Meat Shield

I’m struggling with my Depression right now. I have been for about a week. While it fluctuated throughout the week, the general trend was that it was ebbing; that I was climbing out of it. My Depression had other ideas.

I’ve been sharing quick posts on various social media just about every day for several months, now. You can learn more about that effort here: #MentalHealthDailyCheckin » Can’t Juggle ( I find it helpful to take stock of how I am feeling at the time and put it into words. It gives me the benefit that others may get from keeping a journal. And sharing helps me. And my sharing helps others (feedback I have gotten from this effort has been profound).

The section below is a timeline of my check-ins during the week.

The Great Space Coaster of mental health challenges last week

Note: See The Great Space Coaster – Wikipedia for details on what that is. It’s a great 1980s reference that at least some of you will likely appreciate. That title is also an apt metaphor for the ups and downs I went through over the week. Try and keep up.

I had a big anxiety spike on the evening of Saturday, April 8th. It came out of nowhere. Just BAM! On Sunday, Easter Sunday, when Christians of various flavors celebrate Jesus Christ’s resurrection, I posted about it.

On Monday, I shared about the weekend.

That “giant bag of dicks” reference comes from this post: The Trouble With Postmortem Compassion » Can’t Juggle (

I repost that section here for your convenience, although I do recommend reading the full post linked above. I’ve seen it; it’s pretty good.

A giant bag of dicks

A few years ago, I was on a leave of absence from my job due to my Depression and Anxiety being a giant bag of dicks. I should share a little background here and since it worked so well above, I’m going to use a List.

  • Depression is a dick.
  • Anxiety is a dick.
  • “Depression and Anxiety” does NOT equal “Depression + Anxiety” in the way that having “two apples and three plums” means you have (2+3=5) five pieces of fruit.
  • Rather, it is more like Depression to the power of Anxiety (or vice-versa); each one making the other “a lot worse.”
  • Whenever something is troublesome, having “a giant bag” of that something is “a lot worse.” Since having one hornet nest is bad enough, having a giant bag of hornet nests would be a total shit-show.
  • Thus, Depression (which is a dick) and Anxiety (which is a dick) yields a “giant bag of dicks” rather than “two dicks.”
  • Math, y’all.

Moving on.

I didn’t have the energy to post on Tuesday. On Wednesday, my check-in showed some improvement, although I still didn’t have much energy.

Thursday included a session with my therapist that was super helpful.

On Friday, I was pretty proud of how I managed to get through the week.

This hopefulness seems to have pissed of my Depression. It pounced on me bigtime yesterday. What a dick.

I’ve done a lot of hard work over the past few years to work through, or “process,” trauma from my childhood. Essentially, this means I have, with the help of therapy and coping mechanisms, softened the sharper edges of my traumatic memories to make them less painful as they rattle around on in my head. You can read more about that here: Trauma, EMDR, and the Kobayashi Maru Test » Can’t Juggle (

I’ve shared that a lot of my trauma stems from my Dad’s sexual assault of a minor and everything related to that. You can read more about that here (trigger warning: that post contains references to sexual assault and prison): John Cazale and Inmate 19250 » Can’t Juggle (


When I was a kid, my Dad had always been calm and collected. I have zero memory of his having yelled at me or anyone else. Despite others of his generation subscribing to the idea that it is OK to hit your kids, I have zero memory of his having done so to me or my brothers. He had also been a firefighter and knew how to keep his head in a crisis. I always felt safe with him. I always felt that he would keep me safe.

Very soon after his arrest (the same day or the next, I cannot recall exactly), I was sitting with my parents at our dining room table while they chain-smoked. I don’t remember any particular topics of conversation; it’s possible it was just a chain of uncomfortable silences to go along with the cigarettes.

Then there was a knock at the outer door to our front porch. It was a TV news crew.

What the hell is a Meat Shield?

In fantasy role-playing games, and I suppose other games that would involve some form of fighting in groups, there are different roles that members of a group will play. The 3 most common are the Damage Dealer (who specialized in harming the enemy, but is not capable of sustaining a lot of damage), the Tank (who specialized in absorbing damage and trying to get the enemies to attack THEM rather than their more fragile group-mates), and the Healer (who is very fragile and works to keep the Tank alive). These are all roles that players CHOOSE to have their characters play.

I have an affinity for Paladins (see A Bully and a Hero: Depression and My Paladin » Can’t Juggle (, who often make excellent Tanks. It is important to remember that a Tank CHOOSES this role. They choose to take lots of damage and risk to protect their friends, allies, whoever. They also choose to build their character to try to succeed at doing so: donning the best armor they can, maximizing their health and ability to survive. Some will also refer to Tanks at Meat Shields; someONE you hide behind so the enemy hits THEM instead of YOU.

More often, Meat Shield is the term used to apply to some living creature that you place between the enemy and you, absorbing damage, whether that creature wants to or not. They are more of a sacrifice than a partner. You can think of war movies in which soldiers will use corpses for cover when they don’t have better options like sandbags. There are also examples in movies where someone grabs an unwitting enemy to hold in front of them while they advance, protecting themselves at the expense of the enemy (who almost always gets killed). Non-evil characters tend not to use allies and teammates as Meat Shields because it’s a terrible way to treat a friend. Or someone you love.

I was on TV!

My Dad told me to go see who it was at the door. I told him it was a TV news crew. With out a pause, he told me to go tell them this was private property and they needed to leave. I was scared. I was nervous. I didn’t want to do that… But, I did as I was told. I didn’t feel like I had a choice. I was trapped.

When they heard me come to the door, the camera made a whirring sound as it turned on and quickly swung to face me. I opened that outer door and the reporter immediately swung the microphone to my face. I was fighting back tears, and it took everything I had to speak instead of sob. I felt embarrassed. I felt vulnerable. I felt scared. I managed to plead with them to leave and went back inside the house. They eventually left.

The story on the news that night showed me coming to the door and speaking while the reporter, instead of using the audio of what I said, just said that my Dad “sent his teenage son” to deal with them. The tone was not complimentary. It was plain to the reporter that I was being tossed to them instead of my Dad dealing with them himself.

My Dad’s Meat Shield

This scene has been playing out over and over in my mind all week. It’s not one of my favorite memories. It’s not a shining moment of courage from my Dad. It’s not an example of how parenting should work. On that day, my Dad, who had always helped me to feel safe, tossed me to the wolves to protect himself. He took his shame and embarrassment, laid them upon my shoulders and sent me out alone while he hid behind doors and curtains and HIS YOUNGEST FUCKING SON. And he didn’t even hesitate to do it. This has been the trauma that my Depression has been beating me with this past week.

I don’t have a witty connection to close out this post. I guess, the best I can come up with is this: There are ways to show someone you love them; using them as a Meat Shield isn’t one of them.

Abassynia, 2022

I’m not gonna lie. 2022 has been a tough year for me. I really struggled with my Depression and Anxiety for most of it. I’m glad to put 2022 behind me. At the same time, I feel like I am more resilient at the end of the year than I was at the beginning. There were parts of 2022 that I do/did appreciate.

Note: see “M*A*S*H” Abyssinia, Henry (TV Episode 1975) – IMDb for context on the title of this post. The sentiment doesn’t fit super well, but the reference was just too much for me to pass up.

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger?

While I think this phrase is a gross oversimplification, and is sometimes outright bullshit, I do think it holds SOME truth. We ARE undeniably shaped and impacted by our experiences. Sometimes the result is some kind of growth (I’m not referring to some random protuberance that appears on someone’s face here) and we end up better for it. But sometimes experiences just suck and that’s all there is to it.

Everything happens for a reason?

This is a phrase that I find to be a common one people of faith use when someone they know is going through some shit. The reason is usually that God has placed this challenge in their life to help them grow or to test them in some way. While their intentions may be good, I find this phrase/idea to be decidedly unhelpful drivel.

Let me explain.

I’m a recovering Catholic. I still consider myself a Christian; though I don’t use my Christianity as a weapon or a stamp to mark people as “other” or “less than” like so many Christians do nowadays. That shit infuriates me. I place more blame for this on leaders in organized religious groups than on the individuals, though. While religious faith (not just Christianity, but all of them) can help people find meaning and even some peace in their lives, I firmly believe that religious faith is also an amazingly convenient means for people with power to manipulate people without power. Way too often, faith is the hilt people offer to religious leaders to allow themselves to be turned into instruments of harm.

No. there is too much. Let me sum up.

I believe, when you boil things down to the most basic level, EVERYTHING happens for some combination of four reasons:

  • Physics
  • Chemistry
  • Biology
  • Human decisions

There are undeniably folks who will take issue with my excluding “the will of God or some other deity/deities” in this list. That’s fine. I’m not attacking anyone here. Just sharing what I believe. To me, the idea of a god taking discrete manual actions to affect each and every person’s life is to label that god as a moron.

Even a junior-level database administrator knows that relying on manual tasks to maintain even a hundred databases (let alone billions) is a guaranteed path to failure. So they use automation and scripts to allow their efforts to scale. Even if one’s response is that an all-knowing god IS capable of doing all this manually, why would they do their work in the least efficient way possible? Are junior-level database administrators smarter than an all-knowing god? Really?

I jumped up on my soapbox a bit here, huh? I hadn’t intended to when I started this post. But I’m keeping it in so that this post is an accurate reflection of what’s going through my head right now. Again, not meant to attack anyone.

A look back at 2022

I feel like some sort of retrospective of accomplishments from 2022 would be valuable for me, so here goes.

  • While I did not post often, I did continue to blog about my experiences with mental health challenges. Since this is a personal blog, I don’t pressure myself to post with any particular schedule. I post when I am able. I don’t post when I am not. And either is OK.
  • I had a fantastic year at work. I’m in my dream job at Microsoft where I help the folks who produce Power BI and related products and services understand the goals, priorities, and challenges of some of the world’s largest organizations. Feedback from all sides was that I went above and beyond even though I was just doing the job the way I felt it should be done. That feels great and keeps Impostor Syndrome on the sidelines way more often than not.
  • I had the courage to take a leave of absence/medical leave from work when I realized that I just COULD NOT get myself well AND do my job at the same time. I am fortunate to have this as an option, both from a benefits/financial perspective, as well as from the standpoint of a compassionate and supportive manager and team.
  • Back in July, I started sharing daily check-ins on how I am feeling/doing each day. See #MentalHealthDailyCheckin » Can’t Juggle ( for more on this effort. I started just posting on Twitter and eventually added LinkedIn and Instagram as well. I’ve only missed a couple of days, which greatly exceeds my own expectations. Since I have never had the discipline for keeping a journal, this has been a very low-effort way to reap some of the benefits that others get from journaling. Also, the feedback from this effort has been amazing. The outpouring of support and appreciation for my openness has overwhelmed me with joy and love from friends, family, coworkers, even total strangers.
  • It took a bit longer than expected, but I did finally get my youngest daughter to say, “tits.” See There are no “bad” words » Can’t Juggle ( for more on this noble pursuit.
  • I managed to make it through my first ever experience in which suicide felt like a really good option. See Cat Pee, Suicide, and Bananagrams » Can’t Juggle ( for more on this.
  • I made the incredibly difficult decision to surrender 3 of our cats in order to do what I needed for my own mental health even though it was a very unpopular choice for my family. See Surrendering Cats: Pre-game Show » Can’t Juggle ( and Surrendering Cats: Post-game Show » Can’t Juggle ( for more on this.
  • For the first time, I shared that I am the child of a sex offender, around which a lot of my childhood trauma revolved. See John Cazale and Inmate 19250 » Can’t Juggle ( and Overcoming Victimpostor Syndrome » Can’t Juggle ( for more on this.

Wrapping up

I made some really difficult choices this year. On the whole, I feel like I made the right ones. I’m still here. That’s a big one. I’m hoping 2023 is less… interesting for me. I can’t imagine having another year so jammed up with strife, tribulations, bullshit, drama, and so forth right after this one. I made it through 2022, and I’m proud of that, but 2023, take it a little easier on me, yeah?

Overcoming Victimpostor Syndrome

Since you follow this blog with rapt joy, you will recall that I have like a shit ton of trauma from my childhood. It took me a long time to work through and “process” a lot of that trauma. By process, I mean the work of shaping that trauma into something less dangerous and painful, reducing the risk and severity of its triggering intense physical and/or emotional responses as I go through my life. More on that in a future post.

I have participated in a few outpatient trauma-focused programs with group therapy settings. The most recent was a few years ago, during the early months of the COVID pandemic, so it was all online. It was four hours per day for 3 weeks, but I took the full 3 weeks off from work knowing that it would take all my energy. When it comes to therapy, I go all in. Therapy is one of those things that requires commitment and openness to get the most benefit, so I jump in with both feet.

Trauma-focused group therapy

Group therapy settings, in general, come with rules about confidentiality. What happens in group stays in group. Trauma groups have even more. One of them is that participants are asked not to share details of their trauma. This is to help protect other members of the group who may have similar experiences from getting triggered by discussions of events that remind their brains of the trauma they experienced. While Exposure Therapy can help some people with their trauma, group therapy is typically not the place for that.

Each of the trauma-focused groups in which I have participated included people who were raped, sexually assaulted, sexually abused, or some combination of all three. As I shared in John Cazale and Inmate 19250 » Can’t Juggle (, my father sexually assaulted a teammate of mine. While I myself was not raped, sexually assaulted, or sexually abused by my father or anyone else, a lot of my trauma comes from my father’s behavior and the giant blast radius of the events and experiences stemming from it.

Victimpostor syndrome

As I listened to these survivors discussing the toll their trauma has taken on their lives, I started to feel like my own trauma was less valid. I felt like MY trauma was on the wrong side of the line (the side of the perpetrator) and therefore I was less entitled to the empathy and compassion that I and my groupmates were bestowing upon each other. That I was being fraudulent in my pursuit of healing.

I didn’t have a word for this at the time, but the other day I came up with “victimpostor syndrome,” a portmanteau of “victim” and “impostor syndrome,” which I am defining as the feeling that I didn’t earn my victimhood, that it was only a matter of time before people learned that my trauma comes being the family of a sex offender, not from being a direct victim of that behavior, and once people found out, I would be excluded or even become the target of anger or outrage.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is currently in its fifth edition, the DSM-5. The DSM provides the criteria and framework for mental health challenges so that there is consistency across mental health providers and researchers when it comes to mental health. The diagnosis of mental health challenges still has a degree of fuzziness and art to it since there is still so much about the brain that we don’t understand. It includes no entry for Victimpostor Syndrome as far as I know. But it feels like a valid thing to me. So, who knows what the DSM-6 could include, yeah?

