Stop with the woke. You'll look just as clueless and horrible as everyone else someday.

I can't stand the notion of being woke. I can't stand the assertions of those who claim to be woke. 

For those of you fortunate enough to be unaware of this term, "woke" was originally used to describe a continuing awareness of issues concerning social justice and racial justice that came to widespread use as a result of Black Lives Matter.

This was good. It made sense. It's a fantastic call to action.

The term has since been co-opted by mainstream culture to refer to any situation where people should be more aware of and actively attentive to important facts and issues (especially but not specifically issues of racial and social justice).

While the idea of being more active and attentive to racial and social issues is also a very good one, the use of the word in many circles has come to imply new state of being. An enhanced level of social consciousness. A more evolved understanding of the injustices of the world.

I find this silly and annoying. The world has been evolving in this way since the dawn of time. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said:

"The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice."

The people who take so much pride in being woke today and see themselves as more evolved than previous generations will look as problematic as we did 25 years ago when restaurants featured no smoking sections, public buildings were not accessible to the disabled, we still used words like "midget" and "retarded," and I was riding in the way-back of my parent's station wagon, seatbelt-less and fancy free. 

Like ever previous generation, the woke of today will be the shame and ridiculousness of tomorrow. 

Bill Maher makes this point better than I can, so please watch, particularly if you are a person who takes pride in being woke. 

Live forever?

Every Friday, students and teachers in my school gather for an assembly called Town Meeting to celebrate children's voices.

Through writing, art, and song, kids share their work with hundreds of fellow students and parents. Part of this process is an interview with one of the writers, and one of the questions traditionally asked is, "If you could have any super power, what super power would that be?"

For twenty years, I have waited for a child to answer the question in the way I would answer the question, and last month, it finally happened. 

When a little girl was asked what her super power would be, she said, "I would live forever."

I happened to be the person emceeing Town Meeting at the time, so I was able to ask the young lady why she wants to live forever. Her followup response was just as brilliant:

"There's just so much I want to do. And never enough time."

Precisely. 

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Somehow, this young lady understands the fleeting nature of time and its inherent, immense value, even at such a young age. While super powers like teleportation and super speed also hint at an understanding of the value of time, living forever (presuming you're living in such a condition to allow you to experience a full and complete life) demonstrates a wisdom beyond her years. It demonstrates a curiosity and a zest for life. A desire to do experiment. Experience. Try new things. 

I have a list of jobs I'd like to hold at some point in my life. The list looks like this:

Behavioral economist|
Bookstore owner
Therapist
Instructional coach
Attorney
Camp director
College professor
Financial analyst
CEO of Boy Scouts of America
Firefighter
Filmmaker
Newspaper columnist
Postal carrier
CEO of Girl Scouts of America
Professional poker player
Hot dog vendor at an MLB stadium
Bartender
Sociologist

I'll need half a dozen lifetimes to try all of these professions, and I'm adding to the list constantly. 

That little girl gets it. There's so much to do. 

 I was so impressed. So happy to find a child who thinks like me.

It only took 20 years.

Setting goals is almost always important, except in this case

After being tucked in for bed every night, our five year-old son, Charlie, sits in bed, reflecting on his day before assuming his customary and bizarre sleeping position (on his face) and going to sleep.

This is something he started doing on his own more than a year ago. One night, before the lights went out, he decided that it would be good to think back on this day and consider all that has happened.

Kind of remarkable.

Recently, he explained this to one of our babysitters as she was putting him to bed. She was impressed, too. "Do you think about tomorrow, too?" she asked.

"I can't," he said. "I don't know what we're doing tomorrow."

"Maybe you could set some goals for tomorrow," she replied. "Make some plans."

Charlie thought about it for a moment before answering, "I think I want to talk about poop more." 

And reader, as my wife, Elysha can attest, he did.

Just in case that his decision to be reflective each night made him sound like some soulfully advanced, hyper-mature kindergartener.  

Not so much. 

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Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport is as quirky as it sounds

If you're ever flying into or out of Toronto, you'll probably be flying into Toronto Pearson International Airport. 

But there is another, lesser know international airport in Toronto called Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport, and it's an interesting little place for a few reasons.

First, the name: Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport. Doesn't exactly roll off the tongue. It's named after World War I Canadian flying ace Billy Bishop, who was credited with 72 victories and later trained Canadien pilots during WWII.  

