... the first signs (in my experience) are that stray words and names pop into his head utterly unbidden at the oddest times—like when he's tying his shoes, or lining up a downhill putt.
Just for instance:
Kukla, Fran and Ollie
John Buccigross (pronounced butch-a-gras)
And many more. (I've been trying to make a list for a year, but I have a hard time remembering them when I'm back at the work desk, so out-of-left-field are they.)
Two questions: Does this happen to you? Should I see a brain surgeon, or a shrink?
I'm a lover, not a fighter, the old saying goes.
Well I'm a communicator, not a crook.
That doesn't mean I'm any kind of a paragon of straight talk. A search of any day's emails or a transcript of a week's phone calls would show me buttering up and building up, getting a leg up and rushing past objections. You'd see me expressing more interest than I have, asking for more rope than I deserve, giving myself the benefit of the doubt, trying to close the deal.
I'm a fucking salesman just like the next guy: I'm selling my articles, I'm selling my conferences, I'm selling myself—all day long, just like you. I'm selling this idea, right now—to both of us.
But I'm doing it as straight as I possibly can, and usually with the expectation that I'm going to know you for the rest of my life so I have to be careful not to say anything truly bullshitty that I'll forget to say the next time we talk, or another time we talk, 10 years from now.
The other day I was writing to a business associate about a situation in which his feelings may have been bruised. I was at pains to make him understand how much I appreciated a generous offer he had made me that I had reluctantly turned down. I wrote, "You're the best friend I have in this business." I looked at the sentence. I asked: Was it true? I made an inventory of other good friends I have in that sphere of my life. Were any of them better friends than this guy? No, they were not. And of course ties go to the communicator. I left the sentence in, and felt good about sending it.
I'm a communication sinner, but I'm not a communication criminal.
When I've been in situations where I've been surrounded by crooks, or expected to be one—usually, where I'm buying something I don't know the value of, or selling something whose value I doubt—I have been a terrible, terrible failure. I constantly revealed things I shouldn't have revealed, while failing to be sufficiently convincing when it was my turn to talk.
Eventually, stubbornly, and not as a result of moral righteousness but as a result of embarrassing failure, I have been forced to conclude that I am perfectly, even exceptionally good at articulating, amplifying or even exaggerating a version of a thing that I consider the truth. And, possibly because I am lazy or stupid, I am particularly bad at constructing or camouflaging or minimizing a thing I think is false.
So I need to make my home—and I do—in a relatively honest industry and surround myself with shooters who are at least as straight as me. People who are actually out to get what they say they're out to get, and people who want from me that which I am prepared to give, in exchange for a price they're willing to pay.
Which limits my options, let me tell you.
But there it is: the truth.
Trading on a fleeting barroom meeting and a framed celebrity note, Denver PR person Gil Rudawsky used the topical hook of the 10th anniversary of a suicide to write an article on the PR Daily website in which he claimed to share "4 pieces of PR wisdom from Hunter S. Thompson."
Rudawksy summarized his takeaway from the iconoclastic, drug-mad, fearful and loathing gonzo journalist with this advice: "listen, understand and focus on building relationships through honesty and integrity."
Perhaps Rudowksi allowed himself to think he had honored Thompson's memory with that twaddle.
If so, he must have been disappointed when he checked his voice mail. (Naturally, not safe for work.)
11:10 I liked the organized speakers the best. And, that's a wrap. Goodnight.
10:40 Imitation Game writer did all of the below, and even shared of himself. Open with "I tried to kill myself"—or anything rude and true, and people will listen to whatever you say next. It's the speech of the Oscars so far.
10:10 That's how it's done, Patricia, et al! Message, messenger, occasion, united—and the audience knows why it's hearing this truth, from you, tonight! #CommonandJohnLegend
9:53 Laura Poitras, your Star Wars costume speaks so loud I can't hear your speech (which might have been important).
9:50 I wish we humans had as much empathy for poor strangers in real trouble as we do for rich celebrities seemingly having trouble with the Teleprompter. #heartpoundingonmycouch
9:31 Best speech so far: Marty Scorcese, in the background to that Apple commercial. Oh, he forgot to thank his mother.
9:08 One tries not to take one's wife for granted, but one does see her day in and day out, year in and year out. And when one, despite that, manages to find her "amazing," that is ... well ... amazing. Isn't there a more accurate and still loving thing to say?
9:00 Patricia Arquette, well, OK, but if you hadn't spent all that time reading out of the fucking phone book, you might had a chance to connect your message about equal pay for women with the award you just won, with the movie you won it for, with the occasion, with the moment ... with something other than you are a woman. It's amazing how little these actors understand about how communication works.
8:50 Is it just me, or is this just the flattest Oscars ceremony ever? No one—not even the winners—seems to be in the mood. Guess I picked the wrong year to live blog without sniffing glue.
