I performed in the dark. Without amplification. The results were surprising.

The worst experience I ever had while telling a story was on election night 2016 at a live show of Slate's The Gist. I was telling the story about my run for the Presidency of my college when things started to turn in the election returns and eyes quickly shifted from me to phones. 

Trump was winning. The world was ending. People were literally hugging one another in the audience. And I was still blabbering onstage. There was a moment in my story when I nearly said, "I should stop. This is ridiculous. You don't want to laugh. I want a hug, too."

I persevered, but I'm quite certain that no one has the faintest recollection that I performed that night. Deservedly so.   

My second worst onstage experience was during the Mayor's Charity Ball years ago. I was emceeing the event, and while the entire evening was lovely, but no one was terribly interested in what the emcee had to say. It was nearly impossible to get anyone's attention, and once again, I'm fairly certain that no one has the faintest recollection that I was even there. 

I thought that last night might go just as poorly. I was scheduled to tell stories at a benefit for a local television network, but strong wins from the Northeaster had knocked the power out about an hour before I was set to perform, depriving me of a microphone or any light save candlelight. The room, which I have performed many times as a DJ, minister, and storyteller, isn't easy even with a microphone. It's long, cavernous, and unforgiving. 

Trying to get the attention of 200 people with no amplification in the dark was not going to be easy.

One of the organizers proposed that we just scrap my performance. People were laughing, drinking, and having a good time already. No sense in disturbing their fun in these conditions.

"Yes!" I thought. "Cancel me. This isn't going to work!"  

Ultimately it was decided that I should give it a try, so reluctantly, I slid two wooden boxes over to the center of the room, climbed atop them, asked a few people to point their cellphone lights at me, and I started speaking.


Instead of telling three stories covering 30 minutes, I told two stories that filled about 15 minutes before my voice wasn't going to allow me to tell a third. Though I didn't capture the attention of the entire room, I managed to grab a sizable portion and made them laugh with two stories that I punched up on the fly.

I wasn't great, but it wasn't terrible either. People listened and laughed.

When I was done, I sat down beside a woman who I know but hadn't seen in years. It turns out that she hosts a show on the TV network now with three friends. She asked me appear as a guest.

As I was leaving the building, an attorney stopped me in the lobby and asked if I would be willing to consult on storytelling and communications with his firm.

Someone in the parking lot then stopped me and thanked me for the laugh. A tree had fallen on his house that night, and he was heading home to inspect the damage. "I didn't think I'd be laughing at all tonight. I really appreciate it."

I'm constantly counseling people to say yes when an opportunity presents itself, even when that opportunity is less than ideal. I know people who would've refused to perform under those conditions last night, and honestly, I wouldn't have blamed them. It was an awkward, almost impossible situation. Had they asked me to cancel my performance, I would've happily obliged.

But I agreed to entertain an audience, so when they proposed that I give it a shot, I said yes. I stood up on those precarious wooden blocks, spoke with all the volume I could muster, and told two funny stories 

It wasn't perfect, but people laughed and enjoyed the performance. I received an offer to appear on a television show, an offer to consult at a local law firm, and I brightened the evening of a man who was having an otherwise very bad day. 

Not bad for performing in the dark, without amplification, under the light of a handful of phones. 

Awful human being alert

It's hard to believe that someone could be as lacking in self awareness as the woman who wrote this letter to advice columnist Dear Prudence. 

How could anyone read this letter and not think they are coming across as an classist, elitist, repulsive snob?

Dear Prudence,

Recently my friend Amy made a new friend, Mary. I’ve met her a few times, and while we were polite to each other, she isn’t someone I’d care to interact with more than necessary. I don’t seek her out, nor do I invite her to social events. Mary has slowly become part of my circle of friends. She has made a few comments intimating she’s upset that she hasn’t been invited to some of our get-togethers, but she is in a very different financial bracket than the rest of us. The restaurants and events we choose to go to are pricey. I recently hosted a dinner party for my friends and their plus ones, and Amy brought Mary. I didn’t want her at my house. We’re not friends, and I don’t enjoy her presence. I’m hosting another dinner party for the holidays, and I know Amy will bring Mary. I do not invite people I don’t want to be around to my parties. How do I politely tell Amy to stop bringing Mary?

—She’s Not Invited; She Comes Anyway

You can read Prudence's response to the letter here.

I broke into the Brooklyn Navy Yard and committed a crime (I think)

I went to Brooklyn at the end of August to record a podcast at Slate. 

Slate moved its offices from a fairly convenient location in Manhattan to a terribly inconvenient location in Brooklyn that I had been to only once before. So I plugged "Slate Magazine" into the Waze app on my phone and was off. 

By the time I arrived at the destination indicated on the app, two things were apparent:

1. This was not the Slate offices.

2. I had to pee so badly that I thought I might pee my pants.

My GPS app had brought me to a blighted section of Brooklyn featuring razor wire, graffiti, boarded-up buildings, and not a single person walking the streets. But I assumed that I was close to my destination. Perhaps a block or two away, so when I saw all the free parking spots on the street, I took one, thinking it would be a five minute walk at best to Slate. 

I also had to pee so badly that I couldn't stand the thought of driving around to find the place. Even if I had to walk a little ways, I assumed that I could find a place to pee on the way. 

Boy was I wrong. When I emerged from the side street onto the main thoroughfare, I saw a single gas station and block after block of empty buildings, chainlink fences, and walls. Not a retail establishment, restaurant, or coffee shop to be seen.

I waddled to the gas station. It was my only hope.

When I entered, I saw a woman speaking to the gas station attendant, who was standing behind nine inches of glass. I also saw a small door marked restroom behind the glass as well.

My salvation. 

I waited patiently for the woman and the attendant to finish their conversation, but when it became apparent that it might never end, I interjected.

"Excuse me. Could I use your restroom. I'll buy stuff if I can. Lots of stuff."

The attendant replied, " It's out of order."

"Out of order?" I asked. "Then how do you pee? Or where do you pee?"

"It's out of order," he repeated.

"Yes, but you must pee, I said. Where does that happen?" 

"Sir, there's no bathroom here."

"But there must be," I said, "You can't go all day without peeing."

"He said there's no restroom," the woman shot back at me. "Leave him alone." 

