Monday, July 29, 1996

Alphabet Street

One thing I've noticed on my drive to Stillwater every morning is that there are an awful lot of people out there, and they all seem to be going the opposite direction that I am. This probably is not a good sign- do they know something I don't?

My best friend gave me some career advice a job change ago that has helped me deal with some of the stress of my newest job. She told me, "You have to fake it 'til you make it." Her point was that if I showed the people around me that I was confident I knew what I was doing, eventually their confidence in me would increase and I would be on my way. This is an invaluable lesson to hold on to when working in the area of politics. Successful politicians learned long ago that it isn't so much what you are saying, it is how you say it.

All this comes to mind because it is becoming more and more a daunting challenge to write this column every week. I had a business lunch with a colleague this week who asked me if it was tough to share my writing with others, that for her that would be a frightening experience. I tried to explain that at this point, sharing is really not a problem because the feelings expressed in my writing these days are more or less just a tiny portion of my personality.

Although I have reached a stage in my life where more and more people are coming to me for my opinion or advice, as it is surely clear to most of you by now, I don't know nothing that none of you already don't know. It has been my routine over the past five years to save this page until the very end of the newsletter's production, and by then the relief that another week's issue is nearly done often knocks down the defenses long enough for me to be able to fill up one last page. I try to think of a topic throughout the preceding week, but often it comes down to whatever is on my mind at the moment.

I feel lucky when I can string together a bunch of words that make some type of coherent sense. In other words, it doesn't matter so much what those words convey, it's that they are able to convey anything at all. The goal of the newsletter after all has always been to provide information to you all in an entertaining way. Thus if we can somehow manage to walk the fine line between providing useful information to you in a way that makes you read it with a smile, we have done our job. Just like one long infomercial.

This wasn't always the case of course. Back in the days when I was falling in love with the craft of writing, when the dreams were to become the next big thing in journalism, every single word, every single article was meticulously thought out. If a word didn't immediately flow out of my mind, I would thumb through the dictionary or thesaurus hoping to discover the right sound to convey what I wanted to impress my readers with. But just like most things in life, as one grows older, one doesn't have the time for such passionate idealism. Get it down on paper and hope that the type sticks to the paper is about all one can ask for. This is not to say that the words don't mean anything anymore. An occasional odd combination will appear that amazes me that it was somewhere inside of me and found its way into the cold print that appears before your eyes to digest. I may have stopped searching for the truth and the desire to become the next F. Scott Fitzgerald, but writing something worthwhile is still the most satisfying experience I can think of. There are a limited amount of words out there and a limited number of combinations you can use those words. The successful communicators are not the ones who use words to make sense, they are the ones who make the words sound good together. So the story this week is: Anita believes canaries develop enlarged feathers going high inside jagged, knotted, local meadows. Nomadic ornery people quit regarding simple theories unless verified with x-rayed, young zeal.

Monday, July 22, 1996

Kitty in the Mirror

Max the Cat loves to scamper from window to window in the house and watch for any cats who wander into his yard. Whenever he spots one he prances from window to window, his tail starts flapping and he lets out a sound that is more like a gargle than a growl. So during a lull in his day, sometimes I will bring him into the bathroom and show him the kitty in the mirror. This is an attempt to teach him to love his fellow feline, that the cute kitty in the mirror is as lovable and harmless as those wildcats lurking outside his windows. However for whatever reason he refuses to look at the kitty in the mirror. He look all around, at the lights, at me, at the floor, at the soap supply, but he will not look at his own handsome reflection.

I suppose somewhere in this tale there is a moral about looking at one's self before casting negative thoughts on the rest of the world. I think Michael Jackson even wrote a song about that once. "I'm starting with the man in the mirror. I'm asking him to change his ways. And no message could have been any clearer. If you wanna make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and then make a change."

As a kid I shared Max's view of the world. I remember I would scowl at my neighbor friends who dared to come into our yard and play on our swing set and jungle jim without first seeking permission. Was it my own insecurity, my own selfishness that was the root of the dispute or was it their actual trespassing that was the problem? How dare they have fun without me. It's always harder to accept the responsibility to correct your own ways rather than blame everyone else for the things that don't go right in your day.

One of the learning experiences of the past couple of weeks from starting at a new job has been watching how different offices work and do not work. This has come both from my experiences at my own new "home" office along with the training I have received at other off-site locations. In the past I have been accused of being something of a cynic. Yet as I travel around and meet people who have become settled in their jobs I have more and more become a person who may be a bit cranky, but I do keep an open mind, and the belief that things can work with a little enthusiasm and positive thinking. I don't have much interest in office gossip and personality clashes when they interfere with the work that needs to get done. We each have our ways of working and trying to get things set up so that we can succeed. Sometimes these routines and beliefs can conflict with others in the organization. At some point it is useful to be able to acknowledge your own reflection, your own faults and weaknesses and work on the things within that you can change rather than try to change those around you- always a tenuous task.

Being the "new" person is a stressful situation especially if you are not starting at the bottom rungs of the organization. People can be leery of you simply because they think you are going to change the ways they have gotten used to doing things. Some people do walk into a job and with little input from the people who have done the work, change things to be setup the way they want things setup. This may be the very reason they were hired, but often it can be a big mistake- alienating the other employees, causing mistrust and inefficiency where none existed before.

People adapt to change on their own terms. Some can't let go of the way things once were. Some people want change at all costs. For the most part accepting change and adapting is what makes us learn. It is what helps us grow. Even Max will someday have to learn there are an awful lot of other kitties out there and despite his protests, he has to coexist with his competition no matter how frustrating that may be.

Monday, July 15, 1996

New Kids on the Block

ONCE upon a short while ago, there was a little boy lost who knew a girl formerly known as meek who was now free to decide. Murphy meet Max. Max meet Murphy.

The awesome swinging bunt.

Every morning the little boy lost would walk a great distance to spend his day amongst chaos and confusion. He never quite figured out how he ever got from there to here, but he wasn't going to question it any more. He wasn't sure of his purpose but over time he realized most of the people around him were not sure of theirs either. He remained relatively calm throughout, but he was certainly glad every time he saw the girl formerly known as meek who was now free to decide. Meanwhile the little girl who had one leg that was longer than the other, had a short term vision impairment that no pair of glasses could ever repair. She just needed a little direction.

Chasing down the fly ball swirling in the wind.

One day Max showed Murphy his house. She was properly impressed. Together they went out for a burger and a malt. The conversation was short and sweet, the names changed but the faces remained the same. Murphy ate not one but two burgers. Who knew what she was capable of? She knew that there was no such thing as destiny. Max now understood the complexity of the importance of having a little dignity. He spilt his milkshake. "That's too bad," he said. No use crying over a spilt milkshake.

Filing the proper documents in properly tabbed folders.

Murphy wanted to see Max play. She didn't like him just sitting and watching instead of participating. She knew he could turn on an inside pitch and drive it further than his size would indicate. Upon his arrival in his first game he had four hits and never looked back. Max appreciated her sweetness. She inspired him. He in return wanted Murphy to realize and believe in her own special skills. He appreciated her enthusiasm and the way she always had a kind word to say. Another leaping catch over the wall. Did she understand the joy she could bring? There was a mutual understanding that had not yet been spoken, of things past and present and once broken. "Where do you come from?" Max asked Murphy. He eagerly awaited her answer.

Just another hard luck story.

He once thought her voice didn't match her physical presence. He now was pleasantly surprised to see the connection. She saw in him a sense of organization of having himself together. "What is your story?" she asked him.

A sparkling defensive play.

He was sheepish to admit that in the beginning it was probably her name that pulled him to her. Little kids came in from miles away just to watch her play and scream her name. It was all fairy-tale like and he was a sucker for simplicity if nothing else. Now she wanted to change her name. Anata no o-namae wa? She wasn't quite willing to put herself in a new situation but she knew she needed a change of some kind. Changing hairstyles wasn't enough. He remained intrigued.

A passport to another time.

The fall season was fast approaching. Max wondered if he would still see Murphy. Their time together was scheduled apart. They both had places to be even if neither one of them quite knew where those places lay. Murphy didn't know if Max would still stop by. She didn't know quite how to read him. Their relationship had grown slowly over time, having been carefully nurtured if not sometimes forgotten. They had now shared the music of their lives, and it was an important step, one that gave their friendship a deeper understanding. A shared vision. It was one of the oldest clich├ęs in the book but they both came to realize that one never quite knew what one had until it was gone.

The puck stops here.

Monday, July 8, 1996

Through the Smoke Rings of My Mind

Yeah, I suppose tobacco really isn't that bad for you if you don't inhale. Sure, not inhaling might increase your risk of mouth cancer, but why do you think the good Lord gave so many of us such big mouths? Some of us could stand a little reduction in the size of our mouths. Especially those members of that dreadful liberal press who need to spend more of their time doing their jobs rather than promoting all that hogwash propaganda and brainwashing us.

We've come a long way baby. Where we used to argue about issues like independence, slavery and civil rights, we now are back to arguing about whether or not cigarettes are harmful to our health. There are those of us brainwashed types who thought this debate was decided a long time ago. It has been my impression that most Americans know smoking is bad for them yet are willing to accept the consequences to their own health for another cigarette. My friend likes to come over to visit and during our conversations she'll often pull out a cigarette and blow smoke rings. It is terribly entertaining watching her smoke rings float around the room. She has often tried to teach me how to blow smoke rings. Make no mistake however, she knows she shouldn't smoke, I know she shouldn't smoke but with both of us being believers in an eternal life, it isn't like we are under the impression we are going to be here forever.

To recap one of the events from this past week: Presidential candidate Bob Dole was interviewed by NBC's perky Katie Couric. She pressed him on his statements that tobacco isn't any worse than most things for people's health. Driving, drinking milk, everyday events can be equally as harmful, Dole was quoted as saying. Instead of coming clean and admitting his statement was absurd, Dole went on the offensive and attacked Couric and the liberal press for never giving him a fair shake. He went on to say that former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop had been brainwashed by the liberal media.

What's significant about this debate is that it is typical of how our current political dialogue works. Rather than be honest and straightforward, the actual issue gets buried under a cloud of double speak. The real issue isn't whether or not tobacco is harmful to one's health. The issue is whether Dole has a profitable relationship with the rather large tobacco industry. Instead of coming out and saying, "Yes, I do. They have supported me throughout the years in return for my votes in the Senate," he has to try to deny the relationship by blaming the media, perky little Katie Couric, and that funny looking guy with the beard. You don't have to look very far to see others who use the same tactic. President Clinton has basically used the same strategy while defending his actions in every scandal he's been involved in, from Whitewater to the current FBI file/privacy snafu.

There is something terribly American about using the denial strategy. Our culture teaches us to get away with as much as we can as opposed to doing as much as we can. It's like being dragged down to the principal's office and sheepishly denying any and all wrongdoing until the facts become so overwhelming that some guilt is admitted, and punishment is accepted. To accept responsibility for our actions is never as easy as trying to cloud the consequences with the smoke rings of blaming somebody else.

So if you are anything like me you are showing the first signs of Campaign '96 fever. The latest political dialogue shows we are in for a long and entertaining Presidential campaign. I've already set my VCR to record all the scintillating action of the Democrat and Republican conventions later this summer. The next President will be the one that leads us into the 21st Century which really isn't that big a deal. It's just another number created by those smoking Commie media types.

Monday, July 1, 1996

Miss Odell

One of the running "gags" of this publication is our lack of having a permanent name. This came about sort of by accident. Before we began this venture, Al sent us to a seminar on creating a newsletter and one of the things that they stressed as being vital was coming up with a good name for the publication. I was told that I needed to think of something catchy, clever, and that had some meaning for the organization. The mere suggestion that the name was almost as important as the content sparked the rebel in me and I decided since we were a music store, we should name the newsletter after a different album every week. That way each newsletter would have a slightly different identity, and could be unique in the way the cover picture of Time or Sports Illustrated gives the magazine a different feel every week.

Over time the joke may have worn out its welcome, but it's now part of who we are and I still like the idea. That we have no real name almost distinguishes us more than if we were to name ourselves something permanent and generic. It gives the newsletter some of its personality. The theory that the name of a publication is so important is based on two principles: 1) You want your readers (especially early on) to know what to expect, to know what the publication is for and about, to get used to the idea that it should become part of their routine to glance through every issue. 2) To establish the editorial tone and content of the publication. You know what to expect from an issue of Cat's Digest but might have to do a little more research on a publication called Max's Monitor.

Names help us identify but unfortunately they also help us label and form our own prejudices. I'll be the first to admit that I enjoy the sound of some people's names more than I should. This past week one of these people whose name I have had fun with in these pages over the past three years told me she wants me to help her come up with a new last name. Her current surname is that of her father's and for her own reasons she no longer wishes this to be. I greeted this challenge with great enthusiasm. About the only fun I ever got from any of my attempts at fiction writing was trying to come up with character names. My friend told me she wanted something French sounding so I suggested everything from Poisson (her mother's maiden name is "Fish") to LaFleur. We are still working on it.

It is odd to think of this person with a different name. Some of my feelings and thoughts about who she is are based upon the name itself. Will thinking of her with a different last name change the way I feel towards her? Hers was a name that I probably enjoyed more than I should of because of its natural lyric lilt. I do understand the appeal of changing her name however. It must be a liberating feeling, a wipe the slate clean and start over breath of fresh air type feeling.

So, I have given some thought over the past week about what we should name the new classical only store. To throw in my two cents, I prefer Cheapo Classical over Applause. I would guess (and of course I have nothing to base this on) that it is only now that people are beginning to get used to the idea of what happened to our Applause stores, and what the difference is between Cheapo Discs and Cheapo Records. To throw the old name of Applause back into the mix might only serve to confuse people more. Speaking from experience as one who is perpetually and increasingly confused, confusion causes anger and discomfort and the desire to throw in the towel, give up all hope of trying to understand.

The name Cheapo Classical is pretty self explanatory and although it may not be the most exciting or flashy, would give the new store some of our old identity. I have another idea but I would guess it would be too hard logistically to follow the newsletter's lead and come up with a new name for the store every week...