Goggles

Each of my children own a pair of goggles, and I hate them so very much. 

Most of the children who frolic at the lake where we are spending many of our summer days are wearing goggles, and I despise every pair. 

I did not own goggles when I was growing up. As far as I can recall, no one did. One weirdo owned a clip that pinched his nose shut, but that was it. We all learned to open our eyes underwater - in pools and lakes and even the ocean - and then we moved on. Life was simple. We donned a pair of swim trunks, perhaps remembered a towel, and jumped into the lake. 

I watch these kids - mine included - fidget and fuss with these damn things constantly. They adjust, clean, remove, and replace. They ask parents to tighten or loosen. They become upset when water sneaks through and touches their precious eyeballs.  

It's insane. 

Yesterday I saw a kid crying because he forgot to bring his goggles to the beach. He told his mother he couldn't swim because of this. 

Simplicity. This is what I prize above most things.

It's why I've never owned an umbrella.
It's why I threw out all of my ties.
It's why I wear the same pair of sneakers almost every day of my life.
It's why I've never owned a watch or a single piece of jewelry save my wedding ring. 

Simplicity. Streamline life by requiring as little as possible to get through my day. 

It's why I don't own goggles. It's why I wish my kids didn't own goggles. Every item added to your life complicates your life in some way, so unnecessary and burdensome items like goggles should be avoided at all costs.   

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Baby jumping is a real thing, and it's really, really stupid.

It's often considered to be culturally insensitive to criticize specific cultures or religions for rituals, practices, or celebrations that don't align with our own positions or values. 

I think that as long as you're willing to accept the scrutiny and criticism of others without acting like someone has just murdered your family, it's perfectly acceptable to apply the same scrutiny to others. 

For example:

Yes, I sit in a frigid stadium in December, freezing my ass off while watching large men who I have never met but nonetheless love compete in a sport that may cause them permanent brain injuries. But if a player leaves this team to earn more money and a better living on a rival team, it is likely that my undying love for that player will instantly transform to hate.  

Also, my allegiance to this team is purely geographic. Wholly dependent on where my parents lived when I was a child. 

It's so stupid. I'm so stupid.  

See? Be objective about your own insanity, and the you can feel free about pointing out the insanity of others. 

Case in point: El Salto del Colacho. Otherwise known as "the devil's jump" or "baby jumping."

During this annual Spanish festival, men dressed as the Devil in red and yellow suits jump over babies born during the previous twelve months of the year as they lie helplessly on mattresses in the street.

The "devils" hold whips and oversized castanets as they jump over the infant children, because jumping over babies is apparently not frightening enough. 

Look at those photos. Those are real babies, being jumped over by real men dressed up as the devil. 

It's so stupid. Dangerous and insane and stupid. 

At least as stupid as my love for the New England Patriots, and perhaps a little more. 

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Mattress PSA

I know it might seem a little odd to purchase a mattress via a homemade sign planted on the corner across the street from a gas station.

And yes, the fact that the creator of this sign felt it necessary to indicate that the mattress was "Brand new!!" might also be a little disconcerting.

And yes, anytime someone indicates that their product "must sell," you can't help but wonder about the reason for this state of apparent desperation.

And yes, the sign admittedly looks like it was made by someone who was fleeing the police and had just seconds to scratch out their message.

But if you need a new mattress (and who doesn't?) this might be just what you were looking for.  

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People. Not places or things.

Elysha and I celebrated our anniversary on Sunday by taking the kids to the place where we were married 12 years ago:

The Lord Thompson Manor in Thompson, CT

The kids were so excited to see the place that they have heard about so often, and for Elysha and me, it was a wonderful walk down memory lane. Those memories that burn so brightly in our minds were brought back to life as we toured the building and the grounds. 

As a wedding DJ for more than 20 years, I can firmly attest that there is no better place in Connecticut for a wedding. It is a stunning location where you reside for the weekend with friends and family, and you are catered to constantly. It truly becomes a home away from home, and when it's time to leave on Sunday afternoon, your heart aches for just one more day.

But as I think about the time we spent at the manor on Sunday, and I look back on our wedding day, it turns out that it wasn't the beauty of the manor, its expansive grounds, the fully equipped billiard room, the luxurious beds, the outdoor fireplaces and fire pits, the stunning rock walls that line the property, or any delicious and seemingly endless supply of food that made our day so perfect.

In the end, it was the people.

Ted, our host for the weekend, who met us at the door during our visit on Sunday. Ted is a remarkable human being who wants your wedding weekend to be perfect in every way. When my friends and I were still awake in the early morning hours following the rehearsal dinner, playing poker, Ted appeared with an enormous platter of sandwiches and a huge smile. When I awoke late on Saturday morning for a quick round of golf, Ted greeted me at the door with a sack of every breakfast sandwich known to man. Ted serenaded Elysha and the ladies when they were getting ready. Miraculously had ribbon that perfectly matched the bridesmaids' dresses when a zipper broke. Solved every problem before they were ever brought to our attention.

