I performed stand up comedy for the first time for one very important reason.

Last year, a friend asked me to try stand up comedy with him. 

I said no and moved on with my life.

But knowing I had to follow my "Say yes to everything" philosophy, I called him back the next day and said, "Fine, I'll do it, but I won't like it."

We agreed that in addition to performing comedy, I wasn't allowed to simply tell a funny story. I have plenty of stories that could fill the five minute requirement and make people laugh throughout, but this had to be different. I had to tell jokes. Not stories.

I thought this was fair, but I was also terrified. 

Almost a year to the day after declaring my intent, I took the stage on Monday night at Sea Tea Improv in downtown Hartford to perform stand up comedy for the first time. 

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It went well. I was not fantastic. I performed for the requisite five minutes, telling jokes about parenting, marriage, Jewish food, and sex. People laughed. A few people complimented my performance afterwards, and a couple more found me online the next day to offer positive feedback. 

Most important, Elysha thought I was funny, and a couple friends in the audience were supportive as well.

A friend (but not the friend who challenged me to comedy in the first place) also took the stage on Monday and performed. He did well, too. As he pointed out later, some of the comics were asked by the host if it was their first time doing comedy.

Neither he nor I were asked that question. We were at least good enough not appear new. 

But it was a strange experience, too. I took the stage without any real plan. I had a couple opening sentences which I knew I could use to launch me into a riff on the realities of being a father, but after that, I was winging it. I said funny things that came to mind, but immediately after saying them, I knew that there was an even funnier way to say them. 

And I wasn't telling stories. I was telling jokes. Trying to make people laugh with words instead of story. 

And for the first time in a very long time, I felt nervous as I took the stage. Those nerves evaporated after I began speaking, but for a few moments, I felt the nerves that so many of my storytelling students feel just before taking the stage. 

I'll try stand up comedy again. I'll keep a running list of possible funny ideas as they occur to me, and when I think I have five minutes worth of material, I will prepare another set and give it a shot. Perhaps I'll take the five minutes that I did on Monday to another club as well. A producer at a comedy club in Manhattan has asked me to do 20 minutes at her club, and I could definitely stretch the 5 minutes that I did on Monday to a much longer set if I wanted. 

But here is the important part about Monday night:

I tried something that was new, frightening, and hard. That is why I did it. Complacency is tragic. Monotony is death. The absence of new horizons is an unfulfilled, wasted life.

I cannot stress this enough: You must find and try things that are new, frightening, and hard. This is the elixir of youth. Days filled with excitement and anticipation. A life absent of regret.

As a child, my life was filled with things that fit all three of these categories. I took new classes in new subjects every semester. Played new sports. Changed schools. Learned to drive. Asked girls to dance. Hiked up new mountains. Swam in new ponds. Made new friends. Played new musical instruments. Learned to speak a new language. Had sex for the first time. Earned my first paycheck. 

A young person's life is inextricably filled with things that are new, frightening, and hard. As we get older and experiences begin to pile up, those opportunities become fewer and farther between. People settle into routines. They establish patterns. Their zeal for risk taking wanes. 

Before long, they cannot imagine trying something new, frightening, and hard. They become set in their ways. They plod through life. They can't imagine staying up all night or driving to some faraway place on a whim or otherwise disturbing their routines.

They are getting older while getting old. 

I say yes to everything because I don't want to get old as I get old. I want the promise of days that are new and frightening and hard. I want to know that what I know now will not be all that I ever know.    

I cannot recommend the new, frightening, and hard enough. Stay young before you get old. 

Be kind to yourself. Celebrate your accomplishments. Have wild sex.

I've been speaking to a lot of writers lately. People who have written books and are hoping to find agents and editors and publishers who love their work and are willing to turn their words into physical objects that can be found on shelves in stores and libraries around the world. 

Throughout all of these conversations, something has become abundantly clear to me:

People are not kind to themselves. Writers and non-writers alike.

It might be true that you can't find an agent to represent you. Or perhaps you've found an agent, but you still can't find a publisher willing to buy your book. Maybe your spouse doesn't love the book. Perhaps your mother refuses to read it. Maybe your father thinks you're wasting your time. 

But here's the thing:

You wrote a book. You did the thing that millions of Americans claim that they will do someday but only a tiny fraction ever do.

You've joined the tiny fraction. You wrote a book. Celebrate, damn it. 

Early this week, I suggested to a group of unpublished writers that they throw themselves a party upon the completion of their first book. Lots of music and cake. Balloons, even. I also suggested that they hang a banner at the party that reads: 

I WROTE A BOOK. I'M BETTER THAN ALL OF YOU.

Perhaps the banner is excessive, but I'm serious about the party. When engaged in a monumental task - writing a book, earning a college degree, raising a child, building a house, planning a wedding, climbing the career ladder - I believe in celebrating every step of the way. Positive reinforcement is important. If we wait to celebrate the final product, we may never get there. 

Honor the process. Acknowledge the struggle. Celebrate each significant step along the way. Even if you fail to achieve your goal, the struggle is valuable. Essential. Life altering. Honor it.   

That celebration can come in the form of a party (which I support wholeheartedly) or a dinner in a fine restaurant or a weekend in Vermont or even a night of wild sex.

