My three greatest acts of storytelling cruelty

I like to think that I have been a supportive and positive force on the thousands of storytellers who I have performed alongside over the years, but I've also had moments when my judgment and disposition was less than ideal.

My three most despicable moments as a storyteller:

1. On Thursday night at Infinity Hall, as our first storyteller was being introduced by Elysha, I sat beside her behind the curtain and demanded that she start her first novel. "Write a sentence a day," I said. "And then make it a page a day. Write a page a day, and after a year, you'll have a novel."

"You're alway berating me for not accomplishing enough," she said. "It's never enough for you."

I started lecturing her on the importance of goal setting when I heard Elysha reaching the end of her introduction, and I realized that this woman is about to take the biggest stage in her life, and I spent the last minute before her performance hassling her. 

As she rose, I tried to tell her how impressed I am with everything that she does. Teacher. Storyteller. Mother. I don't think she heard a word as she stepped into the light. 

She performed brilliantly. Truly. She was vulnerable and hilarious and heartbreaking. She was beautiful.

But it wasn't any thanks to me.

2. During soundcheck at a Moth GrandSLAM in New York a couple years ago, a woman who was performing in the championship for the first time stepped away from the microphone, walked to the edge of the stage, sighed deeply, and said to me, "That was scary. This place is huge. And there isn't even anyone in the audience yet."

"Yeah," I said. "The real scary part is knowing that when it comes time to perform, you'll be standing out there on your own. Practically on an island. No one in the world able to help you. You're entirely alone, depending on yourself to survive, while hundreds of people stare into your soul."

At that point, I had competed in 18 GrandSLAMs and won four of them, so these championships were old hat for me. I was speaking the truth - unintentionally - but it was not a truth this woman needed to hear. I realized what I had done as soon as the words came out of my mouth. I gasped, apologized profusely, and assured her that she would be fine.

She also performed brilliantly. But no thanks to me.

3. At my most recent GrandSLAM championship earlier this year, I reached into the bag and drew the number 1, indicating that I would be telling my story first. This is a terrible position to tell a story. Very hard - if not impossible - to win. I've competed in 54 Moth StorySLAMs in the past six years, winning 29 of them, but only one of those wins came from first position. 

It's an unlucky draw. And it's a number I draw quite often. 

After drawing my number, I tossed it aside, stepped off the stage, and pouted like a little baby. I complained and groaned and huffed and puffed. I stalked the theater, muttering under my breath and acting like a petulant jerk.

After a few minutes, Elysha stepped over to me and whispered, "This is you're 20th GrandSLAM, Matt. For most of these people, it's their first. Maybe you could stop acting like a baby and just get ready to tell your story."

It's always good to have a spouse willing to speak the truth to you.  

Those storytellers didn't need to see someone like me pouting and whining. So many of them had already expressed their admiration and respect for me and my reputation as a storyteller and competitor.

How did I repay their kindness?

I acted like an ass. 

They all performed brilliantly that night, no thanks to me.

In fact, the winner of that GrandSLAM also performed on the Infinity Hall stage on Thursday night for us, and she was brilliant once again.

No thanks to me.

Resolution update: November 2014

In an effort to hold myself accountable, I post a list my New Year’s resolutions at the beginning of each month, along with their progress (or lack thereof).

With one month to go, it’s looking like I will complete 15 of my 25 goals for sure, with an outside chance of completing as many as 5 more.

1. Don’t die.

Alive enough to write these words, though I nearly rear ended someone last night on the way to the GrandSLAM in Brooklyn. It was only Elysha’s scream that caused me to apply my brakes.

Actually, even if we had hit, we wouldn’t have died. Low speed, airbags, and seat belts would’ve saved us. 

2. Lose ten pounds.

Up two pounds since October, which means I’d have to lose five pounds in December to achieve this goal. Difficult but doable.

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


4. Launch at least one new podcast.

Author Out Loud, my first podcast, is still yet to launch (and therefore still not my first). Once we have that podcast running smoothly, we can think about adding a second podcast.

Progress so far: The redesign of my website continues, which will allow me to actually post future podcasts.

I’ve also secured a commitment from a cohost for that second podcast.

5. Complete my sixth novel before the end of the summer 2014.

Work on this book continues. It will not be finished in 2014.

6. Complete my seventh novel.

Work continues. It will also not be finished in 2014.

7. Sell one children’s book to a publisher.

Three manuscripts are back in the hands of my agent after further revisions. A sale in 2014 is unlikely.

I also had an excellent idea for a new book that is underway.   

8. Complete a book proposal for my memoir.

The proposal for a memoir comprised of 30-40 of my Moth stories is complete. The process of sending the book to editors for their consideration has begun.

A memoir comprising a season of golf is also complete. My agent and I are in the process of preparing the manuscript for sale.

Work also continues on a memoir that focuses on the two years that encompassed my arrest and trial for a crime I did not commit. These two years also include an armed robbery, the onset of my post traumatic stress disorder, my period of homelessness, and the time I spent living with a family of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

It was a memorable two years.

Work also began on a new book which will be part memoir and part how-to.

9. Host at least one Shakespeare Circle.

Scheduled for December 27. Just under the wire. If I can get enough friends to commit. 

10. Write a screenplay.

Done! In the hands of my film agent. I anxiously await her thoughts on the piece.

11. Write at least three short stories.

Nothing. What was I thinking?  

12. Write a collection of poetry using existing and newly written poems.

My agent has spoken. Not only does poetry not earn any money, but she doesn’t think my poetry is worth my time in terms of time and money. She encouraged me to send some of my better poems to journals and contests, which I may do at some point.

Many of my poems are autobiographical, and it turns out that at least a few will make excellent Moth stories.

13. Become certified to teach high school English by completing one required class.

Still one class and $50 away from completion.

14. Publish at least one Op-Ed in a physical newspaper.

Done! In October I published an Op-Ed in the Hartford Courant about communicating with students in the digital world.

My third column in Seasons magazine also publishes this month.


I also published a piece in The Cook’s Cook, a magazine for aspiring food writers and recipe testers. You can read the April-May issue here.


15. Attend at least 10 Moth events with the intention of telling a story.

I attended a Moth StorySLAM in New York on November 11 at Housing Works and was not called to the stage. 

I attended a GrandSLAM in Brooklyn on November 30.

This brings my total number of events for the year to 16.

16. Win a Moth GrandSLAM.

Done! I’m fresh off a victory in last night’s GrandSLAM in Williamsburg.  

17. Give yoga an honest try.

I took my first yoga lesson in November and have been practicing for more than two weeks. I don’t exactly love it, but I’m starting to notice an increase in flexibility, which is huge for me.

18. De-clutter the basement.

My hope is to take a day during my December vacation and finish this off.

19. De-clutter the shed

Done! I dislodged a mouse family, filled the back of my truck with junk, and now I have an empty, organized shed.

20. Conduct the ninth No-Longer-Annual A-Mattzing Race in 2014.

Not going to happen in 2014, much to several of my friend’s dismay.  

21. Produce a total of six Speak Up storytelling events.

Done! We produced a sold out show at The Mount in Lenox, MA last month, bringing our total number of shows to seven. We have one more show planned for this year on December 6 at Real Art Ways

22. Deliver a TED Talk.

I delivered a TED Talk in March at Brooklyn Boulders in Somerville, MA.

23. Set a new personal best in golf.

I played golf once in November. I actually played well but was two strokes off my personal best.

With snow on the ground, my window for realizing this goal might be closed.

24. Find a way to keep my wife home for one more year with our children.

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