Something I don’t think I’ve ever told anyone:
Sometimes my choice of words is dependent upon the day.
A few days ago I wrote about Harvard’s unconscionable policy of admitting applicants based upon legacy and parental donations, when a great number of those students would not have otherwise been admitted to the university. I suggested that we consider this policy when assessing the accomplishments of a Harvard grad and mentally discount their achievement based upon this system of graft and preferential treatment existing at the school.
I went on to say that you should probably discount my own accomplishments, too, given that I hit the genetic lottery by being born as a white, straight, relatively intelligent, healthy American man.
Take away any one of those things, and my life is much more challenging.
I had all the advantages a person could ever want. My status has allowed me to avoid discrimination, sexism. and the struggles associated with longterm illness and addiction. And I was born in America. There are many, many places on this planet where I could not have pursued my drams like I have in this country.
Then I wrote this sentence:
In fact, if you’re a white straight man living in America who is relatively intelligent, healthy, and not battling addiction and you can’t find a way to earn a living in this world, you have no one to blame but yourself.
Then I deleted the sentence. I deleted it because I recognized its possible incendiary quality. I could easily envision someone reading this and taking great offense. Either they matched the characteristics that I listed and were still struggling to earn a living, or they had had a child - all grown up - who matched the characteristics and was still living at home, unable to find work.
I pictured struggling writers and painters and pie-in-the-sky entrepreneurs whose lifelong dreams were not panning out. I pictured a mother who was still supporting her son as he tried to carve a spot in the cutthroat world of competitive video game playing. I envisioned myself explaining to these painters and writers and entrepreneurs that chasing your dream is wonderful, but that most creative people either starve without complaint or get a job to feed themselves whilst they paint or sculpt or write or invent.
Telling straight, white American men that they are losers if they can’t earn a living could be provocative, and although I love to be provocative, I was writing that post on Saturday, the day that I was officiating the wedding of my former student.
I didn’t want to deal with a potentially angry online mob on that blessed, beautiful day, so I removed the sentence.
I’ve done this before - rarely - but the particular day ahead of me will sometimes dictate how far I will push an idea. I’ve also had days when I’ve itching for a fight or know that I will be home sick with lots of time on my hands, and on those days, I will push extra hard.
I try to poke the bear.
So as disingenuous as it may sound, I have been known to temper an argument for the sake of peace on a given day, and I’ve also been known to sharpen an argument on those days when I’m looking forward to some online confrontation.
I think of it as self care. I don’t betray my argument or idea, but I simply shape it based upon what I’m able and willing to deal with on any given day.
So if you’re upset with my assertions about white,. straight, healthy American men, today is the day to fire away. I’m home from work in honor of Indigenous People’s Day. Plenty of time to do battle if necessary.
Here’s an expression that I’ve been hearing a lot lately:
“Let’s talk about this offline.”
These words are used when a person directing a meeting wants to engage in conversation with a meeting attendee at a later time. Typically this occurs when the matter involves a small number of meeting attendees and need not waste the time of the group.
Sparing the group of wasted time is a lovely idea. But offline?
Why not, “Let’s talk about this later, since it doesn’t involve everyone?”
Or, “Let’s talk after the meeting. Okay?”
Or even, “Later, gator.”
But offline? Are we to believe that we are “online” when in the meeting? Because I have never had that thought in my life.
I hate when stupid jargon is applied to something that has been communicated effectively for decades with simple English.
I hate it a lot.
“Most people are bullied because they’re better than the people who bully them.” - Simon Cowell
A reader sent me this quote by Cowell, who judges singing shows on television. Except for clips on YouTube, I haven’t watched a singing show since the first season of American Idol back in 2002, but I remember Cowell as being someone I liked a lot.
Brutally honest. Exceedingly direct. Funny. Utterly unconcerned about what others thought of him.
My kind of guy.
And I like this quote about bullying a lot. I think bullying can also be about the consolidation of power, the need to elevate oneself, and the inability to understand the struggle of others, but I think Cowell’s statement is often true.
