Interactive Books

Growing up I learned to treat books with a peculiar reverence. There were rules I picked up along the way, often from school, but sometimes from other places. Among those rules were:

  1. Do not break the spine of a paperback book.
  2. Do not dog-ear a page to mark your place.
  3. Do not write in or otherwise deface the book.

As a child these rules were as unbreakable to me as any rule decreed from on high. As an adult, I look back on these rules with sadness and scorn. Books are meant to be interactive, and all three of these rules prevent one from properly interacting with a book.

If I was giving advice to my kids today, I’d revise these rules. Here are Jamie’s Rules for Interactive Books.

1. Break the Spine of a Paperback Book

Books are meant to be read. I used to read paperbacks in such a way as to avoid breaking their spines, but I was always uncomfortable and could never fully sink into the book. Hold a book however makes you comfortable. If that means cracking its spine, crack it. It is much easier to break the spine of a paperback and lay it flat on the table beside your ham and cheese sandwich than it is to try holding a book in one hand and eating the ham and cheese with the other.

2. Dog-ear the Page to Mark Your Place

If a bookmark is not readily available, dog-ear the page to mark your place. What does it hurt? The book is not screaming out in pain, and you’ll find where you left off that much easier. If pages were not meant to be dog-eared, books would still be made of stone. I still try to avoid dog-earing pages when I can. I use business cards as bookmarks, but I am constantly losing my bookmarks, and I am no longer afraid to dog-ear a page to keep my place.

Both of these rules allow books to take on a used, well-worn feel. That’s how books should look. My bookshelves are filled with a thousand books, many of which are well-worn. I much prefer looking at well-worn bookshelves than the pristine shelves you find in Barnes & Noble and places like that. Well-worn books remind me of libraries.

3. Write In Your Books

Writing in a book makes it your own. It is the ultimate form of interaction. As a child, my schools discouraged writing in books as the books had to be reused again and again by other students. This made it hard for me to write in books as I got older, but I eventually shed those fears. I write in books constantly these days. I highlight passages, I make notes in the margins. I can come back to the book and see my thoughts, what passages impressed me. Those, along with the dog-eared pages and the cracked spines provide a kind of archeological history of my interaction with the book.

These are the rules that I am teaching to my kids. Books are containers of knowledge. They are meant to be interacted with. Reverence for books is not found in a physical form (after all, there are e-books, and audiobooks) but in their content.

Our Summer Vacation

I am just back from a big family vacation. To celebrate my parent’s 50th wedding anniversary, we rented a big house in the wilds of Vermont. My brother and his family, my sister and her family, my family, and my parents all spent a week there. It was isolated. That meant no cell service, but it also meant clear night skies with more stars than I can recall seeing in many years. After the week in Vermont, me, Kelly, and the kids headed to Newport, Rhode Island for a few days.

It was a fun vacation, but not a relaxing one. We kept busy. Here are some of the things we did:

  • Visited a local farm.
  • Attended a Vermont Lake Monsters baseball game. It had everything. Home runs, wild pitches, balks, pass-balls.
  • Hired a photographer for a big family photo shoot. I’m not sure we got a picture with everyone smiling at once.
  • Visited the Ben & Jerry’s factory. It was late in the day and we didn’t want to wait for the tour. Instead, we visited the graveyard of retired flavors.
  • Visited a children’s science museum on a rainy day in which everyone else in the State of Vermont had the same idea.
  • Looked at Jupiter and Saturn through my binoculars. Many of the kids saw the Galilean moons for the first time.
  • Cooked lots of food. Even so, I came home 3 pounds lighter than when I left. I’m not kidding: this was a busy vacation.
  • Had lots of bonfires at night. Then took showers before bed to wash the smell of the bonfire away so as to avoid making the bedsheets smell like smoke.
  • Went tubing down a river.
  • Walked through the nearby town and bought $16 worth of books at their book festival on the green.
  • Saw several covered bridges.
  • Hiked down into Quechee Gorge. Hiked back up again. Both ways, with the baby strapped to me.
  • Spent time at a local lake. Took the Little Miss out in a kayak. We went to the very center of the lake, where it was peaceful. It was probably the quietest moment of the vacation.
  • Toured three of Newport’s famous mansions.

It was great to spend time with the extended family. I don’t get to see my brother and his family very often and to spend a week together was a lot of fun. But it was exhausting, and I woke up this morning feeling worn out and in desperate need of a vacation.

