The magic of film on film

The Showtime series Kidding (which I have not watched) did something quite amazing:

One continuous, panoramic, uncut shot that shows the compressed transformation of a character and a space over the course of a year, portrayed in a little less than two minutes.

The scene itself is amazing, but even better, the producers added an overhead camera to show how the scene was accomplished, including quick outfit changes, body doubles, and a film crew working furiously to move the entire set around just outside the camera’s field of vision.

Also, there’s a dog in the scene. It doesn’t do anything, and I’m sure it’s well trained, but with all the complexity of the scene already, why add an element as potentially random and disruptive as a dog?

Take a moment and watch the scene. It really is remarkable example of teamwork and ingenuity.

The curtain raised on peeing with girls

I was at a Moth StorySLAM in Cambridge last week and I found myself in a gender-neutral restroom, which I have used many, many times.

Men and women peeing in the same room. Stalls and urinals.

It was a little surprising the first time I entered this restroom and encountered women, but two years later, it’s absolutely, positively no big deal.

Except sometimes I get to learn something that I didn’t know.

Last week, I was using a urinal while two women occupied stalls to the right, talking to each other through the partitions. They talked for about a minute, engaged in a lively discussion, before one of the women said, “Okay, we need to stop talking for a second and just pee.”

And they did.

I found this amusing. Does this happen all the time, or was I experiencing a one-off moment?

It’s not unusual for two men to talk while using urinals, but we are presumably peeing while speaking. I’ve never felt the need to pause before speaking. Sometimes I'm even shouting across a crowded restroom in Gillette Stadium, asking my friend to meet me in a certain location once we’re finished.

So maybe this was an unusual and amusing moment, or maybe not. With more men and women occupying the same restroom space, mysteries will be revealed. The curtain will be pulled back.

Either way, it wasn’t a big deal, and it’s still not a big deal to me. Memorable and amusing but nothing more.

I know others disagree. Given that the Vice President doesn’t allow himself to have dinner with a woman unless his wife is present, I suspect that peeing in the same room as a woman might cause him heart failure.

But I also suspect that for Mike Pence and others opposed to these gender neutral restrooms, their historical lens is shortsighted.

Less than a lifetime ago, there were places in this country where the notion that African Americans and whites could sit alongside each other at lunch counters or on public transportation prompted outrage and violence. Not too long ago (and still in some places today), an African American man would be taking his life in his hands if he dared to date a white woman.

The Supreme Court decision allowing for interracial marriage was decided just 50 years ago. This means that the marriage that produced President Obama would have been illegal in many American states at the time of his birth.

What seems ridiculous or impossible or uncomfortable today will be commonplace tomorrow. As human beings, we tend to view the world through the limited lens of the present, and happily, progress often happens faster than we think.

Had you asked me 20 years ago if I would see an African American President, legalized same sex marriage, legalized marijuana, or gender neutral restrooms in my lifetime, I would have said no.

Thankfully I would’ve been wrong.

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Batman is depressed. Also, you are bad or good depending on how you eat your lunch.

One of the great benefits of teaching is the conversations that you have with children.

A child at recess today showed me her “secret hideout” for drawing pictures.

“Only villains have secret hideouts,” I said. “You must be a villain.”

“What about Batman?” the girl countered. “He has a hideout.”

“Yeah,” I said. “But isn’t he a little bit bad, too? Almost a villain?”

A girl who had been listening to this exchange jumped in. “No,” she said. “Batman’s just depressed, which makes sense. He watched his parents die, his only friend is an old British man, and the bad guys are always trying to kill his girlfriend. Also he dressed like a bat, but that might be because he’s depressed.”

Pretty astute, I thought.

A little while later I saw one of my students trying to sneak up behind me, probably with the intent to startle me.

I’m exceptionally easily to startle thanks to decades of PTSD, and some of my students have figured it out.

“Are you being bad?” I asked.

“I’m not bad,” he said, looking a little startled himself. “I eat my sandwich first, and then I eat my dessert.”

He was serious, too. The definition of goodness. Sandwich first. Dessert second.

That, my friends, is the wisdom of youth.

It’s also a very low bar for good vs. evil. A frighteningly low bar.

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The worst part of the Christmas season

Every year it’s the same annoying thing:

Sometime before Halloween or perhaps just after, Christmas decorations begin to appear in the stores. Lights and baubles and candy canes are placed on shelves. Commercials for holiday gift ideas begin to propagate on television and the internet. Even Christmas trees, some already lit and covered in ornaments and tinsel, appear in town squares.

Every year it seems as if Christmas starts earlier than the last, and with it comes the most annoying and persistent of all holiday traditions:

The people who feel the desperate need to make the early arrival of Christmas a topic of conversation.

Far worse than finding Christmas ornaments alongside Halloween candy or wrapping paper alongside Batman costumes is the person who must point this out with a combination of outrage and confusion. It’s as if they think they’re saying something fresh and new instead of something we’ve all heard ad infinitum.

Bits of brilliance like:

“Can’t we just enjoy Halloween before thinking about Christmas?”

