Saturday, December 31, 2016

My Wish for You in 2017

Be kind.

Be kind to yourself. Be kind to those around you. Be kind to strangers. Be kind to animals. Be kind to people who share your beliefs -- and those who don't. Be kind to the helpers: the clerk, the plumber, the policeman, the waiter. Be kind to teachers. Be kind to your neighbors. Be kind to people who look like you -- and those who don't. Be kind to your family. And, because it bears saying one more time: Be kind to yourself.

Kindness is magic. One kind word can transform a day. One kind person can transform a life. One kind community can transform the world.

Be kind.

Image from The Madison Park Group.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Creative Query: How Stupid Do We Look?

Words are amazing. They paint pictures, influence attitudes, shape lives.

Words are also flexible. They can be twisted to obfuscate and obliterate the truth. So when this screen pops up as Tom and I buy theatre tickets online, my response is: Who are you kidding?

Why exactly is this fee convenient? And is the extra tax on it extra convenient? Or, could this be a convenient way for the theatre to make more money, while expecting consumers to plan ahead rather than going to a show on the spur of the moment -- you know, a plan that actually is convenient?

And that senior ticket price? Same price as the child's fee or the regular adult fee. So, yeah ... you have conveniently made me feel old for no benefit.

Words matter. Just say it. Seating fee. Advance fee. Online fee. Selection fee.

OK, the cranky-pants writer is done for the moment. In honor of the holidays, I will not charge you an extra fee for reading this online, at your convenience.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Creativity Tips: How to be a Successful Freelancer

In 2017, I will celebrate 15 years of working for the best boss ever -- ME. At this point, I would be a truly pathetic employee for anyone else. I like to work on my pace, on my timetable, and in my jammies.

As a matter of fact*, I'm writing this post in my jammies, and it's 9:38 a.m. at the moment.

Now, the flip side of that story is that at 9:38 last night, I was working on a hot deadline for a client that came in after "closing time" for most businesses. So, let's not think it's all lollipop kids and unicorns here.

But, I digress. Here's the point of this post: After 15 years on my own, I'm frequently asked for advice by people considering a career move into the freelance world. Here's what I tell them:

  1. Treat yourself like a client. Think about the move strategically.
    What is your career goal? What is your monetary goal? Can you reach these goals as a solo practitioner? What is your financial situation? Can you afford slow times? 
  2. Treat yourself like a friend. Again, think about it strategically -- but with heart. 
    Do you like being alone? Will you miss the water-cooler chats? Do you have the willpower and resolve needed to get up and go to work when no one will notice if you don't?
  3. Talk before you act.
    Network. Talk with friends who are freelancers. Contact freelancers who aren't friends, and see if they have any advice to offer. (Some of us are friendlier than others, I've discovered.) Consider this a research paper: Get all the inputs possible, then shift through and decide what is of value to you. 
  4. Work with professionals. 
    I didn't do this at the start, but -- looking back -- it seems like it would have been a good idea to talk to an attorney or banker or someone at the SBA who knows about small business and might have informed ideas re: the best way to set the business up. I benefited from the help of a friend who is my accountant, and it has all worked just fine. But "seat of the pants" isn't your recommended route. 
  5. Line up your first freelance job, before you leave your current job.
    What? Did I hear you say you don't have a choice? That you've lost the old job and that's why you're thinking about freelance? Uh-oh. Sorry, my friend, but it's time to re-evaluate. The freelance life is not easy or simple. If you're choosing it as a last resort, I suggest you look for a "real job" a little longer. 
  6. Put half of every paycheck away for taxes, business expenses, etc. 
    My friend Phil gave me this advice when I was going through Step #3. You will do a job for a client. They will send you a check. It will seem HUGE, to use the adjective of choice these days. What you need to remember is this: The client didn't take any taxes out of that check. The client didn't take any healthcare fees out of that check. The client isn't buying your office supplies. By putting half of every paycheck into your business savings account (or holding it sacred in the business checking account), you will be able to pay bills when they come due. 
  7. Stick to a schedule, even though you don't have to. 
    This advice came from my friend Jamie, and it got me out of a rut. Go to work on time. My office is in my home, thus making it easier for the whole jammies and unicorns approach. However, it is totally separate from our living space and dedicated to work. I am in my office every morning, Monday through Friday, between 8 - 8:30 a.m. and am typically there until 5 p.m. Bonus: Clients know they can contact me during regular business hours. I'm not a "flaky" freelancer. 
  8. Plan to spend more time than expected on billing and other really unfun aspects of work. 
    When I was creative director at Blades & Associates, I had the luxury of focusing on copy and design. The account pros took care of clients and monthly reports; the accountants took care of billing. Or someone did. I don't know -- it wasn't me. All I had to do was track my billable time. Now, it's all me. Oh, sure, I could hire that out. But when you're a freelancer, every dollar you spend is YOUR dollar, so you approach money differently. I choose to spend the time and do it myself. But I had no idea how much time would be involved. Consider yourself warned. 
  9. Get comfortable with chaos.
    Two weeks ago, I had more work than I could accomplish in a day. I worked from early morning until my creative brain gave up. Today, I have two relatively quick jobs to do, and I'm putting them off because they're not due today ... and because I wanted to write this post and wrap a few holiday gifts. I also woke up this morning to an ASAP request from a client in Europe, who is seven hours ahead of me. So her ASAP really is ASAP, because her day is almost over when mine is starting. I never know what the day/week will hold. I'm OK with that, but the random nature of freelancing could make a normal person crazed. 
  10. Keep networking. 
    Get out of the office, especially if your office is at home. You will think better, create better, feel better if you have regular contact with other human beings. 
  11. Enjoy the benefits. 
    Sure, I have to pay my own health insurance. Yeah, I have to do my own billing. On the other hand, I can run a load of laundry while writing an annual report. And I can take time in the middle of the day to go see Mom if I want to -- because no one cares if I'm writing at 10 a.m. or 10 p.m., as long as I hit their deadline. 
  12. Manage your reputation. 
    We're back to Step #1 and Step #2. And this may be the most important part of being a freelancer. You are all you have. Your reputation is everything. Be nice to people. Treat them fairly. Talent and quality obviously matter to clients. But success as a freelancer goes far beyond that. Be a good person. Be someone you would want to work with, if you had a choice -- because your clients have a lot of choices. Why should they work with you? Are you kind? Are you friendly? Are you responsive? Do you care about their success? 

I could keep going, but a dozen tips seems like a good number. Basically, my friends, freelance life is absolutely lovely when you surround yourself with a circle of creative friends and clients, watch your finances, continually keep business in the pipeline, embrace chaos and enjoy solitude. I do all of that, and have managed to make a lovely life -- and an excellent living -- as a writer. My job is a gift that I am grateful for every single day.

Questions? Post away or email me. I'm a Jewish momma. I'm happy to give advice.

*Advice: When you say, "As a matter of fact" or "Frankly" or any of those kind of phrases, you imply that everything else you're saying is not fact or frank. Best to avoid them.

Designed by Chandler, at Kalimizzou. See Step #4 above.
And check out his creative design process for the logo here!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Words Matter: Copy This Letter to Electors

Words are powerful, and time is running out. If you'd like to write to members of the Electoral College, feel free to copy my words. Now is the time. They vote on Monday.

December 14, 2016

From:   (Name and Address)

To:       Elector – list with addresses is available at

Your responsibility as a presidential elector is tremendous, and I commend you for your political engagement.

Now, you have the rare and wonderful opportunity to put the Electoral College to work in its proper way. It was created to prevent people like Donald Trump from assuming power and becoming president.

I am asking you to use your best judgment and vote for another candidate. Hillary Clinton would certainly be a logical option, given her margin of victory in the popular vote. However, if you cannot in good conscience vote for Secretary Clinton, then I respectfully ask that you vote for a candidate that you and your fellow electors find more worthy.

This is not a partisan issue. This is a matter of maintaining our wonderful democracy. There are numerous reasons why the president-elect is not fit to be president, and I have no doubt that you are familiar with them all – from his temperament, to his lies, to his attitudes about women and immigrants, the list goes on and on. Add to that, the Russian interference with our election, and you have more than enough valid reasons to cast your vote in a manner that supports the mandate of the Electoral College and protects American values.

We only need a handful of brave patriots in the Electoral College to act responsibly and save our country. I hope with all my heart that you will be one of them.

Thank you for your service and your consideration.


Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Creativity Tips: Make it a Whale of a Tale

If you're going to do something creative, don't hold back. Shake your tail feathers and go for the gusto.

December 9 marks 100 years since the birth of Issur Danielovich, better known as Kirk Douglas. He is one of the few people I've ever written a fan letter to -- I wanted to thank him for his performance in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

Specifically, I thanked him for shaking his tail feathers as he sang "A Whale of a Tale." That little wiggle kept me going on days when the girls were little and wanted to watch Disney Sing-A-Long videos. Over and over again. Some of those songs got a bit tiresome after the first two dozen plays.

But watching Kirk Douglas? That never gets old. I mean, seriously: That's one fine-looking man. And one very cute tush.

Happy 100!

P.S. No, he didn't respond. Maybe I shouldn't have been quite so specific in my praise.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Food is Love: Unsalted Baking Co.

@unsaltedbakingco on Instagram
I haven't done a "Food is Love" post for a while. But this is the perfect time to share good news and good food. I'm delighted to announce that Mary and her friend Tyler have officially launched Unsalted Baking Company, LLC

Consider the pic above a nosh -- a little sampling. It doesn't even include a photo of their world-famous chocolate chip cookies. 

Now, being the supportive mother that I am, I have FORCED MYSELF to sample all the goodies. You know, just to make sure they're acceptable. They are acceptable. (Ohmilord. The strawberry cupcakes may be my new favorite food group. Because I can eat a group of them. And the peanut butter cake is scrumptious. Ditto the chocolate pie. Well, ditto for all of it.)

Unsalted Baking Co. is now taking orders for your holiday parties, special events, or day-to-day cravings. Enjoy! Oh -- and when you check out their Instagram feed, you'll discover that their copy is as beautiful as the photos. Makes my heart happy. 

You know you want some. Send an email
P.S. I'm thankful for the good sense to know that I need to step away from politics for a few days and give my heart and soul a rest. I'll be back on social media, checking news, planning the revolution, etc., on Monday. 

P.P.S. As always, I'm thankful for you! I hope your holidays are filled with happiness and love. Save yourself a corner of time to be creative. 

Friday, November 18, 2016

Friday Fun: Breathe

Wowzer. What a week, right? And next week -- Thanksgiving, and all the fun and family and associated stress that goes with the holidays.

So, to recover from the past week and prepare for good times ahead, here's what I want you to do: Breathe. Really, truly breathe.

Naturally, I don't expect you to do something as complex as breathing all by yourself. Hello. This is one of those areas where we all need help. And it's here! Check out this instruction sheet from The New York Times. (I subscribe, but I think everyone can see a few articles every month.) If you don't have time to read, or breathe, skip down to the bottom of the article for the step-by-step info.

Here's to a peaceful weekend, my friends.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

What You Gonna Do?

Let me take you away from the election analysis and the end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it predictions. Let me take you back to 1982, when Richard Pryor was on Sunset Strip, talking about his drug problems and his good friend, Jim Brown.

Jim Brown was not someone to mess with, as Pryor relates in this classic clip. Watch it, if you don't mind a little vulgarity. (Hell, if Tuesday taught us anything, it's that we don't mind vulgarity. At least with Pryor, it's amusing.)

The clip's unforgettable line is: What you gonna do? Brown followed Pryor around relentlessly, ignoring the in-your-face drug use, and asking one simple, direct question: What you gonna do, Richard? What you gonna do?

It's the perfect question for today. What you gonna do? And I don't mean What we gonna do? I mean you. This is the time for personal response and individual action. If you don't like the election results, step up. Do something.

What am I gonna do? I'm gonna be the Jewish momma and give you a push in a positive direction:

  1. Don't despair. Don't wallow in the sorrow and fear. As I posted on Facebook, Wednesday was the time to grieve, to reassure our children, to console each other. To be angry. And understandably afraid. Today is the time to act. 
  2. Look at the popular vote. Look at the millennial vote. Realize that there are MILLIONS of people who didn't choose anger and hate. There are millions of people who don't look at women and Jews and and blacks and Muslims and gays and Hispanics and disabled people and see an "Other" to be feared or despised or abused or grabbed or shunned. 
  3. Find those good people. They are in your community. They are all around us. 
  4. Work with them. Take decisive, constructive steps to safeguard what you value. If you appreciate a woman's right to make choices about her healthcare, send money to Planned Parenthood, or volunteer. If you're concerned about climate change (yes, it's real), find an organization that's working on it and join them -- here's a list to get you started. 
  5. Work by yourself. Do what you can -- as one caring, engaged, concerned citizen -- to protect the ideals that truly make America great. Visit a church or mosque or synagogue. Talk to people who aren't your race or your religion or your whatever. Get off the couch, turn off your electronic devices, and engage in our beautifully diverse universe. 
  6. Get political. Run for office or volunteer for a campaign, party or issue. If memory serves, all the U.S. House of Representative seats and a few Senate seats are up for grabs in 2018. That's just two years from now. We don't have to wait for the next presidential election to create meaningful change. 
  7. Speak out. When people are being racist, sexist, homophobic, whatever, don't be silent. Don't let them get away with it -- don't shrug it off as a joke, or just one person's opinion. Prejudice and hatred are wrong, and silence is acceptance. You have a voice beyond your vote. Use it. 

As a pro football player, Jim Brown knew how to cut to the chase. His question to Richard Pryor wasn't complicated. It wasn't eloquent. It was perfect. I'm not a pro football player, but I am every bit as relentless. So I'm going to ask you one more time: What you gonna do? 

Monday, October 24, 2016

Are You Warm Enough?

Last Thursday night, Mom fell -- a common occurrence these days -- but this time she broke her wrist. The ambulance took her to St. Luke's South hospital, I met her at ER, and we spent a few hours with a truly wonderful healthcare team. A few X-rays and sedatives later, her wrist was set and they helped me settle her in the car for the quick drive back to Village Shalom.

By this time, it was around midnight and the temperature had dropped to about 45 degrees. It was chilly, and mom was just wearing her nightie. We tucked a blanket around her legs. And, as luck would have it, I had one of her jackets in the car, so I put that around her shoulders.

Now, keep this in mind: Mom is 95, in pain, confused and cold. And you know what she asked as I drove her home?

"Are you warm enough, Janet?"

One of the keys to living a long and happy life is caring about others. Even with her skittish memory, Mom never forgets to ask about me and my family and to wish us well. She never forgets that other people matter. And that extends to people she doesn't know: At the hospital, Mom repeatedly expressed her gratitude to the doctor and nurses and X-ray technicians -- and asked questions about them.

I told her, as we drove, that she had been an excellent patient.

"I try to be as good as I can, Janet. That's just how I was raised."

Lillian Sokoloff raises the bar daily for what it means to be a good person. Her concern for me, our family, the people around us? Well, that's enough to comfort me, no matter how cold this world might seem.

It's a new week, folks. Stay warm.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Creativity Tips: Take a Chance!

Over the years, I've written LOTS of poems. I rarely submit any of them for publication. But, I recently sent a prayer/poem to the Union for Reform Judaism, and they published it yesterday! Very exciting. I hope you like it

I also hope you take a chance and put your own creative work out into the world. It doesn't have to be a poem. Frame a doodle. Hang it up. See what happens!

