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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

How To Write An Effective Business Email - Email Mistakes

How to write an effective email. Keep it short.
For almost 20 years, email has been part of our lives at work. We can communicate with a single person or a group of staff members. However, many people make basic mistakes when they compose an email. What they are trying to communicate can be lost or misunderstood. A long time ago, I learned How To Write An Effective Business Email and some Email Mistakes.

When I owned an advertising agency in Las Vegas, I had several clients that communicated with me multiple times a day via email. Often the emails contained information I needed, but a lot of the emails asked questions. Emails I sent often had questions, too. What I found is that a lot of my questions were never answered, so I'd resend the email - still no satisfactory answers.

Then, I read an article in a business magazine that cleared up my problem and I made the suggested changes, which were minor, and my communication improved dramatically.

My problem centered around not understanding how most people view email. We live in a fast-paced world. No one has time to read lengthy responses or inquiries. So keeping the email short and to the point was critical.

Most people scan the first line or two and if they feel it is something they need to act on immediately, they will; if not, it gets saved or filed in a folder for future action.

So, I cut to the chase and got right to the point in my emails. Suddenly, there were better responses and quicker responses to my emails.

Another thing I learned is that I had to look at the content of the email. If I was sending an agenda, then it was best to use bullet points or numbers to segregate the items. This also works for a To Do List. However, the one thing I did that created more missed communication and non-responses was to write an email with paragraphs of unrelated content. An example would be:
John,
I need the logos for the new restaurant. Could you send me the files ASAP? We're on deadline. Everything has to be to the printer in two days.
Do you want me to change the border and the color of the background in the ad that goes in the magazine for next week?
Have you had a chance to review the copy for the article we're sending to the public relations firm? I don't think I like the third paragraph. Please review or have another staff member check it. If there are any facts I missed, please send them to me right away.
 Is the special still good until the end of the month? We're going to run the radio commercials again, starting on Friday. We have three days to change the script, if you have a new offer. See if Mike wants to keep the part in about the dinner parties.

What I learned from experience was that from this email I would get the logo, which was asked for in the first paragraph. Everything else in the email was ignored.

That is because busy people tend to scan the first paragraph and assume that the rest of the email has something to do with the logo.

Point number two might get handled, but rarely did this turn into a list of things that were all accomplished.

If you read that email again, you'll see that two of the paragraphs refer to other people, who won't care about the logo or any of the other content.

The solution - one idea per email.

What this does is it puts a laser focus on what you are requesting. If the person you requested the info from cannot fulfill your request, they can easily forward it to someone who can - without sending them a laundry list of other unrelated To Do items.

Another tip is to make sure the subject is short and specific. The recipient should almost know what is needed before they read the body of the email.

Another trick I used to do was to start my subject with the name of my company: Blazic Design

My subject line would look like this:
Blazic Design: Need logo for new restaurant
Immediately, John would know who it was from. If he forwarded this to a designer, they would know who needed the logo.

These are simple tips, but they really changed the effectiveness of my communications with my clients. Less content was passed over and I received quicker responses to my requests.

Try it. We live in a world that has gotten even shorter with text messaging. Write your emails like text messages and you'll find you get more done, quicker. Plus, who wants to sit and write for a long time - unless you're a caffeine driven blogger like me.

Short and to the point. One idea per email. Descriptive subject line. That is how to write an effective business email and avoid email mistakes.

Related articles:
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America's Got Talent - Semi-Finals #2 - Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Anna Graceman gets standing O on AGT.
Only twelve remaining acts had a shot at getting into the Top 10 on America's Got Talent. No more second chances. No room for mistakes. Perfection and performing at a higher level than all of their previous performances would be required to move on. Some rose to the occasion on America's Got Talent Semi-Finals #2 on Tuesday, August 30, 2011.

Tonight's line-up featured singing, dancing, magic, danger and extreme danger. Here is how the AGT hopefuls did:
  1. The Kinetic King - Novelty Act - St. Paul, MN - After rebounding from a complete disaster with his last performance where he won the hearts of everyone in the crowd, The Kinetic King seemed to be building a little momentum. As usual, his setup was elaborate and complex. It fired off perfectly, shooting balls and sticks into the audience. He's a crowd favorite. People just love this guy. But is he a headlining act? (I don't think so.) Piers commented, "Another spectacular performance." Sharon smiled, "That was sensational. Really exciting." Howie was in awe, "That was so explosive."
  2. Fatally Unique - Dance Team - Rockford, IL - They've struggled at times, but they have persisted. Featuring an insane asylum theme with the dancers bound in straight jackets, wearing ghoulish make-up, they put on a very tight, high-energy performance. Sharon, "It's really breathtaking to watch you perform. Howie was concerned, "You were amazing. But were you fatally unique enough?" Piers, "I look at he determination in your faces. Who wants to win this? And with that performance, you're a step closer."
  3. Landon Swank - Magician - Wasilla, AK - Landon described his act as a real life version of Russian Roulette. Four boxes suspended from the ceiling had Landon in one of them. Each was wired with explosives. The judges selected a detonator for each box, except one. All of the boxes exploded, except one, and Landon dropped out of it. His presentation was the best of any he's done so far. Howie, "WOW. Just absolute WOW. My heart is pounding." Piers, "Brilliant illusion, brilliant magic, superbly executed." Sharon, "Your whole presentation was A+."
  4. GYMKANA - Acrobats - College Park, MD - With an exciting and dynamic debut with their last performance, they raised the bar and added fire to their act. Timing is everything with an act like this and a split second error burned up their chances to advance. One of the performers hit the fire ring and actually caught fire. He was quickly extinguished and suffered no injuries, but I think it toasted their hopes. Piers buzzed them halfway through their act, "It gets repetitive. It becomes a gym routine." Sharon, "You were like lemmings tonight. I was looking for performance value and I didn't get that." And we all know what happened to the lemmings. 
  5. Summerwind Skippers - Jump Rope Team - Boise, ID - They introduced a new trick, but had two errors. Piers buzzed them, just as they concluded. Sharon, "It's so great to see the progression you have made." Howie,"You've brought an edge to skipping." Piers, "You made two mistakes. To be fair to the other contestants, you made two big mistakes. I had to buzz you."
  6. Snap Boogie - Street Dancer - Boston, MA - He put an an athletic and energetic performance, but started slow, which none of the judges liked. Howie, "I liked it when you were more yourself." Piers, "I didn't like it. I didn't like any of it." Sharon, "You don't need anyone [back-up dancers], just you."
  7. Anna Graceman - Singer/Pianist - Juneau, AK - The 11 year-old sensation did not disappoint. She did her own rendition of Motley Crue's Home Sweet Home and blew away the audience and the judges. Everyone was on their feet. Piers, "That was, so far, the best performance of the night." Sharon, "I have to agree with Piers, the best performance of the night, so far." Howie, "I'm going to keep this simple - WOW!"
  8. Steven Retchless - Pole Dancer - New York, NY - His last performance was mystical and ethereal. This time, performing with two other female pole dancers on three poles, he didn't have the magic, and this did not go unnoticed by the judges. Piers buzzed him halfway through his act. Sharon, "The three of you was an amazing thing to watch. Piers was brutal, "Could I see this being a million dollar act in Vegas? And the answer is an unequivocal - NO! There are men in Las Vegas sliding down poles and they're called firemen." Howie, "The girl on the right was fantastic. I want to see her in Vegas." 
  9. Smage Bros. Riding Show - Motorcycle Stunts - Elkhorn, WI - Adding family members to the act, including Joy their Rad Grandmother, they did the most amazing stunts - especially considering the confined space they have to work in. Their daredevil antics brought the entire room to their feet. Piers, "I thought it was incredible." Howie, "It's amazing. I love you. I really do." Sharon, "I love that the whole family is involved." They are amazing and should be a sure thing to get into the Top 10 on America's Got Talent. 
  10. Professor Splash - Daredevil Diver - Denver, CO - Perched 70 feet above an 8 foot deep flaming tank of water, Professor Splash hit the water at 60 mph - and survived. Howie, "It was more exciting at half the height and with less water." Piers, "I kinda feel we've seen the best of the splash man." Sharon, "It's quite fantastic." I think he's taken his last dive on AGT.
  11. Landau Eugene Murphy Jr.  - Singer - Logan, WV - The real test of Landau's talent came when I went into the kitchen for a second while he was singing. I honestly thought I was listening to a Sinatra CD. He's so smooth. And the book completely belies the cover. Sharon, "It makes me feel so good every time you perform." Howie, "You deserve, with that performance, to be in the finals." Piers, "I don't think that was your best performance." 
  12. Silhouettes - Performance Art/Shadow Dancing - Denver, CO - A troupe that includes the youngest performer ever on America's Got Talent, 4 years-old, they were not as compelling as in previous performances. It was still good, but it didn't have the WOW factor. Piers, "It was good, but not great." Sharon, "Your act is endless. Your concepts can go on and on." And she's right. I hope America judges them on their body of work and not necessarily their last performance. 
As the show progresses and I'm making my notes, I put a star next to the acts that I think will move on. I came up with six and there are only five that can make it to the finals on America's Got Talent. In order of performance, here are my picks:
  • Fatally Unique - They have improved with every show. Their choreography has gotten more complex, faster and more aggressive. Their toughest competition in the dance category are the Miami All-Stars, who have incredible range. I don't see the West Springfield Dance Team holding up against these two.
  • Landon Swank - A magician has never won America's Got Talent. But Landon is one of the most unique magicians to come along in a while. His tricks have a style that is truly his own, which sets him apart from all of the others doing metamorphosis acts and disappearances. He'll wind up with a show somewhere, regardless if he wins this competition. 
  • Anna Graceman - This year's breakout star. She keeps turning it up a notch. Crowds love her and I think America does, too. She could come very close to going all the way. 
  • Smage Bros. Riding Show - Initially, I didn't think they could turn this into a full show. Could a crowd sit through an hour of roaring motorcycles? Maybe. Maybe not. They are phenomenal at what they do, however.
  • Landau Eugene Murphy Jr. - What can you say? To me, he's the most unique act on AGT. Would you ever imagine a black guy with dreadlocks who was working at a car wash in West Virginia to get up on stage and croon like Frank Sinatra - and nearly nail it perfectly every time? There is a slight phrasing style that Sinatra had that Landau has not picked up on yet. But his velvet voice gets the job done. His story and his talent could make him a favorite to win.
  • Silhouettes  - Their last performance was not WOW. Everything they have done so far has been WOW WOW. For the fans who tuned in for this last show, will they look at the body of work or will the last performance be the deciding factor? I'd hate to see them go because they have the potential to put on a full hour show and have it be very fascinating. To me, they're on the cusp of making the Top 10 on AGT. 
Tune in Wednesday night to see how the Top 10 on America's Got Talent rounds out.

