Hurting children because you are stupid

Elysha bought me a new Quip toothbrush. I am very excited. If you don’t have a Quip or don’t know what a Quip toothbrush is, find out.

It’s fantastic.

While I’m thinking about how clean my teeth are going to be, consider this:

In 2013, the city council of Windsor, Ontario voted 8-3 to stop putting fluoride in the city water supply.

Libertarians argued that they should be able to decide what they put in their bodies.

Far stupider people argued that fluoride is bad for you in the same way vaccines are supposedly bad for children.

So the fluoride was removed, and between the years of 2011 and 2017, the percentage of children with tooth decay or requiring urgent dental care increased by a staggering 51 percent.

Then, in 2018, with far less fanfare, that same Windsor City Council voted to reintroduce water fluoridation by a vote of 8-3.

Good news, unless of course you were unfortunate enough to be growing up during the six years that fluoride was absent from the water. In your case, you have more cavities and tooth disease thanks to libertarians. dumbass conspiracy theorists, and do-nothing politicians.

It’s one thing to hold back progress because your conservative values cause you to like things just the way they are. It’s usually done to preserve the dominance of the white patriarchy, but not always. Sometimes conservative values are far less sinister than the ones on display in today’s world.

But it’s entirely another thing when bigots, religious zealots, anti-vaxxers, and other dimwits try to force society back two or three steps.

That’s the worst. Eroding progress is disgraceful and must be stopped at all costs.

Also, go get yourself a Quip toothbrush. It’s fantastic.

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I have a new job. And two simple strategies that helped me land it.

Despite Elysha’s best attempts, I have a new job.

As of Friday, I’m now a Notary Public for the State of Connecticut.

Admittedly there won’t be much work in this new role. Need a document notarized?

I’m your man. But that doesn’t exactly happen all that often.

I became interested in becoming a notary public about three years ago when I learned that my friend’s mother held the position. I wondered what was required to do the same, so I went online and found an explanation of the process, which included reading and studying the fairly lengthy manual, completing a fairly lengthy application, passing a test, and gathering signatures and statements of fitness from friends and colleagues.

Thus I began my journey.

I mention this because it’s a good example of two important strategies that I use to make more efficient use of my time and get more done:

Incrementalism

This is the process by which large project can be completed over a long period of time if you’re willing to commit to an incremental approach to its completion.

The perfect example of this is cleaning out a closet or a basement. So many people see these tasks as “all or nothing.” Either you commit a full day to getting the job done or it doesn’t get done at all.

This may sound ridiculous, but it’s how most people think about large, complex, time consuming tasks. Rather than committing to putting away one item of clothing a day or removing three items a week from the basement, people allow these problems to become worse while they wait to find a full day to tackle the problem.

Not only is it foolish to give away a day of your life to a project like this, but it often means the project never gets done.

I hear would-be authors tell me that they can only work on their novel if they have a solid hour or two or three to work. This is also foolish. If you’re a real writer and want to be published someday, you’ll recognize that 10 minutes is enough to write a few sentences or revise a paragraph or edit a page.

I tell these writers that there were men in the trenches of World War I, wearing gas masks, dodging bullets, and writing. They did not wait for an hour or two or three to work. They wrote whenever they could, and so can you.

I write in large chunks of time but more often in slivers of time. Five minutes here. Half an hour there. Whatever I can find. It’s how I’ve written and published five books and have three more on the way.

I took the same approach to the process of becoming a notary. It wasn’t a pressing demand, so I simply created a folder on my desktop with all of the materials required to become a notary, and when I found myself with a few extra minutes, I opened the folder and continued with the work. It took three years to complete, but I didn’t surrender a 4-6 hour chunk of time when I could’ve been doing something with my family and friends, and eventually accomplished the goal.

Segmentation:

This is the process by which I carve our times in my life to work on specific tasks, often utilizing time that people ignore to do so.

For example, when it comes to crafting stories, I do most of this work in the shower and while driving. Since I do this work orally and don’t ever write anything down, I have committed myself to working on new stories every single time I shower and whenever I’m driving for more than 15 minutes at a time.

Why do I always have a new story? Because I’m always showering and driving.

A storyteller once said that he can’t imagine where I find the time to continually craft new stories, and I explained that I didn’t have to find any time. I just inserted storytelling into time that was otherwise being wasted.

I took the same approach to completing my work to become a notary. I only worked on this project when I found myself waiting for a meeting to start. Either I was a little early or (more likely) the meeting was starting late. In either case, I opened my notary folder and went to work.

Three years later, after working in 5-10 minute segments of time, I was finished.

These are two of many, many strategies that I use to accomplish my goals, but I like to think that they are both easy to implement and highly effective.

Look at your life. Do you have a large, seemingly overwhelming project to tackle? Has it been staring you in the face for what seems like forever?

See if incrementalism and segmentation can help.

And remember, if you need something notarized, I’m your man. Despite Elysha’s wishes, I have me a new job.

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A man who should know better is worried about balance

Charlie bought a book at Barnes & Noble this weekend entitled “Stories of Boys Who Dare To Be Different.”

As I handed it to the cashier, he turned it over in his hands, examined the cover, and said, “See, this is good. I’m glad they’re writing these books for boys, too. It’s not a boys versus girls thing, but it’s balance that we need.”

The man behind the counter was young and clearly obtuse. Ill informed. I could’ve allowed his comment to go unchallenged, but because I am me, I could not resist.

It also sounded like he was lecturing me, which admittedly annoyed me, too.

So I fired away.

“You’re worried about balance?” I asked. “You really think that I should be worried that my son won’t find characters who represent him in literature? You really think it’s going to be a struggle for my white American son to find authors and heroes and leaders who look like him? I’m happy he’s excited about this book, but if every book for the next ten years was only written about women and by women, the gap between men and women in literature would still be enormous.”

“It’s just that there are a lot of books written for girls today,” he said, sounding sheepish, which was a good sign. At least he understood that the ground he was standing on was flawed.

“Those books aren’t written for girls,” I said with more force than was necessary, but now I was especially annoyed and, if I’m being honest, having some fun. “They’re written about girls, but they are written for everyone. Boys can read about girls, too.”

The man quickly turned his attention to scanning the last couple books. A second later, he announced my total, turning our discussion into a simple transaction.

He was done with me, either because I had snapped at him a bit or because he thought that as a Barnes & Noble employee, this was not the best means of conversation to have with a customer.

If I’m being honest again, I was disappointed. I was preparing to roll out the fact that I’m a teacher of 20 years and the author of four novels and a book of nonfiction as a means of credentialing myself.

Also possibly making myself look like a jackass.

After I paid for the books, I stepped aside and immediately opened my phone so I could record the conversation as best as I could remember it.

I like to be accurate.

Then I told Elysha because I knew that she would share my annoyance.

It’s incredible to think that there are men in this world who are threatened by the prospect that women might find an equal footing in literature or commerce or science or politics or whatever they damn well please.

It’s astounding to me that a man could work in a bookstore, surrounded by books written by white men, and think that books like the Rebel Girls series or an increase in the number of biographies of women or books written by female authors might be creating an imbalance of any kind in the world of books.

Has he not examined the books on the shelves? Does he really think that the scales are about to tip and books about boys are going to disappear forever? Is he that afraid of the idea of sharing space in this world with women?

