How To Be a More Effective Communicator Than the President

I’ve been a fan of Marc Maron’s WTF podcast quite awhile and was surprised President Barack Obama had decided to visit Marc’s garage in LA and give an interview.


Then I listened to it.

And I got annoyed. (And for anyone who thinks I’m going down Politics Road, sorry to disappoint.)

President Obama is known for giving moving and commanding speeches. However, delivering a prepared speech (read from a teleprompter, notes or even from memory) is a lot different than answering extemporaneous questions or giving an interview.

If you want to be a great communicator, you have to think about all areas of speaking and abstain from some of the problems that have crept into the President’s speech.

Avoid Filler Words

Our Needs Improvement Communicator- in-Chief’s words were sprinkled with ums, uhs and you knows. Known as “filler” words, they have no place in your discourse if you want to sound authoritative.


Here are some examples of things you should work to eradicate from your speaking:

  • Uh, um and er creep into speech when you’re thinking about what you’re going to say next and forget to close your mouth.
  • Like is Valley Girl speak. Or as used by Will.i. am and scolded hysterically by Miriam Margolys in this clip from the BBC’s Graham Norton show
  • Don’t use xerox or repeat words. Here are some examples:  “I-I” or “You know- You know” etc. Just say it once.
  • You know is a phrase that you shouldn’t use unless you need to say “Do you know what you’re doing?” or other appropriate sentences.
  • The words so or and so are unnecessary when you’re transitioning from one sentence to the next.

Don’t Drop Your G’s

Here are some examples of some words ending with g’s: reading, thinking, going, caring, saying…You get it.

Here’s how the President pronounces them: readin’, thinkin’, goin’, carin’, sayin’…


I don’t know where he dropped his G’s, but I hope he doesn’t have to pay for them to stay  there.  Not completely pronouncing a word is fine for casual conversation, but consistently missing a G doesn’t elevate your level of conversation.


Whenever President Obama refers to people, he calls them “folks.”  If this happened occasionally, it could work. However, he does it all the time, even when discussing serious matters.

Please stop.


Being A Great Communicator Takes Practice

Once you’ve learned how to listen for filler and crutch words, you’ll notice them everywhere. You’ll hear them used by politicians, professional athletes, actors and anyone who hasn’t practiced speaking in front of the public.

At Toastmaster meetings, where people can learn to become better speakers, a dog clicker is used each time a person slips up.  The once innocuous tool used to discipline pets becomes a dreaded but effective method to eradicate bad habits in speech. Filler words quickly cease.

If you want to be a better speaker, practice eradicating these small problems from your speech and you’ll be able to say that you are a more effective communicator than the President.


Adding Drama to Public Speaking

Every time we talk, we use different tones of voice, gestures and body language. When it comes to public speaking, it’s no different. After determining what message you want to convey and crafting a speech, be it inspirational, educational or humorous, the hard work has just begun, because it’s time to determine how to present your material.


To give perspective, imagine that tonight you’re attending a charity event where the keynote speaker is going to advocate for those who suffer from Alzheimer’s.

The speaker comes on stage, stops in the center and stands still. He doesn’t make eye contact with the audience. When he speaks, it’s difficult to hear him. If he moves his arms at all, it’s to clasp his hands in the front and wring them together.  In a monotone, he talks about his elderly father, who had once been the CEO of a successful company, who liked to compete in tennis tournaments and had a fondness of dancing. Now, his father can’t remember anything or anyone in his family. These facts are conveyed like the speaker is reading from a list. The speaker urges you to give money to help fund research to eradicate Alzheimer’s, then walks off the stage, still not looking at the crowd.


How would you feel? Would you be moved to give money? You probably would because you care about the cause.  However, did the speaker’s words as conveyed move you to action? Did they move you to contribute even more than you’d intended? Probably not.

Now, imagine a speaker coming on stage and looking out at the audience. He begins by saying “My father achieved many things in his life. He started from a poor background, put himself through school working several jobs and became the CEO of a Fortune 500 company.” Now, the speaker moves, reaches out with his hands above shoulder height and, in a vibrant voice, says “He was larger than life to me.” Then he drops them back to his sides. “He used to be a top tennis player.” The speaker makes a motion like hitting a ball. “And he loved to dance.” He mimes dancing with a partner. He goes on to say “Now, Dad’s in a wheelchair.” His tone has changed, softened. His hands grip an imaginary chair and he pushes it a few feet along. Then he stops and looks back at the audience. “When I visit him, he doesn’t know who I am. He doesn’t know my mother, his wife of 45 years, or remember any of the successes he’s had.” The speaker pauses. “All because of Alzheimer’s.”

Are you there with the speaker? Do you imagine his father as he was, and how he is now? When you’re asked to contribute money, will you give a little more because the devastation of the disease has been brought so clearly into your mind?

Back to your speech: It’s time to begin rooting out unnecessary language. Hone your words until you communicate exactly what you want. Consider whether your words are telling the story and evoking the emotion you intended from the listener.

When performing a speech, you should always think about the following:

  • Vocal Variety, including tone of voice, rate, pitch, use of different voices to bring characters to life and pause.
  • Body Language, including gestures, use of act-outs to bring drama to words, facial expressions and eye contact.
  • Energy

Vocal Variety

Varying your voice is what emphasizes your words in a speech. Rate is the pace of your words, tone is the intention behind them and pitch is the sound of your voice.


 Rate is perhaps the easiest to understand. A basic mistake is talking too fast because of nerves.  It takes practice to slow down and speak like you’re having a conversation with a friend. If you have jokes, are you pausing after your punch line to give the audience time to laugh? If you’ve said something you want the listeners to take time to digest, do you pause? Your rate should vary throughout your speech, so be sure to analyze your text and practice.

Tone is more complicated, and takes even more thought.

There’s a poem by an unknown author called The Tone of Voice. It says, in part:

It’s not so much what you say

          As the manner in which you say it;

It’s not so much the language you use

          As the tone in which you convey it.

          “Come here! I sharply said,

          And the child cowered and wept.

          “Come here,” I said-

          He looked and smiled

          And straight to my lap he crept.

         Words may be mild and fair

          But the tone may pierce like a dart;

          Words may be soft as the summer air

          But the tone may break my heart;

          For words come from the mind

          Grow by study and art–

          But tone leaps from the inner self,

          Revealing the state of the heart…

I’m sure you’ve had to sit through lectures delivered in a monotone, been scolded by a parent, enjoyed soft words from a loved one, heard an emotional plea from a friend or a call to action by a politician. Each time we speak, we need to consider what tone of voice to use and, throughout our speech, what response we want to evoke in our audience. Our voice is our primary tool to bring about the result we hope from our listeners, but can be made more dynamic by our use of the stage or lecture space, our energy and body language.

Look at the words of your speech. What tone do you want to use for each phrase? Some speakers think they need to increase volume on their key points, but sometimes softening and speaking in a quiet tone actually brings about a better effect.

The best thing to do is tape yourself reading your speech exactly as you’d perform it, then listen. You’ll be able to hear where you need to improve. Better yet, enlist someone you trust to give you honest feedback.

Pitch is how you sound when speaking. Sometimes, when people get nervous or excited, their voices go up and up in pitch. The deeper tones of a speaker’s voice resonate better with a listener’s ear. If you’re gifted with a resonant speaking voice, that’s a starting advantage. Still, no matter whether you’re blessed or need assistance, you can always improve the richness and quality of your voice by doing voice exercises or hiring a voice coach. You will learn body posture and breathing, do tongue twisters to loosen up, exercises to improve the timbre of your voice and more. All of this will add to the quality of your performance.

When speaking in a large facility without a microphone, you have to project your voice so everyone can hear you. Picture bouncing your voice off the back wall and you will get some idea of how much energy you’ll have to put into it.

Energy is what you bring to your performance. Think about when you’re tired, sick or simply “not feeling it.” If you don’t have energy to put into your performance, you’ll come off as uninspiring or merely adequate. Sure, you might be better than other speakers on a technical level, but you have to amplify your energetic output for your message to be fully conveyed and appreciated. Sometimes we think we’re putting across an emotion, but it’s not enough. It’s easy to bring to mind an actor’s performance that felt flat. That person didn’t put enough of themselves into their role. The same thing goes with public speaking.

 Body Language

When you first start out in public speaking, gripping the edges of the podium and glancing nervously at your notes might be the best you can do. That’s okay. As you progress, moving away from the podium, even if you have to keep a hand on it like a life preserver, is a good move forward.

We use gestures when we speak and don’t really think about them. They come naturally. When it comes to public speaking, it sometimes seems that we suddenly don’t know what to do with our hands and arms. Our facial expressions become wooden and we can’t make eye contact. The first thing to do if this happens is to take a deep breath. Breathing helps to relax your body and bring oxygen to your brain. Breathe deep into your belly, below your navel, for best results.

At the start of your speech, you should stand still and have limited movement. The audience needs time to get used to you.


In speaking, whenever you’re using gestures, they should be both natural and planned. Imagine when you’re telling someone how tall a child is. You might bring your hand to the height level to further demonstrate what you’re saying. Gestures in a speech are no different. If there are phrases that can be emphasized through use of body language, think about them and plan them into your talk. Gestures are made above your elbow height and can also include your head, nodding or shaking it to emphasize your words.


 A quick way to see if you have gesture is to videotape yourself doing your speech.  Sometimes we unknowingly make the same gesture repeatedly, which can distract from the message. Also, the larger the stage, the larger your gestures should be. What might be appropriate in a one-on-one conversation won’t convey the same message to a larger audience.


Darren LaCroix, the 2001 Toastmasters World Champion of Public Speaking, famously fell to the floor of the stage during his world championship winning speech and stayed down for uncomfortable moments. This was done purposefully to emphasize failure, by literally falling on his face. He then talked about how to get back up and overcome obstacles. This dramatic move was an “act-out” of his words and something that caught the audience and judges’ attention.

Darren Henderson, 2010 Toastmasters World Champion of Public Speaking, wore a World War II bomber jacket, helmet and goggles to add to his words about pretending to be a pilot. He then acted out play-fighting arial battles with a childhood friend, pretending to talk into a hand-held radio microphone to emphasize his words, which were “Snoopy One to Snoopy Two.”

Act-outs can be as simple as smelling an imaginary flower, pretending to open a door or anything that adds to the picture you’re painting with your words. You don’t have to be that dramatic to emphasize your words, but look at the text of your speech and determine if there are movements you can do that will add to the visuals of your message



If you’ve attended a live play, you might notice an actor who doesn’t grab your attention. That’s because they might be having an off day and not putting as much of themselves into their performance as necessary.

The energy level of a speaker can affect the way his or her message is received. For instance, if you have a cold and have to give a presentation to an audience of 200 people, you’re right to be concerned. A speaker has to give out their own energy and enthusiasm to engage an audience and, if you don’t feel good, you’re going to come across as flat.

Unless you’re Steve Jobs, with an audience already on the edge of its seat waiting the announcement of a new Apple product, speaking to live audiences requires your energy  be “larger than life.” This doesn’t mean you have to be someone else. In fact, the best public speakers sound like they’re having a conversation with an old friend, but you need to be aware of the venue and audience size so you can gauge how much energy you have to put into your performance.


After you’ve written your speech, look for opportunities in the text for vocal variety and use of body language. Adding these ingredients will make your message more dynamic and stay in the minds of your listeners.

 download (1)

My Lessons about Suicide Survival and Support

My last post dealt with the suicide of a dear friend and colleague. It’s been over a month, but my questioning and self-reflection hasn’t ended. The one abiding question for me remains: What can I do to stop this from happening?