I also think it’s a very good thing for the victims of bullying to hear.
The percentage of times that a “fun fact” is actually fun is exceptionally low.
Yesterday, while working on a project about a Japanese bridge, Clara said, “Fun fact! This bridge has survived eight earthquakes because it’s built on a faulty line.”
My response: “That’s not fun.”
And no, it wasn’t. It was certainly a fact, but it wasn’t even slightly amusing. Nothing fun about it at all.
In most cases, the phrase “Fun fact” can most often be replaced with the phrase, “Fact!”
Perhaps, “Random fact!”
Maybe even “Interesting fact!” on occasion.
But almost never “Fun fact!”
I saw a definition of guilt online that I really did not like (and I wish I had saved it), so I wrote my own:
Guilt is the space between self-blame - justifiable or otherwise - and forgiveness of self. It is - at its very worst - the chasm between self-hatred and self-love.
I realize that pointing out the stupidity or amorality or narcissism of Donald Trump is like reminding people that the sun rises and sets every day, but occasionally he says or does something that rises to the level of incomprehensibility.
Yesterday, Trump tweeted this:
Did you see what he did?
Trump quoted himself complimenting himself, and then he thanked himself for that quoted self-compliment.
The constant, incessant self-praise is a clear sign of a man whose ego is both disturbingly large and exceedingly fragile. It reeks of sadness and desperation. I’ve never met anyone in my life so desperate for praise that they were willing to compliment themselves in such a publicly embarrassing, never-ending way.
If he wasn’t a racist hobgoblin who steals children from poor people and brags about his serial sexual assault, I’d be compelled to offer the guy a hug.
All of this is bad enough. It also explains why he famously has no friends other than those of a transactional nature. Who would want to spend any meaningful time with someone like this?
But then to quote yourself - to quote your own self-praise of yourself - and then thank yourself for that self-praise… to the entire world?
If this had been any other human being, I would rightfully assume that a medical team was on route to determine if the person in question had suffered from a stroke.
But no, this is Donald Trump. Sadly, it was bizarre and sad and stupid and truly disturbing, but also just a Saturday morning.
Someone recently introduced me to a term that I like a lot:
These are people who - no matter what was intended - will take offense, often unjustifiably.
You say one thing. They hear another.
You do one thing. They see another.
In my life, offense kleptomaniac often lift their ugly heads when I find a corner to cut, an advantage to seize, an opportunity to snag, or a new road to take. They become angry and outraged because I saw something before they did or I had the courage or daring or insight to try something that initially seemed dangerous or unexpected or unwise or against the rules.
I take an unanticipated step forward. They see it as me shoving them back.
Many years ago, when a large-scale initiative was first introduced at our school, I quickly put together my own team of teachers - all close friends who shared a similar skill set and who I enjoyed working alongside- before administration could assign teams. Then, as teams were being considered for the initiative, I presented our already-assembled team to administration and asked that it be allowed to stand.
Offense kleptomaniacs - people who could’ve done the same thing and still could’ve done the same thing after discovering what we had done - took this maneuver as a slight. An injustice. An outrage.
“How dare they assemble their own team?”
”No one said we could pick our teammates!”
”Why do they get to choose their teammates but we don’t?”
”Who do they think they are?”
Rather than seeing this for what it was - a colleague spotting a previously unseen opportunity and seizing it - they took offense to it. They saw it as someone taking advantage at their expense. They spun their wheels in anger and disgust. Grumbled and growled and cried foul instead of seeing it as a possible path for them to take, too.
Yes. I know these people. You probably do, too.
Also, I despise these people. I look forward to using this new phrase when dealing with them.
We were visiting Deception Pass State Park in Washington when I saw this sign along a trail leading down to the turbulent waters of Puget Sound.
I’m not sure if it’s the guilelessness of the text or the clarity of the image (or perhaps a combination of the two), but I love this sign so much.
