Saturday, 11:15 a.m.
I was in Cleveland four years ago for the Republican National Convention—which took place, remember, the week after some Dallas policemen were shot by a sniper, and all sorts of hell seemed about to take place across the country—and I was in the Quicken Loans Arena to hear candidate Trump's acceptance speech, to cover it for Vital Speeches.
That night I was struck most by how compelling was Trump's vision of an America with seemingly nothing left to lose by electing him president. How compelling and how incorrect. Here's part of what I wrote:
But what Trump is saying is only emotionally accurate. In America we do have an incredible amount to lose by electing the wrong president — and especially by electing a president so animalistic in his hunger for this power that he would describe a nation with as many resources and as many fine and brilliant human beings we still have here as a filthy latrine of a place, in need of drastic measures of every imaginable kind.
On the day that the police officers were shot in Dallas — the dark culmination of a month of utterly discouraging incidents that do seem to be building in frequency and in magnitude — American symphonies played, the Mayo Clinic cured people of cancer, Silicon Valley engineers worked on projects unthinkable by most of us. Americans taught their children well, Americans nursed their aging parents, Americans gave beautiful eulogies for beautiful Americans. And the next day, the wise and eloquent Dallas chief of police led a pitch-perfect and spiritually healing response to the madness that had occurred in an American city where American life will go on.
This is such unfamiliar territory for me. Over the years I’ve been the asshole telling my fucking golf and sailing buddies that life isn’t a bowl of cherries for everyone, and resources must be directed toward poor and downtrodden people in forgotten neighborhoods and dying farm towns and Appalachian hollers.
To have to remind Republicans not to forget that almost all of us are still infinitely more comfortable, clean, healthy and safe than any of us were 100 years ago. To have to ask fellows with big bellies full of steak and gin — people like multimillionaire Jack Nicklaus, who supports Donald Trump because “he’s turning America upside-down” — just how exactly Barack Obama has cramped their style. To have to wonder if these people ever drive down their own leafy streets, wave at their helpful neighbors and walk into their loving homes and think, “Hey, this isn’t so bad.”
Yes, we witness incredible shit on television, and it seems to get more incredible every day. I have recently been put in mind of 1968, and what it must have felt like when Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were shot, and then riots broke out all over the country as arguments erupted over dinner tables about Vietnam. It must have felt scary. It must have felt out of control. It must have also felt exciting.
And with the backdrop of the shit we’ve witnessed this month, this week in Cleveland felt exciting, too. (In person, even. I was sitting in the cramped, crowded canyon of 4th St. on Wednesday when several dozen police officers yelled to “make a hole!” and charged parted the people to attend to what seemed like it must have been some kind of serious threat. But it was funny. Nobody panicked, including me. We’re more afraid for our nation than we are for ourselves, even when we are in danger.)
We each have a lot left to lose if this country gets under the control of someone desperate and dishonest enough to tell you we don’t.
We each — still — have everything to lose.
Candidate Trump convinced a lot of dispirited Americans that they had nothing to lose by electing him president. Let's not let President Trump break the rest of our spirits now.
Friday, 1:15 p.m.
Today on a run around Humboldt Park I came upon a young woman in a meadow, juggling bowling pins.
I thought of taking her picture, but didn't want to intrude, so I ran on.
But my eyes were open after that.
Friday, 8:30 a.m.
ANNOUNCEMENT: The 2020 World Conference of the Professional Speechwriters Association will be a virtual event this year. Taking place in a festival format, with hyper-relevant midday sessions and thoughtfully organized online networking conversations throughout the week of October 19.
A powerful lineup of speakers will:
• Showcase new best practices in leadership communication.
• Examine the global rhetorical landscape just two weeks before the 2020 presidential election.
• Describe a changed mission for professional rhetoricians in our time.
Registration fees will be lower than for the live conference and a generous early bird discount will allow PSA members to attend for less than $500.
This seventh annual conference will be very different from the others; but it’ll be wonderful just the same—and surely more needed than ever.
So note the dates and set aside the dough. Registration opens next month.
And here's what's funny about that.
