Friday, July 31, 2015

An Open Letter to Open Letter Writers

Dear Open Letter Writers,

I applaud you and your public bravery. That special way you share your public-but-should-be-private finger wagging with celebrities, athletes, politicians, or that guy who cut in front of you at Starbucks serves as a reminder of your work as a positive role model to society.

After all, it takes a lot of chutzpah to share your opinions in public. Other people might call it passive-aggressive. Sort of like the way someone speaks loudly to friends in a restaurant about how noisy children are a sign of bad parenting, in the hopes that the people at the next table will tell their bratty kids to shut up.

I can only imagine how irate and annoyed you must be with someone in particular that you want to publicly shame them for what they've done. I'm guessing you have a special insight into the actual circumstances in that person's life, so why shouldn't you air your opinion?

After all, rulers and religious figures have done it for centuries, so why not you?

When kings and presidents write an open letter, it's called a letters patent, and it's usually in the form of a legal document. Think of it as a legal proclamation, such as appointing someone to a political office. Meanwhile, a letters patent written by the Pope is called a papal bull.

The New Testament's Letters of Paul are also open letters. In them, he writes to a particular church, such as Ephesus, or a single person, like Timothy. But in all his letters, the lessons and ideas are intended for everyone. Which some people think are also bull.

That's what I admire about you, dear open letter writer. You're no religious or political leader, and yet you write your own open letter, sharing your ideas from on high. Just like a king or queen, you place yourself in a position of moral authority, allowing everyone else to purse their lips and clutch their pearls in agreement.

Some people might be encouraged to take a less visible route, and find a way to send a private message to the object of your scorn. They might — incorrectly, I'm sure — believe that the other person would appreciate some privacy and quiet dignity to ponder the error of their ways.

But not you. You share your gripe with everyone, because you're well aware of how much the rest of the world cares what you think about your chosen celebrity, athlete, politician, or Starbucks line cutter.

Of course, we appreciate the way you put yourself out there. Not only do you bravely point the finger of shame at a complete stranger, you also serve as the beacon of goodness and righteousness for the rest of us to follow.

That's a heavy burden indeed.

Don't get me wrong, dear open letter writer, what you do is valuable. You demonstrate what self-righteous indignation should actually look like.

In turn, we can embody your outrage and channel it into other issues, writing our own open letters — in the form of Facebook status updates — about topics that affect us greatly. Like whether two people we have never met can get married. Or how at least half the politicians in this country are idiots. Or whether athletes in a sport we don't actually care about cheated at their sport.

Your example of how right-thinking people should behave serves as an inspiration, and makes us feel free to lecture strangers on what we think is appropriate behavior.

For example, I feel more justified in writing open letters to the parents who let their young children scream and run around at restaurants, and then slipping the letters into the bill holders when they're not looking.

It's definitely safer than standing up and shouting over at them to "shut those blasted kids up!" Plus, my wife doesn't kick me under the table so much. And I don't receive open letters from the manager about how I'm not allowed in the restaurant.

Well, not so much open letters as restraining orders, which I suppose could make them letters patent. Especially since the judge got mad when I kept saying "if it pleases her royal highness."

So thank you, dear open letter writers, for all you do. For guiding us and showing us the proper way to act. For singling out people you've never met and holding them up for shame and ridicule. With chutzpah and audacity like yours, I predict even greater things for you.

Like becoming a newspaper columnist, for example.


You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Karl the Curmudgeon Says Pluto's a Planet

"Kid, let me ask you a question," my friend, Karl, said one day. "Your answer could have a major impact on our relationship."

This sounds serious, I said. What is it?

Karl searched my eyes for a second, took a deep breath, and said, "What do you think about Pluto?"

I thought for a minute. The planet or the dog?

"I don't know why I even try!" he said, throwing his hands up and turning back toward the television. We were sitting in First Editions, our favorite literary bar, watching the footage of Pluto the New Horizons spacecraft had been sending back as it flew by. Karl had been there three beers longer than me, and was in one of his moods.

What? What's wrong? I said.

"Well, you did say 'the planet,' so I guess that's okay."

What are you talking about? I said.

"The planet Pluto," Karl said. "The thing named after the Roman god of the underworld."

I thought it wasn't a planet anymore. Karl glared at me. Why are you even upset by this?

"My very educated mother just served us nine pizzas."

What?

"My very educated mother just served us nine pizzas. The thing! The thing we learned in school to remember all the planets."

I always thought it was 'my very excellent mother.'

"It doesn't matter!"

Well, she's serving pizzas, so that's pretty excellent.

He banged his fist on the bar. "It doesn't matter! What matters is that we're even debating this idiotic issue."

You're the one who brought it up!

"Not us," Karl hissed, waving his hand between us. "Them!" He waved his arm toward the door to encapsulate the rest of the planet.

Who is 'them,' Karl? I asked carefully. If he started talking about government mind control, we were going to have a problem.

"The IAU. I can't believe their hubris and sheer arrogance at downgrading Pluto to no longer be a planet. As if they're the arbiters of what's a planet and what's not."

Who's the IAU?

"The International Astronomical Union. They're some kind of astronomy club."

They're more than that, I said, finally getting it. They're the professional astronomers association. They've got members all over the world, and they all have Ph.D.s in physics and astronomy.

"Well, you can't spell hubris and arrogance without Ph.D." he plonked his beer down for effect.

Actually, you'd have the P and the D left over.

"It doesn't matter! My point is, who appointed these bozos as the official deciders of what the rest of us have to follow?"

Well, for it to be a point, it should be a statement, not a—Karl was glaring again. Why is it so important for Pluto to be a planet?

"Because it just is. The planet was discovered in 1930, and remained a planet for almost 73 years, until these astronomy bozos took a vote — they voted, can you believe it?! — and decided that Pluto would no longer be a planet. Look, I know Ph.D.s like to puff themselves up with self-importance, but to decide that you were the final say in how the world should view the galaxy? That takes some asteroids."

But what about the dwarf planets? Thanks to the IAU's reclassifications, we have some new planetary bodies we can add to the mix.

"Oh yeah? Like what?"

I looked it up on my phone. Well, there's Ceres, Eris, Haumea, and Makemake.

"Make-make? Like it rhymes with bake-bake?"

No, mah-kay-mah-kay. I think it's named after a god on Easter Island. And they're looking at almost a dozen more candidates, which means we could add some more planets to our list.

"So are they all cast out with Pluto to the farthest reaches of our solar system?"

