Friday, December 27, 2013

A One-Sided Conversation About Money

"Hey, Buddy, what can I do for you?"

"No, you can't have a hundred dollars."

"Why do you need a hundred dollars?"

"You've already got a video game."

"How can it be too old? You kept going on and on about how new and great it was when you got it."

"Five years ago?!"

"Wow, that doesn't seem that long ago."

"What about your birthday money?"

"I guess you need to decide between a Lego set and a Nintendo DS2."

"Sorry, 2DS."

"Yes, I know it's because different from the DS3."

"Whatever, 3DS."

"You don't need to keep correcting me. 3DS or DS3, it doesn't matter to me."

"Because you don't have one."

"Fine, you don't have the 2DS."

"Well, you could earn the money."

"By working."

"Shoveling driveways or mowing lawns."

"I know. I didn't mean right now. You'd mow in the summer."

"By February?! How many times do you think you're going to shovel the driveway?"

"There's no way I'm paying you 50 bucks to shovel the driveway!"


"No, you go down. If I say 10, you say 18, not 22."


"No, yours needs to be higher than twelve."

"Do you even know how to haggle?"

"Right, and then when I say ten, you say 'ten for that, you must be mad!'""

"Sorry, that's an old joke from a movie."

"No, Mommy won't let me let you watch it."

"Okay look, if you and your sister shovel the driveway, I'll pay you each six dollars."

"If it's just you, I'll give you fifteen."

"Because you guys will end up throwing snow at each other, and I'll have to go out and reshovel."

"You could also shovel the neighbors' driveways."

"No, you can't borrow his snow blower."

"Because you're 11 and you need to learn what real work feels like."

"I don't need one."

"Because I have you and your sister and two shovels."

"They take up too much space in the garage and I'm not old enough to need one yet."

"When I'm in danger of having a heart attack from shoveling the driveway."


"Mommy worries too much. I'm in great shape."

"A snow blower costs at least $400. I could get you two DS2s and save the space in the garage."

"Whatever, 2DS."

"All you need is your shovel, warm boots, and warm gloves, and you could knock out three driveways in a couple hours. Charge $15 each, and you're almost halfway to your 100 bucks. How much is a DS2?"

"Whatever. That's ten driveways total. You could shovel our driveway ten times, which would take about two winters given the snow we've been getting, or you could shovel five neighbors driveways twice this winter, which is not out of the question."

"Depends on how bad you want that DS2."


"You can't be choosy about whose driveways you shovel. You take what you can get."

"That's not a good reason not to shovel their driveway."

"You won't even be in the house."

"No, you won't be able to smell it from outside."

"You should probably go knock on a few doors now before the next snow falls and line up your customers."

"So they know you're coming to shovel the next time."

"No I won't go with you."

"Because I don't need a DS2"


"If you keep saying that, I'm going to charge shovel rental fees."

"No, I'm just kidding. You don't need to tell her."

"Because she'll make me shovel the driveway."

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

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Friday, December 20, 2013

Rudolph And the Christmas Therapist

"I'm tired of letting people walk all over me, Doctor."

Rudolph stared at the painting above Dr. O'Hanlon's head, trying to focus on the moment. The psychologist had been trying to get him to "live in the moment, not the past," so Rudolph always focused on something in the room during their sessions to keep himself grounded.

"What do you mean by that?" asked Dr. O'Hanlon.

"I just get so caught up in the Christmas spirit that I don't want to stand up for myself, because I don't want to be seen as selfish or ungrateful."

"What does that have to do with letting people walk all over you?" Dr. O'Hanlon is like a dog with a bone, thought Rudolph. Say something casual, and we spend the whole hour on it.

"It means that even after people are cruel to me, I'll do what they ask if they're nice."

"Why do you think that is?"

"Because," Rudolph sighed, "I hope they were moved by the Christmas spirit, and have turned over a new leaf."

"People only change like that on TV, Rudolph. You know that. It's why Clarice left you for Fireball. It's why Coach Comet continues to bully you."

"But I helped save Christmas! Why doesn't that make any difference?" Rudolph's nose glowed brighter whenever he got angry. It glowed constantly during his last weeks with Clarice, even though he tried to hide his feelings. The day she told him she was leaving him for Fireball, he accidentally burned down the kitchen.

"Because people are fickle. They're happy with what you can do for them today, but tomorrow is another matter."

"I should have just stayed on that Island. I was happier there."

"We've been over this. You can't blame yourself. You were a kid seeing the world through a kid's eyes." Rudolph's eyes brimmed with tears. "You trusted your parents to take care of you. You thought Santa, the living symbol of unconditional love, would accept you. And yet everyone rejected you because of your difference."

"I know. They teased me and hated me for it. Even my own parents were ashamed of me. Then, when they're in a tiny spot of trouble, and everyone's all 'Oh no! We have to save Christmas!' Then they all coming crawling to good ol' Rudolph, like I'm just supposed to forgive and forget?"

Rudolph swiped at his eyes and swore. "It was great at first. People congratulated me, slapped me on the back. They even gave me a medal. But then the teasing started again. First it was like they wanted to show they were at ease with my defect—"

"It's not a defect, Rudolph. We've talked about this," said Dr. O'Hanlon. "What did we say?"

"I'm not weird or defective, I'm wonderfully different," intoned Rudolph.

"Right. Remember, the words you use about yourself have an impact on your self-image."

Rudolph blew his nose on a tissue, and threw it into a garbage can when it caught fire. Dr. O'Hanlon kept a metal garbage can nearby for this reason. They watched until the fire went out.

"Like I was saying, first it was just friendly teasing. Pretty soon, it turned mean. By spring, Comet was leading the charge again. I was supposed to be one of Santa's trainers, you know, Comet's assistant. But he belittled me in front of the other trainers, and even the new recruits.

"Then the other trainers started playing practical jokes on me in my own house. Doing things like putting a leather cap over my nose when I was asleep and then stealing all the light bulbs. Did you just laugh?"

Dr. O'Hanlon coughed loudly. "No, no, I'm sorry. I've, uh, I've got a cold. It's pretty bad."

Rudolph studied the therapist for any hint of a smile. O'Hanlon took a drink and coughed some more for show. "You mentioned that you only feel it during this time of year, but it sounds like this goes on all year round, and yet you still work on Christmas."

"I know. I can't help it. Every year, I promise myself I'm going to quit. I'm not going to put up with it anymore. And every year, I still put on that harness and take to the sky."

"It sounds like you need to ask yourself which is more important, one day of happiness or 364 days of utter misery. And since we're out of time, we'll have to discuss that next week."

"In two weeks," said Rudolph, getting out of his chair. "I'll be working next week."

"That's right. I'll see you then. And merry Christmas."

Rudolph snorted and lit up the hallway that led back outside.

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

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Thursday, December 19, 2013

My Wife Got Me Shoes for Our 20th Anniversary. I Love Them.

All I got for my 20th anniversary from Toni was a pair of TOMS shoes. And they may be the coolest thing ever, because they showed how much she understands and knows me, and was willing to do a lot of work — a lot of work — to make them happen.

Two of my favorite writers are Kurt Vonnegut and Hunter S. Thompson. They're the ones I talk about constantly. The ones whose books I keep quoting when I give talks, and whose writing advice I keep stealing. I also like Ernest Hemingway, but like all other humans, I only have two feet.

There are artists who specialize in painting TOMS canvas shoes with personalized, individual designs. Artists like Decker Yazzie, a Native American artist in Ogden, Utah and owner of Soul2Sole. Toni contacted Decker and told him what she wanted.

She wanted two individualized shoes, painted with words and images symbolic of my two authors. She spent months researching these two, learning what things they were known for, searching for images that represented them. Images like HST's Gonzo Journalism fist or Vonnegut's birdcage and asshole drawings from Breakfast of Champions. She also found some of their well-known phrases, like Vonnegut's "so it goes." She also learned what kinds of typewriters they used (HST, a red IBM Selectric; Vonnegut, a Smith-Corona Courier).

Toni then double-checked and triple-checked all the images, made sure she labeled them correctly, and sent them off to Decker. To make sure she had the right images, she even sent them in separate emails to keep the authors straight. Then, when she sent the shoes, she printed a page for each author and sent them with the shoes to Decker. She said, "do your thing. Put images for each of them on each shoe," and Decker unleashed his artistic fury on them, even doing some of his own research about the book covers and titles. He even added their birth and death years on the backs of the shoes.

The end result is I have a Kurt Vonnegut left shoe and a Hunter S. Thompson right shoe. Which makes sense, since Vonnegut was more of a liberal, while HST was more of a right-ish libertarian.

Now, while other people have fist names — names they give their fists so they can "do my talking for me" — I'll have feet names.

Say hello to Kurt Vonnegut and Hunter S. Thompson.

I'd better learn karate first.

Jack: Well I'm gonna let St. Patrick and St. Michael do my talkin' for me!
Jack's Dad: You'll have to get through Tip O'Neal and Bobby Sands first.
Eddie: You call those fist names? Say hello to Bono and Sandra Day O'Connor.
Jack: Those are the stupidest fist names I've ever heard.

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

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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Reflection on 20 Years of Marriage: What Baseball, Bitsy Hatteberg, and My Wife Have In Common

In Michael Lewis' 2003 book Moneyball, Scott Hatteberg, the former catcher with the Boston Red Sox, had been acquired by the Oakland A's, and was told he was going to play first base, a position he had never played before. Scott was so nervous, so afraid, that he asked his wife to start hitting ground balls to him, just so he could get used to the position.

Mrs. Scott Hatteberg listed herself at five foot one, 100 pounds. She wasn’t built to hit in the big leagues. She didn’t even look capable of grounding out to first base.

Bitsy had noticed something about her husband. Even though he’d been in the big leagues for five years, and had been the starting catcher for the Boston Red Sox, he had never really thought of himself as a big league ballplayer. The other players volunteered their autographs to fans before games. He never did, not because he didn’t care to, but because he was worried they wouldn’t know who he was. He doesn’t admit this; she senses it’s true all the same. And she doesn’t particularly like it. It isn’t that she wants baseball fans to know who her husband is. She wants him to know that they know who he is. And so, from the end of December to the start of spring training, in the drizzling rain, with her daughters wailing that they want to go home, she whacks big league ground balls at her husband.

Ten years later, this story has always stayed with me, because it describes my wife, Toni.

She believes in me.

In the 20 years we've been married, she's supported me, pushed me, and cheered me on, with anything I've ever done. I truly would not be where I am without her love and support.

I can look back over my accomplishments and work and see her touches on everything. The times when she stayed up late with me while I was working. The times when she kept the kids quiet so I could sleep. When she told me she was proud of me on the days I wanted to quit. When she counseled me to take, or avoid, opportunities. It all adds up, and I've been pleased with what her influences have brought over the years.

I've been thinking about Bitsy Hatteberg lately, because Toni and I are celebrating our 20th year of marriage today. Today at 11:35 am EST, we will have been married for exactly 20 years on the nose.

240 months.

7,305 days.

175,320 hours to the minute.

It's been 20 years of love and support, and helping me achieve my dreams, while I love and support her to help her achieve her own.

Even as she builds her own singing career, I do what I can to support her and cheer her on. I don't know if I'm doing it as well as she does, or if I'm doing enough. But if I can "be her Bitsy" half as well as she has been mine, she'll be a star.

