This place that I love will soon be no more

In just a few days, the school where I have taught for 20 years will finally be bulldozing the “portable” classrooms that were affixed to the end of the building long before my arrival and had become decidedly less portable than originally intended.

This is a big deal to me because it means that they will be bulldozing Elysha’s old classroom, where we first met and fell in love.

I hate this.

I proposed to Elysha in Grand Central Station because she once told me that it was her “favorite room in the world. ” But I also chose it because I knew it would still be standing decades after my proposal. I wouldn’t have to worry about someday pointing to the site of some former restaurant and saying, “There it is, kids. I know it’s a sex shop today, but 18 years ago, that was the site of a lovely little Italian restaurant where I proposed to your mom.”

Grand Central will be standing for a long, long time, but Elysha’s former classroom, which for me is just as important, has only a few days or weeks left before it will be turned to rubble.

I stopped by the school yesterday to spend a few minutes in the space and take some photographs. The memories came back in waves.

The time - long before we were dating - when Elysha asked me to help her with her taxes. Wanting to date Elysha but never thinking it possible, I remember sitting beside her at a table in the back of the room, taking far longer than necessary to complete her 1040EZ just so I could spent a few extra minutes with her.

The afternoon when she first read to me a series of letters that she had collected from years before from a pair of overly-involved, possibly mentally ill parents who wrote the most hilarious, ridiculous, outrageous letters to her on an almost daily basis. Listening to her read and breathe life to these unbelievable parental requests and ridiculous protestations is something I will never forget.

The 2002 holiday season when I had paid money to a colleague to manipulate our annual Secret Santa so that I could be Elysha’s Secret Santa. I hid presents around her room, each beginning with a letter of the alphabet that eventually spelled my name.

She later said that she knew it was me from the very first gift.

After we were dating, the many times when I would leave her messages to her - on her white board, chart paper, hidden beneath papers on her desk - professing my love for her.

Those beautiful memories and so many more.

But the memory that I will always remember most took place the morning after Elysha had professed her affection for me for the first time in the parking lot of my apartment complex. Because I had just ended a relationship, and because she was ending one, too, I wasn’t sure what to say when she told me she liked me - mostly because I’m stupid - so when the girl who I already loved said those incredible, impossible words to me, I said, “Thank you,” and allowed her to drive away.

Realizing what I had done about five minutes after she was gone, I called her desperately, repeatedly,, but in those days, Elysha was famous for never turning on her phone, so every call went to voicemail. Absent the ability to send a text message or even an email, I left a voice message pleading for forgiveness and professing my affection for her, too.

“I like you! I like you! I’m sorry! I like you, too!”

The next morning, I raced to school and met her in her classroom before the school day began. As I charged into her classroom and approached her desk, she stood and handed me a letter.

“Did you listen to your voicemail?” I asked.

“No,” she said. Then before I could speak, she said, “I’m sorry. I know that was awkward last night. I hope we can still be friends.”

“No!” I said, snatching the letter from her hands. “I was stupid. I like you, too. I reject this letter. I was so stupid. Forget everything that happened last night, except for the part when you said you liked me. That was the only good part. Please forgive me for being so stupid. I like you, too. I like you a lot.”

Happily, Elysha was willing to see past my ridiculous, terrible, unforgivable “Thank you,” from the night before. We began dating.

It was March 31, 2003.

Eight months later, on December 28, 2003, I took a knee at the top steps in Grand Central Station while two dozen friends hid amongst the throngs of travelers below and proposed to the love of my life.

I never read that letter. I threw it into the trashcan as soon as I left her classroom, never wanting to see the words.

Now the room where all those wonderful and amazing things took place will be no more. Someday soon, I’ll find myself pointing to a spot in a parking lot and saying, “Look kids. See where that Toyota is parked. In that spot, a long time ago, your mother forgave me for being so stupid and gave me a second chance.”

It just won’t ever be the same.

The last day of school suddenly became very interesting

The last day of a school year can be a strange day for both teachers and students.

On the one hand, it’s a celebration. Students and teachers looking ahead at long, lazy summer days. But it’s also bittersweet for most of us. A breaking of a family that will never be whole again.

For my students, the last day of school also signals a momentous step forward to middle school. They are departing a place that has kept them safe and happy for six years.

For some students, it’s smiles and excitement.

For many, it’s sadness and tears.

As a teacher, I find myself wondering if I’ve done enough. Have I prepared them well enough for their middle school adventure? Are they ready to take on new challenges?

I worry about my kids. I can’t help it.

I found myself worrying a lot on Friday. It was the last day of school, and my students weren’t exactly being their best selves. As I tried to read to them, they were chatty and distracted. A couple of them made some poor choices as the day wore on. As I tried to make the most of our final hours together, I felt like some of my kids were doing the opposite.

It was frustrating and sad. And I worried. Are they behaving like this because I didn’t do enough?

A few hours later Elysha and I having dinner together on the patio of a local restaurant, talking about how challenging my day was, when the server arrived at my table and said, “Mr. Dicks?”

I looked up. Standing in front of me was a tall, young man who I didn’t recognize. He was smiling.

I stood up. “I’m sorry,” I said. “Who are you?”

“It’s me,” he said. Then he told me his name. I couldn’t believe it.

Had you asked me before this moment to name the student who I worried about the most in my teaching career, this young man would’ve been on my short list. Maybe at the top of my short list.

I had taught this boy 14 years ago when he was a much smaller third grader. He was a smart boy back then, but he was challenging to say the least. For a multitude of reasons, his path did not seem very bright. I had thought about him many times over the years, and my heart was always filled with worry.

A couple years ago, I had even tried to find him online without success. A few mentions of a high school football career but nothing more.

Now he was standing before me.

We embraced. I asked him how he was doing. He told me that he’d just completed his junior year in college. Preparing to begin his senior year in September. Working his butt off this summer to save money.

College. I couldn’t believe it.

Near the end of the meal, when he brought me the check, he asked if I’m still teaching Shakespeare to kids. I told him I was. “The kids performed Macbeth this year.”

Then he quoted me a few lines from the play he had performed when he was a kid. The Taming of the Shrew. He even threw in a couple of lines from Macbeth that he had remembered for good measure.

Then he told me that he’s still playing chess, a game I had taught him when he was a boy.

I couldn’t believe it. All that worrying had been for naught. He had overcome his struggles and found success. He was on the path to a good career and a great life.

I was so happy for him. So relieved.

Sometimes, in a moment of great need, as you’re worrying that you haven’t done enough for your students, the universe can be very kind to you.

That was the case for me last Friday. That young man arrived exactly when I needed him most.

I still can’t believe it.

wolcott.jpg

Speak Up Storytelling: Cari Ryding

On episode #54 of the Speak Up Storytelling podcast, Matthew and Elysha Dicks talk storytelling!

In our follow up segment, we shout out the kindness of several readers of Storyworthy, talk about the concept of 1,000 true fans, read a listener email about a full year of Homework for Life, and offer some opinions on the final episodes of Game of Thrones.  

STORYTELLING WORKSHOPS 2019

STORYTELLING SHOWS 2019

In our Homework for Life segment, Matt talks about how a storyworthy moment can be told in more than one way, so part of the challenge of storytelling is choosing which way to craft and tell a story, and thereby where that story should begin. 

Next we listen to a story by Cari Ryding. 

Amongst the many things we discuss include:

  1. Hanging a story on a great opening line 

  2. The importance of choosing useful context and backstory

  3. Avoiding throwaway details 

  4. Making the important moments in your life also important when an audience hears them for the first time

  5. Time manipulation

  6. Names

  7. Alternative endings

  8. Avoiding phrases that assert the veracity of your story

We then answer listener questions about properly introducing stories to friends, policies involving bringing professional storytellers to Speak Up, and expanding your stories into a variety of mediums.

Finally, we each offer a recommendation.  

LINKS

Purchase Storyworthy: Engage, Teach, Persuade, and Change Your Life Through the Power of Storytelling

Purchase Twenty-one Truths About Love 

1,000 True Fans: https://kk.org/thetechnium/1000-true-fans

Homework for Life: https://bit.ly/2f9ZPne

Matthew Dicks's website: http://www.matthewdicks.com

Matthew Dicks's YouTube channel:
https://www.youtube.com/matthewjohndicks 

Subscribe to Matthew Dicks's weekly newsletter: 
http://www.matthewdicks.com/matthewdicks-subscribe

Subscribe to the Speak Up newsletter: 
http://www.matthewdicks.com/subscribe-speak-up

RECOMMEDATIONS

Elysha: 

Matt:

Bonus recommendations:

Speak Up Whalers.jpg

Proposed Father's Day laws

On this Father’s Day, I’d like to propose the following new Father’s Day rules:

  1. All golf courses should be set up in their most ideal conditions.  Tee boxes should be positioned as close to the greens as possible. Pin placements should be ideal. Every effort should be made to ensure that a Father’s Day round of golf goes exceptionally well.

  2. In the event that trash collection day falls on the Monday following Father’s Day, it should be moved to the Tuesday so that fathers are not required to end their day separating recyclables and dragging trash cans to the side of the road.

  3. “No right on red” signs should cease to apply on Father’s Day.

father's day.jpg

The utterly unnecessary letter of recommendation

I was writing a recommendation letter yesterday for a friend and former colleague. It was the fourth such letter of recommendation that I’ve written in the month of June.

Though writing these letters takes time, I always find a great deal of joy in memorializing in words how I feel about the person to whom I’m recommending. Oftentimes these are people who respect and admire a great deal, so I’ve always viewed the writing of these letters of recommendation as a blessing. It’s my opportunity to let the person know exactly how I feel about them and how much they have meant to me.

It occurred to me while writing yesterday’s letter that I’ve been working at my present job for 20 years. For two full decades, I have been teaching elementary school at the same school, and for the last 17 years, I’ve been teaching in the very same classroom.

It’s been a long, long time anyone has written me a letter of recommendation.

As I was writing yesterday’s letter, I commented to a colleague who has also been working at our school for a long time how unfortunate it is that we don’t change jobs more often. While I write glowing letters of recommendation about my friends and colleagues all the time - letters that undoubtedly bring at least a little bit of joy to them - I haven’t had a letter like this written about me in forever.

Also, the last people to write my letters of recommendation were likely college professors and cooperating teachers who had only known me for a few months at most. Not exactly the kind of people who can speak with any authority or veracity about my skill and expertise.

I’m not saying that I need this kind of praise and validation of my colleagues and administrators. As some might attest, I probably feel a little too good about myself at times.

But still, it would be nice.

But since I don’t see myself going anywhere anytime soon (or ever), I may have received the very last letter of recommendation of my life.

But this has given me an idea:

In my ongoing campaign to write and mail 100 letters in 2019, I have decided to identify colleagues and friends who have been working in the same job for a long period of time and write them utterly unnecessary letters of recommendation:

Glowing reports on how dedicated, skilled, and talented they truly are even though they aren’t changing jobs.

Why should someone have to wait until they jump ship to find out how their colleagues feel about them? I’m going to let them know now, when it might mean even more to them.

I’m excited about this idea.

recomendation.jpeg

Donald Trump is a traitor. In his own damn words.

Just in case you missed this (because apparently Republican lawmakers missed it entirely because they have said nothing):

A new book by the Washington Post reporter Anna Fifield and a Wall Street Journal story report that Korean dictator Kim Jong Un’s brother, Kim Jong Nam, was a CIA informant. Kim Jong Nam was murdered in a chemical-weapons attack in February 2017. That attack was ordered by his brother.

Asked to comment on this revelation, Trump said:

“I see that, and I just received a beautiful letter from Kim Jong Un. I think the relationship is very well, but I appreciated the letter. I saw the information about the CIA with regard to his brother or half brother, and I would tell him that would not happen under my auspices. I wouldn’t let that happen under my auspices. I just received a beautiful letter from Kim Jong Un.”

Once again, Trump sided with a foreign adversary over American intelligence agencies.

Also, he remains obsessed with beautiful letters from murderous dictators.

Later in the week, when asked what he would do if a foreign power approached him with damaging information on political opponents during the upcoming election season, Trump said, "I think you might want to listen. There isn't anything wrong with listening."

It's a crime for a campaign to knowingly solicit or accept items of value from foreign nationals.

George Stephanopoulos then brought up FBI Director Christopher Wray's warning that anyone who received incriminating information from a foreign power should immediately call the bureau.

"The FBI director is wrong," Trump said. He denied that interfering in American elections - as Russia did in 2016 to help him win - is even a problem.

"It's not an interference. They have information. I think I'd take it. If I thought there was something wrong, I'd go maybe to the FBI, if I thought there was something wrong.”

This is a man who called on Russia to find Hillary Clinton's emails. He chose to believe Russian President Vladimir Putin’s denials about Russian interference in the election over US intelligence agencies. He claimed that the Kremlin's 2016 attack on our elections was a Democratic hoax.

Now he’s openly admitting that if Russian or Chinese or North Korean intelligence agencies found damaging information on a Democratic opponent, he would listen and possibly use that information for his own gain.

Honestly Republicans? Isn’t this enough? Are you going to stand behind a President who is siding with foreign adversaries and openly admitting his willingness to work with them again and again?

Just imagine what might’ve happened if Barack Obama had done even one of these things?

Also, where the hell are the Democrats right now?

Why are they not shouting from every damn rooftop in America about these comments? Why are they not conducting hearings on the security of our nation, the sanctity our elections, and the safety of our intelligence officers given what Trump has said this week?

I’m not a political strategist, but it doesn’t appear that anyone in the Democratic party is working with a political strategist, either. How can they remain so quiet in the face of these revelations and comments?

There comes a time in every American’s life when the needs of your country supersede your own personal or political needs.

Republican Justin Amash reached that point three weeks ago.

If his fellow Republicans did not reach that point after this week, they should never call themselves patriots again. Instead, they are hapless, helpless, self-obsessed sycophants interested in maintaining power at the cost of this country’s security.

Listen to Jon Stewart. Do the right thing.

It is unconscionable and evil that United States lawmakers are not doing everything possible to assist the 9/11 first responders as they battle illnesses directly linked to their rescue efforts following the attack on our country.

It makes absolutely no sense.

We have enough money to give corporations and wealthy Americans enormous tax cuts that GOP lawmakers are just now admitting will not pay for themselves.

Duh.

We have enough to pay the hundreds of millions of dollars it has cost American taxpayers to fund Trump’s endless trips to his myriad of golf courses around the world.

Yet we don’t have enough money to treat the sick and dying heroes of our nation?

Jon Stewart went to Congress again on Tuesday to lobby on behalf of first responders. I was told that his opening remarks before the House Judiciary Committee were “extraordinary.”

I groaned.

This is almost always the kiss of death for any speech, at least for me. “Extraordinary” is a high bar that is almost never achieved. Excellence of this level is a rare commodity in today’s world. Often claimed but rarely found.

Happily, gratefully, Jon Stewart found extraordinary on Tuesday and ate it for breakfast. He launched himself over that ridiculously high bar. Cleared it easily. Soared.

It’s a must watch.

And it worked. Yesterday, the House Judiciary Committee voted unanimously in favor of the bill. It now heads to the full House for a vote.

After listening to Jon Stewart speak, Elysha and I made a donation to the FeelGood Foundation, the charitable organization to which Stewart aligns himself.

I will be writing letters to my Senators and Congresspeople starting on Monday.

This failure to support the heroes of 9/11 must stop immediately.

The cusp of summer

He’s been waiting all year to make use of this gift.

The bathtub doesn’t quite cut it.

Just three more days until summer vacation for him, his sister, and his parents.

There are so many blessings to being a teacher, but as teachers with young children, there are none greater than the two months that Elysha and I will enjoy with our kids. My former principal, Plato Karafelis, used to say that choosing teaching as your profession is a lifestyle choice. You may not earn as much as your neighbor, but some things are more precious than dollars.

Summertime with your children is one of them.

This is a truly precious time in the lives of our kids, who won’t be little forever, and I’m so very happy to know that I will be spending so much of this time over the next two months with them.

I plan on making every moment count.

charlie.jpg

Smile and wear sunglasses

One of the many doctors who I’ve gotten to know through my work with Yale New Haven Hospital was explaining the science of biofeedback to me.

It’s fascinating.

Biofeedback is the idea that your brain is always monitoring and sensing what is happening in your body, and it reviews the information being received and uses it to decide how it should feel about the world.

