Julian Edleman changes everything!

Each month my children each receive a free book from PJ Library, an organization that sends free books that celebrate Jewish values and culture to Jewish families across America and Canada.

Last week the newest books arrived. They tend not to be my favorite stories. Perhaps part of the problem is that I'm not Jewish, but while they do an excellent job teaching Jewish culture and values, they tend to be light on humor, antagonists, and conflict.

I find them a little boring.  

Elysha opened the latest books and began raving about one that she remembered reading at a child. "Yeah, yeah," I thought. "Another sweet little book with no stakes, no bad guy, no car chases, and no laughs."

A little while later I rose from my computer and took a peak at the book she had been holding. Just as I thought. No sword fights. No blood. No evil emperor. No underwear jokes. Blah.

Then I looked at the other book that had arrived. The one she didn't mention. My eyes immediately settled on the author of this book:

Julian Edelman.

"Julian Edelman!" I shouted. "This book is written by Julian Edelman!"

"Who's that?" Elysha asked.

"Who's Julian Edelman? Just the best receiver on the Patriots since the days of Randy Moss and Troy Brown! And apparently Jewish! Julian Edelman! I can't believe it!"

Flying High is the story of a squirrel named Jules who learns to overcome his physical limitations through hard work and the assistance of a goat named Tom.

If you know anything about the Patriots, you understand the genius of this plot. 

Julian Edelman is an undersized player - my height, in fact - who played quarterback in college and transformed himself into one of the finest receivers (and former two-way player) in the league.

Tom Brady is the G.O.A.T. - an expression in sports that means Greatest of All Time.  

It's true. There wasn't much conflict in the story and very little humor, but still... Julian Edelman wrote the book. 

I couldn't wait to read it to the kids. It was truly the first PJ Library book that excited me in the same way Elysha, Clara, and Charlie are so often excited about these books.

I guess even a blind squirrel can find a nut every now and again.

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Sibling love is a strange and varied thing

Sometimes they want to kill each other, and sometimes they aggressively ignore each other, but more often than not, there are days when I walk into the room and find this and my heart breaks. 

Even if my son has his shoe in his mouth. 

Complacency kills.

Regardless of what I am doing or have ever done, I have always asked myself this question:

"Who is better than me?"

Whether I was managing a McDonald's restaurant, sitting in a sociology class, writing a novel, playing golf, performing onstage, or teaching multiplication to fifth graders, I'm always looking around and asking, "Who is better than me?"

I do this for one of two reasons:

  1. Identify the person or persons who can teach me to be better.
  2. Identify the person or persons who I need to beat, crush, stomp on, step over, or defeat.

There is always someone better than you. The bar is always higher than you think. When you stop looking for and striving for that higher bar, you are doomed to remain far below it.  

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Failure to seek out people better than you results in complacency, and complacency is the worst. Complacency produces mediocrity and a false sense of security. It results in an inability to see the scarcity of resources and increasing levels of competition in this world. 

The end product are individuals who fail to realize their full potential and are caught off guard when the economic climate shifts and the world moves on without them. 

We see this all the time. I see this all the time. People who feel secure in their jobs suddenly out-hustled. Outsourced. Made irrelevant by technology. People who fail to provide value to their employers, their customers, their students, and their constituency by assuming that they are doing a fine job. Good enough.

"Who is better than me?" is a question that guarantees continuous growth. Self-determination. Flexibility. Adaptability. A competitive edge.

I ask this question constantly, and I never need to look very far to find someone who fits the bill. There is always someone better than me. Someone who I am learning from or chasing after or attempting to destroy.

Lyric issues: Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe"

Carly Rae Jepsen's 2016 hit song "Call Me Maybe" was a favorite of mine during the summer and fall of that year as it packed floors at weddings where I was working as a DJ.

But I have one problem with the song. One niggling complaint. 

The chorus of the song goes:

Hey I just met you
And this is crazy
But here's my number
So call me maybe
It's hard to look right at you baby
But here's my number
So call me maybe

"This is crazy?" I don't understand what is "crazy" about the scenario described. You meet someone who you find attractive, so you ask for or offer your phone number in hopes of reconnecting. 

This is not crazy. It's normal. It's how dating works. Right?

Or it's how dating worked when I was dating. Many a time I met a girl at a party or a dance club or the beach or the mall or a concert or Disney World or the the produce section in the Stop & Shop in Attleboro, MA or a rest area on I-95 in New Hampshire or a liquor store in Myrtle Beach (to name a few), and after talking for a while, I asked if I could have her number and call her sometime. 

Not crazy. Just dating. Right?

"Don't you dare..." are words most frequently uttered by morons

This is a tweet from Pastor Greg Locke, an outspoken, mouth-breathing conservative who opposes the rights of gay, transexual, and transgender Americans and has gone so far as to call them mentally ill and criminal. He's also a supporter of Donald Trump and many of his policies. 

Yesterday Locke tweeted this:

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If you haven't heard, Eminem produced a freestyle rap about Trump that has gone viral. It's angry, clever, pointed attack on the President and (more surprising) his fans who support Trump.

I have two comments on Locke's tweet:

1. His description of Eminem is ironically a near-perfect description of Donald Trump.  

2. More important, Locke did that stupid thing that people do.

He writes, "Don't you dare lecture us..." 

Don't you dare? He already dared. He produced a four minute freestyle rap video that clearly lectures about politics and that you clearly watched. How can Eminem not dare to do something that he's already done and you know he's already done?

Do you think he has a time machine? 

It's sad and stupid when someone uses this meaningless, overly dramatic rhetoric to try to make a point. Proper retorts to the "Don't you dare..." nonsense include:

1. Too late, wing nut. I dared. And you know I did. That's why you're talking about it. What is wrong with you?

2. Hey dumbass, this isn't a reality television show. The "don't you dare..." middle school melodrama doesn't play well in the real world where cameras aren't running and the words are meaningless. Give it a rest. 

3. Look at the angry little man, everyone! He's trying to tell someone who's already done something to not do that something. How transparently powerless and pathetically ineffective of him. What a train wreck of a human being. Kind of makes him look like a President who promised that Mexico would pay for a wall, Americans would have beautiful, inexpensive healthcare, the Dreamers immigration status would remain unchanged, the LGBTQ community would be supported at every turn, and that he would release his tax returns. All talk and no action.

This is not the Jesus you learned about in Sunday School

The odd thing about the America that so many Republicans (including the alt-right) desire is that it would absolutely reject Jesus if he were still alive today.  

After all, Jesus was Jewish.

He was very much a socialist.

He was homeless. A refugee.  

He was anti-death penalty. Anti-school prayer (Matthew 6:5). Anti-violence.

He strongly opposed the accumulation of wealth. 

He never said a word about homosexuality or gay marriage. 

And as much as the church might have you think otherwise, Jesus was not white. He was a brown-skinned Middle Easterner who wore sandals to the dinner table and hung out with tax collectors and prostitutes. 

Also, unlike our Vice President, he was able to dine alone with a woman who was not his wife.

There is no room for Jesus in the American that Republicans like Mike Pence envision. Brown skinned, Middle Eastern refugees have already been banned from our country. His anti-capitalistic rhetoric would be shouted down by Republicans. It would be difficult, if not impossible for him to attend a Trump rally without being verbally, if not physically, assaulted (and have Trump offer to pay the legal fees of anyone who hit him)..

There is no place in conservative, Evangelical, Trumpian America for Jesus, despite the fact that they invoke his name constantly. 

I keep waiting for the smiting.   

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Why I say unpopular things

I recently caused a bit of an uproar by admitting that I have never seen The Sound of Music because it looks incredibly boring. 

When I wrote these words on my blog (and transitioned them over to Facebook), I knew that I would be met with backlash. I had already admitted this out loud and been scolded for my obvious stupidity. 

Several passionate fans of this musical wondered why I would say such a thing. Why would I waste my time writing about how a film that I had never seen before looked boring, particularly when I know how almost universally beloved it is?  

Here is how I responded:

I've always found that I reach more people when I share my least popular thoughts, my most embarrassing moments, my worst decisions, and my greatest moments of stupidity or thoughtlessness. These are the stories, thoughts, and ideas that generate the most energy, empathy, passion, interest, and conversation. In many cases, my stories of questionable decisions and unpopular ideas have been the things that bring people closer to me. 

This may seem counter-intuitive. I know. I declare that a person's favorite film looks boring. How does that bring us closer together?

Through the passionate exchange of ideas. Through honesty and authenticity. Through vulnerability. You may not agree with my opinion or a decision I make, but you'll always know who I am and where I stand. You'll know my unvarnished self, and in today's world of carefully curated photography, social media massaging, personal branding, and political correctness, I think that the unvarnished self is refreshing.  

We're all broken and flawed and foolish in some way, and those who are willing to admit to these unfortunate bits of ourselves often garner greater respect for doing so. I believe this. I see it everyday.   

A friend of mine once said that "I live out loud." It was a good description. Truthfully, it's how I've always been. For as long as I can remember, I've always spoken my mind. Shared my stories. Tried to be my authentic self. Authenticity has always been something that I prized about all else. I'm not entirely sure why, but I suspect it has something to do with my desire to be known. Be heard. Be understood.

Admittedly, it's gotten me into trouble at times. I've shared honest moments from my life that have caused people to react strongly. I've been asked questions and felt the need to answer honestly. I may not share my unpopular opinion in certain social settings, but if asked, I feel compelled to do so.

Friends of ours don't allow shoes to be worn in their home. They ask guests to remove them upon entering the house, and they are kind enough to offer slippers to their guests. I hate this rule but said nothing about it for years. It was an opinion that needn't be shared. Then one day, the wife asked, "You don't mind taking off your shoes. Right, Matt?" 

I had to answer honestly, and so I did.

The wife wasn't thrilled.

Then the husband, who knows me well, said, "Never ask Matt a question if you might not like the answer. He's nothing if not honest."

My friend was right, and he is fine with this. Undisturbed by my opinion on his shoe policy and accepting of my adherence to authenticity. He knows where I stand. He's never going to receive fakery from me. 

Ask me a question, and I'll answer honestly.  

As annoyed as some people were with my presumption that The Sound of Music looks boring, the expression of that opinion resulted in a fascinating, interesting, engaging, and energetic discussion, both online and in real life. We discussed this particular musical but also how we filter our media choices in a world inundated by content. People were vehement and forceful with their opinions, but in the end, I don't think anyone liked me any less for expressing this opinion. 

In fact, I would argue that I became a tiny bit closer to those who disagreed with me the most. Our thoughtful exchange of ideas may have not resulted in agreement, but even better, it generated greater understanding and respect. 

I also learned a lot. A friend of mine who I would never have expected to enjoy The Sound of Music told me that he has watched it at least ten times and offered this perspective on the movie and the song Edelweiss, which appears in the film:

"Edelweiss is a flower that only grows at high elevations in the Alps. In WWI, Austrian soldiers wore it only if they were able to climb by foot to pick it. It symbolized grit, strength, and patriotism. They’d pin the flower to their uniforms. My great grandfather served in the mountain battalion for the Austrian-Hungarian empire in WWI. 

In WWII many Austrians fled Nazi Germany by climbing the Alps to Switzerland. Edelweiss became a symbol of freedom. They knew if they climbed high enough, they’d find the flower and peace. That’s what the song is about. My grandfather moved to the United States in the 30’s to escape the war and then served as a POW interrogator for the US because his first language was German. He cried every time he heard the song. It means a lot to Austrians."

Now that makes me want to see the film and listen closely to the song. I still may not enjoy either, but the historical background intrigues me, and the story of my friend's grandfather lodged itself in the center of my heart. 

I would've known none of this had I not expressed an knowingly unpopular opinion. 

Speak your truth, even if you know people won't like it. If you are being honest, authentic, and true to yourself, the road may get bumpy at times, but it will be a far more interesting road than the one driven by the cautious, the filtered, and the inauthentic.

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Feline barrier to creativity

I'm desperately trying to wrap up the first draft of a new novel and a round of edits on a nonfiction book on storytelling.

Both are due in my editors' hands shortly. 

This makes it a lot less cute and a lot more annoying when Pluto sits beside my computer and starts swatting and grabbing my fingers for reasons I will never understand. 

I've got enough standing in my way of the completion of these books already. The last thing I need is my cat bringing progress to a halt.

Still, he's cute. Huh?

Signs should not have attitudes. They should also be grammatically correct.

This is a sign in the parking lot of a local Starbucks. It's a stupid sign.  

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Signs should inform and instruct. They should not have an attitude, and this one has an attitude. 

See it?

After politely but sternly warning that "Continued use of these spaces will result in your car being towed," there is a pause, indicated by a dash, and then sign shouts at the reader:

" - at owners expense!!!"

Read it aloud. Begin with the polite but firm tone of most signs, followed by a pause, and then a melodramatic attempt to shock and awe the reader with surprise, anger, and volume.

- at owners expense!!! 

"Oh no! At the owner's expense? In that case, I'd better not park here. I was thinking about ignoring this stupid sign and leaving my car here even though I'm not a customer, but then that sign yelled at me. It sounded so forceful and authoritative. So now I've changed my mind. I'm moving my car right now and transforming myself into a law-abiding citizen. Thanks, sign!"

Stupid. 

Added to the stupidity of this attempt at attitude is (of course) the stupidity of the missing apostrophe in word "owners" and the added stupidity of three exclamation points. 

Volume does not increase in the reader's mind with each added exclamation point. Sentences do not change with additional marks of punctuation. One exclamation point is always enough. The use of three exclamation points indicates one of two things:

  1. You are under the age of 12.
  2. You are a moron.

In this case, I suspect the latter. 

It's hard to make so many mistakes over the course of three simple words, and yet this sign manages to do just that. Remarkably so.  

Among my many business ideas is an online service where you can send me the text of your planned sign so I can review and eliminate any grammatical mistakes or lack of clarity. Spare yourself the embarrassment of a sign like this with the simple click of a button.

Not only would it help businesses look more competent and professional, but it would make the world a better place.

But I suspect that the kind of person who makes this sign is the kind of person who doesn't know they need help.

Being a moron is one thing. Knowing you are a moron is quite another. 

Trump's boycott list does not make America great at all

Over the course of his Presidency, Donald Trump has asked the American people to boycott the following corporations and entities:

The Hamilton musical
Oreos
Apple
Netflix
Amazon
The entire state of Hawaii
Nordstrom
Budweiser
Starbucks
The National Football League

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For the minority of Americans who support Donald Trump, America is becoming a far less entertaining and amusing place. 

Honestly, it must suck. 

For the rest of us, America has been a far less entertaining and amusing place since election day. Thankfully, we still have the warm embrace of our Oreos, our Netflix, and Amazon Prime to comfort us.  

Things I Do #9: I avoid The Sound of Music

I've never watched The Sound of Music because every clip of that movie that I've ever seen makes the movie look boring and melodramatic. 

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Through cultural osmosis, I've learned that the story centers on the von Trapp family and a nanny named Maria who likes to sing and dance in fields at the foot of mountains.

Switzerland, maybe?

I also know that Nazi Germany plays a role in the film. Maybe they are in Germany? Maybe they are in a country recently invaded by Germany? 

I don't know. 

I also know that the film stars Julie Andrews and a bunch of identically dressed children.

My assumption is that Mr. von Trapp is a widower, and Maria will eventually marry him after winning over the love of his brood of children, but that might be entirely wrong, too.

Either way, it looks so damn boring that I've never watched it. I've left the room on more than one occasion when people are watching it. 

I recently offered to watch it with Elysha, just to see if I am correct in my assumptions, but she declined. She told me that she values our marriage too much to listen to me critique and disparage a film that she learned to love as a child. 

She apparently doesn't think I'll like it, either.    

I hate problems. Not everyone feels the same.

Author Thomas C Corley spent five years researching the daily habits of wealthy people, and he found that they they avoid one type of person at all costs: 

Pessimists.

"Self-made millionaires are very particular about who they associate with," Corley writes in his book, Change Your Habits, Change Your Life. "You are only as successful as those you frequently associate with. The rich are always on the lookout for individuals who are goal-oriented, optimistic, enthusiastic, and who have an overall positive mental outlook."

Eighty-six percent of the rich people in his study made a specific habit of associating with other success-minded individuals. More importantly, "they also make a point to limit their exposure to toxic, negative people," Corley explains.

"Long-term success is only possible when you have a positive mental outlook."

This was not the first time this trend had been noted. In 1937 journalist Napoleon Hill studied over 500 self-made millionaires. 

He wrote: "Men take on the nature and the habits and the power of thought of those with who they associate, and there is no hope of success for the person who repels people through a negative personality."

This probably doesn't surprise anyone, and yet negative people abound. I see them everyday. These are the people who assume the worst. Surrender before the battle has even begun. Decide that this year will be like all the rest.

They are people who are incapable of pursuing meaningful change. Unwilling to look past another person's flaws to find potential strengths. Resistant to challenge. Inflexible. Unable to improve their lives for the better.   

These are the "Yeah, but..." people. The doomsayers. The gossip mongers.

For the record, I can't stand the "Yeah, but..." It clangs in my head like a broken bell of stupidity and uselessness. 

I'm not wealthy (yet), but I agree with Corley and Hill's findings. In my experience, pessimists tend to be middling, uninspiring, unwilling individuals who rarely achieve greatness.    

In fact, I have come to believe that there are two kinds of people in life:

  1. People who want to mitigate, minimize, and eliminate problems whenever possible.
  2. People who feed off the drama and associated conversation related to problems and willingly assume them to be larger and more overwhelming than they really are.

I avoid that second group of people like the plague. 

One of our cats is much better than the other.

We have two cats. 

Tobi is a lithe, curious, poorly behaved cat who likes to ensure that everything is pushed off the table and onto the floor before he goes to bed each night. He's popped keys out of my keyboard, broken kitchen canisters, and torn open bags of food, toys, and anything else he could find.

Earlier this week, he absconded with the scarf that Elysha had just knit for Clara. He took it to the basement and hid it amongst the winter coats. It was only because Elysha saw him running with a flash of pink in his mouth that she was eventually able to find it. Otherwise it would've been lost forever. 

To his credit, Tobi also  allows the kids to manhandle him without complaint. He cuddles with Clara and Charlie more than anyone else. He's a jerk who knows exactly what needs to be done to find his way into our hearts.

Pluto is my buddy. While he loves everyone in the house, it's universally acknowledged that he loves me most. He sleeps with me at night. I'm the only person who he allows to pick him up. He sits beside me while I write.

Best of all, he begins purring as soon as I enter the room. Without ever touching him or even coming close to him, he is so happy to see me that he purrs.

Thanks to Pluto, I've come to realize that this is what I want from everyone. 

When I enter my classroom, I want every one of my students to be so thrilled to see me that they can barely contain their enthusiasm. 

When I arrive on the golf course, I want my friends to thank me for spending time with them.

When I step on a stage, before even speaking a word, I want a standing ovation. 

When I enter my home, I want my children to come running to greet me like they haven't seen me in a thousand years. 

Most important, I'd like Elysha to begin purring every time I enter a room. That alone might be enough. 

Pluto has set a high bar, but I believe in establishing high expectations and working like hell to achieve them. 

If a cat can do it, so can you, honey.

On a day of tragedy, a little hope.

Yesterday was a tough day. I awoke to the tragic news from Las Vegas and wondered when this violence is ever going to end. 

Of course, America averages more than one mass shooting every single day. Las Vegas was especially horrific in terms of its body count, but by definition (a shooting in which four or more people are injured or killed), mass shootings are commonplace in our country. 

Daily occurrences. 

With that in mind, it's hard to be hopeful.

Thankfully, I found a great deal of hope yesterday in the company of young people. 

I started my morning with my two favorite people in the world. They crept down the stairs in the early morning light and sat beside me for breakfast. They colored pictures of rainbows and pink flowers, read books about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, played with the cats, and watched videos about how rubber is made.

Mostly, they talked endlessly and giggled incessantly.

Then I headed to school, where my 21 other favorite people awaited. We read books, solved math problems, told stories, and wrote about the truth behind Old McDonald's farm.

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But even within the walls of our school, violence does not always escape us. Yesterday my students loaned $25 through our class's micro-loan account to a farmer in El Salvador after they learned that El Salvador is the murder capital of the world. Feeling empathy for someone living in such dire circumstances, their decision over which entrepreneur to lend to became an simple one.

It's easy to find hope in the optimism, passion, joy, and energy of young people.

Then I headed north, to The Berkshire School, where I spent the evening with high school students. I told them stories. I taught them how to tell their own stories and the importance of doing so. We laughed and even cried a little. We talked about authenticity, vulnerability, and connection. 

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One young lady shared stories of the way her brother has come to her defense time and time again. A young man thanked me for making him feel a little less alone in this world. Another student asked me how she might find the courage to share a story of her bisexuality with her peers.  

These were engaged, intellectually curious, excited kids who wanted to learn something new and make the world a better place. 

I drove away filled with hope. 

On those especially hard days in America, when sadness fills our hearts and hope is hard to find, I recommend that you try to spend your day in the company of young people.

Spend time with your children or grandchildren.
Volunteer in a classroom.
Give a parent or parents a night out by offering to babysit their children.

Find a way to spend time in the presence of children or young adults. In no way will the tragedy of the day be mitigated by these young people, but your heart will feel better and the future will seem a little brighter.

On a day like yesterday, that is a great thing. Perhaps even a miracle.   

Resolution update: September 2017

PERSONAL HEALTH

1. Don’t die.

Alive and kicking. 

2. Lose 20 pounds.

Weight loss has commenced with the end of the summer. I've lost nine pounds in all so far, including three pounds in September. It will be hard to lose another 11 in the last three months, but I'll try like hell. 

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

Done.   

Someone recently doubted that I am still doing these exercises as often as this goal requires, but that person is obviously a jackass with self esteem issues. 

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

I participated in a full week of yoga while teaching at Kripalu back in August. 

It was incredibly boring.

Still, my friend has a routine for me. I'm going to learn it and do it. 

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

Done. With the exception of a trip to the 19th floor of a building, no elevators for me in September. 

WRITING CAREER

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

Work continues in earnest. The book is due this month. I'm closing in on the finish line.   

7. Complete my first middle grade/YA novel.

Work continues in earnest. Due date is December.  

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

I'm still working on a non-fiction picture book about the great Idaho beaver airlift of 1948.

I also pitched a series of picture books to my agent. She liked them. Eventually.

I've also begun a picture book about primitive life before cellphones.

9. Complete a book on storytelling.

DONE! My editor has returned my manuscript for edits, and I've seen drafts of possible cover art. All very exciting. 

10. Write a new screenplay.

No progress. This is looking unlikely. 

11. Write a musical.

DONE!

I was not able to watch the debut performance of "Back in the Day" but I hear it went really well. 

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

I have submitted one piece to the Times so far in 2017. No luck.  

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

Note-taking completed. My proposal will need to include some sample chapters, so that process has begun. Slowly. 

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

No progress.

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

On the suggestion of a reader:

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

I'll be writing about the experience on my blog this month. 

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

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

I grew my list by just 12 subscribers (my lowest monthly increase so far) in September (and 242 overall this year). Total subscribers now stands at 1526.

I'm cutting this one close.  

If you would like to subscribe to my newsletter and receive writing and storytelling tips, Internet recommendations, recordings of new stories, and more, you can do so here:

17. Write at least six letters to my father.

I wrote two letters to my father in September. Five in all so far. The last one resulted in his attendance at the annual family picnic. An added bonus.      

18. Convert Greetings Little One into a book.

No progress. I am willing to hire someone to take the content of the blog and convert it to book format, but I have yet to find that person. 

Recommendations?

19. Record one thing learned every day in 2017.

DONE!

My favorite thing learned in August is this:

Ted Cruz and Scott Walker used the phrase "Make America Great Again" in their speeches and received cease-and-desist letters from Trump, who tradmarked the phrase in 2012

STORYTELLING

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

DONE!

We produced a show at Real Art Ways and a salon show at the East Hartford Public Library, bringing our total number of Speak Up events in 2017 to 14. 

21. Deliver a TED Talk.

DONE!

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

Here is the recording. I still haven't watched it myself:

I've pitched talks to two other TED events. One has rejected my pitch. I still await the other.  

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

DONE!

