"As the species evolves, we will one day be able to simultaneously listen to others and think about ourselves, thus eliminating a lot of time and energy spent pretending."
Summer's here ...
... and we're outta here.
Points east. Water our flowers if you think of it?
Meet back here July 6.
"School's basically over," Scout told me this yesterday. School is winding down for all the Murrays, as we prepare for a summer road trip. If this were an NBA game, we'd call it "garbage time."
The hell with it today. Let's just tell some jokes. The shorter the better.
Here's mine, delivered by Scout a few years ago. It's not quite as short as, "A dyslexic walked into a bra," but it's a little funnier.
What do you got?
Every parent thinks he or she is better than most other parents in most ways. I'm no exception—except I'm right.
And the ways I'm worse than other parents? Those are quirks that will build Scout's character. Little peccadillos of mine that will help make her point of view unique, and provide her with nutty little anecdotes to toss off to remind boyfriends and bosses that they've got a true original on their hands.
(She already has a series of stories that she tells on the theme of "My dad was so dumb when he was in college." You don't tell them about the arson charge, do you? "No, Dad. Not the arson charge.")
See? I'm the perfect parent. Happy Father's Day to me!
And even I am confused about how to handle one question. And if I'm confused, you must be too.
The question of work. What do you tell them about your work?
If could magically give my daughter one gift in life, it would be that she finds a meaningful kind of work that can lead her through a lifelong career (however serendipitous the path). Having meaningful work takes you through thick times and thin—guides you, distracts you, satisfies you Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.
If you're not afraid of work you'll be okay, and if you like to work you will be happy. And if you don't? Well, you're in trouble and I feel sorry for you, even if you've got a billion dollars.
I've been given this work gift from the heavens. Wait, was it from the heavens? Or was it from my parents, both writers—and especially my dad, who talked about his work running a small advertising agency in Ohio, with surely no less frequency or gravity than President Obama talks to Sasha and Malia about his daily chores.
Before I was Scout's age, I knew every client my dad's ad agency had, which writers were assigned to it and who was succeeding and who was fucking up. Who was boring my dad in meetings, who was taking credit for my dad's work, who was spending too much on the expense account and who was carrying the agency on his back. I may have not known all of those things, but I knew most of them. I knew enough to exult when the agency lost the Brown Derby restaurant account, because the client was a crazy asshole.
Knowing that stuff at eight, nine, 10 strikes me as insane now—I was always dad's only real guy friend, which is also insane—but I bet I learned an awful lot from all that premature work talk. Most of all, I learned that work was an important way to make meaning in life.
Yet, it has not been my instinct to have Scout read a lot of my stories, or to regale her with yarns about all the interesting speechwriters I know (though I have introduced her to a few). And she doesn't seem to give a natural shit about it, either. Last week I put in front of her a magazine article with my mug on it and a headline, "The Speechwriters' Shepherd: David Murray gathers wandering professionals into a coherent community."
She saw my picture, and said, "cool," and put the magazine aside. She's seen my name in a lot of magazines and newspapers, and my picture in a few too. She thinks I'm famous, but has absolutely no sense of how famous, on a scale from Bruno Mars to Uncle Mike (of Uncle Mike's Cafe, around the corner). She knows I write and that I deal with speechwriters, but that's about it. She knows I have a blog and that some people read it and sometimes they think she's amusing on it. And if I'm writing about something less esoteric than communication, I'll tell her about that, too.
But she knows me only as the greatest historian, oral reader, tennis player, golfer, bicyclist, motorcyclist, milkshake drinker and comedian she has ever known, not to mention farter.
I decided to read Scout excerpts from this piece (in Toastmaster's magazine, The Toastmaster), just because it seemed like an economical way to show her how her giant father neatly fits himself into one tiny place in the world. She ought to see how that is done.
But as for the larger task of sharing my work with her, I don't exactly know how to go about it. Because—like taking her to hear black Baptist preachers around town—I think I ought to do it, I've always intended to do it, but it doesn't come naturally.
Does it to you?
This item first ran four years ago on Writing Boots. It is immaculately conceived, sanely argued and perfectly written. Yet judging by the irregularity by which people are getting out of my way—as I rush around town getting ready for yet another trip—some people didn't get the message. One more try, slightly updated for the current circumstances. —DM
I'm-a be facilitating Leadership Communication Days in Montreal next week, and from there embarking on a two-week family ramble down the east coast. I'm rushing around on a hundred errands.
But rushing around in America isn't easy.
Dear Shambling, Too Cool for School, Passive-Aggressive American:
Here's why you ought to hustle across the pedestrian walkway to get out of my way (as I would do, to get out of yours): because human beings ought to assume that the other humans at intersections are headed in the right direction—on their way to apply for college, to visit a sick uncle, to pick up their child early for an ice cream, to find a piece of paper to write down an idea that might lead to a cure for breast cancer—and we ought to get the fuck out of their way.
Now, it's true that the person who's waiting for you to move your dawdling derriere across the intersection might be going nowhere in particular. She might in fact be completely lost. It's also possible the person is going nowhere good. Maybe he's hustling, hot-faced, to meet a 13-year-old he met online.
Most likely, though, the person is doing something morally neutral, like getting ready to go on a business trip. You know, to make a living?
