I have opinions on a suggested 30 percent tip

When it comes to dining out, I am a good tipper. My standard tip is 20% rounded up, and if I am especially pleased with the service, I’ll add a dollar or two.

I don’t have a problem with tipping for service at a restaurant.

I also tip on the total bill, including tax, because I’m not an insane person.

On Saturday night, however, Elysha and I went to dinner with friends, and at the bottom of the bill were some tipping suggestions. I hate the mere existence of these suggestions, since calculating 15 or 20 percent of any total should not be difficult for any grown-ass human being.

Even if calculating 20 percent is challenging for you, we can all calculate 10 percent of a number, so at worst you can just add half of that amount for 15 percent or double it for 20 percent.

I find these tipping suggestions slightly insulting both especially unsettling. I worry that people actually need them.

But the suggestions offered on Saturday night were insulting for a whole new reason.

30 percent? This restaurant has added 30 percent as an option to the suggested tips?

Frankly, I think 25 percent is a little presumptuous, but 30 percent?

I often suggest that folks purchase my books by the dozen, but I’m not serious. I’m making a joke. I don’t ever expect anyone to do it, but these suggestions are not meant to be funny.

Someone somewhere thinks that a 30 percent tip should not only an option, but it’s an option so common and obvious that it’s worthy of suggestion.

It’s not.

For the record, I tipped $12 that night, making my tip a little more than 21 percent of the bill. A tip like this would normally make me feel good about my tip. Generous, even.

But not when the stupid restaurant presents 30 percent an option.

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Standing up in defense of comedy instead of decency

I was standing in the checkout line at Stop & Shop on Sunday, which was a mistake. A snow storm was coming, threatening to dump half a foot of snow on the ground, so the crazy people were out in force, stocking up on food and drink in case of …

I have no idea. The roads were clear by 9:00 AM the next day, like they always are.

The cashier, a young man in his late teens or early twenties, was running my items through the scanner, and a young woman, about the same age, was bagging. The man had just started scanning my items when he turned to the bagger and said, “Can you believe how dumb that old lady was?”

The old lady that her was referring to was the customer in front of me who had just departed. For some reason, this elderly woman had a difficult time using her credit card. Rather than inserting it into the chip slot, she first tried to hand the card to the cashier, and when he pointed at the machine, she tried to swipe the card repeatedly. Ultimately, the cashier had to show the woman how to insert her card into the chip slot and help her through the prompts.

I saw all this happen, and foolishly, I thought the cashier was being patient and kind.

Turns out not so much.

Hearing the cashier insult the elderly customer, the bagger replied, “You’re so mean!” But not in a serious or scolding way, but in a smiling, flirty way. She giggled as she said it.

“I’m not mean,” the cashier protested. “She was a real idiot.” He went on, explaining how “stupid” she was through each step of the payment process.

The cashier giggled some more.

I stood there. listening to this, and my first thought was how unprofessional this behavior was. As a former manager of a restaurant for years, I can’t stand when employees act like this in front of customers. The manager inside me seethed. These two were speaking as if I wasn’t even there. Had I been their manager, I would’ve been so angry.

But I said nothing. I wasn’t their manager.

Then something inside me shifted. I thought, “Wait. This cashier sucks. And so does this bagger. They’re just terrible people.”

Still, I said nothing. Given another moment or two, I might’ve finally spoken up, but before I could even make that decision, a third thought struck me.

“This kid thinks he’s funny. He’s trying to make this bagger laugh. And she is. She’s laughing. They think this is funny.”

That was it.

The former manager in me had remained silent.

The decent human being in me hadn’t said a word.

But the person who strives to be funny on both the page and on the stage couldn’t stand it anymore. I was so offended by this rotten, lazy, legitimately unfunny attempt to be funny that I finally spoke up.

“You know,” I said. “It’s pretty terrible to talk about people behind their back like you’re doing. It’s awful, really.”

“No,” the cashier said and attempted to launch into an excuse.

I cut him right off. “No,” I sad. “It’s terrible. And cowardly. And you think you’re funny. You’re not. You’re not even close to being funny. You’re just being terrible to someone who doesn’t deserve it and isn’t here. You’re not funny at all.”

The cashier broke eye contact and became exceptionally focused on scanning my remaining items. I turned to the bagger, and she was now looking down, treating the bagging of my groceries like the defusing of a ticking time bomb.

