Fake News Isn’t Going Away, so We Have to Be Smarter

folded newspapers
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Ever wonder why people believe in fake news? I used to believe it was confirmation bias, which is the usual explanation. Confirmation bias says we tend to believe what we want to believe based on what we already believe. In other words, if you have an abiding hatred for networking events, as I do, you’d be delighted to read a news story that says networking events are the leading cause of all natural disasters and were actually invented by Hitler. You and I would very much like to believe that story.

But it turns out that confirmation bias is only part of the problem. The real issue is that some people just don’t like to think. And it’s the lack of critical thinking that is keeping fake news from dying. We believe fake news because we don’t have enough energy, desire, or ability to think our way through it.

If you want to read more about some research in this area, check out one of my latest articles for ArcDigital.  It’s called “We Aren’t Too Partisan to Spot Fake News; We’re Too Lazy.”

The Toxic Workplace: When Work Blows

purple liquid poison on brown wooden surface
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Have you ever worked in a toxic workplace? In some cases, a single toxic person can make going to work every morning feel like descending into the depths of hell.

Did you know that incivility is the gateway to toxic culture? The uncivil behaviors that we all learn to live with–like the co-worker who is perpetually rude–build up and then create a culture that’s so toxic, nobody wants to stay in it. And those who do are burned out and do less work.

We’ve become inured to incivility because we just expect it. For instance, a million years ago, I worked in a shoe store on commission with a person who would tell customers that the rest of us were “new” and “didn’t know much.” She used that as a way to build her credibility so customers would ask for her. That’s incivility.

In another job, I had a senior co-worker who regularly asked me for personal favors (outside of work hours). If I said no to a request–like the time she asked me to take her to the airport at 4 am–she would pout and tell me that I “owed” her tasks at work to make up for this. That’s incivility.

A friend told me about a time she’d sent out an organization-wide email about the death of a colleague. She’d accidentally included a very small typo in the email that didn’t change the meaning of it. A co-worker called her and told her that she was unprofessional and should be ashamed of her shoddy work. That’s incivility.

So what can we do about incivility? We can kill it. We can refuse to stand for it. Here’s an article I wrote about how to do that.

What incivilities have you encountered? Have you been uncivil? (I admit that I’ve been guilty of incivilities.)


An Open Letter to Kevin, the Trick-or-Treater

adult celebration child costume
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Dear Kevin:

You came to my door on Halloween, dressed in an unidentifiable costume, and I proffered you candy as requested. We’d never met before, so you might be wondering how I know your name. I know it because your friend or sister yelled, “Kevin!!!” at you several times.

You asked me what my costume was. I was wearing jeans and a sweater. I told you I was dressed as myself. You made a scared face and sarcastically said, “Wow, that’s a scary costume.” I wasn’t offended. You aren’t the first smartass kid I’ve met before. I even laughed a little. Then you grabbed a handful of candy and ran off while your friend/sister yelled at you: “Kevin!!!” and apologized to me for your behavior.

I’m going to do you a solid here, Kev, and give you some advice. I know you are only fourteen, and you probably won’t suck so much in a few years, but right now, you suck pretty hard.

Let me give you some advice from the perspective of someone dressed as myself.

That sad little mustache isn’t doing you any favors.
At first I thought it was part of your costume, and then I realized it was tragic facial hair. That scraggly little line is traumatic for everyone. Just shave it off. It won’t take you long.

You might be too old to trick-or-treat. 
I’m not one of those scrooges who refuses to hand out candy based on age.

But you, Kevin, in spite of your obvious immaturity, should probably sit out Halloween next year. A general rule of thumb, as you’ll find out soon, is that anyone with a mustache must buy his own candy.

If someone offers you candy, don’t grab a handful.
That’s just rude, Kevin. You’re the reason we can’t leave a bowl of candy on the porch and invite people to help themselves. You’re exactly the sort of person the world doesn’t need more of.

Stop making your sister scold you. 
She was clearly younger than you, but already she was playing the role of your mother. Don’t act like a jerk. Let her have some fun without worrying about you and your bad manners.

Being a teen is tough, Kevin, but you’re not making it easier on yourself or anyone around you.

Next year do yourself a favor: Go dressed as the new you (minus the mustache).

In return, I’ll agree to hand out candy to anyone who asks, laugh at anyone’s dumb jokes, and forget what a jerk you were this year.



If You Recline Your Seat on a Plane, You Are a Monster

White and Red Plane Beside Clouds Low-angle Photography

I’m currently 20 minutes into a four-hour flight from Nashville to Los Angeles. The people in front of me have just reclined. Not just a little. They have full-on reclined. They have nested.

They’ve left me about three inches of leg room and a seatback screen angled in such a way that only my boobs could comfortably watch TV. My traveling companion is only slightly better off, but only because her legs are shorter.

Look, I understand that airplane seats are capable of reclining, which seems to suggest some sort of invitation. I don’t buy it. My speedometer on my car goes up to 160 miles per hour. I don’t think Nissan is inviting me to drive that fast. I’m certainly capable of eating an entire bag of fun-sized Snickers bar. I shouldn’t, though.

If we want to live in a civilized world, I think we all need to agree that there is only one appropriate circumstance in which you are okay to recline your seat: When the plane is going down.

I’d also accept reclining a seat on an overnight flight (when everybody is reclining). If you recline in other circumstances,  it’s polite to ask the people behind you. I would have said yes. But at least I’d know these degenerate humans had some basic decency!

I should have known these two were going to be Recliners. I could tell by looking at them. They are in their 60s. He’s wearing jeans and a Patagonia sweatshirt. I didn’t see the title of the book he was carrying, but I’m positive it was The Art of The Deal. She has blonde highlights and a Louis Vuitton tote. She is currently using a cashmere scarf as a pillow. I know this because she casually left the tail end dangling over my seat screen. I’ve named them Milt and Mitzi.

They sleep like babies, waking only to order cans of LaCroix. They might be nice enough people off this plane, if you can get past the undeniable fact that they are heinous.

In a plane of 150 seats, they are the only Recliners. Even the guy wearing middle school gym shorts seated next to me has managed to stay upright.

In addition to felony reclining, here is a list of other things you should never do on a plane:

  • Have excessive body odor.
  • Take off your shoes (unless you are wearing socks).
  • Cough without covering your mouth.
  • Be surprised when your steamer trunk of a carry-on doesn’t fit in the overhead.

We are somewhere over Oklahoma right now. Mitzi has just dropped the arm of her sweater on top of my tray table where I am attempting to drink flat Diet Coke. I’d like to write on it with this pen in my hand, but I have more consideration than that.

I plan to shut it in my tray table.





Freelance Writing: Some Tips

Freelance writing is hard. At least it’s hard for me. If you are a someone for whom it’s easy, please share your secrets!

I’ve been doing an experiment this month. Every day in October, I’m pitching a story to a targeted publication. I’m three weeks into this stunt, and I’ve already learned a lot. (Also, I’m exhausted.)

If you want to read about what I’ve learned, come visit and read my article over at The Writing Cooperative.

Here’s the short version:

  • Read a lot.
  • Write a lot.
  • Get used to rejection. Like, get really, really comfortable with it. Take it out on a date. Write it some letters. Frame its photo for your desk.

There’s more, of course. And not all of it is about rejection. Sometimes you get accepted, and I have a better sense now–after my pitching experiment–about what kind of pitches get noticed.

If you’ve ever wanted to freelance for magazines or other publications, my best advice is to learn how to pitch and then do it A LOT.


I Think I Want to Be Old: How to Know if *You* Have Turned Old

A fundamental rule of the universe is that old age happens overnight. One day you are young and can handily stay up past eleven, the next you have nose hair and don’t understand the plot of any Avengers movie and you think a Kardashian is a meal delivery service.

All old people are different, of course, so one can’t generalize about them as a group. But it is a fact that all old people are marked by one universal trait: They no longer care who hears them fart.

Here are six more differences between the non-old and old:

1.  Old people understand that personal comfort is a human right. Non-old people worry about how they’ll be perceived by others, which is why they do not wear elasticized pants to work.

