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I am excited to announce that Storyworthy: Engage, Teach, Persuade, and Change Your Life Through the Power of Storytelling is being featured in a special 99-cent Autumn eBook Sale, which offers 12 amazing eBooks, from bestselling authors like Shakti Gawain, Don Miguel Ruiz Jr., HeatherAsh Amara, and more, for just 99-cents each (in the US only), from now until Thursday 11/15!

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Trump has solutions for rising oil prices, a falling stock market, and the California wildfires. Thank goodness!

Fear not, friends. Recent tweets within the last 24 hours show that the President knows exactly what this country needs and has solutions to all of our problems.

For example, just yesterday morning:

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Did you see that? When it comes to the price of oil, Trump demonstrates a remarkably nuanced understanding of supply and demand while simultaneously negotiating via Twitter using that often forgotten lever of power known as “hope.”

Yes, friends. The President “hopes” that oil prices stay low. With that kind of leadership, we should expect nothing less.

Or this tweet, which he also sent yesterday morning:

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Trump points out that the complex and interconnected web pf the United States economy is not dependent upon corporate profits, global trade, interest rates, the cost of labor and other inputs, governmental regulations, consumer confidence, the soaring national debt, or his recent trade war with a host of nations.

None of those boring and complicated things are nearly as important to the US economy as how the Democrats in Congress treat him. Even before they take power in the House, the mere threat that Democrats might impose some level of accountability or provide a few checks and balances has sent the market into a tailspin.

Yesterday, at least.

The market has actually given back most of its 2018 gains over the course of the last three months, but still!

If the Democrats say mean things to the President, stocks suffer. If they are nice, the market will rebound.

Economics at its best, my friends.Lastly, the President offered these two gems over the weekend (in between skipping a service honoring Americans who died fighting in World War I because it was raining):

Surprise! The President has thankfully found a the solution for the California wildfires that continue to increase in size and severity:

Threaten and berate.

While many scientists, forest management professionals, and firefighters point to climate change as a key factor in the rise in these wildfires, the President says no.

Climate change is not real. Or is actually good for our country. Or something.

Instead, the public servants who manage our forests must simply need to “Get smart!” and “Remedy now!”

Thanks, Mr. President!

He also seems to think that cutting the budgets of these agencies when they are struggling to control these wildfires in the first place might also do the trick. This is the old, “You can’t do the work with this much money? Try doing it with half that amount!”

It’s out-of-the box thinking like this that makes me think America is indeed in good hands.

Speak Up Storytelling: Jenny Steadman (with special guest Danielle Dnes)

On episode #25 of the Speak Up Storytelling podcast, Matthew and Elysha Dicks are joined by storyteller Danielle Dnes to talk storytelling!

In our followup segment, we talk about upcoming Speak Up shows and messages received from around the world. 

Next, we talk about finding and collecting stories in your everyday life using "Homework for Life." Danielle recently reached the 100 day mark in her Homework for Life and shared it with Matt and Elysha. We poke through the 100 days to find some stories that Danielle didn't initially see upon first glance. 

Then we listen to Jenny Steadman's story about the pressures of playing golf with her grandfather and his pals. 

After listening, we discuss:

  1. Effective character and location descriptions

  2. Planting seeds early in a story that will sprout later

  3. The best way to repeat a laugh line throughout a story

  4. Pacing and pausing 

  5. "The curse of knowledge" in storytelling

Next, we answer questions about a storytelling improv game that we use in workshops and is detailed in Storyworthy. We even play a round to demonstrate. 

Finally, we each offer a recommendation.  

If you haven't rated or reviewed Speak Up Storytelling on Apple Podcasts, PLEASE do! Reviews and ratings help others find our show.

How I fight crazy, strange, and beautiful people

Yesterday I wrote about my unusual Uber ride from the Jacksonville airport to Amelia Island.

In response to that post, friends and reader commented on how often I seem to meet such “interesting” and “strange” people and how my life can oftentimes seem more storyworthy than most.

This is not true, but I understand the perception. Two things make this so:

I open up a space for others to speak.

My Uber driver didn’t volunteer his conspiracy theories to me, and he didn’t launch into his misguided political diatribe unprompted. After getting into the car, I engaged in conversation. I asked him his name. I asked him if he drove for Uber for a living, which led to him describing his two other jobs.

Then I asked about those jobs. I demonstrated genuine curiosity. I learned a lot about the process of iPhone screen repair. I can now tell you the economics of mall kiosks in the Jacksonville area and the way that Apple ships parts to repair technicians. I can explain to you why repairing an iPhone screen is easier than repairing a Samsung screen, and I can explain how a nail salon can pay more than $200,000 in rent each year and still turn over an excellent profit.

All of this came from me asking questions and demonstrating a genuine interest in his life.

Then I asked him what he did in the little bit of free time he had. “Do have time for hobbies?” I asked.

“Do you like conspiracy theories?”

“Not really,” I said. “But I’d love to hear what you think.”

This is how I ended up with a story.