It is worth noting that many prefer the term “survivor” to “victim” and while I use both in this post, in the future I will try to lean more on survivor. OK. Now I want to listen to Eye of the Tiger. Back shortly…

Taking the bull by the horns

Since, as I mentioned above, I commit fully to therapy, I decided to share with my group-mates that my dad was a sex offender (going into zero details out of respect for the guidelines of the group and the spirit behind them) and that I was struggling with feelings that I was less worthy of compassion than they were because my trauma was “on the wrong side” of the line. I want to stress that there had been nothing in their behavior or words that suggested this to be the case.

The response was swift and unanimous. My feelings of being unworthy were misplaced. Neither me nor my trauma were “less than” because of my father’s being a sex offender. It helped so much to get what amounted to acceptance from survivors of rape, sexual assault, sexual abuse that my trauma mattered, too. That I mattered and was worthy of all the help I could get for my trauma.

Why am I sharing this?

Given the emotionally charged nature of my father’s behavior, I have no doubt that, now that I have shared it, some people will find it a little harder to have compassion or empathy for me. While you may want to believe that this is not true for you, I think it is only natural. I’ve been there. It took me extra effort to have compassion and empathy for myself. For some of you, this extra effort is minimal and we’re good. I have received direct expressions of this since I shared it recently.

For others, you may still be working through this effort. Some of you may never get through that effort, and you will be unable to find that compassion and empathy for me that you otherwise might. Please know that I accept that and hold no ill will toward you if you need to pull back from me. This is hard stuff.

My main reason for sharing this is so that others in my situation may feel less alone. The families of sex offenders can be ostracized, forgotten, or even become victims of disdain and vitriol due to their connection with someone who perpetrated crimes against children or other vulnerable people. Please know that someone else understands that isolation and fear.

The other reason is to remind everyone else that the families of people who do things that society has labelled as heinous are victims, too. Lumping us in with our family members that do these things is easy and may make you feel better in the moment, but it is unjust and wrong. In the long run, it does NO ONE any good. I have never experienced this myself (not directly, anyway), but I know that there are some who have. Let’s remember the sage advice of Bill S. Preston, Esq, and Ted “Theodore” Logan: “Be excellent to each other… and party on, dudes!”

John Cazale and Inmate 19250

Trigger warning: This post will mention sexual assault and prison. If either of those are troublesome for you, stop reading when you see the warning box, pictured below, further down.


The actor’s vulnerability

I have degrees in Theatre and English. I’m a trained actor. I was by no means a great actor, but I had a few moments. My point here is that, while I made no terrific accomplishments as an actor, I understand the craft. I understand the work that goes into making something look effortless; the work that goes into convincing people, both audiences and fellow actors, that someone in a play, etc., is not a character, but a person.

One of the most important things an actor can bring to any scene is vulnerability. This can also be one of the hardest things to accomplish. As humans, our most basic instincts are to seek safety instead. Part of actor training is learning and practicing letting go of this instinct, of baring one’s soft underbelly to scene partners in an effort of creating something more than the sum of its parts.

The great John Cazale

John Cazale was an actor. A masterful actor, his performances so subtle and natural and vulnerable that it is easy to miss them. It’s rarer than you might think to find an actor that makes you so completely forget they are acting. Since he was not the leading man in any of his films, it is also easy to miss the impact he had on his fellow actors.

Part of an actor’s job is to poke, prod, and support their scene partner(s) to create an experience that transcends what any of the actors in the scene could do alone. Even when a character is quite aloof, the actor must traverse and build upon vulnerability to find that aloofness and make it natural and believable.

John’s film career was a brief one. He acted in only five feature films before succumbing to lung cancer at age 42, in 1978:

  • The Godfather (1972)
    • As Fredo Corleone
    • Winner – Academy Award for Best Picture
  • The Conversation (1974)
    • As Stan
    • Nominee – Academy Award for Best Picture
  • The Godfather Part II (1974)
    • As Fredo Corleone
    • Winner – Academy Award for Best Picture
  • Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
    • As Sal
    • Nominee – Academy Award for Best Picture
  • The Deer Hunter (1978)
    • As Stan
    • Winner – Academy Award for Best Picture
    • John was fighting/losing his battle with cancer during filming, passing soon after filming completed.

For such a short film career, he was in iconic films. And nothing but. There is a spectacular documentary of John and his work: I Knew It Was You: Rediscovering John Cazale. The documentary covers his stage acting career, his all too brief film career, as well as interviews and discussions with actors, directors, and others who had the privilege of working with him or were inspired by his work.

Asking questions without having to answer them

There’s a great moment in the interview with Al Pacino discussing working with John on The Godfather Part II: “He became whoever it was he was playing; and he did that by asking questions. Because he taught me about asking questions, and not having to answer them — that’s the beauty. What’s wonderful about it is you open the door to things.”

In life, like in the stories we tell, we don’t get answers to all of our questions. We don’t get solutions to all of our problems. What matters most, I feel, is pursuing those answers and solutions regardless of our chance of success. To me, the measure of a person is not the answers they can provide, but the questions they are willing to ask (of themselves, of others, of society, of the world).

Asking hard questions can come with vulnerability. Sometimes lots of it. I have been using some of my acting training, namely making myself vulnerable, in my sharing my experiences living with Trauma, Depression and Anxiety. It’s been difficult. It has required courage. I have done it anyway, particularly since not everyone can. I have done it anyway in the hopes of helping to nudge society in the direction of openness so that sharing mental health challenges doesn’t require courage. Mental health stigma is a giant bag of dicks that our society tries to make us all carry around. It doesn’t have to be this way.

My vulnerability

I’m going to start sharing more about my childhood trauma, with more details related to my dad. It’s going to be hard. But I have a unique perspective, a perspective that most people don’t think about, a perspective that doesn’t get much coverage, even in the era of the 24-hour news cycle. I will be getting vulnerable AF, risking ire and outrage from people who may not understand I am trying to shine a little light where there is currently just darkness; not taking light from anywhere else, but adding new light.


Inmate 19250

I sat at a 4-seat rectangular table that was bolted to the floor. All four chairs, likewise, were bolted in place, capable of swiveling but not being lifted. The chairs, as I remember, were in varying colors of muted blues, greens, and oranges. The room had 12-15 such table/chair installations. Along one wall stood vending machines with various snacks in their soft, plastic packaging; nothing that could be even improvised into anything dangerous (other than trans-fats and sodium).

My mother and I had entered the room through a stout metal door with a small, reinforced, shatter-resistant glass window. At the opposite end of the room as another such door. We weren’t allowed to go near that one. Nor was anyone that came out of that door allowed to go near the one my mother and I had used.

It was only a few moments of waiting before we saw a familiar face through the small window in that far door. It opened and a brown-haired man in his fifties with perpetually stooped shoulders approached us. He was wearing a faded, but deep green, button-down shirt with a label on the left breast, “19250” in dull, whitish letters. We hugged and he sat down at the table with us. On the table rested coins for the vending machines; the man was allowed to touch neither.

The room was the visiting area at NH State Prison in Concord, NH. The man was inmate 19250 and my dad. The scene was repeated often, weekly when we were able, over the course of more than 5 years. He was convicted of felonious sexual assault of a minor (11), one of my soccer teammates, and served most of a 7-year sentence.

Forgotten victims

While my father never sexually assaulted/abused me, I am nevertheless a victim of his behavior. There is a fuck-ton (not sure how many shit-tons are in a fuck-ton, but a fuck-ton is undeniably bigger) of trauma for me in and around his arrest, his trial, his conviction, his sentencing, his term in prison, his release, and other events that happened in relation to and/or in conjunction with all of this.

