6 regrets

I'm not a fan of regrets, but as Frank Sinatra once sang, I've had a few. Six big ones in my life, which is probably a small number. 

Happily so. 

Interestingly, almost all of my regrets are from the same period in my life, from the ages of 17-22. No surprise that the memoir I've decided to write encompasses those very years.

Because I love lists (and just finished a novel comprised solely of lists), I've decided to make a list of them here.  

1. I wasn't wearing my seatbelt on December 23, 1988.

Even though I always wore my seatbelt from the moment I started driving, the excitement of Christmas shopping and the rush to get to work caused me to forget on the very day that my Datsun B-210 collided head-on with a Mercedes, sending me through the windshield and destroying my legs as they became embedded in the dashboard. 

Had I been wearing my seatbelt, my injuries would have been minor. 

The accident resulted in months of recovery during the final months of my senior year of high school, multiple surgeries on my knees, and glass still embedded in my forehead today. It also had a domino effect on the rest of my life, as you'll see below. 

2. I didn't attend college after high school.

Despite my excellent grades and enormous number of extracurricular activities, no adult ever spoke the word "college" to be throughout my entire school career, and the expectation was that I would leave home at 18.

While I eventually made it to college five years later, I was forced to work full time while earning at degree in English at Trinity College and a elementary teaching degree at St. Joseph's University. Though I found time to write for the school newspaper, serve as the Treasurer of our Student Council, and compete in statewide debate tournaments, I never lived on campus and didn't have the opportunity to attend school the traditional way or make close friends like so many of my friends did. 

My friend, Bengi, once told me that it was a shame I didn't go to college after high school. "You were made for the traditional college experience. You would've loved it."

I think I would. 

3. I didn't become an Eagle Scout

Though I earned more than enough merit badges for Eagle Scout by the time I was 15 years old, I stalled, partially because no adult supported me in designing the required service project, and once I finally did so on my own, a near-fatal car accident derailed those plans and stalled me once again. Less than two months after my accident, while I was still recovering, I turned 18, and my lifelong dream of becoming an Eagle Scout was dead.

4. I didn't pole vault during my senior year of high school

The same near-fatal car accident prevented me from competing in track during my senior year and kept me from competing in the district championships, where I had placed second the previous year. 

5. I play sports right-handed.

Though I am left-handed, my stepfather would not buy me a baseball glove for a lefty and instead gave me a hand-me-down glove for a right handed player. This forced me to learn to throw right handed (which is why I still throw poorly today) and had a domino effect on almost every other sport. I learned to shoot a basketball right handed and I learned to swing a baseball bat right-handed, which led to me playing golf right-handed.

This made every sport at least twice as hard for me to learn, and it left me with a lifetime of struggle on the courts, fields, and fairways. 

6. I didn't request a lawyer during my series of interrogations before being arrested and tried for a crime I did not commit.

Assuming that if I requested a lawyer, I would appear guilty, and because I had no parent or other adult figure in my life when I was 21 years-old to support or guide me, I allowed myself to be interrogated by police three times over the course of two weeks without an attorney present and without anyone in my life knowing what was happening to me.

I'm not sure if things would've changed had I requested an attorney, but most attorneys who I've spoken with think it would've changed things considerably, and my arrest had a domino effect on my life:

I lost my job. I became homeless. I worked two full time jobs for almost two years to pay for a $25,000 legal bill, and while I was at one of those jobs, I was robbed at gunpoint, guns to my head and triggers pulled, which led me to a lifetime of PTSD. My planned entrance into college was derailed, and my life was essentially stalled for two years while I awaited for my trial and struggled to pay my lawyer. 

Eric Carmen's "Make Me Lose Control" is weird on many, many levels, including being inexplicably stuck in my head.

Standing in McDonald's yesterday morning, waiting to order, a song came on the sound system that I couldn't immediately identify but oddly knew by heart.

I started singing along and was shocked to discover I knew every single word.  

The song was Eric Carmen's "Make Me Lose Control." It was originally released in 1975 and then re-released following the success of Carmen's "Hungry Eyes" on the Dirty Dancing soundtrack. Apparently the song rose to #3 on the billboard charts that year, but I honestly have no recollection of ever hearing this song, and yet I know every word of it.

It's crazy.

I was never an Eric Carmen fan.
I never owned an Eric Carmen album.
It probably hasn't been played on the radio since 1990. 

Isn't that strange... knowing stuff so completing that you didn't know you knew?

A similar thing happened to me a couple years ago when I discovered that I also knew Richard Marx's "Should've Known Better" on a drive with Elysha to New York. Had you asked me if I knew the song before it came on the radio, I would've said no, but there it was, trapped in my brain.

Every damn word. 

Realizing that I knew the song caused me to watch the video, of course, which turned out to be interesting, too. 

The video opens on a beach with a woman listening to the radio. We hear a radio disc jockey and Eric Carmen listening to the end of "Hungry Eyes" and talking about the song as the scene shifts from the beach to the actual radio station. The DJ plays "Make Me Lose Control." Carmen and the DJ shake hands, and Carmen leaves.

Then the scene shifts again. Now Carmen is now driving in a car in the 1950's, recreating a famous scene from American Graffiti when Richard Dreyfuss sees a beautiful woman in a T-Bird who mouths the words, "I love you" but they never meet.

This is odd because Carmen is singing about how much he loves Jennifer, the girl presumably sitting beside him in the car. In order to mitigate this problem, the director puts three people in the car. Carmen (who oddly isn't driving) alongside a woman and a man. Perhaps we're supposed to believe the mystery woman in the T-Bird is Jennifer, but he never meets this woman but sings about Jennifer as if they've been in love for a long time.

It makes no damn sense. 

Carmen is also wearing the same clothing in the 1950's version of himself as he's wearing in the 1980's.

Also makes no damn sense.  

Now for the serious question:

Near the end of the video, we oddly flashback to the radio station for a moment, where the DJ is now throwing darts at the photo of a man on a wall.

Who is this person? Why is he throwing darts at his face? What the hell is going on here? Please tell me. 

The video then shifts back to the 1950's before once again returning to the radio station, where the DJ closes the song with classic DJ speak,  and we then return to the beach, where we hear the final bars of the song as the girl picks up her radio and heads off into the sun. 

That is a lot for a music video. That's meta before meta was a thing. 

Listening to a song being performed by its musician in the 1980's who then introduces his next song so he can go back to the 1950's to pretend to be someone else from a movie in the 1970's about the 1950's before returning to the radio station in the 1980's (absent the musician now) and finally the beach. 

Damn. 

Someone thought all of that would make for an excellent music video. 

Eleven is evil.

Just after the United States launched missile strikes against Syrian chemical weapons facilities, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis said, "I've never seen refugees as traumatized as coming out of Syria. It’s got to end."

Sure, but over the last three years, the number of Syrian refugees admitted to the United States has been this:

2016: 15,479
2017: 3,024
2018: 11

Even though decades of immigration data and almost every economist in the world will tell you that refugees bring added wealth and prosperity to a nation through entrepreneurship, hard work, and an increasingly robust tax base, and even though Jesus himself was a refugee, Trump has all but stopped the flow of Syrian refugees to our country, and his Evangelical base continues to support him through this cruel and evil process.

Hush money paid to porn stars and Playmates. Accusations of sexual harassment and sexual assault from more than two dozen women. Bragging about sexually assaulting women. 

Evangelicals reject the veracity of these mounting charges and somehow sleep soundly at night. 

But you can't refute these immigration numbers. America has stopped saving the lives of Syrian refugees, despite our ability to do so, despite the economic logic of doing so, and despite the Secretary of Defense's claim that he's ""never seen refugees as traumatized as coming out of Syria. It’s got to end."

From 15,479 to 11. 

It's despicable. 

And this isn't really an issue of immigration because Trump himself stated that he would like more immigrants from places like Norway than "shit hole countries" like Syria. Trump has made his position very clear:

We will take immigrants from the wealthiest, most stable countries in the world, but your tired, your poor, and your huddled masses? 

Not so much. 

Then again, Syrian refugees pose another real problem for Trump:

Just like Jesus, they aren't white, and they aren't Christian. 

Since racism or religious bigotry are a hallmark of this administration, you can see why it would be hard for Trump to accept these brown skinned, Muslim refugees.

When you launched your political career with lies about Muslims on rooftops during 9/11 and been charged multiple times by the federal government with housing discrimination because of your refusal to rent to African Americans, it's clear that Syrian refugees aren't going to sit well with xenophobe in the White House.    

Meanwhile, men, women, and children die in Syrian refugee camps. These are men, women, and children who are willing to come to our country and work long and hard for a better life. 

I don't believe in a heaven and hell, but if they exist, this is the kind of thing that would cause a person to burn in eternity for sure. 

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A moment of honest-to-goodness terror

Clara, my nine year-old daughter, early this morning:

"Dad, I'm kind of upset. I don't have any..."

Then she took a sip of milk, leaving me hanging for a moment, waiting for the next word. And in that moment between the word "any" and the next word, my brain fired off:

"Oh no, what's wrong? She doesn't have any what? Friends? Fun at school anymore? Self confidence? Self worth? Does she have no joy in her life? No parents who understand her soul? No reason to live?"

Then she finished her sip and continued. 

"...loose teeth."

"What?" I asked.

