Friday, July 25, 2014

My Sense of Smell Is Broken

I smell weird. Ly. I smell weirdly.

I need to correct that immediately, because I just know some wag is going to post "I knew that already. ;-)" on my Facebook page.

What I mean is that my sense of smell is malfunctioning or hyper-functioning. It isn't working the way it should. It's been happening for the last few years. I don't know if something is wrong with my schnoz, or if it's something else entirely. More on that in a minute.

I don't have a great sense of smell to begin with. I don't detect faint, subtle odors, whispers of a scent on the wind. My wife, on the other hand, has such a sensitive sense of smell, whenever one of our kids farts in the car, she knows who did it without asking.

And because smell is linked to taste, my poor smell affects my ability to taste, which means I seek out spicier, more flavorful foods so I can taste them more fully. I'm not a serial salter, but I do prefer spicier foods to the Midwestern staples, like baked potatoes, boiled chicken, or tofu.

Which makes this new problem a bit of a puzzler.

I can detect sour smells, when no one else can. If something smells like mildew on a shower curtain, or a shirt that didn't make it out of the washer right away, I'm the only one who smells it.

This has even caused a couple arguments with my wife, especially the first time I told her the jeans hanging in our closet smelled.

"I think your jeans smell a little funny," I said last summer.

"Funny how?"

"Like they were stuck in the washing machine a day too long."

She gave them a big sniff. "No, they smell fine."

"I'm telling you, they smell."

"No, they don't!"

"Then what am I smelling?!"

"I don't know, but it's sure as hell not my pants!"

I noticed the sour smell a few days later at a local McDonalds' drink station. "Do you smell that?" I whispered to my wife.

"I don't smell anything."

"It's like it wasn't thoroughly cleaned out, or they missed something somewhere. It's a sour smell, like your jeans smelled."

She put her face close to mine and hissed, "My pants. Do not. Smell!"

"Fine, then I must have a tumor, because everywhere I go, I smell sour things, but no one else seems to!"

By no one, I mean my kids and those few friends who don't seem to think I'm weird when I ask "does this smell funny?"

Er. Weirder. My friends already think I'm weird, but they're not familiar with most of my quirks and foibles. Like grabbing my collar and asking one of my kids, "does this smell funny?"

It's happening even now. Every summer for the past three years, I have smelled phantom odors. This morning, I wore a freshly laundered t-shirt that I was sure reeked of that sour smell, but everyone in my family assured me that it smelled completely clean and fresh.

Either that, or they're all lying to me.

What's worse was finding an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer that said people's sense of smell and taste start to fail and change as they get older. I sat there, reading the article, inhaling that smell with every breath.

According to the article, our ability to smell peaks at age 40, and goes downhill from there.

Richard Doty, director of the University of Pennsylvania's Smell and Taste Center (Official Motto: "Is it. . . is it chicken?"), said that men tend to suffer more smell loss than women, smokers more than nonsmokers. But there wasn't anything in the article about phantom sour smells, or hypersensitivity to certain odors.

I did a quick search for "phantom smell" on the Internet, and learned that rather than suffering an age-related smell loss, I may instead have diabetes, cirrhosis of the liver, a possible psychiatric disorder, and am going through menopause.

Never, ever try to diagnose yourself on the Internet with only one symptom.

Most likely, it could be something called "phatosmia," which is a smell disorder that does not have an underlying cause, like a brain tumor or menopause.

I'm kind of leaning toward this last one, because it's common, because my affliction is seasonal, and best of all, it's not something I could die from.

Ultimately, I don't think this is something to worry about. It's happened every summer for the last few years, and I haven't died, my liver is fine, and I sit in front of a fan to reduce my hot flashes. Which means it's all in my head, or my nose is more sensitive than I previously thought.

Not as sensitive as my wife is about her jeans though.

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, July 18, 2014

Simplifying Isn't As Easy As It Looks

We're hearing about more and more people who are getting rid of a large portion of their worldly goods (what organizational experts call "crap") and living a less materialistic and more meaningful life.

At least a life that doesn't land you as the July centerfold in the 2015 Hot Hoarders calendar, which we all know you're going to put with the 12 other calendars you're keeping, "just in case."

Admittedly, simplifying is easier said than done, unless you're a soulless robot with the memory of a senile goldfish.

For the last several years, my wife and I (with reluctant participation from our children) have been extensively "decrapifying" our lives, eliminating the clutter and unnecessary detritus that has bogged us down. Our goal is to live more simply, spending less on stuff and more on experiences. We want to build memories, remembering the things we did, rather than spending 30 minutes rummaging through closets in a futile search for that thing that goes with the other thing. You know, the piece that makes this light up. Or play music. I don't remember. Whatever, I've been looking for it for 45 minutes, and I still have to put everything back. I should be finished tomorrow morning.

