Speak Up Storytelling #14: Renae Edge

Episode #14 of the Speak Up Storytelling podcast is ready for your listening pleasure.

Elysha and I start off this week's podcast by talking about finding and crafting stories in your everyday life using my strategy "Homework for Life." I talk about how small and seemingly insignificant a storyworthy moment can sometimes be unless you're keeping your eyes open and looking for those moments. 

Next, we listen to Renae Edge's story about an important moment in the front seat of a sedan. Then Elysha and I discuss the strengths of his fantastic story as well as suggestions for improvement, including:

  1. The effective use of backstory in a story
  2. Outstanding transition strategies to and from the past
  3. The power of the present tense
  4. The components of an effective beginning
  5. Singing in storytelling
  6. The potential power of specificity in a story

Finally, we answer a listener questions about flashbacks in storytelling and strategies for successful wedding toasts and offer our recommendations. 

If you haven't subscribed to the podcast in Apple podcasts (or wherever you receive your podcasts), please do. And if you haven't rated and/or reviewed the podcast in Apple Podcasts (who are the best people ever), we would love it if you did.

Ratings and reviews help listeners find our podcast easier, and it makes us feel better about ourselves and our work.

They also make Elysha so happy. 

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An anonymous note about a possible murder

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

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

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

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Crazy. Right?

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

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

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

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

This note would seem to fall along those lines. 

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

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

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

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

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

The world is a surprisingly small place.

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

Maybe something more. 

Sadly, I'll probably never know. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Elysha is so beautiful." 

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

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

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

Hiring a coach so your child can play Fortnite better is ridiculous.

The latest trend is parents hiring professional coaches for their kids to help them win at the 100-player free-for-all video game Fortnite. Contracting sites like Sensei and Bidvine will outfit kids with professional tips to anywhere from $20 per hour to $50 and higher. 

I heard someone on a podcast defending this practice, explaining that Fortnite is the current social sphere of youth culture, so if you can't play well, your standing, popularity, and respect from peers is diminished.

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Obviously I think this is insane. 

Every generation has a Fortnite.

Every generation has a social sphere in which they must compete and survive.

When I was a kid, social status in my town was determined by things like your ability to play basketball and baseball. Your talent on a musical instrument. The car that you drove. Your skill in the arcade. Your ability to punch another human being. Your ability to make people laugh. Your bravery in social situations.     

Teenagers who played basketball well, drove a Camaro, quoted Saturday Night Live skits with perfect comedic timing, and played the guitar were on the top of the food chain. 

But no parent was hiring anyone a private baseball coach. No one was receiving lessons on how to complete level 12 of Pacman or finish Dragon's Lair. We weren't getting tips on how to deliver a punch line or land a punch.    

Most of us were buying our own cars. With our own money. Learning to play musical instruments at school. Figuring out where to hit someone best through trial and error. 

Hard work. Practice. Hours worked. Time spent.  

Hiring professionals so that your child can play an online video game better and therefore be perceived by others as a more tactical, accurate, and lethal pretend soldier is dumb. It's coddling on a new and previously unimagined plane. It's an attempt to bubble-wrap a childhood in an arms race of guaranteed happiness and success. 

It's silly and stupid. Ridiculous.

Can you just imagine:

"Sorry guys, I got to run. My Fortnite coach is meeting me online in an hour. I'm learning how to shoot better so you guys will think I'm cooler and I can be more popular."

I better, safer alternative to lottery tickets

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

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

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

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

I hate it. 

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

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

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

Still, it's such a waste of money. 

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

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

I wanted to say this so badly.  

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

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

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

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

It appears that I might be less fallible than the Pope

Good news.

Pope Francis has declared the death penalty wrong in all cases. This is a definitive change in church doctrine. Traditionally, church doctrine accepted the death penalty if it was “the only practicable way” to defend lives, which was a ridiculous loophole exploited by church officials and politicians as a means of justifying the death penalty. 

But Francis said executions were unacceptable in all cases because they are an attack on human dignity.

