I sometimes use different words based upon the day

Something I don’t think I’ve ever told anyone:

Sometimes my choice of words is dependent upon the day.

A few days ago I wrote about Harvard’s unconscionable policy of admitting applicants based upon legacy and parental donations, when a great number of those students would not have otherwise been admitted to the university. I suggested that we consider this policy when assessing the accomplishments of a Harvard grad and mentally discount their achievement based upon this system of graft and preferential treatment existing at the school.

I went on to say that you should probably discount my own accomplishments, too, given that I hit the genetic lottery by being born as a white, straight, relatively intelligent, healthy American man.

Take away any one of those things, and my life is much more challenging.

I had all the advantages a person could ever want. My status has allowed me to avoid discrimination, sexism. and the struggles associated with longterm illness and addiction. And I was born in America. There are many, many places on this planet where I could not have pursued my drams like I have in this country.

Then I wrote this sentence:

In fact, if you’re a white straight man living in America who is relatively intelligent, healthy, and not battling addiction and you can’t find a way to earn a living in this world, you have no one to blame but yourself.

Then I deleted the sentence. I deleted it because I recognized its possible incendiary quality. I could easily envision someone reading this and taking great offense. Either they matched the characteristics that I listed and were still struggling to earn a living, or they had had a child - all grown up - who matched the characteristics and was still living at home, unable to find work.

I pictured struggling writers and painters and pie-in-the-sky entrepreneurs whose lifelong dreams were not panning out. I pictured a mother who was still supporting her son as he tried to carve a spot in the cutthroat world of competitive video game playing. I envisioned myself explaining to these painters and writers and entrepreneurs that chasing your dream is wonderful, but that most creative people either starve without complaint or get a job to feed themselves whilst they paint or sculpt or write or invent.

Telling straight, white American men that they are losers if they can’t earn a living could be provocative, and although I love to be provocative, I was writing that post on Saturday, the day that I was officiating the wedding of my former student.

I didn’t want to deal with a potentially angry online mob on that blessed, beautiful day, so I removed the sentence.

I’ve done this before - rarely - but the particular day ahead of me will sometimes dictate how far I will push an idea. I’ve also had days when I’ve itching for a fight or know that I will be home sick with lots of time on my hands, and on those days, I will push extra hard.

I try to poke the bear.

So as disingenuous as it may sound, I have been known to temper an argument for the sake of peace on a given day, and I’ve also been known to sharpen an argument on those days when I’m looking forward to some online confrontation.

I think of it as self care. I don’t betray my argument or idea, but I simply shape it based upon what I’m able and willing to deal with on any given day.

So if you’re upset with my assertions about white,. straight, healthy American men, today is the day to fire away. I’m home from work in honor of Indigenous People’s Day. Plenty of time to do battle if necessary.

mob.jpg

Mean things spoken about my body

People have been very mean to me this week.

Early in the week, I went for a physical therapy evaluation. The woman evaluating my shoulders said, “You have extremely large shoulder bones.”

“Oh,” I said, admittedly surprised. Somehow I’d managed to make it through more than four decades of life without ever having been told about my extremely large shoulder bones.

“Is that good?” I asked.

“No,” she said. “It’s terrible. It makes for all kinds of problems.”

Great. I have bad shoulders.

Three days later, I was purchasing a new shirt. A man at the store had taken my measurements, but as the saleswoman scanned them, she said, “Come here. I need to check your neck.”

“Is there a problem?” I asked.

“He wrote down that you have an 19-inch neck, but that makes no sense.”

“Why?” I asked as she wrapped the tape measure around my neck.

“Someone with your height and arm length can’t have a 19-inch neck.”

Then she measured.

“Oh,” she said.

“Was he right?” I asked.

She looked confused. “It’s not quite 19 inches, but it’s close.”

“Is that okay?” I asked.

“I’m not sure if I’ll be able to find you as shirt with a 19-inch neck that matches your sleeve length. Your size doesn’t make any sense. You’ll probably have to wear an 18-inch neck for the wedding and I can special order you a shirt for the future.”

Great. My size doesn’t make any sense.

These comments go along well with comments made by my friends in the past, including:

“You have arms like legs and legs like people.”

“You’re a neckless stump with legs for arms.”

“You’re built like a tiny T-Rex.”

Happily, none of these comments were made by Elysha.

mean.png

Yoda is kind of a jerk

Yoda from Star Wars once famously told Luke Skywalker, “Do. Or do not. There is no try.”

I think that there are times when this is absolutely true. Whenever your ability to do something is based simply upon your willingness to do it or not, Yoda is right.

“Do. Or do not. There is no try.”

I’ll try to do my homework
I’ll try to be on time.
I’ll try to keep my room clean.
I’ll try to be more patient with my mother-in-law.
I’ll try not to drink too much at the football game.

Yes, in each of these instances, I agree with Yoda. “Do. Or do not. There is no try.”

But there are also times in our lives when all you can do is try. Take, for example, lifting a spaceship out of a swamp with your mind. Something you’ve never done before and never seen done. This is what Luke Skywalker was attempting when Yoda uttered this famous phrase.

What a jerk.

A farm boy from a desert planet who had never even heard about the Force until a year or two earlier finds himself on an alien swamp planet, being asked by a talking frog to lift a spaceship out of the swamp using only his thoughts.

