Speak Up Storytelling #16: Monica Cleveland

Episode #16 of Speak Up Storytelling is now available for your listening pleasure. 

On this week's episode, Elysha and I talk about finding excellent stories in your everyday life using my strategy "Homework for Life." Specifically, they discuss how storytellers can sometimes be in the middle of a story and not even know it.

Then we listen to Monica Cleveland's story about a long, silent date, followed by commentary and critique, including:

  1. Inhabiting your story
  2. The B-A-b-C structure of storytelling
  3. Preserving surprise via misdirection
  4. Silence in storytelling
  5. Choosing the appropriate amount of description for a story

Then we answer listener questions about storytelling for children and handling stories that risk alienating an audience.

Lastly, we each offer a recommendation. 

If you haven't subscribed to the podcast in Apple podcasts (or wherever you receive your podcasts), please do. And if you're not one of the 60 or so people to rate and/or review the podcast in Apple Podcasts (who are the best people ever), we would love it if you did.

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

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Speak Up Storytelling #15: Roquita Johnson

Episode #15 of Speak Up Storytelling is now available for your listening pleasure.

Elysha Dicks and I talk about finding excellent stories in your everyday life using my strategy "Homework for Life," including moments that storytellers see but non-storytellers might not. 

Then we listen to Roquita Johnson's story about finding her calling, followed by commentary and critique, including:

  1. The components of an especially effective beginning to a story

  2. Outstanding use of dialogue in stories

  3. Variations in tonality

  4. "Seeing" your story

  5. The best moments to add description to a story

  6. Preserving surprise in a story

Then we answer listener questions about becoming emotional while telling a story, the past and present tense, and how to pitch a story to Speak Up.  

Lastly, we each offer a recommendation. 

If you haven't subscribed to the podcast in Apple podcasts (or wherever you receive your podcasts), please do. And if you're not one of the 60 or so people to rate and/or review the podcast in Apple Podcasts (who are the best people ever), we would love it if you did.

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

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Speak Up Storytelling #10: Kristin Budde

Episode #10 of Speak Up Storytelling is now ready for your listening pleasure.

On this week's episode, we talk about finding and crafting stories in your everyday life using my strategy "Homework for Life." I describe how searching for stories in your present day life can unearth moments from the past that you can't believe that you've forgotten. We also discuss how not every storyworthy moment needs to be a full story in order to be useful. 

Next, we listen to a story by Kristin Budde about a day of doctoring gone wrong. Then Elysha and I discuss the strengths of his fantastic story as well as suggestions for improvement.

Finally, we answer a listener question about our marriage and the rules that I establish in my new book Storyworthy: Engage, Teach, Persuade, and Change Your Life Through the Power of Storytelling

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

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

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Speak Up Storytelling #7: Special Storyworthy book launch episode

Episode #7 of Speak Up Storytelling is now ready for your listening pleasure.

This week's special episode features part 2 of the live audio from the book launch for Storyworthy: Engage, Teach, Persuade, and Change Your Life Through the Power of Storytelling.

In this episode, you'll hear me tell two BRAND NEW stories, never before told at Speak Up (and two never before told on any stage anywhere). followed by short lessons on the finding and crafting of stories. 

This episode also includes the question and answer session following the stories, and best of all, features Elysha playing the ukulele and singing publicly for the first time! 

If you haven't subscribed to the podcast in Apple podcasts (or wherever you receive your podcasts), please do. And if you're not one of the 30 or so people to rate the podcast and 20 to review it in Apple Podcasts (who are the best people ever), we would love it if you did.

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

It also makes Elysha smile. Isn't that incentive enough?

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Speak Up Storytelling #6: Special Storyworthy book launch episode

Episode #6 of Speak Up Storytelling is now ready for your listening pleasure.

This week's special episode features live audio from the book launch for Storyworthy: Engage, Teach, Persuade, and Change Your Life Through the Power of Storytelling.

In this episode, you'll hear me tell three BRAND NEW stories, never before told at Speak Up (and two never before told on any stage anywhere). followed by short lessons on the finding and crafting of stories. 

Next week we'll feature the second half of this book launch event, including two more BRAND NEW stories, Elysha's debut performance on ukulele, and the question-and-answer session from the evening.  

If you haven't subscribed to the podcast in Apple podcasts (or wherever you receive your podcasts), please do. And if you're not one of the 30 or so people to rate the podcast and 20 to review it in Apple Podcasts (who are the best people ever), we would love it if you did.

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

It also makes Elysha smile. Isn't that incentive enough?

Speak Up Storytelling #5: Renata Sancken

Episode #5 of Speak Up Storytelling is now ready for your listening pleasure.

On this week's episode, we talk about finding and crafting stories in your everyday life using my strategy "Homework for Life." I describe how I discovered two important things about myself that apparently everyone else already knew. 

Next, we listen to a hilarious story by Renata Sancken about ghost hunting in the south. Then Elysha and I discuss the strengths of his fantastic story as well as suggestions for improvement.

Finally, we answer a listener question about telling a good anecdote, and we each make a recommendation.  

If you haven't subscribed to the podcast in Apple podcasts (or wherever you receive your podcasts), please do. And if you're not one of the 15 or so people to rate the podcast and 11 to review it in Apple Podcasts (who are the best people ever), we would love it if you did.

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

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A celebration of so much more than just a book

On Saturday night, I took the stage at the release party for Storyworthy: Engage, Teach, Persuade, and Change Your Life Through the Power of Storytelling, and told five brand new stories to an audience of more than 200 friends and family.

It was quite a night. 

My friend, storyteller, and producer Erin Barker once told me never to produce a show and perform in that same show. I've been violating her rule ever since launching Speak Up five years ago, but there have been nights when I fully understood what she meant. Preparing to perform while managing the multitude of problems that can occur in the process of producing a show can be challenging.

So it shouldn't have been surprising that being the only storyteller of the night, telling five BRAND NEW stories in addition to a brief lesson after each story, is extremely difficult and mentally taxing. I've done solo shows before, many times, but never before had I taken the stage with completely new material. Stories Elysha had never even heard before. 

It was a lot to hold in my head. 

Thankfully, once I stood behind that microphone, everything quieted in my mind and I knew exactly what to do. The stories were there, just waiting for me to begin telling. 

Happily, I wasn't the only performer that evening. Andrew Mayo of Should Coulda Woulda opened the show with a reconfiguration of his band consisting of three of my former students (and his children), the parent of a former student, and the siblings of a former student. 

They were brilliant. The perfect way to begin the night. 

But the highlight of the night came when Elysha took the stage in the second half of the show and played her ukulele and sang in public for the first time.

The story that I told just before she performed was about the months following a brutal armed robbery. I was battling post-traumatic stress disorder at the time but didn't know it. I was clawing my way through life, not sleeping or eating, and oddly not able to pass from one room to another without suffering incredible fear and mortal dread. 

Then one night I found myself standing before an iron door at the bottom of a dark stairwell in an abandoned building in Brockton, MA, wondering if I could find the strength to walk through that door to the room on the other side.

I was there to compete in an underground arm wrestling tournament (crazy, I know) with the hopes of winning some money and taking one step closer to paying off a $25,000 legal bill after being arrested for a crime I did not commit. 

I found the courage to do the hard thing that night. The impossible thing, really. That was the hardest doorway I've ever walked through in my life. And even though I would continue to suffer from PTSD for the rest of my life, that doorway in the basement of that building has made every doorway since so much easier to step through. 

I wanted the audience to understand the value of doing the hard thing. I wanted them to put aside any fears that they might have. I wanted their dreams of someday to be dreams of today. I wanted them to understand that every hard, frightening, seemingly impossible thing that I have done in my life has always yielded the greatest results. 

I was terrified about taking the stage for the first time at a Moth StorySLAM in July of 2011 and telling my first story. But doing so changed my life. 

So I asked Elysha to perform for the first time that night to show people what the hard, frightening thing looks like. She's only been playing ukulele since February, and she's never sung in public or taken singing lessons. It was hard for her. Frightening. Yet she stepped through that door and was brilliant. 

Elysha performed Elvis's "Can't Help Falling in Love," and during the final chorus, the audience joined her in singing. When the song was over, everyone leapt to their feet in the loudest applause of the evening.  

I was so proud of her. I still am. 

It was a wonderful night for everyone involved. I can't thank everyone enough for the support.

We recorded the evening and will release the audio in two parts as episodes for upcoming Speak Up Storytelling podcasts so that you can hear the stories and the lessons and Elysha and everything else.

Speak Up Storytelling #4

Episode #4 of Speak Up Storytelling is now ready for your listening pleasure.

On this week's episode, we talk about finding and crafting stories in your everyday life using my strategy "Homework for Life." 

I share an important moment in from my life that Elysha had never heard before (and I had forgotten until just recently). 

Next, we listen to the story by Sam Carley about a hilarious and uncomfortable bus ride across an Indian desert with his new love while desperately needing to pee. Then Elysha and I discuss the strengths of his fantastic story as well as suggestions for improvement.

Finally, we answer a listener questions about storytelling and dating, and we each make a recommendation.  

If you haven't subscribed to the podcast in Apple podcasts (or wherever you receive your podcasts), please do. And if you're not one of the 25 people to rate the podcast and 11 to review it in Apple Podcasts (who are the best people ever), we would love it if you did.

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

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Speak Up Storytelling #3: Mansoor Basha

Episode #3 of Speak Up Storytelling is now ready for your listening pleasure. 

On this week's episode, we talk about finding and crafting stories in your everyday life using my strategy "Homework for Life." 

Elysha gets a little annoyed with the moment that I share. 

Next, we listen to the incredible story by Mansoor Basha about the 1990 invasion of Kuwait by Iraq and it's echoes years later. Then Elysha and I discuss the strengths of his fantastic story as well as suggestions for improvement.

Finally, we answer listener questions about telling a story at The Moth and humor in storytelling, and we each make a recommendation.  

If you haven't subscribed to the podcast in Apple podcasts (or wherever you receive your podcasts), please do. And if you're not one of the 17 people to rate the podcast and 5 to review it in Apple Podcasts (who are the best people ever), we would love it if you did.

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

Our first review, by the way, came from a woman named Kate who is my former third grade student, Elysha's former fifth grade student, our former babysitter, and now a teacher beginning her career in the same school where Elysha began her career. 

Remarkable how your former students can sometimes remain a part of your life long after they have left your classroom. 

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Someone wrote a song about me! About me!

Spotify recently added podcasts to its offerings. Wondering if my podcast, Boy vs. Girl, had been added, I asked Alexa, our Amazon Echo, to play Boy vs. Girl.

She told me that she couldn't find it on Spotify.

Then I asked her to play "Matthew Dicks," hoping it might pick up my name as one of the hosts of the podcast. 

"Playing Matthew Dicks on Spotify."

Then Spotify began playing a song about me

You can imagine my shock. Also my glee. 

It's a song produced by the Michael J. Epstein Memorial Library in conjunction with a TEDx Talk I gave in Somerville back in 2014 about the importance of saying yes.

I had no idea it existed. I was fairly exuberant about its existence. Elysha was also exuberant but became less so as I continued to play the song and express my excitement, pride, and lust for the tune.

I may have become insufferable in the span of about 15 minutes.

Still, a song about me! Mistakenly discovered on Spotify! I've said it before, and I'll say it again:

When you put things out into the world (in this case, a TEDx Talk), you never know what will come back to you. 

Caught in the Middle: Our world premier!

Caught in the Middle is a contemporary musical that journeys through a day in the life of middle school children. Touching on their, teachers, home work, lunch, "going out", bullying, friendship, and resolution. Don't miss the world premier of this wonderful show. Tickets will be available at the door. Or email vculligan@att.net to reserve at will call. Payment will be accepted at the door.

"Caught in the Middle"
March 18 & 19 at 7:00pm
March 20 at 4:00pm
Tickets: $12.00 adults, $6.00 students
Saint James Episcopal Church
19 Walden Street, West Hartford

Boy vs. Girl: Episode 15 - Boy bands, men's grooming, and size matters

In this week's episode, Rachel and I discuss boy bands, men's grooming, and the age old question about size mattering.

You can listen here or - better yet - subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store or wherever you get your podcasts.

And if you like the show, please consider leaving a review on iTunes. It helps readers find the show, and it makes me feel even better about myself.

Boy vs. Girl: Episode 13 - Disney Princesses, Modern Day Uniforms & Tighty Whities

In this week's episode, Rachel and I discuss the state of Disney princesses, modern day uniforms, and the mystery behind the construction of men's underwear. 

You can listen here or - better yet - subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store or wherever you get your podcasts.

And if you like the show, please consider leaving a review on iTunes. It helps readers find the show, and it makes me feel even better about myself.

I won’t be reading my novel to my children. For a damn good reason.

My son asked me to read my novel, Unexpectedly, Milo, to him.

"Too long," I told him. "No pictures. Let’s find something else."

It also has an awkward and explicit sex scene in it (which I didn't bother to mention), so I think he'll be reading that one on his own some day.

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For almost a day, I almost thought of myself as an honest-to-goodness author. Then they took all the books away.

On Wednesday afternoon, I walked into my local Stop & Shop to pick up a few things. I was feeling grumpy for a number of reasons (some legitimate) and plowing through the aisles like I wanted to hunt down and kill someone.

My local Stop & Shop has a large, wide, well stocked book aisle, placed gloriously in the center of the store.  Ever since 2009, when I published my first novel, I have walked down this aisle every time I entered the store, hoping to one day spot one of my books on the shelves.

As a result of my especially foul mood, I didn’t spend the usual minute or two staring at the books in this aisle. For the first time in a long time, I walked up the magazine side of the aisle, head down, mind on other things, ignoring the books entirely.

But then I stopped short. Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted it. My book. Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend, on the shelf, flanked by two books that I had read and loved.

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I couldn’t believe it. I stared at it from across the aisle with my mouth hanging open.

Days later, I still can’t believe it.

My books can be found in bookstores throughout the country. I find my novels in independent bookstores and big box stores like Barnes & Noble all the time. Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend has been translated into more than 20 languages and can be found worldwide in more than three dozen countries. Readers send me photos of my books on the shelves in stores as far away as Australia, South Africa and Southeast Asia. They find my books in airports, museums and retailers like Target.

I am very fortunate. If you want a copy of any of my books, they are not too hard to find.

But until Wednesday, I had never seen my book in my local grocery store, and for some reason, this was a big deal to me.

As the author of three novels and a fourth on the way, I have yet to feel like I’ve arrived. Despite the success that I have enjoyed, I continue to feel like an outsider. A rookie. An interloper. I continue to worry that every book will be my last. I fear that readers and publishers will soon discover that I am a fraud. A trickster. Someone who has gotten lucky a few times but lacks the literary chops for a sustained career.

I can’t imagine not feeling like this. Perhaps it’s a good thing.

But seeing my book on the grocery store shelf was something special for me. It’s the place where I see books being sold most often. It’s the place where I stop most frequently to see who is on top. Which books are selling. Which authors are worthy of these prized spots.

To find my book on this shelf was a sliver of validation that I might actually make it as an author someday.

I went back the next day because my bank also happens to be inside the grocery store. After making my deposit, I headed over to the book aisle to enjoy another glimpse of my book in all its glory. Instead, I discovered that the once-glorious book aisle at the center of the store was gone. Just one day after finally finding my book on its shelves, all the books were gone. The shelves were gone. The entire aisle was in rubble.

I turned to an employee and asked, “What happened to all the books?”

“Oh,” she said. “They’re remodeling the whole store. I think they’ll be back in about a month. At the end of aisle 8, I think.”

The end of aisle 8. No longer in the epicenter of the store. No more wide aisle. No more expansive selection.

Just like that, my book and its shelf were gone.

So much for the validation.

Bare-breasted women are perfectly fine but Dicks was offensive?

Though my most recent novel, MEMOIRS OF AN IMAGINARY FRIEND,  is published in England (and doing quite well), I’ve never had the pleasure of visiting the country.

But it has come to my attention (through its publisher's recent defense) that The Sun, a popular British tabloid newspaper, publishes large, color photographs of topless women on Page 3 (so ubiquitous that it is routinely capitalized) every day.

When I say popular, I mean popular. The Sun has the ninth-largest circulation of any newspaper in the world and the largest circulation of any daily newspaper in the United Kingdom.

Other interesting facts about Page 3:

  • After polling its readers, the Sun also instituted a policy of only featuring models with natural breasts.
  • Up until 2003, The Sun could legally publish photographs of 16 and 17-year old girls.
  • The Sun also has an official Page 3 website, Page3.com, which is one of the most trafficked websites in all of the United Kingdom.

After reading all this, I am confounded.

This the same country where I was required to change my last name because my publisher feared that Dicks would be considered too offensive.

Bare-breasted women intermingled with the important news of the day is apparently just fine with British audiences, but a book with the word Dicks on it, even if it’s clearly a last name, would be too much for them to bear.

I don’t pretend to understand the British psyche, but I’m also not sure if it’s even possible to understand.

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I understand your pain, Beaver College.

Beaver College, in an attempt to eliminate ridicule and boost enrollment, changed its name in 2001 to Arcadia University.

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At the time of the name change, University President Bette Landman said that the old name “too often elicits ridicule in the form of derogatory remarks pertaining to the rodent, the TV show Leave It to Beaver and the vulgar reference to the female anatomy.”

The problems with the name worsened with the rise of the Internet, as many filters intended to screen out sexually explicit material blocked access to the Beaver College website.

I understand this dilemma. While it does not happen often, my emails are occasionally captured by spam filters because of my last name.

Always looking for a means of turning a negative into a positive, I have occasionally used this last-name-spam-filter excuse in order to garner forgiveness and even sympathy from someone who I have forgotten to email or reply to.