The Blog

Have you ever wondered if your brain enjoys being tethered to your smartphone? All that scrolling, tapping, and texting might keep boredom at bay  -- but what feels boring to you isn’t boring to your brain.

I’m not an expert on brain health, but I play one on the radio. And by that I mean I interview a disproportionate amount of experts about it. One thing they all seem to agree on is that smartphones mess with our health.

sunset photoBrains like to solve problems, indulge reveries, play make-believe. They invent a better future for us to fantasize about and live into. Boredom is a leavening agent. It’s grist. It’s possibility.

Do yourself a favor. Give your smartphone a rest. See how much smarter you feel?

Darrell’s keeping the car warm while I dash into a grocery store for popcorn. I pay for a couple of bags, then take a seat on a little bench just around the corner from the checkouts. My back is to the few people coming and going.

I’m transferring the popcorn from its packaging to the plastic bag I got at the checkout. It’s much easier to eat that way. We don’t get our sleeves greasy from the (healthy!) oil, and when we’re driving we can easily grab another handful without taking our eyes off the road.

Someone comes out of the men’s bathroom and I look that way just long enough to see he’s dressed entirely in black. Appropriately. Because it starts. “Popcorn!” he says in a booming voice. “I hope you have some for me.” I smile the half-smile I give any other complete stranger who wants to engage when I don’t. That’s enough to send ninety-nine percent of people on their way. Not this guy. I’m not surprised. There’s something menacing in his voice.

“I said,” the man bellers, “‘I hope you have some for me!’” This isn’t an invitation to chat, I realize. It’s an order, which makes me even less inclined to oblige. I pretend I’m finished, and gather up my things. The guy keeps yelling at me, keeps insisting we talk. I pretend not to notice as I duck into the women’s room.

I take a deep breath, transfer the rest of the popcorn, check to make sure I left the place at least as clean as I found it -- yep -- and head to the car. I’m looking over my shoulder the entire time, though. This doesn’t feel like early evening in a grocery store parking lot. It feels like a dark alley in a bad neighborhood in Chicago.

“I don’t want you to take this the wrong way,” Darrell says after I give him the report. “But I don’t think you should’ve gone into the bathroom.” Pause. “Think of what you’re always telling Katie if she feels uncomfortable. Head to where the people are. The guy could’ve followed you into the bathroom, quietly done something really bad, and left you there. He would’ve been long gone before anyone knew to come looking for you.”

Wow. Good point. I was at once embarrassed that hadn’t occurred to me and relieved I’m still around to share the story.

Stay safe out there.

What triggers you?
January 22, 2018

Posts, pitches, prep for the talk show. My work involves a lot of writing, and I love that. But on a recent afternoon I struggled. What the heck? Writing almost comes easily. I rarely face a blank screen with anything but delicious anticipation.

What happened?


The next day, writing to music the way I almost always do, I remembered that the day before I’d left my headphones tucked in their little dog bed under my desk. We splurge on good headphones because of our radio work, and I thought I’d save a step by not getting them out. Only to prove once again what I once heard: “A shortcut is the longest distance between two points.”

Music is to writing what at least a few pages out of a “real” book (as opposed to a Kindle) is to sleep.

Good to know!

The first three or four times it was okay. Amusing, actually. I was on the line with Darrell, listening to him ask a customer service rep about a hundred-dollar charge she kept calling a deposit. We wondered what it was for, and -- considering it was a “deposit” -- when it would be returned.

“It’s just this first month,” she said. “You won’t see it from now on.” Darrell told her he understood. What he didn’t understand was why it had been assessed. But every time he asked her about it she told him the same thing, that it was only for the first month of this particular contract.

My turn. “You keep calling this a deposit,” I told her. “If it’s a deposit, it will be returned at some point. We’d like to know when that is. If it isn’t a deposit, and it’s just a one-time charge as you keep saying, we want to know what the charge is for. And if you can’t answer those questions we want you to ask someone who can.”

Darrell had been so friendly, so conversational. I was firm, businesslike. My tone told her she could take our contract -- and her script -- and do something decidedly unbusinesslike with them.

“May I put you on hold?” she asked. “You bet!” I chirped.

She came back on the line a couple of minutes later. The hundred dollars was indeed a deposit, and she told us why it had been assessed. She added it would be returned in thirteen months.


“Anything else?” she wondered. I told her no, I thanked her, and we got our lives back.

