The Blog

“‘He who hesitates is lost’ is a stupid personal philosophy,” Katie told me when she was ten.

Huh?

“Yeah,” she said. “After reading a Lemony Snicket book last year I decided I needed a personal philosophy.”

Go on.

“I’ve given this a lot of thought,” she continued. "And I’ve decided my philosophy is, ‘Guilt is the worst punishment.’”

Now I ask you. As a parent, how dreamy is that? I’d never worried about Katie before, and now I worried about her even less. Not only that, but I hadn’t even put away my Barbies when I was her age. I never thought too much about my philosophy of life. Not until many years later, when an attorney asked me if I was sure I wanted to spend thousands of dollars for the privilege of taking someone to court.

To be continued!

Many years ago I went on a date with a guy who told me the memory he most cherished of his late mother was falling asleep to the sound of her laughter. I couldn’t stop thinking about that. I didn’t know if I was going to be a mom, but I knew what kind of mom I wanted to be.

Silly.

That’s one reason I woke Katie up on her third day of kindergarten by saying, “There’s my sleepyhead!” Pause. “Well, bless my soul!” I used the same silly voice she had the night before, when she taught us the woodpecker song she’d learned in school.

She woke up. She woke up, she started giggling, and we sang that little jingle over and over until our stomachs couldn’t take it anymore.

“Mom,” she said. “I really liked it when you did that.” She told me that right away. Then she told me again a few minutes later, from the tub. And then again at breakfast. And then again while we waited for her bus.

I don’t know which was sweeter, the giggles -- or how much she appreciated them. But they both inspired more of the same, forever and ever, amen.

Can you imagine being charged with talking someone into living when that person’s sure there’s no point?

Pulitzer-winning poet Galway Kinnell stepped up.

My good friends all have something in common. They love to watch me watch other people. That’s because every emotion reads like a news ticker across my forehead.

I’ve been apologizing for that aspect of my character my entire life. Jane makes me think I should stop.

“Number one,” she says, “facial expressions are difficult if not impossible to control.”

Number two?

“Why would you want to?”

card game for the blogI told her many if not most of the most successful people I know, or know of, are good at hiding their emotions. I reminded her how often I’d heard the suggestion in Corporate America to cultivate that poker face. It’s a power thing.

“And that’s why I feel so bad for people who work in Corporate America!” Jane said.

Oh. Good point. Is that really the game I want to be playing? No. So why would I aspire to following those rules?

Never mind!

“The mind stores information in negative form.”

I heard that in a workshop once. Does it ring as true to you as it does to me?

It’s most relatable, unfortunately (for me), when I’m storing information about myself. I tend to cast myself in a less flattering light as time goes by, and tend to cast the other players in a more forgiving light.

Which means that as friendships and jobs and so on wind down, I’m forever blaming myself for much more than my share.

Unless I remember to check the journal, that is. A quick check of the notes, and there it is -- the evidence. What actually happened.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” I can almost hear you saying. “What’s in the journal is subjective.” You have a point, but it may not be as strong as you think. That’s because I approach my journal as a “real” journalist. It’s more of a lab notebook than anything. I record what happened, and I record it right away. Later I’ll go back and add my reflections about those facts, which are of course subjective. But the facts themselves? Not as much!

It amounts to a smattering of naughty lists at times. Not often. I’m much more likely to make note of the fun, the funny, the sweet. But once in a while I’m honest about what isn’t fun, because that’s the only way the story makes sense. I don’t owe my character transformation to the things that came easy. It’s what’s difficult that’s interesting, and that includes people.

Some of it is just recording what people say or do. It comes in handy years later when I find myself asking something like, “Is it my imagination, or is this person impossible to please?” A quick check of my notes, and there it is. The pattern.

Like I said, a journal can be a lab notebook. “Then I tried doing this.” And, “Here’s what happened.” After a while? “Okay. This experiment’s going nowhere.” Or, “I think I’ve learned everything this person came to teach.” And then, “Let’s start another experiment.”

Are you as wary as I am about the whole “forgive and forget” thing? Forgive if you want, sure -- but if you forget you’re just signing up for more problems!

I’m trying to break a habit I’ve had since I was four years old, maybe younger. So I’m not going to tell you it’s easy to change.

Trying to get someone else to change? Ha!

Maybe you’ve heard the expression, “If you can’t change the people around you, change the people around you.” Which is lovely. But what if, for example, you haven’t lined up the next job and need to put food on the table with money you earn from this one?

It may be small consolation -- but if you’re anything like me, maybe not. It may feel like a huge relief to allow yourself this exercise. Make a list. Give it a title. Here’s an idea: “Things I’m Not Going to Miss About Working with Dopey Manager Guy.”

There’s just something about making a list that tells your brain the objections have been noted. They’ve been noted, they’ve been filed, and they matter.

When that person does something else that drives you out of your skin? Put it on the list.

One of the best things I ever did for myself was start a file of naughty lists. I’ll explain in the next post.

You get to work seconds before your official start time. Then you let your colleagues attend to the customers while you talk with your broker or duck into the bathroom for a quick shave.

Back to kindergarten you go!

I mean, seriously. You didn’t get to work on time. You just posed as someone who had.

It’s amazing, to me, how many people graduate from college without knowing the first thing about being a grownup.

Cell phones have made it easier to let people know you’re going to be late, which -- from what I hear -- have turned the habitually late into the habitually-late-but-I’m-covered-because-I-called-you-to-tell-you-that.

Nope. Not covered.

“I don’t know what it is,” I heard someone once remarked. “I’m just always late.” To which the person on the receiving end reportedly said, “I know what it is. You’re an asshole.”

Own up. It’s the first rule of being a grownup. Then fix it. That’s the second rule!

Next up, what to do if you’re at least temporarily stuck with someone like that.

I used to be able to walk many hours and so many miles, just so many miles, all over Manhattan and not feel it in my back.

Now? I still love a brisk walk here, there, and everywhere -- especially in Manhattan -- but I love the occasional break, too. I’ll lean against a building, touch my toes and keep that pose as long as I can bear (or dare), and look forward to the next break. If we’re in a long line and it’s been a long day? I sit for a spell on a miniature lawn chair from Flying Tiger. It’s more like a lawn stool, and it’s so tiny that even the most jaded-seeming New Yorkers can’t resist smiling at the sight of it.

stick galWhat is it about growing older? You need to spend more time every day stretching just to stay in the game. I used to wonder about people who spent so much time stretching before a run. Now I wonder about people who don’t.

Maybe you’ve heard stories of people who babied, say, a knee…only to eventually realize what kept the pain bearable was keeping that knee in motion.

It’s a good metaphor for life.

I can’t tell you how many times in the past week I’ve thought to myself, “I should just stop with the blog.” I mean, really. What could there be left to say?

Then I think, “No. You stay interested in the world!”

Maybe you’ve heard the advice to parents that goes something like, “Ask your child at dinner to tell you something interesting that happened that day, and to tell you why it was interesting.” He’ll balk at first, and maybe for the duration. But you’ll have fascinating discussions because you insisted.

Life’s like that. Insist on a good story. You deserve it.