One remarkable thing happened on vacation: I did not touch a keyboard or a look at a computer screen for 11 consecutive days. I found that I didn’t miss it either. I returned from vacation wondering how I could spend less time touching keyboards and looking at computer screens.

Now, I am counting the days to our winter vacation in December. Vacations are funny like that.

Verizon vs. Me

When we bought our house 8 years ago the previous owner had subscribed to Verizon’s Fios services. We opted for Cox instead of Verizon. It is a decision I have never regretted. The few times we’ve had an issue with our cable or Internet over the last 8 years, Cox has always resolved the problem quickly. Their customer service is friendly, and helpful.

Each week for the last 8 years I get a mailing from Verizon urging me to switch to their service. Sometimes this is little more than a cardstock advertisement. Other times, it is a more elaborate campaign, a thick fancy envelop that looks like it is stuffed with lots of important things. What it is stuffed with is nothing more than an offer to switch to Verizon.

Week after week, year after year, these mailings get tossed in a wastebasket that sits just inside the front door. The entire purpose of this wastebasket is to catch the week’s load of junk mail, unopened. I have never responded to Verizon, never taken them up on their offer to switch. I am happy with Cox and the service they provide.

Does Verizon not take the hint? You’d think after something on the order of 416 mailings, someone at Verizon would get the idea that I am not a likely customer. You’d think that their sophisticated software would parse out the fact that I have never shown any interest in their service, despite 416 attempts to get me to switch.

I often imagine someone in a cubicle at Verizon, looking through the data, and saying, yeah, we’ve sent him 416 mailings, and he hasn’t switched yet, but the 417th mailing will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. This is the same person, I imagine, who is certain that the next lottery ticket they buy will hit the jackpot.

And how much it is costing Verizon for me to ignore them? Let’s say that all-in, each mailing costs $1 (postage, preparation, materials, labor, everything). $416 bucks is a lot to invest on someone who obviously is not switching to your service.

I feel badly about this. So let me help you out Verizon, as plainly and simply as I can:

I’m happy with Cox, and I have no plans to switch to Verizon. Period. End of story.

I Read More with Audiobooks

I began listening to audiobooks in 2013. I did this out of curiosity, but also as a way of trying to get more reading in each day. I wasn’t sure if this would work. After all, narrated books are slower than reading to yourself. (This assumes you don’t speed up the narration.) On the other hand, I can listen to audiobooks at times when reading would be impractical: commuting, exercising, and doing chores around the house, for instance. Still, it wasn’t clear that listening to audiobooks would lead to more reading–until now.

I recently tweaked the reading list I’ve been keeping since 1996. I added page counts to the list. For audiobooks, I added the page count, and listening time. I wrote a script to produce nice little summaries of my reading. Here is what my reading looks like over the last 21-1/2 years:

Reading List Summary

The green hash marks represent paper books. The blue plus signs represent ebooks, and the yellow @ signs represent audiobooks. Since 1996, I’ve read a total of 683 books, for more than 270,000 pages worth of reading. That averages to 31 books per year, and about 12,500 pages per year. The average book length over the course of 21-1/2 years is 404 pages.

In order to see if I have read more with audiobooks, I needed to establish a baseline: how much did I read before audiobooks? I started reading audiobooks in 2013, so I ran a summary of my reading through 2012. Here is the results:

Reading list thru 2012

In the 17 years between 1996 – 2012, I read 501 books, not one of which was an audiobook. I averaged 29 books per year. The average book was 386 pages. And here is the key statistic for our purposes today: I averaged 11,381 pages of reading each year.

Next, I ran a summary of my reading since 2013, when I began reading audiobooks. Since I want to capture complete years, I ran this through 2016. That gives me four years of reading data with audiobooks. Here is the results:

Reading List 2013-2016

Between 2013 – 2016, I read 159 books, 132 of which were audiobooks (that’s 83%). I averaged 39 books per years, ten more per year than the previous 17 years combined. The average books was 459 pages, which tells me I was reading longer books in those 4 years. Most telling, I averaged 18,255 pages per year. When compared to the 11,381 pages of the previous 17 years, it is pretty obvious to me that audiobooks let me get in more reading than before I listened to them.

An interesting side-note: When I started keeping track of the books I read in 1996, I did so with the goal of trying to read a book a week; that is, 52 books a year. In the 21-1/2 years since, I hit and exceeded this goal only once. That was in 2013, my first year listening to audiobooks. I read 54 books that year, most of which were audiobooks.

Goodreads and an Updated Reading List

Over the holiday weekend I took another look at Goodreads to see if it had improved at all in the years since I gave up using it. It hadn’t. There were a few more features, but it was still just as cumbersome to use as I remembered, and the UI is pretty awful. After playing around with it, I decided to keep with my simple, text-based reading list.

I did, however, decide that my list could use some sprucing up. To that end, I made two changes to the list:

  1. I converted it from a .txt file to a .md (Markdown) file. This was entirely cosmetic. In Markdown format, the file looks better when browsed in GitHub, where I host it.

  2. I added page counts to each of the books in the list. I’ve been wanting to do this for a while, but didn’t have the time, and then I brute-forced my way through it over the weekend.

As of today, there are 682 books on my reading list since January 1, 1996. Given my current pace, I think it is reasonable to assume that I will hit 700 books before the year is out.

For those who want to see the list, the most recent version is always available on GitHub.

Time Off

My absence here has been noted, so I wanted to pop in for a moment and assure everyone that I am fine. The day job is very busy, family life is busy, and I needed some time off something in order to ease the passage of the day, so I am taking some time off here.

Meanwhile, I’m getting some more reading done, and I’m trying to help out more around the house. I catch the occasionally ballgame now and then.

No doubt I will be back, once I have given myself a suitable break. I just wanted everyone to know why you haven’t seen me here in a while.

“You Should Read This!”

My favorite lists are reading lists. To-do list may be a necessity for someone with a flighty memory like mine. Grocery lists help keep the fridge (and our bellies) full. Reading lists are a delight. I have kept a list of every book I’ve finished since 1996. I wish I’d started sooner. I enjoy finding other people’s lists, and that is why I broke a rule, and found myself skimming a LinkedIn post the other day with Bill Gates’ summer reading.

I broke a second rule that day. I read the comments. It serves me right. The rules are there for a reason. What would civilized society be without rules? The comments on any major online publication provide a good illustration.

For the most part, they weren’t too bad. The most annoying comments were the many people who thought they were clever by telling Mr. Gates they were surprised not to find their book on the list, and kindly providing him with a link to the Amazon purchase. Also annoying were those people critical of Mr. Gates’ reading choices.

Perhaps the most common comment of all were those people who insisted on telling Bill Gates which books he should | must | just has to read. I’m going to let you in on a little secret I’ve been keeping for a long time. I rarely read books that people recommend to me.

I can no longer recall how many times I’ve been caught reading a book by a friend, a colleague, or even a stranger, who, upon seeing what I am reading, will say, “Have you ever read SUCH-AND-SUCH? You just have to read it.” Family members have recommended books that have gone unread by me. I don’t think I am ever rude about it, and I will often pull out my notebook and jot down the title and author. But I am really just being polite. The chances of me reading a book recommended to me is pretty slim. Looking through the list of books I’ve read, there are probably less than ten that were recommended by someone else. Less than ten. Out of nearly 700.

Reading is a personal thing to me, and few people know my tastes as well as I do. That is not to say that I don’t branch out, or try new things, but usually, recommendations come from what I happen to be reading. For instance, I recently finished a biography of the great sportswriter Red Smith. Within the book, I read how Smith was once interviewed by Jerry Holtzman for his book No Cheering in the Pressbox. I knew right away I wanted to read that book and I made a note in the margin (something I frequently do while reading) to look it up.


For me, reading is like flying a kite: I go where the wind takes me. I think back to books that my teachers recommended I read while in school. (I could choose not to read the book, but it might affect my grade.) With only a few exceptions did I actually find the recommendation interesting, insightful, or enjoyable.

I tend to read in phases. Right now I’m in the midst of a baseball mania. I’m on my 10th baseball book in less than a month. Someone might see me reading a biography of Casey Stengel and say, “You should really read The Last Season by Phil Jackson.” Sure, they are both sports books, and both written by people who played and managed their respective sports, but one sport is not the other. I have no interest in basketball.

Many recommendations come as non-sequiturs. I could be reading a collection of Andy Rooney essays, and a friend might suggest whatever bestseller he or she just finished. It might even be a book that I’d be interested in reading, but there’s no way I’m going to stop what I am reading for that. And since I usually know what I am going to read next, there’s no point in adding it to an imaginary list of stuff I will read one day. Maybe I’ll get to it and maybe I won’t. A book has to hit me at just the right time and place, otherwise, I’m not interested.

I try to keep this in mind when I recommend books to others. When I write a review, I try to cast it as a book I enjoyed, and here’s why. I try hard not to say, “You should read this!” although, as my dad will attest, I am not always successful.

