Friday, June 24, 2016

A Cryptic Note

The Coachean Life Coach takes voluminous notes on the road, marking down every thought that might be relevant to making your life better. The entry presently at the top of his list, however, is baffling: "Regular vs excessive farting." That is it, in its entirety.

What exactly could that mean? What brought on this apparently important perception, so important that I felt compelled to write it down? Was there farting occuring at the time the note was taken? Was it regular farting, or farting of the excessive persuasion? What is regular farting, for that matter? Or excessive farting? And most importantly, who was the farter?

We will, apparently, never know. This is the down side to taking voluminous notes on the spur of the moment. If the note is overly cryptic, you will be left with nothing but a vague memory that something about something—in this case something about the passing of gas—was so important at the time that you felt the need to comment on it, but you were so sure at the time that its importance had made a lasting impression that you didn't feel the need to elaborate, thus leaving nothing behind but an enigmatic squib, the meaning of which you will never unravel.

In other words, if you're going to take notes, take good notes. Taking bad notes is like farting. Regularly or excessively. You will find momentary relief at best, but total, eternal bafflement at worst. (Okay, maybe that analogy doesn't really work, but if you start an essay with farting, you must end it with farting. Which in itself is a lesson for another day.)



Friday, June 17, 2016

Shopping advice

First of all, shopping is neither a hobby nor a vocation. It is a chore, and like all chores, it must be done, and it's not the worst idea to get all Mary Poppins over it and make the best of it. Nevertheless, a chore is something you don't want to be doing, which is taking away time from doing something you do want to be doing. Wanting to do chores, therefore, is a suspect behavior, aside from wanting to get them over with quickly so that you can do something else. Therefore, if you want to shop, there is something wrong with you.

There are exceptions to this. Shopping for any tech items, for instance, however little you may actually need them, is always entertaining, and should be considered an end in itself. In fact, not buying a piece of tech that you are particularly lusting over can be way more satisfying than buying it and wondering a week later what the hell was so good about it that you dropped eight hundred bucks without batting an eye. So we recommend that, if you go shopping for tech, you keep your hands in your pockets. Enjoy the experience, but do not make a commitment. This is the same advice we would give to sixteen-year-olds enjoying their first romance, for roughly the same reasons, if we were in the habit of advising sixteen-year-olds on their love lifes, which, I assure you, is a mug's game that the Coachean Life Coach will be steadily avoiding in this column. 

On the other hand, if you do find yourself in a store or market or whatever, through no fault of your own, we do advise that if you see something you want that is the slightest bit unusual, buy it. An iPhone will be around forever, and will in fact be upgraded a month after you buy yours, so you should think for a while about whether you really need yet another one. And just about every book ever published is available on Amazon (plus the longer you wait, the cheaper it might get), so think long and hard before plopping down a couple of Hamiltons because some clerk at Barnes and Noble is recommending the latest E. L. James book. But when you're talking about something unique, something you've never seen anywhere else, something that you had no idea that you wanted but the minute you see it you know you have to have it, buy it. If you don't, it won't be there next time you're looking. In fact, that should be your guiding principle: will you ever have a chance to buy this thing again? For instance, an usher's uniform from the 1939 New York World's Fair in a size that would fit maybe a ten-year-old, going for under a hundred bucks at a tag sale, will be gone in a second. It will never be seen again, no matter how thoroughly you search the corners of every collectibles shop and tag sale in America. Buy it the second you see it, Trust us on this. (Although if I had bought it, I have no idea what I would have done with it.)



Friday, June 10, 2016

Advice from a Life Coach: The Ballad of Me and I

It is not too late to prevent the murder of the subject pronoun at the hands of the object pronoun. To do this, we must look at the accomplice: the seemingly innocent word "and."

