How To Be Impressive When You’re Failing

Failing and impressing in publicIf you’re a risk-taking extrovert like most Manic Impressives, you’re bound to find yourself screwing up at times. These are moments that test your ability to thrive, even when your mistakes are out loud and very public. So it’s important for folks like us to know how to be impressive even when we’re failing.

Case In Point

If you show some talent with words and audiences, at some point you will be asked to get up in front of a large group to speak. Even if you find yourself failing at this, you can do it in a way that is impressive.

Like when my friend asked me to read a bible passage at her wedding. It was going to be a big formal church thing, so I showed up at the rehearsal with the passage marked in my bible. At the appropriate time, I got up and did my part.  The pastor told me that during the wedding, I would actually be reading from the giant bible on the lectern. It would be opened to the right page and the passage would be marked. Cool.

Holy Crap, I’m Failing!

But during the actual wedding, I got up to the lectern and found that every passage was marked in the giant bible. Holy Crap, what am I going to do? I scanned every part of the opened page, then flipped ahead a couple pages to see if someone had accidentally turned to the wrong page.

There was a polite “ahem” from the pastor, calling my attention to the passing time. I looked up, scanned the audience, gulped, and realized I would just have to pick a passage and go. With a thousand eyes trained on me, I chose something and began to read.

If you’re playing along at home, you can probably see it coming. Yes, it’s true.  I read a funeral passage at my friend’s wedding.

Funny Thing About That…

Two heads immediately jerked my way when I launched into a most inappropriate message for a wedding. I did my best to ignore the daggers stared at me from the pastor and the mother of the bride.

I soldiered on, finished my part, and sat down in shame. Hey, the show must go on, right? I’d suffer the consequences after.

But that’s not what happened. Immediately after the ceremony, the bride’s brother-in-law came up to me and congratulated me on my reading. “Aram, wow, that sure was a dramatic pause up there. You had us all hanging on every word!”

Not what I was expecting. Shamefully I confessed I had not paused for dramatic effect. I was totally lost and panicking in front of the packed church, not knowing what to do. He pointed out that no one seemed to notice and I had read beautifully. “Good job, Aram!”

Three Keys To Being Impressive While Failing

Looking back, there were three key things I had going for me that day. These key qualities will serve you well when you’re panicking in front of an audience, knowing you may be about to blunder.

Composure

If you’ve so far managed not to pass out or vomit, acknowledge that you’re going to be okay (there’s no recovering from unconsciousness or barf). The most important thing to do in a failing situation is to keep it together and keep moving.

Stand your ground, stick to your message, and deliver as best you can. If you can keep your composure in difficult moments and not draw more attention to your mistakes, you can still be in position to impress.

Confidence

You’re going to need this just to get up there, and you can’t get good at performing in front of others if you don’t get up onstage.

So you need to cultivate a healthy bit of confidence – enough to develop your capability and withstand the shame or ridicule that can come from failing in public.

Character

Difficult moments don’t necessarily build character. But they certainly reveal character. If you are a person of integrity and can own your mistakes, people will respect you just for that. You may not be their first call for the next speaking gig, but you can still impress them with your character.

So showing a little humility is good, but flogging yourself isn’t. Take your mistakes in stride and you’ll live to tell great stories to your grandchildren. Most every great speaker or entertainer lives through some public failure, and they often use their mistakes to entertain and enlighten future audiences.

Failing Is Relative

I endured some gentle ribbing from my performance, and yes, the mother of the bride and the pastor held it against me to some extent.

But not in the way you might think.

Many years later, at the mother of the bride’s funeral, the family asked me to do a bible reading at her ceremony.

If you’re playing along at home, you can probably see it coming. Yes, it’s true, I read a wedding passage at my friend’s mother’s funeral.

But not by mistake. By request. 

Everyone Loves A Tale Of Redemption

My wedding screw up was part of my friend’s family lore. They had enjoyed this story so much, my friend asked me to read the wrong passage on purpose. In honor of her mother.

It was one of the kindest things a person could do.  My friend gifted me the chance to redeem myself publicly. And in the spirit of the event, I managed to savor this very inside joke right along with them. And maybe even impress (or confuse) another packed house in that very same church.

So when you’re going down in flames, keep your composure and don’t draw any more attention to your mistakes. Tap into your inner confidence, and take the opportunity to reveal your character.

You just might end up impressing people because, not in spite, of your failing.

All because of Lucy. My deepest thanks to the dearest friend a guy could ever have.

 

My Surefire Method To Kill Opportunity

I just got off the phone with a business owner interviewing me for an executive coaching role with his company. A great opportunity, I really wanted impress. But halfway through the call, I realized I was about to kill opportunity.

I was talking waaaaay too much. 

My Surefire Method To Kill Opportunity

As skilled as I am at creating opportunity with words. I am equally skilled at killing opportunity with words. Too many words.

