“I have been in the revenge business for so long, now that it is over, I don’t know what to do with the rest of my life.”
– Inigio Montoya, The Princess Bride
This weekend I heard an NPR interview with Mandy Patankin about his role as the swashbuckling Spaniard in what might possibly be the best (and most quoted) movie ever. Asked to recall his favorite line from the film, he got unexpectedly serious and referenced this line from nearly the end. He said it was one he’d had little attachment to at the time. In fact, he’d even gone back to look for notes he might have left himself in his script, and found nothing. Yet, looking back as an older man at his younger self, he finds it holds real meaning now.
The Princess Bride marked its 25th anniversary this weekend, and to celebrate, I gathered my son, my niece and my sister around my mom’s laptop in front of her sofa while she and my daughter slept in the recliner across the room. The speakers weren’t great, so we had to turn off the dishwasher and sit really still to hear it, forcing us to strain to hear the best lines.
“Inconceivable!” I’d said to Sara when she told me she’d never seen it. I was thrilled to be the one to introduce Haley to it as well. It was the perfect time to share it with Elisio, too, I thought, though as we watched I did worry about a couple of the scenes.
“You call that a giant?!?” Elisio huffed as Andre the Giant lumbered on board the ship.
“He’s a ninja!” he whispered as The Man in Black climbed the rope up the cliffs.
“Is he dead?” he asked on more than one occasion.
“What was your favorite part?” I asked him, the two of us the only ones to have made it all the way through, my mom having passed Nacine to me and then headed upstairs, Sara calling it an early night, and Haley long since asleep.
“The whole thing,” he said.
“I know,” I said. “It is one of my favorite movies.”
“It’s my only favorite,” he said, and curled closer to me as the highlights reel rolled beneath the closing credits on the screen.
I love the film for what Mandy Patankin described as the sense of fun that is behind the actors’ eyes the whole time. The last time I watched it, in college I think, I was the perfect age for quoting lines with friends. Seeing it to tonight with my son, a kindergartener, I watched him enjoy with sincerity all the things we loved half because we and the actors knew we were too old to still feel.
Sitting on the couch with three kids draped across me, I couldn’t help thinking about that near final line, the one Inigo Montoya uttered just before Buttercup leaped out the window to freedom. The one Mandy Patankin said meant something so different to him now.
He talked about how he’s changed as an actor, a person, a man in the last quarter century since it came out. He said he has himself gotten out of the revenge business and learned to be more present and at peace.
In many ways, I guess I’ve spent the last 20 years not in the revenge business exactly, but in the striving business. Aiming to prove that a southern girl from a small town could have it at all, much less have it all. Now that I’ve achieved it – the degree, the husband, the kids, the house, the job – it’s time to figure out what it means and, importantly, what now. What, as Inigo Montoya might put it, to do with the rest of my life.
Few things are as unfettered as rolling down a hill. The best you can do in terms of control is tuck in your arms. Sounds escape. Shoes slide off. Small blades of dry grass embed themselves in your hair.
Line up three people in a row and yell, “Go!” and one of you will roll over another. Heads will collide or feet will entangle and the third person will declare victory down where the hill bottoms out and the grass meets the sidewalk.
Ten, five, thirty-five. Age dissolves. When you stop your eyes keep rolling and the white clouds in the blue sky slide into focus again.
Glee. Terror. They are kindred rolling down a hill, their proximity in proportion to how steep or long the descent.
The best hill rolls happen in the fall. Autumn, I mean. Small bumps appear if your arms aren’t covered. Tiny scratches and impressions on unsocked ankles.
Today I rolled down the same hill I rolled down three years ago with my son and my niece. Twenty-three years ago with sixth-grade friends a year older than she is now. Time compresses in a tight spiral rolling, rolling, rolling until the ground flattens. We finally stop and lay still trying to still ourselves, staring at the slowing sky, one arm akimbo across our foreheads to shade us from the sun.
I liken a good tweet promoting content to a headline on a supermarket aisle tabloid: it gives you just enough to make you want more. Here’s a great example from the Washington Post from last night’s debate coverage.
