The intellectual equivalent of a ham sandwich.

Posts tagged ‘Toastmasters’

Entertaining Speaker Project 2: Resources for Entertainment

Strengths and Struggles

‘Tell me about your biggest weaknesses?’

(cheesy confidence) ‘Sure. I work too hard. I care too much. Some people say I’m too much of a team player. And … this is embarrassing, but I’ve never lost. I don’t really know that’s like.’


The whole weakness as a strength thing has been ruined by the typical interview question and answer. But in reality, discovering and working on your weaknesses really is one of the best things you can do. A general rule for myself is the less I want to do something, the more I need to go out and do that. Public speaking, anyone?

Today I’m going to share two stories of different people who turned what could be considered a ‘weakness’ into a strength.


For the first example, I’ll tell you about René Descartes. Some of you are likely already familiar with him, and may have heard this story before.

For those of you who don’t know, or in case you don’t know much about him, he was a philosopher and mathematician in the 1600s. Starting as a young boy, he struggled with illness and his teachers allowed him to stay in bed until noon.

Descartes got into the habit of staying in bed until noon and continued this for much of his life, but he used that time to think about his favorite topics – philosophy, and math.

One day, while laying in bed, he was watching the ceiling and a certain fly who was flitting about. He began to think to himself, ‘how would I describe the location of this fly to someone?’ Maybe he was thinking about yelling, ‘moooooom, will you come kill a fly!?’ He figured out a solution to his problem – he would use the fly’s location relative to the walls in the room!

That might look something like this (draw graph on board). You probably recognize this from … oh I don’t know, 3rd grade math til the last math class you took. It’s the coordinate plane, otherwise known as a Cartesian plane.

I don’t know about you, but I think this would create such an opportunity for someone to quit on him or herself. To be so limited in your activities, to be tied down and forced to be still, it would be hard to stay motivated and use that time productively. Especially if this starts when you’re a child and so full of energy. But Descartes turned this seeming disadvantage to his favor, using the time to engage his brain and creating something that every person knows and loves (or hates, depending on your relationship with math).


Next, my wife, and her alcoholism.

For various reasons that would be a whole different speech, my wife began drinking when she was young. Middle school. My wife is smart, and was able to get by in school, but outside of school her habits had gotten her caught by her family, and the police. Things were getting worse for her, and while her family had tried a number of things to help her – AA, NA, therapy – nothing had worked.

Her senior year she finally got caught at school. She was drunk, and had alcohol on her. The principal decided to send <my wife> to a sort of ‘second chance’ high school. The school represented a ‘scared straight’ approach (which is a terrible idea in my opinion). To get in every day you would go through a metal detector and a quick search, and then you would complete any school work from your actual high school. One of <my wife’s> teachers pulled her aside at the end of one day and said, ‘you don’t belong here.’

After leaving that school <my wife> began down the long path that actually proved effective. With treatment, a good, stable family that could afford treatment, and a lot of hard work on <my wife’s> part – she managed to get herself turned around. Her sobriety date is actually tomorrow, and she will have been sober for thirteen years.

Now for the turning this around aspect. <My wife>, approaching her senior year of college, realized she wanted a career where she would be helping people. She got her master’s in clinical social work and has been working as a therapist, specializing in … addiction. She rarely shares personal information with her clients, but when one of them shares about feeling overwhelmed or not knowing how they’ll make it past this or that milestone of sobriety, she lets them know that she personally understands how they’re feeling and that it is possible.

<My wife> was able to take her struggle with addiction, and turn it around into an ability to better help people cope with their own emotional struggles.


There’s an important point in both of these anecdotes, an underlying message. And that is the perception of the person who was presented as having a ‘weakness.’

Imagine hearing just the facts without the anecdotes … René Descartes, due to medical issues, had daily bedrest til noon. <My wife> began drinking as a young girl, became an alcoholic, and in case you weren’t aware, once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic.

With just those facts it’s easy to imagine an awkward exchange. You might see <my wife> at a Toastmasters social, you’re standing there with a beer and feel awkward wondering, ‘is she thinking about my beer? Should I not drink in front of her?’ Or, let’s say ol’ René comes back from the dead and you see him and say, ‘oh man, I am SO tired. Can’t wait to get in bed tonight … ohh … uhh.’

But instead, knowing how they embraced a ‘weakness’ and turned it into a triumph, you might run across them and be delighted or impressed by what they have done.

If Descartes, or my wife, or anyone was still viewing something as a weakness it could create tension or discomfort anytime it is thought of. The key here is to find the supposed weakness, take it on, make it your own, make it something you own and are comfortable with and then you can make it a strength.


Today I shared two stories about taking on supposed weaknesses and turning them into strengths. We are fresh into the new year, a time that is rife with people looking to stop bad habits, start good ones, or change their perspective in some way.

I encourage everyone to think about these stories, think about yourself, and honestly look at what your faults or weaknesses are, because these could very well be amazing opportunities for you to learn, become a better version of yourself, and hopefully help others in the process.


Let’s Talk About Anger (Toastmasters Speech #10)

In Toastmasters you traditionally do your first ten speeches from the Competent Communicator manual. Each one has a focus – get to the point, organization, body movement, vocal variety, etc.

The tenth one is intended to inspire. And, motivated by the violence and racism that is currently choking out my ability to feel pride in the United States, I decided to talk about anger. I think the speech has some good parts, but it needs a lot of work. Unfortunately, the speech is due soon (the day before this will be posted) and so I need to work on memorizing it and quit revising it.


Let’s Talk About Anger

I can remember vividly a time in college when a then-girlfriend and I were talking about our upcoming summers. She felt out how I would feel if she smoked pot occasionally. I was immediately angry, which confused her and also myself. Later, I realized I wasn’t angry at all, I was scared of the idea of her smoking pot, and then cheating on me. That’s a little sad, but it’s the truth. I knew she was going to be seeing her ex, who was not so bright but very good looking, and I thought with inhibitions loosened up with drugs, she might make a decision I wasn’t too keen on.

With age, and good friends, and now a wife who is great at articulating her thoughts and feelings, I think I have gotten much better at trying to identify and then express what is going on inside me. I am still inclined to feel anger first, before anything more complex, but I am aware enough to know that it’s usually the hard outer layer, and if I relax and take a step back, I’ll usually find out more.

According to Psychology Today, this is normal. Men have few emotions that are considered socially acceptable – anger, pride, jealousy. If you see a man experiencing or expressing one of these things, that is considered OK.

Picture a strong American male. Can you name a movie star or character that comes to mind as an example?

When I think of that kind of person I think people who represent the greatest generation: strong, silent, hard-working, unlikely to complain, stoic, resilient. Anecdotally, my parents, many of my friends, my wife and I represent the idea of a relationship where the female is more likely to talk about emotions, or show emotions, and the male is reticent about those things.

But that doesn’t mean being emotionally aware isn’t something to strive for. Ask yourself, if I feel angry, or any sort of emotion, is it beneficial for me to present a flat countenance, bottle it up, or would it be good talk about it, with others or in my head? I’m here to tell you, it’s better to talk about it.

Today I’d like to talk about the view of why anger is seen as so ok for men in America, why it’s important to think or talk about it, and how you can start to go down that path.


I – Why is Anger Normal for Men?

There have been a number of times that I’ve been around family, with my nieces and nephews running around, where a spill or something upsetting happens, and I pick up a niece and saying ‘awwww, what’s wrong?’ vs saying to a nephew, ‘shake it off, buddy.’

According to studies, children become “gender aware” at a very young age (typically between three and five), and they begin to develop gender stereotypes almost immediately after. These concepts become rigidly defined between 5 and 7, and begin to have lasting impact on identity and self-esteem by adolescence.

I don’t have any kids, yet, but I think from being around others that there are definite ‘boy’ behaviors and ‘girl’ behaviors that aren’t taught, they are innate. But, and you’ll excuse this analogy I hope, think about people like computers. We have our hardware, which is our set in stone genetic makeup, and then we have our software, which is the culmination of our life experiences. Your hardware may have you naturally inclined for one field of work, but you can overcome that and do other things by working, training and teaching yourself. You may have to work harder then a colleague who seems to be wired for something, but you can still succeed.

There is hardware in each of us, for example more testosterone in men, that help make sense of men being tough and angry. But then there’s the software. Go into a toy store and tell me, honestly, that it’s not pointing you in a direction of ‘normal.’ The aisles are color coded like a classic nursery. This is the boy aisle, this is the girl aisle. And inside the boy aisle are action, violence, outdoors, and science oriented toys. Inside the girl aisle are beauty, care-taking, and home-making oriented toys.

