How do you tell a story?
May 19, 2015
“Look more closely at the letter,” my writing professor suggested. He’d shown us the query that had snared him his first assignment with a major magazine, and I’d wondered how he’d gotten the experience his letter so expertly showcased. “When you read it again,” he explained, “you’ll see. All I’m really saying is I don’t have any clips.”
You need clips, after all, from where you’ve already been published -- to prove you’re worthy of being published. I know. It’s like how -- with collateral -- you have to show a bank you don’t really need a loan before you can get one.
I read Vince’s letter again. Sure enough, there was no mention of clips -- because he didn’t have any then.
But what a letter that was! What a story he wove. And what a beacon Vince became.
I learned so much from him. For the longest time I called him a walking billboard for dreams coming true. I sailed through his class, helped him with a couple of books -- one of which he promoted on David Letterman’s show -- and had the thrill of interviewing him about whether you can trust a tomato in January when I got my own show.
More than anything I learned the power of a good letter. That’s how I made the acquaintance of not only Bobby Knight, for example -- but also Helen Gurley Brown and even Dave Barry. Such characters. So many role models. And yes, I put Knight in that category. Think whatever you want about him. He changed how I feel about myself.
Who lights your way?
Do you learn from your mistakes?
May 18, 2015
When I was in high school someone suggested I graduate at least a semester early because I hardly needed more high school for my intellectual development. I was too flattered by the sentiment to do otherwise. I worked long hours on two jobs, frying donuts in the bakery at a neighborhood grocery store and drawing plot plans for a builder. I usually walked the few miles between the grocery store and the builder’s office, and those walks were my only breaks. I saved money for college while my friends spent their last few months of high school having fun.
To what end?
I still don’t have the answer to that one. I remember being at graduation, feeling vaguely disconnected from everyone. I was probably better set for college, from a financial standpoint, than many of my friends. But I was so exhausted by the time I settled into my dorm at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln I didn’t work as hard as I could have during my freshman and sophomore years. It didn’t help I’d committed to a major I hated. I’d rushed through life to that point, working harder and harder at goals I’d given only a passing consideration, and I continued to make decisions that way until well into my twenties.
So what changed?
Me. I did. I didn’t have a choice, granted. Everything I’d been playing at imploded in my early thirties. I had no choice but to start over. I didn’t know how, but I was determined to do things differently. The way I’d been living hadn’t worked.
I wasn’t finished making mistakes, I knew. But I was ferocious about making different mistakes, and that has made all the difference.
Why do you like what you like?
May 17, 2015
My favorite episode of the talk show is the first interview I did with the poet Taylor Mali. It was…poetry. The man is a master of the spoken word. And me? I was on my game that day. Thanks for asking!
But seriously. This is one cherished addition to the audio archives.
It was fun for the whole family -- you can practically see Katie blushing as you listen. It was a conversation worth sharing, because we covered everything from how to eliminate filler words to how to live without regret. And it was entertaining. If I was the one in charge of the radio in a car when this program came on I’d fight anyone who suggested changing the channel, but no one would. You don’t have to take my word for it. You can take a listen.
Are you using your gifts?
May 16, 2015
This is a selfie, of sorts -- of Katie playing badminton with a butterfly.
What? Are you surprised? What else would you expect from a sophomore at NYU’s Stern School of Business? Doodles that are a bit more…serious?
Maybe you know people who say things like, “It’s called work for a reason.” If you enjoy getting up in the morning, you can almost guess they’re thinking, you’re a little bit of a goofball.
I found a higher authority on the subject when I met Dick Bolles. “If you’re not having fun you’re not doing it right,” Dick told me. Suddenly I realized who I am and what I love doing is not a mistake.
Find work you love, and you’ll always be home. The Piano Guys are serenading me as I write with -- no kidding -- “Home.” Katie played it for me on the way to our hotel in Manhattan before the big trip to Europe, and it’s the quickest way I know to call up the magic that’s the three of us.
Dick says the secret to life is to use your gifts. They have a kind of energy, he says, that needs to get out. Does that explain Katie’s artwork? The woman barely has time to floss. But she makes time for the silly. Her life is a work of art.
I’d like to think the propensity to follow her heart started with me, but that would be taking too much credit for the woman she is.
We’ll never know, when it comes to Katie, if a single thing I did helped.
But we’re pretty sure it didn’t hurt!
Do you go for quantity or quality?
May 15, 2015
A friend once questioned the value of sitting down to dinner as a family, at least when it came to meaningful conversation. “Yeah,” he mused. “Round people up when they’re exhausted and hungry. Should be a really good time.”
Maybe you’ve seen it play out at Disney parks. Years of saving up, anticipating, pinning hopes on. Those photo albums ready to be filled with memories of the perfect vacation? That’s a lot of pressure to put on seven days and six nights. It almost guarantees the opposite, especially if there wasn’t a lot of family harmony to begin with.
Unless you’re better at predicting the future than I am, I’d go for quantity and hope some quality falls out.
When Katie was a toddler someone suggested we make cookies from scratch instead of buying them from the store or slapping together a pan of brownies. “What about the time you’d save?” I wondered. We tried it anyway. We baked cut-out cookies, the kind your grandmother used to make. For hours we’d roll out dough, flour flying, shape by painstaking shape cut and transferred and baked and frosted. Focused on the baking, we’d talk. “Mom, know what? Mom, know what?” she’d say, all afternoon. And I’d think, “Why buy cookies from the store to save time? Time for what?”
You put in the time, something good is bound to happen.
Do you like baby carrots?
May 14, 2015
The older I get the better I get at finding the gift in the yuck, and finding it immediately. When my eMail program recently crashed Darrell helped me replace it with Mailbird -- which I love.
One reason? It congratulates me when I clear out my inbox. I get a ridiculous amount of pleasure from that. When I keep this streak going -- vacations don’t count -- it will be in no small part to those virtual pats on the back.
Think of how it sounds when you crumple a sheet of paper. That’s the sound Darrell’s computer makes when he empties the recycling bin, and I love it so much -- I know, I know -- he tells me before it happens so I can get that little hit of happiness.
Silly? Hardly. The ability to find hidden treasures in an otherwise ordinary day is a gift.
I’ve often wondered how people can expect more from life when they stomp over so much sweetness right in front of them. If you were in charge of the universe, would you bestow more riches on those who take what they have for granted?
I didn’t think so.
How do you treat yourself relative to others?
May 13, 2015
“If I do something stupid, it’s because I’m having a bad day. If you do something stupid, it’s because of a character flaw.” That’s public speaking coach Nick Morgan, quoting what he called an old joke.
It’s new to me. I hadn’t heard it, and I can’t relate.
If you do something stupid or mean, I’ll blame myself. Isn’t that silly? It might be years before it occurs to me to question the source of the problem.
The old me, that is.
The new me, the older me, knows better.
Age does have its rewards!