It's about time. I've opposed the death penalty since I was in high school, which means I was about 25 years ahead of the infallible supreme pontiff of the largest church in the world.

Maybe I should've been named Pope. It would seem that I might be slightly less infallible than the supposed apostolic successor to Saint Peter. 

Just imagine if Elysha Dicks had to refer to me as "Your Holiness" or "Most Holy Father."

Amazing.

The Pope's reason for opposing the death penalty is all fine and good, but the reason for my opposition has always been far simpler and more logical:

Human beings are fallible. We make mistakes. Since 1973, 144 people on death row have been exonerated, which means that it's very likely that the United States has executed innocent people throughout its history. 

In fact. a study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2014 found it very likely that 1 in 25 death row inmates are innocent.

As a person who nearly confessed to a crime he did not commit and came close to being convicted of that crime, I know all too well how insidious the criminal justice system can be when someone believes that you are guilty. 

And I'm white American. Just imagine what might have happened to me had I been a minority or an immigrant.

The death penalty is dangerous. Its very existence endangers the life of every innocent American citizen who might end up in the wrong place at the wrong time. 

Frankly, this is a no-brainer. A slam dunk. An obvious decision, even though it took the Catholic Church about two thousand years to finally agree with me. The death penalty should be abolished immediately, as it has been in almost every European and Latin American country in the world. In fact, 95% of all known executions in 2017 were carried out in only six countries:

China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, the United States, Pakistan, and Iraq.

We keep great company. 

Yet 55% of Americans still support the death penalty because they are incapable of imagining that any one of those 144 men and women exonerated while on death row could ever be them or a loved one. 

How many more death row inmates must be exonerated or even executed before we decide that human beings are far too fallible to allow the state to take our lives as a form of punishment?

I'm happy that the Pope finally agrees with me. Everyone else should follow suit. 

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Insecure cowards are leading the most powerful nations on the planet.

Disney's latest film Christopher Robin has been banned in China. While no official reason has been given, government sensors have previously blocked images of Winnie the Pooh after bloggers used him to parody Chinese President Xi Jinping.

A particularly widely-shared post, which first popped up in 2013, shows a photo of Xi Jinping and Barack Obama alongside an image of Pooh and his friend Tigger.

It takes a special breed of thin-skinned, humorless coward to be so upset and afraid of being compared to a fictional bear that he must prevent a country of 1.3 billion people from ever seeing a film featuring the bear.

It's also so incredibly stupid. Banning the movie from China only brings attention to Xi Jinping's resemblance to the lovable bear. I had no idea that he looked anything like Winnie the Pooh, nor had the resemblance ever occurred to me, but now I can't not see it.  

So dumb.

People who are unable to laugh at themselves are sad and weak, and if they have accumulated power, they can be very dangerous.

We've witnessed this unfortunate truth in our country, too.

People like the Chinese President and Donald Trump do not understand that strength is not demonstrated through bravado, hyperbole, the strong arming opponents, the censoring of criticism, and an unwillingness to apology. 

All of these things are signs of weakness and insecurity. 

Truly strong people are capable of honesty, authenticity, and vulnerability. They are willing to make fun of themselves and are not afraid to speak about their flaws, foibles, and weaknesses.

They don't ban films, dishonor men and women of greater accomplishment than themselves, denigrate opponents through name-calling, and erupt into angry tweet storms every time someone criticizes them.

People of great strength are able to criticize themselves. Laugh at themselves. Admit fault. Apologize. Ask for forgiveness. 

They might not like the fact that they look like a cuddly Disney bear, but they don't shrink from the comparison. They laugh along with us and move on. 

It's tragic that the leaders of the most power countries in the world do not understand this.  

What the Heck? - Episode 2

As you may know, I've launched a third podcast called "What the Heck?" It's an occasional conversation with my kids, Clara and Charlie.

"What the heck?" is a favorite expression of Charlie. 

I launched this podcast grudgingly. The kids love podcasts and wanted one of their own, so I decided that recording their voices for posterity might make the effort worthwhile. 

Boy was I right. I can't tell you how excited they were to listen to their first two episodes, and I can't tell you how thrilled I am to be capturing conversations with them for the future. 

As a person who has about two or three dozen photos of his childhood in total, creating a meaningful record of my children's childhood has always meant a lot to me. This is one of the ways of making it happen.

Remarkably, we had about 100 listeners for our first episode, so I don't expect this podcast to blow up and become a hit, But the kids were thrilled about the audience, so if you were a listener to episode #1, thank you. 

But if you're interested in hearing Clara and Charlie talk about sports, princesses, and what they want to be when they grow up, you can listen here to episode #2 or subscribe on Apple podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, or wherever you get your podcasts.

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

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

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

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

It's true. I didn't know.

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

"Yes," I said.

"Lands' End is like LL Bean." 

"Oh," I said and moved on.  

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

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

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

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

Deja-vu.

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

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

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

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

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

Knowing all this, I'm confused.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I feel no better for doing so.

Speak Up Storytelling #13: Leland Brandt

Episode #13 of the Speak Up Storytelling podcast is ready for your listening pleasure.

Elysha and I start off this week's podcast by talking about finding and crafting stories in your everyday life using my strategy "Homework for Life." I talk about how a storyworthy moment can sometimes consist solely of a thought that you had in your head. 

Next, we listen to Leland Brandt's story about falling in love with the character in a movie and then meeting his childhood crush later in life. Then Elysha and I discuss the strengths of his fantastic story as well as suggestions for improvement, including:

  1. Summarizing stories within a story
  2. Telling stories that span years chronologically 
  3. Maintaining delight and surprise through pacing
  4. Inhabiting the story for emotional effect
  5. Finding universally connective moments in stories
  6. Seeing storytelling as a matter of engineering or choice

Finally, we answer a listener questions about preparing and practicing stories for the stage and the nature of Moth storytellers today. 

If you haven't subscribed to the podcast in Apple podcasts (or wherever you receive your podcasts), please do. And if you haven't rated and/or reviewed the podcast in Apple Podcasts (who are the best people ever), we would love it if you did.

Ratings and reviews help listeners find our podcast easier, and it makes us feel better about ourselves and our work.

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I got mentioned in the New York Times yesterday for a teeny tiny thing that I feel so good about.

I made the news yesterday. A tiny bit of it, at least.  

From The New York Times:

WASHINGTON — A U.S. free speech group on Friday asked President Donald Trump to unblock 41 Twitter users after a federal judge in May ordered him to restore access to a group of individuals who filed suit.

U.S. District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald in Manhattan ruled on May 23 that comments on the president's account, and those of other government officials, were public forums and that blocking Twitter users for their views violated their right to free speech under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University on Friday sent the Justice Department a list of 41 accounts that remain blocked from Trump's @RealDonaldTrump account. 

The blocked users include a film producer, screenwriter, photographer and author. 
__________________________

I'm that author.

The Knight Foundation issued a press release that included a copy of the letter sent to the Justice Department. That letter includes a spreadsheet listing the 41 Twitter users who they are requesting to be unblocked. 

I'm #30 on the list.

It's not a big deal. I'm not an attorney trying desperately to protect the rights of asylum seekers on the border. I'm not writing the briefs that stopped Trump's bigoted travel bans from going into effect. I'm not a prosecutor on the Paul Manafort trial or an investigative reporter looking into emoluments violations in the Trump administration.

I wasn't protesting in Charlottesville one year ago when a Nazi who Trump equated to counter-protesters just a day before drove his car through the crowd, killing Heather Heyer and injuring dozens of her fellow protesters. 

My participation in this lawsuit is not a big deal. It's a small thing. Tiny, really. A thorn in Trump's side at best. I didn't stand in court and argue the case. I'm just one of 41 Americans who used a social media platform to speak directly to the President in a way that he didn't like. 

Or more likely Trump didn't want my fellow Americans to see me speaking directly at him anymore. Didn't want my fellow Americans to see what I was saying. 

In response, Trump blocked me.

So I asked to be included in the Knight Foundation's lawsuit. I found the right person and sent an email. Several more emails were exchanged. I provided some information and agreed to allow my information to be made public.

