Content Marketing Files: What Cartman Gets Wrong About Authority

“You will respect my authority!” yells Eric Cartman in “South Park.”

Does it work? Not so much.

You can't demand authority. You must earn it.

You can’t demand authority. You must earn it.

What Cartman doesn’t get is that authority is earned, not demanded.

So how could Cartman do a better job of earning it? By considering these few points.

• Saying you’re an authority doesn’t make it so.
Cartman’s demand for authority? Pathetic. He has no evidence to back up his claim of being authoritative. In content writing, you have to demonstrate what you know. So if you’re knowlegeable about how to write blogs, you start writing blogs about how to write blogs. Copyblogger’s Brian Clark and Sonia Simone became authoritative through writing and sharing what they knew.

• You have to know what you’re talking about. At least a little.
Cartman is, to put it politely, full of it. So be sure if you want to write about something you know a little about, learn more about it. The Web is bursting with fascinating information. So use it.

It's not all about me.

It’s all about me.

• Don’t make it all about you.
Cartman is all about his own needs. Effective content marketing isn’t about what you need or propping up your own ego. But in content marketing, to coin a phrase, there is no “U.” It’s all about “them,” your audience, and their needs.

• Be helpful.
Can you remember Cartman ever helping out Kyle or Kenny, his South Park friends? Maybe, but only to con them into helping him. Give without expecting to receive. Do you know how to boost shoe sales? The best times to get discounts on European travel? How to cook the perfect omelet? If you know anything that could help other people learn something or do something better, write about that.

Share and share alike.

Share and share alike.

• Share generously.
One major reason Cartman would be an abysmal content marketer is that he doesn’t share. But as a content writer, you know that new information or a unique take on an old idea have no value to the world just sitting inside your own head. So share what you know or have learned, so others can benefit.

• Accept what others share, too.
Cartman has half of this right. He’s willing to take, only he doesn’t give back. “Share and share alike” is the way to build relationships and networks of people who know about lots of things. Tap into their knowledge, learn, and grow.

Honesty counts. A lot.

Honesty means never having to say, “Oops, I lied.”

• Be honest.
Cartman schemes and lies to get what he wants. There’s a script that says the South Park kids have to hang out with him. But in the real world, if you abuse people’s trust, they’ll run from you, never to return. Worse still, they’ll tell all their friends about your misdeeds, and all of them will run from you, too. So treasure people’s trust and hold it sacred.

• Be respectful.
Cartman, respectful? Nope. If you want to earn authority, treat others as you would want them to treat you. With respect, kindness, good vibes, and support. Respect their intelligence and humanity, and they’ll respect yours.

So in summary, it’s clear that Cartman is a total loss as a content marketer, and that his authority is worth exactly zilch. But yours will be priceless if you think of everything Cartman does—and do the exact opposite.

And one final point, perhaps the one point that floats above all of the others:

Be yourself.

Rock on!

Value who you are. And be your authentic self. Your best self. That’s the surest way to begin to earn authority. And if you’re not really sure who your self is, start writing. Sooner or later, your authentic voice will emerge. And you’ll be stronger for it.

Freelance Writer Files: Thoughts on Memorial Day from Stoney Broke

I just found this on my computer, a piece written by an alter ego of mine named Stoney Broke. It’s a little late, but maybe not too late.

Reflections on Memorial Day
by Stoney Broke

Stoney Broke, yer cowboy journalist, out here at the best dude ranch on the Kansas prairie. Felt moved to say a few words here on Memorial Day, a day for reflection if there ever was one.

This day, I’ve been thinking about a boy who sat at the back of my English class in high school. His name was Robert. The boy was so shy he never raised his hand. Sometimes, the teacher would ask him a question, and he would lower his head and endure the 15 or so seconds of charged silence, his face the shade of a radish, before the teacher finally called on someone else. I never saw him talk to anybody, or anybody except the teacher talk to him. He moved in a bubble of silence around the hallways, neither knowing or being known by anybody.

