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Swirling seas of milky white twist and twirl like strange and distant galaxies in the far corners of outer space. As you grab a rushed coffee break in the chatty workplace cafeteria or cutlery-clinking dining hall, just stare deeply into your chipped ceramic telescope and enjoy the two-second escape from reality to watch those floating clouds mix and melt deep into the swirling darkness.
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Yes, your innie or outtie is where heaping truckfuls of DNA were dumped into your ittie bittie body when you were a cute little negative-year-old. And of course, as a special thank-you present from those few fetal months of dump-truck deliciousness, you get a lifelong tummy scar that occasionally gets plugged up with rogue bits of T-shirt lint.
Now, when this happens you know what to do: Slap on some sunblock, grab your rod, and motor out into the deep to reel in that big sucker. After fighting it tooth and nail under the hot summer sun, you’ll feel a strong sense of smirking satisfaction when you finally fish her out and finish the job.
Make sure to grab a photo back at the docks.
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We’re all gonna get bumps.
Nobody can predict the future but we do know one thing about it: It ain’t gonna go according to plan.
Yes, we’ll all have massive highs, big days, and proud moments. Color faded, postcard-streaked blurs will float and flash through our brains on our deathbeds, of wide eyes on graduation stages, father-daughter dances at weddings, and healthy baby screeches in the delivery room. And dotting those big moments will be smaller ones too: fragile hugs with Grandma on Christmas morning, two-year-olds handing you a bouquet of dandelions and saying ‘I love you’, or your boyfriend staring into your eyes and smiling while lazing in bed on Sunday morning.
We’re all gonna get lumps.
We’re all gonna get bumps.
It’s sad but things could happen or hurt you that you just can’t predict.
Your husband might leave you, your girlfriend may cheat, your headaches might be serious, your dog could get smacked in the street. Yes, your kids might get mixed up with tough gangs or bad scenes. It’s sad but your mom could get cancer… or your dad could get mean.
There will be times in your life you’re tossed down the well, too. There will be times you’ll cry yourself to sleep, with twists in your stomach, with holes in your heart. You may wonder if it’s all worth it and you may think that it ain’t. You may wonder if you can handle it or you may beg for restraint.
But when bad news washes over you and when the pain sponges and soaks in, I really hope you feel like you’ve always got two big choices:
1. You can swish and swirl in gloomy darkness forever, or
2. You can grieve and face the future with newly sober eyes
Sure, life has dealt me some blows in the couple years I’ve been writing this site and this book. There was the mind-numbing loneliness of moving to a brand new nowhere town, the broken heart of a major breakup, the searing waves of regret when a friend disappeared, and the general life pressures of starting a new job, living on my own, and trying to make new friends in a big city.
But I’m lucky because I’ve had a way out for the past two years. I’ve had a secret pill to swallow, a magic potion to swirl, and a bubbly cauldron to sip from every time I felt down or felt black or felt blue. And I hope you know that remedy and I hope you feel it, too.
After all, you’re reading it right now.
Yes, awesome things make my life better, people. And I hope they do the same for you.
I honestly can’t go a day anymore without smiling at a couple tiny awesome things in my world. Whether it’s fixing electronics by smacking them, waking up and realizing it’s Saturday, or moving all my wet clothes from the washer to the dryer without dropping anything, these tiny things make a great big difference.
So come on. Come on! Are you with me? Who’s with me? I say if you’ve got a couple fist-pumps in you, if you’ve got a sneaky twinkle in your eye, if you’ve got an itchy old soul that loves smiling at strangers, dancing at weddings, and popping the hell out of bubble wrap, then come on in and join The AWESOME Movement.
Yes, it’s my sincere hope that The Book of Awesome helps those who need it to grieve, move on, and remind them the best things in life are free. For those folks, maybe it’s a ladder out of the well or a dusty flashlight beam in the darkness. For others, perhaps it’s just a little laugh on the back of the toilet, a bit of peace before bed, or a spark for debates about gasoline fumes, alarm clock strategy, or what matters most to you, you, or you.
For me, I know I’ll have more dark days, and I know my friends will too, but I like thinking that snow days, steamy buffets, and the cool side of the pillow will always cheer me through to the other side.
While polar ice caps melt, while health care debates rage on, while buzz saws chop down forests, while wars go on and on, I hope there’s always a special place we can click online in the darkness or flip open for a few minutes to turn off that bright light, snuggle right on up, and get comfy to chat about the sweetest parts of life.
Thank you for letting me take a break to share personal stories about myself and behind The Book of Awesome this week. The comments and emails have been achingly beautiful and wet my eyes many times. I am so incredibly thankful, lucky, honored, and excited to keep going down this road with you.
Thank you for letting our stories all tightly twist together as we all keep moving forward and we all keep moving on.
— Check out my new audiobook How to Get Back Up —
My friend Chris died a few years ago.
He quietly suffered from mental illness for a long time but took great care to ensure everybody around him felt good, felt happy, and never worried about him. Most people didn’t know because his first concern was always how you were feeling, not him.
I spoke to Chris three or four times a week in the year leading up his passing and I could tell he was in terrible anguish sometimes, and had been for a while. I really hope and think he’s finally found relief… despite how severe a measure he had to take to find it.
I miss him all the time and think about our final phone call at 10:30 the night before he disappeared. I think about how maybe I could have changed his mind if I knew what he was thinking. I think about what I’d say differently if I had that chance again.
But I never will.
In the weeks that followed there was a massive outpouring of support and we organized an event to celebrate his life. I collected stories from friends and classmates and we read them aloud in a rented restaurant where we flashed images and laid out some of his clothes, books, and photos. There were a lot of tears and hugs as we soberly faced the massive loss.
At a loud party a few years back, Chris suddenly draped a red blanket over himself and started full-out dancing to Madonna’s Like A Prayer while everyone cheered and formed a big clapping circle around him. He gyrated his hips, pointed at the crowd, and completely sunk into a magic moment of pure, free and easy bliss while everybody watched. Somebody captured the moment on film and I keep the shiny 8 x 10 pinned above my computer at home. Every night last summer while I wrote The Book of Awesome, I looked up at him dancing and smiled.
See, Chris is a huge part of all this. Most nights on the phone he told me bluntly what he thought of the day’s post and gave ideas for more. He commented under his Mexican half-brother pseudonym San Carlos and many early posts are dotted with his thoughts. Only a few days before his death he wrote on #840 Popping Bubble Wrap “I learned on the news that bubble wrap is a fantastic insulator because of the trapped air. So, if you’re cold and have nothing else besides bubble wrap, DO NOT POP IT but wrap yourself in it.” On #839 Really good candy with your bill at a restaurant he chimed in with “And let us not forget the wholesome goodness of restaurants that serve fresh fruit at the end.” And then on #836 When you push the button for the elevator and it’s already there he simply added “Spot on!”
That was his last comment.
Chris passed away before 1000 Awesome Things won those Webby Awards last spring and got a book deal with a great gang down in New York. I wish he could have seen how far we’ve come since his first comment on the very first post. I wish he could see how far all his strong words of encouragement pushed us forward.
After submitting the first draft of the book last August, I spoke with the publisher and we agreed to chop a few gross-out entries like Picking your nose, Blowing your nose in the shower, and Your colon. We wanted to squeeze some more new content in and plus, let’s face it, not everyone’s as into snot as me.
Anyway, when I submitted the second draft a month later I sorta forgot Your colon in there, hoping nobody would notice. But they noticed all right — turns out they actually read these things — and it came back with a red circle and the polite question “Didn’t we agree to pull this one?” So again I said I’d take it out but again … I sorta forgot. And I sorta forgot on the next draft, too.
See, the truth is I included Your colon because it was always Chris’ favorite post. He called me the night I wrote it breathlessly giggling. “I love it,” he started. “It’s hilarious and … strangely illuminating.” In the months that followed he’d always bring it up again, too. “Nice writeup on all-you-can-eat buffets today,” he’d start “… but it’s no colon.”