No, Yoda. This is most definitely an “I’ll try” situation. Admittedly, Luke’s assertion that he would try wasn’t very convincing, but even so, lifting a spaceship from a swamp with your mind for the first time is most assuredly an “I’ll try” moment.

Much like:

I’ll try to hit a home run.
I’ll try to answer all of the math equations correctly.
I’ll try to make that girl fall in love with me.
I’ll try to make a tuna avocado melt that tastes good.
I’ll try to write a blog post without a typo.

There are moments in our lives when “Do. Or do not. There is no try,” is nonsense.

Kind of like the time when Yoda failed to defeat the Emperor in a light saber battle and end the threat of the Empire forever.

What happened in that situation, Yoda? Did you choose, “Do not end the threat of the Empire?” “Do not spare the lives of millions of innocent life forms?” “Do not save your Jedi friend?”

No, Yoda. You tried. And failed. Your own words.

So spare us the “Do. Or do not. There is no try” nonsense. It’s the kind of thing an arrogant jackass would say.

yoda.jpg

Harvard's new legacy

Harvard University is facing an affirmative action lawsuit based upon their admission processes, and things are not looking good.

A study, published in the National Bureau of Economic Research, found that 43 percent of white students admitted to Harvard were recruited athletes, legacy students, children of faculty and staff, or on the dean’s interest list — applicants whose parents or relatives have donated to Harvard.

Only 16 percent of black, Latino and Asian American students come from these categories.

Even more damning, the study also found that roughly 75 percent of the white students admitted from those four categories, labeled 'ALDCs' in the study, “would have been rejected if they had been treated as white non-ALDCs.”

In other words, three quarters of the students at Harvard who were admitted because they play a sport well or because their parents attended Harvard, donate to Harvard, or work at Harvard don’t really belong at Harvard. Someone more deserving - and probably less white - should be attending the university in their place.

This is appalling.

The next time you meet a Harvard graduate - and especially a white Harvard graduate - you can probably discount their achievement by at least 33% (75% of 43%).

Let’s be clear:

I happen to know several Harvard graduates who were more than deserving of attending the university, so I don’t mean to disparage the student body as a whole. Nor do I mean to imply that these folks don’t deserve all of the accolades that they receive for gaining admission and successfully navigating that prestigious institution.

But I have also spent more than two decades in education, watching affluent parents who understand how systems work and where the opportunities for influence lie bestow advantages upon their children that other equally capable, oftentimes harder working children do not possess.

And it enrages me.

We like to claim that America is a meritocracy, and on its best days, perhaps that’s true. After all, I managed to claw my way from homeless, poverty, and a possible prison sentence to where I am today without any assistance from my family or any financial backing. I worked incredibly hard for a long time, forgoing many other things, in order to achieve my goals.

But I am also a white, straight, healthy, relatively intelligent American man who is not battling addiction or mental illness. Even when I was homeless and hungry, I was still one of the most advantaged people on the planet. I never faced the obstacles and systemic discrimination that women, people of color, the disabled, the chronically ill, and members of the LGBTQ community face.

And I live in the United States, one of the most prosperous, free nations on the planet.

You should probably discount my achievements by at least 33%, too. Maybe a lot more.

My advantages were extraordinary.

But at least my advantages were my own, granted to me by fate and good fortune. My advantages did not come at the expense of another human being. But advantages to Harvard confers upon these students are systematic, racist, and governed by the desire to generate revenue for the university at the expense of deserving students.

I didn’t rely on Mommy and Daddy’s checkbook or their good name to gain me entrance into one of the most prestigious institutions in the land. And I didn’t steal someone else’s rightful place in the process.

If this data that this study presents is accurate, Harvard is a lot less prestigious today, and rightfully so.

harvard.jpg

Stop the madness. Please.

I’ve spoken many times about how the best way to make decisions about how to spend your time is to try to envision what the 100 year-old version of yourself would say.

How would 100 year-old Matt want me to spend this day? This hour? This minute?

I spoke on this topic at a TEDx conference if you’re interested in hearing the complete story:

The problem is that human beings make choices based upon short term pleasure rather than the long term goals we have for ourselves. This can be as simple as the moment we choose to look at our phones instead of watching or playing with our children.

The 100 year-old version of any parent will always regret that you didn’t spend more time with your children, so if you try to keep that 100 year-old version of yourself in your mind’s eye at all times, you’re far more likely to put your phone in your pocket and push your kid on the swings instead or pay attention when she shouts, “Watch this!” for the one millionth time.

The same thing happens when we choose to eat the second cookie even though we’re trying to lose weight. Or when we dream of learning to play the guitar but spend the evening watching television instead of practicing. Or when we fail to pursue a moonshot business idea because we’re afraid to take the first step.

The 100 year-old version of yourself would tell you to avoid the cookie, practice the guitar, and stop being so afraid.

That is how I try to live my life.

And yes, I know it’s not possible to always live this way. I realize that short term pleasure will sometimes defeat long term planning. I also know that there are times in our lives when we need to tell the 100 year-old version of ourselves to shut up because “I want the funnel cake, damn it!”

I also know that I once had a gun pressed against the side of my head and the trigger pulled, so I have an acute understanding of the regret that a person feels when he knows with absolute certainty that his life is about to end. It’s a perspective few people share, and while I wouldn’t wish that experience and all that followed on anyone, I also know that it changed the way I live my life forever.

I lived my life since that day trying to avoid the regret of a life unfulfilled. I adhere to this philosophy with admitted zealotry, but if you can listen to the 100 year-old version of yourself just a little bit, I think your life will be better.

To that end, I present this horrifying statistic of destruction and chaos:

270 million people play Candy Crush every day.
9.2 million of those people spend more than three hours every day playing Candy Crush.

I don’t play video games today, but there was a time in my teens and twenties when I played a lot of video games, and I’m not opposed to spending your time this way as long as you’re playing with friends. Challenging yourself intellectually. Fostering relationships. Making memories.

I have incredibly precious memories of time spent in arcades with friends in my teens and networking pre-Internet desktop computers in my twenties so five guys could play the same game in the same room for an entire weekend.

Those were great days, filled with laughter and camaraderie and competition. I smile when I look back on those days.

Even today, Charlie and I will go to Dave & Busters a few times every year - usually on a rainy day - and have enormous fun playing games together.

I smile when I think of those memories, too.

I’ve never played Candy Crush. I’ve never played a single game on my phone ever, mostly because I know how addictive they are purposefully designed to be. Also because the 100 year-old version of myself tells me that every moment spent playing a mindless video game by myself on my phone is a moment of future regret.

270 million people play Candy Crush every day.

9.2 million people spend more than three hours playing Candy Crush every day.

Can you imagine what these people could be accomplishing with that time if they would just put down their phones and recover those lost hours? Imagine how their lives and maybe even humanity would be better off if they spent that time more productively.

Reading. Writing. Painting. Learning to play a musical instrument or speak a second language. Walking. Volunteering. Sculpting. Gardening. Playing ping pong. Walking the dog. Petting the cat. Registering voters. Talking to a parent on the telephone. Meditating. Swimming.

There are a lot of 100 year-old versions of people - at least 9.2 million of them - screaming at the top of their lungs for these phone zombies to stop wasting their lives on something they will someday most assuredly regret.

Die, suits. Die.

I’m going to buy a new suit today,.

It’s a little crazy, since I don’t wear suits, Or ties. Or anything formal at all.

I’ve been know to throw a sports coat over a tee shirt if necessary, but I completely abandoned neckties about 15 years ago (because they are stupid) and stopped wearing suits unless I’m working as the DJ at a wedding or officiating a ceremony wedding and am asked to wear one.

On Saturday I’ll be officiating the wedding ceremony of one of my very first students, so I’ve decided to up my game a bit. The suits that I own now are all too big for me, so if I must wear one, I’ll at least get one that fits.

That said, the suit industry is cratering. Suits are less expensive today - about 25% cheaper than back in 2000 - and overall sales of suits have steeply declined.

In 1950, the average American man purchased 0.5 suits per year.

In 2018, that figure was down to .07 suits per man.

The suit is dying a slow death, and thank goodness. Like the necktie, which is little more than a decorative noose, the suit It serves no earthly purpose, and in most cases, simply represents a barrier between those can afford a good suit and those who cannot.

The sooner these unnecessary ornamentations of the fashion industry die, the better.

Good riddance, you wasteful, pointless, stupid convention.

That said, I’ll buy my suit today and happily wear it on Saturday because I’m thrilled and honored and overjoyed to be officiating the wedding of a person who I first taught to read and write way back in second grade.

A young woman who later became the very first babysitter of our children.

A person who we have thought of as a member of our family for a very long time.

Though I admittedly become obstreperous and grumpy when I’m forced to wear something because of silly social conventions, this time it’s different.

I’m not wearing a suit because anyone is expecting or demanding that I do. I wearing a suit because I’m excited to do so for Allison, whose wedding day deserves to be perfect.

happy wedding.jpg

Speak Up Storytelling #67: Matthew Dicks

On episode #67 of the Speak Up Storytelling podcast, Matthew Dicks talks storytelling.

A solo show in which I critique one of my own stories. 

In our follow-up segment, I read an amazing email from a fan in Oxford, England and remind you about some upcoming events. 

STORYTELLING SHOWS 2019-2020

November 2: Great Hartford Story Slam, Hartford Flavor Company
November 9:
 Sara Kaplan: Champion of the World at Emmanuel Synagogue, West Hartford, CT
November 23:
 Twenty-one Truths About Love book release, CT Historical Society, Hartford, CT
December 14:
 “Crafty” at CT Historical Society, Hartford, CT
January 11: “Still Life: Stories of Stopping and Slowing Down” at the Wadsworth Atheneum
April 4:
 Speak Up at the Unitarian Universalist Society, Manchester, CT

STORYTELLING WORKSHOPS 2019

October 25-27: Storytelling workshop (beginners), Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health
November 9: Storytelling workshop (Beginner), CT Historical Society
November 16: Storytelling workshop (Advanced), CT Historical Society
December 6-8: Storytelling workshop (advanced), Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health
January 25: Storytelling workshop (Beginner), CT Historical Society
February 22: Storytelling workshop (Advanced), CT Historical Society

Next we listen to a story by me, Matthew Dicks.

Unlike previous solo shows, I do things a little differently this week. Instead of listening to the story and then offering some thoughts, I play the story in full and then play it again, stopping at various points to provide insight. 

I'm trying something new. I hope you like it!

LINKS

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

Purchase Twenty-one Truths About Love 

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

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

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

Matthew Dicks's blog:
http://www.matthewdicks.com/matthewdicksblog

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

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

Subscribe to Matthew Dicks's blog:
http://www.matthewdicks.com/subscribe-grin-and-bare-it

Speak Up logo.jpg

Flaubert and the art of the day job

I just learned about Flaubert’s dictum:

“Be regular and orderly in your life like a bourgeois, so that you may be violent and original in your work.”

I love this.

It is excellent advice for any writer, artist, actor, musician, or similarly creative person who hopes to launch a successful, profitable, sustaining career in their field upon stepping out into the world.

When I finally made it to college, I knew that I wanted to one day be an author. But I also knew that becoming an author would be easier said than done, so I would need a means of earning a living while I tried to start my writing career.

Thankfully, I had also always wanted to teach.

“Write for a living and teach for pleasure” was my dream.

So while in college, I earned an English degree with a concentration on creative writing while simultaneously earning my teaching degree, too. Not an easy task. Two degree programs is hard enough, but I was also managing a restaurant full time and working in the campus writing center part time as well. It also required exploiting a loophole that allowed me to take two full course loads at two different schools at the same time (including an all-women’s college), but it was important that I did both.

I knew that rent and food would not pay for themselves.

In Flaubert’s words, I knew that I would need to be regular and orderly in my life so I could be original in my work.

I started teaching at the age of 28. I sold my first novel when I was 36, and it published when I was 38. I’ve since published a total of four novels and a book of nonfiction, and I have three more books coming out in the next two years (including one next month). If I wanted to, I could retire from teaching today and earn a good living writing, speaking, and consulting.

But it took two decades after graduating from college to reach this point. It’s taken more than a decade since I sold my first novel to achieve this reality.

I had to be regular and orderly in my life for a long time before I could finally earn a living through my art.

The problem is that I love the kids. I love working with my students. Teaching them is an art in itself, and it’s not one that I’m willing to give up. At least not yet.

But I meet high school and college students all the time who are unwilling to do the regular and orderly work so they can be original in their own work. They want to be a writer or an actor or a sculpture and say things like, “I need to invest every ounce of energy into my art” or “I can’t try halfway” or “I need to do this when I’m young and not burdened by responsibility.”

This is all nonsense, of course. Einstein wrote his General Theory of Relativity while working as a patent clerk. John Grisham wrote his first two novels on legal pads while working as a lawyer. Harper Lee worked as a ticket agent for Eastern Airlines while writing “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Phillip Glass worked as a plumber and a cab driver while writing his music. Henri Rousseau was a tax collector, and even after his art began to sell, he would sometimes play the violin on the streets to make ends meet.

All of these people and many, many more - most artists of every kind - adhered to Flaubert’s dictum:

“Be regular and orderly in your life like a bourgeois, so that you may be violent and original in your work.”

You have to eat if you want to create.

It’s good advice for artists, but there is another side to this coin. I think it’s also good advice for those who don’t see themselves as artists. Folks who may be creative in some way but can’t imagine ever making something or doing something that people would someday love and admire. Lots of people - most people, I think - start to see themselves in a singular light rather than finding the courage or strength or willingness to step out of that light and into something else.

These are the people who loved to write or paint in high school or college but gave it up when they began their career. They are the actors who performed in college plays or community theater but surrendered that love to the demands of the everyday world. They are the people who have always wanted to learn the piano or have thought about sculpting when they retire or have an idea for a business that seems impossible to get off the ground.

These folks are already adhering to the first half of Flaubert’s dictum. They are already regular and orderly in their lives. Maybe they just don’t know that they can be original and violent in their work, too. Maybe they assumed that all artists devote their lives to their art. Perhaps they envisioned artists as folks toiling away in studios and offices and theaters for every waking hour of their life.

Maybe they didn’t know that quite often artists are also attorneys and patent clerks and plumbers and teachers.

People just like them, being regularly and orderly in our lives so we can be creative and violent in our art.

Maybe they could be one, too. That is what I hope Flaubert’s dictum inspires people to do:

To see themselves as potential artists, not limited by their current career or station in life, just waiting for them to step out of their singular light and into something new.

spotlight.png

Look what I found

It’s not often that you discover a brand new food that is both surprising and spectacular and doesn’t include an ingredient that I’ve never heard of before.

But behold, the bacon lollipop, available at Turning Point in Manalapan, New Jersey.

Stupid words for simple things

Here’s an expression that I’ve been hearing a lot lately:

“Let’s talk about this offline.”

These words are used when a person directing a meeting wants to engage in conversation with a meeting attendee at a later time. Typically this occurs when the matter involves a small number of meeting attendees and need not waste the time of the group.

Sparing the group of wasted time is a lovely idea. But offline?

Why not, “Let’s talk about this later, since it doesn’t involve everyone?”

Or, “Let’s talk after the meeting. Okay?”

Or even, “Later, gator.”

But offline? Are we to believe that we are “online” when in the meeting? Because I have never had that thought in my life.

I hate when stupid jargon is applied to something that has been communicated effectively for decades with simple English.

