Sunday, November 28, 2010

How I Learned to Talk: Part Two

Part One addressed the pitfalls of lazy talking.  Part Two will itemize some helpful rules to point you in a good direction.

Rule One:  Knowing when to be silent. The upper hand can be had in any encounter if you wait to the count of ten before answering a question.  The other person will become nervous and begin chattering at about number six.   If you can master the “count to ten” response, it never disappoints. 

Rule Two: Adapt your language for the recipient:  My neighbor is a retired schoolteacher named Margaret.   Her husband is named Tom. Margaret and Tom Smith.  How do you talk to a solid English teacher like Margaret Smith?  Be conscious of words and syntax . Thankfully, I just read a book titled “Woe is I” and finally know when to use “which” and when to use “that”.  In case you want to know:  “what” is used when it’s important;  “which” is used for extraneous clauses that you could leave out.  With Margaret Smith, I drag out words like “impervious” and “obsequious” and guess what?  She wants me to come over and see her new compost bin.  She says, “Just walk right in.”  I’m telling you, it’s the “impervious” that invites that kind of hospitality.

Rule Three:  Preparation.  You can do this in front of a mirror or in your head.  Before I go to a dinner party, I plan some conversational sequence meant to entertain.  My hosts are feeding me carefully prepared, expensive food.  I have a responsibility to contribute to the ambiance.   When I was going to meet a very modest Englishman who held a high position in the British government, I prepared the following opening remark:  “If you were a Sheridan play, it would be called “A modest man of great importance.”  He walked away with a bemused grin but I caught him looking at me later.

Rule Four:  The third party effect:  When I used to change my infant grandson and knew he might choose that moment to relieve himself, I always said: “Don’t taze me bro,” a phrase I borrowed from a videotaped police confrontation on the evening news.  The baby didn’t care what I say, but I knew it would make his father smile and that’s always rewarding.

Rule Five: Squelch anything colorful at the bank and at the hospital: When you’re asking for a loan and the nameplate on the desk says: Ms. Du Bois, don’t be tempted to blurt out Blanche DuBois’ famous line in Streetcar Named Desire, “I have to depend on the kindness of strangers.” Say: “It’s so hot outside but very pleasant in here.” and the loan officer will say: ”How much of a loan did you want?”

Rule Six:.  It is legitimate to use sarcasm and irony to test the acuity of someone you are vetting for a job or marriage or power of attorney.  These verbal skills are part of our human toolbox and if our brain is healthy, we are wired to respond to them.   Dr. Margaret Rankin, a neuropsychologist says if you don’t recognize sarcasm, it’s because of some damage to your parahippocampal gyrus which is located in the right brain.. People with dementia, or head injuries in that area, often lose the ability to pick up on sarcasm or irony.  This is known as the Forest Gump response.  No, it’s not, I’m just kidding.

The sixth rule of talking (and this is the last but most important rule):  Let’s take all of the talk content you will have in life. You have a chunk of information, a chunk of ideas, a chunk of whining, and a chunk of aimless non-consecutive thoughts to divide between your family and friends and whomever crosses your path.   To avoid senseless time wasting maneuvers like back pedaling, apologizing, rifts and perhaps murder, segregate and be situation appropriate.  Be vigilant and don’t falter.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

How I Learned to Talk: A blog in two parts.

Part One:
Meredith F. Small, an anthropologist, says our “social intelligence” is what has made humans such a successful species." We recognize and keep track of hundreds of relationships, and we easily distinguish between enemies and friends.”  We run our lives by social calculation and most of it revolves around talking.
 I used to think talking was just opening your mouth and letting sounds come out.  There are unintended consequences to this type of lazy talking and now I take it seriously.  I found it best to segregate the things I talk about with different people. 
Here are a couple of examples:  My friend Meg validates that I am a regular person because I act and talk regular around her. I have my Meg package:  I can talk about trouble but I keep it light.  I park the irony at the door. 
The only things I can say to Hannah are: Do you have a good plumber? or  How do you like your new car?  I stopped telling Hannah anything when I realized that her reaction was going to be out of all proportion to what I was telling her.  If I said I got some freelance work she would scream (yes, scream) what?  What kind of work? And then pepper me with about fifty questions that I didn’t have the answer to and then question my decision.
The woman who checks me out at Waldbaum’s always asks if I’m going back to my country for the Holidays.  I just say yes.
I try not to tell my children anything about my life that doesn’t end with: “it’s great.”

It’s easier to wrap your mind around talking that works if you separate it into five main categories: 

Pleasantries:  (best kept to a sentence or two) Nice day. Nice lawn.  How's the wife.  Cute kid.  If you go beyond the second sentence, you will be embroiled in a pointless conversation that will be hard to end.

Informational talk:  “Mrs. McNaughton you'd better sit down for this.  We hear seven distinct heartbeats.”   When you are receiving information, don’t be tempted to interject irony or humor or even sarcasm.  Just say, “I see.”    

Self-serving talk.    “I had no knowledge of any dummy corporations being set up at Enron to divert money.”  Don’t refute the speaker even if what he/she is saying is blatantly false.  If it is something that alters your finances, just take it to a lawyer.

Inquisitorial talk:  “Jeffrey, what do you mean when you say you like to cut up people?”  If there’s nothing else you learn about talking, learn to answer what is asked with no elaboration.  If someone asks, “Did you eat the last piece of pie?” a yes or no will suffice.

Confidential talk:  If you are hell bent on confiding, become a Catholic and go to confession or talk to your mirror.  This will spare you confessional remorse.

In the next day or two:  How I learned to talk Part II.  

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Boneless center cut pork loin, Sale $1.49 lb.

I separate women into two categories: those who roast and those who only saute.  For no good reason, I think of the former as capable and grown up and the latter as . . . not quite grown up.   I'm in the second group yet yesterday, I bought the pork loin on sale.  It had a sign that said Look! and the o's were made into eyes with long lashes so I decided this must be a real coup.  Right in the meat aisle, there were two middle-aged women chatting and I asked them how to cook the pork loin.   They knew exactly what to do.  In the oven at about 325 well seasoned and surrounded by vegetables. "It's only 1.49,"  I said and they rewarded me with "wow's." Momentarily,  I was absorbed into their safe grown up world.  "I'm going to buy two and freeze them," said one.  More validation.

I love getting advice from my sisters in the supermarket.  I sometimes go to the IGA on Wednesdays, senior discount day, to see all the ladies in a group.  I look at what they buy.  Cheer for dark clothes? Oh, yes, dearie, it's good for the black things. Cornmeal? Canned button mushrooms? Soup greens? Any one of them would tell you exactly what to do with anything you wanted to cook or with any other domestic problem:  how to clean silver, how to get stains out, how to get rid of mice, thumb sucking.  Anything. I think what I really love is the instant intimacy with no strings attached.  It's like drive-by comfort waiting for me any time I need it.

As for my e-book business, here's what happened yesterday:  I wrote a guest blog for a successful writer with a big following. She liked the blog and it will run in early Dec.   I asked her to promote my book, Best Friends, instead of Daughters.  That is progress.  Also, out of the blue, an entity named "Act 3" gave me a four star review for Nothing To Lose and sales for that title improved. All in all, a good day.

Monday, November 15, 2010

I went to church this week. It was about time.

For many years,  I went to a convent boarding school so I know a thing or two about the mass, the Bible, miracles, restlessness during a long homily and answered prayers.  This week, I really needed to talk to God and maybe Mary, too.  I was all twitchy and uncomfortable.  During the service, one of the lessons ended with the words:  Do your work quietly and eat your own food.  Although I love simple quirky directions and guidance, I had to wonder who translated that statement.  Church is all different now and hardly offers the solace of the old religion:  incense, beautiful Latin phrases sung in hushed tones, flickering candles on soft worn wood.  The church of my past was a solo deal.  No holding hands, no shaking hands.  For communion, you received the wafer on your tongue, not your hands.

The pastor this Sunday, a soft-spoken wise priest did say something that stuck with me.  He said not to carry on about the economic downturn.  He said (I'm paraphrasing here) just to turn to faith and stick with that.

In church, I prayed for two things.  I prayed for awareness.  Lately, I'm missing that moment where I think carefully before acting. I also prayed for good luck.  I've always believed in good luck or, more appropriately, that the universe knows all about me and what I want and will say:  "Oh, yeah, okay.  You can have that.  No prob."

By the way, sales are better than last month and one of my ads is due to appear next Sunday.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

I'm afraid of my age.

What is the cut off point where we blithely put down our age on an application without a  sense of rue  that we may be too old to be considered for something?  Is it twenty-two?  I'm afraid of my age.  I'm afraid of saying it out loud.  It's not as if my age is  my fault. It's not something that I brought on through carelessness. It doesn't matