The Blog

If you could go back and talk with a younger version of yourself, what would you say? Is there anything you wish you would’ve known?

Silly questions, really. But I often ask some variation of them on the show because it’s a different way of asking, “What have you learned?”

Sometimes I wish I could tell the young woman I was not to worry so much. But I had plenty of people doing that. Sometimes they were the same people who inspired me to worry so much! And if it was so easy to stop, I’d like to think I would’ve.

Now when I catch myself doing something unproductive, like worry, I make a point to wonder about it. That’s it. Just wonder. “What’s up?” I’ll think. “Why are you worried?” I don’t beat myself up for worrying or insist I stop. I treat myself with the same compassion I’d afford anyone else.

If you fight a feeling, as the saying goes, you add energy to it. Better to give it some space, regard it with curiosity, and let it teach you something about yourself. Because it will. Every time!

The Listening Lab. Isn’t that a cute name for a business? I mean, if people will pay someone to cuddle with them -- which isn’t a euphemism, by the way -- would it be such a stretch to think they’d pay someone to listen?

And just in case you’re thinking that’s what a counselor does, I hear you. But do you really need certification to be a good listener?

I don’t have any. But if you take the typical career consultant’s advice, I should be making a living as a listener because that’s what I’m good at.

The Listening Lab didn’t make it to my list of occupational daydreams, though. I wouldn’t have the patience for it. I’m like the gal at your salon, who sits in the front row at church because she can’t stand to look at the backs of people’s heads. As a talk show host my medium is conversation, and part of the job is finding interesting people to talk with. I have almost zero patience for lame. When I’m waiting at an airport gate it’s all I can do not to rip someone’s cell phone from his hands and throw it against the wall -- in an attempt to cut short a conversation so endless and unnecessary it should be against the law. How can people live like that? You’re boring!

The other night I wanted to work a few more minutes before going to bed. I could’ve told Darrell that, but I chose not to. Instead I gave him a little hug and said, “If I could work for just ten more minutes I wouldn’t have to go to bed with a heavy heart for being such a loser.” His laugh made me wonder if he’d found anything that funny in his life, which is saying a lot -- given how much time we spend with the person who defines hilarious, Katie.

I strive for sparkling conversation moment by moment. To separate that out as a profession? No. We’re all charged with listening. It’s job one. Parent, teacher, nurse, sales rep, mechanic. You get the idea.

Name one area of life where listening isn’t the thread that makes everything run smoothly. I’m all ears!

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

I used to follow those instructions on the back of shampoo bottles religiously -- with devotion. Until someone pointed out the “Repeat” is just a way to get people to use more shampoo.

I felt silly, but I wised up. I’m much more difficult to sway now. Want proof? I use the same product to wash dishes, do the laundry, and shampoo my hair -- just as one example. Everything’s clean, everything smells great, and you’d think I was using an expensive array of products for how healthy my hair looks.

When I interview people about living better, they almost always suggest ditching things you don’t need. I’m on a tear. One of these days I’ll have my few favorite outfits, a little bit of makeup in a cute little bag, and a lifetime of memories on jump drives I can fit in my purse. “You travel light,” people often tell me. I do. I feel lighter and better every day.

Maybe clutter doesn’t bother you. If that’s the case, never mind! But if you’re feeling vaguely stuck -- or stalled -- cleaning out a closet might give you an unexpected burst of happiness.

Worst case? You’ll have a clean closet.

PhilomenaWhen Darrell and I finished watching Philomena  -- I can barely think of it even now without tearing up -- I told him I liked it better than Spotlight. Philomena was more compelling because it was one person’s story. You just ached for the mother who longed for any information at all about her son.

When it comes to movies, my tastes skew toward the “based on a true story” variety. Open my mind, break my heart, teach me something. Make me a different person than I was before.

Philomena’s going to stick with me. It’s pretty much the opposite of fast food, cinematically speaking.

When Katie was little we took her to Mount Rushmore. She was impressed. When we told her we were going to Rushmore Cave, she balked. Couldn’t we just browse the gift shop?

Guess what made the highlight reel from that trip? The cave. She loved it.

That’s why I was tickled when Darrell turned to me in the theater a few months ago after we’d seen one of my choices, Concussion, which hadn’t been on his list. “That was my Rushmore Cave,” he said.

Of all the coverage of the Super Bowl, this comment from Tracy McMillan got to me: “Super Bowl Sunday makes me sad, you guys. For starters, I can’t seem to get into denial about the brain damage.” How do you get into denial about that? When people didn’t know the impact, so to speak, it was one thing. But now?

