Twenty-five years spent standing in a parking lot

I'll be tailgating in the parking lot at the Patriots game on Sunday. I have seen many things in the decades I have spent tailgating at Gillette Stadium.

Public intoxication. Nudity. Fist fights. Fender benders. Lobster shell distance throws. A Christmas tree labeled "Trebow" that was set afire and nearly burned several dummies to death in the process. 

I've bribed parking attendants. Trudged through snow up to my waist. Sent a soon-to-be-exgirlfriend back to the car at halftime when she could no longer endure the freezing rain and demanded to be brought home. Pushed my pregnant wife up the ramps to our seats with the help of my friend, Shep.   

Even after a quarter century of attending New England Patriots football games, I still see things while tailgating that surprise me.

Like this: 

A comfortable place to sit prior to the game and perhaps an efficient way to get rid of an old piece of furniture at the same time. 

Killing two birds and such.

Does the dog die? We need to know.

I Am Legend is a post-apocalyptic science fiction film loosely based upon Richard Matheson’s novel of the same name. It stars Will Smith as one of the few survivors of a plague that has killed most of humankind and left many in a zombie/vampire-like state. It opened to the largest ever box office for a non-Christmas film released in December and was the seventh highest grossing film of 2007.

The film also sold 7 million DVD's, making it the sixth best selling DVD in 2008. However Warner Bros. was reportedly “a little disappointed” by the film’s performance in the DVD market.

And I’ll tell you why sales were disappointing.

The dog.

While helping to save Will Smith’s character from certain death, his dog becomes infected with the virus, and after much consternation, Smith’s character is forced to put the animal down.

It is the scene that prevents me from ever watching this film again, and I suspect it’s the scene that has suppressed DVD sales and has kept the film from being plastered all over the basic cable channels like so many other of Will Smith’s blockbuster movies.

It’s not the violence or gore of the scene, because there is none.

It’s because no one wants to see a dog die.

It’s that simple.

Kill mothers and fathers and children galore, and people will be more than happy to watch the movie again and again.

Smith’s blockbuster Independence Day is a perfect example. Millions of people are killed in that movie, including the President’s wife, who dies tragically under the watchful eyes of her husband and daughter.

A father gives up his life while his son listens on and a best friend dies while Smith’s character looks on and can do nothing.

And like I Am Legend, there is a dog in that movie, too. Once again, it’s a dog owned by Smith’s character. In fact, the two dogs look so much alike that they could be the same dog.

Perhaps they are.

And guess what?

The dog in Independence Day survives.

It appears in the final scene of the film.

Independence Day airs on basic cable all the time.

Warner Bros. left a lot of money on the table when they decided to kill that dog in I Am Legend.

For a great many people, including me, that film became unwatchable the second time around.

If you're worried about watching a movie in which a dog dies, there's a solution for you:

www.doesthedogdie.com

This website offers three ratings on films:

  • No pets die.
  • A pet is injured or appears dead but ultimately lives.
  • A pet dies.

Don't be surprised by the untimely death of a dog, or even a cat, a hamster, or a goldfish anymore. Go into every film prepared for the possible death of a beloved pet.

Or avoid the movie altogether.  

If you search doesadogdie.com for I Am Legend, you will find this entry:

"Dog is infected by a zombie-esque virus and is killed by her owner." 

Sounds pretty unwatchable to me.

An important lesson for all public speakers, storytellers, and the poor souls who must conduct meetings

I love this church sign.

I love it because it's emblematic of one of the most important lessons for all public speakers and storytellers:

Say less.
Shorter is better.
Fewer words rule.

The 20 minute commencement address is almost always better than the 40 minute address.

The 30 minute meeting is almost always more effective than the 60 minute meeting. 

The six minute story is almost always better than the 10 minute story. 

And yes, the shorter sermon is always better than the longer sermon.

The longer you speak, the more engaging, amusing, and captivating you must be. That's a tall order. Those are high expectations. Most people are not engaging, amusing, or captivating by nature.

But that's okay. Like the sign says, you don't have to be nearly as good if you can be quick. 

Shorter is also harder. I often tell storytellers that it's easy to tell an 8-10 minute story. Almost anyone can find a way to get from beginning to end in 10 minutes.