That's it. It's not much. 

But it feels good to stand against the tide in my small way. It feels good to stand alongside those doing the hard work. The important work. The work that history will remember and honor.

I'm just a teeny-tiny cog in an enormous machine that is attempting to protect and save our country and its people from this corrupt, incompetent, unethical, and immoral Presidency.

But damn it feels good.    

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Seeking submissions for my annual list of shortcomings and flaws

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

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

Nice friends. Huh?

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

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

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

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

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Open mouth. Insert foot.

Someone recently told me that I always know just what to say in any situation.

"You can talk your way out of anything," he said. "Or into anything. You're good that way."

This may seem true, but I assure you that it is not. 

Case in point:

Earlier this week, I met a person in real life who I have known for a long time online - via email, social media, and even a podcast interview.

My first words upon meeting him:

"Wow. I thought you were a lot taller." 

These words were especially dumb. Elysha was standing beside me and wanted to kill me. Thankfully, the person in question is a very kind, very confident human being who didn't seem to mind my moment of extreme stupidity.

But I assure you that this moment wasn't exactly unique. These gaffs happen more often than you think. Perhaps not as often as they once did, but still too often.  

I promise that I can be just as dumb (or even dumber) as anyone else.

Right, Elysha?

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

I took Clara on a rite of passage last night:

Her first New England Patriots game.

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

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

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

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

"No, Daddy. It's huge."

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

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

Somehow we skirted by.

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

I knew I might be in trouble. 

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

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

"Let's go see the Patriots," I said. 

"Okay," she said. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I know," I said.

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

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

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

Here is the truth:

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

Two incompletions and a punt. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We did. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We were all changed forever.

Elysha and I took the kids to an outdoor concert on the lawn at Elizabeth Park last night. It's a Wednesday night tradition at the park, but my book tour, travel schedule, and poorly-timed rainstorms have kept me from attending a single concert this summer. 

I was excited to go.  

It was also about 90 degrees and muggy. Elysha actually proposed that we go on an ice cream adventure instead, but the kids and I wanted to go to the concert (and knew I could get soft-serve ice cream there), so to her credit, she agreed. 

As soon as we arrived, she was happy to be there. The air was a smidgen cooler than an hour before, and within seconds, she had found people who she knew and was chatting away. I took the kids for ice cream and Italian ice at the snack shack, and I, too, met some friends.

On the way back from the snack shack, I ran into a couple whose wedding I had officiated and DJ'd exactly ten years ago. They were celebrating their tenth wedding anniversary at the concert and couldn't believe that they had run into me on this special night.

I also met people who attend Speak Up shows, parents from the school where I teach, and a gentleman who attended one of my workshops last year and was still looking for the courage to tell a story.

I gave him a firm nudge. 

A while later, Elysha left to use the restroom, and about three minutes after that, I heard the first rumble of thunder. I looked at the radar on my phone and saw the gap between two thunderstorms - one to the north and one to the south - narrowing rapidly. 

"When Elysha gets back, we might need to go," I thought.

A minute later, I watched as a streak of lightning appeared in the sky, not too far off, followed by an enormous crack of thunder. Charlie leapt into my lap and began crying. Clara offered her brother some comfort, and then a few seconds later an even louder crack of thunder erupted in the sky. Clara was in my lap in a flash, crying as well.

We have tough kids. 

I saw the clouds pouring in from the south and began willing Elysha to hurry. She was undoubtedly chatting with the nine thousand people who she had walked by and knew. I thought about packing up and being prepared to sprint as soon as she returned. While everyone around us was drinking wine, eating cheese, and relaxing without a care in the world, I was mentally urging my wife to hurry.

I knew what was coming.

Also, my children were still weeping in my arms.  

Then I saw Elysha, strolling in our direction. When she arrived at the blanket, I said, "We should go." I turned to point to the clouds behind us, and that's when I saw the wall of water making it's way across the field in our direction.

