Friday, March 25, 2016

What Exactly Are the Best Words?

Donald Trump seems to think anything and everything is for sale. Jokes about his presidential campaign aside, the Orange One seems to think the world is his oyster, and the parts of it he hasn't plated in gold yet aren't worth owning.

A few weeks ago, Trump tried to tell us he's a collector of words, a veritable word aficionado. But not just any old words. He doesn't just have piles of them under a tarp behind his garage. He's not satisfied with having your everyday, run-of-the-mill words.

No, Trump has the best words.

As he explained it, "I went to an Ivy League school. I'm very highly educated. I know words, I have the best words."

Of course, if I wanted to be picky, I would point out that people with the best words typically don't use "very" with other strong adjectives. I wouldn't say a person is "very enormous" or that broccoli is "very awful" (although it is). So I would hope someone who is "very highly educated" wouldn't actually say "very highly."

But I'm not being picky, so I'l let that one slide.

On the other hand, I have managed to amass my own collection of words, even without going to a fancy Ivy League school. They may not be gold-plated words like the ones Trump has amassed, but they're still useful words. And I know how to use them correctly.

What are Trump's best words? What are the words he's so proud of using and sharing with his supporters? I imagine they must be beautiful, eloquent, multi-syllabic words that not only mean beautiful things, but are pleasing to the ear as well.

For example, "cellar door" is thought to be one of the most beautiful sounding words, as long as you separate sound from semantics. That is, don't worry about what it means, just listen to how it sounds. Some companies have even used the name "Selladora" as a way to capitalize on the sounds while avoiding the creepy factor.

So if the Cheeto-in-Chief says he has the best words, they must really be stellar. Like this.

Several weeks ago, at a campaign rally in South Carolina, Trump told his supporters what he thought of the U.S. State Department and their efforts to bring peace to Syria.


That's it? "Stupid?" That's your best Ivy League word?

Apparently yes. As he told the crowd, "I'm telling you, I used to use the word incompetent. Now I just call them stupid. I went to an Ivy League school. I'm very highly educated. I know words, I have the best words. . . but there is no better word than stupid. Right?"

Then, he capped off his claim with this little gem:

"There is none, there is none. There's no, there's no, there's no word like that."

Donald Trump just summed up the essence of Donald Trump in that one quote: "I believe I have the best of something everyone else has, and I can do it better than everyone else, except I, except I, except I really can't."

I can't tell from the transcript whether Trump was rapping or just stumbling over his words. Maybe he got distracted, because he didn't want to slip and use all the best words in a single speech.

I mean, once you throw out a crown jewel like "stupid," you might get overexcited, and waste other best words, like "booger face."

If Trump really wants the best words, he'd drop a billion dollars on fellow famous best-words-haver, Kanye West. You may remember a few weeks ago, when Kanye asked tech billionaires Mark Zuckerberg and Larry Case to invest $1 billion in Kanye, to help him create a lot of new ideas, like more failed clothing lines and a luxury goods search engine (presumably spelled G$$gle).

So why doesn't the Orange One lay out a billion dollars on Yeezy and see what kinds of best words they can come up with together? Kanye may have a complete and utter lack of business savvy, but you have to admit, he's gotten successful by what he can do with his words.

They may not even be the best words — he probably had to sell a lot of those to cover his $53 million debt — but a good carpenter can still build a masterpiece with poor tools.

Together, Kanye and Trump can come up with a few more best words to finish out this presidential election.

Although "stupid" may be hard to beat.

Photo credit: Caricature by Donkey Hotey (Flickr, Creative Commons)

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, March 18, 2016

It's Not Necessary to Narrate Everything You See

"It's Not Necessary to Narrate Everything You See." Did you see that headline? It said "It's Not Necessary to Narrate Everything You See."

I point it out, in case the person in your life who narrates everything they see wasn't there with you. I point it out, in case you're the person who narrates everything they see, so you can see what everyone else's day is like.

Have you ever been on a car trip with a life narrator? They spend the whole trip reading billboards or distance markers out loud.

"Chicago, 87 miles," they'll say, even though everyone else can see how far away Chicago is.

Person A: "There's a McDonald's in five miles."

Person B: "Do you want to stop at McDonald's?"

Person A: "No, I was just saying there's a McDonald's up ahead."

Person B: ". . ."

Person A: "You know, in case you wanted McDonald's."

Person B: "I'm fine. We just ate an hour ago."

Person A: "I know. I'm just putting it out there."

Person B: ". . ."

Person A: "How long before we get to Chicago?"

I should point out that I'm not referring to anyone in my family, especially my wife. I know better than that.

"Hey, look. There's a billboard for Francis 'The Shark' Coltello, divorce attorney."

It's not just car trips, though. It's everywhere. They narrate everything happening around them, just to make sure no one else misses it. Even though we're right next to them.

"There's a new building going up over there."

"That gas station is on fire."

"That fire engine sure seems in a hurry."

My youngest daughter used to do this at the grocery store when she was little. She pointed out certain items she liked, and made sure I saw them. "Daddy, look, there are some apples. . . Cap'n Crunch cereal. That's your favorite. . ."

She just wanted to give a little shout-out to the things she really liked. She didn't even want them, she wanted to draw my attention to the fact that they were there. I would even ask, "is this your sneaky way of trying to get me to buy cookies?"

"No, I just like showing them to you."

I've been noticing this life narration phenomenon more lately, especially when we're in large public places, like Disney World.

"Hey, there's Winnie the Pooh!"

"Ooh, look, the parade is coming."

"Do you see that float? The giant lighted one that's straight in front of us? The one that looks like a neon dragon? Do you see it?"

Admittedly, these are young parents trying to engage their children's interest, and get them to stop screaming incessantly for no particular reason. But the behavior never seems to change over time. They keep doing it, and it just gets progressively louder and more annoying as they get older.

Also, the kids are still annoying whiners.

The worst is when we're in one of my favorite exhibits, the France or United States pavilions at Epcot.

France's centerpiece attraction is an 18-minute film of the amazing sights of France, like the French Alps, the Palace of Versailles, and the Eiffel Tower, all set to well-known French classical music. It's a chance to immerse ourselves into the very heart of France.

Complete with a running commentary from the couple sitting behind us.

"Ooh, Versailles! It's so pretty. Isn't that pretty?"

"Aww, they're getting married! Remember when we got married?"

"Mmm, don't those pastries look good. France is really known for their desserts."

My other favorite — and a favorite of life narrators everywhere — is the American Adventure, the 20 minute animatronic rundown of American history, as discussed by longtime friends Ben Franklin and Mark Twain. I'm also a sucker for the "Golden Dream" movie at the very end, which is professionally engineered to make everyone in the room cry.

Just at the emotional peak, when the lump in my throat can't get any bigger, and I can't love America anymore, I get this from the seats behind me:

"Oh, it's 9/11!"

"Look, Michelle Kwan! I remember those Olympics."

A-a-a-a-nd it's gone. I don't ask for much. I only wanted the full emotional breadth and depth of these short movies, seeing images of people who made America great, or France's artistic and natural beauty. I'm only asking for a few minutes of silence so I can fully experience everything they offer.

But I can't because I sat in front of Barbara Exposition and her husband Steve Obvious, who are unsure that the other person is looking at the exact same movie screen they are. So as we're leaving, I share a few observations of my own.

"It's 1200 miles from here to Chicago. Why don't you go back there? There's a McDonald's on the way."

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, March 11, 2016

You Can't Argue With Mom

Now that I'm in my late 40s, I look back at my childhood and realize that, for the most part, my parents were pretty smart, and their advice was generally sound and worth following. Things I used to rebel against — and I did that a lot — are actually important to me now that I'm a dad.

For instance, I make my kids shut off the lights in their room, just like my dad did. He didn't do it for me, I had to go do it. He would even call me from the other end of the house to shut off my light. Never mind that he was standing next to it, I had to do it.

"You're right there," I would call back. "Why don't you just reach out and shut it off?"

"Because I want you to remember to shut it off yourself."

In my mind, I used to rail against the laziness and utter stupidity of making me walk all the way to the other end of the house, just to shut off a single light.

"You could have shut the light off in a fraction of the time that we had this argument!" I thought. At the time, I believed my dad actually enjoyed being a pain in my ass.

So, in order to deprive him of this small and petty pleasure, I started shutting off the lights to my room before he ever asked. That showed him!

Did I mention my dad was a psychology professor for 45 years?

The trick worked so well, I started doing it to my own kids. I have made them come all the way upstairs to shut off their bedroom light, and they had the same complaints. It was all I could do to keep from revealing my big secret, but they did stop leaving their lights on.

But there are certain things my mom would say to me, that years later, still don't make sense.

For example, I was never a tidy child. I used to get my toys out and play with them, but never put them back. Eventually, my room looked like my toy box exploded.

Eventually my mom (the short one in the photo over there) would get so sick of looking at the mess, she threatened to shut the door. "If you don't clean your room, I'll just keep your door shut all day."

I'm actually fairly private, and I hated having my door open anyway, so this wasn't a punishment. Plus it bought me a couple more weeks.

But eventually she said, "it's a wonder you can find anything in this place."

"No, it isn't," I said. "I've got everything out in the open so I can see it, and know exactly where it is."

Apparently this wasn't up for discussion. This wasn't my chance to convince her of the benefits of a messy room. You'd have an easier time on Facebook of getting a Trump supporter to vote for Bernie Sanders than getting my mom to let me have a messy room.

"Well, it looks like a tornado went through here."

"I thought it looked more like a cyclone," I said once.


