Social Media – I’ve Been Doing It Wrong

148970581_cfd3d9f9e8_mOver the last few months I’ve been watching an effort increasingly gain momentum in the online world. When I first heard about it I shared it myself because I thought it was really really cool, but then I found out that the person who started promoting it initially was doing so because this group was actually their client. That wasn’t the puzzling part, however. The puzzling part was that this person somehow managed to get lots of other people I was connected to to promote the cause too. There have been Twitter chats, blog posts, Facebook shares, and who knows what else. I have been scratching my head trying to figure out if these other folks even know that they are helping this person do client work.

Suddenly, lying around in my sickly stupor today, I figured it out. Of course they are aware that this is all for this person’s client. People in the online world tap their connections on the shoulder and say, “Hey, my client is doing this thing and I really want them to make a big splash. Can you help me?”

Would you believe that doing that has never occurred to me over the years I’ve been online? I feel yucky when I decide to let someone know I’m writing a post that they’re tagged in, so I try to do it in advance of the post being published or well after so they know I’m just letting them know and am not requesting that they share it. But this is really what people do in the PR and marketing world today, apparently. They say, “I’m going to be running a Twitter chat for this client – can you come and make it look like it’s popular?”

Transparency is a word that gets tossed around a lot in the online world, so I have to say that it is disturbing to me that this whole realization I just had is anti-transparency in two ways. For people who, like me, think that all of these people are jumping onto a cause just because it’s super cool, it is frustrating to realize that you have in a way been duped. These folks may not feel particularly passionate about the product or the project. They are scratching someone’s back – without revealing it to be so. But I wonder too if this is not also showing a lack of transparency to the client. If you are looking to make a report on how many times your chat’s hashtag was used in an hour, sure, getting lots of people to join in makes sense. Are those people ever going to buy your client’s product? Eh.

It is sort of sad it took me this long to come to this realization, which may seem completely obvious to you. I have always tried to do favors to people while I’ve been online because I thought I was helping out, being nice, even building friendships. But I realize now that in many cases the expectation was that I was doing that favor because then I would say to that person, “OK, now can you share this post I wrote for our agency blog?” I never do that, really. I have always figured if people want to read my content they will. If they want to share it they will. So, people took their favors, waited for the other shoe to drop, and when it didn’t, well – they were able to go on their merry way. I was not playing the game correctly.

Do I regret doing things the way I did? Not at all. At all times I have done my best to remain true to what I feel is right. I have never felt that begging for readers and shares was appropriate, so I didn’t do it. I wouldn’t feel right telling a client that their amount of Twitter followers increased because I messaged 50 of my friends and asked them to give my client a “like” or a follow. I don’t regret doing any of the favors I did. Every book review I have ever written I did from the heart with the hope that it would help the person in question. When I participated in this or that to support a friend, I did it as just that – a friend. I can’t have any regrets about that.

Having said that, it is bitterly frustrating to watch other people present the illusion of success, both for themselves and for their clients, when it so often is just a house of cards, a masterful disguise of what is really going on in the online world. Perhaps companies are experiencing such difficulty in measuring their Social Media ROI not because it’s difficult but rather because the numbers would reveal the truth – all of those impressions, likes, hashtag uses, and retweets are the function of behind-the-scenes back scratching and nothing more. Where does that leave these companies? Good question.

I don’t regret doing social media wrong. Not one bit. I would easily be able to defend myself before any clients, and I can look in the mirror every night and every morning and know that even if I am not on the surface the most successful person around, at least I have maintained honesty, integrity, and yes, even that famous buzz word – transparency. I wouldn’t trade that for the world. And to people like Kaarina Dillabough, Marsha Collier, and Brian Vickery, who support me without my ever even hinting at an ask – thank you. My appreciation knows no bounds.