This encounter was surprising to me, but it shouldn’t be. Frightened little boys in man suits walk amongst us every day, worried that the privilege they have enjoyed for tens of thousands of years might not be as absolute as it once was. These penis-bearing cowards are afraid of world where they will need to compete against women for power and position. They are repulsed by the idea that a bookshelf might someday hold more books written by and about women than men.

How small and sad these little men are.

Moments of Note 2018

At the end of every year, I take stock in all that the previous 365 days have brought. It’s an exercise I recommend to everyone as a means of bringing some meaning and clarity to all that has come before. Days, weeks, months, and even years have a way of flashing by in an instant if we’re not careful, so recognizing those unusual, exciting, unexpected, and unforgettable moments from the previous year (and writing them down) is a way to feel good about what you have experienced and accomplished before turning over the calendar to the coming year.

I’ve been keeping my list since the beginning of 2018, but it wouldn’t be hard to take a moment and reflect back on the moments that made 2018 special for you. You’ll undoubtedly forget some, but some is always better than none.

And perhaps you could make it a goal to record those moments next year as they happen, so none of them can get away.

Here are my Moments of Note for 2018:

  • I served as guest minister, including delivering sermons, for Universalist Unitarian Churches in Harvard and Groton, MA.

  • I taught storytelling on a Mohawk reservation in Canada.

  • I was hired as a creative consultant on by a major advertising firm to work on a national advertising campaign.

  • I competed in and won two Moth GrandSLAMs in Boston and competed in and placed third in two Moth GrandSLAMs in NYC. 

  • I competed in a no-hands apple pie eating contest at the Coventry farmer’s market. I did not win.

  • I participated in and won a lawsuit against Donald Trump that forced him to unblock me on Twitter. I was later blocked by Eric Trump on Twitter. 

  • I published my first book of nonfiction: Storyworthy: Engage, Teach, Persuade, and Change Your Life Through the Power of Storytelling

  • My book launch event for Storyworthy included Elysha playing ukulele and singing publicly for the first time. 

  • I recorded my first audiobook. 

  • I performed stand up for the first time. I was also paid to perform standup for the first time and performed in both Connecticut and Michigan. 

  • I performed my first solo show at The Tank in NYC.

  • Elysha and I launched our podcast Speak Up Storytelling and published 30 episodes in 2018. Our podcast has been download more than 50,000 times in 99 different countries.

  • Elysha and I were honored by Voices of Hope for our work with second generation Holocaust survivors. 

  • I performed for a charity event for a local public access channel. The venue lost power so I stood atop a chair as guests shone their phone lights at me and I shouted out three stories before losing my voice.

  • Elysha, the kids, and I went on a summer-long ice cream adventure to shops throughout the state. Elysha chronicled our adventures on Facebook.

  • I met actor Jesse Eisenberg at a book launch party and had a lengthy conversation with him.  

  • A United States Senator told a story for Speak Up.

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Find your people

I was sitting in section 331 at Gillette Stadium last week. The Patriots were at midfield and driving to the end zone. Instead of the typically crisp passes from Tom Brady to his cast of suspect wide receivers, New England was running the ball, opening up large holes for the running backs to exploit.

With every first down, we cheered.

I was sitting beside Shep, my seat mate for more than a decade. As we watched the team we love drive down the field, we also found ourselves discussing Supreme Court Justice John Roberts and his surprising center-right position relative to his recent ruling on Trump’s asylum ban. Though both of us had expected the Court to uphold this vile policy, Roberts had surprised us, placing the rule of law over political ideology and overturning Trump’s new policy.

In the midst of this discussion, with the Patriots now on the 20 yard line, Shep stopped talking, looked around at the tens of thousands of people around us, and said, “I don’t think anyone else in this stadium is talking about John Roberts and his decision on asylum policy last week.”

Then he added, “ I don’t think anyone is even talking politics at all.”

With 66,000 people in attendance, it’s hard to know, but I think Shep was probably right. We were probably the only two people in the stadium discussing US asylum policy as the Patriots scored their first touchdown of the day.

A couple months earlier, Shep and I were sitting in these same seats, discussing how Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma had tweeted a photo of a T-shirt printed with "Medicare for all," calling it "this year's scariest Halloween costume."

We were both appalled at the stupidity and immaturity of such a tweet.

We were definitely the only two people in the stadium discussing Seema Verma that day.

When giving advice to my fifth grade students on middle school, I always tell them to find their people. After spending six years in elementary school with the same group of 100 kids, my students are about enter a much larger school and meet many new people. Though it may seem scary at first, I tell them to be excited. “It’s your chance to find friends who really understand you. People who like the kinds of things you like. Believe in the same tings you believe. It’s your chance to find new friends who get you. Find your people.”

My wife Elysha famously did this in high school, finding a group of incredibly diverse friends who she adored. Cool kids and misfits. Theater kids and writers. A guy named Chainsaw. Elysha found her people when she was a teenager, and she’s spent her life adding to that rich cast of characters who she now calls friends.

And I found Shep when he hired me to DJ his wedding back in August of 2000. His marriage didn’t last but our friendship thankfully has endured. And as much as I enjoy sitting in that stadium, watching the Patriots play, a large part of the joy is the day that I spend with Shep, talking about football and friends. Family and work. Writing and politics.

Including John Roberts’ recent ruling on American asylum policy under the Trump administration.

It’s important to find your people. Identify the individuals in this world who get you and hold on tight. Make the effort to remain connected.

It’s hard to find someone who can discuss the intricacies of the American healthcare industry while simultaneously threatening the life of a referee over a pass interference call, debating the flawed feminism in the Wonder Woman film, and shouting at a Baltimore Ravens fan to shut his trap.

I found my people.

I hope you have, too.

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I was visited by the Ghost of Christmas Yet-to-Come. Kind of.

Years ago, I was sitting in a diner with a client, coaching him to become more successful in life. I was talking about my personal philosophy and explain my approach to my life when he said, “I wish I had died like you. I think that’s the answer to my problems.”

He went on to explain that I was the second person he’d met who suffered a near-death experience, and our approaches to life were remarkably similar. “I just wish I could see life like you guys do.”

I rebutted the argument, of course, explaining that many people far more accomplished than me have managed to make the most of their life without having to face death first.

I also pointed out that I have unfortunately faced death three times - a bee sting, a car accident, and a robbery with a gun to my head and the trigger pulled - so I must me an exceptionally slow study.

A complete idiot.

But his comment has always stayed with me, probably because it allowed me to see the trauma in my life in a slightly more positive light.

Recently, I was listening to Dickens’ A Christmas Carol when something occurred to me and reminded me of my diner conversation from years ago:

When I was 22 years old, I was lying on a greasy tile floor in a McDonald’s in Brockton, MA at midnight, with a gun pressed against my head. A masked man was counting back from three, and when he reach zero, he told me that he was going to shoot me in the head and kill me. This was a man who I knew had already killed people in other restaurants in town, so I was absolutely certain that I was going to die. In those final seconds, I felt all of the fear and anger in my body roll over to regret - a regret for a life unfulfilled. A life wasted. The gift of life unrecognized and unappreciated for what it truly was.

I tell a story about my experience that you can watch here:

It occurred to me while reading Dickens that in a lot of ways, what happened to me was not unlike what happened to Scrooge in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. The Ghost of Christmas Yet-to-Come shows Scrooge the results of his life if he continues along his chosen path. Scrooge sees what a cruel and miserly existence will bring, and as a result of witnessing this portrait of the future, he changes his ways.

He alters the course of his life.

I was given a similar gift on that tile floor. While my portrait of the future was far less specific or dramatic than Scrooge’s, I was given the opportunity to experience the regret of a life unfulfilled. I was afforded the opportunity to feel the pain of loss, shame in knowing you’ve squandered your opportunity, and the fear of having done so little that you will be quickly forgotten.

It admittedly wasn’t the way I would’ve preferred to receive this wisdom. The decades of post traumatic stress disorder that have followed have not always been easy, and as I told my friend in that diner, not everyone needs to see a vision of their future in order to make the most of their life.

Lots of people are just better than me.

But it was a gift of sorts. A view of the world that few ever get to experience, and oddly entirely different than the near-death experiences of my bee sting and car accident. In both of those cases, I actually stopped breathing and my heart stopped beating for a moment, but I never saw it coming. I had no time to contemplate the extent of my life, because I didn’t know that it might be coming to an end.

Shock is a blessed thing until it kills you. It takes away all the pain and all the fear.

In fact, in both cases, I didn’t know how close I had come to death until well after the fact.

I was also 12 years-old and 17 years-old at the time. I’m not sure how much regret I would’ve felt even if I knew what was happening. Not much is expected from someone those ages.

But I was 22 when I faced that man and his gun, so perhaps I was ready for the lesson. I was also in need of it. Having been kicked out of my home after high school with few prospects for a future, I couldn’t afford to wait another moment to turn my life around.

It wasn’t a coincidence that after the robbery, I became relentless and have been relentless ever since. Within a year, I was attending college for the first time while working full time at one job and part-time at another.

In addition to my studies, I was serving in student government, writing for the school newspaper, competing in statewide debate competitions, serving as President of the honor society, and organizing volunteers on campus for Habitat for Humanity.

I don’t know how I did it all other than to say that after facing homelessness, imprisonementment, and death. nothing has ever seemed as difficult.

I was relentless.

So I’m left wondering if Dickens had similar thoughts when he wrote A Christmas Carol. I know what as a young boy, he worked in a shoe blackening factory under incredibly harsh conditions. During that time, he also watched his father go to debtors prison, along with his younger siblings (which was customary at the time). While in prison, Dickens’ grandmother died, leaving enough to settle his father’s debts, but it must’ve been a brutal existence for a 12 year-old boy.

Perhaps he received the same insight as I received that night in McDonald’s. Perhaps he was given a gift of sorts - an understanding of a life unfulfilled, maybe through his own struggle or maybe through witnessing the struggle of his father.

Maybe both.

Or perhaps he was just a better person than me. Maybe he didn’t require the brutality of factory work as a child to want to be something someday.

The more likely truth, I think.

Either way, I wish for you an understanding of the fragility of life and the importance of making every day count without requiring a visit from the future. My wish for you in 2019 is to be relentless in all that you do without requiring an act of violence to get there,

My hope is that you’re better than me.

Fear not. It’s a low bar.

My 2018 Christmas Haul

Every Christmas, I take inventory of the holiday gifts that my wife gives me.

Some people wish for cashmere sweaters, the latest gadget, stylish watches, and jewelry. My hope is often for the least pretentious, most unexpected, quirkiest little gift possible, and she never fails to deliver. 

When it comes to gift giving, Elysha is brilliant.

For the past nine years, I’ve been documenting the gifts that sh has given me on Christmas because they are so damn good. Every year has been just as good as the last, if not better.

The 2009 Christmas haul included a signed edition of a Kurt Vonnegut novel.
The 2010 Christmas haul included a key that I still use today.
The 2011 Christmas haul included my often-used Mr. T in a Pocket.
The 2012 Christmas haul included my fabulous No button.
The 2013 Christmas haul included a remote controlled helicopter.
The 2014 Christmas haul included an "I Told You So" pad.
The 2015 Christmas haul included schadenfreude mints: "As delicious as other people's misery."
The 2016 haul featured a commissioned painting of the map of my childhood Boy Scout camp.
The 2017 haul featured a commissioned painting of my grandparent’s farmhouse.

This year was no different. Elysha was just as good.

My gifts this year included:

  • A recreation of a Viewmaster Viewer, complete with a photo carousel of family photos inside (and the opportunity to create new carousels)

  • A guest book FOR MY CAR. Since I’m always driving folks to NYC and Boston for Moth events, I have a lot of people in my car. Now they’ll be signing this hilarious, prompt-filled guest book.

  • A set of dog butt magnets

  • A Rocketbook Everlast, which is amazing. Check out this video to understand what this amazing notebook can do. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

  • A copy of William Shakespeare’s Star Wars (combining two of my favorite things)

  • A pair of New England Patriots socks

  • A fries and burger eraser and sharpener

  • A mini wooden hammer tool

  • Sweatpants

Once again, she’s outdone herself.

My favorite gift of the bunch is probably the recreation of the Viewmaster Viewer. It combines the nostalgia that I always crave with the joy of seeing my family through the lens of my childhood.

But that guestbook is a close second. I cannot wait for the day when I can turn to someone in the passenger seat and say, “Would you mind signing my guestbook, please?”

Just before all the good stuff is the real good stuff

I’m writing this at 6:45 AM on Christmas morning.

It’s one of my favorite times of the year. It’s been one of my favorite times of the year for all of my life.

The moment just before. The time between preparation and delivery. The interlude of anticipation.

I have always loved this moment. The proximity to satisfaction and discovery. The delay just before gratification. A ever-present, now visible future filled with possibility just ahead.

On Christmas morning, it’s time when children vibrate like strings on a guitar. Presents sit under the tree, seeming to somehow vibrate themselves. Corners of gifts poke from stockings. Lights twinkle in the darkness of early morning. All is silent and still. The scene has been set. Everything’s in its appointed place.

We simply await the final ticks on the clock to reach the appointed hour.

I love the moment just before the knowing.

When I was a kid, my brothers and sisters and I would scramble down the stairs and sit amongst the presents, waiting for our parents to awaken so we could open our gifts. We’d lift and shake and guess at what might be hiding under the wrapping paper. Even as a boy, I knew that Christmas was more fun before the presents were unwrapped.

That there was more joy in the wondering than the discovering.

In the past, I’ve received emails from my agent with the subject line, “Great news” for “Film offer.” I’ve read the subject line and many times stuffed the phone back in my pocket, willing to wait until the moment is right to see how my future has changed.

Maybe it means waiting until Elysha is with me to read the news.

But much more often, I stuff the phone into my pocket because it’s the time just before knowing that I love more than the knowing.

Once you know, it’s over. All done. Possibility has become reality. The unknown has become known. Mystery and anticipation are no more. The world returns to its flat, obvious self.

Give me an unwrapped present any day.

Dane Best: Child hero

Dane Best, age 9, ended the ban on snowball fights in his hometown of Severance, Colorado last week. After discovering the 100 year old law during a field trip to town hall, the young activist went to work, lobbying successfully to have a law banning snow balls repealed.