All of the performers gave their all. Some failed, but some soared on America's Got Talent Semi-Finals #2 - Tuesday, August 30, 2011.

Photo by NBC-AGT

Related links:
AGT Website
AGT on Twitter
Nick Cannon on Twitter
Piers Morgan on Twitter
Howie Mandel on Twitter
Sharon Osbourne on Twitter

Related articles:
America's Got Talent - Semi-Finals #1 Results - August 24, 2011
America's Got Talent - Semi-Finals #1 - Tuesday, August 23, 2011
America's Got Talent - Wild Card Results - Weds, August 17, 2011
America's Got Talent - Wild Card Auditions - Tuesday, August 16, 2011
America's Got Talent - YouTube Results - Wednesday, August 10, 2011
America's Got Talent - YouTube Auditions - Tuesday, August 9, 2011
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America's Got Talent - Hollywood #4 - August 2, 2011
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America's Got Talent Season 6 - Hollywood #1 Results - Wednesday, July 13, 2011
America's Got Talent Live - Hollywood #1 -Tuesday, July 12, 2011
America's Got Talent - Las Vegas - Wednesday, July 6, 2011
America's Got Talent Season 6 - Las Vegas -Tuesday, July 5, 2011
America's Got Talent Season 6 2011 - AGT Vegas Week Tuesday and Wednesday - July 5 and 6
America's Got Talent 2011 Season 6 - June 29, 2011 - Houston
America's Got Talent Launches Season 6 | AGT Season Guide

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Monday, August 29, 2011

A Priest Sexually Abuses Students 55 Years Ago. Is That A Story?

Victims of sexual abuse need to come forward.
On Saturday, August 27th, 2011, the Cleveland Plain Dealer ran a front page article about victims of sexual abuse, who were allegedly abused by a priest. The crimes were committed in or around 1956. Now, a dozen men are coming forward. Why did it take so long to come out? A priest sexually abuses students 55 years ago. Is that a story?

Normally, when a person is violated, they go to the authorities. If you've ever had your home robbed, you feel so violated, so taken advantage of - but you go to the authorities and deal with the insurance company. If you've ever been assaulted, you go to the authorities. If someone plows into your car and you are severely injured, charges are filed and you proceed from there.

With sexual abuse victims, they seem to blame themselves, and that shame causes them to stay in the shadows with their pain. However, at some point, shouldn't they come forward? If they hold on to it for years and years, then, to me, they seem to be victimizing themselves.

This story that ran in the Cleveland Plain Dealer started out with four or five men in their late 60's and early 70's saying they were sexually abused by a priest, and possibly more at a prominent Jesuit High School. The abuse occurred around 1956. It's been 55 years since the abuses took place. All of the priests are dead.