We embarked on this new lifestyle when we went to sell our first house and realized there weren't enough trucks in the county to move everything to our new house. So we decided to downsize, because we were moving from a McMansion with two floors and a basement to a house two-thirds that size and no basement.

We filled up three dumpster loads with broken and completely useless items. We got rid of items we had planned to repair one day, after we learned the necessary skills, like particle physics.

We donated several garbage bags of clothes that we no longer wore — mostly my stuff that kept shrinking year after year.

I gave over 500 books to our small-town library, dropping off armfuls of books week after week. The library staff was so pleased with my gift, they even named a wing of the library after me. So, the next time you find yourself in Syracuse, Indiana, be sure to visit the Aw Crap, It's That Damn Guy Again! wing of the local library.

It was an ongoing process, because over the next four years, we moved from our first house to a smaller house, to an even smaller house, and finally to a 1,200 square foot apartment with a single car garage that served as our storage unit. In that time, we went from 3,400 square feet to something nearly a third that size, discarding flotsam and jetsam along the way. We finally moved to our current house a year later, and we fit perfectly.

That first time, most of the stuff we got rid of was mine, as my wife seemed to think her stuff was more valuable. As if her grandmother's china set was somehow more important than my collection of Rolling Stone magazines from the 1990s.

But we learned how to choose carefully, separating practicality from sentiment, and not saving every scrap and speck from our childhoods.

We learned that it was okay to get rid of past gifts, especially when we couldn't remember who had given them in the first place.

I also learned that if I wanted to save anything, I had to relabel it something important and clever. At least more clever than labeling a comic book collection "NOT a comic book collection." Because a comic book collection is somehow less important than someone's mother's maternity clothes that you might need "just in case."

Like just in case you get pregnant in 1967.

But the best lesson we learned is that keeping things you never use is less important than keeping and using one thing that brings back memories. Like not hanging on to Grandma's entire china collection you never use, instead keeping a single serving dish you use several times a year, remembering her fondly each time.

Like keeping a photo of you wearing your favorite shirt, rather than keeping the shirt itself, even after it shrank by 20 pounds.

Like how you should always forgive someone after he brings his comic book collection back to the house, four years after telling you he "took care of it" when you asked what he did with it.

Because a good comic book collection is important to have around.

You know, just in case.

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, July 11, 2014

Language Demonstrates Strength, Weakness

The language you use when communicating with others may show how much power you have, or don't have, in a relationship. That is, there are certain phrases you may use that show, even sub-consciously, where you think you stand.

In 2012, National Public Radio examined this phenomenon, and spoke with James Pennebaker, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin, who studies communication.

According to Pennebaker, it's the small "function words" — the words between important words, like nouns and verbs — that give you away.

Words like this, the, though, I, an, and, that, there.

We don't pay attention to these filler words. They're like the little floaties in your eye. You see them if you look for them, staring into space long enough, but otherwise you never notice them. Also, people will think you're high if you stare like that too long.

Pennebaker says function words are the most interesting ones, not the topic words we talk about, like our families or our job. They convey the substance of what we want to say; our self-esteem and attitudes can be found in these words.

In the early 1990s, Pennebaker and his graduate students created a computer program to analyze massive amounts of data and find the patterns it would take dozens of human beings dozens of years to come up with.

They wanted to know if it was possible to tell if people were lying by their use of function words, whether someone was male or female, or rich or poor. Or if you could tell who had the "superior" role in a relationship and who had the "subordinate" role.

According to Pennebaker, if you perceive yourself to be in a subordinate role — that is, the person you're talking to has more power than you — you're more likely to say "I" a lot.

Let's say you send an email to your neighbor:

Dear Dale, I wanted to see if you could do something about your dog. I am not able to sleep because he barks late at night, which keeps me awake, and I have to get up at 6:00 in the morning. I was wondering if you could put your dog inside after 9:00 at night. That would help me so much. Thank you. Steve.

Your neighbor responds:

Dear Steve: Sorry about the barking. He stays outside at night because he gets antsy after a while in the house. He seems to have a thing going with the Sanderson's poodle, and likes to be outside with her. When they take her inside, he barks. We'll get this taken care of. Thanks. Dale.

Did you see it? Steve put himself in the weaker position. He said "I" four times and "me" twice, while Steve didn't say that at all; he said "we" once. If you read this email, you might guess that Steve doesn't give a crap about Dale, and will instead train his dog and an insomniac rooster to drive past Dale's house in a '76 Chevy Nova with glass pack mufflers.

At a speed dating event, Pennebaker said he could predict who would go on a date more accurately than the people themselves could predict. That's because when two people match, personality-wise, they tend to use pronouns, prepositions, and articles the same way, more frequently.