But it's hard to tell a 5-6 minute story. It means making difficult choices about what will stay and what will go. It requires careful crafting and clever construction. Words and phrases must be expertly manipulated. Your choices must be spot-on.  

But the results are often superior.

One of the most popular stories that I tell is about four minutes long, and while the story is good and actually won a Moth StorySLAM, I remain convinced that audiences like it because it's short. I pack a ton of suspense and humor and heart into four minutes, making the story seem exceedingly satisfying. 

I could easily turn that four minute gem into a longer, more complex story, and I nearly did when The Moth asked me to tell it on their Mainstage. I began expanding the story, finding areas to explore in more depth, and while the results would have been excellent, I think the pace and hilarity of the story might have suffered greatly.

Ultimately, we decided on a different story for that Mainstage show, so I never had the chance to see the results of the longer story.   

But here is what I know:

The longer you speak, the more perfect and precise you must be. The longer you stand in front of an audience - whether it be a theater or a boardroom - the more entertaining and engaging your words must be.

So speak less. Make time your ally.

Four pieces of debate advice for Hillary Clinton. Someone please pass this post onto her people.

It demonstrates Trump-level hubris to suppose that I might have something to say about Hillary Clinton's performance during the debate last night, but at the risk of sounding a little too certain of myself, I have a few notes for Clinton that I think would help a lot.

And while I'm sure that she has incredibly skilled experts working with her, I have spent much of my life preparing for arguments like these. I have been debating lunatics for years. Going toe-to-toe with anyone who I could find. I started battling my evil stepfather at the tender age of eight and have been battling ever since. 

I've been training for a debate like this for all my life. 

I was also the Connecticut collegiate debate champion two years in a row.

This is something that I do well. 

I've reached out to the Clinton campaign via Twitter with all sincerity, hoping that they will contact me and hear what I have to say, but if not (and it's highly unlikely), here are a few things I would tell her.

I've got more - including things that she did very well that she should continue doing - but these are four of the best pieces of advice I have.

____________________________________

Your website fact-checking idea was a good one. Many people watch television with a laptop in front of them, and this idea creates a second channel, not bound by space or time, for viewers to hear from you. However, when you introduce it - and you should again at the next debate - you must do so forcefully. Say it like you mean it. Last night you made it sound like an after-thought. You actually laughed a little while explaining it. Instead, say this:

"Look, this debate is only 90 minutes long, so there is no way that I am going to be able to refute all of the lies that Donald has told and will undoubtedly continue to tell tonight, so please, go to my website, where we will debunk his lies in realtime. We cannot allow falsehoods to stand when so much is at stake."  

Say that with force. Say it like it is a moral imperative.

____________________________________

Open more your statements with a single word or phrase like "Look" or "Let me explain something to you" or "Make no mistake about it." Even stating the moderator's name, as if you are speaking to him or her, works well. Trump either does this naturally or understands the value of focusing an audience on him. Short, imperative words and phrases like these do that. They command attention. Too often you are easing into your point, slow at the start and gaining momentum throughout. Instead, open with a punch. A single word or phrase that commands the audience's attention and demonstrates authority and the importance of what is to come.  

____________________________________  

When Trump is categorically lying, like when he states that he opposed the Iraq War from the onset, a simple and effective way to dismiss this lie is to turn one of his own tactics against him. Trump loves to imply that everyone is in agreement with him. He uses phrases like, "People tell me..." or "I'm hearing from a lot of people..."

Do the same. Say this:

 "It doesn't matter what Donald says was his initial position on the Iraq War. We all know what the truth is. The American people decided that issue a long time ago."

Not only will this put Trump in opposition with the American people, but it will likely poke the bear, because one of the best ways to hurt an opponent is to use his words or strategies against him. And this is a bear you want to poke. You want to knock him off his game. You want him to get angry. You want him to show his true colors.  

____________________________________

Trump scores points when he talks about your 30 years in office and how much time you've had to fix America but haven't. You must have a rebuttal for this, and the rebuttal is simple and should come in three parts.

Use a different rebuttal each time he brings it up. 

1. State your achievements over the last 30 years.

Say this:

"If Donald is going to blame me for everything that has gone wrong since I entered public office, then I deserve to take the credit for what has gone well."

