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Vote out politics

It’s election day in the United States, a time when we are reminded how much we detest politicians. After listening to their empty promises, mud slinging, fear mongering, hypocrisy, meaningless platitudes, and outright lies, we have to choose the ones who would do the least damage to our society. If we are lucky, our votes are actually counted.

Although we Americans detest politicians, we practice politics in our everyday lives.

I’m currently reading Rosalind Wiseman’s Queen Bee Moms and Kingpin Dads. I turned to this book after all the times my family and I have had to deal with politics at school, in PTA, and various youth organizations. It’s sad that organizations that are supposed to help children generate the most childish behavior from adults.

I remember my mom’s experience with PTA. She got involved simply because she wanted to help my school. She started the teacher’s aid program and moved through the ranks until she became PTA president in 1972.

The school clearly had an “in” crowd. The connected people got the best classes, the most assignments working as playground supervisors, and the most invitations to birthday parties. If you were “out,” your existence at school could be very difficult. You could climb up the ranks on your merit, but you would not be accepted.

That was my situation at school. My friendships as a kid were determined by my mom’s political alliances. I was friends with kids whose parents were her allies. If a parent didn’t like my mom, her kids wouldn’t speak to me. I would find people I thought were my friends would turn against me because their parents found it politically expedient.

Although I’m 34 years and 70 miles removed from my old school, things are still the same. I’ve seen some recent examples of pettiness, snubbing, and juvenile behavior that are chillingly like what I saw when I was in elementary school. Yesterday’s schoolyard snobs and bullies are now parents who still display the same snobby and aggressive behavior. Ultimately, the kids are the unfair victims, just as I was.

If you find the politics engaged in by professional politicians distasteful, don’t practice it at home. And if you are going to volunteer for a youth organization, do it for the kids — don’t do it for yourself. Cliques, gossip mongering, and snubbing are for junior high. Grow up.

No on NaNoWriMo

I’ve enjoyed participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) the past two years. When I first participated in 2004, I met the 30,000-word goal. Not only did I get the satisfaction of accomplishing my goal, it also enabled me to publish Offline. As a reward for achieving my goal, Lulu offered a free printed copy of a novel. I had contemplated self-publishing Offline, but the free offer enticed me to try Lulu. I’ve been happy with Lulu ever since.

I participated in NaNoWriMo again in 2005. I fell far short of the 30,000-word goal, but I was able to start on a novel that I had been thinking about writing for years.

But this year, I have to pass on NaNoWriMo. My schedule is too busy right now with home, work, the Little League board, and some other writing projects I’m doing. One is a play I’m writing for my daughter. I’m also working to finish a book on Table Topics that I had planned to finish months ago.

So, no to NaNoWriMo for this year. I hope to join in the fun and madness next year.

Just keep pitching

It’s one of those moments that can be painful for a parent to watch. My son was called up to pitch a Winterball game. He had pitched a third of an inning a couple of weeks ago and struck out the batter he faced. But today, the pitches just weren’t finding the strike zone. He walked one batter, then another, and another. To his manager’s credit, he didn’t pull him from the mound. He let him pitch.

By the time the other team had gone through the order, he walked in six runs — which isn’t unusual in a division where kids are learning to pitch for the first time. But my son didn’t get upset. He didn’t give up. He kept his composure, and he kept pitching. For that, I am proud of him.

There are many times when things don’t go our way. Our notebook crashes in the middle of a demonstration. We lose our train of thought in the middle of a talk. We accidentally knock over a glass of ice tea in the middle of business dinner, and it drips into the lap of our best client. In those moments, we feel like the pitcher who just walked in a run. We stand alone and vulnerable.

When these things happen — and they happen to all of us at some point — we just need to keep our composure and keep pitching. A few apologies and a small joke at our expense (as well as an offer to pay the dry cleaning bill in the case of the ice tea) can smooth things over.

Most people are forgiving, because they have been through their own embarrassing situations before. No one got down on my son for his performance on the mound today. He earned respect for how he hung in there and composed himself.

My son gave me a wonderful lesson today. When the breaks don’t go our way, don’t give up. Just keep pitching.

Must See TV (for speakers)?

Have you seen The Messengers on TLC? This is another one of those reality TV competition shows, but this one is about public speaking. For that reason, it is “Must See TV” for all of us who want to learn about public speaking. It’s certainly on my viewing schedule, but I have a few reservations about it.

Each episode, the contestants go through some challenging experience. The first week, they had to live on Skid Row as homeless people (but homeless people in really nice down sleeping bags). The second week, they had to pick crops along side migrant farmworkers. They then give a two-minute speech based on their experiences. The audience members vote on the speaker they liked the best. The speaker with the lowest number of votes gets eliminated. The last remaining speaker wins the grand prize of a speaking and publishing deal.

The speeches are the best part of the show. Each contestant has a different approach to speaking. One speaks with rhythm and poetry. Another speaks from his religious beliefs. One tries to emulate his favorite motivational speaker. And some, you wonder how the producer could have possibly picked them. The first eliminated contestant told the audience he had to pee and then gave a lame “I really don’t know what to say” speech. An unfortunate part of the program is that the producers don’t show a couple of speeches in their entirety because they took up a considerable chunk of time showing the experience of the week.

The judges are another part of the show that I find weak. To be fair, there isn’t much that the two judges, Richard Greene and Bobby Schuller, could say in the few seconds that they address the contestants. You can’t give a full Toastmasters evaluation in that time. But they either gush about how “authentic” a speaker is or find some reason to rip him or her apart. In the early episodes, it’s clear which speeches work and which didn’t. As the weaker speakers are eliminated, and the differences in speech quality become narrower, I hope the judges will point out more what makes one speech work better than the other. (With fewer contestants, they should have more time to do that.)

Despite the weaknesses in the show, there is plenty that The Messengers can offer a budding speaker. It’s beneficial to watch how these speakers turn their experiences into a two-minute speech. It also helps to see what works in a motivational speech. The best ones tell a personal story, enabling the audience to connect to the messenger and his or her message at an emotional level. Subtle speaking styles such as rhyme and repetition prove effective, while over-the-top histrionics do not.

Most importantly, I appreciate how public speaking is treated as an art and something worthy of a television show. It sure beats watching bad singing and nasty alliances.