Friday, January 30, 2015

Life In America: Comedies Versus Tragedies

It was a defining moment early in my column writing career, when someone sent a complaint letter to my editor, making it my first and only complaint letter. I've had emails and blog comments, but no one has taken the time to write an actual complaint letter before or since.

Seventeen years later, I still remember what the letter actually said:

"Discussion of Pamela Anderson's boobs have no place in a humor column."

I was confused. Where else would you expect discussions of her boobs to be?

Okay, late night talk shows, but the point is — and the Internet. But the point is — yes, and her B-movie career. But you need to realize — well, obviously Baywatch reruns. But what I'm trying to say — yes, more stuff on the Internet.

What I'm trying to say is it made me realize there are two types of people in the world, those who appreciate Pamela Anderson's boobs, and those who don't.

Wait, that's not my point at all.

My point is there are two types of people in the world, those who appreciate humor, and those who don't. Those who think we need to laugh and enjoy life more, and those who think life is meant to be endured, and not enjoyed.

I worked with one group, and worked for the other. Given that I now own my own business, I'll let you guess which is which.

You've seen the old theater masks that symbolize Comedy and Tragedy. You're either happy, or you're not. You laugh about the good in life, or you cry about the bad in life. We know both types, the wise-cracking cut up who laughs at everything, and the melancholy Debbie Downer who finds misery in everything.

Let's call them Comedies and Tragedies.

Tragedies manufacture outrage, while Comedies can't be bothered with life's small difficulties. Tragedies are easily offended by their favorite hot button issues and will look for things to gripe about. Comedies like to poke Tragedies' favorite hot buttons, and then sit back and watch the fun.

I call it Poking The Bear. I like to play it on Facebook by posting articles about the negative effects of helicopter parenting when I know my helicopter parenting friends will read it, after they finish feeding their children organic peanut-free peanut butter sandwiches on gluten-free bread. I like to post pro-gay marriage news articles where my anti-gay marriage friends will see them.

Poke, poke, poke.

Comedies have wrinkles around their eyes from smiling so much, Tragedies have lines around their mouth from frowning. Comedies just smiled to feel their eyes wrinkle. Tragedies said, "I do too smile!"

Tragedies enjoy dramas and sad movies and depressing books. They watch the news every night and share the scariest stories at work the next day, convinced the world is going to hell in a handbasket. They watch Parenthood and The Fosters, loved The American Sniper, and they read The Help. In hardback.

Comedies love, well, comedies — sitcoms, funny movies, and funny books. They watch Big Bang Theory and Brooklyn Nine-Nine. They read Christopher Moore and Douglas Adams books. They get their news from The Daily Show, and are often better informed. And they don't make a grumpy face that makes them look like they haven't pooped in a week.

Comedies will think that last joke was funny, Tragedies will send angry letters saying "the word 'poop' has no place in a humor column." (You would've hated my boobs columns then.)

Comedies watch Scandal to make fun of it, Tragedies watch Mulaney and fail to see the humor in it. (Of course, so did the Comedies, which is why it was canceled.)

Personally, I don't see the need to entertain myself with sad stories — tales of war, bankruptcy, death, lost love, and personal suffering. I'm not saying these stories aren't important or worthy. They are. But the whole point of escapism is to escape real life sadness and pain. I want to laugh, not bathe in other people's miseries.

Comedies tell me that everything is going to be all right in the end. Tragedies tell me I'm one day closer to the sweet, sweet release of death.

In the end, we'll measure our lives by how much we laughed and how much we enjoyed the journey. Ultimately, we'll all measure the joy in our lives in pounds or in teaspoons.

Personally, I'm going to measure it in newspaper complaint letters. Check back next week for my column about gay weddings that serve non-gluten-free cake shaped like boobs.


Photo credit: Tim Green (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, January 23, 2015

Karl the Curmudgeon and the Time Capsule

"Hey, Kid. Did you hear about this time capsule they opened up in Boston?"

I heard something about it on the news, I said. Something a couple of the founding fathers hid away to keep the law off their tail, or something like that?

"No, not at all. This was a real historical find."

Look, just because someone stuck a box in a closet 200 years ago doesn't mean it's historical. It just means they didn't do a good job of cleaning up.

We were sitting in The Tilted Windmill, our favorite Dutch bar, watching the Dutch national speed skating championships. I waved at Nicky the bartender for a couple more beers. He brought them over, and set them down. This round's on him, I said, pointing at my friend.

