Desperately seeking trouble

Our new cat, Tobi, is desperate to find as much trouble as possible.

He routinely opens cabinets and climbs inside. I've found him under the sink, squeezed between the posts and pans, and amongst the plates and bowls. 

It's frustrating, but at least it's not dangerous. 

I can't say this about all the places I have found him. 

I made an old woman cry. Was I wrong?

I'm standing in line at McDonald's, waiting patiently to order my daily Egg McMuffin.

The woman in front of me is having a problem. She's an old lady in the truest sense of the word. She's as crooked as a question mark and is holding a cane. She's ordered a "Big Breakfast Egg McMuffin" and received a Big Breakfast and an Egg McMuffin.

She's not happy.

She only wants the Egg McMuffin. She's added the words "big breakfast" to her order for reasons I cannot glean, but somehow, I know what has happened. Years of managing McDonald's restaurants makes the problem immediately clear to me.

I stand behind her and remain silent. I know that I inject myself into too many of these kinds of situations. Elysha has asked me to stand back and avoid conflict like this whenever possible. She worries about how people will react to my mouth. So I'm going to leave this to Janet, the employee who I see every day and know well.

Except that Janet is struggling to figure out the problem because the woman is yelling at her. Flailing her hands. Janet is frazzled by the sudden outburst of anger. She's unable to put two and two together.

I remain silent. I'm not going to involve myself. The woman is angry and treating my friend poorly, but my involvement will probably not go well.

The manager, who I also know, arrives and quickly identifies the problem. She explains the source of the confusion to the woman. She says that she will remove the Big Breakfast and refund the money. She grabs a scrap of paper to subtract the price of the Big Breakfast from the bill.

The woman shakes her hands violently and shouts, "Just give me my money!"

At last the issue is settled. The order is correct and the refund is complete. The woman moves off to prepare her coffee. I step forward and smile at Janet, who is still flustered. I wink. She smiles. She enters my order without me saying a word. I take my cup over to the soda station to pour.

The old woman is still there, stirring her coffee. I add ice to my cup and take a step closer to her to pour my Diet Coke.

The old woman turns to me and says, "These people are so stupid. How do you get this far in life being this stupid?"

I have done my best to remain uninvolved, but now she is speaking to me directly. Not only am I vigorously opposed to behind-the-back cruelty, but she is insulting people who I think of as friends. These are women who I see every day and exchange pleasantries with quite often. I feel like I must now say something. The woman has all but demanded a response.

Without missing a beat or considering my words, I say, "I think it's despicable when a person talks behind the backs of others. Despicable and disgusting. For the rest of my day, I'm going to tell every person I see about the despicable and disgusting thing that you just did."

And then she begins to cry.

This event took place in September. I asked my students what they thought of my actions. Most believed that my behavior was perfectly acceptable until I added the last sentence beginning with "For the rest of the day..."

"Over the line, Mr. Dicks," one girl said.

Many of my friends felt that my entire interaction was inappropriate. They suggested that it was not my place to impose my morals on this woman.

I reminded them that I did not interject myself into the conversation. She spoke to me.

That didn't matter for most.

Others argued that I was caustic and cruel to an older woman, and that I should've tempered my words because of her age.

I argued that this was agism.

None agreed.

Others argued that my words made no difference in the future behavior of this woman, so I caused needless pain and suffering for no result.

I suggested that this woman might think twice the next time she wants to criticize someone behind her back to a stranger.

Most disagreed.

Looking back on the incident with the advantage of time and perspective, I still believe that my actions were just. That old woman involved me in the situation after my attempts to remain silent. I simply spoke from the heart and said what I believed. I didn't consider her age a handicap to decency or discourse, and I genuinely believed - and still do - that our encounter might temper this woman's future acts of behind-the-back cruelty.

I tell this story today because of a response to a post on the ridiculous use of imperatives in argumentation. A friend on Facebook reminded me that "All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing!"

I don't think that the woman was evil, but I also couldn't allow such condescension and cruelty to go unchecked when directly involved.

I wasn't happy that the woman began to cry, and it certainly made for an awkward pour of my Diet Coke and a hasty retreat, but I said what I thought needed to be said. It would've been easy to ignore the comment. Nod and move on. Even explain to the woman that I know the employees well and are always impressed by their professionalism and performance.

But after watching this woman shout and flail and condescend, I didn't think gentleness was in order. "If you're going to dish it out, you have to be able to take it" is an expression that has always rung true for me. I think it applied well in this situation, despite the tears.


Demanding "a seat at the table" doesn't strike me as very demanding

I recently heard someone arguing for "a seat at the table" for the members of her organization.  

"A seat at the table" has always struck me as the marginal end of what you should be striving for if you're hoping to affect change.

Nothing wrong with it, but oftentimes not exactly a game changer, either. 

