Friday, June 28, 2013

Happy Birthday, You Old Geezer

Congress needs to pass a law that we all get to take our birthday off work. You get to lounge around the house, visit your favorite coffee shop or tavern, and treat yourself to a special day. If your birthday falls on the weekend, you get to take the Friday before.

For me, it's the most special day to me in my entire existence, because — to paraphrase Brooke Shields — "if you don't have a birthday, then you have lost a very important part of your life."

So, on my birthday, June 27, I take the day off every year to celebrate it and pamper myself. This year, I'm going to read and enjoy a quiet coffee at my favorite coffee shop, have another coffee with my daughter, and then get a massage, thanks to an early birthday present from my mother-in law.

Mind you, I was given a gift card for the massage. I am NOT receiving a massage from my mother-in-law.

This year, I turned 46 at the stroke of midnight when Wednesday, June 26 became Thursday, June 27, 2013. And not just because midnight is the start of that day. Rather I was born at exactly the stroke of midnight on Tuesday, June 27, 1967. For the last 30 years, I have stayed up until midnight on June 26th to ring in my exact birth moment, because I was born at midnight.

Whenever I tell people that, they say "that explains a lot."

As I've gotten older, taking my birthday off has become more important. Instead of bounding out of bed and racing out the door, I need a little more time to get ready. Every morning, I stare in the mirror at the three hairs clinging to life on my head, and pull out the fistfuls that sprouted out of my ears overnight.

My knees make a gravelly sound when I go downstairs. It would help if I would lose weight. But it would also help if I hadn't beat the hell out of my knees in my teens and 20s playing soccer and racing bikes, and hurling my body around at Ultimate Frisbee well into my 30s.

My birthday is not that significant in world history though. I mean, I'd hate to think that June 27 peaked with my birthday. I'd like something notable to happen, but not terrible, so I can share that day with history. So far, here's what I've found.

On June 27, 1702, Peter the Great defeated Charles XII of Sweden at the Battle of Poltava, and I think we all know what that means.

On June 27, 1967, the first ATM was installed in Enfield, London making me as old as machines that dispense money.

On June 27, 1973, John Dean told Congress about Richard Nixon's Enemies List. I was not on it. And despite my best efforts, I have not been on any president's Enemies List thereafter. However, a few years ago, one of my neighbors really didn't like me, so I feel pretty good about that.

I share birthdays with Helen Keller (1880), Captain Kangaroo (1930), and Ross Perot (1930). And I am the exact same age as Sylvie Fr├ęchette, the French-Canadian synchronized swimmer who won gold in the 1992 Olympics.

I'm approaching the age where 20-somethings roll their eyes and think I'm past my prime. I work in an industry that's populated by people who graduated from college three years ago. These young punks hassle me for being "so old," but I'm not that old. (And yes, I recognize the irony of me complaining about my age to a readership made up of mostly Baby Boomers who are my parents' age.)

My age shouldn't be an object of derision, it's to be respected.

Because I survived.

I made it to 46. Given everything that's going on in the world, that's quite an accomplishment. I've outlived a lot of people, many of whom were young and on top of the world and didn't trust anyone over 30.

Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, and Amy Winehouse died when they were 27; Heath Ledger was 28. I've lived an entire person who can vote longer than they did.

Making it this far means I won. What does it mean for the 20-somethings?

You've got 20 more years. A lot can happen between now and then.

I've got the scars, the stories, and the skills to show these punks I'm not getting old, I'm better at what I do than you are at what you do.

And when they get too cocky, I just gesture at my body, thinning hair, and bad knees and tell them, "Take a good look. This is you in 20 years."

That usually shuts them up.

The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and my other book, 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.


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Friday, June 21, 2013

The Commencement Speech I'll Never Give

Thank you, students, faculty, administrators, and parents.

It's a proud moment for me, giving advice to a group of college graduates to guide you as you make your way in the world, or at least not put you to sleep.

I had never heard of North Dakota Polytechnic Institute until your president called me, offering 50 bucks and a Greyhound bus ticket, and the promise of the return ticket home if I could get through this speech without swearing.

So here is my useful advice to you, the summer graduating class of 2013.

