14 “safe” changes I’d make if I could travel back in time

Time travel is a dangerous piece of business.

I have argued that the greatest super power - without question - would be the ability to travel in time. That said, I have also argued that I would prefer that this power only send our time-traveling hero forward in time, in order to see the disasters that loom ahead and perhaps prevent them, rather than travel back in time and potentially unravel everything that has already happened. 

With that in mind, I thought about my own past.

I am supremely happy with where I am today and would never risk the existence of my wife and children in order to change something in the past, but if I could go back in time and change something, I wondered what I might change that would not risk my present state of being. 

So I made a list. It's short, because large scale changes could alter my entire future. Though I would like to avoid being arrested and tried for a crime I did not commit or the armed robbery that has led to a lifetime of post traumatic stress disorder, those experiences helped me to land where I am today. I had to be careful and choose only those moments that are worth changing but would also not alter the course of my life to any great degree. 

Keeping these parameters in mind, here is my list of things I would change in my past if given the opportunity:  

  1. Complete my Eagle Scout service project earlier - before a car accident interfered with my dream of becoming an Eagle Scout.

  2. Take more photographs.

  3. Ask more girls to dance whenever possible.

  4. Listen to audiobooks sooner rather than thinking of them as "not real reading."

  5. Don’t turn down that possible threesome opportunity I had when I was 19 years old.

  6. Begin playing golf by taking actual lessons and not the occasional advice of friends who clearly did not have my best interests at heart.

  7. Visit my mother more often before her death.

  8. Punch Glenn Bacon in the face after he threw a music stand at my head in eleventh grade.

  9. Visit with Laura - my high school girlfriend - more often before her death.

  10. Complete my Master’s program both slowly and efficiently rather than quickly and expensively.

  11. Attend my grandfather's funeral.

  12. Increase the cost of my DJ services much earlier in my company's career.

  13. Don't call Pirate - our dog - back across the street and into the path of a speeding pickup truck while waiting to be picked up for Sunday school.

  14. Make that investment in Citigroup in 2008 that I talked about constantly but failed to execute.

time.jpg

Three commercials. Five minutes. Many, many laughs and perhaps a little inspiration, too.

I offer you three commercials today, each less than two minutes long that will absolutely, positively brighten your day.

The first is a commercial for Aviation Gin which features Ryan Reynolds, who owns part of the company. It’s a hilarious spot that brilliantly mocks pretentiousness and is further enhanced by Ryan Reynolds’ willingness to make fun of himself.

The next is an ad for a roller skating rink in Reno, Nevada. Here’s the very important thing to know about this commercial:

It’s real. This is not a spoof. Someone made this commercial and aired it on television with the hopes of drawing in more customers.

It’s unbelievably hilarious in a slightly terrifying way.

The last, which you’ve probably seen already, is Gillette’s brilliant and hopeful “We Believe: The Best Men Can Be.”

Here’s all you need to know about this one:

Right-wing, hyper-masculine, small-minded, frightened little man babies are still railing about this ad online more than a week after its release.

It’s that good.

Karen Pence is a bigot, but this is not news.

Karen Pence, wife of Vice President Mike Pence, is going back to work. The second lady will be teaching art at a Christian school in northern Virginia that bans gay and transgender students, faculty, and parents.

The school also forbids faculty members from cohabitation prior to marriage.

This decision has caused a bit of an uproar. After all, the Vice President’s wife is now working at a school that promotes bigotry.

Selects students based upon a bigoted criteria.

Actively excludes children from the school because of their sexual orientation.

It’s disgusting.

By banning gay and transgender students, parents, and faulty from their campus, the school is effectively judging them as unworthy.

Thus the uproar.

Kara Brooks, Pence's communications director, said the attention paid to the school's agreement is "absurd."

"Mrs. Pence has returned to the school where she previously taught for 12 years. It's absurd that her decision to teach art to children at a Christian school, and the school's religious beliefs, are under attack," Brooks said.

I kind of agree.

While it is terrible and disgraceful and disgusting for the second lady of the United States to be teaching in a school that openly promotes bigotry, it’s not exactly news that Mike and Karen Pence are bigots.

Spokesperson Kara Brooks is right. Why the uproar? This is something we’ve known for a long time.

Yes, it’s despicable that any teacher would refuse to teach a student based upon personal bigotry, but it’s not surprising when the person is a bigot.

Karen and Mike Pence are bigots, no different than the racists who defended segregation decades ago, and ultimately, they will be judged by history in the same way that we judge the likes of George Wallace and Bull Connor and Jesse Helms today.

History will aptly characterize them as bigots who deemed their sexual orientation to be the only correct and acceptable sexual orientation. They will be recorded in the history books as small-minded, hate-filled cretins who attempted through words, deeds, and legislation to deny basic human rights to Americans who were different than them.

Disgraceful and disgusting? Yes.

But newsworthy?

I don’t think so. Just a little more confirmation that our country is being run by despicable, immoral, and unjust people.

pence.jpeg

Kids get mad at "Bohemian Rhapsody"

Our kids love music.

Much of this is thanks to Elysha. As much as I love music, she loves it even more.

But it’s also in large part the result to hours of Spotify playlists playing in the car, the music playing often in our home, the endless conversations about music, and our before-bed ritual of climbing onto our bed as a family and listening to a final song to end the day.

As a result of all of this, Clara and Charlie care deeply about music and already have a great deal of background knowledge about music and the artists who make it.

This is almost always a good thing.

But yesterday morning, I was playing a playlist that featured Queen songs when “Bohemian Rhapsody” came on. Clara was in the front of the house, playing with toys, and Charlie was in the back of the house, doing the same. But about a minute into the song, both of them converged in the middle of the house, where I was working, to listen more closely to the song.

“What is this?” Charlie asked. “It makes no sense.”

“Is he okay?” Clara asked. “And why is he singing about Galileo? Does he even know who Galileo is? I don’t think he knows anything about Galileo?”

“What is this?” Charlie repeated, becoming more irritated by the second.

I tried to explain “Bohemian Rhapsody” to my children, but how do you explain “Bohemian Rhapsody” to anyone?

I tried to tell them that it’s a combination of hard rock, an opera, a ballad, and probably some other stuff that I’m not hearing or have forgotten. I told them that I think it’s a song about a man who is waiting to be executed for murder, but that might not be right at all.

I said, “It’s not supposed to make perfect sense.”

“No kidding,” Charlie said and stormed off.

Clara listened until the song was done. Then she turned to me. “Do you like that song, Daddy?”

“Yes,” I said. “A lot.”

“Okay,” she said and walked away. Unimpressed. Back to her toys.

I can’t help but wonder what Freddy Mercury would think all these years later if he knew how angry and befuddled my children became upon hearing his song.

I also can’t help but wonder how I reacted when I heard the song for the first time.

Maybe I was annoyed, too. Maybe it’’s the eventual, inevitable transformation of annoyance and befuddlement to acceptance and love that makes us love that song so much. Rather than a simple song with a simple message, “Bohemian Rhapsody” demands something from you, and as a result, it leaves its mark on your heart and soul.

I look forward to watching my kids fall in love with it like I have.

7 bits of parenting advice that I stand by without reservation

Oddly, I am often asked for parenting advice.

I say oddly because I’m hardly an expert, but I suspect that two decades of teaching and two relatively well adjusted children have caused some folks to think I know something about how to raise kids.

I often refrain from offering parenting advice on a public scale because every time I suggest a course of action, some parent whose current course of action deviates from my own feels offended by my suggestion and outraged by my presumptuousness.

Parents can be pretty prickly when it comes to their parenting.

But I was recently asked by a few people - including a few readers of my “Ask the Teacher” Slate column - for my thoughts on parenting. While I have many, many suggestions, I offer seven that I can stand by and defend without reservation.

The rest will have to wait for a day when I am better prepared to suffer the slings and arrows of thin-skinned, exceedingly outraged mothers and fathers.

7 Deep Thoughts on Parenting

  1. Don’t assume that your journey with your children will be anything like another parent’s journey with their children. These are human beings. They contain multitudes. You can’t begin to predict the future path of another parent, so don’t even try. If a parent asks for advice, fine. But unsolicited warnings of doom and gloom are presumptuous, ridiculous, and mean.

  2. If you’re going to complain about parenting to the parents of children younger than your own, you must adhere to a 6:1 ratio - six positive comments about parenting for every one negative comment.

  3. Don’t say even one negative thing to parents expecting a baby for the first time. They deserve to be allowed to bask in the joy of expectant parental bliss, goddamn it. Keep your mouth shut. Besides, things may go swimmingly for them. Your journey may have sucked, but it doesn’t mean their journey will.

  4. Don’t become emotionally attached to the terrible behavior of your children. They are human beings, wholly separate from yourself and filled with flaws and foibles completely unrelated to you and how you’ve raised them. Your daughter’s rage-filled restaurant tantrum is not a reflection on you as a parent or person. It’s merely an example of your daughter’s selfishness and stupidity at the moment. In fact, it’s incredibly self-centered and completely ridiculous to think that every bad decision that your child makes has anything to do with you. So stop feeling like a failure every time your kid acts like a jerk. Stop being embarrassed or humiliated when your child acts like a fool in public. It’s your child who should be embarrassed, Not you.

  5. Parenting can be exceptionally hard at times because nothing good in this world ever comes easy. It’s hard because it’s also the best thing you may ever do. So stop complaining so much, damn it. Did you really think it would be a cake walk? Besides, you’re constantly posting moments of beauty and bliss on Facebook and Instagram, so it can’t be all that bad.

  6. There’s nothing wrong with allowing you child to occasionally stare at a screen for an hour or two so you can relax or get something done. You’ve been bringing that kid to parks and libraries and museums and karate class and birthday parties for years. A screen isn’t going to undo all the good that you’ve already done. Besides, you deserve an hour or two of guilt-free peace and quiet every once in a while, and it’ll make you and your child happier in the process.

  7. Diapers are easy. It’s car seats that suck.

family.jpeg

Speak Up Storytelling #32: Tom Reed Swale

On episode #32 of the Speak Up Storytelling podcast, Elysha Dicks and I talk storytelling!

In our followup segment, we talk about new workshop dates and links, a surprising email from a merchant marine, and a girl crush on Elysha. 

In our Homework for Life segment, we talk about finding and collecting stories while visiting familiar locations from our lives and how some of them could be great stories to tell. 

Next we listen to Tom Reed Swale's story about love on a college campus.

After listening, we discuss:

  1. The power of self deprecating humor

  2. The best places to start stories

  3. Enhancing the power of surprise in a story

  4. Capturing mood and tone through vocal inflection 

  5. The hazards of cultural references

  6. Avoiding the de-activation of your audience's imagination

Next, we answer questions about telling stories that cast people in a negative light and the possibility of two people sharing a stage to tell a story.

Finally, we each offer a recommendation.  

LINKS

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

Peter Aguero and Sara Peter's TED Talk:
https://bit.ly/2Ciqgir

She Held My Hand:
https://bit.ly/2TPb5o6

RECOMMEDATIONS

Elysha:

Matt

Speak Up logo.png

Hurting children because you are stupid

Elysha bought me a new Quip toothbrush. I am very excited. If you don’t have a Quip or don’t know what a Quip toothbrush is, find out.

It’s fantastic.

While I’m thinking about how clean my teeth are going to be, consider this:

In 2013, the city council of Windsor, Ontario voted 8-3 to stop putting fluoride in the city water supply.

Libertarians argued that they should be able to decide what they put in their bodies.

Far stupider people argued that fluoride is bad for you in the same way vaccines are supposedly bad for children.

So the fluoride was removed, and between the years of 2011 and 2017, the percentage of children with tooth decay or requiring urgent dental care increased by a staggering 51 percent.

Then, in 2018, with far less fanfare, that same Windsor City Council voted to reintroduce water fluoridation by a vote of 8-3.

Good news, unless of course you were unfortunate enough to be growing up during the six years that fluoride was absent from the water. In your case, you have more cavities and tooth disease thanks to libertarians. dumbass conspiracy theorists, and do-nothing politicians.

It’s one thing to hold back progress because your conservative values cause you to like things just the way they are. It’s usually done to preserve the dominance of the white patriarchy, but not always. Sometimes conservative values are far less sinister than the ones on display in today’s world.

But it’s entirely another thing when bigots, religious zealots, anti-vaxxers, and other dimwits try to force society back two or three steps.

That’s the worst. Eroding progress is disgraceful and must be stopped at all costs.

Also, go get yourself a Quip toothbrush. It’s fantastic.

quip.jpg

I have a new job. And two simple strategies that helped me land it.

Despite Elysha’s best attempts, I have a new job.

As of Friday, I’m now a Notary Public for the State of Connecticut.

Admittedly there won’t be much work in this new role. Need a document notarized?

I’m your man. But that doesn’t exactly happen all that often.

I became interested in becoming a notary public about three years ago when I learned that my friend’s mother held the position. I wondered what was required to do the same, so I went online and found an explanation of the process, which included reading and studying the fairly lengthy manual, completing a fairly lengthy application, passing a test, and gathering signatures and statements of fitness from friends and colleagues.

Thus I began my journey.

I mention this because it’s a good example of two important strategies that I use to make more efficient use of my time and get more done:

Incrementalism

This is the process by which large project can be completed over a long period of time if you’re willing to commit to an incremental approach to its completion.

The perfect example of this is cleaning out a closet or a basement. So many people see these tasks as “all or nothing.” Either you commit a full day to getting the job done or it doesn’t get done at all.

This may sound ridiculous, but it’s how most people think about large, complex, time consuming tasks. Rather than committing to putting away one item of clothing a day or removing three items a week from the basement, people allow these problems to become worse while they wait to find a full day to tackle the problem.

Not only is it foolish to give away a day of your life to a project like this, but it often means the project never gets done.

I hear would-be authors tell me that they can only work on their novel if they have a solid hour or two or three to work. This is also foolish. If you’re a real writer and want to be published someday, you’ll recognize that 10 minutes is enough to write a few sentences or revise a paragraph or edit a page.

I tell these writers that there were men in the trenches of World War I, wearing gas masks, dodging bullets, and writing. They did not wait for an hour or two or three to work. They wrote whenever they could, and so can you.

