Never again. But a little sad.

I know this is a ridiculous waste of paper and money, and Elysha immediately went online to ensure that we would never receive a copy of the yellow pages again, but there’s a part of me that also loves seeing something old and nostalgic arrive on my doorstep once a year.

It would be fun to see items of nostalgia arrive every now and then.

Maybe a yellow, Memorex cassette featuring songs recorded off the radio, complete with the chopped-off DJ intros and the occasional American Top 40 theme song.

Elysha knew.

Here’s a crazy thing:

Apparently I make noise while listening to stories.

Elysha and I were driving home from a storytelling show recently. After each show, we run through the stories, discussing what we liked and perhaps didn’t like about each one. At one point, she said, “I know you didn’t like the ending of that story.”

“How did you know?” I asked.

“I heard you,” she said. “You make these sounds when listening to stories. I’ve learned to decipher them.”

“Seriously?” I asked.

“Yes” she said. “In fact, I know that you didn’t like the ending of so-and-so’s story, but then, at the last second, you changed your mind and loved it.”

I hit the brakes on the car. I couldn’t believe it. That was exactly how I had felt about the story. I hated the ending, but then, in the last three or four sentences, the storyteller flipped it and made it work beautifully.

“You can tell all that just by listening to me listening to a story?”

“Yup,” she said.

I was both elated that my wife knew me so well and absolutely terrified about what other possible unintentional auditory information I have been divulging on a daily basis.

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Can you judge a person by the quality of their spouse?

In the midst of a conversation about spouses, a friend asked, “Can you judge the quality of a person by their choice of spouse.”

My instant response was, “No. Of course not. That would presume that what you see in a person should be the same as what the world sees that person That wouldn’t be fair.”

Then I thought some more and added, “I also know some very fine people with some not-so-great spouses. And ex-spouses. Sometimes people make mistakes. Or people change. Or people settle. Or people have yet to figure themselves out. They can still be amazing people. So no. Still no.”

Then I added, “That doesn’t mean that someone’s spouse can’t make them awful to hang around when their spouse is also present, but that’s not their fault. It’s their awful spouse.”

Then I thought about my wife - Elysha - and quickly added, “Wait. Actually, yes. Maybe you can. You definitely can judge the quality of a person by their choice of spouse. In fact, you should. I hope you will.”

Unfortunately, I’m not sure if that equation balances as well for Elysha as it does for me.

I live with a stranger named Clara

The kids have just completed a screen-free week, thanks to the Newington school district’s initiative that encouraged kids to put away their devices and turn off their televisions for a full week.

To their credit, the school also hosted several events throughout the week like board game night and a nature hike as alternatives for families and to encourage them to find new ways to entertain themselves.

Happily, my children completed screen-free week without too much trouble. I’m sure they missed their tablets and TV, but they never complained. Instead, they filled the house with the Hamilton soundtrack (though they’ve never seen the musical) and spent lots and lots of time reading, playing with toys, drawing, and doing jigsaw puzzles.

It was really kind of lovely.

My favorite moment from the week took place on Wednesday morning. Clara - an early riser - was assembling a “Jigsaw Puzzler Museum” on the dining room table while simultaneously dancing to songs from Hamilton. When “You’ll Be Back,” King George’s song expressing his belief that the American colonists will crawl back to the British Empire once their rebellion is squashed, Clara started shouting back at the song.

“Yeah, right!” she said. “Forget it!” “Give me a break!” “Not true!”

It was hilarious.

Thus ensued a discussion about why she would’ve been a patriot in Hamilton’s day and why the loyalists had it all wrong.

A little later, she was working on a puzzle of the 50 states beside me. She said, “Look, Daddy, the thirteen colonies.”

Rather than filling in the full map, she had only filled in the territory that existed at the time of American independence. Kind of neat. A new way to approach the puzzle.

A few minutes later, she said, “Look, Daddy, the states of the Civil War.”

Once again, she had filled in only the states that faced off in 1861 during the Civil War.

I was impressed. I didn’t know that she possessed this knowledge.

A few minutes later, she said, “Look, Dad. The states of the Mexican —American War.”

“What?” I said. I had to pull up a map to confirm this one, but she was right.

Then, “Look, Daddy, the states of the Louisiana Purchase.”

I couldn’t believe it. She was right again.

Apparently her class is engaged in a map study in school, and even though she can’t put her clothing into the hamper on a consistent basis and leaves food wrappers in Elysha’s car almost daily, she can remember maps with an eerie degree of accuracy.

Little did I know.

It’s weird when your children start to become people who possess facets that you don’t know anything about.

There was a time when everything Clara knew came from myself or Elysha.

Then there was a time when even though other people were teaching her things, I still knew everything she knew.

Now she’s just a person in my house, in possession of skills and facts and opinions that I’m not aware of at all until I find myself sitting beside her before sunrise on a Wednesday morning, listening to her shout back at King George while filling in a map of the Louisiana Purchase.

It’s pretty amazing.

Attendance weirdos

When I was growing up, teachers would take attendance by calling your name.

Students would either raise their hand when their name was called or audibly respond to indicate that they had arrived safely.

When responding audibly, the vast majority of us would use the word “Here!”

On rare occasions, you’d might find yourself in a classroom with a student who instead responded with the word, “Present!”

I always thought the kids who responded with the word “Present!” had something wrong with them,

I still do.

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I was so angry at my wife, and then I wasn't.

I was speaking at an event a few months ago. A fairly prestigious event.

I wasn’t wearing a tie, and I was still wearing jeans and sneakers, but I'd put a jacket on over my tee shirt, so you know it was a big deal.

Just prior to taking the stage, the speaker before me said some things that I really didn’t like. He said some things that Elysha Dicks - who was sitting beside me - really didn’t like, either. He said some things that I suspect a lot of people in the room really didn’t like.

Not only were his opinions offensive and wrongheaded, but worse, rather than praising, he was punching.

Rather than expressing support for an institution by highlighting it’s benefits, successes, and esteemed record, he was attacking an adjacent institution that both didn’t deserved to be attacked and also wasn’t represented by anyone that night who could defend it.

It was a sucky, stupid, cowardly thing to do.

I was seething.

Then Elysha took my hand and whispered, “Don’t.”

That was all she said, but I knew exactly what she meant. Even though I had a prepared speech with stories to tell and a message to be delivered, she knew full well how simple it would be for me to reshape my talk onstage in order to either defend an institution in need of defense or - even better - attack this man for his stupidity and cowardice.

In fact, I could probably still do my assigned job very well while also blasting this terrible man and his terrible thoughts.

It would be easy.

I could switch stories. Reframe moments. Insert new lines or anecdotes. Lean stories in a certain direction. Alter my between-story banter. As a speaker, I’m flexible enough to be able to change things on the fly without much effort and still be effective.

I do it all the time. The audience would never even know that I was changing my speech. I could still sound just as prepared as I would be if I was sticking to my prepared remarks.

I could both perform my job at a high level while simultaneously making it clear to this man how stupid, nearsighted, and unfair his remarks had been.

And I was angry at Elysha for thinking that I would ever do such a thing.

This was a prestigious event, celebrating an institution deserving of many accolades. An institution that I greatly respected. I was honored to be speaking. Thrilled with the opportunity to entertain and sing the praises of this worthy place and the people who make it possible.

Did she really think I would dishonor these people by turning my speech into an assault on the previous speaker? Did she really think I was that selfish and stupid?

I was so angry. For about three seconds.

Then I realized:

  1. She knows I could do it. She knows I’m perfectly capable to verbally assaulting this man while still getting the job done. I might even be able to do so in such a way that only he would know what I was doing. She believes in me.

