No makeup is a thing now. Turns out that I was merely ahead of the curve.

Fewer things draw more ire from my readers than when I write about my wish that makeup would become a thing of the past.

It never goes well.

Even my desire for Olympic athletes to stop wearing makeup while competing drew an angry protest.

In fairness to myself, I receive quite a bit of support for my position as well, and primarily by women, but those that disagree with my position really disagree. 

Rather than producing any original content today (and suffering a backlash), I’ll merely quote from two studies on recent trends in makeup that warm my heart.

  • A survey conducted in August of last year found that most women between the ages of 18 and 25—67 percent—use fewer than three products in their hair and beauty routines. Only 20 percent use four to seven products, and a tiny 3 percent use more than 12.
  • The call of fresh-facedness is even stronger for women over 25, 72 percent of whom limit their makeup use to zero to three products.
  • Brides in rapidly increasing numbers are choosing to go makeup-free on their wedding day, and when they do wear makeup, the overwhelming trend is for an extremely minimal approach.
  • The hashtag #nomakeupselfies is one of the fastest growing on Twitter and Instagram, with celebrities like Beyoncé, Gwyneth Paltrow and Cameron Diaz posting photos of themselves without makeup.

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Speak Up tickets now on sale

Tickets to our next Speak Up storytelling show on May 17 at Real Art Ways in Hartford, CT are now available. The theme of the night is Bad Romance, and we have a cast of storytellers who we know you will love.

Tickets for the show can be purchased here:
http://10907.formovietickets.com:2235/

Tickets to our Speak Up charity event on May 31 are also available. The proceeds from this event will support a team of middle school students who won a national literature competition and are heading to London this summer to compete in an international literature competition. The theme of the night is School Stories, and the event will be held in the Sedgwick Middle School auditorium, We have a great cast of storytellers for the evening that we know you’ll love. 

Tickets for this event can be purchased here:
https://www.ticketpeak.com/smskidslit

Thanks! Hope to see you all soon!

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Posted in Speak Up, Storytelling | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Based upon his 8 tips for writing short stories, I think Vonnegut would’ve made a great storyteller.

If asked to choose a favorite author (which is a ridiculous exercise), I always say Kurt Vonnegut. He was a genius. A rule breaker. A curmudgeon of the highest order.

I cried on the day he died.

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I recently stumbled upon a list of Vonnegut’s eight tips for writing short stories, and after reading them, I suspect that he would’ve liked storytelling very much. I think he might’ve found himself right at home at a Moth StorySLAM or even one of our Speak Up storytelling shows. I’m not sure if he would’ve taken the stage, but based upon his eight tips, he would’ve loved to listen to the stories as a member of the audience.

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At least a few of the items on his list are not only applicable to storytellers but are highly recommended.

Kurt Vonnegut’s 8 Tips for Writing Short Stories

1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.

Part of the reason for time limits in storytelling is to assure that no audience member will feel like their time is being wasted. Even if the storyteller is ineffective or a particular story doesn’t resonate with you, fear not. It will be over in less than 10 minutes. 

But it’s also true that there’s nothing more annoying than listening to a storyteller spend five or ten minutes onstage explaining why he is an amazing person who has done amazing things.

Don’t waste our time. Be honest and audacious.  

2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.

Stakes are important in a story. When choosing a story to tell, I try to find a moment in my life when the stakes were high. Even if I was ultimately defeated or failed miserable or even ended up as the bad guy, I know that my audience wants to be rooting for someone. Audiences want to be on the edge of their seat, trapped in a blend of worry and hope, even if the story doesn’t end happily.    

3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.

Given time constraints and the personal nature of this kind of storytelling, it’s difficult for every character to want something in your story. Oftentimes it’s impossible to know what someone wanted.

But you should want something, and the audience should know what is is. Listen to a great story and what the storytellers wants will be clear. Sometimes it’s as simple as a glass of water, but more often, it will be something larger and more important, like respect, love, friendship or salvation.

4. Every sentence must do one of two things – reveal character or advance the action.

This rule, more than any other on Vonnegut’s list (and perhaps on any list of storytelling tips), is critical to storytelling. If ever sentence in your story does one of these two things, your chances of telling a great story are high. 

My wife is a fierce advocate of this belief. When working with me or one of our Speak Up storytellers, this is something that she is often focused upon. She cuts into my stories with surgical precision, discarding my amusing asides and quippy one-liners, leaving only the most important parts behind. The parts that reveal character and advance action.    

Cutting out moments in a story is hard, particularly when you are telling true stories from your own life, because these moments really happened to you. They must be said, damn it! Cutting out sections of our stories feels like discounting parts of our lives. But if you’re not revealing character or advancing action, you’re probably doing a disservice to your story. 

5. Start as close to the end as possible.

This may be Vonnegut’s second most valuable rule to storytellers. Time limits alone should underscore the importance of this rule, but starting as close to the end as possible will almost always result in a better story.

When I am deciding upon a story to tell, I am often choosing a singular moment from my life. These moments frequently last just a few seconds. A moment of  confrontation. A discovery. A few words spoken at a critical moment. A realization. A life changing experience. 

I start with that singular moment and work from there, moving both forward and back, searching for just enough story to bring that singular moment into the sharpest focus possible. I try to stay as close to the moment as possible. Everything in my story must serve that original moment.   

6. Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them – in order that the reader may see what they are made of.

I tell true stories (I save my fiction for my novels), so making awful things happen to my leading character is not possible. I’m stuck with the truth. Thankfully, I’ve led a life full of awful moments, so I am rarely at a loss in this regard.

But storytellers should never shy away from the awful things that have happened to them and (even better) the awful things that they have done. These oftentimes make the best stories.

7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.

I don’t know if this is true, but I tell my stories for my wife first. It’s the same reason I write my novels. If she doesn’t like my story, it doesn’t get told until she does.  

8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

While I don’t fully embrace this idea, I like the sentiment behind this rule a lot. I think suspense is critical for the success of many stories, but I also believe in frontloading as much information into a story as possible. Almost all my stories begin with the time and place, because doing so allows my audience to instantly begin building a visual tapestry in which my story will unfold.

For example, if I say that my story takes place in December of 1984 in a small town in New Hampshire, my audience can instantly picture the landscape without me saying a word about it. They have a good idea of the weather. They can probably see the clothing that people around me are wearing and the cars that they are driving. They know what kind of music is playing from the radios and which President is on the evening news.

Time and place can do so much work for the storyteller. While I often search for a brilliant first line to my stories, I often return to time and place because I rarely find an opening line that packs as much punch.

Posted in Moth, Storytelling | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Freeze this moment, damn it.

I could watch my children roll a ball back and forth on the front lawn forever.

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Why we don’t fight

Elysha and I have been together for ten years.

We’ll celebrate our eighth wedding anniversary in July.

Over the course of the decade that we have been together, we have probably argued three times.

I think that’s really it. Three times. She may tell me that I’m wrong (perhaps provoking our fourth fight), but the number is most assuredly less than ten. 

I recently read that the average couple argues 2,455 times a year, or about seven times per day.

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I have a hard time believing that number, but I’m certain that three arguments in ten years is low. So I’ve been asking myself why.

I think I found an answer by was of example. Or at least part of the answer.

Elysha has been concerned about our daughter’s refusal to eat a variety of foods and her anxiety over trying new foods. She believed that it was an indication of a problem more serious than just a picky eater. She spoke to the pediatrician about her concerns and was referred to Hartford Hospital’s feeding team: a group of medical, mental health and nutrition experts who diagnose and treat issues like these.

I thought that Elysha’s concerns were unfounded. I’ve known many picky eaters over the years and thought that Clara’s attitude toward eating was not unusual. I thought that our appointment with the feeding team was almost certainly a waste of time.

I didn’t want to go.

But here’s why we don’t fight:

I supported Elysha’s decision and went to the appointment with an open mind, even though I thought it was silly and unnecessary. Unless I think that a decision will do harm, I always remember that Elysha makes decisions because she thinks they are right and good. She’s not acting selfishly or carelessly. She truly believed that Clara had a problem. Even though I completely disagreed, I went along with her decision because she was doing what she thought was right, even if I thought it was wrong.

It turned out that she was right. It took the feeding team all of 10 minutes to inform us that Clara’s food anxiety is not normal. In fact, it’s understandably unusual.

My daughter is allergic to peanuts, so she has spent her entire life knowing that certain foods are very dangerous to her.

When she was three years-old, she had what was believed to be an allergic reaction in the car (it was ultimately determined to be a reaction to a virus). Elysha pulled the car over, flagged down a police officer and an ambulance, and got Clara aboard, where paramedics administered epinephrine through hypodermic needles and rushed her to the hospital, thus reinforcing the dangerous nature of foods.

There are other factors contributing to the problem as well, including (oddly enough) her highly active and complex imagination), but it’s certainly understandable why Clara might have anxiety about foods that she has never tried before.