Anything to avoid eye contact.

They may have thought I was a crazy person. Or maybe they were worried that I would report their behavior to their manager. Or maybe they just wanted to get rid of me as quickly as possible without creating any more of a scene.

Maybe all three.

But in less than a minute, I was rolling away with my groceries.

I thought for a moment about stopping at the customer service counter on the way out to ask some inane question just to put the fear of reporting and termination in their minds, but honestly, I wasn’t feeling as good about myself as I usually do in situations like these.

I’m oftentimes elated after one of those encounters.

Maybe I would’ve spoken up when I shifted from manager-mode to decent-person mode, but I’m not sure. I certainly didn’t speak up immediately. It wasn’t until I became angry with them on behalf of comedy that I finally spoke up, and for that, I was feeling a little lousy about my reaction.

That elderly woman deserved to have someone stand up for her for better reasons than comedy.

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Dumb geographical luck

I often think how defining geography can be to a person.

Last week Elysha and I brought the kids to Boston to visit the Children’s Museum. We ate lunch, visited every exhibit hall, and walked through the streets as a light snow fell.

We left the house around 10:00 AM and were home by 8:00 PM.

I’ll be in Boston at least three times in March for a Moth GrandSLAM, a storytelling show at Harvard, and a consulting gig.

A day after visiting the Boston Children’s Museum, I was in New York City, consulting with a nonprofit in Manhattan. I left the house around 5:00 AM and returned home by 8:00 PM, which made for a long but doable day.

I’ll be attending a Moth StorySLAM and performing in New York again next month, and I’ll be meeting with one of my publishers in April.

Earlier this week, I was coaching hospital volunteers at Yale New Haven Hospital. I’ll be back next week to listen to their stories again and see how much progress has been made.

Next month I’ll be in Vermont, consulting with attorneys on storytelling.

I also work and perform in Maine regularly, and I’ve done work with with schools in New Hampshire, too.

Knowing all this, I can’t help but wonder what my life might be like had I been born in a place like North Dakota or Iowa or Nebraska. Big states that require hours to cross. Places without easy access to multiple large cities like New York and Boston and New Haven and multiple states like we do here in New England.

Places without large concentrations of people.

Maybe I would’ve eventually moved to the northeast or the west coast, but it’s hard to know. When you grow up in a place, that place can often define a person’s hopes and dreams.

If I grew up in Montana or Kansas, I’m not sure if I ever find my way to storytelling, standup, performing, and all of the work I now do this field with corporations, schools, hospitals, nonprofits, the clergy, and everyone else.

Fate can also play an enormous role in your life. Where you are born will often determine the course of your life, but decisions about where to establish your roots are often made less thoughtfully and far more randomly.

I came to Connecticut, putting me strategically between New York and Boston, because while leaving a Def Leppard concert at the Hartford Civic Center in 1993, my best friend, Bengi (who had already moved to Connecticut for work), saw a coworker from Travelers waiting to be escorted to her car by the now-defunct Hartford Guides. Bengi asked if she wanted to walk with us since we were both parked in the same Traveler’s parking garage.

She accepted his offer.

During that short walk to our cars, I managed to impress that girl enough that she was asking about me at work the next day.

I eventually came to Connecticut because of that girl. Though we didn’t end up together forever, everything that followed, including Elysha, the kids, Speak Up, my career, my other career, my other career, and my other career, and just about every else good in my life, resulted from my move to Connecticut.

It terrifies me to think how close I came to not having any of this. A simple walk to a parking garage changed my life forever.

And had I remained in the Boston area, I might never go to New York and start telling stories for The Moth. I might never perform onstage.

Hartford to New York is a two or three hour drive depending on the time of day, but Boston to New York is more than four hours. Impossible to get there on time for a show after a full day of work.

Yes, I could’ve moved to New York and had all the opportunities that the city affords, but losing easy access to the Boston area would’ve been terrible for me, too. Having a second market in which to perform and work has been tremendous, and almost two decades spent at Gillette Stadium with my friends, cheering on the Patriots, would’ve been wiped out by a move to NYC.

There are many days when I’m driving to Manhattan or Brooklyn and wishing I lived a little closer to the city. There are also days when I’m stuck in traffic on the Mass Pike and wishing the trip to Boston was a lot shorter. But by being nearly equidistant to both cities, I have access to both cities, as well as places like New Haven, Providence, and northern New England.

