Friday, December 19, 2014

Seven Secrets to Successful Marriage

Last week, my wife and I celebrated 21 years of marriage. Twenty-one years of ups and downs, good times and hard times. If our marriage were a person, it would be old enough to drink.

If it had been through what we've been through, it would want to.

Don't get me wrong, it's been a great marriage. I couldn't be happier. Not without a large influx of cash. Life is difficult sometimes, but we've managed to weather the storms.

In fact, our marriage has lasted 20.5 years longer than some people thought. Several of them expressed their concerns (butted in) that we (I) weren't right for each other (her), and that something sinister (my secular upbringing) could cause difficulties (send her sobbing back home to her parents).

But we've persevered, thrived, and supported each other as we raised a family and pursued our dreams. Unlike our holier-than-thou detractors, however, we haven't had to deal with extramarital affairs, addiction to pornography, or embezzlement. (And I was the one they were worried about!)

Not that I'm still bitter, 21 years later.

I was recently asked how we've managed to stay together this long. I thought about that, and came up with our seven secrets to a successful marriage.

Tip #1: Say "I love you" every day. My wife and I say it at least once a day, and usually several times. We say it when part ways each morning, and again when we go to bed at night. It grosses out our kids that we're always this mushy, so we like to squeeze in a couple gooshy "I wuv ewes" at dinner. Their pained groans make it totally worth it.

Combine this with Tip #2, always tell each other good-bye. A nice hug and kiss with an "I love you" for good measure. Never leave the house without saying good-bye. And don't shout it upstairs either, as you're on the way out the door.

Our unspoken fear is that one of us won't make it back from wherever we're going, and we don't want the last thing we said to be "don't forget the ointment for the dog's butt!"

Now that I think about it, "At least I remembered the dog's butt ointment" would make an awesome gravestone epitaph.

Tip #3: Hug and kiss each other once a day. This is easier to do when you're younger, because you can't keep your hands off each other. The trick is to keep doing it when it gets a little easier to keep your hands to yourself.

It's also fun when kids get icked out by parents showing public displays of affection. The more you do it, the louder they groan, which means you should do it more. Because grossing out the kids is all parents ever really want out of life; mashing our faces together to do it is an added bonus.

Tip #4: Never fight about money. Easier said than done, right? After all, the number one thing married couples fight about is money. But we have found a fair and equitable solution. Since I'm so terrible with money — and math — my wife is in charge of family finances. She tells me when I can't buy stuff anymore.

Then I do it a little more until she tells me that I absolutely cannot, without risking death at her hand, spend any money whatsoever. Then I hold off until payday, when I assume everything's okay, until she tells me otherwise again. It's worked for the last 21 years, and I'm sure her sleepless nights a few days before every payday are completely unrelated.

Tip #5: Decide whether you want to be happy or right. I have learned, through much trial and error, that you can't be both. If you're in an argument, you can go and go and go until you're right, but you won't be happy in the end. Or you can just apologize, even if it's not your fault, end the argument, and be happy.

Is it fair and just? No. But if you're happy, you don't care. If you're right, I hope that brings you more comfort than the couch does.

If you're one of those people who is only happy when they're right, get used to being alone, because those people tend not to be in relationships very long.

Tip #6: Argue. No, seriously, argue. I knew a couple who swore up and down that they never argued. Not once. They were two of the most miserable people I'd ever met.

Healthy couples argue occasionally. They have fair exchanges, they vent their emotions, and when they're done, they make up. They fight fair, give each other a chance to speak, never ridicule, insult, or bully. They wrestle with an issue until they resolve it, and then get on with their lives.

Unhealthy couples bicker and argue all the time, or they never get upset with each other. In either case, seek counseling.

Tip #7: Something about listening or some such thing. I don't know, the game's on.



The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My latest book, The Owned Media Doctrine is now available on Amazon.com
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Friday, December 12, 2014

Fine, Have a Passive-Aggressive Christmas!

A recent blog post on ScaryMommy.com, "Passive Aggressive Gifts For Kids of Parents You Hate," got me to thinking about the holidays. Christmas is a time of love, family, peace on earth, good will toward men (and women), except for those we really don't like.

Of course, we're not supposed to say things like that, but that doesn't mean many of us aren't perpetually annoyed at certain people in our lives. Like the "friends" who pretend they're overjoyed to see us, but when we're out of earshot, trash us to anyone who cares to listen.

They're the ones who insult us in a way that we're not really sure if we should punch them or thank them — "Have you been losing weight? It's about time, I was beginning to worry about you. Your pants finally fit well."

These are the people we're supposed to be kind to, because it's Christmas. We don't want to, we really just want to drink too much egg nog and tell them what we really think, but they're family, so we can't. Instead we fret over family gatherings and friends' parties, which can ruin the holidays.

This is where being passive-aggressive helps: you get to stick it to the people you don't quite like without actually coming to blows.

In keeping with the Christmas spirit, let me give you a few pointers to help you abide by the spirit of Christmas, or at least the letter of the law. Follow these carefully, and you'll get the one thing you really need: plausible deniability. As in, "what do you mean, milk chocolate isn't vegan? It's made from chocolate!"

1) Give their kids gifts that make a lot of noise or leave a big mess. ScaryMommy.com recommends toys like an electronic voice changer. The fun will last until the battery dies, or his parents snap and smash the thing with the minivan. Glitter and Moon Dough (a never-drying knockoff of Play-Doh) are great for messes that will never truly go away.

2) Give a basic starter kit to a much larger activity. For example, give a Thomas the Tank Engine train to a three-year-old boy, and his parents will curse you for the next seven years as they buy every toy, clothing item, accessory, and DVD about the little British steam engine and his pals.

Similarly, give adults a beginning jewelry kit, home brewing kit, or the first book of a 24-book series. Better yet, make it the seventh book, so they're forced to go back in both directions.

3) When extended family visits, serve everyone the same foods you give to that one diet-restricted person in your immediate family. If you or your child is lactose intolerant, only serve soy egg nog and almond milk hot chocolate.

But don't offer these same arrangements if someone in their family has a diet restriction. Ask them to bring their own food to accommodate their stupid kid's stupid potato allergy.

The same is true for those relatives who insist their precious snowflakes can only eat organic, free-range, grass fed foods. Serve mac-and-cheese with cut-up hot dogs as a side dish. Put the mac-and-cheese in Christmas tree shaped dishes, and use the hot dogs as Christmas balls. Then, no one can complain about the food, because they would be complaining about Christmas.

4) Buy clothes that are too large. Not grossly large, but a couple sizes too big. You can say, "I thought this would look nice on you" but the underlying message is "We all think you're this big." Don't get something too big, like an XXXL bathrobe for your petite sister-in-law. She'll recognize what you're doing, and call you out on it. This defeats the purpose of plausible deniability.

5) This one is a double-reverse. Many people with a November or January birthday learned to hate their birthday, because of cheap relatives who would give a single gift to cover both days.

Don't do that. That's not true passive-aggression.

If you want to be really zing someone, give those people two gifts, one for each special day. This makes you look like the cool, awesome friend or relative, and embarrasses the people who cheap out and only buy one. And that's what we really want this season, right?

Ultimately, Christmas is about giving, not receiving; sharing, not greed; love, not hatred. If you're going to be passive-aggressive, try to do it with a little love and kindness so you look like you're actually a kind person. Or can at least claim to be.

Especially when you're picking my Christmas gifts. Just don't get me Starbucks gift cards. Especially the $25 ones.



The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My latest book, The Owned Media Doctrine is now available on Amazon.com
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Friday, December 05, 2014

House Hunter Haters

Announcer: Welcome to another episode of House Hunters, the show where two spoiled brats search for the "Perfect Dream Home of their Dreams" in a new city with a surprising budget beyond the reach of normal, reasonable people.

This week, Angie and Dylan Baxter want to find a home in uber-expensive Santa Barbara, California. He's a part-time freelance web designer and she's a kindergarten teaching assistant. They have a budget of $750,000, and want to find a spacious home and yard that reminds them of the farmhouses in rural Kansas. Our realtor, Barbara, is on the case.

Barbara (to camera): I specialize in making people's dreams come true, which, despite what the haters say, is a real thing. I've worked in this town for 27 years as a Realtor (notice how I capitalized it there; that means it's important), and I can help the Baxters. Their budget is $750,000, which is the bare minimum you need to break into the Santa Barbara market.

Angie (to camera): I grew up with a big family. So I—

Dylan: —We—

Angie: Right, we want a big house, just like I grew up in. I, I mean, we want to get something with at least five bedrooms and a big back yard, if we ever have a child.

Barbara stares blankly at the camera.

Dylan (sitting in a "meeting" with Barbara and Angie): We got married three years ago and are ready to start the next chapter in our lives. We love exercising and we came out to California, because frankly we're too pretty to stay in Kansas. We have impossibly saved up $750,000, and want to spend our days eating organic vegetables and doing hot yoga in the basement, which we would turn into a yoga studio so Angie could give private lessons.

(Commercial break for luxury items you don't actually need.)

Barbara (to camera): We've looked at 32 different houses, but we haven't found what the Baxters were looking for. He wants something close to his work, which I don't even think is a real job. And she finds something wrong with every single #&@& house! God help me, I don't know how much more of this I can take!

(Cut to the three walking up the driveway of another house.)

Barbara: This house is a 2,400 square foot Arts and Crafts style bungalow. It's the only home ever designed by I.M. Pei, it sits on its own private cul-de-sac, which is right next to the beach. The kitchen was remodeled six months ago, and comes with its own robot chef. The last couple who lived here found gold in the back yard, but had to move before they found it all. And best of all, it's only $10,000.

Angie (said with enough "creaky voice" to register on the Richter scale.): But the fourth bedroom is too sma-a-a-a-ll. And it looks all 50s-ish. Bo-ring. The 50s were big, you know, three years ago, but now they're out.

Barbara: Actually mid-century modern architecture is still very popular.

Angie: Well, not where we're from.

Dylan: On the plus side, I like the mahogany workbench in the garage, and the view is gorgeous. Plus the robot chef can even make kale smoothies. Angie loves—

Angie: —We love—

Dylan: Uh, yeah, we love kale smoothies.

Angie: I think we'd like to see some other houses before we decide.

Dylan: But babe, this one is perfect. And for $10,000? We'd be idiots to pass it up.

Angie: I don't know. I just didn't like the color of the walls in the closet. Plus there was some mildew on the shower curtain, and I didn't like the washer and dryer.

Dylan: Okay, babe. I trust your judgment.

Angie: We want to see some more houses over the next five weeks before we decide.

Barbara: I have to tell you, in my 27 years of being a Realtor (did you hear me capitalize it again?), I've never seen a house go for so little. Not without being a serial killer's house or exceedingly haunted. This is the most sought after house on the market, and I'm amazed there's not a riot of people trying to buy it.

Angie: I think I know a little something about home buying too. I became an interior designer after I helped my mom paint her living room. Plus I read some realtor blogs last night.

Barbara: That's Realtor!

Announcer: When we return, we'll see whether Angie and Dylan choose the Arts and Crafts bungalow, or if Barbara straight up murdered them.



Photo credit: Randen Pederson (Flickr, Creative Commons)

The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My latest book, The Owned Media Doctrine is now available on Amazon.com
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Friday, November 28, 2014

Happy Generic Holiday Greetings To All

For a day that's supposed to represent peace and love, Christmas sure makes a lot of people angry. The only thing we get angrier about is the presidential elections. At least that only happens every four years.

We just finished Thanksgiving, the kickoff to the season of religious and consumer rages. It started with your racist uncle saying he didn't understand the big deal about Ferguson, and it won't end until the family New Year's Eve party, when someone gets stabby with a swizzle stick.

By the time Thanksgiving rolls around next year, this year's anger fest will be a hazy memory and a promise from your family that "this time, things will be different." Nothing has changed or been different with your family for the last 20 years, so why break tradition?

One of the reasons people get so emotional about Christmas is because they feel it's being threatened. Sixty years ago, when most celebrated Christmas, we put Christmas decorations up in the schools, opened school board meetings with prayers, said "Merry Christmas" to anyone and everyone, secure in the knowledge that they too celebrated Christmas, just like everyone else.

Then, people who didn't celebrate Christmas for religious, cultural, or personal reasons found they had a voice. They pointed out they were left out of the holiday season.

The Jews celebrate Hanukkah, the Muslims celebrate Ramadan, the Hindus celebrate Diwali, and the atheists don't observe a religious-based holiday. And these other groups wanted to celebrate their own holidays on their own terms, and use their own words for well-wishes.

This prompted people to do one of three things: cry "political correctness" and refuse to recognize anyone else's holiday (or feelings); remove all references of Christmas and Christianity so as not to offend anyone, but end up offending everyone; or, let everyone do their own thing.

None of these seem to make anyone happy. Three things happened in the news this week that bear this out.

First, an elementary school in Belmont, Mass., a suburb of Boston, was going to cancel their annual trip to see the Christmas ballet, The Nutcracker, because there was a Christmas tree on stage. The PTA worried this would indoctrinate the non-Christian children in the audience.

Even though the school had sent second graders to the show for decades, this year, some parents complained that The Nutcracker had religious content. So rather than allow parents to choose to send their children or not, the PTA cancelled the trip.

Without telling anyone.

However, word spread, and there were more people who were upset by the secret cancellation than by the tree itself, so the trip is back on.

Presumably, the children whose brains will be ruined by a religious symbol will stay home, where they won't be exposed to new ideas or a broader world view until they're much older.

Second, in Marshfield, Mass., Marshfield High School has residents up in arms because they edited the school calendar: they changed the name of the winter break from "Christmas Vacation" to "Holiday Break."

They're leaving the name "Christmas" on December 25, but have changed the name of the 12-day break to better represent the diversity of their community.

The school committee had changed it to "Christmas Break" in 2007, and received a number of complaints afterward, so they decided to change it back to "Holiday break" in August.

Many people were upset by the change, so one woman launched a petition to see the calendar restored. She's collected more than 4,000 signatures of people who are threatened by a name on a piece of paper. But the committee held fast and upheld the change in a 3–2 vote.

If they're truly upset, will the 4,000 people will stand by their principles and send their children to school on those days, refusing to accept a "holiday" break?

F'inally, Washington state, in an attempt to appease everyone, has passed a new law that mandates two unpaid days off for religious observances for people of all faiths.

KING 5 News reported that the new law went into effect in June, and wondered what actually constituted a religion. Of course, it's not a TV news story if they don't try to generate mock outrage, so they said reported that even Festivus, the fake holiday from "Seinfeld," would constitute a "religious observance."

There's no escaping it: there's more than one religious faith practiced by a large number of people in this country. We' all have our own religious practices and observances. We all have our special holy days. The secret to holiday happiness is accepting the existence of everyone's observances, and not being a jerk about it when it doesn't coincide with yours.

Wish your Christian friends Merry Christmas, your Jewish friends a happy Hannukah. Wish your Muslim friends a blessed Ramadan and say "happy Diwali" to your Hindu friends. Don't pretend theirs are fake, or whine about a "War On [My Holiday]" when someone hints at the existence of someone else's.

As for me, I'm celebrating Festivus on December 23rd, especially the airing of grievances.

Starting with why I can't put up a Festivus pole in the living room.


Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons (Creative Commons)

The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My latest book, The Owned Media Doctrine is now available on Amazon.com
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Friday, November 21, 2014

You've Got a Thing Hanging. . .

With all the weird weather going on, Erik is feeling under the weather himself. So we're reprinting a column from 2005 while he curses the winter from his couch. With a juice box.

Quick, check the mirror. You've got something in your teeth.

How many people would tell you that? Not many. You could be eating lunch with a friend and have a huge chunk of your entree stuck between your front teeth, and your so-called friend will just stare at you. You think you're wildly interesting, because she's making great eye contact and hangs on your every word. But in reality, you're going to spend the entire day with a huge piece of green spinach plastered to your front tooth, making you look like Mike Tyson's prom date. And your friend will never tell you.

You can tell who your true friends are, because they're the ones who tell you if you've got a booger hanging from your nose; they want to save you from complete embarrassment later on.

But most people I know say they never point out dangling boogers or tooth spinach because they don't want to embarrass the other person. That's understandable. You wouldn't want to have your carefully crafted persona shattered by being told you have a huge chunk of barbecued rib dangling from the corner of your mouth.

However, these non-tellers never think about the fact that you won't discover your bodily faux pas for three hours when you finally get to a bathroom mirror.

Now how embarrassed are you? Not only did you sit through lunch with your friend, but you had a department meeting, and gave a presentation to your boss, with that booger stalactite hanging from your nostril.

We're not really trying to spare the other person's feelings. We're just embarrassed ourselves. We don't want to be the one to point at the other person, say "Err. . . you've got a. . ." and then wipe our hand under our nose.

However, we feel absolutely no compunction about laughing about it with friends later: "I mean, it was just HANGING there , flapping in and out with every breath! I started to worry it was going to fly into my soup!"

We need to get over ourselves. Life is not always about us (it's about me, actually, but that's a different column), so we shouldn't worry about the shame of saying "You've got a. . . uhh. . ." We're actually doing the other person a favor — the same favor we would want them to do for us.

It's the Golden Nugget Rule: Point out others' boogers as you would have them point out boogers unto you.

Ultimately, the kind of person you are comes down to that one simple question: are you a forthright straight shooter who tells people what they need to hear? Or are you a shy, timid wallflower who would rather be swarmed over by fire ants then tell your best friend of 25 years that their barn door is open?

I would hope you're the former, and that you'll spare a friend total public humiliation and remind her to thoroughly wipe her nose before she leaves the restaurant.

Of course, all of the rules fly out the window when it comes to smells and odors. Even communication and relationship experts agree that telling someone they smell would be the most awkward, uncomfortable thing we could ever do. It's less awkward to tell your best friend you're having an affair with his wife as you carry her out the door for a romantic weekend.

Our smells are one of the most basic things about us — it's our very essence and the way our prehistoric ancestors used to identify each other way back in the 1940s. Even in some cultures today, a person's odor is considered part of who they are, as distinctive as their face and their personality. To experience a person's odor is to experience the person.

Because odors are so primal, people never want to point out that someone else is emitting an unpleasant one. In most cases, it's considered a grave insult. The only exception is when a group of Guys get together and someone shouts the inevitable, "Dude, that was gross! What died inside you?!" immediately after one of them rips one. Then, not only are odors pointed out, they're usually laughed at and celebrated.

So, don't be a fair weather friend. Look out for your friend, co-worker, or new acquaintance and help them save face in what could be an awkward social situation. Stand up, point dramatically at the other person, and declare proudly: "I am your friend, and you've got a large booger hanging from your nose!"

They'll thank you for it.


Photo credit: AWiseAcre (Flickr, Creative Commons)


The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My latest book, The Owned Media Doctrine is now available on Amazon.com
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Friday, November 14, 2014

Danish Researcher Receives Troll Hunting Grant

Despite Denmark's own flagging economy, the Danish Council for Independent Research apparently has too much money lying around. They're giving 2.5 million Kroner ($419,000 US) to a Danish PhD student who wants to determine whether trolls live on Bornholm island.

Anyone who's been to the Norway exhibit at Epcot knows that Scandinavians love their trolls. The knobbly creatures with huge noses and wild hair run rampant through Nordic fairy tales, but are thought to be as real as the Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot, or a tasty gluten-free brownie.

PhD student Lars Christian Kofoed Rømer was the lucky researcher selected to receive the 2.5 million Kroner grant. He'll spend a year on the island in the Baltic Sea looking for "physical manifestations" of trolls. He's even looking for the Krølle Bølle troll, which has already been determined to be fake, as it was created in 1946 by author Ludwig Mahler.

I don't know what Rømer's methods will be, but if it were me, I would try to spot them on the beach, from a hammock, to see if they would steal my umbrella drinks. In the winter, I would hole up in a cozy log cabin and see if I could entice any trolls inside with a fire, steaks, beer, and hours and hours of Assassins Creed on Xbox.

My research proposal was shredded and returned to me, postage due.

I spoke with noted Danish troll hunter, Bjorn Jorgensen, to ask him about the chances of Rømer finding evidence of the supernatural beings.

"You have to understand that trolls are very shy creatures," said Jorgensen. They usually only live in and around burial mounds. They're also very mischievous, so they may not actually want to be found for the entire year.

"They're notoriously hard to spot, although you can often see evidence that they've been around. They'll hide your keys, put your wallet in your other pants, or send racy text messages to your wife's best friend."

"Sounds like you've got some real experience with trolls," I said.

"Ja, they're real stinkers," he said. "I first became aware of them when my wife was snooping around on my mobile phone. Since then, I've dedicated my life to finding the trolls who would do such a thing."

"Have you had any luck?"

"I've been close," said Jorgensen. "I've tried leaving little traps, like the old stick and box trick. I've found the box tipped over, or the troll has placed a raccoon inside the trap."

"What kind of advice do you have for Mr. Rømer?"

"There are a few things I would tell him if I could, except my wife checks my mobile phone daily. First, trolls only come out at night. There's no use trying to find them during the day. For one thing, their hidey-holes are camouflaged with troll magic, which means you wouldn't even see them if you were standing on top of them."

"But you can see them at night?"

"Oh no, of course not. It's too dark."

"Then how do you know whether you can see them?"

"I have been a troll hunter for 11 years. I know how to spot a troll hole."

"You mean a Krølle Bølle troll hole?"

"Don't be a smartrøv."

"Sorry. What else should Mr. Rømer know?"

"Trolls are able to disguise themselves. They're very cunning and clever that way. Many times, I have captured a troll, but he has cleverly disguised himself as a raccoon or rabbit. Once, a troll disguised himself as a badger, and I had to be taken to hospital. I received 37 stitches in my hands, and a series of painful rabies shots. I was not able to text my wife's— I mean, continue with my troll hunting for weeks."

"Have you ever seen a real troll?"

"Absolutely," said Jorgensen. "I actually held one in my hands. He was only half a meter tall, and I caught him around his middle with both hands. I went to show my wife, but he bit me on the hand. He almost broke the skin! He also poked me in the eye with that big nose of his. I had to drop him, and he scampered off into the woods."

"That's unfortunate," I said.

"Yes, Mr. Rømer will need to be careful. Trolls will also steal people's clothes, if they are not careful. He needs to take care if he is ever doing nocturnal research with his wife's fri—I mean, research assistant."


The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My latest book, The Owned Media Doctrine is now available on Amazon.com
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Friday, November 07, 2014

Why I Failed Math Story Problems

Writers can weave stories out of the smallest details, but we're very bad at sciencey-mathy things. We can't solve algebraic equations or balance our checkbooks, but we're great at making up new words like "sciencey-mathy."

You would think writers would be good at story problems, but we tend to focus on the story more than the math. An example:

"Jeanette and Stephen are each going to visit their mother in Croton-On-Hudson, New York for Thanksgiving. Jeanette and her family will drive from Stamford, Connecticut, taking highway 9A, which takes 54 minutes. Stephen will take the number 5 subway to Penn Station, and then the train, which will take 1 hour and 54 minutes. If dinner starts at 3:00, what time will Jeanette and Stephen each need to leave to arrive in time for dinner?"

The more important question is why can't Jeanette and Tim, her husband, just give Stephen a ride? If he took the train out to Stamford, he could ride with Jeanette, Tim, and their two kids, Reese and Aubrey, spending quality time with them.

Answer: Because Stephen can't stand the frosty tension between Jeanette and Tim. They constantly snipe at each other, sleep in separate rooms, and haven't been intimate for years. They bicker in front of the kids, who don't notice, because they spend all their time texting with friends.

Tim suspects Jeanette of having an affair with their neighbor, and she's been drowning her feelings of neglect and rage in a bottle of pinot grigio each night. Rather than confront her — Tim hates confrontation — he's been spending more time at the accounting firm he runs with his brother, paying more attention to their marketing coordinator, Allison, than he maybe should.

Their nanny — manny, actually, since Jeanette wouldn't hear of hiring a college girl to flaunt herself in front of Tim — takes the kids to soccer practice, dance recitals, and so on. Jeanette has also been paying a little more attention to Jason the manny than she maybe should.

The kids are busy and disinterested, Tim is always working, and Jeanette is busy with her "interior design business," the go-to business choice for rich stay-at-home moms who received a couple compliments on their kitchen and living room remodel. She's had three clients in two years, including the neighbor she's been sleeping with.

Today's argument was about whether to take I-287 versus NY 9-A to her mother's. GPS says 287 will only take 37 minutes without traffic, but Tim is worried about holiday traffic, which can add 90 minutes. He says that while 9-A is curvier and a longer distance, they can avoid any "potential problems." Jeanette senses he really means "I don't have to spend as much time with you," and her fragile insecurity causes her to polish off the other half bottle of pinot from last night's dinner, which she ate and then purged, while Tim and Allison "discussed a new marketing campaign."

"Cripes, it's barely 12:00," whines Tim, looking at her glass. Jeanette hurls it into the sink, shattering it. The kids barely look up from their iPhones. "Ah, the holidays," they think.

Meanwhile, Stephen lives in Brooklyn, where he is a novelist and creative writing instructor at the New School in Manhattan. He's bringing his girlfriend, Rachel, home to meet the family, knowing she'll raise a few eyebrows. Rachel is African-American, and Stephen's mother is a bit of a racist. So is Tim, a die-hard conservative who doesn't actually know any black people.

Rachel's experiences are more urban, and Stephen knows his mother and Tim will make snide remarks and ignorant statements all day. But he loves Rachel, a professional dancer and actress, and has prepared her for all this. He knows the less time she's around his family, the better. Which rules out riding with Jeanette and Tim in their ostentatious SUV.

Stephen also can't stand his niece and nephew. They're spoiled brats who spend more time texting their friends than actually engaging in human communication. Stephen suspects Reese may be using prescription medication, something he'd had his own experience with, having completed rehab two years ago. He mentioned it to Jeanette once, who screamed at him for 20 minutes.

Stephen will need to leave at 12:00 in order to arrive at 2:00, otherwise the next train would get him to his mother's at 3:15. While he's not looking forward to the extra hour there, it's certainly better than hearing his mother gripe for the rest of the day about his being 15 minutes late.

"Erik, the correct answer was 2:00 and 1:00. Please take this worksheet home to your parents, have them sign it, and tell them I want to meet with them at their earliest convenience."


Photo credit: Clay Shonkwiler (Flickr, Creative Commons)

The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My latest book, The Owned Media Doctrine is now available on Amazon.com
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Thursday, November 06, 2014

Sitting on Your. . . Self and other Hazards of Aging

Occasionally I'll accept guest posts from friends and fellow humor writers. This guest humor piece is from my friend, Randy Clark, who writes about the joys and. . . perils of being an older man. At least older than me.

I’d heard about aging men painfully sitting on their scrotum but had never experienced this geriatric phenomenon. This morning I nearly did. As I sat on the toilet, my boy parts exposed to the cold porcelain, my testis rested on the seat as my left thigh and buttocks approached. Only by quickly (OK, I wasn’t that quick) rebalancing myself on my right rump did I avoid squashing my sac. With age come lifestyle adjustments.

Evolution In Action

Do you remember the evolution diagram in your 7th grade science book? I know the boomers do. Anyway, it shows the progression from monkey to man beginning with a knuckle-dragging primate and slowly straightening up to a posture perfect tall standing man. My wife recently commented, after I took several minutes to get up from the couch that I went through every phase. She may be right. My knuckles are scratched.

