Spielberg didn't hire me. Big mistake.

When I was 14 years-old, I went to see Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom at The Stadium in Woonsocket, Rhode Island.

After seeing Raiders of the Lost Ark three years earlier and loving it, I couldn’t wait to see the latest installment in this franchise.

When I left the theater after seeing the movie, I went straight home and wrote a letter to Stephen Spielberg, explaining to him that I thought he was a brilliant director who told fantastic stories but needed someone to watch the finished film to show him all the dumb parts so he could take them out.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is filled with dumb parts.

To her credit, my English teacher at the time found the address of Paramount Pictures and sent the letter off for me, which was not an easy thing to do in a pre-internet 1983.

Spielberg, you’ll be surprised to hear, did not respond.

Honestly, I thought he would. In my 14 year-old mind, I felt certain that I had made an offer he couldn’t refuse.

More than 35 years have passed since that day, but I remain firm in my belief that filmmakers would do well to ask me to watch their movies and point out the dumb parts.

Recently, for example, I wrote about how in both Mary Poppins Returns and Wonder Woman, a white guy ends up saving the day when that job should’ve clearly been put in the hands of the female protagonist. These mistakes were so egregious that I can’t begin to imagine how those films ever made it to the screen without someone correcting the errors in these stories.

Last week Elysha and I watched Spielberg’s latest film Ready Player One. I had read and adored the book a few years ago, so I had low expectations going into the film.

It’s rare that a movie outpaces a book, though Spielberg has managed to accomplish this feat more than once with Jaws, Minority Report (a short story), and maybe Jurassic Park (I’m still not sure).

My low expectations were sadly realized.

Still, even though the film was never going to be better than the book, there were moments of real stupidity in that story that didn’t need to be there. Odd decisions by characters never paid off, shifts in tonality that tilted the film on its side, and at least one moment where an exceedingly obvious solution to an enormous problem was ignored by literally hundreds of people.

All would’ve been easily corrected had Spielberg asked me for advice. Had he answered my letter in 1983 and partnered with me then.

His loss, I guess.

Even so, things have worked out surprisingly well. Today I spend an enormous amount of time helping storytellers revise their stories.

I’m working with a documentarian, reading and revising scripts, looking for ways to improve her storytelling.

I’m working with an ad agency, helping to infuse more effective storytelling into national ad campaigns.

I’m working with small businesses, large corporations, universities, religious institutions, and hospitals to help them craft stories about their products, services, and missions.

I’m working with writers, reviewing their books, book proposals, magazine pieces, and television and film scripts and offering suggestions to improve their stories.

And I work with storytellers, listening to the stories they tell on stages and at the pulpit, in board rooms and in classrooms, at commencements and sales conferences, and everywhere in between.

Oddly, I’m doing the job that I first proposed to Spielberg 35 years ago.

It took me a little longer to get there, and perhaps I’m more skilled today than when I was 14 years-old, but it’s surprising - shocking, really - to realize that I have been on this same path for far longer than I would’ve ever imagined.

Ever since I was a kid, I was watching and listening to stories and trying to find ways to make them better.

It only took me 35 years to realize this.

No wonder Spielberg didn’t hire me back then.

Wonder Woman and Mary Poppins Returns: Two excellent films with stupid, sexist endings

Spoiler alert:

I’m about to reveal the stupid, sexist, asinine endings to Mary Poppins Returns and Wonder Woman. If you were hoping to experience the stupid, terrible endings of these films in an unspoiled fashion, stop reading now.

For those of you with me…

Mary Poppins Returns and Wonder Woman are both very good films that feature strong female protagonists but unfortunately end with stupid, sexist endings.

In both films, the character who saves the day is not our strong, female protagonist. Instead, it’s the white guy.

In Wonder Woman, yes, the film ends with an epic battle battle between Wonder Woman and Ares, but the person who actually saves the world is Steve, the white guy who heroically boards the plane containing the bomb and flies it into the sky where it can detonate safely, sacrificing himself for the world.

In fact, it’s only by witnessing the death of Steve that Wonder Woman is able to defeat Ares. Ares attempts to direct Diana's rage and grief at Steve's death by convincing her to kill Maru, the creepy poison lady, but the memories of Steve cause her to realize that humans have good within them. She spares Maru and ultimately redirects Ares's lightning into him, killing him for good. 