And I have Hartford, a place where I perform and work regularly as well.

Hartford may not be the most glamorous as places like Boston and New York, but its geographical position has positioned me well for many opportunities, and I don’t discount this good fortune.

Geography is, of course, one of the most defining aspects of a person’s life. Forget Nebraska or Iowa. Had I been born in Siberia or Syria or the Sudan, my life would be very different. I was exceptionally, exceedingly fortunate to be born in America, and perhaps also fortunate to be born in the northeast, and perhaps also fortunate to have landed in a place that affords me access to cities like New York and Boston.

I try to remind myself about this whenever possible. As hard as I have worked to get where I am today, it was also just dumb luck that I was born in America in proximity to multiple large cities that have given me opportunities beyond compare.

Dumb luck, folks. It’s what fuels more success than we are sometimes willing to admit.

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I don't remember what I see.

While teaching storytelling at Yale New Haven Hospital last night, I was trying to explain to someone about how I am a strong auditory learner and an exceptionally weak visual learner.

Essentially, I can remember almost everything I hear, but I have great difficulty remembering anything that I see.

I don’t notice a lot of things.

Elysha has argued that if she were standing in a lineup of brunettes of similar height, I would be hard-pressed to identify her. This is not true, of course, but there is some truth in what she says.

But this is true:

Elysha and I were at a party a few years ago when someone asked us what color our house is. I said, “Yellow.”

Elysha said, “Our house is not yellow.”

So began a debate over the color of our house, which I knew was yellow. We’d been living in the house for at least half-a-dozen years at that point, and I damn well knew the color of our house. It was clearly yellow. Unquestionable yellow. As yellow as the yellow of a yellow crayon.

A couple hours later, we turned onto our street and took a look at the house.

It’s not yellow. As you can see (below), it’s not even close to being yellow.

I’d been living in a house for years, and I couldn’t accurately recall the color of that house.

That is frightening.

Yes, it’s great to have an exceptionally strong auditory memory. Being able to remember everything that I hear and follow multiple conversations simultaneously is helpful. Elysha has caught me watching television and listening to an audiobook at the same time, and I can do so while maintaining focus on both narratives.

I’m sure that my auditory prowess has helped me with my writing and storytelling. I made me a debate champion in college (and a miserable person to argue with). It helps me analyze and dissect movies, television shows, and stories with ease because I’m able to hold large amounts of auditory information in my head for a long, long time.

All that is great.

But it would also be great if I could accurately identify the color of your house. Or recognize someone by their face rather than their voice. Or be able to tell someone what color shirt I’m wearing without having to look down to see.

That would be pretty great, too.

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New employment opportunity involves contracting malaria

Elysha is opposed to me taking on any new jobs, and I certainly understand her feelings. Between teaching, writing, storytelling, consulting, ministering, standup, coaching, and the occasional DJ gig, I am never short on work.

But I also understand my insanity.

When you’ve been homeless and hungry and facing the real possibility of prison, and you honestly believe that you will never live in an actual house again, it’s hard to feel like you’re ever more than a step or two away from the cliff at any moment.

And now that I have a wife and two children depending on me, the cliff is more frightening than ever. Terrifying, really.

This is why I seem to collect jobs. I’m building a bulwark against possible oblivion. I’m in a constant battle against possible economic disaster.

A little crazy, I know, but born from a former and very real reality.

Troy Carter of The Atom Factory calls this financial PTSD. "When you grow up poor, you suffer financial PTSD. You always have that fear."

I get that.

Despite Elysha’s admonitions, I actually managed to land three new jobs in 2018:

I started writing and consulting for an advertising company, I started consulting on documentaries, and I became a notary.

Huzzah!

In my defense, Elysha was excited about my opportunity to work on a national advertising campaign and fully supported it.

I'm not sure if she knew about my application to become a notary, but I don’t feel like that job will be terribly demanding of my time and energy. She’s probably fine with that one, too.

I’m not sure if she’s even aware of the work I’m doing with the documentarian. Until now.

Just last week, I learned of a new employment possibility:

Malaria vaccine volunteer

Yes, it’s just what it sounds like. Pharmaceutical companies are looking for test subjects to determine the efficacy of new vaccines. There’s no real danger to the subject, and it pays well too:

A vaccine trial through the Jenner Institute at Oxford, for example, pays about $3,200, to malaria volunteers. Over 1,000 people have been deliberately infected with malaria for research purposes so far, and they’ve all been perfectly fine.

I know what you’re thinking… Getting malaria on purpose sounds a little crazy, but I feel like it’s one of those jobs that I could do while doing other jobs, doubling my earning power.

Multi-tasking!

If Elysha doesn’t approve of this idea (and I see my chances as rather low), other job possibilities on the horizon include:

  • Professional best man (Five grooms, a filmmaker, and two reality show developer have tried to hire me for this position so far)

  • Unlicensed therapist (Two licensed therapists have given me the thumbs up on this idea)

  • Unaccredited sociologist (I have many theories to test and write about but no desire to earn a boring sociology degree)

  • Gravesite visitor (It’s a thing)

  • Double date companion (Alongside Elysha, we would offer the social lubricant needed to ensure a successful first or second or third date)

  • Futurist (I’m more than willing to be paid to predict the future)

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Great news, greater advice, and a cage

Today I offer you a bit of followup on previous posts.

First, and I think most important, is a comment that my friend, John, left on my blog yesterday. I met John through Speak Up, where he has become a bit of a regular, and a couple years ago I played in his day-long, 54 hole golf tournament.

John wrote this in response to my post about my slightly unorthodox version of self care:

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This morning I ran 3 miles. I know, so what, many people can do that.

What if I told you I will be 66 years old in 7 weeks?

Yep, a fair number of 66 year olds can do that too.

But what if I told you the last time I did it was the morning of my heart attack?

What if I told you that 272 days ago a team of doctors sawed open my chest, stopped my heart and repaired it. At about this point you might tell me to stop bragging.

But Matt’s words this morning ring so true to me. “Whenever possible, I try to put myself in a position to feel like I am doing better than other people. Accomplishing more. Making the most of my day. Outpacing my fellow human beings.”

Many times during my running life when I was exhausted during a run or unmotivated, I would say to myself, “How many 45 year olds can do this? How many 55 year olds can”” Comparing myself to everyone born in 1953 and later would always get me to the finish line. And I am convinced that in a small way those thoughts kept me running through the years and maybe played a role in saving my life.

This is the day I have looked forward to since I could only walk slowly for 5 minutes without needing to rest.

This morning I ran 3 miles. I’m back.

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Not only am I thrilled to hear that John is back, but I think his words are important for people to hear, myself included.

Last week, I wrote about the cage that my student built and gave to me for my birthday. The only photographs I took of the cage on that day were ones containing students, so here is what the cage looks like now, hanging above my desk.

A perfect collection of birthday presents

Yesterday was an especially delightful today for me. It was my birthday, and the gifts that I were given were brilliant.

It started off in the morning with Elysha. Her family has always given their gifts at the crack of dawn, which was decidedly different than the after-dinner gift giving that I was accustomed to for all of my life, but I’ve decided not to fight this tiny bit of crazy.

She’s excited. I get it.

Elysha gave me two gifts:

  • Tickets to the 20th anniversary tour of Rent, a favorite of mine. I saw Rent at least three times with the original cast when it debuted back in the late ‘90’s at the Nederlander Theater on Broadway, and I can still sing all the song by heart.

I was thrilled.

  • A portrait of Kaleigh, my best friend who passed away in 2018. Elysha sent photos of Kaleigh to an artist who produced a beautiful rendition of my little friend of more than 17 years.

    She always finds a way to make me cry with her gifts.

Then I went to school and was greeted by my students who gave me some entirely unnecessary but delightful gifts. One student gave me a handmade ceramic bowl with a card telling me that I was to keep paperclips in the bowl for those moments when I might need to throw them at students.

Another student asked me what I wanted for my birthday earlier in the week, and my list included a bucket of kittens, a time machine, a lifetime supply of cheeseburgers, an addition to my home, a robot, and a cage to hang over my desk to imprison naughty children..

So she built me the cage.

Using baling twine and wooden hoops, she created a perfect replica of the kind of cage that the witch in Hansel and Gretel stuffed the children into as she prepared to cook them.

I immediately hung it over my desk, much to the delight of my kids.