I cannot even fathom what my dad’s victim had to go through and is quite possibly still going through. I sincerely hope that he got/is getting any help and support that is needed. I hold no ill will toward him, or his family, either. Just empathy and compassion. My opening up about my own victimhood is IN NO WAY INTENDED to lessen his. This will likely be the last time I mention him at all since my goal is to share MY lived experience and on one else’s.

There will undoubtedly be people who will have the knee-jerk reaction that I am trying to defend my dad or clear his name. I have no intention of doing either. There is no doubt in my mind that my dad was guilty. I didn’t witness any instances first-hand, but there were things I did witness that, upon reflection, take me beyond a reasonable doubt. I have no plan to go into any of those details.


Our society stresses OR. Someone is either a decent/great person OR they are a monster, with very little, if any, middle ground. Nuance is something people just don’t have patience for. There are lots of famous names I could mention here. There are many crimes/deeds for which we vilify people. People that harm children are pretty damned high up on that list. And I can’t argue with that, nor will I attempt to.

While it is effortless to mark strangers as monsters, it is a lot harder to do when that person worked hard to make sure you had food, shelter, a good education. It’s harder when that person loved you, read to you when you were little, played games with you, made you and so many others laugh. It’s harder when that person volunteered so much of his time, and when possible, his treasure to help people and taught you to do the same. It’s hard when you witnessed that person doing so much good to throw that all away and label them: MONSTER.

My quest(ion)

I understand taking the position that no amount of good makes up for horrible actions. If you hold that position, I respect that. I will not try to argue with you or change it. Rather, I will be focusing on the question I feel is worth pursuing:

How do I hold all the good things that my dad did in one hand AND the horrible things he did in the other? I just can’t apply the OR here that society would dictate.

I make no promise (to myself or anyone else) that I will find some grand answer or make any startling realization. My hope is that I will, to borrow from Al Pacino, “open the door to things.” I also hope that I can shine a light on the difficulty of being the family of a sex offender; the difficulty in being caught in the blast radius of the actions of someone you love.

I don’t know how many posts there will be as part of this effort. And they will not all be in an unbroken sequence or series. I will need to take breaks to blog about other topics for my own well-being. I am creating a new category and tag “AND” that I will use to denote posts related to this important quest(ion). So, if this is content you would rather avoid, but you still want to read my brilliant posts on other topics, just skip the posts in the AND category.

I hope you will follow along as I try to sprinkle some AND in among the OR.

Headbutt With Me

Dopamine matters

My favorite comedian, Mike Birbiglia, suffers from REM Sleep Behavior Disorder which means that he acts out his dreams instead of their just happening in his mind. It has to do with the neural pathways that paralyze the body during sleep malfunctioning. He shares about this in his comedy special Sleepwalk With Me as well as a book, a Broadway show, and biographical film. Some of these sleepwalking episodes resulted in injury and one almost killed him (defenestration: the struggle is real).

Just last night I dreamt that several Target employees and other shoppers kept pressuring me to us the Target delivery flatbed truck (which I’m pretty sure is not a thing) since they doubted my ability to fit everything I bought into my old Saturn SL1 sedan. Challenge accepted.

If I lived with REM Sleep Behavior Disorder, I can imagine waking up this morning to discover the oven is meowing and it turns out that I managed to fit a shit ton of random items from all over the house in there along with our one remaining cat, Onyx, and I let him out and he walks off like nothing weird happened and I take a deep breath in relief that I wasn’t dreaming about cooking.

I don’t suffer from REM Sleep Behavior Disorder, but I did have one episode that gives me a glimpse of what it is like for Mike.

Dabbling in domestic violence

I met my wife, Trish, in college. She was one of the many fine people I met when I started doing improv comedy and then added Theatre as a second major to English. One night, she and I were asleep in the tiny twin bed I had in an on-campus apartment. I had a dream about being bullied in high school, being held against a wall by two assholes while another (let’s call him Dick the dick) got ready to start punching me. In the dream, I snapped and head-butted Dick in the face, proud of myself for fighting back. Fuck that guy.

I woke almost immediately, as I almost fell out of bed, and saw Trish leaning on one elbow, facing me, her face covered in blood. It took a few seconds to realize what had happened. I’ve never been a good fighter. I’m still not. In this particular case, I had aimed a head-butt at Dick and hit Trish instead, which is just gushing with FAIL (and blood, since I had broken her nose).

Now that I think about it, if Trish had been wearing a helmet, she would have been fine. So, it’s just a little bit HER fault, right?

NOTE: This is a joke about how STUPID it is to blame victims of assault/abuse/violence. So, let’s knock that shit off, yeah?

Knight's armor from mid-chest upward.
Photo by Mike B

When I went with Trish to the on-campus health clinic, the staff kept asking her if she was safe, suspecting she was the victim of an abusive boyfriend. Trish recounted to me later that it took her a while to convince them it wasn’t like that at all. You see, it was totally Dick’s fault.

Trish had to explain several times to the staff at the clinic that her boyfriend, Mark, was not abusing her. It was Dick the dick who was a dick to Mark, and Mark was finally fighting back against Dick the dick and Mark was asleep when he mistook Trish for Dick the dick and, thinking he was breaking Dick the dick’s nose in triumph, broke Trish’s nose instead by mistake. Could happen to anyone, really. I can’t imagine why they had trouble accepting this narrative.

Hilariously unfunny

Reactions from our friends hit Trish and me in different ways. You see, Trish, like all our friends, thought this entire situation was hilarious. They would make jokes and Trish would genuinely laugh while I retreated further and further into myself. I didn’t find any of it funny.

I had a really hard time forgiving myself for hurting Trish. Looking back, the dream had likely triggered some trauma from the high school bullying I endured from Dick and his friends. Combine that with having a terrible temper that I had worked so hard to gain some manner of control over and this entire incident was just a total shitshow for me. I still can’t laugh about it like Trish or anyone else can.

Food, folks, and fists

Meeting Trish’s family was harder for me than it otherwise may have been. I felt more pressure to make a good second impression since my first impression involved lots of blood. Trish’s paternal grandmother actually came up to me and touched my nose with her fist the first time I met her. Which, as I think about it, is pretty funny, actually.

Wrapping up

If you follow this blog with rapt joy, you will have noticed that I typically wrap up with important connections and shit like that. I don’t have any for this one. My Depression has been super bad this past week and I needed to vent. I just wanted to write and share something. It helps me.

Surrendering Cats: Post-game Show

It’s been over a week since we surrendered our three cats Athos, Porthos, and Aramis to the Humane Society in Woodbury MN. If you follow this blog with rapt joy, you have all the background you need. If this is your first time here, welcome. This post will make more sense after you read Surrendering Cats: Pre-game Show » Can’t Juggle (

Sweet surrender

There were a lot of tears as we ushered our three MusCATeers into carriers. The cats were pretty vocal that they were not pleased to be going on a trip that wasn’t on any of their calendars. We gave our daughters a few minutes to say goodbye. When it was time to leave, it was really hard to squeeze out, “We need to go.”

My wife, Trish, and I then took the cats to the Humane Society. Trish drove since I had already taken my OH Shit! meds (to help when I am having a spike of anxiety/panic) and they make me drowsy. We had decided as a family that Paige and Evelyn would not join us so that we could complete the surrender with as much efficiency as possible.

I don’t feel up to sharing much more about this trip. It was hard. It was heartbreaking. The people at the humane society were so compassionate, understanding that we were surrendering members of our family. That helped a lot.