I hate it a lot.

jargon.jpg

Which coincidence would be more coincidental?

Regina Spektor’s song "On The Radio" - a personal favorite - has a chorus that goes:

On the radio
You'll hear ‘November Rain’
That solo's awful long
But it's a good refrain

You listen to it twice
'Cause the DJ is asleep
On the radio (Oh-oh-oh)
On the radio

So here’s my question:

Which would be more surprising based upon these lyric?:

To hear ‘November Rain’ played twice on the radio (because the DJ presumably fell asleep) or to hear ‘On the Radio’ played twice?

Elysha says ‘November Rain.’

I say ‘On the Radio.’

Honestly, I was just happy that she indulged me by answering my stupid question.

Resolution update: September 2019

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

Here are the results for September.

__________________________________

PERSONAL HEALTH

1. Don’t die.

Super alive.

2. Lose 20 pounds.

I lost 2 pounds in September.

I’ve lost 8 pounds in total.

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

Done! Admittedly it was still mostly fruit (lots of apples) and French fries, but I did it!

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

Done. Planks are getting surprisingly easy except for the elbow and shoulder pain. I’ve started physical therapy, and I may need to stop push-ups for a while.

5. Do burpees three days a week.

I did 3-4 burpees per day, 3 times each week in September. My shoulder really, really hurts, and now my elbow hurts, too. I blamed it on the burpees, but apparently it’s my golf lessons.

I started physical therapy yesterday. My therapist told me to stop the burpees.

I love her so much.

WRITING CAREER

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

Writing has finally commenced.I won’t finish before the end of the year, but I’ll pretend that I might.

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

I’m currently working on three different children’s books. I like one very much.

8. Write a memoir.

Work continues.

9. Write a new screenplay.

No progress, but I have a good idea. Maybe two, now.

10. Write a musical.

No progress.

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

I submitted a piece to the NY Times Modern Love column in April. I received word last month that it was not accepted.

One down. Four to go.

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

No progress.

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

I spent July strategically smiling in hopes that the biofeedback that a smile sends to the brain would alter my mood positively. I’ll be writing about the results this month.

I’m in need of two more behaviors to adopt.

Suggestions?

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

39 new subscribers in September for a total of 884 new subscribers in 2019. My list now stands at 2,994 subscribers. Just 6 subscribers away from the goal!

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

15. Write at least six letters to my father.

No letters written in September. Two written so far this year.

16. Write 100 letters in 2019.

No letters written in September. A few surprise projects have taken away much of my time.

24 letters overall. Still have a lot of writing to do before the end of the year.

17. Convert Greetings Little One into a book.

A kind, generous, and amazing human being has begun work on this project. Entering the final stages, too.

I am so excited.

STORYTELLING

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

DONE! One show produced in September. A total of 11 shows produced so far in 2019.

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

Done! We began selling tee shirts and totes at our live podcast recording, and we’ll be selling again at our upcoming shows.

Next step is to make it available online. Suggestions?

merch.jpg

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

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

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

I’ll just keep pitching.

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

DONE! Elysha and I attended one Moth Mainstage in New Haven in September.

This brings my total to 18 events so far.

22. Win at least three Moth StorySLAMs.

DONE! So far in 2019, I’ve won two slams in NYC, one slam in Seattle, and three slams in Boston.

43 victories in all.

Slam wins 2019.jpg

23. Win a Moth GrandSLAM.

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

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

I competed but did not win the NYC Moth GrandSLAM in June. Silent scoring (I’m not a fan) prevents me from knowing how I placed.

I may be competing in one more Moth GrandSLAM in NYC this year depending on the timing of the GrandSLAM and the number of storytellers in the queue ahead of me.

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

Three new episodes released in September (along with a rerun).

A total of 32 episodes so far in 2019.

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

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

No stand up performed in September.

Three down. Three to go.

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

Done in June! It went surprisingly well, and I’ve been receiving requests to do another.

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

No progress.

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

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

I wrote again in August.

No response yet.

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

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

NEW PROJECTS

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

No progress.

30. Complete my Eagle Scout project.

No progress.

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

We received our estimate from the painters. Depending on other expenses, we will likely be painting several rooms this fall, at which point things can be hung on the walls.

32. Renovate our first floor bathroom.

Work will commence THIS MONTH. And not a moment too soon. The tile floor is falling apart.

33. Organize our second floor bathroom.

Nearly complete. I did it. Huzzah.

MISCELLANEOUS

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

I made one meal for the family in September.

Six down. Six to go.

35. Plan a reunion of the Heavy Metal Playhouse.

I have a tentative date set. Attempting to confirm attendees now.

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

I rode my bike with the kids 4 times in September for a total of 10 times in all.

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

I did not comment on physical appearance in September.

I also explained my policy to my new batch of students, and once again, they loved the policy and supported it fully. Adults often this this policy is crazy. Children always love it.

38. Surprise Elysha at least six times in 2019.

DONE! Six surprises so far with two more still in the works, including one BIG ONE!

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

I’ve got a window guy now in the event we manage to cobble together the fund for this much needed project.

40. Clean the basement. 

Almost done! I filled a dumpster and need another, but the remaining stuff to throw away is in an area, organized and ready to go. Some final organizational issues need to be addressed, but it is so much better. So close to being done.