The principal of the school sent out 18,000 letters to alumni. So far, about a dozen men have come forward. But, like I said, these guys are all around 70 years old. Sexual abuse by priests has been in the news for going on 25 years. Couldn't these guys have come forward a decade or two ago?

I'm not trying to excuse the behavior of the priest (and possibly the others), but they're DEAD.

If someone stabbed me, I wouldn't wait 55 years to go to the police.

I understand the trapped feeling that victims of domestic violence endure. Fear keeps them in a prison. It can take years for them to break away from the horrors they face at home.

Children who are sexually abused are confused. It may take them years before they can talk about it or come forward. But grown adults who hang on to a personal violation for decades are making their own bed of pain. I'm not trying to be insensitive, I'm trying to be realistic.

To me, this article about the high school was pure tabloid journalism - "Ooooooh, another priest fondles some boys." It only served to put a black mark on a highly reputable school that provides an outstanding education and highly competitive sports programs. The priest(s) are DEAD. The "victims" are 70. The article, written by Michael O'Malley never mentioned how this alleged abuse affected these men. Did they have trouble finding work? Were their marriages a shambles? Did they develop deviant sexual behavior, which was brought on by the abuse? None of those questions were answered.

In Ohio, the Statute of Limitations for sex crimes is 20 years. Limitations vary by state. The range is from 6 to 20 years, with only a few having no limitations as to when a sex crime can be prosecuted.

So, is bringing up a 55 year old crime committed by dead people even worth writing about?

All the Plain Dealer did was slap on the front page a headline that included the words SEXUAL ABUSE and PRIEST in it. It's sensational and it probably sold papers. But was it a real headline? I bet there are some dead SS guards from the Nazi regime who sodomized women in France in 1946. Is that a headline story?

There are plenty of current cases of priest/student/parishioner sexual improprieties to write about. Enough stories where it has become a tired punchline for Jon Stewart on late night TV.

My big problem is not so much with the deviant priests as it is with the churches and the way they have handled these crimes. They are crimes. But the Catholic Church and other churches seem to be sheltered from the law. They shuffle the offenders from one parish to another or from one city to another. They aren't reprimanded or sanctioned or defrocked or hauled off to jail - they're reassigned with a fresh new crop of potential victims. THAT is the crime.

Sexual deviants are sick. They need help. But a religious authoritarian body is supposed to be logical and have providence and a sense of justice. The people at the top are the real criminals. The perpetrators are humans with serious problems.

Studies show that pedophilia amongst priests is no higher than the rate in the non-clerical population. But because priests are held to a higher standard this crime is more heinous. Is it?

To me, a parent that sexually abuses their children is far worse than any priest folding a child. A parent, whose number one responsibility is to protect their children is committing a far more serious crime than a priest.

A priest is a stranger. They happen to wear a collar. Priests are alcoholics, they're smokers, they have affairs, they abuse drugs, they're human - their improprieties are all common things in society. But a parent - that is a different story. You can remove a child from a priest or a church. But a parent can create that shadow that will keep their victims in the chains of pain for a lifetime. "It's our little secret." You don't have that kind of intimate shackle with a priest or any other authority figure who commits sexual abuse. Unless they're a politician - with them, if you tell, you could wind up dead.

After 55 years, all I can say is, "Tough. Sorry you went through that pain, but it's a bit late to start rattling your walker and making a stink out of it." YOU made yourself a victim for five decades.

I know that back in the 1950's, it was unthinkable to come out and accuse a priest of such a crime. But as I mentioned above, these crimes have been outed for a quarter century. I can't forgive the crime, but I really don't feel any compassion or sympathy for someone who sat on their pain for that long.

In the mental illness groups I attend, one of the tenets we are taught is that your mental health is your responsibility. You need to work on it. You need to accept it and seek treatment. If your life is a mess and you don't do anything to try to make it better, don't come running from the shuffle board court, dragging an oxygen tank with a grudge on your shoulder. And a responsible paper shouldn't write about it.

If victims don't seek help, what do you say? A priest sexually abuses students 55 years ago. Is that a story?

Related article:
I'm The Victim Of Another Crime - Nothing New For Me

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Mental Illness | Fighting Depression Without Medication

Is your depression chemical or due to circumstances?
Almost 15 million Americans will experience some form of depression this year. Women will have depressive symptoms almost three times more than men. Many people go untreated. A portion of those who seek medial attention wind up on medications that don't seem to help. Others, however, find medications are the answer to living a more normal life. I've been analyzing my own depression and right now I'm looking into fighting depression without medication. 

I have to start off by saying I'm not a medical or psychiatric professional. I am a consumer - which means I am under a treatment plan.