If you're like me, it can also come in the form of positive self-talk:

The ability to look in the mirror and see someone who has accomplished something difficult and unexpected and unforeseen or uncommon and feel damn good about it. 

That "I wrote a book. I'm better than all of you" banner hangs over my proverbial head every day. It's a fact I reminded myself about constantly. It hangs right beside the banners that read:

  • You put yourself through college while working 60 hours a week and starting a business
  • You married Elysha.
  • You paid for your honeymoon through poker winnings. 
  • Your closet is clean and organized. 
  • You went from homelessness and jail to college graduate, teacher, and author.
  • Your in-laws love you. 
  • You're an elementary school teacher. You change lives every day.
  • Your children are kind. They love to read. They laugh all the time. They love you.  
  • You haven't missed a day of flossing in more than a decade.
  • You've won 32 Moth StorySLAMs and four GrandSLAMs.
  • You haven't ruined any of Elysha's sweaters in nearly five years.
  • You're still teaching despite the efforts of a small group of despicable cowards who tried to end your career ten years ago.  
  • You've published four books and have four more on the way.  
  • Your cat loves you most. 
  • You teach public speaking and storytelling all over the country. 
  • You didn't make anyone cry today. 

You have banners, too. Accomplishments worthy of celebrations or ice cream sundaes or wild sex. So often we fail to celebrate our achievements or the steps along the way. We discount our own success. We wait until a project is complete before daring to pat ourselves on the back.   

I'm not suggesting that you remind everyone everyday of the banners that hang over your head, but I'm suggesting that you remind yourself everyday. 

You'll rarely find me standing on a stage speaking about my own personal accomplishments. If given the choice, I'd prefer to tell you about my failures. My most despicable moments. My tiny acts of cruelty.

But in my mind, I'm constantly reminding myself of my accomplishments, great and small, particularly when the road becomes steep and bumpy. When deadlines loom large. When I'm feeling stupid or weak or incompetent. 

Be kind to yourself. You deserve it. 

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Daylight Saving should be celebrated (or eliminated)

Daylight saving time should be eliminated. It's one of those things that we continue to do because we've always done it, but it's an asinine policy

But as long as we're going to keep Daylight Saving Time intact, could we at least allow the time change to happen when it can be appreciated and enjoyed?

I was awake in a hotel room in Kansas City at 1:59 AM on Saturday night, so I watched the clock kick back to 1:00 AM, but most people were asleep and couldn't take advantage of the extra hour.

Why not turn the clock back at noon? Just imagine:

You've just finished Sunday brunch, and as the clock is about to strike noon, it kicks back to 11:00. 

Time for second breakfast!

When I was younger, my best friend, Bengi, and I would always host a party on the evening of Daylight Saving because it meant an extra hour to party. To reinforce this idea, we set our clocks back at 6:00 PM so when people entered the house, they were already operating on tomorrow's time.

We understood the value of celebrating the extra hour instead of allowing it to tick by unnoticed.  

But short of this workaround. Daylight Saving goes almost unnoticed unless you have babies or small children whose sleep schedules are now fouled up. 

Let's stupidly, archaically shift our clocks back at a time that would at least give rise to a little joy. In a world where everyone is constantly whining about never having enough time (but doing little or nothing to eliminate that problem), an extra hour every year would be cause for celebration. 

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A high opinion of your own opinion is a very good thing

John Wooden famously said, "The true test of a man's character is what he does when no one is watching."

In other words, what do you do when there's no one to either praise or scold you?

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It's a good definition of character, but there is one flaw:

If you have an exceptionally high opinion of your own opinion, then you are able to meaningful praise yourself for your own behavior when no one is watching, thus negating the idea that character is good behavior unrewarded, because you are able to reward yourself.

In short, it doesn't matter to you if someone is watching or not. 

"I just picked up that piece of litter, even though I wasn't the one who tossed it on the ground. Great job, Matt!"

If this bit of self-assigned positive reinforcement is meaningful to you, Wooden's definition doesn't exactly hold up, because the presence of others becomes irrelevant. And when your opinion of yourself is even more important the opinions of others, the definition becomes even less meaningful.    

For example, when a colleague is upset because his supervisor has rated him a four out of five on his annual review, I ask, "Do you think you were a five?"

"Yes," the colleague says. "I do."

"Then who cares what your supervisor thinks? If your rating isn't impacting your salary or job security, your own honest assessment of your performance is what matters most. Just say, 'I'm a five, damn it,' and move on."

This rarely makes a person feel better, because most reasonable, well-adjusted people do not possess exceedingly high opinions of their own opinions, and this is probably a good thing. For most people, the opinions of the public, superiors, loved ones, and/or authority figures carry more weight than their own opinion, especially when those opinions pertain to themselves. 

I get it. It's normal to care deeply about the opinions of others. 

Not everyone aggressively under-dresses for all occasions regardless of the opinions of others.

Not everyone stands in front of hundreds and sometimes thousands of people and shares the most embarrassing, shameful, and criminal moments from their life.

Not everyone can dribble a tee shot 17 feet down a hill and into a pond while a dozen golfers are watching and not give a damn.

Not everyone is willing to acknowledge that they possess a high opinion of their own opinion. 