"This isn't any old time capsule, Kid," Karl looked around to see who might be listening, and then leaned in closer. "It's Paul Revere and Sam Adams' time capsule from 1795. It was buried in a cornerstone of an old building, and they recently opened it."

So? I asked. It's not a secret, and it still doesn't sound interesting.

"But think of the history!" he said. "They found some coins, some old newspapers, and a silver plate made by Revere himself. Isn't that cool? Actual objects handled by Revere and Adams. What did you think they would find?"

Mrs. Adams.

"Classy. Don't you care about history at all?"


Sort of, I said. I just don't see what the big deal was. It's not like they buried a secret treasure map. We already know all the cool stuff there is to know about those guys. It's in museums and history books. These guys have been studied and examined so much, the experts know more about them than their own mothers.

"I'm going to be opening a time capsule in May," said Karl, ignoring my cynicism. "I'm a little worried about it." He rubbed his face with his hands. "When I was 16, in 1965, they buried a time capsule at my high school, and several of us students put some items in it — school books, records, the school paper — to show people of the future what our lives were like."

We know what life was like back then. We can see it on TV and in used trinket stores. Hell, there's people like you to tell us about it. What's to worry about?

"That's not it," said Karl. "I'm worried about what else they'll find." He took another drink of his beer, and plonked it half-heartedly on the bar. This was serious.

"As one of their most famous graduates, they want me to be on hand to emcee the event and explain to the students and their parents what's in there. There's going to be a whole big ceremony in the auditorium and everything."

That's great. Congratulations. I'll bet you never expected that.

"No, I never did. I never thought this day would even come. Which is why, after we buried the time capsule, some of my buddies and I dug it back up, and dropped in an extra item."

Uh-oh. I don't like where this is going. What did you put in there?

"A pair of my underwear." I nearly did a spit-take with my beer.

Well, aren't you the rebellious one, I said.

"Give me a break, Kid. It was 1965, and I was 16. We were naive back then. Our idea of hijinks was filling up McDonald's after a football game and not ordering anything."

You mean when you weren't busy playing with your Flash Gordon radio decoder ring.

"Shut up."

So what are you going to do? I asked. You'll have a lot of explaining to do when they open the box, and there's a pair of tidy-whiteys in there.

"It gets worse. My mom had sewn my name in them. What am I going to do, Kid? They're right there on top of everything else."

If it were me, I'd announce my candidacy for office right then and there, and use their little discovery as my slogan.

"Seriously."

BVD. Better Vote Deckers.

"Come on!"

Just remember to keep your speech brief. Try not to lingerie too long.

"I'm serious!"

Of corset you are. I was laughing so hard, I was crying.

"You're not helping."

Perhapth you could even thing a thong.

"That's it, I'm leaving." He drained his beer and walked toward the door.

Karl, you're just not thinking outside the boxers.

Karl shouted something unintelligible and probably vulgar, and slammed the door. I wiped my eyes and saw Nicky holding the bill.

He said, "You should have given him some more support."

Nobody likes a smartass, Nicky.



Photo credit: MoveTheClouds (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, January 16, 2015

The Adventures of Letterman (In memory of my mother, Linda Lee Maxwell)


Erik's mother passed away on Tuesday, January 13. So we are reprinting a column he wrote in 1997 about one of his favorite memories of his mother, learning, and cartoons.

As a father, I worry about things I never did as a bachelor, and instead think as a parent: Are the kids healthy? Are we feeding them right? Is that Barney the Purple Dinosaur on TV?

I also worry that my daughters are going to start dating earlier than I want (about 40 years too early), or that she is going to make me known across the world as "the father of the biggest serial killer in the entire world," or worst of all, marry an accountant.

When I was a child, my biggest concern was that I didn't miss Sesame Street or Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. My baby sister and I watched them every day. But we never, ever missed The Electric Company.

My favorite segment was the Adventures of Letterman. Letterman, voiced by Gene Wilder, was a literary superhero whose costume was a leather football helmet and varsity letterman's sweater. And the letter on his sweater would be the very letter featured in the Electric Company episode. I could never get over the serendipity of it all.

Letterman's nemesis was the evil villain, SpellBinder, who looked like Boris from the Bullwinkle show, and was voiced by Zero Mostel. Spellbinder liked to change items into other items by using his magic wand to change a letter or two in the word — light into night, pickle into tickle. Many of these items had captions, telling the viewer what they were.

In one episode, a container of French fries had the word "snack" above it. One unlucky man sat down at the table, ready to enjoy his "snack" of fries. But Spellbinder had other plans. He zapped his magic wand, changing the "snack" into a. . . "SNAKE!"

