Prankster satisfaction

Brilliance learned on the internet this week:

Scratch haunting things into bananas at the market so when people take them home hours later and the words appear they think a ghost knows their secrets.

Ingenious. Right?

The one problem with this prank is that the prankster is never afforded the opportunity to witness the results play out in real life. You must be able to find satisfaction in knowing that the prank will one day be realized, even if you never see it yourself.  

For some, this satisfaction is unattainable. They must see the prank play out in all its glory or its worthless.  

Not for me. I've always been willing to set things in motion and experience great satisfaction in knowing that the payoff will someday come, even if I never see it myself.

In sixth grade, I sat in the back of science class, removing dictionaries from the shelf along the back wall and replacing definitions with my own. I would cut and tape paper over the original definition and pencil in one that I thought more appropriate. 

Noting terribly clever, I'm afraid, given my age. Things like:

Moron: The teacher standing in front of you.
Ass: Stop looking up minor swear words in the dictionary, you loser.
Brown: The color of poop.

There's a good chance that no one ever saw a single one of my replaced definitions. Those books might still be sitting on a shelf somewhere, gathering dust, untouched. Or perhaps they have been long since been recycled and turned into cookbooks, toilet paper, and Marxist propaganda pamphlets. 

That's okay. I took so much joy in the act of replacing those definitions and found such a thrill in imagining the possibilities of the future.  

That was enough for me. Which it why I will be scratching creepy messages into bananas at Stop & Shop today. I'll never see the fruits of my labor, but just knowing that my actions will bear fruit will be more than enough. 

People stay home when it rains. How stupid.

This is a real thing:

When it rains, slightly fewer people attend our Speak Up shows. 

Also, when it rains, fewer people go to the theater. The movies. Even restaurants do less business when it rains. 

The same holds true for frigid temperatures. Even the mercury plummets below 20 degrees, people are far more likely to remain at home.

How sad. How incredibly, stupidly, sad.

Just imagine:

In an effort to minimize their discomfort during the time it takes to pass between their front door and the car, and their car and the front door of the restaurant or theater, a person will stay at home rather than going out for a night of entertainment and camaraderie. 

In order to eliminate the 2% of the evening that will be uncomfortable, people prefer to stay home and watch television or go to bed early. They are willing to forgo the 98% of the night that could've been fun because a tiny sliver of the night would've been less than perfect. 

That is not the kind of person you want to be. That is most definitely not the kind of person your past or future self wants you to be. Just imagine how disgusted your teenage self would be at this behavior. Imagine how angry your 90 year-old self will be to know that you have missed out on scores of possibly memorable evenings because of rain or the cold. 

The next time you find yourself saying, "It's raining. Maybe we should stay home tonight," please follow that sad, ridiculous statement with, "What am I saying? What kind of weak, shortsighted, stupid person am I? Am I really going to sacrifice a night on the town because I might get wet between the front door and the car?"

If the answer is yes, prepare yourself for the avalanche of regret that will surely overwhelm you when your opportunities for evenings out at the theater or the restaurant are fewer and farther between.   

raining evening.jpg

A bit of unsolicited, surely unwanted advice for my millennial friends

I have, on occasion, offended a millennial friend by making a gross generalization about their generation. I know that generalizations can be annoying, inaccurate, and offensive. I know that I should avoid them whenever possible. For that, I apologize.

But here's the thing:

I am a member of Generation X. When I was in my late teens and twenties, generalizations were made about my generation, too. We were called lazy. Shiftless. Aimless. Cynical. Disaffected.

“Slackers” was the word used most often. It was used a lot.

Movies like Dazed and Confused, Singles, Reality Bites, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, The Breakfast Club, Clerks, and Slackers were specifically made about us. They showed young people going nowhere, doing nothing, and not really caring about their lack of upward mobility. We were forced to listen to the Baby Boomers and the Greatest Generation before them deride our unwillingness to work hard, take life seriously, respect authority, and advance society. 

But here is the difference between my experience and what I have seen from my millennial friends thus far:

My generation didn't care. We didn't give a damn about what the previous generation said about us. We never concerned ourselves with what people a decade or two older than us thought. We were never offended or outraged by these descriptors, because we knew how to ignore them. Like the hippies before us, we did our own damn thing and let the haters hate.  

My generation popularized the phrase, "Whatever."

We paid money to watch those movies that portrayed us as slackers and losers. We loved those movies.

By contrast, my millennial friends, and even millennials in the media, seem so deeply offended by the mere suggestion that their generation might not be ideal. That perhaps they possess some fairly universal flaws. They lose their minds over the notion that the response to my latchkey generation was one that was coddled, bubble-wrapped, and perhaps not-so-ready to take on the world. They characterize any bit of disparagement as a possible hate crime.

They are the generation that popularized the need for trigger-warnings and coined the phrase “micro-aggression.”

Perhaps these generalities about millennial are also unfair. Maybe some of these assumptions about this latest generation are way off. Maybe millennials are poised to save the world.

If so, excellent. I wish them the best. We need all the help we can get. 