A seat at the table doesn't guarantee much more than the opportunity to listen to everyone who already had a seat, and when you finally have a chance to speak, no guarantee that anyone will listen. 

Perhaps instead of fighting for a seat at the table, you should attempt to upend the table instead.

Then again, "a seat at the table" may just sound too much like an endless string of meetings to strike me as very useful.

I never want a seat at the table if it means another meeting.

I don't teach mindfulness. Don't ever accuse me of teaching mindfulness. Here's why.

When I teach storytelling, and especially when I teach about finding stories in your life, I'm often told by students that what I'm really teaching is mindfulness.

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When I hear that word, I want to toss the person right out of my workshop. I push back immediately, rejecting any application of that word to what I do.

The last thing I want is for someone to accuse me of teaching mindfulness, for two reasons:

  1. I believe in simplicity. Easily defined, simple-to-apply strategies that offer immediate results. I break the art and craft of storytelling down into small parts and then teach those small parts in such a way that my students can begin using them almost immediately. Mindfulness is not an easy-to-define, simple-to-apply strategy. It does not produce instantaneous results. It's a large, amorphous umbrella that means different things to different people. It's a philosophy of change, and I don't like philosophy in these circumstances. Philosophy is too big. Too easily misunderstood or disregarded. Too difficult to quantify results. 

    I like small. Simple. Bite sized learning that I can model and teach easily and can be reproduced in my students flawlessly.
  2. Labeling my instruction as mindfulness (or "a form of mindfulness") is dangerous to my business. Say "mindfulness" and about half the people take a step forward, intrigued about what you have to say, but the other half head for the hills, and for good reason. While I don't discount the value and potential benefits of mindfulness, too many people have turned this philosophy into something unpalatable and bizarre to enormous swaths of people.

Mindfulness is kooky. Weird. Mumbo-jumbo. Touchy-feely.  

Don't believe me?

The New York Times published a piece last week on the mindful cleaning of the bathroom. 

"With the practice of mindful cleaning, you can transform this once boring activity into a nourishing and enjoyable moment to yourself."

This is not a joke. Here is what Matt Valentine, who runs, has to say about mindful bathroom cleaning:

Once you’ve selected your cleaning tool, take a moment to notice it with your various senses. Feel the soft texture of the sponge or hardness of the mop grip.

As you begin to clean, remind yourself that you’re cleaning to clean. You’re not chasing a result, a “clean bathroom.” Give your full presence to the act of cleaning.

Start by noticing the body. Notice as you raise your arms, move your hands, bend or step. Notice your breath as your chest rises up and down.

Now place your focus on the repetitive motion of wiping with the sponge or mopping the floor. Maintain your focus on each circular, left-to-right or up-and-down motion.

You can choose to match the cleaning motion of your hands with the rhythm of your breath. As you breathe in, wipe twice. As you breathe out, wipe three times. This helps further sync your attention with the physical activity of cleaning.

If we can be mindful while cleaning the bathroom, we can be mindful during any moment throughout our daily lives.
— Matt Valentine

I don't want any part of this. While I hope that Valentine's suggestions help people in their pursuit of mindfulness in all aspects of their lives, I find advice like this kooky. Bizarre. Ridiculous. A waste of time. 

I don't want anyone to think that what I teach has anything to do with what Matt Valentine teaches.

No thank you.

I don't teach mindfulness. I teach storytelling. Public speaking. Along the way, you may learn something about yourself. You may begin to see yourself and your life in an entirely new light. You may start to see connections between moments in your life that you never knew existed. You may come to understand your past in a way you never imagined. 

But all of this will come easily defined, simple-to-apply strategies that offer immediate results.

The law of choice in dating (and a call for the end of tribalism)

I've been thinking about how tribalism can be so limiting when it comes to finding and choosing the right spouse. When you choose to be inclusive to a particular sex, religion, race, nationality, or socio-economic status, you eliminate vast swaths of human beings from your dating pool.  

I don't think this is good. 

The basic tenet of this belief is this:

The more choice you have in potential spouses, the greater the possibility that you will land your ideal mate, and therefore the greater the chance that you will end up in a happy marriage and remain happily married for life. 

The fewer choices you have, the greater the likelihood that you will settle for someone less than ideal. You will opt for the best of your self-limited pool of candidates. Perhaps you'll never even be exposed to the ideal. Never understand what the ideal could be. 


If I have 100 potential spouses in my dating pool, for example, and you only have 25 in your dating pool, the chances that I will find happiness is far better than yours. 

Therefore, it only serves to reason that bisexual people have the greatest opportunity at the ideal spouse. While heterosexual people automatically limit their choices by 50%, bisexuals do not.

The world is their oyster.

There are men who I have loved, for example, who I could not marry because I was not physically attracted to them. A bisexual person might have had that opportunity.

Sex and gender are not limiting factors for these lucky people.  

If you only date within your race, you also have less choice and therefore less opportunity at finding the ideal spouse. If you only date within a race that is also a minority, then your choices are increasingly limited.

The same goes for religion. If you’re Jewish, for example, and you will only date within your religion, you have limited your choices enormously, particularly if you're living in the United States, where less than three percent of the population is Jewish.

And some places are more challenging than others. If you live in the Dakotas, there are fewer than 1,000 Jews between the two states. This means that there are only 500 potential dating partners, and only if every Jew in the Dakotas is single. 

It's a miracle that any Jew in the Dakotas finds any fellow Jew to marry. 

And if your brand of Judaism plays a role, too, your percentages are reduced even further. Once you start slicing the religious pie into slivers, the numbers get exceedingly small/ 

My wife is Jewish. Thankfully, she did not limit her choices of people who shared her religion. If she did (as many Jews do), we would not be together today, and Clara and Charlie would not exist. 

I've always admired Elysha's willingness to date outside the religion and forgo tribalism, because it's not always easy. There is enormous pressure by certain elements of the community to marry within the religion. Had her parents applied similar pressure, it would've been even more difficult for her to date and marry me. 

But not impossible.

Many people don't see Elysha as a nonconformist and a rebel, but that is exactly what she is. In many ways, she has been more than willing to blaze her own trail and reject the expectations and norms of society. She does this absent of any fanfare or bluster (unlike her husband), but that rebel streak is alive and well.    

I'm thankful and grateful. We are together today in part because she rejected the expectations of a community and opened her heart and mind to the world. I think we are both happier for it.  

Tribal pressure can be insidious at times.

I have a Portuguese friend who parents would not allow her to marry someone who was not also Portuguese.

I have a Nigerian friend who was disowned by her family for marrying outside the culture.

I had an African American coworker who lost friends when she married outside her race. 

I've known Jews whose lives have been upended (and relationship destroyed) when they fell in love with people outside the faith who their parents rejected.   

As a person whose parents have always held little sway over the course of his life, it's easy for me to argue against rejecting the expectations and norms of parents who have seemingly placed their own needs and desires ahead of their children's needs. It's easy for me to suggest that you should push back against culture and society when that has always come easy for me. 

Still, it needs to be done, because tribalism makes no sense when it comes to finding a person who can make us happy. If we want our children to be happy - and if we want to be happy - we should open our hearts and minds to all possibilities. It only stands to reason that the less tribal you are, the greater your likelihood of finding happiness in your marriage. 

The more willing you are to look beyond the confines of sex, race, religion, culture, familial expectations, and the like, the greater your chances of finding the ideal spouse. 

The greater the chances of you knowing what an ideal spouse can be. 

This is not to say that if you only date within your minority group that you cannot find happiness. I'm simply implying that your chances are enormously limited, and even worse, your chances of even knowing what happiness could be are reduced. 

You may never know real happiness.

Then again, you may believe that there is a multitude of ideal spouses in the world for any one person, and therefore your chances of finding one even within your minority group is good.

If you are of this opinion, bully for you. 

The essence of a New England Patriots fan and a Bostonian in 5 tweets.

This is a beautiful story. If you ever lived in Massachusetts, and especially in the greater Boston area, this will ring so true.

People in the Boston area are hardcore.  

It's Marathon Monday in Boston. As the runners make their way along the race route, a man stands on the side of the road, encouraging them with this sign that reminds them that in the third quarter of the Super Bowl, the Patriots were losing to the Falcons 28-3.

Keep going, marathoners. Don't give up. Anything is possible.

On Twitter, Addul Dremali, a biomechanical & data scientist and amateur photographer, posts a photo of the unidentified man and his sign.  

About an hour later, ESPN tweets at Dremali, asking if they can use the photo on all their platforms with a credit to him. 

This is where things get beautiful. With the opportunity to have his photo, name, and Twitter handle disseminated across ESPN's enormous and far reaching platforms, Dremail responds like a true and absolute Patriots fan.

This is a perfect reflection of what the people of Boston and its surrounding communities are like:

Fanatic, aggressive, perpetually angry, and so rarely self-serving. 

Forgive Dremali's language. It's also authentic to the Boston area.  

That is a thing of beauty. The perfect response by a man who had an opportunity to gain a little notoriety (in a culture where people will do almost anything to gain notoriety), and he decided to be a fan instead. 

About 30 minutes later, Dremail is contacted via Twitter by another news agency, requesting to use the photo. Their tweet is hilarious. 

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One minute later, Dremali responds perfectly.

School lunch shaming needs to stop. Simple solution: Adults need to stop acting despicable.

As a kid who received free breakfast and lunch for his entire childhood, I am keenly aware of the stigma, embarrassment, and shame associated with not having enough money to feed yourself.

As a child, teachers took the daily lunch count by asking us to raise our hand if we were:

Buying hot lunch
Buying cold lunch
Getting free hot lunch
Getting free cold lunch

Just writing those words brings me right back to the shame and embarrassment that every morning held for me.  

