The Moth: The Promise

In November of last year, I told this story about my high school sweetheart at a Moth GrandSLAM in Brooklyn. I was lucky enough to have the story air on the Moth Radio Hour and their podcast a couple months later. I can't tell you what a honor and thrill that is.

I hear from listeners all the time about the stories that have aired on the radio and podcast - at least a few emails each week - but this is the story that people contact me about most often by a wide margin.

The Moth: The Great Stargazing Betrayal

On December 29, 2014, I took the stage at The Moth StorySLAM at The Bitter End in Manhattan to tell a story. The theme of the night was Rewards. I told a story about an evening of stargazing with my students that went terrible wrong. 

I finished in first place. 

Here a recording of the story I told that night.

You can find all of my stories on my YouTube channel. 

The Moth: Sex and Frozen Corn

The first gift that my daughter ever received was a stuffed ear of corn from our friend, Justine. It's been sitting on the corner of her bookshelf for the last six years. 

She knows that it was the first gift she ever received - given to her before she was even born - but she's never asked why someone chose corn in lieu of a teddy bear or a baby doll.

There is a reason. A good one. It's also one that Elysha and I have never explained to her, nor do we plan on explaining it anytime soon. 

The question is when? When do we tell Clara why a stuffed ear of corn made for the perfect first gift?

Watch this video of my Moth GrandSLAM winning story from earlier this year and you will better understand our predicament. Then offer your own suggestion about when we should tell our daughter this story. 

Resolution update: March 2015

Each month I post the progress of my New Year’s resolutions here as a means of holding myself accountable. The following are the results through the month of February.


1. Don’t die.

Didn’t even come close to dying.

2. Lose 20 pounds.

I remain just one pound down. At this pace, I will miss this goal by a lot. It’s mostly been my inability to get to the gym regularly in March due to illness and scheduling.

3. Do at least 100 push-ups and 100 sit-ups five days a week.

Done. I’ve added a plank every morning as well.

4. Stop drinking soda from two-liter bottles.

I didn’t drink soda from a two-liter bottle in March, and my soda consumption remains cut by well over half. I’m also drinking more water than ever before.    

5. Practice yoga at least five days a week.

I tried last week to restart my yoga routine after healing from an injury and  realized that I could barely remember it. I’ll be meeting with my yoga instructor in April, I hope.

6. Learn to cook three good meals for my wife.

No progress


7. Complete my sixth novel before the end of the summer 2015.

The book remains about half finished, and I am about to launch back into fiction, but for reasons that are complicated, I may actually be putting that half-finished novel aside temporarily and beginning a new one.

It’s crazy. I know  

8. Complete my seventh novel.

This book remains about half finished as well.

9. Sell one children’s book to a publisher.

I have three books written and ready to go. I have three new ideas that I plan to work on in 2015. We will submit one or more of these books to editors at some point soon.

10. Sell a memoir to a publisher.

The memoir is written and is being polished now.

11. Sell a book of essays to a publisher.

My book of essays did not sell, but the responses that we received from editors were exceptionally positive. In a few cases, it was not a pass as much as a request that the book be reorganized and written slightly differently than it is currently constituted. I will do so. Fiction is now my main focus, but this remains a priority in 2015.  

12. Complete a book proposal for a book on storytelling.

Progress continues.

13. Write a new screenplay.

I’m still revising my first screenplay based upon film agent’s notes. No progress on the new one.  

14. Write 50 pages of a new memoir about the years of 1991-1993.

I have 25 badly written pages for this memoir that must be transformed into 50 good pages in 2015. No progress yet.

15. Write a musical for a summer camp

Excellent progress. It’s moving along well.  

In addition, I completed revisions on the musical that my partner and I wrote last year. In the fall, it will be produced by a local theater company.

We also have interest in our first musical – a rock opera – from another local playhouse.



16. Publish at least one Op-Ed in a physical newspaper.

I published three more pieces in the Huffington Post last month.

How to be a Grownup

12 Things Teachers Think But Can’t Always Say to Parents

Why “Your Child is Not As Gifted As You Think” Is the Worst Thing That a Teacher Can Say

Again, this is not a physical newspaper. Writing pieces for physical newspapers is part of the plan to launch my next novel, so this may happen in the fall if not before.

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

No progress.

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

My first idea: Backing into a parking spot. I rightfully assume that anyone backing into a parking spot is a lunatic of the highest order. I shall spend a week backing into parking spots and see what wisdom I can glean.

I have not begun this experiment yet.

19. Build an author mailing list.

Third email sends today. Things are good. The job remains twofold:

  • Create engaging content that will keep readers interested.
  • Build my subscription base.

20. Build a new website for

Nearly finished. I will be migrating my blog and website over to the new website at some point in April.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you will open this blog one day in April and find an entirely new look. I hope you like. 


21. Produce a total of eight Speak Up storytelling events.

Two down and six to go. We have two more shows scheduled in April, at both Real Art Ways and Connecticut College, and we have two new partnerships with local venues that we will be announcing soon.

22. Deliver my fourth TED Talk.

I will be delivering a TED Talk at Boston University in three days. I have also pitched talks to two other TEDx events in 2015 and await work.



23. Build a website for Speak Up.

Done! It’s a single page on my new author website, and it’s not nearly as robust as we want it to eventually be, but Speak Up finally has a webpage where you can find dates of events, ticket information, an opportunity to sign up for the mailing list, and more. You can find our webpage at

24. Attend at least 10 Moth events with the intention of telling a story.

I performed in a Moth StorySLAM at Housing Works in New York and a GrandSLAM at The Somerville Theater in Somerville, MA, bringing my total number of Moth events in 2015 to four.  

25. Win at least two Moth StorySLAMs.

I’ve competed in one StorySLAM in March, receiving the two highest scores of the night from two judging teams (9.6 and 9.4) and the lowest score of the night (7.9, which is also the lowest score I have ever received) from the third team, which landed me in second place. I still cannot understand what happened, and when I think about it, I still get a little upset.

26. Win a Moth GrandSLAM.

Like the February GrandSLAM in NYC (and six before it), I placed second in the March GrandSLAM in Boston. I was chosen to tell from second position, which is an exceptionally difficult spot to win from, but I was still in the lead when the seventh storyteller took the stage and beat me by a tenth of a point.

I compete in another GrandSLAM in NYC this month.



27. Launch at least one podcast.

The MacBook Pro has arrived, complete with GarageBand, which was critical to my podcasting efforts.

I have crossed over to the dark side, at least in terms of podcasting.  

My website is nearly ready to receive podcasts.

This will happen soon.     


28. Pitch at least three new projects to two smart people.

I pitched one of my projects to one person in January. No further progress.

29. Host at least one Shakespeare Circle.

Nothing scheduled yet.


30. Enroll in the final class needed for certification as a high school English teacher.

No progress. 

31. Set a new personal best in golf.

There are rumors that the golf course may open in April. .  

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


Speak Up is two years old! It began with a snow day and a simple question to my wife.

Speak Up, the storytelling organization that my wife and I founded in 2013, is approaching it's two year anniversary. It was born on a snow day much like the one we experienced in the northeast earlier this week. 

My storytelling career began about five years ago with the discovery of The Moth’s podcast. A friend introduced it to me, and soon after, other friends began telling me that I should go to New York and tell a story. I’ve led a life filled with unusual moments and unfortunate disasters, so my friends thought The Moth would be perfect for me.

But taking the stage in New York and telling a story to 300 strangers was daunting to say the least. Frankly, I was afraid. So I assured my friends that I would go to a Moth StorySLAM someday but had no intention of ever doing so.

Then I had the idea of starting my own storytelling organization here in Hartford. I thought that telling stories in front of a handful of friends and family would be less intimidating than 300 hipster strangers in lower Manhattan. I was excited about this idea. I thought it could be something that Elysha and I did together. 

Then I didn’t do that, either.

Eventually, I couldn't look myself in the mirror. As daunting as it might be, I hated the idea of saying that I would do something and then not doing it. I resolved to go to New York, tell a story, and be done with it.  

On a hot July evening in 2011, Elysha and I went to New York. Packed into the Nuyorican Poets Café with 200 New Yorkers, I dropped my name in The Moth’s tote bag (always referred to as “the hat”), and began my storytelling career.

In truth, I dropped my name into the bag and immediately began praying that I wouldn’t be called. Putting my name into the hat at a Moth StorySLAM was good enough, I told myself. I tried. I could go home with my head held high.

And I thought my prayers were about to be answered. Nine storytellers had taken the stage, and my name had yet to be called. One more name would be drawn, and I would escape from New York unscathed.

Host Dan Kennedy opened the sheet of paper, stared intently at it for a moment, and then called my name. Except I didn’t write my name clearly, so he mispronounced it. I didn't move. If I sat very still, I thought, maybe they would pull another name, and I wouldn’t have to get up.

Then Elysha kicked me under the table. “That’s you,” she said. “Go!”  

I did. I took the stage and told my story. Dan Kennedy took a photo from the stage that night. This was my view as I told my story:


You can actually see me in this photograph. Left side near the wall. Black shirt. White graphic. Only guy with his hands not raised. Looking terrified.

This is the story that I told:


When the final scores were tallied, it was revealed that I had somehow won. 

Two years later, after in February 2013, I was home with Elysha. It was a snowing outside and school had been cancelled. We were sitting at the dining room table, pounding away on our laptops. Since that first night in July, I had competed in eight more StorySLAMs. I had three more wins under my belt. I was in the midst of a streak of six wins in a row and 11 our of 14. I had competed in two Moth GrandSLAMS. I had delivered two TED Talks and told stories for Literary Death Match and The Story Collider.

The Moth had changed my life. I felt like a real storyteller. A good storyteller. I was ready for a new challenge.

I looked up from my laptop. Looked across the table at Elysha and said, "You know, we should do that storytelling idea in Connecticut. Right?"

"Yeah," she said. "We should."

A friend had mentioned that Real Art Ways might be the perfect spot for a show, so on a whim, I called. I spoke to Will Wilkins, Real Art Ways’ Executive Director. "Well, it's snowing today," he said. "No one's here. Why don’t you come down now?"


I did. About an hour later, Speak Up (still without a name or any storytellers save myself) was born. Will had given us the date for our first show and suggested that we find a name for our organization as soon as possible. Good advice. That would come about a week later on a ride home from Elysha’s parents house. While brainstorming ideas, I said, “How about using an imperative. A command. Something like Speak Up?”

“That’s it,” Elysha said. “Speak Up.”

We had found our name. 


Our first show, in April of 2013, featured eight storytellers. All friends who we knew could tell a good story. We didn’t listen to their stories beforehand or work with storytellers back then (and thus had two stories about trips to Greece told back-to-back), so every story was as much of a surprise to us as the audience. That was fun. We’ve since learned that it makes for a better show when we take the time to listen to our storytellers’ stories and help them with their fine tuning. We’ve learned a lot in the three years that I have been telling stories, so we share this wisdom with our storytellers before they take the stage. 

When we arrived at Real Art Ways that night, the woman in charge asked us how many chairs to put out.

“Well, we have about eight storytellers,” Elysha said. “And they will all probably bring a guest. And we might get a few more people might come. So maybe 40?”

The woman laughed. “We’ll put out 90.”

Good thing she did. We had a standing room only crowd of about 125 people that first night, and we have been selling out shows ever since. There were about 250 people at our last show, and I didn’t know most of them. In those early days, our audiences were primarily our friends. Now some of our most devoted fans are people who I have never actually met.

We’ve produced 12 shows in the two years that we have been running Speak Up. We have established partnerships with The Mount in Lenox, Massachusetts, Kingswood Oxford School in West Hartford, and just this week, The Connecticut Historical Society. Speak Up will be featured at this year’s Connecticut Storytelling Festival. We run workshops for people who are interested in telling stories, and I have taught classes on storytelling in libraries, high schools, colleges, and universities, including most recently Perdue University and The University of Connecticut Law School.     