“Isn’t it a little early for Christmas sales?”

“Can you believe that they already have Christmas lights and ornaments on the shelves?”

Why yes, I absolutely believe it. They did it last year, and the year before that, and the year before that. Also, you commented on this phenomenon last year, and the year before that, and the year before that.

It’s like an odd version of Groundhog Day played over and over again every year. The script is the same. The sentiment is the same. The outrage is the same.

Nothing ever changes.

I’m not sure how objectively annoying it really is to see Christmas paraphernalia on store shelves in October. Personally, I have this incredible ability to ignore inanimate objects on store shelves and move on with my life, but perhaps not everyone is so gifted.

But what is especially annoying and not nearly as avoidable is the repetition of conversation, the annual outrage over these holiday atrocities, and especially the misbegotten idea that these ideas are somehow new or desired or interesting.

And it’s not over, of course. Immediately after Christmas, the Valentines Day paraphenalia will appear, and once again, these masters of conversational mediocrity will reappear, asking why we need to see these romantic baubles in January and declaring that its seems as if Valentines Day starts earlier every year, which we of course know is true because we’ve been told this one million times before.

These folks get it.

I’m always heartened when I see church signs like this given the fact that about 80 percent of Evangelicals and more than half of Catholics still support the Trump Presidency.

It’s baffling to me.

A serial adulterer who bragged about sexual assault and paid hush money to porn stars still enjoys the support of the religious right.

A man who habitually and publicly insults others based upon their weight and height and who recently referred to a US Congressman with a vulgarity is still beloved by a majority of white, Christian Americans.

A President who placed children in cages and gave a tax cut to corporations and the wealthiest Americans - just about the least “Jesus-like thing” you could do - is still viewed favorably by about half of all Christians today.

I just don’t understand.

Signs like this remind me that despite all the inexplicable support for a racist, sexist, lying, immoral man, there are plenty of good people in this country who are fighting on the side of justice and righteousness.

A Patriots fan becomes an honest-to-goodness Patriot, and I'll never forget it.

It’s rare when you actually get to witness the straw that breaks the camel’s back, but a few weeks ago, I witness just such a straw-and-back situation while sitting in the stands of Gillette Stadium.

My friend and longtime seat mate, Shep, and I were waiting for the game to begin. On the field, fans were trying to kick field goals to win Ocean Spray gift baskets and starting lineups were being announced.

I was telling Shep about a doctor who I’m working with on her story about being assaulted in her apartment in the middle of the night. A man broke into her home, pinned her to the bed, and hit her in the head with a hammer, blowing out her eye and causing massive damage to her face. As she struggled against her attacker who was now punching and choking her, she remembered something she had once heard Oprah say about not resisting when being attacked like this in order to survive.

So she stopped trying to resist.

The man then continued to punch her in the face unabated until the doctor realized that Oprah’s advice sucked and began fighting back again, eventually saving herself.

Shep was enraged. “Don’t fight back? If someone’s attacking my daughter, I want her to fight back with everything she’s got.” He railed about Oprah’s advice and explained how his daughter knew exactly what to do and how to hurt a man who might be assaulting her.

A moment later we rose for the national anthem. Though Shep always rises for the anthem and has great respect for the flag and our country, he is also keenly aware of the history and the hypocrisy of playing the national anthem before a sporting event in which two American teams are competing.

He’s also been frustrated with the recent politicization of the national anthem by certain politicians for political gain, and he, like me, despises the thick-necked men at games who shout “Hats off!” during the anthem because forgetting to remove your cap is far more disrespectful than some half-in-the-bag moron shouting at fans throughout the song.

A few minutes before kickoff, two Green Bay Packers fans arrived, taking seats beside us. Shep is relentlessly cruel to opposing fans. He berates them throughout the game, sometimes to the point that even I’m uncomfortable. As he began to lay into these two man, who had just traveled from Wisconsin to Massachusetts for the game, one of them reached out to shake Shep’s hand. “Don’t worry,” he said. “We’re always respectful to the opponent’s fans, and we respect the players and the stadium. We’ve traveled with the Packers before, and we’re just here to enjoy the game.”

He then added that Gillette Stadium was a beautiful place to watch a game and the Patriots were an amazing franchise.

Just like that, I watched my ruthless, merciless, take-no-prisons friend melt into a kinder, gentler soul. He started chatting with the Packer fans, and during the opening moments of the game, even laughed with them a little.

That was it. The final straw.

The idea that women should not resist while being assaulted in a country with a President who bragged about sexual assault, combined with the thought of his daughter’s safety in this misogynistic world had primed the pump.

Added to this was the reminder of the hypocrisy and politicization of the national anthem.

Then two men, bitter opponents from a state that voted for Trump - reached out a hand and offered kindness and camaraderie in the face of verbal abuse.

That was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Shep is an odd political duck. He’s what I refer to as a libertarian Democrat. He hates unnecessary rules and laws and can’t stand to be told what to do. If given his choice, he’d probably eliminate many of the regulations and statutes that we live by today. He wants people to live however they want with as little interference by government as possible.

But he’s also fundamentally a Democrat, supporting a strong social safety net for those in need and very progressive on issues like same sex marriage, transgender rights, sensible gun laws, and the like. He actually works to support Medicare and help Americans access their benefits.

He’s also vehemently opposed to Donald Trump’s presidency, but because not everyone in his life feels the same, has been careful about what he says, how he says it, and where he says it.

No more.

Sitting in the upper deck of Gillette Stadium, as the Patriots began driving down the field against the Packers, Shep stopped watching the game. Completely ignored the soaring passes from Tom Brady, the spectacular catches from Patriots receivers, and missed our first touchdown completely.

I’ve been sitting beside Shep at football games for almost two decades, and I have never seen him disengage with the action before. But on that fall evening, on the eve of the midterm elections, Shep stopped watching the game completely, for one specific purpose:

It was time for him to finally and clearly express his political position.

Opening up Facebook, Shep sat down and wrote:

“Look, I generally just say leave me alone and I will leave you alone, but I have to say If you have a daughter or a sister or any woman or any PERSON who’s well being you value please vote. And vote Democratic. There. I said it. Just step up everybody, our country is a nightmare. And that’s me at the Patriots game, so distracted with the faux-patriotism, so if it matters that much to me, I pray it will for you.”

Then he added:

“My seat mate Matthew Dicks points out that I hyper focused and left out the people you care about who might be: non-white; non-binary, not rich... basically if you value anyone who isn’t a rich white male, please vote Democratic on Tuesday.”

Twenty minutes later, during halftime, he sat down one more time to write:

“For my Republican family members and friends who wonder why I chose to speak up now... I am at a PATRIOTS game. In PATRIOTS gear. And the definition of a Patriot is not, and has never been, blind obedience to autocratic rule. It is standing up for freedom, liberty and the rights we fought for centuries ago. It is standing up for the rights of all Americans, not just the rich white ones. This country is broken and change needs to happen now. Vote for change. Please.”

It was one of those moments that I’ll never forget. It was a moment when something shifted inside my friend, and he became someone new. Someone with the same beliefs and ideals as always, but now someone who was willing to stand up, risk retribution, and let his voice be heard.

Shep and I have attended well over 100 Patriots football games together over the past two decades. Many unforgettable. Impossible plays. Remarkable come-from-behind victories. More AFC championship games than a football fan deserves.

I’ll remember this game, too. Maybe better than all of them. Not for the football game, which the Patriots won, but for what I watched my friend do that day.

He became a Patriot that day. I was so damn proud of him.

Speak Up Storytelling: Kathy Binder

On episode #27 of the Speak Up Storytelling podcast, Matthew and Elysha Dicks talk storytelling alongside storyteller Kathy Binder. 

In our followup segment, we talk about upcoming Speak Up events, respond to listener comments, and offer another shout-out to our fans down under. 

Next, we talk about finding and collecting stories in your everyday life using "Homework for Life." We talk about a single word (spoken on episode #26 of this podcast) can amount to a Homework for Life moment, and how that might be used in a story (including how to frame the story)

Next we listen to Kathy Binder's story about breaking down on the Taconic Parkway on a frigid, winter night with a newborn. 

After listening, we discuss:

  1. The effective use of humor in storytelling

  2. The beauty if a story's imperfection

  3. Coincidence stories

  4. The preservation of surprise

  5. Maintaining important ideas throughout a story 

  6. Nervous as a part of public storytelling and speaking

  7. The importance of stating stakes early 

  8. Techniques for shortening stories

Next, we answer questions about hints to winning Moth and other competitive storytelling events and the responsibility of the storyteller and the audience. 

Finally, we each offer a recommendation.  

LINKS

New York City Public Library appearance registration

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

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

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

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

The Robbery: https://bit.ly/2DWczc2

The Promise: https://bit.ly/2zGe4au

RECOMMEDATIONS

Elysha:

Matt:

Kathy Binder

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Be happy for others, damn it.

Years ago, before the kids were born, Elysha and I went to the movies.

We’ve gone to the movies since the kids were born, of course, despite warnings from those rotten people who like to make parenting sound like guerrilla warfare that we never would. In fact, in the two years after our first child, Clara, was born, Elysha and I saw 29 movies together. Many of them were drive-in films, viewed while Clara slept peacefully in the backseat.

You can suck or you can find a way.

On this particular evening, it began to rain while we were watching the film, and by the time we exited the theater, it was a downpour of Biblical proportions. Standing under the shelter of the awning of the AMC theater, I told Elysha to wait while I ran for the car.

In the 30 seconds it took for me to sprint across the parking lot and get into the car, I was soaked to the skin.

As I pulled up to the front of the theater, a large crowed had gathered under the awning alongside Elysha. Some were waiting for partners to retrieve cars, but a considerable number were waiting out the downpour, hoping it would ease up a bit before they braved the storm.

In that crowd was a colleague. A fellow teacher. Someone who worked alongside both Elysha and me.