Then start listing these things. Trump says the country is a disaster. This is your chance to point out all the incredible things that have been achieved while you have been in office. 

2. Trump presents a simplified version of the government. He presents an image of the world in which walls that America doesn't pay for can be built and concessions can be added to international negotiations with ease. He wants people to believe that you could've fixed the world over the last 30 years but didn't. This is the time to expose his inexperience.

Say this:

"Making deals with countries in possession of nuclear weapons or attempting to develop nuclear weapons is not the same as making deals with architects who you then stiff or big banks looking to make a buck on the backs of the American worker. You don't get to declare bankruptcy and start over when dealing with a country like Iran or Russia or North Korea or China. These are not countries that can be pushed around like the painters and builders who you push around daily. But you don't understand that, because while I have been serving America for 30 years, traveling to 112 counties, negotiating complex deals that you would never understand with people you have never met, and sitting in rooms watching and waiting and praying while American troops are risking their lives going after the likes of Osama Bin Laden, you have been dodging income taxes, appearing on reality TV shows, and closing failing casinos. This world is a complex and changing place, Donald. You don't understand that, and you never will." 

Say that, damn it. Just like that.    

3. Make damn sure that you point out that government is a three branch system, and no matter what you want to do, you need Democrats and Republicans to come together to do so. In the last 30 years, we've had Republican Presidents, as well as Senates and Houses controlled by Republicans. Don't let him hang every failure on you.  

Say this:

"This is not a monarchy, Donald. Or a dictatorship. Perhaps you need a lesson on civics. You're not happy with the last eight years of the Obama presidency? Your own party has made it their point to oppose anything that our President has attempted to make happen. They stated this explicitly before he ever came into office. It's a miracle that he's done as much as he has. And when John Boehner attempted to reach across the aisle and make a deal with Democrats and make government work again, your party threw him out."

Not only will this tie Trump to Republican obstructionism, but it will also demonstrate that there are Republicans who are willing to make government work again. Good Republicans who we need in office. Just not Republicans like Donald Trump. 

If you really want to get daring (and you should), you could add:

"I feel bad for my Republican friends. People like ... (list well known Republicans who you can call your friends) who deserve better than this. These are people who have been serving our country for years. People like John McCain who you don't consider a war hero. And now they are tied to a man who calls women pigs and believes that judges can't be impartial because they are of Mexican descent. They deserve better. The country deserves better." 

Verbal Sparring: If you don't like it, leave.

"If you don't like it, leave," in all its variations, is a coward's argument. It's an argument made by people who are afraid of debate, don't understand logic, and want to escape the fray as quickly as possible. 

"If you don't like, leave," implies that arguing for change is not permissible.

"If you don't like, leave," implies that dissent is unwarranted. 

"If you don't like, leave," implies that diversity of mind is out of bounds. 

There are many responses to this ridiculous argument and arguments like it.

Refuse: "No, I'm not going to leave. I'm going to fight."

Make the logical argument: "Telling me to leave implies that dissent and change are not permissible here. That is nonsense, of course. Change is constant, and it only comes through a diversity of opinions. This is not North Korea."

NOTE: This argument does not work in North Korea.

Attack: "It sounds like you're afraid of debate. Maybe your ideas suck and you know it. Maybe I intimidate you. Maybe you know that you're standing on shaky ground. Either way, I'm not taking my toys and going home because I'm not afraid of a good argument and a weak-willed sap like yourself."  

Historical: "If that was an actual argument, then it would stand to reason that anytime someone was not happy with a policy or position, they should leave. Women don't like receiving 70 cents on the dollar? Leave. African Americans don't like separate but equal? Leave. A soldier doesn't like a general's decision? Leave. That's just stupid. It's not how the world actually works outside of your head."

I tend to favor the attack strategy, but that may just be my nature.

Unfair assumption: The more you have on your business card, the less I think about your professional ability

When you hand me your business card, I expect to see your name and your contact information.

That's it. That is the purpose of a business card. It serves as a reminder of your name and a means by which to contact you.  

If your business card is glossy and contains an image of you or anything else other than your contact info, I can't help but think that you don't know what you're doing.

That you're trying way too hard.

That you lack savvy and professionalism. 

