Friday, April 17, 2015

Karl the Curmudgeon was a Propaganda Writer

"Did I ever tell you I was a government propaganda writer, Kid?" asked Karl.

No, you didn't, I said. What did you do, write light operas about Billy Yank and Johnny Reb?

Karl muttered something vulgar and gave me the finger. "You know you're only 20 years younger than me, right?"

Twenty-one years, I corrected. That's a whole person who can drink younger than you.

"Whatever, Grandpa. Just remember, whenever you joke about the aged, you're one of us."

I gestured at Kurt, our favorite bartender at First Editions, the literary-themed bar we frequented. Two more beers, please, Kurt. And a glass of soluble fiber for great-grandpa Karl. I turned to Karl. So tell me about your freelance propaganda work.

Kurt set the beers on the bar. He must have been out of the fiber.

"Well, it was in the 1970s and 80s. We were responsible for writing pulp fiction stories to counteract the crap Kim Jong-il and his father Kim Jong-Oops used to spread."

I think that was Kim Il-sung.

Kim Jong-un also owns many leather bound books,
and his apartment smells of rich mahogany.
"Whatever. We all wrote subversive literature that the CIA snuck into North Korea."

Why? I asked. I was never very strong on the 20th century geopolitics of developing nations.

"Boredom, I guess," said Karl.

No, why did the CIA do it?

"That's what I mean," said Karl. "In the 1970s, Kim Il-sung already knew his son, Kim Jong-il would succeed, him, so their government started planting all kinds of propaganda about him in the school books and news reports.

What did you do?

"There were 12 propaganda writers in the North Korea bureau, and they let us write whatever we wanted. One of North Korea's big claims was that Kim Jong-Il wrote 1,500 books while he was in college."

And you. . .

"Yep, we wrote 'em."

Seriously?

"Oh absolutely. We wrote all kinds of novels. Pulp style, mostly; they didn't have to be good. We did mysteries, romance, adventure, and even westerns. We had some professionals from the big publishing houses design these gorgeous covers. Then some defectors would translate them into native Korean, and the CIA would sneak them into the country and distribute them.

"The great part was that since the higher-ups had been saying Kim Jong-il had written all these books, the government censors had no choice but to believe them."

Kurt handed us a couple more beers without us asking. He was hooked.

"We only made them slightly subversive, not too over the top. As long as we passed the censors' smell test, we were golden. And the great part was that, even if someone dared asked Kim Jong-il if he had written a particular book, he couldn't just admit that he hadn't, or his whole story would fall apart. He figured his dad was having them all written for him."

How many did you write? I asked.

"All told, I think we wrote all 1,500 of them. Pretty soon, the books were being traded like baseball cards on the black market."

So what purpose did it serve, other than to make him look like a genius?

"Well, for one thing, no one in the government read them. So we wrote stories that contained these little philosophical messages that were always slightly sympathetic to the West. A lot of them were disguised as pro-US rhetoric. The plan was for people to begin to understand and appreciate our way of thinking as they read the stories.

Did it work? By this time, we had a small crowd gathered around us, and Kurt had been polishing the same glass for the last ten minutes.

"Not as well as we would have liked. It never fomented a rebellion, but I like to think that people began to see through some of their government's more obvious lies, like the one that Kim Jong-un learned to drive at age three, or at age nine, beat the CEO of a yacht company in a yacht race.

I don't know if I believe that, Karl, I said, finishing the last of my beer. That sounds pretty far-fetched to me.

"I don't make up those stories, Kid," he said. "The North Korean leadership did."

Not those stories, your story. You mean 12 guys wrote 1,500 books in 12 months? That's 10 books each in a single year.

"They didn't have to be masterpieces. We just churned them out, like the old pulps from the 1900s. If you stuck with the formula, and wrote for eight hours a day, you could get it done."

It all sounds pretty fishy to me.

"We also never had to go to any meetings."

Now I know you're lying!


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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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Review of The Drowsy Chaperone at Beef & Boards Theatre

The Man In The Chair. He seemed rather lonely to me.
Leave it to a musical parody to flip the switch for me to make me finally like musical theatre.

This past weekend's showing of The Drowsy Chaperone at Beef & Boards Theatre was enough to make me realize I now like the art form, and while I'm still selective, I won't pooh-pooh the genre anymore.

I had the chance to attend a Media Night performance of my new favorite musical this past Saturday, thanks to a complimentary ticket from Patricia Rettig, the Beef & Boards marketing and media relations director.

The show was actually written as a parody for Bob Martin and Janet van de Graaf's stag party, when the two got married in 1997. The fun show turned into a show at the Toronto Fringe Theatre Festival (Martin became a co-writer), ran in Toronto a few times, and then became a Broadway smash, winning five Tony awards, and being nominated for eight more.

The premise is a rather timid Broadway-loving Man In The Chair (David Schmittou) is looking for a way to chase away "the blues." So he pulls out one of his most favorite records, The Drowsy Chaperone.

As he plays the record, the characters come to life, perform on the stage, and he interrupts the performance to drop in the occasional footnote, bit of trivia, or opinion on a particular scene or actor.

The show-within-a-show musical itself, "The Drowsy Chaperone" parodies 1920s – 1940s musicals, where the antics are zany and situations are madcap. In it, Robert Martin (Timothy Ford) is going to marry theatre star Janet van de Graaf (Laura Douciere), much to the consternation of Mr. Feldzeig (B&B's own Douglas Stark) and a couple of pastry-loving gangsters (Craig Underwood and Samuel McKanney).


But when Robert "accidentally" kisses a French girl (it's actually Janet, because Robert is wearing roller skates and a blindfold. Don't ask.), the wedding is off. Meanwhile, Mr. Feldzeig is worried that the wedding will happen, so he manipulates Aldolfo ("I am. . . Aldolfo!"), the foreign lothario, into seducing Janet. Only he accidentally seduces the Chaperone.

