Speak Up Storytelling: Corey Jeffreys

On episode #46 of the Speak Up Storytelling podcast, Matthew and Elysha Dicks talk storytelling!

In our followup segment, we offer a further correction on a previous episode and read a couple emails from listeners about a new baby boy and a recent 100 day Homework for Life champion. 

In our Homework for Life segment, we talk about how multiple moments from Homework for Life can be combined into a great story, and how gravity and weight can be added to an anecdote to make something that might seem light and amusing far more meaningful.

Next we listen to Corey Jeffrey's story about a trip to Mexico, a hole in a door, and the Backstreet Boys. 

After listening, we discuss:

  1. The way a moment from the past and the present are fused together to create a deeply meaningful story

  2. Portals to the past and present

  3. Avoid stakes that fail to pay off

  4. Slowing down the action at the appropriate time in a story

  5. The importance of scenes (and physical locations) in storytelling

  6. Efficiency of language 

  7. The clever and unexpected use of an expletive 

Next, we answer questions about vulnerability and living with Matt.

Finally, we each offer a recommendation.  


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:

Subscribe to Matthew Dicks's weekly newsletter: 

Subscribe to the Speak Up newsletter: 

Who Really Said "You Should Kill Your Darlings?"




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A terrible decision even worse than my terrible decision

In the mid 1990’s, I was given a tour of ESPN by a programmer who I knew at the time. I sat on the SportsCenter set, shook hands with Stuart Scott and Chris Berman, and purchased a lavender SportCenter cap at the ESPN gift shop.

Or maybe it was given to me as swag as I left.

Either way, I wore that lavender SportsCenter hat for more than a year. I have no idea what I was thinking.


What did people think of me?

Looking back on that time, I’m embarrassed to think I walked through the world with that damn hat atop my head.

Then I saw this - the release of Windows 95 and the onstage excitement of Bill Gates, Steve Ballmer, and other Microsoft executives - and I suddenly felt like my wardrobe choice wasn’t the worst thing that happened in 1995.

Not by a long, long shot.

How to write for 14 years without missing a day and never run out of ideas.

I’ve been blogging since 2005. I have not missed a day, even when scumbag cowards attempted to derail my career by blatantly mischaracterizing what I write and portraying me as some crazed lunatic.

I hope they are still reading today.

I’ve shifted my blog to three different platforms and changed the name each time, but I also migrated the best content from each site onto this one, where I have blogging since November 18, 2008, and preserved the content from all three.

I’ve got it all.

I’m often asked:

How could you possibly have something to say every day for 14 years? More than 5,000 days of thoughts?

Part of the answer is there are many days when my post is a photo with three sentences essentially saying, “Hey! Look at this!”

But the truth is that I collect ideas, thoughts, and experiences and write about them when it’s most appropriate.

But this past week is a good example of the secret sauce.

In my blogging platform on SquareSpace, I have more than 70 half written, partially written, or unwritten drafts. Some are single sentences representing a thought I had to write about. Others are links to news reports and stories that I know will trigger a post from me. Still others are photos, graphs, or other images that will ultimately lead to a post.

The oldest of these drafts dates back to 2013 . A thought from six years ago, just waiting for me to finally expand into a post.

Yesterday, Friday, I wrote about memorizing poems. That idea was sitting in my blog folder since 2015 when I read Daliah Lithwick’s Slate piece on memorizing poetry and thought, “I memorized a lot of poetry, too. Maybe I can write about that.”

Four years later, a storyteller recites a poem during sound check at a Moth GrandSLAM, and I have an angle on this idea. It worked out well. About 6,000 people read the post on my blog, and hundreds of others saw it via social media and places like Goodreads, where my blog auto-sends.

This is an average audience size for a blog post.

It took four years for that idea to be realized. It’s been sitting there, waiting for me to find a way to unlock it.

On Wednesday, I wrote about people who say they don’t have enough time to same time. I wrote this idea down two years ago after the umpteenth person said something like this to me. I didn’t write about it then because I didn’t want to hurt the feelings of the person who said it, so I wrote it down for a later date.

It took me almost two years to return to it. I’m working on a proposal for a book on productivity, and the idea caught me eye because it aligns well to my current project.

On Tuesday, I wrote about a book idea I have about the last time we do something important or special and how we rarely take note of it. I’ve had the idea for the book for more than a decade, and I’ve actually written about this idea before, but someone sent me the pole vaulting video attached to this post two weeks ago, and it triggered the idea for the post.