Either way, I just wish they would stop caring so much about what others think of them. I understand that millennials are the generation of digital approval - the like, the follower, the subscriber, the friend request, the participation ribbon - but enough already. I realize that they grew up in a culture where parents cheered at every single soccer game regardless of the weather and a failing grade was call for an immediate parent-teacher conference, but it’s time to let go of the need for praise.

Not everyone is going to like you, my millennial friends. A lot of us think you should grow up a little. Or a little faster. Either do so or just ignore us.

Or perhaps try on a little Gen-X cynicism. Become slightly more disaffected. Maybe spout off the occasional, "Go to hell, old man!" or "Why aren’t you dead yet?"

Or perhaps a simple, "Whatever." 


If you enjoy a glass floor, don't forget to look down and thank your lucky stars

"But for a couple of bad breaks, especially visited upon vulnerable people, the outcome of life would be so different." 

This is a sentence that Slate's Mike Pesca spoke a couple months ago on his podcast The Gist in the midst of an interview.

I wrote the sentence down immediately, and I've been thinking about it ever since.

the gist.jpg

Mike is right. As a person who has suffered from a couple of bad breaks while in a vulnerable position, I can assure you that it doesn't take much to send a life reeling into desperate, uncharted, potentially life-changing waters. 

It's so easy to judge the circumstances of others if you enjoy a proverbial glass floor: a familial support system that will prevent you from ever falling too far.

I've seen it more times than a can count. 

  • Legal troubles eliminated thanks to exceptionally skilled professionals paid for by parents
  • College tuition, mortgage downpayment, automobiles, and infusions of cash offered by parents in desperate times
  • Family owned businesses, legacy employment, nepotism, and second, third, and fourth chances given to someone thanks to the influence of a parent

If you're fortunate to be blessed with a glass floor, please don't forget how devastating a bad break can be for someone who isn't as blessed, and how incredibly stressful life can be for someone who is living without any safety net whatsoever.  

Think about this: According to a recent New York Fed study, one-third of Americans would not be unable to come up with $2,000 to deal with an emergency like an urgent home repair, medical crisis, or car accident.

This means that not only could they not raise $2,000 themselves, but they have no parent or family member capable of raising the money on their behalf, either. 

For many people, this situation would be unimaginable. But for almost a decade, I lived that reality, not because of bad decisions on my part or an unwillingness to work, but simply because of bad breaks. A cycle of poverty. A lack of support systems of any kind. The victim of a violent crime. An arrest for a crime I didn't commit. Homelessness. 

And I was lucky. I was physically and mentally healthy. Fairly intelligent. Capable of working 80 hours a week when necessary. I lived in a state with a strong social safety net. I had friends who put a roof over my head in a time of need. I wasn't the victim of racial discrimination.   

Still, I almost didn't make it.

Imagine what life could have been had my bad breaks had been coupled by mental illness. A physical disability. Addiction. Imagine if I had been unjustly convicted of that crime. Imagine how my life might be different had I been African American or female or any other marginalized member of society.  

It's so easy to see someone down on their luck, spiraling, and assume that they are to blame, when so many of us suffer similar breaks but are saved by the support systems that many don't enjoy.   

"But for a couple of bad breaks, especially visited upon vulnerable people, the outcome of life would be so different." 

It's so true. 

I performed stand up comedy for the first time for one very important reason.

Last year, a friend asked me to try stand up comedy with him. 

I said no and moved on with my life.

But knowing I had to follow my "Say yes to everything" philosophy, I called him back the next day and said, "Fine, I'll do it, but I won't like it."

We agreed that in addition to performing comedy, I wasn't allowed to simply tell a funny story. I have plenty of stories that could fill the five minute requirement and make people laugh throughout, but this had to be different. I had to tell jokes. Not stories.

I thought this was fair, but I was also terrified. 

Almost a year to the day after declaring my intent, I took the stage on Monday night at Sea Tea Improv in downtown Hartford to perform stand up comedy for the first time. 

open mic night.jpg

It went well. I was not fantastic. I performed for the requisite five minutes, telling jokes about parenting, marriage, Jewish food, and sex. People laughed. A few people complimented my performance afterwards, and a couple more found me online the next day to offer positive feedback. 

Most important, Elysha thought I was funny, and a couple friends in the audience were supportive as well.

A friend (but not the friend who challenged me to comedy in the first place) also took the stage on Monday and performed. He did well, too. As he pointed out later, some of the comics were asked by the host if it was their first time doing comedy.

Neither he nor I were asked that question. We were at least good enough not appear new. 

But it was a strange experience, too. I took the stage without any real plan. I had a couple opening sentences which I knew I could use to launch me into a riff on the realities of being a father, but after that, I was winging it. I said funny things that came to mind, but immediately after saying them, I knew that there was an even funnier way to say them. 

And I wasn't telling stories. I was telling jokes. Trying to make people laugh with words instead of story. 

And for the first time in a very long time, I felt nervous as I took the stage. Those nerves evaporated after I began speaking, but for a few moments, I felt the nerves that so many of my storytelling students feel just before taking the stage. 

