A DJ, a preacher, and a bank robber, all rolled into one

I think this Venn diagram is hilarious.

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Also, rather oddly, I have occupied all sections of the diagram at one time in my life.

DJ: For the past 21 years, I have owned and operated a DJ company, performing more than 400 weddings and other events.

Preacher: Last year, I delivered a sermon at two different churches in Massachusetts, and next month, I will do so again at the Universalist Unitarian Church in Groton, CT. I’ve also married more than two dozen couples and conducted baby name ceremonies in my capacity as minister.

Bank Robber: In 1991, I was arrested and indicted on charges of grand larceny after a deposit of $7,000 went missing from the McDonald’s where I was working. Though my supervisors at McDonald’s did not believe that I had stolen the money and did not press charges, the police pressed charges on behalf of the insurance company.

In an effort to determine if the deposit bag might have been stolen from the bank’s night drop slot, my boss, Hope, and I attempted to steal deposits from the night drop using high test fishing line, wire coat hangers, hooks, and a magnet.

The results were less than spectacular. We were unable to extract a single deposit from the drop, and our repeated attempts resulted in about $5,000 in damages to the night drop mechanism.

Though I failed in my attempt, I was a bank robber for a moment in time.

Also, what the hell were we thinking?

I don’t drink. For my health and other good reasons.

Bad news for all you non-teetotalers:

There's no amount of liquor, wine or beer that is safe for your overall health, according to a new analysis of 2016 global alcohol consumption and disease risk.

Alcohol was the leading risk factor for disease and premature death in men and women between the ages of 15 and 49 worldwide in 2016, accounting for nearly one in 10 deaths, according to the study, published in the journal The Lancet.

Those deaths include alcohol-related cancer and cardiovascular diseases, infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, intentional injury such as violence and self-harm, and traffic accidents and other unintentional injuries such as drowning and fires.

For someone who drinks on only the rarest of occasions, this was great news. Not that I wish ill will upon all my alcohol-drinking friends, but validation of your chosen lifestyle is always appreciated.

If only the same thing could be found to be true about vegetables.

Though it’s great to hear that avoiding alcohol might be good for my health, here’s another reason why I’m glad I almost never drink:

Last week I was the first responder to a serious vehicular accident. I was sitting in my car, waiting in line at a traffic light in front of a McDonald’s restaurant. In addition to several other cars waiting for the light, there was a large truck, and then a motorcycle, and then me, lined up in a row, waiting for the light to change.

The motorcycle was partially blocking the entrance to the McDonald’s parking lot.

A car traveling in the opposite direction turned left in order to enter the McDonald’s parking lot and apparently failed to see the motorcycle between the truck and me. As a result, the car plowed right into the motorcycle, throwing the rider - who wasn’t wearing a helmet - onto the pavement and under his bike.

It was not good.

The driver of the car veered right, nearly hitting my car before screeching to a halt, but she did not exit her vehicle. Being the one closest to the accident and the only real witness, I put my car into park and jumped out, running to the man. His head, face, and hands were bloody, and he was in an enormous amount of pain. His leg was probably broken, and there were likely other injuries as well.

It was a bad scene.

I managed to get him out from under his bike when an off-duty police officer who was inside the McDonald’s appeared and immediately took charge of the scene. I assisted for a bit, holding a tee shirt over the man’s head wound, but the paramedics and police were on the scene in just a couple minutes, moving me away and thanking me for my assistance.

I gave a brief statement to a police officer about the accident and then returned to me car, blood still on my hands and forearms.

It was a scary scene, capable of traumatizing anyone, but being a sufferer of PTSD, I knew that it was going to create problems for me for quite a while.

I could already feel it in my bones.

When I told my friend, Shep, about the accident the next day, the first thing he said was, “That’s not good for yourPTSD. Huh?”

It’s good to have friends who understand you so well.

Elysha and the kids were gone for the weekend, which meant that I would be home alone that night and the next, making things even more difficult.

After arriving home and showering off the man’s blood, I suddenly and surprisingly found myself wanting to drink. For the first time in well over a decade, I had the genuine urge to consume alcohol. Rather than dealing with what I had just witnessed and all that it had stirred up inside me, my sudden desire was to numb the pain with alcohol.

I think the prospect of being alone for the next 48 hours had a lot to do with it.

But as I said, I don’t drink. Except for the occasional champagne toast, I rarely consume alcohol anymore. So even though I suddenly found myself wanting to drink, the fact that I’m not really a drinker made this desire to drink surprising, odd, and inexplicable but not realistic.

It’s just not a thing I do.

My sudden desire to drink probably wasn’t very different than the person who has a tough day at work and goes home for a glass or two of wine. Or the person who receives some bad news and ends up at the bar, downing a few beers with friends. Or the person who attends happy hour on a Friday as a means of blowing off a little steam.

All perfectly normal.

My desire was to avoid confronting the issues that the accident has caused within me. I didn’t want to think about the man, his blood, his screams, and all the things from my past that the accident had unearthed. While my desire to drink made some sense, alcohol would’ve only delayed my processing of these issues.

So instead, I dealt with my issues in the way I have been taught. And yes, I suffered some nightmares. I also found myself locking doors in the middle of the day. I had difficulty moving from room to room in my house that night. The ringing of the phone startled the hell out of me.

I was more than on edge for a few days.

But I dealt with it. I processed it and moved on. I was able to push aside any desire to relax with a couple drinks (or more) because I don’t drink.

This isn’t an indictment on people who do drink. Most of my friends drink to some degree.

Most of my friends don’t also suffer from PTSD.

But I’ve also always been someone who has avoided potential problems like these whenever possible. I’ve never used an illegal drug in my entire life for the same reason. Though I had many, many opportunities to experiment with drugs throughout the years, I always said no, fully aware of the potential devastation that drugs can cause.