"Loose teeth," she repeated. "I don't have any loose teeth right now. I wish I had at least one."

Happily, thankfully, blessedly, I was able to laugh at her for this ridiculous complaint and move on with my day.

But for a second there, my whole world nearly came crumbling down. All things nearly took a backseat to my daughters desperate plea for love or attention or friendship or whatever. For a brief moment in time, the world became very dark and I struggled to see any light. 

She has no idea how much influence she has on my general state of happiness and satisfaction, and I hope she never does, or she'll have me in the palm of her hands. 

  

Worst decisions ever #1: My SportsCenter hat

I thought it might be fun to occasionally reveal some of the worst decisions of my life. 

Humiliation. Always fun. 

Here's one:

This purple SportCenter hat, which I purchased while on a tour of ESPN circa 1995 and wore religiously for more than two years, was not a good decision on my part.

A purple hat that advertises a television show is not exactly the way one should move though this world. Also, it was purple and cheaply made, so by year two of its tenure on my head, the sun had bleached it to an oddly pink hue.

And still I wore it. It was atrocious. 

Worst of all, I thought it was very cool. 

Although ESPN still sells SportCenter hats today, I have never seen another human being wearing one of these hats, and I live about 30 minutes from ESPN headquarters and have known my fair share of ESPN employees and on-air talent. 

That pretty much says it all.

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My daughter meets Chelsea Clinton.

These are photographs of our little girl asking Chelsea Clinton a question about Malala at a lecture at Central Connecticut State University yesterday.

“Best day ever!” she shouted.

Maybe not best day ever, but possibly top 10 for Clara. Not only does she know Chelsea Clinton as a remarkable humanitarian, but her picture book, She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World, is one of her favorites.

Clinton's newest book, She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World, also features Malala Yousafzai, who Clara also loves. She's read several books about Malala and has even read portions of her adult memoir, I Am Malala

A special day for our girl.

Later, Clara met Clinton personally when she had her book signed. She shook Clinton's hand and exchanged a few words. Charlie, too. 

As an added bonus, Clinton loved the shirt that Elysha was wearing (and that I designed and gave to her for her birthday) and asked to take a photo her to show her mother.

I think Elysha was almost as excited as Clara at that moment. 

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Why I'm obsessed with that traffic interview

Two weeks ago, I wrote about my obsession with this traffic video.

I'm still a little obsessed, and I know that seems weird. I thought it was weird, too, but then I put some thought into why I am so obsessed, and I think I found the reason:

I always think things can be improved. Be made more effective and more efficient. Not everything needs to be made more efficient and more effective, but I think a lot of things do. There is a lot of room for necessary improvement in this world.

Yet so often I see people take the first choice available to them. The most obvious route. The mindless decision. The path of least resistance. 

When I'm working with storytellers, for example, I often see them choose the first anecdote that comes to mind when building their story. The first choice of words. The first means of description. The first pathway into the story.

I'm always trying to find the better way. In some ways, I know this makes me a little crazy.    

For example, I'm engaged in lifelong experiment to determine the fastest way to empty a dishwasher. Dishes first, then glasses? Silverware first? Should I move certain items to the counter to make it faster to access the cabinets? I'm a person who uses a stopwatch when emptying the dishwasher.

That's a little crazy.

I do the same thing when taking a shower. Can I get in and out of the shower in under 100 seconds? Is there a faster, more efficient way of getting myself clean? If I start by soaping my chest, while gravity pull the soap down to my legs, making that process faster? Do I even need to wash my knees? Do knees ever get so dirty that they require a scrubbing?

Crazy. I know.

And when it comes to storytelling, I make lists. Lists of possible anecdotes. Lists of descriptors. I experiment with different places to begin a story.  Different places to end a story. In a lot of ways, storytelling is about choice. The best storytellers make the best choices when constructing their stories.

But so many storytellers make no choices at all. They simply choose the first thing that comes to mind. They see their story as a predetermined construct rather than something that is flexible, malleable, and rife for improvement.

Just like emptying the dishwasher. And taking a shower. And a thousand other processes I dare not mention lest you think I'm losing my mind. Every day of my life, I am trying to find more efficient, more effective ways of doing things, to a degree that would probably surprise and perhaps alarm you. 

But I believe that things can always be made better. Work can be accomplished faster. Time can always be saved.  

Just like that traffic video, which acknowledges in a wonderfully visual way how simple changes in design can yield remarkable results.   

That's why I'm obsessed. The people who design intersections are my people. That video is like looking into my head and seeing how my brain works, for better or worse.

BOOK LAUNCH PARTY! SAVE THE DATE!

Join internationally bestselling author and 36-time Moth StorySLAM and 5-time GrandSLAM champion Matthew Dicks for the launch of his first non-fiction title:

Storyworthy: Engage, Teach, Persuade, and Change Your Life through the Power of Storytelling.

