Someone doesn't like how happy I am.

I learned this week that someone doesn’t like how happy I am. This person actually complains about my general level of joy, my persistent optimism, and my tendency to believe that all will turn out well.

All of these things are true, of course. I’m a happy, optimistic person who tends to believe that there is more good than bad in this world. More right than wrong.

I love my life. It’s not without problems, of course, and I’ve most definitely had my share of struggle, but when I think about where I once was and where I am now, how could I not be thrilled with my existence?

But now that I know that someone is actually unhappy - even angry - with my level of happiness…

I’m even happier.

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Speak Up Storytelling: Chris Kriesen

On episode #59 of the Speak Up Storytelling podcast, Elysha Dicks and I talk storytelling!

In our follow-up segment, we inform listeners about my blog and consulting services, and we update them on dates for new shows and workshops.

In our Homework for Life segment, I talk about taking multiple moments from a single week and weaving them into a complete story, as well as the importance and value of telling stories even if they aren't the most profound and moving stories that you have to tell.

Next we listen to a story by Christopher P. Kriesen.

Amongst the many things we discuss include:

  • Launching stories with action, mystery, confusion, and wonder

  • The value and hazards of subtlety in storytelling

  • Physicality

  • Vocal techniques, including pacing, volume, and vocal modulation

  • Tips to increase the humor of a moment

  • Ensuring that a storyteller's moment of surprise is also an audience's moment of surprise

We then answer a listener question about ending stories in informal settings

Finally, we each offer a recommendation.

LINKS

  • Purchase Storyworthy: Engage, Teach, Persuade, and Change Your Life Through the Power of Storytelling: https://amzn.to/2H3YNn3

  • Purchase Twenty-one Truths About Love: https://amzn.to/2xYQapE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RECOMMEDATIONS

  • Elysha: Big Hero 6

  • Matt: The Moth's Youtube channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/mothstories

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I'm going to criticize you and then stop listening to you because I'm stupid.

Mike Pesca, host of Slate’s podcast The Gist, was responding to emails and tweets on Friday after listeners wrote to him in response to a segment he did on the likelihood of the pronoun “they” becoming a universally accepted, commonly-used singular, gender-neutral pronoun.

Mike’s argument was simple:

It’s unlikely that a word as commonly used as “they” to indicate a plurality of people will ever become the gender-neutral singular pronoun that so many desire. It’s simply too ingrained in our lexicon as a plural pronoun for it to be accepted in a singular form.

Mike wasn’t opposed to “they” becoming a gender-neutral singular pronoun. In fact, he uses “they” as a singular pronoun when asked. He’s also not opposed to gender-neutral pronouns in general. He simply doesn’t think that a noun as ubiquitously used as “they” will shift its meaning in the direction that some people would like.

Some listeners who failed at listening thought that Mike was standing in opposition of gender-neutral pronouns and wrote angry screeds to him in response.

This is fine. Misunderstandings happen. Confusion is common. Feedback is always appreciated and helpful. Perhaps these listeners were doing the dishes, changing a flat tire, or operating heavy machinery while listening to the podcast and missed his point.

But what annoyed me was the listener who wrote to falsely criticize Mike for opposing gender-neutral pronouns and then informed him that she would no longer be listening to his until-now excellent podcast.

I hate this.

I hate it so much.

Why tell Mike that he is wrongheaded and then not bother to continue to listen to a podcast that you liked at least enough to be listening to in the first place to see if Mike responds?

When you tell someone that they have made a mistake, it’s only right and sensible to offer a chance to respond.

This annoys me because it’s stupid. But it also annoys me because it happens to me, too. In its most benign form, it's a follower on Twitter who is angry about something I tweeted. He fires off an angry tweet in response and then blocks me, preventing me from defending myself or clarifying my opinion.

It’s similarly happened in regards to a blog post. Someone doesn’t like an opinion that I expressed and writes to me in response, informing me that she is no longer subscribed to my blog nor will she be returning to my website ever again, offering me no opportunity to explain, expound, or clarify.

In its worst form, someone actually says to me, in person, “I’m going to tell you how I feel, but I don’t want to hear your response. I’m not in the mood for your logic or rhetoric. I just want to be heard, and then I’m moving on.”

Admittedly this does not happen often, but it’s happened often enough that I’d need more than two hands to count the number of times it’s been said to me, by colleagues, friends, a boss, my former step-father, a college professor, and an ex-girlfriend who said it to me quite often.

Not Elysha Dicks, of course. She is more than willing to listen to my stupid excuses and and bat them away.

Shutting off discourse and debate is stupid, but shutting off discourse and debate after you’ve engaged in discourse and debate is super-duper stupid.

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Be flexible.

During intermission at Cirque du Soleil last week, I saw a friend who told me that she was moving from her front row seats to the rear of the tent because she needed to leave early. Her step-father refuses to eat dinner after 7:00 PM, so they would need to leave the show a little early in order to make their reservations.

I was stunned. Leave early? A show like the circus absolutely saves their best for last.

She agreed, but this was a non-negotiable on the part of her step-father. “It’s fine,” she said.

But no. It wasn’t.

I started to think about how older folks can become set in their ways. Routines slowly calcify over time. Eventually fossilize. Before you know it, your life is filled with non-negotiables.

Where and when you will and won’t travel.
Sleeping schedules.
Holiday plans.
Arbitrary dietary restrictions.

But then it occurred to me that this is not an older person phenomenon. I know lots of younger people who have established rigid, unwavering routines, too. I have friends who can’t skip a meal or replace it with a snack. Friends who won’t adjust a bedtime in order to stay out late or wake up an hour or two early to play golf. Friends whose personal grooming regime requires an hour or more regardless of circumstances, preventing them from ever leaving the home in less time.

I have friends who have saddled themselves with certain driving and travel restrictions. They won’t drive into New York City. Refuse to be on the roads after midnight. Won’t take a subway. Won’t drive to a friend’s home because it’s too far away.

Colleagues establish routines that are inflexible and unwavering. A shift from an early lunch to a later lunch sends them into psychic spasms. They can’t imagine changing a homework routine. They cling to disproven methods of instruction because they’ve been doing it forever.

None of this is good.

And I’m a person with more routines than anyone I know. I aggressively and relentlessly seek out the most efficient way of doing something, and when it’s finally found, I do it that way every single time. Emptying a dishwasher. Folding laundry. Mowing the lawn. There is a fastest, best way to do each these things, and I have found the ways.

There are long stretches of the school year when my breakfasts and lunches are exactly the same every single day because it simplifies my life. I wear the same thing - jeans and a black tee shirt - onstage every time. When the event is slightly more formal, I throw a jacket over the black tee shirt. I’m close to wearing the same thing to work every day because all of these routines save me time, eliminate the need to make choices, and simplify my life.

Elysha and I were watching the The Founder, the story of Ray Kroc, founder of McDonald’s. In one scene, he is attempting to establish the perfect kitchen routine that will guarantee the most food produced in the shortest period of time. It was a ballet of movements that allowed kitchen staff to work in perfect concert with one another so long as they repeated their movements exactly.

Elysha paused the film. Knowing I managed McDonald’s restaurants for ten years, she turned to me and said, “Is this why you are the way you are?”

I laughed.

But maybe. I have admittedly structure much of my life like Ray Kroc structured McDonald’s:

Identify the most efficient means of accomplishing a task. Repeat those steps. No wasted movement.

Despite all of that, I am keenly aware of how important it is to be flexible. How flexibility opens the door to new experiences. Allows other people to intersect with your life. Allows you to find joy where there was once none.

Flexibility allowed me to begin playing golf, a game that I originally thought was boring, elitist, and ridiculous, but is now a game that I love with all my heart.

Flexibility allowed me to say yes to writing comic books and musicals, even though I didn’t think I could do either.

Flexibility landed me onstage, performing in musicals - singing solos - even though I can’t sing. It’s placed me in front of audiences at comedy clubs, even though it’s the one and only time that I feel nervous - even terrified - onstage.

Flexibility sent e to Canada to teach storytelling to the Mohawk people. It sent me to the forests of upstate New York to teach storytelling to 13 rabbis as part of a woodland retreat. It sent me to Brazil to teach storytelling at an American School. It sent me to a yoga center - the absolute antithesis of my fundamental being - to teach storytelling, and where I now teach a handful of times every year.

Flexibility allowed me to say yes when that first person asked me to officiate his wedding. It’s has landed me in front of church congregations, substituting for vacationing ministers. Conducting actual church services. Even ringing the big bell.

All of these things could have been easily avoided. All of them placed me outside my comfort zone. Required me to betray my routines. Demanded that I attempt to do something - oftentimes publicly - that I have never done before. They required alterations in routine and ritual. They asked that I do something that I could not imagine doing.

This was hard. I like routines. I love predictability. The basis for much of what I accomplish is my willingness to find and repeat the most efficient steps possible in as many things as possible. Routine, ritual, schedules, and extreme commitment to organization has afforded me the time to do all that I do.

But I also recognize the importance of breaking those routines and adding unpredictability to your life, even if it makes you anxious, uncomfortable, hungry, uncertain, or a little bleary-eyed the next day.

Telling me that you’d love to join me for golf but just can’t see yourself getting out of bed at 5:00 AM on a weekend - even once - is a terrible shame.

Telling me that you’d love to see a show in New York but need to be in bed by 11:00 PM every single day for the rest of your life is a little crazy.

Telling me that you can’t ever replace dinner or skip it altogether in order to hit the road on-time should never be a thing.

Telling me that you just can’t drive in New York City even thought you’ve never even attempted to drive in New York City is a minor tragedy.

Leaving the circus early - and making others leave early, too - because you won’t eat dinner after 7:00?

That’s insanity.

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Verbal Sparring: If you don't like it, leave.

A reader contacted me yesterday, asking me to reprint a post I wrote back on September 26, 2016 entitled “Verbal Sparring: If you don’t like it, leave.”

I had no recollection of the post, which didn’t surprise me. When you write a post every single day of your life since the spring of 2005, you write a lot. 3,905 posts on this blog alone, plus another 1,000 or so on my two now-defunct blogs.

That’s a lot of thoughts, ideas, stories, and observations.

But it appears that I was very prescient back in 2016 in writing about a topic that has suddenly taken center stage in the national consciousness.

So here it is:

A post lightly edited from 2016 in my Verbal Sparring series offering advice in the event a racist imbecile like Donald Trump tells you tells you that your dissent of the status quo - the very foundation of our country - is an indication that you cannot love your country and should be reason enough for you to leave.

It's such a stupid argument, but it's one often used by racists against people of color and by other morons in a variety of contexts, so when it arises, it needs to be beaten back.

Here's how.

_______________________________________________

"If you don't like it, leave," in all its variations, is a coward's argument. It's an argument made by people who are afraid of debate, don't understand logic, and want to escape the fray as quickly as possible. 

"If you don't like, leave," implies that arguing for change is not permissible.

"If you don't like, leave," implies that dissent is unwarranted. 

"If you don't like, leave," implies that diversity of mind is out of bounds. 

There are many responses to this ridiculous argument and arguments like it. I’ve broken them down into four basic categories:

Refuse: "No, I'm not going to leave. You don’t actually have any power over my where I choose to live or work or even stand. I’m going nowhere. Instead, I'm going to fight."

Make the logical argument: "Telling me to leave implies that dissent and change are not permissible here. That is nonsense, of course. Change is constant, and it only comes through a diversity of opinions. This is not North Korea."

NOTE: This argument does not work in North Korea.

Attack: "It sounds like you're afraid of debate. Maybe your ideas suck and you know it. Maybe I intimidate you. Maybe you know that you're standing on shaky ground. Maybe you’re afraid of me. Yes, that’s probably it. I scare you. Either way, I'm not taking my toys and going home because I'm not afraid of a good argument and a weak-willed sap like yourself."  

Historical: "If that was an actual argument, then it would stand to reason that anytime someone was not happy with a policy or position, they should leave. Women don't like receiving 70 cents on the dollar? Leave. African Americans don't like separate but equal? Leave. A soldier doesn't like a general's decision? Leave. That's just stupid. It's not how the world actually works outside of your stupid head."

I tend to favor the attack strategy, but that may just be my nature.

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As a Disney shareholder, here are a few improvements that the parks needs now.

As a Disney shareholder, I spent much of our recent vacation to the Magic Kingdom and its surrounding parks looking for ways to enhance the customer experience.

I found a few.

Many were related to specific rides.

My philosophy on a Disney ride is simple:

It needs to make my heart skip a beat, either through the sense of magic, wonder, excitement, or nostalgia that it creates. Many do. Most, in fact, do, making the failures even more pronounced.

The Tomorrowland Speedway, for example, is simply an inferior version of the go-karts that you can ride in my town. In fact, because they are affixed to tracks and are therefore limited in terms of movement, I would argue that they are aggressively inferior.

The Under The Sea ~ Journey Of The Little Mermaid is an uninspired slog through scenes from the film, absent a single moment of wonder or magic. I can’t believe that money and time was spent designing and building this ride. And this need not be so. The similarly themed Frozen ride in Epcot, Frozen Ever After, is a similar journey through scenes from the film but contains moments of genuine magic and wonder that would send me back again and again.

The Jungle Cruise is an astounding display of missed opportunities and possesses a level of un-wokeness that will undoubtedly cause problems for Disney at some point. It is a ride for another time, and that time has passed.

I won’t go through all the problematic rides that I encountered, but if Disney would like to hire me to infuse every moment of the Disney experience with magic, wonder, excitement or nostalgia, I await their offer. I am perfectly suited and uniquely talented for this position.

In fact, perhaps I’ll write a letter.

Four things unrelated to rides that also need improvement:

  1. The paper straws are an abomination. They fell apart with great rapidity and became useless fairly quickly. It took me 2-3 straws to finish every frozen drink that I consumed. I understand that straws are made of plastic and eliminating them helps the planet to some infinitesimal degree, but I also know that these paper straws sucked and the carbon footprint of 2-3 of them might outweigh that of a single, plastic straw.

  2. Disney is in serious need of better drinking fountains or - even better- water filling stations. It was exceptionally difficult to find reliable water sources in the parks. I understand that a sad, relatively inoperable drinking fountain means more purchases of water in the park, but having ancient, inoperable drinking fountains makes the parks look bad. Un-magical to say the least. Also, if you’re going to take away plastic straws to help the environment, how about all the plastic being used in those water bottles? Update the damn drinking fountains.

  3. Disney needs more buses. The most significant pain point for most customers was the wait time on buses and the number of people jammed onto every bus. And since most customers start and end their days on a Disney bus, this is a moment you want to get right. Small children and older folks often did not have seats on buses in an effort to pack as many people onto them as possible. More buses would make the start and end of every day a more positive experience and would go a long way in making folks feel great about their vacation.

  4. Disney misses out on easy opportunities to make the place a little more magical. The bus depots at our resort, for example, were named after the points of the compass even though they hardly corresponded to the actual compass points. The West Depot? Is that the best you can do? Give that depot a real name. Something that causes vacationers to think or imagine or wonder. Maybe name them after exceptionally minor Disney characters and encourage folks to figure out in which films these characters appeared. Or dedicate each one to a Disney employee who made a significant difference to the park. Put a plaque on the wall honoring their achievement. DO SOMETHING. West Depot is uninspiring and sadly pedestrian. Look to make every moment significant and memorable and magical.

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Bite, damn it!

I’m spending a week at Miss Porter’s School in Farmington, CT, teaching 15 girls from all over the world to tell great stories.

I saw this sign on a wall filled with great signs during Sunday afternoon registration and loved it so very much.

The very last thing your future self would want is for you to pass on opportunities because you’re worried about biting off more than you can chew.

Fortune favors the bold. Life is too short. Do it all!

Or at least try to do it all!

