The Blog

“How do you do that?” I asked Darrell recently. “Drink coffee into the evening, still be answering eMails at ten o’clock, and watch a shoot-’em-up movie until bedtime? How can you possibly get a good night’s sleep after that?”

We looked at each other.

We can’t remember the last time he slept well! Well, then. I have an elaborate way of winding down, but even that fails me sometimes. It’s a casualty of aging, apparently. Sleep becomes more elusive.

Elusive, but no less necessary. It’s eerie, really -- how much I can tie the productivity of any particular day to the quality of sleep I got the night before. It makes almost everything else trivial by comparison.

I love what my friend Alex Lickerman, by the way, says about sleep: “I totally take back all those times I didn’t want to nap when I was younger.”

Sweet dreams!

What are you about?
November 6, 2015

I was returning the newspaper to a shelf at the library when I heard a clunk. Something had fallen behind the shelves, and I didn’t know what it was. I wasn’t even supposed to be near the shelves. They’re in a librarians-only area. But Katie was one tireless volunteer at the library as she grew up, and we’re still basking in that afterglow. No one appears to mind when we reach around the counter to get something we want.

After the clunk, then what?

I was going to fess up right away, but no one was around at the moment.

A few minutes later Darrell was at the counter, taking care of what he was checking out.

A few minutes after that the librarian appeared. The clunk flitted through my consciousness again -- as did the realization Darrell had been in the vicinity after I was. If the librarian discovered something awry, wouldn’t she wonder if he was responsible?

The thought appeared and disappeared in less time than it took to type this sentence. It was fleeting. I batted it away quickly. I bring it up only to admit I don’t have only virtuous urges. But I’d stack my ability to overrule those against anyone’s. Because I can actually hear one voice inside my head telling the other one, “You have to be kidding. You are not going to let this get blamed on Darrell, no matter how infinitely small those odds are -- or how stupid or inconsequential the event was!”

You can guess what happened next. We were joking around with the librarian by then, and I told her about the clunk. I spared her everything else I’ve told you, but she and Darrell and I had a good laugh about my honesty.

There’s an old saying about people who remain faithful to their spouses. Their spouses aren’t the reason they don’t cheat. They don’t cheat because that’s who they are.

Some people don’t appear to know who they are until they’ve been married a while, judging by how often someone professes not to be a cheater -- only to be exposed as one.

Life has lots of ways of revealing yourself to yourself. Do you like what you’re learning?

haiku“We get it poets: things are like other things.”

Someone shared that on Twitter -- which I was tempted to share myself, but didn’t. Why bash another profession? Particularly poets. We like poets! I still think my first interview with the poet Taylor Mali is my favorite installment of the show.

I’m sharing the quote about poets now because I think it’s worth remembering that “things are like other things.” Maybe you’ve heard the suggestion, when faced with a problem, to ask yourself how it’s like other problems you’ve solved. I’ve found that helpful. When I remember to use it!

There it sat. A two-inch hunk of pie crust I was going to leave on my plate. Darrell and I hadn’t been married long enough for me to know what a problem that was for him, and I was surprised by how insistent he was I eat it. “You like pie,” I said. “You eat it.” He said he was full. I was, too. “But you ordered it,” he said.

That’s when it dawned on me just how much it bothers Darrell to waste even a tiny bit of food.

That might’ve been it, had I not remembered -- just in time -- what he does after he gets a salad. He tosses the onions and tomatoes. “What about onions and tomatoes?” I asked.

Without a moment’s hesitation or any indication he was kidding he said, “They’re not food.” He gave me the impression not elevating onions and tomatoes to the level of real food was a sign he had, if you’ll forgive me, good taste.

We laugh about it now. We laugh about it a lot.

Even in the moment what I felt was relief. I’d practically made a part-time job of campaigning against Darrell’s campaign to get married. I’d lived long enough to know I’d bring more than just sparkling conversation to the table. I thought the responsible thing to do was warn him away.

Now here we were, seeming to match each other flaw by flaw. Which reminds me of the cars we brought into the marriage. We held on to both of them for a long time. We couldn’t figure out which one to get rid of, they were that evenly matched in the problem department. But each was useful for pulling the other to the shop.