It’s strongly implied that had she not loved Steve, she may have killed the helpless Maru and perhaps turned to the dark side.

Of course all of this is fairly irrelevant given that Ares plan has been ruined by the white guy in the plane. Even if Ares kills Wonder Woman, the lethal gas is destroyed. It can no longer be used to gas the Western front and prolong the war.

Wonder Woman doesn’t save the day. Steve does.

I’m not suggesting that Wonder Woman needed to die to make this movie right. We just didn’t need a white guy sacrificing himself to save the world and inspiring our female protagonist to do the right thing.

Mary Poppins Returns is even more egregious.

After spending the entire film attempting to find a way to save the house from foreclosure, including finding a long lost bank stock, it is suddenly discovered woven into a kite.


But oh no… the bank note is missing the required signatures, so it’s not complete and therefore worthless.

Oh no!

Mary Poppins? Will you save the day?

Or perhaps the children? Can they rescue their home?

Or even their father, the widow who has apparently been a wreck since the death of his wife. Will he finally overcome his grief and save the day?

Nope. There has literally been a rich, white guy in the other room all the time. Dick Van Dyke, playing the supposed senile bank owner, was just sitting in the next room, waiting to step in at the last minute and tell the family that they can stay in their home after all.

A rich, white guy who appears on screen for less than a minute and uses his wealth and power to save the day.

Not Mary Poppins or the children or the father or Lin Manuel Miranda’s character.

No. It’s a rich, white guy.

Ans therefore, it’s stupid. Epically stupid.

In both cases, the opportunity for the female protagonist to do what all protagonists are supposed to do - SAVE THE DAY - is subverted by a white guy.

I have no idea what these filmmakers could have been thinking, but it wasn’t good.

The magic of film on film

The Showtime series Kidding (which I have not watched) did something quite amazing:

One continuous, panoramic, uncut shot that shows the compressed transformation of a character and a space over the course of a year, portrayed in a little less than two minutes.

The scene itself is amazing, but even better, the producers added an overhead camera to show how the scene was accomplished, including quick outfit changes, body doubles, and a film crew working furiously to move the entire set around just outside the camera’s field of vision.

Also, there’s a dog in the scene. It doesn’t do anything, and I’m sure it’s well trained, but with all the complexity of the scene already, why add an element as potentially random and disruptive as a dog?

Take a moment and watch the scene. It really is remarkable example of teamwork and ingenuity.

Dr. Seuss's The Grinch is feminist and lovely.

Elysha and I took Charlie to see Dr. Seuss’s The Grinch last weekend. It’s a great film, not unlike the cartoon that we grew up watching on television. And I’ve always thought it was a pretty brilliant story:

Christmas is stolen from the Whos, but still they gather and sing on Christmas day, just as joyously as any other Christmas, causing the Grinch’s heart to grow two sizes larger.



Here’s an unexpected twist in this version that I adored:

Little Cindy Lou Woo, the child who encounters the Grinch on Christmas Eve, is the child of a single mother. Cindy Lou is worried that her mother works too hard and has no time for herself, so she tries to meet Santa on Christmas Eve to ask if he might find a way to help her mom work less.

Instead she meets the Grinch.

Did you see that?

There’s no attempt in this film to find Mom a spouse or a love interest. No attempt reunite father and mother. In fact, there is never a mention of a father. We have no idea if Cindy Lou’s parents are divorced or if she is adopted or if her father died or if she’s the product of artificial insemination via an anonymous Who donor.

In an unexpected but much appreciated twist, we have a single mother who is not broken or incomplete or failing or even unhappy because she is single. Instead, we are given the portrait of a highly effective mother who is not in need of a man.

Yes, she is frazzled at times. A little overworked. Maybe even exhausted from time to time. But I hear parents complain every day about the struggles of parenthood.

A little too much sometimes.

Cindy Lou’s mother is no different.

I’ve often argued that a two adult household is ideal for raising children, simply because two heads are better than one. There have been many times in our years as parents that Elysha and I have stopped the other from making some silly or stupid parental mistake.

It’s always good to have a system of checks and balances whenever possible.

But I’ve also argued that this two adult household need not be a father and mother. Two fathers or two mothers are just as good. Also, a single mother with an aunt or uncle would be fine. Or a father and his best friend. Or a mother and her old college roommate. Or two grandparents raising their grandchild.

I think that in most cases, two responsible parents - in any combination - are probably better than one simply because of numbers, but I also think that single moms and single dads can kick some parenting ass, too.

As Cindy Lou Who’s mother clearly does.

More importantly, I don’t think that every single mother or single father is in need of a spouse. And I don’t think that every single mother or single father who is portrayed in film, television, or books needs to be presented as incomplete, broken, or in need of romantic love. We don’t need the children of single parents constantly portrayed as trying to find love for their loveless mothers or fathers.

This has all been done before, and honestly, it wasn’t especially good the first time.

The Parent Trap was predicable and sucky. Both times.

Dr. Seuss’s The Grinch offers audiences the opportunity to watch a kickass single mom do her job very well, absent of any pining over love lost or love never found.

I like that. I think it’s smart and new and fresh and probably a solidly feminist way of looking at the world.

I’m glad my son saw that kickass single mom kicking some parenting ass.

Well played writers Michael LeSieur and Tommy Swerdlow.

The most re-watched movies of all time

Below is the list of the 25 most re-watched movies according to a national survey.

Some thoughts on this list:

I haven’t seen 8 of the 25 of the films:

The Sound of Music, Gone with the Wind, It’s a Wonderful Life, The Lion King, Finding Nemo, The Notebook, or Pride & Prejudice (though I read the book more than once) and The Avengers.

Probably a mistake to have skipped at least a few of them. I might need to see them at some point.


This is blasphemy, I know, but I think Caddyshack and The Princess Bride are both overrated. I’ve admittedly only seen both movies once, so perhaps I might appreciate them more on a second viewing, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon.


I can’t imagine rewatching Titanic or Pretty Woman. Forrest Gump is also a difficult movie to rewatch simply because it has not aged well.


Which Star Trek film is the list referencing? All of them? Also, I can’t imagine rewatching any of them. With the exception of a couple, most of those films really, really suck.


I understand why someone would want to rewatch Grease, but I am not one of those people.


The movie I have rewatched the most often is probably The Matrix, followed by Pulp Fiction, Rounders, any of the Jason Bourne films, any of the Die Hard films, Good Will Hunting, Speed, and Jaws, which shockingly did not make the list.

How the hell does The Notebook make this list but not Jaws?

$126 is not a lot of money

Have you heard?

Kevin Spacey’s latest film Billionaire Boys Club was exiled to video-on-demand in the wake of the sexual abuse allegations against the actor, and its theatrical release last weekend was less than expected:

$126 on Friday and $162 on Saturday. 

While I'm saddened for the hundreds of other people involved - actors, directors, producers, writers, and investors - who had hoped that the film would do better and had no idea about Spacey's alleged crimes when they were making the movie, I'm sure they were anticipating a less-than-stellar opening once they learned about their lead actor's history of sexual assault.    

I'm equally thrilled that someone who once wielded as much power and influence that Spacey once did is being made to pay for his alleged crimes, both financially and criminally, and in this case, in the court of public opinion as well. 

Stories like this give me hope that others in power (and one in particular) will eventually be made to pay for their crimes against those who are weaker, less affluent, and less skilled at obfuscation than them.

My hope is that the days of these invincible power brokers are numbered. 

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"Tears in the Rain" monologue captures it all

When all is said and done, we are the sum of our experiences. Our thoughts and feelings - who we are and what we believe - are the result of the memories that we carry forward of a life lived. Our minds are a vast storehouse of the millions of minutes that we have been alive.

This is why the loss of someone like my mother was so tragic. Every question that I failed to ask my mother will remain forever unanswered. Every memory that I failed to pry from her mind will never be spoken again.  

My children were born after my mother had passed away, so as I experienced fatherhood for the first time and began to wonder if the things I see in my children were also present in me as a boy, I must resign myself to the fact that I will never know. The person who carried this information is gone.

When a person dies, it's like the wiping of a precious hard drive. The loss of valuable data. Memories so strong and so true gone forever.

It's awful. 

Even worse, so many of us plod through life, careless with our memories. We experience a moment of beauty or grace. Someone says something that causes our heart to soar. We experience a moment with our spouse or child or parent that we never want to forget. But instead of seeing the priceless nature of these moments and holding onto them with all our might, we discard them like trash. A brilliant, beautiful moment that feels as important as anything that has ever happened to us is forgotten three weeks later as life continues to pile up and we fail to reflect, record, and preserve. 

Our minds of filled with memories, but the number of memories that we have allowed to fade away is astronomical. We forget so much more than we remember, even when these forgotten moments are profoundly beautiful or incredibly moving.  

This is why I do Homework for Life. It's the most important thing I do. This is why the collection of storyworthy moments from my life that I have amassed over the past five years is the most valuable thing I own. 

Seeing, recognizing, capturing, and preserving the most meaningful moments from my life takes less than five minutes a day, yet it is the most important thing I do every day. 

If you're not familiar with Homework for Life, you want watch my TED Talk on the subject here: https://bit.ly/2f9ZPne

A reader who also does Homework for Life recently pointed me to the final scene from Blade Runner, known as the "Tears in the Rain" monologue. In the scene, the dying replicant Roy Batty delivers the speech to Rick Deckard moments after Batty saved his life despite Deckard being sent to terminate him. 

In five simple sentences, the replicant makes it clear that he also understands how life is but the sum of our experiences. He understands the value of a lifetime of memories. And he certainly understands the inherent tragedy of death, not only in the loss of the person, but also in the loss of the sum of their experiences. The deletion of their memories forever.  

It's s devastating scene. Terrible and tragic. You need not watch the film or even understand the nature of the memories that the replicant lists to understand the sadness and tragedy of the moment.

A replicant is engineered to remember everything. It has a super-human mind. It is a Homework for Life machine.

For the rest of us? We need to stop discarding our moments of beauty, poignance, heartbreak, and discovery like trash. We need to see, recognize, capture, and preserve. 

We are the sum of our experiences. Make that sum as large as humanly possible, and you will be a more thoughtful, more complete, and a happier human being.

Movies require logic in order to succeed. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri lacked that logic.

The thing that upsets me most about a film is a failure of logic. 

A movie is supposed to transport the audience to another world. At its best, it should make us almost forget our own world. I brought Charlie to Paddington 2 a month ago. In the middle of the movie, he bolted upright in his seat and shouted, "Wo! I almost forgot who I was!" 

I loved this moment so much. What he really meant was that he forgot where he was. In his mind, he was existing within the movie. 

That is magic.

This is why we cry at scenes that our objective minds know never happened. Two people - actors who we've already seen pretending to be other people in other movies -are pretending to be two people in a moment that never actually happened.

We know all this, yet still we weep. 

This is what makes stories great. It's what makes movies great. It's magic.

A failure of logic destroys that magic. When something illogical happens in a movie, you find yourself wondering questions like:

Why did that happen?
Why did she do that?
Isn't anyone in this movie going to notice this?
Why don't they just do that?

The magic is broken. I don't get to almost forget who I am. Instead, I find myself wondering what is wrong with these people.  

I watched Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri last night with Elysha. A film that scored a number of Academy Award nominations and a handful of victories. 


Boy did I love the performances in that movie. Woody Harrelson the most.

Boy did I hate that movie.

Why? Logic. Or a lack thereof. 

Without giving away any spoilers, below is a list of fallacies of logic that ruined the possible magic of the movie for me. They are the fallacies of logic that I believe should've ruined the movie for everyone.

  1. Police stations have back doors. All buildings have back doors. This is a basic fire safety requirement. No building in the world has a single exit. Especially a public building. 
  2. People who commit assault - in some cases multiple times - are prosecuted for their crimes. This includes assault against dentists, teenagers, salespeople, secretaries, and former police officers. You don't get to walk through the world unscathed and unfettered after brutally assaulting other human beings repeatedly. 
  3. Crime victims and their assailants are not placed in the same hospital room during their recovery.  
  4. Police officers whose employment has been terminated are not encouraged to return to station late at night after everyone has gone home in order to retrieve their mail using keys that no one has bothered to collect. Also, do police stations ever really close? Even in a small town, doesn't someone answer calls at all hours?
  5. People who are dying and leaving behind a beloved wife and small children don't spend large sums of money on amusing acts of petty revenge. They leave that money for their family.  

For all of these reasons, I never believed this movie. At every turn, I found myself saying:

"What? This makes no sense?"

At that point, I was no longer captivated by the magic of the film. I was distracted by the obvious fallacies of logic. 

Movies also are permitted a coincidence, but they only get one. One coincidence per film. More than one coincidence causes the audience to wonder what the hell kind of world these characters are inhabiting. More than one coincidence reminds the audience that this story isn't real. It was written by human beings who chose to manipulate events in a way that feels unreal and dishonest.