Realizing that even the 12 or 15 feet that Elysha would have to traverse between the sidewalk and the car would leave her drenched, I had an idea. The sidewalk in front of the theater was wide and graded rather than curbed, probably to accommodate people with disabilities.

“Perfect,” I thought.

Instead of stopping, I turned and pulled right up onto the curbing, stopping the car on the sidewalk, thereby allowing Elysha to climb in without getting a drop of rain on her head.

I was feeling pretty good about my ingenuity, and so, too was Elysha.

The next day at school, I learned through the grapevine that the colleague who had been standing in that crowd and had witnessed my maneuver had been less than impressed.

“Who does he think he is?” she told my fellow teachers.

“Why does he think he can drive right up on the sidewalk while the rest of us were waiting or getting wet?”

“A teacher shouldn’t be setting an example like that.”

She told a lot of people about my maneuver. Many came to me, both amused and impressed with my clever solution. A few warned me of my colleague’s ire and subterfuge. A couple who agreed with her assessment chided me on my decision.

She, of course, never said a word to me. She was a coward.

But I’ve never understood her anger, even though I see examples like it often.

No one was harmed by my decision. Allowing Elysha to avoid the rain didn’t cause anyone else to become any wetter. Elysha got lucky and they did not, but they lost nothing in the process. My decision didn't cost them a single thing.

Yet my colleague was angry just the same.

I’ll never understand the anger that I so often see from people when someone is the benefactor of luck, ingenuity, a calculated risk, or excellent timing.

When your colleague is unexpectedly chosen to lead a conference in Miami because she submitted an application on a whim and was accepted, why be angry that she will miss three days of work in the cold of January and you will not?

When your coworker forgets to complete a report that took you hours to finish but no one ever notices or cares, why be outraged that he was lucky enough to avoid the work? His failure to complete the report cost you nothing. Why not be happy for his good fortune?

When your friend falls ass backward into a job that pays her twice as much as you with double the benefits and quadruple the vacation - a job you never wanted in the first place - why not be thrilled for her?

And when a husband chivalrously drives up on a sidewalk to allow his wife to avoid the rain, why not be happy for the lady who stayed dry and the man who protected his love from the elements?

When a person’s good fortune, ingenuity, willingness to take a risk, or good luck rewards them with good fortune while costing you nothing, why not simply be happy for the that person?

I didn’t mind all that much that my colleague was angry with me. I was annoyed that she was speaking about me behind my back because I can’t stand that level of cowardice and deceit, but even that I could ignore.

But the difficulty that people have in celebrating the good fortune of others will always baffle me. It’s an awful, ugly, small-minded tendency that says a lot about a person, and nothing good.

NOTE: This does not apply to the game of golf. When your opponent slices his drive deep into the trees, but the ball somehow ricochets back into the center of the fairway, you are permitted to despise your friend for the next three holes.

Golf isn't the real world. Golf is polite, friendly, fun-loving warfare. All bets are off.

Resolution update: November 2018

PERSONAL HEALTH

1. Don’t die.

My left ear has been filled with fluid since a plane flight two weeks ago. My doc says it should clear in another week of so, and it’s not life threatening.

2. Lose 20 pounds.

I gained another pound in November, so now I’m 10 pounds down and 10 pounds from the goal.  

3. Eat at least three servings of fruits and/or vegetables per day. 

I had three servings of fruits and/or vegetables on 20 of 30 days in November.

4. Do at least 100 push-ups, 100 sit-ups, and 3 one-minute planks for five days a week.

Done.  

5. Identify a yoga routine that I can commit to practicing at least three days a week.

I spent a full week at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health. I did not take a single yoga class. Maybe I should’ve done yoga dancing with Jeni Bonaldo, but it looked too dumb to try.

I’ll spend another weekend at Kripalu in December. Maybe I’ll take a class in between my workshops?

6. Stop using the snooze button.

Done and still highly recommended. Science is right. Snoozing is a terrible practice that you must end immediately. Get the hell out of bed once you are awake. You will feel a lot better.     

WRITING CAREER

7. Complete my seventh novel before the end of 2018.

The first half (or two-thirds) of the novel is in the hands of my agent now. Hopefully she loves it and my publisher loves it and they pay me ONE BILLION DOLLRS for it.

8. Complete my second middle grade/YA novel.

I've begun revising my first middle grade novel, and it’s going to take some time. Things were slowed down significantly because my editor left the company and my new editor needed time to get up to speed. Finishing a second middle grade novel is looking highly unlikely this year because of these unforeseen delays.  

9. Write at least three new picture books, including one with a female, non-white protagonist. 

I've begun work on a nonfiction picture book on a famous beaver drop in the 1950's.

I’ve also begun work on a picture book based upon a famous lullaby.

I’ve also begun work on a picture book on the gerund -ing.

I also have plans to consult with a well established picture book writer next week (after cancelling twice).  

10. Write a proposal for a memoir.

My agent and I have decided upon the memoir, and the writing has begun. In lieu of a proposal, I’m just going to write the damn thing, which could take as much as a year.

11. Write a new screenplay.

Writing has commenced. Completion is possible.

