Emily and I have been together now for almost 11 years. Over that time we’ve developed a motley assortment of “relationship tools.” That’s how I like to think of them, anyway. These tools help us communicate, resolve things, and stay organized. It sounds super campy and cheeseball but we’ve made up different tools like “Truth Serum” and “Lo Lists” and “Tug Boat/Cruise Ship” to name a handful. And they honestly are extremely useful. I’ll explain “Truth Serum” so that you get the idea.
So in the 1994 Arnold Schwarzenegger classic “True Lies,” at one point in the movie secret agent Arnold and his wife are captured and Arnold gets injected with a truth serum drug. The truth serum renders Arnold incapable of lying. The bad guys plan to interrogate him in this altered state. (But surprise! Arnold escapes and kills all the terrorists!)
The point is… In the movie, truth serum is potent, fast-acting, and irresistible (not even the Governator can fight off the effects.) So as a real-life relationship tool, truth serum works like this: “Em, would you mind if I didn’t come with you to that work thing next week? Truth serum!” Boom. Em’s been injected with truth serum and can ONLY tell the 100% truth. The response might be, “Truth serum? I kinda did want you to be there.” Or it could be, “Truth serum? It’s fine if you’d rather not come.”
The power of truth serum comes from two main places. 1) If you use it, it means that you actually do want the 100% truth. And there’s an unstated guarantee that you won’t be angry or go after the other person, no matter what the answer is. It’s a tool, not a weapon. You use it to get on the same page with your partner. You can’t truth serum someone and then be all “Ah! I knew it! You’re terrible!” Do that and it will never work again. 2) If you’re injected, you HAVE TO tell the full truth. If I’m asking about that work thing and Em says it’s fine for me not to come, I need to be able to trust that it really is fine. Em isn’t telling me it’s fine so that she can hold it against me later that I didn’t show. Getting “truth serum-ed” actually feels good because it’s an opportunity for you to make yourself fully heard. This is powerful even if your answer is “Truth serum? I’m not sure how I feel about it yet.” It’s powerful even if you don’t get “your way” in the end, too. Somehow just being heard makes a big difference.
That’s our quirky tool. But I know that other people have tools and tricks and strategies (even if they don’t name them) for making relationships work. I’m curious to know what’s helped you! Continue reading What tools/tricks help make your relationship work?
I’ve come across a very small number of people in my life who have taken the time to memorize poetry and can recite it. I’m always so impressed by this. Now rote memorization doesn’t have a particularly good reputation these days. But I’ve got to believe that the things we internalize and can recite must have SOME kind of impact on us. Despite loving poetry, I can’t recite a single poem. I can, however, recite several prayers. (I distinctly remember my mom teaching me and my sister to recite the Our Father, the Hail Mary, the Glory Be, and the Apostle’s Creed so that we could pray the rosary.) I can also recite the Pledge of Allegiance. But honestly, that’s it. (I’m not counting song lyrics here since you don’t really “recite” songs.) It’s a bit of a dying practice — memorization. What can you recite entirely by heart? Why? And who taught you? Continue reading What do you have memorized and can recite entirely by heart?
I’ve noticed that introductions to historical figures or public personalities often go something like this: “Jane was born in New York to working class parents. After her first semester of college, Jane did such-and-such etc…” Many biographical summaries follow the same pattern (whether on Wikipedia, a textbook, or news article). On one hand, I completely understand that a person’s lasting impact in the world often doesn’t come until adulthood. But on the other hand, these bios make me wonder if truly nothing of importance happened in those first 2-ish decades of life. What would you point to as the most important thing YOU did between the ages of 1 and 17 (that is to say, before legal adulthood)? You must have made some decision, done something, said something, or even just shown up for a crucial moment in a way that impacted your character. People don’t just materialize overnight into their adult selves and adult potential. We emerge gradually. What big moments (big looking back on them, anyway) can you point to from your own childhood? Continue reading What’s the most important thing you did between the ages of 1 and 17?
