Finally, finally, finally, finally, finally, a Halloween worthy of celebration. Even the darkest of clouds has a silver lining and this infernal pandemic is giving us a reason to celebrate at last.
Regular readers know that I’m a true expert on Halloween, especially when it comes to techniques for getting the best candy with the least aggravation. It’s a game for chess masters as parents strategize the optimal routes for their children and try to psych out their neighbors to score full-size Snickers in exchange for a roll of Smarties.
Not so this year, though. With social distancing and hygiene concerns, millions of kids are giving up on the idea of standing six feet apart to wait for a Junior Mint that mom will insist on sterilizing in the microwave. Millions of people are standing in line for hours to cast their ballots this year, but how long is anyone really going to wait for some Candy Corn?
Finally, on a holiday that’s really about the parents, we can celebrate without guilt and without all the craziness. With so many families opting out of the traditional tricking and treating, it’s a breeze to follow our simple guide to Halloween bliss.
Of course, there’s no risk this year if you simply put a sign on the door to announce that you aren’t giving any candy. After the panic buying and shortages in March, most parents I know are keeping their soap and toilet paper locked up, so you’re safe.
Isn’t this the holiday you’ve always wanted anyway? Just you, a big bowl of candy and, well, what else do you really need? Halloween should always be this way, even if we’re not lucky enough to have a pandemic next year.
What great insights will we offer for Thanksgiving and Christmas? You'll never know unless you subscribe by clicking right here right now.
What would you think if I told you I was an internationally recognized philanthropist? Or, maybe, an award-winning author? What if I described myself as a private investor or a business mentor?
And what would you think if I simply said I’m retired and I left it at that?
It’s pretty easy to put people into boxes, reacting to the first descriptors used to define their place in the world. Snap judgments are hard-wired into our survival instincts, which is a great benefit when a lion walks into the kitchen, but not quite as valuable when we’re trading factoids at a cocktail party. (Cocktail parties! Remember those? Sigh.)
Most of us add new descriptions to our social resume as we progress through life, engage with family, navigate a career and become whoever it is we plan to be when we grow up. All these new identities and new milestones provide depth and texture to us, to our personalities, and to our social capital. They make us more interesting and more complete, if we take the time to learn anything on our journeys.
And then, just as we become our most multifaceted and fully developed selves, we give up. We start talking about ourselves in the past tense, as if we’re drafting our obituaries.
I’m a former accountant.
I used to be a sales rep.
I was once a teacher.
I find it just a bit depressing. Everyone has an interesting story or two about their well-earned scars, and everyone is doing something today, yesterday, tomorrow, that forms the nucleus of a new adventure. Despite that rich tapestry, so many people I meet will announce that they’ve given up on being interesting, that all they have to offer of relevance is a job they held. Once. A long time ago.
It’s as if there’s nothing we have to offer the world other than our labor and some form of industry expertise. We are our jobs and, when we leave our jobs, we are nothing. Our only claim to relevance is an expired key card from the law firm and, maybe, a part-time gig as a “consultant.”
Perhaps it’s my own fault. I still ask people what they do and that generates a default response about how they make, or made, money. I need to get more creative about my introductory conversations. Maybe things will get more interesting if I ask…
What was your favorite trip ever?
What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever seen face to face?
What’s the strangest answer you’ve ever received when you asked someone what they do for a living?
One of the positives with questions like these is that I’m unlikely to hear about work. That’s good, because I really don’t want to know about their jobs, or their former jobs, or why they think of themselves as has-beens. “What do you do?” turns out to be a conversation stopper, not a starter, especially when it turns into what someone doesn’t do anymore.
Asking people what they do is pretty pointless and likely to make them feel bad about their former glory. If I want better answers, I had better come up with some better questions.
The big question we’re all asking at Dad Writes is whether you’ll become a subscriber by clicking here for our weekly insights. So, whaddaya say?
I know a couple who finally put away enough money to retire, so they sold their business and invested their sweat equity in the stock market.
It was 2008, just before the crash.
I ran into the wife earlier this year, still working part-time at the store she used to own and making plans to retire, again. She’d had a dozen years to adapt to her “new normal,” knowing that her old normal, the one that seemed absolutely certain in 2008, isn’t coming back.
I think about her and her husband whenever people tell me about their hopes for returning to normal after this pandemic subsides. Normal, the one we were counting on in January of this year, isn’t coming back.
On one level, we should recognize this as a fundamental truth. We tend to think of the current situation as the norm, or think back to a specific point in time as the benchmark for normalcy, but the only real normal is change. We, the world, are eternally in flux.
I have some friends who believe the pandemic is a hoax that is being promoted to affect the presidential election, so they also believe it will fade into the background on November 4. I have other friends who think access to a vaccine will enable us to reboot the economy to our bookmark date of January 1, 2020. I know more than a few guys who seem to think we can return to normal by reopening everything and getting to herd immunity as quickly as possible, because it’s worth the trade-off in lives lost.
Me? I think they are kidding themselves. Too many people, and organizations, have been changed by this for us to bounce back to the days of yore.
When/if there’s a vaccine, for example, an above-average percentage of the population won’t take it at first. I am included in that group. I get my flu shot every year, but the race for a vaccine has become so politicized that I can’t find my way to trusting whatever gets approved first, or second, or maybe even third.
All the political wrangling has achieved its goal of causing distrust, but that distrust translates into an extended crisis. I probably will wait six or eight or twelve months before taking any vaccine and that means I will wait six or eight or twelve months before I dine indoors or go to a casino or fly on a plane.
How many people will skip the vaccine? Certainly, the people who refuse to take any vaccines already will sit this one out, but millions more will wait a long time before they accept that the vaccine is safe. Whether it’s 5% or 10% or 0.8% of the population, this caution will slow our economic recovery and delay our return to “normal.” Herd immunity, if it could be achieved for this particular virus, might remain out of reach as the vaccinated cohort makes up too low a percentage of the population.
Meanwhile, dozens of industries and about a million companies will need years or decades to recover, if they manage to survive at all, because their profit models are based on cramming a large number of people into a small space for an extended period. That includes restaurants, bars, mass transit, airlines, casinos, hotels, health clubs, sports arenas, convention centers, churches, schools, office buildings, theaters, and probably a few dozen I haven’t thought about.
Well-capitalized companies, which tend to be larger, will tend to be the survivors, while mom-and-pop stores fail, accelerating the concentration of wealth and commerce that has been underway for decades. As small businesses fail, their owners might simply decide to retire, increasing the impacts for the Social Security system.
On the other end of the working years, millions will discover that their career paths have been washed away by social distancing, online commerce and working from home. Whether it’s the people who cleaned the now-empty offices or the chefs who have no restaurants, the disruptions will be significant for enough people that their social and financial progress might be delayed for an extended period.
Changes that are already under way, such as the rise of online shopping and communication, will accelerate during this period of reduced personal contact. Changes that might have taken another 5-10 years might be compressed into one or two, making any disruptions more rapid and severe.
However the world changes, and changes us, the ripples will be sustained, like a thousand butterfly effects competing for influence. It’s impossible to pinpoint the exact impact of each shift, which is a truth that applies to every change we encounter, but we know enough from prior upheavals to recognize that shifts will occur.
Every day is a new normal, a new life, and the only thing we can know for sure is that we’re never getting back to the way things were in the time before.
In a world of upheaval, the only real constant is the incredible value of a subscription to Dad Writes. Just click here to become a subscriber and your life will always be both new and normal.
Never forget how lucky you are to be right here, right now.
That seems like an odd sentiment for the year we're sharing, or even for this particular week, but your thinking shifts just a bit when there's a gun to your head.
Yom Kippur begins at sundown tonight, bringing to a close the Ten Days of Awe that began with Rosh Hashanah. Among the many traditions surrounding the Jewish High Holidays, we are instructed to consider ourselves as being written in the Book of Life for the coming year. Or not.
In the Jewish liturgy, our period of introspection and atonement ends at sundown on Monday, with our fates sealed for the coming year. When Rosh Hashanah begins, we know that we made the cut a year ago, but when the sun sets at the close of Yom Kippur, the information’s unavailable to the mortal man.
I’m not quite sure I believe in a divine Book of Life, but I know absolutely that turning inward is a remarkably powerful process. Isolated within a congregation or, this year, alone in front of a live stream, the mundane becomes less and less relevant and my perspective changes dramatically.
Never forget how lucky you are to be right here, right now.
In the midst of a pandemic, a recession, and quite possibly the first sparks of a civil war, right here and right now looks pretty dreary. The western United States is burning, we've had so many tropical storms that they've run out of letters to name them, and cold weather will only increase our isolation.
On the surface, in the daily slog, none of this feels lucky. In the context of a lifetime, though, the picture looks quite different. Like so many millions of people, I’ve come close to the end at one time or another, either through illness or error. I’ve had financial reversals and physical challenges and more than a few disappointments on the relationship front. Each setback has been painful, but somehow I have been sustained to reach this day.
And I am grateful for it. I feel very fortunate to be facing today’s challenges, because it means I survived the disasters of last year and the year before and the year before that. It means I ended up in the right column in the Book of Life, at least so far. I’m hoping for another reprieve this year, another opportunity to share in the journey with friends and family and to help a few strangers along the way.
I know I'm not alone in this. Each of us deals with the daily heartaches of life and each of us can lose track of the sparks that redeem our sense of wonder, or should. Each of us has the incentive to reclaim our gratitude, even we're not facing a potentially literal deadline when the sun departs.
Never forget how lucky you are to be right here, right now.
We hope you’ll join us on our fortunate journey by clicking here to subscribe to Dad Writes.
What if we saw the world through some filter other than politics? What if we were just as smart as a rat in a maze and we looked for an escape from this dead end?
Really, what have we gained from our political infighting?
I can tell you what the politicians have gained and what our global foes have gained. I can list the wins for the lobbyists, the polluters, Wall Street and trial lawyers. What about us, though? How, exactly, have we benefited from the continual focus on left and right, red and blue, us and them?
I have a ton of friends who are so caught up in the filter of politics that they cannot have a conversation without linking pretty much anything to their perceived foes, or saviors. We can’t be two minutes into a conversation before they’ll be telling me how Pelosi is to blame. Or Trump. Or Antifa. Or McConnell.
If the weather is warm, I get a comment about global warming. If it’s cold, I get a comment about, well, global warming. They rattle off political talking points like trained parrots, using the exact words and inflections AS SEEN ON TV!!!
If we want to form a more perfect union, we need to have a grown-up discussion or two about our challenges. There is a legitimate debate to be had about…
Well, we could have a grown-up discussion about these issues, but we don’t. All these issues hang interminably in limbo, because we refuse to have an adult conversation about anything today. The first rule of politics is that nobody talks about anything but politics.
There are no issues, only talking points.
There are no solutions, only sides.
Worst of all, we supposedly normal people buy into this nonsense. We divide the world between us and them, even though the “us” in question is a political tribe that might or might not really be our natural home.
Maybe it’s time for one of those paradigm shifts that the scientists like to promote. What if we considered new developments through the filter of morality or compassion, empathy or enlightened self-interest? What if we asked how we could make something work, rather than how to stop it at all costs?
We could make a ton of progress if we stopped accepting the “either/or” arguments that form the basis of political debate today. “Either/or” choices tend to be extreme, punitive, and pretty much unworkable in the real world. While we all retreat to our corners to wait for the next round of memes, our problems metastasize into crises.
These false dichotomies offer great benefits to politicians who raise funds and win votes by promising to fight for one or another option at all costs. Perversely, solving any of these problems would cost them money and support, which might be one reason that there is no sense of urgency about problem solving on Capitol Hill. If the issue is resolved, it's harder to raise money for the battle.
Could we protect the environment while also creating new jobs? Sure. Could we encourage entrepreneurship while restraining corporate abuses? Yup. Could we defend good cops and punish bad ones? Absolutely.
It’s not going to happen, though, until we can escape the political filter that drives our thinking and our conversations. As long as we echo their talking points and support their intransigence, we will end up serving their needs at the expense of our own.
When the residents of Jonestown “drank the Kool-Aid,” it’s likely that many of them didn’t realize it was poisoned. What’s our excuse?