This rule applies to musicians, actors, authors, and other performers, who seem to specialize in the glossy color photo business card.  

This is the one exception, of course.

Complimenting an item of clothing is the lowest form of compliment

I love the message that this cartoon conveys, but I just wish it wasn't all about the hat.

hat.jpg

Complimenting an item of clothing is the lowest form of compliment, which is why it's so easily applied to strangers. 

If you don't know the person, it's easy to comment on their relatively irrelevant exterior since their interior is oftentimes impenetrable, especially when time is limited.  

Still, I avoid this lazy form of compliment at all costs. Having vowed to never make a negative comment about a person's appearance ever again, I've slowly begun avoiding comments on physical appearance altogether. In fact, with the exception of my wife and children, I have managed to avoid any comment on physical appearance - positive or negative - for more than two months.

This does not mean that I have forgone complimenting people. I simply look for things that actually matter, which for me is what a person says or does. 

That's it. This is what I choose to care about and choose to focus on. 

My podcast host, Rachel, recently cut off a bazillion inches of hair off her head. Not only did I not notice the change (which was admittedly a little bizarre), but I had to explain to her that even if I had noticed the change, I probably would've said nothing about it because I don't care about her hair at all.

Not one bit.  

So yes, we all have the power to brighten someone's day with a well placed compliment, and I utilize this power whenever I can, usually in the form of a hand written note, a well timed email, or a public proclamation of achievement. Last week, for example, I complimented a camp counselor on her expertise with my students, but I waited until her boss was standing alongside us to do so. 

Timing is everything.

Compliments are great. I love to offer them and love to receive them. I encourage you to compliment me often. I just believe in making compliments as meaningful as possible.

A hat just doesn't do it for me. 

The first person to listen to my nonsense and predict that I would be a writer has passed away

My former high school vice principal and Toll Gate principal Stephen Chrabaszcz passed away unexpectedly on Wednesday.

I am so saddened over this news.

From the Providence Journal:

Those who knew him said Chrabaszcz, who became a principal in 2006, shared his cellphone number with students, parents and staff, and would work weekends to meet with parents who could not meet with him during the week.

“He was fixated on Toll Gate pride,” Tober said, adding that Chrabaszcz was at every school-related event, from parent-teacher conferences to an away game in Burrillville.

“He brought that level of commitment and pride to what it meant being part of Toll Gate,” Tober said.
— Providence Journal

As a vice principal, Mr. Chrabaszcz was one of the first adults in my life who was willing to listen to my nonconformist, occasionally subversive ideas and debate me in a real and sometimes heated way. Rather than dismissing my complaints or ignoring my explanations, Mr. Chrabaszcz engaged with me. We went toe-to-toe on many issues. We raised our voices and stood our ground. 

I loved every minute of it. 

When I argued, for example, that I should not be required to type my term papers because I didn't own a typewriter and was denied access to the machines at school because I had chosen to take a geography class rather than a typing class, he listened. He pushed back. He probed my thinking. He investigated my claims. Ultimately, he agreed with me, and as a result, teachers were no longer permitted to require students to type their term papers unless those students were guaranteed access to the school machines for a reasonable amount of time.

I didn't type another paper that year. 

I wrote about this debate and his decision in the school newspaper in a piece called "The Right to Write." It was in many ways my first real piece of writing. It was the first time I had expressed my opinion in a voice that sounded like my own. It was argumentative. Nonconformist. Unconventional. Angry, even. It represented a challenge to authority. It argued in defense of the have-nots.   

The morning that the piece was published, Mr. Chrabaszcz pulled me out of my English class. Standing just outside the door to the classroom, he held the newspaper up in front of me, shook it, and said, "You need to learn to type, dummy. You're going to be a writer someday."

This was an enormous moment for me. Mr. Chrabaszcz was the first and only adult from my childhood who spoke to me about my future and my potential. Parents, teachers, and guidance counselors would abandon me, but Mr. Chrabaszcz believed in me. There were moments on my long and seemingly impossible journey to college when those words outside that classroom kept me going.   

