4 years, 11 months, and 21 days. Happy New Year, my sons!



My dearest Shosh and Jaialai:

All we want to Christmas is our family.  Alas, we will have to wait another year to make our dream come true.

May the last days of 2017 bring you closure. May 2018 bring you inner peace, good health, and joy.  May your hard work pay off.  May you find true friends who nourish your souls.  May love find you fulfilled.  May a smile grace your lips each day.  May your patience not be tested.  However, if tested, may your graciousness rule.

May you have the courage to make mistakes, and the wisdom to learn from them.  May each day find you better, however slightly, than the preceding day.

Know you are loved … truly loved and truly missed.

All my love always,




4 years, 11 months, and 9 days. Nurture your imagination. Learn to see possibilities and have the courage to pursue them.






Imagining bodily states, like feeling full, can affect our future preferences and behaviour

Our current bodily states influence our preferences and our behaviour much more than we usually anticipate – as anyone who has gone shopping hungry and come back with bags full of fattening food can attest. “Even when people have previous experience with a powerful visceral state, like pain, they show surprisingly little ability to vividly recall the state or to predict how it affects someone (including themselves) when they are not experiencing it,” write Janina Steinmertz at Utrecht University and her colleagues in their paper in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

The good news is their research suggests we can exploit this phenomenon – we can trick ourselves into thinking we’re feeling differently, thereby influencing our preferences in ways that help us. For instance, one potentially important finding from their paper was that people who thought themselves full went on to choose smaller food portion sizes.

The research builds on earlier work that’s found that getting people to consider a particular experience can have a similar effect as actually doing it. For example, people who looked at pictures of salty, savoury foods and rated how much they’d enjoy them, subsequently enjoyed eating peanuts less than others who’d first looked at images of sweet foods. It’s as if merely considering salty food had led to a degree of satiation.

Steinmertz and her colleagues wanted to investigate whether mentally simulating feeling warm or cold, and also hungry or full, affected people’s subsequent preferences, and even their actual behaviour.

For the first study, 119 participants spent 30 seconds imagining themselves in a picture that either depicted a very cold environment (a snowy landscape or a picture of a glacier) or a hot environment (a desert or a lava lake). Afterwards, people in the cold condition reported feeling colder and were more likely to say they preferred “warming” activities, like a hot bath, to cooling activities, like a “cool, refreshing shower”.

A similar effect occurs based purely on our imagination, without the aid of pictures. For the second study, 300 participants were spent 60 seconds imagining, in detail, feeling very hot – or cold, hungry, or full. They then wrote about how they thought they would feel, and how they would act. This kind of purely mental simulation also influenced their reported preferences for related activities – people who’d imagined being hungry were more likely to say they’d prefer to go on a date to a restaurant than a date to see a movie, for example.

To find out if we can exploit these effects to our advantage, the researchers recruited another 111 people to explore the effects of imagining bodily states on subsequent food choices. Participants spent a minute imagining either being hungry or full. Then they were asked to choose between a variety of rewards, including varying sizes of popcorn, chocolate ice cream and crisps, one of which they were told they would receive. Crucially, the participants who’d imagined being full chose smaller food portion sizes than those who’d imagined being hungry. This showed, the researchers write, that mentally simulating visceral states “can affect real choices with immediate consequences”.


My dearest Shosh and Jaialai:

Remember how I have always told you that the mind is your greatest tool?  As seen above, research continues to bear this out.

You are what think; thus, don’t embrace the suck but do embrace the best possibilities.  Many much greater than I have stated this much better than I.  For example,





The commonality here is your mind.  That’s the control mechanism for your life.  Don’t let others take control of your mind or your life.

But, the mind is like a garden.  You must tend to it.  You must nourish it and water it daily.  Give your mind healthy things like nutritious food, sleep, literature, music, silence, joy, friendship, etc.  Also, take care to control harmful weed and pests.  Don’t embrace or dwell on pettiness, dark thoughts, negativity, failures, hate, vengeance, etc.  Put only as much thought in each of those negative thing AS IS NECESSARY to deal with it, to learn from it, etc., then MOVE ON!

Focus on the what you must do TODAY to get to your goals for tomorrow and the future.  DON’T waste your life away reliving the past or dreaming of the future.  Deal with TODAY.  Deal with this very moment!

If the moment is filled with negative thoughts, change it.  Refocus.  Don’t give life and energy to what will only harm you. Why would you do that?!!  A friend of mine in college once marveled at the fact that if I don’t want to think about something — like ghosts in the middle of a stormy night when the power is out — I simply won’t.  He, on the other hand, couldn’t help indulging himself.  That’s all it is:  self-indulgence.  Don’t do it.  It’s like having the discipline to not pick at that scab on your wound.  You know it’s the body’s way of healing, but your curiosity can compel you to peel off the scab to see how the wound is faring.  Don’t.  Let it be.  The wound will heal faster if you let it work its magic.

I love you, I miss you, and I want the best for you always.  Be well, my sons  Be happy.  Be good to yourselves and others.  The world really is your oyster.  Let your mind lead you to success.

All my love, always,




4 years, 11 months, and 8 days. Rudeness is contagious. Avoid rude people; they will infect you with their rudeness. Be kind.






Workplace rudeness is contagious, study says

Rudeness in the workplace isn’t just unpleasant: It’s also contagious.

Encountering rude behavior at work makes people more likely to perceive in later interactions, a University of Florida study shows. That perception makes them more likely to be impolite in return, spreading rudeness like a virus.

“When you experience rudeness, it makes rudeness more noticeable,” said lead author Trevor Foulk, a doctoral student in management at UF’s Warrington College of Business Administration. “You’ll see more rudeness even if it’s not there.”

The findings, published June 29 in the Journal of Applied Psychology, provide the first evidence that everyday impoliteness spreads in the workplace.

“Part of the problem is that we are generally tolerant of these behaviors, but they’re actually really harmful,” Foulk said. “Rudeness has an incredibly powerful negative effect on the workplace.”

The study tracked 90 graduate students practicing negotiation with classmates. Those who rated their initial negotiation partner as rude were more likely to be rated as rude by a subsequent partner, showing that they passed along the first partner’s rudeness. The effect continued even when a week elapsed between the first and second negotiations.

Rudeness directed at others can also prime our brains to detect discourtesy. Foulk and his co-authors, fellow doctoral student Andrew Woolum and UF management professor Amir Erez, tested how quickly 47 undergraduate students could identify which words in a list were real and which were nonsense words. Before the exercise began, participants observed one of two staged interactions between an apologetic late-arriving participant and the study leader. When the leader was rude to the latecomer, the participants identified rude words on the list as real words significantly faster than participants who had observed the neutral interaction.

The impact of secondhand rudeness didn’t stop there, however: Just like those who experience rudeness firsthand, people who witness it were more likely to be rude to others. When study participants watched a video of a rude workplace interaction, then answered a fictitious customer email that was neutral in tone, they were more likely to be hostile in their responses than those who viewed a polite interaction before responding.

“That tells us that rudeness will flavor the way you interpret ambiguous cues,” Foulk said.

Foulk hopes the study will encourage employers to take incivility more seriously.

“You might go your whole career and not experience abuse or aggression in the workplace, but rudeness also has a negative effect on performance,” he said. “It isn’t something you can just turn your back on. It matters.”



Rudeness At Work: On the Rise, And Coming With A Big Cost

Just because you’ve developed a thick skin for rude, discourteous behavior, doesn’t mean workplace incivility is not hurting you–and your family. A new Baylor University study published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior found that workplace rudeness can follow you home, causing you to unleash “incivil” behavior on your loved ones.

That’s disconcerting news for the 43% of Americans who have experienced incivility at work, according to the report, Civility in America, 2011. To be clear, incivility is different from aggressive bullying, which usually carries the intent to harm someone. With incivility, the intent is ambiguous, and it’s less intense and characterized by demeaning remarks, showing little interest in a worker’s opinion, acting rudely or with poor manners, among other uncivilized behaviors.

The Baylor study found that those who experienced workplace incivility had lower levels of marital satisfaction and greater family/work conflict, particularly for the partner. It also found that stress from incivility was contagious to family members.


My dearest Shosh and Jaialai:

Christmas is a difficult time for us, and I’m sure for you guys.  Your absence is felt more strongly during the holidays.  We miss you and love you boys so much!  Do try to enjoy the warmth and joy of Christmas.  It’s such a special season.  It has always been for us, and will be again some day.

For now try to get into the Christmas spirit and be kind to loved ones and others.  Like rudeness, kindness is also contagious.  Be kind.

Kindness is Contagious, New Study Finds

Imerman Angels, a cancer support organization based in Chicago, has “floods of volunteers,” according to John May, chairman of its board of directors and a long-time volunteer himself.

“You can’t help but just get excited to get involved,” he said.

These do-gooders are not alone: The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 63 million people volunteered in 2009, 1.6 million more than the year before. But the question of motive remains: Why is being nice so popular these days?

New research may unlock the mystery: Kindness is contagious, according to a study done by researchers at University of California, Los Angeles, and University of Cambridge and University of Plymouth in the United Kingdom.

When we see someone else help another person it gives us a good feeling, which in turn causes us to go out and do something altruistic ourselves, the study found, which was the first of its kind to systematically document this tendency in human nature.

“When you feel this sense of moral ‘elevation’ not only do you say you want to be a better person and help others,” said Simone Schnall, of Cambridge, the lead researcher. “But you actually do when the opportunity presents itself.”

Researchers performed two experiments in which they showed viewers either a nature documentary, a funny TV clip or an uplifting segment from the Oprah Winfrey Show, and then asked them to voluntarily help with another task. In both cases, participants that watched Oprah and subsequently experienced the elevated feeling were more likely to help.

“Elevation,” a term coined by Thomas Jefferson, is different from regular happiness, a specific emotion that we experience only when we see someone else engaged in virtuous acts, Schnall said.

And though previous studies have documented this emotional response before, little research had been done to see if people actually acted on their feelings of being inspired, she said.

“Human nature is essentially good,” she said. “And this study proves that seeing good things actually makes us better.”


Do you remember what Father Dave used to say?  Before you speak, ask yourself: (1) is it kind? (2) is it helpful? (3) is it necessary?  If it doesn’t pass all three of those tests, keep it to yourself.

Sometimes, you will be challenged to be kind when encountering rudeness — which appears to be more pervasive these days.  If that should happen, think of Emily Post’s advice.

Five Ways to Combat Rudeness

Handling other people’s rudeness is tricky. You can’t control someone else’s behavior. So focus on maintaining your own standard of good behavior instead. Here are some tips to help:

  1. Don’t take it personally. Perhaps the offender is having a bad day.
  2. Size up your annoyances. Is it worth it to make a fuss over something small, or is it a waste of your emotional time?
  3. Set a good example. Rudeness begets rudeness. If you speak sharply to the bank teller, don’t be surprised if you get the same treatment in return.
  4. Count to ten. When someone’s behavior makes you angry, take a few deep breaths and ask yourself, “Is it really worth blowing my stack over this?”
  5. Laugh it off. If you can’t come up with a friendly joke, just chuckle and change the subject.



My goal for my life is significantly less ambitious than Gandhi’s.  I simply want to leave my little corner of the world a little nicer than how I found it.  That’s it.

In my younger days, I had grandiose goals — to change the world, to teach kids how to be altruistic, to create good laws and good policies that would elevate society, to fight the great injustices inflicted upon the weak by the powerful and greedy, to help the homeless, to protect the abused, etc.  These days, I just want my sons, a clean sidewalk, a patch of grass that is litter-free, hope for the future, etc.

Whatever your goals, try to reach it through kindness rather than rudeness, meanness, and pettiness.  For example, years ago, I thought about applying to law school at Georgetown University.  However, I was disabused of that idea by roommates who attended GU Law.  We agreed GU has a great law school, but it was also a mean one.  Students there were  known to hide reference books that were necessary for class assignments, steal classmates’ notes, and sabotage other students.  No doubt GU Law students are smart people — they gained admission to a top-tier program.  However, their conducts also revealed their insecurities.  They saw the world as a zero sum game, and believed they could only advance by pulling others down.  That’s a pitiful way of looking at the world.

Thankfully, not every one sees the world that way.  In graduate school for a social program at Duke University, for example, during the first week of school, we were given an assignment and the manual for SPSSx — a statistical analysis program used for, among other things, multi-variable programing and data analysis.  None of us were computer programmers.  None of us had programming experience.  The manual was gibberish to us — we might as well be learning Chinese.  In the Computer Lab, some of the girls cried out of frustration.  Others stewed.  (Remember, all of us were used to success and smart enough to gain admission to that top-ranked graduate program at Duke University!)  After a while, someone brought music. Others brought beer.  Slowly, as a group, we worked together to decipher that manual and teach each other SPSSx.

Success doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game.  If you help nurture others and surround yourselves with bright and capable people, think how much more you could accomplish as a group versus on your own.  Each of us bring different strengths to the table.  Why not utilize the different skill sets for the good of the group?  Insecure people tear down others.  Secure people understands the value of working together with others and that other’s gifts do not necessarily diminish their own.

Avoid those who tear you down to lift themselves up: work with those who believe it in working together to improve the lot of everyone.

All my love, always,





4 years, and 11 months. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes: be afraid of NOT LEARNING from your mistakes.




The Importance of Dumb Mistakes in College

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Not so much afterward, when I got driven downtown in handcuffs for spray-painting “Corporate Deathburgers” across a McDonald’s.

I earned myself a long night in jail for my lack of judgment. But my family and friends — and perhaps most important, my college, the University of Michigan — never learned about the episode (until now). Because in 1985, a college student could get a little self-righteous, make a bad decision, face consequences and then go home, having learned a “valuable lesson.”

These days I work as the senior communications officer at another college, where I spend a healthy fraction of my time dealing with students who’ve made mistakes of their own. I recognize myself in them: intellectually adventurous, skeptical, newly aware of life’s injustices. They’re also different from me in many ways: less Grateful Dead and Dead Kennedys, much more technology.

That’s the important bit. Because for all of the supposed liberating power of their digital devices, they might as well be wearing ankle monitors. Technological connectedness has made it much harder for them to make mistakes and learn from them.

Today’s students live their lives so publicly — through the technology we provide them without training — that much simpler errors than mine earn them the wrath of the entire internet.


Usually, the outrage is over things they say, for example a campus newspaper editorial that grapples with balancing free speech and appropriate behavior. That’s a quandary that has occupied American legal theorists since the founding of the country. It’s certainly one any young citizen should think through.

But last year, when Wellesley’s student paper ran an editorial wrestling with this same idea — and advocating limits on hate speech — it was widely read and criticized in the media as if it were enormously consequential.

Were the authors’ arguments entirely mature and well reasoned? No. But students deserve the chance to try out ideas. When they do, sometimes they’re going to botch it — sometimes spectacularly. And that’s why we have learning spaces.

Thirty years ago, college students could have tried out radical ideas about limiting free speech in print. The results might have been simplistic or doctrinaire. But readership would have been largely restricted to campus, and the paper would have been in circulation for only a day or two.

In this climate, there is little room for students to experiment and screw up. We seem to expect them to arrive at school fully formed. When they let us down by being just what they are — young humans — we shame them.


My dearest Shosh and Jaialai:

I demand better of you because I want you to be better.  I do that because I care.  You are my sons.

Don’t mistake the lack of constructive criticism and the lack of expectations from others as love.  It simply means they don’t care enough to invest their time in you to help you grow and become better.  False friends often exhibit such behaviors.  They heap praise on you when things are going well, but abandon you when things get difficult.  Don’t waste your time with the likes of them.



You have but one life to live, so I want you to embrace it!  Dare to try new things.  Be bold in your efforts, not timid.  If you are going to try, why not do it with gusto?  Mistakes will be made.  But, who cares?  So long as you have thought through the consequences of your actions, no one is hurt, and there are no lasting adverse effects from the mistake, then embrace the lesson learned from that mistake.  That’s how you grow and expand your horizons!!!!

Timid, fearful, and inferior people often tell you to stick to what is known, tried, and true.  But, if no one explores beyond the confines of existing life and knowledge, where would human beings, as a species, be?  There would be no new discovery.  There would be no expansion of territory.  There would only be staleness and death as we deplete known resources from over-use, over-populate the small territory into which we were born, degrade the land from over-use and over-population, etc.

No, don’t heed the nay-sayers.  Hear them and thank them for their counsel, but determine for yourself the wisdom of a certain course of action.

Be you.  Be the best you.  Dare to try new things and to experience the beautiful things in life.




All my loves, always,


4 years, 10 months, and 27 days. The art of deconstruction cont.








My dearest Shosh and Jaialai:

Today, let’s continue our conversation about the art of deconstruction.  To deconstruct is to break things down to their constituent parts.  Once you do that, it is amazing what you can see about how the thing works (or fails), and how much you can reimagine the thing itself.  That’s the art of deconstruction, and it is an invaluable tool for problem solving.

Years ago, within a couple months of joining an organization, I was asked to resolve a compliance issue that plagued the company for half a decade.  Literally, there were communications with regulators going back five years, telling the organization that its conducts were illegal.  Yet, the organization was unable to bring their practices into compliance with the law.  Instead of resolving the problem, staff from organization made all sorts of excuses and complaints about the competency of the regulators.  As you can imagine, the regulators — charged with protecting the public from illegal and fraudulent practices — were not happy.

Into that mix, I was thrown.  My first steps were to read all available information about the problem, meet with all the relevant players (both from within the organization and within the regulatory agency), and ask for their perspectives on the problem.  Then, I took apart the “problem” as enshrined in writing and in practice to review it against applicable laws.  That assessment enabled me to identify where entrenched positions were consistent or inconsistent with legal requirements and find a pathway that mutually satisfied both the regulators and stakeholders from within the organization.  In a matter of weeks, the problem was resolved to the satisfaction of both parties, and a heavy penalty was averted.

Shortly thereafter, I was promoted and asked to resolve a different problem that the organization had failed to resolve in the preceding several years.  Again, I researched the matter and met with relevant parties to gain a better understanding of the problem.  Again, there were much recrimination from within the organization about how the regulators were “morons”, “idiots”, etc., which made the problem personal and was not useful to the resolution of the problem.  Over the years, instead of focusing on the problem, each party had turned its attention to criticizing the other, which then caused each party to become more entrenched in its position.  The organization behaved as if the “problem” was a fixed entity and it would succeed in its objective if only the regulators were more enlightened: the regulators thought the opposite — that the interpretation of the law was established and the organization would be successful if only it were more enlightened in its understanding of the law.   They failed to recognize that each parties had its mandate, and the path forward was to find a way where both parties were able to meet their objectives.  By reviewing documentation, business practices, and stakeholders’ perceptions, I was able to take apart that problem and find a mutually satisfactory resolution.

Don’t underestimate the power of deconstruction.  When faced with a challenging sentence, paragraph, math assignment, physics problem, a challenging essay, etc., break it down and look at it from different angles and perspectives.  If a solution doesn’t work, try approaching it from a different angle.  Don’t keep butting your head against the same wall.  Try different.


All my love, always,


4 years, 10 months, and 26 days. The art of deconstruction and college admission.








Read the essay about pizza that got this student into Yale


Carolina Williams, who graduated high school in Tennessee recently, has been accepted into Yale University with the help of an amusing essay.

Williams says her Yale application included an essay prompt asking her what she enjoys doing. The first idea that came to her was her love of ordering pizza, especially from Papa Johns, so that’s what she wrote about. Here’s the full text of her essay, which was published in the Washington Post:

“The sound of my doorbell starts off high, then the pitch mellows out, and the whole effect mimics an instrumental interpretation of rain finally finding a steady pace at which to fall. I have spent several minutes analyzing its tone because I have had many opportunities to do so, as one thing I love to do is order pizza and have it delivered to my house. When the delivery person rings my doorbell, I instantly morph into one of Pavlov’s dogs, salivating to the sound that signals the arrival of the cheesy, circular glory. It smells like celebration, as I love to rejoice a happy occasion by calling Papa John’s for my favorite food. It tastes like comfort, since having pizza delivered to my quiet home is a way for me to unwind. It looks like self-sufficiency, because when I was young, ordering pizza made me feel grown-up, and it still provides that satisfaction for my child at heart. Accepting those warm cardboard boxes is second nature to me, but I will always love ordering pizza because of the way eight slices of something so ordinary are able to evoke feelings of independence, consolation, and joy.”

It worked.

Soon, Williams received a letter in the mail extending her an offer of admission to the Ivy League institution. The admissions counselor who reviewed her application even included a handwritten note. “I laughed so hard on your pizza essay,” the admission counselor wrote, adding, “I kept thinking that you were the kind of person that I would love to be best friends with. I want you to know that every part of your application stood out in our process and we are thrilled to be able to offer you a spot at Yale.”

Pizza wasn’t the only thing that helped Williams get into Yale. She had a high GPA after taking rigorous courses, was very active in volunteer work, and participated in several prestigious academic and leadership organizations.

Williams tweeted a photo of her acceptance letter to Papa Johns’ twitter account, and they later give her a few gift certificates.

But Williams has decided not to attend Yale. Instead she plans to attend Auburn University, which she says felt like a stronger fit. “I’ve never met a person who went to Auburn that didn’t like it there and I thought that spoke a lot about it,” Williams said. She plans on majoring in business with a minor in economics—and is excited to have plenty of Papa John’s pizza at the restaurant’s location on Auburn’s campus (Balakit , The Tennessean,  5/26; Henderson, AL.com, 5/31; Wong, Washington Post, 6/4).

https://www.eab.com/daily-briefing/2017/06/05/pizza-essay-got-student-into-yale (emphasis added)

My dearest Shosh and Jaialai:

I miss you, and I worry about you boys.  I cannot imagine how difficult it has been for you boys to grow up without me, especially given how close we were.

I still remember that day in third grade when you had the school concert, Shosh.  This was after your mother and I had split up, and you boys were starting to  spend every other week with me.  The concert was during one of the weeks when you were at your mother’s.  After the show, when I knelt down to give you a big hug for the wonderful job you had done, you simply leaned into me, put your head on my shoulder, and cried.  You must have stood there and cried in the middle of the crowded school gym for a good 3 – 5 minutes.  It broke my heart.

I worry about you, Shosh, because you are the sensitive one.  You wear your heart on your sleeve … and, boy, is it a big heart!  It is good to have a big heart and it is okay to wear your heart on your sleeve.  That is who you are!  But, that wonderful character trait of your may predispose you to getting your heart bruised more often.

I am so sorry that we have to be apart for this period, and I cannot bear to think how this separation must affect you.  But, we must deal with the vagaries of life as we encounter them.  This circumstance was not of our choosing.  Evil and lies may assert themselves, but truth and justice will prevail.  We shall be reunited.

For now, I want you to focus on doing your best in school and in life.  Be the best young men you can be.  Live honorably.  You have but your name and your reputation.  You come a from a long line of great and honorable people on my side of the family.  Don’t sully their names.

Shosh, I need you to start thinking about college admission and how best to get into top colleges.   Remember, good grades and high test scores aren’t enough.  Almost everyone who applies to top Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford, etc., have high GPAs and high SAT scores.  You must find ways to stand out in that august crowd.

Differentiate yourself by the contributions you make to your community and to the world.  Find meaningful ways to help those around you.  Be not takers, but find ways to give back, to make the most of the talents you have been given.  Don’t just follow the crowd and volunteer as everyone else does because it’s the path of least resistance.  Find your own way.  Create your own path.

Additionally, remember that America is about popularity contests.  (Whether we like that or not is irrelevant: it is.)  Unless you  are a genius like Steve Job, it is difficult to succeed in America without being likeable.  In HR, for example, one of the critical tests for being hired is being able to fit in with the organization.  No matter your brilliance and accomplishments, most organizations will not ask you to join them if they think you wouldn’t get along with the people within the organization.  Thus, you must work on improving your social skills and your soft skills (e.g., collaboration, communication, and critical thinking).

When applying to college, make the best use of the personal essays and letters of recommendation to tell your story, share your contributions, and  show your likeability.  Your GPAs and test scores present but the side of you that’s most easily quantifiable.  That’s only part of your story.  It is your privilege to share more intangible — and more interesting — side of you.  Thus, when working on letters of recommendations, talk to your teachers and make sure each teacher would tell different parts of your story — the intangible parts beyond the grades and test scores.  Together, the personal essay and letters of recommendation should paint for the admissions committee a better picture of who you are and why they would be at a loss to not invite you to join their school.

Regarding your essay, brainstorm the heck out of it and find the best story, incident, item, etc., that represents you best and the best you.  Make it interesting.  Be likeable.  It is your marketing piece and not simply another writing assignment.  Thus, treat it accordingly.

Now, look at the pizza essay again, and deconstruct it to see its beauty and brilliance.

“The sound of my doorbell starts off high, then the pitch mellows out, and the whole effect mimics an instrumental interpretation of rain finally finding a steady pace at which to fall. I have spent several minutes analyzing its tone because I have had many opportunities to do so, as one thing I love to do is order pizza and have it delivered to my house. When the delivery person rings my doorbell, I instantly morph into one of Pavlov’s dogs, salivating to the sound that signals the arrival of the cheesy, circular glory. It smells like celebration, as I love to rejoice a happy occasion by calling Papa John’s for my favorite food. It tastes like comfort, since having pizza delivered to my quiet home is a way for me to unwind. It looks like self-sufficiency, because when I was young, ordering pizza made me feel grown-up, and it still provides that satisfaction for my child at heart. Accepting those warm cardboard boxes is second nature to me, but I will always love ordering pizza because of the way eight slices of something so ordinary are able to evoke feelings of independence, consolation, and joy.”

Note how each sentence is built and the sentences connect logically to each other to form the essay.  Note the word choices and how the theme is interwoven into each sentence.  For example, instead of saying “it feels like celebration” and “it feels like comfort”, in keeping with the pizza theme, she said, “It smells like celebration” and “It tastes lie comfort.”  How brilliant!

(Now, if you break down each sentence and read each closely, you will find a grammatical error.  Do you see it?)

Do likewise when you read and write for school, for the SAT, and for your college applications.  Break down each idea, each sentence, each paragraph, each section, etc., to make sure it is concise, internally consistent, well-organized, and coherent as a whole.  Take the time to deconstruct your readings and writings in order to maximize your efforts.  Reading is an exercise of the mind more than of the eyes.  Likewise, writing is more of a mental exercise than a mechanical one.  Take the time to read and write well.

I leave you with a quote I love by Mark Twain, one of my favorite authors.



All my love, always,



4 years, 10 months, and 21 days. Stop reading like a baby. Reading for high school and college uses different strategies.


