I am successful because I am white.

I recently spoke to a large group of young people. I told stories from my life, imparted a few bits of wisdom, and took some questions.

One of the young ladies asked me how I was able to pull myself out of homelessness and poverty and become a successful person when so many others struggle to get themselves back on their feet.

First, I assured her that it was a struggle. When you're working 50 hours a week while double majoring at two different colleges simultaneously and serving as Treasurer of the Student Senate, President of the National Honor Society, and writing for the school newspaper, it's a damn struggle every single day.

I honestly don't know how I did it.  

But more importantly, I told her that I was incredibly lucky. 

  • I wasn't addicted to drugs or alcohol.
  • With the exception of PTSD, I wasn't suffering from any mental illness.
  • I am blessed with a reasonable amount of intelligence. 
  • I was not physically or mentally abused as a child.
  • I was not physically disable in any way. 
  • I attended good elementary, middle, and high schools and had a solid foundation in learning.
  • I am white.

This last one caught many people in the audience off-guard, but it's certainly true. My struggle would have been considerably more difficult had I not been white.

  • The criminal justice system would've treated me differently.
  • Employers would've treated me differently.
  • Professors and deans would've treated me differently.
  • My fellow students would've treated me differently.

Sadly, white privilege is real. Every successful white American, regardless of their depth of their struggle and the height of their success, must acknowledge that the color of their skin helped them get where they are. 

In America, a white person is born at least on first base, and in many cases, they emerge from the womb standing on second or even third. They may believe that their success is solely the fruit of their labors and the quality of their decision making, but that is nonsense.

The road is easier for a white person in America. The hills are not nearly as steep and the potholes are not nearly as deep. The roadblocks are fewer, and the pavement is smoother.  

White privilege is real. Denying this is stupidity. It's the inability to see the struggles and realities of others. It's the desire to believe in the myth that hard work alone will take you anywhere, regardless of who you are.

I am standing where I am today in part because I was lucky. My blessings were many. Mental and physical health. A solid foundation in learning. Avoidance of addiction. A violence-free childhood. A capable mind.

And I am white. 

 This is why I love this church sign. Once you acknowledge that white privilege is real, maybe you can at least begin to make something good out of it.  

Thinking is a part of the writing process, damn it

I was teaching storytelling last week at Miss Porter's School.

I sent the girls off for an hour to write and craft their stories, and when they returned, I asked them how they did. 

"Not good at all," one of the girls said. 

When I asked why, she explained that she spent the first 30 minutes just sitting there, trying to find the best way to start the story. 

"Did you finally figure it out?" I asked.

"Yeah."

"And how did that go?" I asked.

"Great," she replied. "The second half hour was great. I think I've got a good first draft. I kind of like it a lot."

"So then why did you say your hour didn't go well?" I asked.

"Well," she said. "I wasted that first 30 minutes."

"No, you didn't," I said. "Writers think. Storytellers think. Thinkers think. It's part of the process. It sounds to me like you did fantastic. You used that hour perfectly. Why would you think otherwise?"

The girl and her fellow classmates explained that just sitting and thinking without any doing is not tolerated by most of their teachers back home.

"You can't ever just sit and do nothing," one girl said.

Another told me that she is expected to "Think at the end of her pen," which apparently means that you must be writing even when all you'd like to do is take some time and organize your thoughts. Or brainstorm. Or just let your mind wanter a bit. It's an insane insistence that words be applied to a page at all times, absent of any mental preparation or inspiration. 

"What idiot told you that thinking isn't a part of the writing process?" I demanded, instantly hoping she wouldn't say, "My mother."

She didn't. Instead, she said, "A lot of teachers." 

This makes me crazy.

Please note: none of these students were actual Miss Porter's students. They were potentially future Miss Porter's students, but all had yet to enroll. They came from all over the country and the world, so this is not the unfortunate philosophy of any one school. Girls from Africa and Europe were nodding in agreement at the notion that "just thinking" is not allowed.

Can you imagine: Thinking is not allowed. Thinking is not a part of the writing process. Thinking is a waste of time.