Unfortunately, this is a question many of us will need to ask ourselves. Suicide rates have risen in the U.S. and make it the 10th leading cause of death.


In the news this past week was the story of Andreas Lubitz, the Germanwings co-pilot who flew himself and 149 people into a mountain. Since then, it’s been discovered he was depressed and he had researched suicide methods and how to secure cockpit doors.

Also in the news was a study showing no link between suicide rates and deployment in the U.S. military. This study has not taken into account some important subgroups of people exposed to combat that might change their  conclusion.

Military suicides have doubled since 2005. Active duty suicide has increased. Since 2001, more veterans have died by their own hand than in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined. While only 1% of Americans serve in the military, former service members account for 20% of all suicides in the U.S. The Oscar winning documentary Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1 put a spotlight on the overwhelming issues being faced by counselors trying to assist those in the military who are considering ending their lives.


 Unfortunately, those former troops with the highest rates of suicide don’t often qualify for assistance because they were discharged for other problems or misconduct.

Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death in young people between the ages of 10 and 24. LGBT and questioning youth are four times more likely to attempt suicide, having one of the highest suicide rates.


This is a topic that needs to be openly discussed. Unfortunately, the stigma associated with suicidal thoughts and/or mental illness seems to keep society from having an open dialogue about it.

Do you feel uncomfortable talking to someone frankly about their self-harm intentions? Think of it this way: What if you knew someone was going to commit a murder and they had a plan to carry it out? Hopefully, you’d contact the appropriate authority. You shouldn’t feel any different about getting involved if it’s a person considering ending their life. It’s an act of violence, but against themselves.

I’ve met suicide survivors online and have learned more about what to say or do when someone close to you is considering ending their lives. I keep replaying the last conversation I had with my friend. I’ve now learned I should have asked the following questions: “Are you thinking about killing yourself now? Do you have a plan for doing it? What’s going to make you stay?”


Suicide survivor, and Live Through This founder, Dese’Rae L. Stage was kind enough to share some of the things she has learned photographing and speaking with other suicide attempt survivors.  Ms. Stage speaks about suicide and raises awareness, including my own. I highly recommend reading the stories of survivors at her website to get a better perspective of the varied motivations of people who feel like ending their lives.

Per Ms. Stage, there are things you should not say. These include: Suicide is selfish and You have so much to live for! She says to tell the person that you love them and support them. If they’re in imminent danger, have them engage with you so you can get them help. Stay involved in their lives to make sure they have a voice in their own treatment and/or recovery by offering to be their advocate. The most important things are to be supportive, receptive and loving. She cautions that none of this will be easy.


Sam Dylan Finch is a contributing writer for Everyday Feminism, the founder of Let’s Queer Things Up, his blog, and a suicide survivor. He recently wrote an article titled 7 Ways to Actively Support Attempt Survivors. He reminds us of several important facts: 1) Not everyone who attempts suicide will die. 2) One-third of people who attempt suicide will try again within one year. 3) People who have attempted suicide before are at greater risk to attempt again.

Most of the survivors whose stories I’ve read wanted and needed loving support, and still do. In the recent book by Jon Ronson, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, he discusses people who have posted to social media then been the recipients of world-wide sturm and drang by people judging and commenting on their actions. Imagine taking that same form of judgment and applying it to suicide survivors, who already feel vulnerable. They get labeled as selfish, unstable, pathetic and other equally judgmental terms rather than receiving understanding and support. It’s not okay to shame and/or label people who are already struggling with mental health issues. Would you approach a cancer  survivor or any other near-fatal disease survivor and say “Wow, I can’t believe you survived. We’re not going to hire/support/care about you because that was selfish.” (Although any cancer survivors are told about how cancer comes back and they’re going to die, but that’s another story.)

I’m not an expert. I don’t have all the answers, but I’ve tried to educate myself since my friend’s death. Now that I know the stats, I’ve come to realize how prevalent this is.  Because of this, I wasn’t shocked when, just yesterday, someone told me about her suicide attempts.

I’ve learned these lessons:

  • When someone wants to talk about suicide,  listen and try to help.
  • Don’t  ask for details or to intrude in their story, but fully hear the survivor’s narrative.
  • Let them know you care and will be there to help get them treatment and any further support they might need.
  • Don’t use the phrase “I’m going to kill myself”  in a joking way about trivial matters . It isn’t funny.
  • Don’t judge, use labels or shame suicide survivors. 


Here are some great organizations who help attempt survivors and some prevention hotlines:

Military Veterans Support:

The Trevor Project (LGBTQ Support) :

Grief Speaks (A discussion of grief, including suicide survivor support)

International Suicide Hotlines:

Live Through This (Stories of Suicide Survivors) :


Remember, if you’re going through this, I care. You can always contact me via email at this site (click on the About Me tab) and I will listen.


Blogging for Suicide Prevention:Ode to a Friend

Four days ago I answered my phone and was greeted by the sound of weeping. The call was to notify me a friend and attorney colleague had committed suicide, and I was being contacted because she’d left a note for me to take over her cases.

I’ve never lost anyone to suicide. Death isn’t a stranger, taking both my parents in 2010 within four months of each other, and many others over the years. Yet, the news of my friend’s final act shoved me into shock.


There were two immediate questions: How and Why?

The How was easily answered. At midnight, she’d stepped off a 200 foot bridge, a location that’s a suicide magnet in our area. Had she looked out at the lights of the downtown skyscrapers and peacefully left the ledge, her eyes on their twinkling beauty, or had she stared at the water churning below and cast herself into it, wanting desperately to end whatever pain she’d been feeling? I knew she’d made a previous suicide attempt years before and now, perhaps, she needed a certain near-guaranteed finality.