Billy Bishop Airport would be fine. A little odd, perhaps, but named after a war hero, so why not?

But Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport? Is Toronto ever referred to as Toronto City?

The Toronto City are actually a Canadian soccer team (presumably for the 43 Canadiens who can't play hockey), but the official name of Toronto is The City of Toronto, which is still a little weird, but not Toronto City.

Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport.  

Very odd. And more than a mouthful. 

Second, the airport located on an island about 100 yards offshore in Lake Ontario, requiring passengers to take a ferry or a tunnel to get to the airport. When I flew out of Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport two weeks ago, my trip to the airport included a car, a train, a bus, a ferry, and finally a plane.

Quite the epic journey. 

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Third, while I'm sure the airport is occasionally busier than when I was there, it was the first time that I was the only person passing through security at an airport. I couldn't actually find the security checkpoint (and had to ask someone) because there was no line. Just a guy standing beside a metal detector. 

"That can't be it," I thought. But no, that was it. One guy. One metal detector, and me.

You can imagine my surprise when he informed me that I was randomly selected for a more intensive search of my person and belonging.  

Lastly, the airport is so small that there is no restaurant, fast food counter, or even coffee shop on the premises. Instead, the airport offers free bottled water, coffee, soda, and snacks. An actual refrigerator filled with free beverages. A counter lined with snacks of all kinds. Coffee pods, tea bags, and hot water for the taking. 

Add this to the comfortable seating, lovely side tables adorned by small lamps, and the relative quiet of their small, single terminal, and I was actually disappointed when my plane was called. 

"I could write here," I thought. "This could be my new office."

Alas, my time at Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport was short, so I only had enough time for one Diet Coke, a phone call to Elysha, and a few email responses before it was time to go. And because the airport is in the middle of the city, jets are not allowed to land or take off so I took a prop plane for the first time in my life.

Once onboard, it was exactly like a jet except a little slower. 

Being in the middle of the city, Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport also offers spectacular views of downtown Toronto. 

Not a bad perk.

6 regrets

I'm not a fan of regrets, but as Frank Sinatra once sang, I've had a few. Six big ones in my life, which is probably a small number. 

Happily so. 

Interestingly, almost all of my regrets are from the same period in my life, from the ages of 17-22. No surprise that the memoir I've decided to write encompasses those very years.

Because I love lists (and just finished a novel comprised solely of lists), I've decided to make a list of them here.  

1. I wasn't wearing my seatbelt on December 23, 1988.

Even though I always wore my seatbelt from the moment I started driving, the excitement of Christmas shopping and the rush to get to work caused me to forget on the very day that my Datsun B-210 collided head-on with a Mercedes, sending me through the windshield and destroying my legs as they became embedded in the dashboard. 

Had I been wearing my seatbelt, my injuries would have been minor. 

The accident resulted in months of recovery during the final months of my senior year of high school, multiple surgeries on my knees, and glass still embedded in my forehead today. It also had a domino effect on the rest of my life, as you'll see below. 

2. I didn't attend college after high school.

Despite my excellent grades and enormous number of extracurricular activities, no adult ever spoke the word "college" to be throughout my entire school career, and the expectation was that I would leave home at 18.

While I eventually made it to college five years later, I was forced to work full time while earning at degree in English at Trinity College and a elementary teaching degree at St. Joseph's University. Though I found time to write for the school newspaper, serve as the Treasurer of our Student Council, and compete in statewide debate tournaments, I never lived on campus and didn't have the opportunity to attend school the traditional way or make close friends like so many of my friends did. 

My friend, Bengi, once told me that it was a shame I didn't go to college after high school. "You were made for the traditional college experience. You would've loved it."

I think I would. 

3. I didn't become an Eagle Scout

Though I earned more than enough merit badges for Eagle Scout by the time I was 15 years old, I stalled, partially because no adult supported me in designing the required service project, and once I finally did so on my own, a near-fatal car accident derailed those plans and stalled me once again. Less than two months after my accident, while I was still recovering, I turned 18, and my lifelong dream of becoming an Eagle Scout was dead.

4. I didn't pole vault during my senior year of high school

The same near-fatal car accident prevented me from competing in track during my senior year and kept me from competing in the district championships, where I had placed second the previous year. 