Harvard Report

As an experiment, Dr. Perry (psychologist), Director of the Harvard Reading-Study Center gave 1500 first year students a thirty-page chapter from a history book to read, with the explanation that in about twenty minutes they would be stopped and asked to identify the
important details and to write an essay on what they had read.
The class scored well on a multiple-choice test on detail, but only
fifteen students of 1500 were able to write a short statement on what the chapter was all about in terms of its basic theme. Only fifteen of 1500 top first year college students had thought of reading the
paragraph marked “Summary”, or of skimming down the descriptive flags in the margin.
This demonstration of “obedient purposelessness” is evidence of “an enormous amount of wasted effort” in the study skills of first year students. Some regard it almost as cheating to look ahead or skip around. To most students, the way they study expresses “their
relationship to the pressures and conventional rituals of safe passage to the next grade”.
Students must be jarred out of this approach. The exercise of  judgment in reading requires self-confidence, even courage, on the part of the student who must decide for himself what to read or skip. Dr. Perry suggested that students ask themselves what it is they want to get out of a reading assignment, then look around for those points.  Instructors can help them see the major forms in which expository material is cast. Students should also “talk to themselves” while reading, asking “is this the point I’m looking for?”
My dearest Shosh and Jaialai:
I miss you.  The past several nights have been burdened with restless and dream-filled slumber.  As typical of my dreams, I fight evil during the night and wake up exhausted.  Worst, I’ve been waking up overwhelmingly sad.  I hope everything is okay with you guys.
Remember, this too shall pass.  Keep breathing in and out.  Put one foot in front of the other, and marshal on.  We will make it through this trial.

Until we reunite, I want you boys to continue working towards success.  For now, it means forming good reading, note-taking, studying, and critical thinking habits.

Today, let’s talk about reading.  When you, you were taught to read each and every word.  That was then.  You are no longer an early reader.  Now, you must learn how to read as a young adult.  Unfortunately, as evident from the Harvard Report quoted above, school does a poor job of teaching you how to read as an adult.  Think about it, before diving into the reading, only 15 out of 1500 Harvard freshmen knew to skim the summary, headings, and other information flagged by the author as being important.  15 out of 1500.  That’s one percent!!!

Studies show that readers can improve their reading comprehension by 10-20 percent by skimming the title; headings; subheadings; charts and graphics; and, words that are called out as being important by the author by being italicized, bolded, underlined, capitalized, placed in quotation marks, etc.  It takes minutes to skim the structure and highlighted portions of the reading to understand how the material is organized and gain a significant boost in your understanding of the reading.  Why wouldn’t you do that?


For example, if you’re visiting Paris for the first time, wouldn’t you want to know the lay of the land in order to figure out where you need to go to see each of the famous sites?  Is that not a better strategy than to simply walk out into the street and bump into what you may?  By glancing at which district each major site is located, where the districts are in relations to each other, the major roads that cut through the city and take you to each district, you gain a better understanding of the city and how best to conquer it.

It is the same with reading.  Before you read, skim the headings and highlights to get a sense of the skeleton of the arguments presented therein.  Once you have a sense of what the reading and its arguments are about, call on what you know about the subject to help guide you through the intricate arguments and assess their veracity.

Next, as you read, use the conventions of writing to help guide you and identify the important points the author is trying to communicate to you, the reader.  For example, if you are struggling to understand a sentence, break it down into its component parts: subject, verb, object, etc.  Once you pull away all of the ornaments, you lay bare the meaning of the sentence.  Likewise, to help you decipher a paragraph and find its main point (remember, if it’s well-written, each paragraph should have but one main point), use textual clues such as topic sentence, concluding sentence, the repetition of key words or ideas, the author’s highlight of key words or ideas by underlying or italicizing them, etc.

As you read, ask yourself the following:

  • “What is the main point the author is trying to tell me in this paragraph?”
  • “How does it relate to the thesis of the writing and the points presented in the preceding paragraphs?”
  • “So what?”

Make annotations in the margins to capture your thoughts and understanding.

Reading is not just a visual exercise:  it is primarily an analytical one.  Think.  Engage the author.  The more you engage yourself in the reading, the more you will understand it, and the easier it will be for you to remember it and explain it on tests and in your papers.  Your grades will improve, as will your body of knowledge.

Education is less about grades (that’s just one indicia of how well you learned something), than it is about building a useful body of knowledge that will serve you well in life.

I leave you with my favorite quote from the Jefferson Memorial, one of my favorite places in Washington, D.C.


Do not continue to wear the coat of a child.  Learn and grow into the great men I know you can be, my sons.

All my love, always,