Ten years ago on this blog I described what it's like to attend a traditional, professional conference, which I described as "a tsunami of stimuli":
Surrounded by one's peers in the flesh for the first and last time in a while, one is simultaneously struggling to absorb new ideas from speakers, and to imagine how those ideas might be modified and applied back at the office.
Hour upon hour, session after session, more ideas, more reactions, both intellectual and emotional. Notes scribbled, business-cards collected, hands shaken, social fuck-ups made and self-forgiven, bad sessions walked out on, good sessions walked in on, the exhibit hall slinked through, dinearounds signed up for, at the bar for one more, blinky breakfast roundtables barely made.
There are new people to meet, old colleagues to catch up with and random encounters to contend with and to integrate into the experience. All the while checking voice mail and e-mail to make sure a hundred crises haven't erupted back at the office. Oh, and speaking of the office …
… toward the end of the event, the pressure builds to sum up the conference for your boss who fought for the budget money to send you, and for your colleagues, who have been covering for you all week.
What did you get out of it? What did you come away with? Any ideas we can use?
By the time you get on the plane, your head is overstuffed to aching with techniques, case studies, the odd-but-nagging opinions of others, half-developed theses of your own.
Now here I am, planning an online conference and trying to make it feel as much as I can like the shows of yesteryear (2019). Part of me resents having to figure all this out, even with the help of our great staff and tech partner. Reminds me of my dad, taking a class in his early sixties, in DOS. "Life is short," Garry Shandling said, "but not short enough."
What makes the process bearable and occasionally thrilling is that PSA members—professional speechwriters and other leadership communication pros—are simultaneously figuring this all out for themselves, for their clients who are speaking at virtual conferences.
So it feels like we're helping one another get through this thing, whatever it is. Which Kurt Vonnegut said was the meaning of life, in the first place. (He also said, "I tell you, we are here on Earth to fart around, and don't let anybody tell you different.")
So let's get on with it, my friends, whatever it is: Together.
Thursday, 12:45 p.m.
On the phone the today with an editor pal, I asked her how she's managing through coronavirus, psychologically speaking. She said she's fine as long as she stays off her news feeds and doesn't drink alone too much.
I said I'm real good about the news feeds, but that drinking alone is actually something I like to do.
"Yeah," she acknowledged. "It's relaxing."
Thursday, 7:29 a.m.
At the Founders Meeting of the Executive Communication Council in February in Phoenix, one of the liveliest of many lively discussions had to do with CEOs, and their changing role in American life, should they choose to accept it.
With the American president providing no commonly accepted moral leadership, all kinds of people—especially corporate employees—are looking to CEOs to weigh in on all manner of social issues, from gay rights to immigration.
And CEOs, long regarded (and self-regarded) as dealmakers, decision-makers and beancounters—find themselves bewildered at being asked to make a statement on the death of Kobe Bryant, an example that came up in our meeting.
The phenomenon isn't totally new—I've been writing about it for several years—but coronavirus has accelerated it. And for some CEOs, it does seem to be sinking in. This went out to all U.S. Bank employees yesterday. (Hat tip to Target speechwriter Chris Truscott—Target HQ is next door to U.S. Bank, in Minneapolis, for passing it along.)
[Click on the letter to enlarge.]
Wednesday, 10:23 p.m.
I feel like giving somebody a piece of my mind. I mean, a colorful piece of my mind—that kind that, when you're writing it you think, "This one is going to make it into my collected letters."
And in fact, I don't think I've ever had more opportunities during any three-month period than I have during this one to take some motherfuckers down. Most people I know are behaving relatively admirably during this. But people who have been wrong during this, have been as wrong as that lady with the dog, in Central Park.
And meanwhile, I've got a lot of anger I'd like to get out! Anger at the coronavirus, which I feel un-warned about by God. Anger at the president, for being such a worthless and corrosive shit. Anger at myself, for not knowing how to fix things that are happening around me because of this. Anger at Wolf Blitzer, just for being him.
But I find I just can't bring myself to destroy anyone during this time. The worst you're going to get from me is blustering impatience that comes out of anxiety. You will not receive an evisceration no matter how desperately you have one coming—whether you work for my payroll company, my bank, a business partner or even a business competitor. No matter how self-indulgent, ignorant, pig-headed or just plain dumb you're being.