5. I play sports right-handed.

Though I am left-handed, my stepfather would not buy me a baseball glove for a lefty and instead gave me a hand-me-down glove for a right handed player. This forced me to learn to throw right handed (which is why I still throw poorly today) and had a domino effect on almost every other sport. I learned to shoot a basketball right handed and I learned to swing a baseball bat right-handed, which led to me playing golf right-handed.

This made every sport at least twice as hard for me to learn, and it left me with a lifetime of struggle on the courts, fields, and fairways. 

6. I didn't request a lawyer during my series of interrogations before being arrested and tried for a crime I did not commit.

Assuming that if I requested a lawyer, I would appear guilty, and because I had no parent or other adult figure in my life when I was 21 years-old to support or guide me, I allowed myself to be interrogated by police three times over the course of two weeks without an attorney present and without anyone in my life knowing what was happening to me.

I'm not sure if things would've changed had I requested an attorney, but most attorneys who I've spoken with think it would've changed things considerably, and my arrest had a domino effect on my life:

I lost my job. I became homeless. I worked two full time jobs for almost two years to pay for a $25,000 legal bill, and while I was at one of those jobs, I was robbed at gunpoint, guns to my head and triggers pulled, which led me to a lifetime of PTSD. My planned entrance into college was derailed, and my life was essentially stalled for two years while I awaited for my trial and struggled to pay my lawyer. 

Eric Carmen's "Make Me Lose Control" is weird on many, many levels, including being inexplicably stuck in my head.

Standing in McDonald's yesterday morning, waiting to order, a song came on the sound system that I couldn't immediately identify but oddly knew by heart.

I started singing along and was shocked to discover I knew every single word.  

The song was Eric Carmen's "Make Me Lose Control." It was originally released in 1975 and then re-released following the success of Carmen's "Hungry Eyes" on the Dirty Dancing soundtrack. Apparently the song rose to #3 on the billboard charts that year, but I honestly have no recollection of ever hearing this song, and yet I know every word of it.

It's crazy.

I was never an Eric Carmen fan.
I never owned an Eric Carmen album.
It probably hasn't been played on the radio since 1990. 

Isn't that strange... knowing stuff so completing that you didn't know you knew?

A similar thing happened to me a couple years ago when I discovered that I also knew Richard Marx's "Should've Known Better" on a drive with Elysha to New York. Had you asked me if I knew the song before it came on the radio, I would've said no, but there it was, trapped in my brain.

Every damn word. 

Realizing that I knew the song caused me to watch the video, of course, which turned out to be interesting, too. 

The video opens on a beach with a woman listening to the radio. We hear a radio disc jockey and Eric Carmen listening to the end of "Hungry Eyes" and talking about the song as the scene shifts from the beach to the actual radio station. The DJ plays "Make Me Lose Control." Carmen and the DJ shake hands, and Carmen leaves.

Then the scene shifts again. Now Carmen is now driving in a car in the 1950's, recreating a famous scene from American Graffiti when Richard Dreyfuss sees a beautiful woman in a T-Bird who mouths the words, "I love you" but they never meet.

This is odd because Carmen is singing about how much he loves Jennifer, the girl presumably sitting beside him in the car. In order to mitigate this problem, the director puts three people in the car. Carmen (who oddly isn't driving) alongside a woman and a man. Perhaps we're supposed to believe the mystery woman in the T-Bird is Jennifer, but he never meets this woman but sings about Jennifer as if they've been in love for a long time.

It makes no damn sense. 

Carmen is also wearing the same clothing in the 1950's version of himself as he's wearing in the 1980's.

Also makes no damn sense.  

Now for the serious question:

Near the end of the video, we oddly flashback to the radio station for a moment, where the DJ is now throwing darts at the photo of a man on a wall.

Who is this person? Why is he throwing darts at his face? What the hell is going on here? Please tell me. 

The video then shifts back to the 1950's before once again returning to the radio station, where the DJ closes the song with classic DJ speak,  and we then return to the beach, where we hear the final bars of the song as the girl picks up her radio and heads off into the sun. 

That is a lot for a music video. That's meta before meta was a thing. 

Listening to a song being performed by its musician in the 1980's who then introduces his next song so he can go back to the 1950's to pretend to be someone else from a movie in the 1970's about the 1950's before returning to the radio station in the 1980's (absent the musician now) and finally the beach. 

Damn. 

Someone thought all of that would make for an excellent music video. 

Eleven is evil.

