British supermarket chain Sainsbury's created a three-minute "contentmercial" that's as well-made and conceived as any scene in an epic major motion picture. Read all about it, in my latest post at McMURRY/TMG's blog, Contentology.
Things are so easy for many of us, it's hard to know what to feel grateful for on Thanksgiving. Our iPods?
Time was, people could feel concretely grateful for having enough to eat, and not having the Spanish flu.
Studs Terkel used to say that when he grew up in the twenties, death was everywhere (but nobody talked about sex). He lived long enough to see our age, where all anyone ever talks about is sex—but no one, it seems, utters a mumbling word about death.
This picture, from Chicago in 1941, backs him up.
Happy Thanksgiving, kids. Be grateful, for 10-cent premiums that protect your family from embarrassment—and for sympathetic service from the undertaker.
A man with a sign, "Homeless on my b-day."
Looks like somebody's been reading his David Ogivly!
Tomorrow is my daughter Scout's birthday. When I made this video seven years ago, Writing Boots regular Ron Shewchuk said he was moved by her open-heartedness. Ron, as she turns 11, I can tell you: She's still got it.
So far, so good.
In the tavern the other night the young writer was asking the old editor some honest questions, while the middle-aged writer/editor looked on and listened in.
The young writer asked the old editor how he judged a story's suitability for a publication's "audience."
I put that in quotes because I could tell that the old editor heard it in quotes.
He smiled, and revealing the last bit of sheepishness left in his thoughtful old soul, said he always judged stories based on whether they are interesting—or not—to him.
When a story is interesting, he said, even if it is a structural disaster, he'll carry it around in his briefcase for a year, "trying to figure out how to make it work."
When he reads a submission that is not interesting, he dispatches it quickly, replying to the writer with four one-syllable words: "It's not for us."
In a subsequent email exchange with me—I'd forwarded him an exchange I was having with a woman who insisted she had something worthy of Vital Speeches—the old editor elaborated on his reasoning:
Believe me, I learned this the hard way. Being specific is good when you're editing a piece and trying to teach the writer something. When you're rejecting a piece (or trying to teach a writer not to bother you anymore) it pays to be as vague and subjective as possible.
"It's not for us" has the additional virtue of being absolutely the truest reason you're rejecting a piece. It's just a less insulting way of saying, "I don't like it enough."
The old editor is wise, of course, on both counts:
1. The first and only judge of whether a story is interesting to your readers is, Is it interesting to me? (Unless, of course, you're serving an audience whose interests you don't think you share, in which case, as my first editor Larry Ragan once said, "You're in more trouble than you know.")
2. And Larry also said that "an editor becomes an editor" when an editor says no. And any moment spent arguing with or mollycoddling someone who is not contributing to the editorial excellence of the operation is time and energy taken away from the demanding work that must be done.
A quick and gracious "it's not for us" has the additional virtue of freeing the writer to continue the urgent search for an editor who does find his story interesting, and who will carry it in his briefcase for a year, trying to figure out how to make it work.
I don't know why it took so long to come up with the miraculous term, "moral injury," but it did.
Shell-shock, battle-fatigue, PTSD—these terms described something that some combat veterans suffered from, while it always seemed many more—and maybe all of them—were suffereng from something else, that didn't have a name.
And then along trapses a clinical psychiatrist named Jonathan Shay, and coins the term "moral injury," which distinguishes people who are fucked up from fearsome events shocked their nervous system ... from those fucked up because war disturbed their moral system. For victims of "moral injury," living in a world of killing upset their sense of right and wrong and they feel nuts being back in the world that formed their original morality.
And then up shambles a Huffington Post military writer who popularizes the term by describing some of its victims, and the treatment approaches that differ from traditional PTSD tactics.
And then on Veteran's Day last week, in tiptoes National Public Radio's elfin giant Terry Gross, to expose the HuffPo writer's ideas on Fresh Air.
And suddenly I'm thinking about Stephen T. Banko, who won the Cicero Speechwriting Award the first year I presided over them, in 2009, with what is still the best speech I've ever published in Vital Speeches, I think.
Here's how Banko described "moral injury" without knowing of the term:
It was but a blink of an eye from a violent Sunday night when I killed a man from ambush to a disoriented Friday night back home, among those I'd left behind when I went off to war. It's over they kept telling me. It's over. Just forget about it.
In real time, they were right, of course. But my reality was somewhere between what I'd left and what I couldn't fully walk away from. My war was indeed over—and over and over and over again in my mind, playing on an endless loop—the same heat, the same hurt, the same horror … always ending with me alive and so many of my friends dead.
It didn't take long for me to realize that surviving combat was almost as bad as not surviving.
So why did it take our government so long to realize it? Why did it take the psychiatric profession so long? Why didn't our fathers tell us the ugly, immutable truth about war: that never does anyone return as the same person who left?
Primitive societies knew it. They had no Dr. Phils ... no Sanjay Guptas ... no plethora of pop psychologists to gum the problem to death. But they had experience. They knew what war did to the soul and the mind as well as to the body. Reach back into antiquity. Go all the way back to Virgil and his class "The Aeneid." In Book II, Aeneis recognizes:
'In me 't is impious holy things to bear,
Red as I am with slaughter, new from war,
Till in some living stream I cleanse the guilt
Of dire debate, and blood in battle spilt.'