Here is the real problem: 

Not enough teachers write. Teachers require students to write persuasive essays, even though most teachers haven't written a persuasive essay in a decade or more. Teachers require students to write fiction, even though most teachers haven't written fiction since they were children. Teachers expect students to write research papers, when those teachers last wrote their own research paper in college.

When it comes to writing, we have an army of educators who are teaching something they never do. Even worse, in many cases, it's something they don't like to do. This would be akin to me trying to teach someone to play croquet or cook jambalaya or practice discretion.

If I never do it in real life, how am I expected to teach it to novices?

Sure, I could read a book about these topics, but would that really qualify me to teach any of those things?

Even worse, teachers learn how to teach writing from people who don't actually write, and if their instructors do  write, they often only write books on how to teach writing.

See the insanity?

When I am asked by teachers, parents, and administrators how to improve their writing instruction, my answer is always simple, obvious, and annoying:

Write.
When you assign a writing assignment to your students, write it yourself as well.
Let your students see you writing.
Share your writing with your students.
Become the writer you expect your students to be.

When teachers (and parents) actively engage in the writing process, they begin to understand the writing process. They better predict where and when writers will stumble. They more accurately distinguish between effective and ineffective lessons and assignments. They understand the importance of choice and audience to a writer. 

They know that thinking is a critical process of the writing process. They understand that sitting in front of the blank page, staring for long periods of time, is something that writers do.    

Only a person who doesn't write would think that thinking is not a part of the writing process.
Only a teacher who doesn't write would make a student believe that thinking is a waste of time. 

This is how every employee should be treated

When web developer Madalyn Parker took two days of sick leave to tend to her mental health, she emailed her colleagues letting them know where she'd be.

To Madalyn's surprise, the CEO of her company, Ben Congleton, responded to her email with what can only be described as an unfortunately surprising response.  

If you manage people, take note! You have choices in life.

You can say and do things that will cause your people to respect and even adore you, or you can be the kind of boss who employees loathe.

You can inspire your people, or you can fail them. 

You can be a kind and decent person, or you can suck. 

The thing I learned while managing restaurants for almost a decade was that it's surprisingly easy to earn the respect of your people: 

  • Treat them with dignity and respect.
  • Work at least as hard as they do.
  • Remember that they are human beings with complex lives and a myriad of health and family issues that don't always align to your business goals. 
  • Get to know your employees as people. Know the names of their spouses and children. Learn something about their culture and traditions. Know how they spend their free time. 
  • Talk to them about their future plans, even if those plans may be with another company. Invest in them as human beings. 
  • Say hello and goodbye to as many employees as you can, every day that you can.
  • Never respond in anger. Always walk away from a heated situation until all parties are calm. 
  • Celebrate your employee's success whenever possible while always downplaying your own. The boss who brags about his or her success and accomplishments sucks. The best way for a boss to shine is for his or her people to shine. 

Happy anniversary to us.

Elysha and I celebrated eleven years of marriage yesterday.

I always tell her that it feels to me like we've only been married a couple years. 

She said it feels like the full eleven.

We went to dinner on Friday night with friends to celebrate. It was an eventful dinner. Amongst the scintillating conversation and good food, the following happened:

The stem on Elysha's glass spontaneously shattered, spilling a nearly full glass  of sangria all over the table. 

I was served a burger with mustard, and I am allergic to mustard. Sadly, I didn't realize there was mustard on the burger (since it wasn't listed on the menu and I specifically asked for cheese and bacon only) until I had already swallowed one bite.  I've been known to break out in hives after eating mustard depending on the amount and type. In this case, I felt slightly sick to my stomach and itchy.

Even worse, I only ordered the burger after my friend ordered one. Planning on the rib eye or the pork chops, I only switched when my friend ordered a burger. Worried that I might experience food envy, I changed my mind and followed suit.

I should've stuck with my first instinct. 

At the end of the meal, Elysha and I decided to exchange anniversary gifts. 