  2. She knows that I’m also the kind of guy who might just do it. She doesn’t think of me as some staid, perpetually appropriate, middle-of-the-road guy. She knows I have the courage and integrity to stand up for the little guy, even when the moment might not be right. She thinks I’m a rebel.

  3. She’s not entirely wrong. While tonight might be too prestigious and too important to go on the offensive, there are other times when I absolutely would.

In short, Elysha knows me. Believes in me. Even protects me from myself when she thinks it might be needed.

My anger was gone. I was joyous. Ebullient. Filled with appreciation and love.

Later, she stopped me from writing to this stupid man, explaining that my time is too valuable to waste my thoughts on surely deaf ears.

She was right about that, too.

I’m a very lucky man.

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I'm no scrub.

I’m driving somewhere when my phone rings.

It’s Elysha.

She’s calling to tell me that TLC’s “No Scrubs” is playing on the radio. She and the kids are listening to it. She tells me that she hasn’t heard the song in a long time. Then she says, “You’re the exact opposite of a scrub.”

That’s what she called to tell me. I’m no scrub.

And I kind of loved it.

That, my friends, is true love.

The complexities of baby naming, and some very bad baby naming decisions

I met a woman in Iowa last year who has five brothers and one sister. Her brothers are all named after Biblical characters whose names begin with the letter J:

James, John, Jesse, Jude, and Joshua.

Oddly no Joseph. Also no Jesus, though I suppose that might have set too high a bar for the poor kid. Job might’ve made for an interesting name, too, but perhaps her parents were ready to use all of those names if any additional boys were eventually added to the family.

Her sister's name is Anne. Named after their grandmother.

The woman who I met is named Amanda. When she was born, her parents hadn't yet chosen a name for her, so they asked a random mother in an adjacent hospital room what she had just named her newborn. The woman said, "Amy," so Amanda's parents named their newborn Amy, too. But because they thought that Amy sounded like a nickname and wouldn’t be professional enough for a possible future CEO, they officially named her Amanda but called her Amy.

When Amanda/Amy went to kindergarten, there was already an Amy in her class, so her teacher told her that she needed to be known as Amanda at school. So Amanda/Amy was Amy at home and Amanda in the classroom, which led to people occasionally think that Amy and Amanda were two different people. Amanda/Amy would occasionally be told things like, “Hey! I heard your sister Amanda did well in the science fair!”

“I’m Amanda,” she would say. “I did well.”

“Then who is Amy?” the confused person would ask.

It’s kind of crazy that Amanda’s parents invested such time and thought into the naming of six of their children but allowed the seventh to essentially be named by the person who happened to be occupying the room next door.

Right? Amanda is fine with it today, but I can’t help but wonder what her parents could’ve been thinking. Naming a brand new human being can be hard. I understand this. But this Amanda/Amy story struck me as especially crazy.

Then again, I’m also overly sensitive to the naming of babies given my last name. My father’s name, for example, is Leslie Jean Dicks. Leslie and Jean are more often girl’s names, so rather than using either one, my father decided to go by the nickname Les for his entire life.

Les Dicks. I’m not kidding.

Perhaps this seemed reasonable to him at the time. After all, his brother and his uncle were both named Harry Dicks.

Not Harold. Just Harry. I’m not kidding again.

My grandmother – their mother – was named Odelie Dicks, so perhaps these awful name combinations were simple acts of spite. “I had to suffer with Odelie Dicks for most of my life, so now it’s your turn to suffer.” My grandmother wasn’t the nicest person in the world, so this is entirely possible.

Like Amanda/Amy’s parents, my grandparents also had seven children, and the majority of her kids had more reasonable names:

Brian, Sheila, Diane, Nancy, and Neil.  

Five out of the seven named work just fine. Not a bad percentage, unless of course you’re Les and Harry Dicks.

As you might imagine, there are many other first names that do not pair well with my last name.

Jack, for example, which is a name I like but could not consider for my children. Also Holden. Richard. Abel. Scarlett. Basically any name that could also be a verb or adjective is dicey.  

