James Corden was brilliant for a reason everyone failed to see

James Corden’s segment taking on Bill Maher and the fat shaming comments he made on his HBO show Real Time have garnered enormous attention in recent days, and justifiably so. Corden’s criticism is brilliant. He’s hilarious, honest, vulnerable, compelling, and utterly convincing.

As a bit of rhetoric, it has almost everything.

But the best part of Corden’s piece has gone glaringly unnoticed:

Corden is kind. Rather than attacking Bill Maher, he makes a genuine attempt to reach out to the man and change his mind. Corden assumes good intentions. He credits Maher for wanting to help. He doesn’t portray Maher as a deliberate, judgmental monster but as a human being who has missed the point.

He argues that Bill Maher was egregiously incorrect in this instance, but he doesn’t argue that Maher is a bad person.

Yes, Corden lands some comedic punches in the process, but those are clearly made in jest, and I suspect that Maher will recognize them for what they are:

Jokes. Jokes made at his expense, but not the kind of jokes meant to really hurt.

Corden’s commentary is brilliant for all the reasons people have stated, but its genius comes his ability to attack Bill Maher’s opinion while simultaneously being a kind and decent to Maher himself.

We need more of this in today’s world.

The sad thing is that much of the reaction to Corden’s commentary has been the opposite of kindness and decency. On social media, people have responded with scathing ad hominem attacks directed at Maher. They tweet vile, incendiary comments about Bill Maher and demand that HBO terminate his employment. They are doing exactly what Corden so skillfully avoids, which is unfortunate and also ridiculous because here is the truth about Bill Maher’s commentary on obesity:

Until James Corden spoke out - six full days after Bill Maher’s comments - not a word was spoken about Maher’s bit.

Until Corden pointed out Maher’s egregious commentary on his own show, no one had any problem with Maher’s segment, myself included. I listened to the show the next morning via podcast, thought he made an amusing but unoriginal point about obesity in America, and moved on, never thinking about how that segment might impact an obese person and how wrongheaded it was.

Corden opened my eyes, and perhaps with the kindness and decency embedded in his commentary, he will open Maher’s, too.

But for every person on the Internet who is attacking Maher for his comments, I will remind them that they were silent for six days. They had no issue with Bill Maher’s comments. They had moved on in complicit silence - like me - until James Corden came along so brilliantly and gracefully.

So do us all a favor, Internet denizens who so gleefully pile on whenever possible:

Take a lesson from the grace and decency of James Corden and shut the hell up.

Trump has achieved a new low.

I realize that pointing out the stupidity or amorality or narcissism of Donald Trump is like reminding people that the sun rises and sets every day, but occasionally he says or does something that rises to the level of incomprehensibility.

Yesterday, Trump tweeted this:

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Did you see what he did?

Trump quoted himself complimenting himself, and then he thanked himself for that quoted self-compliment.

That’s insane.

The constant, incessant self-praise is a clear sign of a man whose ego is both disturbingly large and exceedingly fragile. It reeks of sadness and desperation. I’ve never met anyone in my life so desperate for praise that they were willing to compliment themselves in such a publicly embarrassing, never-ending way.

If he wasn’t a racist hobgoblin who steals children from poor people and brags about his serial sexual assault, I’d be compelled to offer the guy a hug.

All of this is bad enough. It also explains why he famously has no friends other than those of a transactional nature. Who would want to spend any meaningful time with someone like this?

But then to quote yourself - to quote your own self-praise of yourself - and then thank yourself for that self-praise… to the entire world?

If this had been any other human being, I would rightfully assume that a medical team was on route to determine if the person in question had suffered from a stroke.

But no, this is Donald Trump. Sadly, it was bizarre and sad and stupid and truly disturbing, but also just a Saturday morning.

I'm not stopping.

I’ve always thought that “No right turn on red” signs were stupid and therefore entirely optional.

I’m sure there is some reason why particular intersections have been deemed too dangerous to allow right turns on red, but I’m also sure that this is nonsense. Not unlike the addition of a four-way stop signs at an intersection following an accident.

Just because one moron can’t drive safely doesn’t mean that we all need to stop for now and ever more.

But last night, while driving Elysha and her parents home from a show, I took a right on red and my father-in-law said, “You know, you could get a ticket for that.”

“For what?” I asked.

“Taking that right on red without stopping first”.

The right turn in question was at a three-way intersection. I was traveling on a main road and turned right on red onto the intersecting road. But there was no road opposite of my intersecting road where another car might be coming.

“I have to stop my car before taking a right on red?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said.

My mother-in-law concurred.

The Internet also agrees. It’s a law.

Fascinating. I’ve been driving for 30 years and have never once adhered to this rule, which leads me to ask:

If I’ve been failing to stop before taking a right turn on red for 30 years without being ticketed, should I assume that I’m good for another 30 years, or should I acknowledge that I’ve been pushing my luck and conform to the law?

I’m going with the former, of course. While I certainly look to see if there is oncoming traffic before turning right on red, there is no way in hell that I’m going to start coming to a complete stop if it’s not necessary, particularly after three decades of avoiding the law.

Do people really do this? Do they really come to a complete stop? I’ll be watching now to see.

And if I’m turning right on red at a three-way intersection, where there can’t be any oncoming traffic (because there is no road), I’m definitely not stopping or even looking before turning.

Like I did last night.

This is because to stop and look to ensure that another automobile isn’t approaching from that stand of maple trees or that field of wildflowers or that school playground, or in the case of last night’s turn, that residential home, would be insane.

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Three strange medical stories

In the spirit of “If something strange is going to happen, it’s probably going to happen to me” comes three medical anomalies that have occurred to me in just the last seven years.

I receive the pneumonia vaccine.

Did you even know that the pneumonia vaccine existed? I didn’t, and most people don’t. But after having contracted pneumonia four times over the course of ten years, my doctor said to me, “I’m going to give you the pneumonia vaccine.”

“The pneumonia vaccines?” I said. ‘I’ve never heard of the pneumonia vaccine.”

“Of course you haven’t,” my doctor replied. “It’s a shot we give to elderly women . And now you.”

A bunch of old ladies and me. Of course.

I get tubes put into my ears.

For reasons that no doctor could ever explain, my left ear began getting blocked with fluid a couple years ago. After having it cleared twice without success, my ENT recommended that I get tubes in my ears.

“The kinds you put in kids’ ears?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said. “Those.”

It hurt like hell while he was putting the tubes in, so I asked, “How do you do this to kids without them flipping out?”

“Oh, We put them to sleep,” he said.

After suggesting that maybe I could’ve been put to sleep, too, I asked him how many adults get tubes put into their ears.

“I think you’re my first,” he said. “This never happens to adults.”

Of course.

I contract canine scabies.

About seven years ago, our now-deceased dog, Kaleigh, contracted canine scabies, which is an impossibility in itself since contracting them requires a dog to come in contact with an animal with scabies. Usually a fox or squirrel or some other wild animal. Kaleigh was never off a leash, and she never came in contact with any wild animal that I can recall, so how she managed to contract the scabies will forever be a mystery.

However, we had no idea that she had canine scabies. When rashes began appearing on all of us (including newborn Charlie), we feared that it was bed bugs. We had multiple bed bug companies come into our home to inspect, and the opinions differed amongst the experts,.

It was a summer of hell.

Eventually, Elysha took the kids to her parents to escape, and I was left to await bed bug treatment when I happened to bring Kaleigh to the vet for a routine visit, and the doctor diagnosed canine scabies almost immediately. There were so many live scabies on her body, in fact, that I was then asked to bring a sample of her hair and skin to the Connecticut Department of Agriculture, who had never seen a live sample before (and doubted that they were even scabies until putting them under a microscope).

It was quite a visit.

Kaleigh’s treatment was two weeks of heart worm pills, which killed the scabies almost immediately, but the humans reported to the dermatologist for treatment

I asked the vet if I could just take the heart worm pills, too, and he said, “I might, but I can’t recommend it for you.”

The dermatologist examined our skin. On Elysha and the kids, the rashes were caused by the contact of scabies to their skin, as expected. An application of some head-to-toe cream several times would clear up the problem.

But on my body, and especially my forearms, the scabies had actually burrowed into my skin.

Nice. Huh?

The doctor then asked if she could take photos of my skin.

“Why?” I asked.

“You’re the first human being we’ve ever seen who has live canine scabies under the skin like this. We didn’t think it was possible. These picture will probably end up in a medical journal.”

Of course.

21 + 3 Parenting Truths

Behold! My list of 21 + 3 truths about parenting.

If you find any item on my list offensive, insulting, or somehow unfairly critical of your own parenting decisions, please remember that although I refer to these items as truths, the only real truth is that this is just a list of my opinions about parenting.

I won't be coming to your home to impose my will upon your children or your parenting style.

This doesn't mean you can't disagree. I love a lively debate. Just don't go flying off the handle or getting your knickers in a bunch.

If you feel your knickers beginning to bunch, please refer to truth #21 on the list.

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21 +3 TRUTHS ABOUT PARENTING

  1. The parent who assumes the tougher position in regards to expectations and discipline is almost always correct.

  2. Almost every child behavior is temporary. Remembering this is key to avoiding frustration.  

  3. Almost every temper tantrum can and should be ignored.

  4. The calmer the household, the calmer the child.

  5. Avoid becoming emotionally attached to your child’s inappropriate behaviors whenever possible. They are almost never about you.  

  6. There are extremely few critical and uncorrectable mistakes that you can make with your child. 

  7. With exceptions, training your child to fall sleep on her own in her own bed and sleep through the night takes about 2-4 weeks if done with tenacity, an iron will, and an absolute adherence to the advice of experts. Parents must also possess the grudging acceptance that thunderstorms, nightmares, daylight savings time, and illness will upset the apple cart from time to time.

  8. You cannot take too many photographs of your child.

  9. Despite their size, it’s almost impossible to impose your physical will on any toddler without risking harm to them. Find another way.

  10. Reading to your child every single night without exception is an easy but critical critical commitment that every parent must make.  

  11. Changing a diaper is not a big deal and is never something worthy of whines or complaints.

  12. Toddlers will invariably have a million things to tell you as soon as you begin an important telephone call. Lock yourself in a room or go sit in the car before dialing. 