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Disney World Shouts and Murmurs

According to our phones, we walked a total of 61 miles in 7 days, though I almost never had my phone on my person for the half-day we spent at Blizzard Beach. This is astounding given the fact that our children walked every one of these miles, too, almost without complained.

The Disney World fireworks show stands alongside Hamilton and the original cast of Rent as one of the best things I’ve ever seen. Elysha and I were brought to tears while watching it.

Less than five minutes after arriving in the Magic Kingdom on the first day, a parade appeared in the middle of Main Street, complete with floats, dancers, and all the Disney characters. It was a joyous celebration and a perfect start to our Disney vacation. Later, as we approached Cinderella’s castle for the first time, a live show hosted by Mickey and Minnie erupted at the front gates, almost on cue. The Magic Kingdom’s timing - at least for us - was magical.

On the first night, Elysha decided to sleep on my side of the bed. As a result, she spent much of the night violently shoving me and elbowing me in her sleep, which made me feel less-than-wanted. We switched back the next night.

Two women were sitting together in the hotel pool, clearly a couple. At one point, they kissed - not gratuitously - but still earned the visible scorn of several people nearby. Damn I hate bigots.

Thanks to Laura, our remarkable trip planner, we waited in almost no lines during our entire stay at Disney. Well-planned FastPasses, secured weeks before the trip, combined with some clever managing of the FastPasses during the day, kept every wait except one under 15 minutes. I saw people waiting in line for three hours in the Florida heat to ride a very good roller coaster, but also just a damn roller coaster. People simply don’t understand the value and finite nature of time.

One of my favorite parts of our Disney vacation was walking though the FastPass lanes, passing hundred of sad souls who were waiting hours for a ride that I would be enjoying in moments. This makes me sound a little terrible, I know, but it has more to do with my extreme fondness of efficiency than the happiness I admittedly felt in knowing that forethought and planning had made my Disney experience better than theirs.

Elysha spent 20 minutes talking to a guy at the Moroccan pavilion oin Epcot about the meaning of a single word. I can’t believe the kids ands I didn’t kill her.

During Charlie’s battle with Kylo Ren as a part of his Jedi training, the Jedi Master said, “You must concentrate as a Jedi. It is critical to your success.” Clara leaned over and deadpanned, “I can’t be a Jedi. I have a hard time concentrating.”

Disney sound designers are astounding. Music shifts from location to location seamlessly. They have inexplicable ways of fading away music in one area using architectural features and brilliant soundscapes and bringing in new music by making you think it was always there.

We skipped the Hall of Presidents after hearing our friend, Mike Pesca, on The Gist talk about the round of applause that Trump received when his animatronic robot spoke. Elysha and I agreed that we simply couldn’t risk witnessing that during our otherwise delightful vacation.

Elysha was bitten on her belly by an angry, evil Floridian insect. When she went to the hotel management to ask if they recognized the bites, the hotel staff went into emergency bug mode. Paramedics were called to examine the bites, a hospital trip was offered, and an expert on insect identification came to our room at 11:30 PM to disassembled our beds down to the frame to ensure that the bites weren’t caused by bed bugs. The bites were awful, but to Elysha’s everlasting credit, she did not allow them to slow her down or ruin her trip.

I sent Charlie through airport security with a backpack containing a full bottle of Powerade and a carton of milk. He was not pleased with me when security stopped and questioned him.

Charlie made a friend from Tallahassee named Bobby who he played with for three straight evenings at the pool. On the last night, a thunderstorm cut our pool time short. As we walked back to our rooms with Bobby in tow, Charlie said, “I don’t think I’ll ever see you again, Bobby.” Bobby tried to imply that maybe they could reconnect if we visit again in a couple years since his family visits Disney regularly, but Charlie repeated, several times, “No, I don’t think I’ll ever see you again, Bobby.” I felt so sad for my little boy who had made such a good friend, but I felt worse for Bobby, who soul was crushed again and again by Charlie’s tragic repetition.

We met several great couples while visiting Disney, oftentimes on bus rides to and from the parks, and including two couples from Connecticut and one from Milford, MA, which is a town I spent a lot of time as a teenager. I got the sense that these were adults craving adult interaction after days of inescapable contact with their kids. I enjoyed talking to these folks, but I also couldn’t stop wondering if any of them - especially those from particularly red states - were Trump supporters. In the past, political differences would’ve meant little to me, but if you’re a Trump supporter today, you support a racist, sexist, bigot who brags about serial sexual assault, stole millions of dollars from the American people via a fake university, lies with impunity, defends Nazis, and attacks our intelligence agencies and longtime allies while simultaneously befriending mass murdering dictators who offer him nothing in return for his validation on the world stage. It’s different today. It’s not about politics. It’s basic human decency. I hated that this bit of curiosity lingered in the back of my mind so often during the trip.

Happily, those negative jackasses who warned me about the struggles and pain of spending a week at Disney with your kids were wrong. Not surprising, of course. If you’re the kind of person who would tell a parent on the cusp of his first Disney vacation with his kids that it won’t be fun, you’re the kind of person who probably doesn’t have a lot of fun in general. We had a fabulous time with nary a complaint from adult or child. It was a vacation to remember forever, and any negativity projected upon me before leaving only confirmed in my mind that I am a better human being than those people, thus making my trip even more enjoyable.

When Harry Met Sally, and When Matt Met Elysha

Yesterday, July 14, was the ten year anniversary of my publishing career, but today, July 15, is an even more important anniversary.

Today Elysha and I celebrate our thirteenth year of marriage.

I was recently listening to The Rewatchables, a podcast about films that people love to watch again and again. They were discussing When Harry Met Sally and debating how realistic it would be for Harry and Sally to end up together at the conclusion of the film. Both women on the podcast argued that although it’s the happier, more satisfying ending. these things don’t happen in real life.

Friends like Harry and Sally never marry. Improbable relationships never end up happily ever after.

I was debating the truth behind these jaded statements when it occurred to me that Elysha and my marriage was just as improbable as Harry and Sally’s marriage.

When I met Elysha in the waning days of summer of 2002, I was married to another woman and Elysha was engaged and just a few months away from being married to another man. Yes, my marriage wasn’t ideal, and yes, Elysha was beginning to have doubts about her engagement, but still, we were both committed to other people in long term, serious relationships.

Elysha and I first laid eyes on each other on a late August day during the first faculty meeting of the school year.

I remember thinking that Elysha was beautiful, young, and impossibly cool. The kind of girl who would never even look in my direction.

She remembers thinking of me as one of the cool kids, laughing and joking my way through that first meeting with my faculty friends.

We started out as colleagues, a single classroom separating our two classrooms. Our first real conversation took place during a hike with students around the lake at Camp Jewell in Colebrook, CT. Elysha was telling me about her upcoming wedding, and as a wedding DJ about five years at the time, I offered her advice on her upcoming wedding and told her about my own wedding.

An improbable movie moment if ever there was.

Eventually Elysha and I began friendly. She asked me to do her taxes. I dropped her off at the garage to pick up her car. She and I took students to lunch at The Rainforest Cafe at the end of the school year as part of a school fair raffle prize.

We were friendly, but after that meal, we said goodbye for the summer, never speaking until the beginning of the next school year.

We were friendly, but we certainly weren’t friends.

Elysha called off her engagement about two months before the wedding, and around that same time, I separated from my wife. Even then, we didn’t get together. After picking ourselves off the ground, we eventually began dating other people. Elysha was set up by a colleague and started an almost year-long relationship with another man. I dated a few people, including our school psychologist.

Our friendship, like Harry and Sally’s, deepened during that time, but still, there was no romance. We were simply good friends dating other people.

About a year later, as our relationships with those other people began to wane, we turned toward each other. In truth, I had noticed Elysha right from the start but had always assumed tat she was too beautiful and - more importantly - too cool to ever be interested in me. The fact that she was my friend was thrilling enough.

But as out late night phone calls grew longer and longer and we shared more and more of our lives with each other, I started to wonder if it was possible that Elysha Green could actually like me.

Like like me.

Elysha made the first move during a hike on Mount Carmel in Sleeping Giant State Forest. On the way down the mountain, she reached out and held my hand.

I couldn’t believe it.

Later that night, in the parking lot of our school, she told me that she liked me, and my response - chronicled recently on this blog - was, “I’m flattered.”

Don’t ask me why. I’m stupid sometimes.

Five minutes after she drove off, I replayed the conversation in my head and realized how stupid I had been.

“I’m flattered?” What was I thinking? She likes me!

I panicked.

I called and called to apologize and tell her that I liked her, too, but Elysha was famous back then (and now) for not listening to voicemail messages, so I went to bed worried that I had blown my chance with the coolest woman I had ever known.

Classic romantic comedy misconnection.

I corrected things the next morning, chasing her down and rejecting a note she had written to me asking if we could still be friends. That night, we kissed for the first time in the parking lot outside my apartment.

Two months later, we moved in together. Six months after that, I asked Elysha to marry me on the steps of Grand Central Terminal in New York City while two dozen friends and family secretly watched amongst the throng of holiday travelers.

On July 15, 2006, we were married.

Friends like Harry and Sally never get married? Improbable romances never work out?

Nonsense!

I could write a movie about our relationship - a great romantic comedy - and those two jaded women on the podcast would probably say the same thing:

A boy and girl meet at work. One is married. The other is engaged and about to be married. Their first conversation is about the girl’s pending nuptials. Over time, they become friendly.

Then the boy’s marriage ends in divorce. The girl calls off her engagement just a couple months before the wedding. They engage in new relationships with new people, all the while becoming better and better friends.

Those relationships with other people begin to fail, and then one day, while hiking together on a mountain, the girl reaches out and takes the boy’s hand.

His heart bursts with joy.

Later, she confesses her love to him. He fails to reciprocate because boy’s are stupid. Eventually he chases her down and corrects his mistake. Confesses his love.

They kiss. Marry.

Today they celebrate 13 years of marriage. They have two kids. A home. Two cats. A brilliant, beautiful life together.

“Yeah, right,” those women on the podcast would say. “Never happens.”

Improbable? Maybe.

Impossible? Nonsense.

Happy anniversary, honey.

Speak Up Storytelling: Live from Miss Porter's School!

On episode #58 of the Speak Up Storytelling podcast, Elysha and I take our show on the road to Miss Porter's School in Farmington, CT.

Today's podcast was recorded in front of a group of students who will be spending the week with me, writing, telling stories and learning to podcast. 

In our follow-up segment, we will learn about the storytelling possibilities while competing in the sport of curling, and we will go under the podcasting hood to discuss some of the hopefully occasional imperfections in the editing of our podcast. 

