When a Boy is Tortured and Murdered in Front of His Parents

(Photo by Shahzeb Ihsan)

(Photo by Shahzeb Ihsan)

When I was little, I sometimes asked my parents what would happen if bad guys ever tried to hurt us. They always said we would defend ourselves and kill the bad guys, if needed.

“We would never let anything happen to you,” they promised.

I believed them because I was little. I’m sure they meant well.

I wonder if Philip Savopoulos’ parents promised him the same thing.

Savvas Savopoulos was a martial arts expert, which means the guy who would soon murder him and his family probably held a gun to his wife and son to get him to cooperate.

It must have been a good life before that day.

The Savopoulos family lived just a few doors down from U.S. Vice President Joe Biden in Washington D.C. Very rich.

The family was probably going to do something really fun this Memorial Day weekend.

I don’t know how good of a guy Savvas Savopoulos was. I don’t know anything about his wife, Amy. The housekeeper, Veralicia Figueroa, might not have been a great person. I can’t be sure.

They were reportedly generous and charitable people. I rarely assume the worst.

But I do know about Philip Savopoulos.

Because he was only 10. Probably in fifth grade. Maybe just starting to like a girl at school. He probably liked the Washington Redskins. And NBA star John Wall. And the Avengers.

He was probably looking forward to summer break when he’d go on an amazing vacation with his family and maybe attend some cool summer camps. Certainly, he’d be spending some days playing video games, talking about girls, or participating in outdoor fun with his buddies.

He must have felt safe every second of his life.

Until that day.

When a man forced his way into their home. Tied up his dad. Tied up his mom. Tied up the housekeeper. And then himself.

Young Philip was probably really scared.

But I bet he never imagined that less than a day later, he would be dead, his parents, dead, his housekeeper, dead, and his home set on fire.

Nothing REALLY bad ever happened to me growing up. My parents divorced when I was 4, and it was hard because my dad lived 500 miles away, but when you’re that age, it just feels normal because this is just the way it is.

So, when I got divorced at 34, I completely freaked out and broke on the inside. And I think it’s because divorce is always hard and a shock to the system for most of us, but also because my mind and body had never been through a trauma like that.

He was just 10.

He had probably never been through a trauma like that. It’s possible he had never even seen a home invasion in a movie or heard about one on the news.

But there he was, bound with duct tape. Maybe to a piece of furniture. Maybe to one of his parents.

Maybe he cried a lot. He was just 10.

Daron Wint is 34. About my age. He used to work for Savvas Savopoulos’ company.

Wint kept them tied up while he searched the house for money. He eventually made off with $40,000. Investigators don’t yet know whether money was the only motive.

“The victims suffered from blunt force trauma. Authorities believe the four were killed before the house was set ablaze, according to the source familiar with the investigation,” CNN reported. “The source said the victims were bounded with duct tape, and there were signs that Philip had been stabbed and tortured before he was set on fire.”

There are two teenage girls. High schoolers. They attend boarding school, so they weren’t home, otherwise they would have been murdered (or worse) too.

Today, those two, already dealing with the most-complicated and confusing part of their lives, just found out their parents and little brother are dead, and that their home was set on fire.

Their lives will, in many respects, be defined by some guy they never met.

I wonder whether Wint stabbed and tortured a 10-year-old child in front of his parents. Screaming: “Where’s the money, motherfucker!?” before hurting Philip again. A helpless mother and father’s soul being ripped out in the worst possible combination of rage and fear and hopelessness and helplessness imaginable.

I can’t even type it with dry eyes.

You know what I think about the most, though?

The Domino’s pizza delivery guy or girl.

While the family was held hostage, Wint ordered two pizzas. He left cash in an envelope instructing the driver to leave the pizzas by the door.

The driver must have thought that was strange, but since the money was there, what choice did he or she have? You take it and drive away, mission accomplished.

You tell your friends at work about the odd experience and move on with your life.

A few days later, the news breaks that DNA left on some pizza crust is how investigators identified the killer. There’s shock at first. Then reality sets in.

Oh my God. I could have been killed.

Oh my God. I wish I would have called the police! Those people! I didn’t know!

Oh my God. That family’s final meal was the pizza I delivered. That little boy.

I think about that person the most.

They’ll always carry that around with no place to deliver it.

What Are Humans All About?

Today’s writing prompt from WordPress on The Daily Post was: “The friendly, English-speaking extraterrestrial you run into outside your house is asking you to recommend the one book, movie, or song that explains what humans are all about. What do you pick?”

I couldn’t think of a book. Or a movie. Or a song.

But I like the question. What are humans all about?

And I thought about the grisly details of the Savopolous family’s brutal slaying.

We live in a world where—for whatever reason, but possibly something as simple as $40,000—a man will beat, torture, and stab a 10-year-old boy in front of his screaming, sobbing parents.

We live in a world where things like that happen.

A family in Connecticut was killed the same way in 2008.

Not terribly far from there, a young man invaded a school one day in Newtown, Ct. and shot a bunch of kindergarteners and elementary school kids.

Some people will cut your head off with a knife on video because you disagree about religion.

Others will hijack airplanes and fly them into skyscrapers.

There are violent rapes. Child kidnappings and molestation and abuse. We see bullying. And theft. And infidelity. And fraud. And disease. And starvation.

These things are real and are happening every day.

What are humans all about?

In a world where all of those things happen, people keep trying. Those horrible things crawl into our insides and infect us with fear. Sometimes we think ONLY bad things happen because it seems like we only hear about bad things.

But Kim just donated a kidney to a stranger.

And young Malik just visited (and often does) old man Johnson who has been lonely ever since his wife died two years ago.

Lucas just defended Brennan on the playground when a bunch of kids were making fun of him, and Lucas is the most-popular kid in the class.

Wendy just forgave Michael.

An African village just got a new well, and now a bunch of kids have a chance, all because people with big hearts have made this their mission.

Alyssa rescued another dog.

A child was adopted.

A girlfriend got a proposal.

A friend got a hug.

A neglected person found love.

A lost person found meaning.

A plant sprouted, and dammit, it was a miracle.

Humans are a riddle. A maddening, never-quite-solvable puzzle. Capable of terrible things. Things worse than we can conjure up in our most-twisted thoughts.