My wife, Elysha, and I were keenly aware of this when she got pregnant and we began talking about baby names. 

Elysha didn’t have a name for three days after her birth. Actually, she had a name, but only for a moment. Her parents initially named her Jordan, but the doctor told them that Jordan was a boy’s name, and “life was hard enough already.”

If only he had been around when my father or uncle were named.

Adhering to the doctor’s warning, Elysha’s parents unnamed my wife. Then, only after the hospital threatened to put the name “Baby” on her birth certificate, did her parents finally name her. My father-in-law had a secretary named Alicia who neither he nor my mother-in-law liked very much, but they liked her name, so they changed the spelling (invented a new spelling, really), and finally my wife had a name.

As Elysha and I began tossing around possible names, she said that she loved the name Clara for a girl. It was the name of a character from Cynthia Rylant’s children’s book The Van Gogh Café.  

I thought she was kidding. “Clara?” I despised the name. It was an old lady name. It sounded like the kind of person who Betty White might play pinochle with on Wednesday afternoons.

I saw the fallen look on Elysha’s face when I said these words. I loved my wife. I still do. I hated being responsible for that face, so I offered to think about the name. “Don’t ask me about it again,” I warned her. “Maybe I’ll come around.”

Remarkably, I did. About two months later, I awoke one morning and found myself inexplicably loving the name Clara. I couldn’t believe it. But I didn’t tell Elysha that morning. I waited nearly a month until she called me from work one day. “I just had the worst day ever,” she said.

As she launched into a recounting of the day’s misery, I stopped her. “Wait,” I said. “I have to tell you something. I love the name Clara. If we have a girl, I want her to be Clara.”

The day’s misery was forgotten.

Clara’s middle name is Susan, named after my mother, who passed away two years before her granddaughter was born. It turns out to be a bittersweet name for me. I love knowing that my daughter carries my mother’s name with her, but hearing it spoken aloud is a painful reminder about all that my mother has missed since her death, including the birth of both of our children.

Three years later, my son was born. We named him Charles Wallace after the character in Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. Elysha and I are also fans of the poet Wallace Stevens so that was an added bonus.

And if you’re wondering about my name, I was originally meant to be Bartholomew.

Bart Dicks.

My mother said that she saved me from my father’s stupidity and convinced him that Matthew was a far better choice.

But perhaps it wasn’t stupidity on my father’s part. Maybe it was just plain old spite.

The fabled land of Inbox Zero

Behold!

If you’re using Gmail and also have the Gmail app on your phone, this is what you see when your inbox is empty of email.

Yes, I’m bragging.

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In truth, I’m almost always on the verge of Inbox Zero, that fabled land where no email awaits your attention. And lest you think I’m simply filing emails away for a later date, no, I do not maintain a file system in Gmail because I have Gmail.

Gmail allows everything to be archived and makes it searchable at all times. Why create folders when you can simply archive everything and search by name, subject or even single word contained within the email whenever you want?

If you’re not relentlessly trying to save time at all times, you are not valuing time enough.

However, I do reschedule emails to arrive at a more appropriate time, and if you’re not using this simple but powerful feature, please reconsider. It’s invaluable.

For example:

All tax related emails - receipts, royalty statements, foreign payments - are rescheduled to hit my inbox on February 1, 2020, when I will then forward them onto the accountant.

Tickets that I ordered for next week’s Moth StorySLAM will return to my inbox at on the date of the show at 6:00 PM, just before I need them.

Directions and details on a keynote speech that I’ll be delivering in New York in July will return to my inbox three days before the event.

Don’t allow things to clutter your inbox that you don’t need for days, weeks, or months later.

Also, emails that contain important information that I need to complete a project - things like editor’s notes, outlines for conference schedules, and vacation planning - gets moved into Evernote, where a file is created, expanded, and edited when needed. Rather than having six different emails from four different people containing important information about a conference I’m helping to organize, I simply cut and paste the pertinent information into Evernote and archive the emails.

