It has been a while since I read a book that brought so much inspiration to how I approach life. The last one that probably topped this book was “Daring Greatly” by Brene Brown. The new book? “A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life” by Brian Grazer. Grazer is a Hollywood producer (known for Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind, Frost/Nixon, 24, and his crazy spiked hair), and while reading about a Hollywood producer would normally turn me off, the book is about his lifelong pursuit of curiosity. He lives and breathes it and it has contributed to how he has lived his life and his many successes. The book showcases his “curiosity conversations” where he has been led to talk to anyone and everyone about how they live their life. He is a listener and learns by asking questions. He talks about curiosity in relation to his professional and personal life.
I was one of those kids that always asked questions. I always wanted to know more and was never satisfied with pat answers — I wanted to know why. I wanted to understand how things worked and how people ticked. I am also someone who often talks things out. One of my favorite times of the day is my drive home from work with Chris. We have been married for 12 years, and have had only one car for 11.5 of those married years. I am usually quieter on the way to work. It is my last few moments of silence before a long and full day.
On the way home it can take us anywhere from 15-30 minutes depending on traffic and I find it the perfect time to debrief about our days. Sometimes I talk the entire way home because I have so much to share, sometimes it is Chris that talks the entire time, and others we banter back and forth and share intermittently about our day. When I get home I am off to go for a run, or catch up on a few more pieces of work to get it out of my head, so those minutes in the car are precious. They are one of the ways we connect and learn a bit more about what we each experienced that day. Grazer mentions this specifically in his book — how many couples do not ask each other or talk about their days:
“How many marriages that drift into disconnection and boredom could be helped by a revival of genuine curiosity on both sides? We need these daily reminders that although I live with person, I don’t actually know her today—unless I ask about her today.” page 160
And later on that same page…
“We don’t just take our relationships to those closest to us for granted. We take for granted that we know them so well, we know what happened today. We know what they think. But we don’t. That’s part of the fun of curiosity, and part of the value of curiosity: it creates the moment of surprise.” page 160
I love this. I am voraciously curious about Chris and what continues to make him tick. I am curious about those I work with, my friends, and family. How are they changing? What is bothering them? What continues to make them happy? Promise me to not take each day for granted. Ask the questions. Be curious. And, if you want to read a good book, pick up “A Curious Mind.”
Where do we learn the behaviors that make up who we are? For some reason I was retrospective today. Thinking about my childhood, my teens, college, and my early professional career. At each stage I was a different person and I am still growing into who that is today.
As a kid I was definitely strategic (even if I did not know it at the time). I would find a way to con candy out of the old ladies at church (maybe I would not have resorted to it if it was given a little more freely at home). I learned early on that my sister would get sick on rides at the county fair, so if I asked to go on the spinning ones first I could potentially get the rest of her ride tickets. I was often quiet in the presence of my father when I knew he was in a bad mood, I did not dare piss him off. And I was fun and playful. I liked to be silly.
Somehow as I grew into being a teenager, I grew quieter and more introverted. I had seen too much in my life. Death, anger, poverty, sickness, desertion. As I look back at my senior year of high school, I feel a sadness. I barely made it through to graduation. I was lost and sad, but did not really know it at the time. On the outside I probably looked fairly normal. I was social, had friends, was a cheerleader, but my sadness came from not really having a home or parents to ground my day-to-day life. My last three years of high school were spent at a boarding school, so living away from home (that did not exist) sans parents was strange and so different from my classmates and friends. There was no one I could really relate to.
In college, I eventually found my way and I found my voice. That voice evolved into my professional life and experiences. I began to speak up for what I believed in without fear and decided that I had something to say and did not care what others thought of me.
Throughout it all I have been strategic, relentless, and thrifty. When I decide I want something I figure out how I am going to get it. I had to be that way. No one was taking care of me through high school or college so I learned early on to depend on no one but myself. While I now have people I depend on in my life, there is still always a thread that floats in the back of my mind. Will they drop the ball and I will have to pick it up? Will they follow through with what they said they will do? Each stage of my life has evolved into who I am today. Strategic, sometimes introverted, sometimes extroverted, intuitive, blunt, thrifty, and relentless. I have to trust you, and when I do the rest is history.
My sister is having a big birthday today. It is funny when you think back to when you were a kid, milestone birthdays really mattered. When you turned 16, 18, 21, 30, 40. They do matter, and maybe they always will, but sometimes life just happens and a birthday is just another day. Maybe I feel that way because growing up birthdays and holidays were often a non-event in my life. Real life shit was happening and was often way more important than getting one year older. Due to that fact, I do not put much stock in Valentine’s Day, Easter, Halloween and many other holidays. Often I think we wait for these Hallmark holidays and take those moments to spend time with our family, buy them gifts, or even to pay attention to them. Rather than wait for those dates on the calendar, why not make them important all the rest of the days of the year?
I digress. It is my sister’s birthday. I told you all that back story to say that while she might have too much happening in her life to worry about her birthday I want to share what she means to me.
We have been through a lot together. I will not go into detail, but we had to grow up early and fast, and that does something to a person. My sister spent her teens taking care of me and my mother, and holding my father up in life. She spent a good part of high school never sleeping through the night because my mother needed her (and I was too heavy a sleeper to know otherwise). In so many ways she was a mother before she left high school without ever giving birth. There were times during that period when we fought horribly with each other. Each trying to find our own place in a world where the adults in our life were dropping like flies. Both badly just wanting to be loved, to be held, and to know that somehow everything would turn out okay. That we would be okay. No one was there to tell us that, we only had each other.
As each adult we took care of passed away and our own adult lives began to take shape, I watched my sister become a child again (in a good way). She adventured down many different life courses learning and charting her way. Sometimes creative, others financial, and others to find the stability we did not have for many years. She continues down that path, always curious for a new and engaging endeavor, never willing to stay in something that did not nourish her soul. In addition to all her travels and professional explorations, she has explored writing personally and professionally, taught herself how to cook (we did not learn from our mother, and I still have not learned), and now she has paved the way into motherhood.
I have loved watching her this past year as a new mother. I see that she wants 100 times more for Charlie than she ever had (and I want that for Charlie too). While she is a quiet, gentle mother she is also a rock for her. In some ways I see my mom’s quiet strength come through, always wanting to teach us and understand the context behind something. I know that she will always encourage Charlie to try new adventures, be okay with her being as Punky Brewster as she wants, while also being sure she knows she is loved. As our lives have ebbed and flowed from childhood through college to adulthood, Charlie has helped to bring my sister and I even closer and make our sisterhood even stronger. Wanting to protect a little one makes love fierce and strong, and reminds you of all you already have in life.
Happy Birthday, Penelope. You are loved, everything will be okay, and I am always here.