Elysha's gifts to me included:

  1. The promise to finally connect the Apple TV that her mother gave us more than a year ago. 
  2. The promise to design/purchase an organizational system for the kids' shoes, coats, winter gear, etc. 

These are perfect gifts. I've written before that the two gifts I desire above all others are time and knowledge. I'm not a person who wants stuff. Except for the occasional replacement clothing item (I need new snow pants for the football season), there isn't much that I want when it comes to gifts except for time to do what I want and the knowledge to do something I cannot do. 

Elysha's gifts offer me time in abundance. Not only will these two problems be solved without any effort on my part, but having a better system for the kids paraphernalia will mean I don't have to pick up shoes, coats, and mittens nearly as often.

As for the Apple TV, we don't watch much television, but it will be nice to finally be able to stream television programs and movies into our home. 

I'm also a bit of a minimalist and an organizational obsessive. I live in a perpetual state of discontent, staring at bins and boxes in corners of my home that have not moved in months, wondering when they will finally be moved to an more appropriate location. You can't imagine how hard it is for me to live with a family that doesn't care too much about piles and stacks and is more than willing to put something down and for ignore it for months.

Getting the coats and shoes out of my sight will help mitigate this discontent quite a bit.

These are two outstanding presents.  

After Elysha "presented" her gifts to me, I decided to reciprocate. I opened a web browser on my phone and went to ThirdLove.com, a company that customizes bras for women. I heard about the company from a friend who hosts a podcast and is sponsored by Third Love, and she raved about the product. Bras come in half sizes in many shapes and styles, and they are made from memory foam, meaning you can wash them again and again, and they return to their original shape every time. You can also try the bra for 30 days and return it for free if you don't love it. Your slightly used bra will be donated to a charitable organization, and you'll be sent a new one to try for another 30 days. 

I bought Elysha credit on the Third Love website so that she could purchase three new bras and discard her old ones. 

I have to say:

She was very happy and very impressed with the thoughtfulness of the gift. 

I thought it was amusing for our friends to witness this odd act of gift giving. Elysha made two promises, and I showed her a website featuring bras. 

Not exactly ribbons and bows and wrapping paper. 
Not exactly jewelry or a gap wedge.
Not the steel that the traditional eleventh wedding anniversary dictates.
No greeting cards.

Just two people who love each other and know each other very well. Well enough to know that we don't need pretty wrapping paper and golden baubles to make each other happy.

A boy and a book in Columbia

Here is Juan Carlos. a boy in Columbia who is reading the Spanish edition of Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend. His mother was kind enough to write to me about how much he loves the book and send me this photo. 

Yes, this is the best part about being a writer. 

I'm working on my first middle grade novel now. Though a couple of my books have crossed over into the young adult market (and have been marketed as YA in come countries), this will be the first book written specifically for kids.

As both a teacher and an author, I am thrilled and can't wait. More kids reading more of my stories sounds pretty great to me. 

Someone remind my children that I pay the mortgage

Even though my kids don't currently contribute to the mortgage, they seem to believe that they possess more control over the house than they actually do.

Recent signs in my home have indicted that the first floor bathroom is now Tickle Monster Jail and a new sign on my daughter's bedroom door (co-written by her sleepover buddy) apparently gives access to the room to our two cats only.

I'll be informing her that she can't have this level of control unless she's planning to hand me some cash every month.   

Though I have to admit that Clara's writing - in all its backwards lettering, misspelling, and crayon smudges - is completely precious.

I can't stand the thought of the day when it becomes more conventional. 

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Republican men decide that women can't wear sleeveless dresses because they are apparently afraid of lady shoulders

In an apparent effort to establish "appropriate business attire," House of Representatives under Speaker Paul Ryan is enforcing a dress code in the Speaker's Lobby—a space adjacent to the front of the House chamber—that bans women from showing their shoulders.

Several female reporters have already been kicked out of the lobby for wearing sleeveless dresses.  

Yesterday Republican Congressperson Martha McSally, a former fighter pilot and the first woman in American history to fly into combat, ended her speech in the well of Congress by saying, “Before I yield back, I want to point out, I’m standing here in my professional attire, which happens to be a sleeveless dress and open-toed shoes. With that, Mr. Speaker, I yield back.” 

Some (mostly stupid white men) complained that with all the problems facing America today, dress codes should not be a priority.

But here is the thing:

Paul Ryan and his male dominated Republican caucus have decided to enforce this arbitrary dress code. Republicans like Ryan have also demonstrated an obsession with policing women's bodies, and this policing is highly relevant to many of their GOP positions. These are positions that impact economic policy, healthcare, civil rights, and the criminal justice system.

When a man in power has creepy ideas about what women should be wearing and the freedoms they should be permitted to enjoy, it has far reaching consequences. 

Yes, it's a dress code, but it represents a whole lot more, and in the battle for women to have control of their bodies and their destinies, not one inch should ever be surrendered. 

Donald Trump has blocked me on Twitter

After almost a year of tweeting at Donald Trump, he finally blocked me from access to his Twitter feed yesterday. 

This is mostly bad news.

Admittedly, it has become a badge of honor to get blocked by Trump. Since he has stated unequivocally that he is the only person with access to his personal Twitter account - a statement which appears to be true based upon many of his incredibly offensive and legally damaging tweets - getting blocked means that Trump has at least read your tweets, and they have managed to penetrate his remarkably thin skin.

That is a good thing.

I also join the ranks of folks like writers Stephen King and Bess Kalb, political activists, civic organizers, actors, athletes, organizations like VoteVets (which represents 500,000 veterans and their families) and Andy Signore, creator of the Honest Trailers series on YouTube.    

Joining that group is quite an honor. 

But this is where the good ends. In truth, I was disappointed - upset, even - to discover that I had been blocked. Over the course of the last year, I was tweeting at Donald Trump regularly in response to many of the things he wrote. His supporters (and perhaps Trump himself) would refer to me as a troll, but in truth, I was tweeting at Trump because it amused me. It made me happy to spend a few minutes a day giving him a piece of my mind. It felt good to speak truth to power. I took great pleasure in the knowledge that Trump reads his Twitter feed, and that perhaps there were days when my words might have penetrated the White House bubble.

Apparently they did. 

My tweets have been getting a lot of attention by the thousands of people who hate-follow Trump (and many of his supporters, too). Many of my tweets were receiving hundreds and thousands of likes and retweets. Apparently enough was enough, and the thin skinned, petulant, would-be child King decided to silence me. 

This doesn't mean I can't see his tweets. There are work-arounds to gain access to his Twitter feed, including a new Twitter account, the use of a different Web browser, the use of Google's Incognito mode, and more, but it's going to be clunky, time consuming, and no matter what I do, @MatthewDicks, the Twitter account that represents me, can no longer comment on what Trump tweets.

There is a lawsuit making its way through the courts on behalf of blocked users, arguing that since Trump has stated that his personal account represents the "official statements of the President," it is a violation of my First Amendment rights to be denied access to his feed.

This makes sense to me. Americans have a right to access official statements from our government officials. I'll be following it closely.  

I still have access to his @POTUS Twitter account, but he rarely uses this account and is clearly not the one tweeting from it. The material is inoffensive and benign. 

Not exactly Trump's way of communicating.

Mostly, I'm just sad that the few joyful minutes I spent each day, speaking truth to power and retorting Trump's offensive, racist, misogynistic statements and blatant lies, have now been denied to me.  

People like Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, Sean Spicer, Steve Bannon, Mike Pence, Kellyanne Conway, and even Donald Tump Jr. are all worthy targets of my Twitter scorn, but none will be nearly as fun as that large, white bag of lies, ignorance, and indiscretion.  

Let us hope that the courts decide in my favor and the First Amendment wins the day.  

Fill your life with young people

Yesterday I mentioned that someone on Facebook recently asked his friends when they knew that they were old.

It was an annoying answer, I know, but I responded by saying that I still feel young.

As young as I felt 20 years ago. Truly.

I wrote yesterday about the importance of aggressively trying new things whenever possible as a means of always feeling young.  

It's hard to feel old when life never gets old.

I suspect that I also feel young because I am constantly surrounded by younger people. As a teacher, my life is filled with kids who are decades younger than me, but because we spend so much time together and become so close, those decades always seem to melt away. Kids who are just 10 and 11 begin to understand me better than some of my own friends, and I feel the same about them.

Later on, when these kids grow up, many come back. They babysit my children. Attend my storytelling shows. Visit the classroom. Become genuine friends. 

This week I'm teaching storytelling at Miss Porter's, an all girls school in Connecticut. I'm working with girls ages 11-15, and I have a staff of juniors, seniors, and college students working with me as well. 

I'm spending my days telling stories. Listening to their stories. Teaching. Laughing. Walking around campus together. Eating meals together. I'm a 45 year-old man sitting at a table with 19 and 20 year-old women, but except for the occasional reference that I make that soars over their heads, I honestly don't feel much older than them.

We're working together. Doing the same job. Trying to make the same difference in the lives of these girls. 

And it's not only through teaching that I stay in contact with young people. Last week at The Moth, I spent the evening with my twenty-something friend. Met his girlfriend. Hung out with some of his other friends, all younger than me.   

Keeping young people in your life is important.

I suspect that the reverse does not apply in this case. These younger people whose company I enjoy likely see me as older than they are. Much older in many cases.

I know this.

They know my life story. They know how long I have been teaching. They are aware of my writing career.  They understand the long journey I have taken to get to this place. They see the bits of gray hair and know that I was alive before the Internet even existed.   

I'm quite certain that the decades don't melt away as easily for them as they do for me.

But that's okay. It doesn't matter. When I spend time in the company of people who are one or two or three decades younger than me, those decades really do melt away for me. Before long, I see them as fellow human beings, occupying a space in my life like any other person, regardless of age.

It's a beautiful thing when you feel as close to a 10 year-old boy or a 20 year-old woman as you do to your 45 year-old friends. 

Recently, I played golf with three friends who are about my age. We had a great time together, but throughout the day, there were the occasional groans associated with getting older. Painful joints. Tired muscles. Expanding waist lines. Laments about a time when they could hit the ball farther and straighter.

I have no problems with the groans. I try to avoid them myself, and on that day, I honestly felt none of them. I play golf more often than these friends, so perhaps my body was better prepared for the rigors of the game.

I've also never hit the ball that far to begin with.

But I tried to imagine how I might feel if I was constantly in the company of friends and colleagues who lamented their advancing ages. Groaned about muscles and joints. 

I think I might start to feel old, too.

But it turns out that children and teens and even people in their 20's and 30's don't lament their age. They don't groan about their ailments.

This is a good thing.         

If you want to feel young, find a way to spend time in the company of people younger than yourself. 

What are you doing that scares you?

Next month I'll be performing stand-up for the first time. 

I'm terrified. 

I tell stories. Many of them are funny, but they don't have to be funny. If an audience doesn't laugh at something that was meant to be funny in one of my stories, I'm still telling a story, which is my real job. I can't get away with a failed bit of humor.

Stand up, on the other hand, requires humor. You're expected to be funny. 

A friend asked me to try stand up with him a few months ago. I said no, but then changed my answer to yes after reminding myself that I don't say no.

I also think that doing new and scary things is extremely important in life. 

Someone on Facebook recently asked when his friends knew that they were old. It was an annoying answer, I know, but I responded by saying that I still feel young. There are a few reasons behind this feeling, I think, but an important one is my aggressive attempt to try new things whenever possible.

This year it's stand up. I'm also writing for new magazines, writing my first nonfiction book, and writing my first middle grade novel. I'm also launching a new podcast, changing my golf swing, and trying my hand at some picture books and a less-than-conventional novel.

Last month, I conducted my first marriage ceremony that included storytelling. I told a lengthy story about the couple after interviewing them and finding something that I could turn into a captivating, enlightening story about their lives together.

