I was so angry at my wife, and then I wasn't.

I was speaking at an event a few months ago. A fairly prestigious event.

I wasn’t wearing a tie, and I was still wearing jeans and sneakers, but I'd put a jacket on over my tee shirt, so you know it was a big deal.

Just prior to taking the stage, the speaker before me said some things that I really didn’t like. He said some things that Elysha Dicks - who was sitting beside me - really didn’t like, either. He said some things that I suspect a lot of people in the room really didn’t like.

Not only were his opinions offensive and wrongheaded, but worse, rather than praising, he was punching.

Rather than expressing support for an institution by highlighting it’s benefits, successes, and esteemed record, he was attacking an adjacent institution that both didn’t deserved to be attacked and also wasn’t represented by anyone that night who could defend it.

It was a sucky, stupid, cowardly thing to do.

I was seething.

Then Elysha took my hand and whispered, “Don’t.”

That was all she said, but I knew exactly what she meant. Even though I had a prepared speech with stories to tell and a message to be delivered, she knew full well how simple it would be for me to reshape my talk onstage in order to either defend an institution in need of defense or - even better - attack this man for his stupidity and cowardice.

In fact, I could probably still do my assigned job very well while also blasting this terrible man and his terrible thoughts.

It would be easy.

I could switch stories. Reframe moments. Insert new lines or anecdotes. Lean stories in a certain direction. Alter my between-story banter. As a speaker, I’m flexible enough to be able to change things on the fly without much effort and still be effective.

I do it all the time. The audience would never even know that I was changing my speech. I could still sound just as prepared as I would be if I was sticking to my prepared remarks.

I could both perform my job at a high level while simultaneously making it clear to this man how stupid, nearsighted, and unfair his remarks had been.

And I was angry at Elysha for thinking that I would ever do such a thing.

This was a prestigious event, celebrating an institution deserving of many accolades. An institution that I greatly respected. I was honored to be speaking. Thrilled with the opportunity to entertain and sing the praises of this worthy place and the people who make it possible.

Did she really think I would dishonor these people by turning my speech into an assault on the previous speaker? Did she really think I was that selfish and stupid?

I was so angry. For about three seconds.

Then I realized:

  1. She knows I could do it. She knows I’m perfectly capable to verbally assaulting this man while still getting the job done. I might even be able to do so in such a way that only he would know what I was doing. She believes in me.

  2. She knows that I’m also the kind of guy who might just do it. She doesn’t think of me as some staid, perpetually appropriate, middle-of-the-road guy. She knows I have the courage and integrity to stand up for the little guy, even when the moment might not be right. She thinks I’m a rebel.

  3. She’s not entirely wrong. While tonight might be too prestigious and too important to go on the offensive, there are other times when I absolutely would.

In short, Elysha knows me. Believes in me. Even protects me from myself when she thinks it might be needed.

My anger was gone. I was joyous. Ebullient. Filled with appreciation and love.

Later, she stopped me from writing to this stupid man, explaining that my time is too valuable to waste my thoughts on surely deaf ears.

She was right about that, too.

I’m a very lucky man.

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Speak Up Storytelling: Matthew Dicks

On episode #47 of the Speak Up Storytelling podcast, Matthew and Elysha Dicks talk storytelling!

In our followup segment, we pass on some advice about computer screens from a listener and an unexpected benefit of Homework for Life from another. Then we solicit some suggestions and advice on publicizing my next novel, Twenty-one Truths About Love 

Then Elysha departs and we listen to my story about trying to rent a car to Boca Raton with an expired driver's license.

After listening, I discuss:

  1. A variety of strategies for shortening and elongating stories

  2. Effective places to begin stories

  3. Dealing with facts too good to be true

  4. Reasons to break my own rules

  5. Identifying and enhancing surprise  

LINKS

Purchase Storyworthy: Engage, Teach, Persuade, and Change Your Life Through the Power of Storytelling

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

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

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

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

Subscribe to the Speak Up newsletter: 
http://www.matthewdicks.com/subscribe-speak-up

Speak Up logo.png

I'm no scrub.

I’m driving somewhere when my phone rings.

It’s Elysha.

She’s calling to tell me that TLC’s “No Scrubs” is playing on the radio. She and the kids are listening to it. She tells me that she hasn’t heard the song in a long time. Then she says, “You’re the exact opposite of a scrub.”

That’s what she called to tell me. I’m no scrub.

And I kind of loved it.

That, my friends, is true love.

The complexities of baby naming, and some very bad baby naming decisions

I met a woman in Iowa last year who has five brothers and one sister. Her brothers are all named after Biblical characters whose names begin with the letter J:

James, John, Jesse, Jude, and Joshua.

Oddly no Joseph. Also no Jesus, though I suppose that might have set too high a bar for the poor kid. Job might’ve made for an interesting name, too, but perhaps her parents were ready to use all of those names if any additional boys were eventually added to the family.

Her sister's name is Anne. Named after their grandmother.

The woman who I met is named Amanda. When she was born, her parents hadn't yet chosen a name for her, so they asked a random mother in an adjacent hospital room what she had just named her newborn. The woman said, "Amy," so Amanda's parents named their newborn Amy, too. But because they thought that Amy sounded like a nickname and wouldn’t be professional enough for a possible future CEO, they officially named her Amanda but called her Amy.

When Amanda/Amy went to kindergarten, there was already an Amy in her class, so her teacher told her that she needed to be known as Amanda at school. So Amanda/Amy was Amy at home and Amanda in the classroom, which led to people occasionally think that Amy and Amanda were two different people. Amanda/Amy would occasionally be told things like, “Hey! I heard your sister Amanda did well in the science fair!”

“I’m Amanda,” she would say. “I did well.”

“Then who is Amy?” the confused person would ask.

It’s kind of crazy that Amanda’s parents invested such time and thought into the naming of six of their children but allowed the seventh to essentially be named by the person who happened to be occupying the room next door.

Right? Amanda is fine with it today, but I can’t help but wonder what her parents could’ve been thinking. Naming a brand new human being can be hard. I understand this. But this Amanda/Amy story struck me as especially crazy.

Then again, I’m also overly sensitive to the naming of babies given my last name. My father’s name, for example, is Leslie Jean Dicks. Leslie and Jean are more often girl’s names, so rather than using either one, my father decided to go by the nickname Les for his entire life.

Les Dicks. I’m not kidding.

Perhaps this seemed reasonable to him at the time. After all, his brother and his uncle were both named Harry Dicks.

Not Harold. Just Harry. I’m not kidding again.

My grandmother – their mother – was named Odelie Dicks, so perhaps these awful name combinations were simple acts of spite. “I had to suffer with Odelie Dicks for most of my life, so now it’s your turn to suffer.” My grandmother wasn’t the nicest person in the world, so this is entirely possible.

Like Amanda/Amy’s parents, my grandparents also had seven children, and the majority of her kids had more reasonable names:

Brian, Sheila, Diane, Nancy, and Neil.  

Five out of the seven named work just fine. Not a bad percentage, unless of course you’re Les and Harry Dicks.

As you might imagine, there are many other first names that do not pair well with my last name.

Jack, for example, which is a name I like but could not consider for my children. Also Holden. Richard. Abel. Scarlett. Basically any name that could also be a verb or adjective is dicey.  

My wife, Elysha, and I were keenly aware of this when she got pregnant and we began talking about baby names. 

Elysha didn’t have a name for three days after her birth. Actually, she had a name, but only for a moment. Her parents initially named her Jordan, but the doctor told them that Jordan was a boy’s name, and “life was hard enough already.”

If only he had been around when my father or uncle were named.

Adhering to the doctor’s warning, Elysha’s parents unnamed my wife. Then, only after the hospital threatened to put the name “Baby” on her birth certificate, did her parents finally name her. My father-in-law had a secretary named Alicia who neither he nor my mother-in-law liked very much, but they liked her name, so they changed the spelling (invented a new spelling, really), and finally my wife had a name.

As Elysha and I began tossing around possible names, she said that she loved the name Clara for a girl. It was the name of a character from Cynthia Rylant’s children’s book The Van Gogh Café.  

I thought she was kidding. “Clara?” I despised the name. It was an old lady name. It sounded like the kind of person who Betty White might play pinochle with on Wednesday afternoons.

I saw the fallen look on Elysha’s face when I said these words. I loved my wife. I still do. I hated being responsible for that face, so I offered to think about the name. “Don’t ask me about it again,” I warned her. “Maybe I’ll come around.”

Remarkably, I did. About two months later, I awoke one morning and found myself inexplicably loving the name Clara. I couldn’t believe it. But I didn’t tell Elysha that morning. I waited nearly a month until she called me from work one day. “I just had the worst day ever,” she said.

As she launched into a recounting of the day’s misery, I stopped her. “Wait,” I said. “I have to tell you something. I love the name Clara. If we have a girl, I want her to be Clara.”

The day’s misery was forgotten.

Clara’s middle name is Susan, named after my mother, who passed away two years before her granddaughter was born. It turns out to be a bittersweet name for me. I love knowing that my daughter carries my mother’s name with her, but hearing it spoken aloud is a painful reminder about all that my mother has missed since her death, including the birth of both of our children.

Three years later, my son was born. We named him Charles Wallace after the character in Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. Elysha and I are also fans of the poet Wallace Stevens so that was an added bonus.

And if you’re wondering about my name, I was originally meant to be Bartholomew.

Bart Dicks.

My mother said that she saved me from my father’s stupidity and convinced him that Matthew was a far better choice.

But perhaps it wasn’t stupidity on my father’s part. Maybe it was just plain old spite.

Book launch: What are your ideas?

I’m reaching out today, readers, listeners, and friends, because I have always believed that the wisdom of the crowd is better than the wisdom of the one, and also because when I’ve asked for help in the past, you have been amazing.

When I wrote about my desire to find the title of the first library book I ever borrowed, one reader found that title based upon my vague description and another actually sent me the book. It’s sitting on my shelf today.

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When I wrote about Mrs. Carroll, the kindergarten teacher who taught me to tie my shoes and was the first person to teach me about the value of grit and determination, one of my readers put me in touch with Mrs. Carroll, who was in her 90’s at the time, allowing me to thank her for all that she had done for me.

When I wrote about the Blackstone Valley snipers - two men who terrorized the parts of Massachusetts and Rhode Island where I grew up by firing rifles into windows at night and requiring the National Guard to patrol the streets - the girlfriend of one of these men (who was about to be paroled) reached out to castigate me for calling her boyfriend a monster.

That last one was not exactly helpful, but it certainly was interesting.