Saturday, June 16, at 7:00 PM at Real Art Ways in Hartford.

In lieu of a traditional book launch party, Matthew will perform a one-man show comprising five BRAND NEW stories with short lessons after each story (right from the book!) designed to make you a better storyteller.

Following the show, Matthew will take questions, sign books, and give away prizes.

The evening will be emceed by Elysha Dicks.

Live music performed by Shoulda Coulda Woulda.

Books will be sold in partnership with Barnes & Noble of Blue Back Square, West Hartford.

The show is PG-13, so teens are welcome.

Beer, wine, and snacks will be on sale courtesy of Real Art Ways.

Tickets are just $5, and all proceeds from ticket sales will go to fund educational programming at Real Art Ways.

Kids say funny (and not so funny) things

In the playscape at McDonald's, Clara is playing with two little girls and having a grand old time. At the height of their joy, the father of the two girls shouts, "It's time for church, girls! Let's go!"

As the two little girls put their shoes on, one of them asks Clara is she has to go to church, too.

"No," Clara says. "We don't go to church."

Charlie, sitting next to me and eating pancakes, whispers, "Thank God."

_____________________________________

After seeing a black and white picture of Starbucks hanging on the wall in a Starbucks, Charlie asks Elysha if the world used to be in black and white. 

_____________________________________

Clara asks why women's bathing suits have to cover their chests but men's bathing suits don't. 

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Try something new. Again and again and again.

My wife, Elysha, is learning to play the ukulele. Her remarkable and handsome husband gave her a ukulele and lessons for Christmas, and ever since December, she has practiced and played almost every day.

It's her new thing.

My friend, Steve, is hosting his first corn hole tournament on Saturday in his backyard. Dozens of competitors, corporate sponsors, fabulous prizes, and he's opening the event with a singing of the national anthem. 

It's his new thing.

I can't say enough about introducing new things to your life on a regular basis.

You must. You never know where they might lead.  

Back in July of 2011, I went to New York City to tell a story on a Moth stage. My plan was to tell one story and never do it again. 

Today, I have become a storyteller who performs all over the country and the world. 

In 2013, Elysha and I produced our first Speak Up storytelling event at Real Art Ways in Hartford, expecting 30-40 friends would gather two or three times a year to listen to stories. 

Today, we produce about a dozen shows per year for audiences as large as 500 people.

In 2014, I taught my first storytelling workshop, telling the participants that this would be the only workshop I ever teach.

Four years later, I teach storytelling professionally. I work with corporations, clergy members, politicians, nonprofits, colleges and universities, public schools,  hospitals, and many more.

The last four days alone:

On Saturday, I taught storytelling at Central Connecticut State University to abut 75 educators as part of a conference on literacy.  

On Sunday, I taught storytelling to a group of remarkable young women at Miss Porter's School, a private boarding school in Connecticut, in preparation for a show that I will be producing on campus.

On Monday I traveled to a Mohawk reservation an hour north of Toronto, Canada, to teach storytelling to a group of Mohawks who are learning their native language for the first time,

Yesterday, I taught storytelling to high school students in Woodbridge, CT. I also produced a story slam for students and performed that night alongside friends and fellow storytellers.

Tonight I will consult on storytelling with an attorney in Kansas City who works to reform housing and labor practices in his city.  

All of this happens because in 2011, I tried something new. 
In 2013, I tried something new.
In 2014, I tried something new. 

I shudder to think what my life might be like today had I not taken that stage seven years ago. 

Not everything that I try has similar results.

I wrote a book of poetry that will never see the light of day.
I've written picture books that no one wants to publish. 
I tried to learn to code online and honestly could not wrap my mind around any of it.

But each of these new experiences opened a door to me. Provided me with possibility. Gave me new insights. Carved new neural pathways in my brain. 

Elysha may never play the ukulele professionally, but every night. we listen to her play and sing, and it's beautiful.

Steve may never turn his corn hole tournament into anything more than an annual backyard event, but those annual tournaments will be a source of joy and amusement for him and his friends and family.

I keep a list in Evernote called "What's Next?" It's a list of things I want to try at some point in my life. Some of the items on the list are realistic and doable. Others are fanciful and unlikely. But if you had told me seven years ago that I would spend two days on a Mohawk reservation in Canada teaching Native Americans to tell stories, I would've thought you were being ridiculous.

You just never know.

Items on my "What's Next?" list include:

  • Perform my one-person show in a theater
  • Spend a summer at Yawgoog Scout reservation
  • Write and direct a short film
  • Launch a podcast with featuring me and the kids
  • Learn to make an outstanding tuna avocado melt for Elysha
  • Try curling
  • Teach a college class for new teachers about the things that are really important
  • Officiate a funeral
  • Become a notary 
  • Become an instructional coach 
  • Design and teach a competitive yoga class
  • Land a weekly column in a major newspaper
  • Become an unlicensed therapist

These are just a few of the many items on my life. An endless list of opportunities for me to try.

Life is so full of opportunities. So full of possibilities. Yet I see so many people become stagnant and still. Stuck in the routines of their lives. Unwilling to try new things. Afraid to attempt the ridiculous or the difficult or the seemingly impossible. 

Avoid this at all cost. Pick up a ukulele. Start your own corn hold tournament in your backyard. Officiate a funeral. 

Do something new, and after that, doing something else that is new. Keep doing this. Never stop. Life is full of possibility and surprise if you allow it. 

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Evangelicals hate. Jesus would love.

Evangelicals would disagree, but this is exactly the kind of church that Jesus would love if he were here on Earth.

I'm not a religious person. I describe myself as a reluctant atheist, and that's about right. I wish I had faith, but despite a lifetime of effort, I've yet to find it.

But I've read The Bible - beginning to end - three times in my life, and I've read the first four books of The New Testament many times beyond that. I cannot imagine how Evangelicals - or anyone, really - could read the books of The New Testament (the story of Jesus) and not think that Jesus would support every word on this sign.

I have to believe that they have either never read their foundational text from beginning to end or have been taught to pick and choose between the Old Testament and the New Testament, buffet style, in order to better support their bigotry.

Transactional Christians. Not the kind of Christians who Jesus - human philosopher or Son of God - would want following him. 

Going nowhere

The woman sitting beside me on a plane bound for Toronto fell asleep as we taxied out onto the runway. We were tenth in line to takeoff, so we were on the runway for quite a while.

Just before it was our turn to takeoff, the pilot announced that the plane was experiencing problems with the brakes, and we would need to return to the terminal.  

When the plane finally came to a stop at the gate, the woman beside me woke up.

"Wow," she said. "I slept through that whole flight!"

I smiled. “No, I'm afraid we’re still in New York. We haven’t gone anywhere yet.”

The look on her face... such disappointment. 

I was just so very happy to be the one to break the bad news to her. 

Good news/bad news on the exoneration front

Good news: 

Lawrence McKinney, 61, jailed for 31 years for a crime he did not commit - rape and burglary - has been awarded one million dollars in compensation from the state of Tennessee.

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A decidedly different outcome from Lamont McIntyre's fate, who I wrote about a couple weeks ago. 

Bad news:

It wasn't easy. And it almost didn't happen. 

Upon his release from prison, McKinney received just $75 after three decades behind bars.

"Because I had no ID it took me three months before I was able to cash it," McKinney told CNN.

After he was freed, Mr McKinney sought a full exoneration. This was the only way he could petition the state for a more appropriate settlement. But in 2016, a parole board unanimously voted against a full exoneration, even though all DNA evidence indicated he was not guilty of his crime. 

One board member defended their decision not to exonerate him with this gem:

"The victim's descriptions to police matched McKinney's description, to a tee."

However, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam reversed the parole board's verdict and unilaterally exonerated him in December 2017. Only then were McKinney's attorneys able to get him his one million dollar settlement. 

Had the governor not intervened, McKinney's $75 settlement would have stood. That amounts to .006 cents per day of incarceration. 

Six-thousands of a cent per day behind bars. 

Even now, the settlement of one million dollars amounts to just $88 per day, and once attorney's fees have been deducted, that amount is closer to $61 per day.

There is no way to return 31 years of a man's life, but the state can at least ensure that his remaining years are spent is relative leisure and comfort.  

Is that really too much to ask?

Recently, Nevest Coleman made news after being released from prison after 23 years thanks to DNA evidence and immediately returned to his job as Chicago White Sox groundskeeper. 

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Coleman endured a 12-hour interrogation, during which he was punched by a detective when he denied any involvement in the killing.

Told he could go home if he confessed, Coleman was coached to say that two other men had carried out the murder while he acted as a lookout. Coleman gave a statement, then recanted as soon as his lawyer arrived, according to court records.

Coleman and co-defendant Darryl Fulton both gave confessions and were convicted of rape and murder, while a third suspect who did not confess, was never charged.

As a person who came precariously close to confessing to a crime he did not commit after hours of interrogation and false promises, I can't tell you how much I feel for those men. I know what it's like to be in that small room, desperate to escape, feeling like you never will. 

The same detectives who coerced Coleman and Fulton's confessions were involved in other questionable cases. Just last month, defendants arrested by the same detectives but later exonerated by DNA evidence reached a $31 million settlement with the city.

Colemman and Fulton have yet to learn how much they will receive. 

Hopefully more than a groundskeeper makes. 

Snoopy's advice sucks

If you know me at all, you'll know that I suffer from a persistent, constant, never-ending existential crisis. 

I think about death all the time. More that you could ever imagine.

In an effort to alleviate my concerns and perhaps offer me a little peace, one kind reader sent me this cartoon. 

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But there's one terrible flaw in Snoopy's logic:

Yes, it's true. There is only one day in our lives when we will die, but we will also stay dead for all the days after we die. For as long as time and space exist, we will not. 

Death sucks, but it's just the beginning of an eternity of remaining dead. And that, even more than my death, saddens me. Constantly. Immeasurably. 

Yes, they are real eggs

I found myself at dinner recently assuring someone for what felt the millionth time that the eggs cooked at McDonald's are in fact real eggs. 

"They actually crack eggs?" she asked. 

"Yes," I said. "They crack the damn eggs." 

"Really? They crack real eggs every morning?"

"Yes."

The question arose because I had been explaining to the woman that every morning I stop by McDonald's for an Egg McMuffin. When she heard this, she looked at me in horror. Possibly disgust.  

Naturally my first question was: "When was the last time you were in a McDonald's?"

Here answer, as I expected, was a billion years ago.

This always astounds me. Kind, generous, thoughtful souls are always so willing and quick to assume and judge when it comes to food. Whether it's fast food or processed food or anything in between, people make rapid determinations about food absent of any facts and experience. 

For example, people assume that fresh vegetables are the best possible form of vegetables, when the truth is that frozen vegetable are just as good for you (and sometimes better for you) than fresh vegetables. 

When I explain this fact to perfectly rationale human beings, they scoff. When I provide scientific evidence of this fact, they refuse to believe. When I show them mountains of research proving my case, they change the subject. 

Fresh food is supposed to be better than frozen food, damn it. End of story. 

Another example: Every day, almost without exception, I eat a bowl of Quaker instant oatmeal for lunch. Colleagues have repeatedly questioned my choice of lunch, the rigid consistency of my lunch, and my decision to eat prepackaged oatmeal as opposed to the fabled steel-cut, homemade variety.

I explain that I eat instant oatmeal on the advice of my doctor, and after one year of eating instant oatmeal almost every day, I lowered my cholesterol 50 points. I went from borderline high cholesterol to fantastic cholesterol, and the only change I made was one bowl of instant oatmeal every day.

Just as my doctor ordered. 

When I asked a nutritionist if I should consider switching to the homemade, all-natural, steel-cut variety, her response was this:

"Only if you prefer the taste and want to spend more time making oatmeal. The instant oatmeal probably has a little more sugar than what you'd make at home, but otherwise it's just as good for you. Oats are oats." 

Yet when a person sees my lunch emerge from a small, brown bag and cooked in a microwave, the assumption is that I'm eating a processed, unhealthy food that would never be found in a good and wholesome place like Whole Foods. And when I explain that my doctor and a nutritionist fully support this decision, and that I've lowered my cholesterol 50 points in the process, they continue to fight.

Food that comes out of little brown bags and cooked in microwaves isn't supposed to be good for you, damn it. End of story.

So back to the Egg McMuffin. I eat one a day. Over the course of ten years spent managing McDonald's restaurants I made tens of thousands of Egg McMuffins. I've cooked so many eggs that I can hold four eggs in my two hands and crack and empty them into a frying pan simultaneously.

Here is what an Egg McMuffin is made of exactly:

One real, honest-to-goodness egg, cracked into a egg ring and poached.
One English muffin, exactly like the kind of English muffin you have in your home.
One slice of American cheese, exactly like the American cheese you purchase at a deli.
One round slice of Canadien bacon.

That's it. All real ingredients. 290 calories in total.

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If I was to serve you a scrambled egg (with a little American cheese mixed in for flavor) alongside an English Muffin and a slice of bacon, you'd accept this as a reasonable breakfast. If I served it to you on a pretty plate with a orange wedge garnish (that you probably wouldn't eat) and a cup of your favorite coffee, you'd think you were in heaven. 

Yet hand that same breakfast through a drive thru window in sandwich form and people can't believe the egg is real. 

Fast food is not real food, damn it. End of story.

I'm not implying that all fast food or processed food is good for you. I'm not saying that eating an Egg McMuffin every morning is the best possible breakfast.

I often add an apple or a banana for that very reason.

What I'm asking is that when it comes to food, we try to assume less. Be less influenced by preconceived notions. Be less susceptible to the marketing of corporations like Whole Foods and The Food Network. Be a little less fetishistic about our food beliefs. Be more open-minded to the idea that perhaps food establishments or food products that you have deemed demonic are perhaps not as evil as you once thought.   