  13. Experienced parents always know which toys are best.

  14. Toddlers cannot distinguish between a new toy and a used toy. Accept all hand-me-down toys with gratitude, knowing they were once well loved and can be loved again.

  15. Unsolicited advice from experienced parents should always be received with appreciation. Wisdom of any kind is valuable. It should not be viewed as a criticism or indictment of your own parenting skills and can be easily ignored if need be.

  16. There is absolutely no reason for a child under eighteen months-old to be watching television on a daily basis.

  17. Consignment shops are some of the best places to find children’s clothing and toys unless you are a pretentious snob.

  18. Parents seeking the most fashionable or trendy stroller, diaper bag, and similar accouterments are often saddled with the least practical option.

  19. Little boys and little girls are entirely different animals. They have almost nothing in common, and it is a miracle that they might one day marry each other.

  20. The ratio of happy times to difficult times in the first four years of your child’s life is about one billion to one. Some parents have an unfortunate tendency to forget the billion and accentuate the one.

  21. Parents are often far too sensitive about all opinions on parenting that differ from their own.

I’ve also separated out three rules out that are closely interconnected and exceptionally important for expecting parents and the parents of newborns to understand.

  1. Taking care of a child during the first four years of life is not nearly as difficult as many people want you to believe.

  2. Telling people that raising your child has been an easy and joyous experience will often annoy them. Do it anyway.  

  3. Experienced parents who are positive, optimistic, and encouraging to the parents of newborns are difficult to come by and should be treasured when found.

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Grapes and novels: New ways of prying money away from the wealthy


Business idea:

The manager of a chain of hotels in Japan recently spent 1.2 million yen, or roughly $11,000, for 24 grapes.

It sounds crazy, but expensive, specialty-grown fruit of unique appearance or intense taste is a trend in Japan, used as gifts, or in this case for promotional purposes, Guest at the hotels will be able to eat one of the grapes for about $460.

The specific variety — Ruby Red — first came to market in 2008, and about 26,000 will be sold this year. The expensive, but perfectly unblemished and flavorful fruit is one way that small farms are able to compete against the enormous agricultural companies.

Okay, that’s their business idea, which I like a lot. Rich people like things that are exclusive, innovative, interesting, and entertaining – as well as things that are rare, unusual, valuable, and otherwise desirable. There are a lot of wealthy folks looking to spend money on unique experiences who have already spent ridiculous amounts of money on items designed to set them apart from the masses:

Bottle service. Hand-crafted furniture. Custom-build automobiles. Ostrich coats. Six-figure handbags. Wine cellars.

Why not take advantage of this market by pricing a single grape at a $500?

Now for my business idea:

Single edition short stories or novels. Stories written for a single buyer that no one else will ever see.

A novel written for your eyes only.

Admittedly, a part of me would be devastated by the thought that I might write an entire novel that only one human being could ever read, but that devastation could be significantly mitigated for the right price. If I could send my two kids to college for the price of a book or upgrade to a larger, mortgage-free home for a single story, I think I could find a way to let one story disappear onto the bookshelf of a single reader.

Single edition novels:

Brilliant idea? Artistically-bankrupt idea?

I think it depends on the price.

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Offense kleptomaniacs

Someone recently introduced me to a term that I like a lot:

Offense kleptomaniacs

These are people who - no matter what was intended - will take offense, often unjustifiably.

You say one thing. They hear another.

You do one thing. They see another.

In my life, offense kleptomaniac often lift their ugly heads when I find a corner to cut, an advantage to seize, an opportunity to snag, or a new road to take. They become angry and outraged because I saw something before they did or I had the courage or daring or insight to try something that initially seemed dangerous or unexpected or unwise or against the rules.

I take an unanticipated step forward. They see it as me shoving them back.

Many years ago, when a large-scale initiative was first introduced at our school, I quickly put together my own team of teachers - all close friends who shared a similar skill set and who I enjoyed working alongside- before administration could assign teams. Then, as teams were being considered for the initiative, I presented our already-assembled team to administration and asked that it be allowed to stand.

It was.

Offense kleptomaniacs - people who could’ve done the same thing and still could’ve done the same thing after discovering what we had done - took this maneuver as a slight. An injustice. An outrage.

“How dare they assemble their own team?”
”No one said we could pick our teammates!”
”Why do they get to choose their teammates but we don’t?”
”Who do they think they are?”

Rather than seeing this for what it was - a colleague spotting a previously unseen opportunity and seizing it - they took offense to it. They saw it as someone taking advantage at their expense. They spun their wheels in anger and disgust. Grumbled and growled and cried foul instead of seeing it as a possible path for them to take, too.

Yes. I know these people. You probably do, too.

Also, I despise these people. I look forward to using this new phrase when dealing with them.

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Many traditions are kind of stupid. Some are epically stupid.

Residents in the town of Nejapa in El Salvador have been commemorating a volcanic eruption in 1658 which destroyed the town by hurling fireballs at each other.

Yes, that’s right. Residents take to the streets with gasoline-soaked rags and hurl them at one another.

Check it out.

If you like this video, go to YouTube. There are many more. Each is equally terrifying.