I would've loved to have engaged further with this woman, but realizing that I was not going to be able to use a restroom here and knowing how dire my situation was becoming, I left. 

I stood outside the gas station, just a week after US Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte got in trouble for (among other things) peeing on a gas station in Brazil and wondered if I was about to do the same thing. There was no place to pee anywhere, and not a single tree or area of concealment to be seen.

Then I looked across the street and saw them. Three thin saplings. A tiny stand of trees. All that I needed to pee. 

The only problem: The trees were standing just inside the entrance to the Brooklyn Navy Yard, an imposing brick entrance festooned with a guard shack and a sentry. There was no way I was going to slip through that entrance and make it to the saplings without being seen.

Then I caught a bit of good luck. A delivery truck pulled into the Navy Yard and stopped at the sentry post, creating a barrier between the sentry and the saplings. If the truck remained in place long enough, I could duck into the entrance of the Navy Yard and into the trees unseen. 

There was no way the guard wasn't going to see me emerge from the stand of trees a minute or two later, but that was a problem to solve after I had relieved myself. 

I went for it. I ran as fast as possible with a bursting bladder across the road and through the large gates of the Brooklyn Navy Yard, veering off after about 15 feet into the trees. I could barely contain my bladder for a second more. As soon as I was secreted behind the stand of trees, I  peed onto the vine-covered brick wall, keeping the trees between me and the sentry.

One of the happiest moments of my life. 

When I finished, the truck was gone. I emerged from the stand of trees and was immediately spotted by the sentry, he rose from his seat. I tried to look confused, held up my phone as if to imply it had misled me (which it originally did), and exited the Brooklyn Navy Yard while offering gestures of confusion and apology.

The sentry appeared annoyed but allowed me to pass without comment. 

A few minutes later, after speaking to a Slate producer on my phone, I began the 25 minute walk to Slate in the 90 degree heat rather than driving my car closer to the offices, which turned out to be a terrible decision.

But it gave me time to ponder this:

Had I been a woman, I would've been in a lot of trouble. A woman could not have peed in that fairly exposed location behind those tiny trees. A guy needs the smallest sliver of privacy in order to pee. Essentially, a man need only to turn his back in order to avoid exposing himself while peeing, whereas women require a hell of a lot more privacy. 

Then I thought about all the times I have peed against trees while playing golf. All the times I have stepped off a trail while hiking or hopped off my bike to pee a step or two into the woods. All the times I have disappeared into a stand of trees a a park to pee. All the portable toilets in the parking lots of Gillette Stadium where I am able to pee without touching a single thing other than my pants.

Men have it good.

We have it very, very good.

I found enormous sympathy for womankind on that walk to Slate, realizing that had I been a woman, I I might well have peed my pants. 

There are solutions to this problem for women, including devices like the GoGirl, which comes in a lovely shade of lavender, but the image of a woman holding a GoGirl against her groin as she pees seems even less discreet than a woman dropping trow in order to pee.  

It's also bizarre. Rachel, my Boy vs. Girl podcast co-host, has agreed to give one a try.


I also thought that the Brooklyn Navy Yard is not nearly secure enough for my liking. Had I had been an evil doer with more nefarious purposes, I wonder how much damage I could've done had I been armed with more than a full bladder. 

Mike Pesca's favorite sentences of 2015 (and mine)

Back in January, Mike Pesca of Slate's The Gist discussed some of his favorite sentences of 2015. When Pesca attributed the sentence to someone., I included the attribution. 

  • Bill Raftery on how he enjoys learning something and immediately sharing it: "That's why I went into broadcasting rather than espionage." 
  • "It's easier to condemn than to figure out the charge."
  • "They're against changing the flag because that's against they're identity. I don't mean the flag is their identity. Being against change is their identity." - Mike Pesca 
  • "Grief is our compensation for death."
  • "Some voters do not share democratic values, and politicians must appeal to them as well." 
  • "The tradeoff of living in a country where California gets to set the standard on auto emissions is that Texas gets to set the standards on textbooks." - Mike Pesca
  • Frank Luntz, acknowledging the anxiety of Trump voters: "But they're also out for revenge."
  • "Bravery is easy when you defend yourself from other. Humanity is more difficult. It's when you defend others from yourself." - Nino Markovich of Montenegro 

Like Pesca, I am a serial collector of words, sentences, dialogue, images, and ideas. You can't write five novels, three musicals, a magazine column, and a blog post every day for almost ten years without being a good listener and connector of ideas. 

 Inspired by his list of favorite sentences, I went to my Evernote to recover some of my own favorite sentences from 2015:

  • “What is happiness? It’s a moment before you need more happiness.” - Don Draper
  • "In a world where superheroes, and more importantly super-villains, exist, being a glazier must be a great job." - Michael Maloney
  • "He was the fourth of three children."
  • "Whisper to yourself what you love most, and that's how you can be brave." - Clara Dicks
  • "The saddest of all the ribbons is the white ribbon." - Matthew Dicks
  • "You make me want to come to school every day, and that is what every teacher should try to do before everything else. All the other stuff isn't as important as that. Just fill the classroom with hilariousness and love." - a former student (currently in eighth grade) writing to me
  • "None of us marry perfection, we marry potential." - Elder Robert D. Hales
  • “I trust my story. I always betray my heart with my tongue.” - Clara Dicks while reading Neil Gaiman's Instructions

My latest appearance on Mom and Dad Are Fighting: Discussing violent tragedy with children

I made another appearance on Slate's parenting podcast Mom and Dad Are Fighting, talking about how to handle discussions with children about horrific tragedies like the terrorist attacks in Paris or the mass shooting in San Bernardino (which was actually taking place while we recorded my segment).  

Presidential Job Application Question #3 (with my answers): What’s your greatest political triumph?

Slate's John Dickerson recently published a piece entitled:

The Presidential Job Application: Seven questions we should ask anyone who wants to become President.

Over the course of the next seven days, I plan on completing Dickerson's application by answering each of the questions. I've always wanted to be President, so perhaps my answers will be so impressive that a grassroots campaign supporting my candidacy will ignite.

Answers to previous questions:

Question #3: What’s your greatest political triumph?