And there's a whole thing with Mrs. Tottendale and her butler, Underling, including a spit take scene — she sprays him four or five times in a row — and even Mr. Feldzeig and Kitty. In the end, they're all going to be married, and flown off by Trix the Aviatrix ("what we would now call a 'lesbian,'" says the Man In The Chair) to Rio.

The Toledo gangsters. They've got a surprise for Mr. Feldzeig.

The jokes were terrible (a baker's dozen of pastry jokes from the gangsters), the songs were silly, and the situations were more far-fetched than a P.G. Wodehouse comedy.

As they should be.

I appreciated that the 1920s musical was actually pretty bad. It was hackneyed, predictable, and over the top. That's what made the show funny.

It also dug into some rather racial and sexist portrayals, which, if you know anything about entertainment from the first half of the 20th century, tended to be racist and sexist. Rather than shy away from it, The Drowsy Chaperone plowed ahead and recognized its theatrical roots, and the Man In The Chair was appropriately appalled.

I've often noticed that things-within-another-thing — shows, movies, books — tend to be. . . not very good. This was the case here. A few Neil Gaiman and Michael Chabon books aside, the thing-within-a-thing will always be a lesser version, and we should appreciate the play for it.


Janet van de Graaf makes a big production about not wanting to show off in big productions anymore.

These things don't need to be better. We already know it's not real, and we know it's not going to be a masterpiece itself. We're not supposed to be moved by that story, we're supposed to be moved by the story that's reacting to it.

And I was moved by the Man In The Chair. This was more than just a show for him. He needed it. It had to be fun, it had to be wacky. Everything had to work out in the end, no matter how improbable.

Because he's got his own problems, including an acrimonious, messy divorce. This one show, no matter how hackneyed we thought it was, was the only thing he had to hold on to. It made things better for him.

Everything works out in musicals, even if they don't in real life. And he needed something to work out for him.

Notice the Man In The Chair on the left, and how happy he is. This is all happening in his imagination, but we all get to see it. And that's Deb Wims, most known for A Beef & Boards Christmas, up front in the blue.

David Schmittou brought the role of the lonely-but-hopeful Man In The Chair to life for me, and his educational comments about how a musical works were what eventually changed my mind.

For example, it turns out every scene of dialog is just a connection to the next number — I never liked musicals because they interrupted the dialog, but now I realize it's the other way around. It's not a play with songs in it, it's a series of songs with some dialog to break up the music. Once I realized that, it changed how I saw the art form.


(No, seriously!)

I was also pleased to see Kendra Lynn Lucas as Trix the Aviatrix. I saw her last at A Beef & Boards Christmas 2014, where her rendition of "O Holy Night" brought the audience to its feet before she was even finished.

In the end, Schmittou's performance sold the show for me. I felt bad for the guy. He just wants to be alone with his records, hiding from whatever pains him, and just trying to chase away the blues with something he loves. A couple scenes at the end, where we finally understand what's so important about this show, were very moving.


(Also, the theatre is very dusty, and that was dust in my eyes at the end, and also cat dander. And pollen. Lots of pollen. Shut up.)

He wants to experience The Moment, and can't stand it when something ruins it. He lives for The Moment — we all live for those perfect moments and moods — and when something ruins that moment — ringing telephones, power outages, interrupting supers  — it's gone forever.

And, because all musicals work out in the end, the Man In The Chair ends up having what may be the best moment of his life.

Or a hallucinatory stroke. I don't like to pigeonhole.

You can see The Drowsy Chaperone — my now-favorite Beef & Boards musical — until May 10. Tickets range from $40 - $65, and include a dinner buffet. For more information, visit the Beef & Boards website.


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, April 10, 2015

A Letter From My Facebook Feed

Dear Erik,

I'm so angry right now! I can't believe what's happening right now with RFRA, and ISIS! And President Obama and Iran! And Benghazi! And RFRA again! And who the hell serves pizza at a wedding anyway?!

And now I'm happy because here's a video of kitties playing together! Can't you just die from all the cuteness?

Also, I'm pumped about my new CrossFit exercise program. I'm doing battle rope, dead lifts, and these things called burpees. (Of course, I've got that one friend who makes predictable jokes about burpees.)

Check out this picture of the sunset. Have you seen such a beautiful sunset?

Ooh, look another kitty video! It's so cute and fluffy!

Watch this video of this person doing something with another person. WHAT HAPPENS NEXT WILL BLOW YOUR MIND!

It's a good thing I'm on that exercise program, because here's what I'm eating for lunch! It's a pork tenderloin. No, it's a hamburger. No wait, it's a kale smoothie I made to show everyone how healthy I am. I'd tell you how utterly delicious it is, but we all know I'd rather eat that tenderloin.

Can you believe this crap (or good fortune) with the whole Iran nuclear deal?! I'm so angry (or optimistic), because this is such an idiotic (or important) negotiation, and Obama just needs to—

Another kitty video! The cutes, they give me feels!

Check out this picture of the sunset. Have you seen such a beautiful sunset?

I'm so blessed to have such a happy and wonderful family. I don't know what I would do without Facebook to tell you my family is better than yours.

Please send your thoughts and prayers about my sick relative or friend. For my agnostic or spiritual-not-religious friends, please send thoughts, positive energies, and pleas to the universe.

This man talked to a woman. What happened next will amaze you.

Asking for prayers seems to have caused a 30-foot-long debate about the existence of God and whether crystals and healing stones will also work, and did you try a chakra cleanse with a kale smoothie?

Check out this picture of the sunset. Have you seen such a beautiful sunset?

Here's a slideshow of 117 things you've been doing wrong your entire life. Number 78 will blow your mind, but it will take you 20 minutes to get there. I didn't know that because I only forward these things, I don't actually read them.

Here's the 218th amazing picture of my amazing children who are, like, so totally amazing. I love my amazing children, and I love being a parent. It's amazing. You should be amazed.

Speaking of Obama, it's almost election season. It seems like yesterday when we were yelling about Obama and Mitt Romney, and here we are two years later, getting ready to do it all again.

OH MY GOD, THESE KITTIES ARE SO FLUFFY!

Did you see Rand Paul on the Today Show? He totally flew off the handle/schooled that reporter. I can't be sure. No one is sure.

Blah blah a-certain-someone-did-something-terrible-but-I-won't-say-anything-about-it-because-I'm-above-that-and-don't-need-to-stoop-to-other-people's-levels-of-passive-aggressiveness blah.

Check out this picture of the sunset. Have you seen such a beautiful sunset?

Ooh, speaking of crazy, what's the deal with Ted Cruz's hypocrisy? In 2012, he griped about Obama's father not being from here, but he's Canadian-born with a Cuban father, and he says it doesn't matter where his father was from.

You want hypocrisy? Hillary Clinton never even used an official government email address, she just had everything sent to her private email, PalinHater47@hotmail.com. I saw on some fringe website that my friend's cousin's paranoid best friend shared that she deleted all her emails about Benghazi, and then had the Hotmail.com server room burned to the ground.

And now an angry rant from your friend who kills all mature discussions by calling people idiots and saying "wake up, sheeple!" He says everyone is stupid, because they haven't researched this issue like he has, and people keep unfriending him because they can't handle his truth, and he really could make something of himself if his mom wasn't on his back all the time about moving out, but he can't find a new job because his manager Kevin, who's like 16 years younger than him, is always trying to get him fired.

KITTIES! KITTIES! KITTIES!

My favorite team won last night. Everyone admire my good fortune that comes from supporting this team. The fact that your team lost is a direct reflection on your poor life choices. They would have won if you had been a better person. You deserve all ridicule and scorn befitting a social leper.

Sincerely,

Your Facebook Feed

P.S. Check out this video of kitties playing with puppies and a monkey! YOU WON'T BELIEVE WHAT HAPPENS NEXT!


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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Monday, April 06, 2015

Entries sought for upcoming Goats Gone Wild exhibit (PRESS RELEASE)

From my friend Kendal Miller, the executive director of the Switzerland County Tourism office. You can learn more about Fred the White Goat on a blog post I wrote for VisitIndiana.com.

(VEVAY, Ind.)—The Switzerland County Visitors Center announces a call for entries for their second Goats Gone Wild exhibition. Open to youths and adults, the event will open from 6-9 p.m. on July 3 during Vevay’s First Friday. The art show is just one of the activities that will kick-off the inaugural “Fred the Goat Festival” to be held on Saturday, July 11 on Liberty Street in Vevay.

“Fred” was a white goat that once roamed Vevay Hill in Switzerland County, Indiana, for many years. Residents were often seen searching the hillside for Fred in hopes of taking photographs to upload to his Facebook page. After his death in late 2013, Fred is now immortalized by a white concrete statue placed in his honor. “Fred the Vevay Hill Goat Festival” is a tribute to his memory.

Goats Gone Wild participants are invited to get creative by entering artwork, a craft, or anything of the written word such as a story or poem about “Fred, the Vevay Hill Goat” or goats in general. Prizes will be awarded in two categories: Arts & Crafts and Literary, with a youth and adult winner in both. Guidelines are available at the Visitors Center located at 128 West Main Street in Vevay.

Winners will receive a $50 gift certificate to a local business of the winners' choosing in the adult category and a $25 gift certificate in the youth category. The youth category is for ages 14 and under. Original entries that best incorporate the Goats Gone Wild theme will be selected the winners. Entries that were submitted in last year's contest will not be accepted.

Entries will be accepted at the Visitors Center on Monday, June 29 through Wednesday, July 1 from 10am-5pm. Winners will be announced at 5:30 p.m. on July 3. Voting for a People’s Choice award will take place on July 3 from 6-8 p.m. with one winner being announced around 8:30 p.m.

All work must remain on display at the Center through Monday, July 27. Work can be for sale but will not be available until after the close of the exhibit.

Vevay’s First Friday is presented by Vevay Main Street with funding from Switzerland County Tourism. The event features year-around late night shopping, dining, art openings, store specials, live entertainment and free carriage rides around downtown Vevay.

Information on Switzerland County businesses, lodging and tourist activities can be found at http://www.switzcotourism.com or by calling (812) 427-3237. Switzerland County Tourism-Vevay, IN, is on Facebook and Twitter.

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Friday, April 03, 2015

Destroy Alien Portals for Fun, Exercise

I've been playing a game on my phone called Ingress.

That is, the game is called Ingress. I don't call my phone anything.

But I've been playing this game rather frequently. Fervently, you might say.

(Editor: Obsessed. The word you're looking for is "obsessed.")

(Erik: Not obsessed. I'm just a fan.)

(Editor: You made me play it. You said you would hide naughty typos in your columns if I didn't start playing.)

Ingress is like virtual geocaching. Geocaching is where you travel to a particular set of GPS coordinates, and look for a waterproof container left by another geocacher. Find the item inside, report it on your mobile app, and move on to your next cache.

Ingress is similar, only you don't have to search for a physical object. The "object" you interact with is called a portal, and it exists only on your phone. If you're within 35 meters of the portal, you can interact with it. If you're not, you can't.

The game is built on Google Maps (Google owns it, in fact). Wherever you go in the real world, your phone's GPS keeps track of you, and the game portals appear on your phone. When you reach a portal, you "hack" it, and the portal gives you certain items you need to play the game. Need more items, hack more portals.

The game premise is that these portals emit some kind of mysterious energy called Exotic Matter, or XM. They were planted by an unknown phenomenon — or alien race. Spooky! — called the Shapers.