Later on, when I was homeless as an adult, I never looked into the possibility of soup kitchens or other programs to feed the homeless for the very same reasons:

I'd rather be hungry than humiliated.

I had thought that the system of requiring kids to raise their hands to indicate their economic status was a thing of the past. I assumed that it was a careless, thoughtless process that teachers and other school officials eventually recognized as wrongheaded and insensitive.    

Then I read about the food shaming that is currently going on in schools around the country.

From the New York Times:

"In Alabama, a child short on funds was stamped on the arm with “I Need Lunch Money.” In some schools, children are forced to clean cafeteria tables in front of their peers to pay the debt. Other schools require cafeteria workers to take a child’s hot food and throw it in the trash if he doesn’t have the money to pay for it."

In other towns, children were made to wear a wrist band or perform chores in exchange for a meal. Oftentimes an alternative meal is provided when a child is short on funds, signaling their family's financial difficulties to the rest of the student body.

It's disgusting. Worse, these policies are being enacted by adults who have been trusted to teach and protect children. How can any adult with even a shred of decency do this to kids?

I suspect that the reasons are many.

The desire for profits (school cafeterias are often separate businesses run inside the school)  

But I suspect the most common reason for this food shaming is an absence of empathy. A failure to understand the stigma and shame associated with being poor. A lack of contact with people in a different socioeconomic class. 

Recently, I was debating a point with my cohost on our podcast, Boy vs. Girl, when she argued that my experiences with poverty (the removal of all parental support at the age of 18, my struggles with poverty and hunger, and my eventual homelessness) were not normal.  

I pushed back - perhaps not hard enough - on this idea. While hunger, homelessness, and poverty may be unusual experiences for people in the socioeconomic circles that I now occupy, these conditions are unusual at all for people in a lower socioeconomic classes. Food insecurity, lapses in adequate housing, and even homelessness are not uncommon. When I was poor, I knew many people who spent months and even years couch surfing, squatting, living in cars, living in tents, and trapped in the eviction cycle.

I had family members who were homeless for a time.

I think it's easy to forget about these people when we don't see them everyday. It's easy to underestimate their numbers when they don't occupy our social circles. It's especially easy to forget about them when they try like hell to disguise their poverty in an effort to preserve their dignity, as so many do.

As I did. 

48 million Americans - including 13 million children - live in households that lack the means to get enough nutritious food on a regular basis. As a result, they struggle with hunger at some time during the year. 

These people exist. They exist in large numbers. 

It's hard enough to be poor. It's terrible to be hungry as a child. The last thing these kids need is their school highlighting their poverty with these despicable, stupid, insensitive acts of cruelty.  

Adults should know better. 

Earlier this month, New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez signed the Hunger-Free Students’ Bill of Rights, which directs schools to work with parents to pay their debts or sign up for federal meal assistance and puts an end to practices meant to embarrass children.

I was happy to see a state taking action against these terrible practices, but I was also saddened to learn that action was required. 

Even if you've never experienced poverty, and even if you don't know someone who is impoverished personally, it doesn't make much effort or imagination to understand how traumatic food shaming can be for a child. 

So use some effort and imagination, damn it. Stop embarrassing yourself and humanity. Don't be a despicable, disgusting adult.  

The next time you need to go into battle...

Not a literal battle, I hope, but one of those fights for what you believe is right...

  • Facing off against a school administrator to get your child the services she so sorely needs
  • Shouting over the fence at the neighbor who refuses to put his erratic poodle on a leash
  • Demanding a raise from your seemingly recalcitrant boss
  • Asking out the hippie girl you've been staring at in the coffee shop for weeks
  • Telling your mother that you're not flying to Tennessee for your second cousin's third wedding
  • Informing your husband that a third trip to Vegas with his friends this year isn't happening
  • Explaining to the employee at the DMV that you will not be taking another number, damn it
  • Demanding that the gang of teenage boys in the movie theater "shut the hell up!" 
  • Informing a fellow customer (a little too loudly) that criticizing the speed of the pharmacy employee behind her back is a cowardly and pathetic act (something I may do more often than I should) 

... the next time you find yourself in one of these possible conflicts, think about this photo,
this face,
this seeming force of nature,
and perhaps you'll find the inspiration to charge once more into the breach.  

Warning: Women with handbags crossing

Do you know what this sign warns motorists about?

It's okay if you don't. Why would you? It has NOTHING to do with the purpose of the sign.

Answer below.

The sign indicates a school crossing, even though it more closely resembles two women with handbags rather than any child crossing the street.

Can you imagine the moment when this design was chosen?

"Yes. Perfect. This design makes me think of kids in crosswalks exactly. Make a million of them!"

A tribute to Carrie Fisher

I've always thought that Bruce Springsteen should be frozen in time. Not permitted to die. Experienced by all future generations. 