STORYTELLING WORKSHOPS 2019

STORYTELLING SHOWS 2019

Next I tell a story live to my students.  

Amongst the many things we discuss about that story include:

  1. The importance of listening when searching for new stories

  2. Creating scenes in the minds of the audience

  3. The importance of getting listeners to wonder what is going to happen next (and the ruthlessness that is sometimes applied when you're not wondering what will happen next)

  4. The "laugh laugh laugh cry" model of storytelling 

  5. Using surprise in order to turn a story

Finally, we answer student questions about telling other people's stories and why we never invent things that didn't actually happen when telling our stories.

LINKS

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

Purchase Twenty-one Truths About Love 

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

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

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https://www.youtube.com/matthewjohndicks 

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Ten years of publishing... TODAY!

I am celebrating my tenth anniversary in publishing today!

On July 14, 2009, I published my first novel, Something Missing, with Broadway Books, a division of Doubleday, thus making a seemingly impossible dream come true. I can still remember walking into the now-defunct Borders Books and seeing my book on the shelf for the first time.

This was followed in 2010 with the publishing of my second novel, Unexpectedly, Milo, also with Doubleday.

In 2013, I switched to St. Martin’s Press, a division of Macmillan, and published Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend, my most successful book so far. In 2016, I published The Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs, also with St. Martin’s Press, and in November of this year, I’ll publish my fifth novel, Twenty-one Truths About Love.

Sometime in 2020, my sixth novel The Other Mother, will publish here in the United States. It’s already been published abroad.

I also published Storyworthy: Engage, Teach, Persuade, and Change Your Life Through the Power of Storytelling in 2018 with New World Library.

Six books in ten years. It’s been an amazing decade.

in addition to publishing in the United States, my books have also been published in more than 25 countries overseas, and three of my four novels are currently optioned for film.

I’ve also become the humor columnist for Seasons magazine and an advice columnist for Slate magazine. I’ve published pieces regularly in Parents magazine

The Connecticut Society of Professional Journalists has awarded me first prize in the opinion/humor writing category in 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2019. Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend was the 2014 Dolly Gray Award winner and was a finalist for the 2017 Nutmeg Award in Connecticut.

I say all this because despite a decade of consistent work in the publishing world, here’s the crazy thing:

I still don’t feel like a real author. I still feel like at any moment, I will be discovered for the fraud that I surely am and be unceremoniously kicked out of the literary world.

Isn’t that crazy?

I’ve often wonder when the day will come when I will feel like an honest-to-goodness writer and rid myself of this persistent imposter syndrome.

Then again, maybe imposter syndrome isn’t such a bad thing. It keeps me on the knife’s edge, working like hell to stay relevant, valuable, and in the game.

Still, it would be nice to answer the question, “What do you do for a living?” by saying “Teacher, writer, and storyteller” and not feel like the writer part of that answer isn’t real.

Either way, it’s been ten years today. A decade that I never would have dreamed possible and still seems kind of impossible when I reflect back upon it.

And would’ve been impossible if not for the support of friends, family, editors, publicists, booksellers, Elysha, and my agent and friend, Taryn Fagerness.

Hopefully I’ll be writing a similar post in another ten years, and perhaps by then, I’ll be feeling like the honest-to-goodness author I’ve always wanted to be.

Three amusing Disney moments

When riding alongside with me on his very first ride, Peter Pan’s Flight, Charlie took one look at Disney’s remarkable animatronic characters and shouted, “Robots!”

Later that day, when riding alongside me in The Haunted House, he pointed at a group of ghosts dancing together in a ballroom and shouted “Projections!”

The boy is ruled by logic.

Yet when we watched Tinker Bell streak across the sky at the end of the Magic Kingdom fireworks show, he declared that as proof that fairies were real, as he’s always argued.

He’s ruled by logic, but he can still be fooled.
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After walking by a group of rowdy teenagers, Charlie asked Elysha what it was like when she was a teenager. Then he told us that teenage boys are crazy. “So I’m just warning you”.

He’s seven years-old and is already trying to prepare us for his teenage rebellion.

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I overheard three very stupid people in the course of 30 minutes while walking through Animal Kingdom:

  1. A man in the tiger exhibit asked a staff member where he could ride a tiger. When the staff member said he didn’t know of any place where that was possible. the man insisted that it was true because his grandmother had once told him that she had seen people ride tigers before, and he had been looking for those tigers ever since.

  2. A few minutes later, we walked by large monkeys walking and swinging on cables overhead. A man began arguing with his wife, claiming that the monkeys were just humans dressed in monkey suits.

  3. About a minute after that, I overheard a young man explaining to a young lady that Disney Paris and Disney Tokyo and Disney Shanghai are so much better than Disney World, but Disneyland is the best. “You can judge these parks by their pirates,” he explained. “Good pirates mean a good park. Disneyland’s pirates are the most committed to the roles.”

It was ten minutes of astonishment on my part. Not quite as astonishing as tigers and monkeys and little boys preparing to become rebellious teenagers, but still pretty surprising.

Best and worst of our Disney adventure

For the last seven days, my family and I have been vacationing at Disney World in Orlando, Florida. I have purposely not written about the trip until now - as we fly home - because telling the world that your cats are being fed by neighbors and visited by your friends but your house is otherwise empty isn’t a great idea.

But now that I'm just a few hours from home, I have much to share.

I’ll start with this:

My least favorite part of the trip were the moments when I witnessed parents losing their patience with a child and saying something - both in tone and words - that broke my heart. Thankfully, I didn’t see this too often, but I remember those unfortunate moments all too well.

My favorite parts of the trip were the many, many times when Clara and Charlie thanked us for bringing them to Disney World. The multitude of moments when they told us how happy and excited they felt and how grateful they were. Their unprompted remarks of appreciation meant the world to me.

Yes, there were amazing rides and joyous parades and a fireworks show that left both Elysha and me in tears, but not surprising, it was the words and smiles of our children that I loved most.

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Perhaps we don't disagree on sleep as much as you think. Perhaps.

Yesterday I bestowed favored animal status to the giraffe, based primarily on its ability to sleep less than 30 minutes per day. People were surprised - as they often are - by how much I hate to sleep, and particularly how irritated I am every night when I need to fall asleep.

In response, many readers and friends declared their everlasting love for sleep.

Here’s a question I’d like to pose:

Do people really like to sleep, or do they like to fall asleep and possibly wake from sleep?

Since human beings are functionally unconscious while they sleep, the ability to take pleasure in the act of sleeping seems almost impossible. You can certainly love the subsequent feeling of renewal and vigor that sleep has on your body and mind, but when sleep is actually taking place, it’s impossible to experience pleasure in the act of sleeping because you’re not aware of your surroundings or even of your own body.

Is your arm under the pillow? Resting on your chest? Draped over a loved one? You don’t know, so how is it possible to experience any kind of pleasure given that level of unconsciousness?

Do people really love to sleep, or alternatively, do people enjoy occupying a horizontal position in a space of comfort and relaxation, unburdened from the expectations of the world?

This is what they really love when they profess their love for sleep. Right? They actually adore that period of time prior to sleep and immediately following sleep. The feeling of coziness. The removal of most of the physical demands on the body. The ability to push aside responsibilities and worries for a period of time.

Isn’t this - and not the unconscious state of sleep that follows - what people love?

Shouldn’t people be saying:

“I love assuming a horizontal position on a soft surface, my head slightly elevated by similarly soft surfaces, while simultaneously covered by soft linens. And while in that position, I enjoy closing my eyes and pushing the worries and cares of the world aside for a time.”

Isn’t this - and not the unconscious state that follows - the thing that people love?

I’m just asking.

Though I hate to sleep and am genuinely irritated almost every night with the need to stop my life for a period of time to recharge my brain, I admittedly enjoy lying down in my soft bed (particularly if my wife is present) and assuming a position of comfort.

That part of sleep is great. No complaints whatsoever. If that part could last about 15-30 minutes, and if I could remain conscious for the entire time, I would also profess my love for sleep. The problem is that I remain conscious for less than a minute before I drift off into stupid, unproductive, unconscious sleep for a ridiculous 4-6 hours.

Yes, it’s true. I despise sleep. But lying down in a soft place beside my wife for a little while? That sounds great, just as long as I can remain conscious and therefore aware of the enjoyment that I’m experiencing.

Isn’t this how you feel, too?

Again, just asking.

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New favorite animal for a damn good reason

I have a new favorite animal, people. Prior to today, my favorite animal was the badger because it’s one of the only animals (other than humans) that kills for sport.

But I mostly said that to annoy people.

My new favorite animal is the giraffe, and for good reason. I just learned that giraffes sleep less than 30 minutes per day in naps that are 2-6 minutes long at a time.

I’m so impressed. Also envious. While the stupid humans are sleeping away a quarter to a third of their lives, giraffes are making the most of every moment.

As I climbed into bed last night, I honestly thought, “I can’t wait for this stupidness to be over.”

Though I recognize the importance and need for sleep, and I take my actual sleep time very seriously, I am almost never happy about going to bed. Most of the time, I’m genuinely irritated about the whole thing.

To sleep just 30 minutes per day would be amazing.

I also learned that giraffes only drink water every few days. Most of the water they need to survive is processed through the food they eat.

Also highly efficient and impressive.

Sadly, because they need to eat 75 pounds of food per day to survive, giraffes spend many of their waking hours eating. Then again, it’s not like they can read a book or attend a Patriots game or write a novel or catch a Broadway show, so in that case, why not eat? Eating all day isn’t a bad way to spend your day given the giraffes’ limited menu of options.

Lest you think giraffes are docile and easy prey for predators, think again. Although they're more likely to run from an attack than fight back, a swift kick from one of their long legs can do serious damage to—or even kill—an unlucky lion.

I like this a lot. Whenever possible, avoid a fight., But when your back is to the wall, know how to throw a good punch.

On top of that, giraffes live about 25 years in the wild and twice that age in captivity, which isn’t long by human standards but is considerable in the animal world. They don’t live as long as a tortoise or an African elephant or a macaw, and they aren’t immortal like certain types of jellyfish, but who wants to be a jellyfish?

I believe in carefully choosing choosing your favorite animal. You need a reason to award an animal that coveted most favorite status. I’ve always loved giraffes, and my heart always leaps when I see them in zoos, and now I know why.

Not only are they beautiful, but they are an animal who shares my philosophy of making every moment count by achieving maximum efficiency in all things.

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Sid from Toy Story was a completely normal person.

I know the film is 24 years old, but I’m still annoyed:

Sid, Andy’s next door neighbor, was portrayed as the antagonist in Toy Story simply because he liked to take toys apart and reassemble them in new and creative ways.