Many people began their drug addiction through the desire to simply experiment. I wasn’t ever going to run that risk.

While I’m not opposed to the legalization of marijuana and have no issue with anyone who wants to use it recreationally, I don’t see myself ever using it. Why run the risk of finding myself wanting or needing it at some point?

When my doctor proposed that I go on a cholesterol-lowering medication because my cholesterol was slightly elevated, I opted to change my diet instead. I ate oatmeal for lunch for an entire year and lowered my cholesterol by 50 points. I didn’t want to become dependent on a medication that was avoidable with a change in behavior and a hell of a lot of fiber.

So it’s good news that my avoidance of alcohol might turn out to be a very healthy choice, but for me, it’s always been more about the freedom from ever wanting or needing to drink.

I’ve never wanted to be the person who needs a glass of wine to relax. Or a few beers to have a good time.

Or something to numb the pain of trauma.

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Not every service dog is equal

I was standing in line at CVS. The person in front of me, placing items on the counter, was blind. She had a service dog at her side. As the woman’s items were being scanned, the dog stuck its muzzle into the Snickers bars, pulled one out, and in seconds had bitten the candy bar in half and had begun eating.

I was astounded.

The CVS employee who was ringing up her items saw all this and alerted the woman to the problem. She apologized profusely and pulled the candy bar from the dog’s mouth.

A manager appeared a moment later. Remaining on our side of the counter, she told the woman not to worry about the candy bar and began expediting the processing of her items. As she did, the dog’s muzzle disappeared into the Hersey bars and was eating one of those in seconds.

Again, I couldn’t believe it.

The manager noticed this and alerted the woman, and once again, she pulled the candy bar from the dog’s mouth, scolded the dog, and apologized profusely. As she did, the dog grabbed a bag of peanut M&M’s, ripping the bag open and scattering M&M’s across the carpeted floor.

More disbelief. More apologies. More cleanup.

By now the CVS employee had finished ringing up the woman’s items and the transaction was complete. She and the dog, accompanied by the manager, retreated to the area by the doors to the store with the partially eaten candy bars, where they seemed to be trying to determine how much chocolate the dog had actually consumed.

I’ve met very few service dogs in my time. I’m sure that not every service dog is equal. Some are certainly more effective and obedient than others.

There’s probably a bell curve of effectiveness for service dogs, as there are with most things.

But I think I may have seen the worst service dog on the planet that day. A dog that actually makes life more difficult for their visually impaired owner.

Witnessing greatness is always thrilling, but witnessing the absolute worst ever is pretty entertaining, too.

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Names are interesting. And confusing.

I met a woman in Iowa who has five brothers and one sister. 

Her five brothers are named after Biblical characters whose names begin with J.

James, John, Jesse, Jude, and Joshua.

Her sister's name is Anne. It was their grandmother's name.

The woman who I met is named Amanda. When she was born, her parents hadn't chosen a name, so they asked a random woman in an adjacent hospital room what they had just named their new baby. The new mother said, "Amy," so Amanda's parents named her Amy, too.

But because they also thought that Amy sounded like a nickname and was not professional enough for a possible future CEO, they named her Amanda but called her Amy.

Because this all makes sense.  

When Amanda/Amy went to kindergarten, there was already an Amy in the class, so the teacher told her that she needed to be called Amanda at school.

I once had three Matthews in my class (not including me) and three Julias in my class, but apparently this teacher couldn’t keep two Amys straight.

So Amanda/Amy was Amy at home and Amanda at school, which led to people occasionally thinking Amy and Amanda were two different people.

Remember: Amanda/Amy's parents named their sons in a very specific Biblical/alphabetical way. And they named her sister after a deceased grandparent. But Amanda/Amy, who was third born, received a name based upon the name of another random baby who happened to be born around the same time. 

Then she got another name, too, because that first name wasn't good quite enough but also somehow good enough, too.

Parents name babies in the strangest ways sometimes.

My wife almost didn’t have a name. Her parents originally named her Jordan, but the doctor told them that Jordan was a boy’s name, so they abandoned their choice. Then they hemmed and hawed about a new name for so long that the hospital threatened to put “Girl” on the birth certificate.

They finally settled on Elysha, which was the name of my father-in-law’s secretary. Apparently they didn’t love the secretary but liked the name a lot. They wrote all the various spellings of Elysha on the back of an envelope and then chose one.

My wife’s name would be Jordan today if the doctor hadn’t opened his big mouth.

Elysha and I took were slightly more purposeful in the naming of our children.

Our daughter is named Clara Susan. Clara is the character in one of my wife’s favorite children’s books, The Van Gogh Cafe, and Susan was my mother’s name.

Our son is named Charles Wallace, which is also the name of the character from A Wrinkle in Time, a book that my wife and I love. We also love the poet Wallace Stevens, who lived and worked in Hartford, CT, so Wallace was an added bonus.

As for me? I was originally going to be named Bartholomew, but my mother claimed to have “saved me” from my father’s terrible choice by telling the nurses that I was Matthew before he even had a chance to meet me.

Choosing a name without your husband’s consent. Also a strange way to name a baby.

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Ocelots have a lot of sex. My daughter told me.

My daughter, Clara just told me that an ocelot mates up to 70 times each day.

My first thought: Sounds like a hell of a lot of fun to be an ocelot.

My second thought: Did my nine year-old daughter just tell me that the ocelot has sex up to 70 times a day?

My third thought: Does Clara even understand what mating (or sex) means?

My last thought: I really, really hope she doesn’t ask me to explain mating at 6:12 AM.

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Empathy vs. I believe in you

I’ve been accused of lacking empathy on more than one occasion.

This accusation takes many forms, but the most common one goes something like this:

I fail to recognize and acknowledge the struggles and limitations of others, as well as the advantages that I enjoy. As a result, I often expect more than is sometimes possible from others. Essentially, I believe that if I can do something, so can you. It’s merely a matter of effort, focus, and desire.

This, according to my accusers, is simply not always true and is the result of my lack of empathy.

Perhaps it’s true. I acknowledge that my viewpoint fails to take in a host of factors that might impact someone’s personal trajectory, many of which are beyond a person’s control:

Mental illness. Intellectual limitations. Physical disabilities. Aging parents. Family illness. Depression. Financial insecurity. Unavoidable, external forces.

All true.

But couldn’t this also be true:

I simply believe in people more than they believe in themselves. I fundamentally believe that almost every human being in the world - myself included - is capable of more than they are currently achieving and possesses the potential for greatness, just waiting to be realized.

Is my problem a lack of empathy or a belief in people beyond their own imaginations?

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A job is a job. Only a douchebag would think otherwise.

Did you hear about Fox News reporting on former Cosby Show actor Geoffrey Owens being spotted bagging groceries at a New Jersey Trader Joes?

The shopper who spotted the actor said that she was grocery shopping with her wife on Saturday evening when she recognized Owens and took some photos.

Then the news outlet decided to purchase those photos and make it a story.

This is awful, of course. Job shaming at its finest. Though Geoffrey Owens has continued to act and appeared in guest spots on TV shows such as "Always Sunny in Philadelphia" and "That's So Raven" and most recently starred in an episode of "Lucifer" in 2017, it''s certainly not news if he's choosing to bag groceries when the acting jobs aren't paying the bills.

Job shaming is nothing new, and I hate it. I’ve experienced a bit of it in my time.

When I was 16 years old, I started working at McDonald's, and by the age of 17, I was a manager in the restaurant. I continued to manage McDonald's restaurants throughout Massachusetts and Connecticut from 1987 when I finally graduated from college in 1999. 

It's how I put myself through college. 

Though I've worked many jobs before and since then, including as a elementary school teacher, a novelist, a magazine columnist, a public speaker, a wedding DJ, and the founder and creative director of Speak Up, no job has come close in terms of difficulty as managing a McDonald's restaurant. 

Motivating 60-80 people - high school students, stay-at-home moms, immigrants, retirees, parolees, non-English speakers, high school dropouts, and side hustlers - to work together for little more than minimum wage was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Add to that managing labor and food costs, scheduling, customer relations, calculating P&L statements, equipment calibration and repair, vendor negotiations, training, advertising, board of health inspections, and being the best at every position in the restaurant - made this job incredibly demanding.

Both mentally and physically.

Yet when I left McDonald’s for teaching, people would say things to me like, “I don’t know how you did that mindless work for so long,” and “Thank God you escaped that hellhole.”

Hellhole?

McDonald’s taught me to manage my time effectively. Delegate responsibility. Prioritize. Communicate and collaborate with people from background entirely different than my own. I learned about responsibility. Integrity. Motivation. Hard work.

I learned to crack four eggs in two hands simultaneously. Clean and repair HVAC units. Swear in Spanish.

I believe that every Fortune 500 company - regardless of the nature of their business - would do well by identifying the most successful McDonald’s managers in the country and stealing them for their own companies. These are motivated, intelligent, and gritty people who would serve your organization well.

Once you can manage a fast food restaurant successfully and profitably, you can do anything.

Some of the finest people who I have ever known have been the McDonald’s managers who worked alongside me.

Yet I also know what people thought of me when I managed those restaurants. Some of the customers would say these terrible things right to my face.

Happily for Geoffrey Owens, his story has a slightly happy ending. In an interview, he explained that much of his financial struggle is the result of The Cosby Show being pulled from syndication because of the Bill Cosby’s sordid past coming to light.

But upon hearing about this incident, Tyler Perry spoke up, offering Owens a 10-episode deal on his own show, “The Haves and the Have Nots.”

Despite the opportunity, Owens also understands that he still may need to go back to Trader Joe’s at some point.

He explained that acting is calling. “I’m going to keep pursuing it,” he said. “I’m going to persevere. And even if that means, that eventually when all this hoopla dies down, I might need to take another job outside of the business. I’m still willing to do that.”

And no one should think there is anything wrong with that.

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Wife: Emoji Master

I don't use emojis.

It began as a purposeful rejection of them, thinking they were a silly fad, but now it's become one of those ridiculous stands that has been going on for so long that I can't stop now.

Honestly, I also don't feel like I'm missing out on anything. 

But I must say:

Sometimes I think my wife's use of emojis is brilliant. Like this one:

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Shortcomings and Flaws: 2018

Years ago a reader accused me of being materialistic after I wrote about my lack of a favorite number, specifically criticizing me for saying that when it comes to my salary, my favorite number is the largest number possible.

After properly refuting the charges of materialism, I acknowledged that I had plenty of other shortcomings and offered to list them in order to appease my angry reader. Then I did. Then I added to the list when friends suggested that I had forgotten a few.

Nice friends. Huh?

So began an annual tradition of posting my list of shortcomings and flaws, starting first in 2011 (the list only had 10 items that year), and continuing in 20122013201420152016, and 2017

I'm happy to report that although the list remains relatively long (34 items this year), I'm removing two items from the list under the advice of my wife. 

ITEM #1: When it comes to argument and debate, I often lack restraint. I will use everything in my arsenal in order to win, even if this means hurting the other person’s feelings in the process. 

Elysha says that I consider other people's feelings much more often when debating now and actively try not to hurt their feelings even when they are ridiculously wrong.

ITEM #2: I am easily annoyed by the earnestness of adults.

Elysha says that I am much more patient with people these days. 

I agree in both instances. 

Also, for the first time ever, no new items have been added to the list. I may finally be evolving into a better human being.  

If you would like to propose an addition to the list, please let me know, and it will be considered.

