Perhaps we don't disagree on sleep as much as you think. Perhaps.

Yesterday I bestowed favored animal status to the giraffe, based primarily on its ability to sleep less than 30 minutes per day. People were surprised - as they often are - by how much I hate to sleep, and particularly how irritated I am every night when I need to fall asleep.

In response, many readers and friends declared their everlasting love for sleep.

Here’s a question I’d like to pose:

Do people really like to sleep, or do they like to fall asleep and possibly wake from sleep?

Since human beings are functionally unconscious while they sleep, the ability to take pleasure in the act of sleeping seems almost impossible. You can certainly love the subsequent feeling of renewal and vigor that sleep has on your body and mind, but when sleep is actually taking place, it’s impossible to experience pleasure in the act of sleeping because you’re not aware of your surroundings or even of your own body.

Is your arm under the pillow? Resting on your chest? Draped over a loved one? You don’t know, so how is it possible to experience any kind of pleasure given that level of unconsciousness?

Do people really love to sleep, or alternatively, do people enjoy occupying a horizontal position in a space of comfort and relaxation, unburdened from the expectations of the world?

This is what they really love when they profess their love for sleep. Right? They actually adore that period of time prior to sleep and immediately following sleep. The feeling of coziness. The removal of most of the physical demands on the body. The ability to push aside responsibilities and worries for a period of time.

Isn’t this - and not the unconscious state of sleep that follows - what people love?

Shouldn’t people be saying:

“I love assuming a horizontal position on a soft surface, my head slightly elevated by similarly soft surfaces, while simultaneously covered by soft linens. And while in that position, I enjoy closing my eyes and pushing the worries and cares of the world aside for a time.”

Isn’t this - and not the unconscious state that follows - the thing that people love?

I’m just asking.

Though I hate to sleep and am genuinely irritated almost every night with the need to stop my life for a period of time to recharge my brain, I admittedly enjoy lying down in my soft bed (particularly if my wife is present) and assuming a position of comfort.

That part of sleep is great. No complaints whatsoever. If that part could last about 15-30 minutes, and if I could remain conscious for the entire time, I would also profess my love for sleep. The problem is that I remain conscious for less than a minute before I drift off into stupid, unproductive, unconscious sleep for a ridiculous 4-6 hours.

Yes, it’s true. I despise sleep. But lying down in a soft place beside my wife for a little while? That sounds great, just as long as I can remain conscious and therefore aware of the enjoyment that I’m experiencing.

Isn’t this how you feel, too?

Again, just asking.

hate sleep.jpg

Winners get ice cream. Losers get nothing.

I was sitting at Charlie's Little League game yesterday, thinking that we might get some ice cream if the game ended early enough, when I suddenly remembered something from my childhood:

When I was playing Little League baseball, you only went for ice cream if you won the game.

As a boy, this made sense to me.

To the victor go the spoils. Winning is rewarded. Champions receive trophies.

But just imagine what might happen if the Little League coaches of today decided that only the winning team of each game would be rewarded with an ice cream cone.

I think parents might lose their minds.

I’m not sure how I feel about this.

As a boy, I know this made perfect sense to me. I remember how exciting it was to pull out of the parking lot, waving my orange cap outside an open car window, knowing that I would be devouring victory ice cream soon.

I always wanted to win the game, but the ice cream was truly the cherry on top.

And I remember losing, too. Heading home absent any frosty reward, thinking that next time, we needed to win so I could get my ice cream cone.

Winners celebrated with frosty treats. Loser got nothing.

This all made sense to me. There were no tears. No pleading. No upset feelings. I think I would’ve been embarrassed to show up at the ice cream shack if my team hadn’t won the game.

The ice cream shack was a place for winners.

But today? I don’t know.

Charlie is playing in a developmental league right now. Coaches are pitching much of the game, and instruction takes place throughout the game. Runs are scored, but the number of runs scored doesn’t matter. Even the kids aren’t keeping track yet. But assuming that Charlie continues playing next year, he will eventually find himself in baseball games where box scores are kept and winners and losers are ultimately determined.

How I would I feel if only the winning team drove off for ice cream after each game?

