How do you feel?
May 29, 2016
When you go in for a checkup you usually have plenty of time in the waiting room to read magazines or scroll through your phone. Well, not with our dentist. He’s punctual, but he’s an exception. With everyone else there’s usually plenty of time to catch up on celebrity gossip.
I’ll flip through a magazine, but my heart’s not in it. I’m busy reflecting on how well I’ve been taking care of myself.
There’s so much, healthwise, that’s out of your control. You can’t control your family history, your genetic predisposition to whatever it is.
There’s so much more that’s well within your control, though. That’s what I think about in the waiting room, in the exam room, on the way home from my appointment. Am I taking care of myself? I can’t remember the last time I didn’t congratulate myself for the great job. I even mentioned that to a nurse recently: “I’m ridiculously healthy.” A few minutes later she was back, ready to go through my numbers. She looked them. She smiled. And then she said, “You weren’t kidding. You are ridiculously healthy.”
I often wonder how people live with themselves when it’s time to account for all the ways they trash their bodies. Getting sick sucks. Thinking you could’ve prevented it? That really sucks.
School doesn’t stop when you graduate. In most of the important ways it’s only beginning. It’s just that you get to decide what classes you take and how you’ll be graded. When you’re in middle school, health class is a throwaway.
Later in life? Not so much!
Have you met your match?
May 26, 2016
Here’s what attracted me to Darrell. I loved talking with him. That’s it.
We’re celebrating twenty-two years of marriage this summer and the most difficult thing we usually do in a day is cut short a conversation to get a little work done. Can you imagine? All those years. All those talks!
Would it surprise you to learn the product of this marriage is no slouch, conversationally? To the contrary. You need every little bit of IQ you have just to keep up. Ten minutes into a visit with Katie and I can feel new connections forming in my brain. It’s almost too much happiness to process. You could fill a restaurant in heaven with the most interesting people ever to have lived, and I’d still want to be at our table. That’s how much fun it is.
I used to kind of play it down, how happy we are. I worried about making people feel bad who weren’t as lucky as we are. To heck with that, Darrell said. It’s just as likely they need reassurance happiness is possible.
So here you go. It’s possible. I’m not even worried I’m jinxing things by saying that!
photo courtesy of Katie Anderson
Are you secure in your convictions?
May 25, 2016
When people notice how well Katie and I get along -- it’s eerie, really -- I wonder if they think it’s because we agree on everything.
We don’t. Our views are sometimes wildly different. That’s one reason people want in on our conversations. They’re interesting! And fun. We operate with what a friend calls absolute mutual respect. Sometimes we change the other’s mind. More likely we crack it open a little wider, even, than it was before.
We have, as Rob Fazio talked about on the show recently, psychological swagger. We’re secure enough in our convictions not to be threatened by the other’s. We know the louder the sentiment the more likely it is to be wrong. Perhaps most importantly, and with a tip of the hat to a suggestion Rob’s wife often gives him, we tread carefully in sensitive areas so as not to ruin our story.
I’ll never forget what happened when someone was unhappy with Katie about something -- and accused me of being the reason, accused me of coaching her.
I wanted to say, “But of course. Someone as brilliant as Katie would naturally have to be told how to feel.”
I didn’t, though.
That, to me, is psychological swagger. Knowing when to speak your mind, and when it’s better to save your breath.
Are you careless with your identity?
May 24, 2016
When Katie was little we used to love running errands together. The grocery store, the bank, it didn’t matter. Everything was an adventure. It still is!
When she was three we had a meeting with a banker, and Katie noticed he was wearing a tie. “Just like Dad did,” she told him. “Once.”
A few days later that banker asked me to give him a copy of our most recent tax return. I invoked the same question Katie had been asking us when we’d tell her to do something: “What will happen if I don’t?”
The banker said, “Nothing.”
Well, then. No tax return for you!
One thing I’ve loved hearing from people -- usually guests on my show -- is how often an aspect of my character that might be considered cranky is actually smart. Like when I bristle at a request for my name, address, phone number, eMail address, and bra size when I make a purchase. What? Is my payment not enough? Use other people’s data as a secondary -- or primary! -- revenue stream. I’m not interested.
Steve Weisman’s an attorney and the author of Identity Theft Alert. “If you think identity theft only happens to the other guy,” he says, “you are so wrong. It’s the biggest consumer crime in America.” And while it’s difficult if not impossible to avoid, there are things you might be doing that make it easier for the bad guys to ruin your good name and make you pay for the privilege. Why leave that proverbial door unlocked?
“Do not give out your social security number,” Steve says. “Period. Do not.” That number’s the most important piece of the identity puzzle. Medical providers don’t need it. Banks don’t need it. When your doctor -- whom you’ve been seeing for years -- suddenly tells you she needs a copy of your driver’s license for their records, politely decline. She doesn’t need it. You’re only as safe as the organizations you share this information with, those with the weakest security.
I love the reaction Derek Sivers has when someone tells him he has to do something: “Will I be arrested and thrown in jail if I do not?”
If you’re careless with your personal information you could be arrested, though -- temporarily, wrongly, whatever -- for a crime someone committed in your name. Hello!
Do you really want to help?
May 23, 2016
It’s a cliché. Someone dies, and people descend on the house with pans of lasagna. Or they circle the people who are grieving, telling them “he’s in a better place” or “everything happens for a reason.”
I interviewed a woman who’s grieving her two-month-old baby daughter, the one who died in her arms more than twenty years ago. “There’s no closure in death,” she says.
There’s no closure in death, but the people you love might want it for you anyway -- so in addition to your sadness, you have a new project. Letting them want it. Letting them tell you how long it’s okay to feel bad, even though it isn’t their call.
That’s why you cherish the people who know better, right? Who give you the feeling they’d just sit with you for the next several lifetimes if that’s what you needed. They hug you when you cry, nod in rapt attention while you try to understand the unfathomable, and never assume they know better than you what would feel good to you.
Do prepositions give you fits?
May 19, 2016
Maybe you’ve heard the joke about prepositions. Someone wants directions to the library at Harvard. “Can you tell me where the library is at?” he asks. At which point he’s scolded for ending a sentence in a preposition. So he amends his request: “Can you tell me where the library is at, asshole?”
Between You & Me author Mary Norris has heard the joke. No surprise.
I’ve done a lot of writing over the years. I’ve saved most of it -- partly on the advice of a favorite uncle, who promised me I’ll be glad I did -- but the more I learn about grammar the more depressed I get. Because I have so many thousands of pages to revise! You don’t even want to know, for example, how many sentences I’ve ended with prepositions.
It’s a lot of work to find a way around that. And according to Mary, it’s unnecessary. It isn’t worth it, she says. It doesn’t improve anything.
Does she have any idea how happy she just made me?
It’s an old rule, she says. She thinks the poet John Dryden is the source. He thought it was weak to end a sentence with a preposition. “And it can kind of trail off,” Mary says. “The preposition is not the strongest element in a sentence.” But she adds a lot of things that look like prepositions are actually adverbs. Let’s say, for example, you end a sentence with “throw it away.” Away is an adverb, not a preposition, so you aren’t ending the sentence with a preposition. You’re ending it with an adverb. No problem. Unless your head’s blowing up trying to keep this straight!
If you have to do grammatical gymnastics -- my term, not Mary’s -- to keep your sentence from ending in a preposition? It isn’t worth it. “That’s not a good thing,” Mary says.
Mary singlehandedly cleaned out so much clutter in my brain. Maybe I don’t need therapy. I just needed someone whose expertise is grammar, who could take a few hundred things off my to-do list.
What’s left to worry about now?
Where do you stand on commas?
May 18, 2016
One of my college pals used to go back and “stick the commas in” after he wrote a letter. Isn’t that funny? But good for him. He didn’t let punctuation distract him. Commas give me fits, too. I’d been blogging for a long time when something -- I forget what -- made me agree with Katie, that there needs to be a comma after “fits” in the sentence before this one.
And yes, I realize “there needs to be a comma” is subjective. So much of grammar is subjective. That’s why it’s confusing.
I can’t decide how I feel about commas. It depends on the project, on the copyeditor I’m working with, even my mood. That’s why I’m a fan of dashes to set off phrases. They save me a pair of commas. They appear as one long dash in my books, which feels a bit dramatic. I like two hyphens in quick succession. It feels softer. It also reminds me of writing on an IBM Selectric -- I loved that typewriter! -- before word processing programs automatically converted a double hyphen to a longer dash, an “em dash.”
Those em dashes, in my books, butt up against the text. They aren’t bookended with spaces, and that feels crowded. That’s why I’ve adopted the style you see here. I’m not beholden to a professional copywriter, and I can do whatever I want. My version of the em dash, as you see, is a pair of hyphens -- cushioned by a space on both sides.
I expected Between You & Me author Mary Norris to be horrified by the practice, but she wasn’t. I’d sent her a link to a post that was peppered with dashes, and asked if the way I used them distracted her from the writing. I loved her answer: “No.”
Also cool? Mary had never heard the term I used on the show, decorative apostrophes. She liked it! Neither of us likes what it represents, apostrophes that are just wrong. When you sign a holiday card “Love, The Anderson’s” it’s a sign, all right. It’s a sign you don’t know what you’re doing. Mary goes further -- not farther, further -- than that: “It’s a cry for help.”
I wanted help with not ending sentences in prepositions, and Mary obliged. I can’t wait to share that story tomorrow!
Do you treat yourself as a person of interest?
May 17, 2016
Where do you feel the most relaxed, the most yourself?
For me it’s Manhattan, and it has nothing to do with Katie being there.
No one appears to care what you’re up to in Manhattan. In the small town where we still -- temporarily, at least -- have an address, the opposite appears to be true.
When Darrell burns a few sticks out back -- in our grill, for crying out loud -- a neighbor appears to voice his objections. There’s a woman who walks by our house a lot and peers in our windows every time, hoping to catch a glimpse of I can’t imagine what. When I’m waiting in line in the lobby of the post office I let the people behind me take my place at the counter to avoid dealing with a clerk who makes no secret of how interesting he finds our mail.
Couldn’t we at least pretend to mind our own business? Wouldn’t even the most well-adjusted goldfish feel twitchy if people milling about the living room surrounded the bowl and made notes on clipboards?
I’m a fish out of water, that’s all. I used to beat myself up about that. People kept telling me the endless, unrelenting interest -- and the endless, unrelenting small talk -- was their way of being friendly. Which is fine. It just doesn’t happen to be my way of feeling befriended. It makes me feel studied, judged.
The other day I thought to ask myself why. Why do I feel so twitchy here? Why does the constant surveillance drive me out of my skin? It took me about two seconds to figure it out.
I’ll save that story for never. It’s personal. I’m sharing as much as I did to reassure you that beyond a certain point it doesn’t really matter why something bothers you, only that it does. Treat yourself with the same compassion you’d afford anyone you love, and find a way to work around the trouble spots.