The Blog

Ever noticed that when things go to hell you’re ruing all the decisions you ever made? But when things turn around again, back into the win column they go!

I find those whiplash-inducing episodes oddly reassuring.

No sense living a boring story.

“Pick a number between one and ten,” eight-year-old Katie would ask a pal.

If the pal said “two,” that’s the book Kate chose to take home from the library. Not sure how that related to the Dewey Decimal System, but it doesn’t matter. What matters is that Katie knew she had a problem. Whenever she went to the library she wanted all the books.

Katie was only in the third grade when she realized that as much as she loved to read, being overwhelmed by the choices was spoiling some of the fun. So she turned the stressfest upside down and made it a game.

When I was that age I was overwhelmed by a lot, too -- but it didn’t occur to me to do something about it.

“Adults are always asking kids what they want to be when they grow up,” the comedian Paula Poundstone once said, “because we’re looking for ideas.”

I want to be more like a little kid. Especially the one I just mentioned!

“Mention ‘power takeoff accident’ to anyone who’s been around a farm very long and the first thing they probably think of is death. At least dismemberment, but probably death. A slow, painful, bone-crushing death.”

Staying the CourseThat’s how one chapter begins in Staying the Course, the memoir I wrote for former marathon champion turned farm accident survivor Dick Beardsley.

So far, so good.

But a bit later in the chapter, as the tension was building -- you know something bad’s going to happen but you don’t know when -- I mention “power takeoff” again. “You have to tell people what that is,” Darrell said when I showed him the first draft. “I can’t,” I countered. “I can’t take a break from the action for a definition.” He looked at me. “You have to,” he said.

This was unusual. Darrell’s suggestions are almost always wrapped in, “But, hey. It’s your call.” Not this time. He wouldn’t take no for an answer.

Suddenly I realized what I meant when I said, “I can’t.” I meant, “I don’t know how.”

Darrell wasn’t only a journalist and one of my editors. He grew up on a farm. I couldn’t dismiss his suggestion. The fix was relatively easy once I accepted the situation, and I learned something important in the process. If you can shorten the time between realizing “I can’t” means “I don’t know how,” you’ll free up brain space to work the problem.

Pretending there isn’t a problem? That never works.

What grounds you?
April 2, 2019

People who live in glass houses…delight me.

I love dusk. I love looking out our office window and seeing the neighbor’s lights on. There’s the man of the house, getting ready to take the dog outside. Now the lights are on upstairs. Probably getting the kids ready for bed. I swear I could almost hear the guy sigh with frustration as he stood before a tree at Christmastime, contemplating the never-fun challenge of wrangling those lights. But they looked so festive. You might want to unplug them before you string them, dude. No. Maybe he knows what a picture he makes. Never mind!

It isn’t only our neighbor, of course. It’s anyone’s house that’s all lit up once darkness descends. Each reminds me what’s easy to forget -- that while I’m the star of my own show, there are approximately eight thousand other dramas playing out right this very minute…and that’s just in our little town.

Now I’m floating up, up, and away to -- oh, look! There’s Katie’s apartment! In between, many more millions of people going about their lives.

The neighbor’s lights illuminate the infinity of stories we can inhabit. What a gift.

“What constitutes a brick wall?” That’s a podcast title that didn’t make the cut. Jane and I decide on those together, and when I offered this one she said we couldn’t use “constitutes” because it’s three syllables.

Huh?

“I steer my acting students away from three-syllable words,” she explained.

Are you thinking what I’m thinking? It’s difficult (three syllables!) to eliminate (four syllables!) words with more than two syllables from your vocabulary. And why would you want to? I mean, this was crazy. Wasn’t it?

But like anything else that seems crazy at first, it burrowed into my brain like a miniature lawn mower. I’m a bit of a word snob. Should I add this guideline to my collection?

Hard to…say.

When I was booking guests on the talk show I eschewed people whose eMails sported too many “ize” words. “Utilize?” I’d want to ask. “Utilize? It’s use.”

I wasn’t in the market for conversations that sound like they were lifted out of an instruction manual for a lawn mower. I wanted people who talk like people talk.

Shorter words. Sweeter words. More emotion. Less pretention.

Ta-ta?

cozy“I think people believe coziness is about fires, hot chocolate, and cashmere sweaters,” Cozy author Isabel Gillies says. “I’m making the case that coziness comes from the truth of who you are. You can be cozy on the subway; I always am. If you know what you like, your beat, your point of view, you can carry that anywhere you find yourself and call upon it to find coziness.”

Gillies says what tickles her the most -- and doesn’t her name sound like what happens when you’re tickled -- is that when she asks people what makes them cozy, everyone smiles.

The subtitle of Cozy is The Art of Arranging Yourself in the World. I mean, she had me at “cozy.” But seriously. Doesn’t the thought of “arranging yourself” conjure up a well-appointed book nook? It wouldn’t be like curling up with a good book. It would be like curling up in a good book.

I’m in!

“Teenagers are on a roller coaster,” someone once told Cozy author Isabel Gillies, “and as a parent your job is not to get on the roller coaster with them. Just stand on the side.”

Sounds like great advice, doesn’t it?

Unless you like roller coasters. I happen to love them.

I almost always got on the metaphorical roller coasters with Katie. I mean, I’d ask first -- but she almost always said yes. Even when she said no it wasn’t “no, forever.” It was “not yet.”

Highs, lows, I was right there beside her -- imagining what it would be like to be her at that age, remembering what it was like to be me at that age.

I wanted Katie to know she wasn’t alone. I wanted her to bask in the good times without downplaying her happiness the way you sometimes do if you’re surrounded by people less fortunate. I wanted her to have someone to confide in when she was sad, someone who wouldn’t try to talk her out of it. Someone who knew the only way to feel better sometimes is to let yourself feel even worse.

To hear her tell it, that’s one reason we’re such good friends now. I earned it. I didn’t try to fix anything. I just listened.

You might remember me telling you about a friend who was fast becoming a diabetic. She adopted my diet immediately. End of problem! Immediately. After only two months her numbers were great. Not only “not problematic,” great.

It’s been fun to listen to this friend share the reaction from her friends. It isn’t that she wants to talk about the diet, necessarily. She doesn’t mind fielding questions, but she doesn’t want to be the person who can’t shut up about what she eats.

Which reminds me of the story about someone racing to an airport gate, only to have the airline representative smile and say the flight hadn’t left yet. “Oh, that isn’t it,” the person, now out of breath, responds. “I just wanted to tell you I’m a vegan.”

Nope. My friend doesn’t want to be that person.

Her friends have other plans. “But what about blah blah?” someone will ask -- with “blah blah” being butter or wine or even Diet Coke or whatever. And my friend will say, “Nope. Not even blah blah.” And that friend will say, “Are you kidding? No blah blah?” Other friends will chime in, and what started as a quick exchange about passing up a dinner roll becomes an hour-long reverie about how life can actually be worth living without, for example, sugar.

My friend’s noticed in six months what I’ve noticed for almost ten years, that people will not shut up about this diet.

We’re tickling some imaginations. It’s my favorite thing to do!