Any gift that includes murder, blood, and betrayal is perfect in my book

I never expect a holiday gift from my students, and when asked what I want, my reply is always the same:

"Word hard. Be kind. That would be more than enough for me."

Despite these protestations, I often receive gifts. 

This year the class was kind enough to give me my very first pair of footie pajamas (New England Patriots themed) and the opportunity to take my kids to dinner and a movie over vacation. It was a thoughtful and generous gesture. 

I also received gifts from individual students, including notes and cards with words that I will save forever. It's the words that students write to me that mean the most.   

But this year also included one of those unforgettable gifts, created by a boy named Henry. Built from his own imagination, Henry recreated a moment from Macbeth, a play that we studied earlier this year, in Legos, with eerie precision.

He didn't purchase a kit. He didn't download directions. He made this with the Legos that he already owned. He demonstrated knowledge and understanding of the play and his own incredible creativity.  

Honestly, just the idea alone is genius. 

It will sit in a place of prominence in my classroom for years to come.

A man shouted at me. Swore at me. My response was not appropriate. Unfortunately.

I pulled alongside the gas pump and shifted my car into park. There was another gas pump just ahead of me, but there was a yellow plastic bag around the pump handle, indicating that the pump was not functioning.

I began pumping gas.


The man in the pickup truck parked behind me had pulled into the station at the same time as me. He glared at me through his windshield. I could feel his glare on the back of my head. A moment later, he stepped out of his truck and inquired as to why I had not pulled ahead to the next pump.

His inquiry was shouted at me. It contained profanity. The man was angry.

I remained calm. This is one of the things I do best. These moments are made for me. I said, “Today is your lucky day.”

“Why?” the man asked, still shouting.

“The pump up front is broken,” I said, motioning to the yellow bag on the pump handle. “That’s why I didn’t pull forward. And you just learned not to start a conversation by shouting at someone and swearing, or you might look like an idiot. Your lucky day.”

The man shouted some more. Swore some more. Climbed back into his truck. Backed up. Drove to the pumps on the opposite side of the station.

This should’ve been the highlight of my day, but even before my wife expressed with disapproval for my actions, citing the possibility, however unlikely, the the man could’ve shot, stabbed, or run me over with his truck for being a wise ass, I felt the unease in my bones. 

Ten years ago, this moment would’ve been the highlight of my day. Maybe my week.

But I, too, knew about the possibility of escalation as I was spouting off to the man. Maybe not instantly, but soon enough. As I fired off my clever and self-satisfied quip, I thought about my family. I saw their faces in my mind.

The thrill-seeking instigator that my mother called me for much of her life reveled in my quick-witted retort.

The sober, more calculating father and husband recognized my actions as unnecessary and possibly dangerous. The chances of genuine danger were exceptionally low. People may say otherwise, but these are people who extrapolate sensational news stories and assume the world is going to hell and a hand basket.

In truth, violent crime rates (and crime rates in general) are lower today than ever before.

But when you have a wife and two children (not to mention a crippling fear of death), even exceptionally low probabilities are best avoided.

My first novel, Something Missing, is about an exceptional and benevolent burglar who doesn’t want to end his life of crime simply because he’s so good at it. He takes pride in his work. He wonders if he might be the best burglar on the planet.

It’s incredibly hard to quit something that you are so naturally inclined.

I’m at my best in these moments of confrontation. My tendency to remain calm regardless of the circumstances, combined with my ability to rapidly formulate retorts and my willingness to hit below the belt make me highly effective in these scenarios.

Allowing a stupid man shout and swear at me for not pulling ahead at a gas station without firing back seems ridiculous to me. Cowardly. Neutered.

Shakespeare said that discretion is the better part of valor, but what is often forgotten is that these words are uttered by Falstaff, who is pretending to be dead lest he find himself risking his life in battle.

Falstaff is saying that the best part of courage is caution, which Shakespeare meant to be a joke. Truly courageous people may be cautious, but caution is not the most important characteristic of courage.

Discretion is not the better part of valor. Discretion is boring. Discretion stinks.

I prefer King Henry’s battle cry instead:

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our English dead.
In peace there's nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility;
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger. . .

Then again, King Henry was trying to inspire his soldiers during their invasion of France. An idiot at the gas station may not compare well to an intercontinental war between Europe’s two greatest powers.

Small boy. Big words. Enormous inspiration.

There have been many inspirational speeches throughout history.

Knute Rockne’s “One for the Gipper” speech.

