The Blog

Why do you write?
February 15, 2015

“I know it’s a cliché to hate the holiday,” said literary agent Betsy Lerner a while back, “but I’m stuck in my ways.”

“Every year, I have a little talk with myself to behave,” she continued. “Be kind. If I don’t have anything nice to say write it down.”

But people provoke her, she added, which makes her feel bad: “So I have to make other people feel bad, too. Then we go bowling.”

Where do you put anger if not squarely back in the lap of the person who flung it?

On paper, of course.

“I write to empty myself out,” someone once said. I can relate. Committing your feelings to paper or a screen is a great way to process what you’re feeling, unless your screens are connected to Facebook or Twitter. Then I’d go for a run or punch a pillow.

“If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all” is probably not Mom’s best advice. Bad feelings have a way of surfacing when you least expect them and are the least able to control them.

So put them somewhere safe, in a notebook or even on a napkin. You can deal with them later.

Darrell and I used to bake two hundred dozen cut-out sugar cookies from scratch every year. Two hundred dozen. Each one painstakingly rolled out really thin, cut, transferred to a baking pan, baked, cooled, frosted, dried, wrapped individually, and packed with bubble wrap before shipping all over the country to friends and family and people we did business with.

Every year I used to lose the same ten or fifteen pounds over the summer, only to always gain them back by Thanksgiving. Eventually I realized it was the cookies. Duh. But that’s another story.

More interesting to me now is how this tradition got out of hand. We only made a few dozen that first year, after all. But raves! Oh, we got raves. The first person to weigh in, so to speak, told us how much he’d missed these cookies -- which he described as the kind his grandmother used to make. He gave his wife our recipe but she couldn’t replicate them.

We knew we had something special. Our list grew. The cookies made the rounds. From the mailman to celebrities like Dave Barry, people made us wonder if we’d be known as Katie Anderson’s parents after all. Probably we’d be known for our cookies.

They were a great way to tell someone how much we appreciated them. People saved them for parties, where the occasional guest would realize she had some at home. “The six degrees of Maureen’s cookies,” we started hearing.

Which is great, if your career aspirations skew toward baked goods. Ours did not, and I spent twenty hours a week for two months on these cookies. Katie got bored after a batch or two, Darrell’s back started killing him from the unrelenting bending over the dining room table as he rolled out the dough just so, and I was forever cleaning up sugar -- as if you can ever truly get rid of a sugar spill -- from under the cabinets or even our beds (don’t ask).

I learned a lot from the cookies. I probably owe my life to them in a way, in that an experiment in not eating them inspired not only a diet but maybe a new career. So I’m glad we started baking.

But I’m more glad we stopped!

Would you weigh yourself on New Year’s Day when you’ve done almost nothing but overeat since Thanksgiving? Take your blood pressure after a texting driver almost killed you? Ask a colleague how life’s treating him minutes after he got fired?

Dr. Eric Maisel thinks we should extend the same pragmatism to our moods.

“People tend to check in with themselves when things go wrong,” Dr. Maisel says. They wonder why they feel awful, and in no time at all they have a long list of reasons.

Why not check in with yourself when you’re in a good mood? Why not linger on that?

You might notice your role in this pleasant turn. Maybe it wasn’t an accident. Maybe the gods didn’t forget to rain on you. Maybe they’re pleased with your gumption and your attitude.

If something works, it’s important to note why it works so you can do more of it. What’s the point of getting up in the morning if you leave everything to chance?

steak dinnerOne report from Katie that most consistently breaks my heart is how many people she’s known who are afraid to tell their parents they got a B.

Don’t you just want to hunt those parents down and say the following? “If that’s so important to you, why don’t you go back to school and get straight A’s?”

I mean, really.

You probably know people so disappointed with their lives they think a child’s success can make up for it. But they’re writing on a chalkboard that isn’t theirs.

Maybe they should get awards for escaping their own childhoods relatively intact. I’m not sure that’s an excuse.

We told Katie we didn’t care if she went to college, and we meant it. If your little brainiac decides to pass and you can’t bring yourself to approve, we’ll set a place for him at our table.

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photo courtesy of Katie Anderson

TV“All money buys you is a nicer place to watch TV.” That little gem -- from my mother, I think -- helped me realize why McMansions never called. The landscaping! The security systems! The dusting, for crying out loud. For what? For the opportunity to justify all that time and money by staying put, and showing off.

Nope. Not interested.

It reminds me what a licensed psychotherapist told us on the show recently, how many doctors are reluctant to prescribe anything but pills for a problem. To ask you to guess the source of it -- to talk about your reluctance to get up in the morning, for example, because you hate your life -- isn’t pragmatic. Insurance companies want a diagnosis and a treatment plan. The head of the clinic wants more patients seen in fewer hours. To have a meaningful discussion about what really ails you? Sorry! Next!

Did I miss the meeting where pain became something you fix?

Take two aspirin for that headache and call your doctor in the morning -- if you’re sure the headache isn’t in the next cubicle. Otherwise I hope you’ll address your distress with your office job and save yourself more paperwork with the insurance company, not to mention the side effects from the pills.

Pain can teach you a lot if you let it. It never feels good going down. Medicine rarely does. But speaking only for myself and in the words of someone else, the willingness to feel bad is in direct proportion to your capacity for joy.

What choose you?

What do you notice?
February 10, 2015

The last time I got a song stuck in my head I mentioned it to Darrell, who told me that sometimes happens to him in the middle of the night.

Yeah.

Darrell wakes up to music.

Me? I hear someone admonishing herself for going to bed too late or any number of other supposed missteps.

It would be so great to hear music instead.

But noticing that is a start, isn’t it? For the longest time I didn’t realize I had a not-so-nice person drowning out any semblance of civility inside my head. Now I engage that voice in conversation: “Oh, really?” I counter. “Is there more? Are you done yet?” Then I thank my internal naysayer for the test of focus.

Then I focus on something else.

If I could read only three books over and over for the rest of my life it would be quite the trilogy by Steven Pressfield -- The War of Art, Turning Pro, and The Authentic Swing.

When I finish them I start them over. Oh, sure. Sometimes I’ll dive into a novel or the latest by someone we feature on the show. But when I’m caught up on the random I return to Steven’s work. It’s almost like getting a wheel alignment. The Bible does it for some people, and more…power…to them. I’ll take a Pressfield book every day of the week and twice on Sunday.

Speaking of power, what I love most about these books is how grounding they are. I can trace much of who I am to a gradual process of absorbing their treasures. Each pass helps me inch a little closer to the person I aspire to be.

Do you know someone who seems lost? Who’s going through the motions without seeming to take a lot of pleasure in life? Maybe there’s something buried deep down inside that’s longing to get out. These books might help them.

They might help you, too!

Who challenges you?
February 8, 2015

It never fails. I’ll read this article or that one and decide how I feel about one thing or another, only to change my mind -- or at least, open it back up -- after considering what someone else has to say.

Like Scott Adams.

Scott makes me feel at once ridiculous -- for believing one version of the events -- and smart, for how readily I ditch that belief in favor of something more nuanced.

Maybe you know people who, when told there’s more to a story than they’re waxing judgmental on, don’t have a single followup question.

I don’t know how you’d define evil -- I just looked it up! -- but that, to me, comes pretty close.

Judgmental as it sounds!