She’s come to believe that food is dangerous and potentially life threatening. Which it is.

But the important part is this:

Elysha was right. Clara’s anxiety is not normal. Best of all, it’s treatable.

I suspect that in many marriages, the disagreement over the need to see the feeding team would’ve led to an argument. I didn’t say a word. Elysha knew how I felt, but I made it clear that I was fully supporting her decision.

I’m glad I did.

Argument averted.

One more example:

Last week we were driving home from Massachusetts. I was late, and Charlie was already asleep in his car seat. Clara was using the iPad. When we pulled into a gas station, Elysha informed Clara that she had five more minutes on the iPad and then needed to hand it over. She wanted Clara to sleep, too.

Clara was not pleased.

I thought that we should leave the iPad in Clara’s hands. We had about an hour to go before arriving home, and I didn’t think that the hour of possible sleep in her car seat would amount to much. It had been a long day, and Clara had behaved remarkably well, so why not let her play a little longer?

Even though I disagreed with Elysha’s decision, I said nothing. I knew that Elysha was doing what she believed was right, and I knew that taking away the device would do no harm.

Once again, I trusted her decision because it was being made unselfishly. She was doing what she thought was best for Clara.

Elysha knew that I disagreed with her decision, and I suspect that in many marriages, this could’ve been the source of an eventual argument. But why argue with your spouse over a parenting decision that will ultimately mean very little, will do no harm, and is being made in the child’s best interests?

In the end, Clara fell asleep, and perhaps the extra hour of sleep did her some good. I’m not sure. But it certainly wasn’t worth a fight.

I don’t know if this is the only reason that Elysha and I don’t argue, but I suspect it plays an important role. Neither of us ever feels the need to be right or be fully in control. Rarely do either one of us believe that the other is making a decision out of selfishness or stupidity. While we may disagree as often as the average couple, we don’t argue over these disagreements because we are willing to trust each other’s judgment enough to allow things to move forward without complaint.

And we’re not always right. We each allow decisions to be made that backfire. We’re not perfect. But so few decisions result in any long-term damage that when we are wrong, it rarely matters.

We take the long view. We trust each other’s intent. We have faith in each other’s judgment.

I think. Elysha has yet to read this, so she may think differently.

But she probably won’t argue with me about it. 

Posted in Autobiography | 2 Comments

Giving my girl a smile and some good luck

Whenever my daughter sees a penny on the ground, she bends over, picks it up, and says, “Find a penny and pick it up, and all the day you’ll have good luck.”

And she really believes that the penny will bring her good luck. After finding one, she smiles and skips and even sings.

So I drop pennies in her path from time to time. When she’s not looking.

I can’t help myself. 

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Posted in Family | 2 Comments

Productivity tip #4: Walk fast.

I know it sounds simple and stupid, but if you want to be more productive, walk fast.

I am often teased by colleagues because I walk down the halls at breakneck speeds. It’s assumed by many that I am incredibly busy, and while this may be true, my decision to walk fast is a conscious one that I make in order to recapture time.

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I walk fast whenever possible. Parking lots, grocery stores, sidewalks, and malls are great places to walk fast and recapture time, but there are many, many more.

If you see me in any of these places and many more, you will probably see me moving faster than the people around me.

Not only does the increased speed provide me with an elevated heart rate and a tiny bit of exercise, but I simply get places sooner than everyone else. Almost every day, I park my car and walk past people who are sauntering through the parking lot as if it were adorned with fine art. As if it were a place they wanted to be.

Do I save much time in the process?

Over the course of a day, a week, a month or a lifetime, the answer is yes. Absolutely. The amount of time I save in each parking lot, hallway, and grocery store is minimal, but it adds up quickly. 

Walking fast is not something that comes natural to me. I must constantly remind myself to walk faster. It’s easy to stroll. It’s normal to adopt the speed of those around you. It’s even a little awkward to be passing people as if we are on a race track.

But it saves me time.

It gets me back to the places where I want to be.

It gets me back to the people who I want to be with.

Five or ten extra minutes with my children are a gift. Don’t discount these precious few minutes for the sake of conformity or ease.

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Incompetent customer service saves Amtrak and Boston Market a total of $33.03 and costs them customers and reputation as a result.

Last week we dealt with two incredible acts of customer service stupidity by two large companies. As a person who has worked in the customer service industry as an employee, a manager and an owner of a business, I understand how little it takes to impress a customer and win him or her for life. 

When the DJ client who I met with yesterday requested a change in meeting time twice in a 24 hour period, I immediately obliged, assuring them that it wasn’t a problem.

When they entered my home for the meeting, the first thing the bride did was thank me for my flexibility and tell me how much it meant to her.

It doesn’t take much to please a customer.  

I also understand how little it takes to disappoint, anger and ultimately lose a customer, and how quickly and easily this negative experience can be passed onto others.

This is why these two acts of customer service stupidity astound me so much. Both could have been so easily avoided.

First, Elysha took our children, ages 5 and 2, on an Amtrak ride from Windsor to Hartford so the kids could ride the train. It was an activity recommended to her by another mother, and the kids loved it. My son loves trains, and my daughter is always up for a new adventure. It should’ve been an inexpensive way to spend an afternoon.

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When they arrived in Hartford, however, Elysha was told that the returning train was delayed by more than two hours. It wasn’t going to be possible for her to wait at the Hartford train station for more than two hours with two small children, so after exhausting all other alternatives, she took a $33 cab ride back to Windsor. It was a stressful trip since she had no car seat for our son or daughter and was forced to hold Charlie in her arms.

Amtrak refunded the cost of the return ticket, but when she called customer service last week to request a refund on the cab ride, she was refused.

When she asked for a $33 credit for a future train ride, she was refused.

At one point, the customer service representative told her that because she had already accepted the refund on the return tickets at the station, it was impossible for him to compensate her in any other way.

Company policy.

Once compensation has been made, no other compensation is allowed.

I know. Ridiculous.

During their train ride, Elysha sent me photos from the train, and I tweeted one of the photos with a comment about how much fun my family was having on their short trip. Amtrak immediately tweeted back, pleased to hear that my kids were enjoying themselves.

When I tweeted a little later that things had not worked out like Elysha had hoped and that my family was stranded in Hartford, I heard nothing from Amtrak.

When we were refused a $33 refund or credit, I tweeted at Amtrak again, questioning their decision. Amtrak tweeted back at me almost immediately, recommending that I call customer service and providing the phone number. When I tweeted back that we had just spoken to customer service and refused compensation, Amtrak did not respond.

For a $33 credit, this company could’ve wiped away a frustrating and stressful afternoon from my wife and won a customer for life. My wife knows hundreds, if not thousands of people (not an exaggeration), and frequently champions the businesses that treat her well. When her credit card would not work at Whole Foods last year because of possible suspicious activity on the account and she was already late picking up our daughter at preschool, Whole Foods gave her more than $100 of groceries free of charge.

Just handed her the bags and told her not to worry about it. 

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Elysha told this story to everyone she knew for months and is a lifelong Whole Foods customer now, even if I sometimes wish she wasn’t.

Even I have given Whole Foods credit for their outstanding customer service.

Now she will be telling a different story. It will be a story about how a train company would not refund her $33 that she was forced to spend on a cab ride when their train was delayed by more than two hours.

Such a stupid way to do business.

On Thursday night, we were heading home from a speaking gig in Massachusetts when we stopped at a rest area on the Mass Pike for drinks. I ordered a soda at Boston Market and asked for cups for water for my kids. The employee gave me two small cups, but I discovered that there were no lids for the cups.

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I went back to the counter and asked for cups with lids because we would be back on the road and I didn’t want my children to spill on themselves or the car.

I was informed that I could not be given cups with lids without paying for them.

I understand the company’s concern that I may use these cups for a beverage other than water, but this was a stupid decision. I clearly had two small children with me. They were standing beside me. Give me the damn cups and hope for the best.

Instead, I will not be doing business with that particular Boston Market, and perhaps all other Boston Markets, ever again. Moreover, I’ve already told this story to half a dozen people, and with this blog post and the subsequent Facebook posts and tweets, thousands more.

For the cost of two small, plastic cups, Boston Market has lost a customer.

What are these companies thinking?

Here are 11 of the best customer service stories ever.

Not surprising, Amtrak and Boston Market did not make the list.

Posted in Autobiography, Critic | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Speak Up offering storytelling workshops

Until we have our Speak Up website up and running, I’ll continue to post information here about our upcoming shows and workshops. We are in the process of wrapping up our second round of workshops and beginning our first advanced storytelling workshop.

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Information on all our future workshops are below:
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Speak Up is currently enrolling people in our upcoming  storytelling workshops. We have beginning and advanced classes starting soon. Whether your goal is to take the stage someday or improve your work performance through better presentation skills or simply become a better storyteller around the dinner table or meet new people, we may have something for you.  

If you’re interested, the information is below. If you would like to get specifics in terms of availability and dates, you can email speakupstorytelling@gmail.com.

Thanks as always for all of the support!
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Speak Up currently offers two different storytelling workshops based upon preference and need. 

The first is our traditional beginning storytelling class, and the second is an advanced storytelling class. You are not required to attend a beginning storytelling workshop in order to enroll in the advanced class, but it’s recommended if you have no previous public speaking experience.  

BEGINNING STORYTELLING

The goals of the beginning storytelling workshop include:

  • Methods for generating ideas for stories from your life experiences (you have more stories than you realize!)
  • The structure and arc of an effective story 
  • The critical elements of an effective story
  • Story manipulation based upon audience and setting
  • Factors to consider for competitive storytelling
  • Revising a story for audience appeal and time restrictions
  • Humor
  • Suspense
  • Performance technique

In addition to modeling and instruction, participants are invited to develop a story of their own over the course of the workshop that will be presented to the class for critique.
 

By the end of the workshop, our hope that every participant will have at least one story ready to go for a future performance, though this is not required. Our previous workshops have included professionals looking to improve their public speaking skills, people looking to become better keepers of their families’ stories, teachers and professors working on their lecture skills, and folks simply looking to meet new people and try something new. 

But if you’re interested in performing at a future Speak Up storytelling show or elsewhere, our workshops are a good place to start as well. 

The first five sessions of the workshop are taught by professional storyteller and 11-time Moth StorySLAM champion Matthew Dicks. He is joined for the final class by Speak Up host and producer Elysha Dicks, who specializes in working with storytellers (including Matthew) to revise their stories. 

ADVANCED STORYTELLING

Advanced storytelling will focus on the storyteller’s actual performance. Every participant will be asked to tell at least one story during the course of the six classes (and hopefully more), and workshops are held every other week. This will allow participants more time to prepare stories for the class. 

Following each story will be an extensive critique in a friendly, non-threatening, low-stakes environment that targets story construction, performance and revision. 

Additional goals include:

  • Formulating anecdotes and story kernels into fully realized stories
  • The development of humor, suspense and high stakes in a story
  • The effective use of loaded language
  • Revision for time constraints

The first four sessions will be taught by Matthew Dicks, with Elysha Dicks joining the class for the last two sessions to bring her considerable revision and critique talent to the class.  

The cost of both the beginning and advanced workshop is $225.

Posted in Speak Up, Storytelling | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Will my daughter miss out on the culture of cruel pranks and purposeful, public embarrassment because she is a girl? If so, I’m sad. Also, why?

Men can somehow be incredibly cruel to one another, in a very protracted and public ways, and not damage their friendships at all.

Pranks are accepted in male culture. They are encouraged. Embraced.

They may actually serve to strengthen friendships over time.

The more elaborate and cruel the prank, the better.

The prank that these minor league baseball players played on their teammate, Jeff Francoeur, is hilarious and incredibly embarrassing. Not only did they make him look foolish, but they created a film to document the prank and posted it online, where it’s received more than a million views already.

 

Still, I have no doubt that the relationship between Jeff Francoeur and his teammates remains unaltered and unharmed. He may be embarrassed, and he may be plotting revenge, but he’s not angry.

This is how man are.

I don’t see this same phenomenon in female culture. Perhaps I’m wrong, but the elaborate prank, the public acts of cruelty and the constant attempts to embarrass or derail your friends for the sake of amusement are not things that I see women regularly embrace.

Women don’t seem to prank one another. At least not with the frequency that men do.

As a man, I’d be hesitant to prank a woman, especially in a public way. 

As the father of a little girl, it makes me sad to think that she may miss out on the joy of prank culture. Some of the pranks that I have perpetrated and been victim to are some of my all-time favorite memories.

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When I was 17 years-old and working at McDonald’s, my friends waited for me outside the restaurant, near the dumpster, knowing that I would be bringing out the trash soon. As I lifted the first bag into the dumpster, they emerged from their hiding places (four guys in all), dragged me to the ground, held me down and tickled me in front of fellow employees and customers for a solid minute before sprinting to their cars and driving off. 

I’ll never forget it. It was horrible and embarrassing and even a little  terrifying at first, but it was hilarious, too.

I have dozens, if not hundreds, of memories like that. 

I’d hate to think that Clara won’t enjoy similar moments in her life because she’s a girl.

Tell me I’m wrong.

Posted in Family, Quandry, Recommended Reading/Viewing | Tagged , , | Leave a comment