“Republicans were so pleased with Romney’s performance, that with 15 minutes to go, this happened: wapo.st/RemXcI”
I’m probably cannibalizing this very post by including that sample so if you’ve made it this far – or made your way back after falling prey to that tantalizing tweet – well, thank you. There are a few ways that in just 118 characters, this post can teach you how to get clicks on your content.
1) The unexpected — If you’re like me, you were on gaffe watch during the whole debate, secretly hoping Romney would slip up. Republicans were probably trembling in fear of the very same thing. So, if you were one of the five people on Twitter who didn’t actually watch the debate, the idea that the GOP was pleased with his performance might come as a surprise.
2) The expected — Republican pleasure aside, you’re probably still skeptical something didn’t go awry for Romney. So the “with 15 minutes to go” sets you up for what you just knew all along.
3) The colloquial –Other than Jerry Seinfeld’s recent “Really?!?” letter to the editor of The New York Times, there’s little more lingua familiara than “this happened.” You can hear someone say it. You’ve said it. It makes you feel like whoever wrote the tweet, and hopefully the story, is an actual person just like you.
4) The cliffhanger — The other thing “this happened” does is makes you need to know exactly what “this” is. Just like those pictures on the cover of the tabloids of the mysterious formerly svelte celebrities in unfortunate bikinis make you pick up that paper and turn to page 36, you read that tweet and you have to click.
5) The Characters — We hear “140 characters” referenced so often when it comes to Twitter that we believe the character counter when it tells us we have 22 characters left to say what we have to say. Not so, we learn from The Washington Post. By leaving those nearly two dozen letters, numbers or spaces on the table, this tweet ensures its retweets will stay intact, no unfortunate truncation required.
So, kudos to old media for schooling us on getting new media right. I say follow @washingtonpost, if only for the masterful manipulation of a story into a must-click message alone.
This morning I was one of 400 or so colleagues sitting in an auditorium on the 12th floor of a Park Avenue office building… shivering. It wasn’t the temperature in the room or even the fall air outside that got us feeling a bit chilly. It was the description of temperatures of -85 degrees and photos of men dragging hundreds of pounds of supplies behind them across the ice on a 900-mile walk across Antarctica to the South Pole. One of the most memorable things he had to say summed up how he believes he made it — not just to the bottom of the planet but on a later trek across a frozen sea to the North Pole, too. “Don’t forget your own dreams. Don’t forget the dreams of the people around you.”
Robert Swan spoke for more than an hour, but none of us had to be told to put away our Blackberries or stop texting on our iPhones. We were rapt. He had us not only buttoning up our sweaters but laughing and gasping and, well, thinking. It was a training on Sustainable Leadership, but it felt like one of the best storytellers I’ve heard in a long time. And I guess that’s what a great speaker can do – make you forget the deadlines and emails waiting for you at your desk and immerse yourself in a narrative that underpins something more essential: an idea.
I’ve had a few experiences like this in the past several months. The kinds of presentations that I won’t forget, that inspired water cooler conversation when I got back to the office and streams of tweets while I was sitting in the audience. Last weekend, I witnessed the magic of Professor Hans Rosling pointing at charts with a ten-foot pole and making data sexy in his charming Swedish Chef accent. In June, I heard from Corporal Aaron Mankin, a wounded warrior who delivered a line that still hasn’t left my mind: “Six men – some fathers, all sons – gave their lives. I only gave my face.”
So this morning, as I sat so mesmerized by the speaker in front of me that I forgot all about documenting his remarks on social media, a few ideas came to mind that I’ll take with me to my next speaking engagement (hint, hint, shameless plug – if you’re in New York I hope you’ll come!).
1) Ditch the PowerPoint and use power images. Instead of words on the screen, use photos or brief video clips that bring your ideas to life. The photo of the member of Robert Swan’s exhibition team as his heel basically fell off but he kept walking for 5 straight 40-hour days? Nothing has ever brought determination and dedication home like that did.
2) Forget the talking points and just talk. That doesn’t mean don’t prepare. What it means is think back to that public speaking class you took in high school and step out from behind the podium, stop looking at the screen or your notes and speak. Have something meaningful to say and say it like you mean it. Todd Park, the Chief Technology Officer of the United States of America did this at the same conference where I saw Professor Rosling, and I still haven’t gotten over my nerd crush — or my excitement for the “awesomeness” that recent Obama administration initiatives have unleashed.