It’s the second question, the Why, that lingers. Speculation and piecing together events will never resolve this. Her detailed notes about what to do with her cases, the list she left of her online passwords, a handwritten letter to her father, the thoughtful paying of her office rent through the coming month…these are acts of someone clear-headed and prepared. On her last day she was seen in court, laughing, talking, smiling and going through her normal routine. Was it because she knew that at midnight she’d drive to her final destination and it would be over and whatever pain she felt would be gone?


Initially, the guilt bus rolled in and stopped in front of me with questions. Why couldn’t I have saved her? What could I have done? What had I missed? I replayed all conversations I’d had with her over the past five months. I knew she’d felt increased anxiety and was desperately trying any method, both holistic and traditional, to combat it. Things began to spiral when her mother, who had abandoned the family years before, resurfaced. A few weeks ago, we’d had a long talk. When I’d first answered the phone, her voice had been panicked but, as we explored her feelings, she’d calmed down. I’d offered assistance if she needed me to make court appearances. I’d told her she could call me any time to talk. Then, on her birthday, I’d called and gotten her voicemail. I’d left a message and she’d texted me back, all happy and normal with a smiley face rounding it out. Four days later, she was dead.


In addition to my guilt, there’s anger. As coolly and calmly as she’d planned for the ramifications of her death, she actually left things in a bit of a mess. Her accounts were frozen. Her office had to be packed up by her grieving father, the certificates removed from the walls, the hidden chocolate thrown out, the contents of her desk and credenza explored. As I helped and locked down my feelings of grief, I wanted to shake her for the anguish I saw in her father’s eyes as he dutifully taped together boxes to pack her things in. My mind played a loop of “What a WASTE” over and over.


When Robin Williams had killed himself, she’d blogged about how she could relate, and what she was doing to not go down that road. She was smart, always exploring her feelings. She attended self-improvement workshops nearly every weekend and sought ways through alternative treatments and exercise to stay healthy.  As another mutual friend put it so well, she looked like a duck on a lake. Serene, floating along, but under the water where no one could see, her feet were paddling like mad.


Here is where I could list a bunch of statistics about suicide and mental illness. I could talk about how there’s a guy at the State Bar who has dealt with lawyer deaths for 20 years who kept his voice as calm and quiet as a person whispering in church when he spoke to me about what to do about wrapping up my friend’s practice. Or how there’s been at least five lawyers in this county in the past few years who have taken their lives and how the added stress might have contributed. Or how everyone who knew her is still reeling with their own versions of the WHY question and seeking answers.

All I know to say to anyone who is considering ending their lives is:

No matter how isolated you feel, there are people who will be profoundly affected by your death.

No matter how carefully you plan things, you’re going to leave loved ones and friends picking up the pieces.

People LOVE you and want you to stay, even if you are having a hard time believing it.

We will do ANYTHING to help you.

Please let us.




The Hobbit: The Battle of Peter Jackson’s Ego

Spoiler Alert: Please don’t read any further if you haven’t seen The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies. That’s it. I warned you. 

Yesterday I went to see the final installment of The Hobbit saga with a crowd of moviegoers who were either unsure what to do on Christmas or who wanted an excuse not to have to talk to their relatives for 2 hours and 24 minutes.

I wondered if J.R.R. Tolkien would be happy that Peter Jackson had used some of Tolkien’s obscure notes to stretch his slim Hobbit tome into three bloated…A dragon! Lots of fire! A dragon!

The dwarf king, Thorin Oakenshield, his crew and our hobbit Bilbo Baggins watch from the mountain as Smaug lays waste to Laketown. Thorin’s mind has been tainted with “dragon sickness,” known today as capitalism.


Meanwhile, his merry band of dwarves do nothing while he threatens them and acts like a general asshat.


The people of Laketown have been promised a share of the treasure, but Oakenshield goes back on his word. Thandrial, King of the Elves, shows up with an army and a flimsy excuse that he wants a jeweled necklace that’s in with the treasure. What he really wants is money to pay for the moisturizer all his elves religiously apply to keep their skin glowing before battle.


All the main characters ride some type of animal. The representative of the men, the Bard, rides a horse. Well, he tries. Thandrial rides a moose while his personal hairstylist follows with a brush.


Dain Ironfoot, another dwarf king, shows up on a…pig. Yes, it has tusks, but it mainly looks cute and completely useless for battle, except maybe for a post-victory luau.


Then, when Thorin shakes off his crazy and decides to go to war, he and his men get to ride Rams they got from….Um, anyone?

Meanwhile, Gandalf has been captured by orcs and held in an iron cage. (Watch Fellowship of the Ring to see he didn’t learn his lesson about this) Elf queen Galadrial shows up to rescue him.


When she has to fight off Sauron, the dark Lord, she turns into a green, glowing zombie queen from Hell. This is the same image she showed Frodo in Fellowship of the Ring, when she refused the one ring’s power, stating it would turn her into a dark queen, beautiful and terrible. (Yes, I’m paraphrasing.) Was Peter Jackson just using old footage to save money v. having Galadriel use a white light of goodness?


Finally, the Battle of the 5 Armies. Men, Dwarves, Elves, Orcs and…Eagles. Giant eagles who snatch up an unsuspecting grizzly bear, minding his own business while eating honey and catching salmon, and drop him into the fray. Wow, is he pissed. (Yes, I know it’s Beorn who has transformed into a bear, but imagine if it was just a bear…)

The orcs get the crap knocked out of them despite their immense numbers due to aluminum foil armor, or some other reason. War bats fly in, mainly to look cool.  Legolas defies the law of physics by catching a ride to a place he needs to go by grabbing one’s feet. I don’t know about you, but most animals that get grabbed unwillingly by someone the size of a person probably aren’t going to be happy about it. Maybe this little bat trip was so we wouldn’t question Legolas not falling from a stone bridge that disintegrates beneath his feet while fighting an orc and running up stairs made of nothing but air.


The remainder of the movie goes like this:

Alfrid Lickspittle of Laketown is a coward who dresses as a woman to hide and makes off with enough treasure in his bra to give him size E stripper boobs. We’re all bummed when an orc doesn’t get him.