The snake wrapped itself around the poor man, and he squeaked out a choked "help," as Spellbinder chuckled evilly. (I never figured out Spellbinder's real goal, but he seemed to enjoy himself.) It seemed the victim's cries would go unheard, but wait! One person did hear: Letterman!

"Faster than a rolling O, more powerful than a silent E, able to leap a capital T in a single bound, it's a bird, it's a plan, it's LETTERMAN!" the narrator, Joan Rivers, shouted. Letterman was attending Calvin Klein University this week, because he sported a 'CK' on his varsity sweater.

But Spellbinder was ready for him. Not only was the snake big enough to crush one helpless victim, he wrapped himself around Letterman too.

"Oh no, what will happen to our literary hero?!" my sister would shout. Actually, she made gurgly noises and pooped in her diaper, because she was a year old, but I knew what she meant.

Letterman wasn't the brightest bulb in the box, so it didn't immediately occur to him that his salvation was on his own chest. But soon, inspiration struck, and he acted.

Joan Rivers said, "Tearing the 'CK' from his varsity sweater, and placing it over the 'KE', he changes the snake. . . back into a snack!!"

This was the coolest thing ever, so I told my mom I wanted to be Letterman. She cut out a few letters — two M's, an L, and an O — and taped three of them to the wall, spelling LOM. She taped the other M to my chest.

Spellbinder had changed my mom into a LOM! I didn't know what that was, but it was nasty — purple and green, with tentacles and eyes growing out of its neck. My mother, always willing to play along with my insanity, even did Joan Rivers' part.

I coached her on her lines for several minutes, so when she started shouting, "faster than a rolling O, stronger than a silent E, able to leap capital T in a single bound!" I raced from the kitchen into the living room, chest puffed out to show off the "M" emblazoned on (taped to) my varsity sweater (Kool-Aid stained t-shirt).

"It's a bird, it's a plan, IT'S LETTERMAN!"

I did the rest of my narration: "Tearing the 'M' from his varsity sweater, Letterman places it over the 'L', changing the Lom back into Mom!"

I had saved the day, the city, and my house. My mom clapped and cheered, and thanked me profusely, assuring me she was very happy to no longer be a Lom.

Which was good for me, because Lom's don't give cookies to their sons.


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, January 09, 2015

Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones

Erik is out of the office this week, so we're reprinting a column from 2004 to see if the political climate has changed at all in the intervening 11 years. Although the names have changed, the pettiness and whining have not.

It takes a lot to get politicians in an uproar. They're generally pretty easy going, level-headed, and not prone to immature outbursts about silly issues.

Wait, I was thinking of my children.

Politicians, on the other hand, have an overdeveloped sense of righteous indignation that flares up when they think it will serve a purpose. Which is whenever a journalist is nearby

It's happened twice in the past month, and people on both ends of the political spectrum have gotten their panties in a bunch over public comments made by someone on the other side.

A few weeks ago, California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger called some California Democrats "girlie men," recalling the Hans and Franz skits from "Saturday Night Live."

He blamed state Democrats for delaying the budget, claiming they were catering to special interests.

"If they don't have the guts to come up here in front of you and say, 'I don't want to represent you, I want to represent those special interests, the unions, the trial lawyers' — if they don't have the guts, I call them girlie men," Schwarzenegger said, according to a CNN.com story.

You would have thought Schwarzenegger had kicked a puppy and told a dirty joke to a group of nuns. Women's groups were apoplectic, and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Caucus was livid. Charges of homophobia and misogyny flew like bullets in a Schwarzenegger flick. But following in the tradition of the leaders of his party, the Republican governor didn't apologize for his remarks.

"If they complain too much about this, I guess they're making the governor's point," spokesman Rob Stutzman said to CNN.

The remark also offended actual girlie men around the country, who stamped their little feet and flung their Williams-Sonoma catalogs to the ground.

So with two simple words, Arnold was able to offend two different groups of Californians.

Teresa Heinz Kerry, wife of Senator John Kerry, managed a similar feat, although she only offended right-wing journalists.

Earlier this week, after being badgered by Colin McNickle, editorial page editor of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review — a conservative newspaper — she pointed her finger at him and told him to "shove it."

I presume she didn't mean her finger.

Many news analysts and pundits wondered whether she would be a liability to her husband's presidential campaign.

Of course, these are the same pundits who started using the term "red meat" during the Democratic convention this week, so I wouldn't put too much stock into what they say.