I think Carrie Fisher fits that category as well. 

Below is a moving, tear jerking tribute to her by the Star Wars team.

But anytime I see someone so young and vital who is no longer with us, it kind of destroys me. 

How Can You Help Students Cope With Getting College Rejection Letters?

Slate asks: How can you help students cope with getting college rejection letters?

The answer to this one is fairly simple, I think:

  • Remind them of how many young people can't afford to attend a college of any kind. 
  • Show them the statistics on the enormous number of young people growing up in impoverished, crime-riddled neighborhoods, living in foster care, or sleeping on the streets. 
  • Introduce them to a high school graduate who can't attend college because he or she is caring for a for a sick, disabled, or dying parent.
  • Bring them to a military recruiter's office and introduce them to young men and women who are joining the military after high school in hopes of making college more affordable when their commitment to the armed forces is complete.  
  • Take them on a road trip through the inner city of Detroit or Baltimore or Chicago. Show them what it's like not to have any options.
  • Turn on the nightly news and show them what it's like to be living in Syria. 
  • Remind them of how lucky they are to have the opportunity to attend any college. Yes, perhaps it won't be at their first or second or even third choice of school, but they're going to college, damn it. They have opportunities that so many young people in the United States and around the world could only dream of having. It's time to find gratitude and appreciation for their position in life. It's time for a little perspective, damn it.   
  • Explain to them the meaning of the phrase "first world problem." 

I hated this question. You might have noticed.  

I actually liked the answer offered by Bruce Epstein, technologist and college counselor. He didn't sugar-coat a thing. His response may have been more reasonable and measured than my own. 

But as a person who didn't have the option to attend college after high school - who made it to college four years later after getting himself off the streets and only then by working more than 50 hours a week while attending college full time - I find the plight of the rejection letter a little pathetic. The cry of the privileged who fail to appreciate their good fortune.

There's nothing wrong with being disappointed by a rejection letter. Frustration, sadness, or even anger are all understandable.

But when your child reaches the point that he or she requires coping strategies, I think a healthy dose of perspective is in order. 

Or perhaps Bruce Epstein's advice, if you want something less caustic. 

New policy: Transform a meeting into an actual meeting.

As a teacher, I often find myself in meetings with teachers and staff from other schools in various buildings throughout the district. Up until this year, my habit has been to sit amongst my friends and colleagues in these meetings whenever possible, as most people tend to do.

It makes sense. Sit amongst your friends. Surround yourself with your people.  

This year I've adopted a new policy:

Whenever possible, I sit beside someone I don't know. Typically it's a teacher or staff member from another school, but anyone will do. Principal. Administrator. Custodian. At the risk of denying my friends and colleagues my scintillating company and acerbic wit, I choose to forgo the comfort and ease of friends for the opportunity to meet someone new. 

It's a good policy, I think. Even though it would be easier and perhaps more entertaining to sit amongst my friends, I have learned (in large part thanks to my wife) the value of broadening one's network. Making new friends and professional contacts. Getting to know people.

People often ask me how Elysha and I managed to make Speak Up - our storytelling organization - so successful so quickly. By our second show, we had an audience of more than 200 people, and we have been selling out venues ever since. I tell people that we're successful because we produce a high quality, entertaining, and diverse show each and every time, and I believe that. People know that a Speak Up show is a great way to spend a night out.  

But those initial audiences? The hundreds of people who came before we has established our reputation and our brand?

We also know a lot of people. We have many friends and acquaintances. And those early audiences consisted primarily of friends, colleagues, neighbors, and acquaintances who came out to support our endeavor.

Today I don't recognize most of the audience members at a Speak Up show. Though there are friends mixed in here and there, every Speak Up show brings new people to the fold, and we've met dozens, if not hundreds, of new people thanks to Speak Up. Many have become dear friends. But that early success was in part thanks to the many people I know and the extraordinary number of people who Elysha knows.

It's good to get to know people. It's beneficial to broaden your horizons. It's important to meet folks who are unlike yourself. I've watched Elysha establish deep and meaningful friendships with people after meeting them in doctor's offices, coffee shops, playgrounds, museums, and the Nordstrom's restroom. She seeks to say hello. Introduce herself. Ask questions. Get to know new people.

Our lives are richer because of it.

So I sit beside new people in meetings now. I introduce myself. Ask lots of questions. Try to get to know new people amidst the agonizing PowerPoint presentations and slowly moving second hand of the clock.

It's a good policy, I think. Transforming a meeting into an actual meeting.

Not always easy, but the difficult thing and the right thing are so often the same thing.     

Things I Do #6: I touch bricks

Last night I performed in a club in Lewiston, Maine constructed in large part of brick.

Whenever I find myself adjacent to a brick wall, I reach out and touch a brick, knowing that a bricklayer once placed this brick, and all the rest around it, into the wall.

Unlike sheet rock or plaster or wood, I feel like I'm reaching into the past when I touch a brick. This small object was once held by a human being who spent hours constructing this wall, and perhaps days and maybe weeks constructing all the walls all around me. It's the perfect example of something born from nothing.

Craftsmanship and artistry constantly seen and yet almost always ignored. 

It's a wall that will likely last longer than the person who built it, and when I touch a brick, I feel like I'm reaching into the past and connecting with the person who placed this particular brick in this particular place.

It's my attempt to acknowledge the extension of their existence, our connection in this moment, and my gratitude for their talent and labor.

It's also another example of my persistent, ongoing, omnipresent existential crisis, but you probably knew that already. 

The one thing about Sean Spicer's recent bout of stupidity that I haven't heard mentioned

There isn't much left to be said about White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer's recent inane comparison between Hitler and Assad and his declaration that Hitler did not use chemical weapons in World War II.

It was so, so stupid.

But I think one thing has been missed in all the coverage that this moment has received:

In addition to the stupidity of his statements, Sean Spicer is an inarticulate person. Just listen to his attempts to string actual sentences together into a coherent, cohesive message as he struggles to clarify his Hitler comment. He's a verbal disaster. His inability to pause, think on his feet, slow down, and speak clearly should alone disqualify him for the position.

Being a White House Press Secretary is not an easy job. You face enormous unpredictability and a room filled with professional journalists who are hell bent on finding the truth. You have to keep enormous amounts of information at your fingertips at all times and be able to articulate the administration's position on any number of issues.

Still, you're the White House Press Secretary. You need to speak in complete sentences. 

It only got worse when Spicer released an explanation (but not an apology) of his comments. It took at least three separately-released revisions of his statement before he finally got it right.  

In the first explanation (but apology), Spicer mentions the tactic of dropping dropping chemical weapons on "innocent people."

In this second version, "innocent people" is replaced with "population centers," probably because the millions of people who Hitler murdered using chemical weapons were also innocent.   

spicer new.jpg

In this final version (I think), he removed that offensive "however."

"In no way was I trying to lessen the horrendous nature of the Holocaust, however..." was not received well by anyone. 

He also added a sentence of extreme obviousness to the end of the statement, which is the closest he will come to an apology and yet is nowhere close to an apology. 

Saying dumb things is unacceptable for a White House Press Secretary. Though we are all permitted to make mistakes, Spicer has been making a lot of them. He has been caught in many, many lies, including that infamous fake terrorist incident in Atlanta and those record-breaking inauguration crowds. 

Saying dumb things is very bad. Lying is worse. 

But the inability to say anything clearly or release a statement without at least three revisions to that statement should disqualify you from the job. 

United Airlines is its own worst enemy. They need help. I have offered.

You've probably seen the video of the United Airline's passenger being forcibly removed from an aircraft bound for Louisville.

In case you haven't here is one of the many videos: 

The airline said in a statement that the flight was overbooked, and that no passengers agreed to voluntarily give up their seats. United said airline representatives randomly chose four passengers to leave the plane, and that one man selected refused to leave his seat.

Officials then requested the assistance of law enforcement, who forcibly removed the man. The seats were being cleared for airline employees on standby who were needed by the airline for shifts in Louisville.

After the leggings incident of three weeks ago, United Airlines is looking as bad as an airline can.

United Airlines CEO released a statement regarding the incident. It's a disaster. 

UA repsonse.jpg

"I apologize for having to re-accommodate these customers?" 

The whole statement is awful. It's worse than meaningless corporate talk. It's mealy-mouthed cowardice that only serves to perpetuate the story by introducing the world to the phrase "re-accommodate passengers."

The Internet is having a field day with this one.     

I would like to propose (with all sincerity) a rewrite of the statement:

United Airlines made a terrible decision to forcibly remove a passenger from one of our aircraft. This was an indefensible decision, and as CEO of this company, I take full responsibility for everything that happened on that aircraft. I apologize to the passenger who was removed, as well as every passenger on that plane who was forced to witness his removal. I will be contacting the passenger in question personally and doing all that I can to make this right. This will never happen again as long as I am CEO of United Airlines. Additionally, I will be conducting an extensive review of the policies that led to this situation, including United Airlines overbooking problem, to determine how this happened and what needs to be change policy-wise.
— Oscar Munoz, CEO, United Airlines

Some may argue that a statement like this would expose the company to a lawsuit. I'm quite certain that United Airlines exposed themselves to a lawsuit when they chose to forcibly remove that passenger from the plane.

That cat is out of the bag already.

But even if this statement makes it more difficult to defend a potential lawsuit, the money saved in goodwill and a demonstration of actual leadership would more than make up for the settlement costs.

United Airlines reported offered $800 in travel vouchers, and it was only after this offer was rejected that they began randomly removing passengers. Rather than offering $1,000, $1,500, or more in order to entice passengers to be bumped, now they have this.