I’m not sure. Honestly, I think it makes sense to me, but I’m writing while Charlie is asleep in his bed. I’m not faced with a downtrodden boy and his disappointment over his team’s failure to score more runs than his opponent. I’m not battling the notion that he tried his best, so perhaps effort should be rewarded, too.

Maybe I would crack. Maybe Charlie would get ice cream, too. I’m not sure.

But here is the one thing I know for sure:

I’m glad my parents and my coaches didn’t crack. I’m glad I only received ice cream if my team won. It made the victories that much sweeter. And it made sense to me.


Stop complaining. It's killing you. It's killing us, too.

A friend recently sent me me a piece on the hazards of complaining.

They are extensive.

  • The more you complain, the more likely you are to choose negative over positive thinking in the long run. Remarkably, each time you complain your brain is actually physically rewiring itself, making it easier to adapt to that reaction in the future.

  • MRI scans have shown that constant complaining can lead to the shrinkage of the hippocampus, which can lead to memory decline and an inability to adapt to new situations.

  • The more you complain, the higher your cortisol levels, which can lead to health problems like increasing depression, insomnia, digestive problems, high blood pressure, and an increased risk of heart disease.

  • Constant complainers often find themselves socially isolated from colleagues, peers, and even family members.

Anecdotally, I’ll also add that constant complainers often accomplish less, create more problems, and generally suck as human beings.

But here’s my quandary:

Do constant complainers know that they are constant complainers?

I don’t think so.

Why would anyone wander through this world, purposefully but ineffectually whining and complaining about every little thing, while the people around them roll their eyes, turn their backs, and further distance themselves from their incessant negativity?

Why would anyone be so intentionally off-putting?



Be happy for others, damn it.

Years ago, before the kids were born, Elysha and I went to the movies.

We’ve gone to the movies since the kids were born, of course, despite warnings from those rotten people who like to make parenting sound like guerrilla warfare that we never would. In fact, in the two years after our first child, Clara, was born, Elysha and I saw 29 movies together. Many of them were drive-in films, viewed while Clara slept peacefully in the backseat.

You can suck or you can find a way.

On this particular evening, it began to rain while we were watching the film, and by the time we exited the theater, it was a downpour of Biblical proportions. Standing under the shelter of the awning of the AMC theater, I told Elysha to wait while I ran for the car.

In the 30 seconds it took for me to sprint across the parking lot and get into the car, I was soaked to the skin.

As I pulled up to the front of the theater, a large crowed had gathered under the awning alongside Elysha. Some were waiting for partners to retrieve cars, but a considerable number were waiting out the downpour, hoping it would ease up a bit before they braved the storm.

In that crowd was a colleague. A fellow teacher. Someone who worked alongside both Elysha and me.

Realizing that even the 12 or 15 feet that Elysha would have to traverse between the sidewalk and the car would leave her drenched, I had an idea. The sidewalk in front of the theater was wide and graded rather than curbed, probably to accommodate people with disabilities.

“Perfect,” I thought.

Instead of stopping, I turned and pulled right up onto the curbing, stopping the car on the sidewalk, thereby allowing Elysha to climb in without getting a drop of rain on her head.

I was feeling pretty good about my ingenuity, and so, too was Elysha.

The next day at school, I learned through the grapevine that the colleague who had been standing in that crowd and had witnessed my maneuver had been less than impressed.

“Who does he think he is?” she told my fellow teachers.

“Why does he think he can drive right up on the sidewalk while the rest of us were waiting or getting wet?”

“A teacher shouldn’t be setting an example like that.”

She told a lot of people about my maneuver. Many came to me, both amused and impressed with my clever solution. A few warned me of my colleague’s ire and subterfuge. A couple who agreed with her assessment chided me on my decision.

She, of course, never said a word to me. She was a coward.

But I’ve never understood her anger, even though I see examples like it often.

No one was harmed by my decision. Allowing Elysha to avoid the rain didn’t cause anyone else to become any wetter. Elysha got lucky and they did not, but they lost nothing in the process. My decision didn't cost them a single thing.

Yet my colleague was angry just the same.

I’ll never understand the anger that I so often see from people when someone is the benefactor of luck, ingenuity, a calculated risk, or excellent timing.

When your colleague is unexpectedly chosen to lead a conference in Miami because she submitted an application on a whim and was accepted, why be angry that she will miss three days of work in the cold of January and you will not?

