The Blog

When I was little I stumbled on one of my mother’s report cards. It was unbelievable. Not the straight A’s -- that much I could believe -- but the fact she’d ever been something other than my mom.

“My mom is…a person!” I suddenly realized. She’d had dreams that didn’t involve me. She’d worked hard at things that didn’t have anything to do with me.

I forgive the little kid whose brain found this difficult to process.

But I don’t want to be the person who -- as a grownup -- thinks of people only in terms of their relationship to me. “They’re people,” a career consultant once pointed out, “not functions.”

We have assigned roles in each other’s lives, granted. I can’t be the hero of anyone’s story but mine. But I hope whatever supporting role I play in your story is making you feel more like the hero you are.

On our way to take our daughters to an annual kid festival in Fargo several years ago my friend was amused by the reason I stopped at the bank first. I was cashing a rebate check.

“I’ve never met someone who actually goes to the trouble of filling out that paperwork,” she said.

So I did what any self-respecting newlywed would do. I told her how thankful I was Darrell attended to the details of being in business.

Seriously.

He doesn’t mind reading the fine print. He relishes it, actually. There’s nothing that energizes him more than contesting some stupid fee and getting it removed from a bill.

As hobbies go this one is difficult to poke holes in, eh?

The day we left for New York this summer the water heater stopped working again. We’d all taken our showers, so I didn’t worry about it. We scheduled a repair for the day after we got home.

A part had gone bad, the same one that had gone out the year before and the year before that. Said appliance ran fine for eight years. When the part went bad a second time we wrote it off as a coincidence. The third? It didn’t seem likely.

The explanation the gal in the office gave us was worded so closely to the repairman’s it felt like a ruse. It wasn’t the part, she told us. It was the age of the appliance.

Huh?

That didn’t make sense, but what were we going to do -- whip out a mechanical engineering textbook and point to a paragraph that said she was full of it?

Instead we asked about the labor. It had taken the same amount of time each year -- less than an hour -- to swap the bad part with a new one. This year we were billed for ninety minutes.

“That’s because we include the travel time from the shop to your house and back,” she said. But that hadn’t changed. We hadn’t moved, and neither had they. She offered to knock off the appropriate amount from our bill, but you could tell she wasn’t happy about it.

Were we good to go, then?

I nodded. Darrell just looked at me.

What?

“I didn’t want her to think I was happy, either,” he told me later. But we couldn’t disprove what she’d said, and for an uncomfortable minute or so we just sort of stood there.

I’ve felt funky about the exchange ever since. I wish I would’ve asked Darrell, before we talked to the gal, what success would’ve looked like to him. When we got that, we could’ve given the woman her afternoon back.

We were overcharged, no doubt -- but no one likes to be caught in a mistake. Standing there looking unhappy, after she gave us the only thing we could prove we had coming, felt like a mistake.

On the other hand and thanks to Darrell we recovered forty dollars. Which by itself doesn’t amount to much. But over time? I’ll sing one of hubby’s praises in the next post.

When I was little I read a story about someone who got cancer. The traditional treatments hadn’t worked. Enter alternative medicine. Which, if memory serves, included a diet that was radical at the time but more mainstream now. Green smoothies for breakfast, green smoothies for lunch, that sort of thing.

I was so little the thought of giving up sweetened cereal for breakfast was scarier than cancer. Scarier yet, I decided, was not having a choice.

I decided right then and there someday I’d eat well. I wanted to do it long before someone told me I had to do it. Beating the doctor to his orders would feel like I was still in charge of my life.

Funny thing about doing the right thing. If it’s your idea, you don’t bristle.

Why not do the right thing more often? Why not acknowledge what isn’t working, and stop doing that? Quitting something doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a quitter, after all. It might just mean you’re learning.

You’re allowed to do that, you know. You’re allowed to change your mind.

Why do we crave guarantees from a job or a relationship? Especially when we know, for example, a story engages us to the extent we don’t know how it ends?

I’m not above wanting reassurance I’m doing the right thing with my life. But I’m also trying to get better at remembering it’s the not knowing that makes it fun.

Parents often say, on the one hand, they want their children to be happy -- as they insert themselves into the lives of those children in an attempt to spare them pain.

Let’s say you could remove uncertainty and pain from the equation. What would you have left? A boring story. And a bored child, as any parent knows, is an unhappy child.

If you have nothing better to do than try to remove obstacles from the lives of those you love, perhaps you’re bored by your own story. Face that first. Find that courage, and you might just trust your children to do the same.

It’s terrifying and freeing at once.

Can you feel brain cells dying now that you’re no longer in school? Maybe that’s because you’re not being thrown into different classes of people. Grownups often spend much of their day in the same office with the same cast of characters. It’s easy to get stale.

Thanks to the online world, each of us has a chance to assemble an ever-changing cast of characters who offer guidance and giggles.

When I was in school I loved people who were constantly cracking jokes. That’s why the first site I look at in the morning -- besides my own, to check for typos -- is The Onion.

You might find it hilarious, too. A quick scan of the headlines and you’ll probably be set for silly.

Once upon a time the pain in my lower back bothered me a lot. I remember sitting on a bench at a Disney park as I watched people walk by. They were smiling. Big. “They don’t look as if their backs hurt,” I thought. “What would that be like?”

Some months later I read this: “Runners have tight lower backs.” I was a runner. Could that be all there was to it? I doubted it, but I couldn’t rule it out.

So several times a day from then on, like clockwork, I stretched out. I touched my toes and held that pose to the count of ten. One thousand, two thousand…

It’s been three years, and my back rarely hurts. When it does, it’s almost always because I haven’t been stretching enough. When I do, the pain subsides.

I don’t know if stretching will help your back.

But I’m pretty sure it won’t hurt!

Why do you do anything?
September 30, 2014

My friend Nick Morgan says the only reason to give a speech is to change the world. My friend Al Pittampalli says the only reason to attend a meeting is if you’re willing to change your mind.

How you do anything, as that saying goes, is how you do everything.

How do you go about your day? With an intention, for example, to have fun -- and learn a lot?

Think of it. The next time you’re talking with someone, ask yourself why. Why are you talking? If you aren’t willing to learn something, why are you wasting time in conversation?

You prove you’re learning by changing.

Bit by bit, you’re getting a little better at this thing called life.