It Ain’t All Good, And It Ain’t All Bad

My eyesight has digressed (my left eye has the beginning of a cataract.) My reflexes are slower. My hearing isn’t what it used to be. And my memory is shorter. (Now where was I?) But there are things about growing older that I enjoy and appreciate.

It Sure Beats The Alternative. Or Why Growing Older Is A Good Thing

You know the theory about needing 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert? I have a lot of 10,000-hour categories: management, presenting, performing, and more. And by the time you’re in your 60’s you will too.

I’m not seeking the BIG score I sought in my youth. Whether its income, power, or prestige being on top isn’t as important to me as doing what I believe in and enjoy. Most of what I do, I do because it makes me happy. Life is good.

I’ve heard for years if you have your health you have everything, but never embraced this philosophy. However, being fortunate to be in good health at my age—I now subscribe to it. As American composer Eubie Blake said, “If I’d known I was going to live this long I would’ve taken better care of myself.”

I concern myself less with what others think of my actions and beliefs. I probably will always make some concessions, but I find myself caring less if I conform to others opinions. It’s freeing.

Yes, my back may be bowed, my eyes squinted, and my memory has holes in it, but aging doesn’t only bring regression. It is filled with wonders and joys that when embraced can set your soul free. And besides, I haven’t sat on my balls—yet.

About Randy Clark

I was asked to submit a bio, so rather than offer a third person eulogy of my personal achievements and the positions I’ve held I have a question. If you’re paid to do something are you a professional? If so I’m a professional writer who is also a Rock & Roll singer or a professional singer who writes. Either way—I think I’m funny.



The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My latest book, The Owned Media Doctrine is now available on Amazon.com
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Friday, October 31, 2014

Karl the Curmudgeon Hates Selfies

Karl, scoot over here, I said.

"I'm not really comfortable doing that, Kid."

Don't flatter yourself, old man. I want to take a picture of the two of us. Karl and I were at The Tilted Windmill, our favorite Dutch bar, to watch a game from Dutch Eredivisie Soccer, the Netherlands' professional soccer league — FC Utrecht was beating FC Eindhoven, 2 – 1.

"I know that. That's what I'm not comfortable with."

What? I said. Are you ashamed to be seen with me?

"No more than usual," he said.

I gestured to Nicholaas the bartender for two more beers. Put it on his tab, Nicky, I said. Maybe I can get him drunk enough that he's not ashamed of me anymore.

"Oh, don't be such a baby," growled Karl. "I just don't like selfies"

What? How can you not like selfies?

"You mean besides the fact the word just sounds stupid? That it's one letter away from 'selfish?' Or that it's completely shallow and narcissistic, and shows the world that the picture takers care only about themselves?"

That's harsh, man. I just wanted a photo of us together, since I don't have any. I slumped my shoulders for effect. I mean, you're a good friend, but I don't have anything to remember you by when you finally die.

"That's pretty manipulative, even for you." Karl took a big swig of his beer to wash out the saccharine taste. "Fine, if you want a picture of us, get Nicky to take it. Just don't take it yourself."

After Nicky snapped our photo — where I later discovered Karl had rolled his eyes — I defended the art of the selfie.

It's not a big deal, I said. People have always wanted to photograph themselves, ever since cameras were invented. We just couldn't do it easily. We had to focus, had to hold still, had to leave some extra distance between us and the camera. Even with digital cameras, we could never be sure if we were in the frame or not. Now, with our cell phones, we can see what we're taking a picture of. Rather than getting people to do it, we can do it ourselves.

"But what's the point?"

Because people want to share their experiences and adventures with friends. Instead of handing your phone or camera to a stranger — who could run off with it — and asking them to take a picture of you in front of the Great Pyramid of Giza, you can do it yourself.

"Yeah, but then the photo becomes about you, and not about the experience. You have a collection of photos of you, not places you've been. I'd rather have a photo that shows as much of God's creations or man's constructs as possible and not to have my giant melon in the shot."

You're right about that, I said. You do have a giant melon.

"No bigger than yours, Great Pumpkin." Karl asked Nicky for two more beers and pointed at me. It was my turn to buy. We sat in silence for a few minutes, watching one of the FC Utrecht players fake an injury. After a thoughtful draught, Karl said, "I read an article in the Reno Gazette-Journal recently that said the US Forest Service at Lake Tahoe had to tell people to quit taking selfies with bears they saw in the wild."

Reno, as in Reno, Nevada? We live in Indiana. Why are you reading a newspaper over 2,000 miles away?

"I'm well-read," said Karl. "I read three or four newspapers a day."

Oh, bull! You saw it on Facebook. I saw the same article in your news stream.

"That's not important right now. What's important is that when these idiot campers see a bear, they try to take a picture of themselves with it. And turn their back on it. Just so they could say 'hey look, I was near a bear.'"

I can see the safety concerns, but still, it's pretty cool to be that close to a bear.

"Yeah, but why not just take a picture of the bear? It's gotten so bad that some people actually run toward the bear just to get a picture. The Forest Service is worried people are going to be attacked."

At least their loved ones will know how they died.

"But it goes to my point. Some people are so obsessed with getting selfies, they're not only missing the sights, they're putting themselves in danger."

I think you're fighting an uphill battle, Karl. Selfies are here to stay.

"Maybe so, but that doesn't mean I need to be a part of the Selfish Generation," said Karl. "I prefer to contemplate the wonder of nature and the marvels of our creations, rather than shoving my face into everyone else's experience."

I'll remember that the next time I read your autobiography.



The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My latest book, The Owned Media Doctrine is now available on Amazon.com
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Friday, October 24, 2014

The Bechdel Test: Hollywood's Conversational Rut

What do you talk about during normal conversations? Does it vary between men and women? Do men only talk about sports and sex, while women only talk about clothes and men? Do parents only talk about their kids with other parents? Do you talk about those same topics over and over, or do you discuss different topics?