For example, when you feel happy, you smile. However, it works in reverse, too. When you smile - whether you’re happy or not - your brain detects your smile and says, “I’m smiling. I must be happy.”

Research shows smiling gives the brain as much pleasure as 2000 bars of chocolate or $25,000.

So if you’re feeling blue, smile. A simple smile can actually change the way you’re feeling.

Sunglasses oddly have a similar effect. Squinting when a light is bright - like on a sunny day - causes you to flex the corrugator supercilii muscle, which causes you to look worried. Your brain reads these signals and thinks, “Oh no. Something must be wrong because I’m worried.”

Sunglasses reduce and/or eliminate the squinting completely, thereby eliminating the unintended effect.

I don’t wear sunglasses for the same reason I’ve never owned an umbrella or a watch. Less stuff makes my life less complicated. But maybe I need to rethink the sunglasses.

My doctor friend also explained to me that research seems to indicate that what you say can have a similarly profound impact on your mood, general disposition, energy levels, and more.

If someone asks you how you’re doing and you say, “I’m great,” you’re much more likely to actually feel great, even if you didn’t feel great prior to answering the question.

Conversely, if you’re a person who complains frequently or tends to speak negatively about yourself, others, or the world in general, you are much more likely to feel rotten. Speaking negativity results in actual feelings of negativity, and this can create an awful, endless feedback loop that becomes hard for folks to escape.

I think we all know people who seem trapped in a tragic loop like this. Regardless of their circumstances, every day is another impossible, unjust, depressing dip into reality for them.

Perhaps they are the victims of a negative feedback loop.

I’m not so sure abut this one. I tend to believe that most of these persistently negative people are just dumb, miserable, self-serving parasites who would choose to complain and speak poorly of others regardless of biofeedback, but I’m not a doctor.

What do I know?

smile.png

Speak Up Storytelling: Matthew Dicks

On episode #53 of the Speak Up Storytelling podcast, Elysha and I talk storytelling!

In our followup segment, we read letters about Homework for Life from two of our listeners. 

Then Elysha departs for the rest of the episode, and I play a story of my own. 

Amongst the many things I talk about include:

  1. Big moments transformed into small, relatable moments

  2. The conversation between the beginning and ending of a story

  3. The openings of stories

  4. Omission

  5. The principle of "but and therefore"

  6. The strategic use of adjectives

  7. Ending a story effectively (and not stupidly)

LINKS

Purchase Storyworthy: Engage, Teach, Persuade, and Change Your Life Through the Power of Storytelling

Homework for Life: https://bit.ly/2f9ZPne

Matthew Dicks's website: http://www.matthewdicks.com

Matthew Dicks's YouTube channel:
https://www.youtube.com/matthewjohndicks 

Subscribe to Matthew Dicks's weekly newsletter: 
http://www.matthewdicks.com/matthewdicks-subscribe

Subscribe to the Speak Up newsletter: 
http://www.matthewdicks.com/subscribe-speak-up

Speak Up Whalers.jpg

Tooth fairy economics

Charlie lost his front tooth this week at his Little League practice. Non-baseball related.

A couple weeks earlier, he lost his other front tooth, leaving a gap in his mouth large enough to drive a train through. It’s hilarious.

IMG_7983.JPG

When a child loses their tooth in our home, the tooth fairy brings that child a single golden dollar. Sacagawea, Susan B. Anthony, or one of the many Presidential coins, placed carefully under their pillow after they are fast asleep.

One dollar. This is an appropriate amount of money for a tooth.

When someone in one of Elysha Dicks’s Facebook group asked how much their child should receive for a lost tooth, a common response was $20.

This is an insane amount of money to give a child for losing a tooth.

When I was a child, I received 25 cents for a tooth and was quite pleased. Even if I had received a whole dollar back then, inflation rates would only make that dollar worth about $3.10 in today’s money.

Giving your child $3.10 would be weird, but it wouldn’t be insane. $20 is insane.

$20 is more than ten times the rate of inflation. More importantly, $20 really is a crazy amount of money. Given that children eventually lose about 20 teeth, this makes their baby teeth worth a total of $400.

This is not right. Not at all.

You know how some people say, “I’m not trying to sound judgmental…” right before they sound judgmental? I’m not doing that here. Not not trying to avoid sounding judgmental. I’m trying desperately and specifically to sound judgmental.

I am being super judgy.

I am officially judging the hell out of any parent who gives their child $20 for a lost tooth.

If you are one of those parents and this upsets you, please remember that the economics of tooth fairy wealth distribution is not the kind of thing that should upset you very much. Calm yourself down. No need to get angry over every little thing.

If, for example, you think that only giving my child a single dollar from the tooth fairy is heartless, cruel, and cheap, I really wouldn’t care. “Fine,” I’d think. “Have your stupid opinion. People are entitled to stupid opinions. Your thoughts about my parenting don’t actually change anything about me or my kids. They are just electrical pulses in the neurons of your stupid brain.”

See how easy that is?

Apply this mindset to your own situation if my judgmental stance on your tooth fairy decision-making has your knickers in a bunch, because I’ll say it again:

$20 is not right. It’s ludicrous and crazy-town. Kids who are young enough to be losing their first teeth do not need $20. They simply need a little magic in their lives. A little whimsey.

A $20 bill is neither magical not whimsical. It's hard cash. Real money. Unnecessary money.

My kids are always so excited about their golden dollars.

When Charlie received his golden dollar last week, he asked me if the tooth fairy is real.

“Of course she’s real,” I said. “How do you think you got that gold dollar?”

“Maybe you put it there,” he said.

“I don’t have any gold dollars,” I said. “How would I get a golden dollar?”

“Probably at the bank,” he said.

He may be in first grade, but he is one savvy little boy.

We don't know how our stuff is made.

I’ve become convinced that the people who don’t make stuff will never understand how stuff is made.

I listen to podcasts where hosts ask writers and artists about how jokes are written, screenplays are developed, and stories are crafted, and the questions they ask rarely make sense to the creators of these things.

  • When you’re writing a song, do you start with the rhyme at the end of the couplet or at the beginning?

  • Did you have that punchline first, or did you work your way to the punchline?

  • Did you intend the death of that character to signal the death of hope itself?

I get ridiculous questions like this, too, from readers, high school and college students, and even the occasional teacher and professor.

Just recently, a college student writing about one of my books sent me these questions:

  1. What is the principal role of the narrative voice in your book?

  2. In what way does the narrative voice make your work more difficult in the novel?

  3. To what extent does the narrative voice help readers understand Max's inner world?

  4. What was your main purpose of introducing Budo in Max's life?

  5. What struggles did you have when framing this story?

  6. Did you settle on metaphors and symbols before you began writing?

My answer to questions 1, 2, 3, and 5 were “I don’t understand the question.”

My answer to question 3 was, “I didn’t introduce Budo to Max’s life. He was just there.”

My answer to question 6 was, “What symbols and metaphors are in the book. I didn’t see any.”

People who don’t make stuff seem to think there is a formula for making stuff. Whether it’s fiction or comedy or art or music, folks seem to believe that we sit down with a plan. They actually think we have a formal process of some kind, complete with logic, forethought, craftsmanship, and nuance.

They don’t realize that we don’t know how our stuff is made. It’s a mystery to most of us. I’ve written fiction nonfiction, musicals, comic books, magazine essays, and poetry, and it’s always the same":

Stuff just tumbles out, probably because I’m not thinking about all the ridiculous things that these questions imply. The stuff just lands on the page or the canvas or the stage. It’s not pretty at first. It needs a lot of work. But we’re certainly not thinking in the way that teachers and professors and even the consumers of our work want to believe.

I think they want to believe that there is a formula in hopes of someday understanding the formula and then replicating it for themselves.

If only it was that easy.

In 1963, 16-year-old Bruce McAllister was sick and tired of hunting for symbols in English class, so rather than engaging in a debate with his teacher over the validity of this work, he sent a survey to 150 novelists asking if they intentionally planted symbolism in their work. 

Some of my favorite responses:

Ray Bradbury: “No, I never consciously place symbolism in my writing. That would be a self-conscious exercise and self-consciousness is defeating to any creative act. Better to let the subconscious do the work for you, and get out of the way. The best symbolism is always unsuspected and natural."

John Updike: “I have no method; there is no method in writing fiction; you don’t seem to understand.”

Norman Mailer: “I’m not sure it’s a good idea for a working novelist to concern himself too much with the technical aspects of the matter. Generally, the best symbols in a novel are those you become aware of only after you finish the work.”

Jack Kerouac: “No.”

McAllister eventually became an English professor. Presumably he never asked a student to hunt for a symbol.

letter.jpg

Nevers

Knowing that I have a novel coming out in November written solely in list form, a friend recently offered me her “Never List.”

It was good.

So I made my own. I encourage you to make one and share as well. _____________________________________________

  • Never used an illegal drug in my entire life

  • Never bought a lottery ticket

  • Never smoked a cigarette

  • Never tasted coffee

  • Never watched a single episode of The Bachelor, The Real Housewives of Wherever, or anything involving a Kardashian

  • Never swore in the presence of my mother

  • Never shoplifted

  • Never taken a selfie

never.jpg

Winners get ice cream. Losers get nothing.

I was sitting at Charlie's Little League game yesterday, thinking that we might get some ice cream if the game ended early enough, when I suddenly remembered something from my childhood:

When I was playing Little League baseball, you only went for ice cream if you won the game.

As a boy, this made sense to me.

To the victor go the spoils. Winning is rewarded. Champions receive trophies.

But just imagine what might happen if the Little League coaches of today decided that only the winning team of each game would be rewarded with an ice cream cone.

I think parents might lose their minds.

I’m not sure how I feel about this.

As a boy, I know this made perfect sense to me. I remember how exciting it was to pull out of the parking lot, waving my orange cap outside an open car window, knowing that I would be devouring victory ice cream soon.

I always wanted to win the game, but the ice cream was truly the cherry on top.

And I remember losing, too. Heading home absent any frosty reward, thinking that next time, we needed to win so I could get my ice cream cone.

Winners celebrated with frosty treats. Loser got nothing.

This all made sense to me. There were no tears. No pleading. No upset feelings. I think I would’ve been embarrassed to show up at the ice cream shack if my team hadn’t won the game.

The ice cream shack was a place for winners.

But today? I don’t know.

Charlie is playing in a developmental league right now. Coaches are pitching much of the game, and instruction takes place throughout the game. Runs are scored, but the number of runs scored doesn’t matter. Even the kids aren’t keeping track yet. But assuming that Charlie continues playing next year, he will eventually find himself in baseball games where box scores are kept and winners and losers are ultimately determined.

How I would I feel if only the winning team drove off for ice cream after each game?

I’m not sure. Honestly, I think it makes sense to me, but I’m writing while Charlie is asleep in his bed. I’m not faced with a downtrodden boy and his disappointment over his team’s failure to score more runs than his opponent. I’m not battling the notion that he tried his best, so perhaps effort should be rewarded, too.

Maybe I would crack. Maybe Charlie would get ice cream, too. I’m not sure.