Actually, no. Ceres is between Mars and Jupiter. But, yes, the rest are out with Pluto. So, the complete list of planets are Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Ceres, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto, Haumea, Makemake, and Eris. So now, I guess your teacher's saying is 'My very excellent mother—'

"Educated mother."

Fine. '—educated mother, Clarice, just served us nice pizzas (with) ham, mozzarella, and eggs.'

"Bleah! Who puts egg on pizza?"

I have. It's really good. I was at an Italian restaurant in Holland, and I had a pizza with everything including a fried egg.

"What do you expect from the Dutch?"

It was an Italian restaurant. I figured if anyone knew how to make proper pizza, it was the Italians.

"Oh yeah, and who appointed them arbiters of what goes on a pizza and what doesn't?!"

The Italian Gastronomical Union. They even voted on it.


You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Fred the White Goat of Vevay, Indiana

Not since Charlotte the spider wrote "SOME PIG" about her friend, Wilbur, has such a fuss been made about one farm animal.

But in the town of Vevay, Indiana, Fred the white goat was a town favorite.

Vevay (pronounced VEE-vee; you will be corrected) is nestled along the Ohio River in Switzerland County, in the hills of Southern Indiana. And that's where Fred made his home.

Fred didn't originally start out as Fred. He was Sherman, a 4-H goat that belonged to a young girl. Sherman must have thought he was in Stalag 17, because he frequently escaped from his pen. They would track him down, bring him back, and stick him in the cooler to make him tell the location of the French Resistance secret HQ.

(He never cracked, not once.)


But you can't put Baby in a corner, and you can't put Sherman in a pen, because he kept escaping. Finally, after Sherman had done his little goat-and-pony show at the Switzerland County fair, he escaped for the final time. Someone had left the pen unlocked, which is a little like asking El Chapo to hold your car keys for a minute.

I don't know if they decided to just give up, or if it was an act of mercy by his girl. Or maybe he bribed a guard and hid out in a laundry truck. I just know he lit out of there like a goat who knew he was heading to the meat plant, and no one was able to capture him afterward.

He changed his identity and name, and hid in the hills north of town, there on SR 56, living on whatever he could find. He ate plants and grass, and raided people's gardens. People may have even left food. He slept in an abandoned house on the hill, taking shelter when it was cold or rainy.


Whenever the occasional goat whisperer approached him, he took off, staying well out of reach. Otherwise, everyone pretty much left him alone, especially since Indiana doesn't have an official goat hunting season.

People would report seeing him as they drove into town, standing guard on the hill.

"I saw Fred on the hill," they said.

"Fred's on his tree again," someone else would say a few days later. There was a fallen tree that cantilevered over the hill. It was his favorite spot.

"Fred's standing on his roof," they'd tell my friend, Kendal Miller, executive director of Switzerland County Tourism. His house was built on the hill, and Fred could hop onto the roof.

He'd stand on the hill, probably keeping an eye out for anyone who might want to grab him. But I like to think he was guarding the town, like a horned vigilante.

"I'm Goatman," he'd bleat, watching the skies for the Goat Signal, the sign from Sheriff Hughes that trouble was ahoof.

Fred lived up on the hill for a few years, becoming the town mascot, even getting his own Facebook page.

But in Spring 2014, something was wrong. No one had seen Fred for a while. A sheriff's deputy headed up to Fred's house to investigate, and found him in a room, curled up. Dead. Fred had gone to sleep and never woke up. He had gotten sick, or possibly froze during that last bitter winter.

The deputy gathered up the remains and took him to the county coroner for an autopsy. Unfortunately, said the coroner, there wasn't enough material left to do an autopsy. They couldn't taxidermy him either. So the deputy took him to a place near where Fred liked to stand guard, and buried him.

The grave is marked with a couple of small stones, and I'm one of the few people lucky enough to know where it is. Kendal showed me last August, when I visited Vevay to cover this story for VisitIndiana, the state's tourism office.

That's when we saw Fred back on his log, keeping watch again. Except this time, it was a concrete goat someone had painted white and placed on his favorite spot, but no one knows who.

Every few months, the mystery caretakers decorate Concrete Fred to coincide with the season. I was there right before the Swiss Wine Festival, and he was sporting the Swiss flag.

A couple Saturdays ago, Vevay held their first ever Fred the Goat Festival in honor of their fallen friend. I took my two youngest to Vevay to visit Kendal and show them where Fred loved to spend his days.

It was a small festival, but then, Fred was a small goat. But he occupied a big place in the heart of this tiny town, and he guarded it well.

He sure was some goat.



You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

On The Trail of Fred the White Goat of Vevay, Indiana

This post originally appeared on the VisitIndiana.com website on August 26, 2014. However, after I left the department, my name was removed from the roster of authors (I don't blame them), so it doesn't show up under my name anymore. I wanted to repost it here, so I could continue to receive author credit.


"Are there snakes here?" I asked Kendal as we tromped through the weeds near an abandoned house along the highway. Kendal is the executive director of Switzerland County Tourism in southeast Indiana, and a good friend. We were on the trail of Fred the white goat of Vevay (pronounced VEE-vee), so I could get some photos of the house in question.

"Oh sure," she said. "I live out in the country, and I see them all the time."

I have a deathly fear of snakes, large or small, poisonous or harmless. "If we see one, you're on your own," I said.

"Why?"

"Because I'll be running the other way."


I visited the small town of Vevay after Kendal had emailed me a story about Fred, Vevay's wild white goat who had died recently. Switzerland County is one of my favorite places to visit in Indiana, and "write a story about a feral white goat" had been on my bucket list 10 seconds after I opened her email. Snakes or not, this was something I wanted to see for myself. It wasn't until the next day that I learned southeast Indiana has its share of poisonous snakes as well. I was only glad I didn't find that out until the trip was over, or I might have let Kendal take all the photos for me while I stayed in the car.

We had just finished lunch at Mo's Steakhouse, west of town, where I had an outstanding pork tenderloin. Mo makes his tenderloins with special spices, flour, and buttermilk. He also doesn't pound the tenderloin out flat, so there's plenty of thickness and juiciness to it, but it was still big enough that I was either going to cut it in half to eat it, or ride it down the Ohio River.


After lunch, Kendal took me up State Road 56 on the north side of town, where Fred had spent many years in the woods.

According to the local story, Fred was an escaped 4-H goat — originally named Sherman — that frequently escaped from his pen, apparently worried about the fate that awaited him. Even a spider web that said "SOME GOAT" on it wasn't enough to quiet him, so he escaped from the Switzerland County 4-H fair one last time and spent several years living in the woods right there on SR 56.

