How many sunrises do you even notice?
December 10, 2013
You know those people at parties who always seem to be looking over your shoulder to see if anyone more interesting has walked into the room?
I avoid them. Those kinds of people, and parties in general.
I used to be that kind of person, figuratively speaking, when it came to sunrises and sunsets and starry skies and sunlight or moonlight on the water and sunlit or moonlit diamonds on the snow.
My attention was always focused on the next thing on my to-do list, and the thing after that.
These days when I look out the window -- thankfully, no shortage of big picture windows in our house -- I always find something to delight in. The look on the neighbor’s cat’s face, for example, as he or she plots the next move to keep our block free of those evil, evil chipmunks.
Now I measure the success of a day in large part by how many times I pause to take a breath -- and to give thanks for the privilege of doing it.
Can you spot patterns in your behavior?
December 9, 2013
“Why am I always so exhausted when I finish a session with Alan?” I asked Darrell recently. Alan’s the man I talked about in the last post, who’s helping us with this web site.
Before Darrell could answer, I knew. It happened when I was writing Left for Dead: A Second Life after Vietnam. I had to transcribe every word of the interviews immediately after doing them or risk losing whatever I’d pretended to understand during.
Every time I finished transcribing, Darrell went over my notes with me. One night we came across a reference to an “M-1 Car Beam.” He looked at me. “Car beam?” he asked. “Car beam?” And then, “It’s carbine.” Oh. “Did you really think it was car beam?” he asked. “It may as well have been lasagna,” I fired back. It was like trying to write a book in Spanish. I can tell you my name, how I’m feeling, and what time it is in Spanish. I can even count to twenty in that language. But that’s it. I can’t write a book in Spanish, and that’s how this task felt.
Writing Left for Dead taxed me. It also changed how I felt about myself when I did such a great job on it. I can prove that by calling your attention to the phrase, “I did such a great job on it.” It isn’t cool to sing your own praises, but it also isn’t cool to refuse to give yourself credit for a job well done. Winning a Minnesota Book Award sealed the feeling I had when I finished: “Now I’m a real writer.”
Recreating our web site from what feels like scratch is costing more money and taking way, way, way more time than I thought it would. Doesn’t everything? Keeping it updated is more work than I saw coming, either. But once in a while I remember how much I’ve learned -- and the better I get at skills I never planned on acquiring, the better I feel about myself.
It reminds me of waking up from still another dream of working on the new site the weekend we launched. Putting an image somewhere after changing it in Paint, then making it a link to a video.
Like a badass!
Who are you becoming?
December 8, 2013
When I was working with a baker on the design of a wedding cake she said I was the only bride-to-be who evaluated that design based on whether the lower layers looked like they’d support the upper layers. When she found out I had an engineering degree she said, “Well, now it makes sense.” I didn’t have the heart to tell her that was only a coincidence. No one before and no one since had gleaned anything logical about me and engineering in the same sentence.
When my mom saw the bedroom in my condo in Kansas City once upon she wondered where the bureau was. She’d never seen a bedroom without one. I had a cool closet, though -- which held everything -- long before companies like California Closets came into vogue.
When Alan, who’s helping us with the design of our new web site, started working with me he’d try to talk me out of wanting what I wanted. Between him, and Darrell -- who often wonders why I want what I do -- I felt outnumbered. I know very little about the under the hood aspect of a web site. But I know what I like, and I hung in.
It was worth it. Darrell thinks so, and so does Alan -- who calls the site “clean and elegant” as he shows it off to other clients.
The other night I was feeling so good about the evolution of Alan and me I worked up the nerve to ask him, “Do you respect my attention to detail or does it drive you crazy?” He paused just long enough for me to guess: “Both, right?” Another pause. Then he said, “I have come to not just respect it but to internalize it.” I made sure I’d heard him right. I had. I asked his permission to quote him in the blog. He gave it to me. Then I started laughing at what he’d said, harder as it sunk in.
We’re a ways from being finished with the site, not that you ever are. If you’ve subscribed to the blog or the podcast, the first one has yet to arrive in your inbox. If you go back in the blog very far and click on a link, keep your expectations low. But the process has taught me to be more patient -- I hope -- and to be less apologetic for wanting what I want.
What stumps you?
December 4, 2013
You know those piles of rugs you see at the hardware store? They’re at the perfect height for taking a load off while hubby browses.
A little girl did just that in the checkout line next to the one we were in. Suddenly her dad yanked her off the pile with so much force it took my breath away. Now they were on the other side of the candy racks that separated that checkout from ours, and I wondered what was happening.