When your coworker forgets to complete a report that took you hours to finish but no one ever notices or cares, why be outraged that he was lucky enough to avoid the work? His failure to complete the report cost you nothing. Why not be happy for his good fortune?

When your friend falls ass backward into a job that pays her twice as much as you with double the benefits and quadruple the vacation - a job you never wanted in the first place - why not be thrilled for her?

And when a husband chivalrously drives up on a sidewalk to allow his wife to avoid the rain, why not be happy for the lady who stayed dry and the man who protected his love from the elements?

When a person’s good fortune, ingenuity, willingness to take a risk, or good luck rewards them with good fortune while costing you nothing, why not simply be happy for the that person?

I didn’t mind all that much that my colleague was angry with me. I was annoyed that she was speaking about me behind my back because I can’t stand that level of cowardice and deceit, but even that I could ignore.

But the difficulty that people have in celebrating the good fortune of others will always baffle me. It’s an awful, ugly, small-minded tendency that says a lot about a person, and nothing good.

NOTE: This does not apply to the game of golf. When your opponent slices his drive deep into the trees, but the ball somehow ricochets back into the center of the fairway, you are permitted to despise your friend for the next three holes.

Golf isn't the real world. Golf is polite, friendly, fun-loving warfare. All bets are off.

What is the meaning of life?

During the Q&A portions of my author talks, I always invite audience members to ask me challenging questions. No subject is out of bounds. The stranger the better.

I even give away prizes to the most challenging questions. 

At a recent author talk, perhaps in an attempt to receive a prize, someone asked me "What is the meaning of life?"

It's an age-old question that has been answered a million different ways (and probably be avoided more often than it is answered). 

For example:

“Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.” ―The Dalai Lama

A good answer, but apparently not convincing enough, because the Dalai Lama has also said, “The very purpose of life is to be happy.”

You can flip-flop on your favorite diner, but the meaning of life should probably be more certain.

Other answers that I liked:

“The true meaning of life is to plant trees under whose shade you do not expect to sit.” ―Nelson Henderson

"Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence." ― Aristotle

The meaning of life is not to be discovered only after death in some hidden, mysterious realm; on the contrary, it can be found by eating the succulent fruit of the Tree of Life and by living in the here and now as fully and creatively as we can. ― Paul Kurtz

“42” ― Douglass Adams

My least favorite answers to this questions come from actor Alan Alda:

“The meaning of life is life.”

Thanks, Alan. That really says a lot.

My answer on the night I was asked was this:

“The meaning of life is to stay alive for as long as possible.”

As soon as I said it, I knew that I liked it. Simple, straight forward, and in my experience, accurate.

If you’ve ever faced an honest-to-goodness life-or-death situation, you’ll know that taking just one more breathe can quickly become more important than any else in this world.

When standing on the brink of oblivion, another moment of existence feels like a lifetime.

What is my obstacle?

I completed a questionnaire recently in preparation for a radio interview.

One of the questions asked was:

“What personal obstacles stand in your way from living your fully realized creative life?”

I stared at the question for a long time, trying to think of what is preventing me from living my creative life to the fullest. I imagined the possible answers that someone might give:

  • Procrastination

  • Focus

  • Writer’s block

  • Doubt

  • Fear

  • Inability to manage time

  • A lack of emotional support

  • Lack of inspiration

None of these things apply to me. Even when I lacked emotional support in my life, I simply used that as fuel to work even hard. Be better. Produce more.

Spite is quite the powerful motivator.

Time might come closest to describing my primary obstacle, but if I’m being honest, I think I use the 1,440 minutes I have each day the fullest. And if by greatest obstacle is time, it’s hardly personal. We’re all stuck with 1,440 minutes per day.

And I think I use those minutes quite well.

Elysha suggested that my personal obstacle is sleep, and while she’s right about how annoyed I am about needing to sleep, that need is not exactly unique to me. I also suspect that I couldn’t be creative without the cognitive benefits of sleep.

She also suggested that my day job (teaching) is standing in the way of my fully realized creative life, but I think of teaching as a part of my creative life. Not only does it fill my heart and soul with joy, but I think of teaching as a creative art, just as much as my writing and performing.

In the end, I wrote:

“My greatest personal obstacle to living a fully realized creative life is answering stupid questions like this one. They waste my time and make me feel like a jerk for thinking that nothing is standing in my way and that I eat personal obstacles for breakfast. It also probably makes other people like me a little less, too, for saying such things.”

I’m sure the interview is going to go splendidly.

Many jobs. Many, many more dreams.

I met with a college graduate recently who told me that she doesn’t know what to do with her life. Has no career ambitions. Isn’t excited about any particular subject or field.

I’ll never understand this. I find it utterly incomprehensible.

I’m a person with a lot of jobs.

  • Elementary school teacher.

  • Author and columnist

  • Wedding DJ

  • Minister

  • Cofounder and artistic director of Speak Up

  • Professional storyteller and public speaker

  • Communications consultant

  • Life coach

I also occasionally earn money writing musicals and screenplays, performing standup, and most recently recording the audio version of my latest book.

My business card (designed by the clever Elysha Dicks) reads:


Despite all that I already do, the joyous and frustrating thing about my life is there is so much more I want to do. I keep a running list of careers that I would love to try if given the time and opportunity.

It includes:

  • Behavioral economist|

  • Bookstore owner

  • Therapist

  • Instructional coach

  • Attorney

  • Camp director

  • College professor

  • Financial analyst

  • CEO of Boy Scouts of America

  • Firefighter

  • Filmmaker

  • Newspaper columnist

  • Postal carrier

  • CEO of Girl Scouts of America

  • Professional poker player

  • Hot dog vendor at an MLB stadium

  • Bartender

  • President of the United States

Some careers are more realistic than others, and I’d be excited about some more than others, but I’m also passionate about every single one of them.

It kills me to think I might not be able to do them all.

With all the remarkable and fascinating and compelling things in this world, how could anyone possibly have absolutely no career ambitions?

Shouldn’t everyone have a list of possible future dream jobs?

Do you? Would you be willing to share?

Why people think women aren't as funny as men (maybe)

A while ago, I sat through a four hour meeting. 

18 women and me. Par for the course in elementary education.

An observation:

About halfway through the meeting, it occurred to me that I was the only person trying to be funny. I was the only one going for the laugh. The only one speaking off topic in order to make a joke. The only one making fun of himself.

It wasn’t that the women in the meeting were incapable of being funny. I know one woman is especially funny, and I’m sure others were as well. They were simply choosing not to be funny.

That got me thinking:

I'm often the only one in these female-dominated situations going for the laugh.

It’s important to note that I think women are just as funny as men. Michelle Wolf, Nikki Glasier, Amber Ruffin, and Elysha Dicks are four of my favorite funny people alive today, but the more I think about it, the more I realize that despite their ability to be funny, I don’t think women try to be as funny as men in many situations.

In situations like a meeting, they don’t go for the laugh nearly as often.

At least in my experience.

I have two theories to possibly explain this:



So much research indicates that women find humor attractive in men, but the reverse is not always true. In an effort to get the attention of women and be perceived in a positive light, perhaps men have been conditioned to try to be funny over the course of their lifetime, regardless of the circumstance, and therefore the perception becomes that men are funnier than women because we simply go for the laugh more often. 

Men aren’t necessarily funnier than women. They just try to be funny more often than women, because there is a greater incentive for them.

Honestly, if I had the choice between being good looking or funny, I would choose funny in a heartbeat, and I suspect that many men would feel the same.

Would women make the same choice? I don’t know.



Women are often fighting for respect in the workplace, and perhaps humor does not serve this purpose well. If I’m a woman in a meeting hoping to be taken seriously and have her ideas thoughtfully considered, perhaps humor isn’t the best way to approach things, so they lean towards professionalism rather than the laugh.

A man, however, often has to fight less for the same level of respect and therefore feels more confident that he will be taken seriously, therefore he can afford to dare to be funny and will more often go for the laugh.


I don’t know if either of these theories are correct, and perhaps there are many professional settings where women go for the laugh just as often as men, but in my experience, it’s simply not the case, despite my belief that women are capable of being at least as funny as men.

But I do know that there are plenty of people - mostly men - who claim that women aren’t as funny as men, and I think it’s nonsense. And perhaps it has more to do with how often women try to be funny as opposed to how funny they really can be.