When I think of The Lord Thompson Manor, I think of Ted. He is the heart and soul of that place.

Plato, our friend and principal at the time, who officiated our wedding so brilliantly. Helped to make our ceremony our own. Plato was the first to greet us after I proposed to Elysha on the top of the staircase in Grand Central Station, charging up two steps at a time in excitement, and he was the first to congratulate us when we were married. I can't imagine a better person to marry us on our day.   

Rob and Andy, friends who played the music so beautifully before and during our ceremony. All Beatles tunes, all performed perfectly for the occasion. 

Bengi and Emily, best man and matron of honor, who stood beside us all weekend, delivered unforgettable speeches, and never stopped smiling. 

Our wedding party. Friends and family who celebrated our marriage and made every moment of the weekend unforgettable. 

Elysha's parents, Barbara and Gerry, who laughed, loved, and danced the weekend away with us. 

All of our friends and family who joined us for our precious day. It was a celebration. A party. A fun filled weekend that I can remember so clearly today because of the love that I felt from each and every one of them. 

The Lord Thompson Manor is the ideal place for a wedding, and I recommend it to every couple I meet. If you're looking for a magical weekend, this is the place for you.

But honestly, Elysha and I could've been married in a Holiday Inn Express and still had a glorious wedding thanks to the people who made our day so special.

It's the people who I always remember first and foremost. The ones working hard to ensure the perfection of the day, and the friends and family who graced us with their happiness and love.

As with most things, the "where" and the "what" are never nearly as important as we think. In the end, it's the "who" that matter the most. Get married at City Hall or in a rundown chapel in Vegas or in your own living room, and if you have the right people around you - the best people - that is what you will remember most.  

We remember the people who made our day so perfect because we have been blessed to know and love and be loved by the best people. 

Those are the stories we tell Clara and Charlie when we talk about our wedding day.  

Listen to smart people plus me

I appeared on two podcasts recently that I really enjoyed. Both are hosted by people who I could talk to forever. 

You can find both podcasts wherever you get your podcasts, or you can click the links below to listen online. 

Slate's The Gist with Mike Pesca 

Mike and I speak about storytelling, film, Bruce Springsteen, and other sundry topics.

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Roxanne Coady's "Just the Right Book"

Roxanne, owner of RJ Julia Booksellers, and I have an expansive conversation on storytelling, books, productivity, happiness, and much more. 

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Speak Up Storytelling #9: Alan Mackenzie

Episode #9 of Speak Up Storytelling is now ready for your listening pleasure.

On this week's episode, we talk about finding and crafting stories in your everyday life using my strategy "Homework for Life." I describe how doing a deep dive on a particular day of your life can help you find stories and explain how I might tell the story of a friend's move to the west coast. 

Next, we listen to a story by Alan Mackenzie about being the new kid in town in search of friendship and love. Then Elysha and I discuss the strengths of his fantastic story as well as suggestions for improvement.

Finally, we answer a listener question about telling stories to children. 

If you haven't subscribed to the podcast in Apple podcasts (or wherever you receive your podcasts), please do. And if you're not one of the 40 or so people to rate and/or review the podcast in Apple Podcasts (who are the best people ever), we would love it if you did.

Ratings and reviews help listeners find our podcast easier, and it makes us feel better about ourselves and our work. 

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Twelve years!

Today Elysha and I celebrate 12 years of marriage. 

As I look upon the photos taken from that perfect day in 2006, I'm astounded by all that has taken place in the last dozen years. Twelve years isn't a terribly long period of time, and yet I feel like we've lived a lifetime since that glorious July day.

So much has happened. I look back upon our innocent eyes and unwavering smiles and can't believe what is in store for the two of us. We were standing on the edge of so much. 

Since we were married...

We bought a home and started our family. Two brilliant, happy, energetic people who love to read and cuddle but still can't pick up their toys now grace our lives with laughter and joy. 

I launched my writing career three years after our wedding day, publishing four novels and a book of non-fiction. I also started work as the humor columnist for a magazine and routinely publish in Parents magazine. I co-wrote a rock opera and four musicals. Three comic books. Two screenplays.  

Five years after our wedding day, I started telling stories onstage, first for The Moth and then all over the country and the world. I've told stories in theaters, bookstores, bars, breweries, libraries, town halls, churches, college campuses, and many more. I've competed in 75 Moth StorySLAMs and GrandSLAMs combined and joined a vibrant and brilliant community of storytellers, directors, producers, and fans of storytelling.  

Seven years after our wedding, Elysha and I launched Speak Up, producing more than 70 shows in the five years we've been in business and establishing partnerships with organizations and venues throughout New England.     

Nine years after our wedding, I started teaching storytelling, first in a local library and now all over the world. I work with universities, hospitals, nonprofits, corporations, politicians, attorneys, the clergy, and so many more. Just this year I've worked on the campus of Yale and a Mohawk reservation in Canada. 

