Joy in the small and the large

Some days are harder than others. On those days, it's important to find and embrace joy wherever it might be hiding.

It's usually hiding right in front of you.


I watched our cat play in a paper bag until he was exhausted.
I listed the irrational dangers of guppies and ducks to my giggling daughter.
I drove home with the windows down, blasting Born to Run.
I watched a student dance riotously in a cafeteria without any music.
I listened to my five year-old son try to explain quasars to me. 
I held my wife's hand while watching a movie on the couch. 

I try to find joy in my everyday. Little things. Minuscule things. Then I write them down - every single day - so I never forget them.

Sometimes you can find joy in big things, too. Things like the Moon.

You should watch this video. It's pure joy.   

WeCroak: An app that does what my brain already does

My friend, Kim, alerted me to a new app called WeCroak. It does one simple thing:

Five times per day, at unpredictable intervals, it sends you a message that says:

“Don’t forget, you’re going to die.”

The app was created by Ian Thomas, a 27-year-old freelance app developer, and Hansa Bergwall, a 35-year-old publicist, 

“I would get to the end of the day and realize I’d forgotten the entire day to think about death,” Bergwall said. “And it occurred to me, This is so easy: I could just get my phone to remind me.”

If you know me well, you'll know that Kim alerted me to the app not because I needed to be reminded that I am going to die but because it's something I think about all the time. In fact, when I read about the app and saw that it offered five reminders per day, I thought, "Five? That's it? I think about death five times an hour!"

And that's truly a conservative estimate.

The result of two near-death experiences and an armed robbery that included a gun to my head and the trigger being pulled has left with a persistent, constant, existential bell ringing in my head at all times. And it's not an entirely bad thing. The never-ending reminder that I will someday die has caused me to be relentless in terms of pursuing my goals and making every moment count.

It's the thing that forces me out of my chair when Charlie asks me to play. It's the thing that compels me to pick up my tall, gangly nine year-old daughter every time she asks. It's what keeps the TV turned off when there is a book to write or a story to tell. It's what sends me to the gym on an almost daily basis, hoping to stave off the inevitable. It's why I drive to New York on a Tuesday night to perform despite the fact that I will arrive home in the wee hours of the morning and still be out of bed by 5:00 AM. It's what causes me to say yes to the craziest proposals.   

The constant ringing of my existential bell keeps me moving. Forces me to look forward. Insists that I make every moment count. 

But it's also what produces anxiety in me when times goes by and progress is not made. It's the thing that breaks my heart when I ponder all that will be lost when I die. It's why I can be so happy with my life while also be in a constant state of perpetual dissatisfaction.

Sometimes it's crushing to my soul.  

I'm not sure if it's something I would ever wish upon someone, though I have met people who wish they could experience life similarly.  

I once gave a Ted Talk once that attempted to offer the benefits of an ongoing existential crisis without all the angst and despair. I tried to thread the needle, so to speak. 

So although I didn't need the WeCroak app, I downloaded it anyway, much to Elysha's exasperation. I receive my reminder five times a day, accompanied by a quote meant to encourage “contemplation, conscious breathing or meditation” but does not.

I thought it would be amusing.

Then one night a couple weeks ago I was driving to Queens for a Moth StorySLAM. Though I had left with more than enough time, traffic was giving me fits. About an hour into my drive, it looked like I might be late for the slam, which meant I would have no chance to perform onstage. 

I considered turning back. If I arrived in Queens late, I was going to be upset. Yes, I would still hear some great stories and visit with some good friends, but my primary purpose was to tell a brand new story that I liked a lot. Try to win. Gain access to another Moth GrandSLAM championship.

If none of that was going to happen, maybe I should turn around now and spend the night reading to my kids, working on a book, and sitting beside Elysha. Why risk another 90 minutes or more on the road, plus a return trip, for nothing? 

I looked down at my phone to see what my estimated time of arrival was. On my screen was a message:

“Don’t forget, you’re going to die.”  

That was it. I dropped the phone and pushed onward, hell bent on making it to the slam on time. 

I did. I arrived just in the nick of time. I dropped my name in the hat.
I got chosen to tell my story.
I won. 

Would I have turned around had I not seen that message?

Maybe. I would've at least pondered the decision a little more. Debated its merits. Wondered if the possibility of not having a chance to take the stage was worth all this trouble.

WeCroak at least cemented a decision I probably would've made anyway. Maybe. 

It turns out that even someone as crazed and obsessed with death can use a reminder every now and then.

Maybe you could, too. 

People stay home when it rains. How stupid.

This is a real thing:

When it rains, slightly fewer people attend our Speak Up shows. 

Also, when it rains, fewer people go to the theater. The movies. Even restaurants do less business when it rains. 

The same holds true for frigid temperatures. Even the mercury plummets below 20 degrees, people are far more likely to remain at home.

How sad. How incredibly, stupidly, sad.

Just imagine:

In an effort to minimize their discomfort during the time it takes to pass between their front door and the car, and their car and the front door of the restaurant or theater, a person will stay at home rather than going out for a night of entertainment and camaraderie. 

In order to eliminate the 2% of the evening that will be uncomfortable, people prefer to stay home and watch television or go to bed early. They are willing to forgo the 98% of the night that could've been fun because a tiny sliver of the night would've been less than perfect. 

That is not the kind of person you want to be. That is most definitely not the kind of person your past or future self wants you to be. Just imagine how disgusted your teenage self would be at this behavior. Imagine how angry your 90 year-old self will be to know that you have missed out on scores of possibly memorable evenings because of rain or the cold. 

The next time you find yourself saying, "It's raining. Maybe we should stay home tonight," please follow that sad, ridiculous statement with, "What am I saying? What kind of weak, shortsighted, stupid person am I? Am I really going to sacrifice a night on the town because I might get wet between the front door and the car?"

If the answer is yes, prepare yourself for the avalanche of regret that will surely overwhelm you when your opportunities for evenings out at the theater or the restaurant are fewer and farther between.   

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Snow days: One thing I love. One thing I hate.

I'm an elementary school teacher, and today I am home because of snow. 

One thing I love about snow days and one thing I hate:

Many (and maybe most) teachers despise snow days, fully aware of the long, summer days that each snow day costs them. Many parents despise snow days for this same reason, and also because of the childcare headaches that a snow day creates.  

I understand all of this.

I, however, adore snow days. I love them so very much. This is because I think it is short-sighted, presumptuous, and foolish to assume that you will be alive in June to enjoy your long, summer day, so I believe in taking my days whenever I can get them.

I'm serious. And I'm a guy who has been brought back to life twice via CPR. I know what I'm taking about. I could be hit by a bus tomorrow. I'll take today and happily teach for one more day in June. 

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One thing I hate about snow days:

I despise any human being who criticizes a school district, superintendent, or school official for the decision to declare a snow day.

Yes, sometimes they get it wrong. They make an incorrect decision. They cancel school when it could've clearly been in session. But it's weather, damn it. I don't know if you've noticed, but it's highly unpredictable.

Even the meteorologists get a wrong sometimes. 

These armchair school administrators are truly the worst. Jackasses who love to make important decisions with no accountability and so often well after the storm is out to sea.   

School officials are simply trying to keep children safe. Children who walk to school and ride buses and stand on the corners of busy intersections, waiting for buses to arrive. 

Excuse them for mistakenly erring on the side of caution. Pardon them for worry about the lives of little kids. Forgive them if the storm didn't arrive early enough or unexpectedly weakened or shifted east and missed us entirely. 

As a parent, I choose caution over inconvenience every time. 


An unusual and exhausting but unforgettable weekend thanks to a July night in 2011

I'm often astounded by the places that a story told on a stage in 2011 has taken me.

This weekend I had the honor working with caregivers at Yale New Haven Hospital, teaching them how to tell stories about their own experiences as patients and the spouses, parents, and children of patients to doctors, nurses, and other clinicians in an effort to improve care. It was the second Saturday that I spent with these remarkable people, and their stories were incredibly hard to hear but so moving.

Those hours spent in a conference room at the hospital with those extraordinary people will stay with me forever.  

On Sunday I traveled to Harvard, MA to deliver the sermon on a the Harvard Unitarian Universalist Church. I told stories to the congregation and talked about the healing power of storytelling in your own life and the lives of others. Later, I taught a workshop to about 60 members of the church and members of the community who decided to join us. I met some remarkable people who are hoping to use storytelling to change their lives and the lives of people all over the world. 

Sandwiched on between those two things, Elysha and I produced a Speak Up show at Real Art Ways. Six storytellers joined me in sharing stories about hunger. For some, it was the first time they had ever told a story on stage. Others entered my life years ago through my workshops and shows, and I'm proud to call a few of them my friends today.

So, too, were members of the audience who I have only met through storytelling.

So many of my friends, and some of the best people I know, have entered my life this way.

I ended the weekend consulting with an attorney for the ACLU on his upcoming TED Talk, helping him craft an outstanding talk on subjects near and dear to my heart. Elysha and I are ALCU members, so it was an honor to assist in this important work.  

This was an unusual weekend to be sure. I'm not leading church services every Sunday or teaching a widow to tell the story of her deceased husband's hospital care. Rarely is my weekend so chock full of storytelling the way this one was. 

Frankly, it was exhausting. Also, I missed my family this weekend. A lot. 

But when I'm better rested in a day or so and I've made up for lost time with Elysha and the kids, I'll look back on this weekend and think about how lucky I am that I decided to do something back in 2011 that was hard and scared me to death. 

Budo, the protagonist of my third novel, says that "The right thing and the hard thing are often the same thing."

I try to remember this always, because I know how often embracing the hard thing has led to a weekend like this past one. 

I'm in a constant search for the next hard, right thing. 

The gift of a memory is one of the best gifts of all

While visiting Hyde School in Bath, Maine, I ate breakfast with a teacher and hometown friend named Sean. We got to talking about our childhoods, specifically the time our parents were members of the Boots & Saddles Club, a riding club in Blackstone, MA.

We would ride the back trails together with our parents on horseback, enjoying the quiet of nature, the camaraderie of friends, and the power of the horse beneath us.

All that came to an end for me when my parents divorced when I was seven or eight, but until then, it was one of the joys of my life.

Sean said, "One of my first memories is of your father." He explained that on a ride one day, we stopped to rest. My father, decked out in his cowboy hat and cowboy boots, dismounted, cracked open a can of beer, drank half of it, and gave the rest to his horse. Poured it right down the horse's throat.

"That was the coolest thing I'd ever seen," Sean said. "I wanted to be just like that guy someday."

Rarely in my life have I been given a better gift than the one Sean gave me that day. The memories of my father are limited. He left my home when I was very young and exited my life at the same time. I rarely saw him after the divorce. 

It's a pain in my heart that will never be healed.

But to hear a man talk about my father in such heroic terms, to be given a new image of my dad, a new memory of sorts, was worth the world to me. I was with Dad that day when he poured half a can of beer down a thirsty horse's throat. I may have been standing just a few feet away.

But I don't remember that moment. Or I missed it entirely.  

When you have so little of something so precious, the gift of a little more of that rare and precious thing is priceless.   

I told Sean that I would speak about the moment he shared that memory with me onstage one day. I told him that I would craft it into a story that will make people cry. I know this because I nearly cried when he told me about his memory of my father. 

Sean was surprised. It didn't seem like much to him. But that is the thing about stories:

They are not the measure of what has happened. They are a measure of how a moment has filled our heart. Or cracked it open. Or broken it into pieces. The importance of a moment is often unseen by anyone but the storyteller, and it's the storyteller's job to make the importance of the moment as clear as possible to the audience. 

On Sean's end of the table, not much happen. He shared a memory.

On my end of the table, my heart cracked open, spilling out thankfulness and regret, pride and sadness, and a longing for something I can never have. He didn't see any of this, because it all happened on the inside. But of all the things that constantly rattle around in my brain, searching for a home, that moment has been rattling around the most, trapped in the mechanics of thinking and emotion that fill my head. 

It'll be a story, all right. A good one if I craft it well. Also a moment I'll never forget.

And an incredible gift. 

The Georgia Senate is controlled by bigots in the pocket of the NRA

In the last two weeks, the Georgia Senate has made two unfortunate decisions:

Last week, they approved a bill eliminating a tax break for Delta Air Lines after Delta eliminated its discount program for NRA members.

Delta offered discounts to NRA members flying to their annual meeting. In 2017, this discount was utilized by a total of 13 people. As a result of Delta's decision, they will lose about $20 million dollars in savings per year.

To Delta's credit, they doubled down on their decision, issuing the following statement:

“Our decision was not made for economic gain and our values are not for sale, We are in the process of a review to end group discounts for any group of a politically divisive nature.” 

Two weeks ago, the Georgia Senate has passed a measure that gives adoption agencies the right not to work with LGBTQ couples.

There are more than 100,000 children in foster care in America awaiting adoption, and every year, about half of those kids are adopted. The average wait time for a foster child to be adopted is 7.7 years. Nevertheless Georgia senators feel it's better to keep these children in foster care rather than allowing two women or two men in a loving relationship to adopt them. 

You know... because same sex marriage is a sin. The Bible says it, so it must be true. 

Just like the Bible endorses: 

Slavery: “Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the cruel.” (1 Peter 2:18)

Misogyny: “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.” (1 Timothy 2:12) 

Infanticide: "For every one that curseth his father or his mother shall be surely put to death: he hath cursed his father or his mother; his blood shall be upon him." (Leviticus 20:9)

Discrimination against the disabled: "He that is wounded in the stones, or hath his privy member cut off, shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord."(Deuteronomy 23:1)

I've been to Georgia several times in my life. I've spent time on Georgia beaches and spent a weekend of hilarity in Atlanta.

I've enjoyed my time there, but I don't think I'll be returning anytime soon. 

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From genius to Bart Simpson

When I stepped out of the shower, I found my five year-old son, Charlie, reading the graphic novel version of A Wrinkle in Time on our bed.

Charlie's full name is Charles Wallace. He's named after a character in the book. 

Elysha is reading us the original version of A Wrinkle in Time every night, so even though Charlie is in kindergarten, the background knowledge he has allows him to read the comic book. 

Seeing him sitting there was pretty great. 

Once I was dressed, I sat beside him on the bed.

Hey, Dad," he asked. "Does 10 + 10 + 10 + 10 + 10 + 10 + 10 + 10 + 10 + 10 equal 100?"

"Yes," I said. "How did you know that?"

"I was just thinking about it while you were getting dressed."

My son is clearly a genius. Elysha and I are raising the next Einstein. 

Once second later, Charlie jumped on top on me, licked my cheek, cackled, pushed me down, and shouted, "Smell my butt!"

Maybe not Einstein after all.

Boy vs. Girl: Our 100th episode

Boy vs. Girl, the podcast that I produce with my partner, Rachel Leventhal-Weiner, just published our 100th episode. While I don't often get excited about round numbers, 100 is a pretty good number. 

Boy vs. Girl is a podcast about gender and gender stereotypes. Rachel and I each bring a topic to the table each week, and then we answer a mystery question from a listener.

I try to start fights whenever possible. 

If we were producing a sitcom, 100 episodes would be enough to enter syndication and guarantee ourselves a steady stream of income for years and years to come. Sadly, we're not producing a sitcom and have yet to make a dime off our podcast, but that might be changing soon. 

If you haven't been listening, we have an extensive back catalog of podcast waiting for you. A regular reader of my blog recently suggested that I start a podcast, so I felt a little foolish having to tell her that I've been podcasting for more than two years.

I apparently haven't been promoting it enough.

Give it a listen. You can find it on Apple podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.

I recommend Overcast. 

This is the way to live

Last night I met my in-laws, Barbara and Gerry Green, at a restaurant in New York for dinner before performing in a storytelling show down the street. As Elysha and I walked in, we found Barbara and Gerry sitting at the bar, eating salad and chatting with the bartender.  

As I sat down, they introduced me to the bartender, a woman in her early thirties who was an actor and a self-described Shakespearean nerd. She chatted with us for the entire meal, and shortly before I left for sound check, Barbara had exchanged business cards with her.

Less than an hour later, Barbara and Gerry arrived at the theater space. Within five minutes, Barbara was chatting with a woman named Denise, whose chair was quickly moved over to our table, where it remained for the rest of the night. Between stories and during intermission, Barbara and and Gerry chatted with Denise, and by the end of the night, they had exchanged contact information, too. 

I think Barbara started talking to Denise because they had a similar hair style. That was all it took to launch a possible future friendship.

My wife, Elysha, is famous for knowing a lot of people. We actually have a friend who begins conversations with new people by asking, "Do you know Elysha Dicks?"

The answer is yes so often that it's turned out to be an effective ice breaker.

This is where she gets it. This is where she learned to enter a space and make a new friend. Again and again and again.  

When it comes to Elysha, the apple does not fall far from the tree. Actually, I don't think it's even fallen off the tree.

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A sign, a grade book, and a bathtub are just a few of my memories of Hyde School

I had the honor of spending two days in Bath, Maine, recently, visiting with the eleventh and twelfth grade students of Hyde School. I taught them about storytelling, performed my one-person show in the evening, and hosted a story slam on the final afternoon of my visit. 

It's a fantastic school, filled with some of the hardest working teachers who I have ever met and a diverse group of students who are ready to take on the world. 

Great storytellers, too. They had incredibly compelling stories, and they told them so well. 

I had many big, beautiful moments at Hyde School that I will never forget. Moments with students and teachers that will stay with me forever. But a few of the smaller things that I loved:

This sign is posted in the main academic wing of the school. I just love it.


I met a teacher who is still using the identical attendance and grade book that my teachers were using when I was in high school. The nostalgia of seeing the grade book was almost overwhelming. I found myself staring down my French teacher, Mr. Maroney, arguing about a test grade, or debating my homework completion with Mr. Compo. 

It's funny how a single object can transport you to the past so quickly and easily.

I also took my first bath in a clawfoot bathtub. I was in Bath, Maine, and the bathtub was beautiful. It felt meant-to-be. 

The bath lasted about four minutes before I got bored and decided to take a shower and be more productive.  

I've never understood the allure of a bath. 


4 good ideas and 4 bad ideas about book clubs

PopSugar's Elyssa Friedland offers 10 tips for a successful book club.

I've been a member of a book club for more than a decade. Six people - three couples - meet and talk about books over dinner 6-8 times per year.

I've also visited with well over 100 book clubs over the course of my publishing career. It's been interesting. I've learned that book clubs are as diverse as the books themselves.

I've seen some crazy things.  

I love my book club, and I love visiting with book clubs. That said, I'm not a fan of this PopSugar list.  

I didn't like the list right from the start because it has ten items. When it comes to list, I never trust round numbers, and ten is the worst round number of all. A list of ten items almost always means that that effort was made to bring the list to this round number, so it's likely that a less-than ideal item was added to the list to bring it to ten or a useful item was left off the list to reduce it to ten.

Why magazine editors like this number so much is beyond me.

Would "Want to Have a Successful Book Club? Here Are 9 Tips" been so bad?

I also strongly oppose some of the ideas on the list. The most egregious:

1. Don't do it with your best friends.

While I appreciate the idea that diversity in a book club can offer a variety of perspectives, a book club is supposed to be fun. If I can't hang out with my closest friends and talk about books, that's probably not going to be fun.

3. Send out advance questions and pass them out at the book club.

This sounds like an excellent way to turn reading into work, the equivalent of a teacher assigning a book report. Can you imagine being handed a list of questions prior to your book club meeting?

I can't.

If this happened to me, I think I'd find myself trapped between the desire to tear up the list in the person's face or fold it into a paper airplane and throw it at the person's eyeball.

Don't make a book club more than what it's supposed to be: A conversation about the book.

4. Do it at work.

I hate this advice. It presumes that most American workplaces offer employees control over their time and space. It's simply not true. Millions of Americans are working in factories, retail establishments, the service industry, and for the government, not to mention the enormous numbers of people who are unemployed, retired, or opting out of the workforce. For a majority of Americans, conducting a book club at work would be impossible.

Do you want your local DMV worker using taxpayer money to discuss the intricacies of the latest Jonathan Franzen novel?

Do you really think the sales rep at Best Buy or the waiter at Applebees or the mechanic at Pep Boys is going to be afforded the time to gather with fellow employees in the break room to debate the portrayal of racism in Huckleberry Finn? 

Do you really think that your hairdresser or furnace technician will be gathering at the end of the day to discuss the brilliance of the latest Matthew Dicks novel?

This is advice for the precious few whose boss might think it lovely for employees to gather and discuss literature or who have the opportunity to take a long lunch simultaneously. 

This just doesn't happen for most people. 

Also, alcohol always makes book club better. Can't drink at work. 

9. Have a cell-phone bowl (like a key party).

No, this is not like a key party at all. A key party is a strategy used by swingers to determine their sexual partners for the evening. Keys are randomly selected from a bowl, and the key you choose corresponds to the person who you will be having sex with later that night.

This sounds like an exciting new model for a book club, but I don't think it's what Elyssa Friedland meant when she proposed collecting phones at the beginning of the meeting.  

This is a proposal to treat adults like children, which never sits well with me. If your book club is populated by adults, and one of them is staring at his phone all night, say something. Ask him to stop. Un-invite him from the book club. Don't impose rules that stop adults from being adults. 

All that said, I like a few of Friedland's ideas a lot. 

2. Rotate who chooses the book (a policy my book club uses).
5. Call the writer (I'm often called and asked to visit).
8. Give ample time between sessions.
10. Venture into nonfiction.

These are all good ideas. Reasonable and doable ideas. 

Friedland says that book clubs sound amazing in theory but in practice tend to fall short. She gives the average book club about three meetings before the deterioration begins. 

This has not been my experience. My book club has not wavered in the slightest, and the book clubs that I visit are enthusiastic, tightly-knit groups of mostly women who love reading and discussing literature.

Even mine. Happily so. 

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Being a jerk and needing food stamps are mutually exclusive conditions

I was standing in line behind a man at a local convenience store, waiting. His credit card was being rejected, and he was clearly getting frustrated.

He turned to me. "Do you want to go first?" he asked.

"I'm fine," I said. I was catching up on the day's news. I didn't mind waiting. But I was curious now, so I leaned over to determine the source of the problem. The customer was trying to buy a gallon of milk and a carton of orange juice. He swiped his card again and again.

Still rejected.

The cashier was also becoming frustrated. The two men raised their voices and argued over why the card wasn't being accepted. The customer insisted that it should be accepted, and the cashier insisted that there was nothing he could do.

Their interaction quickly became contentious. 

Finally the customer took some crumpled bills from his pocket and paid in cash. As he slid his card back into his wallet, I noticed that it was a SNAP card: the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps. 


As the man left, the cashier turned to me. "These damn food stamp guys think they own the world. I hate these guys. Such idiots."

Ordinarily I try not to respond to comments like this, but this one was too much to resist. 

"I grew up on food stamps and was still hungry all the time," I said. "And my parents worked." 

The cashier just stared at me. I'm not sure if he didn't know what to say or failed to understand the purpose of my statement.

I continued. "Being a jerk and needing food stamps are mutually exclusive conditions."

He just kept staring.

I pushed my soda forward, and he scanned it without saying a word. I paid with my debit card and turned. I wanted to add, "And it's bad business to talk about customers behind their backs. Cowardly, too."

But I didn't. I decided that I has said enough and would like to return to this convenience store in the future.

But it's remarkable to me how Americans can watch HUD Secretary Ben Carson pay $31,000 for a conference table or Trump cabinet members spend millions on first class airline tickets and private planes or Trump himself cost American taxpayers more on security for his constant trips to his golf resort in one year than Obama cost Americans in eight years in office, and yet so many of them shrug off these unnecessary, exorbitant expenses as the price of doing business.

But help an American bridge the gap between meals and you become a "food stamp guy," worthy of your anger and derision. 

I performed in the dark. Without amplification. The results were surprising.