I love the its directness. The way it doesn’t pull any punches. It’s a sign designed to justifiably frighten people.
If someone was to fall off the edge of the trail and plunge to their death, I could see the person’s final thought being something like. “I can’t say they didn’t warn me.”
I love that.
This sign is affixed to the side of a local school. It’s got a lot of problems.
There is the obvious and tragic punctuation problem, of course.
“OWNERS” is missing a possessive apostrophe. Presumably someone (or hopefully many people) working at the school have noticed the mistake and decided to accept the error rather than ordering a new sign and having it replaced.
It’s not what I would do, but fine. I get it. Bigger fish to fry.
I just believe in frying a lot of fish, both big and small, and I can personally fry a lot of fish at the same time.
Also, “snow storm” is one word. I’m not sure if breaking it into two words is incorrect in the eyes of a grammarian, but it looks strange to me. I don’t like it.
But here’s my bigger problem with the sign:
Isn’t it always “prior to or during” a snow storm? I know I’m diving into semantics a bit, but as I write this, near the end of July, am I not “prior to” a snow storm?
Yes, the next snowstorm might be half a year a way, but still, this moment in which I currently occupy is prior to a snowstorm. In fact, haven’t I spent every single moment of my life either “prior to or during” a snowstorm?
I know. I’s a silly argument. We all understand what the sign means. The makers of the sign could’ve added an adjective to denote a specific time period prior to a snowstorm in order to appease someone as annoying and pedantic as me, but why bother? We all get it.
Even I get it.
Still, it annoys me. When I parked in front of this sign last week, it was prior to a snowstorm, damn it.
I think this line of criticism really says more about me than it does about the need to change this sign based upon this semantic complaint, but here’s my concern:
Is the thing it says about me positive or negative?
I worried that it’s the latter.
Either way, fix the damn apostrophe. You’re a school. The first thing a visitor sees can’t be a punctuation error.
Are you as confused over the adjectives for Thursday and Friday as I am?
There are few things in this world more annoying than a New Yorker (or former New Yorker) who talks about the way they say “waiting on line” instead of “in line” like it’s some kind of badge of honor.
“Someday” might be my least favorite word in the English language.
It’s the word that prevents so many from trying so much. It’s the word that results in lament and regret. “Someday” causes people to live small lives filled with wishes and dreams and delay and inaction.
“Someday” is the word that allows people to wait until it’s too late.
“Someday” is why two of the greatest regrets expressed by people at the end of life (according to hospice workers) are “I wish I’d taken more risks” and “I wish I’d lived my own dream.”
“Someday” is fool’s gold. It’s a horizon that will never come. A wish never fulfilled.
I’m working on a nonfiction book proposal which would effectively eliminate “someday” from a person’s vocabulary. It’s a book about how to make the most of every day in an authentic, realistic, and very doable way.
Oddly, unexpectedly, and unintentionally, it also just occurred to me that my next novel, Twenty-one Truths About Love, is also an assault on the notion of “someday.”
I guess I really do hate the word.
I’ve been blogging since 2005. I have not missed a day, even when scumbag cowards attempted to derail my career by blatantly mischaracterizing what I write and portraying me as some crazed lunatic.
I hope they are still reading today.
I’ve shifted my blog to three different platforms and changed the name each time, but I also migrated the best content from each site onto this one, where I have blogging since November 18, 2008, and preserved the content from all three.
I’ve got it all.
I’m often asked:
How could you possibly have something to say every day for 14 years? More than 5,000 days of thoughts?
Part of the answer is there are many days when my post is a photo with three sentences essentially saying, “Hey! Look at this!”
But the truth is that I collect ideas, thoughts, and experiences and write about them when it’s most appropriate.
But this past week is a good example of the secret sauce.
In my blogging platform on SquareSpace, I have more than 70 half written, partially written, or unwritten drafts. Some are single sentences representing a thought I had to write about. Others are links to news reports and stories that I know will trigger a post from me. Still others are photos, graphs, or other images that will ultimately lead to a post.
The oldest of these drafts dates back to 2013 . A thought from six years ago, just waiting for me to finally expand into a post.
Yesterday, Friday, I wrote about memorizing poems. That idea was sitting in my blog folder since 2015 when I read Daliah Lithwick’s Slate piece on memorizing poetry and thought, “I memorized a lot of poetry, too. Maybe I can write about that.”
Four years later, a storyteller recites a poem during sound check at a Moth GrandSLAM, and I have an angle on this idea. It worked out well. About 6,000 people read the post on my blog, and hundreds of others saw it via social media and places like Goodreads, where my blog auto-sends.
This is an average audience size for a blog post.
It took four years for that idea to be realized. It’s been sitting there, waiting for me to find a way to unlock it.
On Wednesday, I wrote about people who say they don’t have enough time to same time. I wrote this idea down two years ago after the umpteenth person said something like this to me. I didn’t write about it then because I didn’t want to hurt the feelings of the person who said it, so I wrote it down for a later date.
It took me almost two years to return to it. I’m working on a proposal for a book on productivity, and the idea caught me eye because it aligns well to my current project.
On Tuesday, I wrote about a book idea I have about the last time we do something important or special and how we rarely take note of it. I’ve had the idea for the book for more than a decade, and I’ve actually written about this idea before, but someone sent me the pole vaulting video attached to this post two weeks ago, and it triggered the idea for the post.
On Monday, I posted about the latest episode of our podcast. Though it’s sort of a day off for me in the blogging world, I also release a newsletter on Monday, so I need to produce fresh content there as well.
On Sunday I wrote about the decline of religion in America. I saw the data that morning while reading the news and wrote a post immediately thereafter.
On Sunday, I wrote about three strange photos I took in Vermont and described my recent trip there for work.
On Saturday, I encouraged readers to aggressively try new things by pointing out the remarkable variety of experiences I had during the course of the previous week thanks to my willingness to try storytelling in 2011.
It was my most popular post of the week.
One idea had been percolating for five years.
Another had been percolating for two years.
One idea was triggered by a video that someone shared with me.
One idea was triggered after seeing recent data in the news.
Two posts were written based upon recent experiences.
One post announced the lasted episode of our podcast.
I also added three ideas to my list of drafts. One describes an encounter with another person that I need to wait before writing to avoid upsetting someone. One is a response to a comment made on my blog worth responding to. The third is a statistic about Internet use in America that I might have something to say about someday.
Not only am I a person who has a lot to say, but I’m a collector of ideas. Even if I’m not sure what I will write, I look for statistics, images, news reports, blog posts, and quotes from others that tickle my brain. Pique my curiosity. Stir an emotion inside me.
When I find one, I add it to my list of draft ideas. Those percolating ideas, plus autobiographical moments I experience daily, responses I have to current events, amusing observations about the world, and half-baked ideas form the basis of the blog.
I read a lot. I listen even more. I keep my eyes open. I keep my heart and mind open.
That is how I find my ideas. That is how I write a new post for more than 14 years without missing a day.
Of course, it also helps to be an opinionated blowhard with a lot to say.
I took a class in college on poetry. I wasn’t a poet, nor did I want to be a poet, but my creative writing advisor thought that writing poetry might teach me to distill my fiction down to its essence and find the truth about what I was trying to say in my stories.
I didn’t hold out much hope for this plan. Most of what I learned about writing in college was nonsense. I was taught by honest-to-goodness writers - extraordinary talents - which sounds great until you discover that these aren’t actually teachers.
They may write well, but they don’t know how to teach the process to others.
So I wandered into the senior level poetry class of Hugh Ogden, who was both an esteemed poet and an extraordinary teacher. Hugh took a young man who felt out of place in a room full of students who had been studying poetry and made him feel welcome, even when some of those students did not.