Not only does this clear out the inbox, but it places all information on a single subject into a centrally located file, so I have everything I need at my fingertips when I find myself on a conference call or sitting down to work on the project.

If you’re a person with hundreds or perhaps thousands of email - read and unread - in your inbox, my suggestion is to declare email bankruptcy and start over. Accept the fact that you will never catch up with email unless you return your inbox to a manageable level. Simply open your email program, save the last two unread emails from your boss, significant other, and most important clients, and then archive everything else.

If you’re not using Gmail, create a folder called “Old Stuff I Should Not Touch” and drag it all into the folder. Don’t look at it for six months unless you are forced to find an old email for a very specific purpose.

Then immediately respond to the emails you preserved. Finish them off. Reach Inbox Zero and then commit to an Inbox Zero strategy like the one I’ve described.

Inbox Zero, my friends. It’s honestly not all that common for me to have zero emails in my inbox, but I’m also never more than half a dozen emails away from it, either.

Establish a system. Utilize the tools available to you. Save time. Remove clutter. Become more responsive to those who deserve it. Get more done.

A terrible decision even worse than my terrible decision

In the mid 1990’s, I was given a tour of ESPN by a programmer who I knew at the time. I sat on the SportsCenter set, shook hands with Stuart Scott and Chris Berman, and purchased a lavender SportCenter cap at the ESPN gift shop.

Or maybe it was given to me as swag as I left.

Either way, I wore that lavender SportsCenter hat for more than a year. I have no idea what I was thinking.

Lavender?
SportsCenter?

What did people think of me?

Looking back on that time, I’m embarrassed to think I walked through the world with that damn hat atop my head.

Then I saw this - the release of Windows 95 and the onstage excitement of Bill Gates, Steve Ballmer, and other Microsoft executives - and I suddenly felt like my wardrobe choice wasn’t the worst thing that happened in 1995.

Not by a long, long shot.

Last times

One of the books I hope to write in the next couple years will be a nonfiction account of my attempt to try things that I was once did in my youth but have not done for a very long time.

The book will center on the idea that so often in life, we do something important to us for the last time, yet we often don’t know or bother to notice that it’s the last time.

We don’t take the time or have the awareness to savor that final moment.

If you’re a parent, for example, you spend years picking up your children. Carrying them everywhere. Lifting them to hug and kiss them. Tossing them into the car. Then they get taller and heavier, and at some point, you pick them up for the very last time.

Can you imagine?

Happily, I have not reached that point with either of my kids yet, but that day will come.

Will I recognize that this is the last time I will pick up my daughter like a little girl?

Probably not. Except that every time I pick up Clara now, I savor the moment, knowing that she’s ten years-old and might stop asking to be picked up sooner than later. So maybe. I might get lucky and recognize that final lift for what it is. Maybe.

My book will be filled with slightly more exciting moments than picking up my kids. For example, for two years I pole vaulted in high school, becoming good enough to win the championship of our very small region that contained very few pole vaulters.

Most schools did not actually have a pole vaulter or pole vaulting equipment at all.

Still, I was a vaulter, and I loved it. I was looking forward to my senior season when a car accident in December of that year nearly killed me and ended my pole vaulting career short. As I recovered from my injuries, I wasn’t able to compete, and that ended my career.

The nature of pole vaulting doesn’t allow it to be a backyard or weekend sport. When I went through that windshield two days before Christmas, my pole vaulting days were over.

But I wish I had the chance to vault again. To spend some time enjoying and recognizing and savoring those final moments in the pole vaulting pit.

That is what I want to do. I want to vault again. Join a high school pole vaulting team for a season. Try to clear opening height. Enjoy this thing that I loved so much one last time.

This is what my book would be about. The chronicling of one man’s attempt to recapture his youth. Do those things that he might not be able to do anymore at all in the coming years.