Is it a surprise to carry these ideas forward, and think of guys attempting to prove themselves better than their male counterparts by being stronger, less likely to show emotion, more physically noticeable? Anger is easy, and in the United States it is considered more socially acceptable for men to show anger than women, and it can even be seen as a strength to show that anger.

II – Why It’s Important to Talk About Anger

The next question is why is it worthwhile to talk about it? After all, there are a number of ways you can work off anger without confronting it. You could work out, you could just sit and stew, you could go to a rally with some friends and some tiki torches, but I don’t recommend these approaches.

There are three reasons to talk with someone else, or at least have a conversation with yourself.

One, bottling up anger can lead to that anger showing up in other ways. One study conducted by psychologists from the Harvard School of Public Health and the University of Rochester found that suppressing emotions may increase the risk of dying from heart disease and certain forms of cancer. The body is a wonderful and crazy thing – a cause can show up as many different effects which make finding the cause confusing and difficult.

Two, if you are bottling things up, you may struggle to connect with others. Think about the last time you were overwhelmed by some emotion – it could be grief, or joy, if someone came to you and wanted to have a conversation about something personal, or if you had to attempt to process complex information, it’s not easy. You have to try harder to focus on what that person is saying, because you’re constantly batting away any rogue thoughts like you’re playing whack-a-mole with your emotions. Stifling something you are feeling means you are constantly multi-tasking until you come to terms with that thing, or you have sufficiently buried it to face it in the form of a large bowl of ice cream a few days later.

Three, talking about your anger lets you know yourself better. I mentioned, at the start of my speech, that example of a college girlfriend. After thinking about it, I realized that the anger was borne out of fear. That’s interesting, and good to know! If you think, ‘why am I angry?’ and your answer is, ‘I don’t know – I’m just angry about this.’ That’s boring, and an incomplete answer, you’re smarter than that.

If you find yourself angry, and you don’t know how you got to that level of anger, or you don’t know WHY you’re angry, you’ve got a problem on your hands, and that’s fun.

Exploring anger, or any emotion, is a great way to attempt to discover some new pieces to the puzzle that is yourself. Maybe if you figure out what sparked an unexpected bout of anger, you’ll finally be able to have a new piece of the puzzle come into focus.


III – Ask Why/Do Something About It

Now, you’ve got all this knowledge, what do we do with it?

Be your own three year old psychologist and ask the question ‘why’ an insufferable amount. If it’s someone else who is showing anger, listen and help them ask why.

Going back to technical things again, here’s an interview question I love. ‘Explain the internet to your grandmother.’ It’s a question that assumes, rightly or wrongly, that your grandma doesn’t already understand the internet, but the intent is great. You have to take something technically complex, and then explain it simply. You want to work mostly with people who are able to take complex things and make them simple. Likewise, wouldn’t you prefer your relationships, whether that’s with a family member, spouse, or friend, to be with people who are able to explain themselves better than with frustrated noises and exclamations of ‘you wouldn’t understand!’’

If someone struggles to explain, try to gently help them. Don’t push an answer, but give them gentle nudges in different directions. ‘Do you think you might be extra frustrated about that because work has been more stressful?’

There are also conversation starters everywhere. For example, commercials. Those things are chalk full of lazy, cliche and stereotype oriented views because they express an idea quickly. The next time you see an ad featuring a man, or a woman, or a family situation, look at the ad and see how many cliche things there are, and then ask the people you’re with if that makes sense, or if they have counter examples they like.

What do I mean by counter examples? My dad was in the Army for 26 ½ years, he was a Ranger, he’s a tough and stoic fella all around … and he likes to garden and bake. You know how comforting that was for me, to see my dad doing non-stereotypical things? It felt like it gave permission for me to break the mold in ways, as well.



I know this talk has a very limited scope in theory – men talking more about their anger, but I think the concepts I presented here are applicable to everyone.

It’s worthwhile to talk about your anger because it’s good for your health, it’s good for your relationships, and it’s good for understanding yourself, which, coincidentally, is also good for relationships.