On Monday, I posted about the latest episode of our podcast. Though it’s sort of a day off for me in the blogging world, I also release a newsletter on Monday, so I need to produce fresh content there as well.

On Sunday I wrote about the decline of religion in America. I saw the data that morning while reading the news and wrote a post immediately thereafter.

On Sunday, I wrote about three strange photos I took in Vermont and described my recent trip there for work.

On Saturday, I encouraged readers to aggressively try new things by pointing out the remarkable variety of experiences I had during the course of the previous week thanks to my willingness to try storytelling in 2011.

It was my most popular post of the week.

In summary:

  • One idea had been percolating for five years.

  • Another had been percolating for two years.

  • One idea was triggered by a video that someone shared with me.

  • One idea was triggered after seeing recent data in the news.

  • Two posts were written based upon recent experiences.

  • One post announced the lasted episode of our podcast.

I also added three ideas to my list of drafts. One describes an encounter with another person that I need to wait before writing to avoid upsetting someone. One is a response to a comment made on my blog worth responding to. The third is a statistic about Internet use in America that I might have something to say about someday.

Not only am I a person who has a lot to say, but I’m a collector of ideas. Even if I’m not sure what I will write, I look for statistics, images, news reports, blog posts, and quotes from others that tickle my brain. Pique my curiosity. Stir an emotion inside me.

When I find one, I add it to my list of draft ideas. Those percolating ideas, plus autobiographical moments I experience daily, responses I have to current events, amusing observations about the world, and half-baked ideas form the basis of the blog.

I read a lot. I listen even more. I keep my eyes open. I keep my heart and mind open.

That is how I find my ideas. That is how I write a new post for more than 14 years without missing a day.

Of course, it also helps to be an opinionated blowhard with a lot to say.


Memorize some poems

I took a class in college on poetry. I wasn’t a poet, nor did I want to be a poet, but my creative writing advisor thought that writing poetry might teach me to distill my fiction down to its essence and find the truth about what I was trying to say in my stories.

I didn’t hold out much hope for this plan. Most of what I learned about writing in college was nonsense. I was taught by honest-to-goodness writers - extraordinary talents - which sounds great until you discover that these aren’t actually teachers.

They may write well, but they don’t know how to teach the process to others.

So I wandered into the senior level poetry class of Hugh Ogden, who was both an esteemed poet and an extraordinary teacher. Hugh took a young man who felt out of place in a room full of students who had been studying poetry and made him feel welcome, even when some of those students did not.

Hugh had a profound impact on my life, and it turns out that my advisor was right. I found ways to say a great deal in very few words. When I look back on the poetry that I wrote during that class, most of it was autobiographical, and honestly, much of it is structured in ways very similar to the ways I tell stories on the stage today.

Hugh also required us to come to class each week with a newly memorized poem. This was daunting at first, but by the end of the semester, I loved the first 15 minutes of class when each student recited a new poem from memory.

As a result, I memorized a lot of poems, and I can still recite several by heart, including “The Jabberwocky,” “Stopping By the Woods on a Snowy Evening,” “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night,” “In Flanders Fields,” “An Irish Airman Foresees His Death,” “Oh Captain, My Captain,” and many shorter ones.

A few years ago I memorized “The Tyger” by William Blake as a Hanukkah gift to Elysha. She loves the poem, so in memorizing it, I told her that she now has access to its recitation at any time.

I also have several French poems memorized from my high school French days, as well as several pieces from Shakespeare.

All of this is to say that you should memorize a poem or two. I was listening to a sound check at a Moth GrandSLAM recently, and the storyteller recited “Stopping By the Woods on a Snowy Evening” as his sound check. I always prefer to vamp a new story or do a bit of standup during these sound checks, but reciting a poem was a lovely thing.

Everyone in the theater was impressed, admittedly leaving me thinking, “Hey! I know that one, too! And many others!"

But by seeing how impressed folks were, it also made me realize that we don’t memorize poems anymore. That is a sad thing.

A few years ago Slate’s Daliah Lithwick wrote:

“…it’s possible that the real magic of college will completely pass you by until you realize, many years later, that holy shit, you know “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning” or Leaves of Grassand all the wisdom of the ages was packed in there, it’s just that you missed it at the time for band practice, or swim team, or to get to the salad bar before all the hearts of palm were gone.”

It’s so very true. Throughout my life, I’ve found myself responding to argument, thoughts, and ideas with the verse locked in my mind. And that verse, as I’ve grown older, has revealed itself to me in new and fascinating ways.