I'll try stand up comedy again. I'll keep a running list of possible funny ideas as they occur to me, and when I think I have five minutes worth of material, I will prepare another set and give it a shot. Perhaps I'll take the five minutes that I did on Monday to another club as well. A producer at a comedy club in Manhattan has asked me to do 20 minutes at her club, and I could definitely stretch the 5 minutes that I did on Monday to a much longer set if I wanted. 

But here is the important part about Monday night:

I tried something that was new, frightening, and hard. That is why I did it. Complacency is tragic. Monotony is death. The absence of new horizons is an unfulfilled, wasted life.

I cannot stress this enough: You must find and try things that are new, frightening, and hard. This is the elixir of youth. Days filled with excitement and anticipation. A life absent of regret.

As a child, my life was filled with things that fit all three of these categories. I took new classes in new subjects every semester. Played new sports. Changed schools. Learned to drive. Asked girls to dance. Hiked up new mountains. Swam in new ponds. Made new friends. Played new musical instruments. Learned to speak a new language. Had sex for the first time. Earned my first paycheck. 

A young person's life is inextricably filled with things that are new, frightening, and hard. As we get older and experiences begin to pile up, those opportunities become fewer and farther between. People settle into routines. They establish patterns. Their zeal for risk taking wanes. 

Before long, they cannot imagine trying something new, frightening, and hard. They become set in their ways. They plod through life. They can't imagine staying up all night or driving to some faraway place on a whim or otherwise disturbing their routines.

They are getting older while getting old. 

I say yes to everything because I don't want to get old as I get old. I want the promise of days that are new and frightening and hard. I want to know that what I know now will not be all that I ever know.    

I cannot recommend the new, frightening, and hard enough. Stay young before you get old. 

Be kind to yourself. Celebrate your accomplishments. Have wild sex.

I've been speaking to a lot of writers lately. People who have written books and are hoping to find agents and editors and publishers who love their work and are willing to turn their words into physical objects that can be found on shelves in stores and libraries around the world. 

Throughout all of these conversations, something has become abundantly clear to me:

People are not kind to themselves. Writers and non-writers alike.

It might be true that you can't find an agent to represent you. Or perhaps you've found an agent, but you still can't find a publisher willing to buy your book. Maybe your spouse doesn't love the book. Perhaps your mother refuses to read it. Maybe your father thinks you're wasting your time. 

But here's the thing:

You wrote a book. You did the thing that millions of Americans claim that they will do someday but only a tiny fraction ever do.

You've joined the tiny fraction. You wrote a book. Celebrate, damn it. 

Early this week, I suggested to a group of unpublished writers that they throw themselves a party upon the completion of their first book. Lots of music and cake. Balloons, even. I also suggested that they hang a banner at the party that reads: 


Perhaps the banner is excessive, but I'm serious about the party. When engaged in a monumental task - writing a book, earning a college degree, raising a child, building a house, planning a wedding, climbing the career ladder - I believe in celebrating every step of the way. Positive reinforcement is important. If we wait to celebrate the final product, we may never get there. 

Honor the process. Acknowledge the struggle. Celebrate each significant step along the way. Even if you fail to achieve your goal, the struggle is valuable. Essential. Life altering. Honor it.   

That celebration can come in the form of a party (which I support wholeheartedly) or a dinner in a fine restaurant or a weekend in Vermont or even a night of wild sex.

If you're like me, it can also come in the form of positive self-talk:

The ability to look in the mirror and see someone who has accomplished something difficult and unexpected and unforeseen or uncommon and feel damn good about it. 

That "I wrote a book. I'm better than all of you" banner hangs over my proverbial head every day. It's a fact I reminded myself about constantly. It hangs right beside the banners that read:

  • You put yourself through college while working 60 hours a week and starting a business
  • You married Elysha.
  • You paid for your honeymoon through poker winnings. 
  • Your closet is clean and organized. 
  • You went from homelessness and jail to college graduate, teacher, and author.
  • Your in-laws love you. 
  • You're an elementary school teacher. You change lives every day.
  • Your children are kind. They love to read. They laugh all the time. They love you.  
  • You haven't missed a day of flossing in more than a decade.
  • You've won 32 Moth StorySLAMs and four GrandSLAMs.
  • You haven't ruined any of Elysha's sweaters in nearly five years.
  • You're still teaching despite the efforts of a small group of despicable cowards who tried to end your career ten years ago.  
  • You've published four books and have four more on the way.  
  • Your cat loves you most. 
  • You teach public speaking and storytelling all over the country. 
  • You didn't make anyone cry today. 

You have banners, too. Accomplishments worthy of celebrations or ice cream sundaes or wild sex. So often we fail to celebrate our achievements or the steps along the way. We discount our own success. We wait until a project is complete before daring to pat ourselves on the back.   

I'm not suggesting that you remind everyone everyday of the banners that hang over your head, but I'm suggesting that you remind yourself everyday. 

You'll rarely find me standing on a stage speaking about my own personal accomplishments. If given the choice, I'd prefer to tell you about my failures. My most despicable moments. My tiny acts of cruelty.