It was too late. It was one of those moments when it's not raining, and a second later, it's raining as hard as it possibly can. The children erupted into fits of crying and weeping as we were instantly soaked. Thunder cracked again. Lightning, too. I grabbed our blanket and food bag, and Elysha grabbed the kids hands, and we were off. 

We scurried past people who had placed their lawn chairs over their heads. Past people who had thought ahead and popped open umbrellas. Folks who hid under blankets and some who just stood in the rain, laughing. We ran past people huddled under a tent. Women who were suddenly and unexpectedly participating in a wet tee-shirt contest. Children who were slipping and sliding in the wet grass.  

We crossed the field and then the road and were making our way through the perennial garden toward the tree line and the path that would lead us to the street and our car when Elysha and I told the kids to stop crying. We'd had enough.

"We're having an adventure!" Elysha shouted, and that was it.

Both stopped crying. Clara started laughing, and Charlie instantly became mesmerized by the torrents of rain running down the path. "It's like a river!" he said. "And erosion!"

They talked and giggled and smiled all the way to the car. 

We couldn't have been more wet as we drove home. A few minutes later the rain slowed to a drizzle and then a trickle, and finally it stopped. That's when we saw the first of three rainbows that night. Three rainbows in the sky that the kids declared "beautiful" and "so pretty."

Later, after I peeled off Charlie's wet shirt, he said, "Dad, I feel kind of different."

"Yeah?" I asked. "How so?"

"I don't know," he said. "Just different. Like a different me."

I'm not sure what he meant, and I'm not sure he knew, either.

But I understood. I felt different, too. Elysha was right. We had an adventure. For the rest of our days, the four of us will always remember the night in Elizabeth Park when the skies opened up, spewing forth thunder, lightning, and sheets of rain, followed by rainbows. It will be the night when Elysha declared that "We are on an adventure," and for some reason, in an instant, our children agreed.

And were happy again. 

I'm not a skateboard guy, but I think this is remarkable.

I'm not a skateboard guy, and I've never been a skateboard guy. I've always seen skateboarding as a series of bad equations:

Enormous amounts of time invested in learning and practice in exchange for the ability to ride on an inefficient means of transportation and perform a few dangerous, not-so-impressive tricks.

Hours of potential fun spent on concrete in exchange for the very real chance that you scrape, bruise, or break several parts of your body.

It just made no sense. 

Then I saw my neighbor riding his skateboard to work one day, and I thought, "It still took hundreds of hours of practice to do that, and it's still dangerous, but on a sunny day in May, not a bad way to get to work."

Still not enough to make me want to ride a skateboard, but at least a slightly improved impression of the sport.

Then my daughter and I watched this skateboarding video, which is unlike anything I have ever seen. The combination of outstanding digital videography (which allows you to see these tricks in their true majesty), the latest skateboard technology, and this person's mind-blowing skill on a board mesmerized us.

I couldn't believe what I was seeing.  

I've never been a skateboard guy, and I'm still not a skateboard guy, but I'm a guy who apparently likes to watch people skateboard now.

Or at least this guy. I've watched the video three times already. 

"Tears in the Rain" monologue captures it all

When all is said and done, we are the sum of our experiences. Our thoughts and feelings - who we are and what we believe - are the result of the memories that we carry forward of a life lived. Our minds are a vast storehouse of the millions of minutes that we have been alive.

This is why the loss of someone like my mother was so tragic. Every question that I failed to ask my mother will remain forever unanswered. Every memory that I failed to pry from her mind will never be spoken again.  

My children were born after my mother had passed away, so as I experienced fatherhood for the first time and began to wonder if the things I see in my children were also present in me as a boy, I must resign myself to the fact that I will never know. The person who carried this information is gone.

When a person dies, it's like the wiping of a precious hard drive. The loss of valuable data. Memories so strong and so true gone forever.

It's awful. 

Even worse, so many of us plod through life, careless with our memories. We experience a moment of beauty or grace. Someone says something that causes our heart to soar. We experience a moment with our spouse or child or parent that we never want to forget. But instead of seeing the priceless nature of these moments and holding onto them with all our might, we discard them like trash. A brilliant, beautiful moment that feels as important as anything that has ever happened to us is forgotten three weeks later as life continues to pile up and we fail to reflect, record, and preserve. 

