The Blog

Do tiny things enchant?
February 10, 2016

I’m easy to shop for. Just think of what anyone else wants, and get me a miniature of it. Architect Sarah Susanka can relate. She loves the tiny, too.

“It’s like a jewel box,” she explains. “Something tiny and beautiful that contains the whole.”

Which reminds me of the advice so often given to writers. The more specific you get -- the more precisely you cut that oh-so-thin slice of life -- the better your chance of striking a chord.

The universal in the particular, as they say.

I love dissecting a moment and mining it for its treasures. The more seemingly mundane and silly, the better the odds you’ll relate.

Here’s hoping…

If you’re looking for the perfect graduation gift for that high school senior may I suggest Anna Quindlen’s Being Perfect? Read it over and over before you wrap it, though, until you have it memorized.

Like I did.

Perfect is impossible, annoying, and away from who you -- or I -- want to be. We want to be real, right? Like the Velveteen Rabbit, or the rose in The Little Prince.

I love the exercise architect Sarah Susanka does with students. She asks them to be friendly with a piece of fruit, to really get to know it -- and then to share what’s memorable about it with the rest of the class.

Can you guess?

What’s memorable are the blemishes.

Imperfections make you you. Why do we rail against them, as if the perfect person would come off as anything but a robot? The so-called perfect life? Boring as hell.

You see this all the time, people setting fire to lives that look perfect from the outside. Maybe they’re bored.

No blemishes, no problems, no story.

No way!

Do you fight pain?
February 8, 2016

When Darrell and I got home after moving Katie into her residence hall at NYU for the first time, I knew what to do with the pain.

Nothing.

No one was going to be able to help me. Not Katie, who was also grieving. Not Darrell, who was not only grieving -- but didn’t even have my hand to hold at first. I could barely look at him, let alone talk with him or pat him on the shoulder -- that’s how painful it was. I started telling people who didn’t have kids to be glad they didn’t, because saying goodbye was too difficult.

It took the better part of a year to feel better, and now -- more than two years later -- I’m back to my former level of what a colleague once called obnoxious happiness.

I used to tear up, thinking of how Katie would never be two years old again -- or twelve, or seventeen. My sister kept telling me how much better it’ll continue to be, even after she grows up and away. “You’ll always be as close as ever,” she promised. I didn’t believe her. Now I do.

Maybe you’ve heard what I have, that the willingness to feel bad is in direct proportion to your capacity for joy. It’s probably not surprising I feel amazing, as a rule. I’m willing to suffer.

Not eager. But willing!

Why are you afraid?
February 4, 2016

100704You don’t have to upend your whole life to go after a dream. It might be better if you don’t. No sense putting all that pressure on a vision that’s still an infant.

Give it time to grow up. Get to know it.

Do give it your undivided attention for a few hours a week. Can’t find them? I don’t believe it! Spend less time watching TV or scrolling through your Facebook feed. You may not believe how much your life changes.

You might find yourself not minding your day job because it’s a means to a new end -- a better end. Filled with meaning.

Get going. Go!

If I’m going to make the impact I hope to have on the world not everyone’s going to love me for it. There might be even wide swaths of people who want my head. Which makes me want to send flowers to anyone who’s ever criticized me. I needed the toughening up!

I’ve been practicing not minding when people don’t like me. It’s going very well. I feel like more of my own person.

On a recent road trip it hit me out of nowhere. I was zoning while Darrell drove and Katie got lost in her devices. And I thought to myself, “I like who I am.”

That took a while.

Which is okay, too. I put in the work, so I feel like I’ve earned it. That I’m sharing it proves I’m not afraid of jinxing it.

Progress!

I forget where I heard this sentiment, but it’s a beauty: “It’s not so much what you want, as what you’re willing to give up to get it.”

Good health, financial security, a deep connection with someone you love. You can’t buy those on sale. The price is work and sacrifice and hanging in there when you’re so tired.

Get to know enough high-functioning people, and you might be surprised by how hard they work. That’s the thing -- the one thing -- they have in common. They work their asses off.

You don’t have to. Have the donut, burn what’s left of your paycheck on cigarettes, postpone the difficult conversation until hell freezes over. See what a mess you made?

I love how a friend put it: “Left unattended, things don’t stay the same. Left unattended, they get worse.”

Someone pitched us his services a while back. We’d contracted for this kind of work before, and we’re open to doing it again. “I’ve come to learn that you may be experiencing a change,” he wrote, “where you could benefit from what I do.”

I asked what he charges. He said it varies by the project.  

I asked what he charges for what we need help with, and wondered how he found out about us. He quoted a flat rate he could’ve quoted to begin with, since it apparently doesn’t vary by the project. As for how he found out about us: “I make so many calls. Someone referred me to you knowing I could help you.”

Someone? Who? Isn’t the first rule of sales to nurture your network? You don’t refer people to other people unless you’re proud of the connections. If you have a referral, like he did, why wouldn’t you open with that? It’s your “in.” That’s how you open a door. This gentleman -- by losing the name or refusing to share it -- slammed the door shut.

“I’m going to pass,” I wrote back. “But thanks so much anyway!”

And he wrote, “Short and effective.” He’d critiqued my reply! Interesting. More interesting? What he said next: “Although I don’t know of your show, or even how it’s delivered.” You’re kidding. He didn’t do the bare minimum of homework -- we’re talking two or three clicks -- and he admits that? Looks like I made the right call.

This gentleman had pitched Darrell to begin with, but since it was my idea to be so brief in the reply we agreed I’d sign it. As we corresponded Darrell’s admiration for me was swift.

It had been an experiment. I’m not usually that brief. “But I’ve noticed something about people who make big things happen,” I told Darrell. “They get to the point.”

I hadn’t been unfriendly. But I hadn’t wasted any time, either -- his or mine.

How thoughtful are you?
January 31, 2016

rosesSometimes the best present is nothing at all.

Works for us!