48,762 is a completely unacceptable number

As an "inbox zero" guy (one who strives to keep his email's inbox empty or as close to empty as possible), you can't imagine how upsetting this particular phone is to me. 

It's real, too. This iPhone belongs to someone I know. I took this photograph.  

Just knowing that this number exists in the world (and is probably larger) is distressing to me. 

If you're looking to gain some control over your own inbox, may I recommend using a mail app like Inbox, which allows you to reschedule your email to a more convenient and appropriate time for you. 

For example:

  • I schedule all tax related information, invoices, and digital receipts to return to my inbox on February 1 of each year.
  • I schedule tickets for shows and events to return to my inbox on the actual date of the show.
  • I schedule information pertaining to workshops, speeches, and meetings (agendas, directions, contact info) to return to my inbox at the time and date of the actual meeting or workshop. 
  • I'll even reschedule email received during the morning or afternoon to the evening or the next day if that is when I plan to respond to it.

All done with the simple swipe of a thumb.  

Amongst the many rescheduling choices offered by the app (Tomorrow, Later this week, This weekend, Next week, a specific time and date) is "Someday," which also allows me reschedule a complimentary email to hit my inbox a second time.

A reader writes to me to compliment me on a book. A former student writes to me thanking me for inspiring her. A friend sends an unexpected email with words of kindness and generosity.   

I reschedule it for "Someday," and surprise and joy get a second visit. A second shot of the brain's four "feel good" chemicals: endorphin, oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine.

Someday... 

Inbox has many other fantastic features that I routinely use, but the ability to reschedule your email to arrive at a time that fits your schedule is the feature I use most often.

It keeps things manageable. Prevents me from missing or forgetting about an email. Keeps my mind uncluttered. It allows me to operate at "inbox zero" or close to it every day. 

I'm not saying that your goal should be inbox zero. I'm merely implying that you will be a far better human being if you are an inbox zero devotee like me. 

My kind of protest

My favorite things in the world are those that make me joyous while making the people who I despise sad or angry. 

This protest by multimedia artist Robin Bell, projected onto the facade of Trump Tower in Washington, DC on Saturday night, manages to hit this sweet spot perfectly.  

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Added to my joy is the suddenly plunge in Yelp scores at Trump hotels across the world as scores of protesters are leaving one and two star reviews with hilarious comments. 

Yelp has begun removing these fictitious reviews, but for a while, Trump hotels were rated at the bottom of the barrel, which must've made the petulant man-child very angry. 

Oddly, it's also been pointed out that the word "shithole" is an anagram for "His hotel."

It would seem that even the universe is fight back in subtle and amusing ways.  

One tweet. Four deliberate, purposeful lies.

This tweet got a little loss in the political firestorm of the last couple days, which is understandable. Not only did Trump disparage Haiti and refer to African countries as "shitholes," but he managed this act of indecency on the eight year anniversary of the Haitian earthquake and on the cusp of Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend. 

Timing is everything, I guess.

Still take a look at this tweet:

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The real reason that Trump has cancelled his London trip is out of fear of massive protests (a fact the White House reported before Trump attempted to change the narrative) , but in addition to this lie, the tweet contains three other lies. 

  1. President Bush sold the former embassy and initiated the move. NOT Barack Obama.  
  2. The sale of the former embassy paid for the new embassy, so the price of the new embassy is irrelevant. It didn't cost American taxpayers a dime. 
  3. The move was made for security reasons. The former embassy was not deemed safe and secure enough for our diplomats, so a change was necessary.

His tweet was so inaccurate and disparaging that the US embassy in the United Kingdom put out a press release correcting his lies. 

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With any other President, a statement containing three deliberate lies in order to support a fourth lie would be an scandal of enormous proportions, but Trump lies so often and with such impunity from his party or supporters that this tweet is all but forgotten amidst the hundreds of other lies and racist remarks. 

These are not normal times, even though a small but still astounding 36% of Americans continue to support this racist, coward, and serial liar.  

It's hard to understand. 

These are the kinds of words that Americans yearn to hear

I'm a harsh critic when it comes to speeches and monologues. I often hear that a speech is "amazing" or "remarkable" or "inspiring," only to be let down by something that fails to reach the level of the shouted superlatives. 

This is not the case.

Anderson Cooper's brief monologue in response to Trump's disgusting, indecent, and un-American comments on Haiti and other countries is moving, captivating, and brilliant. 

Take two minutes and watch. Please. 

This punishment may have gone too far.

I am not opposed to the unorthodox, clever, or even severe consequence when one of my students (or one of my children) misbehaves. As much positive feedback as I offer my students and kids on a daily basis, there are moments when a consequence is needed and warranted. 

But when it comes to punishments, I don't believe in acting cruel or unnecessarily harsh (though some of my former students may disagree).

So I'm not exactly sure how to feel about this father, who rightfully punished his daughter by taking away her phone (and thus eliminating her ability to send and receive text messages) but hours later slipped this sheet of paper under her bedroom door. 

Unorthodox? Yes.
Clever? Absolutely.
But cruel? Maybe. 

I don't know the relationship this father has with his daughter, so perhaps this is part of a running gag, or maybe his daughter was primed for a joke like this. Maybe he was trying to make her laugh.  

But judging this on face value alone? I'm not sure. 

