Speak up! My experience in Toastmasters

This is not our club. This is what Toastmasters wishes our club looked like.

This is not our club. This is what Toastmasters wishes our club looked like; we’re probably closer in appearance to Bill Murray in Caddyshack.

I think more people fear public speaking than death for a couple of reasons:

  1. Death only happens once.
  2. You don’t have to look anyone in the eye after death.

For several years now, I have attended weekly Toastmasters meetings at club Broad Ripple 517. I am one of those fortunate souls who doesn’t shake with fear at the thought of public speaking. This isn’t to say I enjoy it, but I feel fairly comfortable in front of an audience. I attend Toastmasters for a few reasons:

  1. I speak publicly for my job, but sometimes I go a little while in between speaking engagements. Attending a weekly meeting makes sure I stay sharp.
  2. I really enjoy the other members of our club. They are intelligent, open-minded and a lot of fun to be around.
  3. I like helping others improve themselves. The evaluation periods of our meetings are a good time to hear and give feedback from others.

Our club is a bit unique. It takes place at 7:00 am but it’s very casual. I know some official Toastmasters officials cringe at the way we run our club, but you know what? It’s our club and we like it! We continue to find others who appreciate our laid-back approach and welcoming atmosphere. Sure, we could do some things better but who couldn’t?

Awful or brilliant?

Today was a pretty typical meeting for us. You’ll either think this sounds awful or brilliant. Anyway, a short rundown on the high points:

Speech 1: A longtime member with both a medical doctorate and law degree gave a speech entitled “Misconceptions about German hyper-inflation in the 1920’s”. Seriously. Not only that, it was fascinating, informative and entertaining.

Speech 2: Road rage! A truly funny take on the dangers of road rage.

Topic speeches with the theme of Finals: These impromptu speeches covered the merits of standardized testing, the difficulties of a ‘Physics for Poets’ class, the importance of treating every meal like it could be your last (hopefully not ice chips and a morphine drip), and thoughtful final words as one’s life draws to a close.

Maybe you think this sounds like a terrible way to spend your free time. I see it as an investment in myself and an opportunity to grow. It’s much easier to stumble and look like an idiot in this small group of friends with no stakes than to do the same thing in front of an audience that matters.

There is a club near you. If the first one you go to doesn’t feel right, try another. Each club has its own culture and personality. Once you find the right one, I assure you it will be a rewarding experience.

TL;DR: Toastmasters is an educational and worthwhile way to work on self-improvement.


The OKC Memorial: Don’t go inside.

The Oklahoma City Memorial and its accompanying museum presents the best and worst of what a memorial can (and should) be. In my opinion, they do a lot of things right and then undo most of that with a terrible, awful, not-very-good museum. I’m concerned about what this means for future memorials.

Embed from Getty Images

The Good

Pretty much everything about the outside memorial is very well done. It’s thoughtful, reflective, and inspires awe. It moves you to think about the tragedy without forcing you into a specific framework. It allows your imagination to contemplate the events that happened here without being hysterical. At the same time, it promotes a sense of peace and healing.

The empty chairs in particular really are a wonderful tribute, made even more impressive by the fact that the overall space remains mostly usable. Opportunities exist to continue using the grounds as a park, meeting place, or lunch spot. I think this is important, to continue living in the space that was the site of so much death and destruction.

The Bad

That museum. As much as the outside park gets right, the museum gets it all wrong. It’s nausea-inducing, chaotic, and in poor taste. So where does it miss the mark?

  1. The opening ‘boardroom’ where you listen to an audio recording of a meeting and then hear the bomb go off. The flashing lights and screams are jarring but at the same time, it feels like a cheap stunt.
  2. The boardroom opens directly into a swirl of televisions and audio that seek to recreate the experience of that day. Everywhere you walk, there are newscasters detailing the carnage and video of the bloodied victims, survivors, and first responders.
  3. It’s hard to express just how disorienting and overwhelming the experience is in the museum. They really only miss two opportunities: 1) including the smell of the burning bodies and 2) forcing you to participate in a reenactment of victim recovery. It really is that bad.
  4. There is absolutely nothing peaceful, thoughtful or healing about the museum. It’s a very expensive attempt to make you feel the visceral emotion of the day. It is manipulative and misses the point of the outside memorial entirely.
  5. The motives of Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols are completely ignored, at least that I could see. Why did they do this? What did they hope to accomplish? Who was the target of their anger? Why the Murrah Federal Building? None of this is addressed that I saw.

The Future of Memorials

It’s clear that memorials play a powerful role in our collective consciousness. The Vietnam War Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial and many more play a critical role in providing cultural touchstones for all Americans. Future memorials have the same opportunity to impact our collective memories.

The architects of the Oklahoma City Memorial understand this and have created a memorial worthy of being remembered. It is haunting, yet peaceful. The reflecting pool provides an additional sense of loss against the march of time.

It’s a shame it is paired with a museum that seeks to recreate an experience that no one would want to relive. Unfortunately, I imagine most visitors to the memorial also visit the museum. I’m afraid that future memorials will take a similar approach and attempt to bludgeon you with the experience of the day.

