The Blog

What are you after?
November 3, 2017

If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all. So goes the advice often attributed to “Mom” -- but I’m not buying it. You can always find something nice to say. When’s the last time you had an adverse reaction, for example, to the following? “I feel so bad for you.”

Oh, wait. It’s happened to me. Sometimes I’ll wince at a report from Kate. What suddenly has me aching for her, she’ll promise, is way out of proportion to the actual event. “It’s fine,” she’ll say, like I’m taking the “Mom thing” (another “Mom thing,” that is) a little too far.

“Yeah?” I tease her right back. “Well, there are worse fates than knowing you matter this much to someone.” The last time it happened I reminded her how bad she’d felt for me when my restaurant order of salmon came slathered in something decidedly not Planworthy -- before she realized I’d added “salmon with the sauce scraped off” to The Plan.

But the look on her face when the waiter placed it in front of me? Actual pain. I'll never forget that look. It hurt me right back, before I decided all over again how wonderful it is to matter this much to someone.

Isn’t that what we all want? To know we matter? To someone?

rosesThe next time you’re at a dinner party, skip the small talk and try an experiment. Ask your companions to tell you something they read recently, and why it captured their imagination.

I’ll go first. It’s no secret I read Seth’s blog. He used this phrase in a recent post: “consistent emotional labor.”

“That’s it!” I thought. “That perfectly describes what a good marriage asks of two people. Consistent emotional labor.” Does that ring as true to you as it does to me?

“Free coffee, next exit.”

That’s one effective billboard, isn’t it? “What do you want?” Coffee! “When do you want it?” Right away.

What a sentiment. Elegant and sparing. It’s actually a billboard for effective communication.

Is there anything sillier than thinking if someone really loves you, he’ll be able to read your mind? I’ve done it, but it’s been so long since I’ve done it that it’s difficult for me to believe I ever did.

Still with me?

See what I did there? I didn’t assume you were!

Before Darrell and I got engaged, he suggested a few rules for marriage. Be honest, record all checks, the usual. “Don’t make me read your mind” got added soon afterward, and with such enthusiasm! So I changed. Immediately. I mean, he had a point. What do you do when someone makes a compelling case for change? You change. Right?

The phone rings, but I’m deep in concentration -- so my chest hurts from the sudden, if imaginary, terror. I try to interrupt the perky-voiced telemarketer but she isn’t listening. She keeps talking over me. I’m annoyed, but I put that feeling aside long enough to realize she isn’t a person. She’s a recording. Never mind!

I hang up, share with Darrell my frustration, and have a flash of self-awareness: “I realize the update is out of proportion to the actual event.” He throws his head back and laughs the way he does constantly around here. “You’re fun!” he says.

“Does that temper the intensity?” I wonder. “Of course!” he says, laughing at that.

As recently as five years ago I probably would’ve beaten myself up for being frightened at the sound of a telephone ringing. Not this time. I congratulated myself on the focus.
You don’t have to frame your reactions in the worst possible light, you know.

The Willpower Workaround cover for the home pageWhen Darrell started eating the way I do -- eschewing junk, altogether -- it wasn’t that difficult. He loved fruit, for example. If you offered him the choice between a gooey pastry and an apple, he’d choose the apple. It was my biggest proof that opposites attract. Why would you choose the apple?

When I made the decision to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables as a rule, I established a few quotas. Now I eat, for example, at least one bag of spinach and one bag of broccoli every week. If we’re going to be gone for a week I double up on both the week before.

Doesn’t that sound silly?

But vegetables never call to me. After a long, hard day at home or on the road I don’t crave a bowl of spinach. I want another bowl of popcorn, some dark chocolate, and an early bedtime. If I didn’t have a few rules like I just mentioned I’d never get around to the vegetables.

I don’t like spinach but I eat it. House rules. They make life so much easier.

When an editor returns a manuscript with corrections, I’m delighted. Why wouldn’t I be? I’m not the last word on the right way to word something. When someone I respect has a suggestion for making something better, how could I read anything bad into it?

I love the attention, even if means I have work to do.

It’s almost like the feeling I get when people other than editors -- like my sweethearts -- have suggestions. At first I’m embarrassed. At first I want to say, “Ouch!” But if they’ve wrapped those suggestions in kindness I’m likely to respond in kind. “That couldn’t have been easy to tell me,” I’ll offer. And then, “Thanks.”

What’s left behind is relief. If they’re willing to tell me the difficult things, it’s easier to believe the good things. Nothing says “I care about you” like “I’m willing to tell you something that might sting” or even “I’m curious about something you do that doesn’t make sense to me.”

You can’t expect people to notice the good things without noticing the ways you could stand a little polishing. It would be like trying to take the red out of a tomato. That’s why being truly seen by someone can hurt. Relationships are always and only a work in progress.

Who helps you decide?
October 23, 2017

Darrell turned sixty a while back. With a month to go before the big day, hanging with Katie in New York and out of his earshot for just a moment, I tossed out an idea for how the two of us could make that weekend special. Her eyes lit up as she said, “I’m in!”

Until I saw the look on her face I’m not even sure I’d been serious. It represented quite the undertaking. I barely had enough time to pull it off, working around the clock -- not to mention the expense, and the near-impossibility of keeping everything a secret.

The minute I saw the look on Kate’s face it was decided, though. That look! I’ll never forget it. And I hope you have someone like her, reassuring you that your next bold step is a giant leap in the right direction.