Just after the United States launched missile strikes against Syrian chemical weapons facilities, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis said, "I've never seen refugees as traumatized as coming out of Syria. It’s got to end."

Sure, but over the last three years, the number of Syrian refugees admitted to the United States has been this:

2016: 15,479
2017: 3,024
2018: 11

Even though decades of immigration data and almost every economist in the world will tell you that refugees bring added wealth and prosperity to a nation through entrepreneurship, hard work, and an increasingly robust tax base, and even though Jesus himself was a refugee, Trump has all but stopped the flow of Syrian refugees to our country, and his Evangelical base continues to support him through this cruel and evil process.

Hush money paid to porn stars and Playmates. Accusations of sexual harassment and sexual assault from more than two dozen women. Bragging about sexually assaulting women. 

Evangelicals reject the veracity of these mounting charges and somehow sleep soundly at night. 

But you can't refute these immigration numbers. America has stopped saving the lives of Syrian refugees, despite our ability to do so, despite the economic logic of doing so, and despite the Secretary of Defense's claim that he's ""never seen refugees as traumatized as coming out of Syria. It’s got to end."

From 15,479 to 11. 

It's despicable. 

And this isn't really an issue of immigration because Trump himself stated that he would like more immigrants from places like Norway than "shit hole countries" like Syria. Trump has made his position very clear:

We will take immigrants from the wealthiest, most stable countries in the world, but your tired, your poor, and your huddled masses? 

Not so much. 

Then again, Syrian refugees pose another real problem for Trump:

Just like Jesus, they aren't white, and they aren't Christian. 

Since racism or religious bigotry are a hallmark of this administration, you can see why it would be hard for Trump to accept these brown skinned, Muslim refugees.

When you launched your political career with lies about Muslims on rooftops during 9/11 and been charged multiple times by the federal government with housing discrimination because of your refusal to rent to African Americans, it's clear that Syrian refugees aren't going to sit well with xenophobe in the White House.    

Meanwhile, men, women, and children die in Syrian refugee camps. These are men, women, and children who are willing to come to our country and work long and hard for a better life. 

I don't believe in a heaven and hell, but if they exist, this is the kind of thing that would cause a person to burn in eternity for sure. 

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A moment of honest-to-goodness terror

Clara, my nine year-old daughter, early this morning:

"Dad, I'm kind of upset. I don't have any..."

Then she took a sip of milk, leaving me hanging for a moment, waiting for the next word. And in that moment between the word "any" and the next word, my brain fired off:

"Oh no, what's wrong? She doesn't have any what? Friends? Fun at school anymore? Self confidence? Self worth? Does she have no joy in her life? No parents who understand her soul? No reason to live?"

Then she finished her sip and continued. 

"...loose teeth."

"What?" I asked.

"Loose teeth," she repeated. "I don't have any loose teeth right now. I wish I had at least one."

Happily, thankfully, blessedly, I was able to laugh at her for this ridiculous complaint and move on with my day.

But for a second there, my whole world nearly came crumbling down. All things nearly took a backseat to my daughters desperate plea for love or attention or friendship or whatever. For a brief moment in time, the world became very dark and I struggled to see any light. 

She has no idea how much influence she has on my general state of happiness and satisfaction, and I hope she never does, or she'll have me in the palm of her hands. 

  

Worst decisions ever #1: My SportsCenter hat

I thought it might be fun to occasionally reveal some of the worst decisions of my life. 

Humiliation. Always fun. 

Here's one:

This purple SportCenter hat, which I purchased while on a tour of ESPN circa 1995 and wore religiously for more than two years, was not a good decision on my part.

A purple hat that advertises a television show is not exactly the way one should move though this world. Also, it was purple and cheaply made, so by year two of its tenure on my head, the sun had bleached it to an oddly pink hue.

And still I wore it. It was atrocious. 

Worst of all, I thought it was very cool. 

Although ESPN still sells SportCenter hats today, I have never seen another human being wearing one of these hats, and I live about 30 minutes from ESPN headquarters and have known my fair share of ESPN employees and on-air talent. 

That pretty much says it all.

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My daughter meets Chelsea Clinton.

These are photographs of our little girl asking Chelsea Clinton a question about Malala at a lecture at Central Connecticut State University yesterday.

“Best day ever!” she shouted.

Maybe not best day ever, but possibly top 10 for Clara. Not only does she know Chelsea Clinton as a remarkable humanitarian, but her picture book, She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World, is one of her favorites.