The portals are most commonly found in front of public art, government buildings, and places of worship. Businesses are now getting portals as well. The Shapers were thoughtful enough not to put portals in front of private residences and schools.

You join one of two teams, the Enlightenment or the Resistance. The Enlightenment (the green team) seeks to control the portals and harness the energy to uplift humanity, and bring about our next stage of evolution. They're the rules followers, the minivan drivers, the people who believe in blind obedience and unwavering loyalty.

(Editor: That's not what we believe at all. We're optimistic about humanity, and seek to bring about positive change in all of us.)

(Erik: To-may-to, to-mah-to.)

(Editor: And stop making fun of my minivan!)

My team, the Resistance (the blue team), are the rebels, the "you're not the boss of me" team. We wear the leather jackets, and have the gnarly tattoos — metaphorically speaking. My wife won't let me get a tattoo.

We question authority, we believe in freedom. We believe the Enlightenment will withhold XM from people who really need it, unless you agree to toe the party line, attend their church, or meet unreasonable deadlines.

(Editor: They're not unreasonable deadlines. They're the same deadlines you've had for the last almost-20 years.)

(Erik: I don't follow you.)

(Editor: Also, the Enlightenment isn't going to make anyone do anything, especially go to their church.)

The teams refer to themselves as the Smurfs and Frogs. I'm on the Blue team, because Smurfs are lovable and cute. Frogs are slimy, have sharp teeth, and ooze poison.

(Editor: Frogs do not have teeth and they do not ooze poison.)

(Erik: Poison arrow frogs in South America do.)

(Editor: *sigh* They're not green, they're blue.)

To play the game, you approach a portal, and if your team controls it, you can hack it, retrieve some items, and move on to the next portal. If the other team controls it, you can hack it or destroy all the resonators, which turns it neutral, and then you place your own resonators, which means your team controls it.

At least until someone from the other team comes along, destroys your resonators, and places their own again.

It can go back and forth several times a day. I have seen entire fields of portals switch portals back and forth four times in a single hour. Other portals can go untouched for a few months (you get a special badge if you can manage that). You learn to let go and not swear revenge on opposing players who blow up your favorite portals.

(Editor: Good, does this mean I can go back to that Starbucks now?)

(Erik: No! I was three days away from my badge! You're in a time out.)

The game also encourages exercise, because nearly all of the portals are placed on walkable paths, such as along streets and roads. Nothing is on a highway or a dangerous area. So it's a great way to get some exercise, keep track of your distance, and blow the crap out of the other team's portals.

All in all, it's a fun game that combines the convenience of your mobile phone with the competition of a video game, and gets you outside. And it even has a social aspect where you can make new friends.

(Editor: Or return the calls of your old ones.)

(Erik: Three days! I had three freaking days to go!)



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, March 26, 2015

Why I Quit As a Travel Writer for Indiana

Today, I resigned as a travel writer for VisitIndiana.com, the website owned by the Indiana Office of Tourism Development (IOTD), because of the passage and signing of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

I've been a travel writer for the State of Indiana for six years, a role I have loved, as it has taken me around to different parts of the state I had never seen, and I've met some outstanding people.

But after Governor Pence signed SB101 into law today, I decided that I did not want to be a part of the Indiana state government any further, even as a small-time contractor. (Update: I want to clarify that I was only a part-time contract writer for the agency, and not a full-time employee. I still have a job — I own my own business.)

I've loved being a part of VisitIndiana, and all the opportunities it's afforded me. I've made some wonderful friends, like Kendal Miller of Switzerland County Tourism, Laura Libs of Visit Evansville, and Patricia Rettig of Beef & Boards Theatre (the woman who made me appreciate musical theatre).

Entering Vevay, Indiana in Switzerland County. I never get tired of this view.

I've visited parts of the state I would have otherwise never seen, like the Heartland Historic Baseball Trail, the haunted Story Inn in Story, Indiana, and Wolf Park in Tippecanoe County.

And I remember the chaos of the Vera Bradley Outlet Sale in Fort Wayne, watching the Evansville Otters baseball team, and the very first trip I ever took, visiting Pokagon State Park and the toboggan run.

HART's Shakespeare On The Canal - The Tempest, 2014

I can't say enough nice things about the IOTD and their hard-working staff. I've become friends with several of them, and would sometimes lend my social media expertise on occasion, because I support what they do.

They do excellent work in the face of continual budget cuts, and I'm proud of the (very) small part I've played there.

If you ever want to meet a government agency filled with entrepreneurial thinkers, this is it.

I love my state, and its people, history, and traditions. As corny as it is, I even liked last year's tourism slogan, "Honest to Goodness," because I believed in what it meant.

The Lafayette Farmers Market in the Fall.

Even now, I believe Indiana is a good place, with good people who have good hearts.

But, at least today, I don't feel right in inviting people to visit us.

Not when some of them are less welcome. Not when there's a chance they'll be told they're not wanted. I can't ask them to come here, so I quit.

I'll still be a cheerleader for our state and tell everyone about the wonderful places and people in it. But I'll be doing it on this blog, on my own time. Not for a government who thinks so poorly of some of its citizens that it legalizes discrimination against them.

For those of you who read my work, supported my efforts, and made it possible for me to travel my home state and report on what I found, thank you very much. Thank you for six of the most interesting and most exciting years I've spent here.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Eschew Convoluted Phraseology

It's a sad day when business jargon creeps into everyday conversation.

I don't mean the conversations between two marketing professionals who say things like "we need to recontextualize our best-of-breed deliverables."

(Yes, they really talk like that. They're not right in the head.)

I mean sad, like when business-speak enters normal conversations between real people you hoped were untainted. Like the disappointment you feel when a loved one has been bitten by a zombie and is slowly changing.

I was at my eye doctor's the other day when one of the staff said she had to "partner with" a coworker about my new glasses.

At first, I didn't know what she meant. In my own job, I often "partner with" other businesses. We'll work together for a particular client or project, functioning as equal partners for a few weeks or months.

But that wasn't the case here. She meant something else, but I wasn't sure what that was. Then she said it again.

And again and again and again.

At first, I thought it might just be a little quirk, like she misspoke. But I heard it a sixth, seventh, and teeth-grinding eighth time.

"I just need to partner with David about your glasses."

She meant "talk to."

As in "I just need to talk to David about your glasses."

As in, "I hate the English language, and I want to watch it die as I slip the knife in."

She said "partner" like it was somehow more proper than actually "talking." Like she and David would exchange ideas through finger-to-brain contact like a couple of Vulcan optometrists.

It's bad enough when people use "dialog" as a verb, which I already hate. That would have almost been preferable in this case.

"I need to dialog with David about your glasses."

No, I take it back. As soon as I wrote that, I threw up a little bit. It's not better.

I heard "dialog" a lot back in the 90s. It was a favorite of educators and therapists, because it somehow signified that what they were doing was more significant than a mere chat.

"I'd like to dialog with you about the upcoming conference."

But if "partner" is replacing "dialog," that's only going to make things worse. And make me grind my teeth more.

Cops and law firms have partners. A business can "partner" with another business, which is a way of working together without formally joining, like a merger.

It doesn't mean to have a quick chat, as in "my wife and I are going to partner about our weekend plans."

The purpose of language is to communicate ideas simply and easily. We should be clear and direct with our language. Rather than (ever) say things like "partner" or "dialog," we should say "talk to" or "speak with."

Can you think of any simpler words than "talk" or "speak?"

Of course not. Because there aren't any. They're simple, one-syllable, four- and five-letter words that mean to have conversations.

Except people like to sound smarter and more official in certain situations. I heard this constantly when I worked in state government. Government people love to sound official, and will use the biggest words they can find, whether they use them correctly or not.

It's a growing epidemic, as normal people are doing it as well. Not to show off, but because they suffer from "cop talk."

Cop talk is that annoying style of writing police officers use to sound all important and official when writing their reports.

Cop talkers use passive voice. Excuse me, passive voice is used by cop talkers.

They say "myself," when they mean "me" or "I." "Bring the coffee to David and myself."

And they try to use extra big words, whether they mean what you think they mean or not.

There's something both amusing and sad about police reports. Sometimes when I read cop statements and government reports, I wonder if I'm being punked. But no, they're completely real.
"Male victim Johnson returned to his aforementioned residence and observed that the frontmost point of entry of the domicile was unsecured and appeared to have suffered a series of bludgeoning blows with the lower extremity of a human person."

Translation: "Mr. Johnson came home and found his front door kicked in."

If you want to communicate clearly, just follow this one rule: if there's a shorter, easier word to the one you're thinking about, use it. If it's longer and more complicated, skip it.

Or as I prefer to express to other individuals, eschew convoluted phraseology.
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Friday, March 13, 2015

Electronic Emotions and Plugged-In Pals

We've become such an open society that it's difficult to have private moments and thoughts. Thanks to social media, we share our lives and tragedies online, when all we really want to do is vent, unload, and cry privately.

We've taught ourselves that personal issues and dirty laundry need to be aired online, for everyone to see. We've developed a weird voyeuristic/exhibitionist relationship with each other.

Are we becoming eager to post bad news on Facebook and Twitter, or do we do it reluctantly? Are we so lonely for human emotions and support that we turn to our online friends for it? Or do we really get emotional relief by sharing our private lives in so public a setting?

Divorce, break ups, loss of friendships, loss of loved ones. They all get aired on social media, so others can see and react.

We live in public. We live out loud.

In many ways, we all want privacy. We don't want people knowing our business. But at the same time, so many people are in pain, they just want someone to tell them everything will be okay.

I'm actually fairly private in what I share. I don't share a lot of my personal life, because I just don't want people knowing about it.

I'm fully aware of the irony of my situation.

I'm a humor columnist; I'm supposed to write about my life and observations. I'm a social media professional; I get paid to help other people to live out loud. And I'm a book author; I write social media books that tell people to share their personal and professional lives online.

I just hate doing it myself.

I'm happy to share personal victories or accomplishments. I take photos of friends and family, and post them to Twitter and Facebook. But I rarely take selfies. Partly because I think they're self-aggrandizing, but mostly because I hate the word "selfie."

For the most part, people are generally supportive of each other online. We all offer the appropriate comments online when someone shares bad news. But our empathy is becoming automatic and rote.

If we can text, tweet, or Facebook a message, we'll do it. I've lost count of the number of times I've posted a simple "Happy birthday!" on Facebook on someone's special day.

Instead, I've taken to writing and calling my closest friends so I don't take the easy way out.

A few years ago, my mother got annoyed with me because I didn't write "Happy birthday" on her Facebook page. I had called her and sent her a gift, but it bothered her that I hadn't written on her wall.

I explained that I thought an electronic message was too impersonal and cold for my own mother on her birthday, and that the personal touch would be more heartfelt.

"How do you think it looks when only two of my three children write on my wall for my birthday?" she asked.

"You only have 12 Facebook friends. I don't think anyone noticed," I said.

No one is really surprised that I wasn't my mother's favorite.

I worry that electronic communication is making us all lazy. We look for a way to avoid physical human contact, and instead look for the easiest method that requires the least commitment.

Recently, after my mother died, I received a letter from an insurance company saying I could take advantage of their grief counseling services and resources. Curious, I typed in the needlessly long web address to see what they offered.

Rather than finding a list of area psychologists and counselors who offered their services, I found a short, generic invitation to call one of their trained grief counselors on the phone.