And stop doubting the fact that McDonald's cracks real eggs, every morning, in every restaurant. 

The best compliment wasn't about my hair

A colleague stopped by my classroom the other day. She approached my desk and said, "I know this probably doesn't mean anything to you. I know you don't really care about physical appearance and things like that, but I wanted you to know that I really like your haircut."

This was an amazing compliment. One of the best compliments I've received in a long time.

And it had nothing to do with my hair. 

Instead, this colleague acknowledged that she knew me. Really knew me. 

She knows that except for my wife, children, and mother-in-law, I never compliment physical appearance. In my effort to reduce the obsessive amount of attention we pay to the way someone looks, I refrain from all of these comments and instead compliment words and deeds only. 

She also knows that in addition to this policy, I also take little personal stock in physical appearance. While I would certainly like to appear attractive, she knows that when it comes to things like clothing and hair, utility, comfort, and efficiency are my primary motivators, far exceeding anything related to the way I look. 

I know, for example, that if I wore a jacket and tie on occasion, certain people would appreciate this look and think it attractive. But I reject neckties as ridiculous, pointless, decorated nooses strapped around the necks of men who are conforming to senseless, arcane, sometimes dangerous tradition.  

And if I'm going to wear a jacket, it's probably going to be a hoodie. At the very least it will be something with good pockets. A traditional suit jacket doesn't even keep you warm on a cold day. Many of the pockets are decorative only. 

I rarely wear a traditional jacket, and I threw my neckties away years ago because I prize utility, efficiency, and comfort over physical appearance. I would rather preserve my precious time, achieve more as a result, and feel better while doing so than have someone think that the bit of cloth wrapped around my neck, designed and fashioned by someone other than me, somehow makes me look more attractive.  

That strikes me as ludicrous and absurd. It makes no sense. 

This colleague, who I have worked with for years, knows this about me. 

She knows me.

As a storyteller and a writer of blog posts, newspaper columns, and a hopefully soon-to-be-published memoir, I speak and write to be known. I stand on stages and share my most personal, embarrassing, frightening, and intimate moments in an effort to have others understand who I am. To connect with me. To know me.

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My colleague wanted to compliment my haircut, but instead, she offered me something far more meaningful. She told me that she understood me as a human being. She understood my personal philosophy. My primary motivation. My nonconforming eccentricities.  

She knows me. Far beyond my haircut or clothing choices, she knows me as a human being.  

That was a compliment that meant something to me. It meant a whole lot.

And it had nothing to do with my hair. 

Time spent in the Starbucks drive thru line is not time well spent

When asked about how I get so much done, I have a multitude of answers. Strategies. Recommended routines. The propagation of certain habits. Suggested ways of thinking. 

But what I should really say every time I'm asked this question is this:

I value my time appropriately. I know that time is the most valuable commodity on the planet, and therefore I am constantly making value judgements about how I will spend it. 

Most human beings don't value their time appropriately. I have a multitude of examples to demonstrate this tragic fact, but here is one that makes me insane:

There is a Starbucks near my home with a drive thru window. I stop by this Starbucks on the weekends to pick up Elysha's latest caffeinated fix. The line of cars in the drive thru line at this establishment is typically so long that it sometimes blocks the entrance to the parking lot. 

It's insanity. It infuriates me. The parking lot in front of the store is bereft of cars. The parking spot beside the front door is empty. The inside of the Starbucks is almost empty. Twice as many employees as customers. Yet people will sit in their cars, waiting for this line to slowly wind its way around the building instead of hopping out of the car and going inside.

These are people who do not value their time appropriately.

Last weekend, I decided to determine if I was missing something. Maybe I was misunderstanding the situation.

Perhaps the line moves incredibly fast?

It doesn't. I watched customers walk into the store, order their coffee, receive their coffee, use the restroom, and leave long before the cars at the back of the drive thru line were even close to the window. 

Maybe these were parents with little children strapped into car seats? 

Nope. I walked around the building, creepily eyeing the back seats of these cars. While I'm sure there are occasionally parents with small children in the drive thru line, none were in line on either day that I checked. 

These are people who are not valuing their time appropriately. They are spending time in a drive thru line when there is a faster, more efficient option available.

It's a small thing, and it's admittedly not a lot of time wasted. Ten minutes at best. But when you start to value time appropriately, you realize that all time is valuable, regardless of its size.

For me, ten minutes could mean an extra ten minutes on a treadmill, which could equate to an extra 60 calories burned.

Ten minutes could mean an extra paragraph written in a novel, which brings me one paragraph closer to completion. 

Ten means could mean an extra ten minutes spent playing soccer with the kids on the front lawn.

