Is Exploding Kittens Jewish?

I was sitting with Charlie in the cafeteria of his school last week, eating lunch with him and his friends.

At one point I was telling his friends about Exploding Kittens, a game that Elysha gave me for Father’s Day. I said to his friends, “Charlie and I played Exploding Kittens all day on Sunday. It was great.”

One of his friends squinted his eyes, cocked his head, and asked, “Exploding Kittens? Is that a Jewish thing?”

As far as we know, Clara and Charlie are the only Jewish kids in their school, which means that their classmates probably know very little about the Jewish religion except for what they learn from our kids.

As a result, you can get questions like, “Is Exploding Kittens a Jewish thing?”

I understand this well.

I grew up in a small town in Massachusetts, and as far as I know, there weren’t any Jewish kids in my school, either. After high school, I managed McDonald’s restaurants, and as far as I know, I never employed anyone who was Jewish.

Later, I was homeless and then taken off the streets by a family of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Still no Jews.

There were certainly Jewish students in my classes when I finally made it to college, but by then, I was working a full time job and a part time job while earning degrees at two different colleges - Trinity College and Saint Joseph’s University - simultaneously. I was also writing for the school newspaper, working in student government, and launching my DJ company.

I didn’t have time to notice anyone.

It wasn’t until I started teaching in West Hartford that I started to meet anyone who is Jewish. But even though I work in West Hartford, which has a large Jewish population, I work on the south end of town. I often don’t have any Jewish kids in my class.

Oddly enough, Elysha was my first Jewish friend.

Today, it’s not uncommon for me to be the only person in a room who isn’t Jewish, for for the first 30 years of my life, I really didn’t know anyone who was Jewish.

So when that boy asked if Exploding Kittens was Jewish, I understood why. He knows Charlie is Jewish, and since he probably doesn’t know anything about being Jewish, he simply assumed that something entirely foreign to him like Exploding Kittens might be Jewish.

You, for example, probably know very little about Sikhism, which has twice as many followers as Judaism religion worldwide. And you probably know nothing about the Bahá'í faith (unless you read Rainn Wilson’s memoir), which has about half as many followers as the Jewish faith.

Judaism is as foreign to Charlie’s friend as Sikhism and Bahá'í probably are to you, even though millions of people around the world identify with these religions. And since that boy is seven years old, he doesn’t yet possess the context clues and cultural understanding to know that Exploding Kittens is probably not related to religion.

I’m glad.

It made for a very funny moment, and it reminded me about all of the times when I was equally confused about Judaism (and sometimes still am).

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My recommendation to you

On Tuesday night, I told a story at a Moth StorySLAM in Cambridge, MA and won.

It was my 40th victory in a Moth StorySLAM.

When I think back to my very first Moth StorySLAM - back in July of 2011 at the Nuyorican’s Poet’s Cafe in New York City, it would’ve been hard to imagine that 8 years, I would win 40 StorySLAMs and 6 GrandSLAMs.

I like to win, so it feels great, and I love entertaining audiences with stories of my life, but there were even better, more impossible-to-imagine moments from that night:

The person who accompanied me to the slam was a friend named Kevin. Kevin and I grew up in the same small, Massachusetts town on the same street - just one grade apart - yet we were never friends while growing up. But we managed to reconnect on Facebook years later, and back in 2013, when Elysha and I produced our first Speak Up show at Real Art Ways in Hartford, Kevin surprised us by driving from his home in Massachusetts to attend.

Since then, he’s attended several Speak Up events. I’ve appeared on his podcast. We’ve become friends. I never would’ve imagined becoming friends with someone from my childhood so much later in life.

Even better, the host of the StorySLAM and two of the storytellers who made it to the stage on Tuesday night have also appeared on a Speak Up stage, and two of them have also been featured on our podcast.

Moth royalty meets Speak Up.

Even better, there were at least eight people in the audience on Tuesday night who I had taught in one of my storytelling workshops. At least six of them were introduced to storytelling and The Moth via my workshops, and at least two of them had put their names in the hat.

As a teacher, it’s always thrilling to see your students engaging with the world, taking risks, and trying new things. Sitting amongst them and performing for them was a gift.

But best of all, as I was pulling open the door to my car at the end of the night, I was stopped by a young woman who had been sitting in the audience. She told me that she’s seen me perform many times in Boston, and that my stories convinced her to call her mother after years of estrangement. It wasn’t a story about my mother or anything related to parents or children that helped her make the phone call. It was just my willingness to share so much onstage.

