The Blog

Somewhere along the line our family motto became, “We’ll figure it out.”

That wasn’t always my default reaction to the latest baffling. It was more like, “Oh, no! We have a problem! Houston! Somebody! We have a problem.”

Somewhere along the line I realized the only people who didn’t have problems were dead.

Having problems, I decided, was a good thing. It meant I wasn’t dead yet.

And sure, I do regular checkups to make sure my days are filled with mostly the kinds of problems I like to solve.

Railing against them only creates a new problem.

As a friend once said, “Of course it’s difficult! That’s why you do it.”

I mean, really. How boring would it be to move through your days without challenges?

No, thanks. I’ll take problems for the duration, Alex.

I would’ve been a good smoker.

By that I mean I would’ve had the second cigarette lit before the first one was out. I would’ve had a deeper radio voice, temporarily at least -- until it failed me altogether. And I would’ve perfected the art of smooshing the butt as a way of saying, “This conversation’s over.”

I imagine all kinds of little affectations that would’ve made me seem cooler than I am.

Smoking was fun. I tried it a couple of times. It gave me something to do with my hands, something to color while I waited out a boring conversation. No wonder the smooshing thing I just mentioned was part of the fantasy.

I’d read enough about smokers to know they almost always found it difficult to break the habit, though. And for once in my life I stopped something before it got started.

Which was, as they say, a good move.

A woman I know never signed up for Facebook. She knew Facebook would’ve been to her what smoking would’ve been to me. It would’ve created many more problems than it solved.

Now her friends -- many of whom wish they could quit Facebook but don’t know how -- tell her how wise she was not to get started.

A man I know is bewildered when men complain of being hit on -- as if that’s a thing -- even though they’re married. My friend says that’s no accident. He claims the reason he isn’t hit on is that he gives off a most undeniable scent of, “I would never cheat on my wife.”

Temptation is interesting that way, isn’t it? Open the door even a little, and you might have one heck of a problem.

Keep that door locked. End of problem!

new Coach PoppyLast summer Katie had some money left on a gift card she got for high school graduation. It was from Target, and there isn’t one of those near the NYU campus where she’d settle in after our summer vacation.

I suggested she splurge on special cologne -- so every time she took a whiff she’d remember being in Europe for the first time with us. She thought that was a good idea. Once home, once it started working its aromatic magic, she thought it had been a great idea.

I’ve always been amazed by the transformative power of scent.

There’s an armoire in the basement of the house I grew up in where my parents keep the World Book Encyclopedias. Nothing, and I mean nothing, calls up my childhood faster than opening those doors and taking a breath.

I wore Ciara in high school. One whiff of that at Target and I’m right back in the drafting room, plotting what I thought was my future as a civil engineer.

The aroma of creosote (yep, aroma) when I pass a railroad yard whisks me back to the construction crew I worked on the summer after my sophomore year in college.

Katie’s always slathered in something heavenly. Getting into a car with her is like climbing into a piña colada. On a morning not long before we took her to NYU I rounded the corner downstairs on my way to her dressing room. It’s the only part of the house that’s finished, and it’s movie-star dreamy. I inhaled whatever she’d bathed herself in that morning as it hit me: “I will miss her scents.”

Now I treat her to a big bottle of something yummy she uses when she’s home. I finish it up after she’s gone, and it keeps her a little closer.

How do you store your memories?

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photo courtesy of Katie Anderson

If you’re looking to change careers, you don’t necessarily have to go back to school. But if you want to get better at anything I can’t think of anything better than taking a class.

No, wait. I can. Do an internship.

A class is usually easier, though, to layer into what I bet is an already overcrowded schedule. It’s especially helpful, I’ve found, when you’re trying to decide whether to invest the time in an internship.

When I was changing careers I took a class on advertising copywriting, and within about ten minutes I realized advertising copywriting is writing by committee. No, thanks.

When I got serious about freelance writing, I took a class that led to an internship.

When my life fell apart, I longed for a class on how to make a life transition -- and I found one.

I interned as a way into the programming side of radio.

Now I’m taking another class as I cobble together the next addition to my combo platter career, and Darrell thinks it’s “cute” how into it I am. I show up early, I bring a lot of energy to the group, and I do my homework. Every night you’ll find me hard at work on that, as eager to do a good job as I used to be about getting kudos from an elementary school teacher.

This isn’t even really a class, by the way. It’s more like a club of people working on the same thing I’m trying to improve. I have no plans for permanent membership. I’ve signed up for four months, I know what I want from them, and I’m going after that with abandon.

It feels scary to be a beginner. It feels good to up my game. It feels great to remember all over again I didn’t get to a point in my life where I thought, “This is it. This is all I’m ever going to be.”

It’s not -- and it doesn’t have to be for you, either.

Have fun, and learn a lot.

That’s your assignment, isn’t it?

In school, and in that other great big classroom called life.

“Sing me a song.”

That’s the request surprisologist -- yes, that’s a job title -- Tania Luna surprised me with on the show recently.

Now keep in mind, I’m so loathe to sing I won’t even mouth the words to the national anthem before a game in an auditorium full of basketball fans.

I surprised both Tania and Darrell when I bit.

I set up that bit by saying I’d done this once before. I’d belted out the words to a song Dave Barry wrote about resumes. “Belted out,” on second thought, is a little strong. Let’s go with “sang.” I sang to Dick Bolles not long after I’d met him while participating in his What Color Is Your Parachute? workshop in Bend, Oregon: “Got a great big load of resumes from recent graduators. Got to take dem off de barge, and throw dem in de incinerator.”

I know, I know.

But that’s how safe Dick makes you feel. Tania and Darrell, too, for that matter.

Who makes you feel safe?

Katie with Seamus

One of the most hilarious reports to come out of NYU was an observation Katie overheard in a dining hall, where two guys were talking about another one: “He’s a frickin’ genius. He writes for the Huffington Post.”

Isn’t that funny?

But it reminded me how often I’ve been asked how to get that gig. I put the question to a senior blog editor, Seamus McKiernan, when I had him on the show recently.

Here’s his answer.

You’re welcome.

Thanks, Seamus!

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photo of Katie Anderson with Seamus McKiernan courtesy of Katie Anderson

“When people show you who they are, believe them.”

So says Maya Angelou, who goes on to say: “And believe them the first time!”

I’ve wasted a lot of time campaigning for slack from people who were never going to give it to me. When I’ve traced the history I realize I’d been put on notice immediately: “You are not my cup of tea.”

You know what? Scratch the word “wasted.”

Because -- in another nod to Maya Angelou -- when you know better, you do better. Apparently self respect is a slow build, and it took me a long time to care as much about what I thought about people as whatever I imagined they thought about me.

Now as I get to know someone, I pay attention to things I used to pretend I didn’t see. How willing he is to lie. How eager she is to trash someone. As if I won’t be the target of that one day.

And sure, that compels me to be ever more truthful -- and ever more determined to discuss a problem with the person who’s involved and nobody else.

It’s an evolution. And it’s a heck of an excuse, I think, for the reflection I build into every day.

Oh. One more thing. Just because you have your suspicions about someone -- just because you’re fairly sure you don’t have a future together, business or otherwise -- doesn’t mean she has to know. Some relationships fade into the background without fanfare.

Some relationships require more formal endings. In that case? You won’t regret the care you take during that “coming to Jesus” talk. Put it off until you’re sure you can be as kind as you are clear. You might want to follow investor Warren Buffett’s advice: “You can always tell a man to go to hell tomorrow.”

If your reasons are sound, they’ll keep.

Ask almost any author. She’ll tell you how much two things help her write a book. One is a deadline. The other is a limit on the number of words. It’s like framing a playpen. Here are the parameters. Go!

If you tell someone to write a book -- or choose a career or a breakfast cereal -- but you don’t put any limits on it, the person’s likely to freeze up.

Too many choices.

Have you ever thought about that? Have you ever wondered what would happen if you were good at everything and loved doing everything? How could you possibly decide how to spend your time on the planet?

Limits are freeing.

I used to rail against the repetitive nature of much of my day. Then I realized how soothing it can be, if I let it. There are pockets of creativity -- and everything from making the bed to working out gets me ready for those.

“Be regular and orderly in your life,” the novelist Gustave Flaubert suggests, “so that you may be violent and original in your work.”