The Blog

The gentleman in front of me was older than the others. Well, maybe not all the others -- but he was right up there. I know this because approximately three sentences into my presentation he lowered his top row of dentures, kind of played with it for a few seconds, and eased it back into place. He maintained eye contact with me the whole time.

“I’ve never seen that before!” I thought. “In my whole life, I’ve never seen anyone do that in private, let alone in public.”

Now what?

Get the giggles? It did occur to me. But I had to brush the thought aside quickly. If there’s anything more interesting than what had just happened, after all, it would’ve been calling attention to what had happened. “Quick,” I told myself. “Think of something, or you’re going to lose it.”

I remembered how much more fun it is for people if the speaker’s having fun. How would they know I’m having fun? If there was a twinkle in my eyes, a bit of mischief, a sudden if subtle burst of energy. Darrell was in the back, getting some video. “I’ll ask him later,” I told myself, “if he could pinpoint the moment where my smile got a little brighter.”

I had that conversation in my head as I continued the presentation, and it gave me a little distance from what I’d seen. I couldn’t have asked for a more engaged audience, better questions, or a sweeter promise of more work. I hadn’t looked at Floating Dentures Man again, granted.

Whatever it takes!

What distracts you?
June 25, 2018

I’m looking out over a sea of attentive faces. Well, maybe not a sea. But a mighty crowded swimming pool! And back in the corner, toward the end of my presentation, a gal pulls out her phone and starts tapping, texting, whatever. I imagine that whatever I’m saying has struck such a chord she wants to take notes and share them now.

Hey, it’s happened.

It’s more likely that whatever she’s doing has nothing to do with me. So I snap out of it. Which is worse, someone who stops paying attention to the speaker and isn’t the slightest bit subtle about it -- or a speaker who’s obviously distracted by that? Letting this person break my rhythm wouldn’t have been a very nice way to reward the others for their engagement.

Go ahead. Make it a project to please everyone. But after a while you might find it’s more fun to go where you’re loved, and stay where you’re wanted.

You know how, when you’re a kid, you look forward to growing up and getting to do something grownups do -- and then you have that chance, and it really isn’t that great?

That happened to me with the talk show. It isn’t really that great. It’s better than great. It’s more fun than I’d dreamed it would be -- and it keeps getting better.

the radio studioThere’s just something about the pursuit of the perfect conversation. Perfect, but elusive. A topic that will enchant even the most unintentional listener, flawless execution, the works. When it works? Oh! Such happiness.

You know how, as a kid, you want your parents to be happy as desperately as they want you to be happy? Katie told me only recently one reason she doesn’t worry about me: “You have the show.”

She and I both hope you have that, something you love so much you lose yourself in it. Please keep looking if you haven’t already found that. It matters.

What fills you up?
June 21, 2018

The HuffPost closed its contributor platform recently. I started writing for the site not long after Radio America picked up the talk show -- and was delighted by how seemingly impossible it would be to peg me as a result. My journalism roots run deep. No sense aligning too closely with the left or the right.

A while back I was corresponding with someone who travels in rarified air. You may or may not have heard of him, but trust me -- the opportunity to even correspond with him was a thrill. That was before he told me he’d been reading up on me, too. My HuffPost pieces. “Wow!” he said.

Which made me wonder (1) what was left to want, and (2) if I should go back through those myself and see what he was talking about. When the HuffPost people said we had the chance to go into those archives and delete anything we didn’t want online indefinitely I thought, “Well, now’s the time.”

I read everything I wrote for the site. And I don’t mind telling you how good I felt afterward! That’s the whole point, right?

I’ve been working out with weights for a long, long time. I know I’m supposed to mix it up, but I haven’t. I’ve been doing mostly the same routine for all these many years. It works.

I mean, it’s boring as hell -- but it works.

On a whim recently I decided to use that time as meditation. I see how many reps I can do without losing count (and starting over). I see how thoroughly I can focus my mind on those reps -- as opposed to this blog post, my next presentation, whatever. It’s more difficult than it might seem.

And that’s what makes it fun. Well, sort of. You know, for now.

When Katie was little she wanted to take a framed portrait of the tooth fairy to school to prove to a boy in her class that her parents hadn’t been lying to her. “You guys wouldn’t lie to me, would you?” she asked, with an expression that broke my heart.

So we talked. About the tooth fairy, about the Easter Bunny, about Santa. Christmas was right around the corner, and suddenly the season felt anything but magic.

We talked, and she sobbed into my chest -- with tears so big I could’ve sworn I heard them hitting my sweatshirt. At one point she pulled away long enough to grab the proverbial knife. “I just have one question,” she said. “How did you like the milk and cookies I left for you?”

She was despondent.

The next morning she was in the best mood.

“What happened?” I asked. She shrugged and said, “Got some sleep.”

Doesn’t that remind you of most of the bad days you’ve ever had? It’s incredible what a difference even one night of really good sleep can make.

DuluthIt’s never failed me. Listening intently to what others regret, and taking action to avoid that.

The biggest regret I’ve ever heard is not appreciating kids when they were little. Melissa West, quoted by Janet Luhrs in The Simple Living Guide, has a sweet take on that time.

I sat on a back porch with my mother and daughter in Montgomery, Alabama, one humid southern evening last summer and realized that just one breath, one heartbeat ago, I was in my young daughter’s place, sitting with my own mother and grandmother in the damp and fragrant heat. In yet just another breath, another heartbeat, I realized as well, I would be in my mother’s place, rocking with my own daughter and granddaughter. How quickly time passes. How quickly the chance to practice open-hearted parenting slips through our hands. How precious this brief time we are given with our children truly is.

Isn’t that a beauty?

If you’re no longer in the business of getting approval from people you don’t (1) know, or (2) like, congratulations. You’ve passed the first test of being a grownup. That’s why you say “yes” when you mean “no,” right? You want to people to like you. At some point you realize it’s more important to be genuine than to be liked, and that you aren’t running for mayor. You’re still a nice person. You’ve just added yourself to the list of people you’d like to please.

So when someone asks if you want to do something you don’t, just say, “No, thanks.” Or, “It was sweet of you to think of me, but I’m going to pass. Thanks, though!” Whatever your version of “no” is, as long as it doesn’t include an excuse. An excuse gives the other person something to counter, and you aren’t opening a discussion. You’re closing one.

If it still sounds harsh, I hope you’ll consider how much harsher “maybe” is. “Maybe” inspires the person to keep asking, and eventually to feel a bit foolish. Worse is “yes” when you really, really want to say “no” -- and you seethe your way through whatever it is, as if the other person won’t notice.

Doesn’t “no” sound so much kinder now?