Clinton's newest book, She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World, also features Malala Yousafzai, who Clara also loves. She's read several books about Malala and has even read portions of her adult memoir, I Am Malala

A special day for our girl.

Later, Clara met Clinton personally when she had her book signed. She shook Clinton's hand and exchanged a few words. Charlie, too. 

As an added bonus, Clinton loved the shirt that Elysha was wearing (and that I designed and gave to her for her birthday) and asked to take a photo her to show her mother.

I think Elysha was almost as excited as Clara at that moment. 

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Why I'm obsessed with that traffic interview

Two weeks ago, I wrote about my obsession with this traffic video.

I'm still a little obsessed, and I know that seems weird. I thought it was weird, too, but then I put some thought into why I am so obsessed, and I think I found the reason:

I always think things can be improved. Be made more effective and more efficient. Not everything needs to be made more efficient and more effective, but I think a lot of things do. There is a lot of room for necessary improvement in this world.

Yet so often I see people take the first choice available to them. The most obvious route. The mindless decision. The path of least resistance. 

When I'm working with storytellers, for example, I often see them choose the first anecdote that comes to mind when building their story. The first choice of words. The first means of description. The first pathway into the story.

I'm always trying to find the better way. In some ways, I know this makes me a little crazy.    

For example, I'm engaged in lifelong experiment to determine the fastest way to empty a dishwasher. Dishes first, then glasses? Silverware first? Should I move certain items to the counter to make it faster to access the cabinets? I'm a person who uses a stopwatch when emptying the dishwasher.

That's a little crazy.

I do the same thing when taking a shower. Can I get in and out of the shower in under 100 seconds? Is there a faster, more efficient way of getting myself clean? If I start by soaping my chest, while gravity pull the soap down to my legs, making that process faster? Do I even need to wash my knees? Do knees ever get so dirty that they require a scrubbing?

Crazy. I know.

And when it comes to storytelling, I make lists. Lists of possible anecdotes. Lists of descriptors. I experiment with different places to begin a story.  Different places to end a story. In a lot of ways, storytelling is about choice. The best storytellers make the best choices when constructing their stories.

But so many storytellers make no choices at all. They simply choose the first thing that comes to mind. They see their story as a predetermined construct rather than something that is flexible, malleable, and rife for improvement.

Just like emptying the dishwasher. And taking a shower. And a thousand other processes I dare not mention lest you think I'm losing my mind. Every day of my life, I am trying to find more efficient, more effective ways of doing things, to a degree that would probably surprise and perhaps alarm you. 

But I believe that things can always be made better. Work can be accomplished faster. Time can always be saved.  

Just like that traffic video, which acknowledges in a wonderfully visual way how simple changes in design can yield remarkable results.   

That's why I'm obsessed. The people who design intersections are my people. That video is like looking into my head and seeing how my brain works, for better or worse.

BOOK LAUNCH PARTY! SAVE THE DATE!

Join internationally bestselling author and 36-time Moth StorySLAM and 5-time GrandSLAM champion Matthew Dicks for the launch of his first non-fiction title:

Storyworthy: Engage, Teach, Persuade, and Change Your Life through the Power of Storytelling.

Saturday, June 16, at 7:00 PM at Real Art Ways in Hartford.

In lieu of a traditional book launch party, Matthew will perform a one-man show comprising five BRAND NEW stories with short lessons after each story (right from the book!) designed to make you a better storyteller.

Following the show, Matthew will take questions, sign books, and give away prizes.

The evening will be emceed by Elysha Dicks.

Live music performed by Shoulda Coulda Woulda.

Books will be sold in partnership with Barnes & Noble of Blue Back Square, West Hartford.

The show is PG-13, so teens are welcome.

Beer, wine, and snacks will be on sale courtesy of Real Art Ways.

Tickets are just $5, and all proceeds from ticket sales will go to fund educational programming at Real Art Ways.

Kids say funny (and not so funny) things

In the playscape at McDonald's, Clara is playing with two little girls and having a grand old time. At the height of their joy, the father of the two girls shouts, "It's time for church, girls! Let's go!"

As the two little girls put their shoes on, one of them asks Clara is she has to go to church, too.

"No," Clara says. "We don't go to church."

Charlie, sitting next to me and eating pancakes, whispers, "Thank God."