I've started speaking all over the world, delivering TED Talks, inspirational speeches, commencement addresses, and more. I've delivered sermons on Sundays in churches throughout New England. I've shared the stage with world renowned storytellers and comedians. Received sex advice from Dr. Ruth. Had my story recorded into a phone by David Blaine. 

We've traveled, laughed, and loved. We've cheered from the upper reaches of the stands at Patriots games. Celebrated holidays with friends and family. Attended concerts in the park. Spent long, lazy days at the beach. Watched our children grow.   

Best of all, we've made so many new friends in the dozen years since we've been married. Brilliant, supportive, interesting, accomplished people who have made our lives so rich with friendship and love. 

Our only regret about our wedding is that the friends we have made since that July day were not with us for our celebration. As I look at the photos from that day and see the faces of so many of our dear friends, I can't help but notice how many important and precious people in my life today were not present on our wedding day. People we had not yet met. Did not know. I wish they all could have shared the joy of that day with us.

It's truly been a lifetime of experiences packed into twelve short years. A joyous, bountiful, beautiful dozen years of marriage. That only happens when you choose to spend your life with the right person. The perfect person. A woman with vision, drive, courage, daring, wisdom, and a willingness to support every crazy idea you may have (and had a few crazy ideas of her own).

It only happens when you marry someone who wants to share every step of the journey together. Side by side. Hand in hand.  

None of it happens if the woman in those wedding day photos is not Elysha. 

Happy anniversary, honey.  

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Fly, Baby Trump! Fly!

You probably heard about the baby Trump balloon being flown in protest of Trump's visit to London. In addition to flying it over Parliament Square during his visit with the Queen, video and stills of the balloon have been all over the news, and protesters have been filling Trump's Twitter feed with video of the balloon to ensure he sees it as much as possible. 

I would've done the same but the damn coward blocked me on Twitter and has yet to lift the block despite a court order.

The balloon is funny, and I'm thrilled to see the people of Europe protesting the same vile policies that so many Americans are protesting as well.  

Trump appears to be of two minds on the subject. On Thursday he told reporters, "I believe that the people in the UK - Scotland, Ireland, as you know I have property in Ireland, I have property all over - I think that those people they like me a lot and they agree with me on immigration."

Yes. Apparently Trump thinks that Ireland is part of the UK. He's been getting blasted about that stupid comment for the last day or so. 

But Trump also told reporters 

"I guess when they put out blimps to make me feel unwelcome, no reason for me to go to London."

Whether or not he feels welcomed or not in the UK, the most telling remarks came from the protesters responsible for the balloon. 

"The only thing that Donald Trump hates is being ridiculed, so that's what we're trying to do."

"Whilst representing Trump's inflated ego and his thin skin, this is also about opposing his hate-fueled, misogynistic politics."

"You can hurt Donald Trump by making him feel stupid, so that is what we are doing."

It's true. Trump seeks praise at every turn. He's desperate to appreciation and approval. He lauds himself with self-congratulation like no other President before. 

Honestly, I've never heard another human being offer himself so much self-praise before. 

It's remarkable, appalling, and frightening to think that the President of the the United States is incapable of brushing off criticism. Unable to ignoring ridicule. Unwilling to allow divergent opinions to be expressed openly.

It's why he has blocked me and so many others from Twitter. It's why he refuses to speak to news outlets that don't offer him praise. It's why he repeatedly and constantly lies about accomplishments that never happened and attacks previous Presidents for things that never happened.

Think about it: His first act as President was to lie about crowd size.

It's why this Trump balloon is undoubtedly going to hurt his fragile ego and enrage his prickly temper. 

The one thing to take solace in from this racist, misogynistic, baby-caging liar of a President is that unlike previous chief executives, Trump is easy to hurt and easily embarrassed.

Stage the largest protests in the history of the world on the day after his sparsely-attended inauguration. 

Mock him using skits and monologues on late night comedy shows.

Make him so uncomfortable that he cannot attend the Kennedy Center Honors or the White House correspondents dinner.

Refuse to visit the White House after winning the NBA championship or the Super Bowl.

Tweet uncomfortable truths at him until he's so upset that he must block you. 

Fly a Trump balloon outside Parliament while he is inside, mistaking Ireland as part of the UK.    

It doesn't make up for banning religious groups from our country. Separating families. Caging babies. Equating counter-protesters with Nazis. Enacting policies that will destroy our environment. Pardoning racists. Giving enormous tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans. Attempting to strip away healthcare from millions of hard working people. Denigrating the free press. Violating the emoluments clause. Bragging about sexual assault. Lying again and again and again.  

Still, it's something. When you can't get rid of a bully, poking him where it hurts is at least a little satisfying. 

This balloon is a little satisfying. 

Biggest fan and greatest nemesis meet. Results are climactic.

I first wrote about this story back in 2012. It's one of those stories almost too strange to be believed.

It involves two people.

One of them is a woman from Wisconsin named Charity.