I appreciate the thought behind book recommendations, but four decades of reading have created a reading style and pattern of thought that is just not geared for generalized book recommendations. This is true for Bill Gates, too. I read through his summer reading list and nothing on the list stirred my interest.

The Best Books on Writing

I have had dozens of great writing teachers over the years. The best writing teachers were those that taught through example: Isaac Asimov, Stephen King, and most recently, Red Smith. The lessons I took from these three writers were more valuable than any lesson I ever saw in a how-to book on writing. I’m always suspicious of how-to books on writing because nearly every writer works differently. Something that works well for the author of a how-to book does not necessary work well for the reader of such a book.

My approach to learning to write has been different. I’ve read lots of books about writers (autobiographies, or biographies) and tried to find those writers whose work styles are similar to my own. It is much easier for me to take lessons from writers who think like I do than it is for me to try to change my behavior based on a series of exercises and instructions in a how-to book.

Isaac Asimov’s 2-volume autobiography In Memory Yet Green and In Joy Still Felt (which clock in at over 1,500 pages in total) is one of three best books on writing that I’ve ever come across. The book is an incredibly detailed account of the first 58 years of Asimov’s life. In its introduction, Asimov justifies his reasoning for such a lengthy tome:

At twenty-nine, I had never published a book. Now I have published two hundred. There seems to be a widespread belief… that no one can possibly write two hundred books of both fiction and nonfiction, in dozens of categories at all age levels, without being, somehow, an interesting person.

Asimov goes on to then give the reason I found the book so useful for learning to write:

Besides, it might be helpful to ambitious young people or to curious not-so-young people to see How I Did It.

That is, the book details how one writer made his slow, methodical way into print. The lessons are far more practical than anything I’ve seen in how-to book on writing because you get a peek into how one writer actually did it. And in Asimov’s case, how he became so prolific and successful. It is not a get rich quick manual; it is not a manual on how to write the next bestseller. Asimov didn’t write his first bestseller until 1981, two years after the autobiography first saw print.

The lessons in Asimov’s biography went beyond the craft of writing. It was from this book that I learned a lot of the business of writing, and my worldview was formed through Asimov’s eyes.

For craft, Stephen King’s On Writing is the best book on writing that I have come across. Parts of On Writing form more of a traditional “how-to” for writing, but the emphasis in those part are on the basic tools that all writers need. Good spelling and grammar, a grasp of the language, some basic skill to begin with.

King’s book was a revelation to me. I’d been flailing around, before I’d read On Writing. I’d sold two stories, and was trying to figure out what my process was. Reading how King worked, I realized that we worked similarly and he had figured out a way that worked well for both of us. He refers to his method as writing with the door open, and writing with the door closed. In his first draft, he tells himself the story, no one else. It can be messy, and disjointed. The important thing is getting the story out. In the second draft, he writes with the door open, telling the story to the reader. This is much easier for me, once I know the story. I found this method to be incredibly useful, and I’ve stuck with it ever since.

Red Smith was a famous sportswriter from the late 1920s through the early 1980s. I was recently reading a collection of his columns, and found them to be so good that I just had to find out more about the man. It turned out that the person who wrote the forward to the collection, Ira Berkow, had, in the mid-80s, written a biography of Red Smith called Red: The Life & times of a Great American Writer. I procured a copy and set to reading it. I was immediately engrossed.

It is one of the best biographies of a writers I’ve come across, and it contains countless lessons in the craft of writing–through the example of one writer. Smith was prolific in the sense that he write a thousand-word column every day. That takes stamina. It takes even more stamina when you don’t get it right the first time. As readers we see only the finished copy, and we might be forgiven for believing that what we are reading came out of the typewriter or word processor exactly as we see it.

The Smith biography showed that even the best try and try and try to get it right:

He’d sit at the typewriter and paper would pile up. You know, false leads, crazy leads. He’d crumble ’em up and throw ’em away. Until finally he got what he wanted, and he’d bat it out in an hour or an hour and a half.

Smith learned to write surrounded by interruptions, something that I had to learn to do when I realized that often the only time I had to do writing was when the kids were home and the TV was blaring in the background. Smith learned how to adjust his writing when necessary. After selling a piece to the Saturday Evening Post

Smith understood that if he were to continue selling to the slicks, he must of course avoid the “sportswriter’s occupational ailment of overwriting.”