“I figured that if you could tell stories like that to strangers, I could call my mother.”

That was the best part of the night.

In July of 2011, I went to a Moth StorySLAM in New York City with the intention of telling one story and never returning to the stage again. Instead, impossible-to-imagine things have happened.

Recently, while being interviewed for a podcast, the host asked me where I see myself in ten years. I told her that it was a ridiculous question.

Last year I was teaching storytelling on a Mohawk reservation to Native Americans. I was substitute ministering at Unitarian Universalist churches. Elysha and I had a United States Senator telling a story on our Speak Up stage. I went to work as a storytelling consultant for one of the largest advertising firms in America.

I could’ve predicted none of this.

Just this year I’ve taught storytelling at Yale, MIT, and Harvard. I had people drive from Kansas City, Maryland, Toronto, and Philadelphia to attend my workshops. This summer two people from China and a person from San Diego will be flying to Connecticut to attend my storytelling bootcamp.

It’s crazy.

Craziest of all, a young woman living in Belmont, Massachusetts is now talking to her mother again because I told some stories onstage.

There is no predicting.

But what I know for sure of that none of this happens if I don’t find the courage in 2011 to take a stage in New York and tell a story. I won my first StorySLAM that night, and as satisfying as it was to win my 40th slam on Tuesday night, the victories are a lovely bonus to a life transformed and made immensely more interesting and meaningful thanks to a stage, a microphone, and a story..

Thanks to engaging with the world. Taking risks. Trying new things.

I can’t recommend it enough.

This place that I love will soon be no more

In just a few days, the school where I have taught for 20 years will finally be bulldozing the “portable” classrooms that were affixed to the end of the building long before my arrival and had become decidedly less portable than originally intended.

This is a big deal to me because it means that they will be bulldozing Elysha’s old classroom, where we first met and fell in love.

I hate this.

I proposed to Elysha in Grand Central Station because she once told me that it was her “favorite room in the world. ” But I also chose it because I knew it would still be standing decades after my proposal. I wouldn’t have to worry about someday pointing to the site of some former restaurant and saying, “There it is, kids. I know it’s a sex shop today, but 18 years ago, that was the site of a lovely little Italian restaurant where I proposed to your mom.”

Grand Central will be standing for a long, long time, but Elysha’s former classroom, which for me is just as important, has only a few days or weeks left before it will be turned to rubble.

I stopped by the school yesterday to spend a few minutes in the space and take some photographs. The memories came back in waves.

The time - long before we were dating - when Elysha asked me to help her with her taxes. Wanting to date Elysha but never thinking it possible, I remember sitting beside her at a table in the back of the room, taking far longer than necessary to complete her 1040EZ just so I could spent a few extra minutes with her.

The afternoon when she first read to me a series of letters that she had collected from years before from a pair of overly-involved, possibly mentally ill parents who wrote the most hilarious, ridiculous, outrageous letters to her on an almost daily basis. Listening to her read and breathe life to these unbelievable parental requests and ridiculous protestations is something I will never forget.

The 2002 holiday season when I had paid money to a colleague to manipulate our annual Secret Santa so that I could be Elysha’s Secret Santa. I hid presents around her room, each beginning with a letter of the alphabet that eventually spelled my name.

She later said that she knew it was me from the very first gift.

After we were dating, the many times when I would leave her messages to her - on her white board, chart paper, hidden beneath papers on her desk - professing my love for her.

Those beautiful memories and so many more.

But the memory that I will always remember most took place the morning after Elysha had professed her affection for me for the first time in the parking lot of my apartment complex. Because I had just ended a relationship, and because she was ending one, too, I wasn’t sure what to say when she told me she liked me - mostly because I’m stupid - so when the girl who I already loved said those incredible, impossible words to me, I said, “Thank you,” and allowed her to drive away.

Realizing what I had done about five minutes after she was gone, I called her desperately, repeatedly,, but in those days, Elysha was famous for never turning on her phone, so every call went to voicemail. Absent the ability to send a text message or even an email, I left a voice message pleading for forgiveness and professing my affection for her, too.

“I like you! I like you! I’m sorry! I like you, too!”

The next morning, I raced to school and met her in her classroom before the school day began. As I charged into her classroom and approached her desk, she stood and handed me a letter.

“Did you listen to your voicemail?” I asked.

