New favorite animal for a damn good reason

I have a new favorite animal, people. Prior to today, my favorite animal was the badger because it’s one of the only animals (other than humans) that kills for sport.

But I mostly said that to annoy people.

My new favorite animal is the giraffe, and for good reason. I just learned that giraffes sleep less than 30 minutes per day in naps that are 2-6 minutes long at a time.

I’m so impressed. Also envious. While the stupid humans are sleeping away a quarter to a third of their lives, giraffes are making the most of every moment.

As I climbed into bed last night, I honestly thought, “I can’t wait for this stupidness to be over.”

Though I recognize the importance and need for sleep, and I take my actual sleep time very seriously, I am almost never happy about going to bed. Most of the time, I’m genuinely irritated about the whole thing.

To sleep just 30 minutes per day would be amazing.

I also learned that giraffes only drink water every few days. Most of the water they need to survive is processed through the food they eat.

Also highly efficient and impressive.

Sadly, because they need to eat 75 pounds of food per day to survive, giraffes spend many of their waking hours eating. Then again, it’s not like they can read a book or attend a Patriots game or write a novel or catch a Broadway show, so in that case, why not eat? Eating all day isn’t a bad way to spend your day given the giraffes’ limited menu of options.

Lest you think giraffes are docile and easy prey for predators, think again. Although they're more likely to run from an attack than fight back, a swift kick from one of their long legs can do serious damage to—or even kill—an unlucky lion.

I like this a lot. Whenever possible, avoid a fight., But when your back is to the wall, know how to throw a good punch.

On top of that, giraffes live about 25 years in the wild and twice that age in captivity, which isn’t long by human standards but is considerable in the animal world. They don’t live as long as a tortoise or an African elephant or a macaw, and they aren’t immortal like certain types of jellyfish, but who wants to be a jellyfish?

I believe in carefully choosing choosing your favorite animal. You need a reason to award an animal that coveted most favorite status. I’ve always loved giraffes, and my heart always leaps when I see them in zoos, and now I know why.

Not only are they beautiful, but they are an animal who shares my philosophy of making every moment count by achieving maximum efficiency in all things.

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Important notes on this Fourth of July 2019

  1. I’ll never understand the fascination of some people to light their own fireworks, which are always subpar in comparison to the real thing and occasionally result in serious injuries, permanent maiming, and house fires.

  2. When I was growing up in Massachusetts, the purchase or ownership of fireworks was illegal. This, in my mind, made a hell of a lot of sense, even as a child.

  3. Only 58% of Americans understand what actually happened on July 4, 1776 (which is almost nothing, since the vote for independence was actually taken on July 2, 1776), but still… c’mon people. You should know what we’re celebrating today.

  4. Presidents Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and James Monroe - Founding Fathers who all played important roles in the Revolutionary War - died on July 4. I don’t support death, but if you’re going to die, I appreciate a well-timed demise.

  5. Meteorologists are predicting extreme heat and intense thunderstorms in Washington, DC today. Given that Trump has illegally diverted money from the US Park service to pay for his vanity project and politicized the event by giving VIP tickets to wealthy Republican donors, I’m happy to see that Mother Nature has decided to spoil his party at least a little bit.

  6. Military leaders, reportedly extremely uncomfortable with the politicization of the armed forces by Trump, have refused to allow tanks to drive down the streets of Washington. Instead, two tanks will be placed on flatbed trucks and remain stationary throughout the day, so what Trump once envisioned as a military parade is now a slightly more intense version of your everyday Touch-a-Truck event. Another reason to celebrate.

  7. My favorite Fourth of July celebrations took place on my grandparents’ farm. I grew up next door to my grandparents, and nothing was better than smelling the burgers and the hot dogs from by backyard and running up the hill to celebrate.

  8. Please take a moment today amidst the parades, fireworks, and hot dogs to reflect upon the sacrifices made by our Founding Fathers, who built this country through sweat, blood, and desire. As for me, I’ll be thinking about Samuel Whittemore, who might just be the toughest old guy in the history of the world.