Friday, September 30, 2016

Friday Fun: Emily McDowell Studio

You know how I feel about finding the perfect words. So, it will come as no surprise that I was delighted to find Emily McDowell Studio -- with empathy cards like this:

Given the current political environment, I'm also liking this magnet:

There are a zillion other cool, creative things on her site. Check it out. And, FYI, this is not a paid advertisement. Emily McDowell did not approve this message. (But let's get real. I think she'd like it.)

Friday, September 23, 2016

Friday Fun: Sharknado!

I count seven grammatical errors in that sign. How about you? And, yes. It's sad but true: Proofreading is my idea of fun.

Grammar and punctuation aside, it's the weekend. Watch a silly movie with friends. Party on!

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Creativity Tips: Edit!

Thank you all for the lovely reactions to my post on Monday. The public and private feedback, the shares, the comments on Facebook -- all the responses made me glad I took two creative steps I all-too-often skip.

  1. I thought about the post -- a lot -- before I wrote it. 
  2. I edited the post -- a lot -- after I wrote it. 

First of all, thinking. Whoa. And you have to "whoa," because we're all moving so fast we don't have time to think. In this case, I mulled over: What's the strategy behind the copy? What am I trying to accomplish? Who am I talking to and what do they want/need to know?

I thought about writing a "strong women don't cry" post -- and listing all the reasons women have gotten sucked into the negative narrative men have fallen victim to for years. I might have gone that route, but I didn't want to alienate all the good-hearted men who read the blog and could also use a good-hearted cry. So, after thinking it through, I changed my mind and the copy direction.

Next, after I wrote the post, I gave myself plenty of time to edit. And I edited heavily. I cut extraneous words. I made verbs active, rather than passive. I deleted personal information that might have made the post more about me (Whoa again! You mean it's not all about me?) -- and less relevant to you.

I'm glad I did, and that the resulting post resonated with so many of you.

And now, because it is all about me, I'll share one of the deleted tidbits. I didn't just find the Muhammad Ali quote for Monday's post. I had this version of it in my dorm room, 40 years ago.

And, yes. That's the actual poster from my days at MU. 
There's a note on the back from a friend.
I'm a writer. Editing is one thing. Deleting? That's something else. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Creativity Tips: Find the Time

One of the most common anti-creativity comments is, "I don't have time to ..."  You don't have time to write. To paint. To exercise. To read a book. Whatever.

I saw reports this week that Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu was in the hospital, recovering from an infection -- and I thought back to the glorious day 26 years ago, when he and his wife visited UMKC and I had the honor of spending time with both of them.

Archbishop Tutu glowed; his presence felt holy. His wife Leah radiated love. I have never before and never again been in the presence of anyone like them.

Why am I telling you this now? Because right after his visit, Archbishop Tutu found time to write personal notes to the UMKC team, thanking us for our assistance.

You want to write, paint, exercise, read, whatever? We all have 24 hours a day. It's just a question of how we prioritize them.

Dear Jan,
Thank you very much for all you did to look after us during
our lovely visit to your university. We enjoyed ourselves hugely.
God bless, Desmond Cape

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Creativity Tips: Share Great Stories

There's nothing better than a story well told, unless it's a true story well told, complete with happy ending. Here's one of my favorites. Enjoy!

I still need to see the movie ...

Monday, September 19, 2016

It's Not OK to Cry

I thought a lot about whether I wanted to write this column or not. Then, I wondered if I should post it on Monday, when I like to do a "rally the troops, get out there and have a great week" blog.

But, in the end, I saw yet another Facebook post from a friend in crisis, and decided that T. S. Eliot is wrong. April is not the cruelest month. September is.

So, here in the midst of September, we all need this reminder: It's not OK to cry. 

Now, if tears were flames, I burst into spontaneous combustion at least 10 times last Tuesday. Don't worry -- there's nothing horrible going on. It wasn't a crisis. It was the sucker punch of life, the combination of countless hurts and frustrations and losses and irritations and worries and failures, those moments we push down and ignore so we can make it through the day.

On Tuesday, I went to Village Shalom. I gave flowers to the wonderful nurse who has taken such good care of mom and is leaving to go back to school. I told mom who I was, something I do repeatedly these days.

Then I went out to the parking lot, got into my car, sat there and sobbed. And I continued to burst into spontaneous tears throughout the day.

You know what happened? I woke up Wednesday and felt lighter. I felt happier. I felt like myself again. And that's when I remembered ...

It's not OK to cry. It's essential. It's life-affirming. It's cleansing. Crying is visceral proof that we are feeling, caring, emotional beings. Crying is human.

And I rarely do it, because I'm pretty damn busy being strong and stoic, when I ought to just be.

So if you, like far too many of my friends, are going through a tough month, here's my Monday morning, rally the troop advice: Find a sanctuary. Maybe it's your home. Your car. A quiet stretch on a familiar path. Then, if you need to cry, let the waterfall flow.

I often find sanctuary in solitude. You may prefer to cry on someone's shoulder. Either way, when hearts are heavy and eyes are full, we're not alone. Ancients sages are right beside us, quietly whispering:

"This too shall pass."

Friday, September 16, 2016

Friday Fun: You get to be a mensch!

So, I've been promising you a Mensch Manifesto to wrap up this week's series. I'm not going to deliver.

That means you get to be mensch and forgive me!

On the bright side, I'm not completely bailing on you. Rather than writing a manifesto, I'm sharing a mensch meditation:

Lend us the wit, O God,
to speak the lean and simple word;
give us the strength to speak
the found word, the meant word;
grant us the humility to speak
the friendly word, the answering word.

And make us sensitive, God,
sensitive to the sound of the words
which others speak --
sensitive to the sound of their words --
and to the silence between.

-- from Mishkan T'Filah, adapted from Chaim Stern

Shabbat shalom, my friends! Thanks for traveling along on this week's journey.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Creativity Tips: 18 Ways to be a Mensch

Here's a completely radical concept in these days of social media and instant communication: You don't have to say everything that pops into your head.

Whoa. Think about that for a moment. And, as you do, consider this:

18 Ways to be a Mensch

  1. Be nice to the waiter.
  2. Follow the advice from Sai Baba, an Indian spiritual master: "Before you speak, ask yourself: Is it kind, is it necessary, is it true? Does it improve upon the silence?"
  3. Hold doors open, especially for the elderly or people with arms full of packages or babies. Smile as you let them go through.
  4. When you make a mistake, apologize. Graciously. Face-to-face, if possible, and with no excuses. 
  5. Put your phone away. Pay attention to the person right in front of you.
  6. Look for the lonely people. Let them know you're there, if they want to talk. 
  7. Say, "Thank you!" Say, "You're welcome!"
  8. Let someone else win -- let them have the worst day, or the best cookies. 
  9. Don't go for the easy joke, if it might hurt someone's feelings. 
  10. Think about the other person's feelings. 
  11. Remember that everyone -- everyone -- is struggling with something. (Since this is a series on being a mensch, I'll continue with the Yiddish. We all have tsurris (troubles, disasters, heartache). We all have mishegas (craziness). 
  12. Offer help to someone who is struggling, without waiting to be asked.* 
  13. Let the other driver cut in front of you during rush hour. Don't flip him off. 
  14. Visit someone who is ill. 
  15. Surprise a neighbor with homemade goodies. 
  16. Show up. Attend the weddings. Attend the funerals. 
  17. Listen to the answer -- or the silence -- when you ask someone how they're doing. Respond appropriately. 
  18. Put decency, human dignity and respect first.*

    *Thanks to Carol and Mark for their contributions from Monday's post! We'll wrap up this series tomorrow with our Mensch Manifesto. I hope. I haven't written it yet ...

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Are Mensches an Endangered Species?

On Monday, as we launched this series, Hedy offered a definition of mensch:

An endangered species of human. But with care and nurturing and best set examples in daily life, it is predicted that their numbers shall increase.

I'm delighted to offer a case in point: Jackson, my friend Cheri's son. Cheri, a fine example of a mensch, has raised Jackson with care and nurturing, and this young man gives me hope for the future. On this, his 12th birthday, Jackson is already a true mensch. He's a role model for the kids in middle school -- and for all of us. We can do what Jackson does:

  • Be respectful.
    Listen when people talk. Make eye contact. Respond.
  • Be kind.
    Take care of other people. Pay attention to those around you. Notice who needs help or encouragement -- and offer it.
  • Be grateful. 
    Realize that your life, with all its challenges, is also filled with so many wonderful reasons for gratitude -- from a roof over your head to birthday cake! 

Gratitude didn't show up in any of the mensch definitions CI readers offered on Monday, but I've been mulling it over, and I think it's an attribute mensches share. Gratitude opens our hearts. And that's a key to letting other people in.

Jackson, it goes against etiquette to thank someone for a thank you note, so I won't thank you for the note below. I will thank you for expressing your gratitude in such a fun, creative way and for making me laugh when I got the card. I'm delighted to be your mom's Jewish mom. Happy birthday!

P.S. Are thank you notes an endangered species? Oy. That's a whole other blog post ...

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Creativity Tips: Show, Don't Tell

Yesterday, as we started this week-long series, I told you to be a mensch. My bad. A good writer should show, not tell. So, as we move forward, I will show you mensches in action.

Let's start with the story that sparked this series:

When our daughter Kate turned 17, Tom and I bought her a used VW Passat. Kate's 26 now, a real estate agent with a house of her own and two dogs. The Passat was old and had over 100,000 miles on it. She wanted something bigger, newer, better.

She went online and found a great deal on an Audi SUV. So, earlier this month, she sold the Passat. A used car transaction -- it happens every day. What makes this one special?

The day before she sold her Passat, Kate took it to a car wash and spent about $25 to have the attendants clean it and polish it -- inside and out. Then, she drove to a gas station and filled up the tank.

She didn't have to do that. She'd been offered her selling price for the car, sight unseen.

Kate is a mensch. And the young man who bought the VW? He was thrilled. He didn't have a lot of money. He was buying a 12-year-old car. The polished wheels? The full tank of gas? They mattered to him. They mattered a lot.

A mensch thinks about other people -- even strangers -- and is willing to put their needs first. How can you do that that? What can you do, today, to make someone else feel cared for -- to feel special?

P.S. There's nothing more satisfying than raising a mensch. Unless it's raising two mensches! Kate and Mary both inspire me to be a better person by their words and their deeds. They make a momma proud. Tomorrow, I'll share the story of another young mensch -- not related to me! -- who gives me hope for the future.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Creativity Tips: Be a Mensch

Do you ever glance at a newspaper or Facebook or Twitter and just think, "How did we get here?" 