And they are also the most generous, creative, loving, inspiring, IMPORTANT thing ever documented in the history of the universe.

You can look at the riots, and the train wreck, and the brutal murder. It’s hard not to.

But you can also look over there, too. That way. Over there where hope lives.

At that thing that’s good, and perfect, and beautiful. See it?

The most horrible things happen. And still, we hope. Still, we love.

What are humans all about?

That.

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Why I Wrote “An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands”

Families matter. And if you believe your husband doesn't think so, there's a good chance you're wrong.

Families matter. And if you believe your husband doesn’t think so, there’s a good chance you’re wrong.

“Wow. Your marriage is a complete replica of mine except I haven’t walked out yet and you sound a bit more attentive than my husband. I wish he would read your blog and consider it, but he probably wouldn’t cause he’s an asshole.” – Anonymous blog comment

Because a lot of wives are unhappy in their marriages, many of them turn to the internet where they type things like, “my husband is an asshole,” or “shitty husband” into Google.

Maybe they’re looking for advice on how to cope with a bad marriage.

Maybe they’re looking for other wives who feel like them.

Maybe they’re looking for a shred of hope that the life they dream of isn’t completely impossible.

More and more, they find one of the “An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands” posts. Usually Vol. 1. What that means is, hundreds of strangers every day—people who have never read anything else I’ve written, nor understand my motives, nor realize I wrote it two years ago when I was totally broken—are stumbling on that post.

I think it’s a bad post. It’s poorly written and lacking any semblance of the wisdom and understanding I’ve acquired in my search for knowledge.

But one thing is clear: The message is resonating. Because people keep reading and sharing.

There’s something here that matters to people in pain. And that, I understand.

What’s a Shitty Husband?

Lee wrote me, “Understand that not all husbands are shitty…I found myself disagreeing with your choices fairly quickly while reading, and I can see how you ended up where you are now.”

Laura wrote me, “You aren’t a ‘shitty husband’ for being human. And labeling yourself as one isn’t making anybody feel better.”

Let’s get something straight. I like the word “shitty.” And I’m not afraid to use it loosely, because it’s a funny word and an attention-grabbing one in a headline.

Some husbands get drunk all the time, are never home, screw other women, hit their wives, and all kinds of bad things no human being should be.

I CANNOT HELP A MAN LIKE THAT.

A woman who marries a man like that probably has really unhealthy boundary and self-esteem issues, or experienced an unplanned pregnancy and decided to marry the father in an effort to do what she felt was best.

I can only help one kind of guy. And I think there are millions of them. And so much of what I think about and write about is for them, their wives, their children, their extended family and friends.

The kind of guy I can help is the shitty husband who doesn’t know he’s shitty.

Guys who get drunk all the time, are never home, screw other women, hit their wives, and all kinds of other bad things, KNOW they’re shitty. They know and don’t care. They do not empathize with their hurting spouses. Unselfishness and improving the lives of his wife and family are not concepts he ever thinks about.

The kind of guy I can help is ACCIDENTALLY SHITTY. A regular guy with an honest desire to keep his marriage vows, raise good kids, and have the kind of family most of us dreamed about when we agreed to get married in the first place. A guy who takes immense pleasure from imagining him and his wife sitting on the porch together 40 years from now, watching grandchildren play in the yard.

I can help the guy who truly loves his wife.

I can help the guy who doesn’t understand why he and his wife always fight about the same things.

I can help the guy who never considered that men and women can describe the exact same situation completely differently with neither of them being wrong.

I can help the guy who doesn’t understand how his wife can feel lonely and unloved even though he’s physically present.

I can help the guy who is too ashamed, embarrassed or afraid to be 100-percent honest about sex.

I can help the guy who feels flattered by the cute girl at work because she makes him feel good, and doesn’t understand why his wife doesn’t do that anymore, nor how dangerous it is.

I can help the guy who doesn’t know what to do when his wife is grieving from the death of a loved one.

I can help the guy whose wife is worried about money and long-term security.

I’ve written it many times before: Good men can be shitty husbands. They’re not bad men. They’re simply bad at marriage. The same way people can be bad at archery, or advanced math, or baking muffins.

Being active and engaged and communicating effectively in marriage is a learned skill, and many men don’t know how to do it because their grandfathers lived in the Mad Men era, and their fathers followed in the same footsteps, or were never around at all.

Being a man in 2015 is so much different than it was 60 years ago. And to succeed, we must evolve.

I write for good men who are getting it wrong and who can and will respond to new information that makes sense to them. I was 33 years old and married for seven years before I understood what I know now.

Men are frustrated because their wives “change” throughout the course of their marriages, especially after becoming mothers.

Men are frustrated because their wives don’t make them feel confident, respected, trusted or loved like they used to.

Men are frustrated because their wives have lost sexual interest.

Men are frustrated because their wives make them feel like they’re no longer good enough for them. Despite all of the changes and sacrifices he has made, she trusts him less, and ‘nags’ him more.

Men are frustrated because their entire lives look nothing like their hopes and dreams, and they feel depressed, and no one understands, and there’s no one to talk to about it.

But really, everyone understands. And you can and should talk to people about it. Especially your wife.

I think I now understand how and why all these things happen. It was completely lost on me during my nine-year marriage. And I think there are a bunch of guys out there just like me.

And I think if every man understood what I know now (especially early in their marriages!), they would radically change the way they behave and communicate in their marriages.

Men are happier when their wives are happier, and most men simply don’t understand why their wives become unhappy. They’re not intentionally neglectful. They are accidentally neglectful. And everyone’s lives will be better if they figure it out before the inevitable affair or divorce.

Broken marriages, broken homes and divorce are really awful things to experience. As children. And as adults.

Not everyone is going to care what I have to say. Probably most won’t.

But once in a while, someone is going to stumble on this stuff and have the same sort of eureka moment I had when this all finally clicked for me.

And even if he’s a great guy, he’s probably a shitty husband. Probably accidentally so.

And his story can have a happy ending.

His children’s stories can have happy endings.

His wife’s story can have a happy ending.

So, yeah. This is all a little bit about me.

But it’s a whole lot about them.

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The Things That Matter

13599-Memories

One of my favorite scenes in one of my favorite shows had a man sitting on the edge of a hotel room bed talking on the phone to his ex-wife sitting on the edge of her bed.