But here is the one thing I know for sure:

I’m glad my parents and my coaches didn’t crack. I’m glad I only received ice cream if my team won. It made the victories that much sweeter. And it made sense to me.

58138263929__6734F680-2730-4E40-866A-F755E230633B.JPG

Check out Jared Kushner looking stupid, afraid, and bumbling.

There are a lot of takeaways from Jared Kushner’s interview with Axios:

  1. I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen someone less prepared for an interview.

  2. This is exactly how an interview should be conducted.

  3. If you can’t say that birtherism wasn’t racist, then you think it was racist.

  4. If you can’t say that Trump’s Muslim ban wasn’t religiously bigoted, then you think it was religiously bigoted.

  5. If you can’t even say that Trump isn’t racist without tripping over your own words, then you probably think Trump is a racist.

  6. We have a brand new definition of “deer-in-the-headlights,” and it’s Jared Kushner.

  7. If I needed someone to defend me in a time of need, Jared Kushner would be the last person I would ever choose.

His arguments also suck.

“I wasn’t part of birtherism” is a stupid reason for refusing to say whether it was racist.

I wasn’t a part of slavery in the United States, but I can say without equivocation that it was racist.

I also wasn’t a part of Jim Crow or the Middle Passage or lynchings in the South, but yes, they were all racist, too.

I also wasn’t a part of birtherism, but yes, that was also racist, Jared.

Also, birtherism wasn’t “a long time ago.” It was less than four years ago when Trump finally acknowledged that President Obama was an American citizen. I know it feels like a long time ago given that there has been a a racist, horny, old burger goblin who literally steals children from poor people in the White House making days seem like weeks and months with his disastrous decision making, but no, four years isn’t “a long time ago.”

“You can’t not be a racist for 69 years and then run for President and be a racist” makes it clear that Kushner nothing about the Central Park Five, Trump’s lies about Muslims celebrating on rooftops on 9/11, or the FBI’s investigation in the 1970s into alleged racial discrimination in the rental of apartments from Trump's real estate company which led to requiring the Trump firm to institute a series of safeguards to make sure apartments were rented without regard to race, color, religion, sex or national origin.

Either he’s unaware or pretending not to know. Either one of these options make him look stupid and ineffective.

The best thing about this interview is how pathetic and useless it makes Kushner appear. For a boy who prides himself on his intelligence, skill, and acumen, he sounds like a bumbling, mealy-mouthed toady.

Apparently all the money in the world can’t wash away your stupidity and cowardice when the television cameras switch on and the questions begin.

Speak Up Storytelling: Aaron Wolfe

On episode #52 of the Speak Up Storytelling podcast, Matthew and Elysha Dicks talk storytelling!

In our followup segment, we shout out several dedicated listeners and discuss the benefits of dot journaling. 

 In our Homework for Life segment, Matt talks about how a small moment in the present can often be connected to a similar moment from the past, thus producing an excellent story. 

Next we listen to a story by Aaron Wolfe. 

Amongst the many things we discuss include:

  1. The power of contrast in storytelling

  2. Using humor seamlessly and purposefully in a story

  3. Timing

  4. Small endings

  5. The use of accents in a story

  6. An interesting way tp present previous events in a story

We then answer listener questions about titling stories, living with a storyteller, and strategies for making room for stories when you're not standing on a stage.

Finally, we each offer a recommendation.  

LINKS

Purchase Storyworthy: Engage, Teach, Persuade, and Change Your Life Through the Power of Storytelling

Homework for Life: https://bit.ly/2f9ZPne

Matthew Dicks's website: http://www.matthewdicks.com

Matthew Dicks's YouTube channel:
https://www.youtube.com/matthewjohndicks 

Subscribe to Matthew Dicks's weekly newsletter: 
http://www.matthewdicks.com/matthewdicks-subscribe

Subscribe to the Speak Up newsletter: 
http://www.matthewdicks.com/subscribe-speak-up

RECOMMEDATIONS

Elysha: 

Matt:

Speak Up Whalers.jpg

Think different things. Just be nice about it.

Here’s a promise that I think every person in the world should make:

“If I love something but another person hates it and openly criticizes it, I promise not become angry and verbally or physically attack that other person because everyone gets to think different things.”

This means that when I say that I despise sushi, Donald Trump, The Police’s Roxanne, the New York Jets, mayonnaise, clothing affixed with a brand name, kugel, Ethan Frome, Dr. Pepper, gerrymandering, backing into parking spots, the mall, The Royal Tenenbaums, the billing of congregants by religious institutions, clutter, hubris, the structure of the US Senate, meetings, soccer, reality television, assault weapons in the hands of citizens, Mitch McConnell, conspicuous consumption, March, persistently negative people, conspiracy theorists, dress codes, traffic, and anything written by Virginia Wolf…

… you should not feel upset or offended or outraged or defensive because my feelings about these things have nothing to do with you. As long as my opinions don’t manifest into actions that harm the world, you should not become enraged. You should not call me infantile names. You should not threaten me with bodily harm.

Disagree. Debate. Offer reasons why I might be wrong, but don’t become angry.

Everyone gets to think different things.

You even get to think that I’m a moron. An idiot. A fool.

Just be nice about it.

To that end, I don’t even care if you’re a racist or a sexist or a bigot of any kind as long as you don’t attempt to manifest your vile and hateful opinions into structural change in our society. Think what you want as long as you don’t attempt to infringe upon the rights of others.

This is why I don’t become upset or angry when someone tells me that they hate Bruce Springsteen or the New England Patriots or Stephen King or snow days or The Matrix or President Obama or McDonald’s cheeseburgers or golf.