Mission accomplished

The end of the terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad cat pee and shit reign of terror has been profound for me. That particular situation, which was triggering so many feelings of being trapped (the main theme of my childhood trauma), is so much better. I feel pretty certain that it was standing in the way of my climbing out of my current bout of depression and anxiety.

The tarp we had covering the pool table (that was one of the regular pee spots) ended up slightly less waterproof than we expected. So, when I removed that tarp to throw it away and put a new one on (since we still have one cat and cat claws can damage the felt), there was a big spot of pee in the center of the table. We got the table recovered (this past Monday) and since there is no longer pee happening around it pretty much every night/day, I feel like the pool table is available to me again. I haven’t had the energy yet to play, but I will eventually. The thick vinyl cover we’ve been waiting for finally showed up yesterday. So, we’re done with the tarp.

Wrapping up

Saying goodbye to Athos, Porthos, and Aramis was difficult AND necessary AND the healing is under way. I have had a few instances of going into our living room wanting to pet whichever of them was on the sofa or loveseat… We’re recovering as a family. A slightly smaller family. But a family.

Sarah McLachlan was not at the Humane Society in Woodbury MN when we got there. The likelihood of her surfacing was not high anyway.

Surrendering Cats: Pre-game Show

Disclaimer: This post is going to ramble. Even more than my usual posts do. I decided to keep it that way because it honors what’s going on inside my brain right now. I usually go through several drafts of my posts, editing/re-writing as I go. But I’m not doing that here.

I’m NOT an early riser. It’s 5:30 am as I start writing. I’ve been awake for a while and finally decided to just get out of bed and be done. It’s the day we are surrendering 3 of our cats to the Humane Society. If you follow my blog with rapt joy, you will have read Cat Pee, Suicide, and Bananagrams » Can’t Juggle ( If not, welcome. That post has background info that makes this post make a bit more sense.

We are keeping Onyx, who accidentally scratched my left cornea several years ago (an injury I still feel, especially when the scar tissue decides to get ripped off and it’s like a fresh wound). From this anecdote, it would seem like the secret plan for a cat to stay with us is to scratch me in the eye. But that would be inaccurate. Just coincidence. I REALLY hope Onyx doesn’t scratch me in the eye again as it was agony. Onyx does consistently use the litter boxes in the laundry room, though. We see him go in there.

I want to blame my poor sleep on the emotional strain of a 75% decrease in felines at our house; it seems the most likely cause. But that “it’s because you say goodbye to Athos, Porthos, and Aramis today” label just won’t stick properly, like a Post-It note that somehow missed getting the sticky part. Quick shout-out to 3M: That’s not a quality issue I have encountered with Post-It notes or even the generic versions. But I have encountered the occasional Puffs Plus with Lotion tissue that somehow dodged getting lotion. That is a shitty experience: you expect the soft caress of a tissue with a hint of lotion on it that doesn’t aggravate your nose and instead you get a dry, rough tissue that feels more like newsprint than something you are SUPPOSED to use on your face. Total shitshow.

I’m going to miss the cats. My whole family is. I just heard my wife, Trish, in the kitchen for the last early-morning feeding she’ll need to perform. Porthos, the fattest of the bunch, demands it. He actually hurls his massiveness at the bedroom door over and over until she gets up. When I was still sleeping up in the bedroom rather than the spare room in the basement (due to my Anxiety), that banging he caused startled the shit out of me and drove me nuts. “We need to ride it out, ” I would say. “He keeps doing it because it keeps working. If we ignore it, he will eventually stop.” And then she would point out that “You can’t really train cats that way.”

And I would remind her of Mercutio, a cat we had that died several years ago. It was in our old house. We kept our bedroom door open (which is not good practice; a closed door can save lives in a fire) to make it easier to hear if offspring were up and stuff like that. When we first got him, Mercutio had a habit of jumping up on our bed RIGHT NEXT TO MY FUCKING HEAD and scaring the absolute shit out of me. I ended up developing amazing reflexes to grab him with both hands then throwing him to the floor (even from a dead sleep); not hard enough to hurt him, but hard enough that he wouldn’t like it. It took a couple weeks for this training to take hold, but once it was over, he never did it again for the years we had him.

Through experimenting with putting one cat at a time in the bathroom in our basement, we were able to determine that Athos was not the prime culprit in the terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad cat pee and shit reign of terror. Porthos gets the blue ribbon for that. We ended up keeping Porthos locked away for a few weeks. It was so much better for me. Easily an 85% reduction in “accidents” around the house. So, it proved that Porthos wasn’t the only one and put the idea of just rehoming Porthos and keeping the other musketeers out of the question. A couple weeks ago, we decided to let Porthos out of the bathroom since he was pretty miserable in there all alone. So, I have been trapped by all the exquisite nastiness of cat pee again for the past few weeks. Which has been hard for me, but less hard for Porthos.

I feel the need to apologize to Athos for pinning so much blame on him. Not that I treated him differently when I though he was the pisser in chief, but just that it turned out to be wrong. I have been petting him a lot in the past several weeks. He has this habit of sticking his tongue out and back in over and over when a scratch his back in a few particular places. It’s adorable. I found this sweet treasure last week. Part of me is pissed that I didn’t find it years ago instead of just before surrendering him and never seeing him again. But I’m trying to be happy I found it at all instead. I could have missed it. And I would have one less thing to smile about. I realize Athos may never read this, but it makes me feel better to express it anyway.

The “surrender” of Athos, Porthos, and Aramis makes me think of “Sweet Surrender” by Sarah McLachlan. DAMN, but that that lady can sing. And that makes me think of her song Angel, which is about the death of Jonathan Melvoin (of The Smashing Pumpkins) of a heroin overdose but was used in a commercial that Sarah did for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). It’s a beautiful song for sure and I can see why they chose it. But at the same time, my brain is like, “Can you IMAGINE if cats did heroin!?”

We never gave any of our cats heroin. Please don’t give cats, or any other pets, heroin. Or yourself, actually. Heroin is not good for anyone, in my opinion.

Wouldn’t it be cool if Sarah McLachlan was at the Humane Society in Woodbury, MN this afternoon when we are there? That would be cool. But it seems unlikely.

My feelings today are complicated. While I will miss these adorable, funny cats, I get such a sense of peace knowing that I will be able to once again live in a house that doesn’t reek of cat pee. We need to get some flooring replaced (yes, it was that bad) and do a deep clean in other places before we’re really done. But the first step is getting the culprit(s) out of the house. As of this evening, this step will be complete. It’s also the first step in healing the hole in our hearts that will be left behind once the cats have gone to live somewhere else. We can’t get past it until it happens.

While I typically don’t give advice, I have a few tips here:

  • Avoid heroin.
  • Avoid getting scratched in the eye by a cat (or any other animal for that matter).
  • Please close all bedroom doors at night.

I’m not sure what kind of shape I will be in this evening. I do plan to share how I am feeling AFTER we say goodbye to Athos, Porthos, and Aramis. But that may not happen for a few days. So, I’m getting this post out now. Writing this is helping.

The Unexpected Treasure of the Public Library

I’m feeling overwhelmed by some family stuff today, so I thought I would spend some time thinking about a happier, easier time in my life when my oldest brother introduced me to the Nashua Public Library. I want to note that while this post is based on actual events, there will be some dramatization as I only really remember the broad strokes. Any similarity to persons, real or imagined, is intentional but may not be 100% accurate. Nashua, NH, is a real place, but has changed quite a bit since I was there. It’s still about an hour north of Boston, MA.