My diagnosis is Bipolar Disorder, Anxiety Disorder and I'm ADD/ADHD. My moods are like a roller coaster. It is hard to tell if my hyper moods are part of my Bipolar condition or the ADD/ADHD - which can produce periods of hyper-focus, where time is no longer important and sleep is avoided - because I have something I MUST DO.

Since about 2004, I have been on and off various anti-depressants and medication cocktails for Bipolar Disorder. Some of the drugs made me very tired and useless, others made me pass out. Before I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, a general practitioner prescribed a powerful anti-depressant. This turned out to be a very bad move, since she was only treating my depression. It took my manic episodes to new heights and I nearly destroyed my life. It cost me a fortune in runaway spending, bad investments and excesses - which all seemed perfectly normal to me at the time. I was so far out in the sky, I thought I was invincible. A very bad state of mind to achieve.

Recently, I had a period of about six weeks where I ran out of my Bipolar medications and my anti-depressant because I couldn't afford them. I didn't notice any change. Even on the medication, I still have very deep depressive moods, bouts of crying, feelings of hopelessness, periods of excessive sleeping and/or complete lethargy.

In 2010, I was institutionalized for three weeks. I came out of the hospital worse off than when I went in. But I supposedly had the "right" combination of medications to take me forward.

After leaving the hospital, I spent five months sitting in a chair, watching TV. I did nothing. I went nowhere. I ate. I slept a lot. I took my meds every day.

I didn't start to get out of the emotional basement until I started regularly attending Recovery International meetings. There, I began learning techniques to help me get through my anxiety and tools to help me break free of some of the depression.

What really became a life saver for me was this blog. Writing is a passion of mine. When I sat at my laptop and wrote, I was at peace. I felt like I was being productive. I was doing something that mattered.

I've kept a log of my depressive episodes and they are all related to situational circumstances. Some event, encounter, frustration, or feelings triggered by things on television or in the news would bring me down. After I had spent hours in a deep hole, I'd force myself to get out to a place with FREE WiFi and start writing. Within minutes, I was fine.

Now, there are people who have wonderful lives; they have a good job, wonderful kids, a nice home, money in the bank and many of the creature comforts of success. On the surface there seems to be no reason for them to have depression, but they do. In cases like this, I'd suggest seeking professional advice and potentially a medication treatment plan. If no cause can be seen for the depression, it may be a chemical imbalance and this is where pharmaceutical alternatives work the best.

Although, before you run off to the psychiatrists office, let me suggest a few things to try.
  • Examine your diet. What are you eating? Are you eating a healthy diet or are you loading up on junk, sugar, chemicals, etc.? These can have an adverse effect on your mood. 
  • Do you drink or do drugs? These are temporary fixes and fall under the category of "self-medication." The downside is that they tend to make depression worse, after the effects of the self-help "medication" wears off. 
  • Exercise. Are you getting any? And are you getting enough? Exercise releases endorphins into the brain and they have a very positive effect on the body. Walking every day is enough to make a difference - relieving stress, getting oxygen into your lungs, and releasing those endorphins.
  • Social activities. People who suffer from depression tend to isolate themselves, which can actually take you farther down. Get out. Meet people. Join a club. Join a group. Get involved in a sport. Having people to talk to, joke with, and engage in great conversation can pull you out of a depressed mood very quickly. 
  • Hobbies. What are you doing with your time? Do you like to read? Hit the library and get a few books. Music? Start working on your collection or organizing your songs on your computer. Creative? Paint, draw, sculpt, make movies, arrange photo albums, write. Being engaged can turn away your blues. 
  • Social networks. When I feel isolated, I can't wait to get on Facebook and chat with people who I barely know, but just the casual banter is enough to get me out of the doldrums. 
  • Help someone else. Doing good deeds for others takes the focus off of yourself. It can be very rewarding. Volunteer. Help an elderly person in your neighborhood. Today, I helped a guy in AA with no car move some furniture. He was a mess. It took my mind off of me and I worked on getting him calmed down. He was so grateful by the end of the day, we both felt better. 
I suggest trying a lot of these things before you see a professional, unless you are severely suicidal. Then you need to seek immediate attention.

In the medical community, you always hear, "Get a second opinion." Then the new doctor has a different strategy. Which one is right? My question is, "Do you really need the medications in the first place?"

By trying some of my suggestions above, you may be able to pull yourself out of depression and not feel the need to seek medications - which all have side effects. None of my suggestions have negative side effects. If they don't work, seek help.

