The Blog

Are you really so unusual?
September 22, 2016

coffee in SwitzerlandIf you ask Darrell and Katie to name one way I pamper them the most consistently, it’s with coffee. Darrell didn’t even like coffee until I came along. But our coffee rituals make him feel cherished, to say the least. And Katie? You should see what I whip up for her! Why trek to Starbucks when you can have this melt-in-your-mouth deliciousness at home?

The other day I noticed Darrell’s mug had more coffee in it than the last time I reheated it. How was that possible? Worse, I’d noticed the same thing a day or two earlier. And maybe a day or two before that.

“Do I not realize how full his mug is?” I wondered. “Am I that distracted?”

The next time I fetched his mug I made a point of noticing how full it was. Sure enough, more full than I’d remembered. “Are you adding water to your coffee?” I asked him. He burst out laughing. “I was wondering when you were going to notice that!” he said. I keep his coffee so consistently hot -- what can I say? I’m never going to balloon up because I sit at my desk for too many long stretches -- that Darrell seldom has a window where it’s cool enough to drink. We’re both surprised he didn’t use the water bottle fix a long time ago, but whatever.

What’s fascinating to both of us is what a flogfest I’d subjected myself to over supposedly not paying attention to the task at hand.

Is there nothing so trivial I won’t use it as an opportunity to feel worse about myself? But you know what? The more I get to know some really cool people -- people who are making big things happen as I type -- they’re just as hard on themselves.

I’m no longer surprised by all the violence in the world. If you’d crack open any random stranger’s head -- and to quote Dave Barry, I’m not for a moment suggesting that you should -- you’d probably find an angry mob inside.

Let’s all try to go a little easier on ourselves, shall we?

It took me a while to find people whose interviewing prowess impressed me enough to study how they work. Now that I have, I’m enjoying those conversations so much! Sometimes you don’t want to carry a conversation, after all. Sometimes you just want to sit back and enjoy one.

What strikes me is how worth it the time feels when -- out of a whole hour -- I get even one insight. It’s worth it if I think even once, “How interesting! I never thought of it like that.”

On my show it’s always the goal to have those insights coming at you so fast it’s as if I left the top off a popcorn popper.

The lesson isn’t necessarily to ease up on that -- it’s a fine goal, to be sure -- but to ease up on myself!

I love road trips. I love the time to daydream. I remember tooling along a highway with Katie in tow when she was little. It was early in the morning, and we passed by some condos where people -- still in their bathrobes -- ducked out their front doors to fetch the newspaper. “What would my ideal day start with?” I remember thinking. The first thing that came to mind was getting my workouts over with right away.

Even in the life of your wildest dreams you’d still have to work out, right? You can’t pay someone to do that for you.

Maybe that’s why we’ve been doing our workouts earlier and earlier these days. No sense delaying the inevitable. We do what’s most difficult first. Everything’s easier after that. Maybe you’ve heard it called eating the frog. We gobble up those frogs, day after day, and now it’s automatic.

Staying in shape is almost a bonus of working out at this point. Being able to trust ourselves to do right by ourselves, daily? It’s the best (mental) health insurance money can’t buy.

Maybe you’ve heard the same stories we have. Lottery winners who lose it all and then some. Were they uncomfortable with a fortune they hadn’t earned? Maybe.

When I won a Minnesota Book Award for Left for Dead: A Second Life after Vietnam, I felt no guilt. I wasn’t sure I deserved to be honored more than the authors of the other books in my category, granted -- and I knew how subjective these things can be. But I also knew how hard I’d worked, and I couldn’t be sure I didn’t deserve it. When I walked to the stage to give my acceptance speech, I didn’t think about who deserved it the most. It was more like, “I’ll take it.”

When Darrell ran his first road race this summer (my idea) (he had a blast!), he told me how uncomfortable he felt getting applauded by spectators: “It was just a workout, for crying out loud.” He eventually found something to look at besides the faces of people who thought this was a bigger deal than he did.


Me? I used to imagine -- during my runs at the high school track when Katie was little -- the bleachers were filled with people cheering me on! I didn’t have to pretend during the race I ran with Darrell. And it helped. It really did. At that moment I was working out and those other people weren’t. Had the situation been reversed I would’ve been the one extending my hand for a high five. It’s what you do.