The week before the Super Bowl I interviewed Dr. Michael Lewis, an expert on brain health. He played football. More interestingly to me -- because of everything leading up to a movie like Concussion -- his son plays football. I was surprised. It hadn’t occurred to me to ask. When he offered that, shortly before we said goodbye, I wished I’d opened with the question. Because if I had a little kid who wanted to play football I can’t imagine being in favor of it. I realize you can’t keep a grownup from playing if he’s determined, but a child?

And yes, Dr. Lewis will join us again. He wants to talk about mitigating risks in organized sports. He thinks the bigger risk is not being active. There are risks in everything, he reminded me. I’m not convinced football’s worth it. But I’ll listen with great interest to what he has to say.

Who knows? Maybe I’ll change my mind.

That’s why you have conversations, right? To learn something? If you don’t allow for the possibility of changing your mind, why bother?

When I moved to St. Paul I snagged a studio apartment in a mansion on Summit Avenue. I say “snagged” because after I’d been living there a while the landlord admitted how fussy she is. She’d taken particular interest in my car, for example, which was immaculate. “You can learn a lot about someone by how she takes care of her car,” she said.

“Your body is the coolest thing you’ll ever own,” someone else once said. “It’s your ride.”

I’ve always been struck by how well some people take care of their vehicles while apparently giving no such thought to themselves. That’s one reason career consultants coach clients on not only their resumes but their exercise regimens. It matters. You’ll look better, sure. But you’ll also feel better, and you’ll make other people feel better because energy is infectious.

When my friend Claire Cook realized her daily walks weren’t cutting it anymore, she took the most unglamorous step of adding more vigorous workouts to her routine. She stopped eating things that made her feel sluggish. She ditched anything that resembled clutter. Not just knickknacks, but the idea that she likes hosting dinner parties -- which she most certainly does not. She started feeling better every day.

Spring cleaning isn’t how most people spell “party.” But if you want to put that spring back in your step it’s a great place to start.

What’s in a name?
March 7, 2016

Once upon a time I had three brothers and three sisters. My mom was in the hospital having another baby, and Dad called with the news: “It’s a girl!” The living room, where we were camped out watching TV, erupted. Four girls cheered as three boys, uncharacteristically, didn’t say much.

We’d won. That’s how it felt. We were sure the balance of power had shifted permanently in the feminine favor.

The excitement died down, Dad got home, and the other kids went to bed. Not me. I got to help think of names for the new baby. Can you imagine? Staying up late -- on a school night! -- for something this important? Wow. I wish I could go back and listen to that conversation. I was only nine, but I knew how much was at stake. A rose by any other name, I guessed even then, would not smell as sweet. A rose by the name of dandelion? Blech.

All I remember about the final vote was that I was in favor of the name that stuck, Amy. It fits her. To this day I almost always call Katie “Amy” at least once when the three of us are together, that’s how much I love it and am proud to have been part of it.

Names matter. Darrell once told me he was never that crazy about his own name until he heard me using it. Wow. I know the feeling. And it’s one reason I’m dismayed by people who just refuse to spell his name correctly.

There are people I’ve known for years who don’t know -- or care -- how to pronounce my name. The first syllable, if you’re curious, sounds like “more” -- not like “myrrh,” as in gold and frankincense.

This isn’t a buffet. There’s one right answer. I mean, it’s up to you. But you’ve probably heard there’s nothing sweeter to someone than the sound of his name. Why not double the fun by spelling it correctly and pronouncing it that way, too? It costs nothing. And that extra little bit of attention? Priceless!

Darrell“You’re kidding.”

That was my mom’s reaction more than fifteen years ago when she found out I’d been cutting Darrell’s hair. It looked fine -- good, actually -- and she couldn’t believe it.

I’d never been the go-to person in our family for that.

If I did an okay job with Darrell almost from the beginning, why did I still dread it? Which reminds me what Anne Lamott once shared on Twitter, that a kid in Sunday school had said something rude about her dreadlocks. She’d asked him to be kind. To which he’d replied, “You’re freaking me out, Octopus Head.”

Back to Darrell’s head. I was okay at cutting his hair, but what a project. Every time! I never got good enough at it to not sweat it every time.

A few months ago he got a wild hair to buy one of those trimmers I thought I’d remembered from late-night television commercials. Nothing fancy, but it changed my life.

I interrupted the last cut to tell Katie what a badass I am now. A perfect cut, every time! And that’s not all. Well, actually it is. I was trying to do the Saturday Night Live version of one of those late-night television commercials. A comedian, I’m not. But set me up with the right tools and I can give you a dandy haircut!