I might think the person is misguided or ridiculous or uninformed or lacking taste, but I don’t become angry or call that person names because we all get to think different things.

As a person who has been expressing his opinion on this blog every single day without exception since 2003 and out loud for most of his life, I can tell you that people forget this sometimes.

They forget this sometimes a lot.

debate.jpg

Resolution update: May 2019

Each month I review the progress of my yearly goals and report on that progress as a means of holding myself accountable.

Here are the results for May.
__________________________________

PERSONAL HEALTH

1. Don’t die.

Still standing.

2. Lose 20 pounds.

I didn’t lose any pounds in May. I didn’t gain any pounds in May.

I’ve lost 8 pounds in total.

3. Eat at least three servings of fruits and/or vegetables per day, six days a week.

Done! Along with bananas, grapes, apples, and pears, I also ate carrots, onions, potatoes, and an assortment of vegetables in various soups.

4. Do at least 100 push-ups, 100 sit-ups, and 3 one-minute planks for five days a week.

Done.

5. Do burpees three days a week.

I did 3-4 burpees per day, 3 times each week in May.

Also burpees are still stupid and ridiculous. Not getting any better. This was a terrible idea.

WRITING CAREER

6. Complete my seventh novel before the end of 2019.

Still waiting for a go-ahead from my editor regarding my next book. This is the problem with being two books ahead. No one is in a rush for your 2022 novel.

I’ve started writing anyway.

7. Write/complete at least five new picture books, including one with a female, non-white protagonist. 

I have a fantastic new children’s book idea. I’ve started writing it.

8. Write a memoir.

Work continues. I’m worried it’s not very good.

9. Write a new screenplay.

No progress.

10. Write a musical.

No progress.

11. Submit at least five Op-Ed pieces to The New York Times for consideration.

I submitted a piece to the NY Times Modern Love column in April.

One down. Four to go.

12. Submit one or more short stories to at least three publishing outlets.

No progress.

13. Select three behaviors that I am opposed to and adopt them for one week, then write about my experiences on the blog.

No progress. Also, I need three behaviors to attempt.

Thoughts?

14. Increase my storytelling newsletter subscriber base to 3,000.

34 new subscribers in May for a total of 649 new subscribers in 2019. My list now stands at 2,759 subscribers.

If you’d like to sign up for my newsletter, you can do so here:

15. Write at least six letters to my father.

None written in May. None written this year.

16. Write 100 letters in 2019.

Three letters written in May. Nine overall. I’ve fallen a bit behind.

17. Convert Greetings Little One into a book.

A kind, generous, and amazing human being has begun work on this project.

I am thrilled.

STORYTELLING

18. Produce a total of 10 Speak Up storytelling events.

One show produced in May. We recorded Speak Up Storytelling before a live audience.

A total of 7 shows produced so far in 2019.

19. Begin selling Speak Up merchandise at our events and/or online.

Done! We began selling tee shirts and totes at our live podcast recording.

Next step is to make it available online.

fullsizeoutput_6873.jpeg

20. Pitch myself to at least 5 upcoming TEDx events with the hopes of being accepted by one.

Done! I’ve pitched myself to five TEDx conferences and was nominated for a sixth.

All have now passed on my pitches. No one wants me.

I guess I’ll just keep pitching.

21. Attend at least 15 Moth events with the intention of telling a story.

I attended two Moth StorySLAMs in May, bringing my total to nine events so far.

22. Win at least three Moth StorySLAMs.

My name was not drawn from the hat at the New York City StorySLAM that I attended in May.

I finished in second place in a Moth StorySLAM in Boston. Once again by one-tenth of a point.

That is four second place finishes by a tenth of a point in a row .

Two wins so far in 2019.

23. Win a Moth GrandSLAM.

I finished in second place by a tenth of a point in a Moth GrandSLAM in January.

I finished in fourth place in my Moth GrandSLAM in March, but I think I might’ve told my best story ever.

I’ll be competing in another Moth GrandSLAM in NYC in July.

24. Produce at least 40 episodes of our new podcast Speak Up Storytelling. 

Four new shows released in May. A total of 20 so far. We haven’t missed a week in 2019.

Listen to our latest here or subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.

25. Perform stand up at least four times in 2019. 

I’ve hit a bit of a snag in terms of this goal. The open mic night where I’d been performing was shut down thanks to stupid people behaving in stupid ways. I have an opportunity to perform in a local comedy showcase, which I will do, but I was in need of another open mic.

Thanks to you, dear readers, I have found a stage. I will take that stage when summer vacation begins.

26. Develop and teach a Storytelling Master Class, in which participants have an opportunity to tell at least two stories over the course of the day  or tell a story and then retell it based on feedback.

Done! Scheduled for June 1. Today!

27. Pitch at least three stories to This American Life.

No progress.

28. Pitch myself to Marc Maron’s WTF podcast at least three times.

I wrote to Marc early in January, asking for him to consider me as a guest.

No response yet.

I’ve also officially requested that my publicist assist me in this endeavor.

If you know Marc Maron, or know someone who knows Marc or know someone who knows Marc’s producer or booker, please let me know. I know that Marc and I would have an amazing conversation, and it’s currently my biggest dream to get on his show.

NEW PROJECTS

29. Host a fundraiser for RIP Medical Debt, which would allow us to relieve the medical debt of struggling Americans for pennies on the dollar.

No progress.

30. Complete my Eagle Scout project.

No progress.

31. Print, hang, and/or display at least 25 prints, photos, or portraits in our home.

No progress.

32. Renovate our first floor bathroom.

Final design decisions have been made. Work will commence in July/August.