Since the beginning of this, I've had a strong sense that whatever gets destroyed during this time can never be repaired. Also, you shouldn't hurt other people during this time, because you know they are hurting already and their asshole-ism is coming out of fear, exhaustion, loneliness, or pent-up rage of their own. Also, it's a good way to get popped in the nose.
So I drink Old Overholt, and listen to reruns of Hunter S. Thompson calling his cable company.
It feels like giving up a sport I used to love to play.
Wednesday, 3:55 p.m.
Do you know the concept of the "third entity," in psychology? It's one of those things that you've known about all along even if you didn't know the term (which I just heard, on the wonderful podcast, Dolly Parton's America):
This third entity is the invisible, living, breathing entity created between you and another person, that exists independently of you and another person. The third entity is greater than the sum of the two people involved. The third entity is greater than the sum of its parts, i.e. of the two people involved.
Lot of these third entities are orphans right now, boy. And hungry.
Wednesday, 8:30 a.m.
The best paragraph in the Leslie Jamison New York Times magazine piece I mentioned yesterday was the second:
The subtractions of our quarantine came on the heels of other ones. I signed divorce papers just a month before the city started shutting down, and as the lockdown's restrictions drew an increasingly tight perimeter around every household, they cast into sharper relief the ways mine had been gutted. It felt vaguely like being forced to live in a building splintered by a wrecking ball before the rebuilding had begun. Quarantine didn't just take things away; it revealed—with a harsh, unrelenting cruelty—what had already been lost.
That's not how this feels to me. But it must be what it feels to many. May we be vigilant for those souls in our lives, lest we lose them, ourselves.
Tuesday, 7:52 a.m.
"It is so exhausting, trying to be happy during this." —my 16-year-old daughter, sometime over the weekend.
Tuesday, 7:30 a.m.
The Sunday New York Times Magazine was full of essays, presumably deeply personal pieces by fine writers, on how they are dealing with coronavirus.
I had no interest in any of them except for one. I find I really don't care to read how strangers, however articulate, are dealing with coronavirus. In fact, I feel hostile toward the Times' attempt to make me care.
The article titles themselves set my teeth on edge:
"We Can't Comprehend This Much Sorrow"
"Insanity Can Keep You Sane"
"When the World Unravels, Braid Your Own Hair."
Or go fuck yourself.
The one essay I read was by Leslie Jamison, though its title was no less annoying: "When the World Went Away, We Made a New One." I was interested in the Jamison piece because I read a book of hers about a year ago. During the course of reading it, I developed a relationship with Jamison and her style of writing and thinking—a complicated relationship. And so I was interested in hearing how that relationship had been changed by coronavirus: How she had changed. And how I had changed.
I found Jamison annoyed me in the same ways she annoyed me last year, and impressed me in the same ways, too. That was reassuring.
Similarly, I've been blogging much more frequently and much more personally during this "Coronavirus and us" era of Writing Boots. My traffic has not been affected one way or the other; as far as I can tell, I've drawn no new regular readers. But I can't tell you how many longtime Writing Boots readers I've heard from who thank me for writing so much these days and who confess that the blog serves as an important touchstone for them now.
Well, why wouldn't it? You've known me, some of you, since Writing Boots was a monthly printed newsletter called The Murray Meaning. Since I looked at you like this.
We've held it together together for a long time—through 9/11, the Great Recession, the election of Barack Obama, the Cubs winning the World Series (!) and the election of Donald Trump—and through the equivalents of each of those events in all of our personal lives.
And in the face of those impostors, you've seen me variously under-react and overreact, gloat and whine, grovel and preen, gild the lily and tell the truth. Along the way we've grown up together, begun to grow old together.
And it's with one another that we will travel all the way through this thing, until this thing becomes another thing—another series of Triumphs or Disasters—and we hold it together through that, too.
We'll keep each other in check. We'll pick each other up. We'll make each other laugh. The way we've always done.
So yeah, you should definitely keep reading, because I'd be worried if you didn't.
And I'll keep writing, because you'd be worried if I didn't.