The Blog

Maybe you’ve experienced one or more of these feelings…

Crushed under the weight of someone’s disappointment. Filled with doubt when confronted with skepticism. Embarrassed when asked, “Who are you trying to kid?”

Here’s what helps me keep critics in perspective. I ask myself, “Do they seem happy? Is there a single thing about their lives I’m eager to emulate?”

If the answer is no, here’s what you do about the criticism.

Nothing.

Just move on.

Happy, successful people -- in my experience, anyway -- want other people to be that, too.

What could it hurt to ignore the naysayers?

When I was a cocktail waitress, I was patient with people I worked with when they wondered if the restaurant would be busy that night. The first few hundred times it happened, anyway. I’d wonder right along with them, and toss off some remark about the weather or homecoming or whatever might have an impact on the evening’s business. After a while, though, I ran out of responses.

It took me a while to lose patience -- but I did, eventually. “This table didn’t tip me, I wonder if I’ll get cut, I thought it would be busier tonight.” Shut up already! One night a server stood at the bar, wondering if we needed “better table tents in here.” Like that would attract customers. I just looked at him, and then I walked away. Which the bartender thought was hilarious -- because he’d set that up, knowing how bored I was by the whole routine.

Darrell and I have lived together in the same small town for almost twenty years, and for most of that time we’ve gone running on weekdays. For twenty years I’ve fielded the same comment from people who are eager to tell me they’ve noticed. “I saw you out running!” they’ll say, every time we meet. I’ve always responded with something friendly enough to congratulate them on the attempt at small talk, not so friendly they feel obligated to come up with more of it.

Until the other day, that is. I was getting my hair trimmed when a neighbor sat down in the next chair for the same. I knew it was coming, and I dreaded it this time. This gentleman lets his dog run wild despite the leash laws -- and lets him, as The Onion once put it, find the absolutely perfect place to take a dump. But he doesn’t follow along with a plastic bag to clean up the evidence. So what used to be a sweet little street becomes more of an obstacle course unless that family’s on vacation.

As predicted, the man jumped in during a -- what? -- two-second pause in the conversation I was having with my stylist to say it: “I saw you out running!” I paused. And then I just did one of those, “Mmm…” -- like your dad used to when he was reading about his beloved football team in the newspaper and you wanted to use the garage door as a chalkboard.

I thought that would be a conversation stopper, but it wasn’t. My neighbor was ready: “Do you run every day?” I paused again, as if I had to think about it. I waited just long enough for my stylist to wonder if I’d even heard the guy. “No,” I finally said. Just, “No.”

I made the next move. I tossed another question at my stylist on the subject we’d been talking about before we were so eagerly interrupted. And I kept firing questions at her with so much gusto she looked a little exhausted by the time she brushed me off and took my check.

I have nothing against this man. Well except for the whole dogs terrorizing runners thing. But he’s a nice guy, and…whatever. It just strikes me it took twenty years to realize how bored I am with being told someone saw us running.

Isn’t that awful to admit?

And yet, and yet… If I wasn’t so easily bored my talk show would put you to sleep. I select guests based on their ability to keep me interested for an hour. If they can, chances are you’ll also be interested -- and we’ll both learn something.

The other day, as Darrell and I dug into lunch at our favorite little table next to the produce section in a favorite grocery store, he asked what my little cube of orange sandpaper was.

“That’s a nail file,” I told him.

That’s a nail file?”

“Yeah,” I said. “I hate the boring ones.”

“Nail files can be boring?” he asked.

I looked at him.

“You really don’t know me very well, do you?”

Days later I’m still wondering what was going through the mind of the woman at the table next to us. I’d like to think something good.

There are a lot of ways to make the world a better place.

Keeping your mouth shut unless you have something interesting to say is one of them.

Did you go to any movies this summer? See any good ones? How about the one about Steve Jobs? Did you see that?

We did. As a family. I mean, what else was there to do in Valparaiso? That’s where we settled in when our car broke down on the way to New York City late this summer, after our (former) mechanic gave it a clean bill of health.

We have a slightly different version of health than our mechanic did. We told him we were worried about the clutch. He said it was showing “a little wear” and we should baby it.

It completely gave out just past a busy bridge.

Good thing. Because the other problem we were worried about -- the suspension system, which our mechanic dismissed as “also showing a little wear” -- was about to get worse. The sweetheart of a mechanic we met in Valparaiso told us in fifty years of being in business the guys at that shop had never seen ball joints so ready to pop loose. Had we hit one pothole before the clutch gave out, he told us, we would’ve lost control of the car. Bad things would’ve happened, he guessed. Bad, bad things.

Which was good to hear, if only because it took our minds off the big goodbye to Katie and helped us focus on something that still bothers me. How you can know someone for fifteen years and trust him with your life -- as it turns out -- only to be left wondering if it’s irresponsible not to warn people away from him?

But this isn’t a post about mechanics. It’s a post about Pixar, which is -- of course -- a different story. We needed to do something but ponder the oh-so-slim and getting slimmer by the minute chance we’d make it to Greenwich Village in time to meet that oh-so-narrow window for moving Katie into her dorm room at NYU.

So we went to Jobs. While the movie distracted us for a couple of hours, Darrell thought it raised more questions than it answered. What about Pixar? “Was nothing about that chapter worth mentioning in a movie?” he wondered.

Well, honey, what the filmmakers taketh away your blogging bride giveth back. Here’s a great story about Pixar, as told by one of our favorite guests on the talk show.

What companies are worthy of your admiration?

Eight years ago this summer I had a vision of how cute this little disaster of a house could be. There was plenty of time, I decided, to finish renovating it before Katie started high school. I wanted her to remember growing up in a place that was cozy and cute, emphasis on cute.