_____________________________________

After seeing a black and white picture of Starbucks hanging on the wall in a Starbucks, Charlie asks Elysha if the world used to be in black and white. 

_____________________________________

Clara asks why women's bathing suits have to cover their chests but men's bathing suits don't. 

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Try something new. Again and again and again.

My wife, Elysha, is learning to play the ukulele. Her remarkable and handsome husband gave her a ukulele and lessons for Christmas, and ever since December, she has practiced and played almost every day.

It's her new thing.

My friend, Steve, is hosting his first corn hole tournament on Saturday in his backyard. Dozens of competitors, corporate sponsors, fabulous prizes, and he's opening the event with a singing of the national anthem. 

It's his new thing.

I can't say enough about introducing new things to your life on a regular basis.

You must. You never know where they might lead.  

Back in July of 2011, I went to New York City to tell a story on a Moth stage. My plan was to tell one story and never do it again. 

Today, I have become a storyteller who performs all over the country and the world. 

In 2013, Elysha and I produced our first Speak Up storytelling event at Real Art Ways in Hartford, expecting 30-40 friends would gather two or three times a year to listen to stories. 

Today, we produce about a dozen shows per year for audiences as large as 500 people.

In 2014, I taught my first storytelling workshop, telling the participants that this would be the only workshop I ever teach.

Four years later, I teach storytelling professionally. I work with corporations, clergy members, politicians, nonprofits, colleges and universities, public schools,  hospitals, and many more.

The last four days alone:

On Saturday, I taught storytelling at Central Connecticut State University to abut 75 educators as part of a conference on literacy.  

On Sunday, I taught storytelling to a group of remarkable young women at Miss Porter's School, a private boarding school in Connecticut, in preparation for a show that I will be producing on campus.

On Monday I traveled to a Mohawk reservation an hour north of Toronto, Canada, to teach storytelling to a group of Mohawks who are learning their native language for the first time,

Yesterday, I taught storytelling to high school students in Woodbridge, CT. I also produced a story slam for students and performed that night alongside friends and fellow storytellers.

Tonight I will consult on storytelling with an attorney in Kansas City who works to reform housing and labor practices in his city.  

All of this happens because in 2011, I tried something new. 
In 2013, I tried something new.
In 2014, I tried something new. 

I shudder to think what my life might be like today had I not taken that stage seven years ago. 

Not everything that I try has similar results.

I wrote a book of poetry that will never see the light of day.
I've written picture books that no one wants to publish. 
I tried to learn to code online and honestly could not wrap my mind around any of it.

But each of these new experiences opened a door to me. Provided me with possibility. Gave me new insights. Carved new neural pathways in my brain. 

Elysha may never play the ukulele professionally, but every night. we listen to her play and sing, and it's beautiful.

Steve may never turn his corn hole tournament into anything more than an annual backyard event, but those annual tournaments will be a source of joy and amusement for him and his friends and family.

I keep a list in Evernote called "What's Next?" It's a list of things I want to try at some point in my life. Some of the items on the list are realistic and doable. Others are fanciful and unlikely. But if you had told me seven years ago that I would spend two days on a Mohawk reservation in Canada teaching Native Americans to tell stories, I would've thought you were being ridiculous.

You just never know.

Items on my "What's Next?" list include:

  • Perform my one-person show in a theater
  • Spend a summer at Yawgoog Scout reservation
  • Write and direct a short film
  • Launch a podcast with featuring me and the kids
  • Learn to make an outstanding tuna avocado melt for Elysha
  • Try curling
  • Teach a college class for new teachers about the things that are really important
  • Officiate a funeral
  • Become a notary 
  • Become an instructional coach 
  • Design and teach a competitive yoga class
  • Land a weekly column in a major newspaper
  • Become an unlicensed therapist

These are just a few of the many items on my life. An endless list of opportunities for me to try.

Life is so full of opportunities. So full of possibilities. Yet I see so many people become stagnant and still. Stuck in the routines of their lives. Unwilling to try new things. Afraid to attempt the ridiculous or the difficult or the seemingly impossible. 

Avoid this at all cost. Pick up a ukulele. Start your own corn hold tournament in your backyard. Officiate a funeral. 

Do something new, and after that, doing something else that is new. Keep doing this. Never stop. Life is full of possibility and surprise if you allow it. 

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Evangelicals hate. Jesus would love.