The other is a man from Connecticut whose name I will avoid using in order to protect his identity, though I would take great personal pleasure in naming him.

But I will refrain. I'll simply refer to him as Mr. Mensa. You'll see why. 

The woman in the story, Charity, is one of my biggest fans. She has read all of my books, reads and comments on my blog and social media regularly, and has written me some of the kindest and most generous emails about my work that I have ever received. She promotes my work to her friends. Even her mother is a fan of my books. 

I met Mr. Mensa in the green room of a local television studio a few years ago. I was doing a promotional spot for an upcoming literary festival, and he had recently appeared on a game show and was being interviewed about the experience. He is also a writer. He publishes supernatural detective novels and other things. 

After chatting in the green room for a while, we exchanged contact information and became friends on Facebook.

Over the course of the next year or so, he began commenting on my blog posts and status updates with great regularity. His comments were almost always negative. He attacked my positions, criticized my writing, and challenged me at every opportunity. His comments were often biting and sarcastic.

Truthfully, I didn’t mind much. I like to fight. But the consistency of his attacks were admittedly disconcerting. He never let up, no matter what I was writing about. Elysha came to despise him for his constant rants. Friends asked me who this man was and what he had against me. He had quickly become my online nemesis.

Then one day Mr. Mensa went away. Honestly, I never even noticed. I wasn't exactly looking forward to his frequent comments.

Two years later, I received an email from Charity:

From her email:

I met a guy online a few years ago. He was nerdy and Mensa, and I was single and have never minded boyfriends who are 5'6" compared to my 5'10" frame. We got to know each other on Facebook for a year and a half. Sometimes things we were reading in our spare time would come up.

After more than a year of getting to know each other, he flew out here to Madison for a few days for a date weekend. He flew out here from Connecticut.

He saw one of your books on the table and said, "I know this guy."

I said, “Oh, I am obsessed with this guy's stories. My mother discovered his first book at an ALA convention and I cannot get these stories off my mind. I'm into book three, and it's good, but this author has me spinning because I never know what to expect.”

My friend said, “I know this guy. He is a know-it-all, and I hate him and even unfriended him on Facebook.”

I was like, “Oh! I'm sorry to hear it. Please tell me more.”

He said that you thought you knew more than he did. Period.

The weekend did not end well because he spent most of his time playing video games on his phone. I asked him about this and he said there's nothing wrong with this.

His books make no sense to me and are not interesting.

I can't get 40 pages into his books.

He was a rotten date, boring dinner company, and played video games all evening long.

First, what are the odds that these two people, with such divergent connections to me and separated by such great distances, would come together, entirely independent of me?

Slim at best. Right?

But best of all is what Elysha said when I shared the story with her:

“Your biggest fan and your arch nemesis went on a date!”

She’s right. Even though they live about 2,000 miles apart, my biggest fan and my arch nemesis came together for possible romantic entanglement.

I like to think that it was the presence of my book on that table that saved Charity from years of dating misery, but I suspect that even if my name had not come up, she would’ve jettisoned this guy.

It’s an incredibly small world, especially when you write stories that crisscross the globe.

I wrote about that encounter back in 2012. Two years later, in 2014, I had the honor of traveling to Maine on a perfect August weekend to serve as the minister in Charity's wedding to her husband, Brent. I had never met Charity or Brent in person up until that point, but Charity wanted one of her favorite authors - who also happens to be a minister living in New England - to perform her marriage ceremony, and I agreed. 

How could I not?

In addition to marrying them on the edge of a beautiful lake, I celebrated their nuptials with food, drink, music, and a late night fire-swallowing demonstration by one of their friends that frightened the hell out of me.

Charity remains in occasional contact with Mr. Mensa today. He reportedly likes to brag about his Mensa status (calling his Mensa status seriously into question), and he presumably still despises me and my work. 

But who knows? Had Mr. Mensa appreciated my fiction as much as Charity does, perhaps my biggest fan and my arch nemesis date for a while, and Charity misses her chance at meeting, falling in love with, and marrying Brent.

Maybe Brent meets Scarlet Johansson at a roadside corn stand and they hit it off. Elope. Create beautiful music together.  

It's fun to imagine. Right?

"Do we believe in heaven?"

Driving home from the farmer's market on Sunday, Led Zeppelin's Stairway to Heaven came on the radio.

Elysha asked the kids, "What's the name of this song?"

"Stairway to Heaven!" they shouted in unison.

"And who sings it?" she asked.

"Led Zeppelin," they answered.

Elysha smiled and relaxed in her seat, feeling that her job was done. But then Charlie, age six,  asked, "What is heaven anyway?"

I opened my mouth to answer but Elysha began speaking first. She explained that some people believe that heaven is the place your soul goes to when you die if you've led a good life.

"Do we believe in heaven?" Charlie asked.  

Elysha said nothing for a couple seconds, and then, just as I was about to speak again, she said, "That's up to you. People have to decide for themselves. I'm not sure if I believe in heaven. I'd like to think it's exists, but I'm not really sure. But I hope it does."

"Just like I want to like cucumbers but I don’t really like them?” Clara asked. 

Yes," Elysha said. "Sort of."

There was another pause, longer than the first, and then Charlie said, "I don't think I believe in heaven, but I'm not sure, either."

"I believe in heaven!" Clara said, almost desperately. "And I don't want to talk about this anymore!"

That's Clara. Desperately pushing back on the darkness at all costs.

I said nothing. I didn't need to say anything. I thought Elysha was brilliant.

When asked if we believe in heaven. Elysha made it clear that her beliefs and my beliefs need not be Charlie's beliefs. She offered Charlie some information about the spiritual nature of heaven and then carved out a space for him to be himself. To search his heart and mind for what he believes is true. 

I've never believed that spiritual belief is passed from parent to child through genetics or hereditary. I don't believe that children should be expected to share the same religious beliefs as their parents. It's odd, I've always thought, that your religious beliefs might be determined by the religion of your parents, which was often simply determined by the religion of their parents.

In this scenario, your spiritual destiny was probably determined hundreds of years ago by someone you never met in some faraway place who decided to be one thing instead of another, and then decided that their kids would be the same thing, too. 

That's weird. 

Religion doesn't equate to eye color or height. It's Grandma's secret recipe for meatballs. Religion amounts to a determination about how and why the universe exists and what is expected of us while we live within this universe. It might be nice for parents to think that their children will grow up sharing their beliefs and traditions, and this often happens, but not because the child is engaged in a journey of spiritual self discovery and deep introspection. It's most often achieved through the powers of indoctrination, coercion, and familial and societal expectation.

To expect that a child will inherently share a parent's religious beliefs strikes me as selfish and ridiculous. Even worse, it denies that child the opportunity for self discovery.

It prevents them from being themselves. 

Elysha and I may be raising our children in the Jewish tradition, but we also celebrate Christmas and Easter because the secular aspects of those traditions are important to me. They remind me of my childhood and make me feel connected to my family.

But when our children ask us what we believe, we answer their questions honestly and then create the space needed for them to believe what they want. 

Clara and Charlie are afforded the opportunity to find their own truth. They are encouraged to search their hearts and minds to find what they believe or need to believe is true. 

I remained silent because Elysha did all of this so beautifully and perfectly. I sat back, steering our car down a little country road, as my children took one of many, many steps in finding their place in this universe. 

Their own place. One determined not by our beliefs but by what they will ultimately choose to believe.

Prankster satisfaction

Brilliance learned on the internet this week:

Scratch haunting things into bananas at the market so when people take them home hours later and the words appear they think a ghost knows their secrets.

Ingenious. Right?

The one problem with this prank is that the prankster is never afforded the opportunity to witness the results play out in real life. You must be able to find satisfaction in knowing that the prank will one day be realized, even if you never see it yourself.  

For some, this satisfaction is unattainable. They must see the prank play out in all its glory or its worthless.  

Not for me. I've always been willing to set things in motion and experience great satisfaction in knowing that the payoff will someday come, even if I never see it myself.

In sixth grade, I sat in the back of science class, removing dictionaries from the shelf along the back wall and replacing definitions with my own. I would cut and tape paper over the original definition and pencil in one that I thought more appropriate. 

Noting terribly clever, I'm afraid, given my age. Things like:

Moron: The teacher standing in front of you.
Ass: Stop looking up minor swear words in the dictionary, you loser.
Brown: The color of poop.

There's a good chance that no one ever saw a single one of my replaced definitions. Those books might still be sitting on a shelf somewhere, gathering dust, untouched. Or perhaps they have been long since been recycled and turned into cookbooks, toilet paper, and Marxist propaganda pamphlets. 

That's okay. I took so much joy in the act of replacing those definitions and found such a thrill in imagining the possibilities of the future.  

That was enough for me. Which it why I will be scratching creepy messages into bananas at Stop & Shop today. I'll never see the fruits of my labor, but just knowing that my actions will bear fruit will be more than enough. 

It's too early for something as depressing as this.

It's 6:22 AM.  Clara quietly comes down the stairs in pajamas and slippers. She yawns. Walks over to the table. Sits beside me. 

First words out of her mouth:

"Dad, I was just thinking about the Great Depression. How did the stock market crash in the first place?" 

6:22 AM and she was "just thinking about the Great Depression."

I found myself both amazed and a little concerned. I'd be concerned about anyone who wakes up thinking about the Great Depression.

I'd be concerned about scholars of the Great Depression who wake up thinking about the Great Depression. 

I was also a little annoyed since my response required a quick Google search to confirm what I thought I knew.

This is definitely not what I was thinking about in the summer after my third grade year, particularly because it would take years for me to know what the Great Depression was.

Or the stock market for that matter.   

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Speak Up Storytelling #8: Sharon Snow

Episode #8 of Speak Up Storytelling is now ready for your listening pleasure.

On this week's episode, we talk about finding and crafting stories in your everyday life using my strategy "Homework for Life." I describe how stories can take years to develop and how the craziest thing that happened on a day might not make the best story of the day 

Next, we listen to a surprising story by Sharon Snow about her search for her father. Then Elysha and I discuss the strengths of his fantastic story as well as suggestions for improvement.

Finally, we answer a listener questions about performance techniques and stream of consciousness writing. 

If you haven't subscribed to the podcast in Apple podcasts (or wherever you receive your podcasts), please do. And if you're not one of the 20 or so people to rate the podcast and 11 to review it in Apple Podcasts (who are the best people ever), we would love it if you did.

Ratings and reviews help listeners find our podcast easier, and it makes us feel better about ourselves and our work. 

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"How do you get so much done?"

The question most frequently asked of me during interviews and at the end of book talks, lectures, and the like is some variation of "How do you get so much done?"

It's sort of an impossible question to answer, because the actual answer could fill the pages of a book. 

At some point it might. 

But still, I try to answer the question by explaining my approach to life, my motivations, and offering a few productivity tips that are meant to be emblematic of the hundreds that remain unmentioned for the sake of time and sanity.

Mostly, my answers come down to one precept: 

Don't waste time. 

But that's not terribly helpful to people who can't see what that means. "Don't waste time" comes in many forms, but yesterday might be a good example of this precept.

Sunday was a busy day for me. I rose from bed at 4:45 AM. After getting dressed, I fed the cats and sat down to write a blog post. When that was finished, I read and revised a chapter of a future novel and finished off a magazine pitch. Then I made breakfast for the kids before leaving at 6:00 AM to play golf.

While making breakfast and on the way to golf, I listened to Springfield Confidential, a memoir by Mike Reiss about his years writing for The Simpsons. 

I stepped off the golf course at 8:55 and drove to my friend's house, where I helped move furniture until 9:30. Then I returned home. I clean up my kids' breakfast dishes, showered, and changed clothing.

I had 15 minutes before leaving the house with the family for the Coventry Farmer's Market, so I sat down and edited the second segment of the Speak Up Storytelling podcast episode that dropped this morning. Then it was off to the market for a couple hours of fun with Elysha and the kids. We sat on hay bales, eating breakfast sandwiches and Italian ices while listening to a band play songs by Tom Petty, Jack Johnson, and Michael Jackson. Then we walked the market, buying flowers and saying hello to vendors we know before leaving. 

On the way home, we listened to music. Answered Charlie's existential question on the nature of heaven. Debated the greatest vocalist of all time. Discussed the innocuous nature of the band Foreigner. Decided to learn the lyrics to Crosby, Stills, and Nash "Southern Cross."

When we returned home from the market, I had another 45 minutes before I needed to leave for Miss Porter's for camper orientation. For the next week, I'll be teaching a storytelling workshop to 28 girls from around the world. During those 45 minutes, I edited another segment of the podcast and decided on a story idea for a Moth StorySLAM on Monday.

On the way to Miss Porter's School, I worked on that story, which I had started working on about a year ago but had never finished. I spoke the story aloud as I drove.

For the next two hours, girls arrived at Miss Porter's and registered for camp. I met my counselors, chatted with folks from last year's camp, and answered parent questions. At the same time, I had my laptop set up by the squash courts, When not needed, I was editing the podcast and preparing a follow-up email for the workshop participants who I taught on Saturday in Boston. 

At 4:00, I addressed the parents and campers, talking about the week we had planned. I took some questions, finalized some details, and left. I drove 30 minutes to a friend's house where I met Elysha and the kids for a barbecue. On the way to the barbecue, I worked on my story, finding arc and the transition sentences I would need.

I enjoyed a barbecue with friends before driving another 20 minutes for ice cream at Rich Farm. I listened to Springfield Confidential on the way since I was in a separate car.

After ice cream, I drove the 45 minutes home, listening and finishing Springfield Confidential. When I arrived home, I fed the cats and finished editing the podcast and scheduled it to publish at midnight. Sitting beside Elysha, I answered email and read through the magazine pitch once more. I dragged the trash and recycling to the curb. Then I went to bed around 11:00 PM.

That was a full day. A round of golf with friends. A visit to a farmer's market with my family. A barbecue and ice cream with friends and faimily. Moving furniture. Orientation at Miss Porters School.

It was busy, but I spent a lot of time with my family and friends, and since I carry my golf bag on my back, managed some exercise as well. 

Actually, the moving of furniture was the real workout of the day. 

But in between all of it, I edited a podcast. Wrote a blog post. Wrote a magazine pitch. Revised the chapter of a novel. Finished listening to an audiobook. Planned a story for The Moth. There wasn't much time to accomplish these things. Most of them were completed in the spaces of my day. Between activities. At the beginning of the day. At the end of the day.    

Truthfully, it wasn't a terribly productive day in terms of writing, storytelling and the like. Most of my time was occupied by other pursuits. But in between, when time could have been wasted, I got some stuff done. 