If you’re thinking, ‘that’s a nice theory, but … eh’ or maybe you’ll think about this later today and decide it’s difficult to try and have explore feelings that you or someone else is feeling. Think about this.

If your work said, ‘what you’re doing is good, but we need you to adapt and do x, but also incorporate a little bit of y.’ I DOUBT you would say, ‘hey, I am what I am, I can’t change.’ No. You’d try, you’d look up things online, you’d take a class, you’d find someone who is already good at that new thing and learn from them.

If you’re willing to put in an extra effort for your job, you need to take a step back and realize it’s also worth putting in a little extra effort for yourself, your own ability to process and deal with anger, or any intense emotion. It could improve not only relationships in your life, but also yourself.





Only YOU Can Prevent a Social Life

Toastmasters speech number nine, Persuade with Power, is a speech where you focus on persuading the audience of something or getting them jazzed about some call to action. For my speech, I decided to persuade the audience they could sit around and do nothing, completely clearing their life of social obligations, by being an absolute weirdo which would lead to no more invites.


Picture this! You are a little more awake than you feel at this moment and you are beginning to let your mind skip ahead to the weekend. Your weekend … is free. No plans at all. And you are feeling pretty ambitious.

A friend texts, hike Saturday morning? Heck yes.

You bump into another friend, dinner Friday night? Sounds great!

There’s something you’re on the fence about for Saturday afternoon but you know what … yeah, let’s do it.

And then you get a reminder – don’t forget, you’ve got that thing going on Sunday night.

And now we fast forward to Monday morning and you’ve hit your alarm … where did the weekend go? How was it so go-go-go? This coming weekend, yes, this coming weekend I’ll just wake up and do … nothing. Sweet, glorious nothing.

But … those DANG social graces of yours. You’re probably thinking to yourself, ‘of course I’m getting invited out Brad. It’s my natural charisma. I’ll admit, I have smiled when passing the mirror and swooned. How can I possibly keep from having a full calendar?’

Have no fears. By the end of my speech you will leave here CONFIDENT that you will soon have a free weekend. My tricks will have you failing to impress at a cocktail party, or any number of social gatherings, in no time.

But who am I to give such a fool proof plan on failing to impress? What books have I read to teach me this? What training have I taken? (Fake chuckle) Don’t worry, been there, done that, haven’t been invited back.

For the purposes of this speech I will divide the world into four categories of people. There are the youth, the ‘surly folks’ (I’ll define that later), people you want desperately to impress, and your peers.


Let’s start with the youth.

For this group you may want to do some research. You want to have enough of an awareness of slang to really pain them when you use it. If your slang is outdated, then you’ve accidentally just impressed them because they’ll be so unaware of that slang that they’ll now claim your outdated slang as some cool new thing.

I’ll admit, my slang is already outdated. But I might try something like this:

Hey kids! Woah, look at those jeans, someone is looking rather fleekish. And it looks like somebody here has a few tomatoes on their little plate of snacks! Now that’s what I call YOLO! Because guys, really, you only live once, so eat a well-balanced diet. Ok, now, everyone tell me your favorite subject in school!

Overall, this category of people isn’t difficult, just try really hard to make them think you’re ‘cool’ and you’re guaranteed to fail to impress.


Let’s move on. The ‘surly types.’

These are the people that have a disposition that would make you think life is one giant waiting line at the DMV. They might come across as, at best, stoic, and at worst, openly disgusted.

Really, we could skip this section – the fact that you’re there, at all? You’ve already failed to impress them. But are we the type to merely content ourselves with success? No, I think we need to overwhelm them with a failure to impress.

I’ve got good news, and I’ve got better news. The good news is that this is an EASY group to fail to impress. The better news is that you’re about to learn some magic tricks.

Because you know what this group doesn’t like? Magic.

I want you to picture the person that comes to mind for this unbending, unhappy, lip-practically-curled-in-disgust-at-all-times person in your life – and visualize how they’ll react to the following magic trick.

(Two fingers bouncing back and forth and then lose one behind someone’s ear)

Remember, it’s not important if you get the magic trick exactly right or not, what is important is being a bother.


Next – people you want to impress. You might think failing to impress them could come naturally, but I have a counter example.

After college I was visiting a friend of mine and I met his boyfriend for the first time. We were having dinner and drinks and we’re out at a restaurant. One of my friends was trying to convince me to talk to a girl and I explained my disinterest in my own way, and the boyfriend piped up – ‘ohhhh! You’re BRAD! The non-game game!’

‘What?’ I asked.

‘Like, your absolute lack of game is … your game.’

This was a little insulting, but VERY accurate. But here’s the crazy thing, I’m married. CLEARLY there are people into the non-game game.

For this group, try being painfully aware of your body and every physical movement you do.

Picture two people up here talking, and I’ll show my interest in being a part of their conversation.

(Stand apart and stare – fake laughing sometimes, raising my hand at one point, whispering to myself … etc)

This one is tough. To fail to impress people with just nonverbal communication is an impressive feat, but I have confidence that, with time and practice, all of you can be creepy strangers.


Last, but certainly not least, are your peers.

Your peers might be just as out of the loop about slang as you, and mistakenly think your bad use of slang is ‘cool’, your peers might actually think ‘magic’ tricks are enjoyable, and worst of all – you may end up in an uncomfortable stare-off with a peer before you realize it, and end up leaving the party having failed to not impress a single soul.

This is a difficult group to fail to impress, because if you don’t want to be there, they probably don’t either. They’re going to be forgiving of you being odd because they get it, too. For this group, you’re going to need to be confident, and I want there to be music playing in your head that doesn’t match any music that may happen to be playing in the room.

When all else fails, a good pun will do.

‘What is this, pâté? More like pâté-plus!’ (Self-high five.)


Social obligations are a part of life. Sometimes you’re going to be invited to something, and feel compelled to be there. Or, your ambitious self will make weekend plans only to later regret it.

You want people to think about their upcoming social event to consider you, exchange looks and say, ‘mmm … I don’t know if he’ll mesh with everyone else.’

If you remember nothing else about my speech today, remember I believe in you. I know that you can overcome the odds and truly fail to impress not just one person, but a WHOLE party of people gathered at a restaurant, a wedding, a house, even your own home.

Remember, only YOU can prevent a social life.

Toastmasters Speech #7 – Research Your Topic


Raise your hand if you know when you need to put your trash out for it to be collected? Raise your hand if you know how many pounds of trash you are throwing out each week?

It’s a testament to the efficiency and the management of trash that we don’t often know how much trash we are generating. We don’t need to, and there is no visible reason that seems to indicate we should know.

I’d like to talk a bit about trash though, because I think it is something that is worth having more attention.

There are going to be quite a few numbers, and overall it’s kind of depressing to think about – but I’ll give one example which will hopefully shed a light of good.

It’s not all bad news, but at the end of this, if there’s one thing I want you to leave knowing – it’s that we are generating a lot of trash.


Let’s get to the numbers, those exciting, fascinating, can’t get enough numbers.

According to the EPA, in 2014 there were 258 million tons of municipal solid waste generated.

That’s a lot – but it breaks down a little.

Almost 13% of that is combusted, which is defined as the conversion of non-recyclable waste materials into usable heat, electricity or fuel. It’s garbage, but it’s usable garbage.

About 34% of that is recyclable, so it is garbage that will live to see another day.

But, the remaining amount, about 52% … is going to landfills. The largest slice of this pie is ending up in a landfill.


The United States population in 2014 was put at 318.9 million people. Using the amount of trash and a little simple division, we can look at how much trash each American is contributing.

Over the course of a year each person creates 1,618 pounds of trash. For comparison, that’s about the weight of 5 NFL offensive linemen. Or, five of these guys. Those are big fellas.


If you don’t ordinarily measure things in terms of offensive linemen, then another measure which I imagine most people are familiar with is 50 pounds. Fifty pounds, for you savvy travelers, is what you can get away with for a checked bag before you have to pay extra money.

The portion of trash that we, yes, every single one of us, generates each year that goes directly to a landfill is 853 pounds.

That’s not 1, not 2, but 17 fully packed suitcases worth of weight that is trash. Trash that we are burying in the Earth.


I’m going to drill this point home one more time, and then we can move on.

If you look at the number of 1,618 pounds of trash every American generates every year, then what happens if we project that out into the future?

In 10 years, that’s 16,180 pounds. That’s a lot.

And, obviously, that goes up, and up, and up the more years you think ahead. If you look out 40 years ahead, I have a bit of great news from the department of irony – you will have generated about 64,000 pounds of trash which is what a dump truck weighs! Woah! How great!