The Saint Crispin’s Day speech from Shakespeare’s Henry V (which sounds surprisingly like the speech that the President gives before the final battle against the aliens in Independence Day).


Winston Churchill’s address to the House of Commons following the evacuation at Dunkirk.


Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream.”


And now this.  Unnamed boy’s speech upon learning to ride a bicycle:

Children swallowing poisoned beads was not my original plan. I swear.

In 2012 I participated in the Books on the Nightstand Booktopia event in Santa Cruz, California. The culmination of the weekend is an event called the Celebration of Author, wherein each author speaks for about ten minutes.


My talk, as well as that of author Cara Black, was broadcast on the Books on the Nightstand podcast this week. I spoke about the importance of reading Shakespeare by telling some amusing stories from fifteen years of teaching Shakespeare to elementary students.

You can listen to my talk (as well as Cara’s) here.

My book launch included three very special people

Last night’s book launch at Barnes & Noble was wonderful, and I thank all of my friends and family and fans for their support. We had about one hundred people in attendance to hear me read a smidgen from MEMOIRS OF AN IMAGINARY FRIEND, tell some stories related to the book, recommend some of my favorite books, and answer some interesting, challenging and probing questions from the audience.

Included in the audience were three former students who were in my first class fourteen years ago. When I taught these three students, I was teaching second grade and they were seven years old. Today they are are preparing to enter their junior year in college, and yet whenever I launch a book or premier a musical or direct a Shakespearean play with my class, they always seem to find a way to be there.

I cannot tell you how much this means to me. 

Brandon was my first most difficult student, so he is also one of my most memorable students of all time. He was a handful to say the least, and he would have been a handful even with a decade of teaching experience under my belt. He was a class clown, a rambunctious boy, a slightly disinterested student and perpetually happy, which made it almost impossible to punish him. No matter what I did to make him suffer and learn his lesson, he would continue to smile. 

Today Brandon is studying to be a surgical physician's assistant and doing great. He has a mature young man who continues to impress me every time I see him. At last night’s launch, I charged the audience to go home and write something and make it a habit that they never stop. Before I had even returned home and paid the babysitter, Brandon had written about something he had overheard that night and sent it to me for my review.

I can’t tell you how overjoyed I was to see it.

If only he had been so quick to complete his homework assignments in second grade.

Liz is the reason that I teach Shakespeare to my students. I was having an especially difficult day in class. No one was listening to my instructions, students were unfocused and loud, Brandon was probably causing trouble, and so in an act of desperation, I shouted, “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears!” The class went quiet, everyone stared at their wild-eyed teacher, and then little Elizabeth, seven years old at the time, said, “What does that mean?”  I took a deep breath, calmed my nerves and explained that the line came from a play entitled Julius Caesar. Then Liz asked, “What’s the play about?” I began to summarize the plot of the play to the class, and for the first time in what seemed like a week, my students were paying attention to me. Seizing on the moment, I gathered them at my feet and told them the entire story of Julius Caesar and his tragic fall from grace. When I was finished, the class was staring at me in utter fascination. They asked if they could perform the play, and thus my career in children’s theater was born.

Liz was one of my best and brightest students during that first year of teaching, and she remains so today. She is also going to be a junior in college this year, and as expected, she is doing remarkably well.

Allison is one of the few students who I had the pleasure of teaching for two years in a row. After teaching second grade for that first year, I was moved up to third grade and about half a dozen students moved up with me, including Allison. I call them “The Tainted Few.” Allison was a quiet but inquisitive student  who wore the same purple sweatshirt almost every day and never stopped smiling. She has thankfully left that purple sweatshirt behind and is now attending college and studying marketing, though she also wants to pursue a career in set design and lighting. More than just my former student, Allison has become my friend and an informal member of our family. She is now the primary babysitter for our children and a fixture at family events. Clara refers to Allison as her best friend, and I couldn’t imagine a better best friend for her. 

When I began teaching elementary school fourteen years ago, I never expected that three of my tiny second graders, who who were still learning to read and write and behave, would continue to be such an ever-present part of my life. There were many other former students in the audience last night, and each of them mean a great deal to me, but these three former students from my first class own a special place in my heart. They serve as a reminder of who I once was and who I am today, and they have taught me that the bond that forms between a student and a teacher can last long after the students  have left the classroom and moved onto bigger and better things.

It’s not something they tell you about you when you’re in college, studying to become a teacher, but they really should.

The paycheck isn’t great, but the benefits are incalculable.