Posts with Category This Writer’s Life

What the “elephant whisperer” teaches us about listening

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When Lawrence Anthony died, elephants he had rescued and released years ago, showed up to mourn at his graveside.

Here’s what his wife wrote:

“Tonight at Thula Thula, the whole herd arrived at the main house home to Lawrence and I. We had not seen them here for a very long time. Extraordinary proof of animal sensitivity and awareness that only a few humans can perceive. And Lawrence was one of them. Thank you for your wonderful messages. Lawrence’s legacy will be with us forever at Thula Thula.”

They stayed for two days and two nights and then left. Some share this story as proof that animals mourn. But anyone who has had animals knows this already. There is a bigger…

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I love republicans

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Speaking at NKU about Donald Trump, but not about Donald Trump

Two days after the November 2016 election, I spoke at Northern Kentucky University to a few hundred first year students. What would I tell them?

After the election, I was in shock. I couldn’t believe that Trump won. Annie came down stairs in tears. We knew what it could mean for our health insurance that we buy from healthcare.gov. We’re heavy insurance users. Between paying our premium and hitting our deductible in February, we paid about $20,000 in 2017.

Could our son with autism be seen as a preexisting condition and denied insurance that pays for his therapy?

The election seemed to validate racism, sexual assault, and a lack of basic decency, kindness, and empathy.

I decided I…

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The Makers of Muncie’s MadJax

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I work in a factory in Muncie, Indiana. Not many people can say that these days.

In fact, many believe that Muncie’s best days–our factory days–are behind us. Our schools are going through budget and transportation issues and a third of our citizens live in poverty.  There’s a lack of hope that we can’t be more than our struggles. That we can’t thrive without factories.

I don’t work on a factory line, but I do make things. I create stories.

For the last ten years I’ve traveled around the world to meet the people who produce many of the things in our lives that we take for granted. I’ve worked alongside coffee farmers…

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A bird crapped on me from 33,000 feet, this is what it says about my life

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It felt like someone had chucked a marble, hitting me in the shoulder. It stung. But it also stunk because it wasn’t a marble; it was bird shit.

Now I’m no expert in physics, but given the velocity of the bird poop, the bird must’ve been somewhere in the stratosphere, which starts at 33,000′.

I was hobbling down Main Street from my breakfast date at the Downtown Farm Stand with Annie after our morning CrossFit work out. Since I’ve been traveling for my latest book, it has essentially been a month since I did a workout of much significance, hence the hobbling. It doesn’t hurt to sit or lie in one place and not move. But if Rick Grimes saw me walking down the…

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What we learned from the guy who builds $250K Batmobiles

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We met the guy who made the Batmobile. His name is Mark and he lives in Indiana.

We were celebrating Free Comic Book Day at our local shop, Aw Yeah Comics, and Mark was there with one of his 1966 Batmobile replica. It had a a “Bat Beam” button, and an “Emergency Bat-Turn Lever.”

Even as a kid, I recognized that the original Batman TV-series starring Adam West was cheesey. I loved it. The corny jokes. The word sounds–Bam! Pa-Zow!! Bat shark spray. Bat-everything. But the Batmobile was just plain cool, so to see it, or at least a pretty darn good replica, of it was awesome.

Mark Racop, the owner of Fiberglass Freaks, stood a watchful yet not hovering distance from the car. As Harper, 8, and I walked toward the store’s entrance, we stopped to talk to him. I asked if he was with the Batmobile.IMG_4199

He confirmed that he was and then launched into an unexpected motivational soliloquy that went something like this:

I built my first Batmobile with a few friends in 1977 when I was 17. I never knew it would become this. DC officially licenses us to build replicas. There was a one-in-one-thousand chance that my hobby would become anything. Whenever I get a chance to talk to kids, I always tell them to follow their dreams.

“How much does a Batmobile go for?” I asked, wondering if it was outfitted for car seats.

