. If that isn’t a sales pitch for the way I eat, I don’t know what is. Dilbert creator Scott Adams is a fan of energy-as-metric. Pay attention to it, and everything else will fall into place. Maybe not perfectly, but better. Just so much better.

The Barenaked Ladies, by the way, had energy. It was a relaxed energy, the kind that made you want to dance (we did) and not care if people were watching (they were too busy dancing themselves).

Everything is energy. Can you feel it?

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photo courtesy of Katie Anderson

The other day I heard myself tell Darrell if I had my high school years to do over again I’d take a class in Latin. I probably had a good excuse for not taking one. It wasn’t offered, not that I remember. But now? What was stopping me now? “I could start today!” I thought. A few keystrokes later, I had.

Would you believe my first Latin word was hodie? Which means…today.

I’ve often wondered how much more precisely I’d think if I was fluent in another language. There’s been a tickle, after all, since someone mentioned at a workshop there are twenty different words for “flight of a butterfly” in his language.

The latest salesperson for cross-cultural immersion is (you guessed it) Katie. Darrell and I love listening to her bandy Chinese. It’s so much about tones. Isn’t everything?

Do you have an expanding philosophy of life? If you’re not expanding your horizons, how could you?

You can learn a lot about people by watching how they react when they don’t get their way.

You can learn even more about yourself by how you respond to that. If a supposed grownup throws a tantrum, for example, what do you do?

The same thing you do when a child throws one.

Nothing.

When in doubt, disengage.

My first sale as a writer wasn’t even technically a sale. It was a prize I won in a twenty-five words or fewer contest sponsored by the magazine Good Housekeeping. You were invited to share where you wanted to go back home for the holidays and why. “I want to go back home to Minnesota,” I wrote, “because (the twenty-five words started here) my new husband has never looked out the window of a Mary Tyler Moore house and watched kids playing hockey on a frozen neighborhood lake.”

I didn’t win the grand prize, a trip home, but I did win a dishwasher. And as a friend pointed out, home is where the dishwasher is.

“It doesn’t surprise me that you won,” another friend said. “It surprises me that you entered.” I thought about that for a long time. Haven’t you always wondered who really wins those contests? It didn’t matter. You could have the dishwasher and the home that went with it. I just wanted to keep writing.

What contests call to you?

The Book of MormonThe Book of Mormon was the hottest ticket on Broadway for a while, and we had three of them. Katie could hardly contain her excitement. That is, until a couple of gentlemen -- though I’ve never used the word more loosely -- started talking. They didn’t even bother to whisper. And they threatened to ruin the experience.

Paying a few dollars to see a movie is one thing. But this? You don’t want to know how much those tickets set us back. I could practically feel my blood boiling.

Now what?

I turned around. I made eye contact, and I kept it. I glared at the men until they stopped talking. I turned my head back toward the stage and tried to enjoy the performance, worrying that wouldn’t be it.

It wasn’t.

So I turned around again, made eye contact again, and glared at the men until they stopped talking.

Which they did. They didn’t start up again for another few minutes, either. At which point I repeated the process. I gave them the look.

Which reminds me of Katie in high school, facing a similar distraction from a classmate. “What’d you do?” I asked. “I gave him the look,” she said. “What’d he do?” I wondered. “He said, ‘Don’t give me that look, Katie!’”

I gave the people behind us a look so ominous they found it difficult to concentrate on their conversation -- ironic, huh? -- and, with my eyes, told them I was ready to find an usher and have them thrown out.

I don’t spoil for fights but I’m not afraid of them, either. If you let the bullies get by with too much, as Darrell likes to say, the bullies will rule the world.

Oh. And our evening? It was magnificent.

Eventually!

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photo courtesy of Katie Anderson

You’ve probably heard about the stages of grief -- denial, anger… Have you heard about the stages of embracing good ideas? For me they go something like, “Well, that’s crazy.” Then, “That’s really interesting.” And finally, “That’s genius!”

One of Katie’s preschool teachers wouldn’t wear anything that wasn’t soft. I mean, really soft. I thought it was crazy -- but soon I noticed how often a tag I hadn’t removed drove me nuts, another sweater itched, and five minutes in a pair of heels made me sure sexy was overrated.

Soon I was reaching for the most comfortable clothes I could find, and I felt so much better. I eventually gave up on jeans. They aren’t comfortable. Just ask Eva Mendes.

Oh, sure. Sometimes it’s challenging to find clothes that look as classy as they feel soft.

Worth it!

Is it just me, or is the pursuit of happiness losing its luster?

The pursuit of happiness feels beside the point. The pursuit of meaning? Now we’re getting somewhere.

What do you want your life to mean? Do you want people to suffer less, laugh more, heal faster? Do you want them to make it to their destination safely because you didn’t half-ass their car repair? To grow up knowing it’s okay to feel what they feel -- so they don’t stuff those feelings with chips and soda and calorie-laden cocktails that make them feel even worse?

Maybe you don’t want them to wrench their backs reaching for those little dividers that separate one grocery order from another. The person ringing up our groceries recently kept his eyes out for that, and I was so touched by the gesture I started watching him more closely. You would’ve thought he was an air traffic controller, that’s how seriously he seemed to take his job.

And yes, of course I told him how impressed I was. That’s part of my job, noticing what works.

There’s always a new way to make meaning.

Don’t be surprised if happiness follows!

Do you gossip?
June 23, 2015

When a friend got divorced I wondered why. Wouldn’t anyone?

I didn’t see it coming. I thought they’d live unhappily ever after. I made it easy for my friend to offer a reason for their split, but she didn’t bite. I teased her I was really curious, but she was too intent on not badmouthing her child’s father to go near it.

She didn’t owe me an explanation, of course -- and I’ve since noticed how rarely I bother with this particular line of questioning, considering how insatiably curious I am. That’s fine on the show, but when it gets personal I mind my own business.

It helps to have enough of my own business to mind. When gossip calls I’m usually too busy to answer. Not always, but increasingly. I try to be a better kid every day. I’m always on the lookout to be more engaged with life.

Mine, though. Not yours!