The Blog

What triggers you?
January 22, 2018

Posts, pitches, prep for the talk show. My work involves a lot of writing, and I love that. But on a recent afternoon I struggled. What the heck? Writing almost comes easily. I rarely face a blank screen with anything but delicious anticipation.

What happened?

Oh.

The next day, writing to music the way I almost always do, I remembered that the day before I’d left my headphones tucked in their little dog bed under my desk. We splurge on good headphones because of our radio work, and I thought I’d save a step by not getting them out. Only to prove once again what I once heard: “A shortcut is the longest distance between two points.”

Music is to writing what at least a few pages out of a “real” book (as opposed to a Kindle) is to sleep.

Good to know!

The first three or four times it was okay. Amusing, actually. I was on the line with Darrell, listening to him ask a customer service rep about a hundred-dollar charge she kept calling a deposit. We wondered what it was for, and -- considering it was a “deposit” -- when it would be returned.

“It’s just this first month,” she said. “You won’t see it from now on.” Darrell told her he understood. What he didn’t understand was why it had been assessed. But every time he asked her about it she told him the same thing, that it was only for the first month of this particular contract.

My turn. “You keep calling this a deposit,” I told her. “If it’s a deposit, it will be returned at some point. We’d like to know when that is. If it isn’t a deposit, and it’s just a one-time charge as you keep saying, we want to know what the charge is for. And if you can’t answer those questions we want you to ask someone who can.”

Darrell had been so friendly, so conversational. I was firm, businesslike. My tone told her she could take our contract -- and her script -- and do something decidedly unbusinesslike with them.

“May I put you on hold?” she asked. “You bet!” I chirped.

She came back on the line a couple of minutes later. The hundred dollars was indeed a deposit, and she told us why it had been assessed. She added it would be returned in thirteen months.

Great!

“Anything else?” she wondered. I told her no, I thanked her, and we got our lives back.

I’m usually friendly to a fault with customer service people, that’s how thankful I am not to have their jobs. Friendly doesn’t always work, though. Neither does rude. But firm? I’m with Goldilocks on that. Just right!

When the Communications Workers of America went on strike in 1986, I became a switchboard operator. I was a manager with AT&T, and this assignment was fascinating. I worked the night shift, for one thing. Have you ever done that? I recommend it. You might find, as a lot of people who wait tables do, you’re glad to have had this window on the working world.

nail polishAfter five years with AT&T I was finally learning how calls were connected. I even grew my nails because my hands were always busy.

My ten-year high school reunion was coming up a bit later that summer, and I gave myself a month to lose those pesky seven pounds I’d gained since graduation. It was easy. When I got off work in the morning, I’d run three miles or so up a big hill near our condo. When I got home I showered and went to bed for the night -- I mean, day -- but I didn’t eat dinner (breakfast?).

I think I lost the seven pounds the first night. Seriously. If every overweight person ended the day with a run and skipped dinner, can you imagine how many pounds we’d collectively lose?

It isn’t necessarily how much you eat, I’m starting to think, as when you eat it. Unless there’s a lot of added sugar in your diet. Then all bets are off. But if you really need to lose weight, the solution might be as simple as eating two meals a day instead of three.

Might be worth a try.

Once upon a time I was faithful to the four food groups -- sugar, fat, salt, and caffeine. Coffee and donuts for breakfast, cheese soup and steak sandwiches and soda for lunch, a slice of someone’s birthday cake for dessert back at the office. How I got through an afternoon without needing a nap is beyond me, but I was rarely hungry when I got home from work. More often than not I’d skip dinner.

If you would’ve opened my refrigerator, the brand-new fridge in my brand-new condo in Kansas City, you would’ve thought it was a painting. A little wine, a wedge of cheese, maybe a few eggs. I had some noodles in the cupboard, but that was about it. Cook a real meal? For myself? Are you kidding? Who does that?

What strikes me, looking back on my twenties, was how slender I was despite not working out consistently (okay, ever). Now I know why. Many if not most days of the week I stopped eating by two o’clock in the afternoon, and didn’t start in again until a seven o’clock breakfast the next morning. I was intermittently, and accidentally, fasting.

A gal who attended one of my presentations on what would become The Willpower Workaround told me I’d mentioned something in passing that might be the reason I’m almost effortlessly slender these days -- beyond my great diet and now consistent workouts. Which is that I stop eating early in the evening. Does that explain the pass I got in my twenties? It might. More speculation in my next post.

I am maniacal about attribution. I don’t always know where my ideas come from, but I never pass them off as my own when they aren’t.

The word “never” belongs in quotes, though. I’ve borrowed things by accident. You know how it is with books you love, books you read over and over. They become part of you -- and you can’t remember a time when you didn’t “know” what you learned from them.

In Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, he talks about a cartoon character who’s just walked beyond the edge of a cliff but hasn’t fallen yet because he hasn’t realized his predicament. Which reads, to my dismay, almost exactly like a passage in one of my books, Do-Over. I was always so proud of it. It’s a good one. But it wasn’t mine.

My apologies, Mr. Pirsig!

The first book I wrote was about a local celebrity. He’d gotten second place in the 1982 Boston Marathon, one of the few athletic competitions where people remember who got second place. He’d been in the news many times since, first after a horrific farm accident when he almost lost a leg -- and then, for a long time, as he battled an addiction to prescription painkillers.

So I wasn’t surprised, many years ago, when a middle schooler chose this gentleman to write about in a “hometown hero” homework assignment. I found out about the assignment the same way everyone else in town did. There was a big wall in our little mall covered in posters the students had made. I perused this particular poster with great interest, since it included excerpts from the book I’d written. But there was no mention of me or even the book.

As I surveyed the other posters, with passages “borrowed” from other books -- with nary a nod to those books or their authors -- I wondered who’d been teaching their teachers. Those teachers went to college. Didn’t someone introduce them to the concept of attribution?

It’s important. As a professional photographer who graced us on the show pointed out, you can get in big trouble by “borrowing” celebrity photos to publicize your radio station programming -- just to use one example.

People like to be paid (or at least credited) for their work. You don’t have to take my word for it. But if you don’t, some people might suggest you see them in court.

One other thing. After I wrote this post but before I published it, Dr. Nick Morgan shared a similar sentiment on his blog. Maybe it’s obvious why I felt the need to mention that.

Who’s in your corner?
January 11, 2018

more flowersA gal I used to know not only survived a traumatic childhood but transcended it. I loved hanging around her. She was well-adjusted and happy, and she brought out the best in me.

One day I asked how she did it. How did she emerge from such chaos so intact?

She credited her husband. They’d married young, and he’d been a continuing education class on emotional health. They were a great team. I spent a lot of time with them over the course of many years, and it was always such a treat.

They remind me of someone I started working with recently. She’s helping me reach a broader audience. She describes me in terms so flattering I’m tempted to look over my shoulder to make sure she is, indeed, corresponding with me. I’m tempted to reply to the latest with, “Ha! That’s a good one.”

Instead I’ve considered the possibility that, given how much this gal gets right, there might be at least a morsel of truth about what she says about even me.

Yeah, I know. Self-esteem’s an inside job. But if a friend inspires you to look at yourself through a kinder lens, do yourself and her a favor. Live up to that image.

Are you wasting time?
January 10, 2018

What do you most want, and what are you willing to give up to get it?

Michael Levine’s worked with the best of the best in his public relations career, and says everything boils down to that.

Are you doing what you came here to do, or not?