How many times have we struck the word "and" from our conversations? (And I apologize for putting it in quotation marks, since the phrase "the word" already provides a determination that we are talking about "and" as a word and not using it as a conjunction. I'm just trying to be as clear as possible. [But I do not apologize for using "and," or for that matter "but," to start a sentence. The Coachean Life Coach is not quite that unbending.]) How many times have we said "Pardon my French" when we have let the word "and" slip from our lips? How many movies have been rated R for using it even once over the space of two hours? Yes, little "and" is the perennial dewy-eyed ingenue, but its powers to kill language rank with "like" (I mean, she was like all la-la-la and I was all like girl you gotta—you get the picture) or the classic "you know." You know?

By the way, regarding that expression "Pardon my French," you have to love any throwaway line that permits you to be vulgar and to blame it on the French both at the same time. Usually those are separate activities.

Anyhow, here's the meat of the problem. Most English-speaking people correctly use "I" as an object pronoun, when I stands alone. (All right, when "I" stands alone, since I know that last sentence was physically painful despite its correctness.) However, every vestige of education aimed at those English speakers immediately evaporates when they are not alone. "Joe and me went to the burlesque show." "Him and me were Siamese twins before the operation." Or even worse, "Me and him lived on grubs for the first eleven years on the island." Typing these sentences hurt, but not as much as listening to them. These same people would not say, "He gave it to I," or, for that matter, "Him gave it to I," but at the same time, they will say, "Our naked-yoga instructor was not happy that the cow face pose was not in the repertoire of Morty and I."

In all of these examples, note the lurking of the insidious little "and."

It has been suggested that this language failure is incurable, and that may be so. Nevertheless, if you suffer every time you hear it, or worse, occasionally commit the sin yourself, there is perhaps one cure: Bizarro.

Bizarro is probably the one* universally recognized character in literature (so to speak) who always objectifies his subject pronouns. So the cure to this, offered here, is that, whenever you do it yourself, picture yourself as Bizarro You. Say to yourself, "Me talk funny." And if someone uses this misconstruction within your hearing, and you are in a position to do so, refer to them similarly. "Oh, you're Bizarro Trump. You talk funny." (Okay, the idea of Bizarro Trump is either too bizarre or too Trumpish to make a good example, but we'll have to live with it.) The point is, without the "and, "no one would do this, and short of going through everything I've written here to explain it, simply pointing out that you or the perpetrator is talking like Bizarro will sum it up quickly and efficiently.

Ya get me? I'm happy to hear it. Or: Ya get I? Me happy to hear it. 

Mostly, by the way, it is teenagers who talk like this. Some might suggest that they will grow out of it, but that may be wishful thinking. Them is, like, the future. 

* Yeah, I know. You're thinking David Sedaris and/or Tonto also have used this construction, and maybe others. The Coachean Life Coach never claimed to be perfect, just almost perfect. Which is better than you, which is why you're reading this in the first place, and I'm not reading your life-coaching blog. Jeesh!



Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Advice from a life coach: Titling Your Book

As a lifelong publisher, I have seen endless letters and blurbs touting a given book as the next and latest some other book. Practically all of the second half of the twentieth century was one "the next To Kill a Mockingbird" after another. Needless to say, this was never true in the literary sense, and was simply wishful commercial thinking on the part of the publishers involved. If there had been a success in the past even marginally similar to the book at hand, the temptation to link that past success to the present contender was irresistible. Hope sprang eternal, in other words.

Fast forward a bit. The thing that is different nowadays is that not only publishers but authors are starting to imagine that their book is the next whatever. They not only slavishly reprocess the content of those books in their own work, but they even go so far as to title their books after those other successes. Which brings us to the important advice I wish to impart. 

If you are writing a book, do not put the word "girl" in the title. It's too late. The ship has sailed. It started with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. The literal translation of the Swedish title is Men Who Hate Women. While, granted, Men Who Hate Women is about as mellifluous The 1947 Complete Guide to Real Estate Deals in Boise, Idaho, Part One: Laundromats, and immediately brings to mind the subtitle And The Women Who Love Them, and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is an immediate grabber, that doesn't mean that every other book by every other author should be titled similarly. The Girl With the Potato Tattooor The Girl With the Lawn Mower Tattoo just aren't the same. There are, in fact, some very real parodies, including The Dragon With the Girl Tattoo and The Girl Who Fixed the Umlaut, so you can see that following Stieg Larrson's lead is a mug's game, plus he died young, and you don't want to do that either. 