Best told the town board that if he was victorious, his first act would be to lob a snowball at his four year-old brother.

I like this kid.

I also like it when the world gets slightly more dangerous for children.

When I was a kid, we routinely threw snowballs at each other at recess. We brought sleds and saucers to school and raced down hills at dangerous speeds. We played street hockey with wooden sticks and hardened pucks. Played dodgeball against a brick wall with a racquetball. Leapt off enormous snowbanks into piles of snow.

It was wonderful way to grow up.

Not all that long ago, my students and I would carve out chutes in the snowbanks at my school to increase their speed as I flung them down the backside of those hills towards the forest. Grabbing them by the hands, I would catapult them with all my might down those chutes as they screamed in delight.

It was such fun. Joyous, even. Kids slid and tumbled and giggled. Cheeks turned red. Pants got soaked. Snow ended up stuffed in their socks and ears.

Eventually the snowbanks were deemed too dangerous to climb, even though I cannot recall a single serious injury occurring while playing on these snowbanks.

The possibility of injury was more than enough to end the fun.

A few weeks ago, my own children asked me if they could play outside. “Yes!” I shouted. “Go find some trouble!”

The kids ran outside, completely and gloriously unsupervised. A few minutes later, my neighbor knocked on my door. He wanted me to know that he was doing some yard work and would keep an eye on my kids.

“No!” I said. “Don’t watch them. I want them to find some trouble. I want a hungry bear to wander into the yard or truck filled with dangerous chemicals to overturn beside them. I want them to face something hard and scary and fun.”

Thank goodness for kids like Dane Best, who are fighting for the right to be pummeled by snowballs on a crisp, winter day.

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Thank goodness that I'm smart enough to listen to my wife

Photos like these remind me of how stupid I can be.

About eight years ago, Elysha began talking about wanting a second child. While I was agreeable to the prospect of one more kid, I was also perfectly happy with just Clara. She was a happy and healthy little girl who filled my heart with joy.

Did we really need another?

What a stupid question.

I can’t imagine the world without Charlie today. He is such an interesting and lovable human being, but beyond my own love for my son, I can’t imagine my kids without the blessing of each other.

Not only does our boy bring so much happiness to our lives, but Clara and Charlie love each other so much, and I simply can’t imagine them existing without each other.

Listening to my kids talk and play and laugh together is by far my favorite thing in this world.

Thank goodness for Elysha’s infinite wisdom.

Finding a new friend thanks to self expression and some scabies

Back in 2012, Elysha, the kids, and I suffered for months with a rash that could not be identified by doctors. For a while, we suspected bed bugs. Some experts agreed, and others did not, insisting that it must be our laundry detergent or some environmental change in our home. It was a harrowing time, particularly because Charlie had just been born, so to see an infant with red blotches on his body was terrible.

I was impacted the most by the rash. While Elysha and the kids had blotches scattered throughout their body, it was a head-to-toe itching and pain that became crippling at times for me.

Ultimately, we discovered, though a bizarre confluence of events (including a random encounter with our vet) that we were suffering from canine scabies, which our dog, Kaleigh, was transferring to us. This led to repeated applications of a head-to-toe medication, a bizarre trip to the Department of Agriculture, and for me, photographs and research by a dermatologist because unlike Elysha and the kids, who were only being indirectly effected by the scabies, the creatures has burrowed under my skin.

Possibly the first recorded instance of this for a human being.

Because that is the story of my life.

You can read all about it here.

Since I wrote about our scabies adventure, others have found my blog and read about the incident, too. Folks suffering similar rashes of unknown origins scour the Internet for answers, stumbling upon my 2012 post, and reach out to me in desperation.

Yesterday I received an email from one such woman who first saw my photo and name in a medical journal and then found me online, hoping I could provide her with information and advice.

Isn’t that kind of crazy? The photos and case study done on me in 2012 has found its way into a medical journal, and some poor soul managed to find it and then me.

I told Elysha about this last night. “Remember that other poor woman who emailed me a year ago,” I said. “After she found my blog post. She sounded just as desperate as this latest woman.”

“We’re friends now,” Elysha said.

“What?”

“That woman who emailed you last year?” she said. “I was exchanging emails with her about our situation. She didn’t end up having canine scabies. Just regular scabies. But yes, we’re friends now.”

Of course they are. Because that is the story of Elysha’s life.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. When you’re willing to put yourself into the world, either on the page or on the stage, crazy things can happen. Unbelievable connections, remarkable opportunities, miraculous moments, and even friendship.

Come forth from your shells, people, and let the world witness what you think and believe and do. Your life will be richer and far more interesting because of it.

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The curtain raised on peeing with girls

I was at a Moth StorySLAM in Cambridge last week and I found myself in a gender-neutral restroom, which I have used many, many times.

Men and women peeing in the same room. Stalls and urinals.

It was a little surprising the first time I entered this restroom and encountered women, but two years later, it’s absolutely, positively no big deal.

Except sometimes I get to learn something that I didn’t know.

Last week, I was using a urinal while two women occupied stalls to the right, talking to each other through the partitions. They talked for about a minute, engaged in a lively discussion, before one of the women said, “Okay, we need to stop talking for a second and just pee.”

And they did.

I found this amusing. Does this happen all the time, or was I experiencing a one-off moment?

It’s not unusual for two men to talk while using urinals, but we are presumably peeing while speaking. I’ve never felt the need to pause before speaking. Sometimes I'm even shouting across a crowded restroom in Gillette Stadium, asking my friend to meet me in a certain location once we’re finished.

So maybe this was an unusual and amusing moment, or maybe not. With more men and women occupying the same restroom space, mysteries will be revealed. The curtain will be pulled back.

Either way, it wasn’t a big deal, and it’s still not a big deal to me. Memorable and amusing but nothing more.

I know others disagree. Given that the Vice President doesn’t allow himself to have dinner with a woman unless his wife is present, I suspect that peeing in the same room as a woman might cause him heart failure.

But I also suspect that for Mike Pence and others opposed to these gender neutral restrooms, their historical lens is shortsighted.

Less than a lifetime ago, there were places in this country where the notion that African Americans and whites could sit alongside each other at lunch counters or on public transportation prompted outrage and violence. Not too long ago (and still in some places today), an African American man would be taking his life in his hands if he dared to date a white woman.

The Supreme Court decision allowing for interracial marriage was decided just 50 years ago. This means that the marriage that produced President Obama would have been illegal in many American states at the time of his birth.

What seems ridiculous or impossible or uncomfortable today will be commonplace tomorrow. As human beings, we tend to view the world through the limited lens of the present, and happily, progress often happens faster than we think.

Had you asked me 20 years ago if I would see an African American President, legalized same sex marriage, legalized marijuana, or gender neutral restrooms in my lifetime, I would have said no.

Thankfully I would’ve been wrong.

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A Patriots fan becomes an honest-to-goodness Patriot, and I'll never forget it.

It’s rare when you actually get to witness the straw that breaks the camel’s back, but a few weeks ago, I witness just such a straw-and-back situation while sitting in the stands of Gillette Stadium.

My friend and longtime seat mate, Shep, and I were waiting for the game to begin. On the field, fans were trying to kick field goals to win Ocean Spray gift baskets and starting lineups were being announced.

I was telling Shep about a doctor who I’m working with on her story about being assaulted in her apartment in the middle of the night. A man broke into her home, pinned her to the bed, and hit her in the head with a hammer, blowing out her eye and causing massive damage to her face. As she struggled against her attacker who was now punching and choking her, she remembered something she had once heard Oprah say about not resisting when being attacked like this in order to survive.

So she stopped trying to resist.

The man then continued to punch her in the face unabated until the doctor realized that Oprah’s advice sucked and began fighting back again, eventually saving herself.

Shep was enraged. “Don’t fight back? If someone’s attacking my daughter, I want her to fight back with everything she’s got.” He railed about Oprah’s advice and explained how his daughter knew exactly what to do and how to hurt a man who might be assaulting her.

A moment later we rose for the national anthem. Though Shep always rises for the anthem and has great respect for the flag and our country, he is also keenly aware of the history and the hypocrisy of playing the national anthem before a sporting event in which two American teams are competing.

He’s also been frustrated with the recent politicization of the national anthem by certain politicians for political gain, and he, like me, despises the thick-necked men at games who shout “Hats off!” during the anthem because forgetting to remove your cap is far more disrespectful than some half-in-the-bag moron shouting at fans throughout the song.

A few minutes before kickoff, two Green Bay Packers fans arrived, taking seats beside us. Shep is relentlessly cruel to opposing fans. He berates them throughout the game, sometimes to the point that even I’m uncomfortable. As he began to lay into these two man, who had just traveled from Wisconsin to Massachusetts for the game, one of them reached out to shake Shep’s hand. “Don’t worry,” he said. “We’re always respectful to the opponent’s fans, and we respect the players and the stadium. We’ve traveled with the Packers before, and we’re just here to enjoy the game.”

He then added that Gillette Stadium was a beautiful place to watch a game and the Patriots were an amazing franchise.

Just like that, I watched my ruthless, merciless, take-no-prisons friend melt into a kinder, gentler soul. He started chatting with the Packer fans, and during the opening moments of the game, even laughed with them a little.

That was it. The final straw.

The idea that women should not resist while being assaulted in a country with a President who bragged about sexual assault, combined with the thought of his daughter’s safety in this misogynistic world had primed the pump.

Added to this was the reminder of the hypocrisy and politicization of the national anthem.

Then two men, bitter opponents from a state that voted for Trump - reached out a hand and offered kindness and camaraderie in the face of verbal abuse.

That was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Shep is an odd political duck. He’s what I refer to as a libertarian Democrat. He hates unnecessary rules and laws and can’t stand to be told what to do. If given his choice, he’d probably eliminate many of the regulations and statutes that we live by today. He wants people to live however they want with as little interference by government as possible.

But he’s also fundamentally a Democrat, supporting a strong social safety net for those in need and very progressive on issues like same sex marriage, transgender rights, sensible gun laws, and the like. He actually works to support Medicare and help Americans access their benefits.

He’s also vehemently opposed to Donald Trump’s presidency, but because not everyone in his life feels the same, has been careful about what he says, how he says it, and where he says it.

No more.

Sitting in the upper deck of Gillette Stadium, as the Patriots began driving down the field against the Packers, Shep stopped watching the game. Completely ignored the soaring passes from Tom Brady, the spectacular catches from Patriots receivers, and missed our first touchdown completely.

I’ve been sitting beside Shep at football games for almost two decades, and I have never seen him disengage with the action before. But on that fall evening, on the eve of the midterm elections, Shep stopped watching the game completely, for one specific purpose:

It was time for him to finally and clearly express his political position.

Opening up Facebook, Shep sat down and wrote:

“Look, I generally just say leave me alone and I will leave you alone, but I have to say If you have a daughter or a sister or any woman or any PERSON who’s well being you value please vote. And vote Democratic. There. I said it. Just step up everybody, our country is a nightmare. And that’s me at the Patriots game, so distracted with the faux-patriotism, so if it matters that much to me, I pray it will for you.”

Then he added:

“My seat mate Matthew Dicks points out that I hyper focused and left out the people you care about who might be: non-white; non-binary, not rich... basically if you value anyone who isn’t a rich white male, please vote Democratic on Tuesday.”

Twenty minutes later, during halftime, he sat down one more time to write:

“For my Republican family members and friends who wonder why I chose to speak up now... I am at a PATRIOTS game. In PATRIOTS gear. And the definition of a Patriot is not, and has never been, blind obedience to autocratic rule. It is standing up for freedom, liberty and the rights we fought for centuries ago. It is standing up for the rights of all Americans, not just the rich white ones. This country is broken and change needs to happen now. Vote for change. Please.”

It was one of those moments that I’ll never forget. It was a moment when something shifted inside my friend, and he became someone new. Someone with the same beliefs and ideals as always, but now someone who was willing to stand up, risk retribution, and let his voice be heard.

Shep and I have attended well over 100 Patriots football games together over the past two decades. Many unforgettable. Impossible plays. Remarkable come-from-behind victories. More AFC championship games than a football fan deserves.

I’ll remember this game, too. Maybe better than all of them. Not for the football game, which the Patriots won, but for what I watched my friend do that day.

He became a Patriot that day. I was so damn proud of him.

Be happy for others, damn it.

Years ago, before the kids were born, Elysha and I went to the movies.

We’ve gone to the movies since the kids were born, of course, despite warnings from those rotten people who like to make parenting sound like guerrilla warfare that we never would. In fact, in the two years after our first child, Clara, was born, Elysha and I saw 29 movies together. Many of them were drive-in films, viewed while Clara slept peacefully in the backseat.

You can suck or you can find a way.

On this particular evening, it began to rain while we were watching the film, and by the time we exited the theater, it was a downpour of Biblical proportions. Standing under the shelter of the awning of the AMC theater, I told Elysha to wait while I ran for the car.

In the 30 seconds it took for me to sprint across the parking lot and get into the car, I was soaked to the skin.

As I pulled up to the front of the theater, a large crowed had gathered under the awning alongside Elysha. Some were waiting for partners to retrieve cars, but a considerable number were waiting out the downpour, hoping it would ease up a bit before they braved the storm.

In that crowd was a colleague. A fellow teacher. Someone who worked alongside both Elysha and me.

Realizing that even the 12 or 15 feet that Elysha would have to traverse between the sidewalk and the car would leave her drenched, I had an idea. The sidewalk in front of the theater was wide and graded rather than curbed, probably to accommodate people with disabilities.

“Perfect,” I thought.

Instead of stopping, I turned and pulled right up onto the curbing, stopping the car on the sidewalk, thereby allowing Elysha to climb in without getting a drop of rain on her head.

I was feeling pretty good about my ingenuity, and so, too was Elysha.

The next day at school, I learned through the grapevine that the colleague who had been standing in that crowd and had witnessed my maneuver had been less than impressed.

“Who does he think he is?” she told my fellow teachers.

“Why does he think he can drive right up on the sidewalk while the rest of us were waiting or getting wet?”

“A teacher shouldn’t be setting an example like that.”