Robert drew a low number in the draft lottery and was shipped off to Vietnam. Within two weeks, we heard he’d been killed. A kid like that, well, he never shoulda been sent. You don’t take a scared kid like that, put a gun in his hand, send him to a foreign land and tell him to kill. For all the fight there was in him, they’d just as well taken him out back and shot him to save him the agony of training. Poor Robert. Rest in peace.

My business partner here at the dude ranch, Carl, he went off to the Vietnam War, too. There was talk around of guys skedaddlin’ off north of the border or enrollin’ in college before they could be called up. But Carl just wasn’t made that way. He said America’d done plenty for him and his family, and he was gonna try and repay it by volunteerin’ for the Army. His fiancee, Lorene, cried and bawled somethin’ terrible as she waved goodbye to him at the Kansas City airport.

Carl wasn’t much for writin’ letters, so we didn’t hear all the details of his Vietnam duty. He did write that every guy in his hooch except him was doin’ heroin. Their entertainment of an evening was to fill the hooch with marijuana smoke and watch the giant roaches get stoned and skitter up and down the walls and across the floor like maniacs. He’d write something funny or curious to Lorene once in awhile, but nothing disturbing. He didn’t want to worry her or his mom, dad and sisters.

Me, I didn’t go to Vietnam. When the Army docs saw I had two steel rods in my spine from breakin’ it during my brief teenaged rodeo career, they said, “Go on home.” I said, “I’ll do that, thank ya.” But I watched the news footage on TV and heard the stories from guys comin’ home, and I thought, “Who woulda thought hell was an Asian jungle?”

Carl got banged up a tad and picked up a nasty parasite, but he came home after his year basically in one piece. Protesters at the San Francisco Airport gave Carl and the other returning soldiers a cruel welcome. They screamed, “Murderer! Baby-killer!” Carl looked straight ahead as he fought his way through the crowds to Lorene. The way he hugged her, he’d like to squeezed all the air out of her.

He and Lorene had a weddin’, and before long, they had a baby on the way. Then Carl’s dad died when a son-of-a-bitch stallion he was tryin’ to break kicked his skull in. So the ranch went to Carl to take care of. He was doin’ a very efficient job of it, too, until the baby came. When Carl held the baby and looked into his eyes for the first time, Lorene said the blood drained out of Carl’s face, and he handed the baby back to her quick, but careful, like it was a bomb.

Lorene found him awhile later out by the corral, both hands grippin’ the top rail, just starin’ into space. When she asked him what was wrong, he never even looked at her. Just kept starin’ and said, “He knows. He knows what I done over there.”

Back then, nobody knew much about post-traumatic stress syndrome. In WWI, it was called “shell shock.” In later wars, I don’t know if it was called anything. After the Vietnam War, the vets were said to have the “thousand-yard stare,” like Carl had that night. Lorene persuaded Carl to talk things over with his pastor and go to the VA to see a shrink. Gradually, over the years, he seemed to come to himself again. He no longer saw judgment in his son’s eyes, but innocence and joy. He loved that boy, Carl, Jr., fiercely. It was like the little boy showed him there was life, and it was good. Lorene was the soul of patience with him. And he healed, mostly, though the scars still showed from time to time.

Robert sacrificed his life. Carl sacrificed his peace of mind. Their families sacrificed the happiness of being with their loved ones, whole and healthy. Every person who has served in every war has sacrificed because his or her country required it, for good cause or questionable cause. No matter. Every veteran who has served in wartime deserves our thanks, our respect, and our honor this day. Let’s honor them by doing all we can to make peace, not war. If you’ve a mind to pray for peace, do that. If you’ve a mind to march for it, then do that. At the very least, remember peace. Remember what it felt like. So you can recognize the feeling when it comes again, someday. Let’s hope. Yes, let’s hope.

Freelance Writer Files: What price connectivity?

The "skritch" of a pen...

The “skritch” of a pen…

There are those of us who want to connect with lots of people, via any means possible. Or I should say, every means possible. Computer, iPhone or Android, tablet, bluetooth, Facebook, LinkedIn, you name it, they’re on it. Connecting with lots of people they don’t really know (like on LI or FB).

I admit I have a few connections. But enough, already. Complete strangers are asking me to Link In with them. On FB, people who may not even be people want to join groups I’m in. Sure these things are convenient, but how good are those connections? And what do you pay for the convenience?

For one thing, you lose your privacy. If you are tagged on a photo in someone’s FB page, did you know people can find out nearly everything about you, from your Social Security number to your favorite stores? Probably same with LinkedIn.

I don’t know about you, but I’m torn about remaining in FB. I have some great FB friends from my hometown I’d like to keep in touch with, and heck, I’m administrator of two FB groups. But it’s all so… public.

Remember when you didn’t know what everyone’s favorite music, movies and songs were? When you had no idea what their dog looked like, if they lived in a different town? When people used to phone each other to get caught up? Or, heaven forfend, handwrote letters and cards?

I was going through boxes and boxes of photos, clippings and letters from both sides of my family and came across some delightful notes from my grandfathers mostly expressing what a wonderful child I was. But what was so touching was that I could see their handwriting. My father’s father’s handwriting was large and bold, beautiful in its loopiness. My mother’s father’s handwriting was not so large, but also beautifully executed. And when they handwrote letters, they had to think about what they were writing, because it would years later be discovered in a big box of photos, letters and all. They had to think more about what they were writing than I do right now, because if I make an error, I only have to hit “delete” and correct it. They were committed to their words by a bond of ink.

Corona_Silent_1950s_MI vow today to start handwriting letters to my friends. I have one friend in Omaha who treasures them, whenever I get around to writing them. Sometimes she will send me a typed letter, which is nearly as good. They’re done on a manual typewriter. I want my dad’s old Smith-Corona portable back, so I can hear the “thwack” the keys made on the paper.

We’re so connected, but are we really connected to the right people, in the right way? I sometimes doubt it.

Freelance Writer Files: Are you developing your self?

A person who certainly was himself.

A person who certainly was himself.

“The aim of life is self-development. To realize one’s nature perfectly—that is what each of us is here for.”
-Oscar Wilde

To realize one’s nature perfectly. What does that mean, really?

If you are active in the business world, you may wonder at times (or many times) whether this is really “you,” or who you had hoped you would be, sitting in the meeting playing Boardroom Bingo to pass the time. Or hanging out with people you really don’t like very much.

What is self-development? Is it achieved by winning awards, climbing the ladder to higher echelons in your company? Coming in first in your Corporate Challenge event? Climbing Mount Everest? Getting a tummy-tuck? Knowing the right people? Driving the cool car?

In my opinion, none of those things is going to help you develop your true self. To me, finding one’s true nature is an inside job. How could it not be?

If you are focused outward, looking for symbols of success or things to make you happy in the world, it seems to me you never will be happy. Isn’t it true that once you get that shiny new thing you had been after, thinking it would make you happy, it quickly loses its luster, and you have to think of something else to go after?

I heard an author the other day say, “The more things you have, the more things you have to take care of, and the more tension it causes.” Having had a house full of stuff for 12 years, which I then pared down to move into an apartment, I can tell you it’s true. The stuff accumulates, and it becomes a burden. This author said, “The things you own, own you.” True, true.

But self-knowledge is something that never piles up and becomes a burden. Instead, it makes you feel lighter and lighter. Because you can let go of all the stuff that really doesn’t serve you and really doesn’t matter.

Why should you devote yourself to doing the real work of self-development? Let me ask you this: Do you think you know yourself? Or are you too busy to notice who you are?

That seems like a strange question, I imagine. A lot of us are extremely busy because we have jobs, families, hobbies, friends, and whatever other things we’re required to spend time on. Who has time for self-development?? But even in an extremely harried life, I contend that if you can’t take five minutes to simply BE, you are short-changing yourself by neglecting to at least form a friendly acquaintance with yourself.



Years ago, I took the Silva Method of Meditation, which is a terrific course. In fact, I took it twice. Once you’ve taken it, as long as you keep your card proving you are a graduate, you can take it as many times as you like. The course teaches you how to enter the alpha state of awareness, then to go one rung deeper, to a place where you find the answers your inner self has to the questions you ask.