I write in large chunks of time but more often in slivers of time. Five minutes here. Half an hour there. Whatever I can find. It’s how I’ve written and published five books and have three more on the way.

I took the same approach to the process of becoming a notary. It wasn’t a pressing demand, so I simply created a folder on my desktop with all of the materials required to become a notary, and when I found myself with a few extra minutes, I opened the folder and continued with the work. It took three years to complete, but I didn’t surrender a 4-6 hour chunk of time when I could’ve been doing something with my family and friends, and eventually accomplished the goal.

Segmentation:

This is the process by which I carve our times in my life to work on specific tasks, often utilizing time that people ignore to do so.

For example, when it comes to crafting stories, I do most of this work in the shower and while driving. Since I do this work orally and don’t ever write anything down, I have committed myself to working on new stories every single time I shower and whenever I’m driving for more than 15 minutes at a time.

Why do I always have a new story? Because I’m always showering and driving.

A storyteller once said that he can’t imagine where I find the time to continually craft new stories, and I explained that I didn’t have to find any time. I just inserted storytelling into time that was otherwise being wasted.

I took the same approach to completing my work to become a notary. I only worked on this project when I found myself waiting for a meeting to start. Either I was a little early or (more likely) the meeting was starting late. In either case, I opened my notary folder and went to work.

Three years later, after working in 5-10 minute segments of time, I was finished.

These are two of many, many strategies that I use to accomplish my goals, but I like to think that they are both easy to implement and highly effective.

Look at your life. Do you have a large, seemingly overwhelming project to tackle? Has it been staring you in the face for what seems like forever?

See if incrementalism and segmentation can help.

And remember, if you need something notarized, I’m your man. Despite Elysha’s wishes, I have me a new job.

notary.jpeg

The ongoing lies of the Trump administration regarding the border wall paint a clear picture

Here’s an important rule to live by:

If the case being made is supported by lies, then the argument is invalid and the case isn’t real.

Case in point:

Trump is claiming that there is an emergency at our southern border. Put aside the fact that four days before Christmas, Trump said exactly the opposite when he tweeted this:

The tweet alone should bring the idea of an emergency on the border to a screeching halt.

If there is a real emergency on our southern border, there would be cold, hard facts to support this claim.

Here is what we have heard so far:

A week ago, Trump claimed that “some” of the former United States Presidents had spoken to him in support of the wall, expressing regret that they had not built it themselves.

Every living President has refuted this claim.

Then, prior to Trump’s address to the nation on Tuesday night, Vice President Mike Pence went on multiple television networks and said that 17,000 individuals with criminal histories had been apprehended on our southern border in 2018.

Except this was not true. Not even close.

The 17,000 individuals referenced by Pence constituted every single person stopped at every possible point of entry in the United States for every possible reason.

Not only those on the southern border, and no only those with criminal histories. If you were stopped on the border because of a problem with your passport or an undeclared jar of strawberry jam, you were included in that number.

So Pence was lying.

In total, 362,000 people were apprehended by Border Patrol, but of those:

Only 6,259 had criminal convictions on their records.

Of those, fewer than 800 had been convicted of violent crimes or crimes involving firearms.

A lot fewer than Pence’s number.

On Sunday morning, White House spokesperson Sarah Sanders claimed that 4,000 known or suspected terrorists attempted to enter the United States last year and that our southern border is the easiest means of entry.

But Fox News anchor Chris Wallace pointed out that none of those 4,000 terrorists or suspected terrorists attempted to enter through the southern border.

All fo them were apprehended at airports. Every single one.

But even this proved not to be entirely true, because of the 4,000 apprehended, only 6 were actually detained.

In fact a vast majority of undocumented immigrants arrive to the US via airplanes, and the rate of illegal immigration on our southern border (and throughout the country) has been declining for years.

Then Trump spoke to the nation on Tuesday night and told Americans that:

  1. Border security officials have requested a wall.

  2. The Democrats have requested that the wall be constructed of steel rather than concrete.

Neither one of these are even close to being true.

The truth is that not a single member of Congress who represents a district on the border supports the wall, including Republican William Hurd, a former CIA agent who campaigned against the wall and won.

Yesterday, Trump claimed that he never promised that Mexico would directly pay for the wall, even though campaign video footage and documents still on the Trump campaign website record Trump saying that Mexico would make a “one time payment of ten to twenty billion dollars” to pay for the wall.

All of this is important because Trump and his administration are lying again and again to the American people in order to defend a wall on the southern border that less than a third of Americans support.

Blatant, bold-faced lies.

And not only is Trump willing to lie to the American people, but folks like Mike Pence and Sarah Sanders are willing to appear on national television and do the same.

A racist President who launched his Presidential campaign by calling Mexican immigrants “rapists, and some good people, I suppose” is attempting to save face by demanding a wall that Americans don’t want and Mexico refuses to pay for by shutting down the government and causing hardship to millions of Americans who are either out of work or lacking basic government services.

This is a man who questioned why we accept immigrants from “shit hole” African nations and why we don’t accept more immigrants from places like Norway.

Trump’s wall is an attempt to stop immigration at the border because the people crossing that border are not white. It’s the act of a racist who wants to preserve the white majority status by preventing Mexicans and Africans and anyone else whose skin is brown from entering our country.

But he has no facts to support his cause. No data to defend his arguments. So he lies. His administration lies. They make up and manipulate numbers in hopes of stoking fear and resentment while damaging the lives of millions of Americans who are suffering during a government shut down.

It’s an amoral act of an administration that cares nothing for the American people.

The lies are the proof.

Dad is clearly an idiot

Clara, age 9, came down stairs on Saturday morning, popped open her Chromebook, and started pecking away.

I waited a few minutes, but when she failed to acknowledge my existence, I finally asked what she was doing.

“Just doing a little research on tsunamis.”

“Oh,” I said. “You woke up thinking about tidal waves?”

“Yes, but don’t call them tidal waves anymore, Dad. They have nothing to do with tides. I’m sure I’ve told you that before.

Because this is exactly what I want in the pre-dawn hours of a Saturday morning.

Pre-teen intellectual irritation.

Eric Trump blocked me on Twitter

As you may know, I joined The Knight Foundation’s lawsuit against Donald Trump back in 2017 when he blocked me on Twitter.

On August 28, 2018, the court sided with me and my fellow plaintiffs, and Donald Trump was forced to unblock me, allowing me to see his tweets and respond to them again.

A glorious day for me. You can read about it here if you’d like.

Since then, I’ve been once again free to express my opinions to Trump via Twitter, which I do often because it both amuses me and makes me feel good. On a few occasions, it has also prompted my fellow Americans to express their appreciation for my running commentary.

One man recently wrote: “I read all of the tweets you send to Trump. Thank you. I’m not a writer so I’m not always sure what to say to him but I like knowing that you’re saying it for me.”

Sweet. Right?

This past week, I discovered that Eric Trump, Donald’s middle son, has now blocked me on Twitter, which is weird since I don’t ever tweet or even read Eric Trump’s tweets.

I follow Donald Trump Jr. and occasionally have choice words for him (since he may have committed treason in Trump Tower in 2016 and has definitely and publicly changed his story about that meeting at least half a dozen times), and I even have occasional words for his daughter, Ivanka, but Eric Trump has always struck me as the slightly less evil, definitely less intelligent, relatively benign Trump child.

He didn’t attend the meeting in Trump Tower that day.

He doesn’t traffic in the alt-right movement like his brother. At least not publicly.

He doesn’t defend his father’s racism, sexism, xenophobia, and stupidity online daily.

He says little of importance, so I’ve never wasted my time with him.

And yet he blocked me.

I only noticed the block because a journalist recently cited one of his tweets, which was hidden from me on my feed. When that happens, it’s an indication that either the tweet has been deleted or you are blocked from seeing that person’s tweets.

I was blocked.

There’s nothing I can do about getting Eric Trump to unblock me. While feckless and complicit Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner work for the government, Eric and his brother do not. Instead, they pretend to be running the Trump Organization, so blocking me is perfectly within his rights.

Even though I’ve never tweeted at him or about him.

My guess about what happened is this:

I was spouting off at his dad on Twitter and he saw my comment, thought it deadly accurate, and blocked me rather than being exposed to future truth about his father’s racism, sexism, xenophobia, narcissism, and incompetence.

That’s understandable. Discovering that our parents are just human beings (or in Eric Trump’s case, despicable and vile human beings), as flawed as we are (or in Eric Trump’s case, more flawed than most human beings) is never easy.

Poor little Eric Trump. I hope I haven’t upset him too much.

eric trump.jpg

Silver linings can be quite lovely

Storytellers often tell me that they don’t want to tell a specific story because even though the moment was a bad one for them, it was nothing compared to the suffering that others experience on a daily basis.

“Hogwash,” I say.

If we allowed this to be the standard for telling a story, only the people suffering the most on this Earth would have the right to tell their stories. If you’re not starving or falsely imprisoned or being burned at the stake, you don’t get to tell the story about your terrible, no good, very bad day.

Pain and suffering should never be ignored or denied simply because you know of someone in a far worse state. Problems should not be discarded simply because others suffer far worse problems than you.

Our suffering is real, regardless of how it compares to the suffering of another person. Our problems are real, regardless of how they compare to the problems of others. We have a right to those stories.

Admittedly, it might be a good idea to avoid describing your problems and your suffering as the worst on the planet. And acknowledging some perspective might be a good idea, too. But you get to tell these stories because they are real and authentic and true. You own these stories. You need not worry that your suffering hasn’t been great enough and your problems haven’t been large enough to warrant a story.

Sometimes telling them will also make you feel a little better.

That said, I do find great value in learning about the suffering of others, not to mitigate or negate our own suffering or make our problems seem petty and stupid, but to teach us to also count our blessings. Recognize the great fortune we enjoy. Find our silver linings.

You can only live your life, and pain is pain, regardless of the degree. But being able to see that along with our pain and suffering, we are also blessed with great fortune is a way to perhaps feel a little better about our existence.

Find some balance.

Discover some slivers of light in our sometimes (or oftentimes) dark world.

This brilliantly and fascinating little video, entitled Styrofoam, might offer a little bit of that.

Speak Up Storytelling #31: David Ring

On episode #31 of the Speak Up Storytelling podcast, Elysha Dicks and I talk storytelling!

In our followup segment, we talk about two emails received related to Homework for Life, including a sample of Homework for Life from the 1800's!

Next, we talk about finding and collecting stories in your everyday life using "Homework for Life." We talk about the value of waiting to tell a story, the possibility that you are in the midst of a story, and the way that some stories can stretch across decades. 

Next we listen to David Ring's story about a trial, a possible death penalty, and a hit ordered on his life.

After listening, we discuss:

  1. A great first sentence

  2. The way that choices about description and leaning description in a certain direction can help tell the story

  3. The power of contrast in description

  4. "Nonfiction" in storytelling

  5. The appropriate absence of humor in storytelling

  6. The elimination of "I remember..." from stories

Next, we answer questions about using Homework for Life to recapture recorded memories and the differences between personal narrative storytelling and the telling of folktales, fables, fiction, or informational text. 

Finally, we each offer a recommendation.  

LINKS

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

RECOMMEDATIONS

Elysha:

Matt

13 was not a good number in 1989. It's especially bad in 2019.

Total women in the U.S. House of Representatives:

1989:
16 Democrats
13 Republicans

2019:
89 Democrats
13 Republicans

There are terrible and embarrassing numbers, of course.

First, and most egregious: Only 23 percent of the House members are women. This Congress may have a record number of female members, but in a country where more than half of the population is female, this is a ridiculous number. A stupid number. An indicator of how much progress is still needed.

Also disturbing:

It’s almost as if there are members of the Republican party who really don’t think a woman’s place is in Congress. In 30 years, the anemic number of Republican women in the House has stayed the same. It seems as some at least a majority of Republicans favor men over women when it comes to national leadership.

They seem to specifically favor white men, too. Of the 55 African American members of the House of Representatives, just one is a Republican.

It would seem that Republicans believe that white men make the best leaders.

But that can’t be. It must be some kind of statistical anomaly. Some odd effect of gerrymandering.

After all, what kind of troglodytic moron would ever think that women or African Americans don’t deserve a place in Congress?

Or Muslims? Or members of the LGBTQ community?

The Republican party doesn’t have any of them, either, but again, it must be some kind of statistical anomaly. An unintended consequence of where African Americans tend to live.

And women, too. It would appear that even women are not evenly distributed across the country, and a vast majority of them settle in Democratic districts.

In fact, based upon Congressional representation, there must be entire swaths of our country populated primary by white, straight men.

Not a woman to be found.

Otherwise we’d have to assume that a majority of Republicans don’t want to vote for women. And African Americans. And members of the LGBTQ community. Also Muslims and Native Americans.

We might even assume that a lot of them are sexist, racist, homophobic, and Islamophobic.

In short, bigots.

But this can’t be. If given the opportunity, I’m sure the Republican party would happily elect an openly bisexual man or a Muslim woman. I’m sure they would flock to the polls to elect a plurality of women or many, many more African Americans.

Right?

116.png

Things I Do #13: I turn on the passenger seat heater in my car on especially cold days

When it’s frigid outside and the interior of my car is exceptionally cold, I turn on the passenger seat heater in addition to my own seat heater and the regular heater, thinking that the minuscule amount of heat emitted from the warm, empty seat beside me will help warm up the interior, and therefore me, faster.

It’s ridiculous, I know. Stupid, too. There’s no way that small amount of heat makes any real difference at all. Nevertheless, it makes me feel better.

I like knowing that I’m doing all I can to get warm.

A man who should know better is worried about balance

Charlie bought a book at Barnes & Noble this weekend entitled “Stories of Boys Who Dare To Be Different.”

As I handed it to the cashier, he turned it over in his hands, examined the cover, and said, “See, this is good. I’m glad they’re writing these books for boys, too. It’s not a boys versus girls thing, but it’s balance that we need.”

The man behind the counter was young and clearly obtuse. Ill informed. I could’ve allowed his comment to go unchallenged, but because I am me, I could not resist.

It also sounded like he was lecturing me, which admittedly annoyed me, too.

So I fired away.

“You’re worried about balance?” I asked. “You really think that I should be worried that my son won’t find characters who represent him in literature? You really think it’s going to be a struggle for my white American son to find authors and heroes and leaders who look like him? I’m happy he’s excited about this book, but if every book for the next ten years was only written about women and by women, the gap between men and women in literature would still be enormous.”

“It’s just that there are a lot of books written for girls today,” he said, sounding sheepish, which was a good sign. At least he understood that the ground he was standing on was flawed.

“Those books aren’t written for girls,” I said with more force than was necessary, but now I was especially annoyed and, if I’m being honest, having some fun. “They’re written about girls, but they are written for everyone. Boys can read about girls, too.”

The man quickly turned his attention to scanning the last couple books. A second later, he announced my total, turning our discussion into a simple transaction.

He was done with me, either because I had snapped at him a bit or because he thought that as a Barnes & Noble employee, this was not the best means of conversation to have with a customer.

If I’m being honest again, I was disappointed. I was preparing to roll out the fact that I’m a teacher of 20 years and the author of four novels and a book of nonfiction as a means of credentialing myself.

Also possibly making myself look like a jackass.

After I paid for the books, I stepped aside and immediately opened my phone so I could record the conversation as best as I could remember it.

I like to be accurate.

Then I told Elysha because I knew that she would share my annoyance.

It’s incredible to think that there are men in this world who are threatened by the prospect that women might find an equal footing in literature or commerce or science or politics or whatever they damn well please.

It’s astounding to me that a man could work in a bookstore, surrounded by books written by white men, and think that books like the Rebel Girls series or an increase in the number of biographies of women or books written by female authors might be creating an imbalance of any kind in the world of books.

Has he not examined the books on the shelves? Does he really think that the scales are about to tip and books about boys are going to disappear forever? Is he that afraid of the idea of sharing space in this world with women?

This encounter was surprising to me, but it shouldn’t be. Frightened little boys in man suits walk amongst us every day, worried that the privilege they have enjoyed for tens of thousands of years might not be as absolute as it once was. These penis-bearing cowards are afraid of world where they will need to compete against women for power and position. They are repulsed by the idea that a bookshelf might someday hold more books written by and about women than men.

How small and sad these little men are.

New Year’s Resolutions 2019

At the beginning of every year I establish a list of goals (or New Year's resolutions) for the coming calendar year. I post this list on my blog and social media as a means of holding myself accountable.

I recommend this to everyone. I've been engaged in this process since 2010, and I am convinced that I have been more productive and more successful as a result, even though my average goal completion rate stands at about 55%.

I've learned that setting exceptionally high goals and dispassionately accepting failure are critical to achievement.

An unexpected side benefit has been the occasional assistance of readers in completing some of my goals, through advice, recommendations, and sometimes even direct intervention.

People are kind, and I never turn down help.

Equally unexpected is the interest in these blog posts on my yearly goals and monthly updates. I often feel like updating my progress each month is the least interesting thing I write, but apparently there are readers out there who disagree. They are some of my most-read posts.

Below is my list of 44 goals for 2019. I always reserve the right to add a goal to the list through the month of January.

__________________________________________________

PERSONAL HEALTH

1. Don’t die.

Recommended by a friend years ago. Still valid today and deserving of the first spot on the list.

2. Lose 20 pounds.

I tried to lose 20 pounds in 2016 but only lost 8.
I tried to lose 20 points in 2017 but only lost 8. 
I tried to lose 20 pounds in 2018 but only lost 6.

Since my first weight goal back in 2010, I've lost a total of 66 pounds. Another 20 is ambitious, but it would get me down to my high school weight. I’m willing to try to make that happen.

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

Readers and friends proposed this goal to me last year more than any other. Though I increased my vegetable and fruit consumption considerably in 2018, there were many days when I did not eat three servings of fruits and vegetables.

I’m altering the goal this year to make it more achievable by allowing myself to fail once per week.  

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

I’ve accomplished this goal for six years in a row, but it’s not exactly automatic (because it’s still hard and oftentimes a pain in the ass), so it remains on the list.

5. Do burpees three days a week.

I need to do a new exercise and vary my routine a bit, and this is apparently a good one. I have no idea how many burpees I’ll be able to do, so I’m keeping this one ambiguous. I just plan on doing them three days a week. We’ll see where that takes me.

WRITING CAREER

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

With novels #5 and #6 already done and slated to publish this year, it's time to complete the next one.

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

I wrote three picture books in 2015.  
I wrote another three in 2016. 
I started but did not finish four picture books in 2017.
Those four books, plus two more, remained unfinished in 2018.

I haven't sold any of them. 

My goal for 2019 is to finish the year with five more completed picture books. This can include books that I began in 2017 but didn't finish and/or brand new ones.

At least one must feature a non-white, non-male protagonist. 

8. Write a memoir.

Rather than writing a proposal for a memoir, my agent and I decided in 2018 that it would best if I simply wrote the book, so that process has begun. I plan to complete the memoir by the end of 2019.

9. Write a new screenplay.

I failed to write a screenplay in 2016 and 2017 after writing my first in 2015. I started a new one in 2018 but it’s not close to completion. I intend to finish it in 2019.

10. Write a musical.

In 2012 composer and lyricist Andy Mayo and I wrote and produced a rock opera called The Clowns at a local theater and have been trying to get it into festivals or other theaters ever since. 

It’s very good.

For the last three years, we’ve written musicals for a local summer camp. One of those musicals was also produced by a children's theater company in 2016.

In 2018 I began writing our next show - our first adult musical since The Clowns. I plan on finishing it in 2019.

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

A completed goal from 2017 and 2018 that I will repeat in 2019.

In 2018, I published two pieces in Parents magazine, in additional to my quarterly column in Seasons magazine and my advice column in Slate magazine. Not bad, but I'd still like to get my first piece in The New York Times in 2019.

My dream goal is to land another column in a magazine, newspaper, or online publication this year, but I’m keeping this goal more reasonable.

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

A completed goal from 2017 and 2018 that I will repeat again this year.

None of the publishing outlets accepted my short stories (still waiting on three to respond), but I will try again in 2019.

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

In 2016, I wrote about backing into parking spots, daily affirmations, and bottle flipping.

In 2017, I wrote about prayer, cold showers, and talking to strangers.

In 2018, I wrote about following pop culture and saying grace before a meal.

I've actually adopted one of these behaviors (cold showers) and realized that I was already doing another (talking to strangers).

Though my opinion of most of these activities didn't change, it was a useful experiment each time, so I'll repeat this in 2019.

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

Growth rates in my newsletter over the past three years have been:

2016: 29%
2017: 25%
2018: 68%

If I grow the list by another 25% in 2019. I will hit my goal of 3,000 subscribers. A very reasonable goal.

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

15. Write at least six letters to my father.

A completed goal from 2017 and 2018 that I will repeat in 2019.

My father and I have been writing sporadic letters to each other since 2013. Since we speak little, it's been a great way to get to know a man who disappeared from much of my life at the age of eight. I intend to write to him every other month with the hope that he will write to me on my off months.  

16. Write 100 letters in 2019.

I wrote 61 letters in 2018, failing to hit my goal of 100, but I’m setting 100 as the goal again. The plan is to write a letter (paper, envelope, and stamp) every three days or so, to students, colleagues, friends, family, and anyone else who is deserving of praise, gratitude, recognition, scathing retribution, or the like.

It's a way of making a day a little brighter for another person that appeals to me a lot. 

17. Convert Greetings Little One into a book.

A failed goal from 2017 and 2018.

I wrote a blog during the first eight years of my children's lives. I stopped writing in December of 2015. Though I've considered resuming the writing, I would like to have the content already created preserved in a physical form. There are services that can do this work, but I want it done well. Edited. Photos positioned appropriately on the page. Videos removed. I'm willing to hire someone to produce this or find another way to have it done well.  

STORYTELLING

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

Since we launched Speak up back in 2013, we have produced more than 60 shows.

2013: 3
2014: 8
2015: 12
2016: 17
2017: 17
2018: 13

With Elysha returning to work, the push to produce shows has relaxed a bit, so 10 seems like a reasonable number for the year.

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

Elysha and I are in the process of updating our Speak Up logo. Once finished, I plan on designing and selling Speak Up swag - tee shirts, hats, tote bags - at our storytelling events. Making a little money on the swag would be great, but the real goal is to simply allow our audience to express their support for us and the show on a more regular basis.

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

I’ve had some bad luck in terms of TED Talks.

I did a TED Talk at the AT&T Conference Center in 2013 that went extremely well, but technical difficulties made the audio on the recording almost indiscernible.

I did a TED Talk at Western Connecticut State University in 2013 that went flawlessly, but the college students who hosted the conference never posted the recording online.

I did a TED Talk in April of 2014 in Somerville, Massachusetts that also went well, but my 15 minute talk was accidentally put on a nine minute timer, which forced me to dump sections of my talk on the fly and speak faster than I would’ve liked. The talk was good, but it was not exactly what I had planned. There was room for improvement.

I did a TED Talk at Boston University in April of 2015. The recording started almost two minutes into my talk, and one of the cameras failed. The actual talk went well but the recording is useless. Again, I'd like to repeat this talk at some point for TED. 

I did a TED Talk in November of 2015 in the Berkshires that went very well. The recording is excellent. Huzzah! 

I did a TED Talk in January of 2016 in Natick, MA, that also went very well. The recording is excellent. Huzzah!

I did a TED Talk in April of 2016 at The Country School in Madison, CT, repeating that first TED Talk that didn't get recorded well in 2013. I had to hold a microphone, which complicated things a bit, and there was no timer, so I had to rush in fear of going long. I'm still not entirely satisfied with the talk. I'd like to repeat it again under optimal circumstances.  

I did a TED Talk in May of 2017 at the Pomfret School. Again, I had a handheld mic and no timer. Still, I thought it went well but could be better.  

I have several talk ideas that I’ll be pitching in 2019.

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

My Moth attendance over recent years have been:

2015: 27
2016: 26
2017: 20
2018: 15

As opportunities to speak and perform at other venues for a variety of organizations have increased, the time I’ve had to dedicate to Moth events has decreased, even though they remain my favorite shows in the world.

Give me a Moth StorySLAM any day.

Attending 15 Moth events in 2019 is a reasonable goal, I hope.

22. Win at least three Moth StorySLAMs.

Three wins feels ambitious for 2019 (especially after failing to win three in 2018), but since 2011, I've won 46% of the Moth StorySLAMs that I’ve competed in, and that percentage has remained fairly steady over the years.

If I compete in at least 10 StorySLAMs in 2019, I should be able to win at least three based upon previous percentages. This goal depends upon the decisions of others (which I try to avoid when setting goals), but competing in StorySLAMs just isn't enough to justify the goal.

I need to win.  

23. Win a Moth GrandSLAM.

I won one GrandSLAM in 2014.
I won two GrandSLAMs in 2015.
I won one GrandSLAM in 2016.
I failed to win a GrandSLAM in 2017.   
I won two GrandSLAMs in 2018.

This goal also depends upon the decisions of others, but competing in a Moth GrandSLAM is a forgone conclusion (I’m competing in one this month) and just isn't enough to justify the goal. 

Once again, I need to win.

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

Elysha and I produced 30 episodes in 2018, beginning in May, and we hope to do even better in 2019, particularly as our audience grows.

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

I performed stand up six times in 2018. I’d lie to get up at least four more times in 2019. 

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.

This is a request from several of my storytelling students. I’ve been hesitant to teach a class like this, simply because I’m not sure if they need me to tell their stories. My advanced storytelling workshops afford every person the opportunity to tell a story, but they also include instruction, modeling, lessons, and new content.

A workshop like the one proposed would have none of that. I would simply listen to and critique stories. And while I can almost always teach a concept or strategy to the whole group based upon a person’s story, I feel like storytellers can get these critiques and perhaps even lessons from each other without needing me.

But it’s been requested quite a few times, so I’ll give it a shot in 2019.

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

I had a story on This American Life in May of 2014. Since then, I’ve occasionally pitched stories to someone I know who works for the show. In 2019 I want to make a more concerted effort to pitch stories to this show that I adore.

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

When I was listing possible publicity opportunities for Storyworthy with my publicist, Marc Maron’s WTF was top of the list. I’ve been listening since his first episode, and I would love to have a conversation with him. I’ve pitched myself to him before, and I’ll do it again, at least three times, in 2019.

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.

I was inspired by the New York Times story of Carolyn Kenyon and Judith Jones, both of Ithaca, NY, who raised $12,500 and sent it to the debt-forgiveness charity RIP Medical Debt, which then purchased a portfolio of $1.5 million of medical debts on their behalf. As a result, 1,284 New Yorkers were freed over their medical debt.

I love the idea of leveraging pennies on the dollar for an incredible cause, so I intend on doing the same in 2019. I’m not sure how I’ll raise the money yet, but I look forward to exploring options.

30. Complete my Eagle Scout project.

Back in 1988, I was 17 year-old Boy Scout preparing to complete my Eagle Scout service project so I could earn the rank that I had dreamed about for most of my childhood. In truth, I was qualified to earn my Eagle rank almost two years before, having earned the required merit badges and more, but my service project had been sitting on the back burner, waiting to be completed.

I needed a parent or two to light a fire under my butt and support me in this endeavor, but I wasn’t graced with that level of parental involvement at the time.

My plan was to plant trees in a cemetery in my hometown of Blackstone, MA. My troop had planted trees in that same cemetery about five year before, but those trees had died. I wanted to replace them and complete the work that we had originally promised.

Then, on December 23, 1988, I was in a car accident that nearly killed me. As a result of the accident, I was in a full-length leg cast for three months and required an enormous amount of healing and recovery. With just three months left until I turned 18 (the deadline to complete an Eagle service project), my parents requested an extension, and it was denied.

My childhood dream of becoming an Eagle Scout was over. It’s one of my life’s greatest regrets.

Maybe the greatest.

But I recently decided that it would be good to complete that Eagle Scout project even though it won’t come with my much desire Eagle Scout rank.

It feels right. Maybe I’ll feel a little better about the past.

I plan on doing this in 2019.

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

We have a pile of photos, prints, art, and creations of our children just waiting to be hung on our walls and displayed on our shelves. Part of our delay has been the plan to paint our walls, but waiting is dumb. By the end of the year, I intend on having at least 25 of these photos, prints, and art displayed in our home.

32. Renovate our first floor bathroom.

The floor in our first floor bathroom is falling apart. The walls are ugly, Elysha despises the sink. Renovation is required. It must happen soon.

33. Organize our second floor bathroom.

Our second floor bathroom, used primarily by our kids, is filled with bins of clothing, extra furniture, and more. I need to tackle it aggressively so it’s a well organized, tidy room for the kids. It’s hard to ask children to keep their room clean when they use a room every day that is cluttered.

MISCELLANEOUS

34. Cook at least 12 good meals (averaging one per month) in 2016.

A failed goal from 2017 and 2018 that I will attempt in 2019. I told Elysha that I would make at least one meal a week now that she’s working again, so a dozen dinners shouldn’t be difficult.

35. Plan a reunion of the Heavy Metal Playhouse.

My friend, Bengi, and I lived in a home that became known as the Heavy Metal Playhouse from 1989-1993. It was four of the best years of my life. Enormous parties, the closest of friendships, and the wildness of youth left an indelible mark on me. While I stay in touch with many of my friends from those days, I have not seen many of them in a long time. We have attempted to plan a reunion in the past without success.

In 2016, I tried to plan a reunion but was unable to secure a venue. 

In 2017, I tried to plan a reunion but was unable to secure a venue.

In 2018, I didn’t even try to secure a venue.

I'd really like to make this happen in 2019. 

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

I haven't put my kids on their bikes often enough. Part of this has to do with Charlie's age, but after watching my brother get hit by a car while riding his bike as a kid (and being partially responsible for the accident), I've always been nervous about riding with other people. I don't worry about my own safety, but I worry constantly about the safety of others.

In 2018, I changed this by getting my kids on their bikes with me 27 times. They started to get very comfortable and excited about riding. I plan to repeat this in 2019.

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

In 2016, I avoided all negative comments related to a person's physical appearance.

In 2017 I avoided all comments, both positive and negative, about the physical appearance of any person save my wife, children, and in-laws in an effort to reduce the focus on physical appearance in our culture overall. 

I achieved this goal, and by writing about it, I convinced at least eight other people to adopt the policy as well.

For this reason, I will repeat this goal in 2019, even though it's now simply become something I do.  

38. Surprise Elysha at least six times in 2016.

A completed goal from 2017 and 2018 that I will repeat in 2019. 

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.

A failed goal from 2012, 2016, and 2017 and 2018 that I am continuing to pursue because these windows are making me crazy.    

40. Clean the basement. 

This was a completed goal from 2014 that needed to be repeated again in 2018 because it has filled up again. I did not finish the job last year, so it remains on the list for 2019.  

41. Set a new personal best in golf.

A failed goal from 2017 and 2018.

My lowest score for nine holes is a 45, and my lowest score for 18 holes is 95. I’d like to improve on either score in 2019.

42. Play poker at least six times in 2019.

A completed goal in 2017 that I failed to complete in 2018.

I love poker. I paid for our honeymoon with profits from poker. I made a mortgage payment in 2012 with poker profits. I am a very good poker player who stopped playing regularly in 2015 because of the time shifted to writing and storytelling.

I missed poker a great deal and brought it last year. Six games in 2019 is not an unreasonable goal even though I failed to achieve it in 2018.  

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

A completed goal in 2017 that I failed to repeat in 2018.

Bengi and I met in a Milford, MA McDonald's back in 1987, and we have been friends ever since. We once lived together (in the aforementioned Heavy Metal Playhouse) and started our DJ business together back in 1996. We have been through a great deal together, but in the last few years, we have seen less of each other even though we live 15 minutes apart. Our interests have shifted away from the things each likes to do, and our families are demanding more of our time, but that's no excuse for not getting together more often.

Six days is more than reasonable.  

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

2019.jpg

Resolution update: 2018 in review

Every month, I report on the progress of my yearly goals in an attempt to hold myself accountable. Here are the results for December and for 2018 as a whole.

I'll be posting my goals for 2019 tomorrow.

In 2018, I completed 22 of 44 goals for a success rate of 50%. This is slightly below my eight year average of 55.6%.

My previous year success rates:

2010: 44%
2011: 62%
2012: 30%
2013: 60%
2014: 60%
2015: 59%
2016: 59%
2017: 71%

Despite only completing half of my goals, I had some areas of great success in 2018. I performed especially well in the areas of storytelling, completing 8 of 9 goals. 

While I'm pleased with the overall results, there were some missed opportunities. My biggest disappointments included my failure to lose 20 pounds, my failure to write three new picture books, and my failure to complete any of my larger writing projects.

Those were all very doable in 2018. 

There were also quite a few pathetic failures.

I failed to write a new screenplay. I failed to finalize any details for our Heavy Metal Playhouse reunion. I didn't cook a single meal for Elysha for the second straight year. I failed to play six games of poker. I failed to spend at least six days when my best friend of more than 30 years.

These were not difficult goals to achieve or at least get started.

2018 also provided to be an extraordinary year in many regards. I had several surprising accomplishments and firsts that did not make my initial list of resolutions but became important as the year progressed.

I posted that list separately.

Here are my specific successes and failures from 2018: 

PERSONAL HEALTH

1. Don’t die.

I’m healthy and well. Totally alive.

SUCCESS

2. Lose 20 pounds.

I gained another two pounds in December, finishing the year 8 pounds down and 12 pounds from the goal.

FAIL 

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

I had three servings of fruits and/or vegetables on 22 of 31 days in December. Although I increased my servings of fruits and vegetables significantly in 2018, I did not achieve 100% during even a single month of the year.

FAIL

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

SUCCESS

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

I spent a full week at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health this summer. I did not take a single yoga class. 

I also spent two full weekends at Kripalu in April and December. I did not take a single yoga class during either of those weekends.

FAIL

6. Stop using the snooze button.

Done and still highly recommended. Science is right. Snoozing is a terrible practice that you must end immediately. Get the hell out of bed once you are awake. You will feel a lot better.     

SUCCESS

WRITING CAREER

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

The first half of the novel is in the hands of my agent now. Hopefully she loves it and my publisher loves it and they pay me ONE BILLION DOLLRS for it.

But because I am awaiting word from my agent and publisher before pressing on, the book is not complete.

FAIL

8. Complete my second middle grade/YA novel.

I've begun revising my first middle grade novel, and it’s going to take some time. Things were slowed down significantly because my editor left the company and my new editor needed time to get up to speed. Finishing a second middle grade novel became impossible for me with the change of editors mid-year.

FAIL

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

I've begun work on a nonfiction picture book on a famous beaver drop in the 1950's.

I’ve also begun work on a picture book based upon a famous lullaby.

I’ve also begun work on a picture book about the gerund -ing.

I also had a consultation with a well established picture book writer to get tips for future books.

None of the books in progress are close to being finished.

FAIL

10. Write a proposal for a memoir.

My agent and I have decided upon the memoir, and the writing has begun. In lieu of a proposal, I’m just going to write the damn thing, which could take as much as a year.

FAIL

11. Write a new screenplay.

Writing has commenced but is not nearly complete.

FAIL

12. Write a musical.

Writing has commenced but is not close to being complete.

FAIL

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

One submission (and rejection) in December. Five submitted in all.

SUCCESS

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

No progress at all in 2018.

FAIL

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

Submissions sent to three publishing outlets in December.

SUCCESS

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

At the suggestion of a reader, I spent October dipping into pop culture by reading the front page of the TMZ website every morning in an attempt to understand the cravings for the Kardashians and reality television.

I wrote about my experience in December.

At the suggestion of a reader, I spent October saying grace before eating breakfast and lunch.

I will be writing about it soon.

Only two new behaviors were attempted in 2018, mostly because I could not find any new behaviors to try.

FAIL

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

I added 266 subscribers in December and a total of 830 added in 2018.

My total number of subscribers is now 2,379.

If you'd like to subscribe to my newsletter and receive tips on writing and storytelling, as well as links to the occasional amusing Internet miscellany and more, please subscribe below.

SUCCESS

18. Write at least six letters to my father.

Three letters written in December for a total of six.

SUCCESS

19. Write 100 letters in 2018.

61 letters written in 2018. It’s not 100, but 61 is a big number when it comes to letters, and I enjoyed the hell out of this goal.

FAIL

20. Convert Greetings Little One into a book.

I’m still researching the companies that convert blogs to books. I have not found any that I like.

FAIL

21. Record one thing learned every week in 2018.

Done! My favorite from December:

From Tom Whitwell’s 52 Things I Learned in 2018:

Advertisers place a single brown pixel on a bright background in a mobile ad. It looks like dust, so users try to wipe it off. That registers as a click, and the user is taken to the homepage. [Lauren Johnson]

SUCCESS

STORYTELLING

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

13 shows produced in 2018.

SUCCESS 

23. Deliver a TEDx Talk.

I spoke at a TEDxNatick salon event in May. 

SUCCESS

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

I attended a Moth GrandSLAM in December, bringing the total number of Moth events to 15 in 2018. 

SUCCESS

25. Win at least three Moth StorySLAMs.

Two wins in 2018 out of six chances. My lowest win total since 2012. Also my lowest number of StorySLAMs attended since 2012.

FAIL

26. Win a Moth GrandSLAM.

Done twice over! I won my fifth GrandSLAM in February and my sixth GrandSLAM in April.

I also placed third in both the September’s and December’s NYC GrandSLAMs at The Music Hall of Brooklyn.

SUCCESS

27. Produce at least 25 episodes of our new podcast Speak Up Storytelling. 

Done! Episodes #30 dropped this week and is now available wherever you get podcasts. Listen to a terrific story from storyteller Chuck Fedolfi. The reception to the podcast has been excellent, and our audience is growing fast. In fact, we more than quadrupled our audience between November and December and expanded our reach to 99 different countries!

Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts, and please leave us a rating on Apple Podcasts.

SUCCESS

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

I performed stand up six times in 2018 so far, including my first paid gig.

SUCCESS

29. Pitch my solo show to at least one professional theater.

I pitched and performed my solo show at The Tank as part of the Speak Up, Rise Up Storytelling Festival in NYC.

SUCCESS

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

I pitched my story on the last day of 2018.

SUCCESS

NEW PROJECTS

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

No progress.

FAIL

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

No progress. 

FAIL

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

No progress. 

FAIL

MISCELLANEOUS

34. Pay allowance weekly.

Done! Kids are all paid up.

SUCCESS

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

Done! A total of 27 rides in 2018.

SUCCESS 

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

Done. I did not hear a single person in a single locker room make a single comment related to sexually assaulting women in 2018.

SUCCESS

37. I will not comment, positively or negatively, about physical appearance of any person save my wife and children (except in service of a story while appearance is relevant), in 2018 in an effort to reduce the focus on physical appearance in our culture overall. 

I commented on physical appearance beyond the stated parameters twice in 2018.

Close enough. I’m giving myself the win.

SUCCESS

38. Surprise Elysha at least six times in 2018.

I surprised Elysha a total of nine times in 2018.

SUCCESS

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

I've received estimates for this project. That’s as far as I got.

FAIL

40. Clean the basement. 

More than halfway done this job, but I’m going to need to invest a solid chunk of time completing this project.

FAIL

41. Set a new personal best in golf.

Back in August, I played one round that was only four holes long due to green aeration. I had three pars and a bogie for a total of 14. Technically my best score ever, but perhaps it should not count.

FAIL

42. Play poker at least six times in 2018.

Five games in 2018.

FAIL

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

Four days spent with my best friend in 2018.

FAIL

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

Done.

SUCCESS

Moments of Note 2018

At the end of every year, I take stock in all that the previous 365 days have brought. It’s an exercise I recommend to everyone as a means of bringing some meaning and clarity to all that has come before. Days, weeks, months, and even years have a way of flashing by in an instant if we’re not careful, so recognizing those unusual, exciting, unexpected, and unforgettable moments from the previous year (and writing them down) is a way to feel good about what you have experienced and accomplished before turning over the calendar to the coming year.

I’ve been keeping my list since the beginning of 2018, but it wouldn’t be hard to take a moment and reflect back on the moments that made 2018 special for you. You’ll undoubtedly forget some, but some is always better than none.

And perhaps you could make it a goal to record those moments next year as they happen, so none of them can get away.

Here are my Moments of Note for 2018:

  • I served as guest minister, including delivering sermons, for Universalist Unitarian Churches in Harvard and Groton, MA.

  • I taught storytelling on a Mohawk reservation in Canada.

  • I was hired as a creative consultant on by a major advertising firm to work on a national advertising campaign.

  • I competed in and won two Moth GrandSLAMs in Boston and competed in and placed third in two Moth GrandSLAMs in NYC. 

  • I competed in a no-hands apple pie eating contest at the Coventry farmer’s market. I did not win.

  • I participated in and won a lawsuit against Donald Trump that forced him to unblock me on Twitter. I was later blocked by Eric Trump on Twitter. 

  • I published my first book of nonfiction: Storyworthy: Engage, Teach, Persuade, and Change Your Life Through the Power of Storytelling

  • My book launch event for Storyworthy included Elysha playing ukulele and singing publicly for the first time. 

  • I recorded my first audiobook. 

  • I performed stand up for the first time. I was also paid to perform standup for the first time and performed in both Connecticut and Michigan. 

  • I performed my first solo show at The Tank in NYC.

  • Elysha and I launched our podcast Speak Up Storytelling and published 30 episodes in 2018. Our podcast has been download more than 50,000 times in 99 different countries.

  • Elysha and I were honored by Voices of Hope for our work with second generation Holocaust survivors. 

  • I performed for a charity event for a local public access channel. The venue lost power so I stood atop a chair as guests shone their phone lights at me and I shouted out three stories before losing my voice.

  • Elysha, the kids, and I went on a summer-long ice cream adventure to shops throughout the state. Elysha chronicled our adventures on Facebook.

  • I met actor Jesse Eisenberg at a book launch party and had a lengthy conversation with him.  

  • A United States Senator told a story for Speak Up.

moments.jpg