He had just learned she was dying of cancer.

His eyes well with tears and he calls her by his pet name for her. His voice breaks.

Her eyes well with tears because she hears this stoic figure breaking on the other end of the phone.

No one says anything, but they don’t have to, because the audience gets it. A silent moment where so much is happening. Two people who have completely let go of every ounce of anger and resentment toward one another because their time is short and they’re not going to waste any of it on anger. Two people focusing not on all the bad times, but on all the good.

He can’t speak.

She says: “I know.”

And we know that she does.

This was the end. Sadness and regret. Because it used to be so good and beautiful.

And they both remember those times.

The things that matter.

A Letter from my Grandmother

I’ve joked many times in this space about what will happen if my grandmother ever read my writing here, and about other things. Because I use a lot of bad words and occasionally write about mature themes, the working theory is that my super-sweet, kind, prayerful grandma will read it and then have a stroke and die.

I am her first grandchild, and was for nearly seven years. I am closer in age to my grandma’s youngest child than I am to her second grandchild.

I think when we are lying on our deathbeds, we are going to think about the life we lived and it’s going to be painfully obvious to us where our missed opportunities were. Where we failed to meet some standard to which we hold ourselves.

I think most of us are too afraid.

To go on that adventure.

To give up the day job.

To kiss the girl.

To dance.

To leap.

We like to do things that feel safe, and I think in the end we are going to regret all the chances we didn’t take. All the safe, comfortable choices we made.

And I think when we’re dying we are going to only think about the things that matter. The people we love and the people who love us. The people who shared in our pleasure and pain and celebrated or suffered along with us.

I’ve written a lot about what a charmed upbringing I had, despite not having much money. My childhood is the ultimate example of how money and having lots of “things” has never, and will never provide the happiness and contentment we seek.

I was happy because my family loved me, paid attention to me, treated me well, and always made me feel safe. My friends did the same.

That’s why adulthood has felt so uninspired. At times, so disappointing.

That’s why divorce was so hard. Because I’d never really felt the kind of pain divorce causes. When you’ve never bled before, I think the pain of the cut and the sight of blood is more traumatic than it is to those with battle scars.

My grandmother—a wonderful, kind woman; the matriarch of a large family (eight children and 19 grandchildren)—is largely responsible for the envelope of love, happiness and contentment in which I was raised.

She wrote me a letter.

Dear Matt,

Time goes so fast. I want to write you a letter and let you know how much you are loved. The time we came to Iowa. You got lost at 2 years old. We were to blame. I was so scared. But we found you and all was well.

The time I flew out with you to Iowa so you could be in Debbie’s wedding, and when we left, you sobbed for a half hour on the plane and I couldn’t fix it. You didn’t want to leave your dad. The time you went out to live with your dad when you were a junior in high school. Oh, how I missed you. I’m so glad you decided to stay here for your senior year and graduate with all your friends.

I remember all the times just you and I went to lunch together when you were little. It was so special for me to have you with me. I love you so.

As grandpa and I are getting older we want you to know how much we love you and always will. Our time on this earth is so much shorter than it was and I don’t want to waste any time, so I hope you know how much we care for you and our great-grandson.

Matt, you’re a good father and we are proud of the man you have become.

Just know we love you and always will. 

Grandma and Grandpa

How will we know? What matters, and what doesn’t?

We won’t always know while it’s happening.

But I think one day we will.

I think, one day, we’ll just know.

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Your Penis Looks Bigger When You Don’t Procrastinate

(Photo by The Plain Dealer)

This could have been me! (Photo by The Plain Dealer)

There are two ways to write this post.

There’s the way where I paint myself a victim of circumstance—someone who got totally screwed and didn’t deserve it.

And there’s the honest way.

I am a chronic procrastinator and am grossly irresponsible for a 36-year-old father.

It’s the reason my retirement account isn’t as large as it should be. It’s the reason I don’t have any books published. It’s the reason I don’t have a 28-inch waist. It’s the reason my house isn’t as clean as it should be. It’s the reason my ex-wife gets pissed at me when I overlook or don’t pay attention to some detail related to our son’s school schedule. It’s the reason I let my auto insurance lapse last year.

And it’s the reason I don’t have natural gas service to my house as I sit here typing this.

“What’d you do, Matt? Not pay your bills!?”

No, dick.

I actually have a credit on my account because I pay more every month than I need to, thank you very much.

But what did happen is the gas company kept visiting my house to inspect my gas meter when I wasn’t home. Not the entire company, I don’t think. Probably just one guy. They need to inspect meters (mine’s indoors) to ensure they are gauging gas usage accurately and to regularly check for natural gas leaks.

So, instead of just breaking in or maybe letting my uncle’s ghost show them around, they left a little card on my door knob informing me I needed to schedule an appointment to have my meter inspected.

It seemed important, so I put it in my Jeep to remind me to call on my morning commute instead of calling immediately. I called one time a couple days later, but the offices were closed, and I just sort of never tried again.

I just kept on living because if I just don’t worry about it, it will magically go away!!!

Because I live in Ohio, the temperature can swing 30 degrees in one day. And it did. We had a little cold spell recently, where it was in the 30s and 40s (Fahrenheit) at night, and in the 50s during the day.

Wednesday, I noticed the temperature reading in my house was 59 degrees. Unacceptable. I turned on the furnace and went to bed.

When my alarm clock woke me yesterday, my sinuses were totally clogged and my bedroom was about 55 degrees, as if a little magic ice troll was camped out in my air duct shooting pneumonia sprinkles and fuck-you dust at me all night.

I assumed my furnace was broken since that was the most expensive explanation. Whatever. I’ll fix it later!

I put a space heater in my room last night because I figured possibly setting my house on fire is better than being a tiny bit cold and also because screw that little ice troll.

Everything seemed fine until the part where I got in the shower and screamed obscenities. Because that was hell.

That’s what hell is, folks. An endless cold shower where all the women you find attractive take photos of your shriveled penis and post them to Instagram and Facebook and then tag your grandmother.

“Hahaha! See how funny it looks with the Lo-Fi filter!?”

Like. Like. Share. Like. Share. Like. Like.

No hot water combined with my furnace blowing only cold air told me all I needed to know: Those bastards shut off my gas.