It's funny and unforgettable and imaginative, but I'm not sure that I could do it, simply because it strikes me as too mean.  

Coming from me, that's really saying something.  

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"I'll do the salmon" is stupid. I might be, too.

Elysha and I were having dinner in a restaurant last week. The couple at the table beside us was ordering their meal.

The woman said, "I'll do the salmon."

Can we all agree that this is not how regular human beings order food?

I'll "do" the salmon? 

"I'll have the salmon."
I'd like the salmon."
"Could I have the salmon, please?"
Even "I'll try the salmon," would be fine.

Not "I'll do the salmon." Never "I'll do the salmon."

Why? It just sounds stupid. Self important. Pretentious. It's the use of an action verb that has nothing to do with the actual action taking place. 

That woman would not be "doing" the salmon. She wasn't going to catch, filet, prepare, bake, or deliver the salmon to the table. Her entire involvement with the salmon was limited to saying the word "salmon" and then eating the salmon.

While someone else was "doing" the salmon, she would be sitting patiently, sipping wine, nibbling on some bread, and presumably making every attempt to avoid nitpicking tiny language choices that mean little and interest no one because that might make you sound like a stupid jerk. 

Right?

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A bunch of old, white men are determining the course of our nation

You'll be pleased to know that Trump and the Republican leadership met at Camp David this weekend to set their 2018 legislative agenda, and once again, the GOP made sure that a diversity of voices were heard.

Nine old, white, male Republican leaders, including Trump and Pence, were joined by Paul Ryan, who is also male and white but only middle aged.

He's only 47 years old.  

Republican diversity at work, my friends. And they were once again dumb enough to emphasize this point by posing behind Trump at the conclusion of the weekend. 

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What will be written on your tombstone?

Here's a fun little game.

Determine the future epitaph on your tombstone by taking out your phone and beginning a text message that reads,

"Here lies INSERT NAME. He/she was..."

Then allow the phone to predict the rest of the sentence. If you're using a phone that gives you three options, choose the middle one every time. 

Using this method, my epitaph would read:

Here lies Matthew Dicks. He was just a bit too cold. 

Pretty good. Huh?

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It turns out that if you try this at different times, you'll get different results. 

My other options include:

Here lies Matthew Dicks. He was a good man in his own life. 
Here lies Matthew Dicks. He was just a bit too hard on himself. 
Here lies Matthew Dicks. He was the one who said we have a lot to do.

I like all of those a lot, too, but you only get one tombstone.

And no cheating. The first one is the right one and the real one. 

Let me know what your phone suggests for you.

This Trump tweet is 50 words long but says so much more.

I don't think it's wise to parse the words of someone as erratic and incompetent as Donald Trump, but this recent tweet is a real doozy and demands a little scrutiny. 

Take a look. 

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Let's dig in.

First, we have the President claiming that the book is boring. But the only way to determine if a book is boring is to actually read the book, which we know Trump did not do because:

  • Trump doesn't read.
  • Trump tweeted this less than 24 hours after the book was published. Even if he did read books (and he doesn't), he didn't have time to read a book of this length over the course of a day, especially while serving as President.  

It's both strange and disconcerting that Trump would not see the transparency of this obvious lie.

Second, we have the President claiming that Wolff "made up stories" to sell this "untruthful" book. But Trump knows that Wolff, who reputation for the truth is admittedly not pristine, has recordings of many of the conversations used to write this book.

Is he hoping Wolff won't release these recordings or allow a third party to listen for verification?

Even worse, we know most of these stories to be true already. They are consistent with reporting emerging from the West Wing all year. Sources have been leaking this kind of information about Trump and his staff ever since Trump took office. While the book is a bombshell, it's not exactly entirely new information.   

Also, why doesn't Trump realize that every time he criticizes this book or attacks the author, Wolff sells more books? This should be exceptionally obvious, and yet Trump continues to attack. First, he ineffectually sued to prevent the book's publication (which only results in the publisher releasing the book four days earlier), and since then, he has criticized it verbally and on Twitter again and again.

It's going to be a New York Times #1 bestseller, thanks in large part to Trump. 

I can only pray that Trump would attack one of my books with equal ferocity. 

Now we get to the most interesting and incomprehensible aspect of this tweet. Trump says:

"He used Sloppy Steve Bannon, who cried when he got fired and begged for his job."

There is so much here. 

  1. If Wolff "used Steve Bannon," who had unfettered access to the West Wing as Trump's chief strategist for most of 2017, then Wolff had at least one very significant source for this book, and Trump just acknowledged it.  
  2. When Bannon left the White House in late August, Sarah Huckabee Sanders stated that it was a "mutual decision." Trump had nothing but praise for Bannon at the time. So was Sanders lying about this mutual decision? Was Trump lying about his effusive praise? Does Trump not see that reversing a story four months later makes him and his spokesperson a liar back then or a liar now? 
  3. How does telling the world that someone cried as you terminated their employment make you look like anything other than a despicable, reprehensible, untrustworthy human being? How does anyone ever work for a man who would do this kind of thing? When has any employer in the history of the world revealed that an employee cried in response to being fired? Does Trump not realize that revealing that Bannon cried only serves to make Bannon seem more human and Trump appear even more rotten than before?
  4. Does anyone really believe that Bannon cried? Anyone? 