“No,” she said. Then before I could speak, she said, “I’m sorry. I know that was awkward last night. I hope we can still be friends.”

“No!” I said, snatching the letter from her hands. “I was stupid. I like you, too. I reject this letter. I was so stupid. Forget everything that happened last night, except for the part when you said you liked me. That was the only good part. Please forgive me for being so stupid. I like you, too. I like you a lot.”

Happily, Elysha was willing to see past my ridiculous, terrible, unforgivable “Thank you,” from the night before. We began dating.

It was March 31, 2003.

Eight months later, on December 28, 2003, I took a knee at the top steps in Grand Central Station while two dozen friends hid amongst the throngs of travelers below and proposed to the love of my life.

I never read that letter. I threw it into the trashcan as soon as I left her classroom, never wanting to see the words.

Now the room where all those wonderful and amazing things took place will be no more. Someday soon, I’ll find myself pointing to a spot in a parking lot and saying, “Look kids. See where that Toyota is parked. In that spot, a long time ago, your mother forgave me for being so stupid and gave me a second chance.”

It just won’t ever be the same.

The last day of school suddenly became very interesting

The last day of a school year can be a strange day for both teachers and students.

On the one hand, it’s a celebration. Students and teachers looking ahead at long, lazy summer days. But it’s also bittersweet for most of us. A breaking of a family that will never be whole again.

For my students, the last day of school also signals a momentous step forward to middle school. They are departing a place that has kept them safe and happy for six years.

For some students, it’s smiles and excitement.

For many, it’s sadness and tears.

As a teacher, I find myself wondering if I’ve done enough. Have I prepared them well enough for their middle school adventure? Are they ready to take on new challenges?

I worry about my kids. I can’t help it.

I found myself worrying a lot on Friday. It was the last day of school, and my students weren’t exactly being their best selves. As I tried to read to them, they were chatty and distracted. A couple of them made some poor choices as the day wore on. As I tried to make the most of our final hours together, I felt like some of my kids were doing the opposite.

It was frustrating and sad. And I worried. Are they behaving like this because I didn’t do enough?

A few hours later Elysha and I having dinner together on the patio of a local restaurant, talking about how challenging my day was, when the server arrived at my table and said, “Mr. Dicks?”

I looked up. Standing in front of me was a tall, young man who I didn’t recognize. He was smiling.

I stood up. “I’m sorry,” I said. “Who are you?”

“It’s me,” he said. Then he told me his name. I couldn’t believe it.

Had you asked me before this moment to name the student who I worried about the most in my teaching career, this young man would’ve been on my short list. Maybe at the top of my short list.

I had taught this boy 14 years ago when he was a much smaller third grader. He was a smart boy back then, but he was challenging to say the least. For a multitude of reasons, his path did not seem very bright. I had thought about him many times over the years, and my heart was always filled with worry.

A couple years ago, I had even tried to find him online without success. A few mentions of a high school football career but nothing more.

Now he was standing before me.

We embraced. I asked him how he was doing. He told me that he’d just completed his junior year in college. Preparing to begin his senior year in September. Working his butt off this summer to save money.

College. I couldn’t believe it.

Near the end of the meal, when he brought me the check, he asked if I’m still teaching Shakespeare to kids. I told him I was. “The kids performed Macbeth this year.”

Then he quoted me a few lines from the play he had performed when he was a kid. The Taming of the Shrew. He even threw in a couple of lines from Macbeth that he had remembered for good measure.

Then he told me that he’s still playing chess, a game I had taught him when he was a boy.

I couldn’t believe it. All that worrying had been for naught. He had overcome his struggles and found success. He was on the path to a good career and a great life.

I was so happy for him. So relieved.

Sometimes, in a moment of great need, as you’re worrying that you haven’t done enough for your students, the universe can be very kind to you.

That was the case for me last Friday. That young man arrived exactly when I needed him most.

I still can’t believe it.

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Speak Up Storytelling: Cari Ryding

On episode #54 of the Speak Up Storytelling podcast, Matthew and Elysha Dicks talk storytelling!

In our follow up segment, we shout out the kindness of several readers of Storyworthy, talk about the concept of 1,000 true fans, read a listener email about a full year of Homework for Life, and offer some opinions on the final episodes of Game of Thrones.  