I’m usually friendly to a fault with customer service people, that’s how thankful I am not to have their jobs. Friendly doesn’t always work, though. Neither does rude. But firm? I’m with Goldilocks on that. Just right!

When the Communications Workers of America went on strike in 1986, I became a switchboard operator. I was a manager with AT&T, and this assignment was fascinating. I worked the night shift, for one thing. Have you ever done that? I recommend it. You might find, as a lot of people who wait tables do, you’re glad to have had this window on the working world.

nail polishAfter five years with AT&T I was finally learning how calls were connected. I even grew my nails because my hands were always busy.

My ten-year high school reunion was coming up a bit later that summer, and I gave myself a month to lose those pesky seven pounds I’d gained since graduation. It was easy. When I got off work in the morning, I’d run three miles or so up a big hill near our condo. When I got home I showered and went to bed for the night -- I mean, day -- but I didn’t eat dinner (breakfast?).

I think I lost the seven pounds the first night. Seriously. If every overweight person ended the day with a run and skipped dinner, can you imagine how many pounds we’d collectively lose?

It isn’t necessarily how much you eat, I’m starting to think, as when you eat it. Unless there’s a lot of added sugar in your diet. Then all bets are off. But if you really need to lose weight, the solution might be as simple as eating two meals a day instead of three.

Might be worth a try.

Once upon a time I was faithful to the four food groups -- sugar, fat, salt, and caffeine. Coffee and donuts for breakfast, cheese soup and steak sandwiches and soda for lunch, a slice of someone’s birthday cake for dessert back at the office. How I got through an afternoon without needing a nap is beyond me, but I was rarely hungry when I got home from work. More often than not I’d skip dinner.

If you would’ve opened my refrigerator, the brand-new fridge in my brand-new condo in Kansas City, you would’ve thought it was a painting. A little wine, a wedge of cheese, maybe a few eggs. I had some noodles in the cupboard, but that was about it. Cook a real meal? For myself? Are you kidding? Who does that?

What strikes me, looking back on my twenties, was how slender I was despite not working out consistently (okay, ever). Now I know why. Many if not most days of the week I stopped eating by two o’clock in the afternoon, and didn’t start in again until a seven o’clock breakfast the next morning. I was intermittently, and accidentally, fasting.

A gal who attended one of my presentations on what would become The Willpower Workaround told me I’d mentioned something in passing that might be the reason I’m almost effortlessly slender these days -- beyond my great diet and now consistent workouts. Which is that I stop eating early in the evening. Does that explain the pass I got in my twenties? It might. More speculation in my next post.

I am maniacal about attribution. I don’t always know where my ideas come from, but I never pass them off as my own when they aren’t.

The word “never” belongs in quotes, though. I’ve borrowed things by accident. You know how it is with books you love, books you read over and over. They become part of you -- and you can’t remember a time when you didn’t “know” what you learned from them.

In Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, he talks about a cartoon character who’s just walked beyond the edge of a cliff but hasn’t fallen yet because he hasn’t realized his predicament. Which reads, to my dismay, almost exactly like a passage in one of my books, Do-Over. I was always so proud of it. It’s a good one. But it wasn’t mine.

My apologies, Mr. Pirsig!

The first book I wrote was about a local celebrity. He’d gotten second place in the 1982 Boston Marathon, one of the few athletic competitions where people remember who got second place. He’d been in the news many times since, first after a horrific farm accident when he almost lost a leg -- and then, for a long time, as he battled an addiction to prescription painkillers.

So I wasn’t surprised, many years ago, when a middle schooler chose this gentleman to write about in a “hometown hero” homework assignment. I found out about the assignment the same way everyone else in town did. There was a big wall in our little mall covered in posters the students had made. I perused this particular poster with great interest, since it included excerpts from the book I’d written. But there was no mention of me or even the book.

As I surveyed the other posters, with passages “borrowed” from other books -- with nary a nod to those books or their authors -- I wondered who’d been teaching their teachers. Those teachers went to college. Didn’t someone introduce them to the concept of attribution?

It’s important. As a professional photographer who graced us on the show pointed out, you can get in big trouble by “borrowing” celebrity photos to publicize your radio station programming -- just to use one example.

People like to be paid (or at least credited) for their work. You don’t have to take my word for it. But if you don’t, some people might suggest you see them in court.

One other thing. After I wrote this post but before I published it, Dr. Nick Morgan shared a similar sentiment on his blog. Maybe it’s obvious why I felt the need to mention that.