Ten Plus Five

Ten years ago today, Kelly and I drove to the beautiful Orange Methodist Church in Chapel Hill, and celebrated the start of a terrific marriage (and now we have an even more terrific little boy to go with it). Prior to that, we’d dated five years, four of which were long distance. Easily navigating through those four years was what told us that we were not only going to make it, but that we were going to make it good.

Little did Kelly know that she would eventually be married to the 12th best Scrabble player in North Carolina, which is kind of like winning the lottery, right? Don’t worry, I can hear you eagerly nodding.

I’m grateful for many things, but perhaps most of all for truly being the lesser half in my marriage—because while I think I’ve done a lot of good things, it doesn’t really hold a candle to what Kelly does each and every day. I think the thing we struggle most with is that we don’t have nearly enough time and energy on any given day, and like most everyone, we constantly have a vision of the things that we’ll seemingly never get to. But the things Kelly does get to are quite extraordinary at times, and it is an honor to call her my wife.

For everyone who attended our wedding ten years ago, or even knew us fifteen years ago when we started this journey, or who have met us at various stops along the way, we love you and salute you. Thanks for making both our lives and our marriage that much more celebration-worthy.

And, of course, a giant heartfelt thank you to my wife for putting up with me this entire time. It must be awfully strange to have a nocturnal creature constantly roaming the house while you’re asleep.

The Conflict of Positivity

I’ve been fighting a significant internal battle lately: trying to stay both positive and realistic. As you’ve surely noticed, things go beautifully when these two go hand in hand, but when they’re at odds, they can be extremely difficult to balance. Take, for example (and I promise this is a made up example), a situation where someone is cutting corners at work, and everyone else is forced to increase their workloads to compensate. Let’s also say that you’ve tried everything you can think of to get this person to work harder, but he or she not only seems unmotivated, but actually appears to enjoy the free ride.

There are surely many books, TED talks, and other sources of inspiration that offer advice for a scenario like this, and I’m sure that at times this advice works. But I think we all know that there are times when it doesn’t work. Suddenly there is nothing left to do but fume and grumble behind the scenes and let it start to consume you. It does so not only because you’re being dragged down and doing more work, but also because, damn it, you’re right. Your argument is irrefutable.

And all of this makes precisely no difference as far as the end result goes.

In general, I’ve always focused most on being realistic—whether that is positive or negative—because I think I value being genuine above all else. I want to earn others’ trust. If someone asks me, “What do you think of John?,” and I genuinely admire John, I want my support of him to mean something. Exaggeration is quite an evil thing at times, because it waters down those things that are truly great by making everything “great.” But exaggeration and false positivity get dangerously close sometimes, often to the point of being almost indistinguishable.

So what can we do? There is clearly no easy answer, but perhaps the most logical answer is that we spend as little time as possible fuming about the things we cannot change. Especially when we’re right. If someone willfully refuses to contribute his or her share, and we’ve exhausted all efforts to inspire and motivate him or her, I think the best thing may be to increase our own share to compensate and understand that this is simply what is necessary. We’re all different, and there are additional responsibilities involved with the path to good. Because while this path is absolutely the more difficult one, it is also the most rewarding. And too often we underappreciate that reward.

So when I see someone who is kind, or generous, or hard-working, I try to take a moment to appreciate that these things do not come easily. Such people have constantly worked hard not just for themselves but to compensate for others. And you know what? We love them for it, and there may be no better reward than that.

Writing and Screenplay Format

Right on the heels of the Oscars, it’s probably a good time to mention that I have always loved screenplays—and the screenplay format. I first ran across one back when Stephen King scripted Storm of the Century, and I quickly realized that this was the way that all Hollywood movies were written on paper. I was fascinated.

Since then, I’ve read quite a few screenplays/scripts for both movies and television, and have quite enjoyed them all. It’s probably not surprising, then, that I’ve felt an increasing itch to try to write one myself. I’m curious, though: have you ever read a screenplay, in any form? And if not, do you find the format pretty readable? I can include an example here: the screenplay for Big Fish, which is hosted by its author (John August) on his personal site. If you wouldn’t mind reading through a few pages of this, I’m quite curious to know how appealing the format is or isn’t to you. To me it would seem especially appealing to anyone that enjoys movies but doesn’t necessarily like to wade through an entire novel; most screenplays are around 110 pages with plenty of whitespace. I’d be grateful if you would let me know via a comment (or Twitter/Facebook/e-mail) what you think.

If you’re curious, my two very favorite screenplay/script collections are The Dark Knight Trilogy (available on Kindle) and the West Wing Script Book. They’re both terrific looks into how movies and television are made, and also a fun chance to see these stories unfold visually in your own imagination.

Coming back to my site here, the really neat thing is that I have used jQuery to craft a way to turn ordinary text into screenplay format, right here on my site! Here’s a quick example:



Two men, both mid-twenties, stand next to a battered country road. Faintly stretching across the road in front of them are the imprints of chicken feet.

Why did this chicken cross the road?

Well, to accurately identify that, we’d need to calculate the velocity of the wind, in combination with the weather, to determine external factors influencing the chicken’s resistance to moving forward. Then, we’d have to learn about the chicken’s social habits, including the proximity of any female chickens, because—

Okay, we’re done here.


Would love to post some bits of fiction (amusing and not) in this format, so again, I’d love to get your thoughts. If it’s a bit jarring to read (the link to Big Fish being the best indicator), definitely let me know.

Thank you for your help!

Overprotecting Our Kids

Our gut instincts tell us that we’re overprotecting our children—certainly compared to when we ourselves were kids. What would we have felt like if our childhood experiences were traded with that of our children today? Would we have been better off, or worse? This article puts considerable effort into exploring the answer, and makes for an eye-opening read.

The Overprotected Kid – (Hanna Rosin, The Atlantic)

Writing Advice: Avoiding “Thought” Verbs

Ran across this post by Chuck Palahniuk (author of Fight Club), which features some of the simplest but most powerful writing advice I’ve seen in a while: avoiding “thought” verbs as much as possible. These are verbs like knows, thinks, wonders, and remembers. Instead, he implores us to be as descriptive as possible.

I think this is fantastic writing advice for writers of any level—not just in fiction writing but in corporate and personal settings, as well. Don’t state but show.

One excerpt:

“Brenda knew she’d never make the deadline. Traffic was backed up from the bridge, past the first eight or nine exits. Her cell phone battery was dead. At home, the dogs would need to go out, or there would be a mess to clean up. Plus, she’d promised to water the plants for her neighbor…”

Do you see how the opening “thesis statement” steals the thunder of what follows? Don’t do it.

Check out the full article here.

Are Our Stories Good Enough?

Browsing through Facebook, I’m always a bit stunned to find how often we share things from strangers (i.e. the internet) instead of ourselves. It’s so easy to view others’ extraordinary achievements (“Man leaps over fire to propose to fiancée!”) as much superior to our own (“Man nervously takes wife to a park only to give away proposal intent.”). We can’t compete, right?

But we can and should. Why? Because the internet is full of such extraordinary things, but our lives are not. Personally, I don’t care about random larger-than-life stories from the internet, but I do care about your everyday ones. The experiences of friends and family are far more valuable than strangers’, because it’s friends and family that we build our lives around. We should care much more about what happens to each other—whether serious, silly, or somewhere in between.

So in 2015 I implore you to share your thoughts and stories, and we’ll all enjoy them more. Even if they don’t involve catching a shark with your bare hands, or painting an incredibly realistic seascape on your sidewalk. And better yet, don’t be afraid to create new stories—because even though others have already done so, it’s your stories that matter most to those around you.

The First Step: Moving From Bite Size to 3-5 Bite Size

One of the more difficult aspects of social media (particularly Twitter) is its limiting us to bite-size posts—the challenge of summarizing complex thoughts into a small set of characters. It’s rather indicative of our culture at large. Of course, we’re all pressed for time in various ways, so expanding these posts into novellas isn’t going to do the trick, either. The key, I would hope, is giving such thoughts exactly enough room to breathe and no more.

Therefore, it’s time to bring my web site back to life, slowly at first and hopefully in a way that gains a lot of momentum throughout 2015. I gots plans, you see! (More on that soon.)

For now, though, I will be posting any thoughts longer than 140 characters here, where links will be automatically shared on Facebook and Twitter—simply because that’s the easiest way to share them. Manually checking a web site is no fun, and using RSS isn’t exactly popular to talk about at dinner parties. Yet.

Facebook actually has quite a bit more room to post, so you’ll see more things shared in their entirety there, but of course it also has its own private algorithms that determine what you can and cannot see. This might be an interesting experiment in itself: from time to time you can check the web site (http://www.andymurphy.com) to see if there were posts that Facebook hid from you. In which case you can tell it to go to the Naughty Corner.

Here’s to a terrific 2015, and hopefully we’ll all give our thoughts a little more room to breathe.

Heart and Soul

My grandmother, who is unarguably the heart and soul of my extended family, passed away yesterday in North Carolina. Behind her she leaves a void that all of us know will never be filled.

And yet, to an extent, it already has.

In some ways, we measure ourselves by the impact that we make upon the world, and whether we leave it a better place than we found it. I, for one, know that my very existence is largely a product of my grandparents, who worked together to create something bigger and more meaningful than anything I’ll create in my lifetime. They built not just a family but one that works ceaselessly to improve the world through kindness and humor. And so while our hearts are unbearably heavy today, I take solace in the fact that my grandmother lives on—not just in the family that she created, but in the many acts of kindness that she instilled in others. There are truly parts of her in all of us.