STORYTELLING WORKSHOPS 2019

STORYTELLING SHOWS 2019

In our Homework for Life segment, Matt talks about how a storyworthy moment can be told in more than one way, so part of the challenge of storytelling is choosing which way to craft and tell a story, and thereby where that story should begin. 

Next we listen to a story by Cari Ryding. 

Amongst the many things we discuss include:

  1. Hanging a story on a great opening line 

  2. The importance of choosing useful context and backstory

  3. Avoiding throwaway details 

  4. Making the important moments in your life also important when an audience hears them for the first time

  5. Time manipulation

  6. Names

  7. Alternative endings

  8. Avoiding phrases that assert the veracity of your story

We then answer listener questions about properly introducing stories to friends, policies involving bringing professional storytellers to Speak Up, and expanding your stories into a variety of mediums.

Finally, we each offer a recommendation.  

LINKS

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

Purchase Twenty-one Truths About Love 

1,000 True Fans: https://kk.org/thetechnium/1000-true-fans

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:

Bonus recommendations:

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Proposed Father's Day laws

On this Father’s Day, I’d like to propose the following new Father’s Day rules:

  1. All golf courses should be set up in their most ideal conditions.  Tee boxes should be positioned as close to the greens as possible. Pin placements should be ideal. Every effort should be made to ensure that a Father’s Day round of golf goes exceptionally well.

  2. In the event that trash collection day falls on the Monday following Father’s Day, it should be moved to the Tuesday so that fathers are not required to end their day separating recyclables and dragging trash cans to the side of the road.

  3. “No right on red” signs should cease to apply on Father’s Day.

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The utterly unnecessary letter of recommendation

I was writing a recommendation letter yesterday for a friend and former colleague. It was the fourth such letter of recommendation that I’ve written in the month of June.

Though writing these letters takes time, I always find a great deal of joy in memorializing in words how I feel about the person to whom I’m recommending. Oftentimes these are people who respect and admire a great deal, so I’ve always viewed the writing of these letters of recommendation as a blessing. It’s my opportunity to let the person know exactly how I feel about them and how much they have meant to me.

It occurred to me while writing yesterday’s letter that I’ve been working at my present job for 20 years. For two full decades, I have been teaching elementary school at the same school, and for the last 17 years, I’ve been teaching in the very same classroom.

It’s been a long, long time anyone has written me a letter of recommendation.

As I was writing yesterday’s letter, I commented to a colleague who has also been working at our school for a long time how unfortunate it is that we don’t change jobs more often. While I write glowing letters of recommendation about my friends and colleagues all the time - letters that undoubtedly bring at least a little bit of joy to them - I haven’t had a letter like this written about me in forever.

Also, the last people to write my letters of recommendation were likely college professors and cooperating teachers who had only known me for a few months at most. Not exactly the kind of people who can speak with any authority or veracity about my skill and expertise.

I’m not saying that I need this kind of praise and validation of my colleagues and administrators. As some might attest, I probably feel a little too good about myself at times.

But still, it would be nice.

But since I don’t see myself going anywhere anytime soon (or ever), I may have received the very last letter of recommendation of my life.

But this has given me an idea:

In my ongoing campaign to write and mail 100 letters in 2019, I have decided to identify colleagues and friends who have been working in the same job for a long period of time and write them utterly unnecessary letters of recommendation:

Glowing reports on how dedicated, skilled, and talented they truly are even though they aren’t changing jobs.

Why should someone have to wait until they jump ship to find out how their colleagues feel about them? I’m going to let them know now, when it might mean even more to them.

I’m excited about this idea.

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Donald Trump is a traitor. In his own damn words.

Just in case you missed this (because apparently Republican lawmakers missed it entirely because they have said nothing):

A new book by the Washington Post reporter Anna Fifield and a Wall Street Journal story report that Korean dictator Kim Jong Un’s brother, Kim Jong Nam, was a CIA informant. Kim Jong Nam was murdered in a chemical-weapons attack in February 2017. That attack was ordered by his brother.

Asked to comment on this revelation, Trump said:

“I see that, and I just received a beautiful letter from Kim Jong Un. I think the relationship is very well, but I appreciated the letter. I saw the information about the CIA with regard to his brother or half brother, and I would tell him that would not happen under my auspices. I wouldn’t let that happen under my auspices. I just received a beautiful letter from Kim Jong Un.”

Once again, Trump sided with a foreign adversary over American intelligence agencies.

Also, he remains obsessed with beautiful letters from murderous dictators.