Google does an April Fools’ joke every year. The first one I remember seeing was maybe ten years ago. It was a service called “Google Paper” that would allow Gmail users to request physical printouts of their emails. Google would produce and snail mail them all to you. The service was purportedly supported by ads that would be printed on the reverse side of each page. It made sense to me! And as an English major, I was so pumped to have this option! I even told people about it that day. I was crushed to discover it was all a hoax… What have you fallen for? Continue reading Have you ever totally been duped? Tricked? Hoodwinked? What did you fall for?
I don’t pull many pranks anymore. The pinnacle of my pranking days was freshman year of college. On April Fools’ Day a bunch of the guys in my dorm hall decided to prank all the girls in the hall. For one unsuspecting hall-mate, we taped a bunch of newspaper across her room’s door frame (almost the whole way up the door). This created a 4-inch wide space between the door itself and the newspaper. We filled the niche we’d just created with scrap paper, wrappers, and aluminum cans and plastic bottles out of the dorm recycle bins. When we were done, junk extended up seven feet or so against her door – held in place by the newspaper. All the doors in the building opened inward, so in the morning when the poor girl opened her door to start the day, an avalanche of stuff fell on top of her. Punked!! Haha! (It was all in good fun. The next day she and some friends stole our mattresses so we had nothing to sleep on at night. Oh college!) Continue reading What’s the most involved prank you’ve been a part of?
My brother, Nico, and I are already as mature as we’re ever going to be. And we are both of the opinion that farts are still the funniest dang things in the world. A few years ago we were hanging out at my parents’ house — our childhood home. And Nico (for whatever reason) punched my stomach at about 10% speed and said “Punches!!” A split second after his fist made contact with my gut, I let out a healthy, hollow fart. We both chuckled. Nico decided to try his luck again and said, quieter this time, “Punches.” To his surprise, he was met with an equally subdued but still very audible fart. Now thoroughly impressed with this pattern, he tried a third time, saying hesitantly, “Punches?” And in response came a third, mousy toot that ended in a higher pitch than it started as if also asking a question. We. Died. Laughing. As in hysterics. Uncontrollable laughter and cramps forming in my sides. We still talk about it to this day. When was the last time you laughed like that? Continue reading When was the last time you laughed so hard it hurt?
What choices have been irreversible? What decisions have continued to ripple through your life ever since you made them? This question resulted from the cross-pollination of two books that I’m reading right now. The first book is “Tattoos On The Heart,” which I’m actually re-reading because it’s phenomenal. That book is about Fr. Greg Boyle who works with gang members in LA. One chapter mentions that Fr. Greg and his team help these young people remove the gang tattoos that they’ve often put on their faces, necks, arms, and hands. Tattoos used to be permanent. Laser treatments have changed that… The other book I’m reading is “The Meaning of Marriage” by Timothy Keller. In it, Mr. Keller asserts that marriage is a covenant — a forever covenant, by design. So he laments today’s high rates of divorce. These two books got me wondering: What IS actually permanent in people’s lives? The decisions to get married or get a tattoo aren’t as permanent as they once were. What decisions have proven to be permanent for you? (For me, I can say that the decision to go to Haiti and live there as a volunteer in ’07 and ’08 has had an irreversible impact on my life. I can’t un-see the things I saw there. I can’t un-know the things I know now because of those experiences. I’ve not been able to un-commit my life to justice work ever since getting back from Haiti…) Continue reading What’s one of the most permanent decisions you’ve made in your life?
I’m in the midst right now of re-reading “Tattoos On the Heart” by Gregory Boyle. It’s one of the most life-affirming books I’ve ever come across. Given how many books are out there, and given the sobering fact that I’ll never be able to read everything I want to before I kick the bucket, a book has got to be truly extraordinary for me to read it a second time through. What would be at the very top of your to-read-again list? Continue reading If you had to re-read a book right now, what would you choose?
Have you seen this awe inspiring video of Mr. Rogers testifying before the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Communications in 1969? Mr. Rogers is there to defend Public Broadcasting from significant budget cuts. The senator he addresses is initially gruff and almost hostile. (He has no idea who Mr. Rogers even is.) But in the course of just a few minutes, the senator’s demeanor changes entirely. By the end of Rogers’ testimony, the federal money is all but guaranteed. This is a master class in getting someone to do a 180 — a total about-face. Have you been able to pull that off? What was the issue? Continue reading When was the last time that you convinced someone to see things your way?
I’m not talking about help with carrying the groceries into the house. When was the last time that you put down your rugged, American individualism and asked for someone’s help with something of consequence? And what was it about? And whom did you ask? My family immigrated to the U.S. and in many ways saw America as the proverbial “land of opportunity.” Absolutely, there’s great strength in the part of our national DNA that tells us to be self-made. But I’m also interested in the moments when bootstraps give way to helping hands. We need each other! Continue reading When was the last time you asked someone for help?
So you know how people will often ask “What’s your favorite [blank]?” Movie? Novel? Football team? Could be any number of things. And (if you’re like me) for many of these categories you think “Erggh. I don’t know, man. I don’t really have one.” So you just choose one recent movie or you mention the book that you’ve been using to answer this question for the last 10 years. You know what I’m talking about? Well, what I’m curious about is this:
What “fill-in-the-blank” categories do you have an enthusiastic, genuine response for? For example, my sister (who came up with this question) said that “What’s your favorite movie?” makes her think, “Merp,” but “What’s your favorite color?” makes her think “Ooh purple! I have an answer for that one and it’s definitely purple!”
For me, “What’s your favorite blog?” has a strong response. (Seth Godin’s.) “What’s your favorite bible verse?” has a definitive answer. (Isaiah 58) “What’s your favorite kind of rice?” comes with some seriously strong opinions. (Don’t get me started on the premium medium grain Korean brand – Han Kuk Mi – we’ve got going in our house currently.)
So what “favorites” question do you actually enjoy answering?
Continue reading What do you have strong favorites of?
Of all your friendships, which one probably makes the least sense to outside observers? Maybe you and that particular friend have very different personalities or interests or backgrounds. I’m curious about how these unlikeliest friendships start and why they work. I also wonder about the corresponding question: Who is your most LIKELY friend? (This would be the friend that makes you think, “Well of course _____ and I are friends!”) There’s a lot to unpack in these questions about what we value in our friendships, what parts of our whole selves we make visible to the world at large, and even how we choose to let people into our inner lives. Continue reading Who is your most unlikely friend?
Here’s another gem from Tim Ferriss’s podcast. (It’s tax time so I’ve been binging on podcasts while catching up on business bookkeeping. Tim has added a lot of great questions to his repertoire since I last tuned in!) I have two answers to this question. 1) My business and social venture, HaitiHub, has demanded a very significant amount of time, energy, and money over the past six years that it’s been my full time work. But HaitiHub has taught me so much about entrepreneurship, about design, about business models, and about creating a thing for real people. And it’s been such an honor to build up and serve our community of language learners. And in the strict sense of the word “investment,” I feel good that HaitiHub can conceivably continue creating impact and income over the long haul. 2) Investing in my (sometimes torturous) long-distance relationship with Emily from 2006 to 2011 meant hundreds upon hundreds of emails, many mismatched time zone phone calls, many used up vacation days and sick days, and honestly, a considerable amount of heartache at different points. But our marriage now is a wonderful and humbling thing. It pays dividends out in joy. Best investment I’ll probably ever make. Continue reading What is the best investment you’ve ever made? (of energy, time, money, any resource…)
Part of what makes good friends more than just acquaintances is that you can let your guard down around them and be more fully yourself. For some people, they’ve reached the next level of friendship when they can just stop by unannounced and with no particular plans. For others, they’ve reached the next level of friendship when they can talk openly about the things in life that aren’t going perfectly. For me, it’s about food. I’m not a big guy but I’m very often hungry and I can definitely eat a lot. There have been times that Emily and I have come to dinner at another couple’s house for the first time and I’ve thought to myself at the start of the meal, “Yup I’d feel full if I ate everyone’s food tonight.” Hahaha! Then when we’re leaving, Em says to me as soon as we’re back in the car, “You’re still hungry, aren’t you?” and we drive to Chick-Fil-A (or start brainstorming about leftovers at home). But with close friends, I’ve come clean about this and now they poke fun at me and admit things like “We knew you were coming so we picked this recipe that makes a TON of servings.” And you know, I feel really taken care of in those moments. Truly surrounded by friends. Continue reading What’s a clear sign that you’ve moved to the next level of friendship with someone?