Our minds of filled with memories, but the number of memories that we have allowed to fade away is astronomical. We forget so much more than we remember, even when these forgotten moments are profoundly beautiful or incredibly moving.  

This is why I do Homework for Life. It's the most important thing I do. This is why the collection of storyworthy moments from my life that I have amassed over the past five years is the most valuable thing I own. 

Seeing, recognizing, capturing, and preserving the most meaningful moments from my life takes less than five minutes a day, yet it is the most important thing I do every day. 

If you're not familiar with Homework for Life, you want watch my TED Talk on the subject here: https://bit.ly/2f9ZPne

A reader who also does Homework for Life recently pointed me to the final scene from Blade Runner, known as the "Tears in the Rain" monologue. In the scene, the dying replicant Roy Batty delivers the speech to Rick Deckard moments after Batty saved his life despite Deckard being sent to terminate him. 

In five simple sentences, the replicant makes it clear that he also understands how life is but the sum of our experiences. He understands the value of a lifetime of memories. And he certainly understands the inherent tragedy of death, not only in the loss of the person, but also in the loss of the sum of their experiences. The deletion of their memories forever.  

It's s devastating scene. Terrible and tragic. You need not watch the film or even understand the nature of the memories that the replicant lists to understand the sadness and tragedy of the moment.

A replicant is engineered to remember everything. It has a super-human mind. It is a Homework for Life machine.

For the rest of us? We need to stop discarding our moments of beauty, poignance, heartbreak, and discovery like trash. We need to see, recognize, capture, and preserve. 

We are the sum of our experiences. Make that sum as large as humanly possible, and you will be a more thoughtful, more complete, and a happier human being.

Speak Up Storytelling #12: Jeni Bonaldo

Episode #12 of the Speak Up Storytelling podcast is ready for your listening pleasure. This week we're joined by storyteller Jeni Bonaldo, whose story we listen to and critique.

We start by talking about finding and crafting stories in your everyday life using my strategy "Homework for Life." I talk about how a story can be about more than one thing, and part of the decision-making process is deciding what your story needs to be about. We also talk about how to remember stories for the stage.

Next, we listen to Jeni's story about pretending to be someone she was not and the surprising results. Then Elysha Dicks, Jeni, and I discuss the strengths of his fantastic story as well as suggestions for improvement.

Finally, we answer a listener questions about preparing stories for the stage and dealing with stage fright and offer some recommendations.

If you haven't subscribed to the podcast in Apple podcasts (or wherever you receive your podcasts), please do. And if you haven't rated and/or reviewed the podcast in Apple Podcasts (who are the best people ever), we would love it if you did.

Ratings and reviews help listeners find our podcast easier, and it makes us feel better about ourselves and our work.

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Taco Bell vs. Ben & Jerries vanilla ice cream: It's not even close

My friend was recently teasing her husband for his love of Taco Bell. The gist of the teasing was this:

Taco Bell's food is bad for you. You shouldn't eat it. 

I'm not a fan of the elevation and denigration of certain foods, for many reasons, but here's one reasons that annoys me most of all:

So much of what we think about food isn't dictated by the quality or even the taste of food but instead by cultural and familial norms, childhood indoctrination, preconceived notions, the media, and more.

The classic example of this is lobster. Back when lobster was so plentiful that catching one was simple and the cost of lobster was low, Americans despised lobster. In fact, servants' contracts often stipulated that lobster could only be served once per week. 

Lobster was considered a trash fish. 

Later, when lobster became more difficult to catch due to overfishing and costs skyrocketed, Americans decided that lobster was delicious. Suddenly a food that servants refused to eat became a delicacy. 

Is lobster objectively delicious? Maybe, but if it really was tasty, why did Americans initially despise the food? And why do most people dip their lobster in butter before eating? Is there any other food that must first be entirely coated in butter? Can any food be objectively delicious if the vast majority of people who eat it must first submerge it in liquified fat?

It's at least worth a bit of skepticism, yet tell a lobster fan that their appreciation for the food might not have a lot to do with the actual taste and they will reject that possibility with the fire of a thousand suns.   

The same holds true for wine. In study after study, economists have shown that even the most sophisticated of wine connoisseurs cannot reliably differentiate between a $150 bottle of wine and a $15 bottle of wine in double blind taste tests. 

We should all be drinking $15 wine. If the experts can't tell the difference, we certainly cannot. Yet tell a wine snob about those economists and their studies, and they reject those ideas as rubbish and claim that they can absolutely tell the difference between cheaper and expensive wine.  

Americans used to hate tomatoes. Why? No one grew tomatoes in America, so when they first arrived, people found them to be inedible. 

It's predicted that our great grandchildren will be eating insects like we eat chicken, but most of us cannot fathom getting most of our protein from beetles. But it's likely that Americans of the future will look back on us and wonder why we had such an aversion to insects. 

We have to at least acknowledge that what we think about food is suspect. That taste is only one of several factors, and that preconceived notions, cultural norms, family history, the media, and what we want to be true influence the way we feel about food enormously.

What you think about a certain food item and the reality of that food item are often two entirely different things.  

Here is what I told my friend when I heard her denigrating her husband's love for Taco Bell:

The most popular item at Taco Bell, the Nacho Cheese Doritos Locos Tacos, has fewer calories, less fat, less sugar, more protein, and less cholesterol than a single scoop of Ben & Jerry's vanilla ice cream.

A SINGLE SCOOP OF VANILLA.

In fact, it's not even close. Here are the nutrition facts of the two items side by side. Nacho Cheese Doritos Locos Tacos on the left. Ben and Jerry's vanilla on the right. 

Not even close.

Yet Ben & Jerry's has a sterling reputation and Taco Bell does not.

A single scoop of vanilla ice cream on a summer day sounds lovely. An excellent choice. A measured choice. It's not a hot fudge sundae or a scoop filled with chocolate chip or cookie dough or a caramel swirl. It's just plain vanilla. 

Hell, it's only one scoop. 

But if you're on your way to purchasing a quart of Ben & Jerry's and your spouse calls and says, "Instead of ice cream tonight, I want a Nacho Cheese Doritos Locos Taco. Can you grab one on the way home?" you might think your spouse is crazy. You might think that this choice is far less healthy than a single scoop of vanilla ice cream.  

In fact, Elysha and I had recently joined my friend and her husband for ice cream at one of these farms-turned-ice cream shack. There was no talk about the healthiness of the ice cream we were eating. No denigration of the calorie and fat-ladened food that we were all ingesting. In the light of a late summer day, surrounded by a barn, a silo, grass, rocks, and sky, that ice cream seemed heavenly.

Can you imagine what might have been said had I suggested we go to Taco Bell instead?

Can you imagine what might have been said at that picnic table had I asked if my cone of cookie dough ice cream was healthier than Taco Bell's Nacho Cheese Doritos Locos Tacos?

Am I saying that Taco Bell's Nacho Cheese Doritos Locos Tacos are a healthier choice than a single scoop of Ben and Jerry's ice cream?

No. There's a lot more to food than a nutritional label. What are the ingredients? Where were they sourced? Under what conditions was the food prepared?

What I'm saying is that Nacho Cheese Doritos Locos Tacos might be a healthier choice, and if it's not, it's a hell of a lot closer than most people would suspect. 

I'm saying that when it comes to food, the truth is often a lot more complicated than we think. What our eyes, noses, and taste buds tell us is rarely the whole truth. What common sense tells us is sometimes nonsensical. 

Perhaps a spouse's love for Taco Bell might actually be a healthier, tastier, cheaper alternative to something that you perceived as healthier and better. 

If you can at least acknowledge that your love for lobster and expensive wine might not be entirely based upon taste and that Taco Bell might be a healthier choice than vanilla ice cream, then you might also be a person who is less likely to denigrate a good choice and more open to looking at a nutrition label, asking a few questions, and entertaining the idea that what we think about food is a lot more complicated than we think.