The Blog

What grounds you?
April 2, 2019

People who live in glass houses…delight me.

I love dusk. I love looking out our office window and seeing the neighbor’s lights on. There’s the man of the house, getting ready to take the dog outside. Now the lights are on upstairs. Probably getting the kids ready for bed. I swear I could almost hear the guy sigh with frustration as he stood before a tree at Christmastime, contemplating the never-fun challenge of wrangling those lights. But they looked so festive. You might want to unplug them before you string them, dude. No. Maybe he knows what a picture he makes. Never mind!

It isn’t only our neighbor, of course. It’s anyone’s house that’s all lit up once darkness descends. Each reminds me what’s easy to forget -- that while I’m the star of my own show, there are approximately eight thousand other dramas playing out right this very minute…and that’s just in our little town.

Now I’m floating up, up, and away to -- oh, look! There’s Katie’s apartment! In between, many more millions of people going about their lives.

The neighbor’s lights illuminate the infinity of stories we can inhabit. What a gift.

“What constitutes a brick wall?” That’s a podcast title that didn’t make the cut. Jane and I decide on those together, and when I offered this one she said we couldn’t use “constitutes” because it’s three syllables.

Huh?

“I steer my acting students away from three-syllable words,” she explained.

Are you thinking what I’m thinking? It’s difficult (three syllables!) to eliminate (four syllables!) words with more than two syllables from your vocabulary. And why would you want to? I mean, this was crazy. Wasn’t it?

But like anything else that seems crazy at first, it burrowed into my brain like a miniature lawn mower. I’m a bit of a word snob. Should I add this guideline to my collection?

Hard to…say.

When I was booking guests on the talk show I eschewed people whose eMails sported too many “ize” words. “Utilize?” I’d want to ask. “Utilize? It’s use.”

I wasn’t in the market for conversations that sound like they were lifted out of an instruction manual for a lawn mower. I wanted people who talk like people talk.

Shorter words. Sweeter words. More emotion. Less pretention.

Ta-ta?

cozy“I think people believe coziness is about fires, hot chocolate, and cashmere sweaters,” Cozy author Isabel Gillies says. “I’m making the case that coziness comes from the truth of who you are. You can be cozy on the subway; I always am. If you know what you like, your beat, your point of view, you can carry that anywhere you find yourself and call upon it to find coziness.”

Gillies says what tickles her the most -- and doesn’t her name sound like what happens when you’re tickled -- is that when she asks people what makes them cozy, everyone smiles.

The subtitle of Cozy is The Art of Arranging Yourself in the World. I mean, she had me at “cozy.” But seriously. Doesn’t the thought of “arranging yourself” conjure up a well-appointed book nook? It wouldn’t be like curling up with a good book. It would be like curling up in a good book.

I’m in!

“Teenagers are on a roller coaster,” someone once told Cozy author Isabel Gillies, “and as a parent your job is not to get on the roller coaster with them. Just stand on the side.”

Sounds like great advice, doesn’t it?

Unless you like roller coasters. I happen to love them.

I almost always got on the metaphorical roller coasters with Katie. I mean, I’d ask first -- but she almost always said yes. Even when she said no it wasn’t “no, forever.” It was “not yet.”

Highs, lows, I was right there beside her -- imagining what it would be like to be her at that age, remembering what it was like to be me at that age.

I wanted Katie to know she wasn’t alone. I wanted her to bask in the good times without downplaying her happiness the way you sometimes do if you’re surrounded by people less fortunate. I wanted her to have someone to confide in when she was sad, someone who wouldn’t try to talk her out of it. Someone who knew the only way to feel better sometimes is to let yourself feel even worse.

To hear her tell it, that’s one reason we’re such good friends now. I earned it. I didn’t try to fix anything. I just listened.

You might remember me telling you about a friend who was fast becoming a diabetic. She adopted my diet immediately. End of problem! Immediately. After only two months her numbers were great. Not only “not problematic,” great.

It’s been fun to listen to this friend share the reaction from her friends. It isn’t that she wants to talk about the diet, necessarily. She doesn’t mind fielding questions, but she doesn’t want to be the person who can’t shut up about what she eats.

Which reminds me of the story about someone racing to an airport gate, only to have the airline representative smile and say the flight hadn’t left yet. “Oh, that isn’t it,” the person, now out of breath, responds. “I just wanted to tell you I’m a vegan.”

Nope. My friend doesn’t want to be that person.

Her friends have other plans. “But what about blah blah?” someone will ask -- with “blah blah” being butter or wine or even Diet Coke or whatever. And my friend will say, “Nope. Not even blah blah.” And that friend will say, “Are you kidding? No blah blah?” Other friends will chime in, and what started as a quick exchange about passing up a dinner roll becomes an hour-long reverie about how life can actually be worth living without, for example, sugar.

My friend’s noticed in six months what I’ve noticed for almost ten years, that people will not shut up about this diet.

We’re tickling some imaginations. It’s my favorite thing to do!

What’s your style?
March 25, 2019

When Darrell and I got married one of the first things I noticed was how focused he is. Good luck getting his attention if there’s work to do. He’ll sit in front of his screen for hours without even thinking of a break.

“Why don’t you pace yourself?” I asked early on. He told me if something else came up that needed his attention -- which happens a lot -- he wanted to have time for that, too.

Which made sense. I aspired to it. I tried it once or twice. And…forget it. I’ll work hard for ninety minutes or so, then do some work away from my screen. I’ll come back refreshed, not so much from the rest (because I was still working, after all) but because of the change of scenery. Then I’ll go hard again for another ninety minutes. At the most. Then a break, then back to work, you get the idea.

Long stretches of time without so much as a break to stretch aren’t necessarily good for you, but the more important point is how you like to work. There’s no wrong answer, unless you pretend to be one type of person when you aren’t. Then your whole day’s a fight.

The genius, if I may call it that, in my way is that I’m not goofing off during the breaks. I’m doing other work. When actual downtime comes around I’m ready to party, baby -- or at least relax. I’m not conflicted about it because I haven’t wasted my breathers on a pretend form of relaxation (read: Facebook). I mean, to each his own. Whatever works…for you.

Are you growing up?
March 21, 2019

Doing What Works logo 181013After four months of hosting the talk show with Jane Brody, she had quite the announcement for me: “You’ve grown up.” Which meant? “You’re not doubting yourself so much,” she said.

True.

It was difficult, at first, to give Jane directions even though I’m the one with the radio experience. I found her credentials intimidating. But she’s also a peach to work with, and I’m gradually asserting myself a little more.

We’re still finding our rhythm, granted. Neither of us knows for sure where we’re going, which is great. The important thing is that we’ve set out. To have such character transformation already? We’re bound to look back on this trip with delight.

Am I the only person who welcomes long lines at the grocery store, a packed waiting room at the doctor’s office, a crowded airport gate? They’re filled with people looking at their phones, sure. But once in a while you luck out and get to eavesdrop on conversations. I love that! I daydream about lives worth swapping, problems I’m glad I don’t have, whatever.

A while back I watched some people discuss cultural appropriation. Let’s call them Tom, Dick, and Harry. Tom wanted to know why it was okay for people of one culture to do something, but not okay for someone in a different culture to do what appeared to be the same thing. Dick wondered this, too.

Harry asked if they were sure they wanted to talk about it. They were. So Harry explained why the same rules didn’t apply to both cultures.

The first thing Tom said was, “Oh. I had no idea.” His wheels were turning, you could tell. He just kind of sat there, taking it in. Then he said it again: “I had no idea.”

Dick was less impressed. Make that, not impressed at all. Make that, he was so unmoved he started arguing the original point. When Harry tried a second time to illuminate things, Dick switched tactics. He told Harry it seems like people are just looking for reasons to be upset.

“That may be true,” Harry offered. Good move! I mean, he and Dick weren’t at war. Were they?

Well, maybe.

Harry added that just because some people look for reasons to be upset, it doesn’t mean other people don’t have dandy reasons to be upset. Which didn’t seem to sit well with Dick. The conversation started to unravel.

Tom was enjoying the show, you could tell. He thanked Harry again for the insights, and tried to smooth things over with Dick.

As I watched the three of them I remembered why I bother to talk with anyone. It isn’t for a weather report! I’m trying to learn something. The possibility of changing my mind is exciting. That’s the point.

And, sure. Everyone finds himself in conversation with a Dick once in a while. The older I get the less willing I am to engage with Dicks, though. I save my breath…and go looking for a Tom or a Harry!