8:31 I question the principle of thanking the Academy. Presumably, the Academy didn't make you a winner as a favor, but rather because "it" thought you had the best movie. Just leave it at that, or you'll leave us with the impression that you're superstitious that if you forget to thank the Academy, this Oscar will be your last. For instance, the winner of the Cicero Speechwriting Awards doesn't publicly thank the judges, and if he or she did, I'd be a little uncomfortable with it—as would the runners-up, I'd think. (By the way, 2015 Cicero entries are due tomorrow, you laggards!)
8:14 Judging by that speech, that Polish movie must be 14 hours long. Tedious in the beginning, but more honest and amusing as it goes along.
D.R. Murray sez: I won't comment on the pure lists-of-people-I-want-to-thank speeches, except to say that I couldn't do this live blog without Ron Shewchuk, Paul Engleman, Allan Jenkins, Lisa Kenner, Jennifer Wah and also my wonderful wife Cristie and brilliant daughter Scout. And my dead parents, wherever you are. Thank you.
H.L. Mencken sez: "But why are actors, in general, such blatant and obnoxious asses, such arrant posturers and wind-bags? Why is it as surprising to find an unassuming and likable fellow among them as to find a Greek without fleas? The answer is quite simple. To reach it one needs but consider the type of young man who normally gets stage-struck. Is he, taking averages, the intelligent, alert, ingenious, ambitious young fellow? Is he the young fellow with ideas in him, and a yearning for hard and difficult work? Is he the diligent reader, the hard student, the eager inquirer? No. He is, in the overwhelming main, the neighborhood fop and beau, the human clothes-horse, the nimble squire of dames. ... He seeks, not a chance to test his mettle by hard and useful work, but an easy chance to shine. He is, in brief, a hollow and incompetent creature, a strutter and poseur, a popinjay, a pretty one…."
J.K. Simmons sez: Love your wife, admire your kids, listen to your parents. And this is the substantive character actor!
I won't snark off about fashion and I won't comment on the substance of the Oscars. Here at Writing Boots tonight (written by the wine-drinking, off-duty editor of Vital Speeches of the Day) ... it's all about the speeches. Check back when they commence!
Why am I writing just now about NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s state-of-the-game speech, which took place last month?
Because it took me a few weeks to realize how mad I am at Goodell. I'm not blaming him for the game that, like every red-blooded American who reads, I both love and despise.
I’m mad about the attitude that Goodell obviously has toward speeches and communication. It’s the attitude so many of our speakers have. It is that of a spoiled, callow, complacent little boy.
Here’s what I mean:
Goodell had the speech of his life to give last month. After a dynamically disastrous year in the NFL, he had to give his 2015 state-of-the-league speech.
Don’t look for the speech on the Internet in script or video, because you won’t find it—even on the NFL site. Perhaps the speech is so vapid that is invisible, except in a few short clips. In them, Goodell stands like an itchy fifth-grader dressed up by his mother right down to the clip-on tie. In a wooden, near self-parodying speaking style that could be improved with a speaking lesson from Siri, Goodell says things like, “I’m realistic about the work that lies ahead, and confident that we will do what is expected of us, and more importantly, of ourselves.”
We will do what expected of us … and of ourselves? I’m pretty sure a professional speechwriter didn’t write that. Goodell either mangled a good sentence—and it's hard to know how, since he clings to the script like a drunkard to a lamppost—or dutifully read a sentence that his best buddy in marketing wrote on a cocaine toot.
At one point, Goodell tries to look like a real boy, acknowledging, “It’s been a tough year. It has been a tough year for me personally. It's been a year of I would say humility and learning. We obviously, as an organization, have gone through adversity, but, more importantly, it has been adversity for me. … We’ve all done a lot of soul-searching, starting with yours truly.”
That’s Goodell as far as it goes. But when you say you’ve done soul-searching, Son, you have to tell us stories or show us pictures from the your trip.
You have to tell us about a stunning conversation you had with an ex-player who has chronic brain encephalothapy from too many concussions.
You have to share something your wife said that was precisely the moment you knew you’d been wrong about your response to the Ray Rice elevator beating.
You have to tell us why you think you for so long were blind (but now you see!).
Or you have to begin to do some of that. Don’t you?
No, you don’t.
Roger Goodell is the face of a public sport—he’s in show business, for Godsakes. He’s under fire from a public that largely considers him a cold, calculating water-carrier for 32 one-percenters who own pro football teams.
Given one big chance to show the public he’s more than the uncaring, lawyered-up corporate automaton they think he is, Goodell won’t get speaker coaching, he either won’t rehearse the speechwriter’s text or doesn’t employ a competent scribe in the first place, and he won’t share anything more than platitudes about challenges and opportunities, and a list of new programs the NFL is conducting.
“And I made my bed, and I even put away my toys. So there!”
And corporate communication people wonder why their bosses—with far more to lose and far less to gain than the now chronically embattled Roger Goodell by delivering honest communications to their organization’s constituencies—don't take their advice.
No, you don’t wonder at all. But you do get mad every once in awhile. And you should. Because these little rich boys (and girls) you’re working for owe us—their communicators and their publics—more, on behalf of the powerful institutions they run: more candor, more insight, more persuasion, more humanity.