Yes, perhaps if you are a toy, this is not a good thing, but should we expect Sid to be aware that his toys might be secretly sentient, filled with hopes and fear?

Of course not. Yet at the end of the film, Woody goes rogue and reveals himself to be alive. Not only does he speak to Sid, but he gets dark and creepy while doing so, scaring the bejesus out of this poor kid.

It’s awful.

As a child, I would throw my toys out of the window of my second floor bedroom onto the gravel driveway to determine which would break. Was I evil or even wrong to wonder if my Sho-Gun Warrior could survive a 15 foot plunge to the Earth?

My sibling and I would take great pleasure in jamming Weebles into the crack between the door and the wall then slamming the door so that the Weebles would explode into dozens of pieces.

Did this make us rotten children or simply curious kids who liked to experiment on the toys we had stopped playing with long ago?

Sid was a normal child with a creative, experimental mind. Yes, he tormented his sister, but what brother doesn’t? Yes, he was apparently kicked out of summer camp, but many creative people throughout history were misunderstood. Pixar tries like hell to make Sid look bad with a skull on his tee-shirt, but this is an ordinary kid who likes to makes things, take things apart, and even occasionally blow things up.

Normal.

Unless of course you’re being compared to stick-in-the-mud rule-follower Andy.

Woody’s “Play nice” warning to Sid at the end of the film was cruel and unnecessary. When we see Sid again in Toy Story 3, he is listening to heavy metal music, working as a garbage man.

Nothing wrong with being a garbage man (my father worked as a garbage man for a time), but it’s not exactly a cinematic ending for this poor boy, who is probably tormented for the rest of his life with the knowledge that at least one toy in this world (and probably others) are alive, sentient, and mean.

Sid isn’t the bad guy here. Pixar is the real bad guy for portraying a spirited, creative boy as a villain.

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Speak Up Storytelling: Matthew DIcks

On episode #57 of the Speak Up Storytelling podcast, I talk storytelling!

In our followup segment, I congratulate listeners on recent successes at The Moth. 

Next we listen to my story about a difficult medical decision and what it revealed about his marriage to Elysha. 

Amongst the many things discussed includes:

  1. Identifying the crux of the story

  2. "Why do we do the things we do?"

  3. Finding the beginning of a story by centering on the end

  4. "But" statements to break into moments of humor

  5. Tonality

  6. Truth in storytelling

  7. Ending a story effectively (and not stupidly)

LINKS

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stand up, damn it.

This shouldn’t need to be said, but based upon recent experience, it apparently needs to be said:

If you’re a healthy adult sitting on a bus or subway, and there a small child in your vicinity who does not have a seat, stand up and offer your seat to the kid.

How any adult can sit and watch a small child cling to a pole or to his parent’s leg as a bus or train lurches around a bend is beyond me.

Last night I watched a teenage girl offer her seat to Charlie while a bunch of grown-ass men and women remained comfortably seated around us.

I was furious. Elysha was apoplectic.

I’m also inclined to offer my seat to a woman in these situations, but I also know that doing so implies that she needs a seat more than I do, which is almost always a sexist thing to think. After all, I’ve been arguing for years that women should be eligible for the military draft based upon my sincere belief that they are just as capable as men, yet something inside me always wants to offer my seat to a lady.

I avoid this internal struggle but always standing. My default position on any bus or train is to stand unless there is an empty seat after leaving the station.

If you’re a young, healthy adult, maybe you could adopt a similar default position.

But at the very least, make sure all the small children have seats. Otherwise Elysha and I will spend the entire trip attempting to publicly shame you by repeatedly telling our children - in voices slightly louder than necessary - to “Hold on tight!” and “Be careful” and “We know this is hard, but we’ll be there soon!”

The best part:

We did this both simultaneously and absent any planning. Our instincts - and hatred for these grown-ass seated adults - was the same.

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Don't tie a bow at the end of your story

I’m a fan of ending books and stories a little bit sooner than my readers and listeners would like. I like to leave some dangling threads. A few unanswered questions. Something still left to wonder about.

I think by doing so, my story lingers in the hearts and minds of my reader and listeners a little bit longer. Rather than being one of those books or stories that can quickly be forgotten, I like to think that my stories continue to tickle the brains of my readers and listeners long after my storytelling has ended.

I’ve received many messages over the years from many, many readers and listeners, dying to know what happened next, both in the lives of my fictional characters as well as my own life. Last year, I started receiving emails from teenage girls in Mexico who had somehow started reading my first novel, Something Missing, and wanted to know if Martin and Laura, the protagonists, ended up together.

Imagine that:

Teenage girls in a foreign country took the time to find the email address of an American author so they could write an email in Spanish (an arcane form of communication for most teenagers) and then use Google to translate it to English so they could ask me if two fictional characters - people who don’t actually exist - end up together.

THAT is a story that’s still tickling their brains long after they’ve finished reading the book.

I received this message recently via Instagram which offers similar proof to the power of the incomplete story.

I love it so much. I love how much this reader loves this book and yet is tortured by it at the same time.

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My advice is simple:

Stories shouldn’t end in neatly tied bows. Questions should be left unanswered. Your audience - readers or listeners - should be left wondering. Guessing. Wanting more.

This is how stories become some memorable that years later, they are still wondering what happened next.