The annual event has been a tradition since 1922, and the fireballs are said to represent the local Christian saint, Jeronimo, fighting the devil inside the volcano with his own balls of fire.

Is it culturally insensitive for me to say that this is a very stupid tradition?

I understand that lots of traditions are kind of stupid in that they are illogical, inane, or represent some truth from hundreds or thousands of years ago that is no longer the case. When viewed objectively, many traditions - both religious and cultural - make little sense.

I get that.

But when you’re throwing fire at another human being and allowing fire to be hurled at you, I think we’ve move beyond the realm of quaint or outdated or nonsensical and into the realm of epically, historically, supremely stupid.

If that makes me culturally insensitive, so be it.

Then again, I also stand firmly against the traditions of female genital mutilation, cannibalism, bullfighting, and all traditionally patriarchal institutions and customs of any kind (I’m looking at you, Catholic Church amongst many others).

Also two stupid traditions that I have written about before:

Spain’s baby jumping and Vrontados’ Rouketopolemos, the tradition in which two rival church congregations in the town perform a "rocket war" by firing tens of thousands of home-made rockets across town, with the objective of hitting the bell tower of the rival church

All of those traditions are epically stupid, too. Far stupider and more dangerous and destructive than most.

I don’t think it’s culturally insensitive to identify certain traditions and customs as stupider than others, and I’d like to think that fireball throwing makes that list.

Why are they wearing makeup?

I was watching the first NFL game of the season on Thursday night - Green Bay versus Chicago - happy to see that football was back at last.

As the network returned from commercial at the beginning of the second half, the cameras focused first on the two booth announcers - legendary commentator Al Michaels and former NFL receiver Chris Collinsworth - and then onto their sideline reporter Michelle Tafoya.

As I watched, something occurred to me:

Michaels and Collinsworth were wearing makeup. I could see it as clear as day.

And Tafoya was wearing a lot of makeup. A ton of makeup. Her face looked like it had been painted onto her head.

For years I’ve been told that makeup is required when you appear on television. Some combination of the lights and camera require it, but then it occurred to me:

None of the players of the field - many of whom are the object of constant, intense close-ups, wear makeup. None of the coaches - many of whom are well into their 60’s and 70’s - wear makeup, and they are constantly featured in closeup. Even the referees don’t wear makeup.

They all look fine. Some of them look great. A few of them have become specifically known for their good looks. I’ve been in the room when women have swooned over Tom Brady during a telecast, despite the fact that he’s appearing on television without makeup.

What gives?

The same holds true for every sport, including women’s sports. The players in the NBA and WNBA don’t wear makeup when they play, and they all look great,. Their coaches and trainers don’t wear makeup, and they, too, look perfectly fine. The same holds true for men’s and women’s soccer and tennis.

No makeup whatsoever, and yet they all look great on television.

Why do the commentators in the booths and the sideline reporters need to paint enormous amounts of makeup on their faces in order to appear on television while the athletes, coaches, and referees who they are covering don’t?

I don’t get it.

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Parking lot artist

I pulled into the parking lot at my daughter’s middle school last night for their annual Open House. I circled the lot, looking for a parking spot and finding none.

I circled again. Still nothing.

I was so happy.

Once of my favorite things in the world to do is create a parking spot where one did not exist before.

I circled a third time, evaluating all of my choices, viewing the parking lot now as a canvas for my creativity,. I could extend a row of spot, affixing my car to the end. I could park on the grass. I could sidle my car along the edge of the driveway, reducing its width by half.

Then I saw it. A slight bulge on the far end of the lot, probably present to allow the passage of cars in both directions.

Not anymore. I pulled into the bulge, nuzzled my car up against the curb, and hopped out. As I did, I noticed that a car was pulling in behind me.

“Is this a spot?” the driver asked.

“It is now,” I said. “I invented it.”

He smiled.

It would be a fine thing if my love for inventing parking spots came from my desire to solve problems creatively (and there is probably a little truth in that statement), but mostly I think I love the ability to eschew authority, ignore expectations, and reinforce the idea that there is very little law and order in a parking lot. Sure, you can paint your yellow lines and plan your traffic patterns, but if you’ve run out of spaces and I need to park, there is little anyone can do to stop me from being creative.

Flaunting authority. That is why I love inventing parking spots.

When I exited the building a couple hours later, I was pleased to see that four cars had followed my example and parked in a line behind me, filling the bulge.

This is common.

When I park on the grass, others follow suit.

When I stick myself on the end of an aisle, others do the same.

When this happens, I always wonder:

Were these people inspired by my creative idea or somehow given permission to violate the norms of the parking lot after I did so?

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Little did I know that I was among giants that night

I was cleaning out some files and I stumbled upon this:

The program from my first Moth GrandSLAM champion on October 17, 2011 at the Highline Ballroom in NYC.

At the time, I was a rookie. Clueless and naive. Stumbling my way into the venue, not knowing what to expect.

I did okay, that night, finishing in third place. The winner was Erin Barker, the only woman in the competition that night. As we gathered on the stage at the end of the show, she famously turned to her male competitors and said, “Suck it, boys.”

I remember thinking that I really like this woman. She told a brilliant story, and she seemed to possess a competitive spirit that I admired.

