The Blog

Switzerland“You will look back on the years of struggle as the best years, the most fun.”

That’s what a landlord from hell once told me, and I had difficulty believing him. But he was right. I had more fun between marriages, for example, than I thought possible -- and if you want to learn more it’s in Do-Over.

Why, then, the malaise as I take the first few steps across another mountain range?

Because I’d forgotten how much fun the first time around was actually wrapped in malaise. It wasn’t steady progress. It was fits and starts, little victories mixed in with massive setbacks. It took me a couple of years to feel confident the scenery had permanently changed.

I’d forgotten it wasn’t only fun.

Remembering the life I had then helps me trust the life I have now. That’s why it’s important to save your story. You don’t have to live in the past, but you’d be a fool to ignore it.

There’s a great passage in Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet that goes something like, “Try to love the questions themselves. Do not search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions. Perhaps then, someday far into the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”

You know what I feel the best about? Scaling another mountain! I’m at the age where Katie’s friends are asking if her parents are retired. “God, no,” she’ll reply. “My mom is looking at this time as the beginning of her career.”

Is there a sweeter report card in all the world?

Once upon a time I caught a ride from a guy who was doing some body work on our Honda. As we passed a construction site he told me about remodeling his house. “I’d been at it for five years,” he said, “and about six months ago I just quit.”

I asked if he was finished. Nope. He quit anyway.

I found that fascinating.

So fascinating it burrowed down deep in my brain somewhere, and it stayed on my mind as Darrell and I started a massive renovation of our own house. With the finish line in sight we discovered the roof repairs we’d made years earlier weren’t holding after all, and water was ruining our beautiful new textured ceilings. Then we discovered the walls weren’t washable. The beautiful new paint we’d admired from so many different angles that practically dazzled in the abundant sunlight could not be washed. And the carpet we’d bought, back when we thought we were still carpet people, was languishing in a warehouse somewhere.

I wanted to finish up while Katie was still in middle school. The house had other plans. So we put those plans aside for a while. We went back to spending our time with Katie, our money on adventures. Eventually we realized our heart wasn’t in this address anymore. We belonged closer, much closer, to Kate -- who by now was grown up.

Did my fascination with Body Shop Guy’s renovation doom ours? I’ll always wonder. And I’ve been mighty careful ever since about what images I focus on.

I’m sitting in a workshop, doing the same thing I’ve been doing for days. Listening to a participant who won’t shut up.

Maybe you’ve been there.

It got so bad I started doodling: “Please stop talking. Please.” I was careful to hide the evidence when there was a merciful break in the action.

Doodling worked for a few minutes, but after a while I knew I’d need something else to distract me. Which was the renewal of my commitment to be the person you wish would go on for longer. Derek Sivers says, “If they wish I would have said a little more, I said just the right amount.” I’ll take that sentiment and raise it one: “If they wish I would’ve said a lot more, I said just the right amount.”

And I’d better stop there!

I’m sitting in the parking lot at the middle school, waiting for Katie. It’s been another late night of rehearsal for the fall musical, I have a book to finish, and we’re all getting sick. I can’t resist asking Kate why she’s always, always the last to appear. The other parents left with the rest of the stragglers twenty minutes before.


I don’t remember what she said then, but I’ll never forget what she told me the next morning. Which was how good it had felt to field a different question from the director: “How did I know it would be you?” She’d found Katie alone in the changing room, on her hands and knees, getting safety pins and whatever else off the floor -- “so nobody got yelled at.”

The director told her to go home and get some sleep.

Me? I’ve lost a fair amount of sleep over my little performance. Good thing! Because in all the time I’ve known Kate, this was the last time I made an assumption that wasn’t in her favor. You can ask.

Mistakes can make you a better person if you aren’t afraid to mark those lessons.

I’ve had the same goal for as long as I can remember, to catch up with my life.

