I know it's my kid, but it's so damn cute.
One of the best ideas that I heard in all of 2015 was this:
When a friend of mine gave birth to her first child, one of her friends sent her a gift.
It was a book. This book:
Possibly one of the cruelest jokes ever.
I plan to spend 2016 desperately seeking opportunities to send other Bill Cosby titles to my friends and family. I was tempted to add it to my 2016 list of goals, but I decided that it was trite and ultimately unproductive.
But I'm still doing it.
Used copies, of course. Most of his books are out of print, and I wouldn't want to financially support Cosby.
If you haven’t seen Taylor Swift’s Christmas video, you should.
It’s a lovely thing, but it’s also an exceptionally valuable lesson for anyone who creates content. Actors. Writers. Artists. Musicians. Designers. Anyone.
Treat the people who make your work possible very, very well.
My agent, Taryn, once told me that although she thinks I’m a talented writer and a great storyteller, one of my greatest attributes is that I treat people with kindness and respect.
Basically, I’m not a jackass.
This may come as a surprise some of my friends, but it’s true.
I’m polite and respectful to my editors and the professionals at my publishing house. I respond to every email and tweet from my readers. I bend over backwards for bookstores and libraries. I’m accommodating to the organizers of literary festivals and speaking tours.
Taryn said that it’s much easier to sell my books when the people who buy them know that I’m not a jerk. That I am a decent person to work with.
I think this was probably Taryn’s way of warning me not to become a jerk, which can apparently happen after someone sells their first book.
I didn’t understand her concern at the time, but since publishing my first novel in 2009, I’ve had the honor of meeting many, many authors. Most of them are kind, humble, generous souls. The salt of the Earth. The best of the best. Truly some of the finest people who I have ever known.
But there is a very specific segment of authors and unpublished writers who are not nice. They are entitled, arrogant, rude, angry, demanding jerk faces.
They are also almost all men. This may simply be a reflection of my personal experience, but probably not.
I suspect that the same is probably true for musicians and celebrities like Taylor Swift. Most are kind, generous, and polite. Some are probably not.
I was not a Taylor Swift fan prior to watching her Christmas video. Her music was fine, but I didn’t pay much attention to it. I would occasionally play her songs her songs at weddings, but I didn’t have any Taylor Swift songs in my musical rotation. Other than a handful of her hits, I didn’t know any of her work.
After seeing this video, I’m an enormous Taylor Swift fan. I’m not sure if I like her music any more than before, but I like Taylor Swift as a person a whole lot. I’m much more likely to give her music a chance now. More inclined to watch a video on YouTube.
This was a very smart thing for Taylor Swift to do, but most important, it strikes me as exceptionally genuine. I felt like I was watching a real person doing real things for real fans. I felt like I was seeing the real Taylor Swift.
Perhaps I’m naive. Maybe the video was a carefully orchestrated, cleverly choreographed production by a team of promoters and marketers, but I don’t think so.
I think that Taylor Swift is probably an exceptionally kind person. Someone who knows how to treat her fans. Someone who values them and understands what they have meant to her career.
Taylor Swift has a new fan today thanks to that video, and she’s reminded me about the importance of treating my substantially fewer fans well. To go above and beyond whenever possible. To thank them for making it possible to do what I do.
I might not be sending Christmas presents next December, but I’ll be watching for ways to let my readers know how much I appreciate them.
“I’m not a scientist.”
Variations of this ridiculous statement include:
“The science isn’t all there yet.”
“I’ve heard arguments from both sides of the scientific aisle.”
House Speaker John Boehner: “Listen, I’m not qualified to debate the science over climate change. But I am astute enough to understand that every proposal that has come out of this administration to deal with climate change involves hurting our economy and killing American jobs.”
Here’s the thing:
When a politician tells us that he does not believe in climate change or does not accept that climate change is the result of human activity or can’t be certain enough about the science to take action, he or she is either lying or stupid. The science is simply too overwhelmingly in favor of manmade climate change for anyone with half a brain to deny it.
The latest report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change (IPCC) — a massive international effort to synthesized scientific knowledge on climate change from around the world — concluded with 95 percent certainty that the vast majority of the rise in global temperatures observed since the 1950s has been man-made. (Ninety-five percent is the same certainty that scientists assign to the assertion that cigarettes kill.)
It’s simply become impossible to deny climate change, which is why this “I am not a scientist” sound byte has come into fashion. Claim a lack of expertise and training and you don’t have to take a stand.
Convenient. Stupid but convenient.
More than likely, these “I am not a scientist” politicians are receiving campaign contribution from oil, coal, or natural gas companies and do not want that funding to dry up.
The largest contributors to John Boehner’s campaign, for example, are gas and oil companies.
But even those of us being paid by the fossil fuel companies to keep silent or plead ignorance know that climate change is real, and in the not-too-distant future, when sea levels rise to the point that the map begins to change and once valuable real estate is underwater, denying it will be even more difficult.
There will come a day when man made climate change will be undeniable by even the most ardent fossil fuel advocates.