I open up space for people to talk and tell me stories. Instead of staring at my phone for the duration of the ride, which would’ve been easy, I decided to leave the damn thing in my pocket and engage with a human being. I did the same thing on the four flights to and from Florida. On each leg of the trip, I opened up a space for my seat mate to speak.

The first was not interested. He was watching a movie on his phone, so I did the same.

The next one spoke limited English, making conversation impossible.

The third, a young woman, fell asleep almost instantly and ended up awkwardly draped across my chest (a story in itself).

But the fourth, a man named Dave who lives in Meriden, chatted with me for a while, telling me the story of his visit with his ailing mother and “impossible sister.”

Not exactly conspiracy theories and iPhone economics, but he shared a story with me before turning back to his phone.

I talk to people. Part of this is a learned behavior after spending 15 years with my wife, Elysha, and part of it is my desire to hear stories. Engage with people. Make the moments of my life more meaningful and memorable than a screen ever will.

I tell my own stories.

While in Florida, I told a story about a challenging time during my childhood to an audience of a few hundred. I was honest, authentic, and vulnerable. I spoke about things that many are not willing to speak about.

In response, at least a dozen people shared their own stories with me. Some told me deeply personal stories about their own childhood struggles. I spoke to one man about our mutual love for the Atari 2600 game Adventure (and have since downloaded the game using an online emulator). The general manager of a hotel on the island offered me a free room if I bring my family for vacation.

One woman told me a secret that she had been carrying for more than 40 years. She had tears in her eyes as she spoke to me.

When you tell your stories, others are compelled to tell you their own, and as a result, connections are made. Doors are opened. The chance for storyworthy moments increases significantly.

It’s true that my life has been filled with some unusual moments. My life has been saved by paramedics twice. I was homeless for a period of time. Arrested and tried for a crime I did not commit. Carried from my childhood home in the middle of the night by a firefighter. Survived a horrific armed robbery. Been victimized by an anonymous, widespread attack on my character and my career. Fed my pet rabbit at Thanksgiving.

A lot of crazy stuff. You have some, too, I’m sure.

But eventually you tell all those stories. All those storyworthy moments from your past become known.

Then what?

When people say that my life seems more storyworthy than most, I point out my willingness to say yes to whatever opportunity crosses my path. My ability to see stories in moments that others do not.

But I also point out my willingness to listen. My desire to open up space and time for others to tell me their stories, and my willingness to share my own.

A storyworthy life is one filled with people. Connection and engagement. It’s about getting out of the house, turning off the television, lifting your face from the screen, and finding someone new. Doing something new. Opening your heart and mind to opportunities.

It means asking your Uber driver questions about his life rather than reading email or scrolling through social media. And finding out some disturbing facts about him in the process.

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I had a terrifying Uber right in Florida last night.

I spent about 45 minutes in the back of an Uber last night on the road between Jacksonville International Airport and Amelia Island.

It was almost 2:00 AM when I climbed into the back of the car, so perhaps that’s why things got weird.

My driver was quite the conversationalist and had a lot to say. He was also an avid conspiracy theorist who was anxious to spread his propaganda. Among this many beliefs were these:

THEORY #1

In the 1940’s, the United States began cloning human beings to serve as doubles for any human being who needed to be eliminated or replaced. The most famous of all these replacements:

Michael Jackson

When Jackson’s hair caught fire on a Pepsi commercial shoot in 1984, his face was also horribly burned. The only way for the King of Pop to continue to entertain was for the government to activate his replacement clone, and since the technology was not exact, that is why Jackson’s complexion seemed to change over the years.

When I asked why the government thought it necessary to replace Michael Jackson, the driver said, “Michael Jackson was amazing. The world needed him.”

THEORY #2

The Illuminati controls NASA, which is not actually a space exploration agency but instead is instead a secret bunker-building construction company designing hideouts for the wealthiest human beings for when the apocalypse comes.

His proof: NASA in Hebrew (according to him) means “To Deceive” and the Illuminati like to hide clues in the open.

“Why do they hide clues out in the open?” I asked.

“It’s cooler that way,” he said.

It was disconcerting to think that there are Americans who have been fooled into believing conspiracies like this (and so many more), but here was the most frightening of his beliefs:

Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon, is a terrible human being because when Donald Trump gave tax cuts to corporations, lots of them gave their employees holiday bonuses but Amazon didn’t. He was working for Amazon at the time at a fulfillment center and wanted the $500 bonus that Trump had tried to put into his pocket.

Up until this point, I had only listened. But with this, I had to speak up. I said something like this:

“I’m not saying Bezos shouldn’t be doing more for workers, but instead of a a tax cut for corporations and the wealthiest Americans, how about just a plain old middle class tax cut? You know, the kind Trump promised during the campaign and then lied about prior to the midterms? Remember when Trump said his wealthy friends were going to hate his plans for taxes? They loved his tax cut on the wealthy. A tax cut for the middle class would give you a lot more than $500 in your pocket, and it wouldn’t be a one-time payment. It would help you every day.”

His response:

“Yeah, but when I’m one of the wealthiest Americans someday like Bezos, then I’m going to love me some of that tax cut.”