Then Trump says that Bannon has been "dumped like a dog" by almost everyone. 

Who dumps dogs? 

Dumped like a bag of steaming garbage? Sure. 
Dumped like a bad habit? Fine.
But who dumps man's best friend? Apparently Trump does. 

Then Trump closes with "Too bad!" 

What does this mean?

  • Is Trump reflecting back upon his and Steve's previously joyous moments in the Oval Office?
  • Is he expressing regret for the deterioration of their relationship?
  • Is he worried about the future financial viability of his one time friend? 
  • Or is it the "Too bad!" of a sarcastic, middle school bully who is purposefully deflecting emotional attachment and feelings while trying to hurt another?

According to the many accounts in Wolff's book, it's the latter. The one consistent theme running throughout the book is that Trump acts like a petulant child in need of immediate gratification. As a result, these final two words of this tweet only serve to further support the case for the book and its accuracy.  

This petulant, angry, insulting, defensive, untruthful tweet was written by the President of the United States. This is how he spends his time. This is how he serves the American people.

I'd tell Trump how I feel about his tweet directly, but he blocked me on Twitter earlier this year. 

Damn coward. 

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One of these things is not like the other

Our friends Chion and Emily came over for brunch last weekend. 

Clara likes to make name tags to indicate where each person will be sitting at the table. They are typically colorful and adorned with small, decorative elements.

As you can see, one of these name tags is not like the other. 

Clara tells me that the two pictures adjacent to my name are a computer ("...because you're always working on a book") and a rake, for which she could give no explanation.  

Always nice to feel like a welcomed guest at your own table. 

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Bruce and Clarence sharing a kiss, over and over and over again

I love these photos of Bruce Springsteen and Clarence Clemons kissing on stage, which they did routinely when Clarence was still alive and performing with Bruce.

I love these photos for three reasons:

  1. As a fan, I love witnessing the love shared between two men who I admire so much. 
  2. I love the way this expression of friendship and love runs so counter to what you'd expect from two rock and roll icons. 
  3. I love the way it enrages the bigots who love their music but are repulsed by the notion of two men kissing each other on the lips regardless of the context.   

Hire that kid today!

According to the story attached to this photo, a ten year old girl is responsible for this bit of genius. Provided that her parents didn't play a large role in the creation of this masterpiece (and from the report, they didn't), I'd recommend hiring her immediately for whatever job you may be looking in the next decade or so. 

A future contract of sorts. 

This girl is going places. 

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New Years Resolutions 2018

PERSONAL HEALTH

1. Don’t die.

Recommended by a friend years ago. Still valid today and deserving of the first spot on the list.

2. Lose 20 pounds.

I tried to lose 20 pounds in 2016 but only lost 8.
I tried to lose 20 points in 2017 but only lost 8. 

Since my first weight goal in 2010, I've lost a total of 62 pounds. Another 20 is ambitious, but it would get me down to my high school weight. I’m willing to try to make that happen.

3. Eat at least three servings of fruits and/or vegetables per day. 

Readers and friends proposed this goal to me more than any other. 

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

I’ve accomplished this goal for five years in a row, but it’s not exactly automatic, so it remains on the list. I've also added planks to the list. 

5. Identify a yoga routine that I can commit to practicing at least three days a week.

This is an adjustment on a failed goal from last year. Rather than committing to actually doing yoga all year long, my goal is to simply find a routine that works for me.

Small steps.  

It's important. Flexibility is important. It'll supposedly help my golf game and other stuff, too.

6. Stop using the snooze button.

I may not sleep as many hours as most, but I am a huge supporter of productive, efficient, and effective sleep. To that end, I avoid many of the pitfalls of restful sleep. I don't watch television or read in bed. We use a white noise machine when we sleep. I go to bed and wake up on a fairly regular schedule.

I take sleep seriously.  

As a result, I am able to fall asleep about 30 seconds after my head hits the pillow, and I sleep throughout the night without waking. While I may sleep two or three fewer hours than most, I don't waste a second in bed. Every moment is spent sleeping.

I am also keenly aware that the snooze button is bad for you. There is a lot of science behind this fact. Despite this science, I have been known to snooze, but the time for the snooze button has come to an end. In 2018, I will stop using the snooze button altogether. When my alarm goes off (or I just naturally wake up, which often happens), I will immediately get out of bed and start my day. 

WRITING CAREER

7. . Complete my seventh novel before the end of 2017.

With novel #5 slated to publish in January of 2018 and novel #6 already complete, it's time to begin the next one. My goal is to complete the first draft by the end of the year.

8. Complete my second middle grade/YA novel.

With my first middle grade novel set to publish in late 2017/early 2018, it's time to begin my second one. My goal is to complete the first draft by the end of the year.

9. Write at least three new picture books, including one with a female, non-white protagonist. 

I wrote three picture books in 2015.  
I wrote another three in 2016. 
In 2017, I started but did not finish four picture books in 2017.

I haven't sold any of them. So far. 

My goal for 2018 is to finish the year with five more completed picture books. This can include books that I began in 2017 but didn't finish and/or brand new ones.

At least one must feature a non-white, non-male protagonist. 

10. Write a proposal for a memoir.

I have a completed memoir that could be used to achieve this goal. I also have two partially written memoirs that could also be used. My agent and I will decide upon the best manuscript, and then I will write a proposal. 