I attended a Moth StorySLAM in September at The Once Ballroom in Somerville (where I did not perform but FOUR of my storytelling students took the stage and one of them won!) and a Moth StorySLAM in Flushing (where I took the stage and won), bringing my yearly total of Moth events to 15. 

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23. Win at least three Moth StorySLAMs.

DONE!

I won two Moth StorySLAMs in Boston and two in New York in 2017. My win total now stands at 32.

24. Win a Moth GrandSLAM.

I was unavailable to compete in the Moth GrandSLAM in September, making it the third time that I was forced to pass on competing this year because of scheduling.

Hoping for one more shot before the end of the year.

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

I pulled down my first episode after receiving feedback from a friend who works in radio. I'm currently re-recording with a slightly different format.

That same friend has agreed to build me a template for the show. Obviously 50 episodes will be impossible this year, but if I successfully launch the podcast, I will be satisfied. 

26. Perform stand up at least once in 2017. 

I attended the open mic at Sea Tea Comedy Theater in August, not realizing how many comics regularly perform during these open mic nights. Elysha and I arrived about an hour late, and there were 19 comics already on the list. I will need to return next month and perform to complete this goal. 

27. Write a one-person show.

DONE!

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

I'll begin the process of booking a theater for a formal performance now.  

NEW PROJECTS

28. Explore the option of teaching a college class.

I met with a professor from a local college and described my proposed class. She approved of my idea and promised to pass the information onto her department head.    

This isn't enough, of course. I need to speak to a department head or higher myself. 

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

A friend has passed on ideas and recipes for meals that I plan to make. So far I have done nothing.

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

The search for a location has stalled.

MISCELLANEOUS

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

I defended another attack on the Melania/Donald Trump marriage based upon their age difference on my podcast. On the record. Thanks a lot, Rachel. 

You can imagine how hard it was for me to come to the defense of that man. 

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

DONE! 

Over the course of the month, I heard no man bragging about sexually assaulting women in any locker rooms (or anywhere else for that matter). This included the locker room at my gym and a locker room at a golf club.  

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

DONE!

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

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

DONE. 

I've also learned that at least seven other people have adopted this policy, which thrills me.    

35. Surprise Elysha at least six times in 2017.

I surprised Elysha with a specially designed teeshirt with the words "Ruth & Hillary & Michelle & Oprah." written down in front. 

Four surprises so far in 2017.  I currently have one surprise in the works for her.

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

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

37. Optimize our television for a streaming service. 

DONE!

Apple TV is alive and well in our home, thanks to Elysha. 

38. Set a new personal best in golf.

Not even close in September, even though I am definitely getting better.

39. Play poker at least six times in 2016.

No progress. This annoys me so much. I love to play poker. How have I failed to get a game going? 

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

Four days spent working as DJ's at weddings in total.

I invited him to attend a Moth StorySLAM and to watch a football game with me.

He declined.   

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

DONE!

Daddy is Mommy GPS

It doesn't matter where my wife, Elysha is.

Upstairs.
On the deck.
Out of state. 

If my son, Charlie, has not heard her voice for 15 minutes, he instantly activates Mommy GPS, which is just me.

"Dad, where's Mom?"

Of all the questions he asks me, (and he asks a lot), this is the question I get the most. 

It should also be noted that this GPS system does not work both ways. 

He never asks Elysha where I am. 

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Lyric Problems: Rachel Platten's "I'll Stand By You"

Rachel Platten is a popular female soloist who is best known for her anthem Fight Song but also for her almost equally popular I'll Stand By You.

I like I'll Stand By You, but I have a serious problem with a specific lyric that ruins the song for me. 

Platten sings:

Oh, truth, I guess truth is what you believe in
And faith, I think faith is helping to reason

No, Rachel. Your definitions of truth and reason suck. They aren't even close.

In fact, "truth is what you believe in" is one of the biggest problems in our country today. 

Truth is not what you believe in. Truth is verifiable fact. It is fixed and immutable, regardless of what Donald Trump may want you to think..

As many times as Trump may say that his inauguration crowd was historically large or Barack Obama wasn't born in America or his most recent healthcare bill failed to pass because a GOP Senator was in the hospital, none of these things are truth, even if Trump wants you to believe them.

Even if Trump believes them.

And "faith is helping to reason?" 