More than one coincidence makes it feel like the writers cheated, because they did.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri relies on a hell of a lot of coincidence. More than the permitted one. 

The movie was also nominated for best screenplay.

That makes no sense to me.  

The performances were brilliant. The cinematography was top notch. I loved the score.

But the screenplay? No. You don't get to put a police station in your movie with no back door and be nominated for an Academy Award. You don't get to create a world where assault goes ignored again and again and be considered great. 

Movies require logic. This movie did not have any. 

Just one writers opinion. 

Our boy watches Star Wars for the first time

My son Charlie, age 5, watched episodes 4, 5, and 6 of Star Wars with me and Elysha over the past two weeks. 

It was quite the experience. 

Though he knew almost nothing about Star Wars, he owns about a dozen action figures and received a Millennium Falcon for Christmas this year. He knew there were good guys and bad guys, but that was about it. He had sadly realized just a couple weeks before that the movie's title is Star Wars and not Star Whores

He was primed for viewing.

He loved the first Star Wars movie, originally titled Star Wars when I sat in the aisle in The Stadium in Woonsocket, RI back in 1977 to watch it for the first time.

Today it's titled A New Hope, and although George Lucas has tinkered with the film several times over the years, it's just as great as it was when I watched it as a six year-old boy.

The first picture was taken as John William's opening began and the famous Star Wars scroll appeared. He was saddened at the death of Obi Won Kenobi and shouted with joy when the Death Star was destroyed. 

When I told him that the next episode was titled The Empire Strikes Back, he said, "Uh oh. Doesn't sound like the good guys are going to win."

It was a tough movie for him. The Rebellion struggles throughout the movie, but what was most upsetting to him was the discovery that Darth Vader is Luke's father. The second photo was taken as that information was revealed for the first time.

He was genuinely upset. Confused, too. 

A day later, he asked me in a hushed tone, "Dad, will you ever turn to the dark side?"

I realized that this was the first time Charlie saw a father behave badly. It shook him to the core. 

Later, he said, "Dad, I think Darth Vader will turn back to the good side."

Of course, he was right. In Return of the Jedi, Darth Vader sacrifices himself in order to save his son's life and kill the Emperor. Charlie cheered again but was saddened to discover that Darth Vader was dying.

"But he's good now. Why does he have to die?"

Later, Luke cremates Vader's body. Charlie asked what was happening, and I explained that some bodies are buried and others are burned into ashes. Charlie said, "You'd better not burn me."

He has all three movies available to him now on his iPad, which is unbelievable to me. I watched that first film in a theater so jam packed that I had to sit in the carpeted aisle, and then I didn't see the movie again for more than a decade.

He has them at this fingertips.

He's watched A New Hope a couple times since that first viewing and still cheers when the Death Star is destroyed. I suspect that he may go back to Return of the Jedi at some point, too. 

But it might be a while before he returns to The Empire Strikes Back. Charlie prefers to live in a world where fathers never turn to the dark side and the good guys triumph in the end. 

Who can blame him?

All I want for Christmas is a machine gun

Not really, of course, but damn do I love this sweater.


For those of you who can't quite pick up on the reference, it's Die Hard, the greatest Christmas film of all time.

In the movie, our hero, John McClane, has just managed to kill his first terrorist and acquired a machine gun. He sends the lifeless corpse down to Hans Gruber, the terrorist boss man, in an elevator with this note written in red Sharpie on his sweatshirt.

There's nothing better than a barefoot underdog taunting his well armed enemy.

For the record, while I'm not interested in owning a machine gun, I'm not at all opposed to the second Amendment. I believe in the right of Americans to own firearms. I simply want every gun owner to undergo a thorough background check, restrictions placed on criminals, perpetrators of domestic abuse, individuals on the no-fly list, and the like, and a complete ban on assault weapons. 

You know... reasonable, rationale gun ownership. The kind of gun ownership our founding fathers envisioned with they wrote the Constitution. 

Except for John McClane, of course. He can have as many machine guns as he wants. 

I missed so much of '90's culture. Unfortunately?

I was listening to an interview with Bob Saget, who once starred in a show called Full House, which featured the Olson twins. 

Other than what I just stated, I know nothing about this show. I never watched the show, and I wasn't even aware of its existence until well after it had ended its run. This may not seem like a big deal, but it turns out that this show has enormous cultural relevance. 

