The Blog

You mention three things in a sentence. How does that sentence read? “One, two and three.” Or, “One, two, and three.”

Which is it?

To the people who edited The Career Clinic: Eight Simple Rules for Finding Work You Love, it’s the second. The second comma in that second sentence is known as an Oxford comma, and -- while it felt strange to me at first -- I soon became such a fan that its absence looked strange.

Then I started seeing things like this…

Oxford commaSold! Oh, boy. Am I ever. And I’m not alone. Some people even use the Oxford comma as a way to get dates. It doesn’t always work, of course. As one woman put it, “Passion for the Oxford comma isn’t a substitute for a personality.”

If you’re still on the grammatical fence, may I make a suggestion? Pick a team. Being consistent is a balm. People like knowing what to expect from you -- on a date, or in a sentence.

In her book, Answering 911, Caroline Burau says she can only tolerate so many words in a day.

Can you relate?

I can. I spent seven straight days -- long days, barely-a-quick-break-for-dinner days -- at the Biocybernaut Institute in Sedona last year, and by the end of each of them I had…no words.

The week was as intense as anything I’ve ever been through. We were learning to control our brain waves (really!), so of course it was intense. There was also a lot, and I do mean a lot, of what amounted to therapy -- healing childhood trauma. For starters. I went at the training the way I do everything I care about. All in. By early evening I was wiped. All I wanted to do at dinner was eat. Listen to the others. Not talk.

For as extroverted as I appear, I told my new friends, I’m really an introvert. I hoped they wouldn’t think I was rude. I was just spent. For that day. The next day? Chatty as ever. Until the next evening. And so it went.

It’ll be a long time before I’m able to completely process what I learned in Sedona, assuming I ever do. But one of the things I found most fascinating was a report from my trainer after still another session studying my brain waves. “You can’t abide small talk,” she said. “You just don’t have the ability.”

Which makes sense. If I’m only given so many words to absorb in a day I don’t want to waste them.

Until that moment, and with the help of some not-so-well-meaning people, I’d always thought my impatience with small talk was a character flaw. It was such a relief to realize I was wrong. It isn’t a character flaw. It’s how I’m wired. The only thing wrong with my wiring was thinking there was something wrong with my wiring!

I’ll leave it at that for now. Because (you guessed it) I’m out of words.

There’s such power in a simple question. Let’s say you’re a bouncer, and you suspect someone’s using a fake ID. “What’s your sign?” will strike just the right amount of terror.

If you’re trying to inspire a smoker to quit, put it like this: “Ever thought about quitting?” Simple and sweet. No judgment. There’s nothing to rebel against if you aren’t being scolded.

And to make sure the Uber you ordered is the vehicle you’re about to get into, ask the driver this question: “What’s my first name?” There are plenty of other ways to check, granted. But asking the driver for your first name doesn’t require you to note the license plate or have the right app pulled up. It’s easy to remember. And it could very well mean the difference between life and death.

Getting married isn’t the law. If you don’t want to be faithful to someone, don’t get married.

That’s my view.

So why am I still best pals with someone who once told me she wouldn’t hesitate to cheat on her husband if given the right opportunity?

Because that’s her business, not mine. It’s between her and her husband (or not, I guess). But you know what I mean.

If you only associate with people whose views are exactly the same as yours, that circle will be very small -- and your mind will become increasingly closed. It’s good to test your worldviews once in a while. If they’re sound, they’ll hold up to the scrutiny. If not, that scrutiny will be the least of your problems!

dishesOnce upon a time I was having lunch with someone who said “which is saying a lot” when he meant to say “which isn’t saying much.”

As mistakes go, this is about as trivial as they get.

Or was it? One of the other people at lunch pointed it out in the friendliest, breeziest way you could imagine -- at which point the gentleman attempted to defend, well, the impossible. If his goal was to save face, the opposite happened. We scratched our collective heads, and were happy to change the subject.

Would it surprise you if I kept chewing on this? “What would it be like,” I thought, “to be so afraid of making a mistake you couldn’t cop to one this small?” Suddenly I felt only compassion for the guy. No, wait. That’s not true. I aspired to have compassion for him.

See what I did there? I admitted I’m not as evolved as I’d like to be -- and it took me a moment, too!

I was well into my thirties before I learned one fact of life, that not everyone grows up.

There are people who throw tantrums so consistently you’d swear they were devoted to them. And it isn’t always possible to extricate yourself from those situations, let alone those people.

Now what?

I’ve found it helps to deal with them the same way you’d deal with a toddler. The number one rule of engagement? Do not engage.

Traveling with a toddler, metaphorically speaking, isn’t the most fun you’ll ever have. But it’s more fun than pretending you’re traveling with a grownup!

Darrell waits for me in the car while I dash into the lobby of the post office to mail a package to Katie. There’s someone in line ahead of me mailing a package of her own. She’s being helped by a clerk I don’t recognize. But what a show he’s putting on! “Is there anything fragile,” he practically sings, “or liquid, or perishable?” When she says no he takes the stylus and, with great flourish, shows her what to click to tell the computer that.

They keep talking, I keep being riveted. There’s something spellbinding about the guy. Now I’m distracted, though. Another clerk shows up to help me. I take care of business and join Darrell in the car. I can’t resist sharing what I’ve just witnessed. “There’s a new clerk,” I tell him, “who’s just so…into…the mail. He talks about it like he’s in a play or something. There’s something theatrical about him. It’s a little disturbing, actually.” Because, you know, this is a post office.

A week goes by, and now I’m back at the post office mailing another package to Katie. This time Mr. I’m Really Into the Mail helps me. He punches the destination into the computer and says, “Oh. That’s my old neighborhood.” I look at him, wide-eyed. “Greenwich Village?” I ask. He says yes. And since he started this I add, “What were you doing there?” He was an actor. Anything I’d recognize? “Law & Order,” he says. “General Hospital…” His mentor’s Jeffrey Tambor, and the rest of our exchange is straight out of Entertainment Tonight.

I can’t resist telling him what I just told you. I even tell him about the “disturbing” part! He howls with laughter, and says he plans to tell his acting teacher about it.

Maybe you’re tempted, as I was, to think this man has way too much personality for a job at the post office. Let’s change that, shall we? Let’s make it, “He has just the right amount.” I can’t help wondering what the world would be like if we were met by people like him at every turn.

Exhausting, yes.

In a good way!

New to that job, are you? Here’s an idea. Don’t expect people to take to you right away. You aren’t necessarily being evaluated on your own merits. You're being compared against the last person to hold that position, someone who was -- if not family -- familiar.

My friend Jane Brody knows. She’s forever following someone else in a teaching position, and she’s learned how to make those transitions easier. How? “By remembering that even a perfect pair of shoes has to be broken in.”

Good point!

You know how you feel when people try to force friendships. Not good. So hang back, respond with enthusiasm to the small kindnesses, and give it time.

You’ll be fine.