Is that a little harsh? Shutting off gas to a customer who is a couple months AHEAD on his bill paying? Maybe another warning stuck to my door? Might that have been a better way to handle it?

I think so.

If it was winter and they shut off my gas, my reaction would be infinitely less measured. The gas company would have a real problem on their hands. And by that I mean, I would have complained to four or five people who don’t procrastinate all the time, and then do exactly what I’m already doing, which is meeting a gas company person at my house whenever they call me.

(Insert magic time-travel sound effect here)

I have a minor gas leak in my house! Gas company man just left. He was cool.

Now I’m waiting for the plumber to come, install new fittings, then I’ll have to call the gas company back so they can restart service.

I think this is one of those times it’s important to look on the bright side.

Is it fun waiting for a plumbing company to call you back, and then overcharge you for the work they’re going to do?

No.

But is it kind of awesome that I will greatly reduce the risk of dying in a fiery explosion in my own house?

I feel like it probably is.

Maybe you guys would hear about it someday. “News at 11. Procrastinating blogger’s home explodes, killing him, but also saving him from having to power wash his exterior walls and mop the basement floor, so don’t feel too bad.”

Or maybe you wouldn’t hear.

Either way, I’d probably end up in that forever-cold shower, shriveled penis exposed, and going viral on Facebook – Eternal Damnation Edition™.

Like. Like. Share. Like. Share. Like. Like.

But, hell. Since I’m still alive?

I guess I’ve got some things to do.

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The Eureka Effect: How to Save Marriages

(Image courtesy of iai.tv)

(Image courtesy of iai.tv)

I was crying all the time and sleeping in the guest room. It was a real shit show.

My marriage was dead, but I didn’t know it yet. If I had known it, I would have never experienced the Eureka effect, which might be the most important thing to ever happen to me.

I was reading How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It (which I’ve made no secret is the most important book I’ve read on relationships), and page after page was explaining myself to me. Explaining my wife to me. Explaining my marriage to me.

It was my “Aha” moment. My “Eureka” moment. The moment I truly understood how radically different my wife and I were experiencing our marriage. The moment I could finally see things from her perspective.

I finally understood why all of our fights started and ended the same way. I finally understood why they were so predictable. I finally understood the most important thing there is for a man to know about his wife in a marriage.

She felt alone and abandoned. And that made her feel afraid and like she couldn’t trust me.

I finally understood the most important thing there is for a woman to know about her husband in a marriage.

My wife was not attacking me or telling me I wasn’t good enough. Just like my wife wasn’t actually alone nor abandoned.

It just felt that way.

She was trying to communicate to me how things I did made her feel disrespected and unloved, but she was doing it in a way that only made sense to her and not me.

That tends to make men feel shame. Like their wives are telling them they are not good enough. It fundamentally changes you on the inside when the person you love the most repeatedly tells you you’re not good enough, even if that’s not what she means to do.

I would get defensive because I always felt like I wasn’t guilty of the things she claimed. She would get angry because I WAS doing the things she said I was doing, even if I wasn’t realizing it. I wasn’t validating her anger and sadness and fear and it made her even more angry.

Then when she got angry, I would get equally angry in return.

We were a ticking bomb.

Because she was afraid and didn’t feel safe. The marriage had ceased to be a comfort zone for her.

Because I felt shame that I couldn’t make her happy and frustrated that nothing I did ever seemed to be good enough for her. I always felt like there was a new thing for her to complain about.

Fear. Shame. Fear. Shame. Fear. Shame.

How husbands and wives manage those emotions will prove the No. 1 predictor of whether their marriages will survive.

Wives who are afraid trying to talk to or fight with husbands who feel ashamed are going to fail at marriage a high-percentage of the time.

Something else important happened. Another “Aha!” moment. I realized that EVERYONE has the exact same fights.

There are always outliers and unique circumstances, but by and large, I realized that the reason these books can be written, read by millions of people, and have everyone nod their heads up and down is because these are almost universally true observations about people.

It’s so important to realize you’re not alone.

YOU ARE NOT THE ONLY ONE.

You’re not. No matter what it is you feel. There are many other people who feel it, too. And when you discover that truth, it changes your life because feeling connected is one of our most basic human wants and needs.

The Nine Dot Problem

Nine Dot Problem

The Nine Dot Problem is a classic spatial problem psychologists use to study insight and problem solving. There are nine dots on a page in a perfect 3 x 3 square. The object is to connect all nine dots using exactly four straight lines without retracing or removing the pen from the paper.

The psychologists who conducted the first lab experiment with this problem (Kershaw and Ohlsson) said that in a lab setting where participants are given a time limit of two or three minutes, the expected solution rate is 0%.

You, quite literally, must think “outside the box” to solve it.

How to Save Marriages

I think I experienced something that many (maybe even most) men do not. I experienced the Eureka effect in a very profound way on the subject of marriage and male-female relationships.

And the more I think about it, the more convinced I become: The way to save marriages is to help people have their own Eureka moments.

The question now becomes: How do we get people to have their own Eureka moment?

What is the most effective way to reach people?

I read the book How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It because I was invested in trying to save my marriage. My biggest fear was losing my wife and having my young son growing up a child of divorce like I had.

Fear of loss motivated me.

I don’t know what drives other people, but because I know I’m never the only one, I can infer that there are a lot of other husbands and boyfriends out there who feel as I felt.

So, I start with them.

It will take insightful, creative thinking to change the way people behave in, and think about, their marriages. Habits and evolutionary hardwiring are tough things to overcome.

But there is a way.

I think we just have to draw outside the lines.

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The Purple Shirt Theory

Maybe Bruce Banner will get a pass since he's a fictional character. Maybe actor Mark Ruffalo is going to burn for this. I don't know. But isn't it worth trying to figure it out?

Maybe Bruce Banner will get a pass since he’s a fictional character. Maybe actor Mark Ruffalo is going to burn for this grave offense. I don’t know. But isn’t it worth trying to figure out?

Is there a God?

That’s not something I ever asked myself growing up because I was raised in a pretty religious household and pretty much only knew other religious people in my small Ohio town.

I never asked it until I was older, divorced and felt like dying.

It’s a question that makes us feel something on the inside. Maybe comfort. Maybe discomfort. Most of us don’t talk about it because it has become impolite to talk about such things. Some people will kill you if you don’t believe what they believe. Others will hate you.

But you’re safe here.

I won’t kill you.

I won’t hate you.

I just want to tell you about the Purple Shirt Theory, because I think it’s interesting.

Relativism n. – the doctrine that knowledge, truth, and morality exist in relation to culture, society, or historical context, and are not absolute.

I’m guilty of engaging in relativism from time to time. It’s one of the ways I justify some bad thing I’ve done, or justify not doing some good thing I should be doing. I think everyone does it once in a while.

We think: Well at least I’m not like [insert person you think sucks here]! What an asshole!

And all the sudden we feel better about the times we were assholes because it was less assholey than the times that suckier person over there was.

I’m Catholic.

There are a lot of rules and frankly, I’m not the best Catholic in the world. I don’t mean I might be second place, either. I mean, I’m probably in like 118 millionth place.

The reasons I’m not a great Catholic generally revolve around sex and drinking, which is likely the reason most people aren’t great at being one.

Here’s what people like me do. We look around at the world and we see all the people who are bigger assholes than we are. (Which might not even be true. We just think it is.)

Guys are married and their wives are pissed at them, but sometimes they think: At least I’m not like Roger! That guy cheats on his wife all the time! At least I’m not like Larry! That guy gambles his paycheck every week! At least I’m not like Freddy! That guy gets drunk every night! At least I’m not like Michael! That guy hits his wife and kids!

And because we don’t cheat, and we don’t gamble away our savings, and we don’t drink excessively, and we don’t physically abuse anyone, all the sudden we feel morally outraged because our wives or whoever are criticizing us about something. And it could be so much worse! we think. They should be grateful!

Because we’re getting a C on our report card while other people are getting Ds and Fs, we sometimes feel like we’re doing a good job.

It’s because people like to lie to themselves in order to feel better and sleep at night. I’ve done that before.

Getting Cs isn’t so bad!

It kind of is. C grades are shitty.

There is much debate about what’s right and what’s wrong. People disagree all the time about what is okay and not okay to do. It’s at the very heart of the cultural and political wars being waged globally.

I don’t know what’s right.

I don’t know what’s wrong.

I only know how certain things make me feel. I know some things seem okay to me. And some things do not. And that’s how I decide for myself.

And this is the part where it gets scary.

The Search for Truth

The following is indisputable: SOMETHING is true.

What I mean by that is, if you knew everything there was to know, you would know all of the true things from all of the false things. And for the purpose of this conversation, I’m mostly talking about what’s good or bad, or right or wrong. No ambiguity. No guessing.

There are people—many of them—who believe everyone gets to decide for themselves what’s right and wrong. That’s relativism. And I promise I’m as guilty of practicing it as anyone.

But what I’m absolutely sure of is that SOMETHING is true. Something is right. Something is real.

And that anyone on a quest to live the best, most-fulfilled life possible is OBLIGATED to seek it. We must seek truth. 

The Purple Shirt Theory

There either is a God. Or there isn’t. If there is no creator and everything is random and there is no such thing as right or wrong, then life is meaningless.

The Purple Shirt Theory only matters for people who believe in God, or believe it’s possible there is a divine creator or supreme being that started this whole life thing.

It goes like this:

IF you believe in God, then you believe there is an all-powerful creator who made the universe. Yahweh. The Boss. The Artist.

Ergo, what we think or feel or believe doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is whatever the facts are. Whatever the truth is.

If God is true and God exists, then God makes the rules.

Sometimes, humans say that God made some rules and I don’t always agree with them. About things I should or shouldn’t do. About things I should or shouldn’t say. About who people choose to love and live with.

And we argue and we bicker, and maybe some of us are right, or maybe all of us are wrong.

I just think it’s REALLY important to always keep the truth in mind.

And the truth is this: IF there is a God. God makes the rules. Not us. Not the ants.

And no matter how unreasonable or incorrect or unfair we consider a rule or law or truth to be, our feelings and opinions on the matter mean precisely dick.

There is truth. Something is true. Something is certain. Something is real.

And it might be (it might!) that God says the greatest sin or moral crime you can commit is: Wearing a purple shirt.

We think it’s silly. OF COURSE it’s okay to wear a purple shirt! we all think. It doesn’t make sense to me that God would punish me for that! If that’s the kind of God he/she/it is, I don’t want to know him/her/it anyway!!!

We’ve all heard, said or thought that.

But we’re wrong—dead wrong—every time we resort to our feelings and opinions to justify an action or belief.

If life has no meaning… then I guess life has no meaning, and this is the most-pointless thing I’ve ever written.

But maybe it does have meaning.

Because SOMETHING is true.

We are wise to pursue whatever the truth is. We are foolish to not.

Maybe it’s okay to wear purple shirts. I think it probably is. But I wonder what the truth is.

Because maybe it’s not.

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Help Me Find a Partner

partner

My wife would get frustrated with me because sometimes I don’t finish things.

It’s a pattern that reemerges in my life repeatedly. A new idea captures my attention. I obsess about it. I dive right in, fully immersing myself in it, sometimes at the expense of other things.

I think that became exhausting for her because she isn’t that way.

I think she saw it as a sign of immaturity and lack of discipline.

I know she saw it as a weakness.

Discovering Strengths

I participated yesterday in a self-assessment program called StrengthsFinder, a program run by The Gallup Organization (the polling institution) designed to help people better understand their strengths and behaviors.

Strictly from a personality-profile standpoint, it reaffirmed what I already knew about myself.

Strength #1 – I am inquisitive.

I have a naturally curious mind. I collect information. I crave and pursue knowledge. I tend to collect things that interest me. I am interested in many things, so I am constantly trying to learn new things.

Strength #2 – I love meeting people and making friends.

I love meeting strangers and learning about them. I want to discover common interests and build connections. There is no such thing as too many friends.

Strength #3 – I am fascinated by new ideas.

“You are delighted when you discover beneath the complex surface an elegantly simple concept to explain why things are the way they are,” my assessment report said.

No sentence in the history of the written word has more accurately described me. It is the very premise on which the majority of this blog’s content is based.

Strength #4 – I am fascinated and hopeful by the future.