There are two roads that run east out of Vevay, SR 56 and SR 156, which runs right to the Belterra Casino, on the Ohio River. People coming into town on 56 would swing by Kendal's office with another Fred sighting. He soon became the talk of the town, and everyone considered Fred the town mascot, although he wouldn't let anyone near him. (He also has his own Facebook page.)


They figured he must have lived in the abandoned house on the hill, and ate whatever he found there in the woods, or would sometimes raid people's gardens, or eat the hay and grain local farmers were giving to their own animals. Sometimes people would see Fred standing on the hill — or on the roof and porch of the abandoned house — well out of the way of the cars, as if keeping watch. Or taunting the town. If anyone tried to approach him, Fred ran into the woods, so they left him alone. Even the hunters knew better than to go after Fred.

This past spring, people realized they hadn't seen Fred in a while. After the vicious winter we'd just come through, they worried. One of the sheriff's deputies checked out the house to see what he could find, and that's where he found Fred. He had died weeks earlier in one of the rooms.

The deputy gathered up Fred's remains and delivered him to the county coroner for an autopsy. The coroner wasn't able to do a study, not for lack of trying, but because the remains were too far gone. It could have been illness, an injury, or the cold that did him in, but there was no way of knowing. There was some talk of taking Fred to a taxidermist, but that was also ruled out because of the condition he was in.

Fred was buried alongside 56, half a mile north from his house, with a couple small rocks marking the spot. If you don't know what to look for, you won't see it. It's there along the hairpin turn on 56, two small brown stones standing on end to mark Fred's final resting place. Kendal and I parked along the turn and I got close enough to Fred's grave to take a few pictures.


"People have seen a white deer out here several times," Kendal told me. "They see him standing near Fred's grave or in some of his favorite spots."

"Maybe it's Fred reincarnated," I said. "And he's a little confused."

Some weeks later, folks thought they spotted Fred again along 56, standing on the hill. Except it wasn't Fred. Someone had anchored an all-white concrete statue of Fred onto a fallen tree jutting out over the hill. It was his favorite spot. Now, Fred watches over the town, day and night.

Throughout the year, that same someone has added seasonal decorations to Fred to commemorate the time of year. When I was there, Fred's benefactor had placed a Swiss flag on the log to celebrate the upcoming Swiss Wine Festival. In July, it was the U.S. flag for Independence Day. But Fred's benefactor remains a mystery. No one knows who's responsible for any of it.


Well, almost no one. Anita Danner, the woman who runs the Community Arts Center of Switzerland County says she knows who it is, but it's a secret.

"A fun secret," she says, as we follow her into the Arts Center. When you walk into the restored Grisard Building, you realize there are many talented artists in Switzerland County. Sculptures that show off Vevay's rich wine-making heritage; striking oil paintings and water colors hang on walls and displays; pieces made from found and recovered objects, like beer cases, laundry detergent caps, and bottle caps. Even Ann, the woman who works at the front desk of the Convention and Visitors Bureau, has a few paintings on display. A few watercolors catch my eye, and I stare at them for several minutes. They're beautiful.


I ask Anita if she ever just locks the door and sits in the building to take it all in. She says she doesn't quite do that, but she does have a lot of time to spend looking at the different art, and says that, depending on her mood, she notices something new or gets a different feeling from a piece.

Anita picks up a rubber mallet and bangs an old helium tank that has been cleaned, ground, and polished, and turned into a bell. The bell produces different tones, depending on where you strike it. She plays a chord with three strikes of the mallet, and we listen for a moment. It's very calming.

After visiting Fred's gravesite, Kendal and I headed back down the road a few hundred yards to the statue. I wanted to get some close shots, but he was about 100 feet up a very steep embankment. I climbed up, using long grass and small trees to pull myself up. Kendal stayed below, trying to come up with a reasonable explanation for my wife in case I came tumbling back down the hill, ass over teakettle. I got lucky and found a small trail that led straight up to the statue. Anita tells me later it's actually a deer trail that Fred's friends found and use themselves. They used to traipse through the woods instead, but found the trail and decided it was much easier.

As I climbed the hill, I thought about my travel writing friend, Mark Eveleigh, and how he flies around the world, spending entire weeks in various third-world countries, taking canoe trips down a river or traipsing through a jungle with local guides, just to write a single story. But while Mark has been literally all over the world, he has never done an assignment like this. I lead Mark in stories about feral white goats, 1 – 0.


I also thought about how the wildlife and plant life on his trips are either trying to poison him or eat him. Meanwhile, my biggest concern was whether I was going to get poison ivy or snap my ankle trying to take pictures of this damn goat statue. I also kept my eyes peeled for snakes, not realizing yet that there were possibly poisonous ones nearby. I stomped occasionally, hoping the sound would frighten any snakes off, which seems to have worked. I never saw a single one.

I snapped my pictures — a couple dozen, in fact. It was difficult enough to get up there, so I wasn't going to quit after just a couple photos. After I made it safely back down, ankles intact and snake-bite free — I did get poison ivy — Kendal and I headed back to downtown Vevay.

She told me the white deer hasn't been seen in a while, and that people are worried about where it might have ended up. But a new fawn has been spotted nosing around Fred's gravesite again, and we're all still hopeful the white deer will turn up again.

After visiting some of the new businesses in town, including talking woodworking with Dick Yanikoski at Ferry Street Woodworks, looking at the crafts and artwork at This & That, and checking out K&C's Antique Mall, I head off to the Belterra Casino for the night. I slip back into town a few hours later topick up some Snappy Pizza for dinner, and take it back to the room. It's been a long day, and I'm tired and smell a little after our day's trek in the "wilds" of Vevay, so hanging out in town is not a great idea. Plus, I want to spend some quality time with my hotel room.

I don't know about the rest of the rooms at Belterra, but this room is outstanding. Not only is there a TV and phone in the full-granite bathroom, but if there was a pizza oven in it, I would never leave. As it is, I spend the evening in my room, watching baseball — we're less than an hour from Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati, Ohio, so I get to watch my Reds — and catching up on some work.

The next morning, I cap off my visit to Switzerland County with Belterra's expansive and decadent breakfast buffet. It's not very busy on a Tuesday morning, and I don't have anywhere to be, so I take my time to eat and read a book. The staff takes great care of me, and I load up on bacon like I'm giving it up for Lent the next morning. It's a warm day, and I'm rested and ready to head home, but first there's one more stop at the Switzerland County Visitors Center.

Last month, during Vevay's First Friday art event, the theme of the month was Fred the White Goat — First Fredday — and people brought in sculptures, drawings, and paintings of the rural ruminant. There's even been talk about a Fred festival in the spring, to balance out the Swiss Wine Festival at the end of the summer, and the Sleepy Hollow festival in the fall. Everything was gone from the art show when I arrived on Monday, except for one water color painting of Fred I would have loved to hang in my office. So I stopped by the office for one last look (which is when I learned about the poisonous snakes. Always leave 'em with mortal terror in their hearts, as Stephen King used to say.)

Afterward, I headed back home, returning to Indianapolis in about two hours. Driving to Vevay takes you through some of the scenic parts of Indiana. It's all scenic when you think about it, because we're surrounded by some of the most beautiful parts of the country. But that route from Indianapolis through Greensburg and down to Vevay is one of my most favorites in the entire state, because I always feel like I'm coming home. And I'm hoping one of the next times I go will be for a new Fred Festival — a Fredstival — sometime in the spring. Maybe you can join me.

UPDATE: I had a chance to visit the Fred the White Goat Festival in Vevay on July 11, and had a good time visiting my favorite little town in Indiana. I took my two youngest kids — pardon the pun — and showed them around Vevay. They've been there before too, and were happy to be back along the Ohio River again.

Friday, July 10, 2015

We're the Rodney Dangerfields of Comedy

Erik is out of the office this week, but he's doing a humor reading this coming Friday, so we're reprinting a 2004 column about humor writing.

I'm often asked what it's like to be a humor writer. Humor writing is simple. So simple, in fact, that — er, I mean no, it's extremely difficult. It's hard work. So hard, in fact, that only highly-qualified people with special skills should attempt it at all.

Humor writers should be placed on pedestals and revered by society. They should be honored with parades, awarded medals, and have deli sandwiches named after them. And I'm not just saying that because I'm a humor writer.

Actually, that's totally why I'm saying that.

Humor is considered the "lesser" art form in literary circles. Other writers think we're clowns who don't take our craft seriously. Since humor makes people laugh, it must not be as serious as other forms of writing.

We're not considered as high-minded as novelists, even though many novels are just navel-gazing games of "who can make the awards committee cry harder." Meanwhile, newspaper editors respect us only slightly more than the comics and less than Dear Abby.
That's nearly 14 years of newspaper columns.
I've been doing it for over 20 years now.

Even celebrities who take a stab at writing children's books look down on us, which is odd, since they're only writing for children because they can't read the big words in grown-up books.

We don't even get the same respect as clowns in a parade. We're the guy following the horses with a shovel and wheelbarrow. Or, as a fellow humorist said, "we're the opinion writers' bastard children."

What these so-called "real" journalists fail to understand is that no one talks about them. Or if they do, it's in derogatory terms.

When people complain about "the media" and all the negative or biased coverage that goes with it, they're not talking about us.

They're talking about those journalists wearing wrinkled clothes five years out of fashion, notebooks clutched in their sweaty hands, eagerly waiting for the next big scoop. They're talking about those people who said Al Gore won Florida before changing their minds and said it was George Bush. They're talking about reporters who fabricate stories and plagiarize from other writers.

Humor writers are more memorable and fun to talk about. People will stand around the water cooler and say, "Did you read Dave Barry? I laughed so hard I nearly wet myself." They don't say, "Did you see David Broder's column? I furrowed my brow so hard I got a headache."

When someone says "David Broder," other people don't shout, "Ooooh, I love him! Remember his column on Bill Clinton and Whitewater?!"

When someone says "Dave Barry," other people reminisce about their favorite Dave Barry columns, like the one about misunderstood song lyrics, making homebrewed beer, or taking his dog outside to pee.

If anything, humor writers have a harder job than other writers, because not only do we have to come up with 750 words on a certain topic, we also have to make our readers laugh. Sports writers just hope their readers can finish an article before their lips get too tired, while novelists try to make everything depressing and interesting at the same time.

"Mildred sighed and slowly pushed away from the table. Things hadn't been the same since Clive had gone. She had begun serving dinner on their wedding china, something they never used once in the 32 years they had been married. As she cleared the untouched plate at Clive's seat at the table, each clink of their plates reminded her to finish burying him behind the shed."

Despite it all, we're still expected to be entertaining 24 hours a day.

"You're a humor writer?" someone once said to me on the phone. "Say something funny."

"It doesn't work that way. You can't just say something funny out of the blue. I'm not a performing monkey."

"No, really. Say something funny."

I said the first thing that popped into my head: "Doody."

"You're not that funny," he said, and hung up.

I'd like to say I went to his house and put a flaming bag of dog poo on his porch, but I didn't. I wish I could say that I lectured him on the great contributions that humorists have made throughout history, but I didn't. I wish I had called him back and told him the funniest joke in the world, but I didn't even do that.

Instead, I sharpened my writing skills, honed my craft, and studied everything I could on humor writing. And I'm left with one unbreakable truth every aspiring humorist should know.

"Doody" is hilarious.


You can find my books 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 on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My third book The Owned Media Doctrine is available on Amazon.com
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Friday, July 03, 2015

Town Slogans Offer Insights Into Their History

Cultural reprobate and filmmaker John Waters ("Hairspray," "Cry-Baby") said that a motto is a success if he can't think of a nasty twist on it.

Which means his hometown's new slogan "Baltimore: Birthplace of The Star-Spangled Banner" may be a winner. It's straightforward, not to mention patriotic, which means he can't mess with it.

(Not that he wouldn't try. This is the guy who turned inappropriateness into a competitive sport.)

Baltimore unveiled their new Waters-proof slogan on June 30, just five days before Independence Day, when America's theme song will ring out throughout the country. And now Baltimore wants to rub our noses in their contribution to history.

Their announcement got me to thinking about other slogans and how cities and towns want to capitalize on what they're known for.

Back in 2002, Massachusetts spent $300,000 on a new tourism slogan, "Massachusetts . . . Make it Yours," ellipse and all. Not to be outdone, Rochester, New York spent $400,000 for an ad agency to give them "Rochester. Made for living."

Once the economy tanked in 2008, governments were forced to slightly reduce their needless spending. Only slightly though.

A few weeks ago, Tennessee spent $46,000 on a new logo, which looked like it was created with Microsoft Word and orange construction paper — the letters "TN" centered on an orange square sitting atop a blue bar.

And last year, Indiana spent $100,000 on the tourism slogan, "Honest-to-Goodness Indiana." That works out to either $50,000 or $25,000 per word, depending on whether you count "Honest-to-Goodness" as three or one word.

A lot of people thought it was terribly corny, which, when you think about it, makes perfect sense for us. Still, I happen to like the folksy slogan, especially since they turned down my suggestion, "Indiana: America's Canada."