It's not because similar people are attracted to each other. It's because people who are truly interested in each other will shift their language patterns to more closely align. Sort of a linguist's baby talk. . . if my sweety-weety wittle winguist wiked that sort of thing.

Changing your language won't change who you are, however, he says. "The words reflect who we are more than drive who we are."

But if you want your language to reflect the "you" you'd like to be, there's some truth in the old saying "fake it 'til you make it." It's not just a matter of putting up a brave front until the "successful you" catches up. If you act confident, you'll eventually feel confident. Keep doing it, and one day you find that you have actually become a confident person.

So it goes with your language. Try to avoid using Pennebaker's function words, especially in your emails and texts, to see if you can project a position of strength and power. You might come across as more confident, and you'll be more likely to get what you want, because others will see you as an equal, and not someone in the subordinate role.

On the other hand, you might come across as a big arrogant jerk, and no one will like you, and you'll die unhappy and alone with seven cats.

If that happens, this author is very sorry. Next time, don't do that to the CEO.

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, July 04, 2014

Social Media Makes Us Passive-Aggressive

"Is it really necessary to set off fireworks two days before July 4th?" asked the Facebook commenter. It's never a good sign when someone starts a question with "is it really necessary?" Because the answer is "no," and they're only asking because they don't want to be "that guy." Except they became "that guy" as soon as they said, "is it really necessary?"

It was the second query in as many days, and both status updates started the same way.

"Is it really necessary to shoot off fireworks?" I could hear the nasal whinge coming through, like a whiny Lumbergh from "Office Space."

"Yeaaaahh, I'm going to need you to go ahead and stop setting off your fireworks and having fun. So if you could do that, that'd be terrific, mmm'kay?"

In both cases, the person in question had a valid concern. The fireworks kept their kids awake. Or they scared the dog, and the dog kept the kids awake. Whatever. My complaint isn't with a parent whose kids have stress-induced insomnia.

It's the tone of the question — is it reeeeelly necessareeee? — that set my teeth on edge. Just say what you want, and don't ask the question you know the answer to. Or they could just do what I do: turn out the lights, call the police, and then watch out the window to see if anyone gets arrested.

I don't know if it's social media that makes us passive-aggressive, or if it's just because we're from Indiana and we're too polite for direct confrontation. (Indiana: We're America's Canada.) Whatever it is, there's something about that snotty rhetorical question that make me want to throw my window open and shout, "Yes, it is!"

Thanks to social media, people are sharing more communication with everyone except for the person they should actually talk to. If you don't actually want to go to their house and ask them in person, how about something written to the person in question?

"While I appreciate your enthusiasm for our country's independence, could whoever is setting off fireworks in the neighborhood please stop by 9:30? It's keeping my kid up."

It's simple, direct, and doesn't make it seem like they're the kind of person who speaks loudly to a friend in the hopes that someone nearby will overhear.

"Man, someone in here sure has a lot of perfume on today! I mean, my eyes are watering from all this perfume. I know it's not me, and it's certainly not you, because we rode in the car together. But I can barely eat because the stench is so overpowering. I wonder if my olfactory assailant knows they're ruining my meal and causing irreparable brain damage. I hope they realize they're an awful human being who should slink away and live as a hermit in a cave."

I see this passive-aggressive communication between friends ("I can't believe I got stood up for lunch today!"), in a message from a parent to an older child ("We could sure use strength and prayers while our family deals with a stressful issue that threatens to drive us apart." "Mom, I said I was sorry at dinner. Jeez, I only went out with her once!"), and even spouses. ("You would think that after 15 years of marriage, I wouldn't have to remind certain people to quit leaving their socks by the bed. But what do you expect from someone who's from Ohio?" "Sheila, I raised that boy for 18 years. If I couldn't fix him then, ain't no way you can fix him now." "I sure wish some people remembered I was Facebook friends with them. And that we're all watching TV in the same room.")

The only time I see someone addressed directly is when they're dead.

"It's been six years since you left us, Aunt Sally. We sure miss seeing you every Sunday, Aunt Sally. Not a day goes by that I don't think of you, Aunt Sally. I miss you like crazy, Aunt Sally."

Problem is, Aunt Sally won't see that message because she's in Heaven, and one of the great things about Heaven is that they don't have Facebook. They use Twitter.

I'm not saying we shouldn't air our grievances on social media. If you have a complaint, air away, but none of this behind-the-other-person's-back BS. Just don't talk around the issue, or refuse to address the person directly. Be an adult and communicate in a mature responsible manner.

My only hope is this message reaches the people who need to hear it most.

So if one of you could tell her for me, that's be terrific, mmm'kay?

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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