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Matthew Dicks’s List of Shortcomings and Flaws

1. I have a limited, albeit expanding palate (though I'd like to stress that my limited palate is not by choice).

2. I am a below average golfer (but making a concerted effort to improve this year).

3. It is hard for me to empathize with adults with difficulties that I do not understand and/or are suffering with difficulties that I would have avoided entirely.

4. I have difficulty putting myself in another person’s shoes. Rather than attempting understand the person, I envision myself within their context and point out what I would've done instead.

(I considered removing this item  from the list, but Elysha Dicks said, "Absolutely not.")

5. I do many things for the sake of spite.

6. I have an unreasonable fear of needles (though my PTSD definitely plays a role in this).

7. I become angry and petulant when told what to wear.

8. Bees kill me dead.

9. I become sullen and inconsolable when the New England Patriots lose a football game.

10. I lack adequate empathy for adults who are not resourceful or are easily overwhelmed.

11. I can form strong opinions about things that I possess a limited knowledge of and are inconsequential to me.

(Elysha points out that I do this because I find it entertaining, which is true.)

12. I am unable to make the simplest of household or automobile repairs.

13. I would rarely change the sheets on my bed if not for my wife.

14. I eat ice cream too quickly.

15. I procrastinate when it comes to tasks that require the use of the telephone.

16. I am uncomfortable and ineffective at haggling for a better price.

17. I am exceptionally hard on myself when I fail to reach a goal or meet a deadline.

(Elysha feels that this is only getting worse in this regard.)

18. I take little pleasure in walking.

(It remains on the list but there has been noticeable improvement.)

19. Sharing food in restaurants annoys me.

20. I drink too much Diet Coke.

(It remains on the list but there has been noticeable improvement.) 

21. My hatred for meetings of almost any kind causes me to be unproductive, inattentive, and obstructionist at times.

22. Disorganization and clutter negatively impacts my mood, particularly when I cannot control the clutter myself

(Elysha aggressively agreed with this one.)

23. I am overly critical of my fellow storytellers, applying my own rules and standards to their performances.

24. I think less of people who nap.

(Though I've come to accept and even embrace the 10-15 minute power nap in the middle of the work day, I still think that anyone who is napping on a Sunday afternoon for three hours or comes home from work and naps until dinner is at best a disappointment.)

25. I lack patience when it comes to assisting people with technology.

26. I don't spend enough time with my best friend.

27. I have a difficult time respecting someone's accomplishments if they benefited from economic privilege in their life.

28. I believe that there are right and wrong ways of parenting. 

29. I love saying, "I told you so" so freaking much.

30. I wear my wireless headphones way too much.

31. I consistently screw up my wife's laundry regardless of how careful I think I am, 

(I ruined something this week.)  

32. My blog entries contain far too many typos, despite my loathing of typos.

 (It remains on the list but there has been noticeable improvement.) 

33. I leave my credit card at restaurants far too often.

34. I don't ride my bicycle - alone and with my kids - nearly enough.

Storyworthy: The audiobook has arrived, narrated, perhaps unfortunately, by me

The audiobook for Storyworthy: Engage, Teach, Persuade, and Change Your Life Through the Power of Storytelling is now available for your downloading or compact disc pleasure, and for the first time, the book is narrated by me.

I'm afraid to listen. 

After spending three days in a recording studio in Grand Haven, Michigan, misreading words, tripping over my own sentences, and finding many words impossible to pronounce, I'm worried that I might sound terrible. 

The director and sound engineer were sitting in the adjacent room, of course, helping me correct my mistakes and trying to make me sound excellent, but still, I'm not a professional narrator, and my verbal limitations quickly became apparent. 

Having grown up in the Boston area with a pronounced Boston accent, it turns out that 25 years later, remnants of that accent still remain and can be especially troublesome when perfect pronunciation is critical. The letter R is still hard for me depending on where it's placed in a word, and particularly when multiple words contain multiple R's fall one after the other. 

And when an R and an L are combined in a word like "ruling" or "rolling," forget it. I can pronounce these words just fine when spoken independently, but attach them to other words, and the pronunciation falls apart.     

Other words that I do not pronounce correctly include "middle," "little," "Hartford," "park," and "sixth." 

And the word "horror?" Almost unpronounceable.  

Despite these struggles, I managed to complete four days of planned recording in just two days, allowing me to come home early and surprise Elysha and the kids. After the plane landed, I made my way to the restaurant where I knew she was having dinner with a friend. Appearing two days early with flowers in my hand at the side of her table is a good way to surprise your wife.

Although I often felt incompetent and foolish in the recording studio, my director and sound engineer thought I did exceptionally well, and since we managed to finish well ahead of schedule, I was starting to believe them.

Then I made the mistake of asking to listen to one of the professional narrators in an adjacent studio. I couldn't see the narrator but only hear her through headphones. She sounded like an elderly British lady, performing alongside about half a dozen other narrators. But when the door opened and the narrator emerged, she turned out to be a 23 year-old woman with a flat, midwestern accent who is capable of sounding like almost anyone from anywhere.

These audiobook narrators are remarkably talented.  

And my time in Michigan was not all spent alone in a soundproof booth.

I went swimming in Lake Michigan on one steamy afternoon. I ate the best salted caramel ice cream of my life. I saw three movies. I explored the area a lot. And I performed three standup sets at two different comedy clubs, including one night when the owner asked me to perform again after my first set.

I had to find ten more minutes of material in an hour, which actually worked well.  

If you plan on listening to the book, I hope you enjoy. And I hope you'll forgive any of my imperfections. I tried like hell. 

Would you be more likely, less likely, or just as likely to marry your spouse today?

Interesting question posited by a friend recently:

Would you be more likely, less likely, or just as likely to marry your spouse if you met him or her for the first time today?

My friend believes that couples who were married when they were young would be less likely to marry their spouses if they met them today, because the person you are in your teens and twenties is oftentimes vastly different than who you are in your thirties and beyond. 

This doesn't mean that these people don't still love their spouse and want to remain married. It just means that they would be slightly less likely to want to marry their spouse if they were going on their first date today because their spouse has changed so much over time. 

I think she might be right.

"I thought I was marrying a reliable tax attorney who wanted three kids and a house on a quiet street. But since then, he's learned to play the drums and discovered a passion for death metal. Thanks to his band's rehearsals in our garage, the street isn't quiet anymore, and we have six children because he also discovered a love for babies, too. He wanted a dozen kids, but we compromised at half that."

You might still love the guy with all your heart, but if you met him today, you might think twice before marrying him. 

It turns out that this is not an easy question to ask your spouse.

"Hey honey, if you met me for the first time today, would you be more likely, less likely, or just as likely to marry me as you were on our wedding day?"

The answer to this question could be disastrous.

Still, I asked Elysha. She gave me the best possible answer. 

"I think I'd be more likely to marry you today. Though I don't know... I really, really wanted to marry you when we got married, too. I don't know."

Honestly the best possible answer. The best of both worlds. Spoken without calculation or consideration. Straight from the heart.

My heart soared. It's a moment I'll never forget. 

For the record, my answer is that I would be more likely to marry Elysha if I met her today. Had you asked me this question on our wedding day, I would've said that I couldn't love a human being more.

But then we had children, and I was able to watch Elysha become a mother for the first time - a brilliant, beautiful mother - and I found a new and even deeper love that I could've never before imagined.  

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If you could recover a single object from your past, what would it be?

When I was 16 years-old, I went to Pasadena, California with my high school's marching band to perform in the Rose Bowl Parade. At the time, I had just begun dating my high school sweetheart, Laura.

Laura was traveling to Pasadena, too. Though she wasn't actually a member of the marching band, she had somehow finagled her way to California to watch the performance and join us on our various excursions to Disneyland, San Fransisco, and others. 

Our first kiss came in a hot, stinking stairwell in a hotel in Pasadena at about 6:00 AM. I tell a story about it. 

Since we were taking separate flights across the country, Laura made me three mix tapes for the trip. I expected them to be filled with the music she adored, but instead, Laura combined music with spoken word. She told me stories, read poetry, and even sang a little in between songs recorded off the radio.

I probably fell in love with her while listening to those tapes somewhere over the Rockies.  

I don't know what happened to those tapes. It's unbelievable that I lost them, but somewhere along the way, I did.

A bout of homelessness will do that to a person.  

But if I could recover one object from my past that has been lost, it would be those yellow, Memorex cassettes.

Laura passed away a few years ago after a battle with cancer, but before she died, she held me to a promise that we made on the steps behind our high school just before we started dating. We promised that no matter what happened in our relationship, we would always be friends and always take care of each other. When she discovered that she had cancer, she brought me back to those steps and made me promise that when her girls, Ava and Tess, are old enough, I would tell them the stories of Laura, the teenager, and our adventures together.

I will do this when the time is right. but I can't imagine a better gift to those girls than those mix tapes, filled with their mother's words and songs from a time long ago.  

If I could recover any object from my past, it would be those tapes.

Not for me, but for Ava and Tess.  

And for Laura. 

If you could recover a single object from your past, what would it be?

Making the ordinary a little more extraordinary should always be celebrated

The knife sharpener at the farmer's market that we visit almost every Sunday morning gave Elysha their card a few weeks ago. Rather than a collection of information on a small bit of card stock, they offered her this.

A band-aid with their name and phone number printed on the wrapper.  

Clever. Right? I always admire people who can turn the ordinary into something delightful. Something ordinary into something a little more extraordinary. 

It's almost as good as the playing card that appeared in the breast pocket of my sports jacket containing the contact information of world renowned magician David Blaine. I met Blaine at The Moth Ball in 2015, and after re-telling my story so he could record it on his phone, he said he wanted to speak to me further about storytelling and "gave" me his card.

It was already in my pocket. The king of spades, with his contact information woven within.

Remarkably, that was the least amazing of the magic that he performed for me after recording my story.  

An anonymous note about a possible murder

I arrived at Kripalu, a yoga center in the Berkshires, on Sunday night with a bag full of my novels, magazine columns, and comic books. I spread them on the table for my students to see, and then I stuffed them back into the bag and tossed the bag into the corner of the room.

It sat in that corner, untouched, for a week.  

On Friday, I grabbed the bag as I was packing up to leave. Tucked into my copy of Storyworthy was a sheet of paper. Written on the paper was this: 

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Crazy. Right?

In addition to my ten students, the room had been used by several yoga classes, and on our final evening together, my students performed for a group of friends, family, and folks staying at Kripalu that week. I had also performed for a group of about 70 people earlier that week, telling stories and teaching lessons after each, including a lesson on the importance of telling stories. 

A lot of people on campus knew who I was, what I did, and where I could be found. 

There's no telling who left that note in my book or why.

But it seems as if the note might have been left for me and might apply to the work I do. In addition to our organization being called Speak Up, I spend enormous amounts of time convincing people that they have stories to share. Stories that need to be shared. Stories that the world wants to hear.  

This note would seem to fall along those lines. 

I cannot find a Rosalie Gomez who was murdered on the internet. Maybe this is referencing something that happened pre-internet. Maybe it's fiction. I have no idea who Rosalie Gomez might be or if she's even real. 

But I've often said that odd things happen when you begin telling stories. Strange coincidences. Surprising connections.

Earlier that week, while my friend and teaching assistant, Jeni, were swapping stories, we learned that I had been the DJ at her cousin's wedding 20 years earlier, and she had attended that wedding. She barely remembered the day, but I remembered a lot, including details that she couldn't believe I recalled.

"Just think," I said. "Twenty years ago, we were in the same room, at the same wedding. You were 17 and I was 27. Now we're sitting here today at a yoga center in the Berkshires as friends."

That kind of thing happens to me all the time. Tell a story to 100 or 200 or 500 people, and you will find someone in the audience who somehow connects to that moment for often than you would expect.

The world is a surprisingly small place.

But this note is beyond a simple coincidence or unexpected connection. It's something else. Perhaps a bit of fiction scribbled on a piece of paper and tucked into a book called Storyworthy on a whim.

Maybe something more. 

Sadly, I'll probably never know. 

Every time someone meets Elysha and says, "She's beautiful," this is what I think...

After spending a week teaching storytelling at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, my ten students performed in a showcase on the final night of the week. Minutes before I was to take the stage and start the show, a woman who looked a lot like Elysha walked into the room.

It turns out that it was Elysha. She had driven up to Stockbridge to surprise me.

I was thrilled. After a week apart, I couldn't take my eyes off her. Couldn't stop kissing her.  

My students had just spent a week hearing a lot about Elysha. As a storyteller, it's inevitable. I tell stories in my workshops that serve as models for my lessons, and so many of those stories include my wife. 

Now my students were meeting the woman who they had only heard about before now. A fictional character of sorts had come to life. Whenever this happens, the response is almost always the same. 

"Elysha is so beautiful." 

But it's always said with a bit of astonishment, which leads me to assume that what they are really saying is this:

"Elysha is so beautiful. How did someone like you - a neckless neckless stump with legs for arms - manage to marry such a beautiful woman?"

I'm pretty sure that this is exactly what they are saying, and it never makes me feel very good. 

I better, safer alternative to lottery tickets

I watched a man purchase $50 in lottery tickets yesterday.

I see this all the time, and it makes me crazy. I've never played the lottery in my life. Never purchased a Powerball ticket or a scratch ticket. Never felt any compulsion to do so.  

This is because I understand the odds involved with playing the lottery.

I also know that a disproportionate number of people who play the lottery are poor, minorities, and often addicts. The lottery preys on the most vulnerable members of society. 

I hate it. 

But I also understand the importance of hope. I know how impossibly hard life can be when all hope is lost and any dreams that you once had are gone forever. Living in my car in 1992, awaiting trial for a crime I did not commit, unable to get work because I had no address or phone, cold and hungry and tired almost every day, I thought I would never have a home again. Never have a real job again. Never make any of my dreams come true.

I was 22 years-old and thought my chances of happiness were gone forever. It was crushing. The loss of hope is a terrible thing. Maybe the worst thing.

So I understand the desire for a little hope, as astronomically improbable as the lottery might provide.  

Still, it's such a waste of money. 

As I watched that man purchase $50 in lottery tickets yesterday, I wanted to take him aside and say this:

"Listen, I don't know why you're spending $50 on lottery tickets, but I have a better idea. Download Robinhood on your phone. It's an app that allows you to purchase stocks commission-free. Then take the $50 you're spending here and purchase a stock instead. Something big and relatively safe. Mastercard or Visa. Microsoft. Home Depot. Apple. Or an index fund. Your money will be relatively safe, but you'll still have the excitement of possibility. Will the stock go up or down? When will I receive a dividend? And you can experience that excitement on a daily basis. That $50 will continue to provide hope and excitement day after day. Hour after hour if you'd like. Even minute by minute. But your initial investment will be relatively safe compared to that lottery ticket, and at the end of the year, you'll have still have something to show for your $50."

I wanted to say this so badly.  

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I know that the hope of a 12% annualized return on $50 isn't the same as a $32.8 million dollar payday, but if it's hope or excitement that these people are craving, maybe investing the $50 they are spending weekly on lottery tickets in the American stock market could offer enough hope and excitement to satisfy them and a $2,600 nest egg at the end of the year. 

Or $2,912 with a 12% annualized return.

Mind you, I don't advise people to invest without understanding what they are doing. I studied the market for 5 years before investing a dime, but if the choice is between $50 in lottery tickets or $50 in the stock of a relatively well known company, blindly investing in the company is the better choice every time. 

I suspect that the man purchasing lottery tickets yesterday wouldn't have appreciated my suggestion, and that kills me, too. A simple shift in spending could yield an enormous change in the quality of a person's life over time, and yet for so many, change is so hard. 

I didn't know what Lands' End was, and it makes sense.

I was teaching a workshop last month. A storyteller mentioned Lands' End as a detail in her story. When she was finished, I asked her what Lands' End was.

"You don't know what Lands' End is?" she asked. "No. You have to know what Lands' End is."

A woman sitting beside her said, "I really don't think he knows."

It's true. I didn't know.

"Do you know what LL Bean is?" the first woman asked.

"Yes," I said.

"Lands' End is like LL Bean." 

"Oh," I said and moved on.  

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At the time I thought LL Bean was a store in Maine that sells outdoor clothing and camping equipment. I also knew that it's the company that once offered a lifetime guarantee on their products until a bunch of jerks tried to return 25 year old boots and ruined it for everyone.

So I assumed that Lands' End was another store, possibly in Maine, that sold similar products. Boots. Tents. Flannel shirts.

Last night I mentioned this moment to my friend, Jeni Bonaldo. Her response:

"You don't know what Lands' End is? How is that possible?" Same incredulous tone as the first woman. A few seconds later, she asked, "Do you know what LL Bean is?"

Deja-vu.

Rather than accepting this LL Bean analogy and moving on, I asked, "What exactly is Lands' End?"

Here is what Jeni told me, distilled to its essence:

Lands' End is a catalog company that sells clothing, primarily to middle-aged women.

This is essentially true. I did some research into Lands' End and found that it's a clothing and home decor retailer based in Dodgeville, Wisconsin, that specializes in casual clothing, luggage, and home furnishings. The majority of Lands' End's business is conducted through mail order catalogs and internet sales, but the company also runs retail operations, primarily in the Upper Midwest, along with international shops in at least five countries.