Clearly, I'm in the wrong business. Apparently, all it takes to be a successful tourism slogan writer is a lackluster vocabulary and complete shamelessness in accepting crazy amounts of money for near-zero amounts of work.

Yahoo Travel recently published a list of their "50 favorite" town slogans, and like the mom who won't say which kid's artwork she likes better, they picked one slogan per state. And not even the funny ones. Here were a few of my favorites.

Dumas, Arkansas — whose slogan should be "It's DOO-mis!" — is the "Home of the Ding Dong Daddy," laying claim to being the namesake of the song "I'm a Ding Dong Daddy from Dumas." Of course, they're in a slapfight with their Texas namesake over who's the real McCoy. Now, now, you're both Dumases.

Berrien Springs, Michigan hails itself as the "Christmas Pickle Capital of the World." A Christmas Pickle is a Christmas tree ornament used in the holiday game of "hide the pickle," a game I can't describe without giggling like a 12-year-old.

Ditto for Hooker, Oklahoma and their "It's a location, not a vocation."

Willow Creek, California calls itself the "Bigfoot Capital of the World," despite a complete lack of sightings of the great North American ape. Personally, I think it's a complete load of BS, which is something Beaver, Oklahoma knows a lot about. They're the "Cow Chip Capital of the World." Hey, someone's got to be, so say it loud, say it proud.

When auto racers in the early 1900s looked for a flat place to drive fast, they headed to Ormond Beach, Florida, giving it the title, "Birthplace of Speed." (This is completely different from Tulsa, Oklahoma being "America's Meth Capital.")

My favorite slogan is Gas, Kansas, which urges us, "Don't pass Gas; stop and enjoy it." Except my wife yells at me whenever I try to visit.

Sometimes it's things that didn't happen in a town that grants it its claim to fame. Gettysburg, South Dakota proudly proclaims itself to be "Where the battle wasn't." In other places, you just need to set your expectations a little lower. Nevada, Iowa recognizes that they're the "26th best small town in America."

A little closer to home, Elkhart, Indiana calls itself the "Band Instrument Capital of the World," which means it sits alone at lunch, thinks it's better than the theatre cities, and Mayor Dick Moore usually starts his speeches with "This one time, at band camp. . ."

Meanwhile, I apparently have a lot in common with Boswell, Indiana in Benton County — we both believe we're the "Hub of the Universe." Except they painted it on a water tower, but I can't even get it on a lousy t-shirt.


You can find my books 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 on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My third book The Owned Media Doctrine is available on Amazon.com
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Friday, June 26, 2015

Meh, OED Adds 500 New Words

It really must be my birthday.

I mean, it is — I turned 48 last Saturday. Or as I'm now calling it "nearly f---ing fifty." In fact, that's going to be my response when people ask my age: nearly f---ing fifty.

I just hope no one asks me at church.

But for my birthday, the Oxford English Dictionary (official motto: "Making you smarter for one hundred f---ing fifty years!") has added 500 new words and definitions to their pages.

This kind of linguistic largesse usually only happens at the beginning of each year, when Lake Superior State University releases its List of Words Banished from the Queen's English for Mis-use, Over-use and General Uselessness.

And since the list was released two days before my birthday, I'm counting this as the best present the OED could ever give me (unless they want to give me an online subscription).


To understand what this list means, it's important to know the difference between descriptive and proscriptive dictionaries.

A proscriptive dictionary tells you how a word should be used, a descriptive dictionary tells you how it is used. The OED is descriptive in nature, which means that it reflects society's language usage, not the proper way to do things.

That is, just because they included a word that makes you want to neck punch somebody doesn't mean it's now a "real word." It just means it's being used by hundreds of thousands of people, probably incorrectly.

Just please don't neck punch them.

They've added words like "barong tagalog" (the national shirt of the Philippines), "injera" (a white crepe-like bread from Ethiopia), and "utang na loob" (a Filipino term meaning debt of gratitude), which I assume you're owed if you give someone your barong tagalog.

But it's not like we use those words on a daily basis, so you may be kind of "meh" about the whole thing. At least now you can be, now that the OED added the term popularized on The Simpsons years ago. (They also added it seven years after the Collins English dictionary did, but you can't rush these things.)

However, they did add words like "lipstick" (the triple 20 on a dartboard), "stagette" (a Canadian bachelorette party), and "bush tucker" (uncooked food eaten by Australian aborigines).

My goal in life is to now use all three of these terms in a sentence correctly.

Of course, nobody ever accused the OED of being up on slang, as evidenced by the addition of "jeggings," the tight jean leggings hipsters wear when they want people to hate them.

The opposite of jeggings is the "skort," another OED addition. The skort is a combination of the words skirt and shorts. It's a pair of shorts with a flap of fabric over the front, so it looks like a skirt. It's fashion's version of the mullet — cocktail party in the front, volleyball game in the back.

Of course, I don't understand most fashion trends, and I'm not one to try to keep up with them. I don't suffer from "FOMO," the fear of missing out. When you're nearly f---ing fifty, you quit trying to keep up with fashion trends, and just spend your time saying nasty things about hipsters, secretly jealous that you couldn't fit your arm into a pair of jeggings.

"Fo' shizzle" finally made the OED, almost 13 years after UrbanDictionary.com added it. The term means "For sure," and was used by rappers like Snoop Dogg. Thirteen years later, someone at the OED finally got off their asizzle, and here we are.

The one problem with the OED being a descriptive dictionary is that it's free to include words that aren't words. That's why I'm not very happy about the OED's inclusion of the word "buko." Pronounced "BOO-ko," it's a slang term for "a lot" or "much," as in "I ate buko pizza."

Except it's derived from the French word, "beaucoup" (pronounced bo-KOO), which means it's pronounced completely wrong.

(Say it with me: "I will not punch people in the neck. I will not punch people in the neck.")

Buko is also a traditional Filipino custard pie made from young coconuts, but I don't think that's what the OED had in mind. Although now all I can think of is a bunch of Filipino kids saying they ate "buko buko," which actually sounds pretty good. I wonder if I can get some for my birthday.

Now if you'll excuse me, it's my bed time. I need to get to bed so I can get up early and make my "go-juice" (morning cup of coffee), so I won't "drumble" (be sluggish) the next morning.


Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons (Creative Commons)

You can find my books 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 on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My third book The Owned Media Doctrine is available on Amazon.com
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Friday, June 19, 2015

Karl the Curmudgeon Is Sick Of Your Crap

"When did people become so self-centered, Kid?" Karl asked me.

Is this a trick question, Karl? Am I supposed to say 'The Garden of Eden' or something?

"No, I mean when did people start thinking their opinion mattered?" I stared at Karl. This was pretty brutal, even for him.

Don't you think people's opinions matter? I asked. We were at Eaux Canada, our favorite Canadian bar, watching the Women's World Cup on satellite TV.

"No, not really."

How can you say that? I asked. We live in a democracy, and you yourself believe the First Amendment is the most sacred right of everyone in this country.

"And I still stand by that, Kid. Everyone is free to say what they want. But that doesn't mean they have to weigh in on each and every controversial issue like they automatically get a say in what happens."

How are those things different?


"Look at Caitlyn Jenner," said Karl. "She's made the transition into the person she believed she needed to be. She used to be Bruce, but she never felt like a Bruce, so she became Caitlyn." Felix, our bartender, set down a couple beers for us, and Karl took a long drink. He wiped his mouth on the back of his hand.

"Here's someone who makes a deeply personal decision, a decision that only she's allowed to make. When she's done, people get on Facebook and Twitter and offer their opinion about her choice, as if it's their business."

I saw some of those comments. They were downright hateful, I said.

"Exactly! So why do those people think they get to say anything?" Karl asked. "Caitlyn Jenner doesn't answer to anyone. Yet here are all these finger pointers all over the world who not only think they're entitled to an opinion about this, but even God himself can't stop them from sharing it."

There was even a petition to have her stripped of the 1976 Olympic gold medals she won as Bruce Jenner.

"Yeah, and it was promptly smacked down by the IOC," Karl laughed. "Fastest action by a bureaucracy ever. I think they set a world record." He took another drink.

"A few days ago, South Bend's mayor, Pete Buttigeig, came out as gay, and people had opinions about that. People outside Indiana, let alone outside South Bend, thought it was their place to question his lifestyle. They didn't talk about whether it affected his work, only that they thought it was good or bad.

"LeBron James was disrespectful to his head coach, David Blatt, last week, and every NBA fan felt they should weigh in on that. And when Chobani yogurt had that married lesbian couple in their latest commercial, the computer keyboard called One Million Moms had a gripe fest about it."

Why do you even care what people do? I asked. These are people whose lives don't affect yours, and you're getting all worked up about what other people think.

"That's my point. These events shouldn't even matter. Caitlyn Jenner's choice doesn't affect me in the least. Pete Buttigieg's sexual orientation doesn't affect me. LeBron James' attitude doesn't change my life at all. And I couldn't care less who Chobani chooses to shill their product; I'm a Dannon man through and through."

So what? We should all strive for your level of apathy?

"No, I'm just sick of people sharing their hateful un-asked-for opinions about things that don't concern them. The people they're griping about will never see it, but I'm subjected to every grouse and grumble about things we can't control. No one should have an opinion about someone else's personal life, especially when they have zero connections to them."

Karl, like it or not, we live in a country where people can exercise their free expression. That's what makes this country great. We can share our opinions and weigh in on things that matter and don't matter at all.

"Yeah, but just because you're free to express yourself doesn't mean I have to listen," he growled.

So who's at fault here? People have been like this ever since the first nosey cavewoman told a neighbor her bearskin was too short. This is not new.

"I blame social media," said Karl, plonking his beer mug onto the bar. "People may have been nosey and self-righteous for centuries, but Facebook and newspaper online comments have made it too easy for the shameless and close-minded to publicly vomit their bigoted opinions. Mark Zuckerberg created a monster, and he ought to be ashamed. He should hang his hoodied head in shame."

Is that your opinion? I asked, taking a drink of my beer. Your honest opinion of his life and professional choices?

Karl pondered that for a few seconds. "I don't have to listen to this."

Yeah, but I get to say it all day long. Cheers, dude.


You can find my books 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 on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My third book The Owned Media Doctrine is available on Amazon.com
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Friday, June 12, 2015

I'm Misunderstood In Several Languages

We have a weird accent in the Midwest. That is, we sound weird to other people in this country because of the way we talk.

"You don't sound like anything," my Southern friends tell me. "You sound like a TV newscaster." We Midwesterners have that non-accent accent that all the TV newscasters use so they'll sound the same throughout the country.

We don't sound Southern ("three people got killt, y'all!"), we don't have that Boston accent ("five cahs weh stolen from Hahvahd Pahk"), and despite it being in the Midwest, we're not from Chi-kaa-goh ("Tonight, Sal de Chef cooks up de perfect saa-sej-ess.")

The British do it too. If you've ever heard the BBC News on the radio, you've heard England's version of the Midwest accent. The rest of the world thinks all British people sound like that, but if you've ever heard someone from Manchester or Gloucestershire, you know British accents are as widely varied as American ones.

Even to Midwesterners, I sound a bit unusual. I don't sound like a Hoosier, despite living here nearly all my life. I don't say "warsh," I don't "go 't the store," although I do say my car "needs washed."

I get my accent from my family. My mother and father grew up in Oregon, although my dad emigrated from The Netherlands when he was nine, and apparently speaks with a slight Dutch accent. I've never actually heard it, having grown up with it my entire life, but I've been told I pronounce some of my words like he does. I say "The Nederlands" or "bett" instead of "bed."

My biggest problem — I don't know if it's a Hoosier thing or a Dutch thing (my dad does it) — is that I pronounce certain short E words with a long A sound.

The words "egg," "leg," and "Peggy" come out as "aig," "laig," and "Paigy." As in, "Oh no, Paigy spilled aig on my laig!"

It's so bad that my kids had a hard time learning to spell when they were young, because they all thought "egg" started with the letter A.

My ability to be understood gets worse when I travel to different countries.

Dutch French fries with fritessauce. Seriously, the best fries in the world!
Over the years, I've had the chance to travel to The Netherlands and Germany for work. I took German in high school, and picked up bits and pieces of Dutch during my travels. Long-time readers will even remember a trip to Frankfurt, Germany, where I paid homage to my first year German teacher by buying "ein blauer Kugelschreiber" (a blue pen) from the Faber-Castell store.

But despite my years of German study and my minutes of Dutch practice, I have a hard time communicating. Whenever I visited a restaurant or mobile French fry stand, I was never clearly understood, even though I spoke the language.

On my last trip to Germany, this very conversation happened to me four different times.

"Ich möchte ein paar Pomme frites, bitte. (I would like some French fries, please.)

"Was? (What?)

"Ein paar frites, bitte." (Some fries, please!)

"Huh?" (Huh?)

"Frites." (French fries, dammit!) Then I would point at the picture of fries to show what I wanted.