“$125,000 to $250,000,” Mark said, as matter of factly as superhumanly possible.

To which I thought, “Holy shit, Batman!”

When I first started chatting with Mark, I thought I was talking to a grown man with a quirky hobby. But when I realized I was talking to a grown man who builds cars that cost quarter-of-a-million dollars, I took him more seriously.

I’m not sure why, but the numbers made me see Mark differently. They shouldn’t. Because before Mark had a business building replica Batmobiles, he did it because he loved to do it. No doubt society looked at Mark as a quirky kid with a silly hobby who should probably find something more productive to do with his time.

I can relate. Before I earned a living as a writer and speaker, I was a quirky kid with a silly hobby, and a lot of people told me I should probably find something more productive to do than travel around the world and write stories for ten bucks a pop. My asking Mark what a Batmobile cost was the equivalent of the questions I’m often asked: “What’s your day job? What does your wife do?”

Yet even I judged Mark this way.

Why is it that as a society we’re so quick to dismiss someone’s passion instead of supporting it?

Mark builds Batmobiles. And they are freaking awesome! That’s enough on its own for us to celebrate him.

Mark is proof that we shouldn’t be ashamed of our passions and hobbies. We should embrace them and we should support the passions and hobbies of our family and friends regardless of how quirky.

If you want to buy a Batmobile and have the funds to do so, check out Mark’s site Buy Bat Parts.

More Batphotos below the break…

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“Don’t forget to explore!” A lesson in creating from my daughter

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On Monday, Harper and I explored the woods. We found puff balls, a beer bottle, a rabbit, and a squawking heron. We climbed a deer stand and tried to patch a beaver dam.

When we walked from the woods into the clearing next to the pond, we saw what appeared to be snow flowers. It was as if tall weeds that had managed to stay upright through the winter bloomed petals of snow.

Harper wanted to show “everyone,” so we recorded a short episode of Harper & Daddy TV, our hit YouTube show. (I mean, like, one of our video has 100 views.)

While we were filming, we realized that the snow flowers had formed atop nearly invisible spider…

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Union City Pride

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I haven’t watched a high school basketball game from start to finish since my wife hung up her sneakers in 1998. (Annie was #44 in the playbook and #1 in my heart, although I was too cool to admit it.)

That changed this past Saturday when I cheered on the Union City Lady Indians against Wood Memorial in the Class 1A State Championship.

“I don’t know why I’m crying,” I said to Annie after a girl from Union City drilled a three out of the gate. (To qualify crying: I had a single tear welling up in each eye. It wasn’t like I was ugly crying.)

“I had tears running down my face watching The Facebook video of them leaving town,” Annie…

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My friend/grandma Frances

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My grandma, Frances (Copeland) Wilt, looked like Bob Dylan and laughed like Popeye. Two inarguable facts that I’ve kept to myself until now.

She died on Monday morning in Rockford, Illinois, while I was eating donuts and drinking coffee in Muncie, Indiana.

The smell of coffee reminds me of her and Grandpa. They were the only reason our house had a coffee maker growing up. When the coffee maker came out, I knew they were on their way and grandma would be loaded down with paper bags of garage sale toys–He-Mans and Han Solos and some of the weirdest toys you could imagine.

They’d pull up in their multi-Brown RV and it was like a whole planet just showed up in the…

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A house on wheels provides tons of adventure

This  article first appeared in the CS Monitor on June 12, 2016. My Grandma just passed away and I’m dusting it off in remembrance of her and her love of travel.

My cousin Brice is armed with the bow and arrow. Of the two of us, he is the better shot and the more ruthless. I have a plastic bag filled with paper “snaps” that go bang! when thrown on the ground.

A foolish woman thought she could steal a few moments of rest alongside this winding road in the Great Smokey Mountains. Little did she know that lurking behind the shade tree she had parked under were two 7-year-old boys about to attack.

She is asleep. This is going to be easy. First, I will…

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