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I had no idea that all of this would happen when I peeked over my laptop and said to Elysha that “we should do that storytelling thing in Connecticut.” But our lives have changed completely and forever because of it.

It's a good reminder that the best way to start something is to start something. Think less. Move fast. Figure things out along the way. And find a good partner.

I meet far too many people with big dreams and grand ambitions who spend too much time worrying about how to make them happen instead of making them happen.

Move. Create forward momentum. Take a risk.

I have a lot of stories to tell. More than you could ever imagine. I suspect that Bill Murray would understand why.

Bill Murray on the Howard Stern show:

Howard Stern: "Who teaches you to tell a story? Is it something you are born with?"

Bill Murray: "No, I don't think you're born with it. You have to hear stories and you have to live stories. You have to have a bunch of experiences and be able to say 'Here's something that happened to me yesterday....' And if you can make people laugh by telling them what happened to you, then you are telling the story well. So that's what I learned in improv.... But you have to live to have the stories. You need the experiences.

I couldn’t agree with Bill Murray anymore.


The part of his answer that resonated the most with me was the idea that you can ask yourself what happened yesterday, and if it was the right kind of day and you choose the right moment from the day, you may find yourself with a great story.

I teach my storytelling students how to generate stories from their everyday lives, and while many of my former students have gone on to become accomplished storytellers who perform at shows like The Moth and Speak Up, the part of my workshop that so many people find most valuable is the training they receive in finding and nurturing stories from their own lives.

At the conclusion of a recent workshop, one of my students said, “I feel like I’m a more important person in the world now. I don’t see myself as living day to day anymore. I see my life as a series of stories inside one bigger story.”

I admittedly got a little weepy when she told me this.

Another storyteller recently said in regards to finding stories in her life:

“It’s like I can see the air now.”

Since I began storytelling a little more than three years ago, I have told more than 40 different stories on the stage. Only a handful of times have I repeated a story on the stage. Almost every time I take the stage at The Moth, Speak Up, or any other venue or show, I am telling a new story for the first (and quite possibly the last) time.

This is because my list of story ideas (kept on an Excel spreadsheet in an insanely organized and data-driven way) currently stands at 178.

My storytelling students and my fellow storytellers think that 178 is an impossible number. An insane number. They assume that most of the ideas will not result in good stories. Many think that I am simply throwing everything at the wall, hoping for something to stick. 

This is not the case.


One of the things I do in workshops is allow my students to randomly choose an idea from the list so they can watch me begin to craft the story onstage. It’s an awkward and difficult process for me, not having a plan of any kind before beginning to speak, but my students have found this extremely helpful when it comes to crafting their own stories. It’s the closest I can get to allowing my students into my brain to see how I work, and the process has been extremely well received (even though I kind of hate it). 

I’ve done this many times over the course of the past two years, and my students have never found an idea on my list that I wouldn’t make a good story.

I’ve also won 15 of the 26 Moth StorySLAMs in which I have competed over the last three years, and I’ve finished second in seven others. I’m not trying to brag but rather demonstrate that despite the large number of stories that I’ve told and that I have yet to tell, I’m not telling duds.

I’ve just got a lot of stories.

Part of the reason for this is my ability to recall my past, including my childhood, in great detail. I have a very good memory.

Part of the reason for this is the exceedingly unfortunate, unusual, and difficult life that I have led.  

My wife credits my long list of stories to the way that I view my life through the lens of story.

Regardless of how you view life, how well you can recall the past, or how eventful (or uneventful) your life has been so far, I believe that if you use the strategies that I teach and class and practice my exercises regularly, you will find a multitude of interesting stories in your life.

And when you find and cultivate these stories, even if you have no intention of every taking the stage to tell them, I think my former student is right:

You will feel like a more important part of this world. Your life will gain weight and heft. You will better understand the amount of gravity that you exert upon your environment and the people around you.

You need not be a storyteller to enjoy these blessings.

My story was featured on The Moth’s podcast this week. I still get goose bumps.

I was thrilled to learn that one of the stories that I told at a Moth StorySLAM in Boston last year was featured on their podcast this week. I’ve seen a much younger version of myself on The Moth’s homepage once before, but it’s very much like seeing one of my novels on a bookstore shelf.

I still can’t believe it.


Five years ago, I started listening to The Moth’s podcast after a friend recommended it to me. She thought that I might have stories to tell someday. I spent two years listening to the podcast, reveling in the stories told by people who I thought were gods.

I still do.

Three years ago, I went to New York and told my first story. I thought it would be my last story. I thought I was simply checking an item off my lifelong list of things to do.

Tell a story at The Moth. Move on.

Twenty-five StorySLAMs and 13 victories later, The Moth and storytelling have become as important to me as any of my creative endeavors. I’ve told stories in eight GrandSLAMs, two Main Stage shows, and my stories have been featured on the Moth Radio Hour twice. I’ve told stories for many other organizations since then, including This American Life, and my wife and I have launched our own storytelling organization in Connecticut.

Yet I still can’t believe that my story is on The Moth’s podcast again this week, alongside storytellers who I still think of as gods.

You don’t get to rub elbows with the gods very often. The Moth has given me the chance to do so routinely. I am fortunate enough to know some of the finest storytellers in the world through my work at The Moth. Truly some of the finest people who I have ever met. I have the opportunity to stand on the stage alongside giants and tell stories to the best audiences that a performer will ever know.

I still get goose bumps every time I do.

I got those same goose bumps upon seeing my face on The Moth’s homepage this week. It all started five years ago by listening to amazing stories piped into my ears.

This week my own story will be piped into people’s ears.

If it happened a thousand times, I still wouldn’t quite believe it.

I won a Moth StorySLAM, and that wasn’t the best part of the night. Seriously.

I won a Moth StorySLAM at The Oberon Theater in Cambridge on Tuesday night. I managed to win from first position, which isn’t easy.