I also learned that although Lands' End sells men's clothing, more than two-thirds of their business goes to women. In recent Bloomberg and CNBC pieces, Lands End was described as "a label known more for courting mothers and kids."

Knowing all this, I'm confused.

Why is it so odd that I wouldn't know what Lands' End is? I've never driven by a Lands' End store in my life. Never seen or held one of their catalogs. Never seen a Lands' End commercial on TV, and based upon my research, they almost never advertise on TV or radio. I'm also not a middle aged women looking to purchase clothing, luggage, or home decor or a child whose mother is dressing in Lands' End garb.

It appears that in 2015, Lands End attempted to pivot the company in the direction of a younger, "cooler" customer (I happen to think middle-aged women are exceptionally cool), but as of 2018, their customer demographics have changed very little.

This is a company that sells clothing primarily to women through mail order catalogs.

Of course I don't know what Lands' End is.

This does not mean that all men are unfamiliar with Lands' End. I'm quite certain that many men have seen these catalogs before and are aware of its existence. Perhaps a mother or wife or sister is a Lands' End customer. Or maybe he's one of Lands' End's minority male shoppers.

In fact, perhaps most Americans are familiar with the Lands' End brand, but to be surprised that I am not is frankly a little surprising.

It's a store that sells clothing to women through mail order catalogs. If I'm going to lack awareness of any retail company, wouldn't Lands' End be that company?

No physical presence in the Northeast. No advertising on television. No catalogs in my home, unless Elysha Dicks is receiving them and I haven't noticed. And no "Lands' End" labels on coats or shirts like the annoying North Face.

Happily, I know what Lands' End is now. I've filled that gap. Infused myself with knowledge.

I feel no better for doing so.

Seeking submissions for my annual list of shortcomings and flaws

Years ago a reader accused me of being materialistic after I wrote about my lack of a favorite number, specifically criticizing me for saying that when it comes to my salary, my favorite number is the largest number possible.

After refuting the charges of materialism, I acknowledged that I had plenty of other shortcomings and offered to list them in order to appease my angry reader. Then I did. Then I added to the list when friends suggested that I had forgotten a few.

Nice friends. Huh?

So began an annual tradition of posting my list of shortcomings and flaws, starting first in 2011, and continuing in 20122013201420152016, and 2017.  

The time has come to assemble my list for 2018, which means I will be reviewing the 2017 list carefully, hoping that I might be able to remove a few and looking to add any that I think might be missing. 

As always, I offer you the opportunity to add to the list as well. If you know me personally or through this blog or my books or my storytelling or my podcast and have detected a shortcoming or flaw to add to the list, please let me know. I will be finalizing and publishing my list in about a week, so don't delay. 

I look forward to hearing about all the ways in which you think I suck. 

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Clara's first Patriots game. NOT WHAT I EXPECTED AT ALL.

I took Clara on a rite of passage last night:

Her first New England Patriots game.

I've been attending Patriots games regularly for almost 20 years, and I've been a season ticket holder for almost as long. I've spent some of my favorite, most memorable days at Gillette Stadium, tailgating with friends, cheering in the stands, hugging strangers following touchdowns, and celebrating victories. 

It was odd that my daughter had never seen this place where I have spent so much time. I was so happy to finally introduce her to this place that I love so much. 

It was a preseason game, which was ideal for a nine year-old girl. Warm night. Low stakes. Lots of empty seats. An absence of opposing fans. Fewer drunken brawls. As we pulled up Route 1 in Foxboro and saw the stadium for the first time, Clara was impressed. 

"I know it doesn't look so big from so far away," I said. "But it's pretty big."

"No, Daddy. It's huge."

We talked as we made the 15 minute walk to the stadium. Clara asked questions. I told stories about this spot and that spot along the way. Stories of snowstorms and lobster carcasses and a burning Christmas tree. She waved at the police horses and said hello to random children.

I managed to sneak her through security with the backpack that she had strapped to her back, and I'm still not sure how. Security officers are fanatical about there being no bags brought into the stadium unless they are clear and plastic.

Somehow we skirted by.

Then we began the climb up the ramps to the 300 level and our seats. When he hit the fourth of 10 ramps and Clara said, "I hope you're seats aren't too high, Daddy,"

I knew I might be in trouble. 

My seats are four rows from the very top of the stadium. The climb up those steps to our seats would be steep and long. But it was a preseason game. Lots of empty seats along the way. We could probably find seats in the first or second row.

Clara was nervous just being in the concourse of the upper level. Just her awareness of how high we were was increasing her anxiety considerably. We ate some food, walked around the stadium a bit, and then it was time to see the field for the first time from actual seats. 

"Let's go see the Patriots," I said. 

"Okay," she said. 

My hopes soared. No protest. She was going to be brave.

As soon as we stepped out of the concourse and up a small flight of stairs, Clara fell apart. I managed to grab two seats in the second row, just six feet from the landing, but Clara clung to the handrail like she was on the deck of a ship, caught in a storm. The size and height and scope of the stadium terrified her. I managed to get her into a seat, thinking she might calm down once she was anchored to a spot, but no good. She was crying and begging to leave. 

I coaxed. I cajoled. I pointed out some features of the stadium. The championship banners. The big screens. The football being played below. 

No good. We had just driven almost three hours to a football game, and I was in danger of seeing fewer than three plays of actual football.

I tried once more to inspire her to enjoy the stadium. The crowd. The game. She continued to cry. 

"Okay," I said. "Take a couple of photos with me, and we'll go. Try to smile."

We did, and then we left. She wanted off this level immediately, and so we took the stairs all the way down to the exit. When I tried to pass through the gate into the parking lot, a police officer stopped me. "You can't exit this way. No re-entry from here."

"I know," I said.

"You don't understand. You won't be able to go back into the stadium."

I looked at Clara and then at him. "I know."

He looked at Clara, smiled, patted me on the back, and we were on our way to find ice cream in the Patriot Place shopping area.