2. Old people do not care about your party. Old people will send a note that says something along the lines of I didn’t realize you were under the impression that I liked you. I do not. I’m staying home to watch MSNBC and eat Chicken in a Bisket crackers with grape jelly.

Non-old people will attend events with people they do not like because they think social harmony is a virtue. In a pinch, they’ll make up a believable excuse: “Oh, gosh. I so wish I could attend your CrossFit themed birthday party, but I’ve agreed to bottle-feed shelter otters that day.”

3. Old people will gladly and loudly point out that nobody actually knows what a blockchain is.  They know that Twitter is an elaborate social hoax propagated by Silicon Valley.

The non-old do not question stupid things, such as raw milk, mustache pomade, and Pete Davidson, even when they suspect they are being punked.

4. The old are guided by constant low-level outrage by all of the ways the world simply makes no sense. Whoever heard of putting fake desserts on a tray at a restaurant? Whoever heard of going camping in the winter? Why isn’t there a salad bar at every restaurant? Who needs that many tattoos? Why are there holes in brand-new jeans? Whoever heard of brunch? Eat breakfast or lunch. Pick one. Why do they keep letting Tom Cruise be in movies?

The non-old will go with the flow, even if it means doing goat yoga at dawn.

5. Old people waste nothing and save everything. If they have leftovers, they will eat them even if there’s a layer of mold growing on top. The old will spend an afternoon test-driving a car to get a free set of barbecue tools. They will watch all the shows on Netflix to get their money’s worth. They will re-carpet the all-season porch with leftover carpet from the bowling alley. It will glow in the dark. And feature dancing bowling pins.

The non-old are happy to throw things away in a quest for minimalism. Old people think Marie Kondo sells frozen pies.

6. The old expect to have at least one aching body part at all times. They don’t know what mindfulness is, but they do doze sitting up while eating an ice cream cone.

The non-old practice self-care to maintain health, wellness, and Gwyneth Paltrow’s empire.

If you have discovered you are old, don’t panic. Being old is not determined by chronological age. It’s a state of mind.

As it turns out, there is great power in recognizing that the world is off its rocker. The old have seized the right to feel sure of themselves, content with their life, and at peace with the fact that they just listened to an entire audiobook on shuffle and were no more confused than if they had listened to the chapters in order.

The old have seen the most glorious and beautiful aspect of aging, something you simply cannot know until you reach the summit for yourself: When you are old, you don’t have to pretend anymore.

The truth is that brunch is stupid. Now you can say it out loud.

Romance Trope: Characters Who Hate (and Then Love) Each Other

I’m not a big romance reader, but when I do read it, I absolutely love books where the romantic leads begin by disliking each other–either because of some misunderstanding or because of a first impression that leaves one or both cold. I can’t explain why I like this storyline, but I’m sure there’s an explanation that will reveal a lot about my psyche.

Here are my top four favorite books with a hate/love romance trope:

The UnhoneymoonersI read this one after a trusted reader friend recommended it. She told me it was hilarious, and she wasn’t wrong.

Olive and Ethan take a fake honeymoon to Hawaii after her sister and his brother get married and can’t go on the trip. While in Hawaii, they realize they may not hate each other as much as they’d always believe.

The dialogue crackles in this one. Bonus points to the authors (Christina Lauren is a pen name for a writing duo) for featuring a Mexican-American protagonist.


The Hating GameLucy Hutton is really nice. Joshua Templeman is ruthless. They both want the same job, and are forced to work just inches from each other as they compete to win the attention of their shared boss.

Lucy and Joshua absolutely despise each other until Lucy gets a chance to see Joshua in a different light. Her grumpy co-worker is suddenly way more interesting.

Sally Thorne  really gives her characters a lot of dimension. She’s great at dropping them in situations and letting them fight their way out of it.


Bridget Jones's Diary (Bridget Jones, #1)I admit to not being a fan of the movies, but I loved the first book. Bridget’s relationship with Mark Darcy is funny in part because she’s so awkwardly clueless and he’s so tightly wound.