I’ve won 13 Moth StorySLAMs in the last three years, but I’ve never won after having to go first. Few storytellers do. I was excited. Thrilled, even, But winning was not the best part of the night for me.

Given my extreme competitive nature, this is really saying something. 

Three of my friends joined me at The Oberon on Tuesday night, and two of them, Plato and Tom, put their names in the hat and were fortunate enough to take the stage and tell a story.

They performed brilliantly. They told great stories. Their stories were so good, in fact, that Plato finished in second place, just a few tenths of a point behind me, and Tom finished in third, a few tenths of a point behind Plato.


I was impressed with their performances. A little proud, even.

Both Plato and Tom began their storytelling careers at Speak Up after Elysha and I asked them to tell a story. Tom told a hilarious story about meeting his wife for the first time, and Plato has told a number of stories for us, including one at our very first show.

Last night was the first time they took the stage for The Moth. I suspect that it won’t be the last.

Plato and Tom are not my only friends who have taken the stage to tell a story. Since I began introducing my friends to storytelling (shortly after I began doing it myself), many of them have performed at Speak Up, and a handful have told stories at a Moth event.

I’ve also watched people who complete my storytelling workshop go on to tell stories at Speak Up and even compete in Moth StorySLAMs. Many of them assured me that they were taking my workshop for reasons other than performing and swore that they would never take the stage. Despite their initial protestations, a large number of them have gone on to tell stories for Speak Up, and a few have even ventured into New York and Boston and competed in Moth events as well.

People who never dreamed of standing on a stage and performing have become seasoned storytellers who can’t wait to tell their next story.

Introducing friends to something new, assisting them in honing their skills, and then watching them perform and compete is more rewarding than I would have ever expected. That’s how I felt on Tuesday night, watching Plato and Tom perform on stage.

In many ways, I was also returning favors.

Eight years ago, Tom bought a set of golf clubs for $10 at a garage sale, dropped them into my car on a snowy, December afternoon, and thereby launched my golfing career. Golf has become one of the greatest loves of my life. I’m still a terrible player, but I would play every day if I could. I’ve even written a memoir about the game. It’s not an exaggeration to say that Tom changed my life when he dropped those golf clubs into my car that day.

Back in 1999, Plato decided to take a chance on an inexperienced teacher, fresh out of college and rough around the edges, who many administrators viewed as a wild card. He hired me when others would not and thereby launched my teaching career. I have been teaching in that school ever since.

Our school was the place where my occasionally unorthodox teaching methods were embraced and my creativity was rewarded. I was permitted to become the teacher I am today thanks in large part to Plato’s leadership and guidance. It was also the place where I met my wife, Tom, and many of the closest friends.

My life would be very different had Plato not taken a chance on me that day.

Introducing them to storytelling and watching them compete for the first time was a small way of repaying them for all that they have done. It was a joy. It’s well documented that after the first person in a family graduated from college, others in the family, who never dreamed of attending college, will follow. Once the ice is broken and the impossible is made possible, people are willing to give it a try.

My success with storytelling has served a similar role for many of my friends. Once I started taking the stage, others have followed. It has been so much fun to watch.

Watching Tom and Plato perform so well on Tuesday night was truly reward enough. The fact that I won the slam was great, but honestly, it was icing on the cake.

Delicious icing. Satisfying icing. Well deserved icing. But still, not nearly as rewarding as watching Tom and Plato standing behind that microphone, under those bright lights, telling their story.

Resolution update: July 2014

In an effort to hold myself accountable, I post a list my New Year’s resolutions at the beginning of each month, along with their progress (or lack thereof).

1. Don’t die.


2. Lose ten pounds.

Six down and four to go.   

3. Do at least 100 push-ups and 100 sit-ups five days a week.


4. Launch at least one new podcast.

Author Out Loud, my first podcast, is still yet to launch (and therefore still not my first). Once we have that podcast running smoothly, we can think about adding a second podcast.

Progress so far: I found a much easier way to podcast that eliminates the need for much of the equipment and a producer. I would really like to start this month if I can get this website ready to receive.

5. Complete my sixth novel before the end of the summer.

Some progress. It’s more than half finished.

6. Complete my seventh novel.

Progress continues on this one as well. It’s possible that I’ll finish my seventh novel before I finish my sixth, which makes no sense. 

7. Sell one children’s book to a publisher.

Work continues on five manuscripts now. My writing camp generated many new ideas. Quite a few are good, I think. Sending at least one manuscript to my agent by the end of the month.

8. Complete a book proposal for my memoir.

The proposal for a memoir comprised of the 35 or so of my Moth stories is complete. I await news of its sale.

Work also continues on a memoir that focuses on the two years that encompassed my arrest and trial for a crime I did not commit. These two years also include an armed robbery, the onset of my post traumatic stress disorder, my period of homelessness, and the time I spent living with a family of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

It was a memorable two years.

I’m also writing another golf memoir about this season of golf. Since I haven’t played enough golf this summer, I may stretch it to encompass the entire year rather than just the summer.  

9. Host at least one Shakespeare Circle.

Nothing scheduled yet.   

10. Write a screenplay.

More than half finished. Still going well. I met with my screenwriter’s group last week. They approve of my progress so far. I’m over-writing, but I knew I would. Better to have too much than too little.   

11. Write at least three short stories.

I am still nearly finished with one short story.

I still hate this goal.

12. Write a collection of poetry using existing and newly written poems.

Done! The collection is complete and in the hands of my literary agent. I still await her response. She probably hates it.   

13. Become certified to teach high school English by completing one required class.

Still one class and $50 away from completion. My wife is actively looking for a place online where I can complete this relatively obscure requirement.

14. Publish at least one Op-Ed in a physical newspaper.

My first column in Seasons magazine published this month.


I also pitched a column idea to a major online magazine that is seriously being considered.  

I also published a piece in The Cook’s Cook, a magazine for aspiring food writers and recipe testers. You can read the April-May issue here.


None of these are Op-Eds. Please ignore that fact in the event I need to use these publishing credits in order to claim that I have completed my goal.