She told a lot of people about my maneuver. Many came to me, both amused and impressed with my clever solution. A few warned me of my colleague’s ire and subterfuge. A couple who agreed with her assessment chided me on my decision.

She, of course, never said a word to me. She was a coward.

But I’ve never understood her anger, even though I see examples like it often.

No one was harmed by my decision. Allowing Elysha to avoid the rain didn’t cause anyone else to become any wetter. Elysha got lucky and they did not, but they lost nothing in the process. My decision didn't cost them a single thing.

Yet my colleague was angry just the same.

I’ll never understand the anger that I so often see from people when someone is the benefactor of luck, ingenuity, a calculated risk, or excellent timing.

When your colleague is unexpectedly chosen to lead a conference in Miami because she submitted an application on a whim and was accepted, why be angry that she will miss three days of work in the cold of January and you will not?

When your coworker forgets to complete a report that took you hours to finish but no one ever notices or cares, why be outraged that he was lucky enough to avoid the work? His failure to complete the report cost you nothing. Why not be happy for his good fortune?

When your friend falls ass backward into a job that pays her twice as much as you with double the benefits and quadruple the vacation - a job you never wanted in the first place - why not be thrilled for her?

And when a husband chivalrously drives up on a sidewalk to allow his wife to avoid the rain, why not be happy for the lady who stayed dry and the man who protected his love from the elements?

When a person’s good fortune, ingenuity, willingness to take a risk, or good luck rewards them with good fortune while costing you nothing, why not simply be happy for the that person?

I didn’t mind all that much that my colleague was angry with me. I was annoyed that she was speaking about me behind my back because I can’t stand that level of cowardice and deceit, but even that I could ignore.

But the difficulty that people have in celebrating the good fortune of others will always baffle me. It’s an awful, ugly, small-minded tendency that says a lot about a person, and nothing good.

NOTE: This does not apply to the game of golf. When your opponent slices his drive deep into the trees, but the ball somehow ricochets back into the center of the fairway, you are permitted to despise your friend for the next three holes.

Golf isn't the real world. Golf is polite, friendly, fun-loving warfare. All bets are off.

Changing minds. Occasionally.

I make a lot of arguments in writing, both on my blog, via social media, in the magazine columns I write, and in the occasional newspaper pieces that I publish.

I say a lot. And I admittedly have a lot to say.

My intention is always to express myself. Make my positions clear. Argue forcefully about the things I believe in while remaining open to debate, disagreement, new information, and even the occasional counter-punching.

But I’m realistic about what I do. I don’t expect the majority of readers to take my side. I expect few if any to change their minds. I know that people almost always read my thoughts and opinions and continue with their lives, unmoved and unchanged.

But every once in a while, something different happens. Someone reaches out to me, and I am both shocked and delighted.

Yesterday was one of those days.

A woman wrote to tell me that what I had written a while back had changed her mind. At the time of our online exchange, she was, in her own words, a “super right-wing conservative southern baptist” but says that thanks in part to what I wrote, she has “seen the error of my ways.”

"I'm still a Christian," she says. "But I'm now a mellow liberal Episcopalian. My church is very inclusive and does a lot of social justice work.”

I couldn’t believe it. I had to read it twice.

I don’t remember what I said to her with any specificity, but she told me that I never said anything cruel to her. “It was a friendly debate.”

Politicians are often fighting for that unicorn-like undecided voter, or more often, they are simply trying to turn out their base. Get their tribe to the polls. Few if any believe that they can really change a person’s mind, and sometimes I believe the same.

Foolishly, it would seem.

The woman ended her email by saying, “I wanted to let you know the impact you had on my politics and worldview.”

The lesson here is simple:

Speak your truth. Don’t be afraid to engage. Try like hell to be heard. You never know when something you say can make a real difference in a person’s life.

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A solution to arguing on Thanksgiving Day

Thanksgiving is upon us. A day of food, family, and friends. A day of giving thanks for all our good fortune.  

And with it, the prospect of strife at the dinner table.

Democrats vs. Republicans
Rex Sox fans vs. Yankees fans 
Carnivores vs. vegans
Beatles vs. Stones
Cat people vs. dog people
Mouth breathers vs. nose breathers

These feuds can sometimes ruin an otherwise festive holiday. I've witnessed a few of these turkey day battles in my time, and I’ve participated in a few as well. 

In fact, I’ve angered the fathers of girlfriends on Thanksgiving to the point shouting at least three times in my life.

I once encouraged folks around the table to pass on food they don’t like while the father - a self-proclaimed chef - watched in horror at the rebellion that I’d stirred.

Eventually he and I had words.

I once repeatedly left the room every time the father of a girlfriend made a racially insensitive remark. That father eventually realized what I was doing and had words with me.

I was also once, (unbeknownst to me) fed my pet rabbit on Thanksgiving, which eventually caused a bit of a row.

I’ve also argued economics during the height of the Great Recession with family members who didn’t know a credit default swap from a toxic asset, debated the future of the NFL with my father-in-law, and argued the stupidity of trickle-down economics with my uncle when I was about fourteen years-old.

I drew a political cartoon that year to make my point, and decades later, my aunt sent me that cartoon. She had saved it for me.

None of these incidents made for a good Thanksgiving. I’m a guy who loves to argue, but not on Thanksgiving. Today is the last day that anyone should be verbally sparring, and yet we do.

When you see an argument erupting this year or you feel like the family is on the verge of an argument, here is my suggestion:

Tell a story.

Rather than jumping into the fray with disagreement and debate, try to tell a story instead. Return civility and joy to the table by capturing the imagination of your friends and family with an entertaining return to the past. Rise above the ruckus with something like:

"Guess what happened to me last week!"

"I attended quite the birthday party a few months ago!"

"Do you remember the Christmas when the raccoon broke into the house and tore open a bunch of the Christmas presents?"

That last one really happened. I had a pet raccoon as a kid. He managed to sneak into the house on Christmas Eve.

I should tell that story someday. 

Maybe I'll tell it at the Thanksgiving Day table this year.

Anything is better than a fight.

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My blog is celebrating its 10th anniversary today!

Today’s a big day! My blog - Grin and Bare It - just celebrated its tenth anniversary!

Back on November 18, 2008, I wrote my first post. It introduced myself to readers and explained that I had just sold my first novel and was working on my second.

I wrote:

“I thought that a blog like this would be a good opportunity to connect with readers and writers, in order to discuss the writing process, the publishing process, my experience in the world of literary agents and editors, and answer any questions that people may have about the book, my life as a reader and a writer, my latest projects, and anything else that my come to mind.”

It’s obviously become a lot more than that.

In truth, I’ve actually been blogging since December 10, 2005. In the fall of 2015, I took a class on blogging at Trinity College with Colin McEnroe. Part of that assignment was to create an actual blog of my own, which I did. That first blog only contained assignments for the class, but once I finished the course, I began blogging on my own, titling that first blog Perpetual Perpetuity.

That blog existed from December 10, 2005 through June 11 of 2007, when I was forced to remove it from the internet after an anonymous coward or cowards excerpted that blog in deliberately deceitful and misleading ways in order to compile a 46-page packet demanding that I be fired from my position as teacher based upon the things I wrote.