Ten minutes could mean a dishwasher emptied, a load of laundry folded, a letter written, a cat cuddled, a permission slip completed, an email answered, a page read, a magazine article pitched, a phone call made, a photograph taken, or a banana eaten.

These ten minutes add up quickly. People don't believe it. They think tens minutes here and there are nothing. I know this because they roll their eyes and scoff at the ways I try to preserve tiny slivers of time every day. They think it's ridiculous that I practically run through the grocery store when shopping. They think that my deeply-held desire to identify the most efficient way to empty a dishwasher is ludicrous. They think it's silly that I try to keep my shower to under 100 seconds. They think it's insane that I eat the same thing for lunch almost every day.   

But this time matters. These minutes add up quickly, and the results of this time saved are extraordinary.

When you're on your death bed years from now, moments from the end, will you wish you'd spent more time in a Starbucks drive thru line? 

Or will be wishing that you could've written just one more letter to a loved one or eaten one more banana or spent just a few more minutes with your children when they were little? 

I know the answer to this question. I think about it constantly. This question is my guiding force. My ever-present mantra. 

I know the answer to this question. I think you do, too.  

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Republican interns are white.

Look no further than the current crop of White House summer interns to understand precisely what hardline Republican immigration policies are all about. 

You need to aggressively disregard people of color to end up with the group of almost entirely white people. 

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Lest you think this is an aberration, here is a photo of last year's White House interns. 

Note the striking similarity. 

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And here is a photo of the Republican Congressional interns from last year. 

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In case you're wondering what the Congressional interns for the Democrats looked like, here is their photo. 

Pretty much says it all. Don't you think?

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Best and worst April Fools Day ever

It's a day late, but I thought I'd chronicle the two greatest April Fool's Day pranks ever played on me. 

On Sunday, April 1, 1990, I awoke before the crack of dawn. Despite staying up until the wee hours of the morning, enjoying another one of our keg parties, I needed to be at McDonald's at 5:00 AM to open the store. 

I exited my bedroom, carefully stepping over friends and total strangers scattered throughout the house in sleeping bags and under blankets. I scurried past piles of empty beer bottles and solitary popcorn bags that I hoped would be cleaned up before I returned home later that day. I quietly pushed open the front door and walked across the lawn to the parking lot, where I spotted some poor soul's car wrapped so completely in toilet paper that the shape of the car was no longer discernible. It looked like an enormous rectangle of toilet paper.

I laughed as I walked the length of the row to my own car. 

When I reached the end of the row, I stopped. "Where's my car?"

No.

But yes. That car, wrapped in what must have been hundreds of rolls of toilet paper, was mine. It was so buried in toilet tissue that I hadn't recognized it as my own. It took me 30 minutes to clear off the car, making me late for work for the first time in my life. When I finally clawed my way down to the windshield, I found a small block of wood stuck under one of the wipers. Written on it were the words, "Daughters of Triton." 

I still have that block of wood. 

Sherry Norton and Jennifer Cull, who were still sleeping somewhere in my house that morning, were were responsible for that April Fools Day prank, which ranks high in my book of pranks pulled on me. 

The following year, on Monday, April 1, 1991, my friend, Kate O'Hare, came over to our house and told me through tears that she was pregnant.  

She allowed me to believe this for a long, long time. Eventually, I was at a party with Kate, and I saw her drinking. I panicked.

"Does she know she's not supposed to be drinking?" I wondered. I went over to her and asked. 

She laughed. "You still think I'm pregnant?" 

My friend, Bengi, may or may not have been in on this prank. He remembers being aware of it, but he can't quite remember if he was also pranked or merely helped to keep it alive. 

The longevity of Kate's prank makes it the best ever pulled on me, but The Daughters of Triton was a close second. 

My worst April Fools Day moment came in 2004 when I met with my principal, Plato Karafelis, early one morning in the back of the auditorium to inform him that I was dating Elysha. I had previously been dating the school psychologist, and I thought he should know about the change in girlfriends.

Better to hear it from me than through the grapevine. 

When I had started dating the school psychologist months before, I asked him if there was anything I should know in terms of staff members dating. His response:

"Don't let it end ugly."

I listened (though I've always ended relationships well). I'm still friends with that school psychologist today, and I was the DJ at her wedding two summers ago.

When I told Plato about Elysha, he said, "Yeah, right. I know it's April Fools Day."

"No," I said. "I'm serious. I'm dating Elysha."

Plato turned and walked away. "Like Elysha Green would ever date you!"

Three years later, Plato was the minister at our wedding ceremony.

It was an amusing moment. But it took about a week before he believed that we were dating, and his words stung a bit. 

"Like Elysha Green would ever date you?"

Admittedly I was a little surprised myself, but I really didn't need that level of astonishment reinforced so early in our relationship.   

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