Also, know that it is normal to feel depressed when major life changes come your way - death of a loved one, loss of a job, divorce, ending of a relationship, embarrassment, ridicule, getting bad news, moving. Feeling down is common and should not be construed as a reason to break the glass and get into a psychiatrists office.

If you have tried all of the things above and still have no relief, then you need to seek help. If your symptoms last for long periods of time and start to interfere with your work, your life, your family, your relationships, then you should seek professional help.

For my personal situation, I'm getting to believe more and more that the medications are useless and that the depression I have is based on external events that come in and disrupt my life. Once I have figured out how to deal with the event, cope with its effects and change my thinking about the event, I'm usually fine. If that doesn't work, I head to a place with FREE WiFi and write. I'm always at peace when I do that.

My goal is to be fighting depression without medication. I'm going to have a long talk with my psychiatrist about doing an experiment for a month or two because I honestly don't see what the medications do. I still have depressive moods, but I've learned ways that I can work my way out of the hole. If I have the power to realize I'm experiencing lowered feelings and then do something about it, why do I need the medications? Maybe you'll come to the same conclusion.

Related link:
Complete Depression Statistics on DepressionSymptoms101.com
Panic Attacks - Wikipedia
Panic Disorder - PubMed Health
Generalized Anxiety Disorder - PubMed Health
Recovery International

Related articles on this site:
We Need To Change The Dialogue On Mental Illness
Five Steps To Recovery From Mental Illness
Recovery From Mental Illness Should Include Groups
Mental Illness | My Psychiatrist Says My Mental Health Is Improving

The Stigma Of Mental Illness
Mental Illness | Mentally Ill Live Lives Of Quiet Shame, Anger Or Pain
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Mental Illness | Dealing With Symptoms of Panic Attacks And Anxiety Disorder
Guide To Using Phenobarbital To Commit Suicide | Prevention

On my other site:
Mental Illness | My Psychatrist Is Retiring. He's Tired Of Listening.

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Sunday, August 28, 2011

School Is Starting And I Feel Sorry For Kids With Dumb Parents

Dad didn't know any of these last night.
Yellow buses are appearing early in the morning, school grounds are clean and landscaped, classrooms await nervous, anxious and excited students. New ideas, new thoughts, new knowledge all lie ahead. With the work done by teachers and active participation and support from parents, the children of this school year should thrive. But, I have to pause for a moment and look at reality. School is starting and I feel sorry for kids with dumb parents. 

Most kids don't mind school. Some absolutely hate it. Then, there are those that really dive in and make something out of their time in the classroom. Most of the kids who do well in school are supported and encouraged by their parents.

Students who excel have designated areas to do homework at home. They may have a specific time when they are supposed to do their homework. Their parents check the homework. All kids have moments of laziness and their homework output turns into scribbles, poor or incomplete answers - even their names are missing from their assignments - which means they probably won't get credit for the work. It takes another set of responsible eyes to check a child's work, even if it just a review. The parent doesn't have to correct all the wrong answers, but that sure helps. These are excellent teaching moments.

What I've described is an ideal model. If you have six kids, a big accomplishment might be getting them all to school with clothes on. Lunches? OH CRAP! Homework review can be a challenge in a large family.

But there are lots of families where there are only one or two children in the family and the child could really use some help with their homework. Or the child should be required to DO the homework. I feel sorry for kids with dumb parents.

Dumb parents are the product of dumb parents. It gets passed along. Stupidity is the result of bad choices and bad habits. Even if we had no schools or school system, we have public libraries. Books on every subject imaginable are available for those who seek more knowledge. We have the Internet. You can Google anything you dream up and learn about it. There are free courses online. You could find a smart kid and tag along with him and have him teach you. But if you have dumb parents, you really have an uphill climb.

What are dumb parents? Parents who never completed high school or earned a GED. Whatever schooling they had was enough, and they probably haven't done much to increase their knowledge in any subject matter since they left school.

Dumb parents put themselves first. They watch TV and shoo away their children when they need help with their homework. Dumb parents spend their evenings at the bar or hanging out with friends, leaving their child or children with relatives, the other partner/spouse, friends, etc., so they can have fun. Meanwhile, the poor kid is looking for old Tivo'd Seasame Street episodes to find out what letter comes after "S".

Dumb parents don't teach their children the value of an education because it didn't matter to them. Dumb parents don't exercise discipline in the home and make sure that books are brought home, homework is done and grades are kept up or are improving.

Dumb parents teach their kids poor social skills. They speak inarticulately, have weak or limited vocabularies, can't write, can't spell, mumble when they speak or use some other dialect of their area that no one except other dummies can understand.