The worst experience I ever had while telling a story was on election night 2016 at a live show of Slate's The Gist. I was telling the story about my run for the Presidency of my college when things started to turn in the election returns and eyes quickly shifted from me to phones. 

Trump was winning. The world was ending. People were literally hugging one another in the audience. And I was still blabbering onstage. There was a moment in my story when I nearly said, "I should stop. This is ridiculous. You don't want to laugh. I want a hug, too."

I persevered, but I'm quite certain that no one has the faintest recollection that I performed that night. Deservedly so.   

My second worst onstage experience was during the Mayor's Charity Ball years ago. I was emceeing the event, and while the entire evening was lovely, but no one was terribly interested in what the emcee had to say. It was nearly impossible to get anyone's attention, and once again, I'm fairly certain that no one has the faintest recollection that I was even there. 

I thought that last night might go just as poorly. I was scheduled to tell stories at a benefit for a local television network, but strong wins from the Northeaster had knocked the power out about an hour before I was set to perform, depriving me of a microphone or any light save candlelight. The room, which I have performed many times as a DJ, minister, and storyteller, isn't easy even with a microphone. It's long, cavernous, and unforgiving. 

Trying to get the attention of 200 people with no amplification in the dark was not going to be easy.

One of the organizers proposed that we just scrap my performance. People were laughing, drinking, and having a good time already. No sense in disturbing their fun in these conditions.

"Yes!" I thought. "Cancel me. This isn't going to work!"  

Ultimately it was decided that I should give it a try, so reluctantly, I slid two wooden boxes over to the center of the room, climbed atop them, asked a few people to point their cellphone lights at me, and I started speaking.


Instead of telling three stories covering 30 minutes, I told two stories that filled about 15 minutes before my voice wasn't going to allow me to tell a third. Though I didn't capture the attention of the entire room, I managed to grab a sizable portion and made them laugh with two stories that I punched up on the fly.

I wasn't great, but it wasn't terrible either. People listened and laughed.

When I was done, I sat down beside a woman who I know but hadn't seen in years. It turns out that she hosts a show on the TV network now with three friends. She asked me appear as a guest.

As I was leaving the building, an attorney stopped me in the lobby and asked if I would be willing to consult on storytelling and communications with his firm.

Someone in the parking lot then stopped me and thanked me for the laugh. A tree had fallen on his house that night, and he was heading home to inspect the damage. "I didn't think I'd be laughing at all tonight. I really appreciate it."

I'm constantly counseling people to say yes when an opportunity presents itself, even when that opportunity is less than ideal. I know people who would've refused to perform under those conditions last night, and honestly, I wouldn't have blamed them. It was an awkward, almost impossible situation. Had they asked me to cancel my performance, I would've happily obliged.

But I agreed to entertain an audience, so when they proposed that I give it a shot, I said yes. I stood up on those precarious wooden blocks, spoke with all the volume I could muster, and told two funny stories 

It wasn't perfect, but people laughed and enjoyed the performance. I received an offer to appear on a television show, an offer to consult at a local law firm, and I brightened the evening of a man who was having an otherwise very bad day. 

Not bad for performing in the dark, without amplification, under the light of a handful of phones. 

One of the best podcast episodes of all time

I started listening to podcasts when podcasts first became podcasts. 

Way back in 2005, as Elysha and I were moving from an apartment on one side of the street to an apartment on the other, I was listening to podcasts. In the beginning, I was listening primarily to This American Life and tech podcasts (which were popular and plentiful back then, given that listening audiences required a background in technology in order to download episodes onto MP3 players and pre-iPhone cellular phones).

After listening to tens of thousands of hours of podcasts, it's impossible to choose a single best episode of all time, but this episode of the very excellent podcast Heavyweight is one of my favorites of all time. 

I cannot recommend it highly enough. 

If you're wondering what Heavyweight is about, it's hard to say. From Gimlet Media's website:

Maybe you’ve laid awake imagining how it could have been, how it might yet be, but the moment to act was never right. Well, the moment is here and the podcast making it happen is Heavyweight. Join Jonathan Goldstein for road trips, thorny reunions, and difficult conversations as he backpedals his way into the past like a therapist with a time machine. 

Resolution update: February 2018


1. Don’t die.

I had the flu in February, but I recovered in less than three days. Record time.  

2. Lose 20 pounds.

Still four pounds down. After a great start in January, no progress in February.

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

I had three servings of fruits and/or vegetables on 19 of 28 days in February.  

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


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

No progress.

6. Stop using the snooze button.

Done. And I must tell you, I feel so much better when I climb out of bed when that first alarm sounds or I simply wake up.

Science is right. Snoozing is a terrible practice that you must end immediately.   


7. Complete my seventh novel before the end of 2018.

I'm in the process of revising my next novel for the UK, so the launch of this novel has not yet commenced.

However, I sent a long document to my agent outlining all of my ideas. She and I will decide on the next book in the coming week.  

8. Complete my second middle grade/YA novel.

I'm in the process of revising my next novel for the UK, so the launch of this novel has not yet commenced.