A large, grotesque monster courteously waits to kill the Bard’s children until the Bard can cascade down a path in a wooden wagon and save the day.

Kili the Dwarf and Tauriel the Elf play Romeo and Juliet, but only one dies.


Thandriel shakes his golden hair and advises his brokenhearted son Legolas to forget Tauriel and to go find Strider. That’s actually good advice because Strider (a.k.a. Aragorn) is so hot he’d make anyone forget being dumped for a dwarf.


Thorin doesn’t know that when your enemy is down, a good double tap will make sure he doesn’t come back. Maybe it’s because that’s a hard thing to do with a sword.

Bilbo Baggins makes it back to the Shire with The One Ring, leading you to rewatch (and/or watch if you’ve been under a rock since 2001) the Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and Return of the King.


It’s a last goodbye to Middle Earth. I bid you a fond farewell.

A Halloween Story

Since it’s October, it seems apt that I tell a scary story. It begins when I get notice to move from my landlord. Within a day, I find a suitable place just a few streets away and negotiate a lease for less money than the place is advertised for. Sounds good, right? Do you remember that saying about if it’s too good to be true, it probably is? Keep remembering it.


A week later, I receive a call from the property manager, I’ll call her “Sara.” She tells me the landlord has changed her mind about renting to a person with a cat and wants full rent. I tell Sara that I will pay full rent and write an addendum to the lease that if my cat dismantles the place brick by brick, undoes the plumbing, remodels the cabinets and excoriates the rug, I will pay for any damages. I receive a text that Sara has a call into the landlord. Then I hear nothing and, after several days, start to worry. I call a realtor friend, Andrea, who calls Sara. Andrea tells me everything is fine because Sara told her there’s a signed lease in place, presumably mine. That night, Andrea runs into Sara’s best friend and they put in another call to Sara about the place. Sara tells her best friend she’s rented it out- -to someone other than me.

I text Sara. I tell her she should’ve informed me the place had been rented to someone else. She texts me back claiming the place is NOT rented to anyone and that she had told me I was not getting the property. For all you sci fi fans, this is proof of an alternate dimension and someone living in it.


Now, I have 2 weeks to find another place to live and to move. What I thought would be a leisurely move to a nearby location has become a stress situation. Andrea looks, I look and we finally find a quaint place with a slight ocean view. The only problem is I will have to downsize because it’s smaller and doesn’t have a garage. I get another lease negotiated for less rent and the paperwork is signed.

I put up all my excess furniture for sale on Craigslist San Diego, one item being my desk. I love my desk, but it’s a 5’10” x 5’10” hulk. I see a man has posted a photo of my exact desk and he wants one. I let him know I have a desk that matches his needs and he emails me that he’s happy. Then I hear nothing. After a week, he contacts me and wants more photos of the desk. I take more and send them. Then he wants photos of any scratches, the drawers, the doors and more. I send them. He waxes praise about the desk and how it’s perfect. I ask when he can come and get it because it’s been two weeks of emails with him and time is ticking. I now have 2 days to be out. He says this is a problem because…he’s in Portland, Oregon! I tell a friend about this experience and she says she had the same thing happen to her. Perhaps there are people who troll Craigslist who are desk fetishists, looking to virtually meet the right desk.


Another Craigslist couple contacts me regarding some of the antiques I’m selling. They show up, look things over, definitely want a few pieces…and bring no money. They also rifle through the items I had put out for a yard sale I was having, stack up a bunch of stuff and say they will contact me the next day so I can price everything they want and they will come and pay me for it. I don’t hear from them until 10 p.m and I’ve already redistributed their pile into the sale. I’m told they can’t come by again and not a word about the furniture they desperately wanted.

If you want to be scared this year, don’t go to a haunted house. Go  to a yard sale.


My first customer is a woman in hippie attire with long grey hair slowly surveying  the sale. She picks up items then lets out a loud and long moan/hum as she scrutinizes each one. She pretends to be dim, but her sharp eyes catch sight of the Harry Potter Lego collection and she became a shrewd wheeler dealer. Fortunately, my daughter drives a hard bargain.


Then we have to endure a father with a 12 year old son who’s still not old enough to be embarrassed to be seen with his dad. He should be. The guy picks up numerous items, making a wisecrack or demeaning remark about each one while his poor kid pretends to find this all amusing. Then Dad wants to see the Lazy Boy recliner I have for sale. He nearly wrecks it by slamming it back into the reclined position like he’s tackling a linebacker. Apparently satisfied with his Mock Fest, they buy $4 worth of piano music and depart.


In the middle of all this, the realtor who is selling the house I’m moving from sends a young couple over, telling them I will show them the house. I didn’t know I had a real estate agent license, nor was there any discussion about a possible commission if I did sell it.

The wealthy people are the worst. Several come by just so they can sniff disapprovingly at things. A couple with a small boy won’t pay $20 for a $250 music box, acting like I’d insulted them. To make up for it, I give them one heck of a deal on a toy accordion for their son. He whales away at it, making screeching noises so disturbing I hope they finally recognize it’s the sound of karma .


On moving day, everything is packed, organized and disassembled except the entertainment unit. I’d hire a guy off Craigslist who specializes in moving antiques. Let’s call him “Joe.” I’ve used Craigslist the past two moves and never had a problem. The first problem I see when Joe shows up is he’s FAT. Who moves furniture for a living and is fat? When he sees the entertainment unit, he exclaims “I can’t possibly move that!”  After that auspicious start, he walks through every room, gasping like he’s never seen a piece of furniture before and exclaiming about the problems he will have moving it. To top things off,  he speaks to me like I’m back in preschool. ” I have a big twuck and you have to go weally, weally slow when I follow you to your new house…”

After Joe leaves later that day, I get a piece of paper and write something for our gratitude jar. It says “I’m grateful I didn’t kill anyone or myself today.”