33. Organize our second floor bathroom.

No progress. Summertime project.

MISCELLANEOUS

34. Cook at least 12 good meals (averaging one per month) in 2019.

I made no meals in May.

Four down. Eight to go.

35. Plan a reunion of the Heavy Metal Playhouse.

No progress.

36. Ride my bike with my kids at least 25 times in 2019.

I rode my bike with Charlie one time in May for a total of five rides so far.

37. I will not comment, positively or negatively, about physical appearance of any person save my wife and children, in 2019 in an effort to reduce the focus on physical appearance in our culture overall. 

Done! I did not comment on physical appearance with the exception of my wife and children in May and two other exceptions:

Crazy Hair Day: I considered this school spirit day akin to Halloween. When your student comes to school with an enormous afro woven with blinking Christmas lights, it’s okay to comment positively.

Macbeth: My students performed their annual Shakespearean play last week, and I put each of them in costume. During the costuming process, I commented positively on how they looked in order to ensure that they felt good about their costume.

38. Surprise Elysha at least six times in 2019.

Two surprises were set into motion in May, but neither has come to fruition yet.

Four surprises accomplished so far.

39. Replace the 12 ancient, energy-inefficient windows in our home with new windows that will keep the cold out and actually open in the warmer months.

No progress.

40. Clean the basement. 

Incremental progress. Every week I throw away or organize a few items.

I’m planning to order a dumpster this summer.

41. Set a new personal best in golf.

I played four rounds of golf in May. I played poorly but showed flashes of promise. I actually drove the ball well for an entire round (which is to say I hit the ball straight but not terribly long).

I’ve decided to take lessons this summer on a regular basis.

42. Play poker at least six times in 2019.

A game was scheduled and canceled in May. That’s two cancelled games so far.

A new game is scheduled for June.

43. Spend at least six days with my best friend of more than 25 years.

Bengi and I spent a Sunday morning walking the track in his town back in March.

One down. Six to go. We have plans in June.

44. Post my progress in terms of these resolutions on this blog on the first day of every month.

Done.

Celebrate yourself.

Don’t forget to celebrate, people.

This year I have a novel publishing in November in the United States, and I have a different novel publishing in the UK and internationally in a couple months.

This two book oddity was the result of a change by my US publisher, St. Martin’s Press. The Other Mother was originally slated to publish in the United States in April of 2019, but when my editor heard that I was tinkering with a novel comprised entirely of lists, she asked to see it.

She didn’t want to buy the book, but she was curious what a book like this would look like.

Three days later, after having read my partial manuscript, she asked that we push The Other Mother off to 2021 and publish my book of lists, now titled Twenty-one Truths About Love, first.

Also, I had to finish the book.

I agreed, and I did. But my UK publisher, Little Brown, had already purchased The Other Mother and still wanted to publish it first.

Thus my two books in one year situation.

Yesterday, while struggling to finish a proposal for another book while working on publicity for these two books, I paused amidst my frustration and annoyance to remind myself:

You’ve published four novels and a book of nonfiction. In more than 25 countries. Your books are optioned for film. And you have two more novels coming out this year.

One of them - a book comprised entirely of lists - seemed so ridiculous that even I didn’t take it too seriously.

Yes, it’s no fun writing book proposals. Book proposals are boring and stupid. And yes, publicity is also no fun. But look what you’ve done. There was a time when publishing a single book seemed impossible. Stop complaining and celebrate where you are today.

Then I reminded myself that there was once a time when simply graduating from college and becoming an elementary school teacher seemed like an impossible dream. Even though I’ve been teaching for 20 years, I try not to lose sight of the fact that I get to live my impossible dream with my fifth graders every day.

Then I reminded myself that there was once a time when all I wanted to do was tell one story on one Moth stage. That would truly be an impossible dream come true.

And winning? That was too ridiculous to even consider a dream.

Since that fateful night in July of 2011 when I stood on my first Moth stage, I have stood on hundreds of stages around the world, including 93 Moth stages around the country, winning 39 times. Every time I take a stage anywhere in the world, I try to remind myself that I’m living my impossible dream.

Then I remind myself that there was a time when I was homeless and genuinely believed that getting a roof over my head again would be impossible. There was a time when I was sitting in a jail cell, wondering if I would ever be free of the false charges leveled against me. There was a time on a greasy tole floor of a McDonald’s restaurant, gun pressed against my head, when I thought that surviving just three more minutes would be impossible.

All impossible dreams fully realized.

There was once a time when I thought that Elysha was so far out of my league that it would be a waste of time to even try to date her. I would be damn lucky, I thought, just to be her friend.

I really believed this.

Instead, I married the woman too good for me.

Impossible dream realized. The best one. of all.

Celebrate people. Don’t lose sight of how far you have come. Don’t forget about the hurdles you have already overcome. Don’t ignore the impossible dreams that have become your everyday reality.

It would be easy for me to forget that teaching and performing and writing - things that have become an everyday part of my life - once seemed impossible. It would be easy for me to forget that a home and freedom were once insurmountable mountains to climb. It would be easy to forget looking across a room at Elysha and hoping that someday I might meet a girl almost as perfect as she was.

Instead of forgetting, I remind myself about all of these things all the time.

You should, too.

Celebrate every difficult or seemingly impossible step that you have taken. Celebrate yourself. Always be looking to the next horizon, but don’t be afraid to look back on the mountains you have already summited in order to seek that new horizon.

Honor yourself and your accomplishments, especially when things are hard. They’ve been hard before, and you survived and thrived. You’ve probably done the impossible many times in your life. You’ve done things you could only dream of doing.

You can do it again.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_e161.jpg