But time and time again, I have put out requests on my blog and social media, and time and time again, folks like you have stepped up with answers and assistance.

So I bring a new problem to you today in hopes that you might offer some creative ideas and assistance of any kind.

On October 15, my next novel, Twenty-one Truths About Love, publishes. It’s a unique book in that it’s written entirely in lists. List after list after list that tell the story of an obsessive list maker and his desperate need to save his marriage from financial ruin.

My publisher will be marketing the book, of course, but unfortunately, authors must do a great deal in order to market and sell books these days, so I’m in the process of putting together my own plan for publicity. This will include a launch party, a festival tour, a tour of regional bookstores, a podcast series that will teach listeners about the birth of a book, and much more.

I also plan to leverage the unique list format to run several contests in which readers will be asked to submit their own lists based upon some of the titles of lists that actually appear in the book. I’m also hoping to get some attention from the media in this regard.

I also plan on appearing on as many podcasts as possible. I was interviewed on more than two dozen podcasts for the launch of Storyworthy, and it helped tremendously. I hope to do the same this time.

Now I turn to you. Two requests:

  1. What ideas do you have for marketing and selling this book? Any and all ideas are welcomed. Don’t be afraid that your idea might sound crazy or obvious or impossible. I want to hear it all. What ideas do you have for getting this book into the zeitgeist?

  2. Do you know anyone who might be able to help? Do you listen to a podcast where I might fit well, and and if so, can you reach out to that host and recommend me? Do you have contacts in the media who might want to interview me? Do you know an author who might be willing to offer an endorsement? Do you belong to the Obsessive List Maker Club of America? If there really is only six degrees of separation between any two people in the world, then one of you should be best friends with Terry Gross, Marc Maron, Oprah Winfrey, Peter Sagal, or Stephen King. If you could get them to read and love the book, that would be great.

Also, if you haven’t preordered the book yet, that would be great, too. Really, really great. You can preorder at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, IndieBound, or your local bookseller.

I look forward to all of your ideas, thoughts, connections, and hair-brained schemes. You can tell me all about them in the comments on this post, via social media, or email them to me at matthewdicks@gmail.com.

Thanks so much.

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Things I don't own that make my life easy

Elysha and I were meeting with an attorney to discuss wills, trusts, end-of-life decision-making and the like in the event that a plane falls on both of our heads but blessedly misses the children’s heads.

At one point, the attorney said, “Think of this like owning an umbrella. You hope to never need to use it, but on a rainy day, it’s important.”

“I’ve never owned an umbrella,” I said.

The attorney looked at me like I had two heads, but it’s true. I’ve never owned an umbrella. If I’m out in the rain, I’m probably just walking from my car to a building, and in these cases, moving quickly and possibly donning a hood has always worked just fine. If I’m going to be in the rain for a prolonged period of time - like when I attend a Patriots game in the rain - a good raincoat does the job, and besides, who wants to carry an umbrella around all day at a football game?

For as long as I can remember, I have been aggressively attempting to rid my life of as many things as possible, and an umbrella was one of those things. If I lived in New York City and walked everywhere, I would probably think differently, but since I don’t, I’ve intentionally avoided the hassles of an umbrella:

  • They are misplaced, forgotten, and lost all the time.

  • When you need them most, they are often in the car, necessitating a walk in the rain anyway.

  • They are difficult to use on a windy day.

  • If you’re someone like Donald Trump, even closing an umbrella can be a challenge.

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I feel the same about watches. I’ve never owned one in my life. While I know men who enjoy wearing a watch because it’s a status symbol, I’ve never felt the need to adorn my wrist with precious metals and expensive Swiss engineering in order to impress others, demonstrate my wealthy, or feel like I belong.

And not owning a watch is one less thing to worry about. As long as I have my phone, I have the time.

The same goes for skin cream and moisturizers. I’ve never used any of them even once in my life. Perhaps my skin is especially supple and fine, so moisturizing is not required. If I suffered from dry skin, a moisturizer of some kind would probably be in order, but until that time, the last thing I want to do is commit to another product that costs money and adds even a second to my day.

Other items that I don’t own and/or don’t use include neckties, sunglasses, and scarves. I haven’t worn any of these items for more than 15 years, and I’ve been perfectly fine. In fact, I’ve attended weddings without a tie and been the envy of every other man who is wearing a tie.

A man at a wedding once said to me, “You’re the only guy not wearing a tie. Doesn’t that bother you?”

I think his question said more about him than it did me. And I promise you that today, no one remembers that I wasn’t wearing a tie that night. And no one ever cared.

Simplicity. This is what I seek in all things.

Less stuff. Fewer steps. Reduced costs. Zero delays. The aggressive, proactive, relentless organization of anything I must own or save.

Seconds count. If you don’t believe that, you have yet to understand that time is by far your most valuable commodity and the one that people waste the most.

I’m not suggesting that you throw away your umbrellas and stop moisturizing. Just make sure that the things that cost you time and money (which represents time spent on the job) are actually necessary and not just another thing adding time and expense to your day while offering little in return.

The fabled land of Inbox Zero

Behold!

If you’re using Gmail and also have the Gmail app on your phone, this is what you see when your inbox is empty of email.

Yes, I’m bragging.

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In truth, I’m almost always on the verge of Inbox Zero, that fabled land where no email awaits your attention. And lest you think I’m simply filing emails away for a later date, no, I do not maintain a file system in Gmail because I have Gmail.

Gmail allows everything to be archived and makes it searchable at all times. Why create folders when you can simply archive everything and search by name, subject or even single word contained within the email whenever you want?

If you’re not relentlessly trying to save time at all times, you are not valuing time enough.

However, I do reschedule emails to arrive at a more appropriate time, and if you’re not using this simple but powerful feature, please reconsider. It’s invaluable.

For example:

All tax related emails - receipts, royalty statements, foreign payments - are rescheduled to hit my inbox on February 1, 2020, when I will then forward them onto the accountant.

Tickets that I ordered for next week’s Moth StorySLAM will return to my inbox at on the date of the show at 6:00 PM, just before I need them.

Directions and details on a keynote speech that I’ll be delivering in New York in July will return to my inbox three days before the event.

Don’t allow things to clutter your inbox that you don’t need for days, weeks, or months later.

Also, emails that contain important information that I need to complete a project - things like editor’s notes, outlines for conference schedules, and vacation planning - gets moved into Evernote, where a file is created, expanded, and edited when needed. Rather than having six different emails from four different people containing important information about a conference I’m helping to organize, I simply cut and paste the pertinent information into Evernote and archive the emails.

Not only does this clear out the inbox, but it places all information on a single subject into a centrally located file, so I have everything I need at my fingertips when I find myself on a conference call or sitting down to work on the project.

If you’re a person with hundreds or perhaps thousands of email - read and unread - in your inbox, my suggestion is to declare email bankruptcy and start over. Accept the fact that you will never catch up with email unless you return your inbox to a manageable level. Simply open your email program, save the last two unread emails from your boss, significant other, and most important clients, and then archive everything else.

If you’re not using Gmail, create a folder called “Old Stuff I Should Not Touch” and drag it all into the folder. Don’t look at it for six months unless you are forced to find an old email for a very specific purpose.

Then immediately respond to the emails you preserved. Finish them off. Reach Inbox Zero and then commit to an Inbox Zero strategy like the one I’ve described.

Inbox Zero, my friends. It’s honestly not all that common for me to have zero emails in my inbox, but I’m also never more than half a dozen emails away from it, either.

Establish a system. Utilize the tools available to you. Save time. Remove clutter. Become more responsive to those who deserve it. Get more done.

Trump's stupid belief in the simplicity of problems and solutions

There are a lot of problems with Donald Trump. His racism, sexism, incompetence, venality, and open admission that he sexually assaults women are all more than enough to keep him from office.

Add to this Trump University, which robbed Americans of millions of hard earned dollars, and family separation on the border, which resulted in placing children in cages, and it’s a wonder that anyone is supporting him anymore.

Plus the lies, of course. Thousands of lies. Many documented by the Mueller probe but even more stated plainly for everyone to see. Lies about crowd size and economic data and, weirdly, the country of origin of his father. Lies about his willingness to release his tax returns and his violations of the emoluments clause and his overall financial standing.

All of it should be enough. Sadly it’s not.

But perhaps one of the most disturbing things about Donald Trump is his belief that problems are simpler than they appear and solutions are easy. When he was campaigning, this included his promise for “beautiful healthcare” for every American and his repeated assurances that it would be simple to achieve. It included his repeated insistence that he would make Mexico pay for a wall that is still not being built. And it included his recent assurances that North Korea was no longer a threat, even as the North Koreans lied to his face and continued building secret missile sites throughout their country.

Recently, he tweeted two things that are perfect indicators of this ridiculous belief that complex problems require simple solutions, and even worse, that he has the solutions.

In addressing the recent problems and related disasters related to Boeing’s 737 Max plane, Trump tweeted:

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This is a man who bankrupted an airline in the late 1980’s and has had his name removed from a multitude of buildings since becoming President, but still, he believes that he has the answer to Boeings struggles. Fix the plane, add some great features, and “REBRAND.”

Simple.

He couldn’t keep the Trump Shuttle running for more than three years, but his extensive aviation expertise should be able to handle this complex problem with ease.

As Notre Dame was burning last week, Trump offered this gem:

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Not only is it weird and offensive for him to be tweeting firefighting advice as hundreds of trained professionals were risking their lives to fight the fire, but the fire department actually tweeted in response that dropping water on the fire from overhead would likely cause the entire cathedral to collapse under the weight of the water.

Why would Trump think that he knows the best way to fight a fire?

Why?

Because he’s Donald Trump. He doesn’t read briefings. He doesn’t read books. He believes that Frederick Douglas is still alive and that exercise is bad for you.

He thinks he knows everything, when quite literally, he knows less than any other American President and probably less than the average American.

Yet he’s running the country. Kind of. We learned this week that his people don’t always follow his orders, and more than running the country, he mostly plays golf, watches television and live-tweets the cable news sycophants who say nice things about him.

Speak Up Storytelling: Corey Jeffreys

On episode #46 of the Speak Up Storytelling podcast, Matthew and Elysha Dicks talk storytelling!

In our followup segment, we offer a further correction on a previous episode and read a couple emails from listeners about a new baby boy and a recent 100 day Homework for Life champion. 

In our Homework for Life segment, we talk about how multiple moments from Homework for Life can be combined into a great story, and how gravity and weight can be added to an anecdote to make something that might seem light and amusing far more meaningful.

Next we listen to Corey Jeffrey's story about a trip to Mexico, a hole in a door, and the Backstreet Boys. 

After listening, we discuss:

  1. The way a moment from the past and the present are fused together to create a deeply meaningful story

  2. Portals to the past and present

  3. Avoid stakes that fail to pay off

  4. Slowing down the action at the appropriate time in a story

  5. The importance of scenes (and physical locations) in storytelling

  6. Efficiency of language 

  7. The clever and unexpected use of an expletive 

Next, we answer questions about vulnerability and living with Matt.

Finally, we each offer a recommendation.  

LINKS

Purchase Storyworthy: Engage, Teach, Persuade, and Change Your Life Through the Power of Storytelling

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

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

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

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

Subscribe to the Speak Up newsletter: 
http://www.matthewdicks.com/subscribe-speak-up

Who Really Said "You Should Kill Your Darlings?"

RECOMMEDATIONS

Elysha:

Matt:

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A terrible decision even worse than my terrible decision

In the mid 1990’s, I was given a tour of ESPN by a programmer who I knew at the time. I sat on the SportsCenter set, shook hands with Stuart Scott and Chris Berman, and purchased a lavender SportCenter cap at the ESPN gift shop.

Or maybe it was given to me as swag as I left.

Either way, I wore that lavender SportsCenter hat for more than a year. I have no idea what I was thinking.

Lavender?
SportsCenter?

What did people think of me?

Looking back on that time, I’m embarrassed to think I walked through the world with that damn hat atop my head.

Then I saw this - the release of Windows 95 and the onstage excitement of Bill Gates, Steve Ballmer, and other Microsoft executives - and I suddenly felt like my wardrobe choice wasn’t the worst thing that happened in 1995.

Not by a long, long shot.

How to write for 14 years without missing a day and never run out of ideas.

I’ve been blogging since 2005. I have not missed a day, even when scumbag cowards attempted to derail my career by blatantly mischaracterizing what I write and portraying me as some crazed lunatic.

I hope they are still reading today.

I’ve shifted my blog to three different platforms and changed the name each time, but I also migrated the best content from each site onto this one, where I have blogging since November 18, 2008, and preserved the content from all three.

I’ve got it all.

I’m often asked:

How could you possibly have something to say every day for 14 years? More than 5,000 days of thoughts?

Part of the answer is there are many days when my post is a photo with three sentences essentially saying, “Hey! Look at this!”

But the truth is that I collect ideas, thoughts, and experiences and write about them when it’s most appropriate.

But this past week is a good example of the secret sauce.

In my blogging platform on SquareSpace, I have more than 70 half written, partially written, or unwritten drafts. Some are single sentences representing a thought I had to write about. Others are links to news reports and stories that I know will trigger a post from me. Still others are photos, graphs, or other images that will ultimately lead to a post.

The oldest of these drafts dates back to 2013 . A thought from six years ago, just waiting for me to finally expand into a post.

Yesterday, Friday, I wrote about memorizing poems. That idea was sitting in my blog folder since 2015 when I read Daliah Lithwick’s Slate piece on memorizing poetry and thought, “I memorized a lot of poetry, too. Maybe I can write about that.”

Four years later, a storyteller recites a poem during sound check at a Moth GrandSLAM, and I have an angle on this idea. It worked out well. About 6,000 people read the post on my blog, and hundreds of others saw it via social media and places like Goodreads, where my blog auto-sends.

This is an average audience size for a blog post.

It took four years for that idea to be realized. It’s been sitting there, waiting for me to find a way to unlock it.

On Wednesday, I wrote about people who say they don’t have enough time to same time. I wrote this idea down two years ago after the umpteenth person said something like this to me. I didn’t write about it then because I didn’t want to hurt the feelings of the person who said it, so I wrote it down for a later date.

It took me almost two years to return to it. I’m working on a proposal for a book on productivity, and the idea caught me eye because it aligns well to my current project.

On Tuesday, I wrote about a book idea I have about the last time we do something important or special and how we rarely take note of it. I’ve had the idea for the book for more than a decade, and I’ve actually written about this idea before, but someone sent me the pole vaulting video attached to this post two weeks ago, and it triggered the idea for the post.

On Monday, I posted about the latest episode of our podcast. Though it’s sort of a day off for me in the blogging world, I also release a newsletter on Monday, so I need to produce fresh content there as well.

On Sunday I wrote about the decline of religion in America. I saw the data that morning while reading the news and wrote a post immediately thereafter.

On Sunday, I wrote about three strange photos I took in Vermont and described my recent trip there for work.

On Saturday, I encouraged readers to aggressively try new things by pointing out the remarkable variety of experiences I had during the course of the previous week thanks to my willingness to try storytelling in 2011.

It was my most popular post of the week.

In summary:

  • One idea had been percolating for five years.

  • Another had been percolating for two years.

  • One idea was triggered by a video that someone shared with me.

  • One idea was triggered after seeing recent data in the news.

  • Two posts were written based upon recent experiences.

  • One post announced the lasted episode of our podcast.

I also added three ideas to my list of drafts. One describes an encounter with another person that I need to wait before writing to avoid upsetting someone. One is a response to a comment made on my blog worth responding to. The third is a statistic about Internet use in America that I might have something to say about someday.

Not only am I a person who has a lot to say, but I’m a collector of ideas. Even if I’m not sure what I will write, I look for statistics, images, news reports, blog posts, and quotes from others that tickle my brain. Pique my curiosity. Stir an emotion inside me.

When I find one, I add it to my list of draft ideas. Those percolating ideas, plus autobiographical moments I experience daily, responses I have to current events, amusing observations about the world, and half-baked ideas form the basis of the blog.

I read a lot. I listen even more. I keep my eyes open. I keep my heart and mind open.

That is how I find my ideas. That is how I write a new post for more than 14 years without missing a day.

Of course, it also helps to be an opinionated blowhard with a lot to say.

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Memorize some poems

I took a class in college on poetry. I wasn’t a poet, nor did I want to be a poet, but my creative writing advisor thought that writing poetry might teach me to distill my fiction down to its essence and find the truth about what I was trying to say in my stories.

I didn’t hold out much hope for this plan. Most of what I learned about writing in college was nonsense. I was taught by honest-to-goodness writers - extraordinary talents - which sounds great until you discover that these aren’t actually teachers.

They may write well, but they don’t know how to teach the process to others.

So I wandered into the senior level poetry class of Hugh Ogden, who was both an esteemed poet and an extraordinary teacher. Hugh took a young man who felt out of place in a room full of students who had been studying poetry and made him feel welcome, even when some of those students did not.

Hugh had a profound impact on my life, and it turns out that my advisor was right. I found ways to say a great deal in very few words. When I look back on the poetry that I wrote during that class, most of it was autobiographical, and honestly, much of it is structured in ways very similar to the ways I tell stories on the stage today.

Hugh also required us to come to class each week with a newly memorized poem. This was daunting at first, but by the end of the semester, I loved the first 15 minutes of class when each student recited a new poem from memory.

As a result, I memorized a lot of poems, and I can still recite several by heart, including “The Jabberwocky,” “Stopping By the Woods on a Snowy Evening,” “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night,” “In Flanders Fields,” “An Irish Airman Foresees His Death,” “Oh Captain, My Captain,” and many shorter ones.

A few years ago I memorized “The Tyger” by William Blake as a Hanukkah gift to Elysha. She loves the poem, so in memorizing it, I told her that she now has access to its recitation at any time.

I also have several French poems memorized from my high school French days, as well as several pieces from Shakespeare.

All of this is to say that you should memorize a poem or two. I was listening to a sound check at a Moth GrandSLAM recently, and the storyteller recited “Stopping By the Woods on a Snowy Evening” as his sound check. I always prefer to vamp a new story or do a bit of standup during these sound checks, but reciting a poem was a lovely thing.

Everyone in the theater was impressed, admittedly leaving me thinking, “Hey! I know that one, too! And many others!"

But by seeing how impressed folks were, it also made me realize that we don’t memorize poems anymore. That is a sad thing.

A few years ago Slate’s Daliah Lithwick wrote:

“…it’s possible that the real magic of college will completely pass you by until you realize, many years later, that holy shit, you know “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning” or Leaves of Grassand all the wisdom of the ages was packed in there, it’s just that you missed it at the time for band practice, or swim team, or to get to the salad bar before all the hearts of palm were gone.”

It’s so very true. Throughout my life, I’ve found myself responding to argument, thoughts, and ideas with the verse locked in my mind. And that verse, as I’ve grown older, has revealed itself to me in new and fascinating ways.

Thank goodness for Hugh.

Hugh died in 2007 at the age of 69 after falling through thin ice on a lake in Maine. The world has missed him ever since. But in honor of Hugh and the desire to lock some new verse into my brain, I’m going to spend the rest of the year firming up the poems I have already memorized and memorizing a new poem or some new verse, starting with Hamlet’s third soliloquy and Frost’s “The Road Not Taken.”

Won’t you join me?

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I don't have time to save time

The question I get asked most often is “How do you get so much done?”

I’m working on a proposal for a book that answers that very question in great detail.

But until the book is written and published, I’m always willing to offer advice on becoming more productive and more efficient, and people are typically receptive toward my suggestions.

Occasionally, however, people become annoyed and frustrated with my suggestions because they involve changing a habit or routine.

I find this odd.

How do you expect to become more productive and efficient without instituting a certain degree of change in your life?

I honestly think these people wanted me to give them a magic pill.

The most frequent comment I receive from these annoyed folks is this:

“I don’t have time to do that.”

Which is to say:

“I don’t have time to save time so I would have more free time to do the things I want to do.”

This also strikes me as odd. I offer a strategy that admittedly might take some time to implement, but upon completion of the implementation, the person would then have even more free time, and yet the person can’t see how the initial investment would offer an enormous return.

Weird.

These people would prefer to continue to waste time and operate inefficiently rather than investing a small amount of time in order to stop wasting time.

But I see this unfortunate pattern all the time. These are the folks who allow chores to pile up and become all day affairs rather than taking the small amount of time required to stay on top of things. These are the people who won’t spend the two or three minutes getting organized but will then waste 20 minutes as a result of their disorganization.

It makes no sense.

I think that in the end, some people are resistant to change, even if the change promises a better, more productive, more efficient life. It’s hard for them to see beyond their own life, and it’s exceptionally hard for some to break the habits and routines that they have established.

But telling me that you don’t have time to be more productive?

That is ridiculous.

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Last times

One of the books I hope to write in the next couple years will be a nonfiction account of my attempt to try things that I was once did in my youth but have not done for a very long time.

The book will center on the idea that so often in life, we do something important to us for the last time, yet we often don’t know or bother to notice that it’s the last time.

We don’t take the time or have the awareness to savor that final moment.

If you’re a parent, for example, you spend years picking up your children. Carrying them everywhere. Lifting them to hug and kiss them. Tossing them into the car. Then they get taller and heavier, and at some point, you pick them up for the very last time.

Can you imagine?

Happily, I have not reached that point with either of my kids yet, but that day will come.

Will I recognize that this is the last time I will pick up my daughter like a little girl?

Probably not. Except that every time I pick up Clara now, I savor the moment, knowing that she’s ten years-old and might stop asking to be picked up sooner than later. So maybe. I might get lucky and recognize that final lift for what it is. Maybe.

My book will be filled with slightly more exciting moments than picking up my kids. For example, for two years I pole vaulted in high school, becoming good enough to win the championship of our very small region that contained very few pole vaulters.

Most schools did not actually have a pole vaulter or pole vaulting equipment at all.

Still, I was a vaulter, and I loved it. I was looking forward to my senior season when a car accident in December of that year nearly killed me and ended my pole vaulting career short. As I recovered from my injuries, I wasn’t able to compete, and that ended my career.

The nature of pole vaulting doesn’t allow it to be a backyard or weekend sport. When I went through that windshield two days before Christmas, my pole vaulting days were over.

But I wish I had the chance to vault again. To spend some time enjoying and recognizing and savoring those final moments in the pole vaulting pit.

That is what I want to do. I want to vault again. Join a high school pole vaulting team for a season. Try to clear opening height. Enjoy this thing that I loved so much one last time.

This is what my book would be about. The chronicling of one man’s attempt to recapture his youth. Do those things that he might not be able to do anymore at all in the coming years.

I have a list of these things - about 10 in all - that I would attempt. Some are easier than others, but all would make great stories, I think. It would be a chance for me to both look into the past as well as tell stories about what’s happening in the present.

This idea has been kicking around in my head for about a decade. Last week someone sent me this video. An 84 year-old Vermont woman competing in the pole vault.

I couldn’t believe it.

Maybe time isn’t running out on some of these things as quickly as I once thought. Maybe there’s still time to do more things than I ever imagined.

Maybe there’s still time to pick up your child one last time.

Religion on the decline. Thankfully.

The latest Harris and Pew polls indicate that the fastest growing religious belief is no religious belief at all. For the first time since these polls have been taken, “no religion” is even with Catholicism and Evangelical as the dominant religious belief in America.

Mike Pence must be furious.

In addition, a Research Center poll reported that 34 to 36 percent of millennials indicate “no religion” when asked about their affiliation, meaning that soaring red line on the poll is likely to continue soaring.

While I’m not anti-religion, I’m always disturbed by the way that religion attempts to both inform and direct government policy and force itself into our everyday life.

This country is blessed with the freedom of religion, but there are a great many people in America who would be willing to mitigate or eliminate this freedom entirely in order to promote their Judeo-Christian beliefs and restrict the rights of women, Muslims, Jews, LGBTQ folks, and many more.

These people - folks like Mike Pence’s wife, who works at a school that bans LGBTQ students and faculty - place the Bible over the Constitution and basic human decency when it comes to governing, legislating, and educating Americans.

They are rotten human beings who seek to make their beliefs the law of the land and reject religious freedom on the basis that their God is the only God.

They will not stop in their attempts to gain power and force their beliefs down our throats through both rhetoric, policy, and the gathering of power.

Happily, it looks like they are on the path to minority status. When this final happens, perhaps we will stop the prejudice, discrimination, and violence that takes place in America every day in the defense of religious belief.

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Speak Up Storytelling: Jeffrey Freiser

On episode #45 of the Speak Up Storytelling podcast, Matthew and Elysha Dicks talk storytelling!

In our followup segment, we offer some corrections on previous episodes and read an email from a recent 100 day Homework for Life champion. 

ALSO, UPCOMING SHOWS:

April 27: "Put Me in Coach: Stories of Athletic Endeavors” at CHS
May 18: Speak Up Storytelling: Live podcast recording at CHS
June 8: “Nature Calls: Stories of the Outdoors” at Infinity Hall
August 17: Solo storytelling show, Taproot Theater, Seattle, WA

In our Homework for Life segment, we talk about how a moment that might be embarrassing or small in the minds of some can become a fully realized story when you allow for introspection and the ask yourself this simple question: "Why do you do the things that you do?

Next we listen to Jeffrey Freiser's story about a first date and the ensuing adventure. 

After listening, we discuss:

  1. The unusual role that humor plays in this story

  2. The way that different brands of humor achieve different results

  3. Telling a story in scenes in order to activate imagination

  4. Opportunities for misdirection 

  5. Momentum  

Next, we answer questions about finding the endings of stories and the joyous but sometimes problematic response that people often have to our stories.

Finally, we each offer a recommendation.  