Hopefully we can find an editor or three that like it. 

11. Write a new screenplay.

I failed to write a screenplay in 2016 and 2017 after writing my first in 2015.

I intend to write at least one in 2018. This could include a television pilot, which I might be writing with a partner.

12. Write a musical.

For the last three years, I have written musicals for a local summer camp with my composer and lyricist, Andy Mayo. One of those musicals was produced by a children's theater company in 2016.

In 2012 Andy and I wrote and produced a rock opera called The Clowns at a local theater and have been trying to get it into festivals or other theaters ever since. 

Andy and I have committed ourselves to another musical for the local summer camp for 2018, and I also wrote the first scene of a new adult musical. My goal is to write one musical, though I may write two. 

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

A completed goal from 2017 that I will repeat in 2018.

In 2017, I published three pieces in Parents magazine, in additional to my quarterly column in Seasons magazine. Not bad, but I'd still like to get my first piece in The New York Times in 2018.

My dream goal is to land another column in a magazine, newspaper, or online publication this year, but I’m keeping this goal more reasonable.

14. Write a proposal for a nonfiction book related to education.

I have several ideas for books on education that I would like to write. I'm actually in the process of writing one now. If my agent approves, I'll write a proposal in 2018 and hope that an editor likes my ideas. 

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

A completed goal from 2017 that I will repeat in 2018.

None of the publishing outlets accepted my short stories (still waiting on two to respond), but I will try again in 2018.

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

In 2016, I wrote about backing into parking spots, daily affirmations, and bottle flipping.

In 2017, I wrote about prayer, cold showers, and talking to strangers.

I've actually adopted one of these behaviors (cold showers) and realized that I was already doing another (talking to strangers).

Though my opinion of most of these activities didn't change, it was a useful experiment each time, so I'll repeat this in 2018.

17. Increase my author newsletter subscriber base to 2,000.

I grew my list by 29% in 2016 and 25% in 2017. If I grow the list by another 25% in 2018, I will hit my goal of 2,000 subscribers.

I may be unrealistic in this goal.  

18. Write at least six letters to my father.

A completed goal from 2017 that I will repeat in 2018.

My father and I have been writing sporadic letters to each other since 2013. Since we speak little, it's been a great way to get to know a man who disappeared from much of my life at the age of eight. I intend to write to him every other month with the hope that he will write to me on my off months.  

19. Write 100 letters in 2018.

The plan is to write a letter (paper, envelope, and stamp) every three days or so, to students, colleagues, friends, family, and anyone else who is deserving of praise, gratitude, recognition, or the like. It's a way of making a day a little brighter for another person that appeals to me a lot. 

20. Convert Greetings Little One into a book.

A failed goal from 2017.

I wrote a blog during the first eight years of my children's lives. I stopped writing in December of 2015. Though I've considered resuming the writing, I would like to have the content already created preserved in a physical form. There are services that can do this work, but I want it done well. Edited. Photos positioned appropriately on the page. Videos removed. I'm willing to hire someone to produce this or find another way to have it done well.  

21. Record one thing learned every week in 2018.

This is an idea stolen from a blogger who has done this for the past two years. His lists are fascinating. I made the mistake in 2017 of setting the goal of one item learned each day, so this became more of a chore, and the list is not inspiring. 

By recording one item per week, I'm hoping to generate an equally fascinating list to share at the end of 2018. 

STORYTELLING

22. Produce a total of 12 Speak Up storytelling events.

We produced 3 shows in 2013, 8 shows in 2014, 12 shows in 2015, 17 shows in 2016, and 17 shows in 2017.

An even dozen shows in 2018 is a reasonable goal. 

23. Deliver a TED Talk.

I’ve had some bad luck in terms of TED Talks.

I did a TED Talk at the AT&T Conference Center in 2013 that went extremely well, but technical difficulties made the audio on the recording almost indiscernible.

I did a TED Talk at Western Connecticut State University in 2013 that went flawlessly, but the college students who hosted the conference never posted the recording online.

I did a TED Talk in April of 2014 in Somerville, Massachusetts that also went well, but my 15 minute talk was accidentally put on a nine minute timer, which forced me to dump sections of my talk on the fly and speak faster than I would’ve liked. The talk was good, but it was not exactly what I had planned. There was room for improvement.

I did a TED Talk at Boston University in April of 2015. The recording started almost two minutes into my talk, and one of the cameras failed. The actual talk went well but the recording is useless. Again, I'd like to repeat this talk at some point for TED. 

I did a TED Talk in November of 2015 in the Berkshires that went very well. The recordings is excellent. Huzzah! 

I did a TED Talk in January of 2016 in Natick, MA, that also went very well. The recording is excellent. Huzzah!

I did a TED Talk in April of 2016 at The Country School in Madison, CT, repeating that first TED Talk that didn't get recorded well in 2013. I had to hold a microphone, which complicated things a bit, and there was no timer, so I had to rush in fear of going long. I'm still not entirely satisfied with the talk. I'd like to repeat it again under optimal circumstances.  

I did a TED Talk in May of 2017 at the Pomfret School. Again, I had a handheld mic and no timer. Still, I thought it went well but could be better.  

It looks like I may be speaking at the upcoming TEDx conference at Wesleyan in 2018. Nothing is confirmed yet, and if it doesn't happen, then I'll have to begin pitching again to make this happen.

