Why does this photo make me so sad?

My daughter, waiting for the bus to kindergarten. Her little brother, standing alongside her.

So sweet.

So why does it make me so sad?

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I wonder this all the time.

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There are so many of these moments in our lives. Millions of tiny ones and hundreds of enormous, life changing ones. It frightens me to imagine where I might be today if I had made a decision differently and chose to take a different path. 

For me, one of the most precarious yet life changing decisions was made when I was 16 years old. My friend, Danny, and I decided to drive 10 miles to Milford, Massachusetts to apply for a job at McDonald’s because it was paying 25 cents over the minimum wage.

There were McDonald’s restaurants much closer than the one in Milford. Many places between our hometown and Milford where we could’ve worked instead. Businesses closer and more convenient to our homes that were hiring high school kids like us. But we chose this particular McDonald’s, and it changed my life.

I meet Bengi, my best friend to this day, at that restaurant. I live with him after high school while he attends college. McDonald’s provides me with a means of survival following high school and later through college. I manage McDonald’s restaurants almost continuously for 13 years, from the age of 16 through 28.   

Working at McDonald’s also leads to an armed robbery, an arrest and trial for a crime I did not commit, and decades of post traumatic stress disorder, but that’s okay. It all works out. I wouldn’t change a thing. It’s made me the person I am today. 

Bengi eventually brings me to Connecticut where I meet my wife. I’m hired at the school where I have been teaching for 16 years. I meet the most important people in my life today while teaching there.

None of this ever happens if I decide to work anywhere else in 1987.

I know there are many moments like this in my life. A multitude. But this one has always seemed like one of the least likely decisions that I have ever made that yielded the greatest impact on my life. 

I am the happiest person I know today. The most fortunate person I know. Blessed with the best life of anyone I know. I wouldn’t trade my life with anyone.

It’s frightening how close I came to missing out on so much.

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Hack a friend’s Facebook profile. Have fun and do some good all at the same time.

I have a friend who does not passcode protect her phone. I don’t passcode protect mine, either. I feel like anyone who needs a passcode on their phone is hiding something, and I simply don’t have time for it. So I don’t blame my friend for her lack of security.

In fact, I love it.

Whenever she leaves her phone behind, in a meeting, in her classroom, or even at the table for a minute or two, I grab it and begin to change her Facebook settings.

I change her relationship status from Engaged to It’s Complicated.

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I change her birthday so she receives the barrage of birthday messages on the wrong day.

Your Facebook profile has a spot for your favorite quote. I once posted a quote about myself in her profile, and it took her more than a year to notice it.

It’s annoying as hell for her.

It’s funny as hell for me.

She’s not the only person I have done this to. I have hacked the Facebook profiles of two others, but they don’t know that I have done it yet. I have buried odd and embarrassing information in their Facebook profiles that they have yet to see.

It makes me so happy.

I mentioned this prank on Twitter over the weekend in a response to a comment about Facebook relationship statuses and received an enormous response from admiring and appreciative followers who never thought of pulling off a prank like this.

I was happy to help.

So go forth. Add a favorite quote to your friend’s Facebook profile. Change a religious affiliation. Assign a friend a February 29 birthday. Add a prison to the places where your friend once lived. Change a relationship status.

In the most recent case, changing my my friend’s relationship status from Engaged to It’s Complicated worked out well. When she reverted her status back to Engaged, it appeared in her friends’ feed again, and many, who failed to notice the change before, suddenly became aware of her pending nuptials. She received a barrage of congratulatory messages as a result. 

I was actually doing her a favor. And having fun in the process.

I bet that she’s secretly happy that I did it.

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Hot Buzz About Books and Book Clubs

For those of you in the greater Hartford area (and beyond), I will be joining a panel of esteemed book lovers and professionals in the publishing industry to discuss book recommendations on Thursday evening at 7:00 at the West Hartford Jewish Community Center. This is an annual event that runs in conjunction with the JCC’s Jewish book festival.

It’s always a great night.

RJ Julia Booksellers President Roxanne Coady and Random House sales reps and Books on the Nightstand hosts Ann Kingman and Michael Kindness will be joining me on the panel to talk about books that we love. 

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Prior to joining the panel, Elysha and I were regular attendees of the event, so you now it’s good. 

There will also be prizes given out throughout the evening and a book swap. RJ Julia Booksellers will also be selling the books that the panel recommends on stage. 

Details about the event can be found here. Hope to see you there!

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Conscientiousness is the most important trait. This may explain how I manage to overcome the absence of so many others.

Great news. Research is pointing to conscientiousness as the one-trait-to-rule-them-all in terms of future success, both career-wise and personal.

How do the researchers define conscientiousness?

Basically, it’s being “efficient, organized, neat, and systematic.” It’s a trait that has been shown to increase your chances of finding a job, living longer, and living healthier. It is also strongly correlated with longer marriages and greater money and job satisfaction. 

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“It would actually be nice if there were some negative things that went along with conscientiousness,” researcher John Roberts said. ‘But at this point it’s emerging as one of the primary dimensions of successful functioning across the lifespan. It really goes cradle to grave in terms of how people do.”

I’m pretty excited about this finding.

“Efficient, organized, neat, and systematic.”

That’s me. Four words couldn’t describe me better.

If I’m wrong, I’m sure I’ll hear about it in the comments.

Perhaps it’s this trait that counteracts all of my flaws and shortcomings, as well as the multitude of traits that I lack, including:

  • attention to detail
  • restraint
  • tact
  • humility
  • caution
  • charm
  • respect for authority
  • moderation
  • mechanical aptitude
  • a decent golf swing
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Favorite girls

I’m not a  fan of the selfie. The actual taking of the photo, the word, and everything that comes along with it.

Photos like these are beginning to change my mind.