12. Write a musical.

Writing has commenced. Completion by the end of 2018 is impossible.

13. Submit at least five Op-Ed pieces to The New York Times for consideration.

One submission submitted (and rejected) in November. Four submitted so far.

14. Write a proposal for a nonfiction book related to education.

No progress.

15. Submit one or more short stories to at least three publishing outlets.

No progress.

16. Select three behaviors that I am opposed to and adopt them for one week, then write about my experiences on the blog.

I spent October dipping into pop culture by reading the front page of the TMZ website every morning in an attempt to understand the cravings for the Kardashians and reality television.

I will be writing about it soon.

I need a second behavior to begin ASAP. Any suggestions?

17. Increase my author newsletter subscriber base to 2,000.

Done!

I added 156 subscribers in November and a total of 564 added in 2018. My total number of subscribers is now 2,113.

If you'd like to subscribe to my newsletter and receive tips on writing and storytelling, as well as links to the occasional amusing Internet miscellany and more, please subscribe here:

18. Write at least six letters to my father.

No letters written in November. Three letters written thus far.

19. Write 100 letters in 2018.

Zero letters written and mailed in November. My total remains at 50 letters in 2018.

I need to get my ass in gear.

20. Convert Greetings Little One into a book.

I have begun researching the companies that convert blogs to books. I have not found any that I like.

Help?

21. Record one thing learned every week in 2018.

Done! My favorite from November:

In the early 20th century, goldfish (which were incredibly cheap) were treated like fresh cut flowers:

Beautiful things placed in bowls on tables and never fed.

When they died, they were simply discarded and replaced, just like flowers.

Terrible. Right?

STORYTELLING

22. Produce a total of 12 Speak Up storytelling events.

Done!

One show produced in November at Space Ballroom in Hamden, CT.

Our total number of shows now stands at 12. One more to go. Tonight! 

23. Deliver a TEDx Talk.

Done! I spoke at a TEDxNatick salon event in May. 

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

Two Moth StorySLAMs in November bringing the total number of Moth events to 14 in 2018. 

25. Win at least three Moth StorySLAMs.

A second place finish in November leaves me with a total of two wins so far in 2018.

Running out of time… one or two more chances.

26. Win a Moth GrandSLAM.

Done twice over! I won my fifth GrandSLAM in February and my sixth GrandSLAM in April.

I also placed third in September’s GrandSLAM at The Music Hall of Brooklyn, and I’ll be competing in one more NYC GrandSLAM in December.

27. Produce at least 25 episodes of our new podcast Speak Up Storytelling. 

Done! Episodes #26 dropped this week and is now available wherever you get podcasts. Listen to a terrific story from storyteller Linda Storms. The reception to the podcast has been excellent, and our audience is growing fast. In fact, we more than quintupled our audience in the last week and expanded our reach to 60 different countries!

Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts, and please leave us a rating on Apple Podcasts.

28. Perform stand up at least four times in 2018. 

Done!

I’ve performed stand up six times in 2018 so far, including my first paid gig.

29. Pitch my solo show to at least one professional theater.

Done! I’ve performed my solo show at The Tank as part of the Speak Up, Rise Up Storytelling Festival in NYC.

30. Pitch a new Moth Mainstage story to the artistic director of The Moth. 

I’ll pitch it this month.

NEW PROJECTS

31. Write a syllabus for a college course on teaching. 

No progress.

32. Cook at least 12 good meals (averaging one per month) in 2018.

No progress. 

33. Plan a 25 year reunion of the Heavy Metal Playhouse.

No progress. 

MISCELLANEOUS

34. Pay allowance weekly.

Done! Kids are all paid up.

35. Ride my bike with my kids at least 25 times in 2018.

Done! Two more rides in November, bringing the total for the year to 27. Charlie loves riding his bike, and Clara is getting a lot more comfortable on her big girl bike. 

36. I will report on the content of speech during every locker room experience via social media in 2018. 

Done. I spent 23 days in a locker room in November, and I did not hear a single comment related to sexually assaulting women.  

37. I will not comment, positively or negatively, about physical appearance of any person save my wife and children (except in service of a story while appearance is relevant), in 2018 in an effort to reduce the focus on physical appearance in our culture overall. 

In November, I asked a parent about a clothing item worn by his daughter, partially out of curiosity (I wanted to know what it was) and partly out of jest. This was the second time that I commented on the physical appearance of another person.

38. Surprise Elysha at least six times in 2018.

Done! I've surprised Elysha a total of nine times in 2018.

39. Replace the 12 ancient, energy-inefficient windows in our home with new windows that will keep the cold out and actually open in the warmer months.

I've received some more reasonable estimates for this project. It might actually be doable. Especially if I had more money.

40. Clean the basement. 

More than halfway done this job, but I’m going to need to invest a solid chunk of time completing this project.

41. Set a new personal best in golf.

I played half a dozen rounds of golf in November, but I did not come close to my personal best. 

Back in August, I played one round that was only four holes long due to green aeration. I had three pars and a bogie for a total of 14. Technically my best score ever, but perhaps it should not count. 