    Born in England in 1694, Whittemore went to North America in 1745 as a captain in the British army, where he fought in King George's War (1744-48) at the age of 50 and the French and Indian War (1754-63) at the age of 64.

    Then on April 19, 1775, at the age of 80, he engaged British forces returning from the Battles of Lexington and Concord at the onset of the Revolutionary War.

Whittemore was in his fields when he spotted an approaching British relief brigade under Earl Percy, sent to assist the retreat. Whittemore loaded his musket and ambushed the British from behind a nearby stone wall, killing one soldier. He then drew his dueling pistols and killed a grenadier and mortally wounded a second. By the time Whittemore had fired his third shot, a British detachment reached his position; Whittemore drew his sword and attacked. He was shot in the face, bayoneted thirteen times, and left for dead in a pool of blood. He was found alive, trying to load his musket to fight again. He was taken to Dr. Cotton Tufts of Medford, who perceived no hope for his survival. However, Whittemore lived another 18 years until dying of natural causes at the age of 98.

In 2005, Whittemore was proclaimed the official state hero of Massachusetts. Not bad considering this is a state that produced such wartime heroes as Paul Revere, Israel Putnam, John Hancock, Robert Shaw and John Kennedy.

All great men, but if I were sent to war, I’d choose Samuel Whittemore to stand on my side above them all.

Happy Fourth of July everyone.

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Your negativity sucks. Shut up.

Elysha and I are taking the kids to Disney World for a week. It will be their first time frolicking at the Magic Kingdom.

I can’t wait.

Elysha visited Disney World as a child, but I did not. My first visit came when I was about 19 years old. My best friend, Bengi, and I drove from Massachusetts to Orlando to visit the Magic Kingdom.

I spent most of my time chasing after a girl.

Elysha and I were fortunate enough to have our friend and Disney expert plan the trip. Our meals are planned. Reservations made. Fast passes are secured. Wrist bands and luggage tags have arrived. An Amazon Prime shipment of snacks and other necessities is scheduled to arrive in our room just as we land in Florida.

Everything is ready to go.

As we’ve mentioned our upcoming Disney trip to various friends and acquaintances, their reactions have fallen into two distinct camps:

  1. Excitement about our upcoming adventure

  2. Warnings about the potential pitfalls of a trip to Disney World

As you might imagine, I adore the people in the first category and am astounded and appalled by those in the latter category.

It’s shocking how negative people can be when you tell them that you’re planning a vacation to Disney. They groan. They complain about the heat and humidity. They warn you about the long lines and large crowds. They whine about the drudgery of dragging kids through the parks. One person actually warned me about how annoyingly happy everyone will be.

Sadly, these awful, negative jackasses outnumber the folks who are excited for us by at least 2:1.

What is wrong with these people? How awful and dreary must your life be to denigrate Disney World to an excited parent? How stupid and sad must you be to listen to a smiling, happy father talk about how excited he is to bring his kids to the Magic Kingdom and then spend the next ten minutes warning him about the heat?

These are probably the same rotten souls who tell glowing, pregnant women how challenging and impossible parenting will be. Probably the same sad sacks who spend most of the Christmas season complaining about the crowds and shopping.

If you are one of these people who thinks that warning parents about the pitfalls of Disney World is a good idea, STOP.

You’re not helping.

Also, no one wants to hear it. People probably don’t like you.

I certainly don’t.

I was explaining this post to my ten year-old daughter, Clara, when she said, “Sometimes I feel negative about things. I can’t help it. But I’d never try to make someone else feel the same way I was feeling, especially if they looked excited or happy. That would just be mean.”

Exactly.

So if you’re about to tell a parent why their trip to Disney won’t be as magical as they’re hoping, shut your stupid mouth. Take a lesson from my daughter. She gets it.

So should you.

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Good week in the press

The Hartford Courant’s Christopher Arnott was kind enough to include me in his piece, The Nine Muses Of Summer In Connecticut: A Divine Arts Preview.

He writes:

“The muse of storytelling in Connecticut is Matthew Dicks, a Moth StorySLAM champion and bestselling author who’s taught many of the top storytellers in the state. Dicks is leading a weeklong “Storytelling Boot Camp” July 29 through Aug. 2 at the Connecticut Historical Society Museum and Library, 1 Elizabeth St., Hartford.”

That’s some serious kindness.

That bootcamp is already sold out. Remarkably, the roster includes two folks from China, one from British Columbia, one from San Diego, and one from Illinois.

Kind of crazy. Huh?

And a lot of pressure. I’ve recently had folks from Montreal, Maryland, and Kansas City attend my workshops, and though the day always goes well and my instruction is well received, I feel a lot of added pressure to perform considering the distances traveled.

China? British Columbia?

The next day, a piece on Latestly.com featured one of my tweets directed at Donald Trump in response to one of his tweets in which he oddly (though now routinely) complimented himself in the third person.

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No wonder why he has not actual friends. Can you imagine spending time with someone who talks like this?

The writers of the piece quoted my tweet in their piece.

"Don’t you see how pathetic and needy this sounds? People all over the world are laughing at you, Donald. Laughing at your sad, desperate need for attention and praise," commented noted author Matthew Dicks.

See that?

“Noted author.”

I’m not sure how true that really is, but it was fun to see! And it’ll be something I can look back upon with fondness when someone isn’t so kind to me in print, because that happens, too.

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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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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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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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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Chess boxing, people.

I am a founding member of the Blackstone Millville Regional Junior Senior High School chess club.

Quite an accomplishment.

I checked with my alma mater. The chess club no longer exists. Honestly, I’m not sure if it even continued to exist during my time at the school. But for a brief period of time, possibly a couple months, there was a chess club at my high school, and I played a role in its establishment.

As you can imagine, my membership in this esteemed organization did little by way of helping me get girls.

I also played chess with my unorthodox high school French teacher, Mr. Maroney, who I have written about before. I played more chess with Mr. Maroney than any other human being on the planet.

I also taught my wife to play chess while on our honeymoon in Bermuda.

We’re wild and crazy that way.

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Oddly, I have no idea who taught me how to play chess. I have no recollection of my parents teaching me or even playing the game, but by the time I arrived in high school, I understood the game well enough to think that a chess club was a good idea.

I teach my own students to play chess today. They love the game. Many contact me long after they have left my classroom to inform me that they continue to play today.

Chess has been a game that I have enjoyed for a long time, but I would’ve loved it more, and perhaps done better with the ladies, had chessboxing existed when I was younger.

Yes. You heard it right.

Chessboxing.

From a New York Times piece on chessboxing:

Opponents alternate rounds between chess and boxing, between a cerebral pursuit and a savage one. They will win by checkmate or knockout, or the judges’ scorecards.

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Can you believe it? Chessboxing is a real thing. It was invented by Dutch performance artist Iepe Rubingh as an art performance and has subsequently grown into a competitive sport. It’s especially popular in Germany, the United Kingdom, and Russia. It’s also become more popular among young, poor women in India where the sport has been seen as an alternative to traditional roles.

Just imagine:

Advance a pawn or two. Capture a knight. Punch your opponent in the head. Advance another pawn. Protect a rook with a bishop. Punch your opponent in the head again.

This is a sport made for me.

It’s not often that I feel like I was born at the wrong time in history, but this might be one of those rare times.

Never again. But a little sad.

I know this is a ridiculous waste of paper and money, and Elysha immediately went online to ensure that we would never receive a copy of the yellow pages again, but there’s a part of me that also loves seeing something old and nostalgic arrive on my doorstep once a year.

It would be fun to see items of nostalgia arrive every now and then.

Maybe a yellow, Memorex cassette featuring songs recorded off the radio, complete with the chopped-off DJ intros and the occasional American Top 40 theme song.

Elysha knew.

Here’s a crazy thing:

Apparently I make noise while listening to stories.

Elysha and I were driving home from a storytelling show recently. After each show, we run through the stories, discussing what we liked and perhaps didn’t like about each one. At one point, she said, “I know you didn’t like the ending of that story.”

“How did you know?” I asked.