Evangelicals would disagree, but this is exactly the kind of church that Jesus would love if he were here on Earth.

I'm not a religious person. I describe myself as a reluctant atheist, and that's about right. I wish I had faith, but despite a lifetime of effort, I've yet to find it.

But I've read The Bible - beginning to end - three times in my life, and I've read the first four books of The New Testament many times beyond that. I cannot imagine how Evangelicals - or anyone, really - could read the books of The New Testament (the story of Jesus) and not think that Jesus would support every word on this sign.

I have to believe that they have either never read their foundational text from beginning to end or have been taught to pick and choose between the Old Testament and the New Testament, buffet style, in order to better support their bigotry.

Transactional Christians. Not the kind of Christians who Jesus - human philosopher or Son of God - would want following him. 

Going nowhere

The woman sitting beside me on a plane bound for Toronto fell asleep as we taxied out onto the runway. We were tenth in line to takeoff, so we were on the runway for quite a while.

Just before it was our turn to takeoff, the pilot announced that the plane was experiencing problems with the brakes, and we would need to return to the terminal.  

When the plane finally came to a stop at the gate, the woman beside me woke up.

"Wow," she said. "I slept through that whole flight!"

I smiled. “No, I'm afraid we’re still in New York. We haven’t gone anywhere yet.”

The look on her face... such disappointment. 

I was just so very happy to be the one to break the bad news to her. 

Good news/bad news on the exoneration front

Good news: 

Lawrence McKinney, 61, jailed for 31 years for a crime he did not commit - rape and burglary - has been awarded one million dollars in compensation from the state of Tennessee.

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A decidedly different outcome from Lamont McIntyre's fate, who I wrote about a couple weeks ago. 

Bad news:

It wasn't easy. And it almost didn't happen. 

Upon his release from prison, McKinney received just $75 after three decades behind bars.

"Because I had no ID it took me three months before I was able to cash it," McKinney told CNN.

After he was freed, Mr McKinney sought a full exoneration. This was the only way he could petition the state for a more appropriate settlement. But in 2016, a parole board unanimously voted against a full exoneration, even though all DNA evidence indicated he was not guilty of his crime. 

One board member defended their decision not to exonerate him with this gem:

"The victim's descriptions to police matched McKinney's description, to a tee."

However, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam reversed the parole board's verdict and unilaterally exonerated him in December 2017. Only then were McKinney's attorneys able to get him his one million dollar settlement. 

Had the governor not intervened, McKinney's $75 settlement would have stood. That amounts to .006 cents per day of incarceration. 

Six-thousands of a cent per day behind bars. 

Even now, the settlement of one million dollars amounts to just $88 per day, and once attorney's fees have been deducted, that amount is closer to $61 per day.

There is no way to return 31 years of a man's life, but the state can at least ensure that his remaining years are spent is relative leisure and comfort.  

Is that really too much to ask?

Recently, Nevest Coleman made news after being released from prison after 23 years thanks to DNA evidence and immediately returned to his job as Chicago White Sox groundskeeper. 

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Coleman endured a 12-hour interrogation, during which he was punched by a detective when he denied any involvement in the killing.

Told he could go home if he confessed, Coleman was coached to say that two other men had carried out the murder while he acted as a lookout. Coleman gave a statement, then recanted as soon as his lawyer arrived, according to court records.

Coleman and co-defendant Darryl Fulton both gave confessions and were convicted of rape and murder, while a third suspect who did not confess, was never charged.

As a person who came precariously close to confessing to a crime he did not commit after hours of interrogation and false promises, I can't tell you how much I feel for those men. I know what it's like to be in that small room, desperate to escape, feeling like you never will. 

The same detectives who coerced Coleman and Fulton's confessions were involved in other questionable cases. Just last month, defendants arrested by the same detectives but later exonerated by DNA evidence reached a $31 million settlement with the city.

Colemman and Fulton have yet to learn how much they will receive. 

Hopefully more than a groundskeeper makes. 

Snoopy's advice sucks

If you know me at all, you'll know that I suffer from a persistent, constant, never-ending existential crisis. 

I think about death all the time. More that you could ever imagine.

In an effort to alleviate my concerns and perhaps offer me a little peace, one kind reader sent me this cartoon. 

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But there's one terrible flaw in Snoopy's logic:

Yes, it's true. There is only one day in our lives when we will die, but we will also stay dead for all the days after we die. For as long as time and space exist, we will not. 