When we talked about that post that night I could hear his laughs so clearly through the phone. I could see his thin eyes get thinner, his glasses slip and fog a bit, and his small body rolling back and forth as he giggled and shook his head and enjoyed a nice moment.
That’s how I still picture him today. That’s the picture that inspired an awesome thing in the book called When you hear someone’s smile over the phone.
Because listen, we all are who we are who we are. There’s people who made you, people who shaped you, and people who changed you.
When you’re lucky enough to have unforgettable friends in your life do yourself a favor and make sure they’re unforgettable. Spend time, make memories, tell them you love them, whenever you can, however you can.
Chris, thank you for your laughs, friendship, and inspiration. Thank you for being a big part of my life, a big part of this site, and a big part of this book. Your memory goes on, grows on, and lives on, because you’re so unforgettably
Thanks for reading this story about Chris. He continues to be a big part of everything we’ve created here. Personally, I feel lucky I don’t have serious mental illness but I will admit there are many times I feel anxious or overly stressed.
I thought I’d drop a quick note to tell you about my favorite book of the year so far. It’s called Play It Away and it talks about how we can use something simple — play! — to help with anxiety. I actually read it in one sitting! Hope you like it too.
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After finishing school in Boston and going on a cross-country road trip with my friends Chris and Ty, I moved to a dusty suburb to live with my brand new wife in my brand new life. Yes, we got married young, we got married quick, and after living on opposite sides of the border we were finally moving in to get busy living.
So I slapped on a crisp, fresh shirt and started a new office job while trying to settle into a brand new town where I didn’t know anyone. My high school and college friends had long scattered like marbles so I was looking for a new place in a new world.
Now, my wife had been teaching for years so she had a bit more going on. She’d coach baseball tournaments and I’d stroll around waving at old folks on their porches. She’d play volleyball and I’d eat cookies and flip past reruns. She’d watch Gray’s Anatomy with friends and I’d practice the fine art of taking long naps and playing video games.
I was feeling pretty lonely and whenever I flipped open a paper the news didn’t exactly cheer me up, either. Polar ice caps were melting, pirates were storming the seas, wars were raging around the world, and the stock market was in a deep freeze.
It seemed like everything outside my window was just bad and everything inside was a little … sad. Yes, although my wife and I had respect, trust, and admiration for each it was becoming clear after a few months that … something was missing.
So one chilly Spring night in 2008, alone in our dark house, feeling cut off from the buzzing world of bright lights outside, I went online and on a whim started up 1000 Awesome Things. I wrote about broccoflower to kick things off.
I think I needed to remind myself there were bright spots in the darkness. I think I needed a cold breath away from the hot swirling clouds around me. I think I needed a place where I could smile at the little things we all smile silently at throughout our days.
Over time our nights at home grew a bit quieter, our dinners a bit shorter, and our laughs faded into polite smiles. While 2008 rolled on we kept living together but were growing further apart. She’d coach badminton and play on her volleyball team and I’d stay at home writing for hours about nachos and gasoline.
We kept trucking, kept slugging, kept soldiering on, until the rubber finally hit the road one quiet night while we were sitting on the couch. She looked me straight in the eyes and through painful tears summoned the courage to tell me she didn’t love me anymore.
It was heartbreaking.
Tears spilled all weekend and wet pillows, sweaty blankets, and head-spins came in waves. By Sunday night I blinked bleary-red eyes and suddenly realized I didn’t have anything to write about except crying. So that’s what I did.
When I look back on that post it reminds me of heavy times at the bottom of a dark well staring way, way up at the tiny pinprick of light at the top. But it also reminds me of the pure joy and relief of letting awesome things cheer me up while I struggled to keep moving.
I guess I’m addicted to letting thoughts of new bedsheets, fresh bakery air, and wobbly couch cushion forts swirl in my head and lift my brain sky high. I love talking with all of you and reminding ourselves of the many awesome things we all have to share.
For us, we just happened to be two different people walking two different paths. Sure, it was painful as painful can be, but we need to grieve, we need to let emotions overcome us, and we need to choose to walk towards those bright lights in the distance. Even if that walk seems pretty far away.
So, come on: When bad news squeezes your lungs and the weight of the world pushes you underwater, let’s always try to catch our breath by focusing on the best things in life. Yes, let’s focus on hitting a string of green lights on our way home from work, getting free time on the parking meter, and flipping on the cold side of the pillow. Let’s focus on beautiful pick-me-ups like getting long hugs when we really need them, laughing hard with friends, or the last day of school. Let’s focus on all the magic moments, eye-twinkling memories, and small special touches that make every day so sweet and make every day worth living.
Yes, life’s too short to swim in the deep forever so when it hurts remember to focus on the end of that tunnel and let those lights guide you forward and forward and forward and forward and forward and forward and forward.
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Growing up the youngest of eight kids in a small house off the downtown core, she was quiet, shy, and always the baby. Her three older brothers received the bulk of the family’s praise, attention, and money for education, while the girls were taught to sweep floors, work the stove, and scrub the work clothes clean.
My mom used to sit on her front porch and memorize all the license plates of cars that drove by. She’d guess the numbers from a distance, silently congratulating herself when she got one right. Quiet nights in the corner of the clattery kitchen, she’d study math under dim lights and curious gazes.
In 1963, she wrote the government’s standard National Exam with every other 13-year-old in the country. And she aced it.
Suddenly a fat scholarship dropped on her and she was whisked off to a preppy English boarding school in the countryside. The next few years were full of reciting The Lord’s Prayer, memorizing Shakespeare passages, and eating soft-boiled eggs in the corner of the school cafeteria.
After hitting the books hard away from friends and family, she graduated and started correspondence classes from an accounting institution in England, eventually earning her letters and moving to London and start auditing the books of big companies. It was there she met my dad while he was visiting from Canada and it was there that they got married before moving to a small, dusty suburb an hour east of Toronto.
She got a job at General Motors, saw her first dentist, ate her first hamburger, and signed up for a subscription to Reader’s Digest. When I was growing up she’d tell me her coworkers always asked what she was doing there. “Let me get this straight,” they’d begin. “You lived in Nairobi. You lived in London. How’d you end up in this small town?”
But it was in that small town she had my sister and me and it was in that small town she showered us with love every day since we were born. Although I never knew my grandparents my mom filled the void with unending praise and patience.
She took me to the library Saturday mornings and helped me slowly finger-read Hardy Boys books. She signed my sister and I up for camps and let us quit if we came home crying. When I routinely got pegged first playing dodgeball at Boy Scouts or broke my glasses playing soccer, she was always there, ready with a hug, and an “It’s okay, Neil, it’s okay… it’s okay.”
For about six months nine years ago I was getting three or four hours of sleep a night balancing my day job, updating 1000 Awesome Things, and writing The Book of Awesome. On top of that, I was walking with a heavy heart and heavy mind, but more on that later. Every few weeks over those six months my mom took the commuter train to my downtown apartment with a big canvas bag and loaded up my freezer with homemade food.
And before she left she’d reach up to give me a big hug and say “Don’t forget to take a break.”
Below are three emails she sent me over that year.
———- Forwarded message ———-
Hey Neil :
I hope you found someone to enjoy 24 with.
I hope you feel in a good place. We are fine & you always know where & how to find us.
We will talk some time …probably sounds like towards the end of the week. That is fine. Keep in touch whichever way is easy for you. Reading your blog always brings a smile to my face & I feel like I am talking to you.
Look forward to reading your Blog tomorrow. I could picture me in your blog today : waving at people from my rocking chair. Dad has got the hang of your Blog & he has joined the Fan club too.
Love You : mom
———- Forwarded message ———-
Your Website has become like my daily dose of Vitamin C. Upon awakening, I do my Yoga practice for an hour. After that, I am usually ready for my brekkie. Thereafter, I can’t wait to run upstairs with my cup of tea to read up on 1000 Awesomethings.
This week has been great each & every day. Not to mention the fact that I feel like I had a small conversation with you.
Thank you so much for this opportunity.