A few hours later it was time for lunch. I’m a member of a secret birthday club at school, and my friend, Wendy, revealed that she was my birthday buddy. My gift was a surprise lunch, complete with a white table cloth, birthday centerpiece, Chipotle burrito, and my good friend and former colleague Rob Hugh.

She gave me time with my friend. An hour to catch up and eat.

What a perfect gift.

When I arrived home later that day, I was greeted by my in-laws, who had spent much of the day with our kids. They handed me a renewed membership to the kids’ favorite museum, where they had spent much of the afternoon, and had so many kind things to say about how well behaved and polite our kids were throughout the day.

Future fun with the kids and the knowledge that they had a great day together… I can’t imagine a better gift.

I’m not the kind of person who gets excited over gifts. I’m a minimalist at heart who doesn’t really care much about things. But yesterday I received the things that I value most:

Experiences. Originality. Creativity. Thoughtfulness. The happiness of my children. Storyworthy moments.

Every single gift that I received fit at least one of these categories. It was a day filled with beautiful gestures of kindness and generosity.

I couldn’t be more thankful.

I leveled up.

I both love and hate this little meme.

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I love the idea that I am leveling up today. Level 48. Yes, that’s badass. Severely badass.

I’m leveling up today.

But you’re certainly not an old person at age 43, and you’re also most certainly not an old person at age 48.

Correction: There are some 43 year olds who behave as if they’re old people, just like there are some 48 year olds who behave like old people, too.

I happen to know a 34 year old who acts as if he’s ready for the grave. Perpetually exhausted. Chronically cranky. Endlessly pessimistic. Unwilling to take risks. Incapable of trying new things. Unable to muster the energy to do anything after 8:00 PM.

Yeah, that guy is old.

The argument that age is a state of mind is not a new one, but I think there is a lot of truth to it. But it’s not only a state of mind. I think age is more importantly a reflection about how you spend your time. How you choose to live your life.

I know a 71 year-old man who has recently transformed his life by diving into something new and difficult and ultimately joyous.

I know a 74 year-old woman who runs her own online business and has recently revived her career in art and just started licensing her work.

I know a 72 year-old woman who retired four years ago and has launched an entirely new second act of her life. She is traveling, trying new things, and playing lots and lots of golf.

These three people are living younger lives than others who I know who are decades younger.

A positive, youthful state of mind is nice, but it’s how that state of mind informs your decisions and behavior that count.

Are you trying new things? Taking risks? Exploring perviously ignored corners of yourself? Are you still making friends? Trying to make the world a better place?

My students know that I’m turning 48 today. They occasionally take great pleasure in referring to me as old. They are obviously struggling with a limited intellect. But a young lady recently came to my defense after a boy lobbed one of these “old man” claims at me, shouting, “He does more stuff than all of us, and he can even do a back-bend!”

That young lady will never know how much I enjoyed that comment.

It was a lovely birthday present.

Bravery beyond compare

Last night I did something exceptionally daring. Some might say courageous.

Elysha was in the middle of a sentence when she stopped, searching for a word that she could not find.

I thought I might know the word that she wanted, but I hesitated for a moment, because we all know that this can only go two ways:

  1. You suggest the correct word, and you are an instantaneous hero. A champion. Finding the word that your beloved is searching for is a perfect indication of your intimacy and shared human experience. You were made for each other. This relationship was meant to be. It’s likely that you’ll be making out before long.

  2. You suggest the wrong word, and your loved one dismisses your suggestion like a piece of trash. You shrink under the weight of their disappointment and scorn. You can’t believe how stupid you are.

    Then, in an attempt to make things right again, you suggest a different word. That one is wrong, too, and now your loved one thinks of you as human garbage. Their voice is filled with irritation and disgust. Suddenly your entire relationship is drawn into question. A chasm tears open between the two of you as your beloved wonders how they could’ve ever thought that this relationship was meant to be.

Offering a word to your loved one is treacherous ground. Sometimes deadly. Oftentimes it’s better to simply remain silent and allow your loved one to flail about unassisted.

But last night I steeled myself against possible ruination and suggested the word that Elysha might be seeking, and I was right.

Huzzah!

Champion-status attained. Relationship validated. We lived happily ever after.

Sometimes we have to step and be brave in the face of possible disaster, people. Last night I did just that, and it paid off handsomely.

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Being critical doesn't mean I can't have fun.

Yesterday I wrote about my annoyance over dining at a restaurant that has banned straws but still jams unnecessary and unrequested lemon wedges on the sides of soda glasses.

In response, a surprising number of people expressed concern about my ability to enjoy myself as a result of my annoyance over what I perceived to be illogical virtue signaling. These concerns ranged from the genuine to the ironic to passive-aggressive criticism about what they thought was my curmudgeonly attitude.

I received similar responses when I criticized the endings of Wonder Woman and Mary Poppins Returns for the way white men saved the day rather than the women for whom these movies were titled. The thought seemed to be, “You’d enjoy life more if you weren’t so critical.”

I’d like to go on the record as assuring all that not only am I enjoying the hell out of my life, but I had a delightful time at dinner on Saturday, despite the straw/lemon wedge debacle.

In fact, I had a better time because of it.

Rather than experiencing a delightful but ultimately forgettable dinner with good friends, I had a meal that I will remember for a long time.

Something happened that night. I had an original thought. My friend, David, and I talked about the logical inconsistency of the lemon and straw. He agreed. We laughed about it.

Then even better things happened.

I wrote about the moment two days later, and thousands of people read about it online. Many agreed with my position. Some offered new ideas of their own or sent me links to support for my position. A few pushed back on my assertions, but even that is enjoyable.

I love debate. Conflict excites me.

Then I started working on a bit about the lemon/straw incident for standup. I’ll probably end up with a minute or two of comedy that may or may not be funny, but I feel good about it. Someday I’ll use it onstage. it may even become part of a larger bit that I’m working on about food and dining in general.

I may even pitch a more thorough version of the blog post to a newspaper or magazine. Or I could use it as part of a future humor column for Seasons magazine.

Being annoyed about the straw/lemon situation didn’t make the dinner any less enjoyable. I was still sitting beside the woman I love and sitting across two of my favorite people in the world. We still had time talk about our lives, our kids, and our latest creative endeavors. I still enjoyed my pork tenderloin and Elysha’s chocolate pudding.

It was a great night, made al the more memorable by a lemon wedge and the absence of a straw.

Moving through life with a critical eye does not make the world any less enjoyable for me. Recognizing a flaw in logic or the problem with a film doesn’t mean I can’t have while engaging in these pursuits.

Fear not, dear reader. Elysha and our friends can rightfully attest to the enjoyment of the evening and my ongoing zest for life, even if I see a lot wrong in the world today.

Clara turns 10 years-old today.

Clara is ten years-old today. Double digits. I can’t believe it.

From the moment I learned that Elysha was pregnant, I started writing to Clara, and later to Charlie, on a blog called “Greetings Little One.” I wrote a post to the kids on that blog every day from 2008 until late 2015, about eight years in all, so there is a lot of content there.

On the day that Clara was born, a single decade ago today, I wrote this to my little girl.

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Our day began yesterday, at 11:53 PM, when you mother awoke me from twenty minutes of glorious sleep to inform me that her water had broken. In fact, it was still breaking as I awoke. I could hear the splashing from the bed. Despite the hours of birthing class and hundreds of pages that Mommy and I read on pregnancy, we both stared at one another and asked, “What do we do now?”

I doubted that your mother was experiencing contractions, since the brutal, possibly hedonist midwife earlier that day had told me that there was “no mistaking contractions.” Since your mom had said that she thought it might be contractions, I assumed that she was experiencing cramps and that we should probably not go to the hospital yet.

Your mother, in a bit of a panic, insisted that we go. I offered to call the doctor first and bring Kaleigh to the Casper’s house before heading off, but she was not happy with this suggestion.

Oh well. Mommy and Daddy aren’t always perfect.

After loading up the car and waiting for Jane to arrive to pick up Kaleigh, we were off, finally leaving the house at 12:30 AM.

Seven minutes later, we arrived at the hospital, and I dropped Mommy off at the doors in order to park the car. I said, “Don’t wait for me. Just go up.”

She replied, “There’ll be no waiting for you” and exited the car.

I admit that I secretly hoped that by the time I made it up to the sixth floor, you would be well on your way out.

No such luck.

Mommy was filling out paperwork with a nurse when I arrived in the delivery center, and it was at this time that I finally understood the degree of Mommy’s pain. As she was being asked questions, her responses were were fairly incoherent. It turns out that her contractions were coming every three to four minutes, which explains the pain.

After being led to our room, we met Cassie, the first of two nurses who we would come to adore throughout the birthing process. Cassie was with us throughout the evening, making us comfortable and helping us to catch a few hours of sleep. After arriving, we learned that Mommy was almost entirely effaced but not dilated at all. We were shocked. On the way over to the hospital, we took wagers on how dilated she would be.

She said 4 centimeters would make her happy, and I was hoping for 7.

Zero was a disappointment.

Thankfully, our doctor, who doesn’t believe that women should ever suffer through childbirth, offered to administer the epidural immediately, even though birthing class instructors informed us that it would not be done before 4 centimeters. This was the first of what we discovered to be several false statements made by birthing class instructors, including their assertion that the hospital had no Wi-Fi, which I am using at this moment.

I left the room for the epidural (though Cassie said I could stay if I wanted, which my birthing instructor said would never happen), and even though Mommy hasn’t said much about it, it seemed to go well. The anesthesiologist was a bit of a jerk, but otherwise, the needle, the meds, and all the horrifying aspects of this procedure went off without a hitch. Mommy was terrified during this process, possibly more than any other time in her life, but she held up like a trooper.

With the epidural on board, the pain vanished, the lights were turned off, and Mommy and I managed to sleep for a couple fitful hours. The chair that I attempted to sleep in was a device that harkened back to the Spanish Inquisition. It tortured my neck and back, but I later found the wisdom to open it into a bed and sleep soundly for an hour or two. We slept from about 2:00-4:00 AM, when Cassie checked Mommy again and found her fully effaced and 4 centimeters dilated. Lights went out again until 6:00, when Cassie checked and found Mommy fully dilated.

Hooray. I expected a baby before breakfast and said as much.

She began pushing at 6:30, but in the midst of a shift change, Cassie left us and Catherine took over. It was immediately decided to allow you to drop some more on your own before resuming to push.

When Catherine first appeared, we didn’t know who she was, but being the woman she is, your mother immediately requested her name and rank, and we learned that Cassie was leaving us. Cassie was wonderful; an easy going, friendly, and warm woman with three young kids of her own who was perfect for helping us to rest and relax during the night.

Catherine was warm and friendly as well, but she was also a bit of a drill sergeant, specific and demanding in her orders, and it was just what your Mommy needed when she began pushing again around 8:00. This was the hardest time for your mother. She pushed consistently from 8:00 until 11:30, but because of the placement of your mother’s pubic bone and the angle of your head, you simply would not come out. The vacuum was attempted briefly, but at last, it was determined that a c-section would need to be done.

A few interesting notes from the pushing:

Several times, Catherine encouraged Mommy to find some anger with which to help push. “Get mad,” she would say. “Find something to be angry about.” Your mother continually asserted that she had nothing in her life with which to be angry. “I’m just so happy,” she said. Catherine eventually gave up on the anger angle, acknowledging that she was dealing with the sweetest person on the planet.

Your mother never yelled at me and never uttered a single word of profanity during the entire birthing process.

Throughout the pushing, I was receiving and sending texts to your grandmother, Justine, and Cindy, who were all dying to find out what was going on. I also managed to update my Facebook and Twitter accounts throughout the morning and work on my next novel, finishing up a chapter and starting a new one. Catherine questioned this, but Mommy is no dummy. If I finish and sell this book, she might be able to stay home longer with you, so between pushing, I would roll to the other side of the room and write.

When the vacuum was brought into play, the room filled with about eight doctors and nurses. At one point, a nurse asked me to hold your mom’s leg, which I had been doing all morning. “Not him,” Catherine said. “He doesn’t get off of that stool.”  Though I didn’t feel queasy or weak in the knees, she saw something in me that indicated otherwise. Later I was sent out of the room to “drink some juice.”

This was prescient on her part. After you were born, I went downstairs to Friendly’s to eat and fell down in the hallway from hunger and exhaustion. Nurses ran over to me, expecting the worst, only to find me half-crying about how hungry and tired I was.

When the decision was made to extract you via c-section, things got fast and furious and I left your mom for the first time today in order to don a pair of scrubs while she was rolled into the operating room and prepped. It was at this time that I was forced to remove my Superman tee-shirt, which had been specifically chosen for the event. I wanted your first glimpses of me to be reminiscent of the man of steel.