In the spring of my freshman year of college, my friend, Chris Johnson, sat down next to me in biology class and told me that I should run for President of the Student Senate. He was running for Vice President and wanted a running mate.

We were attending Manchester Community College at the time. I was managing a McDonald’s restaurant - working 50 hours a week - while taking a full course load. I had no extra time to devote to anything else in my life.

I also only had about half a dozen friends on campus and knew nothing about campus politics.

And the election was a week away.

Still, I said yes.

In a debate against my Presidential opponents, I was asked how I expected to find to find the time to be President with my enormous school and work load. I said that I had asked my father the same question when deciding if I should run, and he had said, “Great men don’t find the time. Great men make the time.”

The answer was received with one of the only rounds of applause that day.

Of course, my father had said no such thing. I hadn’t spoken to my father in more than ten years. But when I wished that I had the advice of my father, I imagined what he would say, and if the advice was good, I followed it.

I lost the election by a handful of votes to a woman named Jane.

Political career over.

Except that Jane did not return to the college in the fall in order to serve her term (medical issues), so the Vice Presidential winner (not Chris) assumed the presidency. Chris was then asked to join the Senate in the now-vacant Executive Senator position, and he convinced the Senate to open up a second Executive Senator position for me as well. A month later, when the Treasurer resigned, I took her place.

My political career was born.

The most important aspect of this political triumph was my decision to treat all of the candidates for President with dignity and respect. At least one other Presidential candidates did not, and as a result, he was never even considered for any of the available positions when they opened up that fall. I became known as a person who could deliver an excellent speech, listen to others, and campaign hard without attacking my opponents. Those skills became desirable when there was a vacancy to be filled.

In the end, I was probably better off serving as Treasurer than President. I was incredibly busy that year, and the Treasurer’s position – while taxing – was not nearly as time consuming as the President’s position. I managed to lose the election yet reap the benefits of political office, including leadership retreats to Washington and New York, an office on campus, and the camaraderie and friendship that our political team enjoyed, and I had the opportunity to learn under the tutelage of our Dean of Students, Alfred Carter, which has served me well in life.   

Politics is famous for dirty tricks. But sometimes the high road pays off. 

Storytelling on The Gist

If you’re not already listening to Slate’s The Gist, the daily podcast hosted by Mike Pesca, here’s another reason to do so:

I’ll be appearing on The Gist as a part of a new project that seeks to teach the art of storytelling to listeners. Whether you are telling stories at a dinner party or the water cooler or on the stage, our goal is to explore how stories are found and crafted and perhaps help people become more engaging and interesting conversationalists.

In addition to all that, we are accepting story pitches from listeners, and one lucky person will have the opportunity to work with me to perfect their story and ultimately perform it on stage. 

You can listen to the first episode here, or by subscribing to The Gist in iTunes, or by listening through Soundcloud here.

My segment begins at the 9:40 mark.


Slate might actually be stealing my ideas. Not really, but you have to admit that it’s getting a little suspicious.

About two weeks ago, I wrote a tongue-in-cheek post accusing Slate of stealing my ideas. On the same day, Slate published pieces defending skipping and arguing that climate change skeptics can no longer use the word skeptic when describing themselves because it’s simply not true.

I had previously published blog posts that were eerily similar.

But like I said, my claim was tongue-in-cheek. I didn’t really believe that there was an editor at Slate scouring my blog for interesting topics for his or her writers. I still don’t.


But I couldn’t help but notice that David Shiffman’s piece “I’m Not a Scientist” Is a Dangerous Cop-Out, which argues that the Republicans can no longer claim ignorance in order to avoid taking a position on climate change, is eerily similar to my blog post from a month earlier “I’m not a scientist” is a perfectly acceptable response to climate change questions, as long as you’re willing to acknowledge everything else that you are not.

Just look at the similarity in argument and even word choice between Shiffman and myself.

Shiffman writes:

When politicians say “I’m not a scientist,” it is an exasperating evasion. It’s a cowardly way to avoid answering basic and important policy questions. This response raises lots of other important questions about their decision-making processes. Do they have opinions on how to best maintain our nation’s highways, bridges, and tunnels—or do they not because they’re not civil engineers? Do they refuse to talk about agriculture policy on the grounds that they’re not farmers? How do they think we should be addressing the threat of ISIS? They wouldn’t know, of course; they’re not military generals.

More than a month earlier, I wrote:

Despite the sudden and overwhelming use of this sound byte [I’m not a scientist] as a means of doing nothing about climate change, I’m willing to accept these Republican’s admission of ignorance as long as they are willing to also admit that they are also not economists, military strategists, healthcare policy professionals, gynecologists, teachers, and Biblical scholars.

If these white men (because they are almost all white men) are unwilling to accept the findings of the vast majority of scientists who assert that climate change is both real and man made because they are not scientists themselves, then they must also renounce themselves from decisions involving the economy, monetary policy, the military, the Affordable Care Act, Medicare, Medicaid, abortion, contraception, education, and any policy enacted in accordance or alignment with Biblical principles.

Eerily similar. Right?

Despite the similarities, I don’t think that Slate editors are stealing my ideas. I have an enormous respect for the work that Slate does, and I recently began playing a small role in Slate’s podcasting empire. I am a tiny fish in an enormous pool of ideas. People have similar ideas all the time.

I guess I’m just quicker to the idea than these particular writers at Slate.

Still, it’s oddly coincidental. Right?

My Story of the Day exercise will change your life. I promise. And you'll find a bunch of stories in the process.

Slate editor Allison Benedikt sent the following tweet around the holidays. Julia Turner, who was referenced in the tweet (Benedikt may actually be quoting her) is Slate’s editor-in-chief:

@juliaturner "You live your life. Most days are pretty much the same. You forget most things you’ve done. Then it’s over." Happy holidays!

This tweet struck a chord for me.

For more than a year, I’ve been teaching storytelling workshops as part of Speak Up, the storytelling organization that my wife and I founded in 2013. In addition to the many things that I teach to storytellers, I spend a great deal of class time sharing strategies for generating new story ideas.

There is one exercise in particular that I love. In fact, whether you are a storyteller or not, this exercise can change your life forever. No joke.

Before I go to bed each evening, I sit down in front of my computer for five minutes and ask myself this question:

“If I had to tell a five minute story onstage about something that happened to me today, what would that be?”


