Totes adorbs Illinois Congressman Aaron Schock left congress today in shame after it was discovered that he had spent ridiculous sums of taxpayer money on glamorous overseas trips, and on an office decorated in the style of Downton Abbey.
Oozing charm from every pore, he oiled his way right out the door. But he gave a farewell speech, before.
The Chicago Tribune headline says, "Schock leaves Congress with sadness, humility."
I scoured the article looking for evidence of Schock's humility. "God, do I suck! What a fool I am! How can anyone ever forgive me for being such a vane, clueless, narcissistic twit! How can I ever forgive myself!?"
Instead, Shock said, "Few faced as many defeats in his personal business and public life as he did," Schock said of Abraham Lincoln! "His continual perseverance in the face of these trials—never giving up—is something all of us Americans should be inspired by, especially when going through a valley in life."
Lincoln's been rolling over in his grave so long and for so many reasons, I wonder if he bothers to do it any more. But if he does, this would be the occasion.
Schock concluded, "I know that God has a plan for my life."
Hey Schock: Did it ever occur to you that maybe this was it?
"I am out of the office and not checking email," the magazine editor's auto reply said abruptly. "I will return Tuesday, March 24. Anything sent during this time will not be read."
Having spent a hunk of a week digging out from an email blizzard that had accumulated while I was gone for two weeks, I stand and applaud this editor's declaration of independence from emails sent while he's on vacation.
If you want to reach me so damn bad, he is saying, you'll write me again when I'm back.
(And I do. And I will! In fact, I'll wait until a little later in the week, when I figure he'll be hitting his stride.)
Every job has its own proper sense of urgency, and the requirement for responsiveness varies. Editors can afford to acknowledge correspondents on their own time; salespeople cannot. (And IT people cannot, but do anyway.)
But when it comes to evenings, weekends or weeks away, each of us must cultivate his or her own sense of confidence—that we're worth waiting a week for, that the work will be there when we return, that we deserve time away because we are not 24-hour, seven-day-a-week air traffic controllers or 911 operators.
In my younger days, when freelance was just another word for nothing left to lose, I used to say on my auto-reply that I'd be hard to reach because I was "on a ramble." Now that I own one good suit and mostly piss in one spot, I usually say on my auto reply that I'll be checking email occasionally, but unless the matter is urgent—and really, how urgent can writing about rhetoric really be?—let's connect next week.
That line almost puts the onus back on my correspondent to check back in with me next week. And it certainly gives me the breathing room I need, to be away when I'm away as fully as I'm here when I'm here.
Which is the basic idea.
What's your auto-reply, and why?
Postscript: The magazine editor did read and answer the email I'd sent while he was away—he was bluffing! he under-promised and over-delivered!—and yes, an excerpt from Raised By Mad Men will appear in the April 13 issue of Advertising Age.
Last week, a correspondent whose conference session I had publicly critiqued wrote to thank me for the feedback. He concluded his rather generous email by quoting "some wise guy," on communication:
"The hardest thing about communication ... is balancing your essential zealotous conviction that what you feel, everyone feels ... against your granite knowledge that no one is quite as interested in what you are, as you are."
Goddamn, that's a good quote, I thought. Especially that "granite knowledge" business. Great language! I bet I could make a light little Monday Writing Boots post of it, if I can just figure out who said it ...
I pasted the whole quote into Google, and discovered, of course, that I'd said it, about two years ago, here on Writing Boots.
And the headline of that piece was "Who said that? I said that."
And just like that, the piece became worthy of a Wednesday.
I may be running out of new things to say. Good news is, there are plenty of old things, to say again.
A corporate executive friend tells me the HR director at his company seems to think that every problem, disagreement or source of discomfort in the company ultimately boils down to entitled, self-loving "millennials."
Now, this said ...
... millennials are better described, and more constructively thought of, as YPWoMs. That's, Young People Without Mortgages.
YPWoMs are now, always have been, and always will be, a giant pain in every corporation's ass. Why? Because they possess two obnoxious attributes simultaneously.
1. They are young.
2. And they don't have mortgages.
Because they are young, they are having, like, sort of a hard time adjusting, from 22 formative years where their imaginations were encouraged, where they were told that feelings mattered, that God mattered, that human beings mattered, that morality mattered, that truth mattered, that beauty mattered, that ideas mattered and that they mattered ... to the corporate world, where none of that shit seems to matter.
And because they don't have mortgages, they have less compunction about crying out in their sharp pain—to their bosses, to their bosses' bosses, and even straight to the CEO, if he or she is daring enough to have a Twitter handle. And certainly they don't hesitate to bellyache to the gray-faced, balding HR director, who they equate roughly with their schlub-ass high school guidance counselor.