42. Play poker at least six times in 2018.

Zero games played in November. Five in all so far.

43. Spend at least six days with my best friend of more than 25 years.

No get-togethers in November. My number stands at four.

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

Done.

Changing minds. Occasionally.

I make a lot of arguments in writing, both on my blog, via social media, in the magazine columns I write, and in the occasional newspaper pieces that I publish.

I say a lot. And I admittedly have a lot to say.

My intention is always to express myself. Make my positions clear. Argue forcefully about the things I believe in while remaining open to debate, disagreement, new information, and even the occasional counter-punching.

But I’m realistic about what I do. I don’t expect the majority of readers to take my side. I expect few if any to change their minds. I know that people almost always read my thoughts and opinions and continue with their lives, unmoved and unchanged.

But every once in a while, something different happens. Someone reaches out to me, and I am both shocked and delighted.

Yesterday was one of those days.

A woman wrote to tell me that what I had written a while back had changed her mind. At the time of our online exchange, she was, in her own words, a “super right-wing conservative southern baptist” but says that thanks in part to what I wrote, she has “seen the error of my ways.”

"I'm still a Christian," she says. "But I'm now a mellow liberal Episcopalian. My church is very inclusive and does a lot of social justice work.”

I couldn’t believe it. I had to read it twice.

I don’t remember what I said to her with any specificity, but she told me that I never said anything cruel to her. “It was a friendly debate.”

Politicians are often fighting for that unicorn-like undecided voter, or more often, they are simply trying to turn out their base. Get their tribe to the polls. Few if any believe that they can really change a person’s mind, and sometimes I believe the same.

Foolishly, it would seem.

The woman ended her email by saying, “I wanted to let you know the impact you had on my politics and worldview.”

The lesson here is simple:

Speak your truth. Don’t be afraid to engage. Try like hell to be heard. You never know when something you say can make a real difference in a person’s life.

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Spy magazine's prank from 30 years ago is more remarkable now than it was then.

The following is a true thing. Also, it seems absolutely impossible. Impossible to me and perhaps to you. When I first read about it, I assumed it was false. A hoax.

But no. It’s true. I checked and rechecked. This really happened.

Here goes:

30 years ago, Spy magazine sent “refund” checks for $1.11 to 58 millionaires and billionaires.

A little less than half - 26 in all - cashed their check. Spy then sent those 26 another check for $0.64.

Half of them - 13 in all - cashed that check and then received another check from Spy for $0.13.

Only two of the remaining millionaires and billionaires cashed their $0.13 checks.

Who were those millionaires and billionaires?

Donald Trump and the uncle of murdered Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The universe is a strange and incomprehensible place.

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Dr. Seuss's The Grinch is feminist and lovely.

Elysha and I took Charlie to see Dr. Seuss’s The Grinch last weekend. It’s a great film, not unlike the cartoon that we grew up watching on television. And I’ve always thought it was a pretty brilliant story:

Christmas is stolen from the Whos, but still they gather and sing on Christmas day, just as joyously as any other Christmas, causing the Grinch’s heart to grow two sizes larger.

Smart.

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Here’s an unexpected twist in this version that I adored:

Little Cindy Lou Woo, the child who encounters the Grinch on Christmas Eve, is the child of a single mother. Cindy Lou is worried that her mother works too hard and has no time for herself, so she tries to meet Santa on Christmas Eve to ask if he might find a way to help her mom work less.

Instead she meets the Grinch.

Did you see that?

There’s no attempt in this film to find Mom a spouse or a love interest. No attempt reunite father and mother. In fact, there is never a mention of a father. We have no idea if Cindy Lou’s parents are divorced or if she is adopted or if her father died or if she’s the product of artificial insemination via an anonymous Who donor.

In an unexpected but much appreciated twist, we have a single mother who is not broken or incomplete or failing or even unhappy because she is single. Instead, we are given the portrait of a highly effective mother who is not in need of a man.

Yes, she is frazzled at times. A little overworked. Maybe even exhausted from time to time. But I hear parents complain every day about the struggles of parenthood.

A little too much sometimes.

Cindy Lou’s mother is no different.

I’ve often argued that a two adult household is ideal for raising children, simply because two heads are better than one. There have been many times in our years as parents that Elysha and I have stopped the other from making some silly or stupid parental mistake.

It’s always good to have a system of checks and balances whenever possible.

But I’ve also argued that this two adult household need not be a father and mother. Two fathers or two mothers are just as good. Also, a single mother with an aunt or uncle would be fine. Or a father and his best friend. Or a mother and her old college roommate. Or two grandparents raising their grandchild.

I think that in most cases, two responsible parents - in any combination - are probably better than one simply because of numbers, but I also think that single moms and single dads can kick some parenting ass, too.

As Cindy Lou Who’s mother clearly does.

More importantly, I don’t think that every single mother or single father is in need of a spouse. And I don’t think that every single mother or single father who is portrayed in film, television, or books needs to be presented as incomplete, broken, or in need of romantic love. We don’t need the children of single parents constantly portrayed as trying to find love for their loveless mothers or fathers.