Mary Beth Cahill, Kerry's campaign manager, was asked by David Broder of The Washington Post, "Who's in charge of keeping her on message?"

"She just says what she thinks. She's her own person," Cahill replied. "So get bent!"

She really didn't say that last part, but I'm sure she wanted to.

"That's going to be wild if she gets to be first lady," said Rep. Ray LaHood (R-IL.), in a story on HillNews.com.

Republicans were actually pretty quiet about the whole incident, which is not that surprising, given the party's gaffes in the last four years.

In 2000, on the campaign trail, then-Governor Bush leaned over to Dick Cheney and pointed out a reporter from the New York Times. "That's Adam Clymer," said Bush. "He's a major league a**hole." "Oh yeah, big time," Cheney added, his rapier wit working overtime.

The problem was, the dissing duo wasn't aware a microphone was picking up their little exchange. The "a**hole" heard 'round the world haunted them for a couple of weeks afterward.

And who can forget last month when, while on the Senate floor, Vice President Cheney invited Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) to have sex with himself.

"Go f*** yourself," was actually what he said.

Needless to say, the Republicans can't really complain about Heinz Kerry's "shove it" statement when the Vice President of the United States goes around encouraging US Senators to commit unnatural and nearly impossible sexual acts.

But it makes me wonder, if I ever decide to run for public office, will my own unpredictability and off-the-cuff remarks prove to be a liability? Will I be lambasted by my opponents and the media because of my potty mouth? Would a remark like that eventually prove to be my undoing?

Who knows? But if anyone wants to make an issue of it, they can bite me!


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, January 02, 2015

This Curated List of Banned Words is Cray-Cray

"It's that most wonderful time of year / with curmudgeons all yelling / and everyone expelling / bad words with a sneer / it's that most wonderful time of the year!"

At the beginning of each year, if all the word nerds and syntax snobs have been good, Lake Superior State University (LSSU) gives us its List of Words Banished from the Queen's English for Mis-use, Over-use and General Uselessness.

This year was no different. On New Year's Eve 2014, LSSU curated its 39th list of much-hated words, and I'm re-curating it for the ninth year in a row. Or I was until a few minutes ago.


That's because "curated" made the list. It's a snooty, pretentious word for "collected" or "organized." Commonly referring to the job of museum collection organization, it's become the go-to marketing term that means "I copied other people's crap to look like I'm doing something useful." I see it a lot in my day job and I wish I could see less of it.

Maybe it will get buried under this year's polar vortex.

That's the fear-mongering word for "really cold weather," and it got the old ice axe as well. Now that TV meteorologists like needlessly frightening viewers too, "polar vortex" has become the fearsome word to describe when the temperature drops below 20.

According to LSSU, the word was submitted very early last year, when Kenneth Ross said, "Less than a week into the new year, and it's the most overused, meaningless word in the media."

Nice going, news media. You ruined a word in 1/52 of a year. That may be a new record, and you were the ones who gave us "fiscal cliff."

But LSSU got a jump on banning the word before anyone else (bae) when they burned a snowman named Mr. Polar Vortex during their annual Snowman Burning last spring.

I mention "bae" because that should have been burned too. It's used to describe your boyfriend or girlfriend. You put them "before anyone else," and use the word to aae — annoy everyone else.

It's so bad that S. Thoms of Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan said, "I heard someone refer to their ramen noodles as 'bae'!"

I can understand putting a fettuccine bolognese before anyone else, but ramen? Eww, have some self-respect! No foodie would eat ramen.

At least not anymore, now that "foodie" has been banned. If only we could ban the people who call themselves foodies.

We used to call them gourmands. But now, foodies like to take selfies (banned in 2014) with their winie and beerie friends, two terms coined by Randall Chamberlain of Traverse City, Michigan.

"I crave good sleep too, but that does not make me a sleepie," said Gradeon DeCamp of Elk Rapids, Michigan.

I suppose if you could find new techniques and methods for hacking your sleep, that might make you a sleepie. Except now "hack" is banned. Those things we called "tips" or "shortcuts" are called hacks. Life hacks, travel hacks, food hacks, sleep hacks, video game hacks. You name it, someone's got a hack for it.

Of course you don't need hacks if you have a good skill set to begin with. Which is actually just a term for "skills." Which we need to start using again since "skill set" got whacked.

"Skill set" is the term for people who don't know about plural words, like "skills." They use it to sound all impressive and business-y. But if business people want to be efficient, doubling the number of words to express an idea isn't very efficient.

In fact, it's downright cray-cray.