Image Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/hkvam/148970581/ via Creative Commons

Why I decided to deactivate my personal Facebook account

7722015606_f879ab85bb_mTomorrow will mark one week since I deactivated my personal Facebook account. A few people have asked me why I did this, so I thought I would write out a single blog post and hopefully explain things in a way that is understandable. Just to avoid accusations of hypocrisy, I am still running a few pages. I transferred administration capabilities to an account I created just for that purpose. So no, I am not completely off Facebook. I just removed my own personal account.

Now that we have that little point cleared up, why? What’s the dealio, yo? Well, a few things come to mind.

A fate worse than slacktivism

For the last few years, people have been talking about online “Slacktivism.” I think the Kony video going viral brought this term to the forefront. People shared a video that they probably did not watch because it was about 12 minutes long and it was depressing. They shared it because Oprah and a few other celebrities said they should, or maybe they just figured it was worth sharing and maybe one more retweet or “like” would do some good. Slacktivism has also been used to describe Twibbons, Avatar ribbons on Facebook, and more. You aren’t necessarily doing anything to help, but the idea (and hope) is that you are raising awareness.

What I have been seeing on Facebook is a new stage of this kind of mentality. I started to notice it in myself as well as others, so I am not pointing any fingers. I found that if I shared a story about an important issue I would get a sense of satisfaction or a feeling that I had done something to improve the world. The most recent example of this was the “Bring Back Our Girls” effort. Boy did I share their page and their Twitter account. And as daft as it may seem, I felt like I was helping, just by doing that. I think it’s easy to fall into that trap especially if you make such a post and then you get a lot of likes and comments. “OK,” you think. “I’ve brought this issue to some folks’ attention and I’ve started a dialogue about it. I helped!”

This is of course all a big illusion. I mean, to some extent raising awareness online is good. To some extent. Ultimately, though, I fear that Facebook is allowing us to make a post from the comfort of our homes and then feel like we’ve helped. I am connected to about 200 people on Facebook. If I make a public post maybe a few more might chip in. If we all sit and comment and like each others’ comments, nothing will get better. We will just continue to feed that endorphin rush, and not surprisingly, there will be even more stories for us to share productively. Why? We are not fixing the world. We are talking. We are typing. And the odd thing that is social media – with its thumbs up and shares and likes – is fooling us into thinking that this is what is important. This is one reason I have to let Facebook go. I need a slap in the face. If I want to change the world for the better, I can’t do it (for the most part) sitting behind my computer screen in my comfortable life. No matter what century you live in, that is just not going to do the trick.

The out-of-control snark

Some of you reading this have probably seen me complain about this before, but the things that people say on Facebook in the name of “I was just kidding” are really horrifying. On a single evening two different friends posted new profile pictures. Both of them received not just one but several comments along the lines of, “Oh, you grew a beard. Barf.” Really. This is an odd sort of contrast with the concept of positive reinforcement, but Facebook manages to harbor both of them.

Even more disturbing is the snark I have begun to see on Facebook surrounding any story about a shooting. Sometimes it appears in the post itself, and other times it appears in the comments. Before we talk about the NRA, the sarcastically used #thanksObama hashtag, and more, can we not take time to notice that a person is dead? Sure, the way they died was stupid and unnecessary. But they still died. Have we become so callous that we don’t even notice anymore? These people are real. Again, Facebook allows us to comment as if we are sitting on Mount Olympus, kind of separate from these events we eagerly share and comment on. The dehumanization of our society, both person-to-person and in the bigger picture, is another reason why I have to let Facebook go.

The endless complaining

Finally, I have found that Facebook has evolved (or devolved) to become a sort of dumping ground for all things negative. Now, when I mention this people accuse me of wanting to be all sunshine and rainbows. They accuse me of burying my head in the sand. This is not the case at all. I am fully aware of how scary the world is right now, which is exactly why I am a proponent of making sure we are grateful for all we have. If your biggest problem tomorrow is that a social media guru did something stupid again, your life is pretty good in the grand scheme of things. I would love to see people balance “So and so is so stupid” posts with, “Here is someone doing it right” posts, but that just does not seem to happen. Bad news sells, both in the media and in social media.