Unfortunately, before all the authors in the world could get Lisbeth Salander out of their minds, Gone Girl came along and sold a megabazillion copies. Great. You want to emulate that one? Going Girl? Going Going Girl? Girl Where You At? Okay I Know I Had a Girl Here a Minute Ago? And then, of course, The Girl on a Train pulled into the station. Fine. Call your book The Girl on a Bus. The Girl on a Jitney. The Girl on a Hoverboard. Make it a flaming hoverboard. 


The thing is, these books, or at least books very close to them, arrive on my desk almost every day. I simply categorize them all as The Girl in the Unimaginative Book Title. DON'T MAKE THAT MISTAKE YOURSELF. You have the potential of being a great writer for the ages. You can win the National Book Award, the odd Pulitzer, the Nobel prize. But not if you follow trends and fashions. This is a recent thing, of course. Back in the day one did not see the Book of the Month Club offering To Maim a Mockingbird, Moby-Pete, Atlas Sneezed, The Pretty Good Gatsby or Dan Quixote. No one would have thought of doing it for a second. But nowadays? Just by writing this I suspect someone is going to grab the idea and Moby-Pete will be on the bookstands when I wake up tomorrow morning. Please: don't do it. No one wants to read Moby-Pete. Really. They don't. 

I once worked for a man who, when asked to help title a book, would ask, "Are there any drums in this book?" When you said no, he would ask, "Are there any trumpets?" When you said no again, he would announce, "There's your title. No Drums, No Trumpets."

Brilliant! Okay, maybe not. But funny, at least the first few dozen times. 

(And now I see you closing your eyes and thinking, There's no girl in my book. There's no hookah. Aha! No Girl, No Hookah. Sigh. Please don't send me a review copy. Please. Don't.)

I realize that I am fighting a lost battle here. Please stay tuned for my next posting, "The Girl in The Coachean Blog." It's going to be my biggest hit yet.

Advice from a life coach: Some tidbits from the road

Even life coaches go away every now and then. Last week we were completely offline. This week we are in Texas, which is almost like being offline, but with open carry. So, as we duck for cover, a few small comments.

If life gives you gators, make Gatorade.

The word Yosemite has four syllables. Reducing it to a three-syllable word, that is, yo-se-mite, sounds as if you're referring to someone with an obscure and vaguely distasteful sexual proclivity. On the other hand, the word molester has three syllables. Reducing it to a two-syllable word, that is, mole-ster, may make it sound more cute and cuddly, but it isn't.

And finally, if, after sprinkling a French phrase into your conversation, you add, "as the Frenchies say," you can get away with having completely mispronounced it, or used the wrong vocabulary. This allows you to get away with linguistic murder, as your listener's won't know whether or not you're serious. Unless they're French. But why would you pretend to speak French in front of French people? Come to think of it, that probably should stand alone. To wit: Don't speak French in front of French people. At best they'll think you're an escaped Canadian lunatic, and at worst, they'll do something really French that will ruin your life forever.

Advice from a life coach: Accept what you can't change, including your clothes

There is a commonly held misconception that you, or they, will grow out of it. This is not true. Whatever it is, it will just get worse. And the less desirable it is, the worse it will become. The best you can hope for is that something else will come along that's even worse that will distract you from it. This advice is especially useful when you have children, but if you are simply a hot mess, it applies to you too. 

Bonus advice: Once you find articles of clothing that you like, buy it in bulk, preferably off the internet. The results of doing this are that, first, you'll be more comfortable more often, and, second, people will recognize you easier when they see you. If you are worried that people will think that you never clean your clothes if they see you in the same thing every day, or that they'll think that you're a tramp and didn't get home last night to change, buy it in different colors. But careful about that. No one has ever bought the orange one, and you don't want to be the first. 