This has all been done before, and honestly, it wasn’t especially good the first time.

The Parent Trap was predicable and sucky. Both times.

Dr. Seuss’s The Grinch offers audiences the opportunity to watch a kickass single mom do her job very well, absent of any pining over love lost or love never found.

I like that. I think it’s smart and new and fresh and probably a solidly feminist way of looking at the world.

I’m glad my son saw that kickass single mom kicking some parenting ass.

Well played writers Michael LeSieur and Tommy Swerdlow.

Speak Up Storytelling: Linda Storms

On episode #26 of the Speak Up Storytelling podcast, Matthew and Elysha Dicks talk storytelling!

In our followup segment, we talk about upcoming Speak Up events, respond to listener comments, and offer a shout-out to our fans down under. 

Next, we talk about finding and collecting stories in your everyday life using "Homework for Life." We talk about how the moments that we find using Homework for Life might represent the mid-point in a story rather than the end. We also talk about how doing Homework for Life can allow you to examine your life more often and more fully. 

Next we listen to Linda Storms' story about running for her life at the ripe old age of six. 

After listening, we discuss:

  1. The power of embodying your former self when telling a story

  2. The power of the perfect ending to a story

  3. The spooling out of details slowly to preserve surprise and suspense

  4. The effects of raising the stakes throughout a story 

  5. The way in which the physical description of a person can say a great deal about that person

  6. Allowing the beginning and ending of a story to engage in a conversation with each other

  7. The difference between an episode from our lives and a real moment from our lives 

Next, we answer questions about our worst storytelling moments ever and the variety of motivations that bring storytellers to the stage. 

Finally, we each offer a recommendation.  

LINKS

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

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

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

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

The Robbery: https://bit.ly/2DWczc2

RECOMMEDATIONS

Elysha:

Matt:

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The life cycle of a human being through the eyes of a six year-old boy

Behold!

Charlie’s (age 6) interpretation of the life cycle of a human being from the womb to the grave.

The beginning stages and the ending stages are especially interesting.

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Trump's Thanksgiving Day hissy-fit

The Washington Post’s Josh Dawsey summarized Trump’s Thanksgiving Day antics so well that I thought I’d share my favorite couple of paragraphs from the piece.

If Trump ever manages to construct a Presidential library when he is finally out of office (unlikely given his inability to construct his stupid wall) , I feel like the words below should be carved on the doors of that institution.

They tell you everything you need to know about the man.

Dawsey writes:

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I’ll be speaking at the NYC Public Library Main Branch alongside storyteller Erin Barker… join us!

I’ll be appearing at the main branch of the New York City Library on Wednesday, December 26 alongside the great Erin Barker to talk about my book Storyworthy: Engage, Teach, Persuade, and Change Your Life Through the Power of Storytelling.

About the event:

We are always telling stories. In communicating with family and friends, we are constantly narrating events and interpreting our personal feelings and actions. We make choices about what to emphasize and what to gloss over. We tell stories to entertain, express ourselves, and make sense of the world. Elementary school teacher, author, and award-winning Moth storyteller Matthew Dicks believes everyone has a story to tell, and has tips and techniques for narrators of all stripes on constructing, telling, and polishing a tale. He will be in conversation with writer and editor Erin Barker, two-time winner of The Moth's GrandSLAM and the artistic director of science storytelling organization The Story Collider. 

The event is free, but register here to guarantee yourself a seat.

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Important notes on the phrase "scantily clad"

Five important notes about the phrase “scantily clad” that are worthy of your attention:

1. “Scantily clad” has been done. It’s been overdone. It’s absolutely, positively finished. Beaten like a dead horse. It’s moved past cliche and into the realm of tragically unoriginal. It’s a phrase that you should never, ever use again.

2. It’s weird that the word “scantily” is never used without the word “clad.”

Right?

3. It’s weird that the phrase is almost exclusively used to describe a woman in a certain state of undress when men are just as capable of being in similar states of undress. Some might actually consider me scantily clad as I write this very sentence, but no one would ever think to use those words to describe me because I’m not a woman.

That’s weird.

4. The phrase “scantily clad” is also a little creepy. Not a lot creepy. Just teensy-weensy bit creepy. It’s the kind of phrase that mouth-breathing teenage fantasy writers use to describe the inexplicably half-naked girl being held prisoner by the dragon, and that makes it a tiny bit creepy.

Enough to also avoid using it.

5. If you’re still not convinced, do a Google image search of the phrase “scantily clad.” The images associated with the phrase should make it clear that this is not a phrase that you should be using.

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Baptism as a threat

I know this sign is a joke, but it’s a joke based upon a threat. An amusing and innocuous threat, of course, and nothing to be taken seriously, except for this:

Isn’t this also what the church does to babies?

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Churches baptize babies into their religion without first checking to see if the baby believes in the tenants of the church. Rather than waiting until a person has reach the age of consent, they forcibly baptize the kid in hopes that it sticks. They attempt to predetermine a human being’s entire belief system for the rest of their life before that human being even has the ability to speak or walk.

