The Blog

“Economy of words. Sparing.”

Those two sentences -- sentence fragments, if you’re a purist -- are the last things I look at before showtime. I’m forever updating my template -- the notes that remind me when to take a commercial break or how often to plug someone’s book or whether to promote one of my own.

I’m not really in it to be noticed. Doing What Works isn’t a talk show, as I told you recently. It’s a listening show. My part of it, anyway.

Which means I keep striving for less. Simpler questions. Elegance. “What happened?” is good. “Why?” is better.

The more I stay in the background, the more likely I am to love the result.

Works on the talk show, works in life.

If so few people are wealthy, why are so many of them quick to offer advice? Liberty Tax founder John Hewitt says it’s because most people aren’t pulling for you: “They don’t really want you to succeed.”


I used to think there was an undercurrent of suspicion when it came to the big dreams because people want to spare you the pain of the inevitable disappointments. Maybe they’ve forgotten how much they learned from their own disappointments.

What if they didn’t learn anything? What if they just gave up? If you keep going -- and especially if you succeed -- where’s their excuse?

Not your problem!

When I was in radio news there was a push to report car accidents as car crashes. I don’t remember where the push came from, but whoever it was had a point. Accidents rarely “just happen,” after all. Someone causes them, by texting or drinking or not paying attention.

A crash conjures up something terrible. An accident? Not so much.

I ache when I think of toddler Katie reporting on the bounty one Christmas, how Santa “knew” the things she’d done were “accidents.” I wish I could go back and ask, “What things?” What could’ve possibly inspired Santa’s wariness, let alone his wrath? There wasn’t a single tantrum in all those years. Not one. I took notes.

Is that why we call them accident-free days around here? Even when there’s the occasional and oh-so-fleeting acknowledgment of a wire crossed, we never look at each other and wonder if that was on purpose. Never. It was an accident.

It’s easy to stay pals when you remember that. So we do!

Maybe you’ve heard what I have, that the single biggest improvement to any marriage is when both people accept that -- unbelievable at it appears, at times -- no malice was intended.

That works better if it’s true. Some people admit to not fighting fair. When they’re annoyed they make a point of lashing out, casualties be damned.

But if it’s a marriage of grownups, you can make it a habit to think the best about each other.

You’ll confuse each other at times, sure. But consider how much you might be enlightened if you hear each other out.

Listening is magic.

beachfront placeWhen Katie moved to New York she gave Darrell and me an assignment. We could take her four years at NYU and use them to figure out how to live within a relatively short drive of her.

Doesn’t that sound fun? And what a compliment!

“Of course!” we told her. We’ve always been able to work from anywhere. We’ve stayed where we are as long as we have more from inertia than anything. It’s straight out of a Barenaked Ladies song: “I could leave but I’ll just stay. All my stuff’s here anyway.”

Darrell and Katie have been more likely to bring up our eventual move than I have. At first I wasn’t sure Kate would continue to find her parents interesting, not with Manhattan to compete with. Only to learn -- to my surprise and our great delight -- the opposite is true. With the possible exception of those sleep-deprived early days of nursing, we’ve never been closer. Katie’s been all over the world, she’s living in what’s arguably the most exciting city in the world, and her favorite thing to do is hang out with us.

It makes us puffy to ponder.

So while we’ll probably keep this sweet little renovation-in-progress for a while -- maybe forever, more as a storage locker than anything -- we’ll start shopping for other place(s) as soon as Kate knows what she’ll be up to, and where.

A place can define you, a colleague once told me, if you let it.

We prefer to be defined by the company we keep.


photo courtesy of Katie Anderson

Do you fast?
July 26, 2016

A while back I told you one of the most difficult things I do is fast. Every three months for forty-eight hours I had nothing but water and coffee.

Did you catch the past tense? The “had nothing” but water and coffee -- as opposed to “have nothing” but water and coffee?

“It was hell,” I told you.

So much hell I decided, “That’s no good.” I didn’t want to dread eight days of the year that much. That’s no way to live.

Now I fast fifty-two days of the year, but only twenty-four hours at a time. Yeah. Once a week I have nothing but water and coffee for twenty-four hours, and it’s a snap.

Well, maybe not a snap -- but it’s close. It’s more annoying than anything. I’ll have a big lunch, usually on Saturday, and that’ll be it until the same time Sunday. My Saturday lunch is so big I almost need a nap to recover from it, which is the annoying part. After a few hours, though -- and another strong cup of coffee -- I’m fine. I have lots of energy the rest of the day. On Sunday I really look forward to eating again, but I also really enjoy how clear I feel and how much I get done.