Advice from a life coach: For adults only

It would be an error on your part to assume that the wisdom in these posts is always derived from first-hand experience. A life coach does not have to have empirical, personal evidence for every piece of advice. Often it is the careful observation of others that results in a conclusion worth sharing, while other times simple common sense is all that is needed. The following is an example of the latter:

A wink and a nudge at the concierge desk at your Walt Disney World hotel will not result in a professional "escort" appearing at the door of your room any time soon.

I included the preface at the top of this post because, as I have just been to Walt Disney World, I do not wish to give the impression that I spent any of my time there patiently waiting in my room for company to appear. Nor did I see hordes of winking, nudging conventioneers wearing fezzes and blowing noisemakers while slipping the concierges the odd Benjamin to set up a little hankus pankus. Come to think of it, I never even saw any concierges, because I was staying at a value hotel. Maybe that was the problem. If I had been staying at a luxury hotel...

Anyhow, when you see the words common sense, you no doubt immediately wonder about the expression horse sense, which means much the same thing. I offer the following definition, from W. C. Fields: "Horse sense is the thing a horse has which keeps it from betting on people." As for the etymology of the phrase, you can google that yourself. I'm not here to do your work for you.  

Advice from a life coach: Regarding bromides and intestines

You should never post aphorisms or motivational posters or other bromidic materials in your house or place of business or, for that matter, anywhere else you are, ever. This includes social media and the walls of bathroom stalls, which are identical except that one is digital and the other is not, and I'll leave it to you to figure out which is which. Posting inspirational texts intended to get people to improve their behavior or to look on the bright side of life or to generally cheer up, get over it and try to be marginally productive, will change nothing. Worse, people will start feeling even more guilty about their flaws, and they will quickly learn to dislike you for your passive-aggressive opprobrium because, let's face it, you are not the happy pixie that you think you are. No one is. Thank God. So move along, and keep your rose-colored glasses to yourself. In fact, why don't you go choke on them?

And speaking of choking, it is a fact that haggis tastes good and you will like it. This may be hard to believe, but you can trust me on this, although you probably won't.

Advice from a Life Coach: Towels

If you travel at all, you will have seen the notices in your hotel room proclaiming that the hotel is the platonic ideal of eco-friendliness. They ask you to join them in their green heaven by reusing your towels. They tell you that, if you are the scum of the earth, you can toss your towels on the floor and they will be replaced, but if you are on the path to sainthood, you will dry yourself off as necessary and then hang the towels up and reuse them the next time you need them. And you, feeling environmentally sound, do your best to conform. You take your morning shower, pat yourself dry, and hang your towel up on the hook behind the bathroom door. Green heaven, here you come! And then when you get back to your room at night, your conservatively hanged towel is gone, and there are all new towels in your bathroom.

There is nothing you can do about this. The minute you leave your room, cleaners dash in and replace all your towels. If you come back in the afternoon, wash your face and use one of the tiny towels they put by the sink that are only good for patting your nose, they will replace those tiny towels as soon as you are out of sight, no matter how high up you hang them.

You can, if you wish, make it a challenge for the cleaning staff. You can take your shower in the morning, dry yourself off, and then take your damp towel and hang it in your closet instead of behind the bathroom door. They will find it, and you will have all new towels. You can put that damp towel in your suitcase and zip it closed, and they will find it and replace all your towels. You can lift the mattress on one of the beds, either the one you slept in or the one you tossed all your clothes on because you're too lazy to use the drawers, and hide your damp towel under there, and they will find it and replace all your towels. You can take your damp towel with you sightseeing during the day, and they will find it and replace all your towels.

The point is, hotels are not green, no matter how much they protest to the contrary. It is easier for them to wash all the towels in the room at the first opportunity than for them to try to figure out the used towels from the fresh towels. If you attach a sign to your used towel saying, "I used this one," and other signs to the unused towels saying, "I didn't even look at this one," it will make no difference. You can continue to play their silly game, or you can resign yourself to the inevitable, and spend your time more in your hotel room more profitably by trying to figure out what's in all those other bottles that don't say shampoo on them. What exactly is body wash, for instance? Since the size of the soap they provide wouldn't clean a dormouse, you might be tempted to find out. But you won't have the energy to pursue this potentially interesting line of research if you are exhausted from playing towel hide-and-seek.

