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March 29, 2012

I think I have finally found the perfect catchphrase to use when signing a reader’s book.

Since publishing my first two novels in 2009 and 2010, I have been searching for the perfect catchphrase to use while signing a reader’s book.

I wanted something short, clever, memorable and apropos to me that I could use in addition to my signature, but I had yet to find the right sentiment. I have even put the question out to my blog readers and Twitter followers without any success.

Instead, I have been writing arbitrary phrases like ‘I hope you enjoy my story’ and ‘Thanks so much for giving my book a chance’.

Meaningless drivel that caused me to suffer a great deal of disappointment and self-loathing with every signature.

But after years of searching, I think I have finally found the perfect catchphrase.

When signing a reader’s book, I will write:

I know we’ve only spent a few moments together, but you remind me so much of the spirit found on page 86 of my novel. 

Except each time I will change the page number to a different, arbitrary page, leaving the reader to analyze and scrutinize the page in an attempt to bring some meaning to my purposefully random, intentionally amorphous statement.

Can you imagine the look of consternation on the readers’ faces as they read and re-read the page, searching for a hint of themselves amidst my prose?

It would be priceless.

Or perhaps I will choose half a dozen different pages from the novel that are especially suited to this purpose. Pages that are emotionally charged or perhaps devoid of emotion completely. Pages so inscrutable as to have the reader wondering about my comment for years and years.

I think this might be perfect. It would give me the chance to personalize every book that I sign and infuse it with some meaning (albeit false) while staying true to my own nonconformist, occasionally jerky self.

It might even work out well for some readers.

The narcissist will undoubtedly find a way to transform my comment into a sincere and meaningful compliment.

The introspective soul will have the opportunity to examine the page with careful thought and reflection.

The self promotional office braggart will have a new and fascinating topic of discussion for the next day of work, perhaps even photocopying the page and distributing it to his or her coworkers in an attempt to crowd-source an analysis of my statement.

Either way, I will have a little fun with the reader, and it will almost guarantee that he or she will share the book with others in an attempt to ascertain the meaning of my statement. this process might even lead to a few more sales as well. 

Not bad. Right?

March 28, 2012

Gratitude journal: The ticking of the clock

I find myself struggling to find gratitude this evening.

I left the house at 6:30 this morning and returned at 8:00 this evening, thanks to a day of teaching followed by a series of parent-teacher conferences. As a result, I spent about 90 seconds with my daughter today, who was already in her crib and nearly asleep when I finally returned home. 

I can’t tell you how upsetting this is to me.

And I get to do it again tomorrow.

And I already did it yesterday.

Nevertheless, there were things to be grateful about today.

  1. My conferences went very well.
  2. My students worked very hard throughout the school day.
  3. One of my colleagues is keenly aware of the number of hours that a classroom teacher works during the week of parent-teacher conferences and has done her very best to ease our burden throughout the week, including today. I can’t tell you how much this means to classroom teachers. For this alone I should be supremely grateful.    
  4. I received great news from my agent regarding sales of my new book in the UK, Australia  and New Zealand.
  5. My audiobook publisher sent the audio recording of the first two chapters of my new book, and I loved it.

In truth, there was much to be grateful for today, but the almost complete absence of my daughter looms large over everything else.

So I try to find gratitude for all the good things that have taken place today, but instead, I find myself grateful for every minute that ticks off the clock, for each minute that passes brings me closer to the moment when I can pluck my daughter from her crib and squeeze her again.

The Golden Rule: Complete and total nonsense

I recently made the assertion that the Golden Rule, the Biblical admonition to do onto others as you would have done onto you, is an ineffective and nonsensical means by which one should live his or her life.

I was in a conversation with a group of educational leaders at the time, and I am relatively certain that their reactions to this statement fell along one of three distinct lines:

  1. Matt is an idiot.
  2. Matt likes to say things to make people angry.
  3. Matt is an idiot who likes to say things that make people angry.