It wasn't an easy thing to do, and I was nervous. Probably the most nervous I have felt speaking to an audience in a while. In the end, it went very well. The story got lots of laughs and lots of tears. I thought it was a crazy request on the bride and groom's part, but it went over beautifully. Two other couples from that wedding have already inquired about me conducting their ceremony. 

New, intimidating, and frightening things. I look for these things. I seek them out. Then I force myself to take the plunge.

You should, too. 

It's hard to feel old when life never gets old. 

Sharing your vacation photos is lovely, but how about some wisdom and insight to go along with it?

On Thursday night I had one of those nights at a Moth StorySLAM where two sets of judges thought I did quite well and awarded me high scores, but the third judging team disagreed severely (earning a rarely heard chorus of boos from the audience), thus ruining my chances at winning.

Always frustrating.

I've been fortunate enough to win 30 Moth StorySLAMs, but winning a slam never gets old.

As I was leaving, a fellow storyteller stopped me. He told me that something that I had written about a month ago about the power of incremental progress has really made a difference in his approach to life. He was sincere, thankful, and sweet. 

It almost made up for the frustrating night with the judges. Almost.

But here's what I thought as I walked to my car:

When I wrote that post on incremental progress, I didn't think it would have any real impact on anyone. I write these things as much for myself - as sort of a personal mantra - as I do with the hope that someone might benefit from the tiny bits of wisdom that I've gleaned over the years.

I send my thoughts, ideas, and experiences into the world, through books, magazines, blog posts, social media, and live performances, and more often than you could ever imagine, something good and oftentimes surprising comes back.

Sometimes it's a day later. Sometimes it takes a month. There have been times when it's been five years later. It's pretty amazing. 

But I'm certainly not the only person who has gleaned a little wisdom over the course of his lifetime. Everyone has, I suspect. We all know things that have helped us to survive and succeed and thrive. Insight, ideas, strategies, personal experiences, and more. 

You should share your wisdom with the world. Truly. 

Create a blog. Post for Facebook. Write a book. Share your insight at the next dinner party.

We all know stuff that could help others. We've all learned lessons that are worth sharing. We all have ideas and insights worth sending into the world.

You never know when you can help to change a life. Truly. 

Sharing your vacation stories with the world is lovely. Baby pictures are always appreciated. Please don't stop sharing your foibles and faux-pas. You successes and failures. 

But every now and then, perhaps you could also share some wisdom, too. A life lesson. An understanding of this world that perhaps only you know. A strategy or insight that has helped you survive and thrive.

If you do this, good things will come back. I believe this, because I have experienced it in abundance.

It can turn a frustrating night at The Moth into a good one. It will bring unexpected joy to your heart. It might even create a memory that you will never forget. 

"They call me Matt."

"Light My Candle," a song in the Broadway show Rent, ends with Mimi introducing herself to Roger by singing, "They call me Mimi."

I've always loved this line. I've always wanted to introduce myself by saying, "They call me Matt."

Here's the thing:

I think it's a terrible idea. I don't think I could pull it off. I don't think I've ever been cool enough in my life to pull it off, so I've never tried.

This has probably been a very wise decision on my part.

Still... I really want to give it a shot someday. 

Rick Perry didn't understand the Department that he now runs, but he REALLY doesn't understand basic economic theory

Department of Energy Secretary Rick Perry was at a coal plant in West Virginia yesterday. He said this:

"Here’s a little economics lesson: supply and demand. You put the supply out there and the demand will follow."

Just so we're clear. THIS IS THE OPPOSITE OF HOW ECONOMICS WORKS. 

Supply does not produce demand, especially for a commodity like coal. DEMAND PRODUCED SUPPLY. 

He went on to say:

"Many times an increased supply increases prices, because the demand becomes so overwhelming. That's how demand works."

Just so we're clear. THIS IS ALSO OPPOSITE OF HOW ECONOMICS WORKS.

As supply increases, prices go down, especially for a commodity like coal.  