Later in the week, when asked what he would do if a foreign power approached him with damaging information on political opponents during the upcoming election season, Trump said, "I think you might want to listen. There isn't anything wrong with listening."

It's a crime for a campaign to knowingly solicit or accept items of value from foreign nationals.

George Stephanopoulos then brought up FBI Director Christopher Wray's warning that anyone who received incriminating information from a foreign power should immediately call the bureau.

"The FBI director is wrong," Trump said. He denied that interfering in American elections - as Russia did in 2016 to help him win - is even a problem.

"It's not an interference. They have information. I think I'd take it. If I thought there was something wrong, I'd go maybe to the FBI, if I thought there was something wrong.”

This is a man who called on Russia to find Hillary Clinton's emails. He chose to believe Russian President Vladimir Putin’s denials about Russian interference in the election over US intelligence agencies. He claimed that the Kremlin's 2016 attack on our elections was a Democratic hoax.

Now he’s openly admitting that if Russian or Chinese or North Korean intelligence agencies found damaging information on a Democratic opponent, he would listen and possibly use that information for his own gain.

Honestly Republicans? Isn’t this enough? Are you going to stand behind a President who is siding with foreign adversaries and openly admitting his willingness to work with them again and again?

Just imagine what might’ve happened if Barack Obama had done even one of these things?

Also, where the hell are the Democrats right now?

Why are they not shouting from every damn rooftop in America about these comments? Why are they not conducting hearings on the security of our nation, the sanctity our elections, and the safety of our intelligence officers given what Trump has said this week?

I’m not a political strategist, but it doesn’t appear that anyone in the Democratic party is working with a political strategist, either. How can they remain so quiet in the face of these revelations and comments?

There comes a time in every American’s life when the needs of your country supersede your own personal or political needs.

Republican Justin Amash reached that point three weeks ago.

If his fellow Republicans did not reach that point after this week, they should never call themselves patriots again. Instead, they are hapless, helpless, self-obsessed sycophants interested in maintaining power at the cost of this country’s security.

Listen to Jon Stewart. Do the right thing.

It is unconscionable and evil that United States lawmakers are not doing everything possible to assist the 9/11 first responders as they battle illnesses directly linked to their rescue efforts following the attack on our country.

It makes absolutely no sense.

We have enough money to give corporations and wealthy Americans enormous tax cuts that GOP lawmakers are just now admitting will not pay for themselves.

Duh.

We have enough to pay the hundreds of millions of dollars it has cost American taxpayers to fund Trump’s endless trips to his myriad of golf courses around the world.

Yet we don’t have enough money to treat the sick and dying heroes of our nation?

Jon Stewart went to Congress again on Tuesday to lobby on behalf of first responders. I was told that his opening remarks before the House Judiciary Committee were “extraordinary.”

I groaned.

This is almost always the kiss of death for any speech, at least for me. “Extraordinary” is a high bar that is almost never achieved. Excellence of this level is a rare commodity in today’s world. Often claimed but rarely found.

Happily, gratefully, Jon Stewart found extraordinary on Tuesday and ate it for breakfast. He launched himself over that ridiculously high bar. Cleared it easily. Soared.

It’s a must watch.

And it worked. Yesterday, the House Judiciary Committee voted unanimously in favor of the bill. It now heads to the full House for a vote.

After listening to Jon Stewart speak, Elysha and I made a donation to the FeelGood Foundation, the charitable organization to which Stewart aligns himself.

I will be writing letters to my Senators and Congresspeople starting on Monday.

This failure to support the heroes of 9/11 must stop immediately.

The cusp of summer

He’s been waiting all year to make use of this gift.

The bathtub doesn’t quite cut it.

Just three more days until summer vacation for him, his sister, and his parents.

There are so many blessings to being a teacher, but as teachers with young children, there are none greater than the two months that Elysha and I will enjoy with our kids. My former principal, Plato Karafelis, used to say that choosing teaching as your profession is a lifestyle choice. You may not earn as much as your neighbor, but some things are more precious than dollars.

Summertime with your children is one of them.

This is a truly precious time in the lives of our kids, who won’t be little forever, and I’m so very happy to know that I will be spending so much of this time over the next two months with them.

I plan on making every moment count.

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Smile and wear sunglasses

One of the many doctors who I’ve gotten to know through my work with Yale New Haven Hospital was explaining the science of biofeedback to me.

It’s fascinating.

