Elton returns.

Back in September, Elysha and I saw Elton John perform in Hartford, CT as part of his “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” farewell tour.

He was fantastic. Both of us left the concert feeling so good.

Then I saw the latest John Lewis and Partners, a high end department store in the UK which is famous for its Christmas ads, and I felt almost as good all over again.

I don’t know how they did it, but it is brilliant and beautiful, and for someone like me who swims in a sea of nostalgia and existentialism, a little bittersweet, too.

Making the ordinary a little more extraordinary should always be celebrated

The knife sharpener at the farmer's market that we visit almost every Sunday morning gave Elysha their card a few weeks ago. Rather than a collection of information on a small bit of card stock, they offered her this.

A band-aid with their name and phone number printed on the wrapper.  

Clever. Right? I always admire people who can turn the ordinary into something delightful. Something ordinary into something a little more extraordinary. 

It's almost as good as the playing card that appeared in the breast pocket of my sports jacket containing the contact information of world renowned magician David Blaine. I met Blaine at The Moth Ball in 2015, and after re-telling my story so he could record it on his phone, he said he wanted to speak to me further about storytelling and "gave" me his card.

It was already in my pocket. The king of spades, with his contact information woven within.

Remarkably, that was the least amazing of the magic that he performed for me after recording my story.  

I'm not a skateboard guy, but I think this is remarkable.

I'm not a skateboard guy, and I've never been a skateboard guy. I've always seen skateboarding as a series of bad equations:

Enormous amounts of time invested in learning and practice in exchange for the ability to ride on an inefficient means of transportation and perform a few dangerous, not-so-impressive tricks.

Hours of potential fun spent on concrete in exchange for the very real chance that you scrape, bruise, or break several parts of your body.

It just made no sense. 

Then I saw my neighbor riding his skateboard to work one day, and I thought, "It still took hundreds of hours of practice to do that, and it's still dangerous, but on a sunny day in May, not a bad way to get to work."

Still not enough to make me want to ride a skateboard, but at least a slightly improved impression of the sport.

Then my daughter and I watched this skateboarding video, which is unlike anything I have ever seen. The combination of outstanding digital videography (which allows you to see these tricks in their true majesty), the latest skateboard technology, and this person's mind-blowing skill on a board mesmerized us.

I couldn't believe what I was seeing.  

I've never been a skateboard guy, and I'm still not a skateboard guy, but I'm a guy who apparently likes to watch people skateboard now.

Or at least this guy. I've watched the video three times already. 

Watch people dance and be happy.

It's 7 minutes long, which can feel like an eternity on the internet, but I haven't seen something this joyous in a long time.

We could really use some joy these days.

It's a supercut montage of dance scenes from more than 300 movies. Admittedly, I might be a little biased when it comes to dancing. Watching my wife dance is one of my absolute favorite things in life. 

Still, it's joyous. The dancing is joyous. The memories that each of these moments bring back are joyous. The whole damn thing will make you happy. 

And the editing is incredible. 

Joy in the small and the large

Some days are harder than others. On those days, it's important to find and embrace joy wherever it might be hiding.

It's usually hiding right in front of you.

Yesterday...

I watched our cat play in a paper bag until he was exhausted.
I listed the irrational dangers of guppies and ducks to my giggling daughter.
I drove home with the windows down, blasting Born to Run.
I watched a student dance riotously in a cafeteria without any music.
I listened to my five year-old son try to explain quasars to me. 
I held my wife's hand while watching a movie on the couch. 

I try to find joy in my everyday. Little things. Minuscule things. Then I write them down - every single day - so I never forget them.

Sometimes you can find joy in big things, too. Things like the Moon.

You should watch this video. It's pure joy.   

One of the best podcast episodes of all time

I started listening to podcasts when podcasts first became podcasts. 

Way back in 2005, as Elysha and I were moving from an apartment on one side of the street to an apartment on the other, I was listening to podcasts. In the beginning, I was listening primarily to This American Life and tech podcasts (which were popular and plentiful back then, given that listening audiences required a background in technology in order to download episodes onto MP3 players and pre-iPhone cellular phones).

After listening to tens of thousands of hours of podcasts, it's impossible to choose a single best episode of all time, but this episode of the very excellent podcast Heavyweight is one of my favorites of all time. 

I cannot recommend it highly enough. 

If you're wondering what Heavyweight is about, it's hard to say. From Gimlet Media's website:

Maybe you’ve laid awake imagining how it could have been, how it might yet be, but the moment to act was never right. Well, the moment is here and the podcast making it happen is Heavyweight. Join Jonathan Goldstein for road trips, thorny reunions, and difficult conversations as he backpedals his way into the past like a therapist with a time machine. 

I killed a whale. Also, I played golf in the snow.

I've been reading Slate and listening to Slate's podcasts for about 15 years. Though I've had the honor of appearing regularly on two of the podcasts, I've always dreamed of writing for Slate.

For years, The New York Times and Slate have been my white whales. 

Yesterday, I killed one of those two whales.

I published a piece in Slate entitled "Batting? Average. - Why I procrastinate by researching the fates of middling baseball players."

It's a piece for their Rabbit Holes series on the nature of procrastination. 

I've published four novels and have four more books on the way.

I've published work in The Hartford Courant, Reader's Digest, The Washington Post, The Christian Science Monitor, Parent's magazine, Seasons magazine, and The Huffington Post.

I've written comic books for Double Take Comics. 

Still, it was a thrill to see my byline on the piece. May I never become jade about these little dreams coming true. 

If you're interested, my latest Seasons column, on the time I played golf in the snow, is also out now. You can read it here, on page 49.  

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Robbery fail leads to great cheer and a smidgen of empathy

As the victim of a violent, armed robbery that began with bricks through the windows of a McDonald's restaurant and led to a lifetime of post traumatic stress disorder, this video gave me some cheer. 

As a human being who understands that not all decisions are made in a vacuum and a person's worst decision should never define them forever, my heart also went out to the man who stood in the wrong place at the wrong time. 

I said this to someone who thought I was insane. "He got what he deserved." 

Apparently I was speaking to an entirely infallible, perpetually righteous human being who had never found himself in a state of desperation.

How lucky for him. 

Women's March 2018

I wasn't able to attend this year's Women's March, which saddened me. Last year's march was one of my highlights of 2017. It represented hope and possibility in a time when all seemed bleak.

My kids loved the march and still talk about it today. 

Last year's march was was also comeuppance for Trump on the day after his unimpressive, embarrassing inauguration turnout and the sad, poorly attended parade that followed. I love it when rotten people (particularly those obsessed with image, popularity, and perception) are publicly shamed and humiliated.   

But thanks to the magic of the Internet, I was able to see photos and videos of the enormous gatherings from all over the country, including some of this year's best signs. 

Below are some of my favorites, but this first one is by far my favorite. A simple promise from a younger generation that all the damage Trump and his administration has caused will one day be swept away by smarter, wiser, kinder, more noble people.   

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Hire that kid today!

According to the story attached to this photo, a ten year old girl is responsible for this bit of genius. Provided that her parents didn't play a large role in the creation of this masterpiece (and from the report, they didn't), I'd recommend hiring her immediately for whatever job you may be looking in the next decade or so. 

A future contract of sorts. 

This girl is going places. 

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Awful human being alert

It's hard to believe that someone could be as lacking in self awareness as the woman who wrote this letter to advice columnist Dear Prudence. 

How could anyone read this letter and not think they are coming across as an classist, elitist, repulsive snob?

Dear Prudence,

Recently my friend Amy made a new friend, Mary. I’ve met her a few times, and while we were polite to each other, she isn’t someone I’d care to interact with more than necessary. I don’t seek her out, nor do I invite her to social events. Mary has slowly become part of my circle of friends. She has made a few comments intimating she’s upset that she hasn’t been invited to some of our get-togethers, but she is in a very different financial bracket than the rest of us. The restaurants and events we choose to go to are pricey. I recently hosted a dinner party for my friends and their plus ones, and Amy brought Mary. I didn’t want her at my house. We’re not friends, and I don’t enjoy her presence. I’m hosting another dinner party for the holidays, and I know Amy will bring Mary. I do not invite people I don’t want to be around to my parties. How do I politely tell Amy to stop bringing Mary?

—She’s Not Invited; She Comes Anyway

You can read Prudence's response to the letter here.

Peruvian beauty pageant contestants steal a moment

Contestants competing in the Miss Peru 2018 beauty pageant were supposed to take the stage and recite their body measurements for the judges and the audience.

Why this still happens is beyond me. 