15. Attend at least 10 Moth events with the intention of telling a story.

I competed in a Moth GrandSLAM in Brooklyn last month, bringing my total number of Moth events to 10 and completing this goal.

I have plans for two more Moth events in August.

16. Win a Moth GrandSLAM.

I competed in the aforementioned GrandSLAM in July. Unfortunately, I had to tell my story first, which made it impossible for me to win, even if I could have won. But given my record of second place finishes, I probably wouldn’t have won.  

I have another GrandSLAM this month in Boston, and that might be my last chance at a championship for 2014. There may be one more GrandSLAM in New York before the end of the year, and if so, I will be entered based upon my previous StorySLAM victories.

But my chances for winning are becoming limited.  

17. Give yoga an honest try.

No progress.

18. De-clutter the basement.

Small progress made.

19. De-clutter the shed

No progress.

20. Conduct the ninth No-Longer-Annual A-Mattzing Race in 2014.

No progress.

21. Produce a total of 6 Speak Up storytelling events.

Our total stands at five after our most recent July show with additional shows planned for September and December at Real Art Ways and October at The Mount in Lennox, MA.

22. Deliver a TED Talk.

I delivered a TED Talk in March at Brooklyn Boulders in Somerville, MA.

I have also been contacted about speaking at two other TED conferences in the fall and am still awaiting word on my pitches.

23. Set a new personal best in golf.

I shot a 47 last week, which was one off my personal best. I have made enormous improvements in my game this month despite only having a limited amount of time to play.

I have a chance at this goal in August.  

24. Find a way to keep my wife home for one more year with our children.

We still don’t know how we will afford this, but we made the decision to keep Elysha at home for one more year with our son.

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


What were the three most important decisions of your life?

A recent Quora question asked, “What were the three most important decisions of your life?”

I’ve been debating this question for almost a month, and I have finally settled on three. While many decisions could have occupied these three spots, I decided to favor the toughest and most unlikely decisions of my life rather than the ones that were easy and obvious.

For example, deciding to marry Elysha is probably the most important decision of my life, but it was barely a decision. Who wouldn’t want to marry Elysha if given the chance? It was a no-brainer.

Instead, I found three extremely important decisions in my life that could have gone either way and changed the course of my life forever.

1. Maintaining my innocence when charged with grand larceny and embezzlement.

While being questioned about a crime that I did not commit, the police almost had me convinced to confess to the crime rather than risk a lengthy prison sentence. I spent a minute in a mop closet pondering that decision and ultimately decided to stick to the truth, but it was a close call. The police can apply a great deal of pressure in these moments, particularly when you are a 19 year-old kid without any parents, any money or an attorney.

The result was a brief period of homelessness, 18 months spent working 80 hours a week at two different jobs in order to pay a $25,000 attorney’s bill, a permanent case of post traumatic stress disorder as a result of an armed robbery, and a trial where I was found not guilty.

Had I confessed and accepted their plea deal, I could not have become a teacher. 

2. Choosing West Hartford Public Schools over Newington Public Schools.

In the summer of 1999, my hometown of Newington, CT had offered me a permanent position as third grade teacher in one of their elementary schools. I was asked for a day to consider their offer, but the wait time was merely perfunctory. I was taking the job.

During that 24 hour period, I received a call from a principal in West Hartford requesting an interview. Out of curiosity more than anything else, I agreed to speak to him that day. Three hours later, he had offered me a one year position covering a second grade teacher on maternity leave.

The permanent position in Newington would have been the wise and sensible choice. It was in my hometown and would provide me with long-term stability in a time when teaching jobs were hard to find. But I was impressed by the principal, his commitment to children, and his support for the arts. After much debate, I decided upon the one year position in West Hartford, and 16 years later, I am still teaching in the same school.


That decision changed my life. I met my wife while teaching at that school school. I met five of my closest friends while teaching, including the principal, who has since retired but remains one of my closest friends today. I met my son’s and daughter’s god parents while teaching at that school. Many of my former students are my children’s favorite babysitters, and one of my first students is our primary babysitter and like a member of the family.

I was given the freedom to create a classroom environment that placed reading, writing, and theater at its core, and I have developed a teaching philosophy that has led to much success in my field. I was named Teacher of the Year in West Hartford and was a finalist for Connecticut Teacher of the Year.

I started playing golf, a game that I love beyond all others, thanks to the friends I met at that school, and ultimately wrote a book about it. 

The school’s community, teachers, students, and parents, have become a second family to me. When my job and my future were threatened several years ago, they rallied around me in ways I could have never expected.

3. Saying yes when my best friend asked me to start a wedding DJ company with him.

In 1997, I was attending Trinity College and Saint Joseph's University fulltime, working on degrees in both English and elementary education. I was also managing a McDonald’s restaurant fulltime and tutoring students part-time at the college’s writing center. I was writing for the college’s newspaper. I was the Treasurer of the Student Senate.

I was busier than I had ever been in my life.

Then Bengi called and asked if I wanted to be a wedding DJ, even though we had no experience or equipment or knowledge of the industry, and I said yes.

Seventeen years later, we remain in business. I have entertained at more than 400 weddings in that time. The DJ company has provided me with much needed income through the lean times of my life.


I met one of my best friends while working as the DJ at his wedding, and that friendship has led to me becoming a Patriots season ticket holder. That same friend led me back into writing when I had given up hope on ever becoming a novelist and professional writer.

I would not have a writing career today had it not been for him. 

I unknowingly gained 17 years of public speaking experience, which allowed me to step into the world of storytelling and public speaking three years ago with unexpected ease and success. I won my first Moth StorySLAM in large part to the experience I gained as a DJ.


I have since competed in 24 Moth StorySLAMs in New York and Boston and won 12 of them. I’ve told stories for Main Stage shows and GrandSLAM championships and many other storytelling organizations in New York, Boston and Hartford. I would not be the storyteller and speaker I am today had I not worked for almost two decades as a wedding DJ.