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

I attended 27 Moth events in 2015, 26 events in 2016, and 20 events in 2017, so this number is more than reasonable.

25. Win at least three Moth StorySLAMs.

I won one slam in 2011.
I won two slams in 2012.
I won seven slams in 2013.
I won five slams in 2014. 
I won four slams in 2015.
I won five slams in 2016.
I won five slams in 2017.

Three wins feels ambitious for 2018, but since 2011, I've competed in 62 Moth StorySLAMs and won 30 (a 48% win rate). 

If I compete in at least 10 StorySLAMs in 2018, I should be able to win at least three based upon previous percentages. This goal depends upon the decisions of others, but competing in StorySLAMs just isn't enough to justify the goal. 

26. Win a Moth GrandSLAM.

I won one GrandSLAM in 2014.
I won two GrandSLAMs in 2015.
I won one GrandSLAM in 2016.
I failed to win a GrandSLAM in 2017.   

I had four opportunities to compete in GrandSLAMs in 2017 but was unavailable each time. Hopefully the calendar will be kinder to me in 2018. 

This goal also depends upon the decisions of others, but competing in GrandSLAMs is a forgone conclusion and just isn't enough to justify the goal. 

27. Produce at least 25 episodes of our new podcast Storyworthy. 

Elysha and I are launching a new storytelling podcast in early 2018 to coincide with the launch of my book Storyworthy: Engage, Teach, Persuade, and Change Your Life Through the Power of Storytelling (available now for preorder). 

I'm excited. Elysha is funny, insightful, and charming, and I'm just lucky to have her. Together we are going to listen to a story each week and then critique the story, highlighting things that the storyteller has done exceptionally well and areas of opportunity to improve the story. We'll also offer strategies and tips, share storyworthy moments from our lives, offer a peak into the storytelling world, answer listener questions, and banter. 

We plan to produce one episode per week, so the goal of 25 episodes leaves us a lot of room for error. 

28. Perform stand up at least four times in 2018. 

I performed stand up for the first time in 2017. It went much better than I expected. 

In 2018, I intend to perform at least four times. 

29. Pitch my one-person show to at least one professional theater.

I wrote my one-man show in 2017, and I performed a loose version of it twice in conjunction with my teaching of storytelling.

In 2018, I'd like to begin the process of performing my one-man show in its purest form in a professional theater. 

NEW PROJECTS

30. Write a syllabus for a college course on teaching. 

In 2017, I discussed the idea of a college course with several local professors, and all agreed that it would be a valuable addition to their program. I don't know if I'll find a university interested or the time to teach a class like this, but I want to be prepared if the opportunity arises. 

31. Cook at least 12 good meals (averaging one per month) in 2016.

A failed goal from 2017 that I will attempt in 2018.

32. Plan a 25 year reunion of the Heavy Metal Playhouse.

My friend, Bengi, and I lived in a home that became known as the Heavy Metal Playhouse from 1989-1993. It was four of the best years of my life. Enormous parties, the closest of friendships, and the wildness of youth left an indelible mark on me. While I stay in touch with many of my friends from those days, I have not seen many of them in a long time. We have attempted to plan a reunion in the past without success.

In 2016, I tried to plan a reunion but was unable to secure a venue. 

In 2017, I tried to plan a reunion but was unable to secure a venue.

I'd like to make this happen in 2018. 

MISCELLANEOUS

33. Pay allowance weekly.

My kids receive a weekly allowance, but I am not consistent with the payment of their allowance. More often than not, I'm paying them every month or two, which defeats the purpose. This will require me to have cash available on Sunday nights, so I'll need to establish a routine to make this happen.

34. Ride my bike with my kids at least 25 times in 2018.

I haven't put my kids on their bikes often enough. Part of this has to do with Charlie's age, but after watching my brother get hit by a car while riding his bike as a kid (and being partially responsible for the accident), I've always been nervous about riding with other people. I don't worry about my own safety, but I worry constantly about the safety of others.

I'm going to change this in 2018.

35. I will report on the content of speech during every locker room experience via social media in 2018. 

Bragging about sexual assault or lying about sexually assaulting women in an effort to gain favor with other men is conversation that I have never heard in any of the many lockers rooms that I have occupied in my life. I've never actually heard any man brag about such things with the exception of Donald Trump. I will continue to listen closely in 2018 to determine if I am simply living a unicorn's life or if our President-elect's claim of "locker room talk" is also a lie.   

This was a goal accomplished in 2017, and I considered dropping it in 2018, but readers asked that I continue to do this, so I shall. 

36. I will not comment, positively or negatively, about physical appearance of any person save my wife and children, in 2017 in an effort to reduce the focus on physical appearance in our culture overall. 

In 2016, I avoided all negative comments related to a person's physical appearance.

In 2017 I avoided all comments, positively or negatively, about the physical appearance of any person save my wife, children, and in laws in an effort to reduce the focus on physical appearance in our culture overall. 

I achieved this goal, and by writing about it, I convinced at least eight other people (just added one this month) to adopt the policy as well. For this reason, I will repeat this goal in 2018, even though it's now simply become something I do.  

37. Surprise Elysha at least six times in 2016.

A completed goal from 2017 that I will repeat in 2018. 

38. 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.