When did it become acceptable -- heck, admirable -- for people to shout hateful, ugly words at other people, simply because they disagree on politics, or religion, or love, or ... well, you name it. 

Whatever happened to manners? We don't have to agree, but can't we get along? Can't we at least be civil?

In my ever-optimistic hope that we can, I'm devoting this week's CI blogs to one piece of Jewish momma advice: Be a mensch. 

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a mensch is a person of integrity and honor

According to the Urban Dictionary, a mensch is an upstanding, worthy, honorable adult person of either sex.

According to My Jewish Learning, a mensch is literally "man," an honorable, decent, stand-up person, as in, "I don't care who you marry, as long as he's a mensch."

Let's start the week by agreeing on our own definition. I'll start the discussion -- I hope you'll share your ideas/definitions. I'm going to say: A mensch is a decent, honorable, thoughtful human being who demonstrates care and concern about other human beings.

Throughout the week, I'll give you examples of mensches -- along with easy ways you can be a mensch. And, if all goes as planned, we'll wrap it up with a Mensch Manifesto on Friday. 

Now, go have a great week! Be a trendsetter. Be a mensch. 

Friday, September 9, 2016

Friday Fun: Finish Every Day and Be Done With It

You know what's fun? Reaching the end of a long week. And why do the weeks with holidays often seem longer than regular weeks?

This week, I sent my revised book proposal back to the agent. Whoo hoo! I'll keep you posted. For now, I'm going to share one of my favorite Ralph Waldo Emerson quotes -- it's included in one of the sample chapters I've written for the book:

“Finish every day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. Begin it well and serenely, and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.”

Happy weekend! Go make new nonsense.
Looks like trouble, doesn't he? 

Friday, August 19, 2016

Friday Fun: Top 10 Cringe-Inducing Client Comments on Copy

Most of the time -- really, most of the time -- my copy hits the mark with clients. But, now and then, it doesn't. For your amusement, here are the top 10 client comments that make me cringe:
  1. I have an English degree. 
  2. This copy is really fun! I don't want fun. 
  3. You forgot to put a comma before the word and. I fixed it for you.
  4. I didn't know what I wanted, but now that I see what you've written, I know it's not what I wanted. OK?
  5. Oh. We just went through a complete branding change. Did I forget to mention that? 
  6. You broke my quote into paragraphs. It's all one quote. 
  7. My title should be capped. I fixed it for you.   
  8. I know I'm getting it to you late, but I still need it tomorrow. 
  9. You forgot quotation marks at the end of the paragraph. I fixed it for you.
  10. You misspelled my name. 
And the comment that sparked this post? Imagine, if you will, a very very very smart man with a lovely Southern drawl, "Ma'am, I'm like a gumball machine. You know, you put your quarter in, you turn the knob, you get your gumball. Investment, action, results. I want you to tell me exactly how this blog post is gonna drive profitable growth."

It's the weekend, people. Party on. Buy a gumball and think of me.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Creativity Tips: Just for the record ...

Did you read yesterday's blog on writer's block? Well, I took my own advice. I walked away from the sample chapter I couldn't write on Monday or Tuesday.

Wednesday, I woke up and wrote a completely different sample chapter in an hour. It's brilliant. I can say that with ease, because the chapter is all about appreciating your own talents.

Life is good.

Do what you love. Love what you do. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

#Creativity Tips: Five Ways to Smash Writer's Block

Never, never, never, never, never. Well, almost never. That's how often I have writer's block when it comes to client copy. I'm a professional writer; I can't wait for inspiration to hit -- deadlines hit on a daily basis. This is a good thing. But ....

This week, I've been struggling to finish my book proposal. We're down to the final version. My agent wants two more sample chapters and a few minor edits. No problem, right?

Well, the first additional chapter was easy to write. The edits were easy to make. And then, AIEEEEEEEEEEEEE! Writer's block gone crazy. A chapter that should have taken two hours to write took two days. And I'm still not ready to say it's done.

Since my mom says everything happens for the best, I went looking for a silver lining. And I found one! The experience did remind me of these five tips for smashing writer's block:
  1. "Please move away from the scene of the accident. There's nothing to see, folks. Nothing to see." Get up. Leave the computer, the tablet, the notebook, whatever you're writing on or in and walk away. Inspiration is like love; it shows up when you're not looking for it.
  2. Do something that forces you to think of other things. I like to go for a drive. I have to focus on my driving, because I have no innate sense of direction. Don't believe me? Ask mybestfriendinthewholeworldsincefourthgrade Lynn.
  3. If you, like me, have words on the page but you're pretty sure they stink, look again. Is the lead hidden in paragraph four? First paragraphs are often triggers -- necessary to get going, but then you need to pull them. Do it. Cut your copy. (I was going to use Pull the Trigger as the headline for this post. Given the current state of the world, I decided against that.)
  4. Get physical. Your brain may not be working the way you'd like, but there's that beautiful body of yours! Use it.
  5. Stop beating yourself up. We can't be brilliant 24/7. Have faith. The words you're searching for will find you.
From my free e-book. Enjoy!

