Can you believe Christmas is already over and in the weeks leading up to Christmas I didn’t post my annual Christmas Wish-List? Either I’ve slipped into a depression or, some would argue, I’ve grown as a person and I’m realizing it’s not all about me and that gift-giving is better than gift-getting. Well, no, I haven’t grown and evolved. Trust me. I think I just ran out of time, what with my StorySLAM winning, my salsa making, my book-writing and my crazy busy day-job. I had many, many, many awesome things on my list, I got many great things, but sadly I also didn’t get many things I would’ve liked to have gotten.
This Blog entry will be interesting if you’ve ever wanted to be a writer. No, actually, I’ve stumbled upon something I think is brilliant that is better than journaling, better than scrapbooking, and better than Blogging, but will enhance any of those things. It’s called Homework for Life, and you can skip right to the bottom of this Blog and watch the 19-minute video. Or you can read what I have to say about it.
I’m nostalgic about things. I’ve lived a fairly normal life, but because it’s my life, and they were my grandparents, and these are my kids, well, it’s all extraordinary. So is your life. I’m not saying my life is better than yours. As I get older, memories get fuzzy or some disappear entirely. Ask me about the day I graduated from high-school. I mean, the actual ceremony when I was in my cap and gown and then later that evening at the Senior All-Night party and I can’t really tell you what happened, but I’ll bet I had a great time and felt very proud. I’ll bet my Mom wore something nice and my Dad said things like, “it was touch and go there for a while whether Don would actually get his diploma.” Or maybe he didn’t, but I don’t know. Or my college graduation. I have some photos of myself and my best-friend, Chad, and my Grandpa. I remember thinking, wow, I’m the first “Kowalewski” to have earned a college degree. But what did I eat? What was the most interesting moment of that day? What was my Mom wearing? Did she cry?
Enter Matthew Dicks’s Homework for Life. Essentially it’s this. At the end of every day, sit down for 5-minutes (actually takes less time than that), and write down the most memorable moment of the day. He recommends this because he’s a writer and award-winning storyteller and says it’s a tool for finding more stories. But, and I think he agrees with this, it’s for everyone who wishes to save things they hope to never forget. Like vacations – I’ve gone on 15 years worth of summer vacations with my daughter, and I’d like to tell you about some of the best moments, but they all blend together. Not anymore.
This year, my 12-year-old admitted she knew Santa wasn’t real, so for the first time in 15 years, my wife and I weren’t Santa and that rabid excitement that a magic man from the North Pole would stuff so many toys under your Christmas tree …it didn’t happen. I won’t miss the 5am wake-up call from kids tugging at my blankets on Christmas morning because they can’t sleep another minute knowing what’s downstairs under the tree. OK. I will miss it, a little. It was strange to have teenagers and nobody even woke-up until almost 9:00 a.m. on Christmas morning. I nearly started opening my own gifts just because I was awake and bored.
This is where Homework for Life comes in. I will never forget 2018 was the year our house stopped having Santa. I won’t forget when our 15-year-old reported to us that our 12-year-old knew about Santa. And I won’t forget my wife’s tears at hearing that. And I won’t forget that I made my wife have the official conversation about it because I felt the 12-year-old needed to see my wife talk through tears while admitting the truth. My other two kids had that moment, so should my youngest. I don’t cry (yet) when I talk about it. Because of Homework for Life I’ll remember my sister’s mother-in-law accidentally arguing a very racist phrase wasn’t racist, I’ll remember my 80-year-old Uncle with a heart condition sitting down with a can of Red Bull thinking it was a craft beer, and I’ll remember a few more highlights from the season.
I would call it a game changer. And I’m ready to change the game at the end of 2018 and into 2019.
Before you roll your eyes, this is not a humble brag. This isn’t about my ego. Admittedly, at one point in my life (earlier this week?), a Blog entry like this would’ve been all about my ego and showing-off. No. This is me talking about how powerful it is to say you’re going to do something, and then to do that something. But first, let’s get to the part that will sound “braggy.”
Three months ago my friend Matt died, suddenly, at the age of 47. I spent 12 hours in a car, by myself, driving from Detroit to Peoria and back thinking about him and how much I would miss him, and about how young 47 is, and crying… and thinking.
I was thinking, “Don? What the f’ are you doing?!?!?!” Actually, the question I was asking myself was, “what aren’t you doing and why the f’ aren’t you doing it!?!?!?!”
I had all these dreams. I was going to write a book. I have no book. I was going to write a screenplay. I have no screenplay to show anyone. I was going to re-launch my Donnie Jalapeno Salsa business. Why I stopped making the greatest salsa in the history of the world, I’ll never know. But these dreams were nothing more than dreams. Fleeting thoughts in my head that kept me awake at night and I would do everything to ignore them, make them go away, and fall asleep despite the fact I wasn’t living up to my potential. To get all spiritual on you, God has been whispering in my ear and giving me signals for nearly 30 years and I chose to ignore him. And ignore my wife. And my Dad. And all my friends. I figured anyone saying nice things about me or encouraging me were just being nice, like I would be nice to someone who said they were going to quit their job, move to Key West, and open a tattoo parlor, even though this person doesn’t have tattoos, has never worked in a tattoo parlor, and is squeamish around blood. Oh, and this tattoo-entrepreneur (tattooprenuer, Trademark 12/19/18) friend-of-mine has fare skin and would get sunburned living in Key West. We can admit that would be a foolish dream.
My dreams and ideas weren’t as foolish as the Key-West-tattoo parlor dream (for the record, I don’t have a friend with that dream, so nobody has been offended by this Blog entry). Friend and coach, Nick G. (NickGarciaFormula), asked me why I thought pursuing a creative outlet or vocation was silly? He told me to tell myself a different story.
And then I talked to my brother and he was already a fan of The Moth, and I don’t remember which of us said, “let’s go and try and get on stage and tell a story,” but one of us said it, and we both agreed, and so we bought tickets, went to The Moth show in Ann Arbor, filled out a form that we wanted to tell a story, got picked, both told our stories, and I won.
Next I’ll be telling a story in the GrandSLAM happening May 2019 with nine other finalists. But that’s not why I’m writing this Blog.
This Blog is to thank my friend Nick for pushing me past my comfort zone and telling me my dreams aren’t silly, for Matthew Dicks and his book and his Podcast and for sharing his gifts, and to my brother who has always been at my side, has always listened to my crazy ideas, has the same sense of humor as me, and for instantly saying ‘yes’ and being 100% in when I said we should go to The Moth. Without him at my side, I might’ve not signed up and instead told myself, “I’ll do this in January.” Or I might’ve gotten to The Moth StorySLAM and decided not to fill out a form and chosen, instead, to observe and learn. Or if my brother hadn’t been there and also signed up, when they called my name I might’ve looked around along with the other 200 people in the room and acted like, “where is this Don K, guy …he must’ve chickened out.” Nobody would’ve known. But you can’t do that when your brother is there and drove 45-minutes on a Tuesday school-night with you. And you can’t do that when you see your brother get his name picked and he goes up there and bares his soul and tells a story about the scariest, saddest time in his life and tells everyone how, after that, he learned what happiness and joy feel like. You just can’t bail out when all these signs are telling you, “tell your story.”
At the end of the night when all ten storytellers were done, and the judges gave me the highest score, they handed me a piece of paper that said “Congratulations- You are Moth StorySLAM Champion” and I guess, officially, it means I “won.” But even without that paper, for having an amazing brother, for having a wife and kids that didn’t bat an eye when I spent my Tuesday night driving to Ann Arbor, Michigan and back instead of driving my daughter to dance, helping my other daughter study, cleaning up the kitchen after my wife makes dinner, and watching TV with my son, for having a friend who pushed me onto the stage, and a hundred more friends who wouldn’t laugh at me for doing a StorySLAM …for all of these things, I am a winner every day.
