My niece Brooke, when she was two years old, knew when the adults were pulling her leg. "Granddaddy," she'd say, "you're talking jellybeans."
Microsoft is looking for an executive communication professional “to drive a compelling and consistent executive storytelling framework, create and manage high impact keynote productions, and coordinate the delivery of powerful demos which best showcase our exciting product lines.” Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
As a leading expert in leadership communication and the revered facilitator of Leadership Communication Days 2014 (which you'd be an utter asshat not to attend, in Houston, Oct. 23-24)—I probably should pretend that I know exactly how to "drive" a "compelling and consistent executive storytelling framework."
But I confess! I don't! When it comes to "executive storytelling frameworks," I don't know the rhetorical clutch pedal from the figurative steering wheel from the metaphorical gear shifter!
Do you? Prove it!
Otherwise, we're going to have to face facts: Microsoft, you're talking jellybeans.
This is a note to Facebook friends—yours and mine—who post their political opinions more frequently than, say, once a month.
Hey, once a month I understand. It's a maddening political landscape for each of us, and every once in awhile, the straw breaks the camel's back and you're the camel. Other times, you stumble across a truly brilliant article that happens to crystalize your thoughts perfectly, and you think your political allies will appreciate it (and maybe you even allow yourself to hope your opponents will be moved by it). And occasionally—in the rarest of rare cases—you actually encounter an idea or an article that you genuinely believe could galvanize your Facebook friends, and you offer it looking for earnest discussion.
But if you post about politics more than once a month—or like a number of my Facebook friends, several times a week—I'm thinking you've become infected by one or more of the following misguided ideas:
1. I believe the world needs another regular political pundit. Bill O'Reilly, Rachael Maddow, Chris Matthews, Charles Krauthammer, Ann Coulter, Lawrence O'Donnell, Al Sharpton, Rush Limbaugh, David Brooks, Maureen Dowd, Bill Maher, Sean Hannity, Charles Blow, Michael Savage, Donna Brazille, Bill Kristol and Noam Chomsky—well, these folks are terrific. But it's a good thing I'm around, to put everything in perspective for my 119 Facebook friends.
2. I have lots of anger inside me, and I can't keep it in (I gotta let it out). I had a rough upbringing, I got downsized because I am white and old, I haven't become everything my mother thought I'd be. I'm seething most of the time. So every day, I post political opinions in hopes that other angry people—or people at the end of their ropes, or shut-ins—will spar with me, so that I don't wind up beating my fiancee in an elevator. I beat my Facebook friends instead.
3. I believe that having strong opinions and broadcasting them often is a sign of intelligence. Do I have interests other than politics? Sure I do! I love trains and music and baseball and taking long bike hikes on backroads! Do I actually think about politics all that much? Actually, I haven't exactly thought about politics since college! But I'd rather post about what I hate than about what I love ... because I don't want people thinking I'm just some mild-mannered schlub who's just trying to make a living like everybody else. (I don't always post on Facebook, but when I do, I prefer to post about politics. I'm the most opinionated man in the world.)
4. "I'm doing my little part." This one I put in quote marks, because I believe that this self-deceiving, disingenuous humble-brag to oneself actually runs through the heads of the profuse political Facebook posters in just these phony words. Do you truly believe that you have Facebook friends who are at once vaguely interested in politics and so hard up for the opinions you're foisting that God in heaven is grateful for the service you are doing to your country? "That's why I put old Fred on the Earth," God says, pouring himself a gin and tonic. "Would that all my children spread their political prejudices with the kind of efficiency and verve that Fred does."
Unless you're actually doing original political reporting or scholarship in political science or history, the only "little part" you're doing is contributing to the shitty, bitter sibling rivalry-style arguments that make Americans believe, falsly, that we don't understand each other.
Don't make me come back there.
Tomorrow is my oldest sister Cindy's 67th birthday. I don't know what to give her. But here's what she gave me earlier this summer: She came to my house, and took my grandfather GaGa’s ghost home with her.
Cindy was here in Chicago for the weekend, visiting from her home in Denver. She retired about a year ago from a high-powered career as an executive at several big-city nonprofits.
My three other sisters, who live in Colorado and see Cindy frequently, had been telling me she’s a different person since she retired. My sister Piper had forwarded me a light and loving email exchange she’d had with Cindy “just to give you a sense of how happy (and adorable) Cindy is these days.”
And beaming with energy—as I found out during her visit.
In three days, she planted a vegetable garden for my 10-year-old daughter and showed her how to take care of it. Then she attended my daughter’s soccer game, and asked her a million sincere questions about how she plays the game.
She accompanied me to a University of Chicago literary festival.
She took our car across town to visit the son of a terminally ill friend of hers.
She gently offered cooking tips while praising the surprisingly edible results of my amateurish efforts in the kitchen.
She happily helped me put on a dinner party for another friend of mine, also visiting from out of town.
She stayed up late one night with my teacher wife, talking about education.