I have a list of these things - about 10 in all - that I would attempt. Some are easier than others, but all would make great stories, I think. It would be a chance for me to both look into the past as well as tell stories about what’s happening in the present.

This idea has been kicking around in my head for about a decade. Last week someone sent me this video. An 84 year-old Vermont woman competing in the pole vault.

I couldn’t believe it.

Maybe time isn’t running out on some of these things as quickly as I once thought. Maybe there’s still time to do more things than I ever imagined.

Maybe there’s still time to pick up your child one last time.

Unfortunate restroom encounters at MIT

I was teaching storytelling at MIT yesterday. It was a long but exciting day.

In addition to teaching two workshops, I received an amazing tour of their new nanotechnology facility, and I’m now convinced that nanotechnology is going to save the world.

You wouldn’t believe the things what scientists can do today with a few atoms.

I also met some incredible people, walked around the campus for a couple hours, taught about 100 students, faculty, and staff, and even reconnected with a couple of old friends, too.

At one point, I passed two young men in a hallway who were multiplying fractions aloud. It was the kind of thing that you’d only expect to see in a movie about a place like MIT, but no. These things actually happen at MIT. Students just walk around, calculating and debating mathematical principles in between classes. Chalk boards are filled with equations that I couldn’t begin to understand.

Very smart people walk the halls of that institution. I felt like a small, insignificant fool crawling amongst intellectual giants.

It also became readily apparent to me why I was not an MIT student. And both times, it happened in a restroom.

During our first break, I left the classroom and walked down the hall to use the restroom. I pushed open the door and walked in, only to find myself in the company of three young women. They turned stared at me, the looks on their faces indicating that this was not a gender neutral restroom. I paused, smiled, and said, “And this is why I’m not MIT material” and left.

Then I turned right and pushed open the door clearly marked “Men.” I stepped over to one of the eight urinals to take care of business. I was the only person in the restroom when I entered, but a moment later, another man entered. Of the eight available urinals, I was using the second from the end. The man stepped to the urinal beside me, which was strange. With six urinals to my left, most men would’ve chosen one farther away, creating some distance between us.

I thought, “That’s an aggressive move by this guy. What gives?”

Then I wondered, “Is this just some hangup that I have? Is this me being stupid and weird, or is this guy a little socially awkward? Who’s in the wrong here?”

Having just taught my class about the importance of recognizing small moments from our lives, I returned to class and told my students about my encounter in the women’s restroom. Then I told them about the aggressive, possibly social awkward man in the men’s room and my quandary over whether the guy was weird or I was being stupid.

Turns out the man, named Tom, was in the room. He was attending my class. I’d been staring at him for more than an hour.

As you can see, I am not MIT material.

Happily, we laughed about the moment, and oddly, he was having a similar moment at the urinal. He told me that he entered the restroom in a bit of a fog, chose the urinal without thought, and then realized that there was a man beside him. He turned, realized it was me, and quickly turned away, thinking, “Damn. That’s Matt. Now what? I can’t talk to him while we’re peeing like this. And why am I standing so close to him? Damn.”

Tom ultimately gave me the tour of the nanotech facility. He gave me some nanotech swag to take home to the kids. He offered to tour my family around MIT if we’re ever in the city,. He was generous at every turn.

I liked him a lot.

It all turned out fine.

But no, I don’t expect MIT to be inviting me to work with them for more than a day at a time. A person who can’t navigate their restrooms without incident really doesn’t belong amongst intellectual giants.

This is underwear

Elysha sent me this photo yesterday with a message that read:

“Taking the liberty of throwing these away, honey.”

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I want to go on the record as saying that:

  1. It took me a moment to identify this photo as underwear.

  2. I swear that my underwear did not look like that when it entered the washing machine. My underwear as clearly engaged in a washing machine rumble of sorts.

  3. Even if Elysha’s underwear looks as damaged as mine, I would not have thrown them away without her permission because I’ve ruined too much of her clothing already to take any chances.

  4. I was pleased to see that Elysha was folding my laundry, though I also know that so did so only to clear a path for her own laundry.

  5. Underwear is a weird word. Elysha can rightly say that she’s throwing away “these” even though she’s only throwing away a single item, or she could’ve said that she was throwing away “a pair of underwear” even though there’s nothing about underwear that would cause you to see them as two of anything.

Life!

Hope springs eternal!

After the tragic death of our crocuses last week at the hands of the little girl next door, Charlie discovered a single crocus emerging from the earth yesterday afternoon in the same spot as last week’s floral massacre.

It appears that she didn’t kill them all.

At least one more was waiting to emerge from the frozen ground.

It made us both so incredibly happy.

Spring! Then murder.

Spring has sprung!

Every March this tiny patch of crocuses bloom in our front yard. It's the first sign that winter is finally in the rearview mirror and warm and sunny days are ahead. 

On Sunday the crocuses finally appeared. Tiny, purple and orange bursts of life from an otherwise cold, lifeless ground. We were thrilled. We treasure these little flowers so much. 

Ten minutes later, while our backs were turned, the little girl next door ripped them the flowers from the ground and left them lying in a pile on the dead grass like trash.

She didn't know how much these little flowers mean to us. It’s not her fault.

Still, my children and I were upset. We really love this patch of purple and orange gold.

But I often while teaching storytelling that what’s bad for you in real life is often good for the story. Or as I’ve heard my friend, Catherine Burns of The Moth often say:

“You either have a good time or you have a good story.”

You can bet this moment made it onto my Homework for Life, and it's probably storyworthy as well. 

Amusing. Surprising. Joyous. Plus a little anger and some sadness and grief. 

Good material to start a story. Maybe not a story worthy of the stage (though you never know), but entertaining nonetheless.

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Physics and philosophy at bedtime

Before bed last night , Charlie, age 6 asks:

“When the Big Bang reverses and the universe compresses into a tiny dot again and then we have another Big Bang, will we all eventually get born again like this time, or will it be different?”

“That’s a big question,” Elysha said.

I wanted to say, “Who the hell has been teaching you physics and philosophy? Where in the hell did you learn enough to ask a question like that?”

Before I could say anything, Charlie answered his own question. “Probably not,” he said. "Probably not."

Charlie eventually told us that he was reading about the Big Bang in a book. Clara then reminded us that I had explained the Big Bang to both of them a few months ago. Charlie added that his babysitter, Kaia, had answered some questions about it, too.Before going to bed, I explained the possibility of entropy (let him go blow someone else’s mind) and touched on the theory of the multiverse.

But he’s only six years-old, so he might need a second lesson.

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19 Things I Heart: 2019

I’m an author whose next novel, which hits shelves on October 15, is written entirely in lists. List after list after list which tells the story of a man and his struggle for friendship, love, dignity, self-worth, and financial security.

I like lists.

Back in March of 2015, I wrote a list of 19 things I loved at the time. I just reviewed that list to see how much had changed over the span of four years.

I chose four years because it’s the length of time that the average person spends in high school and/or college. The differences from freshman to senior year can often be profound, so that four year timeframe felt right to me.

It’s important to note that the time of year clearly plays a role in the making of this list. If it was autumn, for example, you would see Patriots games, the Coventry farmer’s market, and golf on the list.

Had I written the list a month ago, Crashing, a now-cancelled television show, would’ve made the list.