Suffice it to say that whatever their reaction was, no one initially agreed with me.

And yes, I may be an idiot who likes to make people angry at times, but my assertion in regards to The Golden Rule is correct. “The foundation of Christianity and most major religions” (as one person described the Golden Rule) possesses a flaw that makes it utterly useless.

The flaw is this: 

In reality, we do not treat people as we would want to be treated. We treat people as we perceive they want to be treated, and this is is often entirely different than the way we actually want to be treated.

For example, I know that when my wife has a problem, she would like me to listen intently and empathize with her plight. She is like most women in this respect. She wants to be heard. She wants to know that I am on her side. She wants to believe that I understand how she feels.

She may ultimately want me to help her solve the problem, but I know that any proposed solution is secondary and possibly not required at all. Sometimes a problem has no solution, yet she will still want to talk about it with me. As long as she knows that I am listening and care, she is content.

My response to a problem is entirely different. If I have chosen to discuss a problem with my wife or one of my friends, it is because I have reached the point where I need help in finding a solution. If a problem has no solution, I am unlikely to ever mention it to anyone.

Most men handle problems similarly. If my male friend calls me to discuss a problem, I know that he is not looking to be heard. He is not seeking empathy. He is calling me with the expectation that I will offer an immediate array of possible solutions. In most cases, I do not need to empathize or even care about my friend’s problem. I need not think that the problem is worthy of discussion, just as long as I have a solution to offer.

If I were to apply The Golden Rule to the way in which I discuss my wife’s problems with her, my response would not be well received. In this case, I cannot treat my wife as I would want to be treated, because our needs, like the needs of most men and women, are entirely divergent.

Situations like this happen all the time. In fact, if The Golden Rule was actually a valid moral code, human beings would be required to treat every person in their lives in only one way:

The way they would want to be treated.

Allowances would no longer need to be made for differences in personality, sensitivity, sex, age or personal background. In a world in which we treat people in a way that we would want to be treated, everyone would be equal in our eyes in every respect.

Everyone would be us.

Admittedly, it would make for a significantly simpler world. The need for nuance, grace and  sensitivity would be gone. Every decision would be based solely upon our own personal preference. You would simply ask yourself what you might want in a given situation and make that your modus operandi, regardless of who you were dealing with or the context of the situation.     

For example, I like to be spoken to in a direct and honest manner. My closest friends know this and are able to say things to me that might hurt the feelings of others. But this is how I prefer to be treated. I find this method most effective for me.  

In a world that demanded adherence to The Golden Rule, I would be required to speak to people similarly, even if I knew that doing so would  hurt some people’s feelings and cause them to feel uncomfortable around me.

I am quite certain of this because there was a time in my life when I practiced The Golden Rule in this regard, and it resulted in a great deal of animosity toward me. I was stupid and arrogant and lacking in nuance, and the results were not good.

The Golden Rule caused me a lot of trouble in my youth.

The actual Golden Rule should read like this:

Treat others in a way that they would want to be treated.

Thankfully, this is how most of us live our lives, even as we espouse our belief in this flawed, archaic rule.

March 27, 2012

Gratitude journal: Daddy

Tonight I am grateful to be called Daddy.

My daughter is three years old, so Daddy is probably safe for a while, but I know that Daddy will eventually evolve into Dad.

And while Dad is just fine, there is nothing like walking in the door after a twelve hour day of teaching and parent-teacher conferences and hearing your daughter scream “Daddy!” from the back of the house, followed by the scampering of her little feet as she runs to the front door. 

She has this new baby thing all figured out.

A conversation between me and my three year old daughter:

Me: What’s in Mommy’s tummy?

Clara: A baby! A cute little baby!

Me: And when the baby is born, what will you be?

Clara: A big sister!

Me: That’s right. Will you help us take care of that little baby?

Clara: No, Mommy will take care of the baby.

Me: But Clara, big sisters can take care of babies, too.

