The Blog

You hear it constantly. “I get my best ideas when I’m running.” Running, taking a shower, doing the laundry -- anything but slogging away in front of the screen for too many hours at a time.

So why do so many of us feel guilty giving our minds a rest?

If you’re one of them, if you need the break but don’t think you deserve one -- or worry someone else doesn’t think so -- fear not. Lisa Miller suggests you putter. The magazine piece she wrote calls puttering divine: “Putterers carry an aura of being importantly occupied (picking up, gardening, sorting coins) even as they’re doing nada. It’s the cover of busyness that creates the insulating bubble, for it shields you from the disapproval of onlookers -- and even from yourself.”

Puttering is to me what a glass of wine is to other people. A sweet little reward at the end of the day, so soothing it wouldn’t occur to me to feel conflicted about it.

And now that Lisa’s framed it as a “cover of busyness” creating an “insulating bubble” -- which is nothing if not a soothing image -- it’ll feel even better!

The Academy Awards telecast is no laughing matter. Not the “In Memoriam” tribute, anyway -- and this year I teared up at the end for the first time. That’s when Philip Seymour Hoffman’s face appeared on the screen.

Philip Seymour Hoffman was on set on a day our lives felt like a movie. Darrell and I were walking away from the dorm at NYU we’d just moved Katie into. We’d said our goodbyes, and -- as far as I could tell, anyway -- had left most of what we loved about our lives behind. As we headed for a cute little pastry shop Darrell stopped. “That’s Philip Seymour Hoffman,” he said. I only saw the actor from behind as he rode his bike toward Washington Square Park.

He and Katie were neighbors, I soon learned. Now granted, her neighborhood’s filled with stars so studded it looks like the guest list for a Vanity Fair party. But there was something jarring about seeing one of them ourselves.

Hoffman’s face on the screen earlier this week brought back every movie he’s graced that we’ve loved -- Moneyball, for sure, but also Charlie Wilson’s War and The Ides of March -- and flooded me with the feeling we had as we made our way out of his world, which was now Katie’s.

Gutted.

My dad used to say, “Life is really quite short.”

Truer words…

Sometimes I tease Darrell his journal is just a record of what things have cost him over the years. He’s kept track of every penny he’s spent since his first day of college. It’s fine, as hobbies go. But it isn’t one I’m going to take up myself. No need, for one thing. He’s the bookkeeper in the family.

When we get back from wherever it is, he has a line item in an expense notebook -- and I have a story.

I can’t remember where I came across this little gem from Kyran Pittman, author of Planting Dandelions, but I’d saved it -- and it sums up the compassion I suddenly feel for my eighteen-year-old self: “Like most young adults, I was hugely self-conscious, and barely self-aware. I lived in a constant state of reaction. Feelings were like weather -- something originating completely outside of me, mysterious and volatile. It was very easy to get lost in fear, anger, or sadness. When you’re young, you have no perspective. Everything is happening to you for the first time. You’re the primitive human. The sun goes away, and you don’t know why, or if it will ever come back.” And then, “Just thinking about it makes me want to run out and hug the first eighteen-year-old I see.”

Isn’t that a beauty? If you have compassion for yourself, you’ll find it infinitely easier -- and indeed, irresistible -- to have compassion for others.

Kind of makes me want to look through what else I’ve saved.

What does your record show?

Do you have regrets?
February 27, 2014

The happiest people I know look at so-called mistakes as directions. “If that’s what it took to get me here,” they’ll say, “so be it.”

I can relate. But I also cop to wondering about the road not taken. My friend Alex Lickerman says it’s easy to romanticize what might’ve been, especially when the road you took doesn’t enchant. “But how do you know that path wouldn’t have turned out even worse?” he wonders.

Indeed.

Except, except…

There’s one regret I have about Katie’s childhood. When she was little, Dad was in charge of lunch. Whatever else was on the menu, it almost always included some of her favorite sausage with some of her favorite cheese. Darrell cut those into shapes, and as time went by the designs got more elaborate. I seem to remember a kid on a bicycle, scenes like that. Can you imagine how much fun that was for Katie? Or Darrell, for that matter? She was two or three years old, and practically squealed with delight when she saw the latest. He uh, ate that up.

So why, why -- when we realized this was going to be a thing -- we didn’t break out the camera and save the daily evidence of so much cuteness? Can you imagine a book filled with those photographs?

We can -- and Darrell was touched when I shared that on a recent program with Terri Belford, who shows people how to make a living from their arts and crafts.

I told him again how cute that book would’ve been. And in the process I suddenly realized why I no longer regret we don’t have it. “It would’ve changed the experience,” I offered. “The focus would’ve shifted to getting the perfect photograph instead of just enjoying Katie’s reaction.”

Nope. We did it right the first time.

And now we know.

“My journal is a map of me.”

So says Colleen Wainwright, who joined us on the show recently to talk about what she writes about -- anything and everything, she says, that catches her fancy. You get the idea it’s the lens through which she sees the world. It’s how she processes her feelings.

When Michael Gates Gill got fired, divorced, diagnosed with a brain tumor -- and was broke -- his daughter suggested he start keeping a journal. So he did. The result was How Starbucks Saved My Life, a book I hope you’ll consider reading if you haven’t already.

Leap! author Sara Davidson was once asked, “If you knew the world was going to end in two days, what would you do?” To which she replied without hesitation: “Take notes.”

There’s just something about it. Writing things down helps you see them more clearly. If it’s a grocery list, you’ll find it easier to buy what you want and say no to the rest. If it’s a goal, it’s easier for your brain to take that seriously -- and work on it while you take breaks to exercise or do laundry or even sleep. If you keep a journal you could literally save your life -- by spotting destructive patterns you wouldn’t have otherwise noticed, or by realizing if you don’t make some changes you’ll bore yourself to death.

Colleen and Michael and Sara are three of many people who’ve inspired me to share part of my story in another book, Do-Over. Watch for more news about that, here.

And don’t forget to work on your own story in the meantime. We’ll keep each other inspired.

Next up, how the process of writing this blog helped me avoid a regret about Katie’s childhood.

Are you having a bad day?
February 25, 2014

If you’re feeling sad, this video might make you cry.

There.

Feel better?

Thought so!

Some people get stronger and happier after a crisis. There’s a technical term for it, post-traumatic growth. Game designer Jane McGonigal says scientists now know a traumatic event doesn’t doom us to suffer indefinitely. We can use it as a springboard to unleash our best qualities and lead happier lives.

How? By practicing four different kinds of resilience -- physical, mental, emotional, and social. Don’t sit still for more than an hour at a time. Tackle difficult problems. Call up three positive images for every negative emotion you feel. Thank people -- and don’t be stingy with hugs.

If you make those habits, Jane says you can add ten years to your life.

Good ones.

Don’t believe me? Watch Jane in action.

It might be a game changer!

I love Hondas because my college boyfriend had one. It was a little orange Civic, a stick, and he taught me to drive it.

I skew skittish. That’s how I was about to describe myself, when I looked up the meaning of skittish -- just in case. Here it is: “A term used to describe something that is moving in a quick, jumpy fashion.”

Skittish it is!

Steve didn’t need much in the way of material to go off on a riff that would make you hurt from laughing -- and I gave him plenty of material during those driving lessons. That’s why Hondas, to me, spell fun.

Over the years, though, everyone I met who was even slightly mechanically inclined raved about them. I gave a ride to a colleague soon after buying a Prelude and as we sat there idling at a stoplight he said, “Listen.” I couldn’t hear anything. “Exactly,” he said. “That’s how you know you have a good car, when it’s idling so quietly you can’t even hear it.”

I’ve never met a mechanic who didn’t rave about Hondas -- especially Accords. “Buy one new and run it into the ground,” one of them suggested. “Mile for mile there’s no more cost-effective way to drive.”

Another reason I love Hondas is what happens when you go to the dealer for your next one. There’s no dickering on price.

“You want the new Accord? Here’s how much it costs. The end.”

Give me your best deal, and give it to me up front. I’ll either go for it or I won’t, but either way we can get on with our lives.

Advice for car shopping, advice for life.