You get psychic readings on the phone, you don't process the death of a loved one with someone you can't even see. Besides, can you imagine how many cell minutes that will chew up?

Best of all, they didn't include a phone number on that particular web page. So if you actually wanted to call their grief counselor hotline — which was "available 24/7," because hipster slang is sooo comforting — you had to poke around on their website to find it.

I don't want to name this particular insurance company, but it rhymes with "You know who sucks at grief counseling? MetLife."

To their credit, they did offer more than Telephone-a-Therapist services. You could also download PDF articles on dealing with the loss of a loved one. Because nothing is as warm and comforting as an electronic document you can read on your cell phone on the toilet.

"I feel very sad today. I think I'll download a PDF and go poop."

While I'm normally very gung ho about social media and all the great things it can do for us, I don't want to forget the joys and benefits of spending time with real people face-to-face, talking about real issues, hearing their voices, and seeing their expressions.

And when they start to bug me, I can go on Facebook and make veiled passive-aggressive statements about certain people who shouldn't eat garlic fries at lunch.


Photo credit: Ewen Roberts (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, March 06, 2015

Will You Survive a Zombie Apocalypse?

It's the least likely of scenarios. Impossible, really. We'll never actually have one. But everyone seems to be excited about the possibility of a zombie apocalypse.

When exactly did zombies become a thing?

I remember watching Dawn of the Dead when I was in high school, and it scared the bejeezus out of me. It was about a horde of zombies that had trapped a band of humans in a mall, but the Hot Sam stand was closed, so the zombies were forced to eat the people.

Or something like that. I covered my eyes with my hands for most of it.

I've never enjoyed monsters, zombies, vampires, or anything supernatural and undead that might try to kill me.

Which is why I hate that zombies are all the rage right now. The only people I know who shamble slowly, mouths agape, and groaning that they need brains are those who drive under the speed limit in the left lane.

For as long as I can remember, zombies have always been part of entertainment, but it's only in the last few years, with movies like World War Z and TV shows like Walking Dead, that zombies have shambled their way into our national consciousness.

Several years before that, it was teenage sparkle vampires who had captured the interest of America's teens and 20-somethings. And their moms.

Good news, the werewolves nearly defeated the vampires during the whole Team Edward/Team Jacob presidential campaign.

Bad news, the vampires fought back and eliminated the werewolves.

Good news, the zombies have eliminated the teenage sparkle vampires.

Bad news, the zombies don't appear to be leaving.

It's getting so bad, there's even an online tool to determine how long it will take for a zombie outbreak to cover your part of the world.

The Washington Post recently published an article about a zombie apocalypse computer model, created by statistician Alex Alemi, that can determine how long a zombie virus outbreak would take to spread.

Alemi determined that, depending on where you lived, you could go for weeks, months, or even years, before a zombie outbreak reached you. If you live in a large city, like New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles, chances are you'll be dead — well, undead — within a week.

But if you lived in remote areas, like central Nevada or the Rocky Mountains, you could ride out the apocalypse for years, since it's not like zombies can hop a Greyhound bus.

So, if you want to avoid the zombie apocalypse, consider moving to a remote part of the country that's only serviceable by state highways and county roads.

If the idea of being chased by thousands of rotting flesh bags seems fun, you can visit Alemi's website (http://mattbierbaum.github.io/zombies-usa/) to see how long it would take the outbreak to reach your own town.

Fun fact: According to Alemi's model, if the outbreak began in Indianapolis, it would take seven full days to reach Chicago and Nashville, Tenn.

So, sleep well on that little tidbit.

But if that doesn't placate your fears (it certainly didn't help mine), a 2010 article on Cracked.com took a more serious, if cynical look, at why a zombie apocalypse would fail miserably.

Because if there's anyone who can outwit a statistician, it's a smartass satirist with plenty of time on their hands.

For one thing, says Cracked, zombies will not survive any place that has flies and bugs that normally eat dead flesh. If the zombie apocalypse happened in the middle of summer, it would be over in three or four days.

Zombies also can't handle the heat (think "bloating") or cold (think "freezer burn"). They don't know how to follow roads, so they would be blocked by natural barriers, like canyons, mountains, rapids, and cliffs, which they can't see at night. If you want to escape a zombie outbreak, just live on a mountain or an island.

Preferably a tropical island with cable and wifi. And a well-stocked bar. And a giant freezer filled with steaks. This thing will take a couple of months, so we might as well enjoy ourselves.

Finally, the Pew Research Center estimates there are anywhere between 270 million to 310 million guns in the U.S. Once the apocalypse began, we could literally crush the first zombies under the weigh of all the guns, without firing a single shot.

But my guess is everyone with a pop gun is going to want a piece of that action, so the zombies will die from severe lead poisoning.

In short, says Cracked, the worst thing that can happen to a zombie is that it's only food source is also its top predator. It would be like if we tried hunting sharks with a butter knife.

But if the zombie apocalypse ever does come, I'm throwing in the the pirate ninjas.

I just don't know how I'm going to sneak around with a peg leg and an eyepatch.



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, February 27, 2015

Successful Column Writing Secrets

Erik is out of the office this week, so we are reprinting a column from 2004.

Despite my complaints that I don't have many readers or get enough feedback from them, I actually have some great readers who write to me on a regular basis.

Many of them ask me if I would like to refinance my home, buy male enhancement pills, or tell me that they know of another reader — usually a hot Russian woman — who wants to meet me.

I get hundreds of these messages every day. It's messages like this that makes my life of writing worthwhile. I really feel the joy when, for example, a Nigerian prince offers me millions of dollars for my work.

Occasionally, people will ask me "How far out do you write your columns?"

Way far out, man. It's, like, groovy, you know.

"No, no," they say. "How far in advance do you write your columns?"