The man is 34 years old. He has three jobs:

He drives Uber overnight.
He does nails at his mother’s salon.
He repairs cracked screens on iPhones.

He works three jobs and has a 7 year-old daughter to support, and instead of wanting the promised middle class tax cut, he would prefer $500 in cash and a tax cut just waiting for him when he makes it big.

That was the scariest thing he said all night. He is a man who really believes that tax obligations should be apportioned with the thought that he and everyone else will someday be as wealthy as Jeff Bezos.

He’s not the only one. Again and again, Americans vote against their self-interests with some eye to a future that is unlikely for them and impossible for everyone.

Help middle class families who are living paycheck to paycheck or line the wallets of the ultra-wealthy because some day you might be wealthy, too, and until then, $500 will make you feel good.

Give me Michael Jackson clones and an Illuminati-controlled NASA any day.

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News of a pending divorce

When I asked how her day went, my 10 year-old daughter, Clara, said she had a little trouble at recess.

“Yeah,” I said. “What happened?”

“Well,” she began. “We were playing house, and I’m the mother, and this boy is the father, and we have two kids. Sounds good. Right? Except I’ve decided that it’s not going to work, so I told him today that I wanted a divorce.”

I was driving when she said this to me, so I pulled the car over to capture her language as precisely as possible.

“So now what?” I asked.

“Tomorrow I need to tell the kids, and that won’t be easy. Then I’ll have to tell them that they need to take on more responsibilities because it’s just going to be the three of us.”

“Will that be hard?” I asked.

“Very.”

A couple hours later, Elysha asked Clara how the boy took the news of the divorce, and Clara reported that he was fine.

“Anything else?” I asked, feverishly typing into Evernote as I spoke.

“Nope,” she said. “But can we go now? I want to see the kitties.”

I don’t remember every recess I enjoyed when I was a child, but I am fairly certain that none of them were anything like the recesses that my daughter enjoys these days.

At least I think she enjoys them. They sounds incredibly stressful to me.

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Smart cat. Terrible skill.

I know what you’re thinking. There’s no cuter cat in the world. Right?

I thought that, too, until I came downstairs this morning and found the kitchen sink running.

“Damn kids,” I thought.

I turned off the water and went to the table to begin my work. A few minutes later, I heard the water come on.

My first thought: “A ghost?”

Except I don’t believe in ghosts. And it wasn’t a ghost.

It was this:

Yes. My water-obsessed cat has learned how to turn on the kitchen sink.

I’m doomed.

She killed Springsteen

Early Sunday morning. I’m sitting at the table, working on my next book. Springsteen is playing on the Amazon Echo. Brilliant Disguise at the moment. One of my favorites of his songs.

My fingers are moving fast. Words are leaping on to the page. I’m feeling it.

Charlie creeps into the room, still bleary eyed. Tottering. Spiderman pajamas.

“Good morning,” he whispers.

“Good morning, Charlie.”

He walks over to me, hops into my lap, kisses me on the cheek, and says, “Can you stop this music and play Beethoven’s 9th Symphony?’

I nearly drop him. “You want what?”

“Beethoven’s 9th Symphony.”

“Who did this to you?” I ask, but before he can even answer, I know.

Kaia. The beloved much babysitter and dear friend of the family. My colleague. The musician who taught my wife to play the ukulele and apparently spent at least a portion of last night teaching my son about Beethoven’s 9th Symphony and God knows what else.

Clearly not Bruce Springsteen.

Kaia. All she had to do was keep my son alive, cook him a little food, and send him off to bed.

Instead she’s taught my son to love a symphony that I will be forced to listen for about 20 minutes before he’s finally had enough and totters off to the living room to watch Captain Underpants.

Sometimes a babysitter can be too good.

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Today I cast my vote on behalf of people who need it far more than me

It’s Election Day.

One of my favorite days of the year.

Today I will be going to the polls and casting my vote not for myself but for people in our country who need it far more than me:

  • My African-American friends and students who deserve to live in a country with zero tolerance for racism from its citizens and especially its elected officials

  • My lesbian and gay friends who deserve to love whoever they want absent of any prejudice

  • My immigrant friends and students who deserve to be welcome and respected in this nation of immigrants

  • My friends working for the press, who deserve to do the important work of democracy without being attacked by politicians who are hell bent on eroding Americans’ faith in this essential institution

  • My transgender friends and former students who deserve to live their authentic lives absent any fear or judgement

  • Heather Heyer, an American hero, and all of those who stood beside her in Charlottesville

  • Every American who deserves access to affordable healthcare but does not have it

  • The refugees who have sat in my classroom over the years, worked hard, and deserved a better life

  • My Muslim friends and students who deserve to practice their religion without fear or condemnation

  • My friends serving in the armed forces who deserve leadership from a Commander-in-Chief who was willing to serve when called

  • Children on the southern border who have been placed in cages who deserve happy, healthy, productive childhoods

  • My disabled friends and students who deserve a President who does not mock them on the national stage

  • My fellow middle class Americans, who deserved a tax break far more than the corporations and wealthiest Americans who received enormous tax breaks from Trump and the Republicans

  • My Jewish family and friends, who deserve to live safely and without bigotry

  • Asylum seekers on the southern border whose families have been separated who deserve to be treated with grace, dignity, and in accordance with the law

  • All of the women in my life who deserve to live in a country where they are treated as equals and where the men who commit acts of violence against them (and later brag about it) can never rise to the halls of power

I am a white, straight, healthy, intelligent American man who has lived through a time of relative peace. Never in the history of the world has there been a class of people more fortunate or privileged than me. Never has there been a class of people blessed with more opportunity.

