The Blog

The gloomies descended on me recently. Doesn’t matter why. What matters is what I remembered to do. I followed a suggestion I’d just heard, to regard them with curiosity. I watched them threaten an otherwise lovely morning. I kind of nodded as they did their thing. And maybe because I didn’t fight them, they faded.

“Well, that was interesting,” I thought.

And that was it.

It's such a simple thing, deciding what to focus on -- or whether to focus on it at all. But can you imagine a more important decision to make, moment by moment?

“You won’t live any longer,” people often tell me when they hear about the way I eat. “It’ll just feel that way.”

I smile. I shrug. Then we talk about whatever they want to talk about. I’m not saying they should live this way, after all. I’m saying they could.

It’s like what I heard about meditation, enlightment, transcendence: “This cannot be taught.” How can you know, after all, what it would feel like without artificial sweeteners and whatever else running through your system -- unless you’ve had them out of your system for a while?

When I gave up junk food it was only going to be for a year. That’s what powered me through two months of it, which was long enough to realize how I felt living that way. Amazing.

It doesn’t matter whether giving up junk food has extended my life. Giving it up has transformed my life. Don’t let anyone tell you it has to be one or the other.

Many years ago I confided in someone I worked with about someone else I worked with at a different company. I was sure the first gentleman was a fine person, a safe person, to talk with about the second.

Ah, youth.

That was a really, really, really bad move. The two men not only knew each other but were good friends.

I wasn’t so invested in either job that I’d risked that much, but it makes me cringe to think of how not classy I’d been. And, yes. I’ve been much classier since.

Isn’t that the way it goes? You forge character out of suffering through your mistakes and atoning for those.

TiffanyIn the early days of the talk show I scripted everything. I rarely followed the script, but I had one just in case. I had dozens of questions ready to ask if there was a lull in the conversation, which there never seemed to be.

Then one day I interviewed a regular on the show who’d become a pal. She’d had a stroke, and she was never going to be the same. She’d started working again, though -- and something told me she wouldn’t mind joining me again for another interview. I was right. She jumped at the chance.

This was one of the few conversations that scared me. How do you talk to someone who’s lost so much? Where do you even start?

I started with, “What happened?” But that was the extent of my notes. My next question was going to depend on her answer to my first.

And you know what? What the conversation lacked in flawless execution it more than made up for in meaning. I knew I’d never be the same after this talk, and I haven’t been.

You don’t have to be perfect. You just have to pay attention.

Many years ago I confided in my brother about my then boss. I had a long list of legitimate complaints, and my brother lived up to the reason I’d called him in the first place. He listened.

Then he asked why I wanted to keep working there.

Well, that’s the end of that story! Right? As to why I needed help seeing the obvious, this expression comes to mind: “Advice is what you ask for when you know the answer but wish you didn’t.”

Extracting myself from the situation wouldn’t be easy. But if you can’t change the people around you, as someone else pointed out, change the people around you.

There’s always a new and better friend around the corner. Ever noticed that?

The more words you know, the more precisely you can think. I forget where I heard that, but it makes sense, doesn’t it?

That’s why I look up words I don’t know, and get a daily dose of Latin in my inbox.

In the old days you had to walk over to a dictionary. These days? No excuse.

But one exception.

When I’m reading a “real” book before I go to sleep and come across a word I don’t know, I don’t pull out my phone or walk over to my computer. I keep reading. I have permission from -- of all people -- a high school English teacher.

“When you come to a word you don’t know,” he told us, “skip over it.”

The cleats I wear to keep me from slipping on the ice on winter runs used to pinch my toes. I bought the largest size. I used as directed. But for some reason they hurt so much I wondered which was worse -- not being in shape because I wasn’t running, or trashing my feet because I was?

On a whim last winter when I donned them for the first time I turned them upside down and then attached them to my running shoes. Success! I mean, they looked weird -- not that anyone could see the bottom of my shoes. They felt weird, too. At first. But soon I was congratulating myself on every single run for discovering such an easy, unique solution.

We have a smattering of swing-arm lamps around the house, and I turn them upside down so they point toward the ceiling. Suddenly the room’s cozier, cuter, classier. Try it sometime. They’ll draw raves. “It’s such a simple thing,” Darrell told me once, “but it makes such a difference.”

I don’t think you’re ever too old to hang upside down from the couch cushions. What would it hurt to remember what you knew as a kid, that a change in perspective changes everything?

If you need a gift idea for the person who has everything -- and I mean “everything” more literally than figuratively, here -- I have a suggestion. Introduce her to Brooks Palmer.

Brooks Palmer logoDarrell and I had fun helping Katie move into her first apartment last summer, and we have Brooks to thank for how smooth that transition was. The place is beautiful, but it’s small. It’s very small. Her residence hall life at NYU was expansive compared with this apartment, and she needed to pare down for life to work.

But how? Katie “loved” her clutter. She found it soothing. It’s one way, maybe the biggest way, we were different. But Kate also has an open mind, and I asked if she was open to what Brooks had to say. She was. After reading one of his books she couldn’t wait to give me this report…

I feel enlightened. I don’t know if I’ve ever been able to relate to you as much as I do right now. Seriously. I’m sitting around daydreaming about things I can get rid of. Can you believe this? This man is a genius. I am excited to clutter bust. All I can think about is how happy I’ll be. I have a new lease on life and I haven’t even started.

And so it began. The next report was even better…

I started yesterday and I went on another binge just now and I’m almost worried about the euphoria I feel. This isn’t even remotely close to bad. The best part is, the more caught up I get, the easier it is to make cuts. I’m glad I’m not one of those people who worries about turning into her mom, because if I did I’d be screwed. But I am not and I am becoming free.

The most difficult part of being a parent is watching a child suffer. I was sure the move would be painful for Katie because she’d have to pare down. But thanks to Brooks it was not only not painful, it was exhilarating.

Katie travels so much lighter these days. She’s smarter with money because she realizes how quickly most things become clutter. And her rapid-fire and oh-so-sweet transformation reminded me the best present you can give anyone is, as they say at NYU, an education in possible.