The Olson twins, for example. They seem to be everywhere. John Oliver makes a joke about them on his HBO show all the time, and every time, I think, "Is this just a twin joke, or is there something more to this joke that I don't understand?"

There was also a guy on that show who wore terrible sweaters (I don't know how I know this or if it's even true) and a bunch of other kids, and Bob Saget, of course, who I know as a comic who tells jokes that are definitely for an adult audience only but who somehow appeared on a TV show with little twin girls. 

The show is a mystery to me.  

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I have similar problems with almost all of television, film, and music from the time when Full House was on the air. 

Boy Meets World, for example. I once worked with an attorney whose son was a star of the show, but I had no idea that the show even existed. I also work with a teacher named Mr. Feeney. When I mention his name to people, they often laugh and say, "Like Boy Meets World!" 

I have no idea what they are talking about. 

This is because from 1992 until about 1994, I didn't own a television. I was homeless and then living with a family of Jehovah Witnesses, working two full time jobs in order to pay the attorney who would represent me in court during the trial for a crime I didn't commit.  

Then, from 1994 until 1999, I was attending two colleges full time (earning two degrees) while managing a McDonald's restaurant full time and working in the college writing center part-time. I was also Treasurer of the Student Council, President of the National Honor Society, and columnist for the school newspaper. 

In 1997, I launched my DJ company with my partner.

Looking back, I really don't know how I did it all. But one way was to stop consuming almost all media.  Almost all popular culture from 1992-1999, and especially from 1992-1994, is lost to me. 

This means I have no understanding about things like Saved By the Bell, Family Matters, Northern Exposure, Twin Peaks, Home Improvement, The Wonder Years, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, and many more.

I've managed to catch up on Seinfeld, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Friends, but not until much later.

I missed out on all those 90's slacker films like Dazed and Confused, Clerks, and Reality Bites. I missed classics like Boys in the Hood, Pulp Fiction, and The Usual Suspects. I've since caught up on many of these films, but it turns out that if you're not watching a movie like Reality Bites in the early 1990s or Clerks when Kevin Smith is still a relative unknown, it's just not the same. 

I missed out on the rise of bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Green Day and Radiohead. Again, I caught up with them later on, but if you're not listening to Nirvana in the '90's, you can't help but feel a little detached to what they are singing about.

And then there are shows like Full House. I'm never going to watch an episode of that show. Even if I had the time, I can't imagine that it's worth my time. Instead, I will move through life slightly lost, wondering if the Olson twins were two separate characters on the show or body doubles for each other.

Wondering why so many children live with three men and one woman.

Wondering if Uncle Jessie is a Full House reference (he seems to get mentioned in conversation surrounding this show) or a reference to the Uncle Jessie from The Dukes of Hazard. 

Wondering how a foul-mouthed comic like Bob Saget got cast to appear on a show alongside so many children. 

Bill Murray was wrong. Groundhog Day is AMAZING.

I had a Groundhog-like Day dream last night. The same day repeated again and again.

It was a more precarious and intense day than Bill Murray's character experiences in the classic film, but the premise was otherwise the same:

The same day, in the same town, again and again. No matter what happened during that day, I started the day over every morning in the same place, in the same condition as when I started. 

Here is what I learned:

Bill Murray's character was crazy to want to escape this day. An eternal, consequence-free existence of endless possibilities was amazing.

Perhaps after a century or two, the novelty of this existence would begin to wear off, but a solid 100-200 years, the endless possibilities and consequence-free lifestyle is something I would take in a heartbeat.


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Why I say unpopular things

I recently caused a bit of an uproar by admitting that I have never seen The Sound of Music because it looks incredibly boring. 

When I wrote these words on my blog (and transitioned them over to Facebook), I knew that I would be met with backlash. I had already admitted this out loud and been scolded for my obvious stupidity. 

Several passionate fans of this musical wondered why I would say such a thing. Why would I waste my time writing about how a film that I had never seen before looked boring, particularly when I know how almost universally beloved it is?  

Here is how I responded:

I've always found that I reach more people when I share my least popular thoughts, my most embarrassing moments, my worst decisions, and my greatest moments of stupidity or thoughtlessness. These are the stories, thoughts, and ideas that generate the most energy, empathy, passion, interest, and conversation. In many cases, my stories of questionable decisions and unpopular ideas have been the things that bring people closer to me. 