What about work friends versus personal friends? Or work friends who are also personal friends? When I worked in an office, I found that I would talk to friends at work about personal things, but if we were ever at lunch or dinner, we talked about work.

More importantly, do the movies reflect real life, or are they a cheap, facile imitation?

I recently learned about the Bechdel test in movies, and how it relates to conversations between two women. It's a simple test that determines whether a work of fiction — a movie, book, or TV show — meets three rules at least once. The work has to have 1) two named female characters, 2) who talk to each other, 3) about something besides a man.

Named for Allison Bechdel, creator of the "Dykes to Watch Out For" comic, the test applies to any two women talking about any man. It could be two friends talking about their husbands or boyfriends, two sisters talking about their father, or two female doctors talking about a male patient.

There's even a joke about it: Two women walk into a bar and talk about the Bechdel test.

Of course, it fails if one of them is actually dating a guy named Bechdel Test.

Many cinemaphiles and women's advocates have cited the high number of Bechdel failures as a sign that Hollywood isn't interested in anything where women aren't interested in men or need men to complete them. It fosters the belief that women are merely accessories to men and spend their whole lives trying to win and please them.

You can see which movies pass the Bechdel test at BechdelTest.com. They apply the three rules to every movie, people share their opinions in the comments, and the moderator will declare whether it passes based on the discussion.

A few movies that pass the test are Disney's "Brave" and "The Incredibles," and Dreamworks' "How To Train Your Dragon." "Bridesmaids" passed with flying colors, because the cast was nearly all women who talked about their friendships, the explosive diarrhea at the dress shop, and how much Annie hated Helen.

Er, so I've been told.

Meanwhile, other movies failed because of a lack of female characters. "The Expendables 3" and "Captain America" only had one female character, while "The Avengers" failed because there was only one female character in a scene at any one time.

I wonder if the third rule is too broad. After all, two female doctors talking about a male patient is not the same thing as two women talking about a male love interest. But, no one asked me, so I don't get to have a say.

Could we pass the Bechdel test in real life? If art truly imitated life, you would expect more movies to pass, because our real conversations pass it with ease. I know plenty of women who talk about all sorts of things besides men.

Forget the stupid old jokes about shopping and shoes. They talk about work, family, music, art, food, and the friend who couldn't make it to lunch that day. Once in a great while, they'll talk about their boyfriends, husbands, or that creepy guy eavesdropping on us at the next table, and oh my God! I think he's writing down what we're saying!

It would be interesting to apply the Bechdel test to other situations. For example, can two men talk about something other than sports or sex?

Man #1: Did you see the sportsball game last night?

Man #2: Oh yeah, I loved it when my favorite player did that awesome sportsball move.

Man #1: I couldn't believe the sports official blew that call in the third session.

Man #3: Boobies!

Similarly, I'd love to see parents talk about something other than their children. Whether it's a couple alone, or getting together with friends, young parents should spend an hour without talking about the kids at all. Or at least spare us from that stupid story about the cute thing Jeremy did with the wastebasket again.

We all get into conversational ruts at times. We have people in our lives we discuss the same topics with over and over. We have a wondrous variety of conversations that pass the test with ease. If only Hollywood would figure this out for itself.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm meeting my friend, Bechdel, for lunch. He's having girlfriend problems again.



The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My latest book, The Owned Media Doctrine is now available on Amazon.com
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Friday, October 17, 2014

School Bans Cake Because They Hate Fun

Hands up, all you kids who love getting cake at school on your birthday.

Not so fast, Burlington, Kentucky.

According to a story in the Cincinnati Enquirer (official motto: "What's the meaning of life?"), Burlington Elementary School revised its wellness policy to make birthdays absolutely no fun.

"We hate children, and we hate birthdays," cackled the principal, stroking her black cat. "We don't think kids should have fun at school, and banning food at birthday parties was a good start."

Okay, that's not true (as if I have to say that), but I do think educators often throw the baby out with the bath water.

The Burlington Elementary PTA really did change their wellness policy to ban birthday cake and ice cream. In fact, they banned food of any kind at birthday celebrations.

"We're finding it's difficult to be the first," Valerie Bailey told the Enquirer. Her son goes to Burlington, and she was on the committee that created the policy. "Parents say it's not fair. But we hope it sends a message to the parents and kids, especially with the obesity rate being so high, and puts a bug in their ear."

Except they can't have bugs either. Someone might be allergic.

Oh, but it's not all bad! You can still have non-food treats. Fun things like pencils, erasers, and bookmarks. Because the one thing every kid is dying for at a school birthday party is a pencil.

"Yay, this is much better than cake and ice cream and playing party games," said no kid ever.

It's like the Grinch stole Christmas again, and left you a pair of socks.

Parents and teachers were concerned that birthday parties took up too much class time, something they apparently couldn't control. Meanwhile, pencil birthday parties only take 30 seconds, because the last thing you want to do with a No. 2 Disappointment Stick is have a party.

Now the school is finding "fun" and "enjoyable" ways to "celebrate" birthdays. One student brought jump ropes for the class, and they celebrated with a jump rope party.

Next week, they'll celebrate Caitlyn's birthday with a math quiz, because jump ropes and pencils will be banned because of Zero Tolerance weapons policies.

Burlington Elementary joins a growing number of schools concerned with childhood obesity. Kathy Reutman, a Boone County school system spokesperson, said that 37 percent of their children are either at risk for obesity, or are already obese. She's also responsible for making sure the district's wellness policies meet the federal guidelines.