My friend Patricia is an art therapist who works in a medical clinic. She mentioned that her patients (many of them in their senior years) will sing the same song together as a send-off when another patient is discharged. The song “Happy Trails,” by Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, was the theme song to a popular radio and then TV show in the 1940’s and 50’s. Most of the elderly patients know it and enjoy singing it as their “roommates” leave the clinic. That got us thinking: when we’re all senior citizens, what song will we all be able to sing to each other? There’s more music now and wider tastes than in the 1940’s and 50’s, that’s for sure. So it’s an interesting question to ponder. You wanna know my best guess? When I’m 85 years old, getting wheeled out of the rehab clinic, I’ll say my farewells to a chorus of… “In West Philadelphia born and raised, on the playground is where I spent most of my days…” Continue reading What’s one song that nearly everyone of your generation would be able to sing along to?
Love this! It’s a funny question. My sister told me about this one after she heard it on the new “Exactly” Podcast. I’m really not that sure what my mom’s book about me would be called. One possibility, though, would be: “Carlo, if you die I’m going to kill you.” Haha! She told me that after I’d decided to live and work in Haiti. That title sums up a lot about our relationship. 1) There’s a tremendous amount of love there. 2) My mom hasn’t always approved of the risks I’ve taken in life. 3) She’s always respected me and never prevented me from living life or growing up. 4) We joke with each other. There’s a lot in there! This is a great question. Continue reading If your mother wrote a book about you, what would it be called?
Haha! This question is too damn funny. Apparently it was making the rounds on Facebook recently. I’d call my mom’s cell. She often doesn’t remember to keep it on her so I’d have maybe a 60-40 chance of not getting shot. I struggle to come up with someone in my life who is just guaranteed straight to voicemail. Maybe that’s a blessing! Continue reading A deranged serial killer points a gun at you and says “Make 1 phone call right now. If the person answers, I will shoot you.” Who do you call?
What would it be all about? And how would people observe the day? My sister immediately answered this question by exclaiming, “National Nocturnal Day!!” She said on that day, everyone would sleep all day and work all night. As a natural night owl who often feels guilty waking up late after burning the midnight oil, she would love a day that was all for the nocturnally inclined. People would leave their lights on as they worked on passion projects, side hustles, and caught up on work. Coffee shops would be bumping at 3am. Haha! That’s her holiday. What’s yours? Continue reading If you could invent a brand new holiday, what would it celebrate?
So apparently my friend’s dad made up an expression that he would say any time he was about to go poop. And for some reason he’d say it to one of the family pets. For example: “Mr. Whiskers, I’m going to the super bowl! I’m gonna take you to the super bowl!” As a saying, it only kind of makes sense. (Presumably “bowl” comes from “toilet bowl” but why the super bowl? And why would the pets be brought along?) The point is that it’s funny, and random, and would only make sense within my friend’s family. It’s slang that’s localized to her single household. What do they speak at your house? Continue reading Are there any “slang” words or phrases in your family?
Any book that YOU yourself read is off limits for this question. What book do you really remember because it was read TO you by a real live person? (Audio books don’t count here.) When my sister and I were discussing this question, we both remembered the book “Bunnicula” that my mom read to us when we were in early grade school. Every night for a few weeks, we’d climb up onto my mom’s bed and she’d read a chapter or two before we had to go to sleep. I don’t remember a single detail about that book. But I remember the title and I remember loving that time together and being so eager for the next night when we could hear another chapter. My sister obviously remembers it too. I don’t think we’d talked about that book in 20 years but just today we both instantly were saying “Bunnicula!” Continue reading Do you have a favorite book that was read to you?