Dumb parents don't know how to manage their money, either. They take their kids to the gas station to buy lottery tickets, not to the bank to show them the value of saving. When it comes time to put a new battery in the car, the dumb parent has to sell something on craigslist to get the money together - but wouldn't think to stop buying beer, cigarettes and lottery tickets.

Dumb parents do really dumb things, too. They use drugs and alcohol openly around their children. I knew one guy whose 3 year-old daughter heard a knock at the door and she said, "Daddy, flush the roaches."

Dumb parents cuss and swear freely with their children. No wonder first graders will tell their teachers, "Who the F you talking too?" "Teacher, I need to leave to take a shit." Nice.

If you're a dumb parent, you're probably not reading this, because reading is too much effort.

Although, you could be a dumb parent. You just didn't get the education you probably should have. But you can change. You can make steps forward to help your children because your deficiencies will only be passed on to them, unless they are very strong-willed and full of desire and ambition.

Work with your children. Read with them. Kids are so non-judgmental - unless you taught that to them at an early age. But if Daddy can't read too well, make a game out of learning to read with your kids. The time you spend with them will have more value and importance in their lives than you can ever imagine.

You can learn anything. But the most important thing you need to learn is that time with your children is number one. Helping them is number two. And being an example and role model to them is number three.

We owe it to our children to give them the best chance they can have to compete in today's world. Education sets apart the winners from the losers.

Allow a child to pursue their passions. If they love math, let them run with it. Do all you can to help that flourish and grow.

Keep a dictionary at the dinner table. Learn a new word every day. There are so many simple things you can do to help your children. Don't settle for being a dumb parent. Don't let your friends settle for being dumb parents. Speak up when you see something you think is not right for the children. Silence does nothing except keep the cycle of dumbness going.

As the yellow buses hum by in the morning, I know that school is starting and I feel sorry for kids with dumb parents.

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Saturday, August 27, 2011

As A Blogger, What Should You Write About?

What do you write about? Your passions and your knowledge will tell you.
When you set out to be a blogger, you can't just write a couple posts and call it a career. You have to come up with new content on a daily, weekly or monthly basis - the more often, the better. But I've chatted with many bloggers and they wonder, "As a blogger, what should you write about?"

Before you answer that question, you have to ask yourself a few questions...
  1. Why do you want to blog?
  2. What are you passionate about?
  3. What do you know about?
  4. What do you want to know about?
  5. What is your reference point or perspective?
Question number one is so critical. Why? Do you want to just practice writing? Do you want to build a diary? Do you want to have a place to store thoughts? Do you want to give people information or advice? Do you want to build an audience?

If you answered YES to the second last question in the paragraph, then you'll be on your way to getting a YES on the last question. Readers subconsciously are always asking, "What's this mean to me?" Is it entertaining them? Is it informing them? Is it showing them something they've never seen before? If the reader can't find some YES's there, then you're going to be shooting bytes into cyberspace like a drunk on a mechanical bull with a hair-trigger machine gun. You may hit something, but you'll waste a lot of ammo on nothing.

When your mission is to deliver content of value and you couple that with your passions, writing should be easy. But even bloggers who have passion and know that they want to deliver have trouble figuring out how to write what is on their mind.

Knowing your passion or passions is important, but do you know anything about them - at least enough to write about. You don't have to know everything about a particular subject to write about it. You can do research. Everything you want to know is a few Google searches away. Cull some facts and figures, put them into a logical progression and you could have a pretty good blog post.

Another area you can find subject matter is on something YOU want to know about. Write about your process of discovery and what you've found.

The last question above asks about your reference or perspective. This is a big factor for me. I look around and write about what I see.

HOW I PUT IT ALL TOGETHER

I'll tell you exactly what I do and you can formulate your own strategy from there.

First, I get an idea. It could be from something I saw on the news, on the street or a funny twist on something that is going on in the world. Because my background is as a stand-up comic, an advertising agency owner and a stock trader - along with a salesman, dope dealer, candlestick maker, radio announcer, and a few other jobs - I have a lot of experiences to draw from.

When I'm feeling funny, I write funny stuff. But I also see things that bother me or things that can help someone. Scan through my posts and see the topics I write about. I cover a broad range.

My reference point is that I live in a predominantly black neighborhood. So, I write about my racial observations. I have been diagnosed with a couple mental conditions, so I write about those. I have friends that have mental conditions, I write with them in mind. There are lots of unemployed people around me. I've written about that. I see people that are marginalized in society, I write about that. I've even written a few sports articles.

You'll also see a lot of "How To..." posts. "How To..." is a popular search term. Think of what you know and what you love and pick a niche topic. "How To Do What My Niche Topic Is." There's a post.

