The Blog

What will define you?
February 24, 2017

“You don’t know what pain is,” Jay Coughlan told me on the show recently, “until you hear something like that.” Which was? “When your mom leans over your hospital bed and says, ‘Your dad didn’t make it.’”

Dad was a passenger in the car Jay was driving after both gentlemen had too much to drink. It’s your worst nightmare, isn’t it?

They say you don’t know how you’d feel if something like that happened to you, but they’re wrong. I know how I’d feel. I’d feel like I didn’t deserve to live.

Jay could relate at first. Then he decided he didn’t want to be defined by his worst moment. That’s what drives him now, the thought he can keep someone from a similar fate -- or help them through it if they share that fate.

“Go for a run,” an executive once suggested before I became the maniac about running I am now. “There’s no problem you have that won’t seem a little less of a problem for having done that.”

He was right. Running is magic. I mean, I hate it -- and it’s magic. It’s a hassle, for one thing -- in the winter, anyway. But the day rarely takes a turn for the worse once we’ve gotten back from a run.

The same with writing. I almost forgot to eat dinner the other night, I was so absorbed in committing a few thoughts to paper (read: this screen). I’ve interviewed a lot of high-functioning people on the talk show, and you might not believe how many of them credit a journal for their sanity. One person says he writes to empty himself out. That’s it! That’s what it’s like.

“You can’t write if you can’t think,” one of my high school writing teachers said. I think there was probably a better way to say that! How about this? “Writing helps you think clearly.” Writing something down not only helps you process what you’re feeling, but it frees up brain space for other things. Like what’s for dinner!

I can see it as if it’s happening right now. Katie falling backwards across a couple of airplane seats, the weight of her luggage keeping her from getting up and off the plane. The energy it took to stand up was almost beyond her, her bags were that unwieldy.

It was like trying to back a car out of the mud, or the snow, or the mud and the snow. That’s how Katie extracted herself, eventually. She started rocking back and forth a little until she had momentum. Can you imagine how much fun that was to watch? It was a giggle fit in the middle of an otherwise ordinary deboarding.

You need those, don’t you? A break once in a while to savor the silly.

keyboard for the blogDarrell took the vacuum to my keyboard the other night before I’d logged off the computer. Suddenly the search bar appeared on my screen to let us know a thirty-character string of nonsense could not be found. Maybe you had to be there, but we found that hilarious. Especially when we realized Darrell was right: “No, the real problem would’ve been if it was found.”

I savored the silly more than usual this time as I thought about how it isn’t just the office that needs attention. Every other boring, soul-crushing, have-to-do-it-but-don’t-have-to-like-it chore is crowding out the time I need to do work that actually matters.

Guess it’s good I can’t wait to get back to it, eh?

It isn’t easy to watch people hurt, but you can make it worse. You can decide how quickly they should get over it, assuming it’s okay with you they’re hurting at all.

Tears aren’t a sign it’s time to go into battle. They’re not even a sign anything needs fixing, necessarily. But they’ll tell you a whole lot about the company you keep.

Do you have lucky charms?
February 20, 2017

“Creative people like to see their things.”

That little gem from Barbara Sher is the sweetest echo as I go about my day. Because I not only like to see my things, I like them arranged in a way the folks at House Beautiful would have difficulty improving. It isn’t called House Barely-Passable, after all.

Health and beauty. Simplicity and elegance. It isn’t a character flaw to love what you love the way that you love it. If you can look up from your screen and not be depressed? No harm in that!

I recently added a photo of barely-born Katie to the photographs on my desk, and you might not believe the happiness hit it gives all three of us. There’s something about the expression on her face, the smile -- yep, she’s smiling -- that’s laced with mischief. One day on the planet and she’s giving us a look like, “You people. You have no idea what you’re in for!”

We didn’t. And I don’t know if we’ll ever recover from the fun of the unfolding, from the privilege of having a front-row seat to her show.

To look up from this screen dozens of times a day and see a reminder of it? That was a really good move.

Pick a headline. Any headline. The news of the world is increasingly news of the weird, and if the so-called journalists are to be believed “most” of us are confused, and scared.

I’m not. Maybe I should be. But I’ve been processing the news partly through the lens of Scott Adams, and if you haven’t peered through that yourself there’s a chance you might find it interesting -- if not useful.

Which I mention mostly to highlight the best piece of advice I’ve ever heard, and it came from Scott: “Be useful.”

Isn’t that a beauty?

Third Avenue for the blog“It doesn’t surprise me that you won,” a friend told me many years ago after he found out I’d won a dishwasher in a writing contest. “It surprises me that you entered.”

You know what surprises me? That it took more than thirty years to wonder why he was surprised! Did he think the contest was silly? Did he fancy me the shy, retiring type? What?

I’ll never know, because it didn’t occur to me to ask. I was distracted by the idea of becoming the person who didn’t surprise people by going for whatever it was.

Mission accomplished. You should see the movies that play in my head! I’m savoring the latest win in delicious detail. And if I don’t win? I haven’t really lost. That’s because I celebrate the reaching, I remember how much fun it was (I was!) to have had the dream -- and I mark my lessons in an attempt to make the next dream come true, or the one after that.

“Some people don’t know when to quit,” I used to tease Katie when she was little, “and I’m one of them.”

I’m so proud of that.

Because really, who regales her children’s children with stories about when she gave up?

Many years ago I was swapping stories with a woman I didn’t know very well, and she started talking about a couple of her grandchildren. They hadn’t outgrown something she thought they should’ve outgrown. She said they were predisposed to the problem because it ran in her husband’s family.

There was something so swift and so pointed about the deflection of blame I couldn’t help but wonder about it. No one was “at fault,” after all -- unless you count this woman, bashing her in-laws.

It reminded me all over again how great I feel when I’m not up on the latest gossip. There’s always a tendency to want to reciprocate. Has anything good ever come from that?