In the Silva course, our instructor (a Franciscan monk who was a hoot) reminded us to practice for at least a few minutes daily. “Five minutes is good; ten minutes is very good; fifteen minutes is excellent.” And then, “Once a day is good, twice a day is very good, and three times is excellent.”

I’m afraid I’ve let myself slip a bit since I first took the course. But when things get hairy, or when I’m experiencing negative emotions like worry, anger, or depression, nothing helps calm me like meditating the way I was taught.

You don’t have to take the Silva course to know how to meditate. There are a lot of books out there, and a lot of classes, on how to do it. But you don’t need any of those. All you need is five minutes and a quiet place with dim lighting. Get comfortable, preferably sitting (so you don’t doze off), keep your hands open and relaxed, close your eyes, and either focus on the breath coming in and exiting your nose or focus on a word, like “peace.” Just keep breathing in and out and try to maintain your focus. Your monkey-mind will be jumping all over the place, and when you notice you’re thinking about dinner or a book you’re reading, or an itch on your neck, you gently bring your mind back to your breathing or your word.

Five minutes at work is doable, isn’t it? At home, you may find more time. And for something that’s free and easy, it eventually yields great results: calmness, less being caught up in the crisis of the moment, more insight into who you truly are, and more compassion for others in your world. Honest!

I don’t know if Oscar Wilde meditated, but it’s clear he understood there is a real self we all have, and when we learn who we are and live as we truly are, instead of living up to someone else’s idea of who or what we should be, then we can be truly free.

Try five minutes of simple meditation, and even if it’s hard to keep focused at first, you’ll get better at it, and then you’ll not only feel better, but you’ll know who you are. And you’ll probably like you!

Freelance Writer Files: What is Beauty?

“There is no excellent beauty, that hath not some strangeness in the proportion.”
-Francis Bacon

That’s a tweet I posted this morning. It’s a strange one that I didn’t quite “grok” right away. But when I thought of a project that required screening beautiful women for work as a principal in a TV commercial, I got it.

Picasso woman

Picasso woman

Casting for a TV commercial usually begins with looking at lots and lots of photo “head shots” of models and actors. Out of those, you choose the ones you think have potential to fit your need, and if they’re local, you invite them in, so you can see them in person. Heck, they might be photoshopped to look beautiful. You’d want to know that before hiring them.

We selected three or four women to come in for personal interviews, all of whom were beautiful in their pictures. But in person, what a surprise! Were these the same women we’d selected?

One model’s face actually looked a bit misshapen. The two sides didn’t match. Another one’s nose seemed a size too large for her face. The third looked just plain homely.

These models didn’t come in without makeup, looking as if they had just fallen out of bed. They were made up to look as pretty as they could — in person. And they certainly didn’t look like candidates for Miss America. But soon, I was to learn something valuable.

The eye of the beholder...

The eye of the beholder…

When we did video auditions with our candidates, these women revealed their true beauty. In a magical way, it is true that the camera loves some faces. These rather ordinary-looking (or even peculiar-looking) women became lovely and engaging, even fascinating, in the eye of the camera.

So I understand what Bacon meant in that quote. Now I try to look at every person through the eye of a transforming camera. You’d be amazed how much more beautiful they all look!

Freelance Writer Files: Should you ditch your home phone?

Do you really need an old-fashioned landline phone? Lots of people have ditched theirs in favor of cell phones. But is that the right way for you to go? It depends. Here are a few things to consider when making that decision.

From "How to Use a Telephone" circa 1917

• If you have older people or kids in your home, they may not know how to use a cell phone (or, in the case of older people, may not wish to learn). Also, if you have babysitters or others around who don’t have their own phones, you might want to keep the landline.

• Another point in favor of a landline phone is that in an emergency, if you call 911, the operator will quickly be able to determine your address. Seconds can make a big difference in the case of a health emergency or a break-in.

• With a landline, you can have extension phones throughout the house. And let’s face it: you’re more likely to lose a call with a cell phone when you forget to turn it on or turn off “silent” mode, or leave it in the car.

Base phone & extensions

Phones, phones, phones!