Then I review my day, seeking out that one defining, possibly story-worthy moment. Oftentimes the moment is unspectacular. Hardly story worthy at all. But more often than you might think, I manage to find an actual story in my day.

It’s rarely a great story. Most of the time, it’s not even a good story. But it’s a story. Something that made this day different from the rest. Something possibly worthy of telling someday.

And sometimes, I find a great story. Something that I can’t wait to tell. More often than you might expect.

Once my story of the day has been identified, I record it in an Excel database, usually with a couple sentence fragments of description. Just enough detail to remind me of the story later on.

This is different than writing in a journal or a diary every day. Journals and diaries do not demand that you find stories. A diary or a journal entry can reflect a person’s thoughts and feelings for the day, but they do not require the purposeful search for story. They do not insist that the person seek a defining moment from every day of their lives.

It’s these defining moments that make all the difference. It’s the process of recording the stories of our lives that can change your life.

It's changed my life.

Suddenly my days are no longer “pretty much the same.” No longer do I forget most of the things that I have done. Every single day of my life now contains the kernel of a story, and about once or twice a week, those stories are good enough to move over to my official database of story ideas, which currently stands at 194 items.

194 potential stories to tell. 194 stories good enough to tell.

I have no more forgotten days.


A storyteller who I adore once asked me why he never hears me repeat a story onstage. With 194 possible stories waiting to be told and a constantly growing list, why would I ever repeat a story?

At this rate, I'll never get through the list that I already have.

Since I’ve been teaching this strategy to my students, I’ve witnessed some incredible results.

About a dozen of my students continue to do this exercise everyday. Twelve is honestly a pathetic number. I’ve probably taught more than 100 students over the past year, so my percentage of students committed to the process is low. But this process requires a commitment. It’s a five minute commitment, but for some people, even that is a lot.

More importantly, it also requires a great deal of faith.

You have to believe that the process will ultimately yield results. You have to believe that the five minutes spent each day are worth it, even after days when the best you can do are story ideas like these:

I make dinner. Hot dogs and macaroni and cheese. The only dinner I can actually make.

Taught Clara about the Rolling Stones while lying in bed with her. She likes the way Jagger dances.

Walked dog at 2:00 for the second straight night. Snowing.

These entries will probably not make good stories. If Clara turns out to be a Rolling Stones fan someday and we attend a concert together, perhaps the entry about her and the  Stones will become relevant, but it’s unlikely.

But I remember each one of those moments clear as day.

I remember cooking my wife hot dogs and macaroni to surprise her after an especially hard day.

I remember lying in my five year-old daughter’s bed, listening to Satisfaction and explaining the difference between The Stones and The Beatles.

I remember the snow starting to fall as I walked around the block in my slippers, trailing my dog. It was cold and quiet, and I felt so lucky to be out there to see the first flakes, despite the hour.

Those days are not lost to me. They will never be lost to me.

The dozen or so people who continue to record their daily stories do so religiously. We have become a cult. All report that the process has changed their lives. Comments from my former students include:

“I’ve always wanted to meditate but was never able to. But this I can do. It’s like a form of focused meditation. I see so much from my day that I would’ve forgotten.”

“I’ve discovered that I have stories. I lead a more interesting life than I ever knew. I can’t believe it.”

“I feel like I’m a more important part of the world now. I feel like my story is a part of a bigger story.”

“I’ve learned so much about myself and recovered so many stories from my childhood through this process that I had forgotten.”

This is also true. By sitting down and reviewing your day, searching for a story worthy moment, the door to the past often swings open and memories long since forgotten are suddenly pour through.

Looking for stories? Follow this process every day for the rest of your life.

More importantly, do you want to change your life? Do you want your days to matter? Do you want to recall the moments of your life that mean so much in the moment but are lost so easily?

Take my advice. Commit to five minutes every day.

Alison Benedikt (or perhaps Julia Turner) was not wrong. "Most days are pretty much the same. You forget most things you’ve done. Then it’s over."

Don’t let that be you.

Someone at Slate magazine has been reading my blog and stealing my brilliant ideas. Seriously. Sort of.

On October 23, 2012, I came out in favor of skipping after skipping down the deserted streets of Brattleboro, Vermont.

“The swinging of the arms, the momentary, almost violent liftoff into the air in the midst of each skip and the inability to do anything but smile throughout the process, make it something we really should do more often.”

My wife even commented on the post:

I’m glad I missed it.

On December 16, 2014, Kevin Zawacki of Slate wrote In Defense of Skipping. In many more words, along with a video clip of Neil Armstrong skipping on the Moon, he essentially makes the same argument.


I could’ve let this go, but then this happened.

On November 13, 2014, I wrote a post about my desire to publish a book with a list of all the politicians who are denying climate change as a means of holding them accountable to history when the polar caps are melted and sea levels have risen 20 feet.

When a politician tells us that he does not believe in climate change or does not accept that climate change is the result of human activity or can’t be certain enough about the science to take action, he or she is either lying or stupid. The science is simply too overwhelmingly in favor of manmade climate change for anyone with half a brain to deny it.

On December 16, 2014 (the same day Zawacki published his piece about skipping), Slate’s Lawrence Krauss published If You Don’t Accept That Climate Change Is Real, You’re Not a Skeptic. You’re a Denier.

But we felt that when someone like Inhofe, who has so clearly denied or ignored the major scientific analyses of human induced climate change and its consequences, was so inappropriately described by a publication like the New York Times, it was necessary for a broad-based group in the scientific community to speak up. The effort to stop effective action to curb climate change has been successful in part because it has focused on public relations rather than content. By confusing skepticism with ideological intransigence, journalists play into the hands of those who plan and implement these large-scale disinformation campaigns.

We are making the same argument.

Two pieces, published on the same day, which essentially reiterate (in substantially more words) arguments that I made one month and two years ago.

Someone at Slate has been reading my blog.

Of course, I don’t really believe this to be the case. Mostly.

More likely, it’s the result of my tendency to be ahead of the curve, a frontrunner, a visionary, a pioneer, and similar synonyms.

Still, quite a coincidence.

No technology is a great way to teach. Also, PowerPoint is more than two decades old. It doesn’t count as technology anymore.