A failed goal from 2012, 2016, and 2017 that I am continuing to pursue because these windows are making me crazy.    

39. Clean the basement. 

This was a completed goal from 2014 that needs to be repeated because it has filled up again. 

40. Set a new personal best in golf.

A failed goal from 2017.

My lowest score for nine holes is a 45, and my lowest score for 18 holes is 95. I’d like to improve on either score in 2018.

41. Play poker at least six times in 2016.

A completed goal in 2017 that I am repeating in 2018.

I love poker. I paid for our honeymoon with profits from poker. I made a mortgage payment in 2012 with poker profits. I am a very good poker player who stopped playing regularly in 2015 because of the time shifted to writing and storytelling.

I missed poker a great deal and brought it last year. Six games in 2018 is not an unreasonable goal.  

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

A completed goal in 2017 that I will repeat in 2018.

Bengi and I met in a Milford, MA McDonald's back in 1987, and we have been friends ever since. We once lived together (in the aforementioned Heavy Metal Playhouse) and started our DJ business together back in 1996. We have been through a great deal together, but in the last few years, we have seen less of each other even though we live 15 minutes apart. Our interests have shifted away from the thing each likes to do, but that's no excuse for not getting together more often. Six days is more than reasonable.  

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

Resolution update: 2017 in review

In 2017, I completed 29 of 41 goals for a success rate of 71%. This is by far my most successful year since I started recording goals in 2010 and beats my previous five year average of 53% by quite a bit. 

My previous year success rates:

2010: 44%
2011: 62%
2012: 30%
2013: 60%
2014: 60%
2015: 59%
2016: 59%

I had some areas of great success in 2017. I performed especially well in the areas of writing (10 out of 14 goals completed) and storytelling (6 out of 8 completed). 

While I'm pleased with the overall results, there were some missed opportunities. My biggest disappointments were my failure to lose 20 pounds, my failure to write a new screenplay, and my failure to launch a new podcast.

Those were very doable in 2017. 

There were also a few pathetic failures.

I failed to write a new screenplay. I failed to finalize any details for our Heavy Metal Playhouse 25 year reunion. I didn't cook a single meal for Elysha. 

These were not difficult goals to achieve or at least get started.

I also accomplished half a dozen goals that did not make my initial list but became important as the year progressed.

  1. I was paid to perform at venues in Boston, Kansas City, New York, New Hampshire, Maine, and various points throughout Connecticut. 
  2. I expanded my roster of clients with whom I consult for on screenplays, pilot scripts, pubic speaking, and TED Talks. The roster now includes politicians, university professors, and several entities in the healthcare industry.  
  3. I taught storytelling and public speaking at Yale University, the University of Connecticut, the University of Hartford, Central CT State University, Northeastern University, Miss Porter's School, The Berkshire School, The Oxford School, and Farmington High School. I also booked three more workshops (including a weeklong workshop) at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health and another week at Miss Porter's School. 
  4. I worked with union organizers in Kansas City to help low wage restaurant workers tell their stories and performed a benefit show for them. 
  5. I taught storytelling to priests, rabbis, ministers, and to the administrators of South Windsor Public Schools.  
  6. I booked weddings for 2018, extending my DJ career into its 22nd season.   

Here are my specific successes and failures from 2017: 

PERSONAL HEALTH

1. Don’t die.

I didn't die a single time this year. I can't actually say that for every year of my life.  

SUCCESS 

2. Lose 20 pounds.

Two more pounds gained in December, bringing total weight loss for the year to 8 pounds.

FAIL

3. Do at least 100 push-ups and 100 sit-ups five days a week.

SUCCESS

4. Practice yoga at least three days a week for at least 15 minutes each day.

I participated in a full week of yoga while teaching at Kripalu back in August. That was the extent of my yoga experience in 2017.

FAIL

5. Take the stairs whenever I am ascending or descending five flights or less.

SUCCESS

WRITING CAREER

6. Complete my sixth novel before the end of 2017.

SUCCESS    

7. Complete my first middle grade/YA novel.

SUCCESS   

8. Write at least three new picture books, including one with a female, non-white protagonist. 

I launched four picture book projects in 2017 but failed to bring any to completion. 

  • A non-fiction picture book about the great Idaho beaver airlift of 1948 (nearly complete). 
  • A series of picture books about real life, often forgotten heroes (pitch in progress)
  • A picture book about the primitive life before cellphones (early stages)
  • A children's book with a non-white male protagonist called Pink Stinks (early stages)

FAIL

9. Complete a book on storytelling.

It publishes on June 12, 2018. Huzzah! Preorder here. 

SUCCESS  

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10. Write a new screenplay.

No progress. Extenuating circumstances related to my former film agent admittedly played a role, but this was certainly doable.

FAIL

11. Write a musical.

"Back in the Day" written and produced in June 2017.

SUCCESS

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

I submitted four pieces to the New York Times Op-Ed page in December, bringing my total submissions to five. Sadly, nothing was accepted for publication. 

SUCCESS  

13. Write a proposal for a nonfiction book related to education.

Note-taking completed. Sample chapters being written, but proposal is not complete.

FAIL

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

Three submitted in December. Awaiting word of possible publication. 

SUCCESS

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

I spent April praying to God at least once a day. Quite often three or more times per day. As you may know, I'm a reluctant atheist, so I hadn't prayed in a very long time. 