Lessons like these, lessons based on life-experience, have been far more useful to me than any single lesson in a how-to book on writing. They have been more valuable than any single creative writing course, or even feedback from a writer’s group. These kinds of lessons have made me a better writer, and it is part of my continuing education to see out more books like these, and read about writers I admire, in an effort to find ways of improving my own writing.

I am lucky to have had Isaac Asimov, Stephen King, and Red Smith in my corner.

A Better Offer

Occasionally, while reading a really good book, I get a better offer. I have to set what I am reading aside, no matter how good it is, and start reading something else. I don’t do this lightly, and I take on quite a bit of guilt for doing it. (This post is my penance.) Such a sudden shift is almost always the result of the serendipitous nature of reading. Let me give an example.

Back in April, after reading a couple of books by or about journalists, I decided I wanted some more. It so happens that the baseball writer, Tom Verducci, had just come out with The Cubs Way, his book on the Chicago Cubs World Championship last year. I decided to read that.

Well, one thing led to another, and I went on a baseball rampage. I read Zach Hample’s Watching Baseball Smarter, then Jon Pessah’s The Game. I followed that up with Jason Turbow’s The Baseball Codes. Then I read Stephen Jay Gould’s outstanding collection of baseball writing, Triumph and Tragedy in Mudville. I read Verducci and Joe Torre’s The Yankee Years, and because I was reading so much baseball, I decided to re-read W.P. Kinsella’s Shoeless Joe. I wanted some good old school baseball writing after that. I had a Roger Angell collection and a Red Smith collection, and I opted for the latter, Red Smith’s On Baseball.

One can’t read Red Smith’s wonderful baseball writing without wanting to know more about Smith himself. Wikipedia wasn’t enough. I happened to be doing a search for the fellow who wrote the forward to Smith’s collection, Ira Berkow, and discovered that he’d written a biography of Red Smith. I ordered it at once.

That book arrived today, and although I am only halfway through Smith’s On Baseball (a young kid named Mantle just made his major league debut), I am so eager to read the Smith biography that I am setting aside the Smith collection to do so. I hate doing it, and I feel suitably guilty for my action, but Ira Berkow made me a better offer.

I rationalize this better offer by telling myself that the second half of Smith’s collection will be even better when I know Smith better thanks to the biography. I don’t know if that is true, but that’s my story, etc., etc.

There is a danger to better offers. One better offer has the chance of leading to another, and you end up spending a month or two doing nothing but reading the first half of books. Then, too, there is the chance that the Smith biography will lead me down some unseen serendipitous path. Down that path is madness; I might never make it back to the Smith collection. But it’s a chance I’m willing to take. I’ve honed this instinct of mine for decades, and I’ve learned to trust it.

I just wish I didn’t feel so guilty about it.

Last Impressions of My Karma Go

Way back in August 2015 I wrote about my first impressions with my Karma Go hotspot device. The service was just what I had been looking for: a no-fees, pay-as-you-go hotspot for those times when I was away from normal Internet connectivity.

Last week, I canceled my Karma Go account. I used it with fair frequency in the intervening months, but the service offerings changed so dramatically from what was initially presented that it just wasn’t worth it anymore. When the Karma Go was introduced, the company emphasized that users did not require subscriptions:

With Karma, you always pay-as-you-go. We’ll alert you when you are almost out of data and confirm before you pay. Simple.

This was just what I wanted. Karma called this their “Refuel” account. Later they added a “Neverstop” option that allowed for unlimited access for a monthly fee. This was eliminated eventually, and other services were added, all of which seemed to require some kind of subscription. But Refuel limped along until last week. That’s when I received notice that Karma was no longer offering the Refuel option. I was given the choice of grandfathering in my Refuel account for “a small \$2.95 monthly Grandfather account fee.” That was it for me. I canceled my account.

I see two reasons for Karma’s rapid move away from Refuel accounts and unlimited data accounts:

  1. Simple bait-and-switch. Get a lot of people using the service, and then swap things out in order to make more money. This is the cynical viewpoint, and I try to avoid this, but the alternative isn’t much better.

  2. Poor business planning. It could be that the folks at Karma really wanted to offer the service they set out to provide, and were too naive to realize how people would take advantage of pay-as-you-go and unlimited data options. This is simply poor planning, and shows a lack of understanding in how people use the Internet, how people pay for services, and the costs of providing such a service.

This was one of those instances where I found a product that seemed ideal, and slowly morphed into something that was more of a hassle than it was worth. I wonder how many Refuel users will opt-in to the Refuel program and pay the monthly fee. I decided to opt out and cancel, leaving data on the table. Three dollars isn’t that much, but months go by when I don’t use my Karma at all. Karma started out by promising no subscription, and has since morphed into what seems to me to be an entirely subscription-based service. That’s not the kind of service I’m looking for, and it’s not the kind of company I’m looking to give my business to any longer.