Clara: No, Mommy will take care of the baby.

Me: If you won’t help us take care of the baby, what will you do then?

Clara: Play.

Guessing game gone awry

I play a game when standing in line. I listen to the people behind me as they speak and try to envision what they look like based upon their voice. Once I have a clear picture in my head of the person behind me, I turn around and compare my prediction with reality.

It’s actually a game I thought everyone played, but when I told my wife about it recently, she said that she had never played the game but thought it sounded fun.

Over the years, I’ve gotten quite good at this game. While actual physical features are often impossible to discern, the age, size, race and even style of dress can often be predicted with reasonable accuracy by simply listening to a person’s voice.

Then there are the moments like yesterday, when I guess the size, age, race and even style of dress precisely, but I get the sex wrong.

This happens exceedingly rarely, but when it does, I feel rotten about it for the rest of the day.

March 26, 2012

Gratitude journal: The best of friends

As you may know, my next novel, MEMOIRS OF AN IMAGINARY FRIEND, has already been released in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, and even places like Dubai and Singapore.

Anywhere that my British publisher, Little Brown UK. might ship books.

In the US, however, the book doesn’t publish until August.

Unwilling to wait for the August release, several of my friends have decided to purchase the UK edition of the book, despite the additional cost of shipping from overseas, and despite their assurances that they intend to purchase the US edition as well.

I find these decisions quite humbling.

Tonight, one of my friends received his overseas shipment and sent me this photograph.

I can’t tell you how grateful I am for the friends that I have in my life.


My very first library book: Desperately seeking the title

When I was a child, there were very few books in our home, and almost no children’s books whatsoever, so when I was finally able to ride my bike to the public library and receive my first library card when I was ten, it was an important day for me.

I remember that first visit to the library like it was yesterday. My hometown library was little more than a single, poorly lit room in the lower level of the town hall, and while it contained more books than I had ever seen, it only consisted of about half a dozen aisles of books.

Today, the library occupies the building that was once my middle school. It is enormous, modern, multileveled and bright. I did a reading there a few years ago when my first book was published, and while it is vastly superior to the library that I had growing up, I still love the thought of that small, dimly lit room that opened the world of literature to me.

I still remember the first book that I checked out of the library, but I cannot remember the title, and for years, I have been trying to find it.  It was a pre-dystopian science fiction story in which the tallest buildings in the world begin to liquefy, starting with the Sears Tower in Chicago, the tallest building at the time. The very tip of the building first begins to liquefy, and as the height of Sears Tower comes even with the second tallest building in the world, that building begins to liquefy as well.

Eventually all the buildings of the word begin to liquefy at exactly the same rate, throwing the planet into terror and chaos.

Ultimately, it is discovered that this is the work of an alien race that feels obliged to ensure that mankind does not advance technologically beyond a point that is considered safe. By keeping building no taller than six stories, the aliens believe that the technological advancement of the human race will be curtailed. Ultimately, every building of the world is liquefied to this point.

Thirty years have passed since I read that book. While I’m sure that it is out of print and nearly impossible to find, I would at least like to know what the title of that first library book was.

If you happen to know the title, could you let me know?

And if you know a librarian or someone who might know, would you mind inquiring for me?

I would be forever grateful.

Gone fishin’

Oh sure. To you this looks like a little girl waving a toy broom at the camera.

But it’s not.

That toy box is actually a boat, one I was required to sit on for quite a while. The broom is a fishing pole. The floor is an ocean, the rug an island, and all those dolls on the floor are swimming.

And while I wasn’t thrilled to be asked to sit in the boat and row for what felt like an hour while singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, I couldn’t help but marvel at the imagination of my little girl.


March 25, 2012

Gratitude journal: Clara’s kisses

Tonight I am grateful for the way Clara will grab hold of my the cheeks and pull me in for a kiss.

There will come a day when her kisses are decidedly less exuberant and significantly better aimed, and that will be a sad day indeed.