In October, I followed James Altucher's suggestion about turning the water ice cold for the last few seconds of your shower. It sounds crazy, but science suggests it really might make you more productive for the rest of the day. 

I spent the month of November speaking to one stranger per day. 

SUCCESS

16. Increase my author newsletter subscriber base to 1,600.

I grew my list by 32 subscribers in December (and 328 overall this year). Total subscribers now stands at 1620.

SUCCESS

17. Write at least six letters to my father.

I sent my sixth letter to my father a week before Christmas. 

SUCCESS 

18. Convert Greetings Little One into a book.

No progress. I was unable to locate someone willing to do the work. I also didn't try hard enough.

FAIL

19. Record one thing learned every day in 2017.

Done! My favorite thing learned in December is this:

In Silicon Valley, startups that result in a successful exit have an average founding age of 47 years.

I also realized that the man who inspired me to engage in this activity records one thing learned each week as opposed to each day. His list, not surprising, is much more interesting than mine and probably less of a chore to complete. 

SUCCESS

STORYTELLING

20. Produce a total of 12 Speak Up storytelling events.

We produced a show at the Connecticut Historical Society in Hartford in December, bringing our total number of Speak Up events in 2017 to 17.

SUCCESS 

21. Deliver a TED Talk.

I spoke about the important things that teachers do at The Pomfret School in April. 

SUCCESS

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

I attended two Moth StorySLAMs in December at Housing Works in Manhattan and Oberon in Cambridge, bringing my yearly total of Moth events to 20. 

SUCCESS

23. Win at least three Moth StorySLAMs.

I won five StorySLAMs in 2017 (including winning one and tying for first in another in December). Three were won in New York and two were won in Boston.

My win total now stands at 34.

SUCCESS

24. Win a Moth GrandSLAM.

I had three chances to compete in a Moth GrandSLAM in 2017 and was unavailable every time. As a result, I was unable to even try to achieve this goal. 

FAIL

25. Produce at least 50 episodes of my new podcast Live Better.

I pulled down my first episode after receiving feedback from a friend who works in radio. That same friend has agreed to build me a template for the show. No progress yet.

FAIL

26. Perform stand up at least once in 2017. 

I performed a five-minute set at Sea Tea Comedy in downtown Hartford in November.

SUCCESS

27. Write a one-person show.

The "writing" for this show is complete. I performed the show at Kripalu, altered slightly so I could teach lessons between stories. 

SUCCESS  

NEW PROJECTS

28. Explore the option of teaching a college class.

I met with three professors at two local colleges  and described my proposed class. All approved of my idea, and two promised to pass the information onto their department heads.    

SUCCESS

29. Cook at least 12 good meals (averaging one per month) in 2017.

I cooked no meals in 2017.

FAIL

30. Plan a 25 year reunion of the Heavy Metal Playhouse.

Serious attempts were made to secure a venue, but no luck.

FAIL 

MISCELLANEOUS

31. I will stand in vocal opposition to every negative comment made about age disparities between male and female romantic couplings because I choose to respect a woman’s choices of romantic partner regardless of their age or the age of their partner.

No opportunities in December.

SUCCESS 

32. I will report on the content of speech during every locker room experience via social media in 2017.   

Over the course of the month, I heard no man bragging about sexually assaulting women in any locker rooms (or anywhere else for that matter) and reported on this via social media. 

SUCCESS

33. I will stop presenting the heteronormative mother-and-father paradigm as the default parental paradigm when speaking to my children and my students.

Not as hard as I thought. I switched over to "parents" in January and haven't slipped yet.   

SUCCESS 

34. I will not comment, positively or negatively, about physical appearance of any person save my wife and children, in 2017 in an effort to reduce the focus on physical appearance in our culture overall. 

Easily accomplished. I've also learned that at least seven other people have adopted this policy, which thrills me. It should be everyone.    

SUCCESS

35. Surprise Elysha at least six times in 2017.

I surprised Elysha with a membership to Winding Trails, a local recreation area that we have been waiting to join for over a year, bringing my total number of surprises to six.

SUCCESS

36. 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.

Our windows were cleaned by professionals, but this does not count. 

FAIL

37. Optimize our television for a streaming service. 

Apple TV and Amazon Prime are alive and well in our home, thanks to Elysha.

SUCCESS 

38. Set a new personal best in golf.

I managed to tie my personal best early in the season. I never came close after that.

FAIL

39. Play poker at least six times in 2016.

A surge in poker in November and December brought my total games played to six.

SUCCESS 

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

Four days spent working as DJ's at weddings. 

One day spent watching a video of a trip to Florida circa 1993. 

One dinner together.

SUCCESS

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

SUCCESS

New Year's Eve 1993

Elysha and I are probably staying home on New Year's Eve this year. Our kids will go to bed, and we'll watch a movie or play a game. We occasionally have friends over to ring in the new year, but I think we'll be on our own this time. 

I've had some memorable New Year's Eves. 

In 1988, I rang in the new year with my bandmates and Laura, my high school sweetheart, in Pasadena California at 9:00 PM PST (12:00 EST) so that we could climb out of bed at 4:00 AM to march in the Rose Bowl Parade.

We spent that night in a theater, watching West Side Story, before taking the stage and dancing until "midnight."    