My life has hammered into my head the fact that life is not obligated to give us anything. When I was a very young child, I assumed that I would have my grandparents until I was an adult. I knew that I was going to have two kids and I knew their names already. I assumed I would have time to make peace with various people whom I seemed to mix with like oil and water. All of these things proved not to be true or possible. For a LONG time that made me bitter. Now it just makes me realize that everything is special. You could wake up tomorrow and discover your eyesight has gone. Someone you love could have a stroke out of no where. Life is precious. Time is precious.

It is any individual’s choice how they want to spend their time. If they want to spend it sending out bad news on Facebook, there is nothing I can say or do about that. But I can choose not to bear witness. And that is why I have to let Facebook go.

I hope this answers any questions that may have arisen. Is it possible I may return to Facebook some day? Perhaps. But I doubt it at this point. I do not see these things changing any time soon, and in fact with Presidential elections coming up soon, I only see these facets of Facebook growing stronger. But I have deactivated my account. I have not deleted it. I will not burn bridges. You never know what life may throw at you.

Thanks for listening.

Image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/84346589@N00/7722015606 via Creative Commons

Does it really need saying?

12065654826_a5efcb44e6_mFor the last several weeks I’ve finally been doing the smart thing – I’ve been catching up on Dr. Who (just starting with 2005). Last night I watched an episode during which The Doctor has a chance to finally tell someone he loves that he loves them. The moment is perfect. She’s waiting for it. You’re waiting for it. But instead he says, “Does it really need saying?”

I think a lot of people have been in a position where, given the opportunity to say, “I love you,” they instead say something completely hokey or maybe even something kind of mean to deflect away from the situation. The reasoning is almost always the same. To the person, it is obvious that they love the other person. Why does saying it make it any more real or meaningful?

There are three reasons why I feel strongly that it does need saying.

Humans are insecure and self-absorbed

OK, that’s not a very nice thing to say, but as a species, let’s face it…it’s pretty darned true. We are just sure that in the grand scheme of the universe, we are wastes of space. We also are obsessed with anything having to do with making us feel better about ourselves. With that activity keeping us busy, and with our lack of confidence in the affection of other people, is it any wonder that we might miss the signs that seem so obvious to others? As a friend once told me, getting up and getting someone a glass of juice will not be universally translated as “I love you.” They had a point. We need to say the words not just so the person feels loved but also so that they don’t have to guess anymore.

Saying the words is brave

It was poignant that the Doctor could not make himself say the words. He faces all kinds of fierce opponents throughout the series. He is known throughout the universe. But a letter and two words – he couldn’t make it happen. I envision saying “I love you” like you are giving someone a little piece of your heart to hold in their hands. You are saying, with those 3 words, “OK, look, I am fully invested in your well-being. When you are glad I’ll be glad, and when you are sad I’ll be sad, but I’ll try to make you feel better too, and I want to enjoy the good times with you.” That’s a lot. And you know, it almost seems foolish. We give other people the chance to hold a bit of our heart in their hands? There is so much risk! They could squish it up. They could drop it and just leave it on the ground. Something could happen to them and our heart could break. Geeze. Who wants to go through all of that? Yes, saying “I love you” is brave. Only the bravest can do it, but bravery can be developed.

You might not get a chance tomorrow

This particular scene in Doctor Who was especially heart-wrenching because it was the last chance he had to tell this person he loved them. He knew that going in and still asked, “Does it really need saying?” Of course as humans we never know when our last chance is. When I was a little kid, I called my grandma to ask if I could spend the night and she ended up talking to my mom. Later that day, my grandma had a massive asthma attack that ultimately ended up taking her life. My mom always said that I had done something great – by calling my grandma I had let my mom say “I love you” one last time. Any conversation, online or offline, could be your last. That sounds dire, but it really is true. Why gamble when saying the words takes only a few seconds and means so much to you as well as to the person you love?

Does it really need saying? Oh yes. Every time. Every possible occasion. We need to tell the people we love that we love them. You can never say it too much. You can never assume you’ll get another chance.

Yes. It really needs saying.

