The Blog

“I have lots of skills. This isn’t one of them.” Isn’t that a sweet way to forgive yourself for not knowing how to hook up a stereo, fix a leaky faucet, or diagnose a problem with your car’s engine? That’s one gift of aging, I think, the increasing willingness to pay people for what they’re good at -- instead of trying to do it yourself and creating a bigger, more expensive, problem for someone else to solve after all.

Once upon a time I relied on someone for help I need occasionally. Let’s call it dentistry. My “dentist” was an expert. His rates were more than fair, and I trusted him.

There was a catch, though. The gentleman threw in an extra I hadn’t asked for, running commentary on aspects of my life unrelated to dentistry. I can’t think of a single observation that didn’t leave me in tears. One day I confided in a friend about it, and I almost laughed out loud at his reaction: “Have you thought about getting a different dentist?”

That’s it. That’s the end of this story. New dentist, no further problems. Makes you wonder if sometimes we’re determined to make things more difficult than they have to be.

Central Park for the blogIf your house was burning down and you could only grab two things, what would they be?

I’ll go first.

I’d grab my purse -- which has a lifetime of memories in digital form on a little computer drive --  and a stash of long letters Katie gave me for my birthday last summer. They framed a scavenger hunt on a sparkling Manhattan afternoon and they chronicled, in delicious detail, how much fun we’ve had as a family.

Can you imagine?

I aspire to express myself so precisely a chord is struck in another soul. Instead I gave birth to the person who can do that! Katie expresses herself with such sweetness and such precision it’ll break your heart. Promise.

Just ask her favorite professor at NYU. She showed me the long thank-you letter she wrote him. I was in tears by the time I finished, and I’ve read it at least a dozen times.

I doubt the guy will ever be the same. Heck, I was only a witness to this -- and I’ll never be the same.

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photo courtesy of Katie Anderson

Are you patient?
July 26, 2017

Have you ever worked from home with a toddler underfoot? It’s an interesting way to live. Darrell and I only have the one child, but she added more than enough interesting to make me wonder -- at first -- if I was up to it. My life felt like an endless, unrelenting, fun but exhausting tennis match. “Mom! I need more milk!” Katie would say. “Mom! Your interview’s on the line!” Darrell would add. I transcribed interviews a phrase at a time while they had lunch or Katie watched a favorite cartoon.

And I wasn’t perfect.

Once in a while, when Katie was coloring or whatever, I’d settle in at my desk for maybe twenty consecutive minutes. That’s usually when Darrell hit me up for the answer to a work question, because I wasn’t in the office before and now I was. And once in a while he sensed my frustration at not even having those twenty minutes.

The thing was, he explained, these were either questions I wanted him to ask -- or he needed me to answer. It wasn’t small talk. And he didn’t like this vague sense he’d disappointed me somehow. That hurt to hear -- oh, no! proof I wasn’t perfect! -- but I fixed it. From then on when he needed something I stopped whatever I was doing and gave him my full attention and told him with my attitude he had every right to expect it.

Oh, sure. Over the years there’s been an occasional edge to my voice because I’m still not perfect. But you know what? I’ve owned up so quickly and so thoroughly, and have apologized with such gusto, Darrell’s given me the impression I’m covered for not only that infraction but the next.

I’m not just saying that. I still check in with him once in a while on this point. What’s the use of having someone with the courage to tell you the truth if you aren’t going to handle it?

Have you read God’s Debris by Scott Adams? No? Well, what are you doing here? Go get a copy and enjoy yourself. You’re welcome!

Quick story. The other day Darrell and I were having lunch at a café when we started joking around about how boring the conversation was at the next table. It shouldn’t have mattered, but the guy holding court must be hard of hearing. His voice overpowered every other conversation at every other table.

That’s why what happened next was so embarrassing. The conversation Darrell and I were having took a turn so boring I almost wanted to switch places. It was a classic case of “you spot it, you got it.”

If your table topics include how bored you are by the people at the next table, I don’t think the people at the next table are your biggest problem right now.

So noted! I can do better. By reading more books, for example, like the one I just mentioned. And not just because this line from it rings so true: “It is a human tendency to become what you attack.”

Busted!

Do you need polish?
July 24, 2017

Once upon a time a gal we used to know told us what she didn’t like about certain people, how they “talk about themselves too much.” And I thought, “Good to know.” I was careful to keep my updates concise from then on, and to offer them only when requested. “What’s new?” she’d say. “I sold my next book,” I told her once, almost as an experiment. And that was it. No followup questions. So I thought, “Wow. She wasn’t kidding.”

Which is okay. It was a great reminder to be a good listener. I used to be the young woman who couldn’t shut up about herself. It pains me to admit that, but remembering how clueless I was helps me stay classier now. Had I gone on about the next book with this gal, for example, I wouldn’t have learned more about how difficult her childhood was.

She went on at some length about not having a decent dress for something that happened seventy years ago. That fascinated me. Not that she was talking about herself -- I like it when people do that -- but that she was still so hurt by the circumstances.

It’s nice when people hang on your every word. Even nicer? Really listening to someone else, and hanging on hers.

garden for the blogThe last time I got a manicure the guy offered to paint little flowers on the nails on my ring fingers, “no extra charge.”

Well, sure.

I almost burst into tears, though. This was the first time someone had given me the impression my nails were something to adorn. Getting them to the point where I can even offer them up to be manicured has been a lifelong struggle. Now, suddenly, there are black and white flowers -- covered with silvery sparkly sprinkles -- over the pink polish I love so much, and they’re straight out of a Japanese garden. I can’t tell you how much time I’ve spent admiring them.

Those two tiny flowers have burrowed into my brain the way a present from Katie did the winter before last. It was a book filled with what, specifically, she loves most about me -- which just so happens to be what I love most about myself. Not only that, she threw in the way she thinks I could easily change the world -- which also happens to be the way I want to do that.

Can you imagine? I memorized that book, and I recite it in my head every night. It’s laying down new grooves. It’s reminding me to keep inching toward that already okay person Kate described.

And now, in a seemingly whimsical afterthought -- though who knows? -- the guy who gave me a manicure showed me there’s indeed magic, right here, at my fingertips!

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photo courtesy of Katie Anderson

You may not know how to help someone who’s grieving, but I bet you can make it worse!

Tell that person “everything happens for a reason” or “the same thing happened to a friend once” or “you should read this book about that.” You can press for juicy details that’ll make the story you share with your friends juicier. You can ask why you had to learn the news from someone else or make a reference to “God’s plan.”

If you’re on the receiving end of “help” disguised as “more pain,” my condolences! And my thanks to Glennon Doyle, author of Love Warrior, for dissecting the “I’ll give you something to cry about” crowd.

Glennon reminded me what I love most about the people I love. They listen without judgment. They draw me out with abandon. And they aren’t afraid of going to the scary places with me.

Without them to take my hand once in a while? Life would be scary, indeed.

“Stay away from negative people.” You might not believe how often my guests on the talk show offer that suggestion, or credit following it for their success. Which surprises me, because I thought successful people were able to transcend the negative.

Nope. That’s how they became successful, by protecting themselves from it. They’ve made a habit of distancing themselves.

That’s the only appropriate response to evil, I once heard, however you define it. Distance. Don’t make a scene, don’t put up a fight. Just back away slowly, back into the light.