3) They could be anywhere right now but they’re with you. You’re not just speaking to a room or at an event. You’re talking to real people. People who could be anywhere in the world at that moment but have decided to be with you. Give them something worth remembering. Check out this video of the most human speech I’ve ever seen, Corporal Mankin’s address to the 2012 VOWS conference, and see what I mean:
My son has a cold … again. I feel really sorry for him, with all the sniffling and blowing and constantly being asked “Have you washed your hands?” and told “Don’t get too close to your sister.”
So, rather than sit at home all day and watch movies like we usually do when he’s sick, this time we decided to make a movie instead.
The set? Our basement playroom? The costumes? Trader Joe’s bags transformed with scissors, markers and green electrical tape.
The final product? Knight Patterson.
It is not that I have anything against exercise. In graduate school, after my car died, I rode my bike everywhere for two years. In Miami.
But aside from those two years, and an award for being Most Dedicated on the Stone Mountain High School swim team my freshman year, I’ve been sitting at a desk for the better part of my life so far. And, like most college-educated professionals in this country, my work involves very little of what most people in the world would call work. So I must work out.
This is something I accept intellectually and have managed to put into practice only sporadically.
My freshman year of college? I actually lost 15 pounds when my roommates and I made regular appearances at step aerobics classes. I even bought – and wore! – one of those thong leotard things you wear over the biker shorts. Ew.
I went running a few times with an old boyfriend, and I even took kickboxing for a brief period in 1999. There were two stints at the Ladies’ Workout Express, where I worked out in a circuit with a traffic light in the corner telling me when to move from a weights to a step and then on to the next machine.
Each time my motivation flagged, and it felt inevitable. So this time, I decided to bring in a professional.
So far I’ve had just one session with my trainer, but I feel like the accountability, encouragement and variety may keep me on track. That and the fact that I need to fit back into my business clothes when I go back to work.
More importantly, though, when I lay down on the floor for tummy time, helping my daughter learn to lift and turn her head, I want to be able to get up without rocking and launching myself with a grunt. And when my son wants to race me across the parking lot I want there to be a chance I will win.
So, I will get up while everyone is still sleeping and sneak out when the kids are in bed. One week down, a lifetime of better health to go.
At the end of this post I will be bravely sharing the before photos from my first-ever session with a personal trainer this morning. If you’re anything like me, you’re a sucker for before and after photos, so don’t look. Please? Save them for the end?
Good. You haven’t peeked yet, so as your reward, here’s a little before and after photo of part of my dinner tonight:
“No prepackaged foods,” my trainer said this morning. “You can have a lot of food, but it all needs to be fresh – fruits, veggies and protein.” Inspired by a recent NYTimes piece and the insanely low prices and great selection at Giant Gourmet Farmers Market in Hackensack, I spent half an hour prepping fruits and veggies after lunch and roasted up enough to last us several days.
They were just as delicious as they look, I assure you, and the leftovers settled in nicely next to the gallon-sized bags of raw fruit and veggies I put on the top shelf of the fridge for easy snacking.
Just as we were wrapping up (after she showed me the exercises she promised will change my body) Coach Thommie said two words that I can’t get out of my head: Eat Clean. Every time I open the fridge or a kitchen cabinet, I hear them. Eat Clean rang in my ears as I pushed my cart through the aisles of the farmer’s market grabbing broccoli rabe, pomegranates and butternut squash.
I even braved the fish counter for some salmon steaks, scallops and catfish fillets. Next time I might even try some shark.
As I entered today’s meals into the tracking app on my phone, I thought about how simple eating right becomes with those two words as a mantra. Zucchini, onions and portabellas are as low in calories as they are high in flavor and vitamins. Feeding Nacine as the day was winding down, I also thought about how Eat Clean means I’m passing on these healthy choices and giving her the vital nutrients she needs.
She’s helping me out in the bargain, too, burning at least 500 calories a day before I even count the ones I’ll be using to complete my trainer’s workout at the gym.
So those before pictures I promised? (Gulp) Here they are.
Coach Thommie assured me that a) I’ve just had a baby only two months ago, and b) the before pictures are supposed to look awful. She even encouraged me to mess up my hair.