I'd like to say I write my columns weeks in advance, and that I am well prepared for any emergency. But I'd also like to say that I'm fabulously wealthy with abdominal muscles you could grate cheese on.

Obviously neither are true. In fact, in true writer's fashion, I wait until the last possible minute to write my columns. At least, this is what my editors tell everyone.

So, to answer everyone's burning question, here is my weekly schedule for successful humor column writing:

Friday morning (six days before my deadline): I need a topic.

Tuesday afternoon (two days before my deadline): I still need a topic.

Thursday, 5:00 pm (7 hours before deadline): OH CRAP, I NEED A TOPIC!!

5:01: Cruise the Internet before I go home. Maybe I can find a news story to think about while I drive.

5:10: Nothing interesting happening today. Aren't stupid people filing lawsuits anymore? I'll brainstorm in the car.

5:11: Ooh, I haven't heard that song in a long time.

5:14: Or that one.

5:55: Oh good, I'm almost home. Now I can relax and — OH CRAP, I STILL NEED A TOPIC!!

6:00: There are my kids. Maybe I could write about that time that — no, every baby does that. How about the time when — no, she'll already have enough therapy when she's older. Don't you hate it when — nope, too Andy Rooney-ish.

6:01: Kiss my wife hello. Maybe I could — not if I want to sleep in my own bed tonight.

6:20: Visit the dog. Don't bother. Every humorist does at least 12 columns on dogs, and I'm getting close to my limit. How many new jokes can I do on eating, sleeping, and peeing?

6:25: Dinner time already? Man, I'm tired.

6:30: I'm too stressed to eat, I have to think of a topic.

6:31: So what's the deal with broccoli? No, too Jerry Seinfeld.

7:30: Maybe watching some TV will give me some ideas. But just for a few minutes.

8:30: Oh boy, "Scrubs" is on. That's a great show. I wish I could write as funny as that. Hmm, if only I was a. . . uh-oh, I'd better think of something fast.

8:31: I haven't seen this one. Maybe this will inspire me.

9:00: Okay, show's over. Now it's time to get serious. I need to buckle down and find a topic.

9:05: My desk is a little messy. Maybe if I cleaned it off, I would get inspired.

9:10: Nope, nothing there. Maybe if I organize my CDs.

9:25: Nothing there either. How about picking up some clothes.

10:00: I really need to clean my office more often. Let's see, I had something else to do — MY DEADLINE IS IN TWO HOURS!

10:30: Wait a minute, I keep a file on my computer of different topic ideas.

10:31: Fishing? No. House maintenance? No.

10:40: Think, dammit, think!

10:50: Ah-ha, I've got it. I'll do one about beer drinkers vs. wine drinkers.

11:00: Actually, a beer sounds pretty good right now.

11:30: (BURP) I need to buy more beer tomorrow. Now, let's see. . . what was I doing?

11:35: MY DEADLINE IS IN 25 MINUTES!

11:55: Hurry up, you stupid spell checker.

11:56: What do you mean, "Deckers" isn't in the spell checker dictionary?

11:58: Paste it into the email, hit Send.

11:59: Made it just in time. I really need to start writing these things in advance so I don't have to go through this each week.

Next Thursday morning: Hmmm, I need a topic.



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, February 20, 2015

Support Group of Misfit Toys

According to Arthur Rankin, the Dolly for Sue's problem was that she was rejected by her girl, Sue, which gave her psychological problems and she believed she was unlovable.

Heather: Thank you all for coming to group today. I know the weather's been rather cold and dreary, and we're all fighting cabin fever. But we're in our safe space, where we can discuss and own our pain without judgment or fear. Who'd like to share first?

(No one answers.)

Heather: Charlie, how about you?

Charlie: Well. . .

Heather: Come on, Charlie. You haven't shared with the group since before Christmas. I'm sure we'd all like to hear from you.

Melvin: Yeah, come on, Charlie. Let's hear your share.

Charlie: Alright. I haven't shared anything because I was sure I was going to get called up this year. But since you-know-who didn't come to the island again — that's 10 years running, you fat jerk! — I just stayed scrunched inside my box. I literally haven't talked to anyone until now.

Dolly: I hear you, Charlie. I haven't left my house since Christmas night.

Charlie: That's not the same thing. You have a house. You can come and go as you please. I just sit in this stupid box until someone cranks the handle.

Heather: Now, Charlie, remember the rules of the group. Every toy has valid feelings.

Charlie: Yeah, but not every toy bears my stupid burden. It's been 10 years, and still no one wants a Charlie in the Box?

Tex: Not too many people want a Jack in the Box either.

Charlie: Why don't you fly your ostrich off a cliff?

Heather: Boys, boys! That's enough. Charlie, would you like to finish your share?

Charlie: Sharing. Just because I'm misnamed doesn't mean I'm misnaming other things. It's not 'a share,' I'm sharing. You know how I feel about that.

Heather: You're right, Charlie. I owe you an amends.

Charlie: *Groan!*

Dolly: Everyone knows how you feel about that, Charlie.

Charlie: Then I would ask everyone to respect my feelings on the matter. Also on the 'amends' thing too.

Heather: Fine, Charlie, I'm sorry. Would you please finish sharing?

Charlie: I've just been angry at all the lies. Moonracer promised us this Christmas would be different. This time, we were all going to be picked up and delivered to children. We weren't going to be misfits anymore. And this year, like every other bloody year, I believed him. He lied to us yet again, and like a sucker, I believed him.

Melvin: You can't be too hard on King Moonracer. He's got a tough job.

Charlie: Well, of course you'd defend him, Melvin. You're his polka-dotted footman. It's your job to defend the winged fraud, but not me. I'm out.

Melvin: But you're our sentry!

Charlie: Not any more, I quit. I'm just tired of it. Tired of the the lies, the raised expectations, and the dashed hopes. I'm even starting to question what I can gain from this group. It's not like we're going to get better. We're never going to get better. We're all misfits, we're all forgotten, and there's no point in getting better, since none of us are ever going to leave here!