But in my mind, I'm constantly reminding myself of my accomplishments, great and small, particularly when the road becomes steep and bumpy. When deadlines loom large. When I'm feeling stupid or weak or incompetent. 

Be kind to yourself. You deserve it. 


Daylight Saving should be celebrated (or eliminated)

Daylight saving time should be eliminated. It's one of those things that we continue to do because we've always done it, but it's an asinine policy

But as long as we're going to keep Daylight Saving Time intact, could we at least allow the time change to happen when it can be appreciated and enjoyed?

I was awake in a hotel room in Kansas City at 1:59 AM on Saturday night, so I watched the clock kick back to 1:00 AM, but most people were asleep and couldn't take advantage of the extra hour.

Why not turn the clock back at noon? Just imagine:

You've just finished Sunday brunch, and as the clock is about to strike noon, it kicks back to 11:00. 

Time for second breakfast!

When I was younger, my best friend, Bengi, and I would always host a party on the evening of Daylight Saving because it meant an extra hour to party. To reinforce this idea, we set our clocks back at 6:00 PM so when people entered the house, they were already operating on tomorrow's time.

We understood the value of celebrating the extra hour instead of allowing it to tick by unnoticed.  

But short of this workaround. Daylight Saving goes almost unnoticed unless you have babies or small children whose sleep schedules are now fouled up. 

Let's stupidly, archaically shift our clocks back at a time that would at least give rise to a little joy. In a world where everyone is constantly whining about never having enough time (but doing little or nothing to eliminate that problem), an extra hour every year would be cause for celebration. 


A high opinion of your own opinion is a very good thing

John Wooden famously said, "The true test of a man's character is what he does when no one is watching."

In other words, what do you do when there's no one to either praise or scold you?

john wooden.jpg

It's a good definition of character, but there is one flaw:

If you have an exceptionally high opinion of your own opinion, then you are able to meaningful praise yourself for your own behavior when no one is watching, thus negating the idea that character is good behavior unrewarded, because you are able to reward yourself.

In short, it doesn't matter to you if someone is watching or not. 

"I just picked up that piece of litter, even though I wasn't the one who tossed it on the ground. Great job, Matt!"

If this bit of self-assigned positive reinforcement is meaningful to you, Wooden's definition doesn't exactly hold up, because the presence of others becomes irrelevant. And when your opinion of yourself is even more important the opinions of others, the definition becomes even less meaningful.    

For example, when a colleague is upset because his supervisor has rated him a four out of five on his annual review, I ask, "Do you think you were a five?"

"Yes," the colleague says. "I do."

"Then who cares what your supervisor thinks? If your rating isn't impacting your salary or job security, your own honest assessment of your performance is what matters most. Just say, 'I'm a five, damn it,' and move on."

This rarely makes a person feel better, because most reasonable, well-adjusted people do not possess exceedingly high opinions of their own opinions, and this is probably a good thing. For most people, the opinions of the public, superiors, loved ones, and/or authority figures carry more weight than their own opinion, especially when those opinions pertain to themselves. 

I get it. It's normal to care deeply about the opinions of others. 

Not everyone aggressively under-dresses for all occasions regardless of the opinions of others.

Not everyone stands in front of hundreds and sometimes thousands of people and shares the most embarrassing, shameful, and criminal moments from their life.

Not everyone can dribble a tee shot 17 feet down a hill and into a pond while a dozen golfers are watching and not give a damn.

Not everyone is willing to acknowledge that they possess a high opinion of their own opinion. 

There is nothing wrong with concerning yourself with the opinions of others. It's normal and healthy, and I'm not saying that I don't care at all. My wife's opinion, for example, means a great deal to me, and the respect of my colleagues and the satisfaction of the parents of the students who I teach is something I strive to achieve. I also like it when my editor, my publisher, and especially my readers like the writing that I produce. 

But I also believe in being kind to yourself. Valuing your own opinion of yourself. Meaningfully crediting yourself for a job well done when no one is watching or no one else agrees, and allowing that credit to be at least as important as the credit of others. I believe in allowing yourself to feel great about your performance even when your supervisor, your evaluator, your coach, your friends, or even your spouse disagree. 

Praise and recognition from others is a lovely and precious thing, but it should be secondary to the praise that you offer yourself. The value of your own honest opinion of yourself should be at least equal to the opinion of others. if you're depending upon the praise and adulations of others, you're not going to be a happy person. 

John Wooden's definition of character is a good one. It's true that we often don't act like our best selves when in private, and those who do are probably the best of us. But I also think it's true that a high opinion of your own opinion can help a person to act well in those private moments. 

When you are kind enough to yourself to value self-praise as highly as public praise, Wooden's definition doesn't hold up. Perhaps I might revise it to something like this:      

"The true test of a man's character is what he does when his most honest, unflinching self is watching."

I want a little signage, damn it.

I'm not asking for much.

When construction begins on a new project, could we require that a sign be erected explaining what this new project will be?

Last year, a gas station was removed from a plot of land near my home, and construction immediately began on something new. I drove by the site almost every day, wondering what it might be, dreaming of something interesting or fun.