I have not suffered the slings and arrows of bigotry, prejudice, or hatred. I have never suffered sexual harassment or assault. I have not been forced to fight against a glass ceiling. I have not struggled to escape a country where violence and economic and political uncertainty have made it impossible to build a better life for myself and my family. I have not felt the economic peril of living without affordable healthcare.

Today I vote for those who need it most. Today I vote for those who have been ignored, attacked, maligned, misrepresented, and demonized by the President and the cowards of the Republican party who are little more than his co-conspirators.

Today I vote for the people who need my vote the most.

I hope you will do the same.

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Speak Up Storytelling #24: Erin Barker

On episode #24 of the Speak Up Storytelling podcast, Elysha Dicks and I talk storytelling!

In our followup segment, we talk about upcoming Speak Up shows and messages received from listeners from around the world. 

Next, we talk about finding and collecting stories in your everyday life using "Homework for Life." We talk about the value of preserving memories for future storytelling but also because throwing away memories is something we all do every day but inevitably regret later on.  

Then we listen to Erin Barker's story about finding her love for learning thanks to a man with an axe. Erin is a two-time Moth GrandSLAM champion and the Artistic Director of The Story Collider whose stories have been featured on PRX's The Moth Radio Hour and in The New York Times-bestselling book The Moth: 50 True Stories.

After listening to Erin’s story, we discuss:

  1. The effectiveness of a clear story arc

  2. The difference between a funny story and a funny story with real heart and meaning

  3. The humor of specificity

  4. The power and inherent strength demonstrated in authentic, honest self-deprecation 

  5. Embedding learning within a story

  6. Chekov's gun 

Next, we answer questions about starting stories with the word "So" and the economics of storytelling. 

Finally, Elysha and I each offer a recommendation.  

If you haven't rated or reviewed Speak Up Storytelling on Apple Podcasts, PLEASE do! Reviews and ratings help others find our show.

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Steve Bannon is worried about the future of America. I hope and pray that he is right.

Steve Bannon is worried. He thinks women might “take charge of society” in the coming years.

He's reportedly most concerned by the women-led wave of liberal, anti-Trump activism, fueled by the #MeToo movement.

"The anti-patriarchy movement is going to undo ten thousand years of recorded history," author Joshua Green quoted Bannon as saying. "You watch. The time has come. Women are gonna take charge of society. And they couldn't juxtapose a better villain than Trump. He is the patriarch."

My response to Bannon:

We could only be so lucky.

If I could press a button and eject every member of Congress from power and replace them with a randomly selected American woman, I would do so in a heartbeat. I have no problem with undoing ten thousand years of recorded history. Women account for more than half of all Americans but account for only a tiny fraction of Americans in power today.

Where has that gotten us?

In the words of lifetime Republican Chesley B. 'Sully' Sullenberger, the hero on the Hudson, who recently wrote an Op-Ed for the Washington Post indicating that he will be voting Democrat on Tuesday:

Too many people in power today “are cowardly, complicit enablers, acting against the interests of the United States, our allies and democracy; encouraging extremists at home and emboldening our adversaries abroad; and threatening the livability of our planet. Many do not respect the offices they hold; they lack — or disregard — a basic knowledge of history, science and leadership; and they act impulsively, worsening a toxic political environment.”

And who are these people in power?

About 81% of the members of Congress are men. 88% of governors are men. Every single President, including the incompetent racist currently serving in office, has been a man. 75% of his Cabinet are men. 100% of committee chairmen in Congress are men. 95% of Fortune 500 companies are run by men despite repeated research that shows that companies run by women return more money to shareholders year after year after year.

Men have been in charge for long enough. It’s time to let women fill the halls of power.

A record number of women are running for office on Tuesday, and I hope and pray that a record number of women win their elections and assume their rightful seats at the table.

Not every man is a “cowardly, complicit enabler,” and not every women will perform with integrity and honor while serving the public. But as I look at our divided country today and watch as lawmakers abandon the middle class, erode voting rights, degrade the free press, defend corruption at the highest levels, and ignore the threat that global warming poses to my children and future generations, I think that a change is needed.

Men have gotten us into this mess.

It’s time to see what women can do to fix it.

Steve Bannon has been right before. He predicted a Trump victory in 2016, and that awful prediction unfortunately proved correct.

Let’s hope he’s right about women taking charge of society, too. We need a change, and more women in power seems like a good first step to making that change happen.