• If all your friends, family, and clients or other contacts have known your home phone number for years, it’s risky to shift to cell phone only. You might lose touch with people you don’t talk to often, distant relatives, long-lost friends, or people looking to hire you for a project (a concern of mine, as a freelancer).

So what’ll it be, cell phone, landline, or both? Maybe there’s another choice for you. I just learned about Verizon Wireless Home Phone Connect, a wireless device you plug your home phone into, which is an extension of your wireless package. I’m not pushing Verizon, but I always am looking for a cheap phone deal, and with this, your phone service could be a little as $9.99 a month. It may be worth looking into. Especially if you’re the kind of person who wants to have your cupcake and eat it, too.

Freelance Writer Files: Remembering Jack Klugman

He was one of “Twelve Angry Men,” a visitor to “The Twilight Zone,” a slob in “The Odd Couple,” and a doctor in “Quincy, M.E.” And before that, a Broadway star in “Gypsy.” But to me, he’ll always be the guy who couldn’t pronounce “Ak-Sar-Ben” to save his life. I’m talking about Jack Klugman. He died the other day, and when I saw the notice, a shock ran through me, because I knew Jack.


Let me backtrack a little. As a horseman, Jack was a perfect spokesman for Ak-Sar-Ben racetrack, a client of the advertising agency where I worked as a writer/producer at the time. Amazingly, he agreed to do a set of TV spots for us for a reasonable fee. It must have been the horse connection that sealed the deal.

Before Jack arrived, we were instructed that he must have an excellent toupee stylist available on the set at all times. Wow, I thought. Was this guy going to be a handful? I was a little scared to meet him. He was a big star, and I was an Omaha writer/producer charged with keeping him content and doing his best job for what was probably a fraction of his normal fee.

"Blueberry? Strawberry? These aren't bagels"The first day of shooting, I brought bagels to the set. Poor Jack, who had arisen at 6 a.m. (4 a.m. California time), was greeted on Day One by fruit-flavored bagels (the only kind I could find the night before at Albertson’s). “Blueberry! Strawberry! These aren’t bagels!” First the demand for the toupee stylist, now the dissatisfaction with our Midwestern bagels. How difficult was our Hollywood star going to be?

But my fears were quickly dispelled once we started shooting. Jack took direction without a fuss, and he was open and easy to talk to, particularly when a couple of attractive young women from the agency came to visit him on the set. He enjoyed joking and chatting with his star-struck fans until we called him for the next scene.

During the shoot, the one thing that bugged him was something rather important: the name of the client. Take after take, he struggled unsuccessfully to pronounce it. “ARK-si-bin!” “Come on out to As-KIB-In!” “Awk-SER-ban!” Frustrated after a series of blown takes, he turned to me and pleaded, “Aw, honey, we don’t have to keep saying the name, do we?” Unhelpfully, I told him it was “Nebraska” spelled backward. Eventually, he got the name right, and in the finished spots, Jack’s personality and enthusiasm shone through every scene.

One day, while the crew set up for the next scene, Jack decided to bet on a race or two. I thought, “Wow, Jack knows the horses. I’ll bet with him.” So I bet the same horses he did (with one-tenth the money). We both lost, but what the hey. I got to bet with Jack Klugman.

When I read accounts of his death, I learned he had agreed to do “Quincy, M.E.” because he hoped to do stories that focused on issues like preventing child abuse and rape. His social conscience put him at odds with his producer, who didn’t think viewers wanted to see shows about those subjects. But Jack was right. “Quincy, M.E.” was the first of a new genre of popular crime-detection shows focusing on those and other social issues, among them “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” and “Law & Order: Criminal Intent.”

In the 1980s, Jack pushed hard to get the Orphan Drug Act passed. In fact, he had his brother, Maurice, write two episodes of “Quincy, M.E.” about the problem that pharmaceutical companies weren’t inclined to spend money developing drugs for rare diseases like ALS and cystic fibrosis. The first episode acquainted the audience with the problem. The second dramatized the real-life battle Jack was having with Washington. A senator was holding up the bill, and after the episode, the bill finally passed. Jack used the power of his own convictions and the power of the media to help people with rare diseases. For more about his crusade, read this.

Most people don’t know about Jack’s dedication to social issues. In fact, many people think Jack was Oscar Madison of “The Odd Couple,” a shambling, sloppy loudmouth with green meat and brown cheese rotting in his fridge. That’s a tribute to his ability to make a bizarre character seem real. Jack was not Oscar. He was smart, talented, dedicated and socially conscious. But okay, he was a little disheveled-looking. Rreferring to Tony Randall, his “Odd Couple” co-star, he told me, “Tony has suits that are 30 years old. He brushes them, hangs them up, and they look like new. Me, I wear a new suit for two minutes, and it looks like it’s 30 years old.” He was funny, self-deprecating, and someone you wished you could keep on being friends with after the shoot was over.

I’ve worked with other well-known actors. But the one I remember most fondly is Jack Klugman. The natural everyman. The socially conscious actor. And the guy who couldn’t pronounce “Ak-Sar-Ben” to save his life.

Freelance Writer Files: Is Bad News “Good News?”

Local newspapers are an endangered species, so I choose to subscribe to the KC Star and read it most mornings while I munch Rice Chex and sip coffee. But I’m beginning to wonder if reading it is such a keen idea.

This bright, sunny Sunday morning, I got a double whammy of depressing input. As I was reading the first section of the paper, I was listening to an episode of “This American Life” about how the settlers and Indians in Mankato, Michigan had attacked, murdered, and hanged thousands of each other in the 19th century.

In the paper, here are a few of the stories from this morning:

On the first page, there was a wonderful story about a family that had taken in homeless people, including a black student and a young family, and were helping them over the hump to a better life.

So much for the good news. Here’s the rest:

• Article about how KC Art Institute donors had reneged on a $7 million pledge because they now claim to be broke. KCAI is suing, since they’ve already built the building.
• Article about things breast cancer patients don’t know. I don’t even want to hear the words “breast cancer.” How about you?

Page A2:
• State Department headquarters blaze seriously injures three maintenance workers.
• Drug-seeking man arrested in Aurora, CO on Black Friday for shooting a hole in the ceiling of a Target store.

• Article about a couple who tortured a 16-year-old “sex slave”

• 17-year-old dies in car accident

You get the idea.

After all that news and information, I was ready to crawl back into bed and pull a pillow over my head.

The news is not going to start you out for the day with a smile on your lips and a song in your heart. And I’m not just talking about print news. Or even just the morning. The evening TV news is designed to give you nightmares all night long. The newscast starts with a tragedy (a baby injured in a rolling gun battle or a horrendous car accident), and then you see a reporter standing at the crime scene by a length of crime tape hours later, when the scene is obscured by darkness. And even if it weren’t, there’s NOTHING TO SEE! Well, there’s the crime tape.

“You Are There” was an old TV show from the 50s. It appears TV news operations are trying to bring you There, even when there’s no THERE there.

I recall Walt Bodine telling of an experience in the early days on the WDAF-TV news staff. He had been doing human interest stories, and his boss called him on the carpet and said, “What’s all this human interest stuff? I want BANG! BODIES!”

Why do we humans slow down to see a car accident? Why is the bad and the ugly considered “good news?” Why are human interest stories that lift the soul considered boring, and must-not-see TV, except maybe around the holidays? I imagine evolutionary lessons learned in millennia past make us study frightful things closely to make sure similar things don’t happen to us. We take the usual good or neutral news as the norm, so there’s no threat and no reason to take notice.

Maybe someday, bad news won’t be considered “good news.” In the meantime, if you read a newspaper or watch TV news, expect to see “BANG! BODIES!”

Freelance Writer Files: How do you stay sane at work?

If you are a cubicle critter, I empathize. Nothing to look at but your three and one-half, neck-high “walls” every day. Not even a door to close for privacy. In a previous life, I was a cubicle-bound writer. Now I’m allergic to those things. Not writers, cubicles.

Know this guy?

Did you take this guy's stapler?

I well remember how boring it got being cooped up in my 40 square feet. It got so bad, even a required staff meeting sounded like fun. If there was no meeting, I would take a trek to the restroom, coffeepot, soda machine, kitchen, or someone else’s cubicle, where I would try to strike up a conversation. I think I annoyed some people who were trying to get work done. Could those “Go away” signs have been meant for me?

Well, I did go away, and today, I work in my own home office. I still take those walks during the day, but in addition, I set a timer for 30 minutes, and when it dings, I jog 500 steps around the apartment, waving my arms around, bobbling my head around, doing the twist, anything at all to get the blood flowing and my mind ticking.

That’s all for good health, because they say if you sit for more than three hours a day, you’re shortening your life by two years. Can you choose the two years? Probably not.

Mousie Cat taking a break from his hectic workday.

Mousie Cat taking a break from his hectic workday.

For mental health, you need some stimulation, too. Fortunately, I have pets. Mousie Cat isn’t much help in that department, since he sleeps all day, starting right after breakfast. But my two parakeets, Buster and Alice, are a riot to watch.

Writer desk with birds

Those birds keep me sane, I tell you!

Alice, the baby, is a daring acrobat. I’ve seen her do a 360 on the perch. How, I don’t know, it happened so fast. Like most babies, she chews on everything. The cage bars, the mineral block, the seed cups, even occasionally on the toy made of stringy things and beads I bought for her to chew on. She and Buster, the senior bird, chortle and chatter all day long, feed and preen each other, chase each other around, and put on a constant variety show. They don’t keep plates spinning on long sticks or anything, but I’d say singing, dancing, doing acrobatics, and being clowns makes for a pretty good show.

If you’re a freelance writer or designer, and you get bored working by yourself, I suggest a couple of parakeets. They’re inexpensive to maintain, and they’re a live zoo exhibit right in your office.

When you’re writing an ad, some website copy, a brochure, or even a letter to a friend, and you’re stuck for a creative idea, all you have to do is bird-watch for a few minutes. Those birdies will keep you sane, believe me!

A Jou-Jou lookalike

Jou-Jou lookalike. All grey cockatiels look alike, actually.

Back in the cubicle days, I had a cockatiel. I brought him (Jou-Jou was his name) to work, and everyone in the agency came by to look at him, talk to him, and hear him peep. He loved people, too. Personally, I think every office space should have birds. It’s become a fad for ad agencies or design studios to have dogs, but I say birds are 100 times better. You don’t have to take them out for a walk or scoop their poo, they don’t drool on your computer or hump your leg, and if you are able to spend some quality time with them, you can teach them tricks that are every bit as cute as dog tricks. Even cuter. And when they vocalize, it’s music, not barks.

Yes, I say. Writer, designer, or other freelancer, get thee to a pettery, and get thee some birds! But in the meantime, tell me how you stay sane at work. What do you do to relax, re-energize, and keep from either going to sleep or going postal?

Freelance Writer Files: Did Shakespeare Speak American??

Portrait of Shakespeare


There’s a new CD out that contains the real sound of Shakespearean English. Surprisingly, it sounds more American than Henry Higgins-style British. Here’s an excerpt:

Q: I tuned in late to the discussion on WNYC about Elizabethan English, but did Pat really say Shakespeare spoke like an American? How does she know what he sounded like? I didn’t realize Francis Bacon had invented the tape recorder.

A: The short answer is that Shakespeare didn’t sound just like an American, but his accent was probably more NBC than BBC.

The interesting thing is that language, like species, evolves in different directions in two populations of critters that are split up (in this case, Brits and emigrating Brits, separated by the Atlantic Ocean). In post-Shakespearean times, the British adopted what is called Received Pronunciation. Think of the upstairs residents in “Upstairs Downstairs.” Meanwhile, the Brits who had emigrated to America retained the Original Pronunciation, which was more like modern American English, with a hint of other accents thrown in. So ironically, American English may be more authentic British English than what’s spoken by today’s Brits!

Read more here.

If you’re interested in the evolution of language globally, please check out “Tower of Babel” by Rob Pennock. Fascinating!

And brush up your Shakespeare!