Discount men

Every year, Space Telescope Science Institute in Maryland fields thousands of requests from scientists all over the world to use the Hubble telescope to advance their research.

Only 200 proposals are accepted.

In 2014, the Institute realized that 21.9 percent of proposals written by men were being accepted while only 16.9 percent of proposals written by women were being accepted.

As a result, a double-blind evaluation method was implemented wherein reviewers couldn’t see the name of the person who proposed the project.

The results?

The acceptance rate leveled out. In 2019 the success rate for proposals was 8.7 percent for female researchers compared to 8 percent for male researchers.

This is an excellent reminder that it’s still incredibly hard to be a woman and that a man’s success in almost any arena should be discounted to some degree by the presence of his penis.

If that penis happens to be white, double the discount.


I am not experiencing enough stress (at least according to others)

Important (and astounding) information on aging from NumLock:

Telomeres are protective caps that prevent damage to DNA. They also shorten each time a cell replicates, and when they get too short cells know it’s time to wrap it up and self-destruct. This plays a role in the aging process, and every year telomeres shrink by about 25 base pairs per year. Turns out that stress can seriously accelerate this process: first-year medical residents saw a decline of 140 base pairs, on average. Those who worked over 75 hours per week lost 700 base pairs.

Less stress equates to a reduction in aging.

This is very good news for me, as I tend to experience very little stress in my life. Why I experience very little stress is a matter of conjecture.

I’m sure that my daily meditation and exercise regimes help.

Perhaps I’m also genetically predisposed to less stress.

Maybe my aggressively optimistic nature protects me from the stress I might otherwise feel.

I suspect that perspective plays a role, too. Once you’ve been arrested for a crime you didn’t commit and subsequently become homeless while awaiting your trial, the problems of everyday life often pale in comparison. Add a couple near-death experiences and a violent robbery that led to decades of PTSD, and it’s hard to fluster me.

Here’s one other thing that I know:

There are people in my life who are often annoyed and even angry at my lack of stress. These are actual human beings who have told me (and others behind my back) that my lack of stress is inappropriate, frustrating, and ridiculous.

People have actually complained to me and others that I’m not experiencing enough stress.

I suspect that those people are aging rapidly.


My little girl is a storyteller

My family and I have been in Seattle for five days now, and it’s been quite the whirlwind.

In addition to playing golf, walking beaches, eating delicious food, and visiting with friends and family, I have also been doing a bit of work.

On Thursday, I had the pleasure of visiting with a book club of about 17 ladies who had read a variety of my novels and nonfiction. The conversation was great, the questions were insightful, and I was once again renewed by the joy of spending time with serous readers.

On Friday night my friend, Plato, his daughter and my former student, and I attended a Moth StorySLAM in Seattle. It was just as fun and exciting as any StorySLAM in New York or Boston. Plato and I had the good luck to take the stage and tell a story - back to back - and I won the slam and Plato placed a close second.

Not the first time we have taken the top two spots at a StorySLAM.

On Saturday, I taught a storytelling workshop at the Taproot Theater in Seattle. Three dozen present and future storytellers gathered to learn some of the strategies and techniques that I have used for finding, crafting, and telling stories. It was thrilling to find such a vibrant and close knit storytelling community here in Seattle.

On Saturday night, I performed my solo show for a sold out audience in the same theater. I told five stories - all but one brand new and including a story that I had begun crafting during the workshop earlier that day. After each story, I offered some insight about the finding and crafting of the story in hopes that the audience would walk away with some strategies that they could use when telling stories.

It was a blast.

Just before intermission, Elysha also played her ukulele and sang in public for just the second time ever, and for the second time, she upstaged anything I did that night. She was sweet and charming, and she sounded beautiful.

And the kids sat backstage in the green room throughout the show, listening to the stories while pecking away on devices to keep them occupied. Just before Elysha played, they joined the audience to watch their mother do something hard and beautiful.

On Sunday morning, we traveled to Tacoma to attend a storytelling brunch called Homegrown Stories. Hosted by a storyteller named John and my agent, Taryn, folks enjoyed delicious food as names were drawn from a bowl and stories were told. I met a number of storytellers who I’ve only had the pleasure of knowing via our podcast and email, and I met some new folks, too. Clara and Charlie joined us, sitting at our feet and listening attentively. We heard stories about the challenges of running for office, hiring a professional cuddler, transitioning from female to male, and finding your husband back in middle school while writing a story together about monkey guts.

One storyteller had even told a story that used something I had done the day before in my workshop as the jumping off point.

But the moment I will never forget was when Clara took the stage before 30 or so adults and told her very first public story. She poke about being excluded from a game at summer camp, and though I am admittedly biased, her story was incredible. It was vulnerable and raw. It contained humor and suspense. She handled dialogue brilliantly. I had the good fortune of standing in the back of the room while she was telling, and I listened as the audience laughed, held their breath, sighed, and groaned at all the right moments.

Best of all, she stuck the landing. Her final sentences were perfection.

I hadn’t even known that she wanted to tell a story. I wasn’t sure how she would do. I worried that she might collapse in a bundle of anxiety and nerves.

Instead, she told a four minute story that was artfully crafted and expertly told.

I’ll never forget it.

This has been a glorious week, thanks in large part to our friends who have been kind enough to host us in their beautiful home and show us the town. But it’s also been a week filled with talk of books and stories, which has also been lovely.

But that moment when Clara stood before that audience and shared a story… that is what I will remember most.

I don't return stuff

I can count the number of things that I have purchased and then later returned in my entire life on two hands.

Maybe one hand.

I know that this makes me different from most people, but especially the Germans, who like to order stuff online and then return it at a rate unmatched by other Europeans. In 2018, a whopping 53 percent of German online shoppers returned an item.

This beat out the Dutch (52 percent), French (45 percent), Spanish and Italians (43 percent) and the British (40 percent).

Even those numbers seem enormous to me.

Here in my country, about 40 percent of Americans returned an online purchase last year. More than 8 percent of all purchases made online in America were returned. That is a lot of returned merchandise, and it doesn’t even begin to include the purchases made at brick and mortar stores.

28% of all Christmas gifts in America are returned.

I can’t say that these numbers surprise me because I’ve personally witnessed the plague of the returned item. I’ve seen and known people who seem to return half of everything they ever purchase.