Little did I know that eight years later, I would be proud to call Erin my friend.

As I look at the names on the program, I’m astounded. Little did I know that night that I was in the presence of some of the best storytellers who I’ve ever know. Titans of the storytelling community.

At the time, I thought that they were all like me: First-time winners wondering what to expect and just hoping to survive.

But not true.

Erin Barker went on to win another Moth GrandSLAM - the first woman in history to do so. She co-founded The Story Collider, an organization dedicated to bringing the stories of the scientific world to the masses. She produces shows all over the world and also produces a weekly podcast. She makes her career today as a storyteller.

David Crabbis a Los Angeles-based author, performer and storyteller. His 2013 solo show Bad Kid was named a New York Times Critics' Pick. His memoir, Bad Kid, was released in 2015 by Harper Perennial. He is currently is a host of The Moth and RISK!

Brad Lawrence is a storyteller, solo show performer and teacher who has performed to sold-out crowds around the United States and in the UK. He was the first storyteller to win back-to-back Moth GrandSLAMs, which led him to becoming a host of the Moth and a regular on Moth Mainstages around the United States.

Jeff Simmermon is a storyteller and standup has won multiple Moth StorySLAMS and a GrandSLAM. His stories have appeared on This American Life, The Moth's podcast, and in written form on The Paris Review Daily.

At the time, Jefferson was the curator and host of the popular Bare: Stories of Sex, Desire, and Romance, and he was producing shows and performing regularly in Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.

Joshua Blau has won multiple Moth StorySLAMs has been featured on The Moth Radio Hour. If he didn’t have five children - including a set of triplets - I suspect I’d see much more of him. He’s brilliant. Hilarious and vulnerable and so sweet.

Steve Zimmer is simply the best storyteller that I have ever seen. He is the Platonic ideal to which I aspire.

That leaves two people - Michael Cannillo and Michael Sorviero - as the only two storytellers who I don’t know.

And who knows? Maybe they’re also killing it somewhere.

Looking back at this program, it’s so odd. I had no idea I was in the midst of storytelling royalty that night.

The absolute masters of the game.

It makes me wish I could go back to that night and better understand what was happening around me.

Better understand who was performing and competing alongside me.

Better appreciate how fortunate I was that night to share a stage with such talented, brilliant performers.

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Four reasons why I seem to get into so many arguments

I got into another fight at a local McDonald’s.

A man was attempting to ascertain the balance on his gift card. The McDonald’s employee - someone I see almost everyday while getting my Egg McMuffin - explained that she didn’t know how to determine the remaining balance on his gift card unless he purchased something. Then she apologized. “There really should be a way to do this,” she admitted.

Then the man began shouting, telling the woman again and again that she was unprofessional. Spouting off in a way that made it clear that he was not a highly functioning human being.

I was standing beside the man. I had already placed my order and was waiting patiently. Four men were standing behind us, also waiting for their order. An older woman with a cane was standing behind him, waiting to place her order. Everyone stared as this man continued shouting “Unprofessional!” over and over again.

I did not engage. This is my new policy. In the past, I would’ve eagerly leapt into the fray, but I’ve established a new, more mature policy:

Remain uninvolved unless the offending party involves me.

So I stood, waiting and hoping that he might someone engage me, too. Hoping for a confrontation.

Then it happened. The man turned to me and said, “This place is so unprofessional. Right?”

“No,” I said, quickly matching his volume. “Don’t bring me into this. I’m not on your side. I like these people. There’s only one person in this place who is acting unprofessional, and it’s you.”

The man was not pleased. He tried to argue his point, oddly repeating the word “unprofessional” over and over again. I was having none of it, and I was prepared with plenty of comebacks.

“Don’t try to co-opt my agreement just because you’re feeling alone. You’re alone because you’re wrong, buddy. I’m on the side of the good.”

“Stop talking to me. I’ve heard dandelions make more sense than you.”

“People who stand behind the counter, insulting employees like these, are cowards.”

At this, the man took an aggressive step toward me, apparently hoping to intimidate me. In response, I took an even larger, more aggressive step forward, trying to convey in both mind and body the idea that I would fight and win if necessary.

It worked. It always does. The man stepped back. He swore at me. He wished me dead. then he declared that “this town is a ghetto!” and left.

A couple minutes later, the police arrived. I didn’t know it, but the employees has called them when the shouting broke out. They explained to the officers that I was not the offending party. Then they refunded my money for my breakfast. “Oh the house,” she said.

Happy day. Admittedly not the wisest decision on my part, but happy day.

I told this story at my book club later that night. One of my friends asked, “How does this stuff always happen to you?”

It was a good question. I’ve wondered this myself. But then the answer became apparent to me as we discussed:

  1. I look for these confrontations. I stood beside the man, hoping he would involve me. I stared in his general direction. In the words of one book club attendee, “I would’ve been standing as far away from that man as possible, avoiding it all.” And it’s true. There were four other men also waiting for their food, and not one of them made any attempt to close the distance between them and the man. I stood as close as possible and hoped for engagement. Invited it.

  2. I’m good at this kind of encounter. I was a two-time state debate champion in college. As a teacher, DJ, writer, and performer, I’ve spent a considerable amount of my life manipulating language, speaking publicly, and using words to achieve desired results. I use words like other people use hammers and spreadsheets and stethoscopes. Also, I’m a serial nonconformist who lived for more than a decade with a verbally abusive stepfather, and my last name is Dicks. I’ve received an enormous amount of verbal abuse over the years, and so I’ve spent a lifetime sharpening my rhetorical sword. I know how to parry and slash and stab. I have a talent for knowing the worst thing to say at the right moment to produce the most pain in another human being.

  3. I have an inane sense of justice for low wage workers. Having managed McDonald’s restaurants for almost a decade, I am all too familiar with the abuse that low-wage workers suffer on a daily basis. As a manager, I always stood between my employee and the offender, offering sarcastic apologies to horrible people and occasionally going to war with them, too. I cannot stand to watch a customer insult an employee who is trying her best and has done nothing wrong.

  4. I’m in places where stuff like this happens. I pointed out to my book club friends that none of them enter a McDonald’s restaurant with any regularity. “Chipotle is probably your lowest version of fast food,” I argued, and my friend agreed. Another said, “You don’t just go through the drive thru?” No, I don’t. Service is almost always faster inside, and I get to see my people. I talk to Juan, the maintenance man, about football. I say hello to Janice as prepares my order. I chat with the old guy who is drinking coffee and reading the paper. If you’re not entering the realm of the low wage worker on a daily basis, you probably don’t see this kind of abuse.

So that’s it. That’s why I seem to get into more verbal altercations than most.

I look for them. I like them. I’m good at them. I feel the need to engage on behalf of others, And I occupy spaces where these types of encounters are more likely to occur.

See? It’s not me. It’s just circumstance.

All that said, I know it’s not the smartest thing to do. You never know how someone is going to react. It’s not that the world is a more dangerous place today, because it’s not. Crime has been on the decline for three decades. By all accounts, we’re living in the safest time in all of human history.

I know our pervasive media makes people think otherwise, but it’s true.

Still, you never know how someone will react. I should just keep my mouth shut, and more often than not, I do.

I’m getting better. More restrained and sensible. I’m evolving.

Slowly.

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Speak Up Storytelling #63: Esam Boray

On episode #63 of the Speak Up Storytelling podcast, Elysha Dicks and I talk storytelling!

In our follow-up segment, we read listeners' emails about diversity in storytelling, the intersection between vulnerability and social media, and another way of approaching Homework for Life.

We also announce our latest partnership with a fantastic new venue.  

STORYTELLING SHOWS 2019-2020

September 7: “Tests” at Real Art Ways
November 2: Great Hartford Story Slam, Hartford Flavor Company
November 9: Sara Kaplan: Champion of the World at Emmanuel Synagogue, West Hartford, CT
November 23: Twenty-one Truths About Love book release, CT Historical Society, Hartford, CT
December 14: “Crafty” at CT Historical Society, Hartford, CT
January 11: Speak Up at the Wadsworth Atheneum
April 4: Speak Up at the Unitarian Universalist Society, Manchester, CT

STORYTELLING WORKSHOPS 2019

October 4-6: Storytelling workshop, Art of Living Retreat, Boone, NC
October 25-27: Storytelling workshop (beginners), Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health
November 9: Storytelling workshop (Beginner), CT Historical Society
November 16: Storytelling workshop (Advanced), CT Historical Society
December 6-8: Storytelling workshop (advanced), Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health
January 25: Storytelling workshop (Beginner), CT Historical Society
February 22: Storytelling workshop (Advanced), CT Historical Society

In our Homework for Life segment, I talk about a brief but important moment that took place beside a baggage carousel in an airport and how storyworthy moments can sometimes happen in the blink of an eye. 

Next we listen to a story by Esam Boray. 

Amongst the many things we discuss include:

  1. The power of contrast in storytelling

  2. Turning a story about something huge and incomprehensible into something much smaller and universalCombining anecdotes into a more cohesive narrative

  3. The importance of knowing key characters in a story well before putting them into action

  4. Slowing down key moments in stories to allow the action to unfold for your listeners

We then answer a listener questions about noticing and documenting small changes over time, avoiding over-rehearsing a story, and managing my Homework for Life spreadsheet. 

Finally, we each offer a recommendation.  

LINKS

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

Purchase Twenty-one Truths About Love 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RECOMMEDATIONS

Elysha:

  • When characters in musicals transition from speaking to singing - http://bit.ly/2kfjzbZ

Matt:

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Electrical conundrum

I’m not a handy guy. I can’t fix a damn thing. Nor can I build, construct, or replace. I don’t do plumbing or electrical work. I can’t repair a roof or landscape a lawn or paint a porch.

Loose hinges on cabinets stymie me.

So perhaps the answer to this question is obvious to someone who is not me.

Still, I must ask:

In the single-use restroom at the miniature golf course on Route 4 in Farmington, Connecticut is a set of four electrical outlets positioned over the door. I’ve been in the restroom many times, but I have yet to see anything plugged into these outlets, nor can I imagine what might ever be plugged into these outlets.

Could someone smarter than me please explain?

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Resolution Update: August 2019

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

Here are the results for August.

__________________________________

PERSONAL HEALTH

1. Don’t die.

Dodged several bees. Still alive.

2. Lose 20 pounds.

I lost 0 pounds in August because I suck.

I’ve lost 6 pounds in total.

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

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

By the way, is rice a vegetable?

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

Done. Planks are getting surprisingly easy except for the elbow and shoulder pain (see below).

5. Do burpees three days a week.

I did 3-4 burpees per day, 3 times each week in August with the exception of the week spent in Seattle. My shoulder really, really hurts, and now my elbow hurts, too. I blame the stupid burpees.

I’m getting an X-ray.

WRITING CAREER

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

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

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

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

8. Write a memoir.

Work continues.

9. Write a new screenplay.

No progress, but I’m enthusiastic! I have a good idea!

10. Write a musical.

No progress.

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

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

One down. Four to go.

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

No progress.

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

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

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

Suggestions?

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

76 new subscribers in August for a total of 845 new subscribers in 2019. My list now stands at 2,955 subscribers.

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

15. Write at least six letters to my father.

One letter written in August. Two written so far this year.

16. Write 100 letters in 2019.

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

17. Convert Greetings Little One into a book.

A kind, generous, and amazing human being has begun work on this project.

I am thrilled.

STORYTELLING

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

DONE! Two shows produced in August:

The Great Hartford Story Slam (produced in conjunction with two other local producers) and my solo show in Seattle.

A total of 10 shows produced so far in 2019.

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

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

Next step is to make it available online. Suggestions?

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

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

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

I’ll just keep pitching.

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

DONE! I attended four Moth StorySLAMs in August:

Two in Boston, one in NYC, and one in Seattle. My name was drawn from the hat at both Boston slams and the Seattle slam.

NYC has not been as kind to me this year in terms of my name emerging from the hat.

This brings my total to 17 events so far.

22. Win at least three Moth StorySLAMs.

DONE! I won my FIFTH and SIXTH Moth StorySLAMs in 2019. One in Boston and one in Seattle.

My 42nd and 43rd victories overall.

23. Win a Moth GrandSLAM.

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

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

I competed but did not win the NYC Moth GrandSLAM in June. Silent scoring (I’m not a fan) prevents me from knowing how I placed (though I may be able to call and ask).

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

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

Just two new shows released in August. An erased episode and a botched recording in Seattle (neither one our fault) caused us to miss two weeks of episodes.

A total of 30 episodes so far in 2019

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

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

I performed at an open mic in July at The Elbow Room in West Hartford.

Three to go.

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

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

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

No progress.

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

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

I wrote again in August.

No response yet.

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

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

NEW PROJECTS

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

No progress.

30. Complete my Eagle Scout project.

No progress.

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

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

32. Renovate our first floor bathroom.

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

33. Organize our second floor bathroom.

Progress! I’m doing a little bit every day.

MISCELLANEOUS

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

I made one meal in August.

Five down. Seven to go.

35. Plan a reunion of the Heavy Metal Playhouse.

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

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

I did not ride my bike with the kids in August. A week in Seattle and many, many days at Winding Trails has really curtailed the bike riding recently. Hopefully I can get the kids back on the bike now that autumn is on the doorstep.

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

I did not comment on physical appearance in August. I also explained my policy to my new batch of students, and once again, they loved the policy and supported it fully.

Adults often this this policy is crazy. Children always love it.

38. Surprise Elysha at least six times in 2019.

DONE! While meandering through Pike’s Place Market in Seattle, Elysha spotted a pair of earrings that she loved but thought were too expensive. When she wasn’t looking, I took a photo of the earrings and grabbed a business card from the designer. Then I emailed the designer and asked that the earrings in the attached photo be shipped to me. I had hoped to have the earrings on her desk for the first day of school, but they arrived two days late, so I gave them to her before dinner two nights.

She was quite surprised to see them again.

Six surprises accomplished so far. At least two more in the works.

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

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

40. Clean the basement. 

The dumpster is STILL in my driveway. It’s now a Labor Day weekend job.

41. Set a new personal best in golf.

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

Last weekend, I double-bogied every hole. This did not result in an excellent score, or even a score close to my all time best, but it’s consistency. I did not blow up on any hole.

I also have a new putter, so it’s been a process of getting my putting back to where it once was, and my short game is a disaster with my new swing. When I dial those elements back in, I have a shot.

42. Play poker at least six times in 2019.

One game played in August. One game in 2019.

Five to go.

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

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

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

Done.

Siblings

There was a moment when I thought that one child was more than enough. Clara was about two-years old, she was cute as a button, and I thought our family was just right.

In fact, had it not been for Elysha’s desire for two kids, Clara might be an only child today.

Can you imagine how terrible that might have been?

I cannot bear the thought.

I don't see stuff

A couple days ago, one of my colleagues pointed at the #21 on my classroom door and said, “Are you going to remove that number at some point?”

For the 18 years that I’ve been in my classroom, the room number has never been #21. This is a number from a bygone day.

But here’s the strange thing (but also not-so-strange):

I’d never noticed the number on my door. In the almost two decades that I have spent in my classroom, I had never taken notice of that number.

Sounds crazy, I know. Maybe even impossible. But I’m also the person who once argued with his wife over the color of our house on the way home from the store, insisting that our house - one that we had been living in for years - was yellow. Unquestionably yellow.

She claimed that it was tan. Light brown, maybe. But nothing even approaching yellow.

As we turned onto our street and our house came into view, I realized that our house is not yellow.

Not even close.

So failing to notice a number on a door for almost two decades sounds ridiculous and yet is also not surprising. Elysha is fond of saying that if we lined up ten brunettes of approximately her height in a line, I could not pick her out from the group.

This is not true, of course, but there is truth in what she says.

What does this say about me?

I’m not sure, but it’s not great.

Nostalgia in the Pacific Northwest

While visiting friends in Washington two weeks ago, we stopped by Sprinkles, an ice cream shop decorated in nostalgia. Sitting along one wall of the store were the monoliths of my childhood:

Video games.

I spend many hours and many thousands of dollars playing Defender, Pole Position, Pac Man, and many, many others. There was a time in high school when my friends and I would vacation in Weirs Beach, New Hampshire simply because of the quality of the Half Moon Arcade and Fun Spot.

I like to think that there was something special about those coin-operated video games. By having to pay 25 cents to play, the stakes were higher on those games, and thus, the gaming sessions more important and more memorable.

In later years, I spent an enormous amount of time playing computer-based games like Warcraft, Diablo, and Madden, and it was unquestionably fun. But those days in the arcade - when every game required a financial investment- those were very special indeed.

On the flip side, Sprinkles was also selling candy cigarettes, which struck me as an incredibly stupid idea. While nostalgia is something I adore, there are certain items of nostalgia that should never be brought back into today’s world.

“Irish Need Not Apply” signs
Mercury thermometers
Leaded gas
Segregated drinking fountains
Asbestos
The General Lee from The Dukes of Hazard
The Macarena
Lawn darts
Chlorofluorocarbons
Birth of a Nation

Candy cigarettes belong on that list.

What the hell are you thinking, Sprinkles?

What's Next? Brand New Challenging Life Goals (UPDATED)

Last night I received an email from myself.

Two years ago, I apparently wrote a list entitled “What's Next? Brand New Challenging Life Goals.” Then I attached this to an email that was set to land in my inbox last night with the instructions from my past self to review and update.

I have no recollection of doing this, but it would seem that Long Ago Matt was a pretty smart guy because this was an interesting exercise.

It’s also not the first time that I’ve received an email from my past self. It happens more often than you’d think. I’m constantly thinking about future Matt and sending him stuff.

This particular list appears to be comprised of “big dream” items that are too difficult or too obscure to include on my yearly goals but still doable enough to keep on my horizon. Some of these “big dream” ideas were actually accomplished. Some had been forgotten, but I still love the idea today. A few fall into the category of “What the hell was I thinking?”

Here is that original list with the annotated updates that my past self demanded.

  • Perform my one-person show in a theater (DONE! Several times over!)

  • Spend a summer at Yawgoog Scout reservation (Still a goal)

  • Write and direct a short film (Still a goal)

  • Launch a podcast featuring the kids and me (DONE! Just 4 episodes but a real-life podcast!)

  • Learn to make an outstanding tuna avocado melt for Elysha (Failed many times)

  • Try curling (A forgotten goal but one I would love to try)

  • Teach a college class for new teachers about the things that are really important (Still a goal)

  • Officiate a funeral (What the hell was I thinking? Yet I’m still willing…)

  • Become a notary (DONE!)

  • Become an instructional coach (If I ever leave the classroom, my dream is to teach teachers in the first three years of their career)

  • Design and teach a competitive yoga class (What the hell was I thinking?)

  • Launch a storytelling podcast. Try to get Elysha to partner with you. (DONE!)

  • Land a weekly column in a major newspaper (This has been a goal for a long, long time)

  • Become an unlicensed therapist (A ridiculous idea but I think I would be exceptional at this)

  • Try stand up comedy (DONE! Many times over!)

  • Trademark “Homework for Life” (DONE!)

Not bad. Quite a few “brand new challenging life goals” weren’t as challenging as I originally thought. I was thrilled to see that quite few had been accomplished. It’s an exercise that I like a lot. It adheres to my belief that in addition to setting realistic, measurable goals for ourselves, we should also have new things on our horizons. Big idea goals. Things that might someday become a reality.

The horizon is the place where dreams are formed. It’s where we need to point ourselves. Too many people, I fear, never look to a horizon of new possibilities and instead remain fixated on their small, contained life.

In the spirit of looking to the horizon, here is the updated list that I just emailed to myself and scheduled to land in my inbox in two more years:

  • Spend a summer (or perhaps a week) at Yawgoog Scout reservation

  • Write and direct a short film

  • Learn to make an outstanding tuna avocado melt for Elysha

  • Try curling

  • Teach a college class for new teachers about the things that are really important

  • Become an instructional coach

  • Land a weekly column in a major newspaper

  • Become an unlicensed therapist

  • Build to a solid, 20 minute stand up comedy set

  • Publish a picture book

  • Break 45 (or 90) on the golf course

  • Visit with my father

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