Rebecca Shuman of Slate writes about the benefits of a low technology classroom, despite complaints by some students that they are not being prepared for a world in which technology is a dominant an essential force.

"While exceptions exist, research shows again and again that when people are staring at a screen, or skip-jumping through a bajillion websites and apps, they are not learning well. Yes, college students are adults, and if they choose to spend class on whatever the new thing to replace Snapchat is, that’s their prerogative—but when it comes to course design, it is still the professor’s job to prioritize student learning."

I couldn’t agree more.

I teach storytelling to adults on a fairly regular basis, and recently, I conducted a series of workshops for teachers as part of an educational conference. In both instances, I was contacted by the conference facilitators and asked what my technology requirements were.

“None,” I said.

“Not even a PowerPoint?” one of the facilitators asked.

“Two things,” I said. “First, PowerPoint is 25 years old. It’s older than beepers and Viagra. It doesn’t count as technology anymore.”

“Okay…” she said.

“Second, after Ebola and ISIS, the next thing that we need to eradicate from this planet is PowerPoint.”


In truth, there are times when I will utilize PowerPoint (and some of the other technology platforms that Shuman mentions in her piece) in my teaching, but only when it is absolutely necessary, which means almost never. Technology for technology’s sake makes no sense to me. Adding bells and whistles to something better done with pencil and paper only interferes with what is good and right about teaching.

Yet I see it all the time.

Besides, most PowerPoint presentations are so poorly designed and utilized so ineffectively that they do more harm than good.

I explain to my adult students that I want to engage them in dialogue and discourse. Make continuous eye contact. Utilize nonverbal signaling.

“Let’s spend the next hour nodding and smiling and furrowing our brows at one another,” I recently suggested to a group of students.

I want them to engage with me. Not my slides or my handouts.

I also understand the value of note taking. I know how it increases efficiency and effectiveness of learning. Just the act of writing down of a piece of information helps the learner retain that information, but note taking also forces learners to prioritize, organize, and systematize information as it’s being delivered.

All of this increases understanding and retention enormously.

So I tell my students that if they want to take notes, that’s great. Go for it. Sometimes I even talk about the benefits of note taking. But I also tell them at the end of my class or workshop, I would also be more than happy to send them my notes via email, thus releasing them from this burden as well.  

All I really want is for my students to listen, respond, question, and engage. Be fully present in the moment. Not staring at a screen or looking ahead on an agenda or flipping through a handout.

Just be with me for the short time we have together.

Perhaps it’s the storyteller in me. Since I teach through story almost continuously, my instinct is to find a way to engage my students and convey information and understanding through character, plot, humor, and an emotional appeal.

Nothing can ruin a good story faster and more completely than a PowerPoint presentation.

And based upon the feedback that I receive, both formally and informally, I am doing something right. I consistently receive high marks from my students, despite the absence of any material other than me and my voice.

I have never been asked to use more technology in my instruction.

I have never been asked to hand out notes, outlines, or even an agenda beforehand.

My workshops are always well attended, and students actively participate throughout.

It’s old school. Even older than PowerPoint. It’s one person who knows some stuff imparting his wisdom upon a group of people who don’t know that same stuff or don’t know it was well.

It’s stories and anecdotes. Questions and answers. Call and response.

It’s fun. And when students are having fun, they learn.

The truth is sometimes truly better than fiction. This is just such a case.

Sometimes the letters that Slate’s Dear Prudence receives are better than any fiction I’ve read all week long.


This is an example of just such a letter:

“While cleaning out my late grandfather’s house, my aunt discovered a dildo. She asked me what I thought it was and I could not bring myself to tell her. I vaguely replied maybe it was some kind of a cheap ornament, and quietly put it into the junk pile. Imagine my consternation when I saw it displayed in her house along with some other knick knacks she retrieved from pop’s home. I tried to tell her it doesn’t go well with her decor, pop probably didn’t want us to take all of his junk, etc. But my aunt dismissed my protests and says she wants to keep it. Please give me some excuse I can use to persuade her to throw it away, other than having to explain to my elderly prudish aunt what it really is.”

She’s worried about her husband’s diapers. She should be more worried about her child’s early morning routine.

Slate’s Dear Prudence answers a question from a reader whose husband is a lifelong bed wetter who wears a diaper and rubber pants to bed each night. The reader is worried about the possibility of her children discovering their father’s secret and wants to know if they should be proactive and tell the kids before they find out for themselves.


First, let me say that this woman deserves a great deal of credit and at least a nomination for Spouse of the Year. While it’s true that if you love your spouse, this would not be a deal breaker, but they way in which she has accepted and even embraced the situation is remarkable.

She writes:

We are both completely comfortable with his bed-wetting and diapers and it’s actually fun getting him ready for bed. I took over getting him diapered and its really made us closer.

This is a woman who you hold onto at all costs.

The thing that Emily Yoffe rarely does in her role as Prudence is comment on issues other than those specifically addressed in the letters she receives. While I have no quibble with the advice that she offers this woman (it’s a private matter that only needs to be explained if discovered), I can’t help but think that the most important sentence in the letter (that Yoffe ignores) is this:

So far, the 8-year-old has not discovered the secret, but routinely comes to our room at 4 a.m. after waking up.

This is the real problem. Your eight year-old should not be routinely waking up at 4:00 every morning (this coming from a person routinely awake at 4:00 every morning), and he absolutely, positively shouldn’t be coming into his parents’ room at that hour.

While we can’t control the time that our children wake up (I’ve tried), we can avoid rewarding them for waking up early by insisting that they remain in their own bedrooms and not disturb our sleep.

At three years-old, this is admittedly hard, and possibly impossible.

At five years-old, it’s probably still difficult.

But an eight year-old can be stopped. An eight year-old has reached the age of reason. An eight year-old understands consequences. An eight year-old can and should be stopped.


Forget your concerns about your husband’s diapers. Your child is not sleeping enough and is being rewarded for waking up too early. He is disturbing your sleep, as well, which is no less precious,

Sometimes the perceived problem and the real problem are two entirely different things.

The ad has good intentions, but it doesn’t depict reality, and that could be more damaging to girls than no ad at all.