41. Set a new personal best in golf.

I started taking lessons this summer, and I’ve committed myself to constant practice. The results are really beginning to show.

Last weekend, I bogied six of nine holes. This did not result in an excellent score, or even a score close to my all time best, but it represents increasing consistency.

I also have a new putter, so it’s been a process of getting my putting back to where it once was, and my short game is a disaster with my new swing, bit that is improving, too.

Sadly, my lessons and new swing have sent me to physical therapy. A new swing causes muscles and joints to stretch and strain in new ways, which has resulted in a lot of pain.

But pain is nothing when the ball is hit well.

42. Play poker at least six times in 2019.

Three games played in September. Four games played in 2019.

Two to go.

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

Two days spent together so far. I’ve attempted a couple other days but schedules didn’t line up. Still trying like hell. I miss the guy.

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

Done.

Speak Up Storytelling #66: Carla Katz

On episode #66 of the Speak Up Storytelling podcast, Matthew and Elysha Dicks talk storytelling.

In our follow-up segment, we ask for advice about our cat, which isn't really followup, but desperate times call for desperate measures. 

STORYTELLING SHOWS 2019-2020

November 2: Great Hartford Story Slam, Hartford Flavor Company
November 9:
 Sara Kaplan: Champion of the World at Emmanuel Synagogue, West Hartford, CT
November 23:
 Twenty-one Truths About Love book release, CT Historical Society, Hartford, CT
December 14:
 “Crafty” at CT Historical Society, Hartford, CT
January 11: “Still Life: Stories of Stopping and Slowing Down” at the Wadsworth Atheneum
April 4:
 Speak Up at the Unitarian Universalist Society, Manchester, CT

STORYTELLING WORKSHOPS 2019

October 25-27: Storytelling workshop (beginners), Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health
November 9: Storytelling workshop (Beginner), CT Historical Society
November 16: Storytelling workshop (Advanced), CT Historical Society
December 6-8: Storytelling workshop (advanced), Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health
January 25: Storytelling workshop (Beginner), CT Historical Society
February 22: Storytelling workshop (Advanced), CT Historical Society

In our Homework for Life segment, Matt talks about a moment from a recent storytelling competition and discusses how finding moments of surprise in our lives often lead to the best stories. He also discusses not giving up on stories or assuming that stories can only serve one purpose. 

Next we listen to a story by Carla Katz. 

Amongst the many things we discuss include:

  1. Humor in storytelling

  2. Managing listener's expectations by letting them know what to wonder about and what to let go

  3. Creating moments of emotional resonance in an otherwise hilarious story

  4. Rounding out the arc of a story 

  5. Presenting new or unknown information within appropriate context so as to make that information clear enough

Next we answer a listener question about how Matt became a a storyteller and how the Speak Up partnership works. Credit is also  given to Steve Zimmer, Erin Barker, Catherine Burns, George Dawes Green, and especially Jenifer Hixon as mentors of the craft.  

Finally, we each offer a recommendation.  

LINKS

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

Purchase Twenty-one Truths About Love 

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

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

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

Matthew Dicks's blog:
http://www.matthewdicks.com/matthewdicksblog

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

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

Subscribe to Matthew Dicks's blog:
http://www.matthewdicks.com/subscribe-grin-and-bare-it

RECOMMEDATIONS

Elysha:

Matt:

Speak Up logo.jpg

Shortcomings and Flaws: 2019

Years ago a reader accused me of being materialistic after I wrote about my lack of a favorite number, specifically criticizing me for saying that when it comes to my salary, my favorite number is the largest number possible.

After properly refuting the charges of materialism, I acknowledged that I had plenty of other shortcomings and offered to list them in order to appease my angry reader. Then I did. Then I added to the list when friends suggested that I had forgotten a few.

Nice friends. Huh?

So began an annual tradition of posting my list of shortcomings and flaws, starting first in 2011 (the list only had 10 items that year), and continuing in 201220132014201520162017, and 2018.

I'm happy to report that although the list remains relatively long (33 items this year), I'm removing one item from the list.

*** I take little pleasure in walking.

Somehow I’ve managed to find an appreciation for walking. I’d still rather be running, playing golf, or anything else to make the walk more productive, but stick me in a forest or on a mountain and I’ll happily walk.

I also thought that I might remove:

*** I can form strong opinions about things that I possess a limited knowledge of and are inconsequential to me.

Elysha says no. She points out that I enjoy staking opinions for the sake of debate, even when I’m not prepared to stake out a position.

Fine…

I also wanted to remove these two:

*** I drink too much Diet Coke.
*** I wear my wireless headphones way too much.

I’ve stopped seeing either of these as a negative., but I know that the rest of the world does (actually, my doctor has no problem with my Diet Coke consumption), so I’ll accept their assessment for the time being.

Many new flaws and shortcomings were proposed - some in jest - but quite a few in reality. A couple that were seriously considered:

*** I don’t sleep enough.

I’ve certainly heard this one before, but when this accusation is leveled against me, I always respond by asking if I ever appear tired. Do I complain about being exhausted? Am I not productive enough during the day because of fatigue? Do I look like I need more sleep? Did you know that I often awaken without an alarm clock and pop out of bed like a jack-in-the-box? Did you also know that even though I only sleep 4-6 hours every night, I spend almost every moment of that time asleep? I don’t watch television or read in bed, and I fall asleep almost instantly. I don’t waste a moment of time while in bed.