Life can be a slog. Nothing wrong with giving each other a tip of the hat for hanging in there!

sunset photoI can’t help it. Sometimes I wonder what my life will be like thirty years from now. What if I can’t get around as well as I do now? What if I’m confined to a wheelchair or even a hospital bed?

It happens.

The other morning it hit me: “I’d probably just read my journal.” Which was quickly followed by, “There are worse fates!”

It’s a great story. Someday I’ll get around to sharing more of it than you see here. Not yet, though. I’m working hard on this chapter.

It’s the same for each of us, isn’t it? To make sure we’re living a story we’d be proud to read.

What a gift to the old people we hope we get the chance to be.

As presents go, this was a good one.

Bon appétit!

What do you sound like?
September 14, 2016

You spend enough time with someone, you’ll learn a lot about yourself. Like what expressions you use constantly. I didn’t realize how often I said “indeed,” for example, until Darrell started saying it -- a lot. Lately he’s been saying, “Well, then.” A lot! I used to think that was a cute way to end an exchange. And it is, in small doses. But the third or fourth time Darrell said it in one afternoon I thought, “Okay. To the scrap heap!”

This isn’t on Darrell, by the way. It’s on me. He wouldn’t have those words or phrases rolling off if he wasn’t hearing them from me. Listening to him is a great way to find out if I’ve gotten lazy. The more I sparkle in casual conversation -- with fewer clichés, more verbal variety -- the better I’ll sound to him, and the better I’ll sound to myself when he imitates me without thinking.

Neither of us likes this expression: “It is what it is.” I’m sorry if it’s one of your favorites, but we hate it. If you use it, whatever you follow it with is going to be lost on me -- I’ll be that distracted by the waste of words.

And don’t even get me started on “so.” The list of people who start almost every sentence with “So…” reads like the Who’s Who of Whoever Accomplished Anything Worth Doing. I don’t care! It’s obnoxious. Why don’t they just use “um” to begin their sentences? A filler word in fancier clothing is still fill. If you wonder why I care, here’s why. I’m afraid I’ll catch it! I hear it so often I’ve caught myself using it -- and Darrell will tell you I kind of slap myself on the face every time. You know how easy it is to catch moods. It’s just as easy to catch verbal tics. If you aren’t careful about the company you keep, you won’t sound as classy. It’s just science.

“So” is the grownup version of “like.” Enough said? So to speak!

Call me fussy. Call me a stickler. I’m okay with it. Because I’m also an artist, and conversation is my canvas. If I go for elegance in so-called normal life, I won’t have to don a Superman cape when it’s time to make a presentation or record another installment of the show.

Why not strive for well-spoken in general? One persona, carefully chosen and tended, will serve you just fine.

As a kid I imitated the handwriting of people I liked. Not on purpose. It just happened. I’d adopt their way of crossing a small T or dotting a small I. Unless their cursive uppercase Q looked like the numeral 2 -- that’s where I drew the line. “What could that supposed expert have been thinking?” I remember wondering, even as a kid. “It’s a Q, not a 2.”

I was a rebel in other ways, too. For a while my commas didn’t look like the right half of a pair of miniature parentheses the way my teacher told us they should. I made the top of the curve a dark circle. I couldn’t resist. I don’t know why. But I knew what I liked, and I went with it -- the approval of my teacher be damned.

Well, sort of. I still remember the terror I felt one afternoon -- and yes, “handwriting” was my favorite class -- when I heard the teacher say, “There’s someone who…” My seat was up front, and I’d noticed her taking particular interest in my work. I was sure what followed was going to be something like, “…apparently didn’t hear what I said about commas!”

Before I could run through a list of all the ways I might be punished, she finished her sentence: “…should be in my place at the chalkboard, teaching you how to have beautiful handwriting.” That isn’t an exact quote, but it’s close. I wasn’t being shamed for embellishing my commas, put it that way. As a seven-year-old who lived to impress her teachers, can you imagine what a great day this was in the life?

I still think of it when I write thank-you notes -- at least a couple a week, sometimes many more -- and send them by snail mail. I could fill a book with the thank-you notes I’ve gotten for those! There’s just something about the gesture. An expression of appreciation, written in longhand, walked to a real mailbox. Even better? When it’s written in beautiful longhand.

A friend remarked on that before I knew what a good friend she was going to be. She called my handwriting impeccable, and said it reminded her of how “the nuns” taught us to write.