Kind of crazy. Right?

It’s also the first step of indoctrination: a system by which religion attempts to base membership and belief on the family tree and genetics rather than via self-determination.

That’s also a little weird. Right?

You wouldn’t administer last rights to an unconscious, dying man if you didn’t know he was Catholic, but you force your non-communicative, illiterate child to become a member of God's covenant without any consent at all.  

The Amish, for example, have rumspringa, which normally begins somewhere between the ages of 14-21 and ends when a youth either chooses baptism within the Amish church or instead leaves the community. During rumspringa, the usual behavioral restrictions of the Amish culture are relaxed so that Amish youth can acquire some experience and knowledge of the non-Amish world.

In other words, they are given options, provided with information, and encouraged to make a choice. Only then are they baptized.

About 85-90% of Amish choose to be baptized, but some do not. They leave the community to live their true, authentic lives.

This makes sense to me.

Some Christian religions also believe that baptism confers faith as a gift from God, which I also think is kind of weird.

God’s first gift to a baby is the belief in himself as God the Almighty?

A little self serving. Right?

Again, it’s not a big deal. I was baptized as a baby, yet I sit here today as a reluctant atheist. A nonbeliever who wishes he believed.

I probably sent that gift of faith back when I was an infant for a rattle or a teething ring.

But here’s the thing:

When Elysha and I were engaged, I was already an ordained minister, so I kept threatening to marry us before the big day. I told Elysha that when she was asleep, I would whisper, “Do you, Elysha, take Matt as your awesomely married husband?” Then I would tap her shoulder and whisper, “Say yes, honey,” and in her sleepy state, she probably would.

Bingo. We would be married.

Except we wouldn’t, of course. I’m not sure if a minister can actually marry himself, but more importantly, marriage vows require consent because they represent a covenant between two people. An important and hopefully everlasting bond.

You can’t be forced or coerced into marrying another human. Not in Western culture, at least.

You can be coerced into not marrying another human being (horrible, self-serving jerk-face parents who insist that their children marry within the religion or the culture do this all the time), but even that non-marriage ultimately requires consent.

Something as important and profound and life-altering as religion should probably require similar consent. Right?

Again, all of this baptism stuff is not terribly important to me, and it’s hardly something to complain about. It’s not as if babies remember their baptisms, so the sway that a baptism holds in a child’s decision to leave the church or remain is exceptionally small.

But the sign is still weird for me. It highlights the forcible, non-consenting nature of baptism, which might not be what the church should highlight when attempting to keep heathens (and potential converts) like me from parking in their lot.

“We do this to our babies, and to those who dare to illegally park in our lot, too.”

Again, it’s not a sign to be taken seriously. but it’s perhaps not the message church wants to send about the nature of baptism, either.

A solution to arguing on Thanksgiving Day

Thanksgiving is upon us. A day of food, family, and friends. A day of giving thanks for all our good fortune.  

And with it, the prospect of strife at the dinner table.

Democrats vs. Republicans
Rex Sox fans vs. Yankees fans 
Carnivores vs. vegans
Beatles vs. Stones
Cat people vs. dog people
Mouth breathers vs. nose breathers

These feuds can sometimes ruin an otherwise festive holiday. I've witnessed a few of these turkey day battles in my time, and I’ve participated in a few as well. 

In fact, I’ve angered the fathers of girlfriends on Thanksgiving to the point shouting at least three times in my life.

I once encouraged folks around the table to pass on food they don’t like while the father - a self-proclaimed chef - watched in horror at the rebellion that I’d stirred.

Eventually he and I had words.

I once repeatedly left the room every time the father of a girlfriend made a racially insensitive remark. That father eventually realized what I was doing and had words with me.

I was also once, (unbeknownst to me) fed my pet rabbit on Thanksgiving, which eventually caused a bit of a row.

I’ve also argued economics during the height of the Great Recession with family members who didn’t know a credit default swap from a toxic asset, debated the future of the NFL with my father-in-law, and argued the stupidity of trickle-down economics with my uncle when I was about fourteen years-old.

I drew a political cartoon that year to make my point, and decades later, my aunt sent me that cartoon. She had saved it for me.

None of these incidents made for a good Thanksgiving. I’m a guy who loves to argue, but not on Thanksgiving. Today is the last day that anyone should be verbally sparring, and yet we do.

When you see an argument erupting this year or you feel like the family is on the verge of an argument, here is my suggestion:

Tell a story.

Rather than jumping into the fray with disagreement and debate, try to tell a story instead. Return civility and joy to the table by capturing the imagination of your friends and family with an entertaining return to the past. Rise above the ruckus with something like:

"Guess what happened to me last week!"

"I attended quite the birthday party a few months ago!"

"Do you remember the Christmas when the raccoon broke into the house and tore open a bunch of the Christmas presents?"

That last one really happened. I had a pet raccoon as a kid. He managed to sneak into the house on Christmas Eve.

I should tell that story someday. 

Maybe I'll tell it at the Thanksgiving Day table this year.

Anything is better than a fight.

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