Here is the truth:

I was annoyed at that moment. Really annoyed. Thousands of people - adults and children - were sitting around us, enjoying the game, reveling in the beautiful weather, bright colors, and excitement of a football game, and my daughter had been reduced to tears because her seats were too high. When I offered to find seats in a lower level, she declined. She just wanted to leave. Hours on a highway and still more hours of driving ahead had been reduced to three plays of football. 

Two incompletions and a punt. 

I was annoyed. Angry, even. I was prepared to talk about the importance of being brave. I was ready to talk about perspective. "Even though you were afraid, you were perfectly safe. Thousands of people around us agree. Can't you use that knowledge to overcome this fear?"

I was annoyed. Ready to speak. Ready to let her know how I felt. Then I said this to myself:

Three or four hours from now, when you're tucking this girl in bed, will you be happy that you told her that she needed to be brave? Will you be pleased with the conversation that you're about to start? Will you think of yourself as a good father when you tell your frightened little girl what she did wrong? Or will you regret speaking to her while you were annoyed?

It's something I say to myself often. As I'm about to complain, argue, order, demand, or criticize my children (and my students) for their decisions or behavior, I ask myself:

How are you going to feel about this later? Are you in the right frame of mind for this conversation? Is he or she in the right frame of mind? Is this the right moment to speak? Will you feel good about what you're about to say later on? 

So I squeezed Clara's hand instead as we crossed the parking lot and said, "I love you, Clara." She pulled me to a halt, hugged me, and said, "I love you, too, Daddy."

We ate ice cream in the courtyard and laughed. Checked the score on my phone. On the way to the parking lot, the horizon opened up to us. The sun was making it's final appearance of the day, just dipping out of sight. "Look, Daddy," Clara said. "It's so beautiful! Look at all the colors! Red and orange and yellow and even green. I think I see green!"

"It's the gloaming," I said. "Twilight. The few minutes before the sun disappears for the night."

"I love the gloaming," she said. Then she pulled me to a stop again just before we were about to cross Route 1. "Hold on," she said. "I want to watch the gloaming a little more."

We did. 

We listened to music on the way home. We played songs from our family playlists, designed specifically for long rides, skipping songs that we hadn't added to the list ourselves. 

Most Charlie's Coldplay and Elysha's Steely Dan. 

I told her stories about the musicians who made some of the music. She asked lots of questions. We sang loudly until she got sleepy, and then we sang quietly. 

She was already asleep when I tucked her in a couple hours later.

I'll probably talk to Clara about being brave today. I'll tell her that I'm performing standup comedy now because it scares me, and that whenever I find something that frightens me, I run to it.

I know that the right thing and the hard thing are often the same thing.

I'll tell her that even though I wanted to stay in my hotel room on the nights when I was recording my audiobook in Michigan earlier this summer, I forced myself to find a comedy club and perform. I did three sets on two different nights, and even though I was terrified to take those stages, I'm so happy I did. 

I'll tell her how important it is to try new things even though they might be scary. I'll tell her that missed opportunities should be the most frightening thing of all.

But I'll talk about all of this in the light of day, when we are relaxed and happy and thinking about that moment in the gloaming when all was good and right. 

Maybe she'll listen and believe. Maybe next time she'll give it another minute or two before asking to leave. If not, we'll find a way to make the best of it. We'll stand in the gloaming and listen to Springsteen and eat ice cream and laugh. 

It was certainly not what I expected from my little girl's first Patriots game. Not even close.  

It was so much better than I could have ever imagined.  

Help! Some kind of voodoo priest is trying to change my life!

I met a woman in Michigan who told me that she performed improv with Second City in Chicago a few years ago.

"Why dd you stop?" I asked.

She explained that she moved north to Michigan for work, and there is no real improv scene in her area. She still loved performing improv when she left Chicago, but there's just no opportunity for her anymore. 

"Then you need to create an opportunity," I said. "You need to start something here."

She paused for a moment. Thought. Then smiled. She said, "Yeah, maybe. That's not a bad idea."

"No maybes," I shot back. "Do it. You need to do it now. Don't wait for some other day. Go home tonight and take one small step forward. Choose a name. Create a logo. Make a list of possible venues. Call ten people who might want to perform. Get started today."

"Maybe," she said. "It's a good idea."

"Stop saying maybe," I demanded. "You need to do it now. Too many people put off the hard, important, scary things that could change their lives forever. Don't be one of those people. Don't find yourself five years from now regretting this moment in this hallway when you could've done something great. Go home tonight and do something."

"Help!" she shouted, leaning into the office space adjacent to us. "Some kind of voodoo priest is trying to change my life."

Then she fled. 

Two days later, I ran into her again in the same hallway. I repeated many of the same things. She said she was "seriously thinking about it," which sounded pretty terrible to me. Lots of people "seriously think" about things and then live lives of quiet desperation. Fail to make their dreams come true. Lie in their death bed regretting all that could have been. 

Instead of "seriously thinking," she needed to be "seriously doing."

"Okay, okay," she said, not sounding as committed as I wanted.  

I left Michigan that day.

Three days later I mailed her a two-page letter reminding her that someday is today. "Get to work. Stop making excuses. Stop 'seriously thinking about it' and start making your dreams come true."

Our only guarantee in life is that that someday it will end. The rest is up to us. We need to make the beauty and magic and art in our lives real. We have to stop saying that someday we'll do something and instead make that someday today.

She probably thinks I'm crazy. She might even believe that I'm a voodoo priest. Maybe she's right. I sent a person who I knew for all of three minutes a letter demanding that she stop spinning her wheels and build something. Create an opportunity. Perform.  

Maybe I am a little crazy. I don't care, just as long as she starts that improv troop and takes the stage as soon as possible. 

Add "voodoo priest" to my already long list of job titles if that's what it takes to get you moving. 

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