Image Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/bevgoodwin/12065654826 via Creative Commons

Book Review: Soul Models

Screen shot 2014-05-25 at 5.59.16 PMAs soon as I started to read Soul Models, by Angela Daffron and Elizabeth Bryan, I knew that the book was going to be my cup of tea. Part of this was that I have known Angela for just about as long as I have been online, and to me she epitomizes what a soul model is. Angela founded the anti-stalking organization Jodi’s Voice after her young friend Jodi was tragically killed by a stalker. Most people would have mourned, would have lamented how crappy teh world is and how unfair that was. Angela did something about it and continues to do so.

Soul Models consists of several stories of individuals or families who faced challenges of various kinds and used those challenges to motivate them to DO. The challenges and the actions vary by person. In most cases, the challenge is a tragedy a person faced – the death of a child, the death of a loved one, or bearing witness to the challenge of others.

In my own life I have had the immense privilege of watching a few soul models in action. In addition to Angela, I have seen Molly Cantrell-Kraig build her Women with Drive Foundation based on her own challenges as a car-less single mother. I have watched Jennifer Stauss build her SMAC! Monkeys Against Cancer effort even while she had to say goodbye to her inspiration – her own mother, who passed away after a long battle with lung cancer. I watched people ride and walk and run races to raises funds for the American Cancer Society because they lost someone to that disease.

Being a Soul Model, as Angel and Elizabeth define it, is something I think we all strive for in a way. We would love to think, universally, that we could find the strength to make the world a better place even if our own world seems to be crashing down. What separates these very special people from the rest of us is that they actually do it.

Reading this book made me cry at times. Some of the challenges these people faced are hard to grasp because of their enormity. The fact that they went on from those events to try to help other people is hard to fathom. But this is another book that you can’t read and then sit still. I found myself engaged, energized, inspired, and motivated, and now that I have finished reading, I want to see if I can also help make the world a better place. That’s a pretty amazing return on investment for buying a book don’t you think?

You can buy Soul Models here, and I highly encourage you to do so.

Your Chance to Make a Difference -#Stand4theManinBlack

Screen shot 2014-05-25 at 11.41.53 AMAs is the case with so many of my online friends, I can’t remember *exactly* when I met Amber-Lee Dibble. It just seems like I’ve known her forever. I am fairly certain I met her over at Gini Dietrich’s popular Spin Sucks blog. In fact, Gini featured Amber-Lee in the SpinSucks Follow Friday series last year. I feel like I’ve just kind of known Amber-Lee forever.

I remember the first time I got to hear Amber-Lee talk about what her life is like up in Chisana, Alaska, working for Pioneer Outfitters. It was a video and her vivaciousness jumped out of the screen. Then Amber-Lee wrote a book talking about her combined role as a marketer, a mom, and a big game guide. In what is predominantly a man’s world, Amber-Lee is a boss, but she is not afraid to show her sweet side, her sentimental side. As I read Amber-Lee’s book, which she so kindly gifted me, I thought how rare the Pioneer Outfitters experience is these days. There aren’t very many people who can show you how to survive in the world’s wild places. To be able to dabble in that world is a real gift.

Recently I started seeing Amber-Lee post a lot about something called Stand for the Man in Black. She was posting a lot of pictures of her with master guide and her surrogate father Terry Overly. I clicked to see what was up. What I learned is that last September, the Pioneer Outfitters aircraft exploded. It’s hard to overstate the importance of this aircraft for Pioneer Outfitters. Chisana is not a place that makes itself accessible. In order to get food, find missing horses, and help rescue lost or stranded people, the aircraft is vital. Pioneer Outfitters has been hanging on these last several months but supplies are limited and their way of life just may not be sustainable without a new aircraft at hand.

This is where you come in. This is where we come in.

The money that Pioneer Outfitters needs is not over the top. They need $250,000. You could look at that objective as just being for an aircraft, but that’s not really true. That money is what is needed to keep a rare way of life intact.

Amber-Lee, my friend and a real role model for me, has started an Indiegogo campaign to raise these funds. She is working so hard. So very very hard. And she is graciously thanking EVERYONE who supports her. But she isn’t to her goal yet.

I know that money is tight for a lot of people right now. If you can’t donate, would you consider sharing the campaign? You can do either one here:

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/stand-for-the-man-in-black

Remember, in an effort like this, no amount of money is too small a contribution. If we all say, “Well, my $10 can’t do anything,” then nothing will occur. If we all say, “I’ll add my $10 or $5 or $1 to the bucket, it will add up,” then we can help Pioneer Outfitters get what they need so they can continue giving people the experience of a lifetime.

It’s a pretty easy trade, don’t you think?

Book Review: Never Pray Again

Screen shot 2014-05-25 at 11.19.51 AMWhen I was a pretty little kid, I got a beautifully illustrated children’s version of the Bible. Although my family was not religious and I have never been religious in a traditional sense, that Bible got me interested in learning more about Judaism, Christianity, and then many other religions and spiritual perspectives.

As I got integrated into public school starting in fifth grade, I was around a lot of peers who went to church every Sunday and then acted like total, well, not nice people the other days of the week. They were bullies, they ostracized others, and more. I remembered a passage I had read where Jesus tells his disciples that he did not want them to build extravagant temples. He didn’t want people to get so bogged down in ritual that thy forgot what they were actually supposed to be doing. I often wondered how that passage could cross my mind so often as a non-religious person yet be missed by so many people who claimed religious fervor. I figured I’d never really get an answer. Then all of a sudden, a college friend of mine said, “Hey, I’ve co-authored a book with two other ministers. Would you like to give us edits after doing a pre-reading?” The book was Never Pray Again, and it validated everything I had been thinking about organized religion for pretty much my entire life.

Don’t get me wrong though. Never Pray Again is not a manifesto in the classical sense. As a marketer much of my work involves making sure there is a “call to action.” You don’t just want to drive people to your website, you want to also tell them what to do once they get there. Buy this product, go to this page, etc. Never Pray Again highlights problems and inconsistencies, but the authors also suggest solutions, many of which are derived from the same Biblical source they reference every Sunday with their congregations.

The overriding “call to action” of Never Pray Again is very simple. Unfold your hands and get to work. What does that mean, exactly? It means if you see a poor person, don’t mouth a silent prayer to God that that person will eventually find food and shelter. Help them find it. It means that instead of hoping the world will get better and hoping your own life will get better just because you go to church every Sunday, you should go out into the world and try to make things better. The authors suggest you should get up and go because through Jesus God demonstrated that is how He wants things done. Jesus didn’t show up and say, “Gosh, I hope those people suffering from leprosy get better soon. God, do something about that.” He went out there and did the work himself.

Although the book’s backdrop is obviously the Christian faith, the wisdom inherent in the book applies to anyone of any faith, or even those who do not ascribe to any particular edict. Whether you pray or whether you just hope that things work out, there is another option, and that is to go out there and help things work out. The book is filled with examples of how to do just that.

Some of what this book has to say may challenge you if you are a devout Christian, but understand that this is not an attack on Christianity or you. It is rather a recommendation that everyone, Christian or not, can do a better job of living out what all of the great wisdom in the world has said for eternity. Be good to each other. Treat others as you would be treated. You will reap what you sow.

You can order this book (and I highly recommend that you do) from Chalice Press. Let me know what you think!

Book Review: The Peacemakers by @thebrandbuilder

Screen shot 2014-05-03 at 12.27.41 PMIt occurs to me that while I have been tweeting and Facebooking about this book for about a month now, the only place I’ve ever really explained why I liked it so much is on Amazon, as a review. This is a bit of a chicken and the egg conundrum. If you aren’t drawn to Amazon in the first place you won’t see my review and the several other extremely positive reviews that are there. So, I thought I would go into a bit more detail here about why I have been recommending this book all over the place.