We settle into our new place and…what’s that smell? The windows have been open for a few days, it’s not just a musty odor. I’m suspicious when we start to cough and sneeze. I hire a guy and get a lab report because the former prosecutor in me doesn’t accuse anyone without proof. Lurking in the kitchen and both bathrooms is….MOLD. The normal number is 1400 spores per cubic meter. In the kitchen alone it’s 19,000 spores. And my mold expert sees evidence there was previous mold testing. Not a good sign. I type up a lengthy email to the property manager, detailing 10 problems with the place, of which one is the herd of cockroaches my cat is occupied with annihilating, and ending with the M word.


After finally seeing the problem (namely, me) won’t go away quietly, the property manager lets me know there was a water leak in the kitchen about a year ago. What the clean up will entail is unclear at this point, but it involves words like HEPA filters, mold remediation and insurance underwriters. I might even have to move again. If I do, I know who I won’t be calling.

In the meantime, if you want to be scared for Halloween, come stop by my kitchen.



Right now, the media is in an uproar over the case of Ray Rice, the NFL Football player who knocked his wife, Janay, out with a punch to the head in an elevator. He’s been suspended.

The front page of has Janay making a statement that “To take something away from the man I love that he has worked his ass off for all his life just to gain ratings is a horrific. (sic)” 

Ray Rice Press Conference

Will the media now begin the “victim blame game?” Go back and read the first paragraph of this blog. It’s about Ray Rice committing a criminal act of domestic violence that’s caught on tape. Now, look at the second paragraph. It’s about his wife making excuses for him. These two events are completely separate.

Does it matter that Janay supports him? No.

Does it matter that she thinks his punishment is inappropriate? No.

Twenty years ago, another football player murdered his former wife. That was O.J. Simpson. Prior to the murder, he’d beaten Nicole, but at the murder trial, people were just beginning to see the connection between an act of DV and how it can lead to murder. 

Nicole Battered1

At that time, I was a prosecutor working domestic violence cases, and the OJ case was the beginning of reform in the handling of domestic violence, even though it had been happening for centuries. The attitude towards these cases was still archaic. Some police officers attending my trainings on the subject told me they didn’t want to keep going back to the same place on domestic violence calls because they thought if the victim returned to the situation, it was a waste of their time. The majority of the cases that came across my desk had a victim who didn’t want to press charges within one to two days after the event.

O.J. Simpson, even though he was acquitted, shined a light on these attitudes. Domestic Violence reform and penalties moved to the forefront of people’s minds.

Today, I hope that when people watch the video of Janay supporting her husband, they don’t blame her for her husband’s actions. She’s caught up in a cycle of violence. From most people’s rational point of view, what she’s saying is idiocy. Remember, it’s easy to judge from a secure place.

cycle of violence

My goal as a prosecutor was to focus on the batterer and his/her actions. My duty was to make it stop by proving my case, even if the victim couldn’t bring themselves to believe that’s what was necessary.

I hope people keep their focus on which of these two people is the real guilty party.

Victim Blaming

Nine Inch Nails and My Spontaneous Life

Yesterday I was reading the local paper (don’t ask me why I still do this) and noticed that Nine Inch Nails and Soundgarden were playing a concert at the Chula Vista Ampitheater, formerly Coors Ampitheater, now Sleep Train Ampitheater, which is rather embarrassing to even say. I knew NIN was my daughter’s favorite band. We’ve been under a lot of stress packing and getting ready to move so I casually ask her “Want to see Nine Inch Nails?” Of course, she does. “When is it?” TONIGHT.


I get online and find 4th row tickets for a shockingly reasonable price. I purchase them and follow it up with an online chat with a representative about the logistics of receiving them. She says she’ll call me back after she gets with the seller. I go back to packing. Time goes on. I finally check my email and there are 3 increasingly urgent messages from the ticket people. I call. They are very sorry, but they can’t fulfill the order. They will give me a discount coupon worth $50.


I find tickets that are VIP access in the mysterious row d, not D. I call and no one seems to know where this is. I figure with VIP parking, they’re probably good. I purchase them. I call to find out the logistics of receiving the tickets and am told that I can be emailed the tickets, but I won’t get any of the VIP privileges. Oh, and d was a typo, it’s row D or the 4th row again. They offer me $100 off or 3 extra tickets, but I decide it’s all kind of odd and decline.

By now it’s 4 p.m. The concert is at 7 p.m. and I still don’t have any tickets. For the same price as the mysterious VIP tickets, I find 2 front row seats that can be emailed to me. I buy them and follow up with a phone call. I get a delightful representative in Texas who is wondering why someone my age (over 30) is going to see NIN. Gee, thanks? Uh, they’ve been around awhile and “older” folks do go to concerts.


Finally, I get the tickets and we race to the border to the concert venue. Race? If 10-20 mph traffic for 35 miles can be called that. Then we were subjected to a full pat-down and purse search before being allowed in. Was I attending a rap concert in an inner city by mistake?


We missed early opening act Cold Cave and they’re setting up for Soundgarden. We are in front row, center seats! To our right is a beer drinking couple who probably wouldn’t cause trouble if you paid them. They were quiet, shy and had their tickets for months. The man professed to be a fan for 20 years of NIN, but had never listened to Hesitation Marks, NIN’s newest effort.  My daughter said just contemplating that made her mad and that he shouldn’t have even come to the concert. Judgmental? Us? Then there was the duo on our left, a female lawyer and her male makeup artist friend who she always introduced, repeatedly, as “my GAY friend.” How about just “friend?”


Soundgarden played an eleven song set, for which I was enthusiastic for about seven. I knew a lot more of their music than I thought I would, including the one that seems to stick in my mind most, Black Hole Sun, perhaps because I had to hear (and hate) it so much.


The lead singer, Chris Cornell, was Mick Jagger thin in the de rigour tight jeans, t-shirt and poodle mop hair.