My fear is that the politicians who are denying the existence of manmade climate change today will be forgotten tomorrow. Thanks to the short memories of the American people and the disregard for history, these men and women lie with impunity, knowing that they will no longer be in office and will probably be dead by the time large portions of southern Florida are underwater.
They are relying on the fact that history can be slippery and forgetful.
Ask an average American how many US Presidents have been assassinated while in office, and he or she will likely say two.
Just imagine: Two United States Presidents were murdered while in office after Lincoln’s assassination, and they have been all but forgotten.
What does John Boehner have to fear when he lies about climate change? Who will ever remember his lies in light of everything else that is forgotten.
But in the not-to-distant future, my children, or perhaps my children’s children, will ask me what the hell we were doing when there was still time to reduce CO2 levels, impose a carbon tax, and make serious investments in green energy. They will want to know why we fiddled while Rome burned, and I want to be able to name names. I want to be able to tell them the names of the liars who took no action and impeded the action of others in the face of over whelming scientific evidence. I want those names etched in history.
So my Kickstarter idea:
I’d like to publish a book entitled:
United States Politicians in 2015 Who Denied the Existence of Manmade Climate Change Despite Overwhelming and Undeniable Scientific Evidence in Order to Further Their Political Careers At the Expense of Future Generations
Each page of this book will feature one of the politicians and their exact words in response to questions about climate change.
That’s it. Lying politicians and their exact words.
I’d like to print one billion of these books, to ensure that physical copies will exist for future historians, but one billion may be a little unrealistic. But I’d like to convince as many people as possible to purchase this book, and to also have the book logged in the United States Library of Congress.
I want people to place this book, which would be handsomely bound, on their family’s bookshelf alongside their copies of The Bible and Huckleberry Finn. I want this book to become a family heirloom. Something passed down from generation to generation.
I want this book read when a father explains to a son that the Des Moines Dolphins were once known as the Miami Dolphins, before Miami was underwater.
Ideally, I’d love to see a granite monument with these politician's names etched into its side, added to yearly like the Stanley Cup, but I’m an author and books are my thing. But if a sculpture is interested in pursuing this project, I’d be more than willing to back it as well.
One of my stretch goals would be to have one of these books printed on a material other than paper. Something that will last a thousand years or more and be kept on display in the Smithsonian Museum of American History.
Maybe thin sheets of gold? Or platinum? Whatever the scientists suggest. Because I may not be a scientist, but I trust them to tell me what material makes the most sense for this project.
So my questions:
Is this a crazy idea?
Would it be ultimately pointless?
Would the Kickstarter be unsuccessful?
Is this merely my way of publishing a petulant, historical “I told you so” that will change nothing?
Would people support something like this?
Would the money be better spent supporting climate change activism or green energy research?
Should I try that monument idea even though I wouldn’t begin to know where to start?
What are your thoughts? I really want to know.
I’m not a big college football fan. I don’t have an allegiance to any college football team. But wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell may have turned me into a Georgia Bulldogs fan with his recent foray into, of all things, a book club.
It’s a great story. I can’t wait to show this video my students at the beginning of the school year. You must watch.
I brought my son downstairs for breakfast. As we stepped into the kitchen, he saw the iPad on the counter and said, “iPad! Chair! iPad! Chair!”
This is the two year-old version way of saying, “Father, I would very much like to take a seat in my favorite chair and make use of that glorious device.”
A large part of me wanted to deny him the use of the iPad. Breakfast would be ready in five minutes. There are a thousand toys in our home that he loves.
More importantly, I was suffering from iPad guilt.
I should avoid sticking my son’s face into a screen as much as possible, including now.
Charlie continued to beg, and so I surrendered, handing him the iPad. “Thank you, Daddy!” he said, as if knowing that a polite remark of appreciation would improve his chances of getting the device again in the future.
I started to make breakfast, feeling the weight of parental failure on my shoulders. I had done the modern day equivalent of what my parents did to me: Stick the kid in front of the television so he would stop whining.
I was ruining my son’s life. Destroying his attention span. Stealing his boyhood creativity. Taking the easy road.
Breakfast complete, I returned to Charlie to extract the iPad from his tiny clutches. I looked down. I saw this:
Charlie was sitting in his chair, scrolling through the hundreds of photographs of the family, calling out his sister’s name and touching his mother’s face and whispering, “Momma” whenever he saw it.
In that moment, I dispensed, once and for all, with iPad guilt.
For some incredibly stupid reason, I had decided long ago that smashing a toy fire truck into a toy bus while making growling sounds was an infinitely more valuable use of my son’s time than using an iPad.
Why is that?
My son sat down in his chair with the tablet, and of all the choices he had (and there were a lot), he opted to peruse the photo album. Had he come downstairs and demanded an actual photo album from the shelf, with real photographs, I would’ve been pleased. Ecstatic, even.
But on a screen? Not as good, or at least I used to think so.
I left Charlie on the iPad, scrolling through photos, while I folded the laundry. About ten minutes later, he closed the photo album and opened an interactive book. A narrator reads the fairy tale aloud as Charlie touches the characters to make them speak and act.