I want to encourage you to be content to spend time outside, among the empty chairs and the reflecting pool. Spend time with the ghosts of those who perished that day and contemplate the legacy of violence and extremism in our society. Resolve to do something to encourage peace in our world today. If we all do this, maybe we won’t have to build more memorials.

It’s getting even harder to justify not expanding Medicaid via The Incidental Economist

It’s getting even harder to justify not expanding Medicaid | The Incidental Economist notes the following:

[T]he projected state share of the Medicaid expansion is even lower than previously thought.

The Incidental Economist has become one of my favorite blogs (h/t to Nathan Flynn for alerting me to it). The authors at TIE have consistently provided rational, thoughtful analysis of the Affordable Care Act without resorting to demagoguery or misrepresenting arguments. Their analysis is based on careful observation of empirical data and using that data to speculate on future outcomes.

Their series of posts on Medicaid expansion is well worth reading. It provides compelling arguments for states to expand Medicaid. It is clearer than ever that the states choosing not to do so are largely doing so out of spite and hurting their citizens in the process.

I hope that Gov. Pence will look at how Indiana’s decision not to expand Medicaid is hurting some of our most vulnerable citizens. Let’s put politics aside and help our fellow Hoosiers.

I hate dogs.


There, I said it. I realize that by stating this publicly, my opinions will be dismissed from this point forward. I will be subjected to harsh TSA screening on every flight for the rest of time, my auto and homeowner’s insurance rates will go up, and people will picket my home night and day. Children will sob at the mention of my name and boy scouts will hear scary campfire stories about me.

All of this is true. I don’t care; I still hate dogs.

To be fair, it’s not the dogs’ fault. They are what they are.

At this point in your reading, you’re either silently cheering me on, completely bewildered, or foaming at the mouth with fury (rabies?). So here are some of my many, many reasons:

  1. The slobbering: It’s just so disgusting. My former roommate had a boxer who would just sit and lick furniture or pillows until they were soaking wet. That is disgusting, no matter how much you like dogs.
  2. The licking: Dogs love to lick you. For some reason, they specifically enjoy licking your face. A lot of times, they lick their balls right before they lick your face. Again, this is disgusting.
  3. The walking: If I go on a walk, it’s because I want to go on a walk. I feel sorry for those poor people who have to walk their dogs in subzero temperatures.
  4. The neediness: Would you like to have a spontaneous dinner? Did you have a death in the family? Would you like to run some errands after work? Too bad, you better get home to walk Fido or else.
  5. The constant desire for attention: Dogs require near-constant feedback and interaction with their family. Do you know why people with dogs can’t have a normal conversation? It’s because they spend 2/3 of their free time speaking in baby talk to an animal that just looks at them quizzically. It’s not exactly a conversation with Oscar Wilde, is it?
  6. The picking up of poop: Not only do you have to walk this desperate attention-whore of an animal constantly, you also have to carry a stash of plastic bags to pick up and carry poop while you walk. Disgusting. Again.
  7. The not picking up of poop: The only thing worse than picking up poop is not picking up poop. There’s a special circle of H-E-double hockey-sticks reserved for these wayward souls.
  8. The noise: Little dogs don’t lick, you say? No, they yip, which might be even worse. A constant high-pitched yipping that the Supreme Court banned from being used at Guantanamo because no one should be subjected to it. Have a big dog? The constant loud, deep barking isn’t any better. My neighbors seem to have a house full of both. Hooray! No sleep again tonight!
  9. Sarah McLachlan: You’re watching a perfectly good Cheers rerun and suddenly, the commercial break is full of abused animals. No one wants to see that; like I said, it’s not the dogs’ fault. Forget about finishing that episode of Cheers; it’s not going to be funny now. The dogs have ruined another evening.
  10. The owners of dogs: Dog owners seem helpless to stop their dogs from jumping on your nice, clean pants. They can’t stop the dog from jumping on your lap, licking you, or depositing their gross toy on you. “Oh, Mr. Bojangles! Get down from there! I swear, he’s not usually like this. Oh well, what can you do?” 

This clip pretty well sums it up, I think:

When others find out about my hatred for dogs, they immediately go to the obvious concern: “Were you bitten by a dog as a child?” The answer is yes, I was bitten, chased and attacked by all manner of neighborhood dogs. These dogs were not kept on leashes or in any way restrained from coming after me daily for the crime of attempting to go outside as a child. Queenie must be laughing even now at the terror she and her doberman friend inflicted on me summer after summer.

I wish the answer was no. I wish I could say that I have never had a bad experience with a dog. Not because I think I would like dogs now instead, but because it gives people the luxury of hearing my answer and then nodding knowingly, as if that explains everything.

It gives them a reason to dismiss my attitude toward dogs without having to acknowledge that there are some people who legitimately just do not like dogs. Period. I don’t want to be licked. I would like to have a conversation without talking over incessant barking. I would like to have dinner with you without having to account for the walking of your dog.

For many people, to admit this out loud is shocking. One can actually watch someone change his opinion of your worth as they process the fact that you are not joking; you really do dislike dogs.

“You don’t like dogs? Oh how can this be? What flaw in your genetic code has rendered in you this terrible defect? The horror… the HORROR!”

TL;DR: I hate dogs. I have a lot of reasons.

Update 4/22: To prove I’m not a monster, here’s my favorite song about a dog: