Friday, November 28, 2014

Happy Generic Holiday Greetings To All

For a day that's supposed to represent peace and love, Christmas sure makes a lot of people angry. The only thing we get angrier about is the presidential elections. At least that only happens every four years.

We just finished Thanksgiving, the kickoff to the season of religious and consumer rages. It started with your racist uncle saying he didn't understand the big deal about Ferguson, and it won't end until the family New Year's Eve party, when someone gets stabby with a swizzle stick.

By the time Thanksgiving rolls around next year, this year's anger fest will be a hazy memory and a promise from your family that "this time, things will be different." Nothing has changed or been different with your family for the last 20 years, so why break tradition?

One of the reasons people get so emotional about Christmas is because they feel it's being threatened. Sixty years ago, when most celebrated Christmas, we put Christmas decorations up in the schools, opened school board meetings with prayers, said "Merry Christmas" to anyone and everyone, secure in the knowledge that they too celebrated Christmas, just like everyone else.

Then, people who didn't celebrate Christmas for religious, cultural, or personal reasons found they had a voice. They pointed out they were left out of the holiday season.

The Jews celebrate Hanukkah, the Muslims celebrate Ramadan, the Hindus celebrate Diwali, and the atheists don't observe a religious-based holiday. And these other groups wanted to celebrate their own holidays on their own terms, and use their own words for well-wishes.

This prompted people to do one of three things: cry "political correctness" and refuse to recognize anyone else's holiday (or feelings); remove all references of Christmas and Christianity so as not to offend anyone, but end up offending everyone; or, let everyone do their own thing.

None of these seem to make anyone happy. Three things happened in the news this week that bear this out.

First, an elementary school in Belmont, Mass., a suburb of Boston, was going to cancel their annual trip to see the Christmas ballet, The Nutcracker, because there was a Christmas tree on stage. The PTA worried this would indoctrinate the non-Christian children in the audience.

Even though the school had sent second graders to the show for decades, this year, some parents complained that The Nutcracker had religious content. So rather than allow parents to choose to send their children or not, the PTA cancelled the trip.

Without telling anyone.

However, word spread, and there were more people who were upset by the secret cancellation than by the tree itself, so the trip is back on.

Presumably, the children whose brains will be ruined by a religious symbol will stay home, where they won't be exposed to new ideas or a broader world view until they're much older.

Second, in Marshfield, Mass., Marshfield High School has residents up in arms because they edited the school calendar: they changed the name of the winter break from "Christmas Vacation" to "Holiday Break."

They're leaving the name "Christmas" on December 25, but have changed the name of the 12-day break to better represent the diversity of their community.

The school committee had changed it to "Christmas Break" in 2007, and received a number of complaints afterward, so they decided to change it back to "Holiday break" in August.

Many people were upset by the change, so one woman launched a petition to see the calendar restored. She's collected more than 4,000 signatures of people who are threatened by a name on a piece of paper. But the committee held fast and upheld the change in a 3–2 vote.

If they're truly upset, will the 4,000 people will stand by their principles and send their children to school on those days, refusing to accept a "holiday" break?

F'inally, Washington state, in an attempt to appease everyone, has passed a new law that mandates two unpaid days off for religious observances for people of all faiths.

KING 5 News reported that the new law went into effect in June, and wondered what actually constituted a religion. Of course, it's not a TV news story if they don't try to generate mock outrage, so they said reported that even Festivus, the fake holiday from "Seinfeld," would constitute a "religious observance."

There's no escaping it: there's more than one religious faith practiced by a large number of people in this country. We' all have our own religious practices and observances. We all have our special holy days. The secret to holiday happiness is accepting the existence of everyone's observances, and not being a jerk about it when it doesn't coincide with yours.

Wish your Christian friends Merry Christmas, your Jewish friends a happy Hannukah. Wish your Muslim friends a blessed Ramadan and say "happy Diwali" to your Hindu friends. Don't pretend theirs are fake, or whine about a "War On [My Holiday]" when someone hints at the existence of someone else's.

As for me, I'm celebrating Festivus on December 23rd, especially the airing of grievances.

Starting with why I can't put up a Festivus pole in the living room.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons (Creative Commons)

The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My latest book, The Owned Media Doctrine is now available on

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Friday, November 21, 2014

You've Got a Thing Hanging. . .

With all the weird weather going on, Erik is feeling under the weather himself. So we're reprinting a column from 2005 while he curses the winter from his couch. With a juice box.

Quick, check the mirror. You've got something in your teeth.

How many people would tell you that? Not many. You could be eating lunch with a friend and have a huge chunk of your entree stuck between your front teeth, and your so-called friend will just stare at you. You think you're wildly interesting, because she's making great eye contact and hangs on your every word. But in reality, you're going to spend the entire day with a huge piece of green spinach plastered to your front tooth, making you look like Mike Tyson's prom date. And your friend will never tell you.

You can tell who your true friends are, because they're the ones who tell you if you've got a booger hanging from your nose; they want to save you from complete embarrassment later on.

But most people I know say they never point out dangling boogers or tooth spinach because they don't want to embarrass the other person. That's understandable. You wouldn't want to have your carefully crafted persona shattered by being told you have a huge chunk of barbecued rib dangling from the corner of your mouth.

However, these non-tellers never think about the fact that you won't discover your bodily faux pas for three hours when you finally get to a bathroom mirror.

Now how embarrassed are you? Not only did you sit through lunch with your friend, but you had a department meeting, and gave a presentation to your boss, with that booger stalactite hanging from your nostril.

We're not really trying to spare the other person's feelings. We're just embarrassed ourselves. We don't want to be the one to point at the other person, say "Err. . . you've got a. . ." and then wipe our hand under our nose.

However, we feel absolutely no compunction about laughing about it with friends later: "I mean, it was just HANGING there , flapping in and out with every breath! I started to worry it was going to fly into my soup!"

We need to get over ourselves. Life is not always about us (it's about me, actually, but that's a different column), so we shouldn't worry about the shame of saying "You've got a. . . uhh. . ." We're actually doing the other person a favor — the same favor we would want them to do for us.

It's the Golden Nugget Rule: Point out others' boogers as you would have them point out boogers unto you.

Ultimately, the kind of person you are comes down to that one simple question: are you a forthright straight shooter who tells people what they need to hear? Or are you a shy, timid wallflower who would rather be swarmed over by fire ants then tell your best friend of 25 years that their barn door is open?

I would hope you're the former, and that you'll spare a friend total public humiliation and remind her to thoroughly wipe her nose before she leaves the restaurant.

Of course, all of the rules fly out the window when it comes to smells and odors. Even communication and relationship experts agree that telling someone they smell would be the most awkward, uncomfortable thing we could ever do. It's less awkward to tell your best friend you're having an affair with his wife as you carry her out the door for a romantic weekend.

Our smells are one of the most basic things about us — it's our very essence and the way our prehistoric ancestors used to identify each other way back in the 1940s. Even in some cultures today, a person's odor is considered part of who they are, as distinctive as their face and their personality. To experience a person's odor is to experience the person.

Because odors are so primal, people never want to point out that someone else is emitting an unpleasant one. In most cases, it's considered a grave insult. The only exception is when a group of Guys get together and someone shouts the inevitable, "Dude, that was gross! What died inside you?!" immediately after one of them rips one. Then, not only are odors pointed out, they're usually laughed at and celebrated.

So, don't be a fair weather friend. Look out for your friend, co-worker, or new acquaintance and help them save face in what could be an awkward social situation. Stand up, point dramatically at the other person, and declare proudly: "I am your friend, and you've got a large booger hanging from your nose!"

They'll thank you for it.

Photo credit: AWiseAcre (Flickr, Creative Commons)

The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My latest book, The Owned Media Doctrine is now available on

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Friday, November 14, 2014

Danish Researcher Receives Troll Hunting Grant

Despite Denmark's own flagging economy, the Danish Council for Independent Research apparently has too much money lying around. They're giving 2.5 million Kroner ($419,000 US) to a Danish PhD student who wants to determine whether trolls live on Bornholm island.

Anyone who's been to the Norway exhibit at Epcot knows that Scandinavians love their trolls. The knobbly creatures with huge noses and wild hair run rampant through Nordic fairy tales, but are thought to be as real as the Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot, or a tasty gluten-free brownie.

PhD student Lars Christian Kofoed Rømer was the lucky researcher selected to receive the 2.5 million Kroner grant. He'll spend a year on the island in the Baltic Sea looking for "physical manifestations" of trolls. He's even looking for the Krølle Bølle troll, which has already been determined to be fake, as it was created in 1946 by author Ludwig Mahler.

I don't know what Rømer's methods will be, but if it were me, I would try to spot them on the beach, from a hammock, to see if they would steal my umbrella drinks. In the winter, I would hole up in a cozy log cabin and see if I could entice any trolls inside with a fire, steaks, beer, and hours and hours of Assassins Creed on Xbox.

My research proposal was shredded and returned to me, postage due.

I spoke with noted Danish troll hunter, Bjorn Jorgensen, to ask him about the chances of Rømer finding evidence of the supernatural beings.

"You have to understand that trolls are very shy creatures," said Jorgensen. They usually only live in and around burial mounds. They're also very mischievous, so they may not actually want to be found for the entire year.

"They're notoriously hard to spot, although you can often see evidence that they've been around. They'll hide your keys, put your wallet in your other pants, or send racy text messages to your wife's best friend."

"Sounds like you've got some real experience with trolls," I said.

"Ja, they're real stinkers," he said. "I first became aware of them when my wife was snooping around on my mobile phone. Since then, I've dedicated my life to finding the trolls who would do such a thing."

"Have you had any luck?"

"I've been close," said Jorgensen. "I've tried leaving little traps, like the old stick and box trick. I've found the box tipped over, or the troll has placed a raccoon inside the trap."

"What kind of advice do you have for Mr. Rømer?"

"There are a few things I would tell him if I could, except my wife checks my mobile phone daily. First, trolls only come out at night. There's no use trying to find them during the day. For one thing, their hidey-holes are camouflaged with troll magic, which means you wouldn't even see them if you were standing on top of them."

"But you can see them at night?"

"Oh no, of course not. It's too dark."

"Then how do you know whether you can see them?"

"I have been a troll hunter for 11 years. I know how to spot a troll hole."

"You mean a Krølle Bølle troll hole?"

"Don't be a smartrøv."

"Sorry. What else should Mr. Rømer know?"

"Trolls are able to disguise themselves. They're very cunning and clever that way. Many times, I have captured a troll, but he has cleverly disguised himself as a raccoon or rabbit. Once, a troll disguised himself as a badger, and I had to be taken to hospital. I received 37 stitches in my hands, and a series of painful rabies shots. I was not able to text my wife's— I mean, continue with my troll hunting for weeks."

"Have you ever seen a real troll?"

"Absolutely," said Jorgensen. "I actually held one in my hands. He was only half a meter tall, and I caught him around his middle with both hands. I went to show my wife, but he bit me on the hand. He almost broke the skin! He also poked me in the eye with that big nose of his. I had to drop him, and he scampered off into the woods."

"That's unfortunate," I said.

"Yes, Mr. Rømer will need to be careful. Trolls will also steal people's clothes, if they are not careful. He needs to take care if he is ever doing nocturnal research with his wife's fri—I mean, research assistant."

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, November 07, 2014

Why I Failed Math Story Problems

Writers can weave stories out of the smallest details, but we're very bad at sciencey-mathy things. We can't solve algebraic equations or balance our checkbooks, but we're great at making up new words like "sciencey-mathy."

You would think writers would be good at story problems, but we tend to focus on the story more than the math. An example:

"Jeanette and Stephen are each going to visit their mother in Croton-On-Hudson, New York for Thanksgiving. Jeanette and her family will drive from Stamford, Connecticut, taking highway 9A, which takes 54 minutes. Stephen will take the number 5 subway to Penn Station, and then the train, which will take 1 hour and 54 minutes. If dinner starts at 3:00, what time will Jeanette and Stephen each need to leave to arrive in time for dinner?"

The more important question is why can't Jeanette and Tim, her husband, just give Stephen a ride? If he took the train out to Stamford, he could ride with Jeanette, Tim, and their two kids, Reese and Aubrey, spending quality time with them.

Answer: Because Stephen can't stand the frosty tension between Jeanette and Tim. They constantly snipe at each other, sleep in separate rooms, and haven't been intimate for years. They bicker in front of the kids, who don't notice, because they spend all their time texting with friends.

Tim suspects Jeanette of having an affair with their neighbor, and she's been drowning her feelings of neglect and rage in a bottle of pinot grigio each night. Rather than confront her — Tim hates confrontation — he's been spending more time at the accounting firm he runs with his brother, paying more attention to their marketing coordinator, Allison, than he maybe should.

Their nanny — manny, actually, since Jeanette wouldn't hear of hiring a college girl to flaunt herself in front of Tim — takes the kids to soccer practice, dance recitals, and so on. Jeanette has also been paying a little more attention to Jason the manny than she maybe should.

The kids are busy and disinterested, Tim is always working, and Jeanette is busy with her "interior design business," the go-to business choice for rich stay-at-home moms who received a couple compliments on their kitchen and living room remodel. She's had three clients in two years, including the neighbor she's been sleeping with.

Today's argument was about whether to take I-287 versus NY 9-A to her mother's. GPS says 287 will only take 37 minutes without traffic, but Tim is worried about holiday traffic, which can add 90 minutes. He says that while 9-A is curvier and a longer distance, they can avoid any "potential problems." Jeanette senses he really means "I don't have to spend as much time with you," and her fragile insecurity causes her to polish off the other half bottle of pinot from last night's dinner, which she ate and then purged, while Tim and Allison "discussed a new marketing campaign."

"Cripes, it's barely 12:00," whines Tim, looking at her glass. Jeanette hurls it into the sink, shattering it. The kids barely look up from their iPhones. "Ah, the holidays," they think.

Meanwhile, Stephen lives in Brooklyn, where he is a novelist and creative writing instructor at the New School in Manhattan. He's bringing his girlfriend, Rachel, home to meet the family, knowing she'll raise a few eyebrows. Rachel is African-American, and Stephen's mother is a bit of a racist. So is Tim, a die-hard conservative who doesn't actually know any black people.

Rachel's experiences are more urban, and Stephen knows his mother and Tim will make snide remarks and ignorant statements all day. But he loves Rachel, a professional dancer and actress, and has prepared her for all this. He knows the less time she's around his family, the better. Which rules out riding with Jeanette and Tim in their ostentatious SUV.

Stephen also can't stand his niece and nephew. They're spoiled brats who spend more time texting their friends than actually engaging in human communication. Stephen suspects Reese may be using prescription medication, something he'd had his own experience with, having completed rehab two years ago. He mentioned it to Jeanette once, who screamed at him for 20 minutes.

Stephen will need to leave at 12:00 in order to arrive at 2:00, otherwise the next train would get him to his mother's at 3:15. While he's not looking forward to the extra hour there, it's certainly better than hearing his mother gripe for the rest of the day about his being 15 minutes late.

"Erik, the correct answer was 2:00 and 1:00. Please take this worksheet home to your parents, have them sign it, and tell them I want to meet with them at their earliest convenience."

Photo credit: Clay Shonkwiler (Flickr, Creative Commons)

The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My latest book, The Owned Media Doctrine is now available on

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Thursday, November 06, 2014

Sitting on Your. . . Self and other Hazards of Aging

Occasionally I'll accept guest posts from friends and fellow humor writers. This guest humor piece is from my friend, Randy Clark, who writes about the joys and. . . perils of being an older man. At least older than me.

I’d heard about aging men painfully sitting on their scrotum but had never experienced this geriatric phenomenon. This morning I nearly did. As I sat on the toilet, my boy parts exposed to the cold porcelain, my testis rested on the seat as my left thigh and buttocks approached. Only by quickly (OK, I wasn’t that quick) rebalancing myself on my right rump did I avoid squashing my sac. With age come lifestyle adjustments.

Evolution In Action

Do you remember the evolution diagram in your 7th grade science book? I know the boomers do. Anyway, it shows the progression from monkey to man beginning with a knuckle-dragging primate and slowly straightening up to a posture perfect tall standing man. My wife recently commented, after I took several minutes to get up from the couch that I went through every phase. She may be right. My knuckles are scratched.

It Ain’t All Good, And It Ain’t All Bad

My eyesight has digressed (my left eye has the beginning of a cataract.) My reflexes are slower. My hearing isn’t what it used to be. And my memory is shorter. (Now where was I?) But there are things about growing older that I enjoy and appreciate.

It Sure Beats The Alternative. Or Why Growing Older Is A Good Thing

You know the theory about needing 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert? I have a lot of 10,000-hour categories: management, presenting, performing, and more. And by the time you’re in your 60’s you will too.

I’m not seeking the BIG score I sought in my youth. Whether its income, power, or prestige being on top isn’t as important to me as doing what I believe in and enjoy. Most of what I do, I do because it makes me happy. Life is good.

I’ve heard for years if you have your health you have everything, but never embraced this philosophy. However, being fortunate to be in good health at my age—I now subscribe to it. As American composer Eubie Blake said, “If I’d known I was going to live this long I would’ve taken better care of myself.”

I concern myself less with what others think of my actions and beliefs. I probably will always make some concessions, but I find myself caring less if I conform to others opinions. It’s freeing.

Yes, my back may be bowed, my eyes squinted, and my memory has holes in it, but aging doesn’t only bring regression. It is filled with wonders and joys that when embraced can set your soul free. And besides, I haven’t sat on my balls—yet.

About Randy Clark

I was asked to submit a bio, so rather than offer a third person eulogy of my personal achievements and the positions I’ve held I have a question. If you’re paid to do something are you a professional? If so I’m a professional writer who is also a Rock & Roll singer or a professional singer who writes. Either way—I think I’m funny.

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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