When I graduated college, my parents had divorced, Kelly (who I’d only been dating for three months) was moving to Maryland for a job that she wasn’t sure would be permanent, and suddenly I found myself in an adult world with no job and only a hint of a direction. My brother had also joined the Air Force, and for the first time in my life, family felt like a distant thing to me.

My grandparents changed all of that.

Although they were in their seventies, they didn’t blink when they offered for me to come live with them until I figured out what I wanted to (or could) do. They knew their home of forty years couldn’t match the excitement of the Athens nightlife, and I’ll never forget my grandmother laughing as she told me she was aware of that. But in those weeks I lived with them, they instilled a sense of family that I didn’t entirely realize I’d been missing. We had home-cooked meals and talked about things around town and my grandmother silently (and happily) made meals that she knew that I liked, even though I protested. When my grandmother made up her mind about something (especially related to a kindness she was offering), it was best to just accept and be grateful. And I was and am so truly grateful.

As of yesterday, she is no longer with us, but in some ways she is always with us. She’s the catalyst whenever we decide to bring family together, and she bats away the hesitation we might feel when we hug instead of shaking hands. She’s the foundation of our sense of home whenever we walk in our front door, and the laughs we make whenever we see something silly (her eye rolling was the best). There are few things in our lives that she hasn’t touched.

I hope so much that in those final days, she smiled to herself and knew that her work here was done. I hope that she felt rewarded in knowing that she would be leaving the world a better place than she found it, and that her five remaining daughters (and their children) would continue to build on that impact long after she was gone. Most of all, I simply hope that she left this world with a profound sense of satisfaction.

If you’re reading this, Grandma, know that I love you so much, and that we will never, ever forget you.

Setting Course for 2014

As we enter the new year, we’re all thinking—consciously or subconsciously—about New Year’s resolutions. The idea of starting anew has an irresistible quality to it. And although 2013 departed us less than a week ago, it already grows smaller in the rearview mirror.

There are many kinds of resolutions, but mine tend to fall into realm of focus: things to focus on more, and things to focus on less. Much of our day-to-day experiences are largely about perspective, and few things are as easy to change (relatively speaking) as our perspective. But we have to be willing to change.

2013, for me, was often a year of frustration. There were all of the obvious frustrations: moving to a new city, raising a one year-old, trying to find time for the many things I can’t find time for, sitting in traffic, and so on. I try to dwell on these frustrations as little as possible, because often it is wasted effort. It is time spent focusing on the negative. Like everyone else, I just get through them the best I can, and make a few improvements when the opportunity presents itself. But the real frustration happens with the things that I seemingly cannot hope to change. For me, the most glaring example of this is the ugly combination of hate and ignorance. They are everywhere: in the “news”, in Facebook/Twitter, in conversations overheard at a bar or local café. And surprisingly, they are increasingly common in close friends, good people, and, at times, myself.

As time goes on, and the internet sprawls outward, reliable information will come at a premium. Our ability to harness it, as a society, may largely determine our fate in the years ahead. For when everyone has a voice, whose voice is it that we hear the most? Those that are the loudest. We like to think that the loudest voices are those that most represent the truth, but deep down every one of knows this is not the case. The world doesn’t give volume to those with the largest accuracy, or depth; it gives volume to those with the most money.

Hate is a terrible thing. It always feel justified but too often isn’t. It can be based on misinformation, hearsay, “facts” spun in misleading directions, and the more obvious origins of bigotry, discrimination, or—as is too often the case—fear. What alarms me about hate is how much we’re seeing it manifest within ourselves based on what we’re told, not by what we experience. We invent large-scale battles based on wars that don’t truly exist at an individual level. In other words, we fight for people we don’t know and who may not even exist. Whenever I feel myself turn in this direction, a sense of revulsion comes over me, because I feel that the line between who I am and who I don’t want to be is increasingly thinning.

As with many things, there is no clear answer to this, but going into 2014, I want to do the following:

  • Do not respond to hate. Hate needs an audience to flourish, and responding with disdain (or “correction”) only gives its fire the oxygen it needs to survive. If you are hateful, I vow to ignore you.
  • Do not spread any information that I don’t: 1) feel a strong trust in its originator, or 2) know from personal experience. Unverified internet links, regardless of how logical, are not helping any of us.
  • Give every single individual, in my life and others, a chance to start on equal footing. That is the essence of what being an American is all about, and it stuns me how much we abandon this principle at the first sign of struggle. No matter how much 15 people in one group are alike, the 16th person is not one of those 15, and doesn’t deserve to inherit the mistakes or successes of those 15. They deserve to be viewed for who they are.

I write this as a way to see these resolutions in print, so that I can pull them up at any time and remind myself if needed. I want to hold myself accountable to them.

I hope you will help me do that, and perhaps join me along the way.