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Telling stories for The Moth led to the founding of Speak Up, the Hartford-based storytelling organization that my wife and I founded last year. In a little over a year, we have produced eight sell out shows, launched a series of storytelling workshops, and have now been approached by outside venues, asking us to take our show on the road.


The DJ business also led to me becoming ordained as a minister. I have presided over almost 20 weddings, one baptism, and three baby naming ceremonies in that time.

I’d love to hear your three most important decisions if you’re willing to share. Post in the comment sections. Send me an email. Contact me through social media.

Moth victories are so much better with my septuagenarian hipster in-laws in attendance

On Monday night, I competed in a Moth StorySLAM at the Bitter End in New York City.

Joining me was my wife, a friend, and my in-laws, Barbara and Gerry.

I can’t tell you how happy I am that Barbara and Gerry were in attendance.

Barbara is in her late sixties. Gerry is in his early seventies. As I note their ages, I am astounded, as I always am when I reflect on how old they are.


Barbara and Gerry run an eBay business. They are both as proficient with computers and technology as anyone I know. Barbara is a savvy marketer, salesperson, and social media guru. Gerry’s photographs of their merchandise (shot in the studio that he built in their basement) are so good that clients have accused him of using stock photos of their merchandise rather than actual photos of the items they are selling.

These are two people in their seventh decade of life, running an online business that continues to support them and serves customers around the world.

But it shouldn’t be surprising, because despite their age, Barbara and Gerry live their lives like people half their age. When I started telling stories for The Moth three years ago, they were quick to make the trek to one of the Moth’s many venues to see me perform. They have attended many Moth events since then and have become enormous supporters, promoters, and fans  of The Moth, Speak Up and live storytelling in general.

Attending a StorySLAM means driving into the New York or Boston. Fighting traffic. Standing in a line for nearly an hour. Squeezing into a bar or bookstore amongst a standing-room-only crowd. Staying out late. Trying something new.

I have so many friends who think of these factors as barriers to attending a Moth event. Or anything new, different, challenging, or logistically complex.

In many ways, Barbara and Gerry live their lives like people 40 or 50 years their junior, while some of my friends in their thirties and forties are already living life like sedentary septuagenarians. 

Barbara and Gerry are the models of the kind of person I want to be at their age.

It’s also great to have them watch me tell a story and compete in a slam because it’s not something that my parents have or will ever see.

My mother passed away before I ever published a book or told a story onstage. And to be honest, even when I was growing up, my parents never attended any of my baseball games, basketball games, marching band competitions, track meets, Boy Scout camping trips, or anything else.

I was a district pole vaulting champion, and my mother never even knew that I was a pole vaulter. She thought that I was a long distance runner.

Since moving out of my home at 18, I have lived in more than 1o different homes and apartments. Nether my mother (when she was alive) nor my father have ever visited me once.

I’ll never understand why.

Having Barbara and Gerry watch me perform and compete doesn’t make up for the absence of my parents in my life, but it’s a taste of what could have been.

What should have been.

It’s a hint of what it’s like to have parents supporting my efforts and taking great pride in your accomplishments. Before I had my own children, it was easier to dismiss my parents absence from my own life. Rationalize it. Minimize it. Now that I have kids, that has become impossible. I can’t imagine what my parents were thinking. I can no longer fool myself into believing that it wasn’t a big deal.

It was a big deal. It’s still a big deal. Barbara and Gerry can’t replace my parents, but they offer me some of the things that I have missed over the years.

Their interest and investment in my life and what I do means so much.

I won Monday night’s StorySLAM, earning my first perfect 10 from one of the teams of judges. When I took the stage as the winner at the end of the night, my very first thought was of my wife and her parents, and how happy I was that they were there to see me perform and compete.

I’ve won 12 Moth StorySLAMs over the past three years, and while every victory is thrilling beyond belief, it’s always so much better when my wife and her parents are in attendance.


A therapist once told me that one of the reasons that I am so driven is to earn the attention of my parents, even though my mother is gone and my father will never offer the support that I may seek.

This may be true, but I hope not. I’d hate to think that I am driven by something I can never achieve. But there is probably a small part of me yearning for my parents to witness my success and celebrate my achievements, as impossible as that may be now.

Barbara and Gerry are not my parents, but they are a close second, and I felt incredibly blessed to see them wedged into that corner seat in The Bitter End on Monday night, watching me perform.

The Moth: Battle at Big Sky

The following is a story that I told at a Moth StorySLAM at Housing Works in New York City in 2013. A previous version of this story did not upload properly to YouTube and was only about three minutes long. 

No wonder no one watched it.  


The theme of the night was Interference. I told a story about my attempt to break up a fight outside my gym.

I finished in first place.

Three years ago, I dreamed of telling a story on a Moth stage. Today I am a storyteller. Life can change quickly if you give it a chance.

Three years ago today, I wrote a post asking for readers to vote on a story pitch that I had submitted to The Moth via their website.

I wrote:

The opportunity to tell a story for The Moth is a big deal to me. So if you have a moment, please click over to The Moth’s website and vote for my story (if you think it worthy) by clicking on the stars beside the story itself.  Rating my story pitch will also register one vote for me.

This represented my cowardly attempt to tell a story for The Moth. Even though I lived close enough to New York City to compete in a StorySLAM by simply dropping my name into a hat, I was desperately attempting to avoid taking the stage and being assigned a numerical score for my performance.

It’s amazing to see how quickly your life can change when you decide to face your fear. Less than a month after pitching that story on The Moth’s website, I decided to stop acting like a coward and went to New York City with my wife to tell a story.

When we arrived at the Nuyorican’s Poets Café, I placed my name in the hat and immediately prayed that it wouldn’t be drawn. When it was, I stayed in my seat for a moment, hoping that the host, Dan Kennedy, might become impatient and choose another name instead. Then Elysha told me to get out of my seat and on the stage.

I did. This is what I saw. 


I told a story about pole vaulting in high school. When the scores were tallied, I was astounded to discover that I had won.