This new Verizon-sponsored ad, which was made in conjunction with Makers to show how parents unintentionally steer their daughters away from science and math, is receiving a lot of praise for the way it doesn’t focus solely on female body and beauty issues, as well as its willingness to shine the light on the role that parents play in the problem. 

Amanda Marcotte of Slate calls it a “blast of refreshing cool air.”

I understand why critics like the ad so much, but here’s my problem with it:

Are there really parents in the world as sexist and stupid as the ones depicted in the commercial?

I’m not sure. If there are parents like this, they are hardly in the majority. 

There are four incidents depicted in the commercial during which the girl is supposedly steered away from science.

First, while hiking up a mountain and through a stream while wearing rubber boots, her mother says, “Sammy, don’t get your dress dirty.”

On a hike? Up a mountain? In a stream? Is there some fine dining establishment at the summit with a strict dress code? Is this rocky, mountain trail also the path to Sammy’s kindergarten graduation?

Next, a slightly older Sammy is standing in a tidal pool, holding a starfish. Dad says, “You don’t want to mess with that. Why don’t you put it down.”

A starfish? Not an angry crab. Not a potentially poisonous sea urchin. Perhaps the most defenseless creature on the entire planet: A starfish.

Next, Sammy is hanging spheres decorated as planets over her bed. Her mother pokes her head into her bedroom and says, “This project has gotten out of control.”

Perhaps it’s the use of glitter, which should be banned from the Earth, that has gotten her mother’s knickers in a bunch. I could understand this concern. I’d even be willing to support the mother’s discontent. But other than the possible overuse of glitter, what exactly has “gotten out of control?” Was Sammy’s mother thinking that her solar system would consist of just eight planets, but Sammy foolishly made thirteen?

The last example is the worst. Teenage Sammy is drilling a screw into a model rocket while her older brother looks on. Dad shouts, “Whoa. Be careful with that (drill). Why don’t you hand it to your brother.”

Not a table saw. Not a weaponized laser beam. Not a nail gun. A drill.

I’m not saying that girls can’t use table saws, weaponized laser beams, or nail guns, but as a parent, I can understand the concern for any teenager (or me) using these tools. But a drill is one step removed from an egg beater. It’s one of the most benign of all the power tools. What damage could Sammy possibly do with a drill?

I believe that parents play a role in a girl’s decisions to turn away from science and math. I just don’t believe that it’s typically (or ever) done in such ham-handed, overtly sexist ways as depicted in this commercial. 

Most important, unrealistic and exaggerated ads like this make it too easy for parents to watch them and think, “I’d never do anything like that,” while ignoring the more subtle signals that we send to our girls everyday.

When we show parents the worst examples of parenting, we offer them the opportunity to feel good about themselves and their own parenting, when in truth, they may be just as guilty of the same kinds of behavior that this ad depicts, only in more subtle and realistic forms.  


If Bobby Riggs intentionally lost to Billie Jean King in The Battle of the Sexes, it matters. The truth always matters.

ESPN recently ran a feature story about the allegation that Bobby Riggs intentionally lost the famous 1973 Battle of the Sexes match against Billie Jean.

I’ve read the piece and then listened to the writer discuss it on a podcast.

Am I convinced that it’s true?

No. But I think there’s a possibility that it’s true.


Amanda Marcotte of Slate responded to the piece with one of her own entitled Did Bobby Riggs Throw His Match Against Billie Jean King? It Doesn’t Matter.

I can’t imagine a more ridiculous title or a worse premise.

Of course it matters. The truth always matters. Even when the truth may damage your cause or harm your narrative, it should always be sought.

In this case, however, the discovery that Riggs threw the match would not change the course or the perception of feminism in any way. In fact, I would argue that Marcotte’s piece does far more damage to feminism than the revelation that Bobby Riggs may have intentionally lost to Billie Jean King. It lends credence and weight to something that is no longer relevant. It implies that the feminist narrative is still dependent on King’s defeat of Riggs, even while she claims that the truth about the match “doesn’t matter.”  

Marcotte’s initial argument is that even if it were true that Riggs threw the match, it wouldn’t matter. Just because male athletes can jump higher and run faster than female athletes doesn’t mean that women should be paid less for the same work that men do or be any less entitled to affordable daycare.

Of course this is true. We all know this to be true. Even the most ardent, angry sexist would be hard pressed to argue that women should be paid less than men because they can’t jump as high. At no time in the history of the universe has this claim been made by even the most idiotic sexist. 

You don’t earn points for stating the obvious.

But it’s Marcotte’s ridiculous knee-jerk reaction to these allegations about an event that took place 40 years ago that risks lending credibility to something that should have absolutely to bearing on feminism at all. 

Is the feminist narrative really so dependent upon a 55 year-old retired professional tennis player losing a match to a 30 year-old female professional at the top of her game?

I hope not.

And has it been forgotten that this same 55 year-old retiree had already defeated 28 year-old Margaret Court, the #1 ranked women’s tennis player in the world at the time, just four months earlier?

In truth, The Battle of the Sexes was was hardly a feminist victory. At best it was a tie, and if you factor in age, it’s hard to argue that Riggs’ loss was a boost for feminism at all.  

Marcotte goes on to predict that after reading this ESPN story:

Every single embittered, sexist man in the country—every Fox viewer, every Limbaugh fan, every visitor to Ask Men—is going to eagerly forward this story to every guy he knows, chortling triumphantly that this finally proves that women are in fact the weaker sex.

Does she really believe that there are hordes of embittered, sexist men in this country still stinging over a tennis match that was played more than forty years ago?

Even if there were men still looking for vindication as Marcotte seems to believe, don’t you think they would’ve already found solace in the age disparity between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs? Riggs was more than a quarter-century older than his female opponents, and he defeated one of them (and according to the tennis rankings at the time, the better one) easily.

Marcotte is crazy if she thinks this potential revelation would even be a blip on the sexist radar.  

I realize that Marcotte’s intention was to say that this tennis match has no bearing on feminism today, and she is right. It doesn’t.

But to assume that sexist men are still angry about this match is ridiculous.

To state that the truth behind the Battle of the Sexes doesn’t matter is equally silly. 

The thread of melancholy is unavoidable for this parent

Slate’s John Dickerson writes about the regret he feels about not inviting his parents’ friends to his wedding for Slate’s wedding issue. This paragraph, which deals with parenthood, was especially poignant for me:

There's an indefinite point in your tenure as a parent where you start to realize your kids are leaving you. For us, the first hints came at about age 9. As your kids age, you delight in the new bonds that replace the old ones. No longer laughing over Dr. Seuss, you're now laughing over The Avengers and tomorrow Arrested Development. Or you're watching them pull the wriggling fish off the hook, which was once your job. The moments are so sweet you can usually avoid the thread of melancholy embedded in each of them: With each molting, you reinforce that the molting is happening faster.

I am never able to “avoid the thread of melancholy embedded in each of them.” While I am not a parent who feels that my children are growing up too fast (perhaps because I mark every day in writing), I am constantly aware of the unending series of losses that parenthood represents.

When my four year-old daughter asks me to pick her up and carry her, I do so every time, regardless of circumstance, because I know the number of times I will be able to pick her up are dwindling.

That melancholy shades everything I do with my children. It reminds me of the importance of each moment, but it also reminds me of its impermanence. My nearly lifelong, omnipresent existential crisis has been both a blessing and a curse.

Later this month, I will be telling the story of one of my near-death experiences onstage. While preparing for that story, I wrote this:

There is not a day, not an hour, that goes by that I do not think about my own mortality. I live in a constant, persistent, unending existential crisis. Its causes are two near-death experiences and a robbery that had me convinced that I was going to die. It has contributed to more than decade of post-traumatic stress disorder, an inability to sleep peacefully and an awareness and fear of death that had caused me to spontaneously weep at times.

I spend my waking hours wondering if this will be the last time I hug my daughter, the final time I witness a sunset or the last time I hear The Beatles sing about Desmond and Molly and their home sweet home. I go to bed every night, angry about my need for wasteful, unproductive sleep, wondering if I can shave another minute or two off the scant few hours I already spend in bed.

I look at the world and I see impermanence and decay. I see a planetary population that will cease to exist one hundred years from now.

Dickerson is right in describing these parental moments as sweet. Indescribably sweet. Some of the simplest and best moments of my life.


I would like to also say that these are unforgettable moments, but I tend to avoid that word because I know that someday I will die and everything will be forgotten.

The ability to avoid the thread of melancholy that is embedded within these moments of parental bliss is something that I cannot do.

I am envious of John Dickerson and every other parent who can.

A pill that reduces the amount of sleep that a person needs? Blasphemy!

Slate’s Matthew Yglesias reports on the economics of a new drug called Modafinil, which appears to let people get by with much less sleep than they do today.

When I first read about this drug, I was thrilled.

I can’t stand sleep. I don’t like to sleep. I’m appalled by my need for sleep. Sleep is like death. I’ve always thought that sleep was human being’s greatest weakness.

If this drug could allow us to continue to function normally on less sleep, this would be a crowning achievement of the medical and pharmaceutical establishment.

Then I realized the possible personal implications involved.

I already require less sleep than most people. I slept a little more than five hours last night. The previous night I slept four. I probably average about five hours of sleep per night.

Some might argue that I actually require more sleep and am depriving my body of what it needs. A recent report in the New York Times argues that people who believe they can get by on 5 or 6 hours of sleep are probably shortchanging themselves when it comes to the rest they require.

I admittedly got nervous while reading this piece until I came to the list of effects of this self-imposed sleep deprivation:

From infancy to old age, the effects of inadequate sleep can profoundly affect memory, learning, creativity, productivity and emotional stability, as well as your physical health.

I don’t think I suffer in any of these effects. In fact, I think I excel in many of these areas. They are some of my areas of greatest strength. 

Don’t get me wrong. I have many, many shortcomings (22 in all by the latest count), but none of the effects of sleep deprivation appear on the list.

As a result, I have 2-3 extra hours a day in comparison to the average American. Add to that this that the average American watches about six hours of television per day and I average less than one and it’s easy to understand why I manage to get so much done.

One of the questions I’m most frequently asked at my author talks is how I manage to squeeze so much into a single day.

I often cite my near-death experiences as  providing me with an ongoing, diabolically existential crisis that makes me want to suck the life out of every minute of every day.

I speak about my experience working at McDonald’s, learning and embracing the idea that unwavering, well-planned routines boost productivity.

I talk about how daily exercise boosts my energy level. I talk about my belief in minimalism as a means of stripping my life of unneeded noise and clutter. I talk about my ability to prioritize tasks and delegate.

All of these things are true, but at the heart of my productivity is the fact that my day is 2-3 hours longer than the average American, and if you factor in the amount of television that the average person watches, it’s 6-8 hours longer.

I simply have more time in the day than most.

This is why I find myself despising the idea of a drug that reduced the amount of sleep that a person requires. I have a hard enough time keeping up with the added hours in my day. My reduced need for sleep is the closest thing I have to a super power (other than my immunity from bruising, hangovers and vomiting).

This pill would render my super power meaningless. 

How would Superman feel if everyone could take a pill and suddenly leap tall buildings in a single bound?

Depressed is my guess. Downright annoyed. 

It’s how I feel now.

I’m secretly hoping that the clinical trial for this new drug fail miserably. Maybe the mice will grow a third eye or get lost in the simplest of mazes.

Anything to maintain give me an edge on the average person.

My advice to you:

Get plenty of sleep. Maybe even more than you require. Don’t take any chances. Did you see that list of adverse effects of sleep deprivation? Memory loss? Emotional instability? A lack of creativity? It’s nothing to mess with. Go to bed early and wake up late. Sleep until noon on the weekends.

Embrace your bed for the friend and companion that it should be.

Sleep, my friends. Sleep long and hard.

I need all the help I can get.  

Shut up, Torie Bosch.

In a piece about the Decembeaver (I’ll let you read about it on Slate if you’d like), Slate’s Torie Bosch writes:

So we’ve made it through Movember, that silly month in which men on your Facebook wall grow out their mustaches “for cancer.” (Because one cannot simply donate to groups like the American Cancer Society—a stunt must be involved.)

If you’ve never heard of it, Movember is an annual, month-long event involving the growing of moustaches during the month of November to raise awareness of prostate cancer and other male cancer and their associated charities. In its eight years of existence, the organization has raised hundred of millions of dollars for these charities and is the leading contributor to prostate cancer research in many countries around the world.

This is why Bosch’s comments annoyed the hell out of me.

First, she states that men grow mustaches for cancer, placing the two words in quotation marks presumably to express doubt as to these men’s intentions. But the organization has already raised hundred of millions of dollars “for cancer” already. Why does Bosch question the motives of these participants?

Why would anyone question the motives of people who are raising enormous sums of money in the interests of medical research?

Then she adds this parenthetical sentence:

(Because one cannot simply donate to groups like the American Cancer Society—a stunt must be involved.)

The stupidity of this statement astounds me.

First, part of the purpose of Movember is to raise awareness of prostate cancer and other male cancers, and in doing so, encourage men to get an annual check-up, become more aware of any family history of cancer, and to adopt a healthier lifestyle.

It seems to me that an army of men sporting newly grown mustaches around the world is a perfect way to garner attention for a good cause and raise awareness of a serious, often ignored medical issue. This is not a stunt. It’s a means of channeling the energy of millions of people into a single cause for a single month in the year, and in doing so, create a distinct, daily visual reminder about the cause.   

Second, does Bosch also think that every Breast Cancer Walk, Walk For Diabetes, Race for The Cure and the like should also be eliminated? Can’t these walkers and runners simply donate money without some stunt being involved? Why must thousands of people spend countless weekends walking and running around this country in order to raise money and awareness for worthy charities? Just hand over the damn money and be done with it.


This is what Bosch seems to be implying.

I would also point out that Movember is a sponsored event. Participants get sponsors for their mustaches, allowing them to contribute more money to the cause than they could ever contribute on their own and involving people who might not want not be able to grow a mustache but are more than willing to help. 

To imply that these men should just fork over some money and forget the “silly month” suggests absolute ignorance in regards to the purpose and ways in which these charitable foundations work.

Shut up, Torie Bosch. 

I have never participated in Movember, but I think the story behind the origins of the organization is fascinating, and I see nothing but goodness coming from the organization. I suggest you watch Movember’s founder Adam Garone’s TED Talk below. It’s remarkable how this organization has grown in just eight short years. The story is inspiring and amusing and a great reminder about the power of people pulling together.  

The problem with Slate’s Double X Gabfest

I realize that this will apply to a tiny subset of my audience, but I have to put it out there: I can’t stand Slate’s Double X Gabfest. Not that this should be a surprise, as I have criticized it before. Even so, I continue to listen each week in hopes of improvement but come away angry, annoyed and frustrated.

I may have to stop listening at some point.

Today I finally identified the main reason why I cannot stand this podcast.

No, it’s not because Slate’s Double X editor Hanna Rosin manages to find a way to mention her upcoming book each week, though I find this hideously self serving.

No, it’s not because the same Hanna Rosin speaks twice as much as anyone else on the podcast combined, even though this is true.

It’s not even because every other contributor to the podcast seems to pay constant and unwavering deference to Hanna Rosin.

The reason I cannot stand this podcast is because there is never an ounce of push back on the show. The Double X Gabfest amounts to little more than a mutual mind share, with each woman attempting to outdo the next in her universal agreement on the topic at hand.

They use phrases like, “So we all agree?” and “We think this is a good idea, then?” and “That sounds right to me” rather than finding topics to actually debate.

This week the trio discussed the teenage sexual assault victim who named her underage assailants via Twitter after the judge admonished her not to release their names to the public. Not surprising, all three contributors took the side of the victim in the case. I felt similarly, but I couldn’t help but wonder:

What if the underage criminal whose identity was disclosed on Twitter was guilty of breaking and entering rather than sexual assault? Would we feel differently about the victim’s actions? What if the perpetrator had been a fifteen year old boy who had broken into the victim’s house and stolen from her? Would we feel the same about her public disclosure of his name?

What if this had been a case of simple assault rather than one sexual in nature? What if both the victim and the perpetrator had been males? Would this change things in terms of publicly disclosing the names these minors?

What if the crime has been manslaughter instead of sexual assault? A 14-year old boy brandishes a firearm in an attempt to intimidate a teenage girl, and in the process, the gun accidentally fires, killing her the girl’s best friend. The judge seals the court documents in order to protect the identity of the assailant in this case because he is a minor, but the girl broadcasts his name on Twitter in honor of her dead friend.

How do we feel now?

Does sexual assault or rape, for whatever reason, carry a different weight than other crimes? Should it?

I’m not sure about the answers to any of these questions, and I suspect that in the end, I would still find myself siding with Rosin and her colleagues, but they are the kinds of questions that are never addressed on this podcast. On every other Slate podcast, debate is constant, expected and appreciated. Devil’s advocates abound. There are even moments of genuine anger and discord.

This does not happen on Slate’s Double X Gabfest. No one bothered to wonder if we would think differently if the crime had not been sexual assault. No one bothered to play Devil’s advocate on behalf of the assailants and their court-ordered anonymity. No one even bothered to question the judge’s reasoning behind his desire to keep the assailants’ names private. There was talk about the stigma and shame associated with rape, and then all agreed that the victim had acted correctly in this case.

Every topic is handled similarly. Discussion, agreement, consensus, and more of the same, with Hanna Rosin dominating the conversation while finding some way to mention her upcoming book.

I’d like to be invited to join the Double X Gabfest for a week or two, in order to present an alternating viewpoint to some of the issues that they address and challenge the collective position from time to time. While I often find myself siding with the Double X collective, I think it’s reasonable to expect that either someone on the panel be willing to play Devil’s advocate or (even better) find someone whose opinions do not align so nearly with the rest of the panel.

Yes, I could just stop listening. I know this. But I genuinely want the podcast to be better. I want Slate to produce a podcast that addresses issues related to women and feminism, and I want to be exposed to these ideas more often.

And yes, if you haven’t figured it out, I’ll admit that Hanna Rosin bugs me as well, which is odd because I think her husband, David Plotz, is fantastic in his role as both editor and occasional contributor to Slate as well as podcast host.

I can’t imagine how he puts up with her.

In truth, I’m sure that Hanna is a wonderful person, and I don’t doubt her intelligence or accomplishments for a moment. She is a skilled writer and journalist, and I will probably read her book when it comes out.

I just think she stinks as a podcast host.