Developmental experts believe your mid-20s are the last time your brain will undergo major developmental growth. Just like the developmental leaps you made as a toddler learning to talk, and as a teenager going through puberty, you have one more stage of development that will occur over the next few years. This means something very important:

Your twenties are not an extended adolescence.

This is not the time to "find yourself." Or to work in a coffee shop so you can write bad poems for poetry journals. Or to take a year off to figure out what to do with your life. You just spent four years doing that.

Also, you may not move back into your parents' house!

(Wait for thundering applause from parents to stop.)

This is the time to become an entrepreneur, work for a nonprofit, or take a new job in a career you want to explore. If you want to figure out what to do with your life, figure it out by learning you hate your job, and doing something else.

Now is the time to learn new work habits, read new books, and absorb new information. What you do now will ripple through your life for the next 30 or 40 years. The success you have in your 50s and 60s will be a direct result of what you do in your 20s. If you work on positive personal growth, you'll achieve more. If you watch just TV every night and get drunk every weekend, you'll achieve less.

Here's my second piece of advice: your 20s are the only time in your life you get to be selfish.

So, enjoy it. Embrace it. Suck the marrow from life, and keep it all for yourself. Because one day, you'll get married, and this opportunity for selfishness will disappear.

Here's how life works: when you were a small child, the world revolved around you, until one day, your parents put a stop to that. You were told to be considerate of others, to share, and to stop being selfish.

That meant that instead of watching your favorite Disney videos every night, suddenly your dad wanted to watch the game. Instead of going to Chuck E. Cheese for dinner, your parents wanted to go somewhere quieter.

And you had to suck it up and deal with not being the center of the universe.

One day, you're going to have kids, and the same thing will happen again, except you're the one watching movies you hate. You're going to have to eat at Chuck E. Cheese when you wanted steak. And you're not going to be able to watch the game or go to a real restaurant until your youngest kid turns 10, which is about 15 years from now.

Even when you get married, you'll have to compromise and share, and do things the other person wants to do.

That leaves the time between your freshman year until you find someone to spend the rest of your life with.

For some, that day may be years away. Enjoy your time.

For some, it happened three weeks after you got here, and you completely missed out on your time. That's what happens when you fall in love with the first person you saw naked.

For others, it may be decades away. If that's the case, find someone in a similar situation, and make a pact to marry each other if you're both still single at 35.

Here's the important thing to remember: your final period of selfishness is aligned perfectly with the time of your greatest mental and emotional development.

That means, what you do during your selfish time is going to greatly improve, or greatly screw up, your later life.

Welcome to your parents' greatest fear.

So do something special with this time. Travel, and see the world. Not just a road trip to Burning Man; backpack around Europe.

Don't watch TV every night, go to baseball games and football games.

Don't go out to bars every weekend, go to concerts and plays. (But on some weekends, do the things that you'll make your kids promise to never do themselves.)

In 10 minutes, we're going to unleash you, the new graduates of North Dakota Polytechnic, on an unsuspecting world. You're going to embark on a time of personal growth, and a chance to make a big impression.

Don't blow it, Fighting Woolly Mammoths. Now is your chance to make big things happen for yourself and your future. Your work isn't done, it's just beginning. Go forth and be awesome.

Now, can someone give me a ride back to the bus station?

(Note: The part of this speech about a person's 20s being an important part of someone's growth is true. Clinical psychologist Meg Jay gave a great TED talk that explains this, and makes every 40-something weep and wish they could do that part all over again. You can watch it here.)

The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and my other book, 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.


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Friday, June 14, 2013

Erik's 16 Commandment of Garage Workshops

Last week, after publishing my column "Erik's Commandments of Fishing," working on a recent woodworking project, and realizing that my family is getting a little too lackadaisical and free wheeling about how they use my garage workshop, and I decided to create this: Erik's 16 Commandments of Garage Workshops.

I'm going to carve these into a large slab of wood and hang them on my wall. Assuming I can find any room among all the hammers, chisels, and saw blades.

1. Useth not mine tools, unless thou returneth them to their exact same location, precisely as they had been found. Leaveth not mine tools outside where morning dew may cause them to rust or they may be stolen by raccoons that want to break into yon trash cans.

2. The fact that I have not returnethed mine tools to their exact same location is unimportant. I am in the middle of an important project, and I must be able to find them where I left them.

3. The garage is not messy. I am in the middle of organizing it, which will take days. Or weeks. Probably 40.

4. Hide not mine tape measure to "teach me a lesson." Do as I sayeth, not as I doeth. These commandments exist for a reason.

5. Criticize not the splinter in mine eye. It hurts, and I need thy help to get it out.

6. Thou shalt not set perspiring beverages on mine workbench. I have built this workbench with mine own hands, topping it with red oak plywood, and adorning it with three coats of polyurethane. Use the coasters I have also fashioned from wood and polyurethane.

7. Scoff not at my anal retentiveness over my workbench. This is why thou hath not nice things.

8. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's tools. Thou already may not covet thy neighbors' asses, so this should not be too difficult. However, thou may borrow they neighbor's tools, but breaketh them not, because they are overpriced.

9. Mine stereo is not too loud. I am making a joyful noise.

10. The Red Hot Chili Peppers are too a joyful noise!

11. Psssh! Our neighbors would knoweth not a joyful noise if it bit them on the butt. They listeneth to Nickelback.

12. Fear and respect the mitre saw, for it is ferocious in our sight, and will chop thine freaking arm off.

13. Fear and respect the table saw, for it is a nasty little bugger, and will loppeth off a finger.

14. Fear and respect the — you know what? All of it. Fear and respect all of it. All these tools are dangerous and will hack something off if you screw around with them.

15. Mow not your lawn before 9:00 am on a Saturday morning, as I slumber until late. If thou cannot abide by this, I shall run my table saw at 9:00 pm while thou layeth thine child to sleep.

16. Use not mine tools if thou art a young child in mine house. Please wait until I have instructed thee in their proper use, and can watch over thy work. Also, waiteth until thy mother is not home, lest she become angry and smite us.

The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and my other book, 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.


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Thursday, June 13, 2013

Ohio Musician Susan Wojnar Releases New Songs

In all my years of reviewing CDs for in the late 1990s and early 2000s, there are a few names and faces I'll never forget. Susan Wojnar is one of them. For one thing, her publicity photo was taken while she was staring off at someone to her left, not the photographer, and looking confident and comfortable on stage. The half-smile on her face said "I know a secret about music that you don't."

But I also remember her because I have never, ever met anyone else named Wojnar. And I just like writing it. Wojnar. Wojnar. Wojnar.

I've always enjoyed Susan Wojnar's music, and I was thrilled when she emailed me and asked, "Hey, I don't know if you remember me, but I have a new CD out."

Did I remember her?! Did I want to review it?! Hell yes!

Wojnar is still playing her style of singer-songwriter Southern rock, although she's gotten a little quieter since I last heard her play in Fool'sircle with Pix Ensign (I was even able to find this review from 2001 online; Indie-Music suffered a devastating server crash a few years ago, and lost most of their reviews, so I couldn't find my first review of Susan on their site). Now she's doing more folk rock and even smoothing things out with a smooth jazz-ish song.

If you check out Wojnar's SoundCloud page, you can hear her two latest songs, Show Me and Room to Breathe, plus a song I remembered very well, Catch 22. And going waaaay back into her personal archives are two songs she did back in the 80s, Don't Cry For Me (The Vietnam Veteran's Song) and — you'll love this — Bastards of Protocol, when she was in an all-girl punk band. (Having two daughters and a son who are playing music themselves now, I appreciated the look back at Wojnar's own youth.)

Catch 22 was one of my favorite tracks from Wojnar's first album, and she and guitarist Pete Drivere rocked it out enough that she's re-releasing it with her two new songs. I found myself singing along, "it's the right love at the wrong time," and listening to the song several times. Just like I did in 2000 when I was first introduced to Wojnar's music.

Pix Ensign and his harmonica are also back on Wojnar's new song, Show Me, sounding as awesome as ever, so it was good to hear the two of them together again. I always enjoyed Fool'sircle, so I was glad to hear them again.

In my 2001 review of Wojnar and Ensign, I remember saying "If you think Alanis Morrisette and Bob Dylan's 'just breathe in and out' harmonica playing is cool, or you like your female singers to be whiny and breathy, Fool'sircle is not for you."

Twelve years later, I still stand by that statement, because in 2013, Wojnar still has the pipes that caught my ear in the late 1990s, and Pix Ensign still still wails. If you get a chance, visit Wojnar's SoundCloud page and give her music a listen. Start with Catch 22 and then go back to Show Me and Room to Breathe to se where she's spending her time now

The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and my other book, 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.


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Friday, June 07, 2013

Erik's Commandments for Fishing

Erik is out of the office this week, so we're reprinting a column from 10 years ago, and are hoping you won't notice.

As spring gets warmer, and the days grow longer, that can only mean one thing: fishing!

There are those people who argue that fishing is a year-round sport, and will fish during the winter, but these people are weird. If the whole point of fishing is to relax, why do I want to sit through bone-biting cold when everyone knows the fish are at home, drinking hot chocolate and watching "Jaws IV: The Revenge."

Every fisherman dreams of finally hooking the big one, like Fat Cat, the 132-lb. catfish from the Tennessee Aquarium. Kathie Fulgham, public relations manager for the Tennessee Aquarium, told me several years ago she was the largest catfish on display in the world.

I thought it was rather odd that they would hire a catfish to handle public relations, since that's usually a job for sharks, but Kathie said she was not the catfish, Fat Cat was.

But as the weather warms up, the ice melts, and the fishing rods have been pried from the cold, dead fingers of the fishermen who missed that hole in the ice, the sane fisherman twitch their arms and flick their casting hand in anticipation of another season spent trolling the world's lakes, oceans, rivers, and catfish tanks at state aquariums. I myself used take a 20 hour drive up to the wilds of Canada each summer and spend a week on a remote lake, but now just fish from shore on one of Indiana's many lakes.

So to celebrate the new fishing season, I would like to offer Erik's Commandments for Fishing, in case we ever end up on the same boat.

1. Mocketh not the Man who requires a glove and a pair of needle nose pliers for hook removal. It's not that he is a sissy so much as he just doesn't want to get fish slime on his fingers. Also, he is a sissy.

2. Teaseth not the Man about being a sissy, because he is mightier than you.

3. Week-long fishing trips are for men only. No women are allowed. Yea though women are wondrous in my sight, they want us to do things, like bathe daily, and not smoke cigars in the cabin. Or on the boat. Or outside.

4. Verily I say unto thee, the fish was this big. . . actually it was THIS big. And it weighed 12 pounds. Why would I lie about such matters?

5. Playeth not the practical jokes, like pulling on my fishing line when I appear to be dozing in my seat. I do not sleep, but merely resteth mine eyes. I am still mightier than you.

6. Hideth not the Holy Needlenose Pliers either. It was not funny the first eight times.

7. Thou shalt have no other baits before artificial lures. Minnows, worms, and other creatures of the sea and Earth are squishy and unclean. Hast thou forgotten that we are a sissy?

8. If thou disobey me, and insist on using creatures of the sea and Earth, thou shalt bait mine hook, lest I become squeamish and drop the bait in the boat.

9. Expecteth not that I will fillet the fish. Oh sure, I'll try it once, but do not make this a habit.

10. Dispose of fish remains far away from camp across the lake. It attracts bears and its day-old odor bringeth tears to mine eyes.

11. Special commandments to wives: Washeth not the Holy Fishing Vest. It is imbued with the smell of victory. And cigars. Hangeth it in the garage for a week instead.

12. Thou must resist the temptation to discard the fillet knife just because "it's old." Scoff not at the Man's need for six fillet knives — they each serve a useful purpose.

13. Yes, the Man understands the irony of owning six fillet knives even though he does not like to fillet fish. The Man hath not questioned your need for all those shoes when you only have two feet.

14. And while we dwell on the subject, scoff not at the Man's need for eight fishing rods and reels either. This is how the Man moves other, lesser fishermen to sing his praises.

15. Verily I say that eating fried fish is healthy and good for the Man. Worry not, for the Man hath eaten of vegetables on Wednesday. Or was it Thursday?

16. And on the eighth day, when the Man returneth home, keep the day holy and silent. Verily, the man is tired from staying up late every night playing poker and smoking cigars. He needeth his "me time."

The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and my other book, 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.


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