There are two ways to approach your subject matter - be a generalist or a specialist. I'm a generalist. I do that because that is my personality. I've done a lot of things, I'm interested in a lot of things and I have opinions on a lot of things. Plus, I'm really good at SEO (search engine optimization) writing. I know how to do the right things that give me the best chance at getting good placement - PAGE ONE OF GOOGLE - on a consistent basis. It doesn't work all the time. And some posts, will never be found on search engines, based on the way they are written (usually comedy pieces). But, I'm building a broad base of topics that do well on search engines. Over time, I'll attract a very broad range of people.

My readers that have commented directly to me generally love my blog. Sure, there are some pieces that they couldn't care less about, but in general, they like the majority of what I write about.

I model myself after Mike Royko, the Pulitzer-Prize Winning author and newspaper columnist from Chicago. Royko wrote about a lot of subjects in his columns. Sometimes he was hilarious. Sometimes he was heart-wrenching. Sometimes he was informative or educational. But he was always interesting.

I want to be the Mike Royko of the Internet. You can't peg me to one thing, but you want to read my work.

As a specialist, you'll target one segment and write about every nook and cranny of it. Auto repair or fishing or quilting or kids games or decorating.

In some cases, you don't even have to write much. Maybe you're terrific with a camera. All of your posts could be great shots you've taken. People enjoy good photography.

Can you make silly videos? Short videos are popular. You load them to YouTube, slap them on a blog and you're done. I'm just started to get into video, doing shorts - 3 to 8 minutes. 

When you're a specialist, you position yourself to be an expert in the field. That's a great position to be in.

But what if you say, "I'm not a specialist." Doesn't matter.

There is a true story I heard a long time ago. A scullery maid (a woman who worked in a kitchen doing grunt work) went to the wise business owner. She asked, "How can I make more of my life?" He asked her, "What are you standing on?" She said, "Brick." He told her to take a week to research and write whatever she could find about bricks. And she did.

The following week, she brought her paper to him and he was impressed. She wanted to know what to do next. He instructed her to pull a brick out of the floor and asked what was underneath it. She said, "Sand, and an ant." He said, "Pick one and write about that." She selected the ant and went about doing her research.

A week later, she had her paper and presented it to the business owner. He was very impressed. He told her to write more. She did. And she continued to research and write. Eventually, she became the world's foremost authority on ants.  - - - Best in the world - - - starting from a lowly employee in a kitchen.

As a writer, you can go anywhere you want. You can be anything you want to be. But the only way you'll sustain it is if you are passionate and you are knowledgeable or are willing to gain the knowledge.

I'm sure the team of writers at Mashable didn't know squat about the iPad when it was first introduced. But they figured it out. They spent the time the average person would not spend on the iPad and then they condensed their findings into a post.

And that is what a lot of blogging is about. Being willing to do the work that other people don't have the time to do. Or introduce them to social commentary or ideas that they probably wouldn't come up with on their own. Or - my favorite - make 'em laugh.

Your mission is simple. Be informative. Be provocative. Be bold. Be controversial. Be entertaining. Be good at whatever it is YOU choose to do.

My former father-in-law used to say, "Every person I meet is my superior at something." He respected everyone. You have something that no one else has. Or the willingness to get what most people won't go find - then you write about it.

This process takes thought. Ideas can come at any moment. I rely on an old Chinese Proverb: A dull pencil is better than a sharp mind. Write it down. Write all of your ideas down. You might not know what to do with that idea at the moment, but it may come in handy later - if you wrote it down.

Once I have an idea, I select a picture. Then, I write. All of my posts are one draft, with a few minor spelling or grammatical corrections. I don't belabor any of my posts. I write from my passion and from my heart. I know how to tell a story. It's a skill I acquired through lots of practice.

When I get to the bottom, I proof read it twice, add the photo, check it in PREVIEW, add links to other posts on my blog, add labels (tags), PREVIEW again, correct any formatting glitches... PUBLISH. Then I start marketing... but that is in my FREE course on How To Start A Blog.

I just hope this gives you some direction as to how to get started. I have a friend who started a blog five months ago and hasn't written one post. Can't come up with an idea. His blog is about current events. He can't figure out one current event to write about. I can find 35 current events a DAY to write about. I can only get out a few.

Don't make excuses. If you do, you're not tapping into your passions and/or your knowledge. Or you just don't know how to write. Can't help you there. I learned through years of practice.

From today forward, as a blogger, the question "What should you write about?" will never be a question you will search for an answer to - you'll know.

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You Just Have To Watch It. Absolutely Incredible !!!!!