Death sucks, but it's just the beginning of an eternity of remaining dead. And that, even more than my death, saddens me. Constantly. Immeasurably. 

Yes, they are real eggs

I found myself at dinner recently assuring someone for what felt the millionth time that the eggs cooked at McDonald's are in fact real eggs. 

"They actually crack eggs?" she asked. 

"Yes," I said. "They crack the damn eggs." 

"Really? They crack real eggs every morning?"

"Yes."

The question arose because I had been explaining to the woman that every morning I stop by McDonald's for an Egg McMuffin. When she heard this, she looked at me in horror. Possibly disgust.  

Naturally my first question was: "When was the last time you were in a McDonald's?"

Here answer, as I expected, was a billion years ago.

This always astounds me. Kind, generous, thoughtful souls are always so willing and quick to assume and judge when it comes to food. Whether it's fast food or processed food or anything in between, people make rapid determinations about food absent of any facts and experience. 

For example, people assume that fresh vegetables are the best possible form of vegetables, when the truth is that frozen vegetable are just as good for you (and sometimes better for you) than fresh vegetables. 

When I explain this fact to perfectly rationale human beings, they scoff. When I provide scientific evidence of this fact, they refuse to believe. When I show them mountains of research proving my case, they change the subject. 

Fresh food is supposed to be better than frozen food, damn it. End of story. 

Another example: Every day, almost without exception, I eat a bowl of Quaker instant oatmeal for lunch. Colleagues have repeatedly questioned my choice of lunch, the rigid consistency of my lunch, and my decision to eat prepackaged oatmeal as opposed to the fabled steel-cut, homemade variety.

I explain that I eat instant oatmeal on the advice of my doctor, and after one year of eating instant oatmeal almost every day, I lowered my cholesterol 50 points. I went from borderline high cholesterol to fantastic cholesterol, and the only change I made was one bowl of instant oatmeal every day.

Just as my doctor ordered. 

When I asked a nutritionist if I should consider switching to the homemade, all-natural, steel-cut variety, her response was this:

"Only if you prefer the taste and want to spend more time making oatmeal. The instant oatmeal probably has a little more sugar than what you'd make at home, but otherwise it's just as good for you. Oats are oats." 

Yet when a person sees my lunch emerge from a small, brown bag and cooked in a microwave, the assumption is that I'm eating a processed, unhealthy food that would never be found in a good and wholesome place like Whole Foods. And when I explain that my doctor and a nutritionist fully support this decision, and that I've lowered my cholesterol 50 points in the process, they continue to fight.

Food that comes out of little brown bags and cooked in microwaves isn't supposed to be good for you, damn it. End of story.

So back to the Egg McMuffin. I eat one a day. Over the course of ten years spent managing McDonald's restaurants I made tens of thousands of Egg McMuffins. I've cooked so many eggs that I can hold four eggs in my two hands and crack and empty them into a frying pan simultaneously.

Here is what an Egg McMuffin is made of exactly:

One real, honest-to-goodness egg, cracked into a egg ring and poached.
One English muffin, exactly like the kind of English muffin you have in your home.
One slice of American cheese, exactly like the American cheese you purchase at a deli.
One round slice of Canadien bacon.

That's it. All real ingredients. 290 calories in total.

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If I was to serve you a scrambled egg (with a little American cheese mixed in for flavor) alongside an English Muffin and a slice of bacon, you'd accept this as a reasonable breakfast. If I served it to you on a pretty plate with a orange wedge garnish (that you probably wouldn't eat) and a cup of your favorite coffee, you'd think you were in heaven. 

Yet hand that same breakfast through a drive thru window in sandwich form and people can't believe the egg is real. 

Fast food is not real food, damn it. End of story.

I'm not implying that all fast food or processed food is good for you. I'm not saying that eating an Egg McMuffin every morning is the best possible breakfast.

I often add an apple or a banana for that very reason.

What I'm asking is that when it comes to food, we try to assume less. Be less influenced by preconceived notions. Be less susceptible to the marketing of corporations like Whole Foods and The Food Network. Be a little less fetishistic about our food beliefs. Be more open-minded to the idea that perhaps food establishments or food products that you have deemed demonic are perhaps not as evil as you once thought.   

And stop doubting the fact that McDonald's cracks real eggs, every morning, in every restaurant.