This may seem counter-intuitive. I know. I declare that a person's favorite film looks boring. How does that bring us closer together?

Through the passionate exchange of ideas. Through honesty and authenticity. Through vulnerability. You may not agree with my opinion or a decision I make, but you'll always know who I am and where I stand. You'll know my unvarnished self, and in today's world of carefully curated photography, social media massaging, personal branding, and political correctness, I think that the unvarnished self is refreshing.  

We're all broken and flawed and foolish in some way, and those who are willing to admit to these unfortunate bits of ourselves often garner greater respect for doing so. I believe this. I see it everyday.   

A friend of mine once said that "I live out loud." It was a good description. Truthfully, it's how I've always been. For as long as I can remember, I've always spoken my mind. Shared my stories. Tried to be my authentic self. Authenticity has always been something that I prized about all else. I'm not entirely sure why, but I suspect it has something to do with my desire to be known. Be heard. Be understood.

Admittedly, it's gotten me into trouble at times. I've shared honest moments from my life that have caused people to react strongly. I've been asked questions and felt the need to answer honestly. I may not share my unpopular opinion in certain social settings, but if asked, I feel compelled to do so.

Friends of ours don't allow shoes to be worn in their home. They ask guests to remove them upon entering the house, and they are kind enough to offer slippers to their guests. I hate this rule but said nothing about it for years. It was an opinion that needn't be shared. Then one day, the wife asked, "You don't mind taking off your shoes. Right, Matt?" 

I had to answer honestly, and so I did.

The wife wasn't thrilled.

Then the husband, who knows me well, said, "Never ask Matt a question if you might not like the answer. He's nothing if not honest."

My friend was right, and he is fine with this. Undisturbed by my opinion on his shoe policy and accepting of my adherence to authenticity. He knows where I stand. He's never going to receive fakery from me. 

Ask me a question, and I'll answer honestly.  

As annoyed as some people were with my presumption that The Sound of Music looks boring, the expression of that opinion resulted in a fascinating, interesting, engaging, and energetic discussion, both online and in real life. We discussed this particular musical but also how we filter our media choices in a world inundated by content. People were vehement and forceful with their opinions, but in the end, I don't think anyone liked me any less for expressing this opinion. 

In fact, I would argue that I became a tiny bit closer to those who disagreed with me the most. Our thoughtful exchange of ideas may have not resulted in agreement, but even better, it generated greater understanding and respect. 

I also learned a lot. A friend of mine who I would never have expected to enjoy The Sound of Music told me that he has watched it at least ten times and offered this perspective on the movie and the song Edelweiss, which appears in the film:

"Edelweiss is a flower that only grows at high elevations in the Alps. In WWI, Austrian soldiers wore it only if they were able to climb by foot to pick it. It symbolized grit, strength, and patriotism. They’d pin the flower to their uniforms. My great grandfather served in the mountain battalion for the Austrian-Hungarian empire in WWI. 

In WWII many Austrians fled Nazi Germany by climbing the Alps to Switzerland. Edelweiss became a symbol of freedom. They knew if they climbed high enough, they’d find the flower and peace. That’s what the song is about. My grandfather moved to the United States in the 30’s to escape the war and then served as a POW interrogator for the US because his first language was German. He cried every time he heard the song. It means a lot to Austrians."

Now that makes me want to see the film and listen closely to the song. I still may not enjoy either, but the historical background intrigues me, and the story of my friend's grandfather lodged itself in the center of my heart. 

I would've known none of this had I not expressed an knowingly unpopular opinion. 

Speak your truth, even if you know people won't like it. If you are being honest, authentic, and true to yourself, the road may get bumpy at times, but it will be a far more interesting road than the one driven by the cautious, the filtered, and the inauthentic.


A tribute to Carrie Fisher

I've always thought that Bruce Springsteen should be frozen in time. Not permitted to die. Experienced by all future generations. 

I think Carrie Fisher fits that category as well. 

Below is a moving, tear jerking tribute to her by the Star Wars team.

But anytime I see someone so young and vital who is no longer with us, it kind of destroys me. 

Does the dog die? We need to know.

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

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

And I’ll tell you why sales were disappointing.

The dog.

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

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

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

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

It’s that simple.

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

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

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

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

Perhaps they are.

And guess what?

The dog in Independence Day survives.