Would you be more likely, less likely, or just as likely to marry your spouse today?

Interesting question posited by a friend recently:

Would you be more likely, less likely, or just as likely to marry your spouse if you met him or her for the first time today?

My friend believes that couples who were married when they were young would be less likely to marry their spouses if they met them today, because the person you are in your teens and twenties is oftentimes vastly different than who you are in your thirties and beyond. 

This doesn't mean that these people don't still love their spouse and want to remain married. It just means that they would be slightly less likely to want to marry their spouse if they were going on their first date today because their spouse has changed so much over time. 

I think she might be right.

"I thought I was marrying a reliable tax attorney who wanted three kids and a house on a quiet street. But since then, he's learned to play the drums and discovered a passion for death metal. Thanks to his band's rehearsals in our garage, the street isn't quiet anymore, and we have six children because he also discovered a love for babies, too. He wanted a dozen kids, but we compromised at half that."

You might still love the guy with all your heart, but if you met him today, you might think twice before marrying him. 

It turns out that this is not an easy question to ask your spouse.

"Hey honey, if you met me for the first time today, would you be more likely, less likely, or just as likely to marry me as you were on our wedding day?"

The answer to this question could be disastrous.

Still, I asked Elysha. She gave me the best possible answer. 

"I think I'd be more likely to marry you today. Though I don't know... I really, really wanted to marry you when we got married, too. I don't know."

Honestly the best possible answer. The best of both worlds. Spoken without calculation or consideration. Straight from the heart.

My heart soared. It's a moment I'll never forget. 

For the record, my answer is that I would be more likely to marry Elysha if I met her today. Had you asked me this question on our wedding day, I would've said that I couldn't love a human being more.

But then we had children, and I was able to watch Elysha become a mother for the first time - a brilliant, beautiful mother - and I found a new and even deeper love that I could've never before imagined.  


If you could recover a single object from your past, what would it be?

When I was 16 years-old, I went to Pasadena, California with my high school's marching band to perform in the Rose Bowl Parade. At the time, I had just begun dating my high school sweetheart, Laura.

Laura was traveling to Pasadena, too. Though she wasn't actually a member of the marching band, she had somehow finagled her way to California to watch the performance and join us on our various excursions to Disneyland, San Fransisco, and others. 

Our first kiss came in a hot, stinking stairwell in a hotel in Pasadena at about 6:00 AM. I tell a story about it. 

Since we were taking separate flights across the country, Laura made me three mix tapes for the trip. I expected them to be filled with the music she adored, but instead, Laura combined music with spoken word. She told me stories, read poetry, and even sang a little in between songs recorded off the radio.

I probably fell in love with her while listening to those tapes somewhere over the Rockies.  

I don't know what happened to those tapes. It's unbelievable that I lost them, but somewhere along the way, I did.

A bout of homelessness will do that to a person.  

But if I could recover one object from my past that has been lost, it would be those yellow, Memorex cassettes.

Laura passed away a few years ago after a battle with cancer, but before she died, she held me to a promise that we made on the steps behind our high school just before we started dating. We promised that no matter what happened in our relationship, we would always be friends and always take care of each other. When she discovered that she had cancer, she brought me back to those steps and made me promise that when her girls, Ava and Tess, are old enough, I would tell them the stories of Laura, the teenager, and our adventures together.

I will do this when the time is right. but I can't imagine a better gift to those girls than those mix tapes, filled with their mother's words and songs from a time long ago.  

If I could recover any object from my past, it would be those tapes.

Not for me, but for Ava and Tess.  

And for Laura. 

If you could recover a single object from your past, what would it be?

Mattress PSA

I know it might seem a little odd to purchase a mattress via a homemade sign planted on the corner across the street from a gas station.

And yes, the fact that the creator of this sign felt it necessary to indicate that the mattress was "Brand new!!" might also be a little disconcerting.

And yes, anytime someone indicates that their product "must sell," you can't help but wonder about the reason for this state of apparent desperation.

And yes, the sign admittedly looks like it was made by someone who was fleeing the police and had just seconds to scratch out their message.

But if you need a new mattress (and who doesn't?) this might be just what you were looking for.  