"Ah, Frites!" (Sorry, I couldn't understand you. You don't speak German very well.)

"Ja, Frites." (Yes, fries. Just like you said.)

"Huh?" (Huh?)

Then they asked, "Blah blah ketchup?" (Do you want some ketchup? You Americans always seem to love ketchup on fries, which we frankly think is disgusting, but you people will splatter it on anything.)

Then it really got bad. "Nein, Mayonnaise, bitte." (No, just mayonnaise, please.)

I even pronounced it the way they do: mai-oh-nise. Not the long I sound of "my," and not the long A sound of "may," like we say it, may-oh-naze. It was somewhere in between. I had practiced it several times, because I like the way the word sounds. Plus proper French fry mayonnaise ("Fritessaus") tastes excellent.

"Nein, mayonnaise, bitte."

"Was?" (What?)

"Mai. Oh. Nise."

"Huh?" (Huh?)

"Fritessaus." (What the hell is wrong with you?!)

"Was?" (Your pronunciation is terrible. I think I understand what you're saying, but I can't tell if you're ordering condiments or that little Timmy fell down the well.)

Defeated, I'd say it in English. "May. Oh. Naze."

"Oh, mai-oh-nise." (Ha, ha, you stupid American. I knew what you wanted the whole time. We've all been messing with you. We had a meeting about it before you arrived.)

"Danke." (I hate you all. I'm going to France.)

"Was?" (Y'all want an aig with that?)


Photo credit: Wikipedia, Creative Commons


You can find my books 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 on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My third book The Owned Media Doctrine is available on Amazon.com
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Monday, June 08, 2015

The Fever Set a Guinness World Record, Fall Short Against Minnesota

My family and I are now part of a Guinness World Record.

Last Saturday, we were able to attend the Indiana Fever's home opener against the Minnesota Lynx, in a rematch of the 2013 WNBA finals where the Fever wanted to set a world record by having the most glow sticks lit in one building at one time.

They were talking this up on social media big time, and everywhere I turned someone was tweeting or updating about the record attempt. We got some tickets, thanks to Kevin Messenger, the Fever's PR director, and we were off!

We've been loyal fans of the Fever for years, and we were looking forward to a new season under coach Stephanie White. They had already lost the season opener to Chicago, and this was the home opener.

We waited for the appropriate time, right after player introductions, and right there up on the ginormous video display — seriously, that thing is huge! — Briann January told us to crack the glow sticks, and they cut the lights.

It was the first time I had ever cracked my own glow stick (it was everything I hoped for and more!), and I got to wave it around with an arena full of other world record participants.

At halftime, Guinness world record certifier, Michael Empric — that is, he certifies world records. He doesn't hold a world record in certifying — appeared on the giant video display (seriously, there has to be a world record for that) and informed us that we had smashed the previous record with 3,712 Fever fans all waving these little red glow sticks in a single building.

And I was there! My wife was there! And our kids were there! We got to participate in a world record! How many people get to say that? Well, 3,707 other people get to say it too, but that's pretty damn special. We're actually a little proud of that. I think my youngest daughter even kept all our glow sticks.

Oh, and the Fever lost to the Lynx.

Amid all the excitement of the world record, there was a basketball game to be played too.

The Fever just weren't on their game this night. There were a lot of struggles, and Erlana Larkins had limited playing time, while Tamika Catchings was out completely. Both women have right knee issues, which affected the game.

But worse was the shooting. The Fever missed too many shots. This wasn't just a matter of not taking shots, this was missing easy shots.

Looking at the Fever stats sheet, I can see that of all the players, only rookie Natalie Achonwa broke .500 shooting. She shot 7-of-11 field goals, for a .636 average. Meanwhile, Marissa Coleman, Shenise Johnson, and Erlana Larkins averaged .500, hitting 5-of-10, 6-of-12, and 1-of-2 respectively. The team total was .424 for field goals.

When it came to 3-pointers, only Layshia Clarendon and Johnson were .500, hitting 1-of-2 and 2-of-4. All told, the team was 4-for-15 on 3-pointers.

A few notable observations from the game:

  • Right at the beginning of the game, Natalie Achonwa had 6 of the Fever's 8 points. She's going to be a major factor in the Fever's run for the playoffs if she keeps this production up.
  • Speaking of Achonwa, I saw her hurl herself after the ball at least twice. The only other person we see go horizontal that much is Tamika Catchings.
  • Maggie Lucas played just three minutes in the second quarter. After that, she was on her feet, behind the bench and to the right, flexing, moving, and keeping loose. She was ready to go back in, although she didn't get a chance. I loved seeing her spirit and eagerness. I hope she always keeps that.

The Fever play the New York Liberty on June 10.



You can find my books 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 on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My third book The Owned Media Doctrine is available on Amazon.com
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Friday, June 05, 2015

A Graduation Speech to 8th Graders

This time each year, I like to write a Graduation Speech I'll Never Give. This time, it's to all the 8th graders who are "graduating" and moving up to high school in the fall.

Thank you, Principal Harbinger, parents, and "graduates."

I say "graduates" with tongue firmly in cheek, because we all know you haven't actually graduated anything. You won't graduate from school for another four years, but our participation trophy society now calls leaving one school building for another "graduation," so here we are.

But a check is a check, and I told Principal Harbinger I would call you whatever she wanted as long as the check cleared.

First of all, I want to congratulate you. You have completed nine years of your 13 years of education, and you've met the requirements necessary to become a teacher during Laura Ingalls Wilder's time.

You are also entering the stage of life where you will be at your smartest. Now that you can read a newspaper, go to the potty by yourself, and solve-for-X 70% of the time, you will — or so you'll believe — know more, understand more, and comprehend more than your parents ever did.

You will be wrong, but none of you are paying attention to me anyway.

This stage of life will last roughly anywhere from eight to twelve years, until you get married, have families, and start asking your parents how to do certain things — changing diapers, calming colicky babies, and coping with teenagers who are too big for their britches.

Of course, if you aren't careful, some of you may start learning these things in three or four years. And, I can see by the look on Principal Harbinger's face that this is neither the time nor the place to mention that.

So let me just say that your parents have rules for you for a reason; Principal Harbinger's forbidden topic is that reason.

Over the next four years, your parents will understand less and less, until they're slack-jawed morons whose sole purpose in life is to drive you everywhere and/or embarrass you.

Once they're paying for you go to college, they may improve slightly. Otherwise, they'll be so out-of-touch and uptight, thanks to your newfound ideals, that family holidays will be week-long tirades about how old-fashioned they are.