Fasting has some health benefits, from what I hear. That’s why I started. The reason I’ll continue, maybe forever, is how good it feels. It seems like a nice thing to do for myself -- give my body a break from digestion. That’s why you collapse on the couch after Thanksgiving dinner. You just shoveled into your stomach one heck of a project, digesting all that food. It’s also why you don’t sleep very well if you go to bed on a full stomach. Your body’s confused: “Do you want me to digest this food, or rest? Because it’s one or the other.”

Fasting’s my version of church. It’s my way of stepping back from the endless pull to be somewhere else. Instead of distracting myself with a snack I’ll notice how good that sounds. Then I’ll let the feeling pass. Because it does. Hunger’s not an emergency, as the saying goes -- not usually, not where we’re lucky enough to live. It can make you feel as if it is, though -- if you aren’t paying attention. That’s what fasting does. It helps you pay attention to something other than your next meal. It might surprise you how all-consuming that is.

Impulse control. It’s a beautiful thing.

Now that I’m on a saner regimen of fasting for only twenty-fours at a time, one of my sweethearts gave it a try and plans to make it a regular thing.

I’ll let you guess which one!

When Katie was in the first grade she asked her teacher how to spell “mouse’s.” Her teacher said, “It’s mice.” And Katie thought, “No, it’s mouse’s.” But she didn’t know how to ask for the “possessive” instead of the “plural” -- because she didn’t know either of those words.

Kate’s always been pragmatic, so she did what any other pragmatic six-year-old would do. She wrote “mice” on whatever it was, knowing her teacher would correct that -- and she’d get her answer. Finally. Which is exactly what happened.

Did her teacher apologize? Katie doesn’t remember. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that Katie remembers what it’s like to be little, and that’s one reason she’s such a sweetheart. She meets people where they are.

Darrell and Katie are good at puzzles. I mean, really good. They could probably win awards for being good at puzzles, if winning awards for puzzles was their thing.

Me? I suck at puzzles. They don’t call to me, and for good reason.

Which mattered not one bit until recently, when I had to unscramble a couple of words during an adventure Katie took us on in New York -- an adventure so breathtaking it’ll be a while before I have the emotional distance to tell you about it.

For now I’ll share how embarrassing it felt to need more than a few minutes to unscramble those two words. We were part of the way through the adventure and what stood between us and the “grand reveal,” as Katie put it, was that.

I stared at the scrambled words for what felt like forever, and it started to hurt -- the not getting it. How much fun is it to suck at something and have the two people you love most in all the world watch you suck? Not much!

But it was going to take as long as it took. Had Darrell or Katie broken down and told me the answer, we’d remember it forever -- that I gave up. So I sat there until I started tearing up, my sweethearts told me that was not only okay but adorable, and still I couldn’t get it. Until finally, finally I did. Almost immediately I realized those words were printed in big letters on a bag I looked at back home two or three dozen times a day for years. They couldn’t have been more familiar if they were my own name! Now do you understand how bad I am at puzzles?

Cue the laughter. Cue the teasing until the end of time about this. Which is fine. What I’ll be chewing on? How much I hated being the reason for a long pause in the adventure. Darrell and Katie didn’t mind, not even a little -- but still. I don’t want to disappoint them, not once, not even a little. Which is sweet. Impossible, granted.

But sweet!

NemoIt never gets old, watching kid movies with the kid. Like Finding Dory. When Nemo’s dad asks him how his lucky fin is I thought, “There you go. That’s everything you need to know about being a parent.”

Nemo’s dad didn’t pretend the fin isn’t a challenge. By calling it “lucky” he shared one secret to life. Challenges are gifts. They keep things interesting, they show you who your friends are, and they show your children they can have a very happy life with even so-called flaws.

Katie put a lot of pressure on herself as she grew up. She knew where she was going, she didn’t know how to get there, and she powered through the insanity that anyone who’s applying to college this year probably feels.

But she didn’t feel any pressure from her parents. She certainly didn’t feel any pressure to be perfect. Darrell and I have never operated under the illusion we’re perfect, so what would’ve been the point? The older Katie got, the more comfortable I felt letting her see the messy parts of life. “You can’t be learning and looking cool at the same time,” as the saying goes. Katie’s had a front-row seat to the story of all three of us, and the more Darrell and I get to know her the better we feel about it.

I once heard “home” described as “a soft place to fall,” and I’d have difficulty improving on that. You know the cheerleading that ensues when a child learns to walk? We’ve never not been that for each other. We sport lots of lucky fins, the three of us, and it’s been interesting -- to say the least.

But fun? It’s been so much fun, too. I’ll say it again: “You could fill a restaurant in heaven with the most interesting people ever to have lived, and I’d still want to be at our table. That’s how much fun it is.”

Without those lucky fins? Not so much!