That’s an awful lot of talk about how much trash we are generating.

The good news is that you can have an impact on this. Consider how much effort you are currently putting into reducing the waste you generate. Do you take a mental log of what you are putting into your trash can? Do you think about how you could make a few small changes to reduce that amount? Even something as simple as just beginning to think about this can make a difference.

I’ll give you an example of a small change that some of you may be able to make starting today.

When you go to a public bathroom that has hand towels, how many do you take? It’s trivial, but it adds up.

Let’s say you use a public bathroom where you are using a disposable hand towel four times a day.

Over the course of one year, if you use one hand towel … that’s 1,460 hand towels.

If you use two hand towels each time … double that.

I’m going to pretend no one here uses three because I’m neurotic and weird and I stare at people who use three thinking ‘who do you think you are? Your hands aren’t that big, pal, nor are they that wet. COME ON.’

And … In case you don’t know this – channel your inner Taylor Swift, shake it off, and now you only need one hand towel.

If you reduce your hand towel usage each time by one, and you do this for the next forty years, that only amounts to either 1.41 pounds less trash. All that extra effort, the hand flicking, the possibility of slightly damp hands … is it worth it?

Let’s revisit that there are 318.9 million people in the United States.

If ALL of us in the United States went from two hand towels to one, that’s about 448 MILLION POUNDS OF TRASH. Gone. Just like that. From one small, little change. 448 million pounds.

If you prefer smaller numbers, that’s 2.2 aircraft carriers.


As I said at the beginning of my speech – my main objective was to have everyone leave here knowing that we generate a lot of trash. Every single person, all 318.9 million US citizens, every single day.

Every week you put out your trash, you come home from work, and you push the empty bin back inside to be filled up again. It’s like magic.

But, that trash isn’t disappearing. It’s all going somewhere.

The good news is that we can improve things. Small changes, start small, look for little ways you can reduce the amount of trash you generate … And then, be proud of that, brag about it, make it something you want to tell your friends about, so that more and more of those 318.9 million trash generators will want to reduce their waste just like you.




Toastmasters Speech #6 – Vocal Variety

Speech six in the competent communicator manual (the traditional set of speeches people give first) is called ‘vocal variety.’ The purpose is to focus on your voice – adding pauses, good language, volume changes, pace of speaking changes, things like that. I thought accents would be a good way to force myself in to accomplishing some of those goals … and when I think of accents I think of when I went to Georgia Boys State.

You’ll have to make up your own accents when you read this.

Georgia Boys State

My family had moved from New York to Georgia over winter break my freshman year, and I was sitting in my first class, English, at my new Georgia high school. I was feeling overwhelmed by the move, but I had just learned some good news – at my new high school they had just finished reading The Old Man and the Sea, and I had already read that.

The teacher asked some question and called on a girl, she began to answer.

“Whale …”

WHALE?! There’s a WHALE in the book? When was there a whale!?

She continued after a pause, “ya’ll know … he was like … trying to catch a fish or somethin’?”

That’s when three thoughts hit me – 1, ohhh, she said well; 2, she clearly didn’t read the book; 3, I love a good accent.

Fast forward two years and the summer after my junior year of highschool I was treated to a buffet of Georgia accents at Georgia Boys State. I’d like to share a few stories, and attempt a few accents from Boys State – but first, who here is familiar with Boys State or Girls State?


Boys State and Girls State are weeklong camps put on by the American Legion. It’s a sort of mock political event. Kids after their junior year of high school are selected, a few from each high school in the state, and then you attend this camp where you are split up into cities, and counties. You learn about state politics because you have to elect someone to each major position – city councilors, positions at county levels, and up.

Every day you meet people from your city, and county. People give speeches in the hopes of winning elections.

The camp was about as opposite as possible for things I was interested in. Politics? Nope. Public speaking? Nope.

But, what the camp lacked for me, it more than made up for with amazing accents from all over the state, and oddball experiences.


We begin on night one. The camp was run on a tight schedule, and we had hit lights out for the day. My roommate and I were tucked in to bed.

“Night James,” I said to my roommate, “night Brad,” he said back. A few moments of silence go by before James says, quietly, “hey Brad?” I respond, “yeah James?” And then a question everyone wants to hear from someone they have just met and will be rooming with, “how do you feel about your relationship with Jesus?”

