The Blog

Suppose I’m out running and find a bottle of Percocet in the ditch. Would I take it? Or would I throw it in the lake? What would I do?

A few years ago, I don’t know.

I think now I would throw it in the lake.

If you’ve read Staying the Course: A Runner’s Toughest Race, those words might be familiar. They’re how the book ends. I love how it ends. I love the endings of all my books.

A friend once told me that’s what she loves about my essays, too. “A lot of people start strong,” she pointed out, “but fizzle out. Your stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end.” Well, cool.

The older you get, if you’re like me, the more you might wonder how your own story will end. I can’t really picture that, but I know how I want to feel. The same way I used to feel after I’d been on a roller coaster -- excited and spent: “What a ride.”

If I keep racking up one thankless, boring day after another that won’t happen. So I make a point to keep reaching, to risk losing my balance.

You?

A funny thing happened on the way to becoming the person who doesn’t apologize when she hasn’t done anything wrong. I’ve met people -- I’ve almost literally bumped into people -- who think I should.

Darrell and Katie and I have a favorite movie theater in the Twin Cities. It’s straight out of the fifties. There’s one movie showing at a time in just the one auditorium, which is huge. When we’ve been there the place has been packed.

The last time we visited we arrived in plenty of time to find good seats. The row we chose was almost empty except for a woman next to the aisle. She was such a commanding presence she almost looked like a linebacker. We thanked her for letting us go by and sat down toward the center of the row. About ten minutes before showtime Katie and I excused ourselves to use the bathroom. I didn’t apologize for needing to step over this woman -- and everyone else now sitting in the row -- but I thanked her and everyone else. Profusely. I heard Katie apologize, but that’s because she’d stepped on the woman’s foot.

Maybe it was how long it had taken the woman to stand up and let us by, both times, that made me dread the return trip. She was with a pal by now, and that woman took great interest in Katie and me. “You’re back!” she exclaimed. Well, yes. She kept staring at me. And then she said, “Did you finish everything you needed to do?” Huh? I mean, really. I’m happy to let Darrell know what I’m up to and when I’ll be back. A stranger? Not so much.

“Why do you ask?” I said.

“Well,” she said, “my friend here has trouble getting up and out of a seat.” Considering how early the woman had arrived, I didn’t think to say, she could’ve snared a middle seat so people like me wouldn’t inconvenience her. I was too stunned to think clearly, but I knew this much. I’d done nothing wrong. “Well,” I said, “then a theater isn’t a very good place to be, is it?”

We took our seats, and Katie hugged me. “Thank you,” she said, “for not being an unhappy person.” She knows I have nothing against people who have difficulty getting around, and if it would’ve taken the woman forty-five minutes to get out of her seat and let us by I wouldn’t have said word one.

Had I found myself in this situation a few years ago I probably would’ve apologized. “Oh, I’m so sorry. I had no idea. I’m sorry…”

Which would’ve been at least as pathetic as taking it to a stranger for using the bathroom!

headphone KatieI’m the one who makes the beds in our family. I love it. I cherish the ritual in a way that doesn’t make sense to pass off to anyone else.

As I position the pillows on the bed I share with Darrell, I make sure they’re close -- but not too. The way I imagine us being as we move about our day, close but not claustrophobic. I think about ways I can make the day more fun for him, for Katie -- if she’s around or in touch -- and for me. Mostly for them, though.

You’ve almost certainly heard the expression, “If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” The inverse is also true. I fancy my moods somewhat independent of my sweethearts, and they are -- to a point. But come on. If the people you love are having a bad day, how skip-dippy can you feel?

To be a family is to be a witness to each other’s lives. I got that idea from a movie, Shall We Dance? And I love this passage…

“We need a witness to our lives. There are a billion people on the planet… What does any one life really mean? But in a marriage, you’re promising to care about everything. The good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things…all of it, all of the time, every day. You’re saying, ‘Your life will not go unnoticed.’”

Being in the position to notice means you’re a family. Not taking the privilege for granted? I think the technical term is happy!