It appears in the final scene of the film.

Independence Day airs on basic cable all the time.

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

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

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


This website offers three ratings on films:

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

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

Or avoid the movie altogether.  

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

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

Sounds pretty unwatchable to me.

Writing advice from a toddler that authors should heed carefully

When my daughter was three years old, still unable to read, she taught me three invaluable lessons about the craft of writing. Specifically, she offered three specific pieces of criticism made an impression on me as an author and remain with me today.

1. Don’t overwrite. More importantly, don’t refuse editing. 

After watching some of its more famous musical numbers on YouTube, Clara and my wife sat down to watch Mary Poppins in its entirety for the first time.

Three years later, she still has yet to see the complete film.

While her interest admittedly waned throughout the film, her most telling comment came just over thirty minutes into the movie when she stood up from the couch and said, “Too long!”

She’s right. At 139 minutes, the film is far too long for most three-year old children, and it might be too long in general. As much as I loved Mary Poppins as a child, a two hour and nineteen minute children’s musical probably could have stood a little more time in the editing room.

Authors often have a great deal to say. We try to restrain ourselves as much as possible, but it often requires the expertise of an agent and an editor to bring our stories down to a length that will maintain a reader’s interest. It’s not an easy process. My agent has chopped whole chapters out of my book. My editors has murdered my characters. Hours and hours of work and strings of carefully honed, treasured sentences lost forever.

But better to lose an entire chapter than to have a reader toss down the book and shout, “Too long!”

2. Conflict is king. Backstory and resolution are secondary.  

With almost any television show that Clara watches, she exhibits the same pattern of interest:

As the conflict in the story rises, she remains riveted to the program. But as soon as the resolution is evident, even if it has not yet happened, her interest immediately wanes. She will walk right out of the room before the resolution even takes place if she can see it coming. 

It’s a good lesson for authors to remember. It is conflict that engages the reader. Backstory and resolution are necessary, but these elements should occur within the context of the conflict as often as possible and should probably occupy the fewest number of pages as possible. Keep the tension high throughout the story and keep the conflict ever-present in the readers’ minds and you will hold their interest throughout.

3. Keep your promises to the reader.

Clara does not appreciate when a television show goes off-book or changes genres midstream. Her favorite show for a long time was The Wonder Pets. It’s a program about three preschool class pets who moonlight as superheroes, saving baby animals around the world who are in trouble.

But occasionally the writers of The Wonder Pets decide to step outside this proven formula. In one episode, The Wonder Pets save an alien who is trying to return to his planet. In another, two of The Wonder Pets must save the third from peril. One episode is essentially a clip show in which the baby animals that they have already saved return to thank The Wonder Pets for their help. 

Clara hated these episodes. The alien episode scared the hell out of her. She fled the room saying, “Not this one! Not this one!” The other more experimental episodes never manage to keep her interest.

Clara is invested in The Wonder Pets because of the promise of baby animals being saved and returned to their parents by the three characters who she adores. 

It’s a good lesson for authors who sometimes offer the reader one thing but then give them another. This can happen when authors fail to remain faithful to the genre in which they are writing, infusing their fantasy novel with a sudden splash of science fiction or bringing serious social commentary into what was supposed to be an escapist detective or romance story.

Authors make promises to readers and then must deliver on them because readers are not simply empty vessels awaiting for the author to impart whatever wisdom he or she deems worthy.  Readers are discerning customers who need to be able to trust an author before investing time and money into a book. There are many reasons that readers purchase books, but it is rarely because they think the author is a wonderful person and whatever he or she has to say will be worthy. Most often, they buy books because of a promise made by the author. A promise of genre or character or plot or quality of the writing.

Authors must be sure to keep these promises or risk having their readers shout, “Not this one! Not this one!"

Star Wars will have gay characters. Bigoted heads presumably explode like Alderaan.

Director JJ Abrams has announced that there will be gay characters in future Star Wars films.

“When I talk about inclusivity it’s not excluding gay characters. It’s about inclusivity. So of course there will be gay characters.”

“I would love it. To me, the fun of Star Wars is the glory of possibility. So it seems insanely narrow-minded and counterintuitive to say that there wouldn’t be a homosexual character in that world.”
— JJ Abrams

My first thought:

I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of bigoted, small minded, homophobic voices suddenly cried out in terror, and were suddenly silenced.

I love it when the news can ruin a bigot's day.