Like my last list, I’ve set a reminder on my Google calendar to return to this list on March 21, 2023 to see how my tastes have changed. Maybe you could do the same? I highly recommend it.
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  1. Netflix on the treadmill

  2. Egg McMuffins

  3. Seth Meyer’s “A Closer Look”

  4. Watching my son dance

  5. Moth StorySLAMs

  6. My wife in a tee-shirt and underwear

  7. Doing stand-up

  8. Heavyweight, Hit Parade, and Reply All (podcasts)

  9. The Corner Pug

  10. Playing Sorry with my family

  11. Every other Friday when the cleaning lady comes to our home

  12. The cats sleeping alongside me and on top of me at night

  13. Listening to Elysha emcee a Speak Up show

  14. Bob Newhart

  15. Queen, Springsteen, and Pink’s “Just Give Me a Reason”

  16. Walt Hickey’s daily Numlock News newsletter

  17. Tweeting at Donald Trump

  18. A&W Diet Root Beer

  19. Listening to my daughter read to my son

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19 Things I Heart (2015)

Exactly four years ago, I posted a list of 19 things I was loving at the time.

As a novelist who has written an entire novel in lists (preorder here), it’s not surprising that my blog and social media is peppered with lists of various kinds.

I especially like making lists like these because they allow me to look back four years later and see what has changed in my life. Back in 2015 when I wrote the list, I set a reminder in my Google calendar to check back on the list today, which was a very clever thing for the 2015 version of myself to do.

Good job, former me.

I wondered:

Am I still enjoying the same things, or have my tastes changed? Will I think the 2015 version of myself was odd? Stupid? Naive?

Am I the same person, or am I a completely new person?

The list, it turns out, breaks down into three categories:

  1. Things that I still love

  2. Things that I no longer love.

  3. Things that I now take for granted.

I’ll write a new list for tomorrow for 2019. Here is how the 2015 list breaks down:

THINGS I STILL LOVE

  • Chipotle burritos

  • Tickling my children

  • My wife in a tee shirt and underwear

  • Bruce Willis action films while on the treadmill

  • Carhartt socks in place of slippers

  • Moth StorySLAMs

  • Jeff (my friend)

  • Egg McMuffins

THINGS I NO LONGER LOVE

  • Listening to my kindergarten daughter read to me (she’s in fourth grade and prefers to read independently)

  • Better Call Saul (between seasons)

  • 1776 by David McCullough (I’m sure it was great but I don’t remember much about it)

  • The Lyle Lovett Pandora station

  • Cold water from a metallic water bottle

  • Holding my dog in my lap after work (she passed away last year)

  • Any day over 35 degrees (35 degrees? Give me a day over 50 and I’ll be happy)

THINGS I TAKE FOR GRANTED

  • Overcast (podcasting app)

  • The Memory Palace (podcast)

  • UNU battery pack (for my iPhone)

  • Squarespace

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I have opinions on a suggested 30 percent tip

When it comes to dining out, I am a good tipper. My standard tip is 20% rounded up, and if I am especially pleased with the service, I’ll add a dollar or two.

I don’t have a problem with tipping for service at a restaurant.

I also tip on the total bill, including tax, because I’m not an insane person.

On Saturday night, however, Elysha and I went to dinner with friends, and at the bottom of the bill were some tipping suggestions. I hate the mere existence of these suggestions, since calculating 15 or 20 percent of any total should not be difficult for any grown-ass human being.

Even if calculating 20 percent is challenging for you, we can all calculate 10 percent of a number, so at worst you can just add half of that amount for 15 percent or double it for 20 percent.

I find these tipping suggestions slightly insulting both especially unsettling. I worry that people actually need them.

But the suggestions offered on Saturday night were insulting for a whole new reason.

30 percent? This restaurant has added 30 percent as an option to the suggested tips?

Frankly, I think 25 percent is a little presumptuous, but 30 percent?

I often suggest that folks purchase my books by the dozen, but I’m not serious. I’m making a joke. I don’t ever expect anyone to do it, but these suggestions are not meant to be funny.

Someone somewhere thinks that a 30 percent tip should not only an option, but it’s an option so common and obvious that it’s worthy of suggestion.

It’s not.

For the record, I tipped $12 that night, making my tip a little more than 21 percent of the bill. A tip like this would normally make me feel good about my tip. Generous, even.

But not when the stupid restaurant presents 30 percent an option.

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