We all know Millennials are ruining everything. They’re freaks who don’t buy homes, don’t get married, don’t watch network TV, they don’t have real jobs, and they don’t have cars. But, actually, they do have cars. Maybe only 75% of them have cars, which is low compared to Gen Xrs or Boomers, but if 75% of Millennials have cars, that means they own more total cars than 100% of Gen Xrs. And sad to say, the Boomer population are losing members every day (hey …it’s the circle of life) and Boomer couples are no longer 2-car families. They’re old. You get what I’m saying, right. Here’s an article I wrote for Tribune Publishing.
Remember my friend Matt. How great was he? So great he inspired Cherie R. to write something amazing for MattBairRemembered.com and her words made me smile and cry. If you see Cherie, give her a hug and tell her great job. For people-not-named-Don, sometimes writing and speaking from the heart doesn’t come easy. But if what you write comes from your heart and is your voice, trust me, it will be beautiful and people will like it.
Lastly, Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly did this seven years ago and I heard about only a few days ago. Is it funny? I’m not sure. It’s word for word, beat for beat, a total recreation of David Bowie and Bing Crosby. I mean. They didn’t change a thing. So I guess it’s not funny, but because they didn’t change a thing, I actually think it’s amazing.
My salsa is soooooo good, even when tomatoes and fresh vegetables aren’t in season, my Donnie Jalapeno salsa dominates taste buds. Remember the old days when you would have to order only when I was ready to make salsa? Well …things have changed. It’s 2018. Here’s how it works.
For those new to the Donnie Jalapeno cult, know this …I have the worst business model of all time. I can’t figure out any way to guarantee the freshness by canning it or adding preservatives, so for the time being, I will make it fresh to order. Like pizza (I mean, except for frozen pizza).
***WARNING*** If you invite Don to something or do something with Don that makes Don smile, laugh, cry, or if an event, or the people at said event, entertain Don in any way, shape, or form … he might Blog about it. *** WARNING PART 2 *** If you are not mentioned in Don’s Blog entry it means (a) next time you better do something more memorable or (b) Don is a jerk ***
So to everyone who went to the Tim & Jeanette’s on Saturday …drum roll …We did it! We said we should have a get-together. Then we planned a get-together. And then we all showed up. OK. Tim has been planning regular get-togethers for a few years and I just didn’t show up. But no more. Two months ago, when frat’ brother Matt passed away, we hugged and cried, and we told each other, “we need to get together more often.” And then we did. And it was wonderful.
I want to say the fellowship, reminiscing, and catching-up was the highlight, but I’d be lying. Saturday night, first and foremost, is the night we all first tasted Tracie Hunt’s White Chocolate Covered Peanut Butter Balls. Ya know how history defines things as B.C. and A.D.? Well, for the rest of our lives we’ll call it “B.P..B and A.D.P.B.” which of course is “Before Peanutbutter Balls” and “After Digesting Peanut Butter Balls.” I don’t remember if we lifted Tracie upon our shoulders and carried her around the living room as if she’d won a championship, but that might’ve happened. The only awkward moment was her husband, Rick, wondering why he wasn’t quite important enough to have ever had the White Chocolate Covered Peanut Butter Balls before Saturday. Come to think of it, that is a good question. I imagine that was a loooooong ride home and we wish them luck in their marriage counseling sessions.
Big thanks to Host and hostess, better known as The Insult Comics Tim & Jeanette. Jeanette was on fire! She won the Roast Battle. Their house is amazing but we really only needed Tim’s basement kitchen/bar, lined with Costco sized (and branded) bottles of bourbons, whiskeys, vodkas, and beers. It’s the kinda place I could see myself sitting around for hours. And that’s exactly what I did. My time at the bar was interrupted only for as long as it took to race upstairs and stuff myself with food. Oh, and I did move a few feet away to play Catchphrase. Pretty sure Team #2 won convincingly behind the Catchphrase master skills of Suzann Hallman.
