Thanks to my friend Tony Judge, who goes through phases where he sits and listens to music on YouTube, and sends stuff to me.
Thanks to my friend Tony Judge, who goes through phases where he sits and listens to music on YouTube, and sends stuff to me.
Some organizations are constitutionally incapable of rejecting business proposals. Either they struggle culturally to issue rejections, or it's worrisome politically.
So they don't say no.
Instead, they take so long not to say yes that you die waiting.
Here's how they do it:
First, they assign a young person to the task, because young people are more sociopathic than old people.
Here's how the young person goes about rejecting you.
First, the young person—and it is more often than not a young woman, because young men generally don't possess the sticktoitiveness required by the process I'm about to describe, so we'll use "her" as the pronoun—blows off your first three emails entirely. Since you send emails to her at polite, understanding intervals, this takes three weeks.
Then, after you call and leave a polite voice mail, she emails you back (because she does not talk on the phone), thanking you for the idea, agreeing in theory that it's a good one and promising to get back next week!
When you ping her next week, she tells you she is doing a “deep dive” into planning and she'll get back the week after that.
The week after that, she tells you she will bring it up at the board meeting next Thursday and she'll get back after that.
Two weeks after that, she's sorry it's taking so long, she's actually new to the board, and still getting to know all the personalities and roles!
The next week, she's going to stalk to senior leadership, and she'll circle back.
The next week it's, “Don’t hate me!”
The week after that, "The senior leaders are evaluating the idea as we speak!" Evaluation will take probably a week or two.
Three weeks later: "I'll circle back!"
Until you can't remember what you proposed in the first place, and you stop emailing.
You can't remember and you stop emailing because you're
It's called "photojournalism." Not editorial decoration, not photographic commentary, not caught-ya-pickin'-your-nose.
So if you wouldn't write a headline, "House Speaker Ryan near tears in House Chamber," then you shouldn't run this photo, which wants us to think Ryan is about to cry in the House Chamber last week after the demise of the healthcare legislation, when he was actually scratching his nose or about to sneeze.
In November I upbraided The New York Times for over-the-top headlines, like one that described President-Elect Trump's transition team as "plunged into disarray." Like words, photographs only have credibility to the extent that the people who use them to communicate do so in good faith.
Writing is a funny thing, and pleasure is a funny thing.
Eating is a pleasure, but after the first bite, you usually talk or read or gape at the TV the whole time you're doing it and the food is gone before you know it.
Vacations slip through the hourglass faster than Sunday mornings.
Songs you fall in love with become tiresome.
When I was 19, my boss told me that at his age, the most pleasurable part of his day was taking a good crap. He was in his early 30s.
I would tell you that long-distance motorcycling is a pleasure, except most of the time you are cold or bored or hungry or mad at a bug that slammed into your cheek or your ass hurts.
The only pleasure in writing is when someone smart says you've written something smart, someone honest says you've written something honest, someone funny says you've written something funny, and someone sensitive thanks you for writing something sensitive.
And you go back and you reread your piece through that person's eyes.
And you see where they're coming from, by gum: You are smart, honest, funny and sensitive.
A communication friend who is also a mother complained, "Speechwriting is like giving birth. Actually, giving birth might be easier ... they give you drugs to block the pain."
I replied, "Speechwriting is so difficult and fraught that I founded and run the Professional Speechwriters Association just to get out of doing it."
How many writers did commercials? Just Jimmy Breslin.
I usually run the Soldier Field 10 Mile race here in Chicago, so I got a promotion for this year's race, boasting of this goodie bag swag:
I think this is dumb—even though it is a Memorial Day race some of whose proceeds go to military-related charities, and even though it does start outside and finish inside Soldier Field. Isn't that enough military stuff?
People who know they cannot fathom the sacrifice of a soldier might feel weird wearing soldier gear with their spandex pants and their silly running stockings ...
You wanna wear some camo stuff, wear it all, like these warriors.
Or maybe, like a sensible peace-loving civilian, you simply don't feel like wearing military-themed garb at all—not during a Memorial Day race, or during all the days after that, when you would normally enjoy your handy, sweat-wicking Soldier 10 Mile running shirt. Maybe you don't feel that wearing camo garb is any way to express gratitude to soldiers.
I am not anti-military personally, and in fact I regularly travel with an Army Reserve backpack with my name on it, given to me by the late Lt. Col. Mark Weber, who I helped to write the memoir, Tell My Sons. I feel a little weird doing this sometimes—especially when airport personnel try to usher me through security—but the bag helps me remember Mark, and gives me a chance to tell his story to anyone who asks.
But that's my call, and it's part of my story.
I think these race organizers are being unnecessarily heavy-handed and presumptuous by issuing army-themed uniforms to tens of thousands of civilians, each of whom has a different set of attitudes toward the military.
Can you imagine it happening in any other country?
This American exceptionalism is getting lonelier and lonelier.
This article originally appeared last week at the website of Vital Speeches of the Day. —ed.
“Why didn’t the shark eat Jean Cardwell?” my first boss Larry Ragan would ask his young editors. “Professional courtesy.”
But the late publisher of Speechwriters Newsletter always told it in a way that suggested he was joking about headhunters in general, and not Cardwell herself, who was the only recruiter to use if you were looking for a speechwriter.
And whenever we’d call Cardwell to get a quote on trends in speechwriting, we understood she was no shark—and in most ways, she was a professional friend, in an era long before the Professional Speechwriters Association, and even before the Internet, when professional speechwriting friends were awfully hard to find.
Despite the fact that we are both based in Chicago, it had been about two decades since I’d last spoken with Cardwell. She had long since been supplanted as the go-to speechwriting recruiter by specialty arms of larger firms, like Heyman Associates. But when an-out-of-work speechwriter mentioned her to me recently, I realized she was still in business and I asked her to lunch.
Jean Cardwell knows a lot of things, and one of them is how to do lunch. She suggested Gibson’s Steakhouse, out near O’Hare. The reservation would be in her name. Twelve o’clock. We were both there 20 minutes early.
I’d warned her I would bring my reporter’s notebook, and she didn’t mind my launching right into the questioning about of her recruiting days, which commenced mid-career, after she left a job as a communication executive in the early 1980s.
“I’m a tryer,” she told me. And so she tried recruiting. Shedding her first name Gloria in favor of what she hoped was a more gender-neutral middle name, she made visits to then-corporate HQ-heavy Pittsburgh and Houston, where she found her first client: Exxon. “I thought, ‘I’m the smallest company in the world and they’re the largest,’” she said. They made a good match, and Cardwell went on to conduct searches for speechwriters and other communication positions for Exxon, Mobil, and a number of other oil companies.
The large recruiting firms were content to leave communication recruiting to Cardwell, because, she says, “they considered it beneath them.”
Cardwell came to own it—and she kept on owning it for years, even after the Internet “made it a totally different game.” She continued to do all her business on the phone and in person, trading on her ability to do more than find bodies for speechwriting roles, but to assess the chemistry that’s so crucial between a speechwriter and a client and a corporate culture.
She prided herself, and still does, on her willingness to speak to any speechwriter who called. She would offer advice, counsel the speechwriter on a résumé—and she’d definitely pick up the phone to talk to a reporter from Speechwriter’s Newsletter, no matter how young and clumsy he was. “I hope that even when I was at my very busiest that I was never too busy to take time to speak to people,” she says.
And she especially liked talking to speechwriters. “They were the nerds!” she said. Far from the glad-handing “people persons” who dominated PR departments, speechwriters were erudite, literary and more monk-like than they are now. “They were sitting in a room with an IBM typewriter!”
And that’s actually how speechwriters were evaluated at some companies. At Mobil in particular, she remembers a prospective recruit named Mike O’Malley being given a stack of paper and a typewriter and a speech assignment to write on the spot. He got the job, and went on to a long and successful career at the company—a career chronicled by the PSA white paper, “What Is a Speechwriter?”
Cardwell said she always encouraged speechwriters to “see the big picture,” and find ways to serve CEOs beyond merely by writing speeches, because that was the best way to move up. “But a lot of them had blinders on,” she lamented, adding that she often wished they would take bigger risks in their careers—as she felt she had, by starting her recruiting business. “They were so talented,” she said.
Along the way, Cardwell began an unlikely moonlighting business, dealing in antique jewelry, where she also made some money. She felt her two careers had something in common—looking for treasure.
When I told her I was looking forward to telling some veteran speechwriters that I’d had lunch with Jean Cardwell, she exclaimed, “Tell them I love them!”
Henry David Thoreau said the man who goes “constantly and desperately to the post-office … has not heard from himself this long while.”
And so it is with a blogger, checking his traffic. Light traffic is disappointing, heavy traffic is thin gruel—and after eight years of daily posts, traffic patterns are predictable and not terribly instructive.
One bit of excitement comes when by checking the “Referring Address” details, I occasionally note that some single person gorged on a bunch of my posts in a single sitting, over the course of an hour or more.
Who could it have been? Typepad offers no clue. And so every time, I am forced to consider the whole range of possibilities:
• David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker, on a desperate late-night search for fresh talent, realizes he has just discovered his own E.B. White. Remnick hasn’t reached out to me quite yet, because he hasn’t figured out a way to break the bad news to Ian Frazier.
• Kate Upton, wondering what a real man writes like.*
• A new business contact has stumbled onto Writing Boots, and is just blown away by my depth and humor, and decides that doing business with me is definitely a good idea.
• A family member or a friend who has been too busy to read the blog, is catching up on the latest posts with pleasure because it’s almost like having me in the room.
• A family member or a friend who will soon be a guest in my home is catching up on the blog out of a sense of duty.
• An old person somewhere is in too much pain to sleep.
• The programmer of a bot from Ukraine mistook “Boots” for “Boobs.”
• I am about to be sued for some reason, and a paralegal has been instructed to scour all 2,600 posts I’ve ever written to establish a pattern of asshole-ism. (After reading about a dozen posts, the paralegal feels he’s got more than enough material.)
• I drank a fifth of Old Overholt last night and sat with my laptop, clicking on my posts and cackling at my own prose, until I cried myself to sleep.
In the end, it does not matter. In the end, a writer responds to success or failure, obscurity or fame of any size by doing one thing—more writing.
* (This item added this afternoon, by my ghostwriter.)