I realized that had Charlie grabbed a physical book and flipped through the pages, I would’ve been pleased.
But reading an interactive book on an iPad? Not as good.
This point of view, however, is insane. Charlie can’t read yet. Charlie flips through books on his own all the time, calling out colors, letters, and the names of objects. The poor boy wanted to actually hear the story read aloud, but for some inane reason, I saw this as a failure on both his and my part.
No more. No longer will I be sucked into this nostalgic, idealized, moronic view of parenting. As I’ve written about before, Charlie knows all of the letters of the alphabet thanks to the iPad. Without my wife or I encouraging, directing, or participating in any way, he learned to identify every letter, upper and lowercase. and knows the sounds that many of these letters make.
In a million years, I couldn't have taught my two year-old son this skill, and I’m an elementary school teacher. But a cleverly designed app, that is both fun, interactive, and deceptively instructive, did the job.
How could I ever think of this was time wasted?
No longer will I view my children’s childhood through the lens of my own childhood, valuing the choices of my childhood over the rest. My children are growing up in a world in which they will do the vast majority of their writing and reading on a screen. They are growing up in a world where technological ability and efficiency are no longer prized. They are required.
I should not be worried that my two year-old son can operate the iPad, finding photo albums, music, books, videos, and learning games without our help.
I should be thrilled.
Please don’t get me wrong. We don’t let him use the iPad often, and this release of guilt will not change that. We don’t allow him to use the iPad for long stretches. We limit his time, say no to his requests for often than not, and believe that his day should primarily be filled with physical activity and time spend looking and listening and communicating with his family.
But some time spent with technology when his father is making breakfast, folding the laundry, writing an important email, emptying the dishwasher, sweeping the floor, or driving long distances?
No guilt. Not any more.
From a piece in the Hartford Courant entitled Wethersfield Library Begins ‘Food For Fines’ Program:
For a limited time, Wethersfield Library patrons can pay their overdue fines with a can of beans or a jar of spaghetti sauce.
The library's Food for Fines program, which began Monday and lasts through the end of August, donates the items to the town's food bank, Library Director Laurel Goodgion said. The library runs the program every year, she said.
"People like doing it," Goodgion said. "It gives them a way to feel good paying off their fines."
I have always been a person who doesn’t mind paying fines for overdue books. I’ve always considered it my way of supporting the library. And because I’m never borrowing a new release, the books that I borrow are presumably not in demand. No one else is waiting for them when I am finished reading. I’ve never been accused of making another patron wait for a book.
In my mind, my fines have always been favors for the library.
Some librarians have disagreed.
While I admire and respect librarians a great deal, I have run into one or two in my time who become genuinely angry when I return an overdue book. It typically occurs when the librarian attempts to scold me for my tardiness, and I respond with a smile and a comment over how happy I am to pay the fine.
One time the discussion became so heated that I stormed out of the library and charged into the restroom in the outer hallway, only to find myself standing over a half-naked woman sitting on the toilet.
Her fault for failing to lock the door on the single occupancy restroom, but had I not been so angry, I may have offered a courtesy knock before entering.
While I understand that one of a librarian’s duties is to safeguard books and other media on behalf of the general public, I have never understood the emotional response that has occasionally greeted me.
The system of overdue fines serves a purpose. If I am late in returning a book, the library (and thereby the general public) is compensated for my lateness.
And it’s not as if I’m paying a fine for speeding or failing to stop at a crosswalk, which endangers the lives of others. It’s a fine for a book that I kept for three extra days.
Can’t we be a little happy that the book is being returned along with some unexpected cash?
I’d even be happy to pay more. Increase the fines if necessary. I’m more than happy to contribute to the library. Perhaps the increased fine would increase my chances of returning the book on time. At the very least, it may give librarians a reason to smile while collecting the fine, knowing the money will support the institution that they and I love.
Am I wrong about this?
The Daily Beast reports on a new book, The Newlywed's Guide to Physical Intimacy, available in stores soon:
A new sex guide to be published in Hebrew aims at teaching orthodox Jews the basics of sex.
The book goes as far as outlining the anatomical differences between males and females. The author, Dr. David Ribner, has a doctorate in social work and is an ordained Rabbi. He has spent the last 30 years working with orthodox Jews in Israel, who often know absolutely nothing about male-female interactions.
As a fifth grade teacher, I actually teach some of this basic anatomy as part of our health curriculum. I would’ve been the perfect person to write this book. I have plenty of experience dealing with students who are clueless in this regard.
Of course, the book also address sex, which is not a part of our fifth grade curriculum. But it does so very carefully. Rather than actually including information about sex in the book, there is a a sealed envelope on the back flap, with a warning to readers that it contains sexual diagrams. If you don't want to look at them, you can rip off the envelope and throw it away.
Inside are three diagrams of basic sexual positions.
This could be the first and last word that these people ever receive in terms of sex, and all they are being given are three positions?
These are grown men and women who have no idea what the anatomy of the opposite sex even looks like, and in many cases, they don’t understand how their own anatomy works.
Just three positions?
They need as much help as they can get.
I should’ve written this book.