Pickle smooch?

At the Olive Garden in West Hartford, CT there is a men's restroom. 

Inside that men's restroom, there is a framed photograph of a house and a tree. 

I'll never understand restaurant restroom art. Why?

Below that frame are two words, scribbled in pen. 

"Pickle smooch"

Here's what I want to know:

What does this mean? Who put this here? What is the story behind "Pickle smooch?"

Ideas? Thoughts? Suggestions?

These are the kinds of things that have been known to launch my novels.

When will she die?

Sometimes I listen to a despicable person - politician, commentator, talk show host - and find myself compelled to run to Wikipedia to find out how old the person is, hoping that he or she is at least ten years older than me, thus reducing the chances that I will have to share the planet with this person for my entire life.

It's not that I am wishing death upon this person. I'm just hoping that he or she is so much older than me that the natural course of their life will run out before mine does, and for at least some measure of time, I can enjoy this life with all it has to offer absent the hatred, the lies, and the general vileness of the person in question. 

I hesitate to tell you whose age I just look up, in fear that it will seem that I am wishing for her death, which I am not. But I was pleased to discover that she is exactly ten years older than me, so perhaps I will someday know a world in which she does not exist. 


Free Dive

This is both fascinating and bizarre.

Watching the video of this man free dive to the bottom of the deepest pool in the world is both mind boggling and incredible, and yet:

1. I don't understand the desire to free dive. I cannot fathom (see what I did there?) the desire to swim as deep and far as possible on a single breath of air while risking your life in order to do so.  And while it's true that there are many other desires that I don't understand (sky diving, marathon running, baking), free diving seems to hold absolutely no reward.  

You can see the bottom of the pool with or without a tank of oxygen. I'm not sure how the lack of life sustaining air makes the experience any more compelling.   

2. Who spends millions building a creepy-ass pool like this? Sure, you might want to build the deepest pool in the world, but does it have to look like the inside of a water treatment plant from a Bond film?

Mystery machine

The Scooby Doo gang was pretty presumptuous to name their van The Mystery Machine.

I realize that they encountered an uncanny and irrational number of criminals trying to cover up crimes by using the ghost story and costume, but still, did they really expect it to continue week after week?

Who could assume that after encountering a fake Yeti on a ski trip and a two-million-year-old caveman while out fishing, similar encounters would happen again and again and again? 

It seems fairly irrational. 

For 41 episodes in the first iteration of the show and hundreds more thereafter.  

Presumptuous, I say. 

Also (and this might be nitpicking), but if you own a van, why the hell is everyone always sitting in the front seat?

mystery machine.jpg

I don't sleep like a robot. Or Frankenstein. Do I?

I'm teaching storytelling at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health this week. 

This morning, I returned to my room to find a note from housekeeping:

"You don't need to make the bed."

I laughed. I didn't make the bed. When I went to sleep last night, I climbed onto the bed and simply fell asleep atop the sheets and blanket. It was a warm, summer night, so I had no need to slide beneath the covers.

When I woke up in the morning, I was still in the same position, lying flat on my back in the center of the bed. I stood up, leaving a perfectly made bed behind me.

I told some people in my workshop about the note, and they looked at me like I was a monster.

"You just fell asleep on top of the covers?" one woman asked. "Who does that?"

"I can't fall asleep if I'm not under the covers," said another.

"What kind of monster are you?" a third asked. 

There were mentions of Frankenstein as well, and one person suggested that I might be a robot. 

I really didn't expect this reaction. 

I've always been able to fall asleep this way. At summer camp as a boy, I often slept atop my sleeping bag because of the heat. I've taken naps at work when I was sick by lying down on the carpeted floor and falling asleep during my lunch hour. When I was homeless and living in my car, I slept on the backseat, where blankets and sheets were impossible. 

Is this really as strange as the folks in my workshop made it seem?

So many jokes. Such little ears.

Elysha and I brought the kids to Action Safari this weekend. Stretching the meaning of the words "action" and "safari," this attraction features a taxidermy museum that made me sad.

Even worse than the enormous number of stuffed animals was the moment Clara called out, "Daddy, what's a dik dik?"

You can imagine my confusion. 

It turns out that Clara was reading a plaque about an African antelope called a dik dik. 