Here's to the Young People Without Mortgages—of this age, and of every age—who harass flabby HR dicks with their moralistic, simplistic, unrealistic insistence that the workplace should cohere with everything their parents, their teachers and their preachers and their guidance counselors taught them, knowing full well what kind of world they were heading into.
And here's to the HR dicks, who make themselves such satisfying heavy bags to hit.
Haven't heard from her in nine months. She opens an email,
Hope your 2015 is amazing and that you are staying warm!
I wonder if she has Gmail automatically change that in the summer to,
Hope your 2015 is amazing and that you are staying cool!
Me, I'm searching for an email greeting that works year-round. How's this:
Keep your body temperature within a comfortable range, and pass the awesome sauce!
At last week's Speechwriters and Executive Communicators Conference, Pepsi communications exec Rod Thorn gave what will no doubt be the most memorable keynote since JFK's "intellectual bloodbank" Ted Sorensen spoke a half-dozen years ago, and Jack Welch's seven-figure scribe Bill Lane, a half-dozen years before that.
I won't try to recreate Thorn's speech, except to say, as he did, that when he climbed into his first corporate jet, he realized it was nicer and larger than the trailer home he grew up in during an impoverished and violent childhood.
During his unlikely flight toward the c-suite sun, Thorn learned how to apply a few lessons, including a tip his Uncle George gave him when he was a teenager. "Lose the ego, Bub."
But how exactly does one "lose the ego" in order to successfully serve powerful people—and at the same time hold onto the ego sufficiently to seek such professional heights, and believe one belongs there.
Thorn spoke of staying in a five-star hotel, and being completely comfortable polishing the boss's shoes.
I told him I admire him and all the other speechwriters I know who can balance ego and humility in that way. I confessed that I can't do it. I'm not too big to shine someone's shoes. And I'm not too humble to advise a high-profile leader on communication. But I'm too emotionally rigid to do both with the same leader—and certainly not on the same day.
Successful speechwriters are good at that, and it takes something more than "emotional intelligence," which we so often hear about. I think we think of "EQ" as a measure of emotional competence: You can read people's verbal and nonverbal cues, you're in touch with your own feelings, you can handle a measure of ambiguity. Emotionally speaking, you can walk and chew gum at the same time.
Much less do we acknowledge "emotional genius," the magnificent stuff that we see in some leaders, some salespeople and some psychiatrists. And some professional communicators: most of the really good ones, and all the halfway happy ones.
How does a guy as confident and bold and funny and smart as Rod Thorn switch effortlessly, when the moment calls for it, into shoeshine mode—and back!? I don't know how he does it any more than I know how Mozart wrote the Requiem.
Genius, that's what it is.
I sure as shit don't have it. Do you?
Out of all proportion, I'm enjoying A Double Life, a fine biography of one of the great assholes of the 20th century, Norman Mailer.
(Really, Mailer wasn't an asshole. He was the asshole. Here's his explanation about how he left his wife Adele, who he had drunkenly stabbed and nearly killed several months earlier: "I went to a party and met Jeanne Campbell and we spent a day and a half in the sack. That was the last straw [for his marriage], that and the fact that Adele wanted me to quit drinking because her psychoanalyst said I had to. I said I couldn't quit drinking then or I'd get cancer, but offered to drink outside the house a couple of nights a week. She wouldn't accept this, and so I moved out.")
Mailer is so full of everything: beans, shit, piss, vinegar, himself, unwisdom and unwisdom—all expressed so well, that you can't help but get caution, instruction or inspiration from every direction, including up the rear end.
And I can use some.
I'm more fully absorbed in one single project than I've been since I can remember. I've spent the last fifteen happy freelance years flitting from adventure journalism to widely variable, mostly agreeable regular-paying gigs. "The Grasshopper," a friend used to resentfully call me.
Now? I'm not exactly planning an invasion of China, but these days I am primarily focused on building the Professional Speechwriters Association into something that some hundreds of people can safely and happily call their professional home. We've got the roof on, but we've got to get the drywall and the siding up before winter.
The task requires most of my time, energy and attention. It's fun—and actually it's a relief, to have my work cut out for me. But occasionally I get nervous, as grasshoppers will.
Mailer, in the 1960s, worried about the same thing. He was digging into a massive novel, written as serial magazine articles, on deadline. It would preclude other work for most of a year. He found justification and solace in an anecdote that he shared with an old friend, in a letter:
Years ago, Theodore Reik was being analyzed by Freud, and as a talented young man he was naturally interested not only in being a superb analyst but a musician, a writer, a lover, a boulevardier, a vigilante, even a mad genius. Freud listened and got angrier and angrier. Finally, he said, "Reik, you want to be a big man? Piss in one spot."
Which I'm doing lately.
Except, of course, I'll never quit my side gig, as a boulevardier.