Believe it or not, "graduates," your parents weren't always khaki-wearing, minivan-driving buzzkills. They used to be cool as hell.

They were passionate. They had dreams, and they just wanted to have a good time and love life. Your dad wanted to write the next Great American Novel, and hang out with his friends on weekends. He was going to drink expensive scotch and drive fast sports cars — not at the same time, of course. He was going to live in an old warehouse converted to loft apartments where he could park his vintage motorcycle inside.

Your mom was going to become a lawyer and fight social injustice on behalf of people who couldn't fight themselves. She was going to stay close to her college friends and go clubbing with them every weekend, after a long week of saving the world.

So how did they go from that to, well, this?

Here's what happened: Everyone point your index finger up at the sky. (No, kid, your index finger.) Now, bend your wrist so your finger points back at you.

That's what happened. You did. You and your siblings.

Your parents used to stay up late, discussing big ideas with their friends. They ate crazy foods at weird restaurants. They went to art galleries, and watched exciting new plays. They went on camping trips, and wandered the city at night for hours.

Then you came along, and they were responsible for another life. They had to take care of you. So your dad sold his motorcycle, and your mom sold her cute little sports car she named after her favorite actor, and they bought a minivan because it was safer. And they moved out to the suburbs, so you could play outside.

To afford this new life, he got an unfulfilling job that wouldn't let him wear jeans or concert t-shirts, so he bought khakis because they were the least uncomfortable. And she got a less glamorous job that gave her plenty of time to spend with you, or she gave up her career entirely.

He never got to write that novel; she never got to stand up to big corporations.

And they became lame, because they had a child, or children, they wanted to keep safe. They wanted you to stay alive for these last 13 years, and they wanted to prepare you for the next 60 years.

They became lame for you.

So, congratulations, "graduates." You're now ready to deride your parents over the next 12 years for being lame and stupid, and make them feel sad about the lives they once hoped to lead.

And just think, you're only 12 or so years away from starting down that path yourselves!

Now, now, quit crying. Go hug your parents and get your diploma. Congratulations, former 8th graders. You can be anything you want in the world, as long as you do it before 2028.

Make us proud.


Photo credit: Family MWR, US Army (Flickr, Creative Commons)

You can find my books 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 on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My third book The Owned Media Doctrine is available on Amazon.com
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Thursday, June 04, 2015

Looking Beyond 2015 with the Indiana Fever

Stephanie White may be nervous, but it doesn't show. She's been preparing to take over as a WNBA head coach for the last several years. And she's been thinking about the mark she's going to leave on the game, especially with her former teammate and now star player, Tamika Catchings.

"One of the things I frequently speak to Catch about is where we want this franchise to be long after we're gone," she said in a recent Media Day interview. My daughter, Maddie, and I were able to attend, having been long-time Fever bloggers.

"We have seen the tremendous growth, and really she has been the heart and soul of laying the foundation of what the Fever has been about," White said. "And she wants to maintain the direction she has steered us. I'm always talking to her about continuing to show the other players what that is."

Those leadership lessons make sense, because Tamika is planning on retiring after the 2016 Summer Olympics, and she's already making plans about what she wants to do.

"Have you thought about coachin—"

"No!" she said. And she said it fast. I didn't even get the question mark out of my mouth, and she was all over that.

"No!"

Catchings absolutely does not want to coach. At all.

White was asked the same thing about Catchings, and she just snorted.

Catchings says the problem is that no one works as hard as she does. She's at the practice facility every day at 6:00 am, and she works for at least 90 minutes a day. Including the off-season.

"No one else does that," she said. "If I could have even just one player who worked as hard as I do, I'd think about it."

"So basically you've created your own problem then," I said. She just smiled.

But Catchings' hard work is just what White is going to need with her new faster-paced offense-oriented game plan. She's looking to make the game go faster, not letting the other team rest, and it means Catchings is going to run more and rest more. So she's in the gym every day, making sure she's ready.

Even though that's White's big change, she's not going to change how they work or what they stand for.

"A lot of things are going to stay the same," said White. "This franchise has been built on core values of defending at a high level and being tougher than our opponents, of playing aggressive tough-minded defense, and then grind it out offensively. I want to change our offense to make it easier."

So White is not coming into this as a greenhorn rookie coach. She's been preparing for this for a few years, because that's how former head coach Lin Dunn thought — always ahead, three or four moves beyond the moment. In White's case, a couple of years beyond the moment: she named White her successor two years before she retired.

"Lin has helped me prepare by challenging me as an assistant coach, getting me to think three, four, even five possessions and five counters down the road, because that's how she prepared," said White.

Speaking of thinking ahead, 7-year veteran Briann January is already looking to her future, and it may end up being in the broadcast booth. She's the host of Bri-TV, the Fever's video interview show they host on their website. During our time at Media Day, we watched Briann interview teammate Jeanette Pohlen and White.

When we caught up with her, I asked her if Bri-TV was a little practice for her post-basketball career.

"It is something I would like to get into, maybe. Coaching is one of the things I've been setting up for post-career, but you never know," she said.

"If you get into broadcasting, would it be just basketball, or all sports?" I asked.

"I think I can hold my own in any arena, but I absolutely love talking about basketball. That would be easy," said January

"We're in Indianapolis, and there's only been one other female reporter for IndyCar," I said, referring to IndyCar pit reporter Jamie Little, who made the move to NASCAR in February.

"Oh, really? I could do some research and get into that," she laughed.

I asked January if she was the likely successor for team leader.

"I've tried not to think about that, because what Tamika has done for Indiana and the Fever is huge," January said. "And to carry that load is a little intimidating, but I do believe after six years of being behind her, watching her lead, and growing my game and leadership skills, I think I, and the other veterans on this team, could take her role and run with it, and be one of the better WNBA teams year in and year out."

When I asked White about who was going to fill Catchings' shoes as team leader, she said, "I don't know who's going to do that now. I think that's going to evolve naturally. But I see Briann January taking the right steps in that direction in terms of her leadership, in terms of being vocal. Bri is a lot like Catch was when she was a young player, leading by example, by how hard she plays, by how competitive she is, how tough she is. And she has started to progress in her vocal leadership as well. But we're also going to see other leaders emerge over the next couple of years."

So 2015 is going to be a year of transition. New players and a new coach coming in, older players making noises about leaving in two seasons. Things are already taking shape to give us a new look at Indiana's favorite women, and all eyes are on Stephanie White and Tamika Catchings to take the Fever back to the playoffs one more time.



You can find my books 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 on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My third book The Owned Media Doctrine is available on Amazon.com
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