They sent that packet to the Superintendent of Schools, the Board of Education, the Town Council, and ultimately about 300 families in my school district. They compared me to the Virginia Tech killer, complained that I was benefiting from favoritism in our school, and implied that I was a sexual deviant.

A couple examples of their deceit:

On the day that my mother died, I wrote that my principal told me that I could take as much time as I needed to deal with my loss. “Do whatever you want to do,” he said. “No worries.”

Under the heading “Favoritism” these cretins wrote that my principal told me that I can “Do whatever you want to do,” failing to mention that it was in relation to the death of my mother.

In another post, I questioned the decision of parents who sent their children into the world wearing sweatpants with the word “Juicy” on the butt.

I wrote, “The eye in automatically drawn to text, so I find myself inadvertently staring at girl’s butts, which is stupid and terrible.”

In the packet, the cretins only quoted, “I find myself staring at girl’s butts.”

Example after example after example of this kind of deception.

The author or authors of the packet also called for the firing of Elysha and my principal, too.

Can you imagine?

More than a decade later, I’m still standing, doing my job, and loving my career, and those unnamed scumbags remain hidden under some rock where they belong.

Happily, I still have the content from that first blog. Every single post. Maybe someday I’ll return the blog to the internet just for spite.

The last post on the day I took that blog down was this:

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I see Elysha half-naked everyday! All the way naked, too!

The photographer at Saturday’s wedding informed me that lingerie photos are the latest wedding craze. Brides are giving their future husbands photo albums of themselves wearing lingerie as a wedding gift.

I don’t get it.

Can’t the average husband expect to see his wife in lingerie from time to time, and if so, why the need for a photo album? If a bride is so willing to pose in lingerie for a stranger with a camera, isn’t it reasonable to expect that she will occasionally don a negligee or teddy in the presence of the love of her life?

Elysha gave me a new golf bag and a sand wedge on our wedding day, and this was better than a slew of half-naked photos.

I can see Elysha half-naked everyday. I don’t need a photo album to remind me of how good she looks.
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As you can see, not much as changed since 2007.

After removing that first blog from the internet, I stopped blogging for exactly 14 days before launching a new blog entitled Conform Me Not. In the midst of a public firestorm over my first blog and fighting for my job and my future, I refused to be deterred. Conform Me Not was initially launched without any attempt at publicity, but as I began winning battles that summer and ensuring that my teaching position was secure, I began letting people know that I was writing again.

That blog still exists online at conformmenot.com.

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Conform Me Not ran from June 25, 2007 through November 1, 2008, when I decided to switch from a purely blogging platform to a website that supported blogging. By then I had published my first novel and realized that I needed a place for readers to land that included more than just a blog.

It took my 17 days to launch the new blog on the new platform. This platform.

So began Grin and Bare it, which celebrates its ten year anniversary today.

Though this blog is ten years old, I’ve actually been blogging from December 10, 2005, through today, with two interruptions of 14 days and 17 days.

Otherwise, I have not missed a day.

If you do the math, that’s 4,727 days, minus the 31 days missed because of scumbag cowards and a platform switch.

4,696 days worth of blog posts, More than 4,696 actual posts, since there was many days, especially in the past, when I would more than once on a single day.

A diary of sorts, except instead of cataloging just the events of the day, my posts often reflect my thoughts of the day. Opinions, feelings, arguments, beliefs, questions, and rants.

Occasionally something sweet.

I am so grateful for the last 13 years of blog posts. Not only have I created a written record of my life, but blogging has proven to be an excellent training ground for the the magazine columns and newspaper pieces that I write now.

When you’re required to say something everyday, you get really good at generating ideas.

I’ve also met an enormous number of people through blogging. Some have gotten to know me online, and others have become friends in real life.

My blog is also a wonderful way to stay connected to friends, especially those that have moved away. Though we can’t talk everyday, many read everyday and send me emails or messages through social media that keep us connected.

Yes, it also created an enormous problem for me back in 2007, but even that will likely work out well. It will probably become a subject of a memoir, including previously undisclosed information on the horrible person or persons responsible for the attack on me and many things that I have never spoken about before.

It’s quite the story.

In addition to all of that, some amazing things have happened as a result of putting so much of my life into writing for anyone to read.

Here are just a few:

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In the fall of 2016, I wrote a post advising Hillary Clinton to take certain strategic steps in her next two debates with Donald Trump. That post made it into the hands of a senior staffer on the Clinton campaign and was passed around. I don't know if Clinton herself read it, but I like to pretend that she did. 

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In June of 2010, a wrote a post about the Blackstone Valley sniper. When I was a child, a pair of men spent almost two years firing bullets into windows in my hometown and the adjacent towns, forcing us to turn out our lights at night and crawl under the picture window as we passed through the living room. We lived in fear for a long time. There was a total of eleven shootings from 1986-1987 (in addition to acts of arson and burglaries), and though no one was killed, four people were wounded in the attacks. 

The two men guilty of the shootings were sentenced to prison in 1989 and were released on probation in 2008. 

Five years after writing that post, the girlfriend of one of the shooters saw the post and wrote to me, complaining about my disparaging remarks about her boyfriend, who was turning his life around. 

It was an interesting exchange of ideas.  

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In April of 2011, I wrote about my desire to become a professional best man. I declared myself ready and able if anyone needed my services.

Since I wrote that post, four grooms and one bride have attempted to hire me (scheduling prevented those bookings from happening), and a fifth groom actually hired me for his wedding but cancelled later on. 

I've also been contacted by three different reality television producers about the possibility of doing a show in which I would be a professional best man at a series of weddings. None of these shows came to fruition.

In 2015, comedian Kevin hart wrote to me upon the release of his film The Wedding Ringer, in which he plays a professional best man. He acknowledged that it was my idea first. 

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In 2012, I wrote about my desire to find my first library book. I recalled a few details about the book - the color of the cover and a few details about the plot - but nothing terribly specific. 

Two years later a reader correctly identified the book. A couple months later another reader sent it to me. It now sits on my bookshelf. 

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Last year I wrote about Mrs. Carroll, the woman who taught me how to tie my shoes in kindergarten.

One day later, I was informed by a reader that she is 94 years old and still going strong.

By the end of that day, I had been given her home address by another reader. I sent her a letter telling her how much she meant to me and how I think about her every time I tie my shoes, and on the last day of my school year, I received a letter from her, detailing specific memories about me from my year in kindergarten.

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In March of 2016, I write about telling a story at The Moth about my former elementary school principal, Fred Hartnett, for whom a new middle school in my hometown is now named. A few days after writing about the story, Mr. Hartnett, retired for more than 20 years, contacted me, and we’ve since exchanged several emails.

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These are just a few of the many remarkable things that have happened because I write and publish every single day.

I guess it makes sense. When thousands of people read your writing each day, connections are going to be made. You’re going to occasionally touch hearts and minds.

Sometimes annoy a person, too.

But even that can be fun.

Thanks so much for reading every day. I’m honored and humbled by the thousands of people who read my posts here and on the social media outlets where my blog posts go every day.

But even if I had just 10 readers, I’d still be writing every day. The rewards, audience or no audience, have made it more than worth my time.

Trying to tell me something?

Working on one of my next books this morning when I looked up and saw this.

Apparently he doesn’t approve of this morning’s progress.

How I fight crazy, strange, and beautiful people

Yesterday I wrote about my unusual Uber ride from the Jacksonville airport to Amelia Island.

In response to that post, friends and reader commented on how often I seem to meet such “interesting” and “strange” people and how my life can oftentimes seem more storyworthy than most.

This is not true, but I understand the perception. Two things make this so:

I open up a space for others to speak.

My Uber driver didn’t volunteer his conspiracy theories to me, and he didn’t launch into his misguided political diatribe unprompted. After getting into the car, I engaged in conversation. I asked him his name. I asked him if he drove for Uber for a living, which led to him describing his two other jobs.

Then I asked about those jobs. I demonstrated genuine curiosity. I learned a lot about the process of iPhone screen repair. I can now tell you the economics of mall kiosks in the Jacksonville area and the way that Apple ships parts to repair technicians. I can explain to you why repairing an iPhone screen is easier than repairing a Samsung screen, and I can explain how a nail salon can pay more than $200,000 in rent each year and still turn over an excellent profit.

All of this came from me asking questions and demonstrating a genuine interest in his life.

Then I asked him what he did in the little bit of free time he had. “Do have time for hobbies?” I asked.

“Do you like conspiracy theories?”

“Not really,” I said. “But I’d love to hear what you think.”

This is how I ended up with a story.

I open up space for people to talk and tell me stories. Instead of staring at my phone for the duration of the ride, which would’ve been easy, I decided to leave the damn thing in my pocket and engage with a human being. I did the same thing on the four flights to and from Florida. On each leg of the trip, I opened up a space for my seat mate to speak.

The first was not interested. He was watching a movie on his phone, so I did the same.

The next one spoke limited English, making conversation impossible.

The third, a young woman, fell asleep almost instantly and ended up awkwardly draped across my chest (a story in itself).

But the fourth, a man named Dave who lives in Meriden, chatted with me for a while, telling me the story of his visit with his ailing mother and “impossible sister.”

Not exactly conspiracy theories and iPhone economics, but he shared a story with me before turning back to his phone.

I talk to people. Part of this is a learned behavior after spending 15 years with my wife, Elysha, and part of it is my desire to hear stories. Engage with people. Make the moments of my life more meaningful and memorable than a screen ever will.

I tell my own stories.

While in Florida, I told a story about a challenging time during my childhood to an audience of a few hundred. I was honest, authentic, and vulnerable. I spoke about things that many are not willing to speak about.

In response, at least a dozen people shared their own stories with me. Some told me deeply personal stories about their own childhood struggles. I spoke to one man about our mutual love for the Atari 2600 game Adventure (and have since downloaded the game using an online emulator). The general manager of a hotel on the island offered me a free room if I bring my family for vacation.

One woman told me a secret that she had been carrying for more than 40 years. She had tears in her eyes as she spoke to me.

When you tell your stories, others are compelled to tell you their own, and as a result, connections are made. Doors are opened. The chance for storyworthy moments increases significantly.

It’s true that my life has been filled with some unusual moments. My life has been saved by paramedics twice. I was homeless for a period of time. Arrested and tried for a crime I did not commit. Carried from my childhood home in the middle of the night by a firefighter. Survived a horrific armed robbery. Been victimized by an anonymous, widespread attack on my character and my career. Fed my pet rabbit at Thanksgiving.

A lot of crazy stuff. You have some, too, I’m sure.

But eventually you tell all those stories. All those storyworthy moments from your past become known.

Then what?

When people say that my life seems more storyworthy than most, I point out my willingness to say yes to whatever opportunity crosses my path. My ability to see stories in moments that others do not.

But I also point out my willingness to listen. My desire to open up space and time for others to tell me their stories, and my willingness to share my own.

A storyworthy life is one filled with people. Connection and engagement. It’s about getting out of the house, turning off the television, lifting your face from the screen, and finding someone new. Doing something new. Opening your heart and mind to opportunities.

It means asking your Uber driver questions about his life rather than reading email or scrolling through social media. And finding out some disturbing facts about him in the process.

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I had a terrifying Uber right in Florida last night.

I spent about 45 minutes in the back of an Uber last night on the road between Jacksonville International Airport and Amelia Island.

It was almost 2:00 AM when I climbed into the back of the car, so perhaps that’s why things got weird.

My driver was quite the conversationalist and had a lot to say. He was also an avid conspiracy theorist who was anxious to spread his propaganda. Among this many beliefs were these:

THEORY #1

In the 1940’s, the United States began cloning human beings to serve as doubles for any human being who needed to be eliminated or replaced. The most famous of all these replacements:

Michael Jackson

When Jackson’s hair caught fire on a Pepsi commercial shoot in 1984, his face was also horribly burned. The only way for the King of Pop to continue to entertain was for the government to activate his replacement clone, and since the technology was not exact, that is why Jackson’s complexion seemed to change over the years.

When I asked why the government thought it necessary to replace Michael Jackson, the driver said, “Michael Jackson was amazing. The world needed him.”

THEORY #2

The Illuminati controls NASA, which is not actually a space exploration agency but instead is instead a secret bunker-building construction company designing hideouts for the wealthiest human beings for when the apocalypse comes.

His proof: NASA in Hebrew (according to him) means “To Deceive” and the Illuminati like to hide clues in the open.

“Why do they hide clues out in the open?” I asked.

“It’s cooler that way,” he said.

It was disconcerting to think that there are Americans who have been fooled into believing conspiracies like this (and so many more), but here was the most frightening of his beliefs:

Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon, is a terrible human being because when Donald Trump gave tax cuts to corporations, lots of them gave their employees holiday bonuses but Amazon didn’t. He was working for Amazon at the time at a fulfillment center and wanted the $500 bonus that Trump had tried to put into his pocket.

Up until this point, I had only listened. But with this, I had to speak up. I said something like this:

“I’m not saying Bezos shouldn’t be doing more for workers, but instead of a a tax cut for corporations and the wealthiest Americans, how about just a plain old middle class tax cut? You know, the kind Trump promised during the campaign and then lied about prior to the midterms? Remember when Trump said his wealthy friends were going to hate his plans for taxes? They loved his tax cut on the wealthy. A tax cut for the middle class would give you a lot more than $500 in your pocket, and it wouldn’t be a one-time payment. It would help you every day.”

His response:

“Yeah, but when I’m one of the wealthiest Americans someday like Bezos, then I’m going to love me some of that tax cut.”

The man is 34 years old. He has three jobs:

He drives Uber overnight.
He does nails at his mother’s salon.
He repairs cracked screens on iPhones.

He works three jobs and has a 7 year-old daughter to support, and instead of wanting the promised middle class tax cut, he would prefer $500 in cash and a tax cut just waiting for him when he makes it big.

That was the scariest thing he said all night. He is a man who really believes that tax obligations should be apportioned with the thought that he and everyone else will someday be as wealthy as Jeff Bezos.

He’s not the only one. Again and again, Americans vote against their self-interests with some eye to a future that is unlikely for them and impossible for everyone.

Help middle class families who are living paycheck to paycheck or line the wallets of the ultra-wealthy because some day you might be wealthy, too, and until then, $500 will make you feel good.

Give me Michael Jackson clones and an Illuminati-controlled NASA any day.

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