From 1989-1992, my roommate Bengi and I would host enormous parties on New Year's Eve. Loud music. Kegs of beer. Drinking games. Lots of flirting.

The police broke up one of our parties when the neighbors had finally had enough. 

Those were good days. 

Since those days, New Year's Eve has typically been spent at parties, at home, and occasionally celebrating my father-in-law's birthday.

He was born on December 31.

But perhaps one of my most memorable New Year's Eves was in 1993, when I spent it working the closing shift at a McDonald's in Brockton, MA. Not exactly the best way to ring in the new year, but I oddly remember that night better than most. We had a great time. Laughed a lot. Played music in the kitchen. Arm wrestled (I was competing in an underground arm wrestling league back then). Ordered pizza and wings. Drank a little champagne. Gave away free food to our regular customers. 

I remember it like it was yesterday,. 

It turns out that one of the best ways to make a moment memorable is to make it different than any moment before or after. I never again worked on New Year's Eve, and thus that night in 1993 is burned into my memory.

I'm glad. It didn't seem so great at the time, but in retrospect, it was a great, great night. 

Just before midnight, we took this photo.  

Happy New Year, everyone.  

Brockton McDonald.jpeg

The last one had better be the best one.

Earlier this week I wrote about Elysha's gift giving prowess. It got me thinking:

Thank goodness I married her. Imagine if she had dumped me for some other terrible man, and I had gone onto marry someone else.

Elysha would likely have remained the most thoughtful gift giver who I had ever met, but I could never have told my future wife that there was once a woman in my life who gave me decidedly better gifts.

Right?

Instead, I'd be forced to live a life of quiet desperation, perpetually saddened over the quality of the gifts I was receiving versus what I could have received had I married Elysha. 

That truth applies to many things about our spouses. 

For example, Elysha is the most beautiful woman I had ever dated. The best dancer. The smartest person. The best cook. The funniest woman I've ever known. 

Thank goodness I married her.

Imagine going through life knowing you had once dated someone prettier than your wife. Or someone who prepared far superior meals. Someone who danced better or made you laugh more often. 

What a tragedy that would be. 

Of course, you can't be a superlative in every category. Elysha may not the most organized woman who I've ever dated, and her sense of direction might be the worst of any human being who I have ever known. She loves Steely Dan, won't watch any movie involving an alien or a ghost, and unconscionably doesn't mind clutter.

But these less-than-superlative qualities hardly constitute a tragedy. Some of these things can be annoying at times,  but in the grand scheme of things, Elysha has just the right superlatives. 

I wonder how often this is the case.

How often is someone's spouse the best of the best in all the right ways?

Hopefully more often than not. 

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Writing a novel is hard enough already. I don't need these additional challenges.

All this before 7:00 AM.

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I love them dearly, but I've got TWO deadlines for TWO different books creeping up on me, and quiet time in my home is impossible to find. Instead, I'm listening to the kids spell "Nebraska" backwards and puzzle out the four states that begin with the word "New."

It's cute, but less so at 6:45 AM.  

Also, thanks to the cat, the E key on my keyboard is partially detached from constantly coming loose as I type.

If I leave my laptop open overnight, he pops the keys out of my keyboard. I'm usually able to snap them back into place, but not the E. The plastic hook that keeps the key down in place snapped in half.   

Of course.   

Not the Z. Not the 9. Not the semicolon.

No, the one key that is permanently broken is the key I strike the most. 

The damn E.

I sometimes think the universe wants this writing thing to be as absolutely difficult as possible.

HBO had some interesting offerings on Christmas Eve

As I started to wrap gifts on Christmas Eve, I switched on HBO, thinking, "Maybe I'll watch that Elf movie for the first time. Or A Christmas Story. National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. Love Actually. Hey. Maybe Die Hard will be on."

You know. One of those classic Christmas staples. 

HBO had apparently failed to notice that it was Christmas Eve. When I flipped through the HBO channels, the offerings included: 

The Terminator: A seemingly indestructible humanoid cyborg is sent from 2029 to 1984 to assassinate a waitress, whose unborn son will lead humanity in a war against the machines, while a soldier from that war is sent to protect her at all costs.

Fifty Shades Darker: Erotic romantic sequel to Fifty Shades of Gray. While Christian wrestles with his inner demons, Anastasia must confront the anger and envy of the women who came before her.

A United Kingdom: The story of King Seretse Khama of Botswana and how his loving but controversial marriage to a British white woman, Ruth Williams, put his kingdom into political and diplomatic turmoil.

Assassins Creed: Callum Lynch explores the memories of his ancestor Aguilar de Nerha and gains the skills of a Master Assassin, before taking on the secret Templar society.

Rock Dog: When a radio falls from the sky into the hands of a wide-eyed Tibetan Mastiff, he leaves home to fulfill his dream of becoming a musician, setting into motion a series of completely unexpected events. 

Going in Style: Desperate to pay the bills and come through for their loved ones, three lifelong pals risk it all by embarking on a daring bid to knock off the very bank that absconded with their money.

What the hell was HBO thinking? Not one Christmas movie on Christmas Eve? If I was fringe lunatic Republican, I might accuse HBO of engaging in a war on Christmas. 

No bother. I had plenty of movies recorded on my DVR and on demand programming

I watched The Bourne Ultimatum instead.