Thursday, July 14, 2016

#Creativity Exercise: Write a starry night

Annie Weatherwax (is that a great name, or what?) wrote this terrific post for the Ploughshares blog on why writers should draw. Or paint. Among the many fabulous phrases/ideas in her post, this was my favorite:

"Why not, as a writer, strive to paint a sky as vivid and memorable as Van Gogh’s Starry Night. And why not aim to paint your whole world this way?"

It's the perfect question. Why not? Read her post. Then, go paint.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Creativity Tips: The Dirty Dish Dilemma

There's a classic holiday lyric: Do you hear what I hear? I can answer the question. No. You don't. You don't hear what I hear, you don't see what I see, you don't know what I know.

Given that, it's amazing we communicate at all. But, we do! And we can always do it better. One of the tricks is staying aware of both what we're saying, and what our listener may be hearing. And that requires getting out of the, "It's all about me" zone for a bit. Always a challenge.

Let me give you an example -- the situation that prompted this post. As you read this, keep in mind that Tom and I have been married almost 31 years and together 38 years.

Jan (seeing dirty dishes in the sink): The dishes in the dishwasher are dirty.
Tom (on the couch, reading the newspaper): OK.
Jan rinses his dirty dishes and puts them in the dishwasher. 

Later in the day ...
Jan (seeing more dirty dishes in the sink): The dishes in the dishwasher are dirty.
Tom (on the computer): OK.
Jan rinses his dirty dishes and puts them in the dishwasher.

Still later in the day ... 
Jan (finally realizing he doesn't get it): Honey, when I say, "The dishes in the dishwasher are dirty," what I'm really saying is, "Please put your dirty dishes in the dishwasher. Don't leave them in the sink."*
Tom (finally realizing why she kept announcing the dishwasher situation): OK. 

If your message isn't getting through, change the message. 

*Fine. Every woman reading this knows that what I'm really saying is, "What the hell? Why can't you put the dishes in the dishwasher? Do you think there's a dishwasher fairy who does it?" But that's the kind of message that never resonates. Trust me. I have learned something in the past 38 years ...

Monday, July 11, 2016

What's Your Story?

We're all writing our own stories. 

Every day. Every week.
What will your story be?

Friday, July 8, 2016

Friday Fun: The voters have spoken ...

According to a recent USA Today story, 13% of us (oooh, a scary number) think the meteor is sounding better and better.

And so it goes. Happy weekend, my friends! While you're relaxing, please come up with a plan to save the world.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Fabulous Phrases: Mr. Rogers

While doing some research for my creativity book, I found this terrific quote. Thought I'd share now, rather than making you wait:

The older I get, the more convinced I am that 
the space between communicating human beings 
can be hallowed ground.
-- Mr. Rogers 

Here's to hallowed ground, so often found in unexpected places.  

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Creativity Tips: DIY Souvenir

My sister Eva, a championship bowler, invited me to go with her to Las Vegas recently for the national competition. She bowls. I cheer. It's a good approach. And, when we weren't bowling and cheering, we were ... well, it's Vegas. We were playing and eating and drinking. Free drinks. God bless those cocktail waitresses.

To remember the trip, I made this quick souvenir -- and thought you might like to try it on your next vacation. Take your hotel room key, attach press-on magnet strips on the back and voila! Instant DIY souvenir. Enjoy! And buy something to read with the $5 you save on the magnet ...

Friday, July 1, 2016

#Creativity Tips: Redefine Success

OK! It's a bright, new beautiful day. Bright, new beautiful month! Perfect time to consider how you define success.
From GoComics, the perfect start to a day. 
Go fish. Go play. Go pet a pup. Here's to a great weekend!

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Creativity Tips: Every Word Matters

I had lunch yesterday with a group of dear friends and, during the course of our conversation, one of them commented that she, "had only run one marathon."

Out of curiosity, I raced over to Google. According to the stat I found, 0.5% of the U.S. population has ever run a marathon. Zero. Point. Five. Percent.

In other words, my friend is a complete amazing unusual outstanding rock star.
Only she doesn't know it.

Every word matters, and words like only and just needlessly minimize our accomplishments and weaken our sentences. Today's tip: Run right past those nasty qualifiers. I'm 100% sure you can do it!

Photo credit: Kate Harness

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

What the world needs now ...

... is love, sweet love.

Watch the video. Buy the song. Love each other. 
And appreciate the positive power and energy 
creativity unleashes when people put egos aside. 

Friday, June 3, 2016

Friday Fun: Don't Act Your Age

Tom and I recently visited Crystal Bridges in Arkansas -- one of my all-time favorite museums. Fabulous collection, gorgeous grounds. In our wanderings, we found the children's area, so naturally I went in.

Among the other interactive goodies, I found a loom for making potholders. To encourage little artists, I started a potholder -- left it part way done, in hopes that would inspire someone else to either finish it or rip it out and start their own.

Funny thing was: I loved the few minutes with the kid's loom. So, when we got home, I bought one. And then I played:

I have to tell you: Making this potholder was one of the funnest* creative activities I've had in a long time. Instant gratification. And, for someone who spends way too much time with words, it was a real creative boost to play with color. And to make something -- complete! -- in just a few minutes.

It's like baking. You start with nothing but ingredients, and you put them together and voila! Cookies. It's magic.

Go make some magic this weekend. And don't act your age.

*Yep. Not a word. I can make words up. I's a writer.

Random P.S.: This would have been my dad's 98th birthday. May his memory be a blessing.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Friday Fun: 26 Telltale Signs that You're a Writer

You know you're a writer when you read Jessica Lawlor's funny "26 Telltale Signs" post, and you're guilty of 24 of them. Oy. And enjoy!

Thanks to Mark B. for the link!

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Creativity Tips: Vanity Fair, Time and Glass Houses

Have you ever made a mistake? Congrats! You're a human being.

Unfortunately, human beings in my field get publicly called on the carpet when our mistakes show up in print. For example, Vanity Fair delighted in pointing out the editing error in a recent Time Inc. ad for Motto.

Yeah, yeah. We all see it. There's an apostrophe in the subhead: "editor's" shouldn't be possessive. Damn. An ad with a typo. Did the world end? Did anyone die? I hope not.

Along those same lines, I doubt that anyone at Vanity Fair will roll over dead when I point out, without glee, that there's a different kind of typo in their snarky story:

In addition to Motto, the company has been experimenting with other new ventures, such as a collaboration with Kobe Bryant, entitled “Dear Basketball,” to be distributed on Sports Illustrated digital properties.

As I understand the rules of the road*, the collaboration isn't entitled to anything. It's titled. And yet the world rolls on.

I'm highlighting the Vanity Fair error to make a point -- not point a finger. We all make mistakes. The question is: Do we learn from them?

P.S. Thanks to Vanessa for this and a zillion other blog ideas!

*Writing about typos makes a writer twitch. I did double-check this rule in the AP Stylebook, in case you wondered. And I proofread this post about a million times and I'm still terrified you're going to find a typo.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Creativity Tips: Make Your Away Message Memorable

One of the best clients in the world is currently in a different part of the world on vacation. When I sent him an email yesterday, I received this delightful -- and useful -- automatic response:

The beach called. I answered. Have gone for a visit.

I'm out of the office on vacation through June 3. If you need to reach someone while I'm away, please connect with (deleted, for privacy's sake). 

I'll be recharged and back on Monday, June 6!

Isn't that wonderful? No longer than most of the standard auto-responses I receive, but it's creative and fun. And it's accurate -- he will come back recharged. 

So, two creativity lessons for the price of one: Don't settle for routine on your away messages. And go away. Vacate. Recharge. You'll be glad you did -- and so will we! (Rested people are nicer, don't you find?)

P.S. I will give credit where credit is due when my client is back in town. 

Friday, May 20, 2016

Friday Fun: #Readathon2016

What are you doing tomorrow? Here's a fun idea -- join your fellow readers in support of National Readathon Day! I'll be reading, appropriately enough, The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend.

Here's to a great, reading-filled weekend!

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Creativity Tips: Track Your Time

In my line of work, I bill by the hour -- and I bill in quarter-hour segments. To do that accurately, I keep a precise running track of time spent on every project. Let's say: 7:55 - 8:35.

Oftentimes, after making a note of the start time, I get distracted. So, I write 7:55, but then I send an email to a friend or check Facebook. And when I actually get to work on the project, I glance at the clock again and see that it is now 8:05.

And I can't bill a client for those 10 minutes.

For me, time really is money. But the principle applies to all of us. Do you know how much time you redirect or squander during the day? Track it! For one day, pretend you're like me. (Ooooh. I just felt a disturbance in the Force. A huge collective shudder.)

Track your time. Then, consider if there's a more productive, or more creative, way to spend it.

FYI, if I were billing you for this post, you'd be paying for 30 minutes. (Writing it took about 10 minutes. It took another 15 minutes to find the silly Homer gif. This is what I'm talking about ...)

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Creativity Tips: Don't Have Children

Hey! I didn't write the headline. Well, I did, but it's a direct quote from Richard Ford. And it's included in this fun article On Terrible Writing Advice from Famous Writers. Enjoy!

(And why have I never heard of the Literary Hub?)

Monday, May 16, 2016

#MondayMotivation -- What are you waiting for?

Yesterday, Mom had the delight of a visit with this wonderful family. The parents live in Nebraska, one daughter in D.C., the other in L.A. But they came together in Kansas City and one of the big reasons why was to see Mom.

Their connection goes back 29 years; Mom babysat for both girls. Yesterday's visit was pure joy for everyone -- the room was filled with laughter and love and happy memories.

Mom's 95. Time is precious.But you know what? Time is precious for all of us -- regardless of our age.

How are you spending your time today? Who should you visit? Who should you call? What should you create?

And what are you waiting for?

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Creativity Tips: Skimm? Or NY Times?

How do you like your news? A lot of my friends have told me they love The Skimm, with its attitude: 

and insights:

I tried it. I didn't like it. Oh, the attitude is fine. But, old journalist that I am, I prefer my news more newsy. I'd rather start the day with The Daily Briefing from The New York Times:
We all have creative preferences. My preference isn't right. Your preference isn't right. Our opinions all have value. 

So how do you decide who is right, if a creative decision must be made? Consider the audience. It's all about them. And it's all too easy to forget that. 

By the by, feel free to share this sh*t on Facebook or Twitter or wherever. I'm still trying to build my marketing numbers for the book proposal. :-)