An instrumental "Sultans of Swing" by three insanely good guitarists.
An instrumental "Sultans of Swing" by three insanely good guitarists.
Immediately upon arrival: "Eh. Shit happens."
"I bet you say that to all your customers."
With a look of genuine insight: "I do!"
"Maybe you should rename your company that. Shit Happens Towing."
He seems to be thinking about it as I recall the New Orleans trash removal company slogan: "Our business stinks, but it's picking up!"
This is how writers get through life. How does everyone else?
The legal aspects of buying Vital Speeches and the Professional Speechwriters Association have astonished me in two ways:
After decades of hearing lawyers derided as cautious communication killers, I've been forced to admire the analytical mind and communication power of a good lawyer (one of which I've been very lucky to have)—and, of the usefulness of legal language.*
Of course I still hate to read contracts and don't understand them myself any better than I ever did; but I don't dismiss out of hand the wisdom of a statement like this, sent to me by a snorting English teacher as an example of absurd legalese:
This news release includes forward-looking statements and projections, which are statements that do not relate strictly to historical or current facts. These statements frequently use the following words, variations thereon or comparable terminology: "anticipate," "believe," "consider," "continue," "could," "estimate," "expect," "explore," "evaluate," "forecast," "intend," "may," "opportunity," "plan," "position," "projection," "should," "strategy," "target," "will" and similar words. Although the Partnership believes that such forward-looking statements are reasonable based on currently available information, such statements involve risks, uncertainties and assumptions and are not guarantees of performance.
With my new respect for people who can make words actually work, I look at statements like that for the wisdom I can extract to make my own words work better. And the wisdom I take from the above is that, like flaccid adjectives, such uncertain words should—no, must—be struck as much as possible from my prose, because they promise more than I can guarantee to deliver. And the more you emptily promise in your language as a writer—or as a human being, for that matter—the less you will be listened to.
And for good reason.
* One side benefit of my newfound appreciation for attorneys is that I've taken to telling them at cocktail parties about this transformation in my mind. "Really! Before this, I think I believed that all you did in law school was memorize statutes and learn how to use databases in search of precedents! But I have come to realize, you learned a certain way of thinking that I will never ..." At this moment, the the lawyer will get an urgent text from a client, and rush off.
I think believing in God is a spectrum, like autism or sexuality. I don't pray, and I don't send prayers to others. I do cross my fingers when an ambulance goes by, as I was taught to do by my atheist mother (who once fired a cleaning lady for singing songs about Jesus).
But I know for sure that I believe in grace—a magical arrangement of the universe that temporarily blots out all worries, awkwardnesses, incongruities, disappointments and cruelties for moments and hours and even days and convinces you that, actually, everything is perfect. I've had so many moments of grace—on people's porches, on sailboats, in cars, on my motorcycle.
I had my last one last week, as I sat at The Dock bar at Montrose Beach here in Chicago. I'd been on a beautiful run down the shore and had a glass of Heineken in front of me, and a fine folk band behind me played "I'll Fly Away." A full moon rose to the south, and I looked out on the lake over the beach where my daughter played soccer in her bare feet.
Somebody might tell you that if you believe in grace, you believe in God. And maybe you do, after all.
The American swimmer Ryan Lochte once said, “I see me being a designer, I see me being a model, I see me being a TV star." Lochte will be understandably and probably permanently dismayed that, despite winning 12 gold medals in three Olympic games, he'll be remembered for some drunken foolishness at a gas station in Rio de Janeiro. Son, you just learned the hardest lesson of public relations, best described by an old Greek named Dimitri.
I'm too busy to bother with this "first seven jobs" meme that's going around—garden weeder, caddy, hardware store clerk, office assistant, greenskeeper, night waterman, door-to-door stuffed animal salesman—but I know what I'd like my next job to be. I'm going to be a shrink. Why? Because I like people.
But I'm not going to be just any kind of shrink. Two of my sisters are shrinks. They had to go to school for it. What's worse, they're always going to school for it—taking workshops and seminars and attending lectures. Lifelong learning may be for some people, but the very thought of it just tuckers me right out. (Like "continuous improvement." Ugh!)
No, I'm going to be the kind of shrink who doesn't need an education. Because I'm not going to cure people. I'm only going to diagnose them, and refer 'em to my sisters, for curing. I'm going to specialize in three areas.
1. Diagnosing people with Asperger's Syndrome, which I do at least once a day without any education at all. If I have an awkward conversation with someone, that person has Asperger's. (If I have two or more awkward conversations with the same person, I diagnose a more severe disorder: Asperger's with double cheese.)
2. Diagnosing alcoholics, which I do every time someone drinks, and becomes mean. (You're supposed to become obnoxiously friendly, dummy, like me!)
3. Diagnosing narcissists, which is even easier than diagnosing people with Asperger's, because you don't even have to have an awkward conversation. Usually you don't even have to have a conversation at all. Often, a single sentence spoken by the narcissist is all the evidence you need.
A particularly self-aware narcissist I knew said he didn't like to travel, because he didn't like to see loads of people getting along well without him.
An employee at a company I worked for told the boss her uncle had died, and he said, "Yeah, that seems to be going around."
A guy I know once said he'd like to have me come to a party, because, "Dave, you're always great."
And during Donald Trump's Wisconsin speech Tuesday night—(you know, the one addressed to inner-city blacks but delivered to an all-white suburban audience)—Trump uttered a couple of sentences that could never be formed by the lips of anyone within the spectrum of the sane. "I have gotten to know the people of this country and let me tell you there are no people like the people I've gotten to know. No people."