Sure enough, when the little girl appeared again she was crying her eyes out. She looked up at me with so much despair I wanted to scoop her up and away, maybe even adopt her. I wanted to tell her what someone else had said to a child in a similar situation: “Things will get better, honey.” At the very least I wanted to give her a hug -- and some of the candy we were going to stash in Katie’s next care package.
Instead I did nothing.
In an attempt to explain as opposed to excuse, I had two reasons. I didn’t know if things would get better. And to insert myself at all might make things worse. Maybe the dad would’ve kept his composure with me, maybe not. But I felt sure he’d take it out on her. He’d do the whole “I’ll give you something to cry about” thing.
Darrell was surprised I hadn’t spoken up anyway. I’ve been known to butt in. He was ready to back me up if the dad transferred his anger to me.
We watched the family walk to their car. Darrell whispered the same thing I noticed. Dad carried a couple of bags as he continued to yell at his kid. Mom carried a bag -- and a great big heavy bucket of something. The bucket seemed weightless, now that I think about it, compared with what the heartbroken little girl was stuck with.
I doubt if there’s a right answer in situations like this. Doing nothing appears to have been the wrong one, though -- based on how much the look on that little girl’s face still haunts me.
What tickles you?
December 3, 2013
The guy we work with at Radio America is a peach, but I didn’t really know him well enough to tell him how Darrell defended my honor on the Huffington Post.
Or did I?
He laughed. Oh he laughed. He wasn’t laughing to be polite, you could just tell.
I’m still smiling at the memory.
Darrell and Katie and I have been saying for what feels like forever nothing feels quite as good as making the other two laugh. No one laughs just to be polite, and we are laughing all the time.
Good days, bad days -- the ability to see hilarious where others find only yuck is where we shine, I think. We keep each other amused, and sharp.
It reminds me what the famous conductor Benjamin Zander once said: “There is no such thing as bad weather.”
“Only inappropriate clothing.”
photo courtesy of Katie Anderson
What buffers you?
December 2, 2013
Donuts or sweetened cereal -- with coffee -- for breakfast. Soup and a sandwich -- with soda -- for lunch. Chips or a candy bar -- with more coffee -- for a snack. Then tacos or pizza or even steak -- with dessert -- for dinner.
That's what I ate on a typical day in my twenties. I often skipped dinner in favor of working late on weekdays. But I hardly ever worked out.
Looking back I wonder how I stayed so slender, or didn’t collapse in a sugar coma.
After a while your body says, “That’s enough.” You put on a few pounds, start having headaches, whatever. Gradually it dawns on you the engine needs better fuel.
I’m as devoted to spinach salads now as I was to Snickers bars, then.
Life with Darrell’s been a lot of fun -- but we had a little bit of a learning curve with respect to the whole working together 24/7 without even the occasional urge to kill each other thing. I don’t think we’ve had more than our share of stress, but we don’t feel shortchanged in that department.
There have been many times when I’ve thought, “I am having a terrible week.”
That’s almost always followed by, “And I feel terrific!”
It’s the diet.
I’m sure of it.
What anchors you?
December 1, 2013
Some people swear by yoga. For others it’s getting up before dawn to watch the sunrise. They have a little routine, as sacred as it is grounding. Or maybe sacred because it’s grounding.
The only time I take a break from workouts is when I’m ahead on workouts. There’s a certain amount of running and a certain amount of working out with weights I’m committed to no matter what else is going on. It used to be workouts were the first things to go when life started to unravel. Now they’re the last. No problem ever got worse because you went running, someone once pointed out. Well except for running injuries. But you know what I mean.
No matter how quickly the day slips away from me, if it’s a workout day I work out. It amounts to more than an hour of meditation, if you look at exercise that way -- which I do.
“So there’s that.”
I don’t remember Katie using the expression until she started college a few months ago. Now she tells us what did or didn’t go smoothly in some class, but adds she’s sure she’d done her best: “So there’s that.”
If I’m making something happen, working out is a good way to celebrate. It’s hell, granted -- but it’s also a break from the screens. If I’m stalled on work, working out gives me a fresh perspective. It certainly doesn’t make anything worse. And I love how I feel afterward.
So there’s that!
Is it time to ration exclamation points?
November 27, 2013
That was the response I got from a regular on the talk show when I asked him about a return engagement.
Now imagine if he had said, “Hi Maureen.”
It doesn’t have the same ring to it, does it?
Larry doesn’t use exclamation points gratuitously, so when I see one in a message from him the enthusiasm practically pops off the page.
Less is more. Advice for grammar, advice for life.