This post includes references to bicycles and libraries. And books, I guess. And a river. The Nashua River, to be exact. And a bridge across that river. Neither the river nor the bridge are major players here, but details help flesh things out, yeah?

Note to self: Stop rambling and get to the damn story.


O, Brother

My oldest brother, Gerry, played lots of roles in my life growing up. He taught me a lot of things, including how to throw a baseball and football (not at the same time), how to play basketball, how to ice skate, how to play several card games, etc. He was sometimes my guardian (not in a legal capacity) when he took me on bike rides and also lots of fishing trips. He was often my tormentor as well, but this is a happy post, so we’ll leave that alone for now.

The adventure begins

I forget how old I was, maybe 6 or something like that. But one day, Gerry came to me and said, “Let’s go for a bike ride. I want to show you something.” Being the youngest of three boys, I was always eager when either of my brothers wanted to spend time with me.

Gerry and I got on our bikes and rode down our street, Chandler Street, to where it ended at a t-intersection with Canal Street right across from the Sanders building (big defense contractor, I think). I use “down” both in the colloquial sense of heading in a southerly direction and the fact that Chandler Street had two significant hills. The neighborhood was, and still is, referred to as French Hill. We lived partway up the northern hill on Chandler Street so the first chunk of our journey was downhill quite a bit.

We banged a right on Canal Street, eventually riding past the apartment building my mom and I would eventually move to when we lost our house to foreclosure in my teens (not going into this right now; happy post, remember?), until we came to Main Street and hooked a left.

A quick terminology note

In Nashua, there was no turning. No one turned. It simply wasn’t done. Whether you were in a car, on a motorcycle, on a bike, on a Big Wheel, or even just plain walking, if you changed course in a right-hand direction, you “banged a right.” If you changed course in a left-hand direction, you “hooked a left.”

The grammarian/writer in me wonders why one needed to even specify the directions at all since the words “bang” and “hook” are already different. But I was not consulted at the time. And I’m not sure if this linguistic idiosyncrasy is still in place in Nashua since I have lived in Minnesota for over 20 years. Just trying to keep it real.

The adventure continues

Main Street heading south took us over the Nashua River across the Main St. Bridge. Apparently, city planners were not rewarded for creativity. After a few blocks, we then hooked another left and headed up the hill on Park Street, a process that required me to get off my bike and walk it since I didn’t have the pedal power to make it all the way up; and the zig zagging up a hill that increases distance but allows for a shallower angle of descent was not an option as we were limited to using the sidewalk.


At the top of the hill, I was out of breath, tired, and thirsty AF as this was a pretty long ride for me at the time (a little under 1 mile). But when Gerry brought his bike over to the rack, and motioned for me to do the same, locking them together, I figured we were close to what he wanted to show me.

The main entrance to the library had these tall, heavy doors, as I remember. In my memory they a dark metal or perhaps wood. Recent pictures I can find online today show glass front doors but I don’t know if my memory is mistaken or if the library just has the wrong goddam doors and they need to fix it. There’s just no way to know.

A new world of treasures

As Gerry led me into the library, there was this smell that I can’t forget. Oddly enough, it smelled like books. Like when you open a book that may not have been opened for a while and there is a kind of sweetness to it. It smells so inviting. I still get hints of this smell when I go into libraries today, but not nearly as strongly.

The main desk was right in front of us, a large wooden countertop that went on and on in both directions. Behind that counter were the library staff helping patrons check out and return books, answering questions, and many other duties. Checking out books required one of those hand stamps, because this was back before libraries, at least this one, were digitized. It was magical.

Off to the left was the card catalog: rows and rows of little drawers of index cards, each corresponding to a volume in the library. It was still based on the Dewey Decimal System, as I recall. I had not learned that system yet, though. I also had not learned what a total fucking asshole Dewey himself was. I’ll let you look that stuff up on your own. Again, this is supposed to be a happy post.

Off to the right, as I recall was the multimedia section containing racks of vinyl records and albums with headphones for listening. No computers, for sure. This was the early 1980s after all.

Wrong treasures, dude

As I marveled at these new-to-me surroundings, I realized that Gerry was repeating my name with gradually increasing volume, trying to recapture my attention. He had banged a sharp right immediately upon entering the library and I had missed it. There was an alcove there. He gestured to have me join him. He leaned down toward the wall as I approached, but stood tall once I reached him, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, and an air of absolute contentment.

Gerry had brought me on this journey to share with me a treasure. That I may know of it. That I may share in its wonder. That I may pass on this knowledge to those I deem worthy. There was a small stepstool next to it, which Gerry pulled into place with his foot. Without it, due to my size, the treasure would have been quite literally beyond my reach.

I stepped up onto the stool and leaned forward. Gerry pressed the button on the right of this magical device and the most delicious, ice-cold water hit my lips. Like the smell of the library, the water had a hint of sweetness to it (I don’t want to think about what that was). I drank and drank; the smell of the books forgotten; the soft thuds of the hand stamps behind the desk forgotten.

“Remember this bubblah,” he said, as though passing on the greatest wisdom. This device, if you have not gleaned via context clues, is known in most places, I believe, as a water fountain or a drinking fountain. But in Nashua and the surrounding area, they were known as bubblers, or, more properly pronounced, “bubblahs.” There was one on the other side of the doors, that you could reach by hooking a left as you entered the library instead of banging a right. He motioned across to that left one, “That one sucks. THIS one is always like this: ice-cold.”

The journey home

When we were both satisfied, he led me back outside without even a glance at the books or any other vessels of knowledge the Nashua Public Library kept preserved within its walls. ANYONE could go there and get books and stuff. But our purpose was life itself.

As we biked home, I felt like I was changed. A new person; one equipped with the location of the finest drinking water known to humankind.

Riding a bike down Chandler Street is glorious. Up, on the other hand, is fucking awful.


Throughout my childhood, I went back to the library many times. Each time, I banged a hard right on the way in and drank from that glorious bubblah. There were even times when I went to the library and there were books involved.

I haven’t been back to the Nashua Public Library in decades. And even if I did, I don’t think I would have the courage to drink from that bubblah. The idea of drinking from a public water fountain today makes me feel ill. I think it’s one of those “remember when we were kids and used to do this and OMG how did we not die” kind of things. Lawn Darts. Driving around in the back of my dad’s van on folding lawn chairs.

But I enjoyed that bubblah while I could. And Gerry was right. It was always ice-cold.

There are no “bad” words

CONTENT ADVISORY: This post contains words that people may find offensive.

CONTENT BONUS: This post contains words that people may find offensive.

In his comedy album Class Clown, the late comic genius, George Carlin, gave a monologue he called The Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television. Those words are as follows:

  • Shit
  • Piss
  • Fuck
  • Cunt
  • Cocksucker
  • Motherfucker
  • Tits

There is an OUTSTANDING two-part documentary about George, his background, his life, his pain, his comedy, his genius, and more called George Carlin’s American Dream, directed by Judd Apatow and Michael Bonfiglio. I highly recommend it.

George loved language. And he often had jokes or bits built around language, English in particular, and its idiosyncrasies. I feel like George is part of my inspiration for my own jokes and puns, which also are often built around language and using words in different ways, etc. I get some talent in this area from my dad, who loved to make puns while we watched TV or movies or played games or just made our way through life. That is one of the aspects of my dad that I loved. There were some aspects of my dad that I didn’t love, but this is not a Daddy Issues post, so I’ll leave it there for now.