We don’t take political positions at Dad Writes, which lowers the temperature, and the blood pressure, for our staff and readers. Doesn’t that make you want join the apolitical conversation by clicking here to subscribe?
Constitution Day is right around the corner, but don’t be embarrassed if this major holiday slipped your mind this year. The U.S. Constitution is like a software Terms of Service agreement; we all click ‘yes,’ but almost nobody actually reads it.
That lack of familiarity leads to some hilarious consequences. For instance, many people believe they have a Constitutional Right to shop at Costco, while others think Freedom of Speech only applies to them. Amazingly, both of these beliefs are incorrect, although you’d never know it from reading internet posts.
Never fear, though, as your humble servant has read the document in the original Aramaic and will share all the insights you need to know to become a Constitutional Scholar of the first order. For example…
The Constitution was not really all that popular among the people who framed it, several of whom were nearly mortal enemies who disagreed strongly about almost everything. The only reason we ended up with the current version is that The Articles of Confederation (the world’s first Beta 1.0 release) sucked beyond belief.
The only way the Constitution got ratified was with the promise to add amendments to it immediately. (Back in 1789, everyone was still using dial-up, so “immediately” meant a couple of years. Still, Jimmy Madison made good on the promise to write up a Bill of Rights for the states to approve.)
Speaking of the Bill of Rights, Congress sent 12 amendments to the states, but the first two were rejected. That’s why freedom of speech is in the First Amendment and not the Third. It’s also why people who love the Second Amendment aren’t obsessed with Congressional pay stubs.
The Constitution was remarkably advanced for its time, but pretty backwards by current standards. Women didn’t vote, slavery was codified, and the Electoral College gave rural states an advantage that has only grown over time. (Yes, a few people still think the Electoral College is a great idea, but they are the same dopes who put mayonnaise on their pastrami.)
The framers of the Constitution were smart, but they weren’t supreme beings. They came up with a pretty good division of powers within government and between government and citizens, but they also failed to invent indoor plumbing or I-Phones or pizza delivery. Maybe it’s time we took some of them down off their pedestals and…oh, wait, that’s actually happening, isn’t it?
The concept of judicial review, which makes the U.S. Supreme Court the final arbiter of Constitutional meaning, is not granted by the Constitution. Instead, it resulted from a brilliant political maneuver by Johnny Marshall, who handed Tom Jefferson a tiny win while grabbing a big hunk of power for the court. Smooth.
We all should be grateful for that “judicial review” thing, because it’s our primary method of legislation these days. After Congress passes 12,000-page laws that nobody has read before the vote, SCOTUS clerks are the only people who actually read the laws and figure out what they mean. And when Congress fails to take any action at all, it’s up to the courts to dig up some old laws or rulings that they can twist painfully to apply to the pending case.
Yeah, I know, lots of people think SCOTUS goes too far in legislating from the bench, but that’s only when an activist* judge rules against them. When the Supreme Court rules in their favor, those esteemed jurists are merely upholding the Constitution. (*Activist = disagrees with me.)
As we look forward to this great holiday, it’s wonderful to consider how far we have come in the 23 decades since we adopted the Constitution. Hard to believe, but back then people were actually arguing about how powerful the president should be, separation of church and state, freedom of the press, what and whom to tax, federal power versus states’ rights, and the national debt. Thankfully, we have resolved all of these issues and marched forward in unison since then.
Finally, if 34 states approve, everything is up for grabs in a new Constitutional Convention. Depending on how you count “approvals,” we might already be just 6-8 states short of that benchmark, giving today’s politicians the opportunity to reframe our most important document. Fearless forecast: The sequel will not be as good as the original.
Before you get all caught up in your Constitution Day celebrations on September 17, do your patriotic duty and subscribe to Dad Writes, as required in Article LVIII.
Who writes this stuff?
Dadwrites oozes from the warped mind of Michael Rosenbaum, an award-winning author who spends most of his time these days as a start-up business mentor, book coach, photographer and, mostly, a grandfather. All views are his alone, largely due to the fact that he can’t find anyone who agrees with him.