Before day camp.
Mom: "What are you going to do when the mean girls start bossing you around today?"
Scout: "They're not going to. They shunned me."
Mom: "Oh, right."
Here's the epic story of Scout's and my blue-highway journey from Bozeman, Mont., up through Glacier National Park, across the lonely "Hi-Line" road across northern Montana, into North Dakota, down through South Dakota and back to Chicago. Join us as we trespass on private land, try to derail a train, and screw around with lots of wild animals.
I recently returned from a long road trip with 10-year-old Scout. We had the time of our lives.
Across Montana, North and South Dakotas, Nebraska and Iowa, pretty much everybody we interacted with for more than a moment remarked on how much fun we seemed to be having, and what a good idea it was to take such a trip, just the two of us.
And then, if they were middle-aged (and in the West, most hotel workers, hotel employees, gas station clerks and waitresses are), they inevitably turned to me and added something to the effect of, and not much more subtle than, "Enjoy this time, because she's going to hate you soon, and she'll keep on hating you until she's in her twenties."
I wanted to say, "Thanks. I hope you enjoy this time too, Marge, because in just a few years, you're going to be suffering from some combination of heart disease, arthritis, and premature senility."
My dad remembered sailing into the port at Le Havre, France in WWII, and passing another ship carrying soldiers back from the front. The grizzled veterans (all still 19, of course), yelled across to the terrified greenhorns, "You'll be sorry!"
Is that the filthy and familiar human impulse that these parents are indulging in when they warn me that the very light of my life will soon go black, perhaps to re-ignite someday in the distant future?
Or are they really just hoping that I appreciate the happiness I have, because maybe they didn't know what they had until it was gone.
Well, I do know what I've got. I've got a beaming powerplant of enthusiasm and curiousity, brightness and love. And what I've got is standing right here and listening to you—and you, and you, and you, and you—tell her that despising her parents through her teen years is inevitable (and hence, not despising them would be deviant).
I'm sorry you had such a hard time with your kids, but I don't need the warning, and Scout doesn't either. You can tell by her uncomfortable and confused smile. And mine.
At the first World Conference of the Professional Speechwriters Association in May, the notion surfaced of a "speechwriter's code of ethics." The notion struck me as both intellectually intriguing, and a promising concept for an article in The Onion.
I was put in mind of the idea yesterday, when I read writer Amy Westervelt's public vow to stop writing "content" for companies, in part because "I’m tired of making rich, white dudes seem more thoughtful than they are. Yeah, I said it."
Westervelt decries the "usual 'let them eat cake' attitude corporate types have toward creative types in general ('I know! Why don’t we hire a journalist to write this think-piece? They’re all desperate for cash, they’d be happy to take this on for way less than we pay anyone else.')"
It’s not that I don’t see the value in executives writing about their perspectives and their work. I’ve worked with plenty of really smart CEOs (that’s why I took these gigs in the first place), and their take on things is interesting and well worth a read, especially in business publications. I’d just prefer to see them writing more of it themselves (okay maybe with some help—let’s face it, not everyone can string sentences together convincingly), and sticking to their own areas of expertise. I’d also like to see less space being given to these stories than to unbiased, reported work. These pieces should flow naturally as an outgrowth of a person’s experience and expertise, they should not be a whole additional job for either the executive or, as is the case now, the person they hire to impersonate them. The trouble really begins when marketing departments and PR firms push CEOS for a blog post a week—that’s something no CEO worth his or her corner office has time for, nor should they—and when they get sucked into thinking they need to philosophize on topics well outside their purview.
I don't disagree with a word she says. She's right. As a writer and just as a citizen, it's bad to live in a media marketplace where underpaid (and under-experienced) writers are inventing brilliant messages for CEOs in compliance with a command that a speechwriter once called, "Write down my ideas as if I had them."
But the thing is, we don't live in such a world. Yet. (Do we?) In the world I live in, anyway, CEOs are reluctant pundits who don't hire starving journalists to write their speeches, op/eds and blog posts, but who use speechwriters to do so. When CEOs give the speechwriters access to their calendars and to their minds, they wind up looking as interesting in public as they are in person, and slightly more polished. When they shut their speechwriter out, they wind up spouting platitudes that no one listens to.
What they definitely don't do is mouth compelling or influential ideas conceived by writers out of whole cloth.
Writing for executives is often a pain in the ass that people put up with because it pays. So I understand Westervelt's decision to "never again pen a 'thought leadership' piece or a corporate blog post. I refuse to have even one more conversation in which I explain to a publicist or CEO why I will not connect them with editors I know, or why it would be impossible for their 'contributed content' to appear in The New Yorker. I can’t take it anymore."
Good for Westervelt.
But just because CEOs are often dumb about media and thoughtless about communication ... well, that doesn't mean they don't deserve communication counsel. It means they deserve better, and more assertive counsel. That will come not from journalists taking a content gig to make a buck, but from people—among them ex-journalists—who have given themselves over more fully to the task of making good leadership communication.
"Maybe if we all jump off the 'content' bandwagon," Westervelt concludes a bit pollyannaishly, "maybe CEOs and their publicists will stop worrying about establishing themselves as thought leaders in the media, and actually be thought leaders. You know, in their actual industries, writing one or two really thoughtful, great pieces per year."
Well, that would be great. But it's probably not going to happen. And if it does, it won't be because one or many struggling journalists stopped ghostwriting for CEOs, though I generally agree that they should do so.
No, an improvement in leadership communication will happen when a few serious speechwriters begin having honest conversations with their CEOs, about sustainable thought leadership. More on this concept later. But meanwhile, thanks to Amy Westervelt for a thoughtful post about a personal decision. May her byline proliferate.
From a DNAinfo story last month:
They'll call the 138,000-square-foot indoor sports training facility with a $15 million price tag, the Pullman Community Center.
But really, it's way more than that, Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) said.
"This is a game-changer all day long because of what it will do for the development of kids in the area," Beale said.
If the Pullman Community Center is a game-changer all day long, then it must also be the biggest no-brainer in the history of the universe, am I right?
The crew at Writing Boots is off on a six-state summer ramble.
Cristie and I are driving 1,500 miles west to celebrate our 20-year annniversary and attend a family reunion. And then Scout and I are driving a couple thousand miles east (winding around on blue highways) on a field trip designed to teach her, at the very least, that we live in a large country.
She and I might do some posting here. Or we might not.
In any case, we're back in mid-July. May you find some wide open spaces of your own this summer. —DM
"I'm not mad at all that you've planned a motorcycle trip right before our family trip."
"No. But you would be so mad if I did something like that."
"Oh yeah. You'd be madder than hell."
"Are you mad that I would be mad if you did something like this?"
"Yes, I guess I am."
"You're mad at something the hypothetical me would hypothetically feel toward the hypothetical you."
"Seems like it might just be easier to be mad at me for the real thing, doesn't it?"
"Yeah, I guess that's right."
"When a word goes into universe it doesn't go away. It reverberates around the universe forever." So said speaker coach Jeff Ansell, at the World Conference of the Professional Speechwriters Association.
Or as my old man used to say, "You can say what you want with a slide trombone, but with words, you've got to be careful."
My daughter Scout received a related lesson from her teacher Mr. Johnson, about bullying. He told her class that he had been bullied as a child, been called names. Then he held up a piece of paper, and crumpled it up. Then he uncrumpled it. He said the names he had been called are like the lines in the uncrumpled paper.
"They never go away," he said.
"Dad, isn't that brilliant?" Scout said that evening. "There's no better way of explaining about bullies than that!"
I'm not positive words stay in the universe forever. But I'll be damned if I can figure out how they would get out. So we should probably behave as if they do.
"opinionated" (Old-School English): perjorative, meaning a person who has an opnion on every issue no matter how far afield from his or her personal experience, and (what's more) who feels obligated to express that opinion, lest ignorant companions continue to grope through darkness without benefit of the world's only true light.
"opinionated" (Modern English): What does it mean? Tell us what you think!