Thank goodness for Hugh.

Hugh died in 2007 at the age of 69 after falling through thin ice on a lake in Maine. The world has missed him ever since. But in honor of Hugh and the desire to lock some new verse into my brain, I’m going to spend the rest of the year firming up the poems I have already memorized and memorizing a new poem or some new verse, starting with Hamlet’s third soliloquy and Frost’s “The Road Not Taken.”

Won’t you join me?


I don't have time to save time

The question I get asked most often is “How do you get so much done?”

I’m working on a proposal for a book that answers that very question in great detail.

But until the book is written and published, I’m always willing to offer advice on becoming more productive and more efficient, and people are typically receptive toward my suggestions.

Occasionally, however, people become annoyed and frustrated with my suggestions because they involve changing a habit or routine.

I find this odd.

How do you expect to become more productive and efficient without instituting a certain degree of change in your life?

I honestly think these people wanted me to give them a magic pill.

The most frequent comment I receive from these annoyed folks is this:

“I don’t have time to do that.”

Which is to say:

“I don’t have time to save time so I would have more free time to do the things I want to do.”

This also strikes me as odd. I offer a strategy that admittedly might take some time to implement, but upon completion of the implementation, the person would then have even more free time, and yet the person can’t see how the initial investment would offer an enormous return.


These people would prefer to continue to waste time and operate inefficiently rather than investing a small amount of time in order to stop wasting time.

But I see this unfortunate pattern all the time. These are the folks who allow chores to pile up and become all day affairs rather than taking the small amount of time required to stay on top of things. These are the people who won’t spend the two or three minutes getting organized but will then waste 20 minutes as a result of their disorganization.

It makes no sense.

I think that in the end, some people are resistant to change, even if the change promises a better, more productive, more efficient life. It’s hard for them to see beyond their own life, and it’s exceptionally hard for some to break the habits and routines that they have established.

But telling me that you don’t have time to be more productive?

That is ridiculous.


Last times

One of the books I hope to write in the next couple years will be a nonfiction account of my attempt to try things that I was once did in my youth but have not done for a very long time.

The book will center on the idea that so often in life, we do something important to us for the last time, yet we often don’t know or bother to notice that it’s the last time.

We don’t take the time or have the awareness to savor that final moment.

If you’re a parent, for example, you spend years picking up your children. Carrying them everywhere. Lifting them to hug and kiss them. Tossing them into the car. Then they get taller and heavier, and at some point, you pick them up for the very last time.

Can you imagine?

Happily, I have not reached that point with either of my kids yet, but that day will come.

Will I recognize that this is the last time I will pick up my daughter like a little girl?

Probably not. Except that every time I pick up Clara now, I savor the moment, knowing that she’s ten years-old and might stop asking to be picked up sooner than later. So maybe. I might get lucky and recognize that final lift for what it is. Maybe.

My book will be filled with slightly more exciting moments than picking up my kids. For example, for two years I pole vaulted in high school, becoming good enough to win the championship of our very small region that contained very few pole vaulters.

Most schools did not actually have a pole vaulter or pole vaulting equipment at all.

Still, I was a vaulter, and I loved it. I was looking forward to my senior season when a car accident in December of that year nearly killed me and ended my pole vaulting career short. As I recovered from my injuries, I wasn’t able to compete, and that ended my career.

The nature of pole vaulting doesn’t allow it to be a backyard or weekend sport. When I went through that windshield two days before Christmas, my pole vaulting days were over.

But I wish I had the chance to vault again. To spend some time enjoying and recognizing and savoring those final moments in the pole vaulting pit.

That is what I want to do. I want to vault again. Join a high school pole vaulting team for a season. Try to clear opening height. Enjoy this thing that I loved so much one last time.

This is what my book would be about. The chronicling of one man’s attempt to recapture his youth. Do those things that he might not be able to do anymore at all in the coming years.

I have a list of these things - about 10 in all - that I would attempt. Some are easier than others, but all would make great stories, I think. It would be a chance for me to both look into the past as well as tell stories about what’s happening in the present.

This idea has been kicking around in my head for about a decade. Last week someone sent me this video. An 84 year-old Vermont woman competing in the pole vault.

I couldn’t believe it.

Maybe time isn’t running out on some of these things as quickly as I once thought. Maybe there’s still time to do more things than I ever imagined.

Maybe there’s still time to pick up your child one last time.