If I felt tired or fatigued or lethargic, I would sleep more. I just don’t.

*** You correct people when they didn’t need to be corrected.

This was something someone noticed me doing to Elysha on the podcast, but I asked Elysha if it was true, and she says no. When I correct Elysha on the podcast, it’s for very specific reasons, mostly related to the fact that thousands of people listen to each episode, and if you allow an error to stand, you’re going to get email about it or mislead people in an annoying direction.

I would expect the same from here.

*** You may be too presumptuous in assuming that your followers (both nice and naughty) care all that much about your self-crested lists of flaws.

This made me laugh, but it’s not an assumption I make. Some of my posts - like this one and my monthly resolution updates - are admittedly written more for myself than my readers. I’m holding myself publicly accountable, but I never think that a post like this will be popular or well read (though my resolution updates are surprisingly popular).

Therefore, for just the second time ever, no new items have been added to the list. I may finally be evolving into a better human being.  

If you would like to propose an addition to the list, please let me know, and it will be considered.

Matthew Dicks’s List of Shortcomings and Flaws

1. I have a limited, albeit expanding palate (though I'd like to stress that my limited palate is not by choice).

2. I am a below average golfer (but showing rapid improvement this year).

3. It is hard for me to empathize with adults with difficulties that I do not understand and/or are suffering with difficulties that I would have avoided entirely.

4. I have difficulty putting myself in another person’s shoes. Rather than attempting understand the person, I envision myself within their context and point out what I would've done instead.

5. I do many things for the sake of spite.

6. I have an unreasonable fear of needles (though my PTSD definitely plays a role in this).

7. I become angry and petulant when told what to wear.

8. Bees kill me dead.

9. I become sullen and inconsolable when the New England Patriots lose a football game.

10. I lack adequate empathy for adults who are not resourceful or are easily overwhelmed.

11. I can form strong opinions about things that I possess a limited knowledge of and are inconsequential to me.

12. I am unable to make the simplest of household or automobile repairs.

13. I would rarely change the sheets on my bed if not for my wife.

14. I eat ice cream too quickly.

15. I procrastinate when it comes to tasks that require the use of the telephone (visual voicemail has corrected this problem on the cellphone but not on my landline at work)

16. I am uncomfortable and ineffective at haggling for a better price.

17. I am exceptionally hard on myself when I fail to reach a goal or meet a deadline.

18. Sharing food in restaurants annoys me.

19. I drink too much Diet Coke.

20. My dislike for ineffective, inefficient, or poorly planned meetings causes me to be unproductive, inattentive, and obstructionist at times (I’ve adjusted the language on this one to acknowledge that some meetings are necessary and acceptable)

21. Disorganization and clutter negatively impacts my mood, particularly when I cannot control the clutter myself

22. I am overly critical of my fellow storytellers, applying my own rules and standards to their performances.

23. I think less of people who nap (though I've come to accept and even embrace the 10-15 minute power nap in the middle of the work day, I still think that anyone who is napping on a Sunday afternoon for three hours or comes home from work and naps until dinner is at best a disappointment).

24. I lack patience when it comes to assisting people with technology.

25. I don't spend enough time with my best friend (I’m trying like hell to fix this).

26. I have a difficult time respecting or celebrating someone's accomplishments if economic privilege, nepotism, or legacy assisted in their success in some way.

27. I believe that there are right and wrong ways of parenting. 

28. I love saying, "I told you so" so freaking much.

29. I wear my wireless headphones way too much.

30. I consistently screw up my wife's laundry regardless of how careful I think I am, 

31. My blog entries contain far too many typos, despite my loathing of typos.

32. I leave my credit card at restaurants far too often.

33. I don't ride my bicycle - alone and with my kids - nearly enough.

I'm worried that Frost's poems will someday die

I dreamt last night that the Earth’s orbit was temporarily shifting towards the sun, which would briefly raise temperatures high enough to kill nearly every living thing on the planet.

Great dream, Huh?

Actually, in my dream, Paul McCartney had built some kind of refrigerated house, so he thought he might survive, but experts doubted it.

I spent great portions of this dream trying to find way to avoid death for me and the family while simultaneously imagining the horrors of being cooked alive and watching my family suffer a similar fate.

You can see why I don’t love sleep.

And yes, I know that the orbit of the Earth would never bring it in temporary proximity to the sun, though there might be a scenario in our future where sun spot activity could wipe out most of our electronics and send us back to the Dark Ages for years.

In fact, it nearly happened in 2012, but please don’t Google it. It’s terrifying.

But here was the moment of the dream that interests me most:

It occurred to me - in the dream and now while I’m awake - that if every human being on Earth died, then all of Robert Frost’s poetry would die, too. So, too, would the music of Springsteen and the plays of Shakespeare and the philosophy of Plato and the fiction of Twain and Morrison and Atwood and Vonnegut and Rowling.

All of our art would be lost.

Human beings die all the time, but our greatest art lives on forever. Unless, of course, the human race ceases to exist. Then our art will also cease to exist.

Two roads will only diverge in a yellow wood as long as there are humans alive to read and recite those lines.