The house, truth be told, had other plans.

Remember Mike McCurry, White House press secretary under President Bill Clinton? I’m about as far from a political junkie as it’s possible to be, but I’d spend hours in front of the television watching him “tell the truth slowly.” That’s how he described his job! Isn’t that funny?

It’s funny until it was our house telling the truth -- about the roof, for example. It gave one story to the first person who replaced it, another story to the guy who thought he had the answer to the water that remained on our ceilings, still another to the guy who replaced the roof again.

Until we stripped every room of everything -- including light switches -- before the drywallers moved in, I didn’t realize it was possible to suffer from decision overload. When it was time to put everything back -- before the roof put everything on hold again -- I couldn’t believe how many decisions we had to make. Now! Not just about paint colors and textures, light switch colors and styles -- but about cabinets and countertops and faucets and door handles and oh would you please just stop already before I go with my original plan, to snag one of those condos near downtown Minneapolis overlooking Lake Calhoun?

That’s how I’ve felt lately. Depressed, granted -- because after more than a month of far fewer mom duties I have exactly zero to show for that. But also exhausted. Why?

Why?

Oh, yes.

The web site.

So many decisions. So, so many. It might look much the same to you as our old site (here’s hoping) (that’s by…design), but it’s the product of more decisions than I would’ve believed possible on a project that didn’t seem that ambitious to begin with.

Wrong!

When I started writing for the Huffington Post, I had to adjust my grammatical style to allow for extra spaces around dashes. I’m so on board with those I’ve migrated that part of their stylebook to this blog -- still another way of celebrating our transition to Doing What Works.

Do I know how to party, or what?

Apparently not. Because now I want to go back and change thousands and thousands of pages in other files. It’s not so difficult from a technical standpoint. You just hit “find,” enter a few characters, and hit “replace.”

But the devil is in the details, and this kind of thing gets out of hand quickly.

“Why bother?” I suddenly wonder. Am I going to go back and replace “axcident” -- Katie’s kidspeak for “accident” -- in the notes I took when she was little? Of course not. I wouldn’t be true to her voice, then … and as able to look back and smile at the difference, now.

Maybe I should be at least as kind, or as true, to myself.

One thing I hope rings true above almost anything else in this blog is that it’s written by a person who doesn’t pretend to have all the answers.

I don’t pretend to have any of the answers.

But questions? I have questions! I’d like to think of myself as a question factory.

I’ve often aspired to be an inspiration factory -- which people tease me strips the fun from the word “inspiration” and coats it in drudgery. Or sludge. Sludge-coated drudgery, maybe. Sludgery?

But have you ever been in a Procter & Gamble toothpaste plant? I worked in one in Iowa City as an intern when I was in college -- and that factory floor was one of the brightest, happiest spaces I’ve ever had the pleasure of ambling through.

Factories can be fun. Toothpaste factories, chocolate factories…

Factor that in the next time you think of what you produce. What do you make in the course of a day? No matter what your job is, I hope you can make a little mischief!

When I started blogging for The Career Clinic I wanted the slug to feel bouncy. A slug is what I call that little title thingy at the top of a post. I aspire to playful, and making a game of slugging my posts with a call to action in three words or fewer sounded harmless enough.

You don’t have to be an SEO genius to know this was a bad move. I was so opposed to the concept of search engine optimization I practically held onto this system out of spite. Rigging my work to rank higher on searches felt beside the point. I wanted to write, not manipulate. Wouldn’t people return again and again if I gave them something worth reading?

A lot of you have. Though “a lot” is subjective -- and vague, on purpose. When Katie found out our affiliate relations guy reads my blog she teased me I’d doubled my readership.

Still, I’d like to build a bigger base of subscribers. It sounds fun. And my little titles suddenly have a spammy ring to them when I think of them landing in your inbox.

Now what?

Well, here’s what. What I’d most like to be known for, above all else, are good questions. The aforementioned affiliate relations guy calls them thought starters. I like that! Yeast. Except we’re not baking bread. We’re building a life.

So from this post forward the titles -- not that you asked! -- will be questions. When you see a post in your inbox you’ll know from the slug what my point is, I hope. Even if you don’t have time to read it I hope the question will have tickled your imagination.

Are you ticklish?

have guideposts
October 2, 2013

“There’s more to life than increasing its speed.”

I can’t remember where I heard that first--but I think I was a teenager when I did. And I remember thinking, “This is worth remembering!”

It’s a guidepost. Maybe that promotion--working for a bigger radio station in a larger town, for example--would mean more money, more prestige, and more opportunities to work for even bigger radio stations in even larger cities. But maybe it would also mean much less time with your toddler. And, you know, forget it.

Kids can slow your career down to a crawl sometimes. Thank heavens! Work is fun, but it isn’t everything. I bet you know a lot of parents who’d trade a few promotions for fewer regrets about missed piano recitals.

Sometimes I speed up for no good reason. The first time cost me but good. I thought reaching down to retrieve my sack lunch was a good thing to do on the way home from work--yeah, me, the person who rails against texting drivers--and even now, after thirty-five years, that scar is visible on my forehead.

You probably don’t have to look very far to find people who live as if it’s a race. They can’t wait to get where they’re going so they can leave and go somewhere else. Katie’s piano teacher was like that. She’s a master at what she does, but by the second lesson she had the whole year mapped out and was already mourning its passing. I always felt a little twitchy around her.

“What are these people racing toward, anyway?” I wonder. “What’s the finish line?”

Success, as I’ve come to think of it, is finding a route just jagged enough to keep things interesting--and dotted with enough scenic overlooks to remind you to savor the view.