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The truth about immigrants and the American economy

As you prepare to go to the polls on Tuesday, and as Trump ratchets up his racist attacks on immigrants and migrants, please know this, and please repeat it to everyone you know:

Every generation of Americans, at every level of government, consumes more benefits from the local and federal government than they contribute in taxes, with one single exception according to the Federal Reserve:

First generation immigrants.

First generation immigrants contribute more to the federal coffers than they receive in benefits in a year, including their dependents.

The numbers are striking:

First generation immigrants to the United States contributed $963 more than they received in federal benefits last year.

The rest of us run a net deficit of $4,364.

Nearly every economist in the world will tell you that immigration is good for a nation’s economy. Immigrants do not steal jobs. They do the work that others will not. They purchase goods and services. Buy homes. Build business. Hire workers.

Immigrants are the fabled job creators.

In 2017, despite Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric, immigrants launched 25% of all new businesses in this country. 216 of the Fortune 500 businesses in America today were founded by immigrants or their children. More than half of all businesses in America today worth one billion dollars or more were founded by immigrants.

Refugees, a subgroup of the foreign-born population, have even higher rates of business creation and entrepreneurship. 

If we want a healthy, expanding economy, we should be welcoming immigrants to our nation with open arms.

Trump has already made it clear that his attacks against immigration are not based upon economic theory or any real data. He is simply a racist who wants to prevent people of color from entering the United States. He has referred to the nations of African as “shit hole countries” and has asked why the United States couldn’t attract immigrants from predominately white countries like Norway.

White immigrants? Just fine in Trump’s opinion.

Mexican or Africans? In Trump’s own words, “drug dealers, criminals, and rapists.”

In truth, immigrants also commit fewer crimes than natural born Americans by a wide margin.

Make no mistake: Immigrants are good for our country. They are good for our economy. They are a driving force in business creation and job creation in America today, despite being forced to operate in a country with a President who openly despises them and a base of Republican supporters who refuse to acknowledge the economics behind immigration and instead continue to cast their votes based upon fear, ignorance, party loyalty, and the color of a person’s skin.

When you go to the polls on Tuesday, keep these irrefutable facts in mind, and please share them with whoever will listen. Trump is hoping that the fear and anger conjured from his rhetoric about immigrants, the caravan, and the “horde of invaders at our southern border” will win him votes in the midterms.

We have to do everything we can to stop a racist President from acting against America’s self interests and against people who have made our country great and continue to make our country great every day.

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My wife is a teacher again.

Yesterday my wife returned to the classroom as a kindergarten teacher after spending the last ten years at home with the kids.

She worked part-time as a reading tutor between the births of Clara and Charlie, and she had a very brief stint as a teaching assistant last year, but this marks the first time she has returned to her role as a classroom teacher.

As lovely as it must have been to stay at home with the kids for all these years, Elysha’s place has always been in the classroom.

Elysha and I met while teaching in the school where I still teach. When I first saw her, I thought that she was beautiful, funny, smart, and utterly unattainable. She was like one of the cool kids - the coolest of the cool kids - and I was… me.

Our first real conversation took place about three weeks into the school year while walking around a lake at a YMCA camp with her students.

It took about a year for us to become good friends and another six months for us to begin dating.

Six months after that, we were engaged, and two years after that, Clara was born and Elysha left the classroom and became a stay-at-home parent.

When we were teaching together, our classrooms were less than 20 feet apart. As I walk by her old room each day, I am both reminded of that glorious time in our lives when we were first falling in love and saddened that I can’t simply walk up the hall and see her every day as I once could.

I have friends who would never dream of working alongside their spouses, but I am not one of those people. Teaching with Elysha was one of the best times of my life.

There were many reasons why I fell in love with Elysha, but one of them was the way she did her job. Elysha is an incredibly talented and skilled teacher who children respect and adore, and the way she partners with parents is second to none. She was born to be a teacher, and the impact that she has made on the lives of children is immeasurable.

Her dream was to return to teaching in a kindergarten classroom, and her goal was to teach in one of three schools in my school district.

She managed to achieve both, of course. A kindergarten position in one of her dream schools. Those kids and parents are so lucky. After almost a decade, Elysha is back doing what she does best.

As happy as Elysha feels about her new position, returning to the workforce after being at home for so long is a big change for all of us. That said, I am incredibly proud of the way we managed to find a way to allow Elysha to stay at home with the kids for so long.

We never really thought it would be possible, and it certainly wasn’t easy.

It was a combination of incredibly hard work, the good fortune to find publishers for my books at just the right times, and the timely launching of Speak Up, which has led me to teaching, speaking, and consulting work that has helped to keep us afloat.

Lots and lots of hard work. Also sacrifice. So much sacrifice.

It’s meant furnishing our home with hand-me-down and second-hand furniture. It’s meant staring at windows in need of replacement, floors in need of repair, and walls in need of paint and saying, “Someday…”

This meant driving cars into the ground, forgoing vacations, and finding happiness with less.

That last one was easy. It turns out that you don’t need much when you have the perfect spouse and two little kids.