I dream of every aspect of life being better in the future than it is now. It is that vision for my future and the future of those close to me that drives me each day. I am a dreamer. And I pursue those dreams. But, sometimes…

Strength #5 – I have an inherent need to start a new project or hobby.

I am interested in many new things, and when something captivates me, I need to be a part of it and throw myself into it. That makes me awesome at idea generation and starting exciting new adventures, but that also lends itself to me “quitting” things in favor of chasing the next dream that has captured my intense interest.

Something dawned on me very quickly as I evaluated my results and contemplated their meaning.

Everyone has a very different, very specific combination of strengths. And when those strengths don’t jibe exactly with our individual goals, or don’t align with our strengths, we can convince ourselves that…

Lack of Strength = Weakness

And that’s a lie. A lack of strength is an opportunity.

My ex-wife can be very shy. She is sometimes not a good networker or can come across as unfriendly because of her shyness and general preference for surrounding herself with a few close friends and leaning heavily on them.

And I might be guilty of thinking of my wife’s shyness as a weakness, instead of properly identifying her strength as a loyal friend who builds super-tight bonds with those closest to her.

Similarly, my wife thought I was undisciplined and flighty instead of recognizing what I actually have is a strong ability to generate new ideas and passionately pursue new challenges.

Our individual strengths are hardwired into every one of us.

I Want to Write Books

As you can imagine, my strength profile makes it very difficult for me to see a project somewhat epic in scope (like a book) through to completion on my own.

Frankly, that applies to virtually every aspect of my life (I’ve said many times that much of what ails me will naturally work itself out when I have a full-time romantic partner again).

The woman (a friend) who is coaching me through this StrengthsFinder process said: “Based on a cursory look at your strengths, you’re gonna need a partner,” in regards to completing book projects.

“What do you mean? A co-author?” I said.

“You’re a starter. But can tend to let things cool… a co-author… a publisher pushing you. Someone you empower to give you deadlines,” she said. “You need a partner of some kind who can propel you. Motivate you. You’ll have to figure out what that looks like.”

“Interesting,” I said. “Maybe an editing partner.”

“Exactly,” she said.

I love writing. I have a lot to say. And I’m very close to being ready to pull the trigger on these larger writing projects I have floating around in dozens of notebook pages, computer files and folders.

My favorite writer James Altucher often writes about the need for collaboration.

“There’s no such thing as a lone genius,” he writes. “Every Steve Jobs has a Steve Wozniak. Every Marie Curie has a Pierre Currie. Every Lennon has a McCartney. Even the most isolated genius (Picasso) had a Braque.”

I am no “lone genius.” I think that goes without saying.

But I do really want to finish these book ideas, if for no other reason than to learn how (or how to NOT) write and publish a book. It’s time to get started.

But I need a partner.

I don’t just want a partner. I need one. And I’m DONE thinking if I keep doing the same thing over and over and over again, it’s going to magically work one day. It will ALWAYS end the same if you keep trying the same thing.

We can call it a weakness if you must.

But I’m going to embrace my strengths. Everyone has them. And I’m going to leverage them. And I’m going to supplement my missing strengths with people in possession of the ones I need to accomplish my goals.

And I need one of those now. A person who possesses what I’m missing.

Are you a writer who has worked with an editor you like and respect? Are you an editor looking for a new project? Do you know how to find editors outside of traditional publishing? Do you have any tips for how to know when you’ve found the right person to work with on your most-important work?

I’m asking for your help.

I need a partner.

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The Ghost Upstairs

(Image courtesy of PlayBuzz.)

(Image courtesy of PlayBuzz.)

On Tuesday, I came home late at night to an empty house and heard footsteps coming from my upstairs bedroom even though no one else was home.

It was scary.

I’ve lived in my house more than nine years and have never heard anything like that. It shook me up so much that I grabbed my shoes and keys and left without turning anything off. I thought there might be an intruder.

I wrote about it in my last post, acknowledging it can only be one of three things: 1. An intruder. 2. A ghost. 3. Nothing.

Yesterday morning, I got a comment on that post from someone who has never before commented on this blog. She didn’t mince words.

“Do you have a deceased uncle whose birthday is around this time? I sense he is on your father’s side and you knew him quite well in life. Just say hello, happy birthday, and I am pleased that you still think of me,” she wrote.

When I was a senior in high school, my father’s only brother was killed in a hit-and-run car accident on Interstate 94 between Milwaukee and Chicago. He was 37. His birthday was in April. I’ve mentioned the incident in a few posts without going into detail. It’s something that’s crossed my mind more than usual lately.

Maybe that’s why he decided to visit.

I don’t believe in ghosts.

But people who think they have all the answers are maybe a little bit foolish, so I’m always open to new ideas and the strong possibility that I can’t really be sure of anything, ever.

I’ve seen lots of ghost shows on TV. I’ve heard lots of ghost stories. I’ve heard many stories from people I absolutely trust that could more easily be explained as a haunting than anything else.

I don’t mean “I don’t believe in ghosts” like: No way! There’s no such thing! I simply mean I’ve never, not even once, seen anything that appeared radically supernatural or ghosty.

Until now.

I texted my psychic friend (I’m serious) yesterday because she visited Wednesday when I told her this story. When I told her that it had to be nothing, an intruder, or a ghost, she said: “Do you really want to know?”

This is the second time she’s asked me that in my house, and I always say no because I live alone and don’t like being scared.

But after getting that blog comment, I texted it to her and asked: “Penny for your thoughts?”

She replied: “He tapped me on the shoulder as soon as I sat on your couch but I didn’t say anything because it would freak you out.”

I know what some of you are thinking.

It’s because I don’t believe in psychics either.

Not because I think it’s impossible, but simply because I always am a little skeptical of supernatural things I don’t witness for myself. I really mean that more as a past-tense thing, because being friends with someone with this girl’s intuitive abilities has forced me to reconsider my position on all of that.

So, quick recap: A total stranger sensed it was my dead uncle and offered enough plausible detail for me to consider it possible.

My friend who was ACTUALLY in my house and has unique spiritual gifts corroborated.

There was only one conclusion for me: My uncle’s ghost is hanging out in my bedroom.

My Ghost Uncle

I don’t mean for this to sound irreverent, because I love and respect this man. But there are all these obvious questions that pop up when you learn the ghost of your deceased uncle might be hanging out in your bedroom.