There is nothing wrong with concerning yourself with the opinions of others. It's normal and healthy, and I'm not saying that I don't care at all. My wife's opinion, for example, means a great deal to me, and the respect of my colleagues and the satisfaction of the parents of the students who I teach is something I strive to achieve. I also like it when my editor, my publisher, and especially my readers like the writing that I produce. 

But I also believe in being kind to yourself. Valuing your own opinion of yourself. Meaningfully crediting yourself for a job well done when no one is watching or no one else agrees, and allowing that credit to be at least as important as the credit of others. I believe in allowing yourself to feel great about your performance even when your supervisor, your evaluator, your coach, your friends, or even your spouse disagree. 

Praise and recognition from others is a lovely and precious thing, but it should be secondary to the praise that you offer yourself. The value of your own honest opinion of yourself should be at least equal to the opinion of others. if you're depending upon the praise and adulations of others, you're not going to be a happy person. 

John Wooden's definition of character is a good one. It's true that we often don't act like our best selves when in private, and those who do are probably the best of us. But I also think it's true that a high opinion of your own opinion can help a person to act well in those private moments. 

When you are kind enough to yourself to value self-praise as highly as public praise, Wooden's definition doesn't hold up. Perhaps I might revise it to something like this:      

"The true test of a man's character is what he does when his most honest, unflinching self is watching."

I want a little signage, damn it.

I'm not asking for much.

When construction begins on a new project, could we require that a sign be erected explaining what this new project will be?

Last year, a gas station was removed from a plot of land near my home, and construction immediately began on something new. I drove by the site almost every day, wondering what it might be, dreaming of something interesting or fun.

A new restaurant? A bowling alley? A sports bar? A golf shop?

Nope. It was a mattress store, build within sight of two other mattress stores. 

How hard would it have been to erect a sign that said:

 "Relax, people. Just another stupid mattress store. Nothing to get excited about."

Last week construction began on another plot of land along a road that I drive every day. Enormous lengths of wood were being laid down across a swampy piece of land.

What could it be?

A new bus station? A future apartment complex? Another damn Whole Foods?

After a week of wondering, I finally took to Facebook and asked if anyone knew what was happening, and I got my answer:

Repairing power lines. That's all. 

How about a sign as construction began that read:

"Don't get your knickers in the bunch, people. We're just repairing some power lines. Noble work, to be sure, but not exactly exciting."

Sometimes these signs are erected, but more often than not, the builder leaves the public in suspense, often envision a grand new future that does not exist. 

Signage. That's all I want. Is it too much to ask?

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The men's restroom: All I want is a little consistency, please...

I appreciate and embrace consistency in all things. Find the fastest, most accurate, most efficient, least expensive way of doing something, and repeat as often as needed.

This is why men's restrooms infuriate me. 

Almost all men's restrooms contain urinals. This is good. They actually allow for the fastest, most efficient use of the restroom. They are quick to use and take up less space than a standard toilet, allowing for more of them. Urinals are the reason why the line to the men's restroom is always shorter than the line to the women's restroom. 

But here's the thing:

In the last decade or so, privacy partitions have started appearing between urinals in some restrooms. These rectangular pieces of plastic or wood have been bolted onto the wall between urinals, apparently offering a modicum of privacy to the user. 

"You can still see my head and my feet, but just try looking at my penis now, buster!" 

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I'm not specifically opposed to these privacy partitions. What I'm opposed to is the lack of consistency between restrooms. Some have partitions between urinals and some don't, and this bothers me. Men either require this privacy partition or they don't, and I'm annoyed that we haven't come to a decision on this matter.

If it were up to me, I'd have no privacy partition. For a very long time, men used urinals without complaint or problem. Why we need to suddenly ensure the privacy of our genitals is beyond me. There was a time when men at Fenway Park and other baseball stadiums urinated into a communal trough without much complaint, and there are probably places where these troughs still exist. Men pee on trees all the time. Sometimes we pee side by side on the same tree. I can't imagine that many men suddenly felt the need for privacy while using a urinal.

But perhaps I'm wrong. Perhaps a significant number of men require a strategically placed sheet of plywood positioned at penis height to feel comfortable.

"You can look me in the eye or stare at my shoes while I pee, but don't you dare look at my penis!"

Maybe men are more concerned with wandering eyes that I think. Perhaps exposure of the penis contributes to shy bladders. Maybe this is homophobia rearing its ugly head.  

What I've also noticed is that the smaller the men's room and the more professional or fancy the establishment, the more likely that there will be partitions. 

Therefore a corporate headquarters or an expensive restaurant is more likely to have partitions than a concert hall, a fast food restaurant, or a sports stadium.

This annoys me, too. 

Men who work in the corporate world or spend more on dinner are more likely to have penises that require privacy than men who attend football games or stop at a McDonald's to use the restroom?

Also, aren't these quite often the same men? 

I don't know.

But here is what I do know:

We either need these partitions or we don't. Either equip all men's rooms with these privacy partitions or stop adding them to restrooms altogether.

Consistency. That's all I want. A universal agreement that this added expense is either needed or not. We either need to hide our penises in the restroom or we don't.

I think not, but as long as we can come to some kind of agreement, I'll be happy. 