Religion on the decline. Thankfully.

The latest Harris and Pew polls indicate that the fastest growing religious belief is no religious belief at all. For the first time since these polls have been taken, “no religion” is even with Catholicism and Evangelical as the dominant religious belief in America.

Mike Pence must be furious.

In addition, a Research Center poll reported that 34 to 36 percent of millennials indicate “no religion” when asked about their affiliation, meaning that soaring red line on the poll is likely to continue soaring.

While I’m not anti-religion, I’m always disturbed by the way that religion attempts to both inform and direct government policy and force itself into our everyday life.

This country is blessed with the freedom of religion, but there are a great many people in America who would be willing to mitigate or eliminate this freedom entirely in order to promote their Judeo-Christian beliefs and restrict the rights of women, Muslims, Jews, LGBTQ folks, and many more.

These people - folks like Mike Pence’s wife, who works at a school that bans LGBTQ students and faculty - place the Bible over the Constitution and basic human decency when it comes to governing, legislating, and educating Americans.

They are rotten human beings who seek to make their beliefs the law of the land and reject religious freedom on the basis that their God is the only God.

They will not stop in their attempts to gain power and force their beliefs down our throats through both rhetoric, policy, and the gathering of power.

Happily, it looks like they are on the path to minority status. When this final happens, perhaps we will stop the prejudice, discrimination, and violence that takes place in America every day in the defense of religious belief.

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Speak Up Storytelling: Jeffrey Freiser

On episode #45 of the Speak Up Storytelling podcast, Matthew and Elysha Dicks talk storytelling!

In our followup segment, we offer some corrections on previous episodes and read an email from a recent 100 day Homework for Life champion. 


April 27: "Put Me in Coach: Stories of Athletic Endeavors” at CHS
May 18: Speak Up Storytelling: Live podcast recording at CHS
June 8: “Nature Calls: Stories of the Outdoors” at Infinity Hall
August 17: Solo storytelling show, Taproot Theater, Seattle, WA

In our Homework for Life segment, we talk about how a moment that might be embarrassing or small in the minds of some can become a fully realized story when you allow for introspection and the ask yourself this simple question: "Why do you do the things that you do?

Next we listen to Jeffrey Freiser's story about a first date and the ensuing adventure. 

After listening, we discuss:

  1. The unusual role that humor plays in this story

  2. The way that different brands of humor achieve different results

  3. Telling a story in scenes in order to activate imagination

  4. Opportunities for misdirection 

  5. Momentum  

Next, we answer questions about finding the endings of stories and the joyous but sometimes problematic response that people often have to our stories.

Finally, we each offer a recommendation.  


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

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

Matthew Dicks's YouTube channel:

Subscribe to Matthew Dicks's weekly newsletter: 

Subscribe to the Speak Up newsletter: 


Jeff Simmermon's "Subway Moment" 
Adam Wade's "Hoboken Roast Beef Story"
Alfonso Lacayo's "The Bad Haircut"


May 4: Storytelling workshop (beginner), CT Historical Society
July 29-August 2: Storytelling bootcamp, CT Historical Society
October 25-27: Storytelling workshop (beginner), Kripalu Center for Yoga and Heath
December 6-8: Storytelling workshop (advanced), Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health




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Strangeness of Vermont

I spent two days in Burlington, Vermont earlier this week, teaching attorneys to tell stories and prepare witnesses and clients to tell stories.

I took a few photographs while I was there that I thought I’d share.

When I arrived in Burlington, I found myself staring at this interesting and slightly creepy building at the end of a road.

Sort of a "Welcome to Burlington. Things are about to get weird."


Thankfully, they didn’t.

In the bathroom of the conference center where we met and worked, I was greeted by this print.

I’m not sure what you see when you look at this, but given that it was hanging over the toilet, I couldn’t help but see a person standing in pee, which… you know… wasn’t great.

Happily, I only had to stare at it about a dozen times over the course of two days.


Then I spotted this sign, hanging over the toilet in a Vermont rest area. The water used for flushing the toilets was reclaimed water, so the highway department apparently needed to let those who are fond of drinking toilet water that this particular brand of toilet water is non-potable.

It’s also interesting to note that there were two drinking fountains just outside the restrooms, which means that there must be people who forgo the drinking fountain in favor of the toilet.

I had always assumed that all toilet water - and especially toilet water in highway restrooms - was non-potable, but I guess you learn something every day.

I’ll add that Vermont has some of the loveliest rest areas that I’ve ever seen, but that didn’t make the toilet water any less appealing.

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Try new things. Aggressively, relentlessly, and constantly.

Chase your dreams but also try new things.

Ever since I was 17 years old, I was chasing my dreams of being a professional writer.

In 1987, I was writing term papers for my classmates, earning money for the first time as a writer.

I used that money to buy my first car.

In 1990, I was writing columns on a bulletin board system - a small localized, online network and a precursor to the Internet.

I went to college to study creative writing. I started and stopped many terrible novels. Wrote a novel that didn’t sell. Wrote short stories and poetry. Wrote another novel that didn’t sell. Entered writing contests. Wrote editorials for local newspapers. Wrote for college newspapers and online zines.

I finally sold my first novel in 2007 - a full 20 years after beginning my journey.

Chase your dreams relentlessly.

But try new things, too. Definitely try new things.

In July of 2011, I took a stage at The Moth in New York City for what I thought would be the one story I would ever tell. “One and done,” I said. I was not dreaming of becoming a professional storyteller. I was simply fulfilling a promise. Satisfying a curiosity. Trying something new for the sake of trying something new.

That was less than eight years ago.

This week, while I was on vacation from my classroom, I did the following:

On Saturday, I worked at Yale New Haven Hospital, teaching doctors, nurses, patients, and the family members of patients how to tell stories as part of an ongoing storytelling initiative that I am helping to spearhead.

On Sunday I performed in Dorchester, MA for Now Listen Here, a storytelling show produced by a friend.

On Monday I was at Westover School, a boarding school in Middlebury, CT, teaching teachers and their students to tell stories and performing for the student body.

On Tuesday, I was on the campus of MIT, teaching students, faculty, and staff to tell stories.

On Wednesday I was at Amity Regional High School, teaching students to tell stories and hosting a story slam. Earlier in the day, I also consulted with the CEO of an engineering firm, helping him to tell stories.

Later that night, I competed in a Moth StorySLAM in Boston. I watched two former storytelling students tell stories onstage. I told a new story of my own. I finished in second place to an 89 year-old woman whose daughter I had taught to tell stories.

It’s not often that I like to lose, but I was happy that night.

On Thursday and Friday, I was in Burlington, VT, teaching attorneys to tell stories, working with their clients and witnesses to craft stories, and assisting them to craft and revise opening statements.

On Sunday, Elysha and I will be producing a storytelling showcase in collaboration with Voices of Hope. After working with the children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors for weeks, they will be telling stories about themselves and their parents and grandparents.

Sunday night, I will be performing at a synagogue in a show honoring the principal of a local Jewish Day School.

That’s a crazy list. Too crazy, really. At the time I booked the week, I wasn’t sure if Elysha would be back to work, so I filled every day with opportunities to earn income in the event we desperately needed it. I could really use a vacation from my vacation, but still, it’s a crazy list.

Back in 2011, I couldn’t imagine any of it happening. I didn’t plan on any of it happening.

Most important, storytelling wasn’t my dream. It was simply trying something new with no expectation of return on time or investment. Like the standup I’m performing today and the consulting that I’m doing with advertising agencies and the podcast that Elysha and I launched a year ago, I was just trying something new.

Staying young.

Placing irons in the fire.

Creating possibility.

Chase your dreams. But also aggressively, relentlessly try new things.

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Billions with a B

I’d like to officially dispense with the phrase:

“That’s billion with a B.”

I'd like to eliminate it from the world forever. Make it extinct. Destroy every bit of it.

Have you ever heard “million” when the person said “billion” even once in your life?

Are the letters M and B so close that you could ever confuse them?

Has this attempt at numerical drama ever been effective or meaningful?

I hate it when someone says, “That’s billion with a B” so very, very much.

Would you mind hating it with me? Please?


Unfortunate restroom encounters at MIT

I was teaching storytelling at MIT yesterday. It was a long but exciting day.

In addition to teaching two workshops, I received an amazing tour of their new nanotechnology facility, and I’m now convinced that nanotechnology is going to save the world.

You wouldn’t believe the things what scientists can do today with a few atoms.

I also met some incredible people, walked around the campus for a couple hours, taught about 100 students, faculty, and staff, and even reconnected with a couple of old friends, too.

At one point, I passed two young men in a hallway who were multiplying fractions aloud. It was the kind of thing that you’d only expect to see in a movie about a place like MIT, but no. These things actually happen at MIT. Students just walk around, calculating and debating mathematical principles in between classes. Chalk boards are filled with equations that I couldn’t begin to understand.

Very smart people walk the halls of that institution. I felt like a small, insignificant fool crawling amongst intellectual giants.

It also became readily apparent to me why I was not an MIT student. And both times, it happened in a restroom.

During our first break, I left the classroom and walked down the hall to use the restroom. I pushed open the door and walked in, only to find myself in the company of three young women. They turned stared at me, the looks on their faces indicating that this was not a gender neutral restroom. I paused, smiled, and said, “And this is why I’m not MIT material” and left.

Then I turned right and pushed open the door clearly marked “Men.” I stepped over to one of the eight urinals to take care of business. I was the only person in the restroom when I entered, but a moment later, another man entered. Of the eight available urinals, I was using the second from the end. The man stepped to the urinal beside me, which was strange. With six urinals to my left, most men would’ve chosen one farther away, creating some distance between us.

I thought, “That’s an aggressive move by this guy. What gives?”

Then I wondered, “Is this just some hangup that I have? Is this me being stupid and weird, or is this guy a little socially awkward? Who’s in the wrong here?”

Having just taught my class about the importance of recognizing small moments from our lives, I returned to class and told my students about my encounter in the women’s restroom. Then I told them about the aggressive, possibly social awkward man in the men’s room and my quandary over whether the guy was weird or I was being stupid.

Turns out the man, named Tom, was in the room. He was attending my class. I’d been staring at him for more than an hour.

As you can see, I am not MIT material.

Happily, we laughed about the moment, and oddly, he was having a similar moment at the urinal. He told me that he entered the restroom in a bit of a fog, chose the urinal without thought, and then realized that there was a man beside him. He turned, realized it was me, and quickly turned away, thinking, “Damn. That’s Matt. Now what? I can’t talk to him while we’re peeing like this. And why am I standing so close to him? Damn.”

Tom ultimately gave me the tour of the nanotech facility. He gave me some nanotech swag to take home to the kids. He offered to tour my family around MIT if we’re ever in the city,. He was generous at every turn.

I liked him a lot.

It all turned out fine.

But no, I don’t expect MIT to be inviting me to work with them for more than a day at a time. A person who can’t navigate their restrooms without incident really doesn’t belong amongst intellectual giants.

Theatrical wind chill factor

Credit Elysha Dicks for this gem:

When you ask how long a play or musical runs, you should receive two distinct times from the usher:

  1. The actual running time

  2. The play or musical’s wind chill factor

For example:

“The play runs for 83 minutes, but it’s not very good. Quite dreadful in fact. With the wind chill, it will feel like a little more than four hours. Enjoy the show.”

As we all know, it’s the wind chill factor that we should be most concerned about at all times.


Speak Up Storytelling: Sarasweet Rabidoux Kelsey

On episode #44 of the Speak Up Storytelling podcast, Matthew and Elysha Dicks talk storytelling!

In our followup segment, we introduce the "new" new cover of my next novel, discuss a bizarre coincidence, respond to a heartwarming email from a listener, and ask listeners for feedback on a reward for Homework for Life champions. 

In our Homework for Life segment, we talk about how a simple sentence or two - when the words touch your heart- can be enough to tell a great story. 

Next we listen to Sarasweet Rabidoux Kelsey's story about an unfortunate prom encounter. 

After listening, we discuss:

  1. Subtlety in storytelling

  2. The power of nostalgia

  3. Great opening lines

  4. The connective tissue of great storytelling

  5. When it's okay to reference pop culture and when it's not

  6. Saying just enough to serve the story

Next, we answer questions about shortening the length of stories and competing in storytelling competitions against "big stories. 

Finally, we each offer a recommendation.  


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

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

Matthew Dicks's YouTube channel:

Subscribe to Matthew Dicks's weekly newsletter: 

Subscribe to the Speak Up newsletter: 

Heloise and the Savoir Faire 

Matt Stone and Trey Parker on But and Therefore




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The standing ovation has come to signify nothing.

Elysha and I attended a play last night. I won’t mention the name because it wasn’t good, and I don’t want to publicly denigrate the effort and art of the people involved.

I’ll leave that to the theater critics.

Instead, I’d like to denigrate the audience.

At the end of this tragically bad, objectively bad play, nearly the entire audience rose to their feet for a standing ovation. It was immediate, rousing, and loud.

It was also ridiculous. Undeserved. Nonsensical. And this wasn’t the first time I have witnessed this bizarre behavior. Standing ovations were once reserved for work of outstanding quality. The best of the best.

Now they have become fairly standard at a performance. Almost an expectation.

Elysha, who also found this standing ovation ridiculous, thinks it’s the result of people who want to make others feel good about their effort. To refuse the standing ovation would be cruel to the performers.

She might be right. In this world of participation trophies and everyone feeling good, maybe the standing ovation has become the theater’s version of the white ribbon.

Congratulations. You stood on a stage and tried hard. Let us make you feel good.

I argued that it might also be the result of people who are so desperate to stand in the presence of greatness that they are using the standing ovation in order to will things like this terrible play to undeserved heights. No one wants to announce to the world on Instagram or Facebook that they just wasted 83 minutes of their lives on a terrible performance, so why not turn it into something great, thus making them seem smart and savvy in the process.

Whatever the reason, it must stop. I saw Hamilton a few months ago. That performance deserved a standing ovation. It was the best thing I’d ever seen.

I saw Rent a couple weeks ago. The play itself deserved a standing ovation, though the performances did not. Perhaps I’m spoiled by having seen the original cast of the musical in New York in the 1990’s several times, but the recent rendition of the show just isn’t as good, and some of the songs are sung at lower keys to accommodate the singer’s limited range.

I rose to my feet that night, not in recognition of the performances but in recognition of the writing.

Last night’s play did not deserve a standing ovation. The writing was bad, and the performances were bad. Even the sound design and sets were bad. Enthusiastic applause in recognition of the company’s effort would’ve been more than enough. Generous, even. But a standing applause?

That audience looked ridiculous.

As they leapt to their feet, I remained seated. After a few moments, I rose, too, but I started putting on my jacket as I stood, avoiding an additional clapping.

I wasn’t standing because I loved the performance. I was standing so I could exit the theater as quickly as possible.

I reserve my standing ovations for greatness. You should, too.


I want to be the blind man with the elephant.

Earlier this week, someone accused me of taking a position on an issue that I didn’t fully understand and suggested that I was acting like a blind man in the blind men and the elephant parable.

It’s not the first time someone has used this parable against me when suggesting that I’m taking a position on an issue that I don’t understand.

In case you don’t know the parable, it goes something like this:

A group of blind men heard that a strange animal, called an elephant, had been brought to the town, but none of them were aware of its shape and form. Out of curiosity, they said: "We must inspect and know it by touch, of which we are capable". So, they sought it out, and when they found it they groped about it. In the case of the first person, whose hand landed on the trunk, said "This being is like a thick snake". For another one whose hand reached its ear, it seemed like a kind of fan. As for another person, whose hand was upon its leg, said, the elephant is a pillar like a tree-trunk. The blind man who placed his hand upon its side said the elephant, "is a wall". Another who felt its tail, described it as a rope. The last felt its tusk, stating the elephant is that which is hard, smooth and like a spear.


The parable suggests that you can’t know a thing unless you know the whole of the thing, and while I agree in principle, I don’t agree in practice. Yes, it’s true that it’s hard to understand something without understanding all or most of it, but I don’t think that my lack of knowledge or understanding should preclude me from staking a position, for two reasons:

  1. It’s impossible to always know what we don’t know. I may think I have an understanding of an issue, only to learn later that I do not. This is not a terrible thing. It’s known as learning. I can’t be blamed for believing that I had enough facts to draw a conclusion, because you can’t always know what you don’t know.

  2. In the instances when this blind men and the elephant parable has been lobbed at me, I’m simply stating an opinion. Taking a stand. I’m not enacting policy. I’m not making an important decision. I’m not choosing a course for myself or others. I’m simply staking out an intellectual position and, as always, inviting criticism, agreement, and inquiry. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with someone taking a position on an issue they may not understand fully if they do so with an open mind, an open heart, and a willingness to be corrected by someone with greater expertise.

This is not easy for everyone to accept. I’ve been told many times that commenting, evaluating, assessing, or even judging things that I don't fully understand is wrong, foolish, and even offensive. It’s been suggested many times that I am opinionated, argumentative, pugnacious, and aggressively contrarian.

They say these things as if they are bad. They say them as if those words possess negative connotations.

Yes, I’m all those things. Absolutely. But in being all those things, I also openly invite correction. Retort. Argument.

I am happy to be the old man, feeling the elephant’s tail and thinking it a thick snake because the alternative is either remaining silent or reaching a level of expertise before ever opening my mouth.