She stayed up late another night with me, talking about our family and its history.
Inevitably, we talked about our father, and our father’s father, GaGa, who died before I was born. Charles Murray had been a top executive at a steel company in a steel town, during the boom years of the 1920s and 30s and 40s and 50s. A life of urgent trips to Washington in Pullman cars. Of union representatives arriving at the back door to speak in hushed tones. Of ribbon cuttings at libraries with the company name on them. President Truman asked him to go to Europe in 1946 to assess what was needed to rebuild Germany's devastated industry.
And then retirement. Mr. Murray moved out of the steel town where he’d been so important and relocated to Florida, as Charlie. To pay back his long-suffering corporate wife. “It’s her turn,” GaGa told my father.
When GaGa came back north to visit, he hid bottles of Old Grand-Dad bourbon all over the house. When Cindy and her close-sister Susan—they are actually my half-sisters; Piper and I are from my father’s second marriage—visited their grandparents in Florida, they remember urine all around the toilet, because GaGa, drunk, had lost his aim. An older cousin remembers GaGa standing over the kitchen sink repeatedly washing down shots of bourbon with glasses of water, to brace himself for a family dinner.
GaGa drank and smoked himself into a throat-cancer death within a few years after his retirement.
“I just remember thinking he was lonely,” Cindy told me during our late-night talk.
I thought everyone who retired felt that way, I said. Lonely and useless and left behind. Work is what makes us participants in the planet. Quit working, and you have quit life. I understood exactly what happened to GaGa, and resolved never, ever, ever to retire.
But now here comes my sister Cindy. She sits on a few local boards and she does a little consulting work, which, she acknowledges, helps her feel important. She takes long trips abroad with her photographer husband. She answers family emails promptly and thoroughly and sometimes elaborately, and doesn’t expect the same in return from her younger, working siblings. She sends us detailed and thoughtful recommendations about books and movies, and she doesn’t ask us whether we’ve followed them. She says she is “overwhelmed” with things she wants to do every day, and jokes that she spends whole days just reading, watching, researching and cooking from suggestions gleaned from that morning’s New York Times. She says her husband shakes his head at her constant activity.
When I first told Cindy how good her retirement looks to us, she scoffed a little. “Right. I’m not sitting on the back porch in my brown suit and tie drinking Old Grand-Dad. In fact, I’m hardly drinking at all now that I quit working.”
But she didn’t disagree when I told her that the anxiety that attended her personality when she was working and juggling kids, friendships, intellectual pursuits and hobbies with a demanding career—that all that tense energy now seemed channeled toward curiosity, enthusiasm and openness. Which had an effect on me; the weekend she was here, she casually told me things I’d never heard before, and I heard myself telling her things about my life and my feelings she never knew. (And maybe I didn’t, either.)
GaGa’s story was a good cautionary tale. But as I try to incorporate into my thinking the more optimistic story of my big sister Cindy, I’m starting to think I read the warning wrong. It didn’t say, Don’t ever retire, because you won’t know what to do with yourself.
It said something much more demanding than that. It said, Live your whole life in a way that, when you stop working full time, you’ll know exactly what to do with yourself.
Before we turned in, after midnight, I asked her how she figured this out. She shrugged. She just did.
If I ever manage to retire, and do so gracefully, maybe my daughter will ask me how I learned to live happily ever after. I’ll tell her: Your Aunt Cindy showed me how.
Photo credit: Brother-in-law and fine photographer John Abramson, who probably deserves some of the credit for Cindy's happiness too.
Today's Friday video is an encore presentation of a Writing Boots post from 2009. This is the resignation of President Richard Nixon—Aug. 8, 1974, 40 years ago today—from set-up and rehearsal, through the speech itself. As I observed in the original post: Veteran communicators will find as familiar as strange, the incongruity between profound public moment and backstage banality.
Apropos of a beer-garden conversation I had last weekend—the umpteenth such conversation I've had over the years—about a young employee who has probably stayed too long her first job ...
How many verities we endure from our elders—and how many truths our elders, for their own reasons, hold back. One of the most reliable rules of thumb I know, I had to learn for myself—because nobody told me about it. Somebody should have. So now I'm telling you.
I worked at a small publishing company from the time I was 23 until I was 31. I started as an editorial assistant, became the editor of the flagship publication, took over as editorial director and then helped the company start a consulting practice.
I learned most of what I know professionally at that place, and much of what I know intellectually. I built my whole Chicago life from people I met at there. I have hundreds of rich stories to tell about the firm—so many that its CEO thinks there's a New Yorker piece in it if I'll only sit down and write it. Maybe he's right.
But by the time I left, I despised the place. Despised the CEO, disdained the CFO, loathed the marketing chief and mocked my colleagues and myself for having given over so much of our minds and souls to this small-time outfit. Every meeting was the same bad, ad-libbed play, day after day. At 31, I felt 60—bored, unmotivated, cynical and over the hill.
Leaving wasn't easy, because in my demoralized state, I couldn't have anticipated that I would regain enough youthful energy and courage to make a go in an unfamiliar place. A colleague implored me to stay. I remember my blood turning into poison as I told him through clenched teeth, "Haven't you ever just soured on a place?"
The day I left, I despised the place.
The day after, I despised it no more. It was suddenly just a publishing company, with its strengths and weaknesses, its odd culture and nutty personalities and market realities.
The company wasn't out to smother my dreams. It was out to survive. And if my dreams were being smothered by working there, it was up to me to survive.
All this came so crystal clear so quickly—and has only become more so in the 14 years since I left there, as I've gotten to know other companies and noted that they all have foibles: some are all sales and no product, some are all product and no sales, some hire dumb amiable people, others hire brilliant crazies, some cater to the phistine masses and others to the arrogant elite. Some are more agreeable to work for than others, but all are what they are: And what they are has nothing to do with me.
But one company's foibles, when they are all you have known in your whole career, are personal affronts, terribly unjust and outrageous stunters of your growth, crimpers of your style ... cheaply made and arbitrarily set governor switches on your limitless professional potential!
You cannot separate your disappointment in your own career from your dissatisfaction with the company that has both spawned and contained your career.
Until the day you leave the company, and go to work for another one—or a number of other ones, as a contractor. You will never loathe (nor probably love) another company like the first one you gave your heart to. You'll be a cooler and wiser head. This one extra point of reference will transform your view of work from two dimensions into three, will double your emotional intelligence quotient.
The trouble is, there is no other way to learn this. I'm not saying, "Stay at your company because the grass isn't necessarily greener on the other side." I'm saying just the opposite: You'll never know anything about the color of grass until you've seen at least two different fields.
So, Twenty-Something Who Hates Your Company: Leave!
Thinking of moving to Chicago? You should!
I'm sure you've seen our police department's recent report that we've only had 203 murders so far this year. How awesome is that?!
And it's not just the cops. All the people here are on the ball—and together, we have everything under control.
I'll give you an example from my own neighborhood. A neighbor used the Ukrainian Village Neighborhood Watch Facebook page to ask for advice.
"This is not an emergency post," she acknowledged, "but we have so many rats around us."
My condo and balcony face the alley and I see them all over! They come in my yard, climb in my flower boxes, etc.
I heard a neighbor got two cats to help solve the problem but it's not doing anything. Last year we bought the rat box with the poison (it basically dehydrates them because they are always thirsty) but even that isn't working. I can hear and see them fighting when I try to enjoy a glass of wine on my balcony. Ugh it's more stress.
I know it's city living, but these things are huge! And there are lots of babies this summer too. … What are other people doing to keep them away?
Her neighbors scurried in to offer their suggestions:
I caught one a couple weeks ago in a trap by the tail. Unfortunately, it didn't die, so we called 311 to help us dispose of it. They sent 3 people out (2 days later) …
We bought a battery powered "rat zapper" to use in our yard a couple years ago. It works well, but you do have to dispose of the beasts after they are zapped...
Chili pepper maybe. I use the Black and Decker plug ins that give off a high frequency sound. Works well with bugs and mice, not sure about rats. But it's worth a try. Safe for pets too
Wrap the poison in raw hamburger & they are goners.
Just be conscious of any feral kitties, they will ingest poison if it's in something they can get into.
I was told if you see any holes, stuff steel wool down them. They eat it trying to get out and it rips up their digestive track and they die in the hole. Gross to think about, but I too worry about killing cats and dogs with poison.
Get rid of food sources, namely open garbage and a big one: dog poop (they love it).
I don't think dog poop is the problem considering there is dog poop ALL over the neighborhood. If rats loved it so much, there wouldn't be the concern about stepping in it on a parkway or other areas as the ravenous rats that love dog poop would devour it ALL. Then rats would serve a purpose. There is a reason that the plastic garbage bins in the alleys have chew marks & holes in the lids or base of the containers. Those containers hold the repas de choix. Why eat dog poop when there are better meals??
A few years ago I called 311 and asked for help after the City baited the alley and the rats started living in our yard. The City sent an inspector who gave us a citation for "harboring rats" and gave us a hearing date. No kidding.
We have had big problems with daytime rats because their nests are getting so crowded. Not anymore. First thing that I do is find the holes. I then fill the holes with "just one bite" Farnam Home & Garden. After a day or two, you will see rats wandering around dazed by the poison. After a few days, you will see far less rats.
Adopt an older cat that is used to the outdoors. Keep water and some shelter near your property, but let Mr Whiskers fight this battle. If you keep up your end (shelter, warmth, some food and a place to call "home"), I bet your new champ takes care of business.
We have cats in the neighborhood. All they do is poop on our property which brings rats and flies.
I read that male urine keeps them away, so have at it guys! :)
Q. How do you kill rats in Chicago?
A. You don't. You just piss them off.