I also didn't watch TV. I didn't scroll through social media. I didn't arrive home and putter around the house. I maximized the spaces of my day. 

Spaces we all have. Everyday.

This is how I get so much done. There are also an enormous number of routines and strategies that I use to maximize my time. Other stuff, too. A book's worth of stuff. 

But this is a good start.

I don't know my father had a second or third heart attack, so leave me alone.

A couple months ago, when I had my heart attack-turned-pulled chest muscle scare, doctors, nurses, and even the ambulance crew kept asking me the same question:

"Does your father have a history of heart disease?"

And every time, I said the same thing:

"I know he had at least one heart attack, and maybe he had more, but I'm not sure."

But what I really wanted to say is:

"I know my father had at least one heart attack, and maybe more, but I don't really know my father very well because I lost him when my parents divorced, and today he doesn't return my phone calls and has stopped answering my all-too-frequent letters and had never been on the internet in any way, so on the rare occasions when we do connect, at a family picnic or perhaps a Christmas visit if I'm lucky, our meeting is always brief and difficult, so getting an accurate medical history of the man is not my first thought."

I understand why medical professionals ask the question, and I understand why it's important, but when you think you might be having a heart attack and are wondering if your life might be in danger and if you'll ever see your wife and kids again, the last thing you want to be reminded about again and again and again is how you don't have a relationship with your father for reasons you really don't understand and it kind of breaks your heart worse than this possible heart attack that you might be having right now.  

Less money. More connection.

I hear from a lot of readers and storytelling fans from around the world. 

Just this week, readers from Mexico, Canada, Brazil, Columbia, and Ecuador wrote to me about my books an stories. 

Add to this folks from Orlando, Seattle, Dallas, and the "mountains of West Virginia."

There was a time in publishing when books held decidedly greater attention and appeal to the American public, as evidenced by these disturbing statistics:

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Though I wish the public still treasured books as much as they did 50 or 100 years ago, I take solace in the fact that writers like Hemingway, Dickinson, Baldwin, and Fitzgerald were never able to wake up to an email from a Mexican teenage girl who was dying to know if characters from their first novel ever got married.

This happened yesterday. 

Or a Facebook message from a woman in Australia who spent the evening binge-watching my YouTube channel. 

That also happened yesterday. 

Or the email from Canada who told me that page 181-183 of my new book, Storyworthy, helped her to release an awful burden and perhaps save a friendship.

I received that about a week ago. 

Or a photo from a woman in Ecuador who loved their third novel and sent a photo of where that book resides on her shelf. 

I received it about a week ago, too.

Yes, I wish more people read books, and I wish more people read my books, but the daily communication I receive from people around the country and the world is pretty amazing.

A lot less profitable, but pretty amazing nonetheless. 

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Low life cretins steal stories.

At a book talk about a week ago, a woman asked me if I'm ever worried that someone might steal my stories and use them for their own purposes. "Your stories are so good," she said. "How do you protect them from someone who might try to tell them as their own? Or write and publish them? Or write a novel based upon your life?"

I was amused by the question. Copyright, I explained, protects me. There is no need to file any official paperwork in order to establish copyright. If I were to write a poem on the inside of a box of cereal, it would immediately be copyrighted. If I stand up before nine people in a bar and tell a story about my life, I'm instantly protected by copyright.

Copyright is a beautiful thing. 

Then I added something like this:

Besides, who would be so desperate and pathetic to steal one of the stories? What kind of sick person would pretend that my life was their own? Even if someone wanted to steal one of my stories, I spend a large portion of my life trying to convince people to write. To tell stories. To preserve their own stories and their own voice in some way for future generations. But the vast majority of these people - almost all of them - ignore my warnings, continue to stare at the television, and live lives of eventual, lamentable regret.

People are lazy, I explained. If a person can't take the time to write or tell your own stories, why would they ever find the energy or initiative to tell my stories?

I liked this answer a lot. I thought it was funny and honest and a little pointed. All characteristic that I adore. And it made the audience laugh, hopefully in the way you laugh at things you know are terribly true. 

Then I went home and told Elysha about my impressive answer. Waited for her to express as much admiration for my response as I was feeling. 

Instead she said this:

"But Matt, someone did steal one of your stories. Don't you remember?" 

She was right.

About four years ago, a low life scum of a human being was speaking to two of my friends when he launched into an amusing story about his childhood. My friends listened in horror, quickly realizing that he was telling one of my childhood stories as is own. They allowed him to finish before calling him on it, at which point he attempted a few feeble excuses and slithered away like the worm that he was and still is.

Damn. That lady at RJ Julia Booksellers was right. People steal stories. 

Correction: Low life cretins steal stories.  

It admittedly takes an especially sad, despicable, and rotten human being to do such a thing - someone who hates their own life so much that they will steal the life of another - but it's a real possibility.

My clever, cavalier answer was nonsense. 

My only hope is that the number of low life cretins looking to steal stories is low. 

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Name your sources or begone!