This time I paused before answering, I wanted to make sure this question got the due attention it deserved. “Oh, pretty good, thanks for asking.”

Then I laid absolutely still, not sleeping a wink, doing my best impression of how I think my breathing sounds when I’m asleep. James didn’t pipe up again, I guess he was just dipping his toes into the pools of evangelism.


The people in charge of Boys State did a good job of mixing people up – I knew other people there from Savannah, but we were scattered across different cities. Each city had a good mix of folks from all over. And I spent the most time with people from my city.

I had come to Georgia from New York with an ignorant but well-formed set of assumptions and stereotypes. Southerners, in my mind, spoke slowly and were a bit dumber than northerners. Thankfully, I learned time and again how wrong I was to assume the south lacked smart folks.

One guy who embodied that reminded me most of Adam Sandler’s character from The Waterboy, and I remember him distinctly talking about the SATs. “Well my mama said that, if I got over a 1400 on my SATs she’d get me a truck. So, I got a 1450.”

….WHAT. That’s not how it works! You aren’t motivated by a TRUCK to do well in school. You can’t be smart AND one of those guys who sneaks a guns and ammo, or truck magazine into class. (Yes, some of my classmates really did that.)

The slow accents though, sometimes that was true. That was demonstrated by another guy in my city “who’s daddy is a pea-nut farmer. And he’d just sorta … stroll through a sentence real casual … and ya’ll can come along and pay attention if ya’ll want, but ya’ll don’t have to neither.” It was like mind numbing poetry. He could make one sentence sound like a story.


Last, but certainly not least, is David Ballard.

All the kids from my county had met in a big hall to elect the district attorney, sheriff, and other positions. These were coveted positions.

One of the guys in that room was David Ballard. David was not terribly attractive, he looked like a shy nerdy fella, he was definitely not the best speaker, but he was persistent. He was very persistent.

The first position came up and a number of people got up, gave speeches about why they should be elected. David got up and gave his speech, “Hi, my name is David Ballard, and I would like to be your district attorney.” David didn’t win.

The next position came up and again a small set of county citizens got up, gave speeches, and even David participated. “Hi, my name is David Ballard, and I’d like to be your sheriff.” He didn’t win.

Again, and again, and again, David got up and ran. I loved every minute of David’s speeches. It was like watching an injured Olympian limping across the finish line an hour after the other athletes.

His winning speech began as such, “Hi, as you all know, I am David Ballard.” There was no shame, no hesitation, he tried, and tried, and eventually succeeded. It was beautiful, and inspiring, and because I am a jerk, pretty darn comical to me.


I was not excited to head to Boys State. And when I left, I was happy to to be back home and surrounded by my friends. But, despite my best efforts to sit back and be a smart aleck and poke holes in everything around me – it was truly educational.

Accents are beautiful, people are great, and there are life lessons hidden everywhere if you let them hit you.

Toastmasters Tall Tale

Recently I competed in a Toastmasters Tall Tale contest, which was painful and frightening until it was over, and then it was ok. I didn’t make any huge mistakes (I forgot I think 3 lines) but I think my voice wasn’t shaky, and I felt tolerable on center stage.

Keep in mind, this isn’t a big stage. The competition was one level up from the club (where I know everyone, all the people are friendly, and I have gone from being scared to feeling somewhat comfortable there). It was a new crowd, and a bigger stage than I am used to, so those combined to make me very nervous. But I am happy that I avoided any big gaffes, and I got third place (out of five). I think two mistakes I made were bad eye contact (quite a few more folks than I am accustomed to! my eyes darted around a bit too much) and I needed to be louder. For those in the back of the room I was a bit hard to hear.

I think, if you happen to be a fellow toastmaster, it was good for me. The new level of nervousness, and feeling like I needed to up my game, both helped push me. I think I had much more and better movement in this speech than any other I have had yet (though that is helped by the fact that I literally dance during the course of the speech). I will also proudly report I was the only one who danced during the competition. Anywho, without further delay, my tall tale, “Disturbing Grandpa’s Nap.”


Grandpa was napping on the La-Z-Boy, channel changer somehow locked in his hand, the TV had some boring baseball game on … and I was looking out the window wondering if I’d gone crazy.

I figured I should get a second opinion so I walked to another window, ah!, sure enough, same view.


This was a little disconcerting.

But, is it worth waking grandpa up? He does love to nap.

I decided to go for it.

“GRANDPA! Oh sorry … you were asleep?” I figured I should tell a fib, because if I told the truth, he’d probably think I was fibbing.

“Grandpa, a neighbor was out … chopping down a tree and … he cut off his arm! We should go help?”

Grandpa gave a big, looooong sigh … And, a few minutes later, we were at the front door.

I opened the door, “oh look, space ships.” Grandpa sighed again, but this time, he seemed almost annoyed. He crossed his arms, shook his head, and then he walked away.

I was surprised, but then I thought, OF COURSE!, grandma and grandpa must own guns! He’s going to come back, two shotguns in hand, a bandolier on, and we’re gonna go fight some aliens!!

Instead, he came back with two bags of sugar, one granulated, one brown, he looked at them and then … handed me one of them, and a spoon, and then we headed out the front door.

We were IMMEDIATELY surrounded by aliens. They were all different shapes, sizes, colors, smells … even. I thought, ‘shouldn’t I be afraid? Shouldn’t I be worried I’m about to die?’ But I looked over at grandpa and he was cool as could be. Digging his spoon into the sugar, having himself a little snack. And I thought, ‘you know, if I AM going to die today, I might as well die with my sweet tooth satisfied, so I started doing the same thing.’

Soon we were in a big group of aliens, they had all gathered in one spot, and grandpa turned to me and said, “let’s get them on our side” so we started handing out spoonfuls of sugar. Claws, tentacles, robotic-like limbs, even MENTAL POWERS reached out and took the sugar! I don’t know how to read alien expressions, but I’m pretty sure they enjoyed it.

Distracted by being such good ambassadors for Earth I didn’t realize we had entered the CENTER of the circle. In front of us were a few aliens who looked FANTASTIC. Their outfits were amazing. One of them would make Elton John look like a nobody, another David Bowie like just some guy going to the grocery store. Their outfits … were phenomenal.

One of them JUMPS in the middle of the circle and starts FLAILING around, at the same time, music starts playing from … I don’t even know where!

I thought, ‘aha, these are the ones who are gonna kill us.’

But then that one jumps out and another one jumps in and he starts moving around like a MANIAC!

That’s when it hit me – I’m not about to die, I’m part of an INTERGALACTIC DANCE OFF!

This … was a big moment for me. I knew I needed my BEST dance moves. I stepped back, and I watched, and I waited. Finally, I jumped in!

First, I hit them with the razzmatazz – that’s where I do jazz hands, and randomly karate kick. Then, the string knees … which is where I have strings … attached to my knees. A dash … of the sassy robot. And finally, the Bambi, where I walk like a newborn deer … except, to a rhythm.

I felt PRETTY GOOD about my showing. But the music stopped. An alien stepped forward and said, “ALAALALUAIHIUH!” … “Could you repeat that?” I asked.

He came closer, he reached his hand out, he stuck his hand into my chest AND GRABBED MY HEART! Suddenly … I could understand him.

“YOUR DANCE MOVES STINK! … But … we found them funny. EARTH! … Has … Been … Spared.”

He pulled his hand back and a WILD cacophony of noises sprang up all around me … I’m pretty sure they were laughing. Then, they all did an about face and walked back to their space ships.

Grandpa and I were left standing there. Saviors of the Earth, I might add. Two bags of sugar, now empty, two spoons, covered in some … other-wordly goop. And I heard grandpa sigh. I figured he was thinking about how upset grandma was gonna be – no sugar in the house?!, dirty spoons!? …

But I looked over at him, and he looked up … And suddenly I could read his thoughts … He was thinking, ‘can I get back to my nap now?’

Attn: Ellen (9/7/16)



Back (apologies for my handwriting!)


The text of the postcard is

Dear Ellen,

Tomorrow from 7-8 am I have a Toastmaster’s meeting. Since we meet during breakfast time I’m going to make toast then carefully and evenly spread peanut butter and jelly on both sides. I’m going to carefully drive to the meeting with my toast, enter the room, feign sadness, and say “I don’t deserve to be here.” It’ll be a riot!


P.S. How many toast puns til I get kicked out?

Why am I doing this?

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