This section will make sense further down. But for now, just take from this section that there are words that Society sometimes refers to as “bad words” that we are expected to refrain from employing in polite conversation… Fuck that.

No Lifebuoy for me

Growing up, use of swearing/curse words wasn’t a huge deal in our house. It’s not something we did constantly, but the occasional slip or strategic employment of “impolite” words didn’t get us in much trouble. I certainly never had to have soap (Lifebuoy or any other brand) in my mouth like Ralphie in A Christmas Story when he let loose an F-bomb, the “F dash dash dash word.” This is one of my favorite movies, by the way. We watch it as a family every year and still laugh.

Vaillancourt is a French-Canadian name and is somewhat common throughout New England and parts of Canada. My brothers and I are the first generation of our family to be brought up speaking only English. Both my parents were brought up speaking French AND English. My dad got a kick out of teaching me how to curse in French from an early age, making it necessary for me to be extra careful in French classes in school…

Do as I say, not as I … say.

My wife and I both swear/curse when we’re not really thinking about it. We made some extra effort once we had kids, but the results were mixed. Let’s just say that one of us, and I’m not saying who, showed only a modest decrease in swearing. One of us has been told by our children that she swears too much. But I’m not saying who. At this point, our youngest is now 15 and for the past few years, we haven’t bothered too much with our own swearing.

In fact, in our house, context appropriate or really funny use of swear words is not only encouraged but appreciated. One of our favorite stories from Paige’s (our oldest) early life was when we were potty training her. She was sitting on one of those tiny potty chairs we had in the bathroom. She was quiet a for bit, thoughtful, then she looked up at my wife, Trish, and said, “We don’t say fuck dammit. We don’t use those words.” Trish and I ended up discussing at the time where she would have learned this phrase. I confessed to her just the other night that… yeah…. I own this one. This is on me.

“I’m so proud of you!”

My youngest, Evelyn, has never been much of a swearer. Swearing tends to make her feel embarrassed. About a year ago, I was in my basement office and heard a THUD from upstairs in the kitchen. There was a few second pause, and then I heard Evelyn shout “FUCK!” She came down to my office for something a little while later and I asked her about it. She said, “Yeah…. I stubbed my toe and mom gave me the green light for an F-bomb.” I beamed at her with sheer delight, “I’m so proud of you!”

We still find it super funny when Evelyn swears. Playing Cards Against Humanity and Joking Hazard with her is beyond hilarious.

We’re going somewhere. I promise.

Hang in there.

Medication side effects

My main antidepressant, Effexor, appears to have a possible side effect of changing the focal distance of one’s eyes. For me, it moved that distance further away, so, to see letters clearly, I need to hold whatever I am reading further away from my face. This often results in clearly seeing that the letters are too fucking far away to read. Perfect. Some of this could also be age as well, but it really only started when I started taking Effexor. Anyway, as a consequence, I have reading glasses; just over the counter ones; no prescription. I tend to only wear them when I am alone since looking at anything more than a foot away while wearing them is blurry as shit and that instant transition fucks with my equilibrium and even leads to headaches.


Last night, Trish, Evelyn and I were playing Munchkin, a super fun/funny adventure card game. I wasn’t wearing my glasses due to the transition issues mentioned above. At one point, I looked down at a pile of papers that were sitting on the table next to me and just started laughing. Here is the exchange that followed, to the best of my recollection.

Trish: What’s so funny?

Me: I just looked down at this (pointing to a page of text) and I could swear it had the word “tits” in it.

Evelyn started laughing with delight.

Trish: (looking over at the paper) That’s the school district newsletter. Are you suggesting the school district newsletter has tits in it?

Evelyn’s laughter kicked into a higher gear.


Me (in my “principal making an announcement voice”): Show your tits at Homecoming! … SPIRIT! SCHOOL SPIRIT! Show your SCHOOL SPIRIT at Homecoming!

Evelyn then lost her shit. She was now into that phase of laughter where you can’t breathe but can’t stop. Her laughing fit continued, only gradually decreasing over the course of the next few minutes. OUTSTANDING.

A little help

In Munchkin, your character fights monsters. There are cards you can get that add bonuses to your combat power like armor, weapons, and other silly things. In a fight, you add up all of your bonuses and compare result to the power of the monster you are fighting. If your power is greater, you win the fight. If not, you can try to run away OR you can ask another player to help you, adding their total combat power to yours. Often, the helper will request, or your will offer, some share of the treasure as a reward for the help. I have sometimes just asked for a hug. Other times I have demanded treasure for NOT helping the monster. Whimsical, yeah?

Evelyn ended up in a fight she could not win alone. Since my power added to hers would result in victory, I offered to help. My wife, whose character was even more powerful than mine, also offered to help.

Trish: I’ll help you for one treasure.

Evelyn (to me): What do you want?

Typically, I would ask for a treasure. Not this time.


Me: I don’t want any treasure. I just want to hear you say the word “tits.”

Evelyn started losing her shit again. Which. Was. Excellent.

Trish came to her rescue by saying she would help for no reward. Evelyn ended up letting Trish help her instead of me. My master plan (improvised, but still) to get Evelyn to say “tits” was foiled by the pottiest mouth in the house. Motherfucker.

Wrapping up

We, as parents, are teachers, too, regardless of our profession(s). As with anything else, the power of words is based so much in how they are used. ANYTHING, including words, can be used as weapons. But they can also be used in more positive ways to bring humor and joy. In our house, we’ve taken the position that there are no “bad words.” There are just words. And Trish and I are fucking delighted to help our offspring learn to use them well.

Ninjas and the Trojan Horse of Advice

I’ve been thinking about advice a lot lately. We are bombarded with advice nowadays, whether from TV commercials or news, internet ads, social media “influencers,” radio personalities, neighbors, family members, or even a friend’s ex-husband’s Roto Rooter guy Vince. Since pretty much every situation has more nuance than is visible to me, I find myself trying to avoid giving advice. Any time my brain starts to build a statement that includes “you should do X” or “you need to do Y” it raises a red flag for my internal editor (yes, I have one… he drinks, though) to take a closer look before releasing that statement into the wild.

I have come to realize that advice often includes so much baggage or subtext that the advice-giver may not have intended, such as judgement, stereotypes, unfair assumptions, or even overestimations of the recipient’s combat prowess. I have often been on the receiving end of advice that, while well-intentioned, ended up being of little to no benefit, or even causing harm. I have also been on the advice-giving end in situations that did not go well. As I typically do, I am going to discuss this in the context of a personal experience.

The Trojan Horse

You can look this one up on your own if you need to. I could summarize this reference here but I really feel it is so well understood that it is not necessary. So, I’m gonna go ahead and skip it.

It’s my blog. I’ll do what I want.


I’m a recovering Catholic. I was an altar server back when they were called altar boys because girls were not allowed to do it (which changed, at least at my parish I grew up in, toward the end of my tenure). For those who are not familiar, altar servers help the priest before/during/after mass (typical Sunday services) and other services (some services are not technically masses). These duties include lighting the proper candles before the service and extinguishing them after the service. It also involved things like fetching various objects for the priest in during the service. I was an altar server from the age of twelve (I think) until I was eighteen (I think). I actually enjoyed it for a long time.

I want to pause here for a moment to share that, although I have shared that I have a lot of childhood trauma, and I now share that I spent a lot of time around Catholic clergy (priests, etc.), I was not a victim of the abuse that has been so well documented. In general, my experiences with the clergy have been positive ones. That said, the fact that I feel it is important for me to stress this is not a good thing as far as the Catholic Church is concerned. Understatements are fun, yeah?