United Airlines has a market cap of $22.7 billion. In an attempt to save a couple thousand dollars, they have instead produced video footage that has been seen millions of times and reported on by every media outlet around the world.

Perhaps they should stop worrying about the nickels and dimes and start worrying about their reputation with customers. 

Yesterday I reached out to United Airlines and offered my services as head of my proposed Department of Common Sense and Decency. 

They have yet to respond to my offer. If they do respond, I'll add "CEO statement writer" to my list of proposed responsibilities as well.

People misspeak. When their words are bigoted or sexist, we automatically condemn. We should think twice.

Truth: We all say things we regret.

We misspeak.
We fail to consider the feelings of another person.
Our joke lands poorly.
We don't foresee how a sentence will be received by others.
We choose the wrong word or words. 

Quite often, we forgive people for these moments. We know that they can happen absent any malice or intent. When you say lots and lots of sentences over the course of a lifetime, you will occasionally utter a clunker. An error. Something unintentionally offensive.

We get it. It happens to the best of us.  

But when one of these clunkers land on certain taboo subjects, we are decidedly less likely to forgive. Far more likely to condemn. Someone says something unintentionally bigoted or sexist and we are far more likely to bring down the hammer on the person, even if there's a chance that their heart was in the right place.

Unintentionally insult a colleague's work ethic or an employer's leadership and we can be forgiven.
Unintentionally make a racist or sexist comment in the workplace, and depending on the context, our life might be changed forever.  

We need to be more forgiving. More understanding.  

Recently I heard a woman tell a story about her battle with anorexia in her teens. Many factors contributed to the onset of the disease, but she mentioned that during the onset of her disease, her science teacher said that her body mass index was higher than he would've expected.

This is a terrible thing to say to any person, and especially a teenage girl. It would've been very easy for this woman to continue to condemn this teacher's comment even today, decades after the incident, but her response:

"No, he was a great man. One of the best. He just said a dumb thing that day."

I can't tell you how refreshing this was to hear. Rather than isolating a single moment in this teacher's life and holding it against him forever, she took a full measure of the man. She placed his stupid words in the context of a life of service.

We need to do this more. We need to allow people misspeak. Misjudge. Say something stupid without destroying their life or reputation in retaliation. We must take the full measure of a person. Weigh an unfortunate comment against the life they have led.    

Years ago I was named Teacher of the Year in my school district. I delivered a speech to more than 1,000 colleagues on the first day of school. After acknowledging my fellow finalists by asking them to stand and receive a round of applause, I said, "Thank you, girls. You can sit."

Stupid. I knew how sexist and rude those two sentences sounded the moment they left my mouth. I still cringe when I think about that moment today. 

Thankfully, no one held these words against me. The speech was well received. Twelve years later, teachers still routinely compliment me on it. The only person to mention my two stupid sentences was Elysha, and only after I mentioned the faux pas first. 

I'm not saying that we should not condemn the person for constantly making bigoted or sexist comments. There is a difference between saying something stupid and a pattern of stupidity. But before we condemn, we must take a measure of the person. We need to ask ourselves if the words spoken were indicative of the speaker or perhaps a moment of verbal stupidity. A poorly intended joke. Word salad. 

Was the bigotry or sexism intended, or was it simply a regrettable assemblage of words, absent any malice? Has the comment been repeated? Did the person defend the comment rather than apologizing for it? 

We should ask ourselves these questions before condemning a person.
Before blasting away.
Before potentially altering a life forever.

Current career listing: Perhaps you require my services and just don't know it yet.

I recently met a woman who went from corporate executive to personal chef to a host of other highly successful careers. As she described her work history, one thing emerged as most impressive in my mind:

She quit each previous job. Left them behind. Never looked back.

Unlike her, I tend to collect occupations. I have enormous difficulty leaving anything behind, for three reasons:

  1. After having stood on the edge of the abyss, homeless and hungry and hopeless, a part of you never leaves the edge of that cliff. At any moment, you expect to find yourself right back where you started, homeless and hopeless again, so holding onto potential sources of income becomes exceptionally important, especially when a family is depending upon you.
  2. I'm a curious person with a list of more than a dozen occupations that I would like to try at some point in my life. Collecting jobs is a means of satiating my curiosity. 
  3. I suffer from a constant, deep-seated existential crisis. Quitting something signifies (at least in my mind) taking one step closer to death. If I never quit anything, I never take that terrifying step towards not existing. 

So I have lots of jobs, and while that may seem a little crazy at times, it's also allowed my wife to stay home with our children for the last seven years. It's been an exhausting time in my life, but my kids are certainly the better for it.

A worthwhile sacrifice. 

When I recently told one of my closest friends that I will work less when Elysha returns to the workforce next year, his response shocked me:

"I'm glad to hear it. We've been worried about you." 

It's nice to know that your friends are thinking of you.

Still, I have many jobs, and perhaps you require my services and are simply unaware of it. So below is a list of my current professions.  