This is the same man who proposed the elimination of the Department of Energy during his Presidential run and only later found out that a huge chunk of the Department of Energy's $30 billion budget is dedicated to developing, maintaining, refurbishing and safely keep the nation's nuclear stockpile; combatting nuclear proliferation and maintaining and rebuilding nuclear production facilities. 

Armed with this newfound information (he thought the DOE was the champion of the gas and oil industry), Trump put him in charge of the department that he once thought should not exist.  

Sadly, Rick Perry also appears to believe in the Field of Dreams economic theory:

"If you build it..."

Tell this to New Coke. The Edsel. The Zune. Lifesaver's soda.  Ben-Gay's aspirin. 

All products that were produced in great supply, only to fail to find a demand. 

By Perry's logic, all I need to do is start knitting piles of polyester penis warmers, and customers will be lining up by the hundreds, cash in hand. 

Why do so many people in government have to be so dumb?

I stand opposed to applauding when the people responsible for the source of the applause are not present.

We watched the fireworks on the front lawn at Central Connecticut State University last night. We had a lovely time. The night was clear and cool. The kids were silly. The fireworks were spectacular.

When the final booms sounded and the finale was at last over, people across the lawn applauded.

I don't support this. I don't believe in applauding when the person responsible for the applause is not present to hear the applause.

I think it's weird to applaud a fireworks show launched by people more than a mile away. 

The same holds true for movies. As much as I may enjoy a movie, I've never applauded at the end, and I think it's weird when people do. None of the actors, producers, directors, or grips listed in the credits are present in the theater at the end of the film. 

None of them can hear your applause.

Applause of this nature has always felt like an affectation to me. A means by which people attempt to elevate an experience beyond its earthly confines. It feels false and cloying to me. 

I don't like it.

If you must applaud at the end of fireworks shows and movies, then I suggest you consider applauding at the end of books as well, or at least at the end of my books. The only difference between applauding at the end of fireworks or a movie and applauding the end of one of my novels is that reading tends to be solitary in nature, whereas a fireworks show or film are enjoyed by many people simultaneously. 

But does this mean that you are applauding because you're in the presence of others, or are you applauding because you feel authentic and heartfelt appreciation for what you just experienced?

If it's the former, then applauding at the end of movies and fireworks shows just got even worse. Now you're applauding simply because other people are applauding as well. You're applauding because of social pressure. You're applauding because others are applauding.  

That makes no sense. 

If it's the latter, and your applause is a signal of genuine heartfelt appreciation, then applauding at the end of a book, TV show, song or even a podcast that you especially enjoy only makes sense. Right?

Why applaud a film but not a book if the presence of others who are also applauding is irrelevant? 

You must either fully commit to applauding entertainment of all kinds that you enjoy or stop this silliness forever.   

My humble opinion. And insistence.

The NRA: Important facts to remember before their crazy attack ads scare the hell out of you.

The NRA is apparently angry about something, if the recent NRA ad is to be believed. No one is entirely sure what has caused this sudden burst of anger, but they certainly sound angry.  

If anything, the NRA should be happy. For eight years, they claimed that President Obama was coming for the guns, and that never came close to happening. They should be celebrating. 

Instead, they produce this. Frankly, it's kind of frightening. 

But before anyone gets too worried about the hyperbole of the NRA, perspective is important.

The NRA has approximately 5 million members. This number is disputed by many agencies and media outlets, because the NRA reports different membership numbers at different times and seems to be uncertain or deliberately misleading when it comes to an actual count, but let's give them the benefit of the doubt and say that they have 5 million dues paying members.

Five million represents about 1% of the US population and about 7% of all gun owners in the United States. This is a politically powerful organization, but it has a relatively small constituency.

99% of Americans do not belong to the NRA, and 93% of gun owners do not belong.

It's also important to remember that NRA members often disagree with the NRA on key issues. For example, a vast majority of NRA members (over 75%) support comprehensive background checks before purchasing a gun, but the NRA stands opposed to this. 

Almost half of all NRA members (and over half of all gun owners) support a ban on assault rifles and high capacity magazines as well, but the NRA stands in opposition to this as well.    

In many ways, the NRA is a politically motivated organization that does not align itself to the opinions of its members. 

In summary:

Crazy, irrational attack ads: Absolutely. 

Politically strong organization? Undoubtedly.

Representing the opinions and beliefs of its members well? Not really. 

Encompassing a large segment of the Americans (or even gun owners): Not even close. 

We knew exactly what we were getting.

Perhaps you've heard about or even read Donald Trump's recent tweets targeting Morning Joe hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski. Disgusting personal attacks on a woman's physical appearance that are, according to photographic evidence from the evening in question, untrue. 

In a series of two connected tweets about that night, he managed to categorically lie three times. 

Then there was the video of Trump body slamming and choking a man with a CNN box superimposed over his head that he tweeted on Sunday, less than 24 hours after his spokesperson said, "The President in no way, form or fashion has ever promoted or encouraged violence.”

People are shocked. Stunned. They can't believe how the President of the United States has engaged in such petty, infantile behavior with so many real problems in need of solutions. They are worried that Trump is unhinged. Out of control. Dangerous, even.

No one should be surprised.

Let me remind you that we had ample warning of this long before Trump was elected President. One television commercial in particular laid out the case rather concisely.

Reputation matters even more when the world is small.

Filed under "It's a small world" comes these two gems:

Back in March of 1999, my partner, Bengi, and I worked as DJ's at our second wedding ever. While reminiscing about that first year of our DJ career recently, we wondered how life turned out for those first few clients. 

It turns out that it's pretty easy to find a woman on Facebook when you know her maiden and married names, so with no effort at all, I located the bride at that second-ever wedding. I was happy to see that she is still married to the groom, and that today she is a mother.

I also noticed that we have a Facebook friend in common. 

Five years ago, I met a woman named Jeni while speaking at the school where she teaches. She learned about Speak Up and decided to tell a story for us. She has gone on to tell many stories for Speak Up on some of our biggest stages, and she now competes in Moth StorySLAMs.

She was the victim of one of my greatest acts of storytelling cruelty.

Jeni is a brilliant storyteller. I continue to visit her school every year to talk about my books and storytelling, and I'm thrilled to call her my friend. 

Jeni is also the cousin of that bride. She attended my second wedding ever. Though we have been friends for just a few short years, our paths first crossed almost 20 years ago.

Last week I spoke at a symposium on Cross Cultural Awareness at the Connecticut Convention Center. During lunch, I sat down at a table to eat a cookie. Someone was at the podium, speaking, so I couldn't introduce myself to my table mates. As I ate a cookie, I overheard one woman whisper to another, "I'll just need to somehow get in touch with Rich at Camp Jewell."

I took out my phone, opened my contact list, and then slid the phone over to her.

"Hi," I said, pointing at my phone. "I have Rich's email and cell number. Would you like to send him a text?"

I met Rich several years ago while bringing my students to Camp Jewell on overnight trips. He is the director of school programs. Over the years, Rich and I have gotten to know each other well. A couple years ago, Rich took the stage at Speak Up to tell a story. He's since returned and told many other hilarious stories. 

I told a friend about these two recent coincidences, and she argued that they happen more often to me than most because I know a lot of people.

"You've been a teacher and a DJ for 20 years, and you write and speak and perform onstage, and now you have Speak Up. Of course a lost of people know you."

She argued that these intersections of friends and acquaintances are more frequent for someone like me than most.

I disagree. I think that the world really is smaller than we sometimes think, and that it wouldn't take long for everyone to find similar intersections with friends, coworkers, acquaintances, and even strangers.

I don't think you need to be Kevin Bacon to find six degrees of separation between people. In fact, I think that six is a lot. Probably too many. The world is much smaller than we realize. People are connected more closely than we realize. I'm constantly telling my students this in an effort to make them understand the importance and value of reputation. How hard it is earned and how easily it is destroyed. 

You never know when you might find yourself dancing at a wedding or eating a cookie in a conference room, unexpectedly connected to the people around you in unexpected ways.