I can’t remain silent. That’s just not me.

And I can’t always reach a level of expertise because, again, you can’t know what you don’t know.

If I’m wrong, tell me I’m wrong. Engage in debate. Teach me something new. Increase my level of expertise.

But please don’t suggest that I remain silent until I know enough. Just tell me what I don’t know.

Thoreau on regret

Henry David Thoreau offered this advice on regret:

“Make the most of your regrets; never smother your sorrow, but tend and cherish it till it comes to have a separate and integral interest. To regret deeply is to live afresh.”

Thoreau believed in regret. He believed in tending and cherishing it. He believed in making use of it.

I agree with Thoreau. Although it’s quite popular to say that we should live without regrets - let the past be the past - I have always found my regrets as fuel for my fire.

It’s not unlike the fuel I find in those who have doubted me, maligned me, turned their back on me, let me down, and attempted to tear me down. When I am feeling less than energetic or lacking in motivation, all I need to do is think about the soulless cowards who tried to destroy my career or the guidance counselors who never spoke to me about college or the person who turned her back on me over something trivial and out of my control, and I’m suddenly filled with the desire to achieve and excel and crush the world again.

The same holds true for regret. Whether it’s regret caused by a failure of my own or is the result of something out of my control, I often remind myself of what it feels like to miss an opportunity, fail to achieve a goal, or fall short of making a dream come true.

That simple, painful reminder fuels my fire and sends me charging into the day.

Thankfully, I don’t have too many regrets. With Elysha, Clara, and Charlie, how could I? But I have a few - and a couple big ones - and I allow them to inform my current and future decisions. I allow their sting to incentivize me from never feeling regret again.

Socrates said that an unexamined life is not worth living. I’m not sure if I would take it quite that far, but I would argue that the unexamined life is the deliberate and wasteful disregard of regret. It’s a missed opportunity to learn from your mistakes and use them as fuel for the next struggle.

I agree with Thoreau. Make the most of your regrets. To regret deeply is to live afresh.

Change of plan

Remember the cover of my new book that most of you liked so much?

It’s been changed.

Twenty-one Truths About Love was received exceptionally well during the sales conference except for one thing:

The sales and marketing folks didn’t love the cover.

And honestly, I didn’t love it initially either. I was eventually convinced that the cover was well designed and would effectively garner the attention of readers, but that cover is a thing of the past, and we have a new cover that I love.

I really, really love.

I hope you do, too. You can preorder the book (which would help me immensely) here.

Twenty One Truths About Love.jpg

Trump is an inarticulate, lying coward who refuses to answer to the American people

In cased you missed it, in just the last 24 hours, Donald Trump has:

  • Told reporters that his father, Fred Trump, was born in Germany, which is not true. Fred Trump was born in New York.

  • Suggested that the noise from wind farms could cause cancer.

  • Repeated his claim that the Barr memo clears him of obstruction of justice, which is specifically and pointedly does not.

  • Claimed that he never called for the full release of the Mueller report, which he did so with great specificity less than a week ago.

  • Stated that is was a "great honor" to fund Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. In fact, Obama fully funded the program and Trump's budget proposes a 90 percent cut.

Oddly, most of these irrefutable lies will go unchallenged because Trump and his administration no longer hold themselves accountable to the American people, and Republican lawmakers allow these ridiculous and oftentimes damaging lies to be spoken without challenge because they are gutless cowards who are only concerned with their reelection.

Two strategies that Trump has employed to avoid accountability include:

#1: Trump is afraid to conduct a press conference. He has conducted exactly two press conferences since taking office and both were disastrous because he cannot stop lying, makes racist and sexist claims, and is utterly inarticulate.

Instead, he only takes questions in situations when multiple unamplified reporters are allowed to briefly shout questions at him, usually over the roar of a helicopter, and he is free to ignore any of the questions being asked.

Compare Trump’s two press conferences with the number of press conferences by previous administrations:

Obama: 65
Bush: 59
Clinton: 69
Bush: 89
Reagan: 15
Carter: 52

This is a President who habitually lies and refuses to allow the American people to hold him accountable.

#2: Sarah Sanders has almost abandoned the decades-old policy of daily White House briefings. Rather than taking regular questions from the press, Trump and Sanders almost only appear on Fox News.

This allows Trump to lie about his father’s birthplace and suggest that the sound from windmills cause cancer without concern that the press many ask him pointed questions on the matter.

They can’t.