Being Manic Impressive means being good with words. Using them to inspire, enlighten, cajole and entertain. We are schmoozers and storytellers gifted in the verbal arts. We use words to charm and delight our prospects, and influence them to act on our behalf.

But too much of a good thing is very often a bad thing.

The Double-Edged Sword

Eloquent words are great weaponry in most aspects of life. But like any weapon used incorrectly, words can inflict a lot of damage to yourself.  I happen to be very good at stabbing myself this way.

I’m like a ninja assassin. But I’m constantly taking me out.

It starts out great, with me passionately answering questions and giving great examples and stories of how awesome I am. And yes, in a job interview, you do need to sell yourself.

But I often don’t know when to stop selling. And overselling, like talking too much, can be deadly when it comes to opportunity.

Talking Yourself Out Of A Deal

In my early sales training with Xerox, one of the basic concepts they preached was knowing when to make an offer and then to shut up. “Don’t talk yourself out of a deal”, they would say.

Of course, I understood the concept, in theory. But a few years later, I would fail in real-time to succeed in the practice.

After three months of knocking on doors to sell training for a new company, I finally landed an appointment with a key decision-maker. If I could close this guy, I’d get a big account that would get our new firm successfully off the ground.

Things were going great, but for some reason, I was oblivious to all the buying signals this guy was giving off. I kept pushing and kept talking. Until he finally actually said, “Hey, are you going to talk yourself out of this deal? I already said yes. Please stop selling me!”

A Lesson I Have To Keep Repeating

This guy did me a huge favor. Talk about “teachable moment!” The lesson he taught me was worth far more than the two years of business I got through the contract he signed.

But despite all that, I find myself all these years later, still having to remind myself to keep it brief. Make the point, ask for the business and shut the hell up.

Or as in the case of an interview, answer the question and move on. Don’t belabor the point. One good example is enough. A solid story to show what you can do. Be brief, and you’ll give them more time to ask you more questions.  Then you can tell more (short) stories that prove your worth.

But if you, like me, cross that invisible line by talking too much, you might test their patience.  And you never want them to start wondering if you’ll be more trouble than you’re worth.

Don’t Kill Opportunity Like Me

Be smart. Choose your words wisely and don’t overwhelm people with them. Know when to ask for what you want, and then, SHUT UP! Let the other person respond without jumping in to fill the silence.

Silence can be your best friend. Lord knows I need him with me now.

Sittin On The Dock Of The Lake At Spring Break

Spring Break At The Lake
Sittin On The Dock Of Donner Lake

Whenever your Spring Break is, I hope you get to spend it in as beautiful a place as this. I spent this afternoon sittin’ on the dock of Donner Lake, reminiscing about how things used to be.

Growing up, this week was always our Spring Break. A week off from school that started at Church on Palm Sunday and ended at Church on Easter Sunday. Only we never called it Spring Break. We knew it as Easter Vacation.

And we didn’t go anywhere. No trips to Cancun, Daytona or South Padre Island. No Girls Gone Wild, wet t-shirt or chugging contests. We just played outside until the streetlights came on and we had to go inside for dinner. Daylight Savings Time was reason enough to celebrate.

Raised On Religious Traditions

On Palm Sunday we got little crosses made from palm leaves. Not much fun to play with, but we could always count on a big haul on Easter morning.  We’d wake up to baskets with plastic grass, plastic eggs filled with jelly beans and football-shaped chocolates wrapped in foil, with a hollow chocolate Easter Bunny centerpiece.

After Church, being Armenian Orthodox, there was the cracking of eggs to look forward to. We would dye eggs during the week with our Paas coloring kits, then smash them against each other in an ancient competitive ritual.

Then off to a great meal with family and friends, often, for some reason, featuring a giant ham. We ate pig like pigs, then gorged on jelly beans and chocolate.

Not For Everyone

In the white suburbs of the ’60’s and 70’s where I grew up, everyone obeyed the Christian calendar. The only weeklong breaks we had during the school year were for Christmas and Easter. Jewish kids were an anomaly with their Hanukkah and Passover. And since there were no Hindus, Muslims or Atheists to consider, we all marched to the beat of the same drummer.

So we went on Christmas vacation at the end of the year and wished everyone a Merry Christmas. We took our Easter Vacation in March or April and wished everyone Happy Easter.

But looking back, it was pretty exclusive. As long as you were a Christian, you were part of the club and invited to the party. But if you were of a different faith, you were simply ignored. No one cared about your traditions. You were different. You were the Other.

Manic Impressive As Other

Being the kid who couldn’t stop blurting things out, who saw things quite differently than other kids, whose name they would never pronounce correctly, I often felt different. I often felt the way the Jewish kids must have felt during our public school’s Christmas pageant. Or how Hindus, Muslims or Atheists would feel in a town where everyone celebrated Christian holidays publicly without regard to other traditions.

My “otherness” often caused me to feel out-of-place and out of step. Perhaps a bit the way a  celebrant of Rosh Hashanah or Ramadan would have felt in my hometown back in the ’60’s and ’70’s.

Being Manic Impressive can make you feel like an outsider at times. It can cause you to stifle your natural tendencies in order to fit in. You can be punished by the status quo, or left out when everyone else is playing their reindeer games.

Being Manic Impressive can be very lonely.

Tradition vs. Diversity

Though American society talks a good game when it comes to diversity, it still favors the traditional over the diverse. White people still have a huge advantage over people of color. And people who conform to the norm get hired and promoted far more easily than those who don’t.

H.R. departments use personality tests and interview questions designed to screen you out if you’re different. They purposefully look for people who are compliant instead of creative. They say they want innovators with strong leadership skills, but they really don’t.

Companies don’t want Manic Impressives. They want polite, obedient, Passive Aggressives, that will put up with anything for a paycheck. People who will defend the status quo and not step out of line. They don’t want you messy, non-conforming, original thinkers.

So it’s important for us to look out for each other. We need to help each other find places where we can leverage our strengths and not be excluded because we’re different.

And like my Jewish friends who celebrate Christmas by eating Chinese and going to the movies, we Manics need our own traditions. We need to be okay with zagging when everyone else is zigging.

So Enjoy Your Spring Break…

Like I’m enjoying mine. I’ll be skiing tomorrow, then eating ham at Easter dinner after stealing jelly beans from my kid’s Easter basket.

Though I reminisce about the traditions of the good ‘ol days, I’m glad we celebrate more inclusively these days. I’m glad we say Happy Holidays so as not to exclude those who don’t celebrate Christmas. I’m glad to go on Spring Break instead of Easter Vacation.

And I’m very glad we value diversity by being aware that there are other religions in our society, and people who don’t believe in any religion, and they all deserve our respect.

That’s why I’m especially glad for Festivus. While the majority may enjoy their traditions, there should always be something good for the rest of us.

 

 

 

3 Weird Things That Happened In My Lifetime

We're all a little weird...
Robert Fulghum

By some people’s standards, Manic Impressives are weird. We challenge cultural norms and don’t behave the way other people think we should. But to me, weird is often good. Sometimes even great. Like these 3 weird things that happened in my life.

‘Weird’ may not be the right word to describe these things. ‘Amazing’ may be a better word, or even ‘cool’.  But weird ranked higher on the headline analyzer app I use, so we’re going with that. 

George Benson Thought He Knew Me 

I was new to town when a friend took me to The Baked Potato, a famous jazz club in L.A. We got seats, and I went to look around.

Suddenly, a big dude with the largest hands I have ever seen jumped out at me. He grabbed my hand, pumped it up and down and said, “Hey EeVon, it’s me, George!”

A bit stunned, I looked up at this big fellah and said to myself, “holy crap, George Benson thinks he knows me!”

“Sorry, George,” I finally say. “My name is Aram, not EeVon. ”

Then he tells me about this dude EeVon. What a bad cat he was, how he wrote a song for his album and was the Stevie Wonder of Brazil.

For you young folks, George Benson is a 10 time Grammy winning jazz guitarist, with a star on Hollywood Boulevard and a triple-platinum album to his credit. He dropped into the club to support his backup band who happened to be playing that night.

George sat in for a set, and tore it up with his just-released version of “On Broadway.” After he finished, a table full of Japanese tourists mobbed him for autographs. One guy asked if I would take a picture of him with George, so I said “sure buddy, get in there”.  As soon as I handed the camera back to him, the whole group cued up, camera in hand, patiently waiting their turn.

I took George’s picture a dozen times. It was a magical night.

Part II

Fast forward 15 years. I’m back in the Bay Area, reading the Sunday paper, and notice an article about a Brazilian songwriter coming to town. It didn’t click at first because when I saw the name Ivan, I pronounced it like Americans do – Eye-Van. But soon I was shouting to my wife. “It’s EeVon! EeVon’s coming to town!”

We bought tickets, and after the show, I talked my way backstage. I told Ivan Lins the story of how George Benson mistook me for him. I was worried at first, being that Ivan was a tall drink of water and I was a short, balding mug of goo.  But Ivan was thrilled to hear that George Benson called him the Stevie Wonder of Brazil. The weirdness came full circle and delivered another magical night.

I Met My Best Friend In A Blizzard

First, you must accept the fact that I have several best friends. So don’t get all jealous if this story’s not about you. But back in the winter of ’78, I joined the Tennessee Volunteers and fought for General George Washington at Valley Forge.

Okay, it was 1978, Valley Forge was Hope Valley near Lake Tahoe, and General Washington was actually Peter Graves in the Universal Studios film called “The Rebels.”

I got hired along with 30 other unemployed ski bums to be an extra in a real Hollywood movie. We’d all lied to the producers and said we knew how to ride a horse and fire a musket. They’d lied to us, saying we would be treated well and not forced to stand outside in a blizzard all day dressed in rags.

Everyone was disappointed.

The director, clad in ski goggles and goose down jumpsuit, kept yelling at us to “look cold!” While the crew got their lunch, he let us huddle in what looked to be cozy log cabins with smoke coming out of chimneys. They were actually plywood facades with incense burners.

While huddled in the huts, we all shared whatever contraband we had brought. One guy, Gene, was really appreciative of what I was sharing. We got to talking and hit it off. Soon, we were defying authority together, sneaking back to the bus to stay warm while the others marched in the snow.

After three days of blizzard, the sun came out, and we extras got a wardrobe change. Instead of our rags, they gave us giant fur coats and hats. We were no longer soldiers. We were sheepherders bringing cannons to Fort Ticonderoga. Instead of freezing, we were sweating all over, except for our feet, which were freezing from the same leaky boots we had as starving soldiers the day before.

That’s when my new friend Gene and I went AWOL. We deserted the Army, skipped the rest of the filming and went skiing. Since then,  we’ve skied over 100 days together and had many adventures. He was a groomsman in my wedding, and I was best man in his.  We met in a blizzard, but we’ve enjoyed the warmth of friendship ever since.

My Wife Married Me Because I’m Weird

My wife and I planned to get married by an Armenian priest, in a traditional Armenian ceremony in an Armenian church. But first, we had to pass the test of “marriage counseling” by said priest, to determine if we would constitute a successful union.

In our first session together, the priest gave us each a questionnaire to fill out. It had dozens of questions about our attitudes on practical issues regarding money, sex, and child-rearing.

When we returned for the follow-up counseling, the priest chastised us for cheating. He accused us of copying our answers from each other instead of doing it individually.

We swore our innocence, but he insisted that we must have cheated since we answered two of the questions the exact same way.

For the questions “What do you like least about your partner?” and “What do you like most about your partner?” my wife had written the same two-word answer – “He’s weird.”

Weirdly, I had written exactly the same thing. We laughed hysterically, and soon the priest joined in, realizing how right we were about each other.

It’s been 26 years, and really, really weird. But amazing and cool too. Here’s wishing you some weirdness in your life…

 

 

 

 

 

What You Should Know About St. Patrick’s Day

The Blarney That Is St. Patrick's DayLike a lot of our holidays, St. Patrick’s Day is a real sham(rock). This Hallmark holiday has no connection to St. Patrick, his body of work, or what he stood for. It’s all a bunch of blarney.

How do I know this? Anyone with a dial-up modem can find this on Wikipedia in under 3 minutes. This all started as a religious feast day to honor the patron saint of Ireland. St. Patrick (no last name), was a British missionary who became a bishop after being kidnapped and held by Irish raiders for six years.

But what’s about to go down Saturday is total blarney with a big side of malarky. It’s got little to do with the life and work of a saint. Here are three bits of blarney about St. Patrick’s Day we’ve been believing since Kindergarten.

St. Patrick Drove the Snakes Out of Ireland

No, he didn’t. What are you, six? There were no snakes in Ireland! Dude was a missionary. He was one of those annoyingly earnest folks who go around evangelizing and “saving” pagans. He converted thousands to Christianity, so at best he drove the pagans out of Northern Ireland and into churches.

Snakes?! I think you’re confusing St. Patrick with The Pied Piper. He led the rats out of town. Then he led all the children out of town when he didn’t get paid for the rat job. More of a pissed-off musician turned kidnapper-for-ransom than a saint.

European fairy tales are totally ‘effed up, aren’t they? Continue reading What You Should Know About St. Patrick’s Day

Why This Is A Sad Day For Me

Today is International Women’s day, and I salute all the trailblazing, pioneering women who have brought about the tremendous progress women have made in our society. This is a joyous day for women. But it’s a sad day for me.

Because of what March 8th meant for my mother.

A Powerful Woman

My mother was an amazing singer with a powerful, rich voice. She entered a singing competition, the American Idol of her day, with the grand prize being a spot in New York City’s prestigious Metropolitan Opera Company.

Mother placed very high in the competition, but she didn’t win. That prize went to another young Armenian singer with a rich voice, Lucine Amara. Amara was one of those pioneering women, who during her 41-year career at the Met, had to sue her employer for age discrimination. She won her suit, and performing women all across the country benefited.

Meanwhile, my mother’s career got a boost from the contest. Big enough to leave home, move to Los Angeles, and pursue a singing career and a recording contract.

She went into a studio and cut a demo record. While she was trying to shop it to RCA, she auditioned for singing roles around LA. And one night during this time, she went to sing at the USO Club in Hollywood.

The Night Everything Changed

My mother had no way of knowing that the love of her life would be waiting for her at the club. He was a sailor on a 3-week shore leave from the Navy, where he was stationed on a tiny island off the coast of Alaska. He happened to be a fantastic piano player and dropped in at the club to play some music and have a good time.

It didn’t take long for that sailor to catch my mother’s eye. Or, should I say, her ear. She was really impressed with this piano player’s talent, and before long was sitting with him at the piano singing along to every song he knew.

When she found out he was full-blooded Armenian like she was, the deal was done. They fell madly in love, and after a whirlwind romance, the two eloped. When his 3-week shore leave was up, the piano player returned to his station in Alaska a married man.

A Wartime Bride

My mother married that sailor but had to live apart from him until his duty was done in Alaska. Then they did the awkward work of meeting each other’s families. Can you imagine what it was like for this traditional, church-choir-singing girl to explain to her family that she just married a sailor who blew into town on shore leave without a proper church wedding?

But it was wartime in a different era, and it was not uncommon for women to get married and wait for their new husbands to come home. After Alaska, the two of them moved to Washington DC, where my father finished his tour of duty at the Pentagon.

Their first child, my sister,  was born at the naval hospital in Bethesda.  When my dad was finally discharged from the Navy, they headed back to California where it was warm.

My dad was sick of the cold. He grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, home of the Green Bay Packers and their frozen tundra, Lambeau Field. Then the Navy shipped him off to a floating glacier called Adak, Alaska. After suffering through all that,  he was determined to live in the warm climate where he’d met my mother. Fortunately for me, they chose San Francisco.

My Mother’s Sacrifice

While my father went to college on the GI bill to become a studio musician, my mother put her musical career on hold. A year later my brother was born, then I showed up a couple of years after that.

Our mother sacrificed her career to care for us. She played the dutiful mother and housewife role, while my father pursued his musical career. Though she loved her husband and her family, it must have been tough to set her dream aside while he pursued his.

She had wanted to be an opera singer for most of her young life. But women back then didn’t have their own careers. They stayed home, raised the children so the men could have careers.

And though my father was a great musician, my mother may have been even better.

She probably thought she would have another chance at a singing career. Once we were all in school, she could go back to auditions and demo records.

But she never got that chance. Shortly after I was born, she began to get sick. She was in and out of the hospital for most of my early life. Had they found the cause early on, she might have had a chance. But two months shy of my 4th birthday, when she was just 36 years old, she died of breast cancer.

Her death certificate is on my bulletin board just above my monitor. It’s dated March 8th, 1962.

Celebrate International Women’s Day Today

Please give some thought to all the strong women who sacrificed so future generations could have more. The women who fought for the right to vote, to drive, to own a business, and to do the same kind of work that men have taken for granted for generations.

And while you’re at it,  please give a thought to my mother and the many women like her. I’m sad today because I grew up without her, and she never had a chance to pursue her dream.

But we should all celebrate this day. Because it’s our mother’s sacrifices that allows us all to pursue our dreams.

 

 

Why Weird Al Is My Hero

Weird Al

Every week I wonder if this is the week I stop. The week I stop this writing nonsense and get back to more practical things. But it’s not going to be this week, because of my hero, Weird Al.

I don’t pay much attention to Twitter, but Al got my attention this week with this tweet:

That’s right, Al’s still at it. It’s happening tonight at midnight, so tomorrow’s going to be a great day.

Preparation Meets Opportunity

Al should be a hero to all Manic Impressives. He started out in life a smart little nerd. Took his first accordion lesson at age 6, skipped second grade, finished high school at age 16 and made valedictorian of his class. 

He got good at the accordion and loved musical comedy, so he combined the two into an unlikely art form.  Inspired by his idol, legendary comedy radio host Dr. Demento, Al started writing and singing parodies of pop songs, accompanying himself on accordion.

In his senior year of high school, Al’s moment arrived. Dr. Demento came and spoke at his school, and Al gave him a tape of songs he had recorded at home. Dr. Demento aired one of the songs on his show immediately.

Yankovic continued to write and record parody songs and cultivated his relationship with Demento.

Rejection Of Practical Things

After high school, Al went to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo to pursue a career in Architecture. But as Manics are wont to do, he got distracted along the way. Though he did graduate with a BA in Architecture, he never worked in his field of study.

By his senior year in college, Al was a star on the Dr. Demento show. When he turned the song “My Sharona” into “My Bologna”, Dr. Demento put it on the air and Al had a bona fide hit on his hands.

It took hard work and persistence, but Al earned a recording contract, built a band around himself and headed out on the road.

Surprisingly, his parents were okay with Al’s career choice. His father believed that the key to success was doing for a living whatever made you happy. So they encouraged him to pursue his passion and forget about architecture. What cool parents.

The Weird Al Legacy

Al’s career success and longevity are amazing. 15 Grammy nominations, 4 Grammys, 4 Gold and 6 Platinum albums. All with clean language and parody that was never mean-spirited.

You’ve probably heard his Michael Jackson and Madonna songs, but even more brilliant are his parodies of artists like Lady Gaga, Coolio, Robin Thicke, Pharrell, and this one of Frank Zappa. His comedy is clean and timely and matched only by his uncanny ability to capture the sound and essence of another artist.

And though Al is known for parodies, his original songs like  Stop Forwarding That Crap To Me and First World Problems are genius in their own right.

Weird Al Gets It,  Gives It Away, And Gets Even More

After a successful 32-year run with RCA, Al’s career hit a snag. RCA didn’t want to continue paying for his elaborate video productions.

So Al reinvented the music business. He got companies like Nerdist, Yahoo, Funny Or Die, and College Humor to cover his production costs in exchange for exclusive launches on their websites.

Then he launched one video a day for eight straight days, all completely free to the public. He created a huge buzz but didn’t take any revenue from any of it. He worked for free in exchange for the production costs of his videos.

Why? Because Al gets it. He knew his generosity would come back to him.  His album, Mandatory Fun, sold twice the number of his previous release. It also earned him the first number-one album of his career, made him just the third artist besides Michael Jackson and Madonna to have a Top-40 hit in four different decades and gave him more online exposure than Jay-Z, Beyonce, and Justin Timberlake combined.

That’s musical and marketing genius.

Why Weird Al Is My Hero

Yes, I love his musical comedy. And Al is a very skilled musician and marketer. But it’s his humanity that makes him my hero.

In 2014, his cool supportive parents, who purchased accordion lessons for him from a door-to-door salesman and encouraged his decision to go into show business, died in a tragic accident. They suffered carbon monoxide poisoning after lighting a fire in their fireplace.

Can you imagine the shock and horror Al must have suffered?  He was on tour at the time, and hours after getting the news from his wife, he had to go out on stage and perform despite his grief.

“Since my music had helped many of my fans through tough times, maybe it would work for me as well,” he said, then added that it would “at least … give me a break from sobbing all the time.”

Al’s music has helped me through many tough times. He kept me from quitting today and turned my day of frustration and worry into an evening of fun and anticipation. He is my role model and my hero.

And he’s dropping a new parody video tonight, and I can’t wait.

It’s Happening Less Than Two Hours From Now

So get ready folks. Weird Al is about to bust out another parody polka tonight at midnight.  And rumor has it, it’s going to rip the frock coats right off of Hamilton…

How To Not Suck On The Phone

How To Not Suck On The PhoneI just hung up on a caller who totally deserved it. It wasn’t just that my landline only seems to serve salespeople and scammers these days, or because of her heavy accent. It was because she sucked at communicating by phone. That, and I swear this really happened, there was a rooster crowing in the background.

Whether you’re a Manic Impressive or a hardcore introvert, it’s important to communicate well over the phone. Sure, a lot of people only use their phones to text, but a skilled human voice over the telephone can be a very powerful thing.

You can inspire and move someone to action, or you can suck and annoy the bejabbers out of people. Either way, there are a few things to consider before you pick up the phone.

Master Your Instrument

Your voice is your instrument, and to play it well, you need to support it. To get the best quality sound you must breathe from your diaphragm and let the sound resonate throughout your chest.

The diaphragm is that muscle that lies horizontally below your abdomen, that allows you to push air through your lungs and out your face. If you pretend to blow out a candle, you can feel it working just below your belly button.

This is where you should breathe from if you want a quality sound. If you don’t, you’ll end up with a much thinner, more nasally tone, and sacrifice the quality of your voice. And that can be shrill and annoying for others to listen to.

So before you begin speaking, take a good-sized breath, support it from your diaphragm, and use your instrument to its fullest.

Cut Out The Annoying Sounds And Words

We all do this to an extent. While we’re thinking of what we’re trying to say, we’ll stall a bit with an “uhm” or an “ahh.” These filler sounds do not help our cause. Far better to just pause, then resume your speaking when you have the right word in your mouth ready to go.

This will take some thought and practice, though.

But while you’re at it, watch out for the clichés and overused expressions. If you’re saying, “You know what I’m saying?” more than once in a conversation, you’re testing your audience’s patience.

The same goes for tired words like, “whatever,” “basically” and “literally,” or worn out phrases like, “it is what it is” or “at the end of the day.”

Please stop calling other people “snowflake”, and if you catch yourself saying, “no offense, but…”, know that you’re probably about to offend someone. And don’t even think of saying “totes.” That’s just begging to be slapped.

Align Your Tone With Your Message

I was on the phone with a bureaucracy the other day and had been transferred to several different people. I was getting pretty frustrated when one young woman acknowledged my frustration.

Normally that would be a good thing. But she did it with the same upbeat, sing-song tone she had used when she introduced herself and asked how she could help me.

That set me off even more. Without the aid of visual cues, our phone communication is heavily dependent on tone. Pitch and inflection carry a lot of meaning. But her tone lacked any empathy or caring, which made the situation many times worse.

Then after being no help to me at all, she ended the call with a dagger. In that same sing-song, Up With People voice, she returned to her script and asked, “is there anything else I can help you with today?”

I bottled my rage and hung up. I just couldn’t answer her question without being an a-hole. Because she really sucked on the phone.

Pick Up The Damn Phone

With all the technology we have at our fingertips, a lot of folks no longer use their phones to make phone calls. Despite all the ways to screw up a call, the worst way is to not make the call at all.

I was doing some networking yesterday and found a woman I wanted to connect with on LinkedIn. I sent an invite, she accepted, then I started writing an email to explain my intentions and try to engage with her.

A few minutes in I realized there was a much easier way. I found her phone number and took a chance. Sure, some people may find it intrusive, but hey, she agreed to connect, and what did I have to lose? Just in case, I started the call by apologizing for the intrusion.

Turns out she was very open to my call. We spoke for 45 minutes then scheduled another call for later. She thanked me for taking the chance, then said, ” I wish more people would just pick up the damn phone!”

It may be generational, but a lot of us have forgotten how powerful and effective a phone call can be. Far quicker than email, way more informative than texting, and it allows for the warmth and human connection that’s gone missing from our Social Media driven society.

Unsocial Media

There it is, I said it. And at the risk of sounding like an old man, I’ll say it some more. All this technology has made us unsocial. We “like” things,  we “friend” people,  and we send “emojis”. But we rarely send real emotion to the friends we profess to like. Because that’s not something you can do digitally.

But it is something you can do over the phone. So warm up your vocal chords, support your instrument with your diaphragm,  and send some real emotion to another human. And if there’s a chicken coop in your backyard, close the damn window before you make a business call.

Stupid, Loathsome Things About The Winter Olympics

Curling is a loathsome excuse for an Olympic sport!Like a car crash on the other side of the highway, I can’t help but gawk at the Winter Olympics. I really don’t need the distraction, but those drones opening night were awesome, and the Slopeside Snowboarding is kinda badass. Yet there are some stupid, loathsome things about this event we need to talk about.

Let’s start with the obvious:

Curling Is Not A Sport

It’s shuffleboard with brooms but without Pina Coladas. It’s stupid. No one breaks a sweat. No one risks injury.  This is a loathsome excuse for a sport.

It’s as lame as “Rhythmic Gymnastics” was back in the 80’s, where they gave medals to young girls prancing around with a ribbon on a stick. It does not qualify as Olympic material. For one, simple reason:

If I am fit enough to do it, it cannot possibly be an Olympic sport.

Hell, Homer Simpson won a gold medal in Curling.  I rest my case.

Yet these people keep trying to sucker me into watching it, and I refuse. Our women’s team is in a distant 8th place, without much hope, and that match between Italy and the USA men’s team was not “thrilling” as they said. I’ve seen more “thrilling conclusions” on the Lido deck of a blue-hair cruise.

Suddenly I’m A Fashion Critic

I’m probably one of the least fashionable people you know, but all of a sudden, when the Olympics are on, I’m some kind of fashion expert. And boy can I be critical.

I can tell you everything that’s wrong with the national outfits in the opening ceremony. I can pontificate on why that greased-up, bare-chested Tongan guy needs to knock it off and put a shirt on. Because even I know that what’s cool in the summer games is totally creepy in the winter.

I seem to have the gift of knowing everything that should be fixed with each team’s uniforms. And I’m not shy or kind with my opinions.

Like how horrible our women’s speedskating outfits look. Have you seen them? They are a solid blackish color throughout, except, for some strange reason, they have an eye-catching pattern throughout the groinal region. This makes for an unfortunate visual.

When our gals finish a race and bend over to catch their breath, the effect is most unseemly. No other team uniform has this feature and for a darn good reason. It’s a horrible look and impossible to ignore.

The Loathsome Announcers

Don’t get me wrong, there are some real pros broadcasting in the Olympics. But there are some loathsome clowns working it too.

Like the guy working the Men’s 1500 meter speed skating event. American Shani Davis was slightly ahead of his opponent at the start of their heat. The announcer began lavishing Davis with praise and called him a transcendent skater.

Then he threw him under the bus for questioning how the American flag bearer was chosen. That seemed uncool. Why cause me to think less of the guy while you’re rampaging on how awesome he is?

But it got worse. As the announcer rambled on, Shani fell behind his opponent, had his ass handed to him at the finish line, and ended up in 19th place for the event.

But the announcer was oblivious to all of this. Shani got blown away on the ice as this guy was going on and on about how dominant a skater he was. It was embarrassing.

Had the announcer paid attention to the race and not his script, we could have appreciated Shani’s Olympic swan song. He was the first African American to ever win Winter Olympic individual medal and he held 9 World Records. We could have appreciated Shani’s past greatness and acknowledged his opponent’s greater performance that day. But not with this loathsome guy on the mic…

There are a lot of other things that set me off about this event. Like the subjective judging of figure skating, and the arcane winter events that only Northern Europeans have a chance to win.  Like lying flat on top of someone and hurtling down a trough of ice without brakes.  How do Egyptians, Jamaicans, or Texans train for Doubles Luge competition? Seems pretty exclusionary to me.

But The Most Stupid, Loathsome Thing…

Is the amount of time I waste watching this stuff. That’s right, I watch as much or more loathsome Winter Olympics as anyone. It sucks me in every time, from watching for the Armenian team in the opening ceremony, to shouting USA! USA! USA! whenever we strike gold.

I’m as bad as anyone with my nationalistic pride, and my desire for the USA to get more medals than Russia or China. But it does not serve me. It keeps me from my creative work. Hell, it keeps me from my work work. My career work, my workout work, and even my housework.

I’m distracted enough as a Manic Impressive. I don’t need this. The Winter Olympics is bad for my productivity, my health, and my happiness. So I will have to work at turning off these damn games so I can get back to work.

And if I stop watching TV and spend more time in the gym, I too may have a chest worth oiling up and showing off to the world. I’ll just need to do a ton of ab work and a lot of shaving…

 

Silver Linings To The Bleakest Time Of Year

There’s no getting around it. All the fun parts of winter are behind us and there’s a rough patch ahead.  The Superbowl is over, the upcoming holidays are lame, and flu season rages on.  This, by far, is the bleakest time of year.

It’s hard to focus on your creative work during times like this. Hard to be optimistic, to put yourself out there and to take risks. Most Manic Impressives need far more stimulation than they can get at this time of year, when all the big fun stuff seems so far off.

But for every area that may be getting you down, there’s a silver lining – something to give you hope enough to muscle through.

Sports Suck Right Now

Sure, I loved watching the Patriots lose the Super Bowl and Eagles fans dance in the streets. But all that’s over now, and we’re in the bleakest time of year for sports.

The NBA is pointless to watch now. Playoffs don’t start ’til April 11th, and the standings will barely change before then. Baseball doesn’t start ’til March 29th, and the next Sumo tournament isn’t until March 11th. Meanwhile, NBC is trying to placate us with mixed-doubles curling from the Winter Olympics.

Usually, I would escape all this and go skiing. But we haven’t had snow in weeks and none is forecast anytime soon. This is the bleakest time possible for sports, whether you’re a spectator or a participant.

The Silver Lining To Sports

Though we’re between Sumo tournaments, you can catch all the video highlights of the 2018 January Grand Sumo Tournament right here. Sumo is awesome. It’s simple to understand, it’ll make you feel good about your weight, and it should tide you over to Spring.

All The Good Holidays Are Over

The current lineup of holidays is pretty lame. You won’t get any time off for Valentine’s and St. Patrick’s days, but you’ll be encouraged to blow a lot of dough and suffer a hangover and a lot of drunken fools.

And sadly, only people in Illinois get time off for Casimir Pulaski Day.

The Silver Lining To Holidays

There won’t be any presents, fireworks or special foods, but you will get a nice 3-day weekend for President’s Day. That’s always something worth celebrating.

The Weather Here Is Great – Which Is Horrible

Last week the groundhog declared 6 more weeks of winter, but here in California, the weather’s been spectacular – sunny, warm and dry.

But this is not good news. After the horrific wildfires of last summer and the following mudslides, this great weather is the bleakest thing that could happen to us. We need more rain and snow, or we’ll be back in a dangerous drought cycle. And that just leads to more weather-based misery for us down the line.

The Silver Lining To Weather

On March 11th you can spring ahead and change your clocks to Daylight Savings Time. All that extra light will help you avoid your annual bout with SAD – Seasonal Affective Disorder – a condition we Manic Impressives often suffer from.

Politics

Nothing to get up about here, but lots to worry about. There’s a government shutdown looming and no real progress on immigration, health care, or foreign interference with our elections.

Meanwhile, there’s nothing we citizens can do about it right now. We’re months away from anything we can vote for or against. And now that the big stock market run-up is over, a lot of folks are worried about losing their retirement accounts in the stock market.

The political landscape is at its bleakest right now.

Silver Lining To Politics

Despite our government’s dysfunction, it has done a good job facilitating the work of private companies in furthering our space program. Did you see Elon Musk’s rocket go up this week and execute a perfect landing? The SpaceX rocket launch and landing was an incredible achievement and should make all Americans proud and hopeful. A great example of government partnership with private industry.

Though Things Are Bleakest, It’s Going To Be Okay

Like they say, it’s always darkest before the dawn. This is a tough time of year, but it’s only temporary. You will get that job offer you’re hoping for, your 401k will bounce back, and fun will return when Spring erupts in all its glory.

Until then, hang in there, and know that you’re not alone. There are a lot of us who struggle at this, the bleakest time of year. Reach out to friends, focus on your resolutions, and know that if you take a little positive action every day, you will be in a happier place soon.