We can't assume either purposelessness or malicious intent of the rushing stranger into whom we bump. We must assume—as ants do, I imagine, inside their bustling hill cities—that the other fellow is out to do some good for himself, and thus for his family, and thus for his nation, and thus for the world community and all of humanity.
Intentionally shambling across the crosswalk is a declaration of war on your fellow citizen and on all peoples of the world. And a pretty cowardly declaration at that.
So if you've ever asked yourself, "Why should I hurry across the intersection to let you get through?"—have answered your question?
"Both our dads are history addicts."
Chicago artist Tony Fitzpatrick leads us on a 25-years-ago visit to a hot dog restaurant here. Yes, guys still talk like this in Chicago. And they still talk about hot dogs.
Who was the first American to call a can of beer a "bad boy"?
And why are only cans of cheap beer called "bad boys"? Good beer isn't good enough to be "bad"?
Shouldn't a can of Stella be called a "bad girl"?
If cans of beer are "bad boys," are "tall boy" cans "bad men"?
Why hasn't someone come up with Bad Boy Beer? Oh.
And why—and how?—is it still somehow slightly funny when somebody says, "Hand me another one of those bad boys, willya?"
Probably the best-read Writing Boots post I ever wrote is one from five years ago, in which I explained my "everybody knows everything" theory of communication, which holds that people in our workplaces and personal lives gather so much information about us over time—so much evidence of our true aims, our attitudes and values—that they really know essentially everything about us, whether they acknowledge it or not. Therefore, "our essential responsibility as personal and organizational communicators is not to spoon out information slowly to babies with weak digestion systems. Rather, it’s to try desperately to keep up, verbally, with the massive flow of unvarnished truth that our behavior is sending, and that our family, friends and colleagues are receiving every day."
That's a tough assignment, even for the most public relations minded among us. (Or the most gentle-minded. Who wants cousin Bill to know you think he's dumb?)
And get this: I've come to think that the problem is even tougher than that. I think I've concluded that it's not so much your regular behavior that communicates most strongly. It's the things you never do that say the most.
That's how we sum people up when they're gone. Of good people, we say, "she never had an unkind word to say about anybody." Of bastards, it's, "he never did anything for anyone but himself."
How can I most economically tell you about my father? He never swore, he never got drunk, he never farted in front of us, he never left his bedroom without his shoes on. (And somehow, he never managed to communicate to his kids—perhaps he tried, perhaps he didn't know he had to, or perhaps we didn't rate!—that we measured up to his compelling standard for what a person should be.)
It's not what we do that means the most, it's what we never do: The couple knows we don't like them because though we play euchre with them at soccer tournaments, we never ask them over to dinner. The CEO has a blog on the intranet and shows up regularly at all the employee town meetings, but she says so much more by never eating in the employee cafeteria.
The parents who get along most of the time but never hold hands, the mother who never said she loved you. The supervisor who never sought the spotlight for himself, the friend who never let you down. The friend who never calls you first, the colleague who never asks your opinion, the client who never asks how you're doing. Specific and general, these "never" behaviors are the ones that say the most, because they're the ones that speak the truth far more powerfully than the things we consciously do.
The question is, what are you going to do about it? And the answer is, you aren't going to do anything about it. Because what you never do is the most reliable truth about you.
What do you never do?
Kent State PR prof and Writing Boots regular Bill Sledzik declares on his outgoing voice mail message that he doesn't check incoming messages. I think I'm going to start doing that.
Voice mail fills me with crawling dread, because it is by voice mail that catastrophic news comes. "Enter your password, followed by the pound sign." This is the hour of lead. "If you want to listen to your messages, press one." What do I press if I want to jump out the window? "You have seven voice mail messages." Oh shit, that's exactly the number of clients I have—or had. The photo of me in assless chaps must have hit the papers.
Worse yet is when you inevitably find out that six of the messages are automated recordings from the Chicago Public Schools telling you to bundle up your kid because it's cold outside, but the seventh is from a friend or client or colleague who merely identifies himself and says, "Give me a call."
With so many other means of more detailed query-making, a voice mail message to "call me" now seems to me a manipulative stunt that you wouldn't think of pulling on email unless you were somebody's inconsiderate boss or impatient spouse. But somehow it's still acceptable on voice mail.
Why wouldn't you tell me why you're calling? Is it because you think, "just wanna catch up" isn't urgent-sounding enough to get you the call-back you seek? And so you're leaving me to think maybe Uncle Frank finally died, only to find out that you just have the dialies because you're stuck in traffic somewhere?
Or are you giving me only "call me" because you want to spring a thing on me, in person. You don't want to give me time to prepare an excuse for why I can't go to the flower show on Sunday. Or you want catch me off guard in some other way.
Otherwise, why wouldn't you just say, "Hey, you know that mechanical bull you rode at the bar last night? That was my sister. I'm not mad, it was an honest mistake. But call me back because I want to see about borrowing those cool chaps."?
No. It's just, "Give me a call."
No. I won't give you a call. Because I think you're going to surprise me with something, and I don't like surprises. I'm a complicated guy, living a busy life in a complicated world! I don't just answer all questions and take all comers and return all phone calls just because the caller told me to!
"Hi, this is David Murray. I can't talk right now and I don't check voice mail because voice mail is used these days only to deliver messages of doom, or to manipulate people. I hope you'll email or text me the reason for your call and I'll call you back as soon as I can."
Can anyone give me a reason why not?