While occupations like teacher and writer seem like fairly obvious inclusions on the list, there are also several less obvious jobs on the list that may seem a little silly at first, but let me assure you that they are not.

Many people thought it was silly back in 1997 when my friend and I decided to become wedding DJs, even though we had no experience, equipment, or knowledge of the wedding industry whatsoever. We simply declared ourselves wedding DJs, bought a pile of equipment that we didn’t know how to use, and began the search for clients.

Twenty years and more than 400 weddings later, we’re still in business.

The same could be said about my decision to become a minister in 2002. Or a life coach back in 2010. Or a professional best man in 2011. 

All of these positions have either become profitable ventures or at least received interest from potential clients.

The lesson: If you want to do something, just start doing it.  

So here is a list of my 10 current occupations and an explanation of my services. I hope I can be of service to you in 2017.  

Teacher. Sorry. I’ve got a job teaching already, and I love it.

But I still have a dream of opening a one-room schoolhouse for students grades K-5 - a return to a joyous, laughter-filled, multi-age place of exploration, independence, flexibility, and academic rigor - so if you’re looking for a school for your child (or more importantly looking to donate a large sum of money to build my one-room schoolhouse), contact me.

Writer: In addition to writing novels, I’ve also written a memoir (unpublished), a book of essays (unpublished), a rock opera, three tween musicals, and a screenplay. I'm currently working on my first young adult novel and a book on storytelling, in addition to my next novel. 

All are due this year, so yikes!

I’m also the humor columnist for Seasons magazine and occasional columnist for Parents magazine.

I’m always looking for additional writing gigs, in particular a regular opinion column and/or advice column, so if you have a writing job in need of a good writer, contact me.

Wedding DJ: My partner and I are entering our 20th year in the business. We’ve entertained at more than 400 weddings in that time. We’ve cut back on our business considerably in recent years, ceasing to advertise or even maintain a respectable website. Almost all of our business these days comes through client or venue referrals, as we prefer.

If you’re getting married and need a DJ, contact me. 

Storyteller and public speaker: I deliver keynote addresses, inspirational speeches, and talks on a variety of subjects including education, writing, storytelling, productivity, and more. I’m represented by Macmillan Speakers Bureau.

I’m also a professional storyteller who has performed at hundreds of storytelling events in the last six years and has hosted story slams for literary festivals, high schools, colleges, libraries, and more. I’m a 29-time Moth StorySLAM champion and four time GrandSLAM champions whose stories have appeared on The Moth Radio Hour and This American Life.

If you need someone to entertain, inspire, inform, or emcee, contact me.  

Founder and Creative Director of Speak Up: My wife and I own and operate a storytelling organization called Speak Up. We are based in Hartford and produce storytelling shows at Real Art Ways, the Connecticut Historical Society, Infinity Hall in both Hartford and Norfolk, The Mount, and many other venues throughout the region.

I also teach storytelling, public speaking, and presentation skills to individuals, companies, school districts, and many other organizations. I conduct regular workshops at the Connecticut Historical Society and other venues. I work with organizations like Voices of Hope and Unified Theater to assist their staff and members tell effective stories. I teach workshops at rabbinical retreats, high schools, and colleges. I've worked with Yale University, Northeastern University, The University of Connecticut Law School, The University of Hartford, and many more. I coach individuals from all walks of life. I also teach at  Kripalu Institute for Yoga and Health in Stockbridge, MA, where I am a faculty member. 

If you have an audience that would be interested in storytelling, or you’re a storyteller looking to pitch a story for one of our shows, send an email to

Minister: In the past fifteen years, I’ve married 13 couples and conducted baby naming ceremonies and baptisms. I’ll be marrying two more couples in 2017.

If you’re getting married and are in need of a minister, contact me. 

Life coach: I'm currently working with three clients, assisting them in goal setting, productivity, personal relationships, career development, and finding happiness in their lives.

If you’re looking to make changes in your life and become a happier and more successful person, contact me.  

Professional Best Man: Since posting about this position on this blog in 2011, four grooms and two reality television producers have inquired about hiring me for their weddings and television shows that are wedding related. One hired me, only to cancel about a month before his wedding. Geographical constraints forced me to reject all their offers. 

Kevin Hart also contacted me upon the release of his film The Wedding Ringer to acknowledge that I originally had the idea that serves as the basis for the movie first. I am still awaiting my first gig.

Professional double date companion: Since posting about this position on this blog in 2011, I have had no inquiries. That does not mean the job is a failure. Just that it has yet to succeed.

If you’re dating someone for the first time or have been on several dates and need that important second or third opinion on the person in question, contact me.

Professional gravesite visitor: Since posting about this position on this blog in 2011, I have had no inquiries. That does not mean the job is a failure. Just that it has yet to succeed.

If you have a gravesite in Connecticut in need of visiting, contact me.