The Blog

We have a policy in our family. No holding back. If we’re bored or unhappy, we talk. Maybe the other person can help, maybe not -- but the odds drop to zero if she doesn’t know there’s a problem.

We have another policy, which is to be as kind as possible when delivering that truth. That’s more like a guideline because there are so many exceptions. Darrell and I imitate Katie constantly, for example. “I’m bored!” one of us chirps partway through the other’s sentence. Sometimes we do that even if we aren’t bored, that’s how enchanted we are by Kate’s honesty.

Wrapping the truth in kindness takes time, and sometimes it’s a lot of work.

Worth it!

My romantic past is littered with people who looked mighty good on the outside. Isn’t everyone’s? Suddenly it occurs to me how few of those people still look good, and I’m not talking about the ravages of age. I’m talking about the ravages of not taking care of yourself. The old, “Oh, to hell with it.”

But that’s beside this point.

I forgive myself for the youngster I was, who most certainly could be snookered by a sweet talker with a beautiful face. It didn’t always occur to me to question a motive, put it that way.

That’s changing, though. Now I wonder if certain people show up just to make sure I learn my lessons. If we can think of ourselves as characters in a cosmic play, we might have flashes of recognition. “Oh! This character again!” Different person. Same issue.

I love what someone told me last spring when I made my speaking debut. “This is obviously,” he said, “not your first time at the rodeo.”

Isn’t that a great line?

Now I frame problem people that way. “This isn’t my first time at the rodeo,” I’ll think. “And you are not going to mess up this chapter of my life.”

The most difficult part of doing phone work is leaving messages. That’s because Darrell, who’s inches from me, can hear them. He thinks I sound fine -- great, actually -- but they feel a bit lame to me. You know what I mean. You’ve left messages for people, right? Don’t you feel silly sometimes?

Darrell’s reaction? “Better you than me, baby.”

That would’ve been it, had I not talked with sports agent Ken Ungar on the show recently. And just as an aside, I’d probably eat worms every day for lunch for the opportunity to do this work, that’s how much I love it. Ken spends his time alongside his employees. There are no office walls separating anyone. At first I thought that would make work even more of an interruption factory than it already is, but then I realized -- for starters -- how difficult it would be to waste time on Facebook with your boss sitting right there.

More importantly, Ken’s people don’t have to wait until for an annual performance review -- talk about lame -- to find out how they’re doing. They find out as they go along, the way everything else is coming at us these days. In real time, as they say. Good call, bad call. If people can hear each other they’ll learn from the good and offer suggestions on the bad.

Oh, sure. It requires people who are willing to admit they don’t know everything. That’s what you’re hiring for, Ken and I agree. Not a bad trait to look for in anyone you spend time with, eh?

So Darrell can hear the messages I leave. So what if they sound lame? The task isn’t to make them when he isn’t around.

The task is to be less lame.

Billy JoelThis is a tale of two concerts. Billy Joel at Madison Square Garden, the Barenaked Ladies at Newman Field in Fargo.

Seeing Billy Joel in New York with my sweethearts had been one of my lifelong dreams. Sitting on lawn chairs watching the Barenaked Ladies with Katie’s friend -- he’s another sweetheart, by the way -- was Darrell’s idea.

So which experience lingers? Which are we most likely to wax dreamy about?

Yep. The Barenaked Ladies. Which surprises me. I could barely contain my excitement about the other, after all. As we walked to the Garden I pretended to tell people looking at us through restaurant windows, “We’re going to see Billy Joel!”

We had fun waiting in line for that one, and cracked up at Katie’s observation: “I haven’t seen this many old people since the community band concert!” But several songs into it I turned to Darrell and said, “I feel like I’m still waiting for it to start.” We had good seats. That wasn’t it. He was playing our favorites. That wasn’t it, either.

It almost felt like I was watching it on TV. Yes. That’s it! We weren’t so close to the stage we could see Billy’s face -- the way we could with Ed Robertson and his pals on the stage in Fargo -- and I found myself watching the monitor a lot. No wonder it felt like watching it on television.