The best laid plans of mice and men.

When I entered the OR, the doctors were already working on your mother, and I inadvertently caught a view of her and the horror of a c-section before I was ushered to a stool behind the screen and told not to move.

Yikes!

Sitting beside your mom’s head and three anesthesiologists who were busy at work injecting Mommy with more medicine than I could have ever imagined, I listened and waited with her. It took about fifteen minutes before I heard your first cries and one of the doctors leaned over the screen and said, “Here it comes. Do you want to know if it’s a boy or a girl?”

“Yes,” we said in unison.

“It looks like… a girl,” he said, and immediately thereafter, the docs behind the screen began asserting the same. We began crying while we listened to your cry and caught our first glimpses of you as a nurse was preparing to weigh you. A couple minutes later, after managing a 9/9 on your Apgar scores, you were handed to me, the first time I have ever held an infant without the protection of a sofa and many cushions.

You were simply beautiful.

Because of the position that Mommy was still in, she wasn’t able to see you well until Catherine finally took you from my nervous arms, flipped you upside down like a football, and held your face to hers.

I’ll never forget this moment.

Your mom was forced to remain on the table, arms outstretched and pinned, for more than an hour while the doctors stitched her up. She began to go a little stir crazy for a while, unable to move and shivering uncontrollably, and we tried to calm her by massaging her shoulders and rubbing her arms.

Eventually the surgery ended, and you were finally handed to Mommy. The two of you were rolled into Recovery while I had the pleasure of telling your grandparents, Aunty Emily, and soon-to-be Uncle Michael all about you. There were many tears. Your grandfather laughed, your grandmother cried, and in keeping with her character, Aunty Emily was indignant over her inability to see you and her sister immediately.

She’s one demanding babe.

It’s almost 9:00 PM, and we are now sitting in our room, resting and chatting. You are asleep and have been for the past few hours. I must leave soon in order to go home so that I can teach tomorrow and use my time off when you and your mom are at home. My students will be thrilled to see your photos and hear all about you.

For your mother, the hours of pushing were her greatest challenge of the day.

For me, the greatest challenge will be leaving this room tonight and not taking you with me. I want nothing more than to hold you in my arms for the next week.

We love you so much, little one. Welcome to the world.

14 “safe” changes I’d make if I could travel back in time

Time travel is a dangerous piece of business.

I have argued that the greatest super power - without question - would be the ability to travel in time. That said, I have also argued that I would prefer that this power only send our time-traveling hero forward in time, in order to see the disasters that loom ahead and perhaps prevent them, rather than travel back in time and potentially unravel everything that has already happened. 

With that in mind, I thought about my own past.

I am supremely happy with where I am today and would never risk the existence of my wife and children in order to change something in the past, but if I could go back in time and change something, I wondered what I might change that would not risk my present state of being. 

So I made a list. It's short, because large scale changes could alter my entire future. Though I would like to avoid being arrested and tried for a crime I did not commit or the armed robbery that has led to a lifetime of post traumatic stress disorder, those experiences helped me to land where I am today. I had to be careful and choose only those moments that are worth changing but would also not alter the course of my life to any great degree. 

Keeping these parameters in mind, here is my list of things I would change in my past if given the opportunity:  

  1. Complete my Eagle Scout service project earlier - before a car accident interfered with my dream of becoming an Eagle Scout.

  2. Take more photographs.

  3. Ask more girls to dance whenever possible.

  4. Listen to audiobooks sooner rather than thinking of them as "not real reading."

  5. Don’t turn down that possible threesome opportunity I had when I was 19 years old.

  6. Begin playing golf by taking actual lessons and not the occasional advice of friends who clearly did not have my best interests at heart.

  7. Visit my mother more often before her death.

  8. Punch Glenn Bacon in the face after he threw a music stand at my head in eleventh grade.

  9. Visit with Laura - my high school girlfriend - more often before her death.

  10. Complete my Master’s program both slowly and efficiently rather than quickly and expensively.

  11. Attend my grandfather's funeral.

  12. Increase the cost of my DJ services much earlier in my company's career.

  13. Don't call Pirate - our dog - back across the street and into the path of a speeding pickup truck while waiting to be picked up for Sunday school.

  14. Make that investment in Citigroup in 2008 that I talked about constantly but failed to execute.

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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.