What, pray tell, might you have witnessed in there, Uncle Dave?

If you accept the premise that the spirits of the dead can observe what we do undetected in private, it’s really not that hard to get over your own uncle doing the same thing.

And once I got past that, I started wondering how long he might stay and to what extent there might be subtle signs of his presence or even some interaction.

I don’t believe in any of this, but maybe it will happen anyway! Who can say?

Of all the people I’ve known who have died, my uncle Dave is easily in the top five of the Most Welcomed Ghosts in My House list. Not kidding. It didn’t scare me at all, and a small part of me was even enjoying the idea of feeling his presence once in a while.

Uncle Dave was awesome.

We never got to drink beer together because I was 17 when he died, but maybe now we’d kind of be able to!, I thought. I’m not making that up.

And Just Like That… He Was Gone

The blog commenter who first called to my attention the fact that my uncle was responsible for the footsteps I heard Tuesday night left another comment this morning.

“He is gone now,” she said.

Huh. I felt something akin to disappointment.

And I didn’t even get a chance to say goodbye. Not unlike my senior year of high school when I got the phone call about the accident.

It was a road-rage death. Another driver intentionally ran my uncle and his fiancée off the road while they were driving to a Chicago Bears football game. Their pickup truck flipped over, trapping my uncle, but not his fiancée in the vehicle. She had been sleeping, but was able to crawl to safety.

My uncle remained lodged in the vehicle. Because of how he was situated, circulation to his brain was cut off for longer than living beings can handle. His mind was gone. His body quickly followed.

His murderer fled the scene in, according to witnesses interviewed by police, a white Pontiac Grand Prix. He was never found.

It was my first experience with an out-of-nowhere death. They’re the worst kind.

Rest in peace, Uncle Dave.

I’m glad you stopped in.

You’re welcome anytime.

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I Heard Someone Upstairs When No One Else Was Home

the-purge-movie-poster

It was about 10 p.m. last night when my friend dropped me off at home.

I unlocked my back door, kicked off my shoes, turned on a light, and lounged on one of my couches, half-watching an NBA playoff game while reading a book.

I live in a two-story cape cod. Sometimes my son wakes up at night, gets out of bed and walks to a bathroom or to find me. So, it’s usually not that weird when I hear the floor creak several times above me.

The problem was: No one else was home.

Every hair on my arms stood up.

Investigate? Ask who’s there?

I’d like to tell you I boldly walked upstairs like a badass ready to take out any threat that might be waiting. I did the opposite of that.

I grabbed my wallet, keys, shoes, and walked out to my Jeep without putting them on.

I backed out of my driveway and parked across the street with the engine running, trying to go over my options.

There were three possibilities.

  1. An intruder was in my house. That was the scariest.
  2. For the first time in more than nine years of living there, I was experiencing a haunting. Also scary.
  3. My house made some noise because it’s 65 years old and I’m being a wimpy spaz. The most likely.

My brain was telling me it was highly unlikely there was someone in there. I live in a safe neighborhood. Plus, there were no signs of forced entry, and I hadn’t seen any visual evidence on the first floor of anything looking out of place, with the caveat being I’m not all that organized sometimes, so it’s not always immediately obvious whether something that shouldn’t be there anyway had been moved to another place it shouldn’t be.

I sat in the Jeep across the street staking out my own house like an insane person. I was looking for movement in the upstairs windows, or in my brightly lit living room. I hadn’t shut off the TV and it was casting constantly moving light and danger onto the walls.

I have only a few viable self-defense weapons in the house. All of them are in my bedroom. I’ll need to rethink that strategy.

My mind was racing. I have a Sheriff’s deputy friend who lives relatively close. He’s a single dad like me. He was the only person I could think to reach out to. If he was free, maybe he’d come sweep the house with me.

“You around sir?” I texted.

I just sat there behind the wheel staring at all the windows, wondering what an intruder WOULD do if he (or she?) was in there, almost certainly realizing I was in an idling car across the street.

The Possible Intruder Profiles

I’m no genius. But there are really only a few types of people who could conceivably break into my house and creep around upstairs while I’m downstairs.

Thief

I don’t own anything of great financial value, like jewelry, fine art or precious metals. Televisions and computers are really the only obvious things to steal. I quickly ruled out thieves.

Homeless Tweaker

It’s not unheard of for someone like me (a single guy with a predictable schedule) to have someone borrow my house when I’m away. Homeless person sneaks in. They use toilets and showers and eat and drink, but expertly cover their tracks. I added the word “tweaker,” for the element of danger. A threatened, cornered, mentally unstable person can be a physical threat.

Psycho Murderer

Creepy murderer lies in wait in your dark bedroom for the sole purpose of killing you when you come home. It’s REALLY irrational to fear this, but I’d just had a conversation about Charles Manson and the cult killings associated with him over lunch that day, so it was floating around the back of my head.

A Sexy Stalker

Gorgeous, sultry stalker lies in wait naked in your dark bedroom for the sole purpose of sleeping with you when you come home. There’s a decent chance the psycho murderer scenario is more likely to happen.

A Ghost

Ray Parker Jr. sang “I ain’t afraid of no ghost” in one of my all-time favorite comedies, but I actually am afraid of ghosts. I’ve seen and experienced exactly ZERO hauntings in my life. Perhaps if I had a bunch of ghost encounters, they wouldn’t bother me. I didn’t like the idea of going to sleep in my bedroom with a footstep-generating specter hanging out in there.

This is bullshit. I can’t just sit here, I thought. I’m sure it was nothing.

I pulled back into my driveway and turned off the Jeep. Just then, my law-enforcement friend texted me back, including in it the fact he had his young daughter at home.

I decided I just needed to go upstairs and deal with whatever.

“How ya doing?” my friend texted.

“I don’t know yet,” I replied. “If I don’t write back, really bad. And if I do, everything will be fine.”

His cop alarm went off.

“You need to call me,” he said.

So I did. And I told him what was going on. He said he would come over but I’d have to stay outside with his daughter. I didn’t think that was in her best interest, so I declined.

He then suggested the police. “I’ve been on those calls before. They do it all the time.”

I was a little bit more afraid of calling the cops and it turning out to be nothing than I was being attacked by a stranger.

“It’s probably nothing. Seriously,” I said. “The only thing I’ll say in defense of myself is that I’ve lived in this house nine years and know the noises it makes. This is the first time I ever felt scared enough to leave because of noise.”

He asked me to stay on the phone with him while I cleared each room. I systematically walked through each room in my house, turning on every light, looking behind every door, inside every closet, under every bed—the entire time, waiting to be ambushed by an axe murderer, junkie or ghost monster.

It’s incredible how much braver you feel with someone on the phone with you. At least there will be an audio witness to the brutal slaying!

I found nothing, of course. I was not murdered or even attacked.

Nothing yelled “Boo!” or impaled me with a demon spear.

Perhaps someone had been there, and they left during the 10-15 minutes I sat in my car across the street while my elder neighbor lady gave me WTF looks from her living room sofa.

Perhaps there had been a ghost of some kind in one of the closets and it stared right at me when I opened the door, but never realized it.

Or perhaps it was nothing at all. That’s usually what it is: the simple explanation.

For the first time in nearly a decade, I feared for my safety. I didn’t bravely and boldly run upstairs to defend my turf and protect what’s rightfully mine. I didn’t brazenly yell at the would-be intruder with warnings of imminent harm if he didn’t leave immediately. Instead, I grabbed a few things and hurried out of my own house without even waiting to put on shoes.

I feel more courageous with my writing.

I feel more courageous professionally.

I feel more courageous socially.

But when I thought I might have to fight an unknown assailant or a ghost monster, my first instinct was to run away.

I don’t necessarily know what that means, or what I should do about it.

I only know that I don’t like it, and should definitely do something.

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“Be Yourself” is Great Advice We’re Often Too Scared to Follow

odd-creativity-be-yourself

Sometimes people tell you to “just be yourself” because they like you and assume other people will, too. They say that to you before you go on a date. Before a job interview. Before a public speaking event. Before going somewhere where you’ll meet a bunch of strangers.

We have heard it so many times that most of us don’t even know what it means. Many of us spend a ton of energy trying to be the person we think others want us to be because we’re ashamed of ourselves or because we’re afraid no one will like the real us.

Many of us seem incapable of forming our own opinion of ourselves. We pretend to know what other people think about us, guess wrong some of the time, and then we use that as our identity.

Not only do we let other people dictate our self-worth, but we actually let incorrect assumptions about what other people think about us dictate it.

It’s the reason so many people are sad and angry. It’s the reason we have dysfunctional family relationships, and drama-filled friendships, and totally broken and unhealthy marriages and romantic relationships.

I think maybe sometimes people don’t really grow apart.

I think sometimes they just never really knew each other in the first place.

It was about 4 p.m. Friday when I pulled into my hometown. A little Ohio town of about 20,000 people a few hours from where I live.

My friend and I get together every year to nerd out over the NFL Draft. He’s an attorney and needed to get some work done before meeting me so I slipped into a new bar and restaurant next door to his law offices to wait for him. I sat at the bar and had a few drinks. A little more than an hour later, he showed up.

By then, I’d met the owner and learned a lot about him and his business endeavors, discovered one of the girls working there is related to some old high school friends, and was drinking mystery shots with the pretty bar manager. We had one more drink and got out of there.

Before leaving, I went over to shake hands and say bye to the people I’d met. A good time was had.

As we were walking out the door, my friend who has known me since we were six—a guy who charms juries for a living—looked at me and said: “You’re better with people than anyone I’ve ever seen.”

I haven’t stopped thinking about that since.

Many people misrepresent themselves while dating or during job interviews. Basically, they’re frauds. A lot of us do this in really small matters. It gets scarier and more painful over really big things. And when you’re a fraud, it’s only a matter of time before you’re exposed.

It’s why sometimes two people meet and pretend to be different than they actually are, and both people like the fake versions of one another, but then after getting to know each other, there’s no compatibility or chemistry and the relationship crashes and burns. I’m pretty sure that happens 147 million times every day.

I think it’s important to be yourself, and I’m really trying hard to stop pretending to be something I’m not, even over little things designed to get someone to like me more.

It’s about identifying your values.

It’s about establishing your boundaries.

It’s about being authentic.

Over time, the number of people who share your values, respect your boundaries, and are attracted to your authentic self romantically, spiritually, physically, and professionally, will grow.

I’m pretty sure for every person that likes the fake me, there are just as many people who like the real me.

I’m pretty sure for every girl who likes tattooed felons, there are just as many who prefer me or someone like me. People who read and think and talk and can spell and speak coherent sentences.

People are afraid of rejection so they go into self-preservation mode rather than put themselves out there. But the truth is rejection from a stranger isn’t a 100th as bad as rejection from someone you love.

I think maybe sometimes people don’t really grow apart.

I think sometimes they just never really knew each other in the first place.

I bet 100-percent of people who worry about what other people think of them spend a lot of time pretending to be someone they are not on matters big and small.

It’s dishonest. Lying, essentially. All the pretending drains you and makes you a suckier version of yourself.

From James Altucher:

“This is not religious but math. The brain takes up 2% of the body’s mass and burns up 25% of the body’s calories each day. One in four calories you eat goes to fuel your brain.

When you lie, one side of your brain has to deal with one set of lies. And the other side of the brain has to deal with the other set of lies.

So to be at optimal mental strength you now need twice as many calories. This is impossible.

So the best way to be mentally strong is to be honest so all of the fuel in your body can be used efficiently at propelling your brain from strength to strength instead of fighting off the attacks on your weaknesses.”

People are attracted to people who know themselves and are confident being whatever that is. A confident person understands that they are who they are and that the only people worth spending time with are the people who like and accept that authentic person.

People choose who they’re going to spend time with based on how they feel around that person.

Two authentic people being emotionally vulnerable can form virtually unbreakable lifetime bonds. And those are the best kind.

I wish people knew it was okay to be themselves. Our need for acceptance and fear of rejection makes us pretend sometimes.

We just want to be liked.

But when we’re really honest about who we are and what we want… when we are actively passionate about things we care about… we won’t just be liked.

We’ll be admired.

We’ll be respected.

We’ll be wanted.

We’ll be loved.

And all this time. Who knew? All you had to be was you.

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