A new restaurant? A bowling alley? A sports bar? A golf shop?

Nope. It was a mattress store, build within sight of two other mattress stores. 

How hard would it have been to erect a sign that said:

 "Relax, people. Just another stupid mattress store. Nothing to get excited about."

Last week construction began on another plot of land along a road that I drive every day. Enormous lengths of wood were being laid down across a swampy piece of land.

What could it be?

A new bus station? A future apartment complex? Another damn Whole Foods?

After a week of wondering, I finally took to Facebook and asked if anyone knew what was happening, and I got my answer:

Repairing power lines. That's all. 

How about a sign as construction began that read:

"Don't get your knickers in the bunch, people. We're just repairing some power lines. Noble work, to be sure, but not exactly exciting."

Sometimes these signs are erected, but more often than not, the builder leaves the public in suspense, often envision a grand new future that does not exist. 

Signage. That's all I want. Is it too much to ask?


The men's restroom: All I want is a little consistency, please...

I appreciate and embrace consistency in all things. Find the fastest, most accurate, most efficient, least expensive way of doing something, and repeat as often as needed.

This is why men's restrooms infuriate me. 

Almost all men's restrooms contain urinals. This is good. They actually allow for the fastest, most efficient use of the restroom. They are quick to use and take up less space than a standard toilet, allowing for more of them. Urinals are the reason why the line to the men's restroom is always shorter than the line to the women's restroom. 

But here's the thing:

In the last decade or so, privacy partitions have started appearing between urinals in some restrooms. These rectangular pieces of plastic or wood have been bolted onto the wall between urinals, apparently offering a modicum of privacy to the user. 

"You can still see my head and my feet, but just try looking at my penis now, buster!" 


I'm not specifically opposed to these privacy partitions. What I'm opposed to is the lack of consistency between restrooms. Some have partitions between urinals and some don't, and this bothers me. Men either require this privacy partition or they don't, and I'm annoyed that we haven't come to a decision on this matter.

If it were up to me, I'd have no privacy partition. For a very long time, men used urinals without complaint or problem. Why we need to suddenly ensure the privacy of our genitals is beyond me. There was a time when men at Fenway Park and other baseball stadiums urinated into a communal trough without much complaint, and there are probably places where these troughs still exist. Men pee on trees all the time. Sometimes we pee side by side on the same tree. I can't imagine that many men suddenly felt the need for privacy while using a urinal.

But perhaps I'm wrong. Perhaps a significant number of men require a strategically placed sheet of plywood positioned at penis height to feel comfortable.

"You can look me in the eye or stare at my shoes while I pee, but don't you dare look at my penis!"

Maybe men are more concerned with wandering eyes that I think. Perhaps exposure of the penis contributes to shy bladders. Maybe this is homophobia rearing its ugly head.  

What I've also noticed is that the smaller the men's room and the more professional or fancy the establishment, the more likely that there will be partitions. 

Therefore a corporate headquarters or an expensive restaurant is more likely to have partitions than a concert hall, a fast food restaurant, or a sports stadium.

This annoys me, too. 

Men who work in the corporate world or spend more on dinner are more likely to have penises that require privacy than men who attend football games or stop at a McDonald's to use the restroom?

Also, aren't these quite often the same men? 

I don't know.

But here is what I do know:

We either need these partitions or we don't. Either equip all men's rooms with these privacy partitions or stop adding them to restrooms altogether.

Consistency. That's all I want. A universal agreement that this added expense is either needed or not. We either need to hide our penises in the restroom or we don't.

I think not, but as long as we can come to some kind of agreement, I'll be happy. 

I hate problems. Not everyone feels the same.

Author Thomas C Corley spent five years researching the daily habits of wealthy people, and he found that they they avoid one type of person at all costs: 


"Self-made millionaires are very particular about who they associate with," Corley writes in his book, Change Your Habits, Change Your Life. "You are only as successful as those you frequently associate with. The rich are always on the lookout for individuals who are goal-oriented, optimistic, enthusiastic, and who have an overall positive mental outlook."

Eighty-six percent of the rich people in his study made a specific habit of associating with other success-minded individuals. More importantly, "they also make a point to limit their exposure to toxic, negative people," Corley explains.

"Long-term success is only possible when you have a positive mental outlook."

This was not the first time this trend had been noted. In 1937 journalist Napoleon Hill studied over 500 self-made millionaires. 

He wrote: "Men take on the nature and the habits and the power of thought of those with who they associate, and there is no hope of success for the person who repels people through a negative personality."

This probably doesn't surprise anyone, and yet negative people abound. I see them everyday. These are the people who assume the worst. Surrender before the battle has even begun. Decide that this year will be like all the rest.

They are people who are incapable of pursuing meaningful change. Unwilling to look past another person's flaws to find potential strengths. Resistant to challenge. Inflexible. Unable to improve their lives for the better.   

These are the "Yeah, but..." people. The doomsayers. The gossip mongers.

For the record, I can't stand the "Yeah, but..." It clangs in my head like a broken bell of stupidity and uselessness. 