Biofeedback is the idea that your brain is always monitoring and sensing what is happening in your body, and it reviews the information being received and uses it to decide how it should feel about the world.

For example, when you feel happy, you smile. However, it works in reverse, too. When you smile - whether you’re happy or not - your brain detects your smile and says, “I’m smiling. I must be happy.”

Research shows smiling gives the brain as much pleasure as 2000 bars of chocolate or $25,000.

So if you’re feeling blue, smile. A simple smile can actually change the way you’re feeling.

Sunglasses oddly have a similar effect. Squinting when a light is bright - like on a sunny day - causes you to flex the corrugator supercilii muscle, which causes you to look worried. Your brain reads these signals and thinks, “Oh no. Something must be wrong because I’m worried.”

Sunglasses reduce and/or eliminate the squinting completely, thereby eliminating the unintended effect.

I don’t wear sunglasses for the same reason I’ve never owned an umbrella or a watch. Less stuff makes my life less complicated. But maybe I need to rethink the sunglasses.

My doctor friend also explained to me that research seems to indicate that what you say can have a similarly profound impact on your mood, general disposition, energy levels, and more.

If someone asks you how you’re doing and you say, “I’m great,” you’re much more likely to actually feel great, even if you didn’t feel great prior to answering the question.

Conversely, if you’re a person who complains frequently or tends to speak negatively about yourself, others, or the world in general, you are much more likely to feel rotten. Speaking negativity results in actual feelings of negativity, and this can create an awful, endless feedback loop that becomes hard for folks to escape.

I think we all know people who seem trapped in a tragic loop like this. Regardless of their circumstances, every day is another impossible, unjust, depressing dip into reality for them.

Perhaps they are the victims of a negative feedback loop.

I’m not so sure abut this one. I tend to believe that most of these persistently negative people are just dumb, miserable, self-serving parasites who would choose to complain and speak poorly of others regardless of biofeedback, but I’m not a doctor.

What do I know?

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Speak Up Storytelling: Matthew Dicks

On episode #53 of the Speak Up Storytelling podcast, Elysha and I talk storytelling!

In our followup segment, we read letters about Homework for Life from two of our listeners. 

Then Elysha departs for the rest of the episode, and I play a story of my own. 

Amongst the many things I talk about include:

  1. Big moments transformed into small, relatable moments

  2. The conversation between the beginning and ending of a story

  3. The openings of stories

  4. Omission

  5. The principle of "but and therefore"

  6. The strategic use of adjectives

  7. Ending a story effectively (and not stupidly)

LINKS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tooth fairy economics

Charlie lost his front tooth this week at his Little League practice. Non-baseball related.

A couple weeks earlier, he lost his other front tooth, leaving a gap in his mouth large enough to drive a train through. It’s hilarious.

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When a child loses their tooth in our home, the tooth fairy brings that child a single golden dollar. Sacagawea, Susan B. Anthony, or one of the many Presidential coins, placed carefully under their pillow after they are fast asleep.

One dollar. This is an appropriate amount of money for a tooth.

When someone in one of Elysha Dicks’s Facebook group asked how much their child should receive for a lost tooth, a common response was $20.

This is an insane amount of money to give a child for losing a tooth.

When I was a child, I received 25 cents for a tooth and was quite pleased. Even if I had received a whole dollar back then, inflation rates would only make that dollar worth about $3.10 in today’s money.

Giving your child $3.10 would be weird, but it wouldn’t be insane. $20 is insane.

$20 is more than ten times the rate of inflation. More importantly, $20 really is a crazy amount of money. Given that children eventually lose about 20 teeth, this makes their baby teeth worth a total of $400.

This is not right. Not at all.

You know how some people say, “I’m not trying to sound judgmental…” right before they sound judgmental? I’m not doing that here. Not not trying to avoid sounding judgmental. I’m trying desperately and specifically to sound judgmental.

I am being super judgy.

I am officially judging the hell out of any parent who gives their child $20 for a lost tooth.

If you are one of those parents and this upsets you, please remember that the economics of tooth fairy wealth distribution is not the kind of thing that should upset you very much. Calm yourself down. No need to get angry over every little thing.

If, for example, you think that only giving my child a single dollar from the tooth fairy is heartless, cruel, and cheap, I really wouldn’t care. “Fine,” I’d think. “Have your stupid opinion. People are entitled to stupid opinions. Your thoughts about my parenting don’t actually change anything about me or my kids. They are just electrical pulses in the neurons of your stupid brain.”