 Three years ago, after befriending a Toll Gate High School student who read my books and initiated a long, ongoing exchange of emails of me, I visited Toll Gate High School to talk with students about writing, and during the visit, I met with Mr. Chrabaszcz, who was the principal. He remembered me well from my high school days, and from what I could see, he hadn't changed much. Energetic, enthusiastic, and always quick to the point, he was thrilled to hear that I had become the writer he predicted I would be, but he was even more excited about my teaching career. 

Since that visit, we have been exchanging emails with Mr. Chrabaszcz about education, writing, leadership, and our lives. I treasure every one of our exchanges.

Stephen Chrabaszcz was a great leader and a better friend who helped to shape my life.

He will be missed.    

Write the thing that only you can write

A bit of writing advice:

If you hope to be published someday (or even write something good), write the thing that only you can write. 

There are better writers than you in this world. Writers better than you at crafting sentences and capturing moments and making readers laugh and cry and emote. Writers capable of manipulating and assembling words in an order that will always be better than your order.

If your plan is to be the best writer, forget it. There is only one best writer, and it's probably not you. It will probably never be you. You'll probably never crack the top 10 or the top 100 or even the top 1,000 writers alive today.

There's simply too many people and too much talent in this world.

But all is not lost. You can still succeed. 

The way to separate yourself from the pack and find readers willing to read you is to find the stories that only you can write.

Find the stories that define you as a human being and a writer.

Find the stories that only your specific heart and mind can create.

This means that imitation will not work. It means that the books you love to read might not be the books you are able to write best. It means that your dream to by a mystery writer or thriller writer or romance writer might need to die in order for your dream of being a published, well read writer to flourish. 

For me, this means writing about protagonists who live on the fringes of society. The misfits. The rejects. The unnoticed and unseen. I tend to write about human beings with great, unrecognized, unrealized potential. Nonconformists. Voices yearning to speak. The unsung heroes. 

This is my bread and butter. These are the characters who I seem to understand. The people who I am able to easily inhabit. I find characters who I understand, and the plots of my stories flow from these imaginary people.   

It also means writing quirky stories filled with humor but also with moments that are likely to make a reader cry. I never dreamed of writing stories like this. I was sure that I would be a writer of thrillers and science fiction. 

Serious-minded books about serious things.

Once I tossed aside thoughts of writing in these genres and allowed the stories that only I can write to rise to the surface, I found success.   

For me, it also means writing stories of the absurd. Stories of the ridiculous made plausible. Fantasy made real. 

A few years ago, I was challenged by a friend to write a poignant, realistic story about a team of soccer players without arms. An odd request, but one that I thought was perfect for my sensibilities. 

Three days later, I finished the first draft of a short story that met the goals of the challenge. It's an awaiting-to-be-published story that I love and the friend who challenged me admits is shockingly poignant, completely believable, and terribly disturbing.

When I accepted the challenge, I felt like I was the only person who could write that story well. I was the only person who could imagine a world in which armless soccer players could believably exist. 

This is what you must do. Find the story that only you can write, and bring all of your talent, skill, and effort to bear in writing it.  

If you want to have a say in education, become an educator

Attention politicians, policy wonks, educational advocates, professors of education, and anyone else who wants to have a say in education:

"Every human being who wants to have an opinion of American education ought to spend some time as a substitute teacher."

- Nicholson Baker, the author of Substitute, who served as a substitute teacher for a year in order to write his book and understand the challenges and rewards of teaching

Policing the national anthem makes you a self-righteous jerk

This isn't a post about the athletes who are kneeling or sitting during the singing of the national anthem. When it comes to that particular form of protest, I would personally prefer that they find a different way to draw attention to a very important issue, but I also recognize and respect their right to protest in the way they choose. 

No, this is about the jackass who was four rows behind me at the Patriots game on Sunday and all the jackasses like him who I have seen and listened to over the years. As the national anthem began to play, this man began shouting at several fans in the seats below us who had forgotten to remove their caps, ordering them to do so in a harsh, arrogant, and unforgiving fashion. 

During the singing of the anthem, mind you.

Most of these fans sheepishly removed their caps, some motioning apologies to the jackass for their mistake, but one man left his hat atop his head. Instead of removing it, he slowly turned and smiled at the jackass behind me, who was still shouting even though the world famous opera singer who was singing the anthem was at least 16 bars into the song by now. 