Laker JazzYou know how it goes. A child is born. Priorities are rearranged. You bring home some of the bacon, do your fair share of the housework, replace the oboe reed (again and again and again) -- and stash the photographs of still another band concert in a digital drawer.

Every time I sat down at the computer to work, there it was. Evidence I was not only not catching up with my life, but falling further behind. Daily.

Maybe you heard about the guy who videotaped so much of his life he was going to need the second half of his life just to watch it. You may have heard about the woman who greeted her husband -- who’d just woken up from a coma -- with a request for their computer password. Maybe you read about the woman who went to the emergency room with a life-threatening problem, and didn’t worry about whether she’d live so much as how her family would deal with all the stuff she’d accumulated.

My digital life was as messy as our house is pristine. One day I decided, “That’s enough.” And every weekday since, I’ve attacked it for a little while every day. It isn’t much. Not enough to put off, and certainly not enough to resent. If we’re going on vacation I make up that time in advance. I’m as devoted to lightening up, virtually, as I am to my workouts.

It’s who I am, now. Five days a week I make a little bit of a dent. I inch ever closer to, well, order.

Forward motion is thrilling.

Ever notice how often people rail against a behavior, only to later be found guilty of it?

That’s me.

I’ve been railing against texting drivers for years. “I know I’m not perfect,” I shared on Twitter. “But you’re still criminally reckless when you text and drive.” I’ve been criminally reckless, though. When I was twenty I took my eyes off the road for a few seconds to fetch a snack on the floor of the car, and I have the scars from a hundred stitches in my forehead as a souvenir.

It makes me wonder if the only way to learn is by making mistakes. I hope not. But the next time you’re tempted to dismiss someone’s admonition to keep your eyes on the road, consider the possibility she’s learned from a very painful experience.

When my friend Nancy Flynn joined us on the show recently to talk about business writing, I asked if she was particularly annoyed by anything she sees a lot of. “Exclamation points!” she said. And, yes. The gusto with which she answered warranted one. She’s seen correspondence from people that included an exclamation point at the end of every sentence.

I didn’t believe her. Surely she was exaggerating. Right?


Only a few weeks after that Darrell got an eMail from someone that had ten sentences. Nine of them ended in exclamation points.


If everything is awesome, as the saying goes, nothing is. And nothing’s inspired fewer exclamation points from me lately than not wanting to be that woman.

What did Nancy want to cover next? The use of the word “literally.” Can you imagine how delighted she was when I told her about a bar in Manhattan that kicks people out for using it? Well, not literally.

As Nancy talked I could see Darrell wanting to chime in. He knows I’ve been liberal -- not literal, liberal -- with exclamation points in the past. But he forgives me. Why? My enthusiasm. “You’re a walking exclamation point,” he said. “Literally.”

Thank you?

When I got my civil engineering degree from the University of Nebraska in the early eighties I had no idea how useful it would be. Nothing has inspired more laughter.

The inner workings of my computer are as mysterious to me as the engine of a tractor. A remote control is one aptly-named apparatus -- I just hand it to Darrell and say, “You do it” -- because there’s nothing remotely understandable about it. I’ve been known to come out on the losing side of an encounter with a can opener.

The other day I tried to close the blinds in an apartment Darrell and I were renting for a week. He’d already left for some errands. I was going to lock up and wait for my ride. First I needed to close the blinds, but the cords got twisted. I couldn’t figure out how to untangle a mess of this magnitude, so I did what anyone else who’s wary of strangers would(n’t) do. I talked a landscaper who doesn’t speak English into coming back to the apartment with me! I’m apparently better at sign language than window treatments, and I was relieved when he agreed to help.

I had a great day and Darrell did, too. Then we had fun comparing notes about the engineering degree that had failed me once again. Though we wondered if the landscaper had the same degree, because he hadn’t been able to unjam what I’d jammed up.

I doubted it would be the last time a technological innovation gets the better of me. But I’ll forgive myself. “I have lots of gifts,” I’ll think to myself. “This isn’t one of them.”