Thursday, June 26, 2008

Catch!

Catch!
Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk syndicate
Copyright 2008

"Okay, Buddy, put your mitt on."
"No, your left hand."
"No, the other left hand."
"That's your left hand."
"Because you throw with your right hand. "
"Not a mitten, a mitt. It's also called a glove."
"A bat is the thing you hit the baseball with."
"Yes, baseball like the Cincinnati Reds. We watch—yes, like the Chicago Cubs too. We watch—right, like the Chicago White Sox."
"Yes, yes, like those other guys. Just listen. I'm trying to teach you about baseball. I want you to learn to play baseball when you're older."
"Sure, you could be a baseball player when you grow up. Or a football player."
"Depends on which one you like better."
"I like them both. It wouldn't matter to me what you played, just so long as you were happy."
"Because your mother and I haven't been planning for our retirement, so we're counting on you to become a professional athlete to take care of us in our old age."
"Never mind, I'm just kidding."
"Sure if you want to play for the Reds, you can. They're Daddy's favorite team, so that would be great. Now, just listen, please."
"You catch the ball in your mitt – right, or your glove – and you squeeze it tight."
"So it won't fall out."
"Let me toss it to you."
"Hold your mitt like this."
"No, out like this, so it's up like a bowl."
"No, hold. . . no, just. . . more like. . . just let me move your hand."
"Good, now hold it there like that. Ready?"
"Nice try, but you have to move your mitt to where the ball is."
"I know I told you to hold it there, but – never mind. Let’s do it again. Ready?"
"Good job, but don't forget to squeeze it when it hits your mitt. That way it won't fall out."
"All right! You got it. That's great. Now see if you can throw it back to me."
"Whoops. We need to work on your throwing too. Be sure to take a step with your left foot as you throw."
"No, the other leg. The other. . . no, the other. . . Just a minute. Hold up your mitt. Good, now touch the mitt to your leg. No, the other leg. Jeez, we need to work on your right and left too."
"Okay, good. Now, when you throw the ball, you take a step with your left leg – that's right, that one – and then you throw the ball."
"Good job! Now, this time try throwing it when you're looking right at me."
"That's right, it's dangerous when the ball goes into the street. That's why you should let me get it."
"I'm going to throw it to you again. Ready?"
"Why'd you move your mitt?"
"No, you're supposed to catch it with the mitt. You don't want to keep your mitt away from the ball. You need to get it in the mitt. Now throw it to me. Remember to look at me first."
"Good job, Buddy. Just remember to step before you throw next time, not after."
"Here, try it again."
"Don't move your mitt out of the way."
"Now throw it. Just remember: look, step, throw."
"Great job! That was right to me. Here it comes. Don't move your mitt."
"Sorry, that one's my fault. I threw it too gently. I'll do it better next time."
"Good throw! See, the look, step, throw works, doesn't it. Ready?"
"Ooh, sorry, Buddy. Let me see, are you bleeding? Good thing we're using a soft ball, not a regular baseball. Yeah, you're a tough guy. Let's keep going."
"Wow, way over my head. Nice try. You've got some pretty good velocity. Just don't forget to—it means speed. How fast you threw it."
"That's right. Just let me get it."
"I know I need to look both ways."
"Good catch, Buddy! You did it. That's awesome! You're turning into my little baseball player."
"No, you're not quite ready for the big leagues yet."
"Well, first you need to be older than five."
"Five-and-a-half doesn't quite get it."
"About 22."
"That's 17 years from now."
"Don't worry, you've got plenty of time to get there. Let's just keep working on your catching and throwing first."
"Good shot. That had some heat on it."
"It means speed."
"With a V. Velocity."
"No, you're not ready to bat yet. We'll do it another time."
"When there aren't so many cars and windows around."

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Blog Indiana discount - I'm speaking at Blog Indiana 2008

I'll be speaking at the Blog Indiana 2008 conference in Indianapolis this August 16 & 17. It's on the IUPUI campus, and promises to have a lot of great information for new and experienced bloggers. And it's only $49 for the whole weekend.

I'll be talking about how to write for blogs, both for readership and search engine optimization. (Tip #1 - repeating keywords in sentences doesn't do it.) In fact, I'm already listed in the session schedule, which makes it official!

But best of all, as a Laughing Stalk reader, you get a 15% discount off the price of your registration. So, you pay the low, low price of $41.65.

To register, go to the conference website, enter the code BLOGDISC on the registration page, and you're in like Flynn, bay-bee!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Just call me "Dad"

My oldest daughter just called me Dad. She's nearly 12, and up until today, she's called me Daddy. But she sent me an email to my Gmail account today that said "Dear Dad, Thank you for letting me go to the church retreat."

Dear Dad. Not "Daddy." The older honorific. The one she'll use in public, in front of her friends so she's not embarrassed by them thinking she's a baby. Eventually, it's the one she'll use all the time, so she doesn't think she's a baby.

When did I become Dad? I knew this day was coming. I even talked about it with my wife. Neither of us have been looking forward to it. I'll still be "Daddy" to the two youngest for several more years, but it's still a denting blow.

One of the things Google does is put sponsored links in all of their email windows. It keys the messages on the text of any email. Write an email to your friend about a diet, and all the sponsored links will be about diet programs. Get one about the new watch you got for Father's Day, and all the messages are about watches and Father's Day.

For this email, two of the sponsored messages are about "Learning to Let Go" and "Letting Go."

Google is mocking me. Stupid Google.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

My New Sissy Dog

My New Sissy Dog
Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2008

My family hit an all-time low this week. One that I vowed we would never hit as long as I was alive: we have a new Maltese-Poodle puppy.

For those of you not familiar with the Maltese-Poodle, let me describe it. A Maltese is a small dog with fluffy fur that constantly gets underfoot and has an annoying yip for a bark. A Poodle is a small dog with curly fur that constantly gets underfoot and has an annoying yip for a bark. The Maltese-Poodle is a mix: a small dog with curly and fluffy hair, but apparently it doesn't get underfoot or have an annoying yip. At least that's what my family tells me. They were the ones who picked it.

"Honey, we need a new dog," my wife said a couple weeks ago. "The kids miss having a dog."

"What did you have in mind?"

"How about a Maltese-Poodle?"

I reminded her that our son was allergic to our last dogs, a pair of Beagles, and that we had said we weren't going to get another dog for a while. I thought bringing our son's well-being would trump all this talk of sissy dogs.

"These dogs are hypoallergenic," she said. "They don't cause sneezing."

"They're sissy dogs," I said. "I want a manly dog. Like a Beagle." I figured if we were getting a dog, we'd get a real dog, and my son could put up with a little sneezing. My male ego is more important than a five-year-old's comfort.

My wife began sending me online photos of different Maltese-Poodles, and I responded with photos of Beagles and Beagle mixes. It was our own little canine flame war. Finally, this past Wednesday, my wife called me at work.

"I found a cute little dog online. I'm going to take the kids to go visit her."

It's my own fault, really. I should have known the words "cute little dog" was code for "the dog I want," and "go visit her" meant "bring her home."

I thought about forbidding her to do it, but the last time I forbade anything, I was nearly forbidden from sleeping in our room. "Our room" was code for "this hemisphere." So I said good-bye to my masculinity. In typical, Beagle-owning macho fashion, we hugged roughly, thumping each other on the back hard enough to pound nails.

Later, I got a phone call. "Come home and see what we got. Her name is Sophie, and she's white, fluffy, and tiny. She's only five-and-a-half weeks old and she doesn't even weigh a pound. You'll love her."

Code for "You WILL love her. Or else."

When I got home, my family was sitting in a circle on the kitchen floor with this tiny white creature in the middle.

"Eww, there's a mouse in here," I said.

"Daddy!" my kids hollered in a warning tone. I sat on the floor and watched her for a while.

"I think she's got a little Iwish in her," I said.

"Iwish? Do you mean Irish?"

"No, Iwish. As in I wish she was a Beagle."