Immediate Transportation

I don’t know about you, but some of my favorite books are the ones where as soon as I started reading, I felt like I was immersed in the world I had just entered. For example, the opening pages of Lord of the Rings pull you in immediately with the description of hobbits. What are these hobbits now? What do they have to do with this ring thing? Before you know it you’ve read 500 pages and can’t stop. The Peacemakers had this impact on me. The description of the setting is one thing, but then you also meet this fellow named Harbert, who kind of seems like a weenie to begin with. He’s nervous, he’s seasick, he’s sort of intimidated by everything, it seems like. Is this guy going to be a main character? Who are these other characters he’s interfacing with? Pretty soon you are Harbert’s travel companion, not an onlooker.

Characters you want to reach out and touch

Part of this feeling of transportation is that all of the characters in The Peacemakers are three-dimensional. You very much feel, very quickly, that you are reading about real people who are just over the horizon. If you could travel right now, you could shake their hands (or give them hugs, which you find yourself wanting to do quite often). Although the characters are deep, they are not fantastical. In fact, the great strength of the characters in Olivier’s writing is that they seem entirely real, so everything they go through (which is quite a lot, let me say) seems more like it could happen to you. You find yourself thinking, “Man, if that happened to me I’d probably…” and then you find the characters doing just that, or perhaps the entire opposite. You will find that even the most seemingly minor characters are taken care of with love in this book. In fact, one of my favorite characters only appears for a few pages (unfortunately). He makes such an impression, however, that I wish there was a whole book just about him, and in fact, I could picture just such a book being written about this one fellow.

No one genre

Some authors are very insistent on sticky to one specific genre or style. Although the writing style remains consistent and even (and rich like fudge), fans of many different kinds of genres will find joy with this book. It’s versatile and flexible in that way. I am a 100% diagnosed history buff, so I had a field day with the book. Fans of the Steampunk genre will love this book. Fans of romance and adventure have things to look forward to. Fans of sci-fi have something here to enjoy. Although overall the most probable best classification for The Peacemakers is Steampunk, I would definitely hesitate to limit it just that one genre.

That writing

Speaking of the writing that is rich like fudge, the writing is rich like fudge. If you are a fan of Fitzgerald, for example, you will really appreciate the gift for language that is displayed here. That’s not to say that the book gets entangled in trying to find just the right word – sometimes you can feel the tension as the author strives to place everything just so. In this book the language seems natural, just not the way we usually speak in our every-day lives.

You won’t want to put it down

Finally, if you are a fan of books that you actually can’t put down except maybe when you need to eat or sleep, this is the perfect book for you. If you have a long plane ride scheduled this book will help the time fly by (pardon the pun). Part of the problem is that Olivier, much like John Irving, knows how to sneak in those foreshadowing clues for added suspense. But even without those, you become so enmeshed in what has already happened to the characters and what might happen next that you just can’t help yourself. This makes waiting for part two of the trilogy acutely painful, by the way.

Right now, you can get instant gratification. You can go to Amazon (not an affiliate link) and download this masterpiece to your Kindle right now. As I write this it’s a Saturday, a rather good day to start an awesome reading experience.

In case you hadn’t noticed – I highly recommend you proceed doing just that :)

Are you sure you’re old enough to be here?

5817022049_4d1a1fc05b_mFor as long as I can remember, people have gotten my age all wrong. When I was around 5 or 6 or 10 (those ages are all clumping together at this point) people used to think my brother and I were twins. Bear in mind, now, my brother is 3.5 years younger than me, although he will deny this if you ask him. That is all odd enough. But what makes people particularly odd and unique as creatures is that I am often asked questions pertaining to my age, as if people think I’m one of Ashton Kutcherr’s tricks, here to punk them (channeling my best digital Joe Pesci there).

I am proud to say that I actually had an encounter with a celebrity (of sorts) in this particular regard. Back when I was in college, James Carville came to speak at my campus. I was excited to see the excitable Cajun I had been watching on TV. I have absolutely no recollection of what he said during his presentation although I am sure it was very intelligent and well-said. After the talk, we all got up to introduce ourselves. I waited patiently in line, excited to shake Mr. Carville’s hand. Hey, I’ve been a political junkie for a long time. That’s what happens when Abraham Lincoln is one of your great heroes. Anyway, as I finally approached Mr. Carville, ready to look up at his weird face in admiration and star-struckedness, he asked, “Are you sure you’re old enough to be here?”

I can honestly say I have absolutely no memory of how I responded, if I responded at all. I’m sure I could have retorted with an immensely insightful comeback that would have inspired Mr. Carville to hire me onto his staff or some such, but apparently that was not the outcome.

To be fair, Mr. Carville is not the only person to question my age-appropriateness. He’s merely the most famous to do so. So far. The shining moment of my high school career (and there are many contenders) occurred one sunny day as I was walking down the sidewalk, ready to walk across the street to put in some slave labor I meant to help out at my family’s business. As I was walking I started hearing this, “Hey…hey!” Now, I don’t know about you but often times when I hear someone saying hey, or when I see someone waving, they are in fact attempting to communicate with another person, so I always strive to play it cool. Also, if you are in fact hearing voices you want to lay low a little anyway. In this particular case, the source of the sound became clear as I passed one of the school busses that was lined up, ready to take my little minion peers home. It was a bus driver beckoning to me. I saw many minion faces pressed against the glass of the windows as he asked, “What grade are you in? What grade are you in?”

Have you ever had a moment where you feel like a spotlight has begun to shine on you just as you begin to pick your nose?

Not that anyone picks their noses. But you get my point.

Given all of these experiences, you can’t blame me for having one time approached one of those “guess your age” fortune tellers at a festival. My dad and I thought the prize money would be a gimme. Every other person on the planet misjudged my age. Now I could FINALLY make some money out of that fact. I was about 12 at the time and I believe the person guessed spot on (they had some margin for error of course). “You carry yourself with too much maturity,” they said, seeing my frustration.

There’s a moral in there somewhere.

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jdlasica/5817022049/ via Creative Commons

Of Kid Menus, Crayons, and Sippy Cups

4876620694_3742373838_mWhen I was in high school, the cards of popularity were pretty well stacked against me. I looked “different,” first of all, which in the world of adolescents is pretty much a curse. Insofar as sports went, to say that I was not talented would be a horrible understatement. The fact is that my only athletic talent was catching spherical objects with my face, regardless of the size of said spherical object. I would get pain in my ribs after running for about 2 minutes. However, there was one thing I did in high school that I unquestionably dominated, and that was domestic extemporaneous speaking on the speech & debate team. Don’t get me wrong – this was no ticket to the popular crowd. However, every Saturday for months at a time, I was the person to beat. I brought home a trophy almost every weekend. I felt respected, in my element.

Then, my team and I went out to dinner before a big tournament.

Imagine going out with a group of people whom you like but whom you also are sort of competitive with at the same time. And then imagine having someone pull your pants down in front of all of those people.

Don’t worry. That didn’t *exactly* happen. However, something that felt similar did happen. As a hostess came over to seat us, she asked one of the coaches if we’d be needing a kids menu. The question, of course, was in reference to me. Suffice to say, I cried, the hostess cried, the waitress cried…I think even the manager burst into tears at one point. It was awful.

Of course, this was not the first nor the last time I would be offered a kids menu or other related material in completely awkward situations. I was eating lunch with my mom at a mall restaurant one day and the waitress asked if we’d be needing a sippy cup. Bear in mind, now, that I was in high school at the time. Did the waitress see a lot of 12-year-old kids that needed sippy cups? Did she experience a lot of young looking people who had extreme eye-hand coordination problems? I’ll never know. However, I did say yes to the sippy cup. That’s how I roll. I didn’t get it.

Perhaps the most puzzling instance in which I was identified as a child was when I went out to a business lunch. I was dressed rather formally  - I think even in pinstripes, and the hostess asked if we’d be needing a kid’s menu. I have often wondered what kind of kids she saw. I mean, this was a Bob Evans, so I wouldn’t think parents would go to the trouble of dressing their kids to the nines in order to eat sausage gravy and biscuits. But apparently children came in their in business suits often enough that the question was warranted. Go figure.