Speaking of Suzann Hallman …do not Google “Camel Punching.”
The White Chocolate Covered Peanut Butter balls weren’t the only food and dessert highlight. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the 100-Mile dessert courtesy of Steve Hallman. The dessert can only be served after driving 100 miles. No. It’ can’t just come right outta the oven. At least I think desserts are better when they travel great distances because Phil’s No-Bake Chocolate Oatmeal cookies were damn good and they logged many miles to get to the party.
The winner of Best-Food-Item in the Non-Dessert/Non-Booze category was definitely Tim S’s Spicy Bacon Wrapped Tater Tots (aka heart-burn bombs). They were worth every uncomfortable moment post-consumption.
Lastly, the M.V.P. (Most Valuable Party Guest) was Kwass. If ever you hear me questioning his friendship, just know this …on this night, Verve Pipe was playing a concert and he chose us over Brian Vander Ark (but PLEASE don’t let this get back to Brian, as I’m pretty certain he thinks Kevin would never blow off a Verve Pipe concert for anything or anyone).
We had plenty of ice. Thanks for asking. If we get together again next year, we might still be using the same ice source.
In summary, this Blog would have you believe the food and booze were the only thing worth Blogging about, but that’s not true. These guys are like my brothers, and they and their wives are like family, and unlike people who meet me now, well into my 40s, a father-of-three, who I only allow to see the best-of-Don …these people at Tim and Jeanette’s house knew me back when I was 19 …and 23 …and 27 …when we all didn’t quite know what we were doing and they saw the worst-of-me (and I saw the worst-of-them), and we all love each other, anyway. And I don’t know a group I’d rather spend my Saturday night with.
Merry Christmas, all.
I have a sickness. A never-ending quest for better and better headphones.
The latest addition to my collection are the JBL Everest Elite 750s. My regular-guy review is here. For music listening, they’re B+ or A-. For phone calls, especially when wired and speaking into the inline mic … they’re the best. Period.
My brother and I will be attending (and hopefully I get picked) The Moth in Ann Arbor on December 18th. Gotta come up with a story about “joy.”
Yes. I’m going to become a story-teller. Why not? It doesn’t matter that I’m 45-years-old. I’m still living out my promise to myself, and my promise to the spirit of my friend Matt, that I won’t waste another day.
Like, I’m getting emails from kids at Michigan State who saw my lecture a few weeks ago and they’re asking for advice. I’m not about to tell any of them, even the 23-year-old who said, “I feel like I’m running out of time,” that they should take chances and have adventures and then I sit home and wish I would’ve written stories, told stories, and wrote a book, but now I’m “out of time.” If I, at 45, told a 65-year-old how I’m feeling, he’d probably punch me (that’s what that generation did …punched and tweaked ears).
Today’s Blog post is brought to you by “listening.” Listen to your heart. Listen to me. Listen to quality headphones.
I’m not the only guy on the planet obsessed with Podcasts. It’s entirely possible that I spend, at a minimum, listening to 10-hours worth each week. It’s also possible I’m lying about that number so when my wife, boss, or Dad reads this they don’t realize I’m probably pushing 20-hours a week. 20-hours a week listening to Podcasts.
This is where I would list all my Podcast subscriptions (Drew & Mike Podcast = 10 hours, Up First = 1.25 hours, Fareed Zakaria GPS = 1 hour, PTI = 2.5 hours, The Tim Ferriss Show = 1 hour, UMD Newman Catholic Campus = .5 hours, View from the Cheapseats = 1 hour, and many, many more that I subscribe to and listen to if I like the guest).
What a waste of time, right? Some? Yes. Total waste of time. But I like inspirational, instructive, and interesting Podcasts, too …like Hidden Brain, the Jocko Podcast, and Fat-Burning Man, to name a few.
Today I want to share two Podcasts that might’ve changed the direction of my creative life. Yes, I like to think I have my regular life, and my creative life. I like to think, and I told my life-coach this very thing – I’m at my best when I’m being creative. I like to write. I like to turn a story into a presentation or eulogy. I have for a long time. I thought, maybe, at one point in my life I could be a stand-up comic. Then I tried improv theater. I’ve spoken to businesses at grand openings, to a class at MSU, to my church, to the parents at my school, and I liked doing it and people said they liked listening to me.
So what? What do I do with that.
This week, I liked the topic on the Art of Manliness Podcast. The guest was Matthew Dicks and the episode title was “How to Tell Better Stories.” It might be the exact right thing I needed to hear at the exact right time in my life when I’m grieving and dealing with a mid-life crisis of sorts. Some of you might know I lost one of my best friends, very suddenly, in October 2018. He was 47. He was out for a run, ya know, like doctors say we should do to stay healthy. Cardio. It’s supposed to be good for us. His heart didn’t allow him to finish his run.
This guy, Matthew Dicks? He tells stories. That’s it. Someone told him, years ago, he should share his stories. He did. It went well. And three books, many awards, many episodes of a Podcast, a wife, two kids, and many stories later, that’s what he does. And he’s very, very good. I’m not even saying, “I want to be the next Matthew Dicks.” I’m just saying, hey, I have stories and I want to try this.
I bought his book, Storyworthy. I’ve been reading it like I’m on death row (I don’t know what people do on deathrow, truth be told, but I would read books like crazy… and eat Double Stuff Oreos with milk for every meal). I’ve identified a few storytelling events I’ll be attending.
All those Podcasts sometimes feel like a waste of time. All this Blogging over all these years might all be for nothing. Then again, if we spend some time filling our ears and brain with good ideas, inspirational people, and listening to stories, maybe – just maybe – we can write our own.
Here’s Matthew. This. Is. So. Good.
Say good-bye to Kaleidoscopic Raygun as you know it.
And get ready for a Blog that will act as my creative portfolio, a resource for my clients, a landing page for my writing, and pretty much “my brand” (or “Brand Don”).
Earlier this week I had the good fortune to be invited by Professor Karl Gude to guest-lecture at his super-cool Media Sandbox. It’s a HUGE class with 500 enrolled students and I would guess 400 of them were in attendance to watch me speak. I spoke for about 40-minutes and then answered about 15-minutes worth of questions which included me singing a commercial jingle I had written at one point in my career, and telling two of the jokes I could remember from my stand-up act from 14 years ago. I hope the horrible singing and the un-funny stand-up material didn’t detract from what I thought was a somewhat interesting lecture.
The lecture was on evolving media with an emphasis on journalism, I talked at length about radio, and then I tried to mix in some life lessons about making bold moves and realizing that sometimes a “bold move” can be nothing more than showing up or introducing yourself to someone.
After my lecture, some students came up to me and asked me questions about my job, about switching careers, and someone asked me, “how can I make my Blog blow up.” I gave out all sorts of advice. Some pretty good advice, I might add. But …then I drove for an hour and half back home and the entire time I was thinking, hey, ya know …I don’t actually take my own advice.
This is not just me saying it. This is my friend Nick G., this is my friend Dave A., and my friend Word (that’s what we call him). This is everyone saying I should “do this” or “do that” and my mind hasn’t ever really believed “this” or “that” was realistic or was anything more than a fantasy.
That is not what I told the 400 kids at MSU on Tuesday, November 13th. Nope. I told them “dream big” and “make bold moves” and for a Blog to “blow up” it needed to have daily posts about one thing and should be supported with an active Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Tumblr, and email blasts. Every Blog, I said, should be a Podcast, even if that Podcast was simply on SoundCloud.
I was channeling my inner-Gary Vaynerchuk. But I’ve never actually done the things I was telling these kids to do.
Chances are, you know what you want to do and you might even know what you should do to make it happen, but you’re not.
Follow me on my journey, OK. Or take the steps with me.
Step 1 …make my Blog more than just a collection of funny posts about coffee and my amazing hair.
What’s your Step-1?
Do ya ever get into a rut? Wake up. Start the day. Maybe you nailed your good morning routine. Maybe you didn’t and hit the snooze alarm, but you did get the stuff done you absolutely had to get done, like make breakfast for your kids. Shower. Get dressed. Drive your kids to school. Drive to work. Start working. But maybe, like me, you skipped the other parts. For me, the “other parts” are wake-up at 4:55 a.m. (preceded by a 10:00 p.m. bedtime the night before), guzzle 500 mLs of water, take a half-hour power-walk, arrive home at 5:30 a.m. Make a cuppa coffee. Write. Plan the day. And by 6:15 a.m. I will have done the “me stuff” because 6:15 a.m. until 7:30 a.m. is family time. Breakfasts. Clean kitchen. Empty dishwasher. Drive ’em to school.
Too often, though, I know I’ve got this vast safety net of time and I simply hit-the-snooze until 6:15 a.m. I call that my “last chance” moment. Or as my friend and coach, Nick G. says, “is that a ‘must-do’ or a ‘should-do’? Do your actions show you believe the things are a ‘must-do’, or only a dream? And if it isn’t a ‘must-do’, why isn’t it?”
You get it, right? If sleep through my morning walk, excess water, a few moments of prayer and writing, nobody cares. Nobody is hurt. But if I just decided at 6:15 a.m. that, screw it, I’m gonna sleep until 8 o’clock, my kids would get out of bed and have to make their own breakfast. The dishwasher wouldn’t get emptied. My wife would have to do it all …breakfast, pack lunches, take the dog out, make sure everyone is packed up for school, quickly drop the older two at school and then get our youngest daughter to school and get herself to work. I’d miss out on family time and the morning chit-chat about what their days have in-store, I wouldn’t actually have any influence on their healthy breakfast, and my wife would be crazed and probably resent my laziness and selfishness for just sleeping through it all.
So you see …getting going at 6:15 a.m. is a must-do.
But first I gotta admit it – I haven’t been doing the things needed to get anywhere near my dreams.
I admit it – I waste alotta time. I know it. And shame on me for that.
A month ago, I lost one of my best friends very suddenly and way-too-soon. He was 47-years-old. He was in great health and had recently started running again and hitting personal bests. He had an amazing job, more friends than I’ll ever have, a beautiful family, and in an instant, while out for a run, he was gone. Out for a run. Exercising. Just like we all should be doing and our doctors tell us to do.
Chances are you’ve lost someone too soon. My sorrow and grieving isn’t different than anyone else who lost a spouse, sibling, or child way before their time. We all kinda have expectations when we sign the contract on our lives, or our marriages, or when we have kids. We’re supposed to work, get to see all the milestone moments, retire, dance at our children’s weddings and then, if we’re lucky, get to hold some grandchildren. That’s the deal. That’s how it works. Or at least that’s how it’s supposed to work.
When someone, like my friend Matt, is ripped out of our lives and the contract he signed is ripped up and can’t be renegotiated, we all head to the funerals and are very sad and says its tragic, but we also say, “that could be me.”
If you want to read about how extraordinary my friend Matt was, please, take 15-minutes and read this.
Then. Stop hitting the snooze bar. Stop watching mindless TV at night (another tip from Nick G.), and use your time (the first “T” in Matt’s success formula). Start doing things as if your “wanna-do” and “should-do” become as “must-do” as things like raising your children and going to work.
Easier said than done, but I’m going to do it and, as is my way, will Blog about the journey. Don’t worry. I’m still gonna Blog about coffee and headphones and my other obsessions. I still wanna be fun and funny. But I’m going to make daily and weekly progress and stop wasting time.