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

No progress. 

10. Write a proposal for a memoir.

No progress. Once my revisions are complete, my agent and I will discuss which of these memoir ideas should be written first.

11. Write a new screenplay.

No progress.

12. Write a musical.

Initial talks for the plot, characters, number of songs, and deadlines have begun.

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

I submitted one piece to The New York Times for consideration. It was a piece of advice for millennial. They passed, so I revised and posted to my blog.

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

No progress. 

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

No progress.

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

No progress. I'm also looking for possible behaviors to adopt. Suggestions welcomed. 

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

4 subscribers added in February. 67 overall. At this pace, I will hit the goal by December.  

18. Write at least six letters to my father.

None written in January.

19. Write 100 letters in 2018.

Twelve letters written and mailed in February. Recipients include students, my fellow performers in Kansas City, and letters of thanks to a local business, and a person at The Moth, and a friend.

20. Convert Greetings Little One into a book.

No progress.  

21. Record one thing learned every week in 2018.

Done! My favorite from February:

Robert Lincoln, first son of Abraham Lincoln, was coincidentally either present or nearby when three presidential assassinations occurred.

  • Lincoln was not present at his father's assassination. He was at the White House, and rushed to be with his parents.
  • At President James A. Garfield's invitation, Lincoln was at the Sixth Street Train Station in Washington, D.C., where the president was shot by Charles J. Guiteau on July 2, 1881, and was an eyewitness to the event. Lincoln was serving as Garfield's Secretary of War at the time.
  • At President William McKinley's invitation, Lincoln was at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, where the president was shot by Leon Czolgosz on September 6, 1901.

I learned this after reading a fascinating book about the assassination of James Garfield entitled Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President.


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

We've produced one show so far in 2018. 

23. Deliver a TED Talk.

I'll be delivering a TED Talk at both Wesleyan University and The Birch Wathen Lenox School in New York City in April. 

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

I attended two Moth events in February: a StorySLAM in Queens and a GrandSLAM in Boston.

25. Win at least three Moth StorySLAMs.

Success! I won my 35th StorySLAM last night in Queens. One down. Two to go. 


26. Win a Moth GrandSLAM.

Done! I won my fifth GrandSLAM in Boston in February. 


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

Logo created. Format decided. Now we just need to record.

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

No progress. I had to cancel my paid standup performance in February due to the flu. It is rescheduled for March. 

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

No progress.  

30. Pitch a new Moth Mainstage story to the artistic director of The Moth. 

No progress.  


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

No progress, but I am frustrated, annoyed, and disappointed by developments with a local college in terms their curriculum for student teachers, so I'm doing a lot of thinking on this issue. 

32. Cook at least 12 good meals (averaging one per month) in 2018.

No progress. 

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

No progress. 


34. Pay allowance weekly.

Done! I was one day late in February, but I was in Maine and unable to pay the kids until I returned.

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

No progress. 

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

Done. I spent 20 days at the gym (including the locker room) in February, and I did not hear a single comment related to sexually assaulting women.  

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

Done. Once you stop commenting on physical appearance, you quickly realize how pervasive it is in our culture. I don't think it's a good thing at all.    

38. Surprise Elysha at least six times in 2018.

I surprised Elysha once in February, though she anticipated the surprise (dinner and a movie) by attempting to plan for the same movie on the same night. She was more surprised that I was trying to surprise her, but it counts.  

One down. Five to go.

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 received some more reasonable estimates for this project. It might actually be doable.     

40. Clean the basement. 

I threw away a handful of items in February in preparation for a full cleaning later this year.  

41. Set a new personal best in golf.

No progress. 

42. Play poker at least six times in 2018.

I was forced to cancel my February game because a lack of players. A March game is scheduled. 

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

No progress.   

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


I killed a whale. Also, I played golf in the snow.

I've been reading Slate and listening to Slate's podcasts for about 15 years. Though I've had the honor of appearing regularly on two of the podcasts, I've always dreamed of writing for Slate.

For years, The New York Times and Slate have been my white whales. 

Yesterday, I killed one of those two whales.

I published a piece in Slate entitled "Batting? Average. - Why I procrastinate by researching the fates of middling baseball players."

It's a piece for their Rabbit Holes series on the nature of procrastination. 

I've published four novels and have four more books on the way.

I've published work in The Hartford Courant, Reader's Digest, The Washington Post, The Christian Science Monitor, Parent's magazine, Seasons magazine, and The Huffington Post.

I've written comic books for Double Take Comics. 

Still, it was a thrill to see my byline on the piece. May I never become jade about these little dreams coming true. 

If you're interested, my latest Seasons column, on the time I played golf in the snow, is also out now. You can read it here, on page 49.  

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Anatomy of a friendship: Shep

In a recent interview, someone asked me how I've met some of my closest friends, and it occurred to me that although the path to friendship is oftentimes as simple as "I worked with the guy" or "She was a friend of my wife," sometimes the path is far more unexpected, circuitous, and odd.