Fielding brilliantly writes Bridget’s voice in such a narrow and limited space (her diary), but that’s part of this book’s charm. Bridget has her head so far up her own butt that she can’t see what we readers can see: Mark doesn’t hate her. Mark is infatuated with her.



I've Got Your NumberPoppy loses her engagement ring, right before she’s about to marry the perfect man, Magnus Tavish. On top of losing her ring, somebody has stolen her phone. But the universe taketh away and the universe giveth back. She finds a phone in a garbage can and takes it. She needs it in case someone finds her ring.

Before long, Poppy and the phone’s rightful owner, are embroiled in each other’s lives in all the best and worst ways.

Nobody writes comic romance better and more consistently than Sophie Kinsella.


More Inappropriate Children’s Books

Not all of these books are children’s books, but I found them all in rare or out-of-print book collections that were marked as children’s or young adult. Enjoy!

circus                                    I feel like circuses are best left to the professionals.


bongAm I wrong that the “bottle” looks like a bong?


EnemiesNot bragging, but I don’t even need this book.


donkeyOne guy, one donkey. No cup.


Tom AssTom Ass


baby operaIt’s opera! But with babies!


teacherHold on. What’s she wearing on her face? I’m confused.




What I Read: September 2019

I can’t believe September is over already, but here we are. It was a good reading month for me. I read eight books and I liked all of them. Here they are:

The Nickel Boys


The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead is one of those books that isn’t easy to read (because of the subject matter), but that is necessary to read. It’s about a “reform school” in Jim-Crow-era Florida and the boys who survived it (and don’t). I think understanding the profound and lasting effects of Jim Crow is a responsibility for white Americans.



The Other Mrs. Miller



I can’t get enough of family-based drama books like The Other Mrs. Miller by Allison Dickson. When a new family movies into the house across the street, reclusive Phoebe Miller gets a little too involved in their lives (and vice versa). 



The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters


I vehemently disagreed with Tom Nichols’ chapter on higher education because it showed a real lack of familiarity with the kind of colleges he criticizes. But the rest of the book is important. We are in a crisis because we don’t just reject expertise; we are proud of rejecting it.



The Turn of the Key


The Turn of the Key is a very clever riff on Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw. It’s about a nanny in remote Scotland who starts to believe, for very good reasons, that someone–or something–is after her. It’s very gothic, slow-moving, and spooky. Great Halloween read.




Home Fire


Home Fire is a brilliant retelling of Sophocles’ Antigone. In this version, the players are Londoners and Pakistani immigrants trying to live in Bush-Blair’s post-9/11 world. This novel presents deep characters and a propulsive plot; it also isn’t afraid to call out the ways in which xenophobia quickly becomes status quo. Kudos to my friend Carly for suggesting it.



The Swallows


I’ll read any book set in a boarding school. The Swallows did not disappoint me. It’s about a reluctant creative writing teacher who stumbles upon a school secret that’s been well-hidden and protected for years. Plucky and interesting students plot to take down the patriarchy. I thought this book was hilarious and poignant.



Ask Again, Yes

Sweeping generational family dramas are definitely my literary jam. Ask Again, Yes is beautifully written and presents two families that I deeply cared about. This is one where it’s better to go in cold. In terms of plot, I’ll just say it’s about two families, living next door to each other, who are linked together for years by people, events, mistakes, hate, and love. This is my first book by Mary Beth Keane and I plan to read more.


Counterproductive: Time Management in the Knowledge Economy


I have been waiting to read a treatise that calls out productivity and time management as a form of colonialism. This book was perfect. My only complaint is it’s the kind of academic analysis I wanted to write while on research leave. I’m glad someone beat me to it because this is better than what I would have written. I wouldn’t recommend this to casual readers, but it’s a good read for anyone who is studying the cultural and rhetorical hegemony that is productivity.


Picking my favorite this month is tough. It’s like choosing among my own children. I think Home Fire is the book that will stick with me the longest. So that’s my pick.

Happy reading in October. Time to cover up in a soft quilt and drink tea while reading. It’s my favorite time of year!