Beauty pageants of all kinds are sad, disgusting vestiges of a sexist, patriarchal world that saw women as objects of beauty rather than people of equal or better worth. They are the kind of thing that a man like Donald Trump would own.

But just imagine having to parade in front of judges and an audience and announce your measurements like you're a piece of meat. It's as if they are trying to make the beauty pageant as disgusting as possible.  

However, in this instance, these women ignored this ridiculous, demeaning requirement and instead took the opportunity to highlight a statistic related to violence against women in Peru.

"My name is Karen Cueto, and I represent Lima, and my figures are: 82 femicides and 156 attempted femicides this year."

"My name is Juana Acevedo, and my figures are: More than 70 percent of women in our country are the victims of street harassment." 

Watch the video. It's an inspiring moment. 

I wish that the Miss Peru contest didn't exist. I wish the female contestants would boycott the pageant altogether. I wish advertisers would refuse to support the pageant and audiences would refuse to watch. I yearn for the day when we look upon beauty pageants in the same way we look at a time in American when women weren't allowed to vote:

Archaic, ridiculous, sexist, and demeaning to women.  

But if these pageants must exist, I can't imagine a better way for women to take back a small part of it for their own purposes. 

Heroes have a way of making you realize how small-minded and ungrateful you have been.

Meet former US Special Forces soldier turned humanitarian aid worker David Eubank, running through ISIS gunfire in the embattled Iraqi city of Mosul in order to rescue a toddler who was sitting amidst a pile of dead bodies.

Eubank formed the Free Burma Rangers (FBR) as a Christian humanitarian group in 1997, providing emergency relief in war zones. Since January 2016, FBR has traveled to Iraq for relief trips.

After watching the video, a few things became clear to me:

  1. I can never be grateful enough to be born in a land of perpetual peace and stability. 
  2. My problems are trivial.
  3. I'm a coward compared to these heroes.

If you are reading this, it is very likely that you don't deserve the fourth cookie

"You owe a debt to the unlucky."

Michael Lewis's 2012 commencement address is a truly outstanding speech.

So often I am told that a speech is great when it is not.
A speech is inspiring when it is packed with platitudes.
A speech is brilliant when it merely mundane. 

Michael Lewis's speech is outstanding. Lewis advises the graduates of Princeton University to remember how lucky they are. How blessed they have been with parents, country, university, opportunity, and ability. 

Hard work played a role in the graduates' success, no doubt, but millions of people around the world have undoubtedly worked much harder than these graduates and do not earn degrees from Princeton because of circumstances beyond their control.

It would be easy for me to claim I have been unlucky.

  • Kicked out of my childhood home after high school
  • Arrested and tried for a crime I did not commit
  • Homeless
  • Victim of violence that resulted in a lifetime of PTSD
  • Victim of an anonymous smear campaign that nearly destroyed my career.

Instead of going to college after high school, living on campus, traveling overseas, and immersing myself in the learning and lifestyle of my peers, I went to school four years later after putting jail, my trial, and homeless behind me. I worked 50 hours a week while double majoring at two different universities in order to survive.

It was not fun. It was not what college was supposed to be. I did not graduate college with lifelong friends or a bounty of memories of time spent in marble halls, crowded dorms, and green quads.

It was not the college experience that I had once dreamed of.

Still, I have been so lucky. Lucky to live in a country that provides freedom and opportunity. Lucky to be healthy and able to work as hard as I did. Lucky to be a white man who was not forced to battle the discrimination, hatred, and the glass ceilings of my female and minority friends. Lucky to find professors, bosses, and mentors who guided me. Lucky to find a family willing to rescue me from the streets. Lucky to survive horrific violence relatively unscathed. Lucky to find a brilliant and beautiful woman who was inexplicably willing to marry me. Lucky to have two happy, healthy children.    

Michael Lewis urges the graduates of Princeton to remember how lucky they are. How their success is predicated more on their good fortune than anything else. He reminds them of what can happen when you begin to believe that you have risen to the top through merit alone. 

It's the right message for the right audience at the right time, and it was spoken succinctly, clearly, and without qualification. 

Michael Lew is right, too. Wouldn't the world be a far kinder and gentler place if the successful people of our planet would be willing to acknowledge the degree to which luck has helped them to rise and while keeping other people down? 

We owe a debt to the unlucky. If only more people would be willing to pay that debt.