Take, my friend, Shep.

Shep is my seat mate at most Patriots games. He is the first reader of almost anything that I write. He is the person who I want most at the poker table. If forced to choose one person to accompany me on a drive  across the country, I would choose Shep. 

How did we meet?

I met Shep at a bridal show about 20 years ago. He was hunting for a DJ, and I was hunting for clients. Things worked out, and my partner and I became the DJs at his wedding. Though I knew we had a lot in common and would likely get along well if we were friends, the wedding ended and we went our separate ways. This was before social media had any chance to keep us connected beyond real life encounters.

More than a year later, Shep and his then wife, Kelly, attended another wedding where I was working again as the DJ. We reconnected at the end of the night, and in the process of catching up, I invited Shep and his wife over to my home to hang out and watch television.

The actual show escapes me.

Survivor, maybe?
Or possibly the Thursday night lineup of Seinfeld and Friends?

I'm not sure. Either way, Shep and his wife accepted my invitation, and soon they were making the weekly trek from Norwich to Newington - almost an hour each way - to spend an evening with me watching TV and hanging out. 

Around this same time, the librarian in my school, who was also a Patriots season ticket holder, began selling me her tickets to games. Needing someone to join me at the games, I asked Shep, and so began our excursions to Foxboro to watch the team we both loved.      

Shep and his wife ultimately divorced. He and I remained friends, continuing to attend Patriots games, adding card games and eventually my writing to the mix. 

About 15 years ago, Shep's cousin-in-law, Tony, was able buy two new Patriots season tickets, adding them to the season tickets he already partially owned with friends. He offered to sell them to Shep and me, and we agreed, becoming seat mates, tailgating professionals, and denizens of Gillette Stadium during the single greatest period of football in NFL history.

Shep and I have attended seven AFC championship games together and untold numbers of playoff games. 

We are in the process of writing a memoir of our 20+ years spent in Gillette Stadium.  

Odd to think that had Shep and his then wife not stopped by the DJ booth at the end of the wedding, and had I not invited Shep to hang out and watch TV with me, and had he and his then wife not agreed to make the almost hour-long drive to me home, much of the last twenty years would've been very different for me. 

And not nearly as good.


A bit of unsolicited, surely unwanted advice for my millennial friends

I have, on occasion, offended a millennial friend by making a gross generalization about their generation. I know that generalizations can be annoying, inaccurate, and offensive. I know that I should avoid them whenever possible. For that, I apologize.

But here's the thing:

I am a member of Generation X. When I was in my late teens and twenties, generalizations were made about my generation, too. We were called lazy. Shiftless. Aimless. Cynical. Disaffected.

“Slackers” was the word used most often. It was used a lot.

Movies like Dazed and Confused, Singles, Reality Bites, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, The Breakfast Club, Clerks, and Slackers were specifically made about us. They showed young people going nowhere, doing nothing, and not really caring about their lack of upward mobility. We were forced to listen to the Baby Boomers and the Greatest Generation before them deride our unwillingness to work hard, take life seriously, respect authority, and advance society. 

But here is the difference between my experience and what I have seen from my millennial friends thus far:

My generation didn't care. We didn't give a damn about what the previous generation said about us. We never concerned ourselves with what people a decade or two older than us thought. We were never offended or outraged by these descriptors, because we knew how to ignore them. Like the hippies before us, we did our own damn thing and let the haters hate.  

My generation popularized the phrase, "Whatever."

We paid money to watch those movies that portrayed us as slackers and losers. We loved those movies.

By contrast, my millennial friends, and even millennials in the media, seem so deeply offended by the mere suggestion that their generation might not be ideal. That perhaps they possess some fairly universal flaws. They lose their minds over the notion that the response to my latchkey generation was one that was coddled, bubble-wrapped, and perhaps not-so-ready to take on the world. They characterize any bit of disparagement as a possible hate crime.

They are the generation that popularized the need for trigger-warnings and coined the phrase “micro-aggression.”

Perhaps these generalities about millennial are also unfair. Maybe some of these assumptions about this latest generation are way off. Maybe millennials are poised to save the world.

If so, excellent. I wish them the best. We need all the help we can get. 

Either way, I just wish they would stop caring so much about what others think of them. I understand that millennials are the generation of digital approval - the like, the follower, the subscriber, the friend request, the participation ribbon - but enough already. I realize that they grew up in a culture where parents cheered at every single soccer game regardless of the weather and a failing grade was call for an immediate parent-teacher conference, but it’s time to let go of the need for praise.

Not everyone is going to like you, my millennial friends. A lot of us think you should grow up a little. Or a little faster. Either do so or just ignore us.

Or perhaps try on a little Gen-X cynicism. Become slightly more disaffected. Maybe spout off the occasional, "Go to hell, old man!" or "Why aren’t you dead yet?"

Or perhaps a simple, "Whatever."