The Blog

Once upon a time a woman tried to scold Katie and me after we used the bathroom in a theater before the movie started. She didn’t appreciate us needing to get around her and her friend, who were seated closer to the aisle.

I wasn’t rude or anything, but I wasn’t having it. I gently made it clear what the woman could do with her disapproval. At which point Katie practically skipped back into her seat.

Thank you,” she said with much gusto, “for not being an unhappy person.”

Isn’t that a great point? The happiest people are the least likely to criticize. They’re too busy enjoying themselves!

I’m at Target, waiting for Darrell, with nothing to do but notice people on their way out of the store. A guy tosses his basket on the pile, but misses. The baskets nest easily and it’s almost impossible within a certain range to miss. He turns around, gets closer, grabs the basket and…misses again.

I’m doing my best not to let on I’ve noticed, just as the two of us make eye contact. There’s enough time to realize (1) I’m about to start giggling, and (2) he’ll go back and take care of that basket once and for all.

I don’t giggle. He keeps walking out of the store.

“So what?” you might say. So it’s a fascinating study in human behavior, I’d counter.

“Why,” I ask Darrell later, “would you not go back a third time when you’ve already invested two tries in basket nesting?”

“Because it’s embarrassing!” Darrell says.

Is this a gender thing? I would’ve kept going for as long as it took, and if I saw someone watching me I would’ve joked about what a slippery little sucker that basket was.

It isn’t that I’m born to make fun of myself. Maybe I’m born to show people it’s okay to screw up. And screw up again. And again!

sunset on the cruiseOnce upon a time I watched a fascinating conversation unfold between a couple of colleagues. The woman had interrupted the man in the breeziest, most matter-of-fact way to tell him it wasn’t necessary to keep explaining something to her because (1) he’d already explained it, and (2) she’d remembered. At which point the man…kept going.

Strike one. But, hey. Maybe he hadn’t heard her, registered what she’d said, whatever. So she repeated what she’d just said, thinking the man would acknowledge it this time. He did not.

The woman asked what was up. They’d both been talking, after all -- but she was responding to his part of the conversation and he was proceeding as if she wasn’t even in the room.

Now she had his attention!

“It isn’t the law,” he told her, “that I listen.”

To her credit, that was the end of it. With him. But since she knew I’d listened to the whole thing, she waited until we were alone to tell me she knew right away he’d done her a favor. “Which was?” I asked, incredulous.

“I haven’t figured that out yet!” she said. That’s one reason I love her. She knows everything’s a gift, even -- or perhaps especially -- when it isn’t immediately obvious.

There’s a reason opposites attract. It keeps them from killing each other.

That’s why I find amusement parks and shopping malls fascinating. I love to park myself on a bench and watch people move through the world. After a while, almost inevitably, I’m treated to quite the show. And by that I mean families not at their best.

One thing I’ve noticed is how rarely there are multiple screamers in the same group. Usually it’s just one person losing it, and the rest doing their best to absorb it -- or at least, clean it up.

Do you wonder what I wonder about the people getting dumped on? Where do they put their anger? Back on the person who’s inspiring it? Only if they have a death wish. The pragmatic approach is to find another outlet.

If you’re surrounded by people who are prone to tantrums, I hope you take good care of yourself. Become a long-distance runner, keep a journal, go to your happy place. But don’t turn the anger inward. Bullies have a right to their feelings, but not to your health.

It’s a standard exercise in career planning workshops. Imagine you’re dead. Now, how would you like your obituary to read? You begin with the end, as the saying goes, and work backwards. If you want people to remember you a certain way, does your life reflect that?

What helped me decide how I want to be remembered was realizing I don’t want to be this person: “A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.”

Deceased Maureen would be mighty tickled to have even one person describe me thusly: “Her superpower was listening.” Which makes it easier to decide how to live. I just have to remember to be a good listener. I could get a tattoo or even a piece of jewelry to remind me. What about a pair of… Oh. I know! Ears.

Wait a second. I have ears. They’re a good reminder to use them!

I tried to talk myself into a tattoo recently. It didn’t work. Body art’s quite the commitment.

“For better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health.” No problem! But a tattoo? No. I can’t even commit to a vanity license plate.

There’s just something about summing up the entirety of your essence that way. It isn’t that it can’t be done. It’s just that if you’re doing life right, won’t that essence evolve? Maybe I’m deluded -- essence alert! essence alert! -- but I’d like to think so.

And while we’re on the subject of things you’d attach to your car, how’s this for a bumper sticker? It’s the very definition of words worth ink: “Honk if you are Jesus.”

You mention three things in a sentence. How does that sentence read? “One, two and three.” Or, “One, two, and three.”

Which is it?

To the people who edited The Career Clinic: Eight Simple Rules for Finding Work You Love, it’s the second. The second comma in that second sentence is known as an Oxford comma, and -- while it felt strange to me at first -- I soon became such a fan that its absence looked strange.

Then I started seeing things like this…

Oxford commaSold! Oh, boy. Am I ever. And I’m not alone. Some people even use the Oxford comma as a way to get dates. It doesn’t always work, of course. As one woman put it, “Passion for the Oxford comma isn’t a substitute for a personality.”

If you’re still on the grammatical fence, may I make a suggestion? Pick a team. Being consistent is a balm. People like knowing what to expect from you -- on a date, or in a sentence.

In her book, Answering 911, Caroline Burau says she can only tolerate so many words in a day.

Can you relate?

I can. I spent seven straight days -- long days, barely-a-quick-break-for-dinner days -- at the Biocybernaut Institute in Sedona last year, and by the end of each of them I had…no words.

The week was as intense as anything I’ve ever been through. We were learning to control our brain waves (really!), so of course it was intense. There was also a lot, and I do mean a lot, of what amounted to therapy -- healing childhood trauma. For starters. I went at the training the way I do everything I care about. All in. By early evening I was wiped. All I wanted to do at dinner was eat. Listen to the others. Not talk.

For as extroverted as I appear, I told my new friends, I’m really an introvert. I hoped they wouldn’t think I was rude. I was just spent. For that day. The next day? Chatty as ever. Until the next evening. And so it went.

It’ll be a long time before I’m able to completely process what I learned in Sedona, assuming I ever do. But one of the things I found most fascinating was a report from my trainer after still another session studying my brain waves. “You can’t abide small talk,” she said. “You just don’t have the ability.”

Which makes sense. If I’m only given so many words to absorb in a day I don’t want to waste them.

Until that moment, and with the help of some not-so-well-meaning people, I’d always thought my impatience with small talk was a character flaw. It was such a relief to realize I was wrong. It isn’t a character flaw. It’s how I’m wired. The only thing wrong with my wiring was thinking there was something wrong with my wiring!

I’ll leave it at that for now. Because (you guessed it) I’m out of words.