Ultimately, my success hasn't just come from me pushing myself, it has come from Toni pushing herself. As I try something new, it means new ideas and new experiences for her as well. It means learning the things I learn, so she can continue to guide me down the right path.

It means, sometimes, she has to whack big league ground balls to me, when I'm still trying to learn about them myself.

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Friday, December 13, 2013

When Are You Going to Write a Real Book?

"Hey, Kid, when are you going to write a real book?" asked Karl.

Excuse me? I said, not sure if I'd heard the deranged curmudgeon correctly.

"I said, when are you going to write a real book?" he shouted.

I heard you, I heard you, you crusty old fart.

Karl chuckled into his beer. He enjoys baiting me like this. We were sitting in The Tilting Windmill, my favorite Dutch themed bar, watching the Dutch men's curling team compete in the European Curling Championships.

What do you mean, a real book? I've written real books.

"Oh yeah? Since when?"

I've written four books and I'm working on my fifth right now.

"Those aren't real books, Kid."

What the hell are you talking about? They were published by real publishers, I have physical copies of the book printed on real dead trees, and they occupy a physical space in the world. How are those not real books?

"Those are nonfiction books," said Karl, dismissing my accomplishments with a wave of his hand. Karl has written 18 mystery novels, so he tends to dismiss most writers with a wave of his hand. I flagged down the bartender. Two Gulpeners, please, Marieke. Put them on his tab.

"Those are 10 bucks apiece, Kid!"

Hey, look who's a real accountant, I said. Marieke set the two beers down. Karl reached for one, but I grabbed them both. No, you stick with Grolsch, Mr. Fancypants Real Author.

"Come on, Kid, you know they're not real books."

Why? Because they're not fiction? Because I didn't write about the human condition and middle-aged angst? Because my stories don't involve cranky police detectives who break all the rules and their plucky young, attractive partners chasing down sociopathic killers—?

"Hey!" Karl gets annoyed when people make fun of his books.

Because my books aren't about zombies and vampires fighting for the love of a pirate maiden?

"Now I'd read that."

Actually I would too, but that's not the point. You're a book snob.

"How am I a book snob?"

Because you think that nonfiction books aren't real.

"But they aren't. Neither are romance novels. Real writers produce fiction that tells the truth, bringing ideas and philosophies to light through the characters' stories."

Dude, come on. In your last book, the killer cut the ears off his victims as trophies. What kinds of ideas and philosophies are those?

"I didn't say they were all sound philosophies. But I think fiction writers tell the real truth, and provide a benefit to the reader."

Are you kidding me? My second book was about how to find a job. It helped people find work! How is that not a benefit? Besides, most "real book" writers are literary fiction authors who look down on genre fiction writers like you.

Karl took a drink from his beer and thought. I polished off my first Gulpener. I had considered giving him the other one, but after this little revelation, I wasn't feeling very generous.

"But where was the actual truth in your books? The character development? We weren't drawn into the lives of the characters the way you are with real books.—"

Would you stop saying 'real books?'

"Fine, the way you are with fiction. There's nothing that makes the reader feel inspired."

You're not even a real writer then. The 'real writers' only produce literary fiction. Christopher Moore writes comedy novels about vampires and sea monsters. James Patterson has become the number one writer in American churning out suspense thrillers. Hell, even Shakespeare's work was written for contemporary commoners; now we treat it like it was written on silk scrolls only to be read by royalty. And you write about police detectives who chase down cannibalistic ear slashers.

"What are you saying?"

These writers aren't known for their literary fiction. They all wrote stories that appealed to the masses, and yet they're all highly successful.

"You think I'm successful?" Karl brightened a bit.

Successful enough to buy me two 10 dollar beers.

"So why don't you give fiction a try? What's stopping you?"

I worry that the kind of book you want me to write will attract the kind of people I don't want to be around.

"Now who's being a snob?"

Hey, it's a real concern. I haven't even written it, and I'm already stuck with you.

"Two more Gulpeners, please," Karl said to the bartender.

No thanks, Karl. I don't think I can—

"They're not for you, Kid, they're for me. Put them on his tab, Marieke."

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

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Friday, December 06, 2013

I Won't Shave My Beard For Anyone

I skipped Movember last month. Actually, I've skipped Movember for the last 10 years.

No, that's not a typo. Movember is the men's health nonprofit organization that brings awareness to male reproductive health — prostate cancer and testicular cancer, plus mental health — by urging men to grow a mustache in November.

Or moustache if you want to be all French about it.

Teams of men — called Mo Bros — will grow mustaches as a way to bring awareness to, and raise donations for, Movember, which then sends funds to different education campaigns, research groups, and support groups. Last year, they raised $147 million, registered 1.1 million participants worldwide, and started 2.7 billion conversations about men's health.

It would be like if women didn't shave their legs for October and Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Or grew mustaches. Which would definitely draw attention to their cause, although it would start very different conversations.

Men's health awareness is definitely a worthy cause and one that I wholeheartedly support. I believe in the mission of Movember, and support them in their hirsute endeavors.

I just can't participate.

It's not that I object on moral grounds. I just don't want to shave my mustache.

To participate in Movember, you must start on day one with a clean-shaven lip. Which means losing the one I've got.

I realize it's not a fancy one. Not like the guy who constantly wins the Best Beard contest by separating it into stalks and putting so much gel on them that his beard looks like an octopus that OD'd on Viagra. It's not even a thick Magnum P.I. mustache that all cops and firefighters are required to wear, including the women.

It's just your average mustache — not too thick, not too thin. Sort of the middle-management-living-in-a-suburban-neighborhood kind of mustache. But it's mine. I've had it since I was 17, back when it looked more like a child's connect-the-dots game.

I have not shaved my mustache for nearly 29 years. I haven't shaved my goatee for 22. I have had my chin whiskers longer than I've known my wife, and that's going way back. I have had my facial hair for so long, I don't even remember what I looked like without it.

There has been only one time that I ever considered shaving it off. When we first got my oldest daughter (we adopted her when she was one year old), she was afraid of my beard. She wouldn't look at it or come to me, and whenever I tried to hold her, she would lean away from me.

"Do you think I should shave it off?" I asked my wife that night.

"No, she'll get used to it," she said.

I wasn't too sure, but I thought I'd try it for one more day and then, if she was still afraid, I'd shave it off and let it grow back while she got used to it.

When we saw her on the next day, she still looked suspiciously at me, like something was going to fly out of it. So my wife talked to her gently, and tugged on my beard.

"Look, it's hair. You can pull it." She tugged at the hair on my head, and then on my beard again. She grabbed my daughter's hand, ran it through my hair, and helped her make a fist around it. I made some fake noises as she pulled, which made my daughter smile a little.

Then they reached down for my beard together and grabbed it. My daughter tried to pull away, but she had a clump of my beard in her sweaty fist. I made some more fake squawks as she pulled, which made her smile a little more.

Then it occurred to her that this was a fun little game. She shook off my wife's hand, got a better grip, and yanked. I squawked for real that time.

Oh yes, this was absolute fun. We had to pry her fingers off so I wouldn't get whiplash. From then on, she loved my beard, and whenever I held her, she would often grab it and yank my head around by my chin.

After that, I never had the desire to shave again. Even when we adopted my other daughter, and later, my son, I knew they would get over their fear of the beard. We did it the same way too. Grab a hand, shove it into my beard, help them grab a fistful, and yank.

Even on day one, you could spot the Deckers' kids —they were the ones cackling like mad at someone else's pain and misfortune.

Listen, Mo Bros. I may believe in your cause and support your great work. But if I wouldn't shave my goatee for three of the most important people in my life, I certainly won't shave it for you.

Besides, I've almost gotten them to quit yanking on it.

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

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