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image courtesy of Katie Anderson

I’d rather give a presentation to a thousand people than for Darrell or Katie. There’s just something about it. They’re a tough crowd. They know me really well. And I feel exposed with them in a way I don’t with strangers.

To the extent any public performance has gone well it’s because I practiced with -- on? -- them first. They have the courage to tell me the truth, I have the decency to thank them for it and take their suggestions to heart, and all of life runs more smoothly.

I’m not going to be perfect, not even close, the first time out. I’d rather work the bugs out with people who are pulling for me. It’s worth any amount of discomfort to give myself a better shot of succeeding when the stakes are higher. But I have to talk myself into it every time. I dread it every time.

Then I take comfort in this: “You can’t be learning and looking cool at the same time.”

Truer words!

What do you emphasize?
February 23, 2016

When I was in elementary school we did an exercise in English class. We took turns seeing how many different ways we could combine -- using different inflections -- the words “oh” and “Daddy.”

“Oh, Daddy.” That makes it sound like “Daddy” was teasing. “Oh! Daddy!” He just walked in the room when you weren’t expecting him. “Oh? Daddy?” Someone had left you a message, and a moment later you found out it was Pops. You get the idea.

I was astounded by how many different combinations we came up with.

I thought about this a few months ago when Darrell told me he’d been contemplating The Plan, our term for my diet. He was ready. I wondered if he was prepared to give up things like birthday cake. But as quickly as the thought surfaced, it faded. I guessed he’d enjoy parties even more without the endless question of whether to go back for seconds or thirds, who was noticing, whatever.

One of the unexpected delights of removing junk food as a treat is that the real treat -- the party, the fun of being with someone you’re crazy about -- isn’t competing with fake treats. Sugar’s addictive. It only leaves you wanting more.

But the clear feeling, the healthy feeling that’s almost a high, is also addictive. I wouldn’t trade a day of it for all the birthday cake in the world. I’d rather have sparkling water instead of champagne, sparkling conversation instead of a sugar fix.

So, yeah. I hear this expression: “Let them eat cake.” And I think, “Let them eat cake.”

Why put things off?
February 22, 2016

“Remind me this is where we want to fill up,” Darrell said as he spotted a gas price he liked near our hotel. “How about now?” I teased him.

Worth lingering on if only because it told me something about myself had changed. I used to have a plan for the day, and as things came up they went on a list -- which added a step. Now, whenever possible, I skip the list and just take care of whatever it is.

I don’t put things off. This is who I am now, the person who doesn’t postpone mundane or difficult things. It’s the same reason I buckle up before we back out of a parking space. There’s no guarantee some maniac won’t come whipping around, after all. It happens all the time. And since I buckle up anyway…

This only works to a point, of course. If you’re going to make tracks on the big projects, the real work, you’ll need to block out uninterrupted time for that -- or drive yourself crazy working it into the margins that never seem to materialize.

Otherwise? Sometimes it’s fun to go where the interruptions take you, and trust you can wrangle your day back just fine.

AEvery night I back up my computer files. Every night I also think, “Do I really need to do that? What would it hurt to skip one night?”

Here’s what. Knowing it would make it easier to skip the next night, and the night after that.

It’s so much easier to just do it. I’d only use the few minutes I’d save to bash myself for being a slacker.

People who have their act together back up their files. They don’t pretend to know when their computers will crash. And yes, I know about automatic backups and clouds and all that. I love my system for reasons too boring to elaborate on. It works for me.

I hope you cultivate habits that make you feel safe(r). Sometimes they’re life and death, after all. Stay tuned. And buckled!

Want to sound better in conversation or look better in front of people? Have someone record you. Then listen or watch. It’s painful but effective. Which reminds me of a friend whose wife recorded some family tradition -- the annual trimming of their Christmas tree, if memory serves. When he watched the video my friend was stunned and ashamed by the dismissive tone he’d used with his wife. He’d had no idea.

As newlyweds Darrell would remind me not to close the cap on the toothpaste so tightly he needed a pair of pliers to open it. The reminders didn’t stick. So one night, just before we went to bed, he used a pair of pliers to close it! He didn’t tell me until the next morning, when I couldn’t get the cap off.

He’d gotten through. Actions do speak louder than words!