The hard work and sacrifice have all been well worth it. Our kids are only little for so long, and I am so proud of the way we managed to take advantage of that precious time. Clara and Charlie will always remember their time at home with Mommy, and I know that it has helped them become the wonderful little people who they are today

My only wish is that I could’ve been home with them for all these years, too.

Elysha came home yesterday from her first day at school filled with stories about her first day. She was smiling and happy.

I am quite certain that her kindergarten students felt exactly the same way.

Resolution Update: November 2018

PERSONAL HEALTH

1. Don’t die.

Healthy as an ox.

2. Lose 20 pounds.

I lost 12 pounds at the peak of my illness, then gained back 6 pounds as I started to eat again. Then I gained another 6 pounds, so now I’m 11 pounds down and 9 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 18 of 31 days in October.

Not great. A week at camp with my students didn’t help.

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. 

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.     

That said, the cats kept me in bed for an extra 15 minutes on at least three days in October. Not snoozing but fully awake and completely non-productive.

WRITING CAREER

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

Progress continues. Shipping off the first half to my agent this week, I hope. 

I said that last month, too.  

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 also have plans to consult with a well established picture book writer this week.  

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.

12. Write a musical.

Writing has commenced.  

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

Nothing submitted in October. Three 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.

I added 30 subscribers added in October, and a total of 408 added in 2018. I'm just 43 away from my goal. If I manage to acquire one subscriber per day, I’ll hit my goal with ease.

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 October. Three letters written thus far.

19. Write 100 letters in 2018.

Just two letters written and mailed in October, bringing my total to 50 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 October:

Mister Rogers always mentioned out loud that he was feeding his fish because a young blind viewer once asked him to do so. She wanted to know the fish were OK.

STORYTELLING

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

One show produced in October at Infinity Hall in Hartford.

Our total number of shows now stands at 11. 

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 October, bringing the total number of Moth events to 12 in 2018. 

25. Win at least three Moth StorySLAMs.

Victory in October! From first position no less!

A total of two wins so far in 2018.

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.

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

Episodes #24 dropped this week and is now available wherever you get podcasts. Listen to a terrific story from storyteller Laura Terranova. The reception to the podcast has been excellent, and our audience is growing fast.

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’m deciding on a story to pitch.

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! Four rides in October, bringing the total for the year to 25. 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 28 days in a locker room in October, 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. 

Done. Easy as pie. Never a need to speak about a person’s physical appearance.

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 October, 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.

Three games of poker in October, all played after the kids went to bed at camp, bringing my total to five games this year.  

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

We worked a wedding in October, bringing my total to four. I also tried to arrange another get-together, but he was not able to do so.

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

Done.

Reach for the masses...

Back in May of this year, Elysha and I launched Speak Up Storytelling, a podcast about telling your best stories. Each week we teach strategies for finding, crafting, and telling stories. We also play a story previously told at a Speak Up event and use that story to teach lessons about what the storyteller has done well and what might be improved for next time.

Our goal was to produce at least 25 episodes in 2018. This week we published #24 and will be recording #25.

But in addition to sending 24 podcast episodes into the world and garnering thousands of listeners, amazing connections have been made.

Just this week, we have heard from:

  • A man in Africa who using is storytelling (including my book Storyworthy and our podcast) to “forge community connection between whites (westerners) and blacks (locals).”

  • A woman in Brisbane, Australia who’s read my book and listens to the podcast with friends who has been inspired to launch her own storytelling show in January.

  • A teacher in Chicago who is using my book and our podcast as part of her spring curriculum.

  • Two different podcast listeners in the Seattle area who have each shared some remarkable ideas and bits of art with me.

  • Just this morning a listener in Maine who hit her 100 days using my Homework for Life strategy.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll keep on saying it:

Find a way to put your voice out into the world. Find a way to take your passion and turn it into something that reaches beyond the cozy confines of your home. Whether it’s a podcast or a blog or YouTube or Instagram, find a way to bring your expertise and your joy to the masses.

The potential returns are immeasurable.

We’re so fortunate to live in a time when each one of us can be writers and broadcasters with the potential for reaching millions of people. Less than two decades ago, gatekeepers kept the vast majority of human beings silenced. Reaching a large audience required enormous sums of money, technical expertise, years spent climbing the ladder and paying your dues, and access to networks controlled by a small number of businesspeople.

Almost exclusively white men.

Today you can reach the world with an Internet connection and a phone. A laptop and a microphone.

We forget how lucky we are.

Elysha and I are not special. We are not uniquely talented or especially well equipped for podcasting. Our operation is not a sophisticated one:

Once a week, we sit at the dining room table with about $200 worth of audio equipment and a laptop and try to record a podcast as phones ring, children who are supposed to be in bed interrupt us, and cats knock over microphones.

And our audience isn’t very large yet. We are finding listeners slowly, primarily in the United States but also in 49 other countries worldwide.

But relatively speaking, the audience is small but growing.

But when you receive an email from someone on the other side of the world explaining how your words are changing their life and the lives of others for the better, it doesn’t matter how many people are listening.

Just those few would be enough.

So find a way to put yourself into the world. Take the thing that you do well and find a way to share it with others.

A photo of your garden.
A blog post about the lesson plan that went especially well.
A YouTube video on the booties that you’re knitting.
A podcast of your cringe-worthy high school poetry.
A Twitter account specializing in your accounting best practices.

You have something to share. Find a way to share it. You never know what might happen.

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Trump can't speak articulately., and it should scare the hell out of us.

The Wall Street Journal, a conservative financial newspaper, recently interviewed Donald Trump about his decisions related to the economy.

Trump was asked about the possibility that the tariffs he has imposed on a variety of products might have a harmful effect on the economy in the longterm.

Keep in mind that since becoming President, Trump has imposed tariffs on steel, aluminum, solar panels, washing machines, and more than $200 billion in Chinese imports.

Trump’s answer to the tariff question is astounding on two levels.

First, he simply lies about the tariffs. This should be no surprise given his record with the truth, but this lie is particularly atrocious because Trump claimed that they do not exist at all. Considering how often he brags about these tariffs, his willingness to pretend they do not exist, especially to a publication like the Wall Street Journal, is unthinkable.

But even more astounding than his lies is his inability to answer articulately. His sentences simply make no sense. It’s a jumble of words, phrases and clauses that confuse and contradict.

The man can’t speak in standard English.

Below is a portion of the transcript published by the Wall Street Journal related to tariffs.

My recommendation:

Read the following aloud. More importantly, vote on November 6.

_______________________________________

WSJ: A lot of people say that tariffs are really the biggest threat to the economy long term.

Mr. Trump: We don’t have any tariffs.

WSJ: But you’re saying it’s the Fed.

Mr. Trump: It’s so much nonsense, OK. This is your story. We don’t even have tariffs. I’m using tariffs to negotiate. I mean, other than some tariffs on steel—which is actually small, what do we have? I didn’t put them on the USMCA. We have a trade deal. I didn’t put them on in South Korea. We have a trade deal. That was the worst deal. That was a deal made by Hillary Clinton. It was a horrible deal. We made it into a sound deal.

But I didn’t put tariffs. Where do we have tariffs? We don’t have tariffs anywhere. I read that today: We’re worried about the tariffs. You know what happens? A business that’s doing badly always likes to blame Trump and the tariffs because it’s a good excuse for some incompetent guy that’s making $25 million a year.

WSJ: Just to go back to the Fed for a second—

Mr. Trump: But think of it, Michael. We don’t have tariffs. Where do we have tariffs? I’m talking tariffs. I’ll use tariffs. I mean it. I’ve said I was going to put tariffs on European Union cars, right? They came to my office. We made the concept of a deal. We’ll see what happens. But they agreed to a deal that they wouldn’t even talk about. There’s no tariffs.

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Speak Up Storytelling #23: Laura Terranova

On episode #23 of the Speak Up Storytelling podcast, Elysha Dicks and I talk storytelling!

In our followup segment, we discuss a brand new rule for The Moth's StorySLAM series. We also talk about why storytelling is a superpower and the many doors that being an effective communicator can open for you. 

Next, we talk about finding and collecting stories in your everyday life using "Homework for Life." We discuss the possibility of incorporating Homework for Life into a daily to-do list, discuss Homework for Life advice from a listener, learn how a child is now doing Homework for Life, and review how a moment that didn't seem like much initially might be storyworthy after all. 

Then we listen to Laura Terranova's story about finding herself in a hospital bed, unable to communicate to the outside world.

After listening, we discuss:

  1. Elements of an effective beginning

  2. Outstanding transition strategies

  3. Character building throughout a story

  4. Elements of an effective ending 

  5. The power of a name in storytelling

Next, we answer questions about the dangers of dominating conversations when you have many stories to tell and how to handle the moment when you thought you were funny but the audience did not. 

Finally, we each offer a recommendation. 

If you haven't rated or reviewed Speak Up Storytelling on Apple Podcasts, PLEASE do! Reviews and ratings help others find our show.

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Terrorists are cowards. Let them know it.

In the past 72 hours:

A man attempted to enter a predominately black church in Kentucky with a gun. When unable to gain access to the building, he went to a Kroger grocery store and killed two American Americans shoppers instead.

A man attempted to kill President Obama, Secretary Clinton, Vice President Biden, several other high ranking members of the Democrat party and a handful of their supporters with pipe bombs sent through the US postal service.

A man entered a synagogue in Pittsburgh and killed 11 people and wounded many others, including law enforcement officers.

The suffering of the victims of these crimes and their loved ones is unspeakable. The damage done to families and communities is immeasurable.

There will be many debates in the coming weeks over the causes of this outburst of violence.

Americans will argue over the hateful rhetoric of a President who just three days ago, in the midst of the pipe bomb scare, praised Republican Republican Greg Gianforte of Montana for physically assaulting a reporter in 2017.

Americans will debate the efficacy of our gun laws.

Americans will rightfully question why the vast majority of these mass killings are perpetrated by white, middle aged men.