Sophie was walking unsteadily on the tile floor, and she stumbled over to me. I picked her up and held her in my hands, like one would hold a moth, with her head sticking out.

"Don't pee on me," I warned. She sniffed my goatee and stared at me. I stared back.

"Daddy, you can put her down," said my youngest daughter.

"No, she's fine where she is," I said. "Why don't you go play?"

"We want to watch Sophie."

"Then watch her in my hands." I held on to this interloper for a few minutes, and she fell asleep. I sat motionless on the couch for 15 minutes while she slept, sitting upright in my cupped hands.

"I guess we can keep her," I grunted to my wife. "But if anyone asks, she's your dog."

Later, that evening, while my wife was at work, I let Sophie fall asleep on my lap while I read a book. For a couple hours. A masculine book about fighting and tools and beer, in case you're wondering.

I looked down at her occasionally, and decided she wasn't such a bad dog after all. She's no Beagle, but she's kind of cute, in a way. In a tough, masculine sort of way, that is.

Just don't tell my wife I like Sophie. I'm still trying to convince her that we need a Beagle. But not a big one. I don't want her to hurt my baby, er, I mean my wife's dog.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

David Sedaris Likes Me, Doesn't He?

David Sedaris Likes Me, Doesn't He?
Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2008

This past Tuesday was Humor Hero Day for me. I got to meet one of my favorite writers, David Sedaris, at his book signing and reading at Big Hat Books in Indianapolis. I've enjoyed listening to David – we shared a moment that day, so I get to call him David; we're close like that – on public radio's This American Life for years, so this was exciting.

David is known for his wry and snarky humor, telling stories from his childhood in North Carolina, his young life in New York, and his home in France with his partner, Hugh, and making fun of people he meets in restaurants and at book signings.

I bought my advance copy of his latest book, When You Are Engulfed in Flames, six weeks earlier, which was my ticket into the reading. I arrived at the bookstore early to avoid the long lines, but there was already a short one when I arrived.

I stood behind two women, one of whom said she was "an old friend of David's." They had worked at a little coffee shop in North Carolina; she was a waitress, he was a dishwasher. The line moved slowly, because David shared a short conversation with everyone who bought his book.

When David's "old friend" reached his table, she reminded him of their shared history.

"Sure I remember you. I wrote about that coffee house in my book," said David.

"You remember Cathy, don't you?" asked the woman.

"Yeah, I think so."

"She was friends with Terry."

"Oh, sure, sure."

"And you have to remember Nancy. Everyone remembers Nancy."

"Yeah, Nancy. I remember her too."

She yammered on about Nancy and Terry and Cathy and the fun times they all had, and he mm-hmmed in agreement. After she left, David said to me and the woman's companion, "Could you tell that was a total fake job?"

"No, I think you were convincing," said the other woman.

"I totally believed you," I said, faking the faker. (Ha! See, I can be snarky too.) "Of course, now I have to tell her the truth," I joked.

The other woman whirled around. "No, I have to work with her!"

I promised I wouldn't, so she turned back to David, and he signed her book. He didn't seem to care if I told the truth or not. Being snarky liberates you from feelings of empathy. Then it was my turn.

"What do you do?" he asked me.

"I'm in marketing," I said, then stopped myself. This was my one chance to plug my column, and I wasn't about to blow it by discussing the intricacies of direct mail. "I also write humor columns."

"Oh really, where are you published?"

"I'm in eight newspapers around Indiana."

"Wow, how long have you done that?"

"Thirteen years."

"That's amazing. I don't know how you find something new every week for so long." He gestured with his book. "This is hard enough."

This was so cool! One of my favorite writers just admitted to being envious of my ability to come up with something new week after week. Sure, it's not six New York Times best sellers, but I do what I can.

"The hardest thing about writing for newspapers," he continued, "is that you can't use filthy language. I mean, they don't even let you say 'pussy.'" I laughed.

"See, 'pussy' always gets a laugh." *

This was the best day ever. David Sedaris just said a dirty word to me. Twice. And not in anger. You just haven't lived until you've had a conversation with a famous writer about dirty words you can't use in a newspaper.

That's when it hit me: Wasn't this the guy who just faked a five minute conversation with some woman who actually knew him 30 years ago? She went away believing he remembered her. Then I thought, he doesn't care about me at all!

But then I read what he wrote in my book. "To Erik. I look forward to reading YOUR book."

I was so proud, I made it all the way to my seat before doubt crept in and I began to worry about what he might have possibly said to the woman behind me.

"Do you think he could tell that was a total fake job? I don't really care if he writes for newspapers. And I don't want to read his stupid book either."

I need to find less snarky heroes.


* In the original newspaper column, the lines read:

"The hardest thing about writing for newspapers," he continued, "is that you can't use filthy language. I mean, they don't even let you say—" and then he said a word I can only repeat on my blog at www.ErikDeckers.com. I laughed.

"See, (that word) always gets a laugh."

Ah, the joys of blogging in the free world.

Harlan Ellison Hates Cheap Writers

Harlan Ellison's rant on YouTube shows why writers do themselves a disservice by giving away their writing for free or cheap. I quit responding to freelance jobs on Craigslist, because I was getting beat by newer or worse writers who would do a one day project for $25. (Let's face it, if you're doing a job for that much, you're losing money. Your time is worth more than $3.00 per hour. Go wait tables if you're happy making $25 for a day's work).

If you're a writer, freelance or otherwise, and you're getting less than you're worth, watch Harlan's video. Then ask yourself if you're worth more than $25. Ask other freelancers what they charge, and then charge accordingly. We writers tend to take it on the chin, pay-wise, because we're humble and have self-esteem issues. We don't think we're 1) allowed to ask for money; 2) allowed to ask for more money; or; 3) it seems fair to ask for $75, $100, or even $250 per hour for our craft. After all, it's so easy, it seems like cheating, right? Wrong.

There's an old joke about a businessmanwho called in someone to fix his computer. The tech fixed the computer by tapping on it with a tiny hammer, and then charged $500 to do it. The businessman didn't understand how a single hammer tap was worth $500, so he asked for an itemized bill. The bill came back: "Tapping the computer with a hammer: $1. Knowing where to tap the hammer: $499"

As a professional writer, you know where to tap the hammer. What may seem like easy work to you (writing a press release, newspaper article, blog post, etc.) will take someone else 5 hours, and it still won't be that good. If you can knock something out quickly, easily, and most importantly, that's good, then you're worth the money.

But they said I could use this sample for my writing portfolio, and I could get some free publicity out of it. (If you hear this from clients/editors, be sure to watch the video. Harlan's answer to that is hysterical.)



I quit taking the "but this will help you get publicity" jobs several years ago. I still have some gigs that I do for free (this column, for example), but I have turned down some other newspapers because they want it for free. I have also not taken any freelance jobs for the publicity. And, I keep samples of my work for my portfolio anyway.

Would you ask a doctor to do surgery for free because you'll tell your friends about how great he was? Ask a realtor if she'll waive her commission if you leave her sign in your yard for a year. Do you think a nice restaurant would give you free four dinners if you wrote about them on your blog? So why do we fall for the publicity trick time after time?

There's a reason clients want us to do their work for cheap: because someone has done it for that amount. But the old adage, "you get what you pay for," rings true in this case. If a client will only pay $25 for a piece, they'll get something written by a $25 writer. But if they want something good, they'll find the money and get something professional.

So, did this post make you think? Did it change your mind about writing for free or little money? If you're an editor/buyer, are you reconsidering asking someone to write for poverty wages? If so, that's the power of a professional writer. It's why I charge what I charge, and why I'm worth every penny. And if you're a good writer, you're worth it too. Don't sell yourself short.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Attack of the Killer Tomatoes

From The Consumerist:

My youngest daughter loves tomatoes. But I think an outbreak of raw tomatoes is going to break her heart. But I always knew tomatoes would turn on us.

(For the record, this is related to the recent outbreak of salmonella in several breeds of tomatoes. See, this kind of thing wouldn't happen if you just bought your food at farmers markets.)

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Karl vs. Bigfoot

Karl vs. Bigfoot
Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2008

"I see they're hunting for Bigfoot," said Karl the Curmudgeon, taking a swig of his beer. We were sitting at our favorite Ukrainian bar, enjoying a couple of cold Obolons, a Ukrainian beer brewed in Kiev.

Who's doing what now? I asked.

"Bushnell Binoculars and Field and Stream magazine are offering $1 million to anyone in the United States who takes a photo of Bigfoot."

Yeah, right.

"No seriously, Kid. I read it on the Internet."

On the Internet, huh? I read on the Internet that he was living at Graceland in the apartment over the garage.

Karl plonked his beer on the bar. "Now you're just making fun of me." He sulked in his seat, so I bought him another beer, which cheered him up.

"They know no one has ever actually seen a photo of Bigfoot. It's just a marketing stunt for their real contest."

What about that grainy Bigfoot video they show on Discovery Channel?

"A fake. The guy admitted he faked the whole thing before he died."

Did you hear about that on the Internet too?

"Nope, cable TV."

Oh, that's so much more reliable. How do you know he faked it? Maybe he wasn't real either. Maybe it was a couple of teenagers pretending to be an old guy making a deathbed confession.

"Shut up a minute, Kid, you might learn something. The real contest is for best deer photos, best non-deer photos, and funniest photos. But they'll cough up a million bucks if someone can find the real Bigfoot."

That's just stupid. I mean, is anyone actually crazy enough to look for Bigfoot in the freaking wilderness and. . . oh no, you're entering, aren't you?

Karl beamed at me. "And I'm going to win too!"

But there's no such thing as Bigfoot.

"How do you know?"

How do I know there are no eight-foot, fur-covered semi-humans wandering the Pacific Northwest? Oh, call it a hunch.

"Kid—"

Call it a wild guess.

"Kid—"

Call it rampant speculation.

"Kid, you're too smart for your own good."

My high school algebra teacher would disagree with you. Now there's a Bigfoot candidate for you. Hairiest math teacher I ever met.

"Kid, this isn't easy for me, but. . . well, I need your help." Karl plonked his beer again. Not his usual plonk of indignation and disbelief; it was a shy, almost humble plonk.

I'm sorry, Karl, I didn't know this meant so much to you. What can I do for you?

"I need a trail camera."

What's that?

"It's a camera you mount to a tree so it can take shots of passing wildlife."

And what will you do after you get it?

"Mount it to a tree. Didn't you hear what I just said?"

I mean where in the country do you plan on mounting it?

"Hmm, that's a good question. New York, Florida, and Rhode Island residents aren't allowed to enter the contest, so they're out."

Why do you suppose that is?

"Don't know. Maybe Bushnell just doesn't like those guys."

Or maybe they know that's where Bigfoot is hiding out, and they're trying to keep people from collecting the $1 million.

"That's just plain stupid."

Said the guy who wants to take pictures of a yet-unseen North American ape.

"Fair enough. So you're not going to help me?"

I didn't say that. I actually want to see how far you're willing to take this.

"All the way to Washington State."

Why there?

"You said yourself that Bigfoot's in the Pacific Northwest, so we'll head up there and see what we can find."

Whoa, what do you mean we, Kemosabe? I never agreed to this crazy scheme, I'm just helping you get a camera. After that, I'm done.

"Oh, don't be such a pansy."

Tell you what, I'll find you a camera, and you come up with the rest of the gear. The tent, the sleeping bag, the food – you'll probably need three month's worth – extra clothes. . .

"Kid—"

And you'll need a way to transport it all, so you'll need an SUV. Of course gas is awfully expensive, so you'll need a several hundred dollars just to get there.

"Kid—"

And God help you if he crosses into Canada. Are the photos even eligible if you take them in Canada?

"Kid—"

Yeah, Karl.

"How about you just take photos of me in a gorilla suit in the woods behind my house?"

Now you're talking. Let's have another beer.