Lead guitar was Kim Thayil, ranked 100th greatest guitar player of all time by Rolling Stone magazine.


His bass man was Ben Shepherd, who spent most of the concert looking immensely bored, randomly knocking over things or swinging some type of plastic rope, kind of like a fat sadomasochist. At the end, he just chucked his bass over his shoulder onto the floor. I know it was the last concert of a long tour, but still.


After men in black swarmed the stage to transition it for Nine Inch Nails, out comes a small man in a black skirt/legging outfit and he starts playing “Copy of A.” That’s Trent Reznor? I think. We’d seen NIN in LA at the Staples Center last year, but we were in the nosebleed section. Up close, it’s a whole different world.


The energy, the nonstop music and beat of a fabulous seventeen song set made the whole experience feel like we’d only been listening for five minutes. It was fun to watch Trent’s young stage hand jump up and down from the stage with microphones, water bottles, wires and more. The concert was dotted with calls (typically by men) of “I LOVE you, Trent!” and wafts of weed. What photos I could get were lucky because smoke and burn your retinas lighting was a prime factor in the production. Not fun was getting splashed with a large glass of beer someone decided to chuck at the stage and having a glowering mountain of a security guy occasionally plant himself in front of me, typically when I was about to get a pretty good photo.



Of note, Trent sang “Closer,” which he had gotten bored with, but brought back for his fans on what might be his last tour for awhile. He closed it out with “Hurt,” from his Downward Spiral album. It’s a song filled with emotional loss and his pain radiated off of him as he sang it, tears in his eyes. Or maybe sweat. I’m not sure.


At the close, after I complimented the stage hand on his hard work, he gave Kat a copy of the NIN set list as a souvenir.


The concert was exactly what we needed to renew our energy and take us away from the daily grind of life. I now have a taste for front row seats and life is going to be an expensive, but fun, proposition.


Why My iTunes is Library is Like Life

Rock, Country, Alternative, Blues, Jazz, Dance, Electronic, Folk, Hip-Hop, Rap, Experimental, Industrial, Instrumental, Classics, Metal, New Age, Pop, Psychedelic, Soundtrack, Unclassified…

I love music and these are just a few of the categories listed in my iTunes library. I’m still old school enough to subscribe to Rolling Stone magazine and scour it for new artists and music whenever it arrives. This has led to a diverse collection and it isn’t the only place I check out music, so exciting new tunes regularly find a home with me.


When my sizeable library ate up the space on my computer, I transferred it all to an external hard drive. That was great, until the external eventually ran out of room and I bought a new external with more storage space. What came after that has been an ongoing, epic battle fraught with peril and leading to new problems.

My playlists are gone, my music folder isn’t named iTunes library anymore, there are duplicates galore, music is scattered all over my computer and external in various places. I’ve bought program after program to try to reign in the terror and get it all back under control, with little to no luck. The programs either freak out and stop working when they see the size of the problem or completely refuse to work and throw up an error box whenever I try to launch them.


What began as an enjoyable diversion morphed into a problem that, because I’d neglected it due to other things going on with my life, turned into a mega mess. It’s like The Little Prince and his discussion about the Baobab trees.

A baobab is something you will never, never be able to get rid of if you attend to it too late. It spreads over the entire planet. It bores clear through it with its roots. And if the planet is too small, and the baobabs are too many, they split it in pieces . . .


“It is a question of discipline,” the little prince said to me later on. “When you’ve finished your own toilet in the morning, then it is time to attend to the toilet of your planet, just so, with the greatest care. You must see to it that you pull up regularly all the baobabs, at the very first moment when they can be distinguished from the rosebushes which they resemble so closely in their earliest youth. It is very tedious work,” the little prince added, “but very easy.”

If I’d taken the time to figure out how to properly move my iTunes library to a second external hard drive, even though it might have taken some time to carefully read and understand how to do it, it also would’ve saved me the mess it is now. After spending way too much time on this issue, with little/no good results and fear I’ll completely lose my collection somewhere along the way, I see a trip to the Genius bar at the Apple store in my future. Or hiring a teenager who will get it all together in seconds.

From now on, I will try to stay on top of things and not let them get out of control. When I wake in the morning, I’ll say “Beware the Baobab Trees!” and deal with problems before they explode my little planet.


Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse

It’s almost time for Comic Con in San Diego. The convention started in 1970 and now draws 130,000 plus attendees to the San Diego Convention Center. But I’m not going to talk about the madness of trying to get into Hall H, where all the premier panels happen, or squeezing past Predators, Steampunks, Captain Americas and scantily-clad cosplayers in the Exhibit Hall .


I’m going to share one of my favorite memories of recent years and it involved The Walking Dead. A few months before the 2012 Con, I was at my computer one morning and got an email proclaiming there would be the opportunity to “run with the zombies” in an event they were calling The Walking Dead Escape. You had three options: 1) Be a spectator, 2) Be a zombie and have Greg Nicoterro’s award-winning makeup team transform you into a “walker,” or 3) Try to make it through an obstacle course set up in Petco Park, our local baseball stadium, alive. Participants would get the 100th Comic of The Walking Dead.


Did it matter that I was out of shape and riddled with injuries? No! I had to do it and as a “survivor.” I told my then-16 year old daughter about it and she turned me down. Flat. No way was she going to participate. I was bummed, but it didn’t stop me from signing up right then and there.

My scheduled time to make the run was 6:20 p.m. I spent most of the day surviving the madness of Comic Con before making my way, already tired, to the bridge that took me to Petco Park. I began to think that the theoretical idea of participating was much better than the reality.  As I waited for my daughter, who’d ditched me to do other things during the day, I watched as a “zombie” chased some of the participants along the viewable edges of the stadium. My first thought was WTF? I’d read the details about how zombies were supposed to act. They were supposed to shamble, lunge, stroll…but this one was flat-out sprinting after people. Would my bad knee and foot hold up if I had to run full-tilt away from a zombie who thought he was in the 28 Days movie instead of The Walking Dead?