Love : Your Mother
So this one goes out to the moms of the world. This one goes out to the people who raised you. I know I wouldn’t have made it without that love and support and I’m sure some of you are in the same place. So moms, thank you for teaching us to read, thanks for cheering our dreams, and thanks for helping us grow up to become a little more
Check out The Book of Awesome
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This time, eight years back, The Book of Awesome was first made available for pre-order. It meant so much to me and I wanted to share my stories and my excitement with my readers over the course of a week’s posts.
This is post one of five in the series.
Now, part of the reason I wanted to write the book was because I know there are lots of folks who maybe aren’t online that much, don’t read blogs, or just haven’t found us, who might enjoy Awesome Things as much as we do. I always hoped the book would help spread the awesome and makes more people smile.
And, let’s be honest, this is really all because of you. This book wouldn’t be here without your support and anyone who ever receives a copy from a friend or family member owes you a boatload for tuning in, commenting, voting us for awards, and spreading the awesome around the intertubes.
I’ll share stories about me for the rest of this week but start today by sharing some that have been sent in which the authors have kindly allowed me to publish. See, I don’t mention it much but there have definitely been many late nights where I thought I might not be able to do it anymore. There have been long days and bumpy moments where I thought maybe I’d run out of steam and would need to stop the awesome countdown.
But it’s stories like the ones below that pop up in my inbox and give me energy right when I need it most.
I hope you like them.
——–— Forwarded message ———-
Subject: Your site
To: 1000 Awesome Things
Since my husband passed away at the young age of 58 and leaving me a widow at the very young age of 50 and greiving simply and fervently for almost 6 months, I came to realize all the simple joys in the day. I now work at an activity center for developmentally disabled adults, our mission statement is ‘helping them become more independent and integrating them into the community’……..and a lot of the joy I have in a day happens there.
Today I came across your website and I have to say…….this is the absolute BEST website on the internet. You have created something that the worlds population should go to every single day of their lives and read at least one awesomething…..It puts the world into perepective and helps realize that life isn’t so bad…….and theres always something to find joy in…..always a little thing to pay attention to….something to make the day better and make tomorrow something within reach no matter how desolate our situation is.
Thank you for creating your site…..I have bookmarked it and put a shortcut on my desktop as a reminder to go there daily……keep up the good work…….you have made my day brighter!!!
Some of the items on your list afforded me a much needed smile, and every so often a near medicinal chuckle… from the bits that affect me today, to the ones that made me feel a bit nostalgic…. it has been an interesting read thus far- but I thought you needed to know you made someone smile, when it mattered the most.
———- Forwarded message ———-
Subject: 1000 Awesome Things
To: 1000 Awesome Things
I did a great ‘lesson’ with a grade eight class at my school. I showed them about 40 of the awesome things from your website. I picked things I thought they could relate to and they did! Then, the kids got into groups and made a list of their own. Each group then presented their ideas to the class. I instructed each group to pick their two favourite and I am sending you those now.
Taylor, Marysuzan, Natalie, Jenn: Running through a ribbon after a race, When your fashion style is the new trend
Matt R, Matt H, Josh: Giving an expensive gift that you got for free, Jumping off your roof into a pool
Cody, Mitan, TJ, Joey, Kareem: Blowing out someone else’s birthday candles, When live performers fall off the stage
Brooke, Najah, Lavan: Finding a chocolate bar in your pocket that you think is melted and then finding out it’s not, Putting McDonald’s french fries in your hamburger
Odane, Zakk, Brad, Naser: The smell of Grandma’s house, Placing your belongings in a friend’s afro (weird?)
Hope you enjoy these awesome things!!!
Etched and sketched into the spider web recesses of our brains are all kinds of cold storage items and garage sale knick-knacks we don’t really use anymore. But once in a while it’s fun to reach back, back, way back, and discover that our creaky treasure chests are holding bits of buried gold.
Realizing you still remember old phone numbers gives a great smile-and-sunshine vibe. Lips curl, eyes twinkle, and memory reels start whirring on the rusty projector as you remember dialing those digits, day after day, day after, day after day. Making plans for the park, grumbling about teachers, whispering about cute classmates late at night, you just suddenly remember those times, those moments, and those old, old friends.
Dial them up today.
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