That's apparently what young people are saying when they mean "crazy." While not officially doubling the number of words, they're just doubling down on the first syllable instead, as in "my bae is cray-cray."

"Cray-cray." It just sounds annoying. Or is that "annoy-annoy?" (For the sake of accuracy, LSSU spelled it "cra-cra," but everyone else spells it "cray-cray," which is just nuts.)

The big takeaway from all this?

One, we're no longer allowed to say "takeaway." The word that means the big idea you learned, the thing that stood out for you has been taken away from us.

The other big takeaway? People aren't happy. We love to complain. I hate that "literally" is slowly changing to mean "figuratively," something LSSU didn't ban. (Come on, you guys!) Other people hate words like "cray-cray" and "bae" and "foodie." We just can't be happy, no matter what.

It's like the country is being covered by a grumpiness vortex.


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 26, 2014

Children's Social Etiquette in Decline

What's the etiquette on loud kids in public these days? Is that still a taboo, or are we now allowing this as a society? Are we letting it slide, like how marijuana isn't a big deal anymore, or you can say the S-word on cable TV after 10:00 pm?

It seems like children are louder and more obnoxious than they were 20 years ago. Or maybe I'm getting more curmudgeonly. Or more likely, both.

I'm getting less tolerant of the increasing number of children who shriek, scream, cry, kick, throw things, and shout "NO!" at parents who do a half-assed job of getting their kid to calm down.

When I was a kid, it was a social taboo for kids to misbehave in public. Nowadays, it seems the grownups who weren't allowed to be brats as kids are delighted to let their own kids be brats.

Meanwhile, people who don't appreciate having their quiet evening out spoiled by obnoxious brats aren't allowed to ask the parents to keep their kids quiet, because we're somehow questioning the parents' abilities.

Actually, we're totally questioning their parenting abilities, because they suck at keeping their kids quiet.

I was recently at a Christmas Eve service at church where four kids, all old enough to know better, were constantly shrieking and crying, demanding their parents' attention. A mom or dad would take the child out for two minutes, bring them back, only to take them out again because of more shrieking and crying.

It was more than distracting, it ruined the mood of the evening. There's nothing like hearing "O Holy Night," when you hear some kid across the sanctuary shriek "I WANT JUICE!"

And apparently, yelling "HEY KID, SHUT THE HELL UP, I'M TRYING TO HEAR ABOUT JESUS!" is distinctly frowned upon.

Or so I've been told.

Is it that the standards of acceptable behavior have changed? Is society allowing children to make an obnoxious spectacle of themselves? Or is there some new philosophy that allows little Caitlyn and little Jayden to loudly express themselves in a safe and nurturing space with helicopter parents who use phrases like "nurturing space?"

When I was a kid, we weren't allowed to run around after dinner. We sat until everyone was finished, which given the thoroughness that my dad chewed his food meant sitting until breakfast.

Even now, at 71, my dad chew each bite of food 50 times. I know this, because I counted, since there was nothing else to do except watch him chew and chew and chew.

And chew and chew and chew.

And chew and chew and chew.

Once, he only chewed his food 45 times, and I said, "what's your hurry?"

If my dad spends 30 minutes at each meal, he's spent roughly 4.45 years chewing his food.

(Seriously. I worked it out on a spreadsheet.)

I mention this to say I understand the drudging weariness every kid feels when they have to sit at the table and wait for everyone else. I know the agony of watching the clock actually move backward as your parents literally and figuratively eat into your only free time for the rest of the day.

I was just as impatient as their kids at that age. But that didn't mean I was allowed to get away with that kind of behavior in public, or at home.

We weren't allowed to leave the table, we weren't allowed to play games, and our parents didn't think it was necessary to keep us entertained every second. We learned to sit politely and wait until everyone was done.

My wife and I had the same expectations for our own kids when they were little. No getting up, no playing, no climbing in the booth. When we went out to eat, they sat quietly and colored before and after they ate.

My favorite part of going out though was when a nearby child would misbehave, and my kids would stare in wide-eyed disbelief at the little miscreant, as if he had just taken his pants off and sat in his dinner.

Maybe I am getting less tolerant as I get older, but I don't see why we can't expect children to behave themselves in public. Or why parents won't remove their loud children from a restaurant, church, or movie theater until the latest outburst is under control again.

I promise not to create my own spectacle by hollering at those parents and their miscreant children. But believe me, when I get home, I will write a strongly worded newspaper column about it! That'll show 'em.


Photo credit: Emran Kassim (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, 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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