"It's not up to us to tell parents what to do," she told the Enquirer. "But when children are in our care we make sure that nothing gets in the way of them and their learning. Food allergies or too much sugar get in the way of that."

She sounds like one of those educators who say "disrupting the educational process" a lot. Like my teachers said to my parents. A lot.

Here's an idea: if you're worried about childhood obesity, quit eliminating gym class. Make it a part of the school day, not the once or twice a week playground stroll it's become. Physical fitness experts tell us we perform and learn better if we exercise, so let kids play and run around at recess, twice a day. Don't let them sit for six or seven hours a day. We do that as adults, and that's a primary reason we're getting fat.

One reason we didn't have problems with childhood obesity when I was a kid is because we played outside all the time. Now, kids sit inside at school, sit inside at home. They don't spend much time playing or engaging in physical activity at all. And when they do, it's so structured and parent-driven, the kids can't have any fun, and aren't allowed to organize their own play.

Yes, this is a food issue. Yes, schools should set an example and limit the amount of sweets kids get. But any nutritionist will tell you that diet without exercise doesn't do anything. It makes people skinny, but not healthy.

Let the kids have their birthday fun. They're in school on their birthday, which already sucks. But now you've taken away the only thing they have to look forward to and replaced it with pencils, erasers, and bookmarks. Things they already get at school.

Or, just remember the disappointed looks on their faces when they get yet another birthday pencil. It's the same look you'll have when your kid gives you a spatula for Christmas.


Photo credit: Angie Chapman (Flickr, Creative Commons)


The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My latest book, The Owned Media Doctrine is now available on Amazon.com
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Friday, October 10, 2014

I Need A Truck That Runs on Daisies

Erik had a molar removed on Column Day, and was not feeling very funny. When he called, we pretended not to understand him — "Uh kent weh mu colluh" — and made him repeat himself four or five times. He swore at us, we think, and hung up. We're running a reprint from 2005.

I've got a serious confession to make. I'm not proud of what I've done, but I can't shoulder this terrible burden any longer. Even though my liberal friends will gasp in disbelief, and my conservative friends will point their fingers and shout, "See?! See?! Hypocrisy!" I have to say it.

I used to own an SUV.

A gas guzzling, planet wrecking "I'm changing the environment ask me how" SUV.

I feel so guilty, like I've committed an unpardonable sin like stealing from old people, or accepting a prepaid trip from foreign lobbyists.

Me: Hello, my name is Erik, and I'm an SUV owner.

Support Group: Hello, Erik

Me: It's been 12 months since I've owned an SUV. I still lay awake at night, dreaming of the spacious roominess and feelings of supremeÍ power as I bore down on smaller, weaker drivers with 280 horses strapped under me, CRUISING DOWN THE HIGHWAY, KNOWING I COULD HAUL A BOAT, TRAILER, AND SMALL VILLAGE THROUGH THE MOUNTAINS AT A MOMENT'S — uhhh, that is, I feel shame for all the gas I consumed and ozone-killing poison I pumped into the atmosphere.

Actually, it was my wife's SUV, which makes me an enabler. But I still carry the guilt. I used to be a strong environmentalist in my younger days, so I felt appropriately ashamed for all the damage our SUV was doing.

So I assuaged those feelings by driving a full-size Chevy pickup. (Mine looked a lot like the one in the photo, but that's not actually my truck.) Not one of those Nancy-boy-it's-really-just-a-big-car SUVs. And not one of those toy pickups that need a little windup key to get started5. No, my pickup was one of the big ones, it was appropriately dirty, and I could haul 100 two-by-fours without missing a beat.

When I drove, car owners pulled over in fear. SUV owners glared at me in fits of yuppie jealousy. The toy pickup drivers would hang their heads in shame and putt-putt home.

However, the engine wasn't in great shape, and so my gas mileage was — let's just say it was a bit on the thirsty side. It's not that it was inefficient. . . at least not if you measured it in feet instead of miles per gallon. Global oil prices rose and fell, depending on whether I took a road trip. I realized I had a problem when OPEC named me Customer of the Year over Shell and ExxonMobil.

That's when my beloved truck began to conflict with my past environmental activist tendencies, and I began to have serious doubts about whether I should own a pickup, or switch over to a car that ran on solar power and liberal guilt. Unfortunately, Indiana is a conservative state, and it actually causes inefficiencies in the creation of guilt — too many knee-jerk reactions really limit how much guilt can be created by one man — so I decided to stick with a regular gas combustion engine. At least until someone could create an electric car that traveled for more than 20 miles on a single charge and didn't look stupid.

I finally got rid of my truck when I started a new job that required an hour long daily commute. When I started, some quick calculations showed that I'd be spending my children's inheritance each month just to get to work each day. And that didn't count all the extra trips to the Spotted Owl Skeet Shooting Range on the weekends.

So I sold my truck and got a car that gets 30 miles per gallon, but gets blown off the road whenever I get passed by a semi.

Now I can drive to and from work four times on a full tank of gas, although it struggles to haul anything heavier than a pair of socks. And while the toy pickup guys now point and laugh at me, at least the Nature Conservancy gave me the Most Improved Award for 2004. I proudly display the sticker on the passenger side window, but now the car leans toward that side.

But I think I found a compromise. In the next couple of years, Toyota will come out with all new hybrid vehicles. Not a gas-only engine in their entire line, including their trucks. Their new pickup promises 30 miles per gallon and 290 horsepower. And I'm seriously considering getting one. They're energy efficient, but they're also big, macho, manly machines. WITH ONE OF THOSE MONSTERS, I CAN RULE THE ROAD ONCE AGAIN!

At least if my wife lets me get one.


The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My latest book, The Owned Media Doctrine is now available on Amazon.com
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