See how easy that is?

Apply this mindset to your own situation if my judgmental stance on your tooth fairy decision-making has your knickers in a bunch, because I’ll say it again:

$20 is not right. It’s ludicrous and crazy-town. Kids who are young enough to be losing their first teeth do not need $20. They simply need a little magic in their lives. A little whimsey.

A $20 bill is neither magical not whimsical. It's hard cash. Real money. Unnecessary money.

My kids are always so excited about their golden dollars.

When Charlie received his golden dollar last week, he asked me if the tooth fairy is real.

“Of course she’s real,” I said. “How do you think you got that gold dollar?”

“Maybe you put it there,” he said.

“I don’t have any gold dollars,” I said. “How would I get a golden dollar?”

“Probably at the bank,” he said.

He may be in first grade, but he is one savvy little boy.

We don't know how our stuff is made.

I’ve become convinced that the people who don’t make stuff will never understand how stuff is made.

I listen to podcasts where hosts ask writers and artists about how jokes are written, screenplays are developed, and stories are crafted, and the questions they ask rarely make sense to the creators of these things.

  • When you’re writing a song, do you start with the rhyme at the end of the couplet or at the beginning?

  • Did you have that punchline first, or did you work your way to the punchline?

  • Did you intend the death of that character to signal the death of hope itself?

I get ridiculous questions like this, too, from readers, high school and college students, and even the occasional teacher and professor.

Just recently, a college student writing about one of my books sent me these questions:

  1. What is the principal role of the narrative voice in your book?

  2. In what way does the narrative voice make your work more difficult in the novel?

  3. To what extent does the narrative voice help readers understand Max's inner world?

  4. What was your main purpose of introducing Budo in Max's life?

  5. What struggles did you have when framing this story?

  6. Did you settle on metaphors and symbols before you began writing?

My answer to questions 1, 2, 3, and 5 were “I don’t understand the question.”

My answer to question 3 was, “I didn’t introduce Budo to Max’s life. He was just there.”

My answer to question 6 was, “What symbols and metaphors are in the book. I didn’t see any.”

People who don’t make stuff seem to think there is a formula for making stuff. Whether it’s fiction or comedy or art or music, folks seem to believe that we sit down with a plan. They actually think we have a formal process of some kind, complete with logic, forethought, craftsmanship, and nuance.

They don’t realize that we don’t know how our stuff is made. It’s a mystery to most of us. I’ve written fiction nonfiction, musicals, comic books, magazine essays, and poetry, and it’s always the same":

Stuff just tumbles out, probably because I’m not thinking about all the ridiculous things that these questions imply. The stuff just lands on the page or the canvas or the stage. It’s not pretty at first. It needs a lot of work. But we’re certainly not thinking in the way that teachers and professors and even the consumers of our work want to believe.

I think they want to believe that there is a formula in hopes of someday understanding the formula and then replicating it for themselves.

If only it was that easy.

In 1963, 16-year-old Bruce McAllister was sick and tired of hunting for symbols in English class, so rather than engaging in a debate with his teacher over the validity of this work, he sent a survey to 150 novelists asking if they intentionally planted symbolism in their work. 

Some of my favorite responses:

Ray Bradbury: “No, I never consciously place symbolism in my writing. That would be a self-conscious exercise and self-consciousness is defeating to any creative act. Better to let the subconscious do the work for you, and get out of the way. The best symbolism is always unsuspected and natural."

John Updike: “I have no method; there is no method in writing fiction; you don’t seem to understand.”

Norman Mailer: “I’m not sure it’s a good idea for a working novelist to concern himself too much with the technical aspects of the matter. Generally, the best symbols in a novel are those you become aware of only after you finish the work.”

Jack Kerouac: “No.”

McAllister eventually became an English professor. Presumably he never asked a student to hunt for a symbol.

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Nevers

Knowing that I have a novel coming out in November written solely in list form, a friend recently offered me her “Never List.”

It was good.

So I made my own. I encourage you to make one and share as well. _____________________________________________

  • Never used an illegal drug in my entire life

  • Never bought a lottery ticket

  • Never smoked a cigarette

  • Never tasted coffee

  • Never watched a single episode of The Bachelor, The Real Housewives of Wherever, or anything involving a Kardashian

  • Never swore in the presence of my mother

  • Never shoplifted

  • Never taken a selfie

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Winners get ice cream. Losers get nothing.