Going to a Billy Joel concert used to be a religious experience. I was so fired up after watching him use his microphone as a baton and crawl on top of his piano and the speakers I felt like I’d had an energy transfusion. Billy’s older now. He doesn’t have as much energy.

I do, though. I can’t get over that. The older I get the more energy I seem to have. If that isn’t a sales pitch for the way I eat, I don’t know what is. Dilbert creator Scott Adams is a fan of energy-as-metric. Pay attention to it, and everything else will fall into place. Maybe not perfectly, but better. Just so much better.

The Barenaked Ladies, by the way, had energy. It was a relaxed energy, the kind that made you want to dance (we did) and not care if people were watching (they were too busy dancing themselves).

Everything is energy. Can you feel it?


photo courtesy of Katie Anderson

The other day I heard myself tell Darrell if I had my high school years to do over again I’d take a class in Latin. I probably had a good excuse for not taking one. It wasn’t offered, not that I remember. But now? What was stopping me now? “I could start today!” I thought. A few keystrokes later, I had.

Would you believe my first Latin word was hodie? Which means…today.

I’ve often wondered how much more precisely I’d think if I was fluent in another language. There’s been a tickle, after all, since someone mentioned at a workshop there are twenty different words for “flight of a butterfly” in his language.

The latest salesperson for cross-cultural immersion is (you guessed it) Katie. Darrell and I love listening to her bandy Chinese. It’s so much about tones. Isn’t everything?

Do you have an expanding philosophy of life? If you’re not expanding your horizons, how could you?

You can learn a lot about people by watching how they react when they don’t get their way.

You can learn even more about yourself by how you respond to that. If a supposed grownup throws a tantrum, for example, what do you do?

The same thing you do when a child throws one.


When in doubt, disengage.

My first sale as a writer wasn’t even technically a sale. It was a prize I won in a twenty-five words or fewer contest sponsored by the magazine Good Housekeeping. You were invited to share where you wanted to go back home for the holidays and why. “I want to go back home to Minnesota,” I wrote, “because (the twenty-five words started here) my new husband has never looked out the window of a Mary Tyler Moore house and watched kids playing hockey on a frozen neighborhood lake.”

I didn’t win the grand prize, a trip home, but I did win a dishwasher. And as a friend pointed out, home is where the dishwasher is.

“It doesn’t surprise me that you won,” another friend said. “It surprises me that you entered.” I thought about that for a long time. Haven’t you always wondered who really wins those contests? It didn’t matter. You could have the dishwasher and the home that went with it. I just wanted to keep writing.

What contests call to you?

The Book of MormonThe Book of Mormon was the hottest ticket on Broadway for a while, and we had three of them. Katie could hardly contain her excitement. That is, until a couple of gentlemen -- though I’ve never used the word more loosely -- started talking. They didn’t even bother to whisper. And they threatened to ruin the experience.

Paying a few dollars to see a movie is one thing. But this? You don’t want to know how much those tickets set us back. I could practically feel my blood boiling.

Now what?

I turned around. I made eye contact, and I kept it. I glared at the men until they stopped talking. I turned my head back toward the stage and tried to enjoy the performance, worrying that wouldn’t be it.

It wasn’t.

So I turned around again, made eye contact again, and glared at the men until they stopped talking.

Which they did. They didn’t start up again for another few minutes, either. At which point I repeated the process. I gave them the look.

Which reminds me of Katie in high school, facing a similar distraction from a classmate. “What’d you do?” I asked. “I gave him the look,” she said. “What’d he do?” I wondered. “He said, ‘Don’t give me that look, Katie!’”

I gave the people behind us a look so ominous they found it difficult to concentrate on their conversation -- ironic, huh? -- and, with my eyes, told them I was ready to find an usher and have them thrown out.

I don’t spoil for fights but I’m not afraid of them, either. If you let the bullies get by with too much, as Darrell likes to say, the bullies will rule the world.

Oh. And our evening? It was magnificent.



photo courtesy of Katie Anderson