Hugh had a profound impact on my life, and it turns out that my advisor was right. I found ways to say a great deal in very few words. When I look back on the poetry that I wrote during that class, most of it was autobiographical, and honestly, much of it is structured in ways very similar to the ways I tell stories on the stage today.
Hugh also required us to come to class each week with a newly memorized poem. This was daunting at first, but by the end of the semester, I loved the first 15 minutes of class when each student recited a new poem from memory.
As a result, I memorized a lot of poems, and I can still recite several by heart, including “The Jabberwocky,” “Stopping By the Woods on a Snowy Evening,” “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night,” “In Flanders Fields,” “An Irish Airman Foresees His Death,” “Oh Captain, My Captain,” and many shorter ones.
A few years ago I memorized “The Tyger” by William Blake as a Hanukkah gift to Elysha. She loves the poem, so in memorizing it, I told her that she now has access to its recitation at any time.
I also have several French poems memorized from my high school French days, as well as several pieces from Shakespeare.
All of this is to say that you should memorize a poem or two. I was listening to a sound check at a Moth GrandSLAM recently, and the storyteller recited “Stopping By the Woods on a Snowy Evening” as his sound check. I always prefer to vamp a new story or do a bit of standup during these sound checks, but reciting a poem was a lovely thing.
Everyone in the theater was impressed, admittedly leaving me thinking, “Hey! I know that one, too! And many others!"
But by seeing how impressed folks were, it also made me realize that we don’t memorize poems anymore. That is a sad thing.
A few years ago Slate’s Daliah Lithwick wrote:
“…it’s possible that the real magic of college will completely pass you by until you realize, many years later, that holy shit, you know “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning” or Leaves of Grass, and all the wisdom of the ages was packed in there, it’s just that you missed it at the time for band practice, or swim team, or to get to the salad bar before all the hearts of palm were gone.”
It’s so very true. Throughout my life, I’ve found myself responding to argument, thoughts, and ideas with the verse locked in my mind. And that verse, as I’ve grown older, has revealed itself to me in new and fascinating ways.
Thank goodness for Hugh.
Hugh died in 2007 at the age of 69 after falling through thin ice on a lake in Maine. The world has missed him ever since. But in honor of Hugh and the desire to lock some new verse into my brain, I’m going to spend the rest of the year firming up the poems I have already memorized and memorizing a new poem or some new verse, starting with Hamlet’s third soliloquy and Frost’s “The Road Not Taken.”
Won’t you join me?
I’d like to officially dispense with the phrase:
“That’s billion with a B.”
I'd like to eliminate it from the world forever. Make it extinct. Destroy every bit of it.
Have you ever heard “million” when the person said “billion” even once in your life?
Are the letters M and B so close that you could ever confuse them?
Has this attempt at numerical drama ever been effective or meaningful?
I hate it when someone says, “That’s billion with a B” so very, very much.
Would you mind hating it with me? Please?
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:
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.
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.
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.
The “He’s playing chess and everyone else is playing checkers” thing is done.
It’s really, really done. There may have been a time when this metaphor seemed clever and biting, but I doubt it. Either way, it’s become a meaningless bit of syllabic drivel. It’s stupid-speak. Unoriginal and lazy.
If you use this overused, hackneyed expression, you are just as overused and hackneyed.
While we’re at it, all references to someone playing “three dimensional chess” are also finished. This is just as overused and stupid as the chess and checkers thing.
Please think of something new and more clever to say or shut the hell up.
Smart church sign. It adheres to a principle I have espoused for a long time:
Judge yourself by those who hate you.
In an ideal world, hate does not enter your life. Everyone thinks well of you, or at the very least, their thoughts are neutral about you or perhaps they don’t think about you at all.
If you live this kind of life, congratulations. I envy you.
Unfortunately, this has not always been the case for me. It’s not that I am despised by the world, it hasn’t always been sunshine and rainbows, either.
When someone despises me, it’s most often for something I’ve said or written.