These scenarios used to bother me a lot (see high school experience). Nowadays, if someone offers me a kids menu, crayons, or a booster chair (that really happened) I tend to say, “Yeah!” This infuriates my brother when it happens in his company. He feels I am helping the hostess or waitress demean me. I figure that if they want to give me a dollar hot dog I’ll take it, and I have always loved coloring.

I suppose if I were a truly enlightened person I would take the host or hostess aside and say, “Hey there. I know this is hard to understand, but even though I am small to your eyes, I am actually a big girl. All the way grown up. Sometimes people come in different shapes and sizes, and as you’re in the service business you should strive to be more sensitive.” I may get to that point one of these days. For now, I’ll enjoy my sippy cups.

Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/sliceofchic/4876620694/ via Creative Commons

The Dip In Which I Stand

Sometimes being "different" can be overshadowed by a little success.

Sometimes being “different” can be overshadowed                  by a little success.

It seems to me that humans spend most of their time trying to differentiate themselves from other humans. By dress, by ways of talking, by mannerisms, humans strive to make themselves memorable in some way. And yet, if you have a bad date or encounter a person who creeps you out, you will describe them as, “Uh, kind of different…” It will be understood that “different” is not good. It is not a bragging point for that poor nameless soul.

I am not sure but I would wager that all of us have a moment when we realize we are different from other people or that other people are different from us. Great men like Martin Luther King, Jr., and William Faulkner have talked about this moment when you notice with a start that we are not all the same. For King, this moment came when he suddenly was not allowed to play at a white friend’s house anymore. And Faulkner, betwixt moments of inebriation, wrote about how slave children and the master’s children suddenly realized they couldn’t play with each other anymore. That recognition of difference pops up at the most inconvenient times.

You might well wonder how I could fail to notice that I was “different” compared to other kids, but the fact is that this point eluded me for about the first four years of my life. I suppose I reckoned that I was a kid and kids were meant to be small. The ads for Flinstones Vitamins, which I hated, promised that if I ate one vitamin a day I would grow up to be able to reach the door knob, and I had perfect faith that this was so. If other people were bigger than me it was because they were older. My vitamins and I would catch up. In the meantime I was differentiating myself as a young tot by announcing that Amadeus was my favorite movie and that anything bad I did was actually the responsibility of Margie Stoopee. That was different enough.

My moment of “I’m different” finally came upon me as I was walking in a single file line in Kindergarden. There was a long line of windows that we had to walk by I think on the way to the gym. I was wearing a big fluffy purple 1980s winter coat and felt a little bit like I was a marshmallow. Suddenly, I looked to the right and I noticed, without warning, that everyone else had their heads at pretty much the same level, but my head was much lower. There was a dip where I stood and it followed me wherever I went. What was that all about?

Nobody said anything. There was neither a cue for Twilight Zone music nor a chorus of angels praising my awareness. But from that moment on, I was aware, keenly, that I was different somehow. I asked my parents not to show me pictures from school concerts because there was a dip where I was standing. I hated having my picture taken with friends because I was always standing in a dip. In college I event went so far as to make my friends sit down if we were taking our picture together (believe it or not some of them even squatted or sat on their knees to accommodate me. How cool and different is that?).

The thing about being “different” is that in the end you have three choices, usually. You can make peace with whatever makes you different, you can try to change what makes you feel different, or you can turn a blind eye.  For me, changing what makes me different is not really an option, primarily because I’m not a great athlete and thus I feel stilts would be a bad idea. But I do have the option of making peace with the dip where I stand. It’s always going to be there. And I can try to change what other people say and think about the fact that there is a dip where I stand.

We are all “different” in some way. Even if you don’t feel all that different now, at some point you are sure to be thrust into a situation where you feel like you’re standing in a dip. Knowing humanity, someone may even be there to point it out to you. At that point, you can try to fight it, you can try to make peace with it, or you can try to change how people feel about it.

Which path is yours?