You probably can’t get rid of all the ways you annoy each other.

But you can use those things to feel better about yourself!

I was standing in line at a sandwich shop, waiting to order, when I noticed a woman staring at me. Normally in the time it takes me to realize someone is staring, the person looks away. That didn’t happen this time. The gal kept looking at me. She seemed transfixed. It was unnerving.

I wanted to say, “What are you looking at?”

And then, “Oh.”

What she was looking at was a golf ball-sized purple and green lump on my left cheek in a sea of purple, green, and yellow bruises. I’d taken a spill the week before and landed, if you can believe it, on my face.

I looked so awful Darrell had taken to answering questions about it before they were posed. Something to the effect that, you know, this was an accident. He hadn’t punched me.

I couldn’t bear to look in the mirror until my face had healed, some -- one reason I’d forgotten how terrible I looked.

That’s the thing about life, though. Everyone is a mirror, of sorts. If you’re married, that’s true exponentially. I’ll explain tomorrow, with something our family has come to call the pie crust story.

When I was in my early twenties I had a big, important corporate job -- at least according to a couple of my colleagues, who promised they had my best interests at heart when they offered to help secure raises for the people who reported to me.

The process was intense. The managers got together and made presentations on their subordinates before ranking them in a public vote. Whoever came out at the top of the list got the most money.

Have you ever been to a city council meeting that runs smoothly? The reason it does is because all the dirty work -- the arguing, the bartering -- was done in committee. The meeting of the council is largely a formality, and for show.

You hear the advice all the time. If you’re going into a meeting where decisions are made, make sure you walk in with allies. Leave nothing to chance.

My buddies wanted to cut some deals in advance of the ranking meeting. They predicted the outcome if I went along. Which, coincidentally, struck me as one-hundred percent fair to everyone. The rankings would reflect each subordinate’s relative contribution to the team, I was sure. On the one hand, how would I know? On the other, for as green as I was, I knew a star employee from a slacker.

But I was green, and still learning to negotiate political minefields. If I couldn’t hold my own in that meeting, my people might not get the raises they deserved. So I said yes.

Showtime. The meeting went quickly. So quickly that one of the other managers -- who wasn’t in on the premeeting -- knew immediately it had transpired. She’s one of the classiest women I’ve ever met, and to this day someone I’m eager to emulate. But she was furious -- rightfully so -- and she burst into tears.

She never appeared to hold it against me. In the somewhat circuitous conversations that followed she wrote it off to my having been bullied. We became friends outside of work, and she became my closest confidante for just the longest time.

But I don’t remember apologizing to her, straight out. Which makes me feel even worse than the original sin, and I can imagine having quite the heart-to-heart if I run into her again or track her down somehow.

Meanwhile I talked with a management consultant on the show about what had happened. He didn’t think my guilt was misguided -- ! -- but he thought much of the blame went to my managers for what was obviously a bad way to decide who got raises.

Bad, but common.

And it’s much of the reason I don’t miss cubicleland. Not even a little!

Do you have integrity?
October 29, 2015

Scott Adams book“If you want any credibility at all you don’t start by lying on the cover of your book.”

That’s what Scott Adams told me when I asked why he doesn’t have blurbs on the back of his book, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big. Does that tell you a little something about how unsavory the blurbing business is? Scott says blurbs work -- you’ll sell more books if you participate in that game -- but his integrity is worth more than a few extra sales.

“Oh, sure,” I can almost hear some writers saying. “If I had the kind of money Scott has I could afford integrity.”

Really? Is that how it works?

I don’t think it has to be one or the other. I’m pretty sure you can find people who read every word of your book and love it and volunteer to endorse it. That’s how it happened with my books. Well, sort of. And no, I’m not going to tell you which blurbs fell into the “sort of” category. But one of them was bogus, and if I had it to do over again -- knowing what I know now -- I’d pass. At the time I was so eager to please my publisher I thought, “Well, that’s the other guy’s moral dilemma -- not mine.”

I was wrong.

It reminds me of something that still bothers me about my years in cubicleland. Confession time, in my next post.

Have any new parents on your Christmas list?

How about buying them a book?

Their child will thank you. Eventually!