I find all of this a little crazy.

I can count the number of items that I have returned in my life on one or two hands for a few reasons:

  1. I’m not terribly discerning. I have no attention for detail, so I often overlook flaws that others will see.

  2. When it comes to clothing, there is very little variance in my wardrobe or size. I wear the same things, so when it comes time to replace clothing items, I simply purchase the same things again. My waistline may be 34 or 36 inches depending on the number of cheeseburgers I’ve eaten in a given month and I might need the extra large version of certain tee shirts because of my large neck, but that’s about all the variance I need to worry about.

  3. I don’t concern myself with aesthetic imperfection. We purchased an outdoor grill, for example, which has a dent in it. We’re not returning the grill because it’s large and unwieldy but also because I don’t care if it has a dent. Years ago, when my brand new car was dented on day three by a child’s bike, I didn’t care because I knew the car would be dented eventually and a crease in the fender didn’t matter to me.

  4. I always factor in the element of time when deciding if something should be returned. If I purchase a $10 item online and am dissatisfied, how long will it take me to return that item? Will I need to package it? Label it? Drive to the post office? Wait in line? It might be better in terms of time and material costs to simply trow the item away or give it away rather than return it.

Money is valuable, and $10 is not nothing, but time is our most precious commodity. That fact is always in the forefront of my mind.


"They call me Matt" is apparently no good

At the very end of the song, “Light My Candle” from the Broadway musical Rent, Mimi and Roger exchange names.

Roger sings, “I’m Roger.”

Mimi responds, “They call me Mimi.”

Driving in the car, listening to the song the other day, I turn to Elysha and say, “I’ve always wanted to introduce myself to people like that. You know… ‘They call me Matt.’ What do you think?”

“No,” she said, flatly, immediately, and without an ounce of uncertainty.

I really like the idea, but I’ve learned that when Elysha is absolute in her opinion, she’s usually right.

Also, I had apparently brought up this idea in the past and received a similar response. More than once. Apparently I’m hoping for a change of heart that isn’t coming.

She’s probably right.



Why I respond to Donald Trump via Twitter

Last week, a listener to our podcast and a reader of my books wrote to inform me that he would no longer be listening, reading, or otherwise engaging in my work as a result of the way I write about Donald Trump and respond to him online, specifically via Twitter.

The man was polite and even sounded a little regretful, but he explained that even though he does not support the President in any way, he feels that my responses to the President are ignorant and childish. He explained that I was leaving behind a shameful legacy, and that the best way to defeat the darkness is through light.

I was sorry to see the man go. I had exchanged emails with him in the past and even answered some of his questions on our podcast. I found him to be interesting and thoughtful. But before allowing him to sail off into the night, I had to at least explain myself, and he appreciated my explanation and thanked me for not lashing out and taking the time to write a thoughtful response.

But then he still sailed off.

Oddly, I’ve also heard from many Trump supporters who are often annoyed with the things that I write to and about the President but continue to read and listen because they are sensible enough to understand that even although I may refer to Trump as a racist old horny burger goblin who literally steals children from poor people (credit Stephen Colbert), this is not an attack on them personally.

Simply a difference of opinion.

But this recently departed listener/reader not the only person who has asked why I would spend a scintilla of time responding to Trump’s tweets when there are so many more productive things to do. I also have friends who are quite certain that I am on an enemies list of some kind as a result of my responses and my participation and victory in the lawsuit that forced Trump to unblock.

So I thought I’d post my response to the listener/reader here in order to list the reasons for my actions.


1. Yes, being involved in the lawsuit that led to me being unblocked by Trump (and all the money dedicated to this cause) makes me feel like I should be shouting to the rooftops of the world whenever I feel it necessary. I owe it to the Knight Foundation to make use of this tool and deliver truth to power whenever possible.

2. It genuinely makes me feel good to speak to the powerful in this way. It warms my heart. And I know he's listening, because he's already blocked me once. It’s not all that I’m doing, of course. I'm a member of the ACLU, a subscriber to the New York Times and Slate, and I contribute to the campaigns of political leaders both monetarily and in terms of time and expertise. I call my state senator and Congresspeople frequently. I'm trying to do everything I can do oppose his hateful and ignorant administration. I really am. But telling Trump exactly how I feel in the kind of coarse language that he uses and seems to understand (while never swearing) makes me feel good. It might make me seem like a rotten person to feel good in doing this, but it's exactly how I feel.

3. I have heard from many, many people who thank me for tweeting like this. There are lots of people who are genuinely afraid of Trump and our growing authoritarian state and take great solace and even joy when someone they know (or sort of know through his writing, speaking, etc.) stands up to him. I have received dozens of emails from folks expressing appreciation for what I am saying. I'm sure there are also folks like you who see it as negative and childish and wasteful (and I have friends who are sincerely worried that Trump may have an enemies list of folks like me), but lots of people are also heartened by my approach.

4. Yes, I want there to be a record of my resistance when my children are older and wondering what the hell the country was thinking when they elected this man. It may not be the most eloquent record, but it's a permanent reflection of my anger, disgust, and refusal to allow him to go unchecked. And yes, I'll be proud of it. They will know that their father despised this President and his policies and made that abundantly clear as often as possible. They may wonder about my choice of words, but they will never wonder about how I felt, and that means the world to me.

5. I agree that the best way to fight dark is with light, and I like to think - sincerely - that as an elementary school teacher for two decades, a person who tells honest, vulnerable stories onstage that connect with others, as a person who writes stories that have traveled around the world and brought joy to people's hearts, a person who promotes and supports the ideas of making the most of every moment and being authentic and vulnerable with the world, a person who encourages others to be brave and tell their story, and a father and a husband and a volunteer... that I am bringing lots of light to the world. So yes, light is important, and honestly, I'm trying like hell to make a positive difference in the world.

Does all of this make up for the negativity that I fire off at the President? In your mind, perhaps not. I'm sorry to hear it. But I think that in terms of the balance sheet, I’m well into the positive column even after I call the President a nitwit.

Yes, it's true. I spend about 10 minutes a day telling the President how I feel, and for reasons that I think are justified. But I'd like to think that this very tiny part of my life is well balanced with everything else I do in the world. The countless hours I spend teaching and writing and supporting and building and parenting and loving.


It wasn’t enough to keep this particular reader/listener in my orbit, but I tried.


Another review of Twenty-one Truths About Love

Another early review of Twenty-one Truths About Love from another important outlet - Booklist.


Dicks manages to create tension, pathos, humor, and some searing melodrama in a novel written entirely in lists. Daniel Mayrock, soon to be a father, quits a dull teaching position to open his own bookstore. Following the advice of his therapist, he starts making lists, and list-making becomes a compulsion as he submits all aspects of his life to enumeration. He ranks his employees, analyzes his interactions with others, and documents his many foibles and phobias.

Through lists, Dan’s rich, sympathetic voice shines, and as he organizes his opinions about music, his love of his wife, and his many vices and neuroses, he is funny and insightful. Like Benjamin Kunkel’s Indecision (2005) and Joshua Ferris’s To Rise Again at a Decent Hour (2014), this tale explores the struggles of a man attempting to navigate contemporary adulthood and his fear that he is unable to function like everyone around him. Often moving, sometimes shocking, always entertaining, this superbly crafted work emphasizes the incalculable variety of the novel form.

— Alexander Moran

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I know these men exist, but I don't know any of them

You know those guys - it’s always a man - who drive in the third lane of the highway at high speeds, flashing their lights at any car that get in their way?

Who are these guys?

I’m serious.

In my entire life, I don’t think I’ve ever known a man who would do such a thing.

Not one.

Are these the same guys who smoke cigars at sunrise while playing golf? The same guys that park their car on the diagonal lest someone park alongside them? Are these the same guys who are chronically rude to waitstaff? Cat-call women on the street? Order bottle service and then talk about having ordered bottle service long after the night is over?

I don’t think I know any of these guys, either. I don’t think I’ve ever known any of them. I see them all the time, in restaurants, the golf course, my rearview mirror, and other places, but I don’t think I’ve ever befriended or even been friendly with any of these guys..

Do they flock together like geese? Move in herds like buffalo? Cluster like maggots?

I think they must. RIght?


I am not a monster

Over the weekend, friends and I were discussing a recent revelation on social media:

There are couples in this world who do sleep on the same side of the bed every night.

When someone on Twitter revealed this last week - obviously a monster - Twitter went crazy. People couldn’t imagine choosing random sides of the bed each night.

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Some of their responses included:

“I know what all these words mean but can’t make sense out of how you put them together.”

“I just want to add my voice here by saying yes, this is weird, but I’m happy you weirdos found each other.”

“So you have to keep moving your pillows back and forth? Exhausting.”

“I plan on marching on London to end this nonsense.”

“I thought I was a tolerant and progressive sort. But you have found my limit. A stone throwing mob needs to run you and Amy far beyond the city walls before you spread this contagion.”

But for every thousand or so people who declared their allegiance to their side of the bed, there was the occasional person saying, “Yes, my husband and I also don’t have predetermined sides of the bed.”

The world is apparently filled with monsters.

While discussing this insanity, one of my friends said, “What about all the stuff you keep on your side of the bed? Doesn’t that alone force you to choose sides.”

“I don’t have anything on my side of the bed,” I said.

“Nothing?” she said.


“You don’t have a single thing on your side of the bed?” another friend said. “A book? A glass of water? A phone charger?”

“Nothing,” I repeated.

“Not one single thing? C’mon.”

“It’s true,” Elysha confirmed. “He has nothing on his side of the bed. It’s weird.”

My friend concurred. They concurred far too vehemently for me.

Suddenly I understood how Steve O’Rourke must’ve felt.

For the record, it’s not weird. What the hell do I need on my side of the bed? I climb into bed every night - on my predetermined side - and fall asleep almost immediately. Then sometime between 4:00 and 5:00 AM, I awaken, often without an alarm, and I immediately climb out of bed.

What could I possibly need while I’m in bed?

I know. I probably sound like Steve O’Rourke now, except I bet that lots of people don’t keep anything on the side of their bed.


Bizarre coincidences are not so bizarre when it comes to storytelling

This past weekend, one of my stories was rerun on The Moth Radio Hour.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have eight stories appear on their show, and after every one, I am flooded by emails, tweets, and Facebook messages from listeners expressing words of appreciation.

Storytelling audiences are the best.

The story featured this week was about my father, my stepfather, and my time spent growing up in Blackstone, Massachusetts.

Yesterday, I exchanged emails with a listener who had an odd connection to me.

Like me, the listener grew up in Blackstone, MA, and was a friend of my late Uncle Harold. The two graduated together from the “old high school” on Main Street in 1967. That high school eventually became my middle school, and today it’s the site of the public library, where my high school friend now works.

Back in 1967, Blackstone was a tiny town where everyone was seemingly related, and she knew “everyone who lived on Federal Street,” which is where I grew up, too.

Later in life, the listener became the assistant manager of a group home in North Smithfield, Rhode Island. Her manager was my former step father, whom she and most of the staff reportedly (and rightfully) despised.

In addition to working for my former step father, she also went to elementary school with him at St. Charles Elementary School in the neighboring town of Woonsocket, Rhode Island.

My step father’s father was actually her family doctor when she was a small child.

Did you follow all that?

I told a story about growing up in Blackstone, Massachusetts with my father and then my step father.

Then a woman living on the other side of the country heard that story on the radio and just happened to know my step father (as both a child and adult), his father, my uncle, and everyone else living on the street where my father and I grew up, including, presumably, my father.

“Small world,” she wrote to me.

“No kidding!” I thought.

But this is not uncommon. When you tell stories to hundreds and sometimes thousands of people at a time, remarkable connections and ridiculous coincidences are uncovered.

I once told a story to a group of healthcare administrators about nearly dying in a snowstorm while driving my mother’s Datsun B210 on December 23, 1989. When I returned to my seat, one of the administrators sitting at my table (the organization’s President) told me (in stunned disbelief) that he was also in a serious car accident during that very same storm while also driving a Datsun.

I once told a story at a Moth GrandSLAM in Brooklyn about an encounter with my elementary school principal when I was in third grade. Someone in the audience knew my former principal (who I had assumed was dead) and reconnected us. We’ve since exchanged many emails. It turns out that a new middle school was built on Federal Street, about half a mile from my childhood home, and it was named after him. Miraculously, he remembered me, my siblings, and also my father and his siblings.

These are just two of many bizarre coincidences and connections that I have experienced after telling a story. Happily,. the world is far more connected than we could ever have imagined. We just don’t see those connections unless we happen to be a storyteller with large audiences of generous listeners who are willing to reach out and make that connection clear.

As I said, storytelling audiences are the best.

I have no idea where my children get these ideas

During our visit to Massachusetts earlier this week, we stopped by John F. Kennedy Elementary School in Blackstone, which I attended in grades K-3. Our kids played on the same playground that I played as a kindergartener. We peaked into my old kindergarten classroom, played on some playground equipment that I played on as a little boy, and stretched our legs after a lot of driving.

At one point, the kids asked me to play “Police Officers.”

I agreed.

It was quickly determined that I was to be the police chief, doomed to a life spent sitting in his office at the top of the slide. Charlie would be my one and only police officer, to whom I would bark commands and await his return. Clara would be a variety of private citizens, bringing problems to me that Charlie would ultimately solve.

Bank robberies? Speeding cars? Cats caught in trees? I wondered what kind of problems Clara would bring to me. I wondered how Charlie might solve them.

I wonder if this was the kind of thing I played on this playground so long ago.

Clara soon arrived with her first complaint:

The school closest to her home was not allowing certain students to attend because of their disabilities. “I need you to integrate the school so all children can learn,” she said. “Okay?”

School integration. This was the problem that Clara brought to me.

Charlie immediately offered a solution:

“I think I need to replace that principal,” he said. “It sounds like he’s too mean. And he’s definitely the problem because he’s in charge. I’ll go find a better principal and fire the other one.”

Did you catch that?

Charlie’s solution to the problem amounted to a visit with Human Resources. No gun battle. No arrests. No suggestion of handcuffs or jail cells. Just a simple removal and replacement of the person responsible for the problem.

I couldn’t decide if my children were exceedingly brilliant or astoundingly boring.

Either way, I’m fairly certain that as a boy, I did none of these things while playing on this playground.

It's gone, and I couldn't be happier.

Elysha, the kids, and I went on a nostalgic road trip to Massachusetts yesterday to visit many of the places where I grew up. This was partly to show my family the places that they have only heard about in stories, but it was also to help inform a memoir that I have been writing about the years between 1989 and 1993, which contain some of the hardest, best, most eventful moments of my life.

One of our planned stops was the city of Brockton, where I once managed two separate McDonald’s restaurants in 1990 and 1992. Both were extremely important to my life. I met (and hired) the people who would ultimately rescue me from the streets when I was homeless in one of those restaurants, and the other was the location of an armed robbery in 1992 that left me with a lifetime case of post traumatic stress disorder.

I told the story of that robbery at a Moth Mainstage at the Brooklyn Academy of Music back in 2016.

Though excellent therapy has mitigated and even eliminated many of the symptoms of my PTSD, it’s not an exaggeration to say that I think about that robbery multiple times per day, every day of my life. The experience of having a gun pressed against my head and the trigger pulled has changed me in many ways - some good and some bad - but the moment has always loomed over my life.

Oddly, this made the visit to my old restaurant stressful for me. Even a little frightening, though I know that makes no sense. Nearly three decades stand between that moment in 1992 and today, and yet, as I exited off the highway and drove into Brockton, I could feel my muscles tense.

At one point, I looked down to check the seat heater, assuming it had been accidentally turned on. I was sweating despite the AC running in the car.

Then something unexpected happened:

I couldn’t find the restaurant. I drove to the location that I have visited so many times in my dreams, and it wasn’t there. None of it. No restaurant. No gas station behind the restaurant. No triangular parking lot on the corner. Nothing.

We drove a little further - just a few hundred feet - and then I spotted a McDonald’s. A McDonald’s that looked nothing like the one where I had once worked. In the wrong place.

“Maybe I’m confused,” I thought. “Maybe I’m misremembering its location. Maybe they remodeled.”

We went inside, and I asked the manager about my old store.

“They demolished that store more than ten years ago,” he said. “It was down the road a bit, I think. Before my time. This store is pretty new. They wanted to move it closer to the high school. Get the kids as they leave school each day.”

I couldn’t believe it. The restaurant that had occupied so much of my mind for 27 years was gone. The front windows that the men broke with rocks to come inside. The counter that they leapt over. The walk-in cooler where the Haitian brothers hid during the robbery. The safe that I could not open. The greasy, red tile floor where I lay with a gun to my head.

All gone.

I know this is crazy, but my first, instantaneous thought was of a moment in the 1994 film Forrest Gump when Jenny stands before her abandoned childhood home - the home where her father had once abused her as a little girl - throwing rocks at it until she can’t throw anymore.

Forrest watches this happen and says, “Sometimes I guess there are just not enough rocks.”

When Jenny dies, Forrest has the home bulldozed to the ground.

All of that filled my mind. The house. The rocks. The bulldozer. In an instant.

Crazy. Right? I haven’t seen that movie in 15 years. Maybe more. I asked Elysha if she remembered the scene, which takes place over the course of less than 30 seconds of a 2 hour and 22 minute film. She did not.

I hadn’t thought about the scene in more than a decade. Probably two. Yet it came to me with perfect clarity.

It took me a moment to be sure that I was happy that the McDonald’s was gone. A piece of my personal history had been destroyed. Reduced to rubble and carted away. A place that I can see so clearly in my mind’s eye is no more, and I wondered if that might upset me. If it was somehow wrong.


But it didn’t upset me one bit. In fact, I was happy. I got back into the car and told Elysha that it was good that the store is gone. It was good that those greasy, red tiles have been broken and pulverized and taken away.

I only wish that I could’ve seen it happen.

I’m certainly not cured of my PTSD just because that place is gone forever. I still expect to have nightmares from time to time, and I suspect that I will think about the robbery every day until the day I die. But knowing it’s gone is a good thing. The world seems a little less dark today. Like some shadowy corner of the universe has been wiped away.

It’s crazy. It’s just a place. A stupid restaurant that sells hamburgers. Yet there was a reason why I had not returned to Brockton for more than 25 years. Why I did not return alone. It was like that town was haunted for me. Now a little less so. Maybe a lot so.

We had a great day visiting the places where I grew up. Blackstone. Milford. Attleboro. Brockton. I had some other interesting experiences that I’m sure I will share. I remembered a bunch of stories that I will someday tell.

But driving to Brockton to find a McDonald’s where I once worked and then discovering that it is no more… that made the entire day more than worth it.

It made it a day I will never forget.

Why do teenagers smoke?

The tobacco plant has been disastrous for human beings.

According to the CDC, cigarette smoking is responsible for more than 480,000 deaths per year in the United States, including more than 41,000 deaths resulting from secondhand smoke exposure. This is about one in five deaths annually, or 1,300 deaths every day.

On average, smokers die 10 years earlier than nonsmokers.

In addition to killing millions of people, cigarette smokers are massive polluters of our planet. A recent survey found that 14 percent of smokers don’t consider cigarette butts litter, and an estimated 65 percent of all cigarettes smoked in the US are tossed onto the ground.

But the fact that I find most astounding is that young people still choose to smoke.

Both of my parents were smokers, but they began smoking just prior to the Surgeon General’s first warnings about the dangers of cigarette smoking and long before we truly understood the catastrophic nature of smoking.

My mother ultimately quit smoking via a single session of hypnosis, and my father quit following his first heart attack.

But I understand why they chose to smoke. When they began smoking, more than half of all Americans were smokers, and smoking was still permitted in theaters, airplanes, malls, restaurants, and most public places.

But why do teenagers begin smoking today?

Only about 15% of teenagers smoke today, so choosing to smoke immediately reduces a teen’s possible social circle, and even more important, smoking significantly reduces the number of people who are willing to date you. You can’t smoke in public places anymore, so teenage smokers are forced to linger outside buildings, hang out in parking lots, and go to parks to smoke.

As a result, they become physically isolated from significant portions of society.

If you smoke, you smell like smoke, even when you aren’t smoking. Your teeth turn yellow. Your fingers turn yellow. You personal space becomes littered with the detritus of smoking.

Smoking is also exceptionally expensive. The cost of cigarettes rises by more than 5% every year as a result of a combination of federal, state, and local taxes and a decreased demand for the product.

Smoking is also addictive, and teens are repeatedly told this, too. Once you start, stopping will be damn near impossible. Nicotine is one of the most addictive substances on the planet. If you start smoking, you’ve essentially chosen to marry the cigarette.

Why any teenager would be begin smoking today is beyond me.

And yes, I understand - all too well - that teenagers like to rebel against authority. And yes, I understand that a teenager’s brain is not fully developed. And yes, I understand the experimental nature of teenagers.

I was once a teenager. I remember my own stupidity quite well.

I’m also aware of the rise of the e-cigarette, which I’m not addressing here but also serves to make smoking traditional cigarettes seem even more ridiculous. I’m not supporting the use of e-cigarettes in any way, but if you’re going to be stupid enough to begin smoking, why not at least choose the platform that eliminates many of the negative aspects of placing a burning bit of paper and tobacco in your mouth?

You could’ve smoked e-cigarettes, but you chose Marlboro Reds instead?

Also, given what we know about smoking and the many societal and financial restrictions that smoking can impose upon a person, aren’t there much better ways of rebelling?

I’d make a list of better ways to rebel, but as a school teacher, I feel like posting a list like that might not be wise. But it would be a great list.

An amazing list.

But no. Not wise.

But neither is choosing to smoke as a teenager. It’s so incredibly stupid.

I really don’t get it.


Lessons are almost always learned the hard way. But not on Wednesday night.

On Tuesday night my friend, Donna, and I journeyed east to attend a Moth StorySLAM at Laugh Boston, a comedy club in the south end of the city.

The theme of the night was Animals. If my name emerged from the bag, I planned to tell the story of approving an expensive, improbable spinal surgery on my dog, Kaleigh, after Elysha and I had a lengthy discussion with the veterinarian over the phone in the middle of the night.

All while I was sleepwalking.

I have no recollection of the conversation or the decision that we made. I didn’t even know that Kaleigh’s life was in danger. When we had admitted her at the animal hospital, it was because she was constipated and therefore dehydrated, and as a result, she required fluids.

No big deal. You can imagine my reaction the following morning when the vet called to tell me that she had survived the first of two surgeries.

It’s a good story that I had told at Speak Up a year before. I liked its chances of winning. It had surprise, heart, and a little bit of humor. A good combination.

Then the fourth name was drawn from the bag, and the man who took the stage told a brilliant story about agreeing to care for a 17 year-old cat while simultaneously battling for his own life. It was fantastic. Masterfully told and utterly hilarious, but at the same time filled with real issues and tons of heart.

After deliberating, the judges awarded him two perfect 10’s and a 9.8.

This was a fairly unprecedented moment, at least in my experience. I’ve told stories in 76 Moth StorySLAMs and attended another 30 or 40 shows when my name wasn’t drawn from the bag, and I had never seen a storyteller receive two 10’s before.

In my entire storytelling career, I had only received three 10’s in total.

Even if judges love a story beyond compare, they will typically leave themselves some room in the unlikely event a better story comes along. Since he had been chosen fourth, most judging teams would’ve awarded him scores like 9.6 or 9.8, giving themselves enough wiggle room in case they needed it.

But I also understood the judges’ decisions. He had been fantastic. He had owned the room. His story was chock full of vulnerability, authenticity, hilarity, suspense, and surprise.

And the audience agreed with the judges. When the scores were announced, the room was filled with applause and hoots of agreement.

But now I found myself in uncharted territory. I had a really good story that had no chance of winning now. What to do?

Donna gave me the answer.

“Tell a different one,” she said. “Wing it. You’ve done this a million times. Tell something else and save your good one.”

I dismissed the idea as the fifth storyteller took the stage, but then intermission rolled around. I had a moment to think. It occurred to me I had another animal story. A few, in fact.

The story of the raccoon that we had for a pet when I was growing up.
The story of the horse that took off with me clinging to its mane when I was about six.
The story about the time my father brought a horse into the dining room.
The story about the time I had rescued Kaleigh from an angry, leash-less pit bull.
The story of Pirate, the dog I had unknowingly called back across the street into the path on an oncoming car.

Then it hit me. I had another story. The story of our cat, Pluto, and his recent near-death experience. It was a story with lots of suspense and humor, and it was only about three weeks old.

I could probably pull it off.

So I spent intermission putting the story together in my head, identifying scenes, finding the right first line, and memorizing possible laugh lines. Intermission had ended and the sixth storyteller had taken the stage when I finally found the final lines of my story and liked them a lot. With a beginning, an ending, and my scenes clearly set in my head, I thought I could pull it off. It wouldn’t be great, but it would be good enough if my name was drawn from the bag.

Best of all, I could save my sleepwalking story for another day.

I told Donna that I would tell the Pluto story instead. I texted Elysha, telling her the same.

When the seventh storyteller was chosen and it wasn’t me, something strange happened. I started to fall in love with the Pluto story. I felt terrible about wasting a potentially great but not-fully-baked story in an effort to preserve another.

“Can I plan a third story right now?” I wondered. “Maybe the horse story?” Then I recalled another animal story. Elysha’s cat, Jack, had despised Elysha’s previous boyfriend, and she had told me as much several times. I felt like part of that boyfriend’s eventual demise was Jack’s ongoing rejection of him, making my first meeting with her cat a high stakes affair.

Maybe I could tell that one instead? Could I plan a third story in case my name was chosen?

Then I went to the restroom between the seventh and eighth storytellers. On the way, a couple stopped me and asked if I was the guy who told the story of a chimney fire at a Moth GrandSLAM a couple years before.

“Yes,” I said. “That was me.”

They told me that they don’t attend Moth events very often but were so excited to see me in the room and hoped my name was chosen.

That was all I needed to hear. When my name was miraculously chosen tenth, I took the stage and told my sleepwalking story.

It was what I was supposed to do all along.

I like to win. In everything I do. I am a highly competitive person. But I have always believed that my primary responsibility when taking the stage at The Moth is to tell a new, well-crafted, highly entertaining story that expresses vulnerability and authenticity and attempts to connect me to my audience.

When I perform, I want audiences to know that they are going to be entertained by a great story that they have never heard before.

The same goes for Speak Up or any other show. Tell a great story every time.

I like to win. No, I love to win. But regardless of the score, I want to make the audience happy to have spent the money and time to attend the show. I want them to be entertained and moved. I want them to be thinking about my story in the days, weeks, or even months to come.

I want them to remember me, regardless of my score.

I had to tell my sleepwalking story. It was the story I had prepared to tell. It was the commitment that I had made to my audience when I dropped my name into the bag.

It was the right thing to do.

Then something unexpected happened.

I won. I received three perfect 10’s from the judges.

I couldn’t believe it.

After receiving a total of three 10’s in eight years, I had doubled my total in one fell swoop.

Was it the best story I’d ever told? No. Definitely not. But by awarding those two 10’s earlier in the night, the judges had put themselves in a bit of a box. If they liked my story as much as the fourth storyteller’s story, they had to give me 10’s, too. And that third judging team agreed.

Let’s be clear that recency bias also probably played a factor, too. Had I told my story in fourth position and my competitor told his story in tenth position, he may have won. That’s the reality of any subjectively judged event. I’ve won StorySLAMs from first, second, and third positions before, but it doesn’t happen often, so having my name drawn tenth probably helped.

But I had clearly made the right decision in terms of the competition by making the artistically correct decision. I gave the audience my best, expecting to lose given the scores before mine, but I was rewarded with the unexpected. My 42nd victory. A perfect score.

As I stepped off the stage, a man and woman approached me. The woman told me that they had attended the Moth GrandSLAM earlier in the year when I had told the story of taking Kaleigh on an eventful walk around the block in my boxer shorts. They were so happy to have heard another story about my beloved friend.

“That’s so weird,” I said. “I’ve told two stories about my dog in my whole life, and you’ve heard both?”

“Yes,” the woman said. “And I’m so glad.”

As I stepped away from that couple, a man approached and asked to hug me. He had lost his dog about six months before, and upon hearing me become emotional onstage about Kaleigh’s eventual death last summer after 17 glorious years made him feel “less stupid” about still becoming emotional from time to time about the loss of his furry friend.

I told him that I still cry about the loss of Kaleigh all the time. My eyes are filled with tears as I write these words.

The next day I received an email from a stranger who also sleepwalks. She was happy to hear someone speak about sleepwalking so openly and publicly. She has always found it to be a source of embarrassment but maybe a little less now.

These kind folks were reinforcers from the universe about doing the right thing. Much-needed reminders that there’s nothing wrong with wanting to win unless your desire for victory compromises your integrity.

In an effort to preserve a good story for another day, I nearly took the stage and told a hastily-prepared, sub-par story. I certainly wouldn’t have won had I told the Pluto story (or the Jack story), but even worse, the audience wouldn’t have gotten my best. A couple wouldn’t have experienced the joy in getting to know Kaleigh a little more. A man would still be feeling stupid about crying over his lost friend. A sleepwalker would still be feeling alone.

Worst of all, I would’ve placed competition (and the desire to win) over art.

Sometimes you learn lessons the hard way. That has often been the case for me. Lessons come with lumps. But sometimes you learn your lesson and find yourself miraculously rewarded, too.

If only every day could be as perfect as Wednesday night was for me.


Toni Morrison helped me feel like I belonged.

As you probably know, Toni Morrison died this week. The world lost a literary giant.

I read every one of Morrison’s novels - mostly in college - and they frightened the hell out of me. I remember finishing The Bluest Eye and thinking, “Damn I’m never going to be able to write a novel if this is what novels need to be!”

Happily, it turns out that you don’t need to be as talented as Toni Morrison to have a publishing career.

Toni Morrison was also at the center of one of my most memorable academic achievements in college, including a question I have wanted to ask her for 25 years.

Now I won’t get the chance.

It was my second year at Trinity College, taking a class centering on literature by Toni Morrison and Nadine Gordimer. Over the course of the semester, I read every book that Morrison had published. Though it made for an intense reading list, I was enjoying the work a great deal.

We had just finished reading Morrison’s Beloved and were discussing it in class. As the hour was drawing to a close, questions about the ending of the book eventually arose. Specifically, the professor wanted to address the way in which the ghost of Beloved inexplicably explodes near the end of the novel.  She explained that she had never understood Morrison's decision in this regard and hoped to one day meet the author and ask her about that ending scene.

The exploding ghost had seemed a little odd to me as well, and my classmates agreed. We ended class on that note, leaving the issue unresolved.

Fifteen minutes after class, with the idea still rolling around in my head, I had an epiphany.  I was eating a cheeseburger in the cafeteria when an idea struck.  In an instant, I thought that I understood Morrison’s decision completely.

The next day I came to class and raised my hand.

“I think I know why Beloved explodes at the end of the book,” I said.

Okay,” the professor said, sounding dubious.  Why?”

“Think about Langston Hughes’ poem A Dream Deferred,” I said and then recited the poem:

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? Or fester like a sore-- And then run? Does it stink like rotten meat? Or crust and sugar over-- like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

“Beloved represents a dream deferred.  A murdered baby who never became the child that her mother wanted. Morrison is eluding to what might happen when a a dream like this is deferred.  Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?  No, says Morrison.  It explodes.”

There was a silence in the class for a moment, and then the professor’s eyes widened. She smiled and said, “I think you got it. My God, I think you got it.”

Sadly, I’ll never know.

Whether or not I am actually correct is this assumption, it was a wonderful moment for me. I was six years older than any of my classmates and managing a McDonald’s restaurant full time while also attending Trinity College full time.

Even in year two of my Trinity career, I still didn’t feel like I belonged. It was ridiculous, of course. I graduated in the top 10 of my class in terms of GPA and was doing just fine in every one of my classes, but when you’re in the midst of people who are so unlike you, it’s easy to feel like an imposter.

A moment like this made me think that maybe I could do this work after all. Maybe I really did belong.

And it made up for all those moments in Feminist Literary Criticism when my four other classmates, all female, were talking about Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse in lofty, literary terms and I was still unable to understand a single word of the damn book.


Is the hand hover respectful and thoughtful or a sign that the end of days is near?

It appears as if Keanu Reeves has decided that the hand hover - once mocked for being awkward and strange - is now the preferred move when taking photos with fans.

There are dozens of photos of Keanu Reeves executing this move online.

My first thought:

“Have we really reached a point where a person’s hand can’t come in contact with another person’s arm, shoulder, or even waist when taking a photo? This is stupid.”

My second thought:

“This is Keanu Reeves. He probably takes photos with strangers all the time, so maybe he’s thinking better safe than sorry.”

But then my third thought:

“You know… maybe this is the thoughtful and respectful choice. When a fan or a stranger asks to take a photo with you, they are asking to appear in an image with you. Not be touched around the waist or shoulder.”

I am occasionally asked to appear in photos like these, oftentimes after I have performed onstage or while I’m signing books at a literary festival or book event. It’s always an honor to be asked to appear in these photos, but perhaps my willingness to drop my arm around a shoulder or pull someone closer to me isn’t as friendly as I think.

Also, is this a move that only applies when dealing with the opposite sex or should the hand hover be applied in all circumstances?

And what about acquaintances? What if I’ve spent a day or two teaching someone storytelling or consulting on an advertising campaign? What if it’s the parent of one of my students?

These are not necessarily friends, but they are people who I’ve gotten to know well over time. Is the hand hover still appropriate or would it seem impersonal and insulting?

I’m not sure.

I’m thinking about it.

On the one hand, I like the respect that the hand hover affords another person, but at the same time, I’m worried that it’s a sign that we’ve fallen off a cliff into the realm of overly-sanitized personal interactions.

For the record, when it comes to me, go ahead and grab me all you want. People touch me all the time. They don’t even realize that they are touching me as much as they do. It turns out that when you share your life as openly as I do with the world, people feel deeply connected to you even though you’ve never met them.

As a result, they touch you. A lot.

I told this to a group of lawyers in Vermont during a workshop earlier this year, and they laughed. But later that evening at dinner, an attorney named Mike was sitting beside me, chatting with me, and he kept touching me. Patting my shoulders and forearms. Even sitting a little closer than normal. One of his fellow attorneys finally pointed it out to him, and he was shocked.

He hadn’t realized it, either.

So go ahead and drop your arm around my shoulder or yank me closer if we’re taking a photo. I don’t mind at all. No big deal.

Then again, I’m a white American man, so perhaps my perspective on this issue is skewed a bit.

This is a consideration that all white American men would be wise to keep in the forefront of their minds at all times, as Keanu Reeves might be doing every time he’s asked to take a photo with a fan.

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Speak Up Storytelling #61: Joe Basile

On episode #61 of the Speak Up Storytelling podcast, Elysha Dicks and I talk storytelling!

In our follow-up segment, we discuss our magical night of storytelling earlier in the week. We also update listeners on Charlie's health and remind listeners about our upcoming trip to Seattle. 


August 10: Great Hartford Story Slam at Hartford Flavor Company
August 17: Solo storytelling show at Taproot Theater, Seattle, WA
September 7: “Tests” at Real Art Ways
November 2: Great Hartford Story Slam, location TBD
November 23: Twenty-one Truths About Love book release, CT Historical Society, Hartford, CT
December 14: “Crafty” at CT Historical Society, Hartford, CT


October 4-6: Storytelling workshop, Art of Living Retreat, Boone, NC
October 25-27: Storytelling workshop (beginners), Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health
November 9: Storytelling workshop (Beginner), CT Historical Society
November 16: Storytelling workshop (Advanced), CT Historical Society
December 6-8: Storytelling workshop (advanced), Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health
January 25: Storytelling workshop (Beginner), CT Historical Society
February 22: Storytelling workshop (Advanced), CT Historical Society

In our Homework for Life segment, I talk about a small moment on the edge of a pond during a sunset. . 

Next we listen to a story by Jospeh Basile (with interpretation by Julie Sharp).   

Amongst the many things we discuss include:

  1. Nonfiction content in storytelling

  2. Launching scenes in the right spot (and the elimination of process language)

  3. Combining anecdotes into a more cohesive narrative

  4. Holding back information to preserve surprise

We then answer a listener questions about diversity in storytelling and when you know a story is done. 

Finally, we each offer a recommendation.  


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

Purchase Twenty-one Truths About Love 

Homework for Life:

Matthew Dicks's website:

Matthew Dicks's YouTube channel: 

Matthew Dicks's blog:

Subscribe to Matthew Dicks's weekly newsletter:

Subscribe to the Speak Up newsletter:

Subscribe to Matthew Dicks's blog:




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Friday night magic

Some nights in your life are simply magical.