"I don’t have to," says the little boy.
Scout has been bothered by one of her classmates.
We'll call him Phil, because he has kind of a plain old name that's kind of like Phil. She's bothered by him because she likes him, thinks he has a goofy laugh. She seems just all around kind of fascinated by him. But he swears too much.
He goes around muttering at no one in particular but so others can hear, words like "bitch," and "shit." As he walks down the hall, he's seen surreptitiously giving people the finger, behind his back.
As I say, Scout likes Phil, and has been complaining to me often about his constant swearing.
Finally one day last week she told me she'd tried to help Phil.
"Phil," she told him, probably after a fair amount of consideration about what to say, how to say it and when, and probably after screwing up some amount of courage, "people don't like you because you swear too much."
"Fuck you," Phil said.
In my jet-setting job as editor of Vital Speeches International, I spend January and February flying around the world listening to the leaders of far-flung nations deliver various types of state-of-the-nation addresses.
No I don't.
But I do read lots of those speeches. After a while, they begin to remind me of a gathering at my corner tavern, the J&M.
I'm sitting there nursing my first Hamm's and Beam and thinking about whether I should burden my pals tonight with my harrowing business negotiations, brag to them about a fascinating story I'm reporting on lately, or entertain them with a story about how I nearly crapped my pants on the walk home the last time we were out together.
Before I can decide, New Zealand's prime minister John Key breezes in, in a terrific mood—especially for February in Chicago.
I don't usually ask people general questions about how they're doing. That's what young guys do. Older guys like me and my tavern buddies know that earnestly asking a fellow, "How are you?" is like going to Google and typing "information, please."
But Key, slapping his New Zealand dollars on the bar, seems to want to be asked. I bite: "How's New Zealand?"
"New Zealand is in good shape and getting better," Key says. "We are making great strides towards building a stronger, more prosperous country—a country where we can have a great lifestyle and earn a good income that compares well with the rest of the world."
I tell "Key-Wi," as I call him, that I'm really glad to hear it, and I begin to pass on the word from President Obama that the U.S. is doing well too these days. "The shadow of crisis has passed, Key-Wi," I tell him with a pretzel rod clenched in my teeth, "and the State of the Union in strong."
I'm about to give some happy examples when Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbot shambles in. "G'day, mate!" I holler, figuring Aussies are a pretty cheerful bunch, and if things are going great guns for New Zealand, surf must be up down under, too.
Not so much.
"These are testing times for our country," Abbot reports morosely as he pulls up a stool. "It was an anxious year for our well-being, as well as for our security." He's really feeling the pressure at home. "In troubled times, people expect more of government, not less—and we have to deliver."
I feel terrible. How could I not have remembered about the fucking Islamic death cult, the 38 Aussies who died at the hands of Russian rebels, and the fact that the sluggish Chinese economy is dragging down Australia's with it?
I can't be sure, but it looks to me like Key-Wi's look of sympathy betrays a bit of sibling smugness.
I consider diffusing the gloom with my pants-crapping story, but just then Goodluck Jonathan bangs through the door, from Nigeria. What's up, Goodluck?
Could be worse, he says, ordering a Stella Artois. "A new nation is being born because of the foundations we have all laid, working together for the good and progress of our dear fatherland."
Hey, that's cool, man! Congratulations! Yeah, that's fucking awesome, dude!
But it's never that simple with Goodluck Jonathan. Or as we call him, "Bad News" Jonathan.
If it's not hopeless government corruption with this guy, it's oil in the drinking water. If it's not the AIDS epidemic, it's Boko Haram.
Tonight, it's Boko Haram.
"Regrettably, terrorists have unleashed much pain and agony on our land. They have made widows of our mothers and sisters and orphans of our children. They have shut down businesses, desecrated places of worship and brought untold hardship to both men and women."
And on and on and on and on like that until we're all about to kill ourselves.
Key-Wi is getting impatient. He didn't come down here to hear a bunch of meaningless bitching. For that, he can drink home, with his family.
Aussie Abbot absentmindedly suggests to Goodluck that bad things happen to good people all over.
And so it goes, until we've all gotten a little drunk and I finally get a chance to tell about how I almost crapped my pants.
And we all laugh and tell more yarns and jokes and interrupt each other and feed the jukebox and go for pisses and flirt with the bartender and share crackpot theories that our wives are tired of and debate the origins of words and act like experts on things and agree and disagree and pretend to disagree and pretend to agree until last call comes, as a shock.
"One more," Goodluck says without a trace of trouble in his voice, "and we gotta go."
So, how are we, after all? As long as we can still get together and share our troubles and spout our victories and then manage forget about all of it for a few hours without starting a bar fight—I guess we're doing well enough. Looking back from closing time is like looking around the world, like looking back on the old days as the man sang here last week: "They were just a lot of people, and they were doing the best they could. They did it pretty up and walking good."
I don't know about that last part. But I think I do know about the first.