I had become a storyteller.

This victory led me to my first GrandSLAM, where I competed against nine other StorySLAM winners. I placed third that night. I met two storytellers on that stage who I am proud to call my friends today.

My life has changed profoundly since the night I took that stage less than three years ago.

I have gone on to tell stories at 22 Moth StorySLAMs in New York and Boston. I have won 11 of them.

I’ve told stories at six Moth GrandSLAMs and placed a frustrating second in four of them.

I’ve told stories at two Moth Main Stage shows.

I’ve gone on to tell stories for other storytelling organizations like The Mouth, The Story Collider, Literary Death Match, and more. I’ve delivered talks at three TED conferences throughout New England. I’ve been hired to deliver speeches for a variety of reasons. 

Last year my wife and I founded Speak Up, a Hartford-based storytelling organization. Since then, we have produced six shows at Real Art Ways in Hartford. All have been sell outs.

We now teach storytelling workshops to people who want to become storytellers for a variety of reasons. Other venues throughout New England have reached out to us, asking us to consider bringing our show to them.

When someone asks me where I see myself in five years, I laugh. If you’re wiling to say yes to opportunities, as frightening or silly or impossible as they may seem, your life will change constantly.

The future will be impossible to predict. 

Three years ago, I was a guy who wanted to tell one story on one Moth stage. Someday. 

Today, storytelling has become an enormous part of my life.

It’s incredible to think that just three years ago, I was staring a website, asking friends and family to vote for my story, hoping that someone at The Moth would like my pitch enough to choose me.

Life can change fast if you give it a chance.

Upcoming appearances

On Saturday, May 31, I’ll be speaking at the Barnes & Noble at the Buckland Hills Mall in Manchester, CT at 2:00 PM. My agent will be with me, so if you have any questions for her, I’m sure that we could pester her with a few.


That same evening, Speak Up will be at Sedgwick Middle School in West Hartford, CT for a charity storytelling show. I’ll be telling a story about my high school days along with seven other brilliant storytellers.

Proceeds from the event help to send four middle school students to London this summer to compete in an international literature competition. Three are my former students, so I am thrilled to be able to help them

Tickers can be purchased here.


On Saturday, June 7, I’ll be teaching a workshop on publishing at the Mark Twain House. I’ll be discussing the path that a book travels from the first words written on the page to its first appearance in a bookshop. Including in the workshop will be the sale of the book, the author-editor relationship, the complexities of publicity and marketing, the finances of publishing and much more. Perfect for the curious reader or the fledgling writer.

Call: (860) 280-3130 for more information & ticketing or click here for tickets.

On Monday, June 30, I’ll be attending a Moth StorySLAM at The Bitter End in New York hoping to tell a story if the tote bag is kind. The theme of the night is Money.

On Saturday, July 5, I’ll be performing in The Liar Show at the Cornelia Street Café in New York.

At each show, four performers tell short personal stories, but  one of the storytellers is making it all up. The audience then interrogates the cast and exposes the liar to win a fabulous prize.

Information on the show and ticketing can be found here.


On Saturday, July 19, Speak Up returns to Real Art Ways. The theme of the show is Who’s the Boss? Tickets are not yet available, but mark your calendars. It is sure to be an excellent show!________________________________

On Monday, July 21, I’ll be competing in a Moth GrandSLAM at The Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn.

Tickets not yet available.

Storytellers are important, but it’s within the audience that you find the true beauty of storytelling.

As Elysha and I celebrate our first anniversary of Speak Up, our Hartford based storytelling organization, we have many reasons to be thankful.


Since May of last year, we have produced seven storytelling shows. We had about 150 people at our first show (about 100 more than we expected), and since we moved into a bigger space and began ticketing, all of of our shows have been sell outs. with most selling out a week before the door even open.

We’ve recently been contacted by outside venues who would like us to bring Speak Up to their audiences, which has been both surprising and thrilling.

We have made many new friends over the past year thanks to storytelling. Fans of our show who fill the seats, participants in our workshops, and the storytellers themselves, some experienced and most brand new, who have all come together to build this thriving community.

This has been the most surprising part of storytelling for me. When I took the stage for the first time at a Moth StorySLAM in July of 2011, I had no idea about the people who I would meet and the friends that I would make as a result of becoming a storyteller. In the past three years, I have gotten to know some amazing and accomplished people, and I am proud to call many of them my friends.


But it’s the people who unexpectedly reach out to me who often surprise me the most.

Last week, I told a story at a Moth StorySLAM at Housing Works in New York City.


Since then, almost a dozen people who were present in the audience that night have reached out to me via social media or email.

About half contacted me simply to compliment me on my story or tell me how much it meant to them. It was the story of my first kiss, but embedded within that story was also a story about bullying, which seemed to resonate with a lot of people.

Two others have seen me tell stories many times before and reached out to compliment this most recent performance but also discuss my overall success as a storyteller. One commented on how much she has gotten to know me just through the stories that she has heard onstage and on the radio and my YouTube channel.

Here was the most interesting part:

Two people who I don’t know reached out to criticize the story. Both were fairly gentle in their criticism but still offered pointed critiques.

One person who is “very familiar” with my work felt that last week’s story did not compare to others that he has heard in the past from me. He said that he’s always excited when my name is called at a StorySLAM but felt a little let down on Tuesday night by my story.

The other felt that my story was flawed in that I attempted to wedge the story of my first kiss and the story of bullying “into one space” and that it took away from both stories. “It should’ve been two separate stories,” he said. “Fix it.”

As bold as it may have been to offer such unsolicited critique, I think that both of these critics are right. My wife, who didn't hear the story before I left for New York (which almost never happens) agreed. After hearing the story in preparation for Speak Up, where I told it again, she commented that it wasn’t as tight as my typical story, and that it tried to do too much.

A friend who attended the slam with me told me that my story was slightly  amorphous. “An off night for you.”

Upon reflection, I think they all hit the nail on the head. In attempting to tell the story of my first kiss, which took place on stage during an elementary musical and was orchestrated by our vocal music teacher, I took my audience off that stage and down a dark path for a good portion of the story instead of keeping them in the moment that mattered most.

I felt it, too. As I build my story, I anticipate moments of audience reaction, and I’m usually correct in most of my predictions. But when I was onstage that night, the audience reacted in ways I did not expect. As I made my way back to my seat, I knew that something wasn’t quite right. Though my scores put me in a tie for first place after seven storytellers, the eighth storyteller edged me out and the tenth storyteller crushed us both.

In truth, the tenth storyteller would’ve beaten anyone that night. She was masterful. One of the best stories I’ve ever heard.

But my friend was right. It was an off night for me. Flawed construction doomed my story.

But here’s the beauty of storytelling:

Even with its flawed construction, more than half a dozen people reached out to me because my story meant something to them. Warts and all.

A couple more liked it enough to comment on my storytelling career.

And two people apparently take storytelling seriously enough to offer salient criticism of my story.

In a world where time is precious and no one seems to have enough of it, these people took the time to email and Tweet their opinions to me, and in the end, no one was mean-spirited, hurtful or cruel.

How often can you say that about the Internet?

So I will take my critics advice and “fix” my story. Break it into two parts and retell each part someday at a future slam. I’m grateful to these critics for their sage wisdom, but I’m especially grateful to storytelling audiences, at The Moth, Speak Up and all the other places where I tell stories, for being present, willing, attentive, and sometimes, incredibly generous with their words and their time.

15 thoughts from a Moth StorySLAM

I told a story on Wednesday night at The Moth’s StorySLAM at Housing Works in New York City. The theme of the night was Secrets. I was lucky enough to win with a childhood story about discovering that Santa Claus wasn’t real (and uncovering an even worse secret as a result). image

Here are some thoughts from the night:

1. I have been fortunate enough to win 11 Moth StorySLAMs since 2012. It never gets any less exciting to win, even knowing that so many factors (in addition to your actual performance) play a role in determining who finishes first.

Winning requires a great deal of luck.

Even so, it’s always a thrill.

That said, it’s also a little bit disappointing when my wife is not in the audience when I win, as was the case on Wednesday night. I went to the slam alone, and though I have many Moth friends to keep me company, it’s never the same when she’s not by my side.

2. Two storytellers approached me after the show to comment on the double arc in my story. I was aware of the double arc (and was worried that it might confuse the audience) but had no idea that anyone else would notice. It’s incredible to be around people who understand your craft at least as well as you do and probably better.

3. At the end of a StorySLAM, before the final scores are announced, the storytellers whose names weren’t drawn from the hat take the stage and tell the first line of their story. I hate this part because I always hear amazing opening lines that make me want to hear the rest of their stories, as was the case on Wednesday night. I’m still thinking of Nathaniel Bates’ opening line and wishing that I had heard his story (and relieved that I didn’t have to compete against it).

4. I almost never have a great first line to a story. I usually open my story with my age at the time of the story and my location. I think it’s important to ground the audience in your experience as quickly as possible. Let them begin to formulate images in their mind immediately. That said, I love a great opening line and wish I had them more often.

5. Moth audiences are the best. One storyteller lost her place in the middle of her story and suffered through a painfully prolonged pause, longer than any I’ve heard or seen before. I thought she might just step off the stage and abandon the story at one point, but the audience rallied her spirits and kept her going to the finish. It was a beautiful thing.

6. A distinct advantage to not memorizing your story is that you will never find yourself struggling for the next sentence and will probably never suffer from the pregnant pause. You lived the moment, so it’s not as if you’re going to forget what happened, but it’s easy to forget a memorized line.

Not memorizing allows you to edit your story while onstage, which I did a lot on Wednesday night. I was forced to drop two entire sections of the story for the sake of time and found a much better ending sentence than the one I had originally planned. None of these “in the moment” revisions would be possible had I memorized my story.

7. That said, if you actually memorize your story, or come close to memorizing it, you’ll always know how long it is. I never know. “It feels like five minutes,” is as close as I often get to knowing before I take the stage. Thankfully, my estimate is usually close, and my wife will time me for GrandSLAMs and other, more important shows when people are depending on me to be as close to perfect as possible. On Wednesday night, my estimate was not close. I probably had an 8 or 9 minute story when I took the stage. It required a lot of quick thinking. Not fun. Not memorizing your story is a bit like walking a high wire at times.

8. I don’t write my stories down, either. When I write a story down, it doesn’t sound like me anymore. I lose my speaking voice and end up sounding formal and academic. But writing my stories down would probably help with timing, too, and most of my favorite storytellers (people far better than me) always write their stories.

9. The woman sitting in front of me who shushed the two idiot women sitting to our left at least three times throughout the night was the true hero of the slam. I’ve never seen audience members engaged in full blown conversations in the middle of a storyteller’s performance before.

10.. It’s become impossible to leave your backpack unattended in a public space anymore without looking like a terrorist. I nearly went onstage last night with the damn thing.

11. Parking in SoHo is amazing. Where else in New York can I always find a parking spot in front of my destination?

12. Two strangers hugged me after the show. Didn’t say a word. Just hugged me and walked away. Independently of each other. It was a little strange but beautiful, too. Storytelling is amazing.

13. A female storyteller told a hilarious story about her propensity for flatulence that I will never forget. I have not laughed so hard in a long time. Though I know that certain people may have been turned off by this kind of story (including the two idiot women to my left who said as much), those people suck and wouldn’t know the first thing about audacity, honesty and courage.

14. The importance of a great host cannot be overstated. It makes the storyteller’s job so much easier. Dan Kennedy manages to keep the audience laughing and engaged throughout the night through the use of tiny slips of nearly indiscernible scribbling that he somehow transforms into stories themselves. He’s a master in the art of hosting.

15. Storyteller and Moth host David Crabb taught me that whenever I am faced with danger or fear, I should tell people not to worry by letting them know that “I’m a storyteller.”

I don’t know if this will work, but it will make me feel good. And stupid.