It wasn't a fight. More like a minor confrontation.

I was pouring myself a soda at my local McDonald's on Sunday when I heard a man telling a couple who I know fairly well that "President Trump is going to make a great Supreme Court pick."

The couple - McDonald's regulars who I see almost every day - were reading the newspaper. The man was standing besdie their table, shifting from one foot to another. Restless. Anxious. 

"You think so?" the husband asked.

"President Trump says he's going to make the best pick ever," the man said.

"You believe everything that man says?" the wife asked with a chuckle.

"I believe him," the man said, undeterred. "And you know what else? I hear that Justice Ginsburg doesn't even write her own briefs anymore. She has interns doing it. She needs to retire, too."

"Actually," the wife said, "all of the justices rely on law clerks for drafts of their opinions. It's a totally normal thing."

"Oh yeah?" the man asked. 

"Yeah," the husband replied. 

Stymied, the man returned to his coffee on the other side of the restaurant. 

I was so annoyed. I wanted in on this conversation. I wanted to debate. I was armed and ready. I was also angry that the couple hadn't told the man that justices wrote opinions. Not briefs. Also, justices have law clerks working for them. Not interns.

I hate missed opportunities.

After topping off my soda, I turned to the couple, who were both still smirking. I wished them a good day, and they wished me luck in the golf course.

"I've already played," I said. "Poorly as usual."

Then the man was back, reappearing without me even seeing him approach. "Another thing," he said. "I hear that Justice Ginsberg falls asleep on the bench. Can you believe that? Time for her to retire if you ask me."

I looked up. I stared. He was looking down at the couple, but all I needed was a little eye contact and I would be in. "C'mon. Look over here," I willed. "Please."

Then it happened. He glanced over at me. We locked eyes for a moment. He acknowledged my presence. It was on.

"You heard?" I asked. "Who did you hear this from?" 

"Huh?" the man asked. I think my entry into the conversation surprised him. He wasn't expecting me to speak. It was a sneak attack.

"I'm wondering who told you this?" I asked. "Did you know that every Supreme Court session has a gallery of court reporters and public observers? Did you know that RBG exercises every day. Pushups and planks and squats and bench presses. Cardio, too. It's well documented. And before Scalia died, she went hunting with him regularly. Hardly sounds like someone asleep at the bench."

"That's not what I heard."

"Who?" I asked. "Who did you hear this from? Name your source." 

"People," he said.

"Who?" I pressed, politely but insistently. "C'mon. Someone told you Ruth Bader Ginsberg sleeps at the bench. Who told you?"

"Whatever," the man said, slinking away.

Maybe not slinking, but I like to think that he was slinking. Either way, he beat a hasty retreat back to his coffee, perhaps to regroup.

The husband offered me a surreptitious thumbs up, and I nodded back and left.

Not a fight. Barely a confrontation. 

But so much fun. 

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There is no reason to delay the use of signage like this.

I understand that not everyone is ready for universal restrooms.

While I may use a restroom at a place like Oberon in Cambridge, MA, which has a large restroom of stalls and urinals used by all genders simultaneously, it's simply too much for some people.

When genitals are privately exposed for the purpose of elimination, they must only be privately exposed amongst their own kind. Strict segregation of penis and vulva at all times in public spaces is a nonnegotiable for many people.  

Note: Vulva is the correct term for the external female sex organ. The vagina is actually the internal genital tract extending from the vulva to the cervix, but for some reason, it is often used  incorrectly in place of the anatomically-correct vulva.

Someday, universal restrooms will be commonplace. People of all genders will enter a single space for the purpose of elimination, and no one will give a damn. Future generations will undoubtedly scoff at our bizarre need for genital segregation in the same way most of us scoff at the idea of segregating the races on a bus, a lunch counter, or a school. 

But some of us aren't ready for genital desegregation yet. I understand. Change is hard. Fear is a powerful force, even when it's unwarranted and misguided. Altering a longstanding norm can take time.  

But in the cases when a public restroom is a single serve space with a lock on the door, why can't we at least dispose of the male and female distinctions and use something more appropriate like this outstanding sign located at RJ Julia Booksellers in Middletown, CT?

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Not only is this sign more respectful and inclusive to all genders, but it makes no sense for three women to be waiting for their single use restroom while the restroom designated for men is empty.

From a perspective of efficiency, this is a change that must be made.

More importantly, signage like this demonstrates the necessary level of respect, inclusivity, and civility that should be afforded to people of all genders, as well as a much needed acknowledgement that gender is not always a binary proposition, and that all people deserve to live their most authentic lives absent of stigma, bias, or fear. 

Gender binary signage should already be a thing of the past, at least in the case of single use restrooms. This is a small but meaningful step that even the most ardent traditionalists and most staunch genital segregation advocates would be hard pressed to oppose.

If you own a business with single-use restrooms equipped with gender binary signage, change it today. Make the world a little more efficient for all human beings and a little more accepting to people of all genders and forms of gender expression.