Sadly, no adult was present to take pleasure in the enormous number of jokes that filled my brain, just waiting to spill out.

Last night, as Charlie was getting out of the bathtub, he looked down at his chest and apparently noticed his nipples for the first time. 

"What are these?" he asked, pointing.

"Nipples," I said. 

"What are they for?" he asked.

Once again, no adult was present for the flood of jokes that filled my mind, desperate to escape.

The right audience is everything.

One man. Two dozen women. A bunch of interesting questions.

This summer I'll be spending a week teaching at Miss Porter's School, a boarding and day school for girls located in Farmington, CT.

This only makes sense. 

From 1996-1999, I attended an all-women's college, and ever since graduating, I have continued to live in a female world. As an elementary school teacher for almost 20 years, I am almost exclusively in the company of women. It's not uncommon for me to be the only man in a room of 20 or more people.

It just happened a couple days ago. 

In fact, NEVER in my professional life have I attended a meeting, training session, workshop, or staff breakfast where there were more men in the room than women.

As I write these words, I am sitting in a cafeteria at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. There are about 25 people in the room with me, and once again, I am the only man.  

The ratio of women to men in all of my storytelling workshops is about 10:1. 

Even publishing is dominated by women. I've worked with six different editors on my various books and five different magazine editors over the course of my publishing career. 

All women. My literary agent, my film agent, and my publicist are also all women.   

I truly live in a women'a world.

Last week I attended an orientation session at Miss Porter's. As I was shuffling through my paperwork, one of the women at the table leaned over and said, "There are 23 women in this room, and you are the only man. What is that like?"

I told her that I hadn't even noticed, which was true. She didn't believe me, not understanding that this male-female ratio was nothing new for me.

She pressed. "Even if you didn't noticed, what is it like? You're the only guy here. You stick out like a sore thumb. What's that like? I mean, everyone knows you're the only guy here. It's one of the first things you notice. One guy. Isn't that strange? "

I wanted to tell her that I had felt perfectly comfortable with the situation until she implied that perhaps I shouldn't be, but even that wasn't true. I told her, with all honesty, that I feel at home in situations like this, and that over the years, I have learned to function quite well in large groups of women, despite my occasionally aggressive and possibly impolite nature in other contexts.

I live by my personal mantra: Speak less and speak least. 

I'm not sure she believed me. Who could blame her? Had the tables been turned and she was the only woman in a room of 23 men, she would likely feel very different. 

Later, we were asked to engage in the team building activity that required us to build the tallest tower with uncooked spaghetti and marshmallows. I had our team simply lift the table when the time came to measure the height of each structure.

When a young woman complained that she would need to mail a form home for her mother's signature, I suggested she simply sign her mother's name, explaining that no one cares what the paperwork looks like as long as it's complete.

For years, I have been filling in the "Position" line on paperwork as "Upright" and no one has said a word. 

When another woman complained that she didn't have a professional reference to include on a form, I offer her my name.

"But you don't know me," she said.

"I do now," I replied. "Problem solved."  

I continued to suggest similar nefarious and corner-cutting strategies to complete tasks quickly and efficiently. At last one of the women leaned across the table and asked, "So how long have you been a grifter?"

I thought it was an amusing comment. Not entirely true, but perhaps a hint of truth. 

The first woman then leaned over to me and whispered, "So that's how you do it. You teach women to break rules."

Also not true, though in my experience, I have found that women are far more likely to follow rules and procedures than men, even when those rules and procedures make little sense. 

I'm sure there was a time when I felt odd or out of place in a room of women, but somewhere along the way, probably in college or perhaps in those first couple years of teaching, it stopped being a thing for me. 

I barely notice anymore.

But I'm left wondering: Though I may not notice that I am the only man in a room filled with women, how often do the women in the room notice that I am the only man, and what are they thinking?

I made an old woman cry. Was I wrong?

I'm standing in line at McDonald's, waiting patiently to order my daily Egg McMuffin.

The woman in front of me is having a problem. She's an old lady in the truest sense of the word. She's as crooked as a question mark and is holding a cane. She's ordered a "Big Breakfast Egg McMuffin" and received a Big Breakfast and an Egg McMuffin.

She's not happy.