I hate problems. Not everyone feels the same.

Author Thomas C Corley spent five years researching the daily habits of wealthy people, and he found that they they avoid one type of person at all costs: 

Pessimists.

"Self-made millionaires are very particular about who they associate with," Corley writes in his book, Change Your Habits, Change Your Life. "You are only as successful as those you frequently associate with. The rich are always on the lookout for individuals who are goal-oriented, optimistic, enthusiastic, and who have an overall positive mental outlook."

Eighty-six percent of the rich people in his study made a specific habit of associating with other success-minded individuals. More importantly, "they also make a point to limit their exposure to toxic, negative people," Corley explains.

"Long-term success is only possible when you have a positive mental outlook."

This was not the first time this trend had been noted. In 1937 journalist Napoleon Hill studied over 500 self-made millionaires. 

He wrote: "Men take on the nature and the habits and the power of thought of those with who they associate, and there is no hope of success for the person who repels people through a negative personality."

This probably doesn't surprise anyone, and yet negative people abound. I see them everyday. These are the people who assume the worst. Surrender before the battle has even begun. Decide that this year will be like all the rest.

They are people who are incapable of pursuing meaningful change. Unwilling to look past another person's flaws to find potential strengths. Resistant to challenge. Inflexible. Unable to improve their lives for the better.   

These are the "Yeah, but..." people. The doomsayers. The gossip mongers.

For the record, I can't stand the "Yeah, but..." It clangs in my head like a broken bell of stupidity and uselessness. 

I'm not wealthy (yet), but I agree with Corley and Hill's findings. In my experience, pessimists tend to be middling, uninspiring, unwilling individuals who rarely achieve greatness.    

In fact, I have come to believe that there are two kinds of people in life:

  1. People who want to mitigate, minimize, and eliminate problems whenever possible.
  2. People who feed off the drama and associated conversation related to problems and willingly assume them to be larger and more overwhelming than they really are.

I avoid that second group of people like the plague. 

Never call it a "side hustle."

I have long been an advocate of dedicating a small percentage of your free time to developing your next possible career. Whether this is painting or poetry or poker, you should be pursuing an interest that has the potential (however unlikely) to become a future career. 

This is not to say that there is anything wrong with staying in the same job for your entire life. I've been teaching elementary school for 19 years and don't see myself leaving anytime soon.  But I still believe in creating options, cultivating personal interests, developing the possibility for multiple income streams, and preparing yourself in the event of unforeseen catastrophe is a good idea. 

Once you're homeless, you feel like catastrophe is just around the corner. 

In 1997, my friend and I launched a wedding DJ business with no experience or equipment and uncertain if we would ever find work. Twenty years and almost 500 weddings later, that experiment has paid off well.

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Over the course of my DJ career, I also became an ordained minister in order to officiate a friend's wedding. Then I offered my ministerial services to DJ clients, uncertain if anyone would ever hire me. Fifteen years and more than three dozen weddings, baby naming ceremonies, and baptisms later, I've created a small but interesting business for myself. 

The same has been true for storytelling, poker, writing, and Speak Up. All began as simple pursuits of personal interests and have turned into profitable ventures. 

My poker earnings paid for our honeymoon.

My first four novels allowed Elysha to remain at home until both of our children entered school. The writing has also led to a position as a humor columnist, the opportunity to write for magazines, and this year my first nonfiction and young adult books.

Storytelling has turned into a professional speaking career. It prompted us to launch Speak Up. It has allowed me to teaching storytelling all over the world to countless people from all walks of life. Salespeople. Politicians. Performers. Writers. CEOs. Archivists. Therapists. Professors and teachers. Priests and ministers and rabbis. 

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Even with these opportunities, I'm always looking for the next thing. Cultivating further interests. Today I'm writing musicals with a partner. Though they have yielded almost nothing by way of profits, the musicals are excellent, and perhaps someday someone will take notice.

I produce and co-host Boy vs. Girl, a podcast with a small but growing audience. 

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I'm taking the stage as a stand-up comedian this year.

I'm seriously considering pursuing careers in educational consulting, unlicensed therapy, and screenwriting. 

Here's what I'll never do:

I won't ever refer to any of these pursuits as "side hustles." This is a phrase that has gained popularity in today's fractured economy as Americans seek to fill the wage gap with additional income steams. A look at Google Trends shows that the word has recently surged into the lexicon.

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But my pursuits outside my teaching career are not side hustles. They represent areas of personal interest that were identified, cultivated, and grown into something meaningful.

"Side hustle" implies something less important and less focused. Something easily ignored or discarded.

It's these so-called side hustles of my life that have made my life interesting. 

I ask people to find something they love and pursue it. It's rare that an area of personal interest can't ultimately result in profit if done exceptionally well. And while you may never reach the level of exceptionality, if it is something you love, you will inevitably enjoy yourself during the pursuit.

You may never sell a painting, but if you love to paint, why not try?

You may never become a golf pro, but if you love the game, why not work as hard as you can to be the best?  

Your recipes may never find their way into a cookbook, but if you love to cook, why not make delicious food for yourself and others and see where it takes you?

Your knitting may never grace the cover of Love of Knitting, but you'll still end up with an array of under-appreciated sweaters, hats, and scarves while trying. 

Choose something you love. Try to do it better than most. Then see if someone wants to pay you to do it.

That is not a side hustle. It's the systematic approach to maximizing your passion for possible future profits.  

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The eclipse was underwhelming and a little boring. I wish it happened more often.

I was prepared to be underwhelmed by the eclipse. As infrequent as these things may be, a briefly, slightly darker version of the world for a short period of time did not strike me as warranting the hype. 

In stark contrast to my cynicism, Elysha hosted an eclipse party. Four other families brought their children over to watch the eclipse. Over the course of two hours, Elysha taught eight children to make eclipse viewers out of cereal boxes and decorate eclipse-themed cupcakes. Then she brought everyone outside to view the eclipse with actual eclipse glasses (which she somehow managed to acquire that morning), as well as their surprisingly effective homemade eclipse viewers. 

There was food, drink, and fun. I swear that she threw the whole thing together in about four minutes. 

The eclipse itself was underwhelming. The quality of the light shifted for about 30 minutes. I watched the moon pass in front of the sun.

Still, the world got a little darker for a little bit of time. That was it. 

But here is what I loved:

Americans came together around a single, non-tragic event. 

Our culture is rarely as ubiquitous as it was when I was young. No longer are Americans gathering around the television by the tens of millions to watch the final episode of M*A*S*H or the latest episode of Seinfeld. Movies like Star Wars, Titanic, and ET: The Extraterrestrial do not draw wholesale segments of America any longer. Radio is rapidly diminishing, making it harder for a song to gain cultural purchase.   

Our culture is becoming fragmented and fractured as personal choice, facilitated by the digital age, allows Americans to curate their own content with remarkable ease. 

This isn't all bad. Voices that were once stifled in a three network television system, a music industry full of gatekeepers, and a film industry that required millions of dollar to produce a movie can now be heard. Television content is better than it's ever been. Music is more diverse than ever before. Services like YouTube have allowed talented, creative, hard working people to circumvent the gatekeepers of the past and reach millions of viewers.

But we have so little that brings America together absent tragedy or divisiveness. 

The Super Bowl
Holidays like Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July
The Oscars
The occasional viral video
The Ice Bucket Challenge

The Woman's March, to a degree, brought vast segments of Americans together, but even that was not without protest. Similarly, Saturday Night Live is a cultural touchstone, but based upon their recent political material, not everyone would agree.

Yesterday's eclipse brought the country together for a moment of unity. The vast majority of Americans were looking at the same thing at the same time, absent politics, religion, or tragedy. 

That was good.

I thought the eclipse was fairly underwhelming. I wish it happened more often.  

The ineffectiveness of signage

A rule of signage that people don't seem to understand:

Signs only work on people who obey signs.

I worked with teachers this summer who wanted to hang signs on campus to enforce rules that they already had the power to enforce. Parents who were visiting the school weren't adhering to the limitations outlined during orientation, so the teachers wanted signs so they could point to something in the event they were required to act as an authority figure. 

As if a sign would abdicate them of any responsibility and therefore eliminate any potential confrontation. 

"Sorry, sir. You can't be in this building. It's not me. It's the sign."

"Apologies, ma'am. But did you see the sign? It says you can't be here."

I tried to explain that parents already understood the rules and were purposely violating them. The signs weren't telling these parents anything they didn't already know. Therefore, additional signage would not change behavior. 

Human intervention was required.

I know this because I am not a rule follower. If I see a rule as arbitrary or ridiculous or unfair, I often disobey the rule. I plow through signs quite often. For people like me, a sign is irrelevant if we do not agree to the rule stipulated on the sign. A sign is merely a suggestion about how the world should operate, but if that vision of the world strikes me as unnecessary, inefficient, arbitrary, or a hindrance to the way I think the world should operate, a sign is not going to stop me. 

The authority behind the sign may alter my behavior. The parking ticket or the air marshal or the social pressure applied by friends or colleagues may convince me to adhere to the rules, but a sign?

No.

When people are knowingly disobeying the rules, signs will rarely stop them, and they do not afford an ounce of backup or support to the person required to enforce them.

As a person who has accepted the responsibility of your position, you must enforce the rules. You must confront people like me and explain the expectation is and the potential consequences of failing to meet these expectations. I know that for some of these teachers, that would be hard. An annoyed, angry, or entitled parent is not pleasant. Confrontations aren't always fun. 

But when you accept the job, you accept the responsibility that comes with it. 

Signs won't do your job for you. Nor will they offer any support when you're dealing with someone like me. Decent people who are also rule breakers will often abdicate in the face of authority. If pressed on the issue, we will usually alter our behavior.  

But not always.

I was photographing the menu outside the cafeteria at Kripalu, hoping to send it to Elysha so she could tell me what to try (since I recognized nothing on the menu). As I was snapping my photo, a woman approached.

"I'm sorry," she said. "But this is a cellphone free floor."

I considered debating her on the subject. "Listen, if I had a camera in my hand right now, you'd have no complaint. So can we just pretend that this is just a camera for a moment? I'd like to take a photograph of your menu and send it to my wife so she can tell me what I might want to try, since I don't know recognize anything on your menu. I'm a heathen. A man child. Uncouth."