I believe it was the Easter Vigil (the service held the Saturday evening prior to Easter Sunday), late in my altar server career. There were four altar servers for important services like this, and we each had some special duties to perform. I was what we called the Master of Ceremonies, which generally meant that I would be focusing on the most visible duties like holding the prayer book for the priest during key parts of the service. As it was a special service, I and my fellow altar servers were wearing red cassocks rather than out typical black ones we used for ordinary masses.

There was a point during this service all lights and candles in the church were extinguished and the only light came from a fire in what you may call a Holy Hibachi that the priest was blessing and which would be used to light the special Paschal Candle for the coming holy year. The parish photographer took a gorgeous photo of this showing just Father Dan, the flame, and me holing the book for Father Dan with everything else in total darkness. I have no idea where that picture went or I would include it here.

I’m realizing that most of the details above aren’t really important to this story. But they are helping me paint the picture again in my mind, so I’m gonna go with it. It’s my blog. I’ll do what I want.


Just as we were about to start the procession into the church that marked the beginning of the service, Scott, one of my fellow altar servers, who was probably at least 6 feet 2 inches tall, leaned down to me, and said, in a grave, insistent voice, “If you ever fight a ninja, don’t pull down his mask. He’s got a blade in his mouth he will spit at you and kill you.” Having dispensed this profound wisdom, he then nodded to himself, as though a sacred duty had been discharged.

This exchange, as you might expect, raised several questions.

  • How did Scott come by this valuable information?
  • Was there a ninja problem in or around Saint Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Nashua, NH that I was unaware of at the time?
  • Given what I knew of ninjas as deadly assassins, what made Scott think I would be alive long enough in a ninja fight to take an action like pulling down my adversary’s mask?
  • Did this advice apply to The Hamburglar as well? Different style of mask, but still, better safe than sorry, yeah?
  • [stammering sounds of starting but not finishing any words] What?

I was not able to ask Scott any of these questions because the service started immediately after he finished, and I think this was my last experience as an altar server. I forgot to ask him after the service and I never saw him again. I hope Scott had the wherewithal to heed his own advice and avoided this great blunder in all of his own ninja fights.

I am not sure why this particular memory has stuck with me for all these years. It could be that it was the only direct advice I ever received on ninja fighting. It could be the timing of the advice. It could be a lot of things. But whatever, the reason, his heart or his shoes, he stood there on Christmas Eve hating the Whos… Note to self: Delete this last sentence before you publish.

Assumptions and judgements

No matter how hard we may try to avoid it or even deny it, advice we give is pretty much always built upon a foundation of assumptions and/or judgements we are making about the recipient(s) of our advice. We may do some work to turn at least some of these into reasons to justify to ourselves that we should be giving the advice, but I don’t feel that any advice can be totally assumption-free or judgement-free. Assumption and Judgement are pretty much always there, hidden within advice, even if we can’t see them. You looked up the Trojan Horse already, yeah? Didn’t want to assume.

Here are some assumptions and judgements, based on my own experiences, that can be problematic during the advice-giving-receiving process.

  • The recipient is “other” in some way and therefore needs to take action to fix or overcome that otherness.
    • There are SO MANY examples that fit here. And SO MANY of them involve folks with power slapping labels on folks without power and then blaming the labelled for their problems. The main thing I try to think it about is what makes me think my would-be advice recipient needs advice? Some common judgement pitfalls here are:
      • Anyone with less money than we have is lazy and just needs to work harder.
      • Anyone with a mental health challenge is weak and just needs to suck it up.
      • Anyone that is fatter than we are is unhealthy.
  • The recipient has reason to give a shit what the advice-giver has to say.
    • I, for one, summarily dismiss any “advice” from folks who claim to be “wellness” experts or extoll how they or their products/services are endorsed by Goop.
    • The fact that Dr. Oz is a cardiac surgeon makes it SO MUCH WORSE that he spreads health misinformation since he KNOWS it is bullshit but spreads it anyway. The average moron on TikTok or Instagram can claim at least some amount of ignorance here. Dr. Oz can’t.
  • The recipient is capable of taking advice at this time.
    • I have learned through experience that when my oldest daughter storms into her bedroom and slams her door, choosing this moment to give her advice on any topic is not a fruitful endeavor.
    • Someone who is actually on fire is unlikely to be able to take advice on any topic.
  • The advice is constructive, new information to the receiver.
    • A depressed person doesn’t need you to tell them to keep their chin up, upper lip stiff, hopes up, or any other vapid bullshit. We have heard it all before. It is not new. It is not helpful.
    • A fat person doesn’t need you telling them what to eat or not eat or to be reminded that they don’t look like you. We have heard it all before. It is not new. It is not helpful.
  • The recipient will see the advice as a well-intentioned attempt on the advice-giver’s part to be helpful.
    • All of the above items in this list make it VERY difficult to provide meaningful, helpful, well-timed advice that will actually have a positive effect on the recipient.
    • This often leads to friction between the advice-giver and the recipient, culminating in an exasperated, “I’m just trying to help!”

Applying assumptions and judgements to Scott

  • The recipient is “other” in some way and therefore needs to take action to fix or overcome that otherness.
    • This particular pitfall, while it applies with tremendous frequency at large, does not apply well to my example with Scott. But I chose the example with Scott anyway because it is funnier than some of my other options. It’s my blog. I’ll do what I want.
  • The recipient has reason to give a shit what the advice-giver has to say.
    • I remember Scott as a decent fellow. Still, he had provided no prior reason as to why his advice on tactical decisions for fighting ninjas should carry any weight. So, Scott literally missed the Mark on this one.
  • The recipient is capable of taking advice at this time.
    • I this case, I was emotionally just a little nervous as I was about to enter a church full of hundreds of people and I had duties that were highly visible. But I wasn’t in a highly emotional state that would have prevented me from receiving advice. So, I guess Scott got this one.
  • The advice is constructive, new information to the receiver.
    • I was not already aware of the particular danger in attempting to unmask a ninja (during combat or even during more mundane activities like drinking pina coladas or getting caught in the rain).
    • I had never thought about how I would fight a ninja in general, much less pulling down the mask of said ninja as a worthwhile combat tactic, so I’m tempted to give this one to Scott.
    • However, the constructiveness of this advice presupposes I had the necessary reflexes, attributes, skills, and/or equipment that would allow me to survive a ninja fight long enough to take ANY action whatsoever (I am not counting bleeding, dying, etc., as actions on my part).
    • Given that, I will give Scott only partial credit here.
      • This event with Scott took place before the Internet took off so there was not a “How to survive a ninja attack” resource easily at hand. I looked up “How to survive a ninja attack” on the Internet just now and the results were more entertaining (and numerous) than I expected.
      • This is more of a testimonial than advice, so I think I’m good.
  • The recipient will see the advice as a well-intentioned attempt on the advice-giver’s part to be helpful.
    • Since, as I have shared above, Scott was a decent fellow, I am going to give him the benefit of the doubt on this one. I have no reason he expected me to take this advice poorly, particularly when there was at least some outside chance that it could save my life. Thank you, Scott.

Wrapping Up

Giving advice has consequences that should not be taken lightly by either the advice-giver or the recipient. Advice can change lives, but not always for the better. It is not hyperbole to say that there are people who are dead today because someone that had no business giving advice did so anyway and people believed them. If you find yourself tempted to give advice, take my advice, and think long and hard before you do.