“I heard you,” she said. “You make these sounds when listening to stories. I’ve learned to decipher them.”

“Seriously?” I asked.

“Yes” she said. “In fact, I know that you didn’t like the ending of so-and-so’s story, but then, at the last second, you changed your mind and loved it.”

I hit the brakes on the car. I couldn’t believe it. That was exactly how I had felt about the story. I hated the ending, but then, in the last three or four sentences, the storyteller flipped it and made it work beautifully.

“You can tell all that just by listening to me listening to a story?”

“Yup,” she said.

I was both elated that my wife knew me so well and absolutely terrified about what other possible unintentional auditory information I have been divulging on a daily basis.

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Can you judge a person by the quality of their spouse?

In the midst of a conversation about spouses, a friend asked, “Can you judge the quality of a person by their choice of spouse.”

My instant response was, “No. Of course not. That would presume that what you see in a person should be the same as what the world sees that person That wouldn’t be fair.”

Then I thought some more and added, “I also know some very fine people with some not-so-great spouses. And ex-spouses. Sometimes people make mistakes. Or people change. Or people settle. Or people have yet to figure themselves out. They can still be amazing people. So no. Still no.”

Then I added, “That doesn’t mean that someone’s spouse can’t make them awful to hang around when their spouse is also present, but that’s not their fault. It’s their awful spouse.”

Then I thought about my wife - Elysha - and quickly added, “Wait. Actually, yes. Maybe you can. You definitely can judge the quality of a person by their choice of spouse. In fact, you should. I hope you will.”

Unfortunately, I’m not sure if that equation balances as well for Elysha as it does for me.

I live with a stranger named Clara

The kids have just completed a screen-free week, thanks to the Newington school district’s initiative that encouraged kids to put away their devices and turn off their televisions for a full week.

To their credit, the school also hosted several events throughout the week like board game night and a nature hike as alternatives for families and to encourage them to find new ways to entertain themselves.

Happily, my children completed screen-free week without too much trouble. I’m sure they missed their tablets and TV, but they never complained. Instead, they filled the house with the Hamilton soundtrack (though they’ve never seen the musical) and spent lots and lots of time reading, playing with toys, drawing, and doing jigsaw puzzles.

It was really kind of lovely.

My favorite moment from the week took place on Wednesday morning. Clara - an early riser - was assembling a “Jigsaw Puzzler Museum” on the dining room table while simultaneously dancing to songs from Hamilton. When “You’ll Be Back,” King George’s song expressing his belief that the American colonists will crawl back to the British Empire once their rebellion is squashed, Clara started shouting back at the song.

“Yeah, right!” she said. “Forget it!” “Give me a break!” “Not true!”

It was hilarious.

Thus ensued a discussion about why she would’ve been a patriot in Hamilton’s day and why the loyalists had it all wrong.

A little later, she was working on a puzzle of the 50 states beside me. She said, “Look, Daddy, the thirteen colonies.”

Rather than filling in the full map, she had only filled in the territory that existed at the time of American independence. Kind of neat. A new way to approach the puzzle.

A few minutes later, she said, “Look, Daddy, the states of the Civil War.”

Once again, she had filled in only the states that faced off in 1861 during the Civil War.

I was impressed. I didn’t know that she possessed this knowledge.

A few minutes later, she said, “Look, Dad. The states of the Mexican —American War.”

“What?” I said. I had to pull up a map to confirm this one, but she was right.

Then, “Look, Daddy, the states of the Louisiana Purchase.”

I couldn’t believe it. She was right again.

Apparently her class is engaged in a map study in school, and even though she can’t put her clothing into the hamper on a consistent basis and leaves food wrappers in Elysha’s car almost daily, she can remember maps with an eerie degree of accuracy.

Little did I know.

It’s weird when your children start to become people who possess facets that you don’t know anything about.

There was a time when everything Clara knew came from myself or Elysha.

Then there was a time when even though other people were teaching her things, I still knew everything she knew.

Now she’s just a person in my house, in possession of skills and facts and opinions that I’m not aware of at all until I find myself sitting beside her before sunrise on a Wednesday morning, listening to her shout back at King George while filling in a map of the Louisiana Purchase.

It’s pretty amazing.

Attendance weirdos

When I was growing up, teachers would take attendance by calling your name.

Students would either raise their hand when their name was called or audibly respond to indicate that they had arrived safely.

When responding audibly, the vast majority of us would use the word “Here!”

On rare occasions, you’d might find yourself in a classroom with a student who instead responded with the word, “Present!”

I always thought the kids who responded with the word “Present!” had something wrong with them,

I still do.

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I was so angry at my wife, and then I wasn't.

I was speaking at an event a few months ago. A fairly prestigious event.

I wasn’t wearing a tie, and I was still wearing jeans and sneakers, but I'd put a jacket on over my tee shirt, so you know it was a big deal.

Just prior to taking the stage, the speaker before me said some things that I really didn’t like. He said some things that Elysha Dicks - who was sitting beside me - really didn’t like, either. He said some things that I suspect a lot of people in the room really didn’t like.

Not only were his opinions offensive and wrongheaded, but worse, rather than praising, he was punching.

Rather than expressing support for an institution by highlighting it’s benefits, successes, and esteemed record, he was attacking an adjacent institution that both didn’t deserved to be attacked and also wasn’t represented by anyone that night who could defend it.

It was a sucky, stupid, cowardly thing to do.

I was seething.

Then Elysha took my hand and whispered, “Don’t.”

That was all she said, but I knew exactly what she meant. Even though I had a prepared speech with stories to tell and a message to be delivered, she knew full well how simple it would be for me to reshape my talk onstage in order to either defend an institution in need of defense or - even better - attack this man for his stupidity and cowardice.

In fact, I could probably still do my assigned job very well while also blasting this terrible man and his terrible thoughts.

It would be easy.

I could switch stories. Reframe moments. Insert new lines or anecdotes. Lean stories in a certain direction. Alter my between-story banter. As a speaker, I’m flexible enough to be able to change things on the fly without much effort and still be effective.

I do it all the time. The audience would never even know that I was changing my speech. I could still sound just as prepared as I would be if I was sticking to my prepared remarks.

I could both perform my job at a high level while simultaneously making it clear to this man how stupid, nearsighted, and unfair his remarks had been.

And I was angry at Elysha for thinking that I would ever do such a thing.

This was a prestigious event, celebrating an institution deserving of many accolades. An institution that I greatly respected. I was honored to be speaking. Thrilled with the opportunity to entertain and sing the praises of this worthy place and the people who make it possible.

Did she really think I would dishonor these people by turning my speech into an assault on the previous speaker? Did she really think I was that selfish and stupid?

I was so angry. For about three seconds.

Then I realized:

  1. She knows I could do it. She knows I’m perfectly capable to verbally assaulting this man while still getting the job done. I might even be able to do so in such a way that only he would know what I was doing. She believes in me.

  2. She knows that I’m also the kind of guy who might just do it. She doesn’t think of me as some staid, perpetually appropriate, middle-of-the-road guy. She knows I have the courage and integrity to stand up for the little guy, even when the moment might not be right. She thinks I’m a rebel.

  3. She’s not entirely wrong. While tonight might be too prestigious and too important to go on the offensive, there are other times when I absolutely would.

In short, Elysha knows me. Believes in me. Even protects me from myself when she thinks it might be needed.

My anger was gone. I was joyous. Ebullient. Filled with appreciation and love.

Later, she stopped me from writing to this stupid man, explaining that my time is too valuable to waste my thoughts on surely deaf ears.

She was right about that, too.

I’m a very lucky man.

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I'm no scrub.

I’m driving somewhere when my phone rings.

It’s Elysha.

She’s calling to tell me that TLC’s “No Scrubs” is playing on the radio. She and the kids are listening to it. She tells me that she hasn’t heard the song in a long time. Then she says, “You’re the exact opposite of a scrub.”

That’s what she called to tell me. I’m no scrub.

And I kind of loved it.

That, my friends, is true love.