LINKS

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

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

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

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

Subscribe to the Speak Up newsletter: 
http://www.matthewdicks.com/subscribe-speak-up

STORIES ABOUT LITTLE THINGS THAT SAY A LOT

Jeff Simmermon's "Subway Moment" 
Adam Wade's "Hoboken Roast Beef Story"
Alfonso Lacayo's "The Bad Haircut"

STORYTELLING WORKSHOPS 2019

May 4: Storytelling workshop (beginner), CT Historical Society
July 29-August 2: Storytelling bootcamp, CT Historical Society
October 25-27: Storytelling workshop (beginner), Kripalu Center for Yoga and Heath
December 6-8: Storytelling workshop (advanced), Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health

RECOMMEDATIONS

Elysha:

Matt:

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Strangeness of Vermont

I spent two days in Burlington, Vermont earlier this week, teaching attorneys to tell stories and prepare witnesses and clients to tell stories.

I took a few photographs while I was there that I thought I’d share.

When I arrived in Burlington, I found myself staring at this interesting and slightly creepy building at the end of a road.

Sort of a "Welcome to Burlington. Things are about to get weird."

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Thankfully, they didn’t.

In the bathroom of the conference center where we met and worked, I was greeted by this print.

I’m not sure what you see when you look at this, but given that it was hanging over the toilet, I couldn’t help but see a person standing in pee, which… you know… wasn’t great.

Happily, I only had to stare at it about a dozen times over the course of two days.

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Then I spotted this sign, hanging over the toilet in a Vermont rest area. The water used for flushing the toilets was reclaimed water, so the highway department apparently needed to let those who are fond of drinking toilet water that this particular brand of toilet water is non-potable.

It’s also interesting to note that there were two drinking fountains just outside the restrooms, which means that there must be people who forgo the drinking fountain in favor of the toilet.

I had always assumed that all toilet water - and especially toilet water in highway restrooms - was non-potable, but I guess you learn something every day.

I’ll add that Vermont has some of the loveliest rest areas that I’ve ever seen, but that didn’t make the toilet water any less appealing.

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Try new things. Aggressively, relentlessly, and constantly.

Chase your dreams but also try new things.

Ever since I was 17 years old, I was chasing my dreams of being a professional writer.

In 1987, I was writing term papers for my classmates, earning money for the first time as a writer.

I used that money to buy my first car.

In 1990, I was writing columns on a bulletin board system - a small localized, online network and a precursor to the Internet.

I went to college to study creative writing. I started and stopped many terrible novels. Wrote a novel that didn’t sell. Wrote short stories and poetry. Wrote another novel that didn’t sell. Entered writing contests. Wrote editorials for local newspapers. Wrote for college newspapers and online zines.

I finally sold my first novel in 2007 - a full 20 years after beginning my journey.

Chase your dreams relentlessly.

But try new things, too. Definitely try new things.

In July of 2011, I took a stage at The Moth in New York City for what I thought would be the one story I would ever tell. “One and done,” I said. I was not dreaming of becoming a professional storyteller. I was simply fulfilling a promise. Satisfying a curiosity. Trying something new for the sake of trying something new.

That was less than eight years ago.

This week, while I was on vacation from my classroom, I did the following:

On Saturday, I worked at Yale New Haven Hospital, teaching doctors, nurses, patients, and the family members of patients how to tell stories as part of an ongoing storytelling initiative that I am helping to spearhead.

On Sunday I performed in Dorchester, MA for Now Listen Here, a storytelling show produced by a friend.

On Monday I was at Westover School, a boarding school in Middlebury, CT, teaching teachers and their students to tell stories and performing for the student body.

On Tuesday, I was on the campus of MIT, teaching students, faculty, and staff to tell stories.

On Wednesday I was at Amity Regional High School, teaching students to tell stories and hosting a story slam. Earlier in the day, I also consulted with the CEO of an engineering firm, helping him to tell stories.

Later that night, I competed in a Moth StorySLAM in Boston. I watched two former storytelling students tell stories onstage. I told a new story of my own. I finished in second place to an 89 year-old woman whose daughter I had taught to tell stories.

It’s not often that I like to lose, but I was happy that night.

On Thursday and Friday, I was in Burlington, VT, teaching attorneys to tell stories, working with their clients and witnesses to craft stories, and assisting them to craft and revise opening statements.

On Sunday, Elysha and I will be producing a storytelling showcase in collaboration with Voices of Hope. After working with the children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors for weeks, they will be telling stories about themselves and their parents and grandparents.

Sunday night, I will be performing at a synagogue in a show honoring the principal of a local Jewish Day School.

That’s a crazy list. Too crazy, really. At the time I booked the week, I wasn’t sure if Elysha would be back to work, so I filled every day with opportunities to earn income in the event we desperately needed it. I could really use a vacation from my vacation, but still, it’s a crazy list.

Back in 2011, I couldn’t imagine any of it happening. I didn’t plan on any of it happening.

Most important, storytelling wasn’t my dream. It was simply trying something new with no expectation of return on time or investment. Like the standup I’m performing today and the consulting that I’m doing with advertising agencies and the podcast that Elysha and I launched a year ago, I was just trying something new.

Staying young.

Placing irons in the fire.

Creating possibility.

Chase your dreams. But also aggressively, relentlessly try new things.

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Billions with a B

I’d like to officially dispense with the phrase:

“That’s billion with a B.”

I'd like to eliminate it from the world forever. Make it extinct. Destroy every bit of it.

Have you ever heard “million” when the person said “billion” even once in your life?

Are the letters M and B so close that you could ever confuse them?

Has this attempt at numerical drama ever been effective or meaningful?

I hate it when someone says, “That’s billion with a B” so very, very much.

Would you mind hating it with me? Please?

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