I didn't get away with being a smartass very often. This wasn't one of those times.

"Can I have a snack?" I would ask when I was in her good graces.

"No, you'll spoil your appetite."

Spoil my appetite? How could a tiny snack spoil my appetite? I just wanted a cookie, or even an apple. But no, this will bring crushing ruin to my appetite, and I won't eat for days!

My wife even says this to our kids, but I think it's a lie. If a single cookie devastates your appetite, then you may have larger medical issues.

"No, I couldn't possibly eat a steak, mashed potatoes, and a salad. I just ate a cookie."

If you can normally eat a full meal without any problems, a cookie is not going to be a problem. It's only going to reduce our stomach capacity by — anyone? anyone? — that's right, the amount of the cookie.

But there were times I was able to have a rational discussion with my mom about some of these mom-isms, and how they bothered me. But those discussions didn't always go like I hoped.

She would say, "If you're going to act like a child, I'll treat you like one."

"But I am a child."

"No, you're MY child, but you're 34. Start acting like it."

"Fine, but only if I can have a cookie."

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, March 04, 2016

The How and Why of Impostor Syndrome

I'm a little worried about my new residency, I told Karl.

"Why?" said Karl. "It's a nice place, nice back yard, and it's in a good neighborhood. Plus, your kids seem to like it."

No, not my residence. My residency.

We were sitting in Santa Cruise, a Bolivian-themed bar whose owner was also a big Tom Cruise fan. We were there to watch the opening game of the Bolivian soccer league on satellite. The league champions, Sport Boys, were facing Cición that night.

"What, you mean like a doctor's residency? Kid, you can't even name the three bones in your arm, so there's no way you're a doctor."

First of all, yes, I can. There's the ulna, the humerus, and uh, Kevin.


Whatever. No, I mean my writing residency. I'm scheduled to go live in the Jack Kerouac House in Orlando for three months as the writer-in-residence, so I can work on my book and various short stories. I don't know if I can do it.

"What are you talking about?"

When I look at the résumés of the past writers, they all have MFAs, and get published in literary journals where they write heartfelt stories about serious topics. I make fart jokes on the Internet. I'm worried I accidentally tricked the Kerouac House board into letting me in.

Karl looked around to see if anyone was listening, then leaned in. "If you tell anyone I said this, I'll deny it, but I think you're a fine writer. You'll be great."

Aww, you think I'm a great writer! Thank you!

"No. No! I said you're a fine writer. You would be great. As in, you'll be in great health and great spirits. Not that, you know, you're better than me or anything."

Gee, thanks. You sure know how to pick a guy up, I said, draining the last of my beer. The game was well underway, and Sport Boys were pressing an attack in Cición's half of the field.

"Two Paceñas, por favor," said Karl, signaling to Simon the bartender. "Por favor" was the only Spanish he knew, and he liked to show off whenever he could. "Kid, what you have is a clear case of Impostor Syndrome."

What, like I'm Frank Abagnale?

"No, not an impostor. I don't think you can lie enough to pull that off."

You believed me when I said I liked your last book, I said. Karl flipped his middle finger at me and blew cigar smoke in my face.

He continued: "Impostor syndrome is something psychologists have been researching since the 1970s, the worry people have of being found out or exposed as a fraud. They think their achievements are a matter of luck or good timing, or that it's not really that big a deal."

Yeah, that all sounds familiar. I've thought all those things in the past. Hell, I thought all those things in the past week.

"It's actually perfectly normal," said Karl. "As many as 70% of people have worried about whether they're actually qualified to do the thing they're supposed to do. Psychologists originally thought only women had it, but a lot of men have from it too. They're just too ashamed to talk about it. Jodie Foster, Emma Watson, Neil Gaiman, and John Steinbeck have all said they feel like impostors."

But why would they have it? They're so accomplished.

"Impostor syndrome is usually associated with high achieving, successful people. And also you."

My jaw dropped, and I stared at Karl. He must have thought I was about to cry, because he put his hand on my shoulder. (I wasn't. Shut up!)

"I'm sorry, Kid. I was just messing with you. If you got in, you did because they liked your work enough to want to see more of it. You didn't trick anyone. You're supposed to be there."

Thanks, that makes me feel better. I finished the last of my beer. Do you have impostor syndrome? I asked.

"Oh, absolutely not. I know I'm great. I've published too many books and won too many awards to think this is just a matter of luck or fraud."

Well, you certainly don't lack for humility.

"Yeah, I'm great at humility!"

Right. Sounds like you've got that other thing. What's it called?

"The Dunning-Kruger Effect, also called the Lake Wobegone Effect. You know, where all the children are above average. That's when the person doesn't realize they don't know anything. They literally don't know that they don't know."

Oh, dear Lord, I said. I held my head in my hands. I just had a horrible thought. What if my Impostor syndrome is really masking my Dunning-Kruger effect?

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.