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Death helps. Steve Jobs knew this, and unlike me, he didn’t need to die in order to learn it.

Nine minutes into his famous Stanford commencement speech, Steve Jobs discussed the importance he placed on thinking about death during life:

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life.”

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The only difference between Steve Jobs’ view on death and my own is that Jobs came to this understanding at the age of seventeen after reading a quote.

It took me two near death experiences (Death #1 and Death #2) and a gun to the head and a trigger being pulled to bring me to the same understanding.

Jobs path to this bit of wisdom seems a little easier and a lot smarter.

I meet people everyday who can’t understand the way that my ongoing existential crisis and my obsession with death motivate me. They can’t begin to understand how someone can be so focused on the idea of mortality for so much of their day to day life. Nor would they ever want such a burden.

But it’s not their fault.

The ability to constantly remember that you will be dead soon apparently requires that you be as brilliant as Steve Jobs or as unlucky as me.

Both of these are conditions not easily achieved. It makes me wonder if the advice that Jobs gives is worthwhile.

A former life coach client once told me that he’s known two near-death survivors in his life. Me and one of his friends. He said that the two of us are alike in so many ways. The way we talk about goals. The way we try to maximize our minutes. The things we choose to ignore and disregard in favor of things that matter. The systems and routines that we create to increase efficiency and productivity. Our levels of self confidence.   

“Even the way the two of you walk through a crowd is the same.”

I say that I am unlucky, and it’s hard to argue otherwise. But I wonder where I would be today had a bee, a Mercedes, and three armed men not tried to kill me.

I’m just not as smart as Steve Jobs. A little bit of death, spread out over the course of a decade, might have been just what someone like me needed to get ahead.

I wouldn’t wish my past on anyone, but I’m not sure that if given the chance I would change a thing.

 

Posted in Autobiography, Idea | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

My kids love each other so much, and you can shut your mouth about it.

It’s crazy how much my kids love each other.

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Even crazier is the number of miserable people who look at a photo like this and say things like, “Enjoy it while it lasts!” and “Sorry to tell you, my friend, but they’ll be at each other’s throats before you know it.”

My inclination, whenever I hear someone say something like this to me, is to stomp on their foot, and while they are crumpled in a ball on the ground, tell them how small and sad they are.

It’s difficult to imagine how much a person must truly suck at life in order to be able to tell a proud father that his children are going to be repellant, dissociative antagonists someday.

It’s even more difficult to imagine how stupid a person has to be in order to presume that his or her family dynamic is universal.

Why do people do this?

I was recently told by someone that in just a few short years,  my daughter is going to close her bedroom door and stop sharing her thoughts and feelings with me.

Thankfully, I’m immune to this nonsense. I simply assume that the person who is telling me this is an idiot.

But not everyone is as arrogant and condescending as me. These inconsiderate, hateful, and oftentimes inaccurate jerk faces are quite capable of ruining the day of an otherwise happy parent.

If you are one of these people, you suck at life. Stop it. Allow proud parents like me to enjoy the moment, expect the best, and remain hopeful about the future. Your apparently unfortunate reality is not the destiny of all, as much as you might wish otherwise.    

Posted in Critic, Family, Parenting | 3 Comments

The difference between playing school and teaching school

Budo, from Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend, is credited as saying that there are two types of teachers:

Teachers who play school and teachers who teach school.

In truth, he stole that one from me.

But he’s right.

I’m often asked to expound upon this line from the book, which is one of the most quoted from the book.

For many educators, this sentiment seems to have resonated quite a bit.

Essentially, it’s the difference between the teacher who focuses on the classroom versus the teacher who focuses on the student. It’s the difference between the teacher who prioritizes the preparing of materials and lessons versus the teacher who prioritizes the building of honest, genuine, long-lasting relationships with students and families.

As a student, I could spot these two kinds of teachers from a mile away.

You probably could, too. 

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Here’s a couple good rules of thumb:

If your teaching methods closely resemble the teaching methods from your childhood, you are probably playing school.

If you speak to your students in a way that is fundamentally different from the way you speak to friends and family, in either tone and affect, you are probably playing school.

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A race to the bottom: Which state will be the last to legalize same sex marriage?

Over the weekend, a judge overturned Alaska’s ban on same sex marriage.

On Tuesday, Alaska and North Carolina began issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples for the first time.

Thirty states and Washington, D.C. now allow some form of marriage for same-sex couples.

Can you believe it? This seemed impossible just a few years ago, and now a  majority of Americans live in states that permit same sex marriage.

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The states that are still resisting same sex marriage must understand by now that resisting is only delaying the inevitable.

Right?

As the number of states in which same sex marriage is still illegal continues to shrink, we have to ask ourselves:

Which state will be last to legalize same sex marriage? And does that state want to carry the stigma of being the last to recognize this right?

Depending on how you define integration, Alabama, Arkansas, or Mississippi were the last states to integrate their school systems. Alabama has the unfortunate honor of often being thought of as the last to integrate, with Governor George Wallace refusing to do so until the military intervened and forced his hand.

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Isn’t that amazing? The military had to forcibly integrate schools in Alabama and other parts of the South.

I can’t imagine that the people of Alabama are proud of this moment in their history.

Alabama is one of 20 states that in which same sex marriage is illegal. It’s currently engaged in a race to the bottom.

Which state will earn the unfortunate distinction of being the last to allow this basic human right? If these politicians in these final 20 states were smart, they would try like hell to avoid being the last. It’s an honor that no state should want.

Unfortunately, intelligence and wisdom tend to be in short supply when it comes to the bigots and hypocrites who struggle to keep these bans in place, so it’s likely to be a shortsighted, clawing, ugly battle to determine which state is run by the largest percentage of them.

Posted in Current Affairs, History/Politics | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment