The Blog

This is a tale of two requests for help. One was from a woman I had on the show. You might not recognize her name, but if you’re old enough you’re almost certainly familiar with the television program she produced. The other request was from someone I barely know. Her life was a mess.

Exec Producer Woman wanted my advice on a work project. The Gal I Barely Know wanted a shoulder to cry on.

I jumped at the chance to help the first, but balked at the second. It gnawed at me, though. Surely the second woman deserved my time as much as the first. Was I only willing to help people who could potentially help me?

140411 3 for the blogAfter a while I decided that wasn’t it. My heart soared at the thought of more time with Exec Producer Woman. She was smart and funny and fun. I knew I’d come away from our chat full of energy and ideas. The Gal I Barely Know depressed me, so I offered her help that didn’t involve getting together for coffee on Thursdays.

If you cultivate friendships with people who leave you feeling drained -- the way I used to -- maybe it’s time to be a better friend to yourself.

I’m a sucker for good questions. “Why do you do that?” is a favorite. Maybe I have a “good” reason, maybe I don’t. That’s subjective. But I’ve likely given the matter some thought -- and have either made peace with a not-so-great way of doing things, or welcome ideas for doing them differently.

One thing I learned early on is that “Why do you do that?” isn’t a conversation starter to some people. It’s an attack.

It doesn’t matter how sweetly I’ve asked, how genuinely curious (as opposed to judgmental) I am, or how many disclaimers I include. Some people would rather sit through multiple viewings of Ishtar (nothing against that movie, though I heard it’s awful) (but come on, it starts with “ish”) than analyze a single thing they do.

To each his own.

If forced to decide what my least favorite color is, yellow would be right up there. Down there? Wherever! I have nothing against yellow, necessarily. But I don’t look good in it, and it doesn’t seem to work even as an accent color -- not that I’ve made that a project.

Why, then, the splash of yellow in almost every room in our house? Because a decorator once told me every room needs a burst of yellow, the same way you can’t go wrong with sunlight streaming in through a window.

So there’s a yellow sponge in the bathroom, bananas on the counter in the kitchen, a souvenir rubber duck (from a swanky hotel) in my closet. I get a little hit of happiness whenever they catch my eye, probably because I think I’m supposed to.

Whatever it takes!

I made a not-so-savory discovery in the course of going through some audio files. In the early days of the talk show I talked so fast. I don’t know which is worse -- that, or the fact I thought I sounded okay. Which reminds me of Mike Rowe’s observation about people in the first episode of any season of American Idol. It isn’t that they can’t sing that’s fascinating. It’s that they’re realizing it for the first time.

“You didn’t have your current sound to use as a target,” Darrell pointed out. “Nice try, bub,” I teased him. Eventually I realized I talked fast on the show because I talked fast in real life. I thought if I shared a story quickly enough I’d be forgiven for holding forth at all.

The most difficult thing about doing the talk show -- or being married! -- is the often painful awareness of how much there is to learn. It’s also thrilling when, after years of marking the same lesson, you finally get it.

No character transformation, no story.

2014 04 24 phone thumbI don’t know how you deal with uncertainty, but here’s one way to wrangle it. Measure things within your control.

You can’t control who says “yes” to a pitch, but you can make a certain number of pitches a week. You can’t control how sparkling someone will find a conversation, but you can keep track of how often you use filler words -- and eliminate another distraction. You can’t control your family history of heart disease, but you can do a lot to stave that off yourself.

You can’t control what happens, but you can control how you respond. Maybe you know people who manage to stay upbeat (indeed, hilarious) through the worst of times. They know one secret -- if not the secret -- to life: “You bring your own weather to the picnic.”

The dreading is worse than the doing, that’s what I always say. I still put things off once in a while, but much less often -- and here’s why. I took the advice to time how long it takes to complete the dreaded task. Odds are it’s only a few minutes. The next time it comes around I’m armed with the knowledge life will indeed suck -- but only for a few minutes.

Putting it off seems silly now.


“Don’t skip ahead.”

That’s what Katie’s college roommate told me the last time we saw her. We’d been catching up on everything, including my talk show and what I’d been learning. One of my guests had been especially interesting, and Ashlie wanted to hear everything.

She’d guessed correctly that I kept winding down so as not to hold forth too long. I never forget I’m “the mom,” after all, and I don’t want to bore anyone -- least of all Katie and her friends. But here they were, two NYU graduates who’d come of age in that most amazing city, telling me to slow down and tell my stories in greater detail.

Can you imagine? As I basked in Ashlie’s kindness, I vowed to invoke more often with her and others the four sweetest words in the English language: “Please, tell me more.”

We only had a couple of hours before Katie needed to be at the airport, so she and Dad were playing cards. We happened to be in a shopping mall, next to an escalator -- where a man and his little boy were riding it up and down and back up again. The first few times it was cute. After dozens more? Hilarious. What struck all three of us was how attentive the dad was. He didn’t pull out his phone once. You could’ve sworn the only thing that mattered to him was the kid.

Do we say something? To me it wasn’t even a question. I have Scott Adams to thank for that. “Withholding praise borders on immoral,” he says.

So I stood up on their next trip down, leaned over the railing a bit, and told Escalator Dad how impressed we were. “All that time,” I said, “and no phone!” He grinned big, and we could tell he didn’t mind hearing this.

“Maybe that was his New Year’s Resolution,” I told my sweethearts afterward. To which Katie replied, “And the kid’s resolution was to ride more escalators.”