When Kat caught up to me, she also watched people and zombies running along the edges of the stadium. I wheedled, I cajoled…and she agreed to give it a go with me. If I was going to “die,” I wanted a companion. I paid her fee, around $80, and we went to the staging area where we signed a thick manifesto of waivers that I appreciated as a lawyer. We were given a participants lanyard and a tracking device to wear, presumably so they could find us if we were dragged off by a zombie horde and eaten so they could return what was left to our families. The goal of the whole escapade was to make it through the run without being touched by a zombie and “infected.”

There were young, testosterone-fueled men who’d already ripped off their shirts and strutted about, bumping chests. There were couples, usually with one of them looking terrified so you know they’d gotten roped into it against their will. We talked to a college professor and his nephew who seemed fairly steady and tried to ignore the hysteria as our “wave” waited.


Finally, it was time. We were taken into an area surrounded by a chain link fence that had black material covering it so you couldn’t see out. Ahead of us were gates. To our right was a cage full of zombies and there was a zombie being paraded around by a “soldier” who held it by a pole attached to a neck collar. “Military personnel” used bullhorns to announce that there had been an outbreak, but everything was under control. Yeah, right. We’ve never been big believers in the government party line.  I quietly told Kat “Let’s move to the side opposite where the zombies are.” I was pretty sure they were going to get out. So we did.


Little did I know, when the zombie being led by the collar predictably attacked the military guy and the zombies got loose, it wasn’t them I should have been concerned about. The personnel slowly opened the gates in front of us so we could begin our run to freedom, but people panicked (more accurately described as freaked the hell out) and the person behind me shoved me to the concrete floor with all their strength. Both my knees hit the pavement and ripped open, as did both my hands. I then had to get up and run for it, bleeding profusely.


Once through the gates, trailing along behind everyone else who was screaming and running, we pounded through a fog-filled room dodging zombies and came to some stairs that led to closed glass doors covered with ripped construction paper. There were personnel there who told people to wait as a group. They were letting 2-3 people out at a time. I found Kat and showed her my injuries. “Let’s let the mass hysteria movement go ahead of us,” I told her and she agreed.


A zombie peered at us through a rip in the paper, waiting to eat us just outside the door. Blood coursed from my hands and I wiped it on my shirt and tried not to think about what my knees looked like. Then a zombie came from behind us and there was nowhere to go. Fortunately, only a few of us remained so no one did something incredibly stupid and the group around us merely screamed. A soldier came in the nick of time and killed the walker.

Then it was our turn to run and we got out the doors, past the zombie and saw that ahead of us was a rope ladder to be climbed. Lucky me. Climb up, walk over a platform where zombies reached up from below then slide down mats to where a group of zombies waited at the bottom.


Here’s the thing about zombies. It’s all about timing and sacrificing other participants to the cause. Kat has a black belt in taekwondo and would fake one direction then turn the other way, slipping past zombies. I’m just old and crafty. However, despite our best efforts, Kat tripped on a curb and went down, injuring a hand and I had to jump away from another crazy participant and smacked my arm on the ground.

There was a “breather” area where participants walked up long ramps. No zombies were visible, but it was scary to think they might be waiting around the corner.  Ah, mind games.

At the mid-way point, there was a water station and bathrooms. One teenage boy was throwing up from stress. An older man had wrenched his ankle so badly he could barely walk. I washed the blood off my hands and thought about those waivers we’d signed. As we continued our quest, my hands kept bleeding and so did Kat’s.

Our next obstacle had zombies banging bloody arms and legs on top of a place you had to crawl under. The problem was, neither Kat nor I could crawl given our injuries. We didn’t want to get infected in reality from dragging our cut hands along dirty ground. We had one option: Sneak behind the zombies. This was a dicey proposition since they could turn at any time and touch you and the space wasn’t very wide behind them. We made like ninjas, waited for their attention to be on other participants scrambling under and got past them.

crawling2 crawling

Next up was a zombie horde area decorated with real cars, strewn suitcases and an opportunity to panic. I dashed in and ducked behind a car. A zombie saw me and turned in my direction, then it became a game of run around the car, watch out for the numerous other zombies and try to get out. After some starts and stops, I made it. I was really glad I didn’t see the fast-moving zombie.


Kat and I joined up between obstacles and made sure neither of us had been touched. Participants ran past us or strolled along drinking alcohol, not caring about anything. Camera crews went along with news reporters narrating the scene. Spectators watched while enjoying food and drink.

As we neared the end, we came to an area packed with zombies and about two feet to get past them. I waited. I watched. I timed it until they’d shuffle- turned away from the space I needed to speed by and flat-out ran. As I did, a zombie on the other side of a fence said “Great job!”

Finally, we neared the end. Climb up, cross a rope bridge where zombies lunged at you trapped in nets on either side and from below. We lifted ourselves up to avoid them by grabbing handrails and made it through, ducking and dodging. (Look under the A in the photo and you’ll see the bridge)


At the end of the run, we were taken into tents and scanned to see if we’d been infected. We weren’t. We’d survived. I heard later, if you’d been “infected,”  you were taken into another tent and either “shot” or given the opportunity to flee and spread the plague across humanity. It was unnerving to learn most people fled.

After we picked up our comics and wondered where our survivor medals were, the adrenaline rush stayed with us. As we walked to our car we scanned the parking lot for zombies and jumped at every noise. We celebrated our victory by having Thai food for dinner where I discreetly blotted my still-bleeding hands with a napkin.


The Walking Dead Escape had 15,000 participants and I heard only 1% made it through as survivors. Most people that participated, survivor or zombie, got injured.  It continues to operate every year, but I choose to let other people give it a try. Once was enough. The lesson I learned, though, is if there is a zombie apocalypse, it’s the people you have to be scared of. Choose your friends wisely.