She only wants the Egg McMuffin. She's added the words "big breakfast" to her order for reasons I cannot glean, but somehow, I know what has happened. Years of managing McDonald's restaurants makes the problem immediately clear to me.

I stand behind her and remain silent. I know that I inject myself into too many of these kinds of situations. Elysha has asked me to stand back and avoid conflict like this whenever possible. She worries about how people will react to my mouth. So I'm going to leave this to Janet, the employee who I see every day and know well.

Except that Janet is struggling to figure out the problem because the woman is yelling at her. Flailing her hands. Janet is frazzled by the sudden outburst of anger. She's unable to put two and two together.

I remain silent. I'm not going to involve myself. The woman is angry and treating my friend poorly, but my involvement will probably not go well.

The manager, who I also know, arrives and quickly identifies the problem. She explains the source of the confusion to the woman. She says that she will remove the Big Breakfast and refund the money. She grabs a scrap of paper to subtract the price of the Big Breakfast from the bill.

The woman shakes her hands violently and shouts, "Just give me my money!"

At last the issue is settled. The order is correct and the refund is complete. The woman moves off to prepare her coffee. I step forward and smile at Janet, who is still flustered. I wink. She smiles. She enters my order without me saying a word. I take my cup over to the soda station to pour.

The old woman is still there, stirring her coffee. I add ice to my cup and take a step closer to her to pour my Diet Coke.

The old woman turns to me and says, "These people are so stupid. How do you get this far in life being this stupid?"

I have done my best to remain uninvolved, but now she is speaking to me directly. Not only am I vigorously opposed to behind-the-back cruelty, but she is insulting people who I think of as friends. These are women who I see every day and exchange pleasantries with quite often. I feel like I must now say something. The woman has all but demanded a response.

Without missing a beat or considering my words, I say, "I think it's despicable when a person talks behind the backs of others. Despicable and disgusting. For the rest of my day, I'm going to tell every person I see about the despicable and disgusting thing that you just did."

And then she begins to cry.

This event took place in September. I asked my students what they thought of my actions. Most believed that my behavior was perfectly acceptable until I added the last sentence beginning with "For the rest of the day..."

"Over the line, Mr. Dicks," one girl said.

Many of my friends felt that my entire interaction was inappropriate. They suggested that it was not my place to impose my morals on this woman.

I reminded them that I did not interject myself into the conversation. She spoke to me.

That didn't matter for most.

Others argued that I was caustic and cruel to an older woman, and that I should've tempered my words because of her age.

I argued that this was agism.

None agreed.

Others argued that my words made no difference in the future behavior of this woman, so I caused needless pain and suffering for no result.

I suggested that this woman might think twice the next time she wants to criticize someone behind her back to a stranger.

Most disagreed.

Looking back on the incident with the advantage of time and perspective, I still believe that my actions were just. That old woman involved me in the situation after my attempts to remain silent. I simply spoke from the heart and said what I believed. I didn't consider her age a handicap to decency or discourse, and I genuinely believed - and still do - that our encounter might temper this woman's future acts of behind-the-back cruelty.

I tell this story today because of a response to a post on the ridiculous use of imperatives in argumentation. A friend on Facebook reminded me that "All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing!"

I don't think that the woman was evil, but I also couldn't allow such condescension and cruelty to go unchecked when directly involved.

I wasn't happy that the woman began to cry, and it certainly made for an awkward pour of my Diet Coke and a hasty retreat, but I said what I thought needed to be said. It would've been easy to ignore the comment. Nod and move on. Even explain to the woman that I know the employees well and are always impressed by their professionalism and performance.

But after watching this woman shout and flail and condescend, I didn't think gentleness was in order. "If you're going to dish it out, you have to be able to take it" is an expression that has always rung true for me. I think it applied well in this situation, despite the tears.


Warning: Women with handbags crossing

Do you know what this sign warns motorists about?

It's okay if you don't. Why would you? It has NOTHING to do with the purpose of the sign.

Answer below.

The sign indicates a school crossing, even though it more closely resembles two women with handbags rather than any child crossing the street.

Can you imagine the moment when this design was chosen?

"Yes. Perfect. This design makes me think of kids in crosswalks exactly. Make a million of them!"