The Blog

mirrorWhen Katie was little she had imaginary conversations with her “children,” her dolls. Nothing unusual about that. What might be unusual was how often I’d stop everything to listen in. I found those conversations riveting.

The reason went way beyond the sound of my sweet little girl playing make-believe. I couldn’t get over how nurturing she was. “What would you like to do fun today, sweetie?” Or, “I see you spilled your milk. It’s no problem! Here, let me help you.” Or, “You look sad. Would you like to talk about it? I have a spare lap and some chocolate (insert mischievous smile here).”

How did she learn to talk like this? I knew I was an okay mom, but even I wasn’t that sweet. Or was I?

“Is that how I talk with you, honey?” I couldn’t resist asking. Her eyes lit up and she nodded. Like, “But of course.”

Children are like mirrors. Do you like what you see?

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photo courtesy of Katie Anderson

My first three books were written from the perspective of other people. A former marathon champion, a Vietnam vet, and fifty of my favorite guests from an earlier version of the talk show.

The first step? Transcribing dozens of hours of interviews on each. Word by painstaking word. It was daunting. I couldn’t be slipshod about it, after all. I’d go over and over many if not most of the exchanges, making sure any quotes I planned on using were accurate -- down to the commas (read: pauses).

Darrell offered to help. I declined. We could’ve paid someone else to do this supposedly menial labor. I never considered it. How better to inhabit these people than by listening to them talk for hours on end? I was laying down new grooves, their voices in my ears constantly.

When it was time to start writing I was ready. Each book just sort of magically appeared on the screen. Except it wasn’t magic, because I’d become other people. Sharing my stories -- I mean theirs! -- was the most natural thing in the world.

The reaction to each book was unanimous, that they read exactly like these people talk.

The reason? I’d eschewed the shortcut, which would’ve been anything but.

Sometimes I put swear words in parentheses to show I’m conflicted about using them.

Screenwriter Josh Olson doesn’t appear to have the same reservations, judging from one of the finest pieces of writing I’ve ever read.

I think you’ll enjoy it, even if you don’t happen to field requests to pick your brain.

What, exactly, inspires?
February 18, 2019

If your inbox is anything like mine, the new year brought offers of online courses you could take to change your life for the better. Not that you’d take one to change it for the worse! But you know what I mean.

I’m a sucker for them.

I recently finished one by a wildly successful freelance writer who made me want to rewrite everything I’ve ever written, she’s that good.

And I’m working through another course by an about-to-be household name who’s inspiring for reasons you might not expect. She has a chronic health problem that makes me wonder how she’s functioned at all, let alone at the level she does. She was a self-described mess as recently as ten years ago. And almost every video she posts features at least one if not a cascade of technical problems, making me wonder why she bothers sometimes. But her show goes on. It isn’t so much that her advice is groundbreaking. It’s that she’s in a position to offer it considering where she started and what she stares down every day of her life.

You don’t have to be perfect to inspire. But you do have to hang in there!

DotWhen Katie was little she wanted a toy from A Bug’s Life for Christmas. Dot.

I hadn’t realized she wanted both the toy and the Christmas ornament, though. I’d missed that somehow. And when we were comparing notes on the bounty, later -- which of course included Dot -- I was heartbroken to learn she’d been heartbroken at only getting the “one” Dot.

“Honey!” I said, acting as if it had been on purpose and she just hadn’t realized. “Look! It’s a toy and a Christmas ornament.” I asked if I could pry it from her sweet little hands, and I hung it on the tree.

Her eyes lit up. All was well with the world. And it was just while writing this post I figured out why. You might remember those word association skits on Saturday Night Live back in the day. “Like if I say dog, you would say…” The answer? “Tree.” So silly. But they stuck. And they came in handy.

Toy? Yes. Christmas ornament? Also yes!

Happy Holidays!

When Katie started college I didn’t know if she’d have the time or the interest to keep editing my blog. Only to find out just how much she loves it. No kidding. We bond over things we’d never make time for otherwise, and the experience keeps her close in a way neither of us saw coming.

I’ve started saving as photographs her reactions to my posts. The exuberance with which she tells me that something not only struck a chord but changed her point of view will never, ever get old. I thank my lucky stars for her attention to detail as I’m laughing at her tact when she tells me something could use a little (or a lot of) work.

Can I adequately thank Katie for keeping me sharp? Doubt it. But I can do the same for someone else. That’s why, with every set of posts she returns, I proof Darrell’s scripts for the farm show as if farming’s the most interesting thing in the world. Only to learn it can be, now that I’m paying more attention. He thrives on that attention. He relishes giving me the backstories. And he tells me how it feels to be told what a great job he does. Pretty great!

You might be the only person who tells someone her work matters. Reason enough to point that out, right? And still another way you can matter.

Do people ever tell you that you edit yourself too much? “You should let it rip more!” they’ll say. Is it just me, or does this request tend to come from people who don’t edit themselves enough? From people who make you want to say, “You should let it rip less!”

I’m forever looking at myself as if from a distance, on the alert for improvements. I’m forever asking myself this question: “What would it be like to be around me?” I monitor myself for the boring. Too much -- or any -- talk of the latest ache or pain. What others are up to, for which I have zero context. And especially for any complaints about life in general.

I aspire to be the person who changes what I can, and makes peace with what I can’t. Who’s fun to be around. Who thinks twice before “letting it rip,” and then…doesn’t.

What’s in your closet?
February 11, 2019

I got a request from someone a while back for something so over-the-top wrong it took my breath away and my ability to form sentences with it. When I came to and tried to be a good kid about it -- we were working on a project together, after all -- the person topped the request by saying it wasn’t important, what I thought of it.

Well, then.

I wasn’t being asked to do something illegal. It was only annoying, and it wasn’t something you’d ask of a peer.

According to Katie, that should’ve been the end of the story. The end of the collaboration. Darrell and I reassured Kate it will have hastened the end.

“Not good enough,” she said! Then she told me what she would’ve told this person. It was poetry. It was polite, it was matter-of-fact, and it made one thing clear. This is not how grownups behave.

The script Katie laid out was perfect. It just wouldn’t occur to me to offer, not in the moment. But I committed it to memory the same way you might buy a swanky new dress two sizes too small -- to hang in your closet as proof of your resolve to lose weight.

I’m hanging Katie’s script in my closet, metaphorically speaking, to use when I’ve lost twenty pounds (or so) of emotional garbage.

Thanks, kiddo!