I'm not wealthy (yet), but I agree with Corley and Hill's findings. In my experience, pessimists tend to be middling, uninspiring, unwilling individuals who rarely achieve greatness.    

In fact, I have come to believe that there are two kinds of people in life:

  1. People who want to mitigate, minimize, and eliminate problems whenever possible.
  2. People who feed off the drama and associated conversation related to problems and willingly assume them to be larger and more overwhelming than they really are.

I avoid that second group of people like the plague. 

Never call it a "side hustle."

I have long been an advocate of dedicating a small percentage of your free time to developing your next possible career. Whether this is painting or poetry or poker, you should be pursuing an interest that has the potential (however unlikely) to become a future career. 

This is not to say that there is anything wrong with staying in the same job for your entire life. I've been teaching elementary school for 19 years and don't see myself leaving anytime soon.  But I still believe in creating options, cultivating personal interests, developing the possibility for multiple income streams, and preparing yourself in the event of unforeseen catastrophe is a good idea. 

Once you're homeless, you feel like catastrophe is just around the corner. 

In 1997, my friend and I launched a wedding DJ business with no experience or equipment and uncertain if we would ever find work. Twenty years and almost 500 weddings later, that experiment has paid off well.


Over the course of my DJ career, I also became an ordained minister in order to officiate a friend's wedding. Then I offered my ministerial services to DJ clients, uncertain if anyone would ever hire me. Fifteen years and more than three dozen weddings, baby naming ceremonies, and baptisms later, I've created a small but interesting business for myself. 

The same has been true for storytelling, poker, writing, and Speak Up. All began as simple pursuits of personal interests and have turned into profitable ventures. 

My poker earnings paid for our honeymoon.

My first four novels allowed Elysha to remain at home until both of our children entered school. The writing has also led to a position as a humor columnist, the opportunity to write for magazines, and this year my first nonfiction and young adult books.

Storytelling has turned into a professional speaking career. It prompted us to launch Speak Up. It has allowed me to teaching storytelling all over the world to countless people from all walks of life. Salespeople. Politicians. Performers. Writers. CEOs. Archivists. Therapists. Professors and teachers. Priests and ministers and rabbis. 

Matthew Dicks.jpg

Even with these opportunities, I'm always looking for the next thing. Cultivating further interests. Today I'm writing musicals with a partner. Though they have yielded almost nothing by way of profits, the musicals are excellent, and perhaps someday someone will take notice.

I produce and co-host Boy vs. Girl, a podcast with a small but growing audience. 


I'm taking the stage as a stand-up comedian this year.

I'm seriously considering pursuing careers in educational consulting, unlicensed therapy, and screenwriting. 

Here's what I'll never do:

I won't ever refer to any of these pursuits as "side hustles." This is a phrase that has gained popularity in today's fractured economy as Americans seek to fill the wage gap with additional income steams. A look at Google Trends shows that the word has recently surged into the lexicon.

Screen Shot 2017-09-19 at 8.37.05 PM.png

But my pursuits outside my teaching career are not side hustles. They represent areas of personal interest that were identified, cultivated, and grown into something meaningful.

"Side hustle" implies something less important and less focused. Something easily ignored or discarded.

It's these so-called side hustles of my life that have made my life interesting. 

I ask people to find something they love and pursue it. It's rare that an area of personal interest can't ultimately result in profit if done exceptionally well. And while you may never reach the level of exceptionality, if it is something you love, you will inevitably enjoy yourself during the pursuit.

You may never sell a painting, but if you love to paint, why not try?

You may never become a golf pro, but if you love the game, why not work as hard as you can to be the best?  

Your recipes may never find their way into a cookbook, but if you love to cook, why not make delicious food for yourself and others and see where it takes you?

Your knitting may never grace the cover of Love of Knitting, but you'll still end up with an array of under-appreciated sweaters, hats, and scarves while trying. 

Choose something you love. Try to do it better than most. Then see if someone wants to pay you to do it.

That is not a side hustle. It's the systematic approach to maximizing your passion for possible future profits.  

side hustle.png

The eclipse was underwhelming and a little boring. I wish it happened more often.

I was prepared to be underwhelmed by the eclipse. As infrequent as these things may be, a briefly, slightly darker version of the world for a short period of time did not strike me as warranting the hype. 

In stark contrast to my cynicism, Elysha hosted an eclipse party. Four other families brought their children over to watch the eclipse. Over the course of two hours, Elysha taught eight children to make eclipse viewers out of cereal boxes and decorate eclipse-themed cupcakes. Then she brought everyone outside to view the eclipse with actual eclipse glasses (which she somehow managed to acquire that morning), as well as their surprisingly effective homemade eclipse viewers. 

There was food, drink, and fun. I swear that she threw the whole thing together in about four minutes. 

The eclipse itself was underwhelming. The quality of the light shifted for about 30 minutes. I watched the moon pass in front of the sun.

Still, the world got a little darker for a little bit of time. That was it. 

But here is what I loved:

Americans came together around a single, non-tragic event. 

Our culture is rarely as ubiquitous as it was when I was young. No longer are Americans gathering around the television by the tens of millions to watch the final episode of M*A*S*H or the latest episode of Seinfeld. Movies like Star Wars, Titanic, and ET: The Extraterrestrial do not draw wholesale segments of America any longer. Radio is rapidly diminishing, making it harder for a song to gain cultural purchase.   

Our culture is becoming fragmented and fractured as personal choice, facilitated by the digital age, allows Americans to curate their own content with remarkable ease. 

This isn't all bad. Voices that were once stifled in a three network television system, a music industry full of gatekeepers, and a film industry that required millions of dollar to produce a movie can now be heard. Television content is better than it's ever been. Music is more diverse than ever before. Services like YouTube have allowed talented, creative, hard working people to circumvent the gatekeepers of the past and reach millions of viewers.

But we have so little that brings America together absent tragedy or divisiveness. 

The Super Bowl
Holidays like Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July
The Oscars
The occasional viral video
The Ice Bucket Challenge

The Woman's March, to a degree, brought vast segments of Americans together, but even that was not without protest. Similarly, Saturday Night Live is a cultural touchstone, but based upon their recent political material, not everyone would agree.

Yesterday's eclipse brought the country together for a moment of unity. The vast majority of Americans were looking at the same thing at the same time, absent politics, religion, or tragedy. 

That was good.

I thought the eclipse was fairly underwhelming. I wish it happened more often.  

The ineffectiveness of signage

A rule of signage that people don't seem to understand:

Signs only work on people who obey signs.

I worked with teachers this summer who wanted to hang signs on campus to enforce rules that they already had the power to enforce. Parents who were visiting the school weren't adhering to the limitations outlined during orientation, so the teachers wanted signs so they could point to something in the event they were required to act as an authority figure. 

As if a sign would abdicate them of any responsibility and therefore eliminate any potential confrontation. 

"Sorry, sir. You can't be in this building. It's not me. It's the sign."

"Apologies, ma'am. But did you see the sign? It says you can't be here."

I tried to explain that parents already understood the rules and were purposely violating them. The signs weren't telling these parents anything they didn't already know. Therefore, additional signage would not change behavior. 

Human intervention was required.

I know this because I am not a rule follower. If I see a rule as arbitrary or ridiculous or unfair, I often disobey the rule. I plow through signs quite often. For people like me, a sign is irrelevant if we do not agree to the rule stipulated on the sign. A sign is merely a suggestion about how the world should operate, but if that vision of the world strikes me as unnecessary, inefficient, arbitrary, or a hindrance to the way I think the world should operate, a sign is not going to stop me. 

The authority behind the sign may alter my behavior. The parking ticket or the air marshal or the social pressure applied by friends or colleagues may convince me to adhere to the rules, but a sign?


When people are knowingly disobeying the rules, signs will rarely stop them, and they do not afford an ounce of backup or support to the person required to enforce them.

As a person who has accepted the responsibility of your position, you must enforce the rules. You must confront people like me and explain the expectation is and the potential consequences of failing to meet these expectations. I know that for some of these teachers, that would be hard. An annoyed, angry, or entitled parent is not pleasant. Confrontations aren't always fun. 

But when you accept the job, you accept the responsibility that comes with it. 

Signs won't do your job for you. Nor will they offer any support when you're dealing with someone like me. Decent people who are also rule breakers will often abdicate in the face of authority. If pressed on the issue, we will usually alter our behavior.  

But not always.

I was photographing the menu outside the cafeteria at Kripalu, hoping to send it to Elysha so she could tell me what to try (since I recognized nothing on the menu). As I was snapping my photo, a woman approached.

"I'm sorry," she said. "But this is a cellphone free floor."

I considered debating her on the subject. "Listen, if I had a camera in my hand right now, you'd have no complaint. So can we just pretend that this is just a camera for a moment? I'd like to take a photograph of your menu and send it to my wife so she can tell me what I might want to try, since I don't know recognize anything on your menu. I'm a heathen. A man child. Uncouth."

Instead, I asked, "Are you going to take my phone away if I keep using it?"

"No," the woman said, looking befuddled.

I smiled. "Then I'm going to keep using it for a minute or two."

Never tell a rule breaker that there is no consequence to breaking a rule.  

sign 5.jpg

Thoughts on hiring

I think we should hire people for any and all jobs using the following procedure:

1. Interview the last five people who served the candidate in a restaurant. Inquire about how the candidate treated them over the course of the meal.

2. Interview the candidate. Ask the following questions:

  • Please explain the Bill of Rights to your best ability.
  • Tell me about the last three books you read.
  • Tell me about one goal or aspiration that you have yet to achieve. 
  • Are you a good person?

Unorthodox but effective, I think.

we are hiring.jpg

Not unisex. Omnisex.

Like me, my friend, Charles, agrees with the implementation of unisex restrooms but makes an excellent point about the naming of these spaces. 

Shouldn't they be called omni-sex restrooms?

"Uni" is a prefix meaning "one, or having or consisting of one. 

"Omni" is a prefix meaning "all, of all things."

He's right. 

A unisex restroom is intended for all people, and yet the name we currently use implies that it is for only one person. 