Aeneas knows he has murdered and plundered. He knows he has offended the gods. His survival does not excuse it. His cause cannot justify it. He knows he must atone for his combat conduct and cannot even touch the cherished things of his life until he finds that living stream in which he can cleanse his guilt.
Why didn't anyone tell us that which the ancients knew? Why didn't they tell us about the guilt of dire debate and blood in battle spilt? Why didn't they help us find the living stream of cleansing?
Aeneas knew that he needed to be cleansed. He knew he needed a living stream to make him human again. But he wasn't the only one. American Indians knew it too—the ones we called primitive savages. They were smart enough to know that warriors return from battle damaged in body and spirit. Bodies heal themselves. Spirits need work. So the tribes sent returning warriors off to retreats distant from the tribe. They sent them off to decompress, to purge their guilt, to heal their spirits. In modern society, we assign too few to care for too many and take too long to do it. There remains a built-in bias against those who seek care for damaged spirits, considering them weak or effeminate, so we tend to physical wounds but we don't talk much about spiritual wounds.
Our belief in the righteousness of our causal justification and the refusal to understand the conflict between a collective national conscience and individual mores increase the odds against any quick or complete return to normalcy. As the soldier struggles in the bivouac of his private first class world, society proclaims combat service a virtue. The dichotomy can be devastating. The veteran finds he is unable to be who he was, unable to connect with who he is and over time, becomes unable to be unable any more.
Or, in other words, he has a "moral injury," which (clearly) requires an entirely different treatment approach than PTSD. And its having a different name makes this different treatment possible! In fact, its having a different name is part of the treatment.
How did it take so long for us to make this crucial and obvious distinction?
And goddamnit, what other muddled maladies would some new terminology set us down a brand new path toward solving?
Lately I read a fine rant on lateness that didn't go far enough. I'd like to add something, and I hope I'm not too late.
Now people seem to think they're not late as long as they text you that they are late. "You're late." "Didn't you get my text?" Soon, cell phones will have buttons that you can push to send pre-set messages to people who are waiting for you. You can push button to say, "Just leaving the house now, sorry." Other buttons will let you say:
Kennedy Expwy a parking lot; b there soon
Here's the thing! Though I am never late and usually 10 minutes early because that's how I was brought up—I usually don't mind, terribly, waiting for you. I have my cell phone to entertain me. In fact, I have a lot to do while I'm waiting, between fielding your apologetic texts and answering work emails because I have people waiting for me too, believe it or not.
So I don't mind the waiting. The time goes fast. It all works out. It's no big deal. What's 20 minutes in the great cosmic wash? What's time to a pig?
Here's what's getting taxing: your cloying apologies—ever increasing in earnestness and emotion and bowing and scraping. And the preposterous position it puts me in: Going to increasing lengths to make you feel okay about it!
"It's no big deal. I'm reading this awesome book ..."
"Oh, no, I totally understand. When are they going to do something about these surprise traffic jams in Chicago?"
"Actually, waiting for you is the only time I ever get to myself."
I hope no one person in my life reads this and gets mad. It's not you I'm talking about specifically. It's everyone! So many people are so late so often, that someone who is routinely on time like me begins to feel like a neglected wife, always making excuses for her husband who is too important and busy to tend to the trifles at home. Except, so many people are late these days that I'm more like a Mormon husband, being neglected by eight or nine wives all at once.
For their part, I think the late people think I'm a martyr and a nag. Always, always, always there, annoyingly on time—waiting unblinking, and judging. A passive-aggressive scold, seeking to get a leg up in the relationship by claiming showing up on time as the first if not highest form of human respect! The bells, the bells, the bells!
The late people aren't going to change, except to get worse. Soon the whole world will be so late we'll have to set our clocks back every day. They'll sing the national anthem at the end of ballgames rather than at the beginning. Deadlines will be renamed, sicklines.
Maybe I'm the one who ought to change. Maybe I oughtta loosen up. Start leaving for my meetings with you with enough time to spare as long as I don't need to stop for gas even though I do, as long as the highway is empty even though it never is, and parking is a piece of cake, which would be unprecedented.
And assuming you continue to do the same, the teeter-totter of temporal moral superiority will even out. You'll be late one week, I'll be late the next. Maybe I'll be late three weeks in a row, and then you'll be late four weeks in a row. We'll shrug, and grin good-naturedly about cookies crumbling and shit happening. But there won't be any arm-crossing or finger wagging—or that horrible, phony apologizing.
But I'll let you in on a secret: As hard is it is, my late friend, for you to be on time, it is just as hard for me to be late. Whenever I try to be fashionably late to an event, I wind up spending 20 minutes lurking in the bushes waiting to come in.
So maybe I should stop trying to make you feel better about being late. Maybe it is I who ought to start apologizing: For my boring, predictable, constant, self-righteous, humorless, robotic on-timeness. Who needs a friend like this? I'm sorry. I really am. God, what a pain in the ass it must be, constantly knowing I'm going to be there when I say I am. No, you're right. I'll try to change. I really will. But please. For now. Forgive me. Can you forgive me?
Take ur time. W-8-ing for u again. I know, what a douche, right? LOL! Sorry :(
"Exciting Changes in the Legal Department"