There will be much debate, discord, and disagreement. Answers will be hard to come by, and when found, even harder to implement.

But as Americans, I think we can all agree on one thing:

Each of these men were cowards of the highest order. All terrorists, in fact, are cowards. Their stock and trade is the murder of unarmed, innocent people. Their goal is to kill men, women, and children who cannot shoot back or otherwise defend themselves.

Cowards. Ever single one of them. Not a single one of them understands courage.

Serving as a police officer, fire fighter, and first responder requires courage.

Running for political office requires courage.

Living openly as a transsexual person today requires courage.

Standing on a stage and telling a story requires courage.

Serving in our armed forces requires courage.

Caring for an ailing parent requires courage.

Asking someone to marry you requires courage.

Battling cancer requires courage.

Fostering a child requires courage.

Serving as a member of the media - particularly in today’s political climate - requires courage.

Standing up to a bully requires courage.

Sending your child off to kindergarten for the first time requires courage.

Killing unarmed parishioners in places of worship requires nothing more than a coward and his gun.

Mailing bombs to prominent politicians and their supports requires little more than a coward, some gun powder, and a stamp.

As we debate causes and solutions for this senseless violence, let’s also make sure that we let these terrorists and all future terrorists know how history will remember them:

As the greatest cowards of our time. Worthless human beings without an ounce of courage in their bones. Frightened little men who will be reviled by humanity until the end of time.

Cowards. Every single one of them. This is one thing to which every American can agree.

Let’s make sure these cowards and all future cowards know it.

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Charlie lost his first tooth. Also, a lot more happened.

Big day for my little boy.

After countless days of wiggling and pulling, Charlie finally lost his first tooth. He was brushing his teeth when, according to him, he felt something. “I stopped brushing, reached into my mouth, and it was my tooth!”

Damn was he excited. I was in the shower at the time, so he came running, crashed into the glass shower door, and said, “Dad! It happened!”

It’s a moment I will never forget.

Earlier that night, he stepped into his bedroom after our cleaning lady had tidied up and said, “Dad, my room looks spectacular.”

Even earlier that night, he stood before a 12-foot, inflatable, animatronic pumpkin headed monster on the front lawn of his Hebrew School and could not stop laughing, gasping, pointing, and uttering, “Oh my God.”

When saying goodbye to his friend, Helen, after an afternoon playdate, he hugged her and she hugged him, so instantly and easily and sweetly, that it made my heart melt.

While we were lying in his bed, lights out and blue stars projected on the ceiling, listening to Neko Case’s “I Wish I Were the Moon,” he whispered in response to a line in the song, “I hope she’s not so tired anymore.”

Lastly, as he placed his tooth under his pillow, he said to me, “I know you have to work at the hospital tomorrow, but don’t leave until you see what the tooth fairy gave me. I want you to know, too.”

So I sit here at the table, thinking about all that made yesterday so beautiful, recording these moments both here and in my Homework for Life so they will remain with me forever, waiting for that little boy to come racing down the stairs with a golden dollar and a note from Tooth Fairy congratulating him on his first lost tooth.

I hold onto these moments more than anything else in the world, because they are more valuable than anything else in the world. They are my treasure.

Piñatas suck.

I’m going on the record saying that piñatas suck.

Watching children at a recently birthday party bash this candy-filled monstrosity to pieces, it occurred to me how awful these things really are.

A few truths about piñatas:

  1. Two or three kids at best get to whack the thing before it breaks open, leaving the other dozen or so children standing around, never getting a chance to swing the bat and smack the damn thing even once.

  2. Allowing children to swing baseball bats, clubs, broom handles and the like in the vicinity of other children is a tragic accident waiting just waiting to happen. Go to YouTube and type in “piñata accident” and you’ll see hundreds of kids getting smashed in the head by wayward bats and poorly aimed sticks.

  3. The more horrible the child, the more candy he or she will acquire. The piñatas punishes the patient and polite child. It discourages civility and honor. There is no room for decency and decorum once the candy has fallen from the piñatas. The most aggressive, most rude, most selfish, most physically intimidating children always scoop up the bulk of the candy, leaving the more gentle souls to gather the discarded Werther’s Original or perhaps a bit of stomped-upon peppermint candy.

Want to know if you’re raising a monster? Inventory your child’s candy after a piñatas. If he or she has a large percentage of the candy, you’re child is probably a jackass and quite possibly a future felon.

There are also always crying after the piñatas is finished. Some cry because they didn’t have a turn at bat, and others cry because they see some future inmate with nine pounds of candy compared to their measly four pieces.

Why bring something to a party that is guaranteed to make children cry?

As a parent, I also feel stress during the piñatas. I worry. Will my child have a chance with the bat? Will he or she collect enough candy to be happy while not running over and shoving aside the smaller children in order to make that happen? Will my child be disappointed after this nasty affair is complete? Will it put a damper on the day? Will my child see herself as weak, vulnerable, or ineffective when this bloodsport is finally finished?

Piñatas suck. They must go the way of lawn jarts and croquet. They are a horrible, nasty bit of business that have no place at moments of festivity and joy.

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