(Charlie scrunches down into his box and slams the lid. Melvin pats the box lid in sympathy.)

Heather: Charlie, thank you for your — for sharing. When you're ready to come out, we're ready to listen and support you. Who else would like to share? Dolly?

Dolly: Okay. I tried looking for Sue last week.

Melvin: No, Dolly. You said you weren't going to do that.

Dolly: I know, I know! I feel like a failure. Last month, my stretch was to stop trying to find her, and I was doing so well. I mean, I took up smoking again, just to have something else to crave, but they don't taste as good as they used to. So when I stopped again, the urge to find her came back as strong as ever.

Melvin: But she abandoned you!

Dolly: But maybe she only moved. Maybe she's looking for me, even now.

Melvin: Dolly, you know she didn't. We've talked about this in group for the last 10 years.

Dolly: I know, Melvin. In my head, I know she's gone. But in my heart, I still love her. I can't hold onto a stupid boyfriend, because I don't feel like I can be loved. I can't even hold down a stupid job at a perfume counter. But I can hold onto a hopeless dream for 10 years? Crazy.

Melvin: You know, I've kept Carl the jelly pistol in my cupboard for the last six months. I think he's fermented by now. Let's watch Toy Story 2 and get drunk this weekend.

Heather: Well, it sounds like we've all got things to work on for next week. Tex, I'd love to hear about how you and Olly are doing on your cattle drive. Sheldon, we'll talk about your swimming class for birds. Dolly and Melvin, please don't overdo on the jelly wine. And Charlie, if you can hear me, I'll stick around for a little while if you want to have a process — sorry, process your feelings — afterward. Thanks everyone, have a good week.


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, February 13, 2015

I've Been Shaving All Wrong


Apparently I've been shaving wrong for the last 33 years.

At least that's what a fancy shaving store saleswoman hinted at when we discussed my shaving habits.

I recently stepped into The Art of Shaving store where they sell different versions of a four-step shaving kit for many, many dollars. Things like scented oils, fancy foams, and brushes made from badger hair.

Plus a perfectly balanced nickel-plated razor handle for $200.

I really, really liked the perfectly balanced nickel-plated razor handle.

The saleswoman said the razor handle is "perfectly balanced" to aid with "blade pull."

Because that's a thing now, apparently.

"How are you this morning, Mr. Deckers?" they'll ask at my coffee shop one morning.

"Not too good, Zach," I'll say. "My blade pull was a little off today."

"Ah, that explains the arterial spray on your shirt."

The saleswoman tried to convince me of the wonder and beauty of their four-step shaving kit, and how it could revolutionize my whole morning routine by turning a five minute chore done with soap and a razor in the shower into a 30-minute drudgery with four expensive ingredients.

Their fancy four step process starts with a shaving oil, then a special shaving cream applied with the badger hair brush, then shaving with the perfectly balanced nickel-plated razor handle, followed by a post-shave oil.

Then all your friends will laugh at you for smelling like a high school kid on his first date.

I walked into the fancy store, sporting at least four days of growth, and a goatee that looked more like a goat. It wasn't my intention to upset anyone, but once I saw how fancy the place was, I figured there was no harm in trying.

The saleswoman asked me what my usual shaving cream was

"Lever 2000," I said. "I shave in the shower."

She had been trained not to shriek at clients, so she remained calm. But she did develop a tic in her left eye when I said I only shaved every two or three days.

I started shaving when I was 14, a couple years before I actually needed to. I was so eager that I started as soon as I saw the first hair on my chin. It was probably one of my head hairs that got stuck after eating soup, but that didn't matter. Now I was a man! It was time to prove it by removing all the hair from my face.

Before then, when my dad wasn't home, I would lather up and "shave" with the plastic lid from the shaving cream can, so I wouldn't cut myself, pretending it was a real razor.

It was my stepdad who told me the best way to shave. "Put hot water on your face, as hot as your face can take," he said

I still say it to myself whenever I shave at the sink. "Put hot water on your face, as hot as your—ow, son of a—!"

The problem isn't how hot my face can take. It's that the water burns my fingers and I jump around and flap my hand like I smashed it with a hammer.

Besides that, most shaving advice varies wildly:

- Use a good moisturizer. Don't bother with a moisturizer.

- Shave in the shower. Shave after a shower.

- Use proper shaving cream. Soap is a suitable shaving cream. What are you crazy? Shaving with soap will make you look like the Elephant Man!

- Shave with the grain, and then against the grain. Under no circumstances should you ever shave against the grain! It's like crossing the streams in 'Ghostbusters,' only worse.

According to the advice from my fancy shaving saleswoman, everything I've done up to this point is wrong. I don't use any pre-shave treatments, post-shave treatments, or lather between shaving with and against the grain.

And I don't have a perfectly balanced nickel-plated razor handle, which means my blade pull is all wrong. I might as well be shaving with WD-40 and a rusted sickle.

I'm not a fancy guy. I don't need fancy razors and soaps to make me happy, or even give me a close shave. I've used the same brand of razors, Gillette Fusion, for years, and I use whatever soap is handy.

The whole idea of a four-step scented shaving process to me is a complete waste of time and money, and frankly, a little sissified for a guy like me.

Which is why I only bought the $25 starter kit.

I have a feeling we're going to be very happy together.


Update

After I wrote this column, I actually ended up getting the full kit, not the starter kit. I also got a new Gillette Fusion razor. As much as I joked about the overdoing-it-ness of their four step process, I absolutely have gotten the closest shave I've ever had in 33 years of shaving, and my face is baby butt smooth. I may have teased The Art of Shaving in this piece a bit, but man oh man, this really is awesome!



Photo credit: MagicRobot (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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