The loss of that great art suddenly seems even more tragic to me than the end of our species, and just like that, the timeless nature of our art seems a lot less timeless.

sun.jpg

Why bullies bully

“Most people are bullied because they’re better than the people who bully them.” - Simon Cowell

A reader sent me this quote by Cowell, who judges singing shows on television. Except for clips on YouTube, I haven’t watched a singing show since the first season of American Idol back in 2002, but I remember Cowell as being someone I liked a lot.

Brutally honest. Exceedingly direct. Funny. Utterly unconcerned about what others thought of him.

My kind of guy.

And I like this quote about bullying a lot. I think bullying can also be about the consolidation of power, the need to elevate oneself, and the inability to understand the struggle of others, but I think Cowell’s statement is often true.

I also think it’s a very good thing for the victims of bullying to hear.

simon.jpg

Lottery winners are happy after all

Good news!

Winning the lottery will not make you unhappy.

For years, we’ve all heard that winning the lottery will make me unhappy. This made no sense, of course, since everyone likes money, myself included. It’s hard to imagine that being handed a large sum of cash for doing almost nothing wouldn’t make me at least a little bit happier.

But that’s what the research has shown.

Maybe not. It turns out that this assertion has been based entirely upon research done in 1978 in which just 22 lottery winners were interviewed. A new paper argues that the sample size in 1978 was too low and therefore could not accurately register a difference in happiness amongst the participants. The newest study has data from 617 lottery winners, and it found, like we’ve all known in our hearts, that winning the lottery will likely make you a happier person.

Thank goodness. I like it when the world makes sense.

That said, I’ve still never bought a lottery ticket of any kind in my life because the lottery is for suckers. I’ll place my bets on Microsoft, Starbucks, Visa, Disney, and the rest of my investments. The money earned from those be ts also make me happy and offer far better odds.  

lottery .jpg

Sometimes the answer is exactly wrong in every possible way

In the midst of my math lesson yesterday, I leaned over and switched on the document camera. This is a device that has replaced the overhead projectors of my childhood. Place a document or object of any kind under the camera, and the image will appear on the Smartboard.

A very useful tool in the education field.

I looked to the screen. Instead of the document, a large, black box was displayed on the screen.

I turned to my class and said, “When a device like my document camera - or any electronic device - doesn’t work properly, what’s the first thing I should do?”

I ask this question because I want to teach my students that the first and most likely solution to a problem like this is to restart the device.

Turn it off, then turn it back on.

I want them to know this because I can’t tell you how many times an adult asks me to solve a problem related to technology only to watch me close and re-open their app, restart their computer, or turn their toaster off and on. It’s the simplest solution to so many problems, and yet so many people miss this obvious step.

I want my students to be better prepared than most.

Having posed the question, I looked to my class, waiting for an answer. None came. The students stared back at me, blankly and confused, so I asked again. “When something like my document camera isn’t working, what’s the very first thing I should do?”

I waited again. At last a hand rose slowly into the air.

“Yes?” I said, pointing at my student. “What should you do in a situation like this?”

“Panic?” my student said.

I have a lot of work ahead of me.

error.jpg

Speak Up Storytelling #65: Elva Guo

On episode #65 of the Speak Up Storytelling podcast, Matthew and Elysha Dicks talk storytelling.

In our follow-up segment, we read a listener's email about a filmmaker using a transition strategy mentioned on the podcast to great effect.  

STORYTELLING SHOWS 2019-2020

November 2: Great Hartford Story Slam, Hartford Flavor Company
November 9:
 Sara Kaplan: Champion of the World at Emmanuel Synagogue, West Hartford, CT
November 23:
 Twenty-one Truths About Love book release, CT Historical Society, Hartford, CT
December 14:
 “Crafty” at CT Historical Society, Hartford, CT
January 11: “Still Life: Stories of Stopping and Slowing Down” at the Wadsworth Atheneum
April 4:
 Speak Up at the Unitarian Universalist Society, Manchester, CT

STORYTELLING WORKSHOPS 2019

October 25-27: Storytelling workshop (beginners), Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health
November 9: Storytelling workshop (Beginner), CT Historical Society
November 16: Storytelling workshop (Advanced), CT Historical Society
December 6-8: Storytelling workshop (advanced), Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health
January 25: Storytelling workshop (Beginner), CT Historical Society
February 22: Storytelling workshop (Advanced), CT Historical Society

In our Homework for Life segment, Matt talks about a moment from his week of camp with students that would serve him well in certain spaces but might not be suited for stages like The Moth or Speak Up for specific reasons.

Next we listen to a story by Elva Guo. 

Amongst the many things we discuss include:

  1. The power of surprise and strategies used to preserve surprise

  2. Embedding a small but universal truth into a much larger, less universal story

  3. The importance of scene setting 

Next we answer a listener question about stories in the hotel industry.  

Finally, we each offer a recommendation.  

LINKS

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

Purchase Twenty-one Truths About Love 

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

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

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

Matthew Dicks's blog:
http://www.matthewdicks.com/matthewdicksblog

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

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

Subscribe to Matthew Dicks's blog:
http://www.matthewdicks.com/subscribe-grin-and-bare-it

RECOMMEDATIONS

Elysha:

Matt:

Speak Up logo.jpg