All gender restroom works, too, but definitely not unisex.

Someone go fix this. Okay?

There are six seasons. Not four.

Kurt Vonnegut proposed a restructuring of the seasons that I like a lot.

January and February: Winter
March and April: Unlocking
May and June: Spring
July and August: Summer
September and October: Fall
November and December: Locking

Vonnegut argued that March and April never really exemplify spring. It's still cold. The grass is brown. Trees aren't yet budding, and winter can still offer its last gasps of snow.

Similarly, November and December rarely feel like winter. November feels like the bastard stepchild of fall and winter, unsure about what it should be. And white Christmases are hardly certain.  

Instead, November and December is a period of locking. The ground begins to freeze. Nature begins to slumber. Winter coats, hats, and mittens begin to find their way back into the world. 

And March and April are unlocking. The ground begins to thaw. Kids track mud into the house. The first green shoots emerge from the ground. Golfers count the days before they can play again. 

In Vonnegut's own words: 

“One sort of optional thing you might do is to realize that there are six seasons instead of four. The poetry of four seasons is all wrong for this part of the planet, and this may explain why we are so depressed so much of the time. I mean, spring doesn’t feel like spring a lot of the time, and November is all wrong for autumn, and so on.

Here is the truth about the seasons: Spring is May and June. What could be springier than May and June? Summer is July and August. Really hot, right? Autumn is September and October. See the pumpkins? Smell those burning leaves? Next comes the season called Locking. November and December aren’t winter. They’re Locking. Next comes winter, January and February. Boy! Are they ever cold!

What comes next? Not spring. ‘Unlocking’ comes next. What else could cruel March and only slightly less cruel April be? March and April are not spring. They’re Unlocking.”
— Kurt Vonnegut

Of course, Vonnegut's proposal (and the demarcation of seasons in general) is irrelevant if you live in Southern California. Or Kenya. Or Boca Raton.

Poor souls.

But for those of us who experience the seasons in the way they are stereotypically presented, I like this a lot.    

Fill your life with young people

Yesterday I mentioned that someone on Facebook recently asked his friends when they knew that they were old.

It was an annoying answer, I know, but I responded by saying that I still feel young.

As young as I felt 20 years ago. Truly.

I wrote yesterday about the importance of aggressively trying new things whenever possible as a means of always feeling young.  

It's hard to feel old when life never gets old.

I suspect that I also feel young because I am constantly surrounded by younger people. As a teacher, my life is filled with kids who are decades younger than me, but because we spend so much time together and become so close, those decades always seem to melt away. Kids who are just 10 and 11 begin to understand me better than some of my own friends, and I feel the same about them.

Later on, when these kids grow up, many come back. They babysit my children. Attend my storytelling shows. Visit the classroom. Become genuine friends. 

This week I'm teaching storytelling at Miss Porter's, an all girls school in Connecticut. I'm working with girls ages 11-15, and I have a staff of juniors, seniors, and college students working with me as well. 

I'm spending my days telling stories. Listening to their stories. Teaching. Laughing. Walking around campus together. Eating meals together. I'm a 45 year-old man sitting at a table with 19 and 20 year-old women, but except for the occasional reference that I make that soars over their heads, I honestly don't feel much older than them.

We're working together. Doing the same job. Trying to make the same difference in the lives of these girls. 

And it's not only through teaching that I stay in contact with young people. Last week at The Moth, I spent the evening with my twenty-something friend. Met his girlfriend. Hung out with some of his other friends, all younger than me.   

Keeping young people in your life is important.

I suspect that the reverse does not apply in this case. These younger people whose company I enjoy likely see me as older than they are. Much older in many cases.

I know this.

They know my life story. They know how long I have been teaching. They are aware of my writing career.  They understand the long journey I have taken to get to this place. They see the bits of gray hair and know that I was alive before the Internet even existed.   

I'm quite certain that the decades don't melt away as easily for them as they do for me.

But that's okay. It doesn't matter. When I spend time in the company of people who are one or two or three decades younger than me, those decades really do melt away for me. Before long, I see them as fellow human beings, occupying a space in my life like any other person, regardless of age.

It's a beautiful thing when you feel as close to a 10 year-old boy or a 20 year-old woman as you do to your 45 year-old friends. 

Recently, I played golf with three friends who are about my age. We had a great time together, but throughout the day, there were the occasional groans associated with getting older. Painful joints. Tired muscles. Expanding waist lines. Laments about a time when they could hit the ball farther and straighter.

I have no problems with the groans. I try to avoid them myself, and on that day, I honestly felt none of them. I play golf more often than these friends, so perhaps my body was better prepared for the rigors of the game.

I've also never hit the ball that far to begin with.

But I tried to imagine how I might feel if I was constantly in the company of friends and colleagues who lamented their advancing ages. Groaned about muscles and joints. 

I think I might start to feel old, too.

But it turns out that children and teens and even people in their 20's and 30's don't lament their age. They don't groan about their ailments.

This is a good thing.         

If you want to feel young, find a way to spend time in the company of people younger than yourself.