The bottom line: enjoy the fresh towels that the hotel is going to give you whether you want them or not. At home, you know you use the same towels for weeks without a second thought. Damp, mildewy towels are your way of life. Use the diligence of the hotel cleaning staffs as a welcome relief from your normal personal habits. After all, you are on vacation. You might as well enjoy it.

Advice from a Life Coach: Travel

You no doubt have articles of clothing that you do not like. Maybe they were annual polyester sweater vest gifts in the wrong size from your impoverished grandmother who saved up all year to buy just the right one for your birthday. Maybe they were hand-me-down Hello Kitty underwear sets from your weird Uncle Norbert now serving time up in Attica for crimes no one in the family wants to talk about. Maybe it was the classic laurel shirt that looked perfect in the store that somehow managed to morph on the way home into the brightest item of shamrock green ever seen this side of St. Patrick's day. Whatever items like these that you have, they are no doubt stacked somewhere in a corner of your house, because you just can't bring yourself to throw them away without wearing them, while at the same time you know that giving them to a clothing drive so that somebody else could wear them would be pointless, because they don't want them either.

Well, here's what to do. Gather all of them the next time you're heading on vacation and throw them into your suitcase. Problem solved. You've now created the perfect travel wardrobe!

First of all, you're going away, and no one knows you there, so you can wear any damned thing and not have to worry about it.

Second, and here's the beauty of it, after you wear any of this stuff, thus eliminating the guilt of not wearing it, you throw it away at the end of the day. You won't have to do laundry, which is always a drag on vacation, because the cleaners take it out in the trash every morning and you never see it again. (Maybe they'll wear it. Maybe polyester vests are big where you're going.) And finally, you'll be steadily emptying your suitcase, making space you otherwise wouldn't have had for souvenirs. I mean, who can go to Paris and not buy a beret to fit in with all the French people? And you know you want that Eiffel Tower with the barometer in it, if only you had a way to carry it home. Going to the Vatican? A pieta with a barometer to match the one from the Paris trip? Of course you want it, if you only had a way to carry it home. A Big Ben with a barometer where the clock ought to be? A leaning tower of Pisa barometer? Your house needs these decorations, and now you'll have a way to acquire them all.

And finally, by bringing all of your soon-to-be castoffs to foreign shores, you'll be making space in that corner of your home for all the new clothes you will inevitably acquire by misadventure sooner or later, while at the same time always knowing the air pressure, if you can get any of those barometers to work.

Genius, or what?

Advice from a Life Coach 2

Advice: Do not discuss politics with your in-laws. They are the original people with whom discussing politics and/or religion is a bad idea. If you must discuss one of the two, go for religion, as people usually feel less strongly about it than about politics and are often better armed with facts, such as they are.
(Ancillary advice: If you do not have any in-laws, you are better off for it, and should do your best to keep it that way.)

Fact: Nothing grows faster than other people's children.

Commonly held misconception among people once they reach middle age: Everyone your age looks older than you do.
This is not true. If they all look like death eating a fig newton, then so do you.
Deal with it.

Jim Menick announces new career as Life Coach!

As I no longer coach high school debate, I have decided to take on coaching life itself, for everyone, covering everything. This may take some time; I will henceforth publish my life coaching wisdom here on Fridays in small, digestible pieces.

Advice: Do not whistle Stephen Sondheim songs when entering a public men's room. There is nothing to be gained by this, and much to lose.

Advice: Do not tell people that Rod Stewart was once really good back in the 60s and early 70s. No one will believe you, and both you and Rod Stewart will be none the better for it.

Advice: Do not chain-smoke cigars. (The quality of the cigars does not matter.)

Advice: There is no good reason to take off your shoes when you go to the bathroom, while there are so many good reasons to keep them on that I won't even list them. Act accordingly.