Instead, I asked, "Are you going to take my phone away if I keep using it?"

"No," the woman said, looking befuddled.

I smiled. "Then I'm going to keep using it for a minute or two."

Never tell a rule breaker that there is no consequence to breaking a rule.  

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Thoughts on hiring

I think we should hire people for any and all jobs using the following procedure:

1. Interview the last five people who served the candidate in a restaurant. Inquire about how the candidate treated them over the course of the meal.

2. Interview the candidate. Ask the following questions:

  • Please explain the Bill of Rights to your best ability.
  • Tell me about the last three books you read.
  • Tell me about one goal or aspiration that you have yet to achieve. 
  • Are you a good person?

Unorthodox but effective, I think.

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Not unisex. Omnisex.

Like me, my friend, Charles, agrees with the implementation of unisex restrooms but makes an excellent point about the naming of these spaces. 

Shouldn't they be called omni-sex restrooms?

"Uni" is a prefix meaning "one, or having or consisting of one. 

"Omni" is a prefix meaning "all, of all things."

He's right. 

A unisex restroom is intended for all people, and yet the name we currently use implies that it is for only one person. 

All gender restroom works, too, but definitely not unisex.

Someone go fix this. Okay?

There are six seasons. Not four.

Kurt Vonnegut proposed a restructuring of the seasons that I like a lot.

January and February: Winter
March and April: Unlocking
May and June: Spring
July and August: Summer
September and October: Fall
November and December: Locking

Vonnegut argued that March and April never really exemplify spring. It's still cold. The grass is brown. Trees aren't yet budding, and winter can still offer its last gasps of snow.

Similarly, November and December rarely feel like winter. November feels like the bastard stepchild of fall and winter, unsure about what it should be. And white Christmases are hardly certain.  

Instead, November and December is a period of locking. The ground begins to freeze. Nature begins to slumber. Winter coats, hats, and mittens begin to find their way back into the world. 

And March and April are unlocking. The ground begins to thaw. Kids track mud into the house. The first green shoots emerge from the ground. Golfers count the days before they can play again. 

In Vonnegut's own words: 

“One sort of optional thing you might do is to realize that there are six seasons instead of four. The poetry of four seasons is all wrong for this part of the planet, and this may explain why we are so depressed so much of the time. I mean, spring doesn’t feel like spring a lot of the time, and November is all wrong for autumn, and so on.

Here is the truth about the seasons: Spring is May and June. What could be springier than May and June? Summer is July and August. Really hot, right? Autumn is September and October. See the pumpkins? Smell those burning leaves? Next comes the season called Locking. November and December aren’t winter. They’re Locking. Next comes winter, January and February. Boy! Are they ever cold!

What comes next? Not spring. ‘Unlocking’ comes next. What else could cruel March and only slightly less cruel April be? March and April are not spring. They’re Unlocking.”
— Kurt Vonnegut

Of course, Vonnegut's proposal (and the demarcation of seasons in general) is irrelevant if you live in Southern California. Or Kenya. Or Boca Raton.

Poor souls.

But for those of us who experience the seasons in the way they are stereotypically presented, I like this a lot.    

Fill your life with young people

Yesterday I mentioned that someone on Facebook recently asked his friends when they knew that they were old.

It was an annoying answer, I know, but I responded by saying that I still feel young.

As young as I felt 20 years ago. Truly.

I wrote yesterday about the importance of aggressively trying new things whenever possible as a means of always feeling young.  

It's hard to feel old when life never gets old.

I suspect that I also feel young because I am constantly surrounded by younger people. As a teacher, my life is filled with kids who are decades younger than me, but because we spend so much time together and become so close, those decades always seem to melt away. Kids who are just 10 and 11 begin to understand me better than some of my own friends, and I feel the same about them.

Later on, when these kids grow up, many come back. They babysit my children. Attend my storytelling shows. Visit the classroom. Become genuine friends. 

This week I'm teaching storytelling at Miss Porter's, an all girls school in Connecticut. I'm working with girls ages 11-15, and I have a staff of juniors, seniors, and college students working with me as well. 

I'm spending my days telling stories. Listening to their stories. Teaching. Laughing. Walking around campus together. Eating meals together. I'm a 45 year-old man sitting at a table with 19 and 20 year-old women, but except for the occasional reference that I make that soars over their heads, I honestly don't feel much older than them.

We're working together. Doing the same job. Trying to make the same difference in the lives of these girls. 

And it's not only through teaching that I stay in contact with young people. Last week at The Moth, I spent the evening with my twenty-something friend. Met his girlfriend. Hung out with some of his other friends, all younger than me.   

Keeping young people in your life is important.

I suspect that the reverse does not apply in this case. These younger people whose company I enjoy likely see me as older than they are. Much older in many cases.

I know this.

They know my life story. They know how long I have been teaching. They are aware of my writing career.  They understand the long journey I have taken to get to this place. They see the bits of gray hair and know that I was alive before the Internet even existed.   

I'm quite certain that the decades don't melt away as easily for them as they do for me.

But that's okay. It doesn't matter. When I spend time in the company of people who are one or two or three decades younger than me, those decades really do melt away for me. Before long, I see them as fellow human beings, occupying a space in my life like any other person, regardless of age.

It's a beautiful thing when you feel as close to a 10 year-old boy or a 20 year-old woman as you do to your 45 year-old friends. 

Recently, I played golf with three friends who are about my age. We had a great time together, but throughout the day, there were the occasional groans associated with getting older. Painful joints. Tired muscles. Expanding waist lines. Laments about a time when they could hit the ball farther and straighter.

I have no problems with the groans. I try to avoid them myself, and on that day, I honestly felt none of them. I play golf more often than these friends, so perhaps my body was better prepared for the rigors of the game.

I've also never hit the ball that far to begin with.

But I tried to imagine how I might feel if I was constantly in the company of friends and colleagues who lamented their advancing ages. Groaned about muscles and joints. 

I think I might start to feel old, too.

But it turns out that children and teens and even people in their 20's and 30's don't lament their age. They don't groan about their ailments.

This is a good thing.         

If you want to feel young, find a way to spend time in the company of people younger than yourself. 

Sharing your vacation photos is lovely, but how about some wisdom and insight to go along with it?

On Thursday night I had one of those nights at a Moth StorySLAM where two sets of judges thought I did quite well and awarded me high scores, but the third judging team disagreed severely (earning a rarely heard chorus of boos from the audience), thus ruining my chances at winning.

Always frustrating.

I've been fortunate enough to win 30 Moth StorySLAMs, but winning a slam never gets old.

As I was leaving, a fellow storyteller stopped me. He told me that something that I had written about a month ago about the power of incremental progress has really made a difference in his approach to life. He was sincere, thankful, and sweet. 

It almost made up for the frustrating night with the judges. Almost.

But here's what I thought as I walked to my car:

When I wrote that post on incremental progress, I didn't think it would have any real impact on anyone. I write these things as much for myself - as sort of a personal mantra - as I do with the hope that someone might benefit from the tiny bits of wisdom that I've gleaned over the years.

I send my thoughts, ideas, and experiences into the world, through books, magazines, blog posts, social media, and live performances, and more often than you could ever imagine, something good and oftentimes surprising comes back.

Sometimes it's a day later. Sometimes it takes a month. There have been times when it's been five years later. It's pretty amazing. 

But I'm certainly not the only person who has gleaned a little wisdom over the course of his lifetime. Everyone has, I suspect. We all know things that have helped us to survive and succeed and thrive. Insight, ideas, strategies, personal experiences, and more. 

You should share your wisdom with the world. Truly. 

Create a blog. Post for Facebook. Write a book. Share your insight at the next dinner party.

We all know stuff that could help others. We've all learned lessons that are worth sharing. We all have ideas and insights worth sending into the world.

You never know when you can help to change a life. Truly. 

Sharing your vacation stories with the world is lovely. Baby pictures are always appreciated. Please don't stop sharing your foibles and faux-pas. You successes and failures. 

But every now and then, perhaps you could also share some wisdom, too. A life lesson. An understanding of this world that perhaps only you know. A strategy or insight that has helped you survive and thrive.

If you do this, good things will come back. I believe this, because I have experienced it in abundance.

It can turn a frustrating night at The Moth into a good one. It will bring unexpected joy to your heart. It might even create a memory that you will never forget. 

The law of choice in dating (and a call for the end of tribalism)

I've been thinking about how tribalism can be so limiting when it comes to finding and choosing the right spouse. When you choose to be inclusive to a particular sex, religion, race, nationality, or socio-economic status, you eliminate vast swaths of human beings from your dating pool.  

I don't think this is good. 

The basic tenet of this belief is this:

The more choice you have in potential spouses, the greater the possibility that you will land your ideal mate, and therefore the greater the chance that you will end up in a happy marriage and remain happily married for life. 

The fewer choices you have, the greater the likelihood that you will settle for someone less than ideal. You will opt for the best of your self-limited pool of candidates. Perhaps you'll never even be exposed to the ideal. Never understand what the ideal could be. 

Right?

If I have 100 potential spouses in my dating pool, for example, and you only have 25 in your dating pool, the chances that I will find happiness is far better than yours. 

Therefore, it only serves to reason that bisexual people have the greatest opportunity at the ideal spouse. While heterosexual people automatically limit their choices by 50%, bisexuals do not.

The world is their oyster.

There are men who I have loved, for example, who I could not marry because I was not physically attracted to them. A bisexual person might have had that opportunity.

Sex and gender are not limiting factors for these lucky people.  

If you only date within your race, you also have less choice and therefore less opportunity at finding the ideal spouse. If you only date within a race that is also a minority, then your choices are increasingly limited.

The same goes for religion. If you’re Jewish, for example, and you will only date within your religion, you have limited your choices enormously, particularly if you're living in the United States, where less than three percent of the population is Jewish.

And some places are more challenging than others. If you live in the Dakotas, there are fewer than 1,000 Jews between the two states. This means that there are only 500 potential dating partners, and only if every Jew in the Dakotas is single. 

It's a miracle that any Jew in the Dakotas finds any fellow Jew to marry. 

And if your brand of Judaism plays a role, too, your percentages are reduced even further. Once you start slicing the religious pie into slivers, the numbers get exceedingly small/ 

My wife is Jewish. Thankfully, she did not limit her choices of people who shared her religion. If she did (as many Jews do), we would not be together today, and Clara and Charlie would not exist. 

I've always admired Elysha's willingness to date outside the religion and forgo tribalism, because it's not always easy. There is enormous pressure by certain elements of the community to marry within the religion. Had her parents applied similar pressure, it would've been even more difficult for her to date and marry me. 

But not impossible.

Many people don't see Elysha as a nonconformist and a rebel, but that is exactly what she is. In many ways, she has been more than willing to blaze her own trail and reject the expectations and norms of society. She does this absent of any fanfare or bluster (unlike her husband), but that rebel streak is alive and well.    

I'm thankful and grateful. We are together today in part because she rejected the expectations of a community and opened her heart and mind to the world. I think we are both happier for it.  

Tribal pressure can be insidious at times.

I have a Portuguese friend who parents would not allow her to marry someone who was not also Portuguese.

I have a Nigerian friend who was disowned by her family for marrying outside the culture.

I had an African American coworker who lost friends when she married outside her race. 

I've known Jews whose lives have been upended (and relationship destroyed) when they fell in love with people outside the faith who their parents rejected.   

As a person whose parents have always held little sway over the course of his life, it's easy for me to argue against rejecting the expectations and norms of parents who have seemingly placed their own needs and desires ahead of their children's needs. It's easy for me to suggest that you should push back against culture and society when that has always come easy for me. 

Still, it needs to be done, because tribalism makes no sense when it comes to finding a person who can make us happy. If we want our children to be happy - and if we want to be happy - we should open our hearts and minds to all possibilities. It only stands to reason that the less tribal you are, the greater your likelihood of finding happiness in your marriage. 

The more willing you are to look beyond the confines of sex, race, religion, culture, familial expectations, and the like, the greater your chances of finding the ideal spouse. 

The greater the chances of you knowing what an ideal spouse can be. 

This is not to say that if you only date within your minority group that you cannot find happiness. I'm simply implying that your chances are enormously limited, and even worse, your chances of even knowing what happiness could be are reduced. 

You may never know real happiness.

Then again, you may believe that there is a multitude of ideal spouses in the world for any one person, and therefore your chances of finding one even within your minority group is good.

If you are of this opinion, bully for you. 

The next time you need to go into battle...

Not a literal battle, I hope, but one of those fights for what you believe is right...

  • Facing off against a school administrator to get your child the services she so sorely needs
  • Shouting over the fence at the neighbor who refuses to put his erratic poodle on a leash
  • Demanding a raise from your seemingly recalcitrant boss
  • Asking out the hippie girl you've been staring at in the coffee shop for weeks
  • Telling your mother that you're not flying to Tennessee for your second cousin's third wedding
  • Informing your husband that a third trip to Vegas with his friends this year isn't happening
  • Explaining to the employee at the DMV that you will not be taking another number, damn it
  • Demanding that the gang of teenage boys in the movie theater "shut the hell up!" 
  • Informing a fellow customer (a little too loudly) that criticizing the speed of the pharmacy employee behind her back is a cowardly and pathetic act (something I may do more often than I should) 

... the next time you find yourself in one of these possible conflicts, think about this photo,
this face,
this seeming force of nature,
and perhaps you'll find the inspiration to charge once more into the breach.  

How Can You Help Students Cope With Getting College Rejection Letters?

Slate asks: How can you help students cope with getting college rejection letters?

The answer to this one is fairly simple, I think:

  • Remind them of how many young people can't afford to attend a college of any kind. 
  • Show them the statistics on the enormous number of young people growing up in impoverished, crime-riddled neighborhoods, living in foster care, or sleeping on the streets. 
  • Introduce them to a high school graduate who can't attend college because he or she is caring for a for a sick, disabled, or dying parent.
  • Bring them to a military recruiter's office and introduce them to young men and women who are joining the military after high school in hopes of making college more affordable when their commitment to the armed forces is complete.  
  • Take them on a road trip through the inner city of Detroit or Baltimore or Chicago. Show them what it's like not to have any options.
  • Turn on the nightly news and show them what it's like to be living in Syria. 
  • Remind them of how lucky they are to have the opportunity to attend any college. Yes, perhaps it won't be at their first or second or even third choice of school, but they're going to college, damn it. They have opportunities that so many young people in the United States and around the world could only dream of having. It's time to find gratitude and appreciation for their position in life. It's time for a little perspective, damn it.   
  • Explain to them the meaning of the phrase "first world problem." 

I hated this question. You might have noticed.  

I actually liked the answer offered by Bruce Epstein, technologist and college counselor. He didn't sugar-coat a thing. His response may have been more reasonable and measured than my own. 

But as a person who didn't have the option to attend college after high school - who made it to college four years later after getting himself off the streets and only then by working more than 50 hours a week while attending college full time - I find the plight of the rejection letter a little pathetic. The cry of the privileged who fail to appreciate their good fortune.

There's nothing wrong with being disappointed by a rejection letter. Frustration, sadness, or even anger are all understandable.

But when your child reaches the point that he or she requires coping strategies, I think a healthy dose of perspective is in order. 

Or perhaps Bruce Epstein's advice, if you want something less caustic.