Mr. Trump, my sisters will see you now.
NOTE: This blog originally appeared almost exactly a year ago in this space (Aug. 26, 2015), and I found it worth rereading, for its foolishness and its wisdom both. My grandfather appears to be keeping a stiff upper lip, in any case. —ed.
No (further) blogging about Trump.
No watching Trump on TV, no reading about Trump in the newspaper.
No talking about Trump at the dinner table.
No laughing about Trump at our drinking parties.
No Trump, no way, no how.
Actually, it will be like it was at my striving steel-executive Republican grandfather's house, where "Roosevelt" was a forbidden word throughout the 1930s.
You can say whatever you want in my house, including all words that rhyme with Chicago streets Paulina, Melvina and Lunt.
But I'm a striver too. And I strive to live in a country—or at least pretend I live in a country—where we don't make, nor even discuss making, our tackiest television celebrities into heads of state. So if you wanna talk about Trump around here, you can take it outside.
On that, at the very least, I think my grandfather and I would certainly agree.
Here at Pro Rhetoric, LLC we have a weekly staff meeting, which we don't exactly look forward to.
That's because we go down a list and discuss the status of every one of about 41 unresolved issues, ongoing projects, onrushing deadlines, good-ideas-at-the-time and unkept promises to ourselves—one by one, for as long as it takes to get through the the goddamn list and decide what the hell we're gonna do about it. The list never seems to get shorter, only slowly longer. But the weekly meeting keeps us from letting things fall through the cracks. Attention must be paid. It's the only responsible way to do business.
It seems to me we if we're going to take the same responsibility for our personal lives that we do with our work, we ought to have a staff meeting in all our important relationships every week, to make sure you're addressing all the issues that need to be addressed—and all the things that you never want to discuss on a Friday night. Or a Saturday morning. Or a Saturday night. Or a Sunday morning. Or a Sunday night. Or a Monday morning.
I suggest we rename one day of the week—I vote for Tuesday, because Tuesday is just a horseshit day anyway—Communicationday.
On Communicationday, everyone important in your life—say, your spouse, your kids, your unemployable uncle who lives in the basement and anyone else close enough that you sometimes want to kill each other—everyone would have a 30-60-minute "office hours" slot on your calendar to bring up whatever issues had arisen over the week. Some weeks, you would dread Communicationday, cuz you know goddamn well what's coming. Other weeks, you'd look forward to finally getting a thing off your chest—a thing you'd had a week to rehearse so you get it just right. ("Your trouble is, you are a cathedral of hypocrisy!") And every once in a while, of course, Communicationday would pass without any need for heavy communication.
"If you could not drop your wet towel on the bedroom floor that would be great. That's all I got."
"DONE! Now how 'bout a drink!"
And of course eventually some cornball would use Communicationday to tell someone that despite all appearances to the contrary, you mean everything to me and you always will.
Of course human communication would not be limited to Communicationday, and if someone in your life really had something to get off his or her chest on a Thursday, you could not politely say, "Save it for Communicationday."
But if someone complained that you didn't pick up on their hints of unhappiness, maybe you could reasonably point out: "You know, it's not called Mindreadingday."
As much of a grind as our staff meeting is at Pro Rhetoric, we always entertain each other with jokes in between, and sometimes we have really constructive and creative conversations. And in the end of the hour (or 90 minutes) we feel reconnected just for having heard one another's voices. We don't like it, but we know it is good for us, and when it's over we understand what we're up against and what we have to do—and thus we feel freed from generalized anxiety. We respect the all-around utility of the day enough that we very rarely skip a week.
Nothing's perfect of course, and Communicationday wouldn't bring on world peace. It would probably even have some downsides. Like, your local police force would probably have to staff up on Communicationday (and on what day do they communicate?). Marriage counselors would work double shifts on Communicationday—and be then bored the rest of the week, because who in the HELL would go to a marriage counselor on a non-Communicationday?
But think of the upside, if we all took this seriously: By midnight on Communicationday, the whole world would feel cleansed. Everyone would feel a little better understood by the ones they love. Everything that everyone dared to put out in the open be out in the open—and everything they didn't would be intentionally and thus more carefully hidden. Everyone would feel compelled to say the thing they want to say—or wait seven more days to say it, only to be asked, "Surely you felt this way last Communicationday. Why didn't you tell me?"
You might as well say it today. Tuesday. Communicationday.
I've written here before about the kind of communication that happens on long car rides, after the adrenaline wears off "and your conversations take on an unfamiliar rhythm. Their properties change. Their purpose changes, and then sheds all purposes, except for passing the time. Long stories short? No, short stories long!"
I'm back this morning, exhausted and dehydrated, from a three-day golf bender in Peoria, Ill., with a bunch of aging 13-year-old boys I know. The most aged of these kids is 67, and he and I drove down and back together. By yesterday morning, we'd had enough time for the properties and purposes to change sufficiently for me to tell Howard, for no real reason, about the time a couple years ago when I took Scout to a track meet and she took the lead in the 400 and I heard over the P.A., "Scout Murray takes the lead," and I instantly thought of my dead father and could hear him giggle proudly at hearing her name—his name—echo through that great old athletic hall.
I apologized to Howard in advance of telling the story that it might bring a tear to my eye. And it was a good thing I did.
Anyway, like I was saying—road trips are good for you.