No, Rachel. Also not true. Faith is the belief and a trust in something or someone absent verifiable fact. Faith is what you belief in. It a belief in the love of a parent, the bond of friendship, or the existence of a god or gods. 

It has nothing to do with reason. Nothing at all. In fact, if the definitions in her song were reversed and read:

Oh, truth, I guess truth is helping to reason
And faith, I think faith is what you believe in

... this would make sense. Maybe not complete sense, but a lot closer than how Platten sings the song. 

And honestly, I have to wonder:

WAS NO ONE LISTENING WHEN SHE RECORDED THIS SONG?

No producer or fellow musician or audio technician or manager or agent or record executive heard the stupidity in these two lyrics and said, "Hey Rachel, hold on there a minute. I'm not sure if that makes sense. Actually, I know it makes no sense whatsoever."

I like I'll Stand By You. I really do. At least until I hear those dumbass definitions.  

Someone wrote a song about me! About me!

Spotify recently added podcasts to its offerings. Wondering if my podcast, Boy vs. Girl, had been added, I asked Alexa, our Amazon Echo, to play Boy vs. Girl.

She told me that she couldn't find it on Spotify.

Then I asked her to play "Matthew Dicks," hoping it might pick up my name as one of the hosts of the podcast. 

"Playing Matthew Dicks on Spotify."

Then Spotify began playing a song about me

You can imagine my shock. Also my glee. 

It's a song produced by the Michael J. Epstein Memorial Library in conjunction with a TEDx Talk I gave in Somerville back in 2014 about the importance of saying yes.

I had no idea it existed. I was fairly exuberant about its existence. Elysha was also exuberant but became less so as I continued to play the song and express my excitement, pride, and lust for the tune.

I may have become insufferable in the span of about 15 minutes.

Still, a song about me! Mistakenly discovered on Spotify! I've said it before, and I'll say it again:

When you put things out into the world (in this case, a TEDx Talk), you never know what will come back to you. 

A Trump supporter has found his bridge-too-far, and it's pathetic

Former NFL head coach turned television analyst Rex Ryan was on ESPN's pregame show on Sunday. Ryan was a vocal Trump supporter during the election, going so far as to introduce him at a rally in Buffalo, NY.

On Sunday, in a conversation about Donald Trump's comments about football players kneeling for the anthem, Ryan said:

"I supported Donald Trump. But I'm reading these comments, and it's appalling to me, and I'm sure it's appalling to almost any citizen in our country. it should be. Calling our players SOB's and all that kind of stuff... "

Sure, Rex, because during the election, this wasn't quite enough to turn you off to Trump:

Donald Trump sexual assault.jpg

Or this:

mexico.jpg

Or this:

trump on veterans.jpg

Or this:

trump muslim.jpg

It's good to see that someone like Rex Ryan has finally come to realize that maybe, just maybe, Donald Trump is not a decent, reasonable, honorable defender of the Constitution.   

It's just a shame that he was able to look past the bragging about sexual assault, the denigrating of Mexican immigrants, an attack on a United States war hero, and his blatant bigotry.

Not to mention Trump's attack on Gold Star families, his lies about Muslims celebrating on rooftops on 9/11, his broken promise to release his tax returns, his failure to understand concepts as critical as the nuclear triad, and the way he stole money from hard working Americans via Trump University.    

All that was fine. No big deal.

But call a football player a son-of-a-bitch?

In the words of Rex Ryan, "appalling."

No, Rex. The most appalling part of his whole disaster was your willingness to look past all of these atrocities and support a candidate who was morally and ethically unfit for office.  

Practice makes perfect

While Elysha and I were at the Patriots game on Sunday, our children spent the day with friends. Part of that day was also spent at a classmate's birthday party. 

As we drove the kids over to our friends' home, I said, "Clara. Charlie. Make sure you say please and thank you today. And when you get to that birthday party, be sure to thank them for having you."

"We know," Clara said.

"Okay," I said. "But let's practice what that will sound like. Tell me exactly what you'll say.""

Clara and Charlie sighed simultaneously.  

"I already had them practice at the house," Elysha said. 

"Oh. Alright then," I said. "Never mind."

 It must be hard at times to have parents who are also teachers.