Intentional Nonsense

It happened the other day in the Yankee game. With a runner on second (and possibly third) and less than two outs, Joe Girardi signaled the home plate umpire to indicate he wanted to intentionally walk a batter. No pitches were thrown. The batter just walked to first base.

Prior to the 2017 season, an intentional walk was executed by the pitcher deliberately hurling four outside pitches, usually with the catcher standing behind the plate and holding a glove to one side to indicate intention. The rationale for the new rule, omitting the tosses home, is that it will save time and speed up the pace of the game. I said it before, and I’ll say it again: that’s a bunch of nonsense.

In 2015 Major League Baseball saw an average of one intentional pass every 5 games. Assuming it takes one minute to complete an intentional pass from the time the batter steps into the box to the time he reaches first base, that’s about 12 seconds per game on average. With an average game time of 3 hours and 26 seconds in 2016, the new rule shortens the average game to 3 hours and 14 seconds.

What’s more, the new rule removes some of the wonderful randomness from the game that makes it a delight to watch. Occasionally, a ball will get by the catcher and things can get exciting when that happens. Major League Baseball, looking to speed up the game by 12 seconds, ignores the potential excitement factor.

And then there is the occasional strategy behind tossing the ball for an intentional pass. One need only recall Rollie Fingers’ free pass to Johnny Bench during game 3 of the 1973 World Series:

While the change seems harmless, I suspect it will have unexpected side-effects. Since pitchers don’t have to make the four pitches for the intentional pass, their pitch counts are four pitches lower in a game than they might otherwise be. For pitchers on a count limit, that means pulling them four pitches later than they might have been pulled before. This might seem like a small thing, but those late game pitches can be the difference between a W or an L.

All of that is beside the point. There are other ways that Major League Baseball can speed up a baseball game, just as there are ways that the NFL can speed up a football game. How about cutting the number of commercials between half-innings. Cutting one 30-second spot between half-innings would save about 8 minutes, or forty times the savings the new intentional pass rule introduces into the game. If the argument is a speedier game will bring more eyes to advertising, then sacrificing 8 minutes per game for larger audience for advertisers to sell to seems to make sense.

How much you wanna bet Major League Baseball will take an intentional pass on this suggestion?

The Strongman and the Dancer

After months of practice, the Little Miss appeared in a big dance recital held on Saturday at a local high school. In the days leading up to the event, the Little Miss was calm, collected, and completely unconcerned about performing in front of an audience of a few hundred people, and television cameras for the local cable access channel. If she was nervous, she didn’t show it. Kelly helped her get into her costume, a bright yellow dress. The Little Miss’s hair was pulled back in a pony tail. That, combined with some light makeup make her look absolutely adorable.

The Little Miss might not have been anxious about the upcoming performance, but I was. We arrived at the theater nearly an hour before the performance and staked out seats at the front of the theater, center-right. There were a total of 18 performances, and the Little Miss’s came third after the intermission, well over an hour into the proceedings.

I watched the performances with slight detachment. I kept thinking about how my little girl was brave enough to get up in front of this audience and dance. In kindergarten, I played the role of the strongman in the class circus. I had to stand in front of the audience and lift a pair of yellow balloons separated by a cardboard tube over my head and pretend it was so heavy. I remember arriving home afterward and bursting into tears. At the time, I had no idea why, but looking back on it, I think it was the stress of performing, and doing it in front of an audience.

There was a solo performance that preceded the Little Miss’s class. And then, the curtains were opening and the Little Miss was the first of her group out onto the stage. She smiled and showed no fear. They danced to “Put On A Happy Face.” The Little Miss was absolutely wonderful. Her expressions were perfect, a mixture of joy and careful concentration.

Partway through the performance, the dancers end up in a line running along the center of the stage, back-to-front. The Little Miss was second from the front. Each dancer makes some funny move with their arms, and then runs to one side of the stage or the other. The Little Miss was first to dash to the left side. Once there, she watched her fellow dancers do their move, and as each did, she vibrated with joy and urged them to their spot on the stage beside her.

As the audience applauded, I was once again that young kid, just finished lifting two balloonfuls of helium. Tears were running down my cheeks. This time, however, I knew why. My little girl was happy, and I was so proud of her. That’s what it is all about.