I was sitting at Charlie's Little League game yesterday, thinking that we might get some ice cream if the game ended early enough, when I suddenly remembered something from my childhood:

When I was playing Little League baseball, you only went for ice cream if you won the game.

As a boy, this made sense to me.

To the victor go the spoils. Winning is rewarded. Champions receive trophies.

But just imagine what might happen if the Little League coaches of today decided that only the winning team of each game would be rewarded with an ice cream cone.

I think parents might lose their minds.

I’m not sure how I feel about this.

As a boy, I know this made perfect sense to me. I remember how exciting it was to pull out of the parking lot, waving my orange cap outside an open car window, knowing that I would be devouring victory ice cream soon.

I always wanted to win the game, but the ice cream was truly the cherry on top.

And I remember losing, too. Heading home absent any frosty reward, thinking that next time, we needed to win so I could get my ice cream cone.

Winners celebrated with frosty treats. Loser got nothing.

This all made sense to me. There were no tears. No pleading. No upset feelings. I think I would’ve been embarrassed to show up at the ice cream shack if my team hadn’t won the game.

The ice cream shack was a place for winners.

But today? I don’t know.

Charlie is playing in a developmental league right now. Coaches are pitching much of the game, and instruction takes place throughout the game. Runs are scored, but the number of runs scored doesn’t matter. Even the kids aren’t keeping track yet. But assuming that Charlie continues playing next year, he will eventually find himself in baseball games where box scores are kept and winners and losers are ultimately determined.

How I would I feel if only the winning team drove off for ice cream after each game?

I’m not sure. Honestly, I think it makes sense to me, but I’m writing while Charlie is asleep in his bed. I’m not faced with a downtrodden boy and his disappointment over his team’s failure to score more runs than his opponent. I’m not battling the notion that he tried his best, so perhaps effort should be rewarded, too.

Maybe I would crack. Maybe Charlie would get ice cream, too. I’m not sure.

But here is the one thing I know for sure:

I’m glad my parents and my coaches didn’t crack. I’m glad I only received ice cream if my team won. It made the victories that much sweeter. And it made sense to me.

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Check out Jared Kushner looking stupid, afraid, and bumbling.

There are a lot of takeaways from Jared Kushner’s interview with Axios:

  1. I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen someone less prepared for an interview.

  2. This is exactly how an interview should be conducted.

  3. If you can’t say that birtherism wasn’t racist, then you think it was racist.

  4. If you can’t say that Trump’s Muslim ban wasn’t religiously bigoted, then you think it was religiously bigoted.

  5. If you can’t even say that Trump isn’t racist without tripping over your own words, then you probably think Trump is a racist.

  6. We have a brand new definition of “deer-in-the-headlights,” and it’s Jared Kushner.

  7. If I needed someone to defend me in a time of need, Jared Kushner would be the last person I would ever choose.

His arguments also suck.

“I wasn’t part of birtherism” is a stupid reason for refusing to say whether it was racist.

I wasn’t a part of slavery in the United States, but I can say without equivocation that it was racist.

I also wasn’t a part of Jim Crow or the Middle Passage or lynchings in the South, but yes, they were all racist, too.

I also wasn’t a part of birtherism, but yes, that was also racist, Jared.

Also, birtherism wasn’t “a long time ago.” It was less than four years ago when Trump finally acknowledged that President Obama was an American citizen. I know it feels like a long time ago given that there has been a a racist, horny, old burger goblin who literally steals children from poor people in the White House making days seem like weeks and months with his disastrous decision making, but no, four years isn’t “a long time ago.”

“You can’t not be a racist for 69 years and then run for President and be a racist” makes it clear that Kushner nothing about the Central Park Five, Trump’s lies about Muslims celebrating on rooftops on 9/11, or the FBI’s investigation in the 1970s into alleged racial discrimination in the rental of apartments from Trump's real estate company which led to requiring the Trump firm to institute a series of safeguards to make sure apartments were rented without regard to race, color, religion, sex or national origin.

Either he’s unaware or pretending not to know. Either one of these options make him look stupid and ineffective.

The best thing about this interview is how pathetic and useless it makes Kushner appear. For a boy who prides himself on his intelligence, skill, and acumen, he sounds like a bumbling, mealy-mouthed toady.

Apparently all the money in the world can’t wash away your stupidity and cowardice when the television cameras switch on and the questions begin.