In college, for example, I attended a class that the professor barely attended himself. He was always late, always ending class early, and cancelling classes left and right. As someone who had fought his way through a sea of hardship and difficulty to finally make it to college, I was appalled by this behavior, so I brought it to the attention of the dean of students and then the president of the college.
When they failed to act, I took the meticulous notes that I’d been keeping on the professor’s attendance and wrote a front-page article in the school newspaper about this professors appalling attendance record.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that the professor in question despised me and attempted to undermine my credibility in the department for the next year.
Happily to no effect.
Was I upset that he hated me?
Not at all. He was lazy, ineffective, and was stealing hard-earned tuition dollars from me and my classmates. If he hated me for using the power of the pen to effect a positive change, too bad.
Years later, a small group of truly despicable people attempted to end my career for reasons related to my opinions, expressed both in person and in writing, as well as their small-minded, envy-ladened perceptions of me as a human being and a teacher. It was one of the most difficult times of my life and Elysha’s life, too, but knowing something about who they were as well as the enormous number of intelligent, well-respected individuals who stood behind me made it a slightly less bitter pill to swallow.
Yes, it was clear that someone despised me, but I also knew how stupid, sad, and deliberately misleading these people had been in their characterization of me.
These were bad people. Rotten, good-for-nothing ingrates. It was a hell of a lot easier to bear the burden of their hatred knowing how awful they were as human beings.
Today it’s places like my blog, Twitter, and occasionally Facebook and even my novels that brings out the ire in people. I criticize Trump, and in response, some MAGA hat-wearing moron who can’t spell or write a complete sentence attacks me for my views.
At worst, I block the loser. At best, I just ignore the person completely.
Either way, having a MAGA hat-wearing loser hating me is just fine with me.
My thought process goes something like this:
“Someone hates me? Is the person stupid? A coward? Maybe a bigot or a sexist? Does the person constantly lie or brag about committing sexual assault? Is the person who hates me also defending someone who puts children in cages or treats my LGBTQ friends without equality and dignity?”
Then I guess I’m doing okay.
Snoop Dog took recently some heat for his Hollywood Walk of Fame acceptance speech.
He thanked the Walk of Fame committee, his collaborators and mentors, his family and friends, his competitors, and his fans.
Then he thanked himself.
“I want to thank me,” he said. He thanked himself for believing in himself, for working tirelessly, for never quitting, for trying to do more right than wrong, and for always being himself.
Some folks didn’t like that part of his speech. Thanking yourself struck some people as a little too self-congratulatory. Perhaps a little arrogant.
But I loved it. I get it.
Sometimes I look back on parts of my life and don’t know how I did it.
I put myself through college while managing a McDonald’s restaurant full time and working part-time in the college’s writing center. I was Treasurer of the Student Senate, President of the National Honor Society, and a columnist for the school paper. I was an Academic All-American and won the statewide college debate competition two years in a row.
I attended two colleges simultaneously (including an all-woman’s college) and earned two separate degrees.
And I launched my DJ company at the same time.
I have no idea how I did it.
And I don’t think I could do it again. I don’t think the current version of myself would have a shot in hell of surviving those five years and accomplishing so much.
So I often look back at that time in my life and feel enormous gratitude for the younger version of me who somehow accomplished things that the current version of me could not dream of doing. It almost seems like another person did those things. Someone far more capable than I could ever dream of being. I’m eternally thankful for that younger version of myself for pushing aside all the distractions and temptations and doing the work required to make today possible.
I think that’s how Snoop Dog felt. He was thankful for that former version of himself for doing the things that might be impossible to imagine doing again today.
When you pull yourself up by your bootstraps, I think you earn the right to feel gratitude for that former version of you who made today possible. And if you’re fortunate enough to have earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, you have every right to stand on that sidewalk and thank yourself.
To hell with anyone who might be offended. They won’t ever understand the hard work, dedication, and sacrifice that was required to earn that star.