I don't think the smiling man's refusal to remove his cap was a genuine protest. I don't think he decided to leave his cap on during the singing of the national anthem to make a statement.

I think he just forgot to take it off.  

I also suspect that he was annoyed by the jackass a dozen rows up who had declared himself to be the cap police. I suspect that he - like me - thought that the decision to interrupt the national anthem by barking out orders was more disrespectful to our nation's flag than any failure to remove a head covering. 

I admired the smiling man who chose to leave his hat on. I loved that guy. His was not a protest against police violence or racial disparity or economic inequality. His was a protest against the idea that the guy with the loudest voice and the thickest neck gets to tell anyone what to do, regardless of location or circumstances. His was a protest against the idea that conformity cannot be dictated by some self-righteous, self-assigned arbiter of what is right and wrong.

That smiling man's decision to leave his cap on his head and grin at the jackass was both courageous and admirable. In almost every other circumstance, I would have preferred for the smiling man to remove his cap. But when faced with a barking jackass who thinks he can dictate the behavior of others through volume and aggression, I think he did the right thing. 

Honestly, I almost put my cap back on. Had I been farther away from the jackass and slightly more courageous, I might have done exactly that.

Respect for the nation's flag means removing your cap during the national anthem, but it also means shutting the hell up while the anthem is being sung and allowing people to leave their caps on if they so choose.

There's nothing more enjoyable than watching a beefy, loud-mouthed jerk be neutered by a hat and a smile.     

Shouldn't yellow raincoats the only appropriately colored raincoats?

School buses are most often painted yellow because the color attracts attention and is noticed quickly by peripheral vision. In fact, the human eye detects yellow faster than any other color.

Scientists describe this as follows: "Lateral peripheral vision for detecting yellows is 1.24 times greater than for red."

For this same reason, raincoats are often yellow. In the low visibility of a rainy day, you want pedestrians to be as visible as possible to those behind the wheel of vehicles.

This leads me to wonder:

Based upon this data, shouldn't every child's raincoat be yellow? If we're going to paint vehicles that are 45 feet long and nearly impossible to miss yellow so they will be even more impossible to miss, shouldn't we be encapsulating our three foot tall bundles of randomness in cocoons of yellow to protect them, too?  

If red, blue, pink, and green raincoats are not as readily detected by motorists, operators of heavy machinery, garbage collectors, cyclists, pilots of exceptionally low flying aircraft, and folks on horseback and camelback, what kind of monster would dress their precious little child in anything by a yellow raincoat?

Water Street Bookstore appearance

This summer I spoke at the Water Street Bookstore in Exeter, NH about my latest novel, The Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs. A local television news crew recorded the event and posted it to YouTube. 

If you've always wanted to attend one of my book events but haven't been able to, here's your chance (though honestly, every book talk is different because I tell different stories at each one).

Still, better than nothing!

A trip to the plumbing store, because that's where all kids want to go. Right?

My son's ongoing obsession with water treatment facilities, electrical grids, and underlying infrastructure of our world (and more recently, the human body) perhaps reached its apex this week when he asked my wife to stop at a plumbing supply store so he could examine the items in stock.

Credit my wife for taking the time to stop and allow him to satisfy his curiosity. I'm not sure where all this interest in infrastructure will lead, but hopefully it includes an enormous college scholarship and a lifetime of gainful employment.  

Every time I tie my shoes...

Here's a little secret about me that I've never shared with anyone before:

Every time I tie my shoes, I think of Mrs. Carroll, the teaching assistant who sat at a table in the hallway between Mrs. Dubois and Mrs. Roberge's kindergarten classroom at John F. Kennedy Elementary School in Blackstone, MA.

Mrs. Carroll taught children like me a myriad of life skills like zipping up your own coat, memorizing your phone number, and tying your own shoes.

I can remember sitting in that hallway like it was yesterday, learning to cross and loop laces until I could tie my own shoes without any instruction. Without even looking. 

I was five years-old when Mrs. Carroll taught me a skill that I still use today. 

Every time I tie my shoes, without exception, I think about Mrs. Carroll. I can see her sitting across from me, glasses perched on her nose, determined and unwavering, insisting that I master this skill before first grade. 

Teachers never know how long their lessons will live in the hearts of their students.

The Most Poorly Named Character in All of Literature

Willy Wonka. 
Charlie Bucket.
Augustus Gloop.
Veruca Salt. 
Violet Beauregarde.
Grandpa Joe.
Grandma Georgina.
The Oompa Loompas.

Amazing, perfect, ingenious character names from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, written by master storyteller Roald Dahl, who was born 100 years ago today.

And then, for reasons I will never understand, there was Mike Teavee, a boy addicted to television.

The worst character name in all of literature. The most blunt, overwrought, self-evident, unsubtle, uncreative name ever. 

After all of those amazing, unforgettable character names, Dahl settles on Mike Teavee for a boy who loves TV? 

Where was his editors when he needed them most?

Vincent Van Gogh on Doctor Who makes me cry.

You may know that I don't handle mortality well. 

One of the things that hurts my heart most is the idea that when we die, we cannot see tomorrow. We'll never know how this grand story ends, and how far reaching our influence may be.

I weep for people like Abraham Lincoln, Edgar Allen Poe, Johann Sebastian Bach, Emily Dickinson, Gregor Mendel, and all the others who died never knowing how they changed the word. 

Vincent Van Gogh is another person who fits into this category. One of the greatest painters of all time never realized commercial success or critical acclaim when he was alive.

This is why I adore this episode of Doctor Who, when the Doctor and his companion Amy take Vincent Van Gogh to the Musée d’Orsay to see an entire room filled with his paintings.

It brings me close to tears every time I watch it. If only it were real. 

At last I am a Beautiful Person. Verified and confirmed by beautifulpeople.com.

In 2013, I applied twice for acceptance to beautifulpeople.com, a social networking site designed specifically for attractive people. Access to beautifulpeople.com is granted only if the members of the network deem you attractive enough to be a member.

I was rejected both times. I cataloged my rejections in blog posts in both August and September of that year. 

In August of this year, I applied to beautifulpeople.com again, using the same photo that I used in 2013.

This photo:

After three days of voting, I was accepted. 

Yes. That's right, people.

I'm a beautiful person. It's been verified. Confirmed. Authenticated.

If I was a professional athlete, I would say that no one can take this away from me, except I'm not, and beautifulpeople.com has been know to kick people off the network for failing to maintain suitable levels of attractiveness.

Still, it's about damn time. 

Now that I've snuck past the good looking gatekeepers and am on the inside, I've been exploring the network as much as possible. Here is what I can report:

  • The operators of beautifulpeople.com really, really want me to upgrade to a premium membership for $12.49 per month. Many of the benefits of the network are hidden behind the paywall.
  • I am now allowed to vote on prospective members. I have chosen not to do this, since I have vowed to never comment on the physical appearance of others, but it's tempting. 
  • I've received five emails from current members. I need to become a premium member in order to read them.
  • I've received four "blinks" from members. I have no idea what this means.
  • Elizabeth G. from Chicago and Khaleesss from Houston "like" me. Khaleesss also added me as a favorite. 
  • Three members are currently "checking me out." I can't see who they are without becoming a premium member. Nor do I really know what "checking me out" means.
  • Based upon a sampling of the last 100 new members to the network, it appears that the female to male ratio is about 7:1. 
  • A surprising number of profile photos are taken inside a automobile. Exposed cleavage is also often used in profile photos. Bathing suits, hats, and selfies taken in front of a mirror are also popular. 
  • The network presets my account to only see female members in the network. In order to see men, I needed to change my settings.
  • Beautifulpeople.com apparently sponsors events that I am now invited to. The next two events are in London and Australia. I don't think my wife will allow me to attend.
  • Members are ranked, with lists of the most popular and highest ranked members available for browsing.  
  • My average photo score is a 3.0. I don't know what the actual scale is, though I suspect that it's at least a 5 point scale. Perhaps a 50 point scale. 

As much as I'd like to gain access to the premium areas of the network, I probably won't be paying the $12.49 to do so. I can't envision myself spending money on this particular product, even in the pursuit of valuable information. As much as I love being authenticated as a beautiful person (and therefore having irrefutable proof of my beauty), I can't see any real benefits from being a member of the network.

I like my $12.49 too much.  

Perhaps I'll start a Kickstarter campaign to raise the necessary funds.