Friday night was one of those nights for me. After spending a week working with storytellers from China, British Columbia, San Diego, Chicago, Westchester, and a few locals, I had the honor of introducing them to an audience of friends, family, and fellow storytellers so that they could tell one of the stories that they had crafted and practiced during the course of the week.

For some, this was their first time standing before an audience, telling a story.

For others, this was another important step on their storytelling journey.

I watched some of my storytellers take enormous leaps. Courageous, personal leaps forward. For others, I watched them tell stories with such tenderness and vulnerability that I had tears in my eyes. Some had me roaring with laughter. Still others told stories that made me want to leap out of my seat and pump my fist in the air. Maybe shout an expletive to two.


And yes, one of the storytellers - a man from China - proposed to his girlfriend - also a storyteller in my class - by crafting a brilliant story that ultimately led to the proposal. He had asked me for permission to propose during the show earlier in the week, so although I was aware that it was coming, it was a surprise to everyone else.

A wonderful, emotional, celebratory surprise.


Just before the story began, I leaned over to my teaching assistant, Jeni Bonaldo, and showed her a note that read, “You’re going to like this.”

She did.

But it was also - and just as important - a night of stories, and each one of them was brilliant. Truly. Every single one of those storytellers performed with magnificence, expertise, and grace. It was as good of a show as Elysha Dicks and I has ever produced, and I was so damn proud of each and every one of them.

If you want to get close to people quickly, spend a week with them telling stories. As our time came to an end and we prepared to go our separate ways, I was sad. I suspect most of my storytellers were, too. In just a few short days, I had learned so much and grown so close to them that it was difficult to say goodbye.

I suspect that I will be hearing from some if not all for a long time to come. I hope so. Each of them means the world to me.

These are the moments in my life when I step back and think about how the decision - made with great trepidation at the time - to tell a story at a Moth StorySLAM in New York City back in 2011 changed my life forever.

It’s a reminder about how our decision to launch Speak Up on a snow day in February of 2013 - also made with some trepidation - has brought us so many magical moments like the one we experienced on Friday night.

It’s a reminder about how writing a book about storytelling and later launching a podcast on the same subject led a couple from halfway around the world to Hartford, CT and a proposal that no one in that room will ever forget.

It’s a reminder to me about the importance of pushing forward. Seeking the next horizon. Imagining a new adventure. Finding the next thing that will bring magic to our lives again.

May I be so bold as to suggest that you do the same?


You don't know people

We live in bubbles, Sometimes we create them ourselves. Sometimes they are dictated by geography, profession, and other mitigating factors.

Sometimes you’re not quite sure how your bubble even formed. For example, I don’t have any friends (or spouses of friends) who smoke, yet 14 percent of Americans smoke. This means that I have unknowingly excluded myself from 14 percent of America.

Granted I can’t stand cigarette smoke, so I’m content to occupy this bubble, but it’s not as if I purposely jettisoned anyone out of my life for smoking. Perhaps because of my profession and my geography, I have somehow managed to exclude smokers from my bubble.

But I think it’s important to remember that we live in these bubbles, and in doing so, we oftentimes fail to understand people occupying different bubbles.

When I was a student at Trinity College and St. Joseph’s University, for example, I was attending the most expensive and sixth most expensive schools in Connecticut at the time.

But I was also on a full academic scholarship, so I wasn’t paying any tuition. While most of the students around me come from affluent families, I did not.

St. Joseph’s University was also an all-women’s school at the time, and I was (and continue to be) a man, so my presence at St. Joseph’s was also unusual.

Also, prior to attending these schools, I had been homeless and awaiting trial for a crime I did not commit.

So although I didn’t really belong in any of these bubbles, I found myself existing within them nonetheless. One was almost exclusively white and wealthy, and the other was almost exclusively white and female.

But at the same time, I was managing a McDonald’s restaurant in Hartford. This created quite a contrast for me.

While working at McDonald’s, I was almost always the only white person working in the restaurant at any given time. Most of my employees were immigrants - primarily Mexican, Chinese, Peruvian, and Dominican. Many were poor and struggling to make ends meet. Most did not own a car, so I would drive throughout the neighborhood at 4:30 AM, picking up my morning crew and bringing them to and from work. I helped many of them with tasks like filing their taxes, reviewing school forms, making doctor’s appointments, and helping them find second and third jobs.

It was a period of my life when on any given day, I could be sitting alongside wealthy, white English majors in the morning, affluent young women in the afternoon, and then I might spend my evening flipping burgers with non-English speaking immigrant mothers from South America and the Caribbean.

It reminded me - so very clearly - that people living in relative proximity to each other can exist within vastly different bubbles. It also reminded me that when it comes to bubbles, the people occupying the most privileged bubbles are most likely to not understand the bubbles that other people occupy or not realize that they even exist.

But they do.

For example, here are a few statistics that might surprise you depending on the bubbles in which you live:

  • 11% of American adults do not use the internet.

  • 65% of high school graduates attend college following graduation and only a third of Americans hold a four year college degree.

  • Less than half of all American children attend preschool.

  • 37% of adult Americans don’t drink alcohol.

  • 27% of Americans work between 10:00 PM and 6:00 AM at least once a week.

  • 3% of Americans are adopted.

  • 36% of Americans don’t drink coffee.

Some of these statistics probably surprised you. Some surprised me. But they served as excellent reminder that as commonplace as certain things may seem to me, they are likely to be far less common than I think.

And maybe you think.


I am Springsteen

Huge conundrum, people:

Elysha compared me to Bruce Springsteen.

She told a friend - not even me, so it must be true - that I’m like Bruce Springsteen because the two of us are tough, rugged men who make great art.

While I admittedly can’t repair a hinge on a cabinet, change my own oil, or even hang a picture on a wall, I’m fully equipped to keep the family alive in the event of a zombie apocalypse or similar collapse of civilization. My years of Boy Scout training and my ruthlessness in the face of danger make me capable of keeping our family alive when it matters most.

Plus I write good books and tell good stories.

Not unlike Springsteen, who also appears tough as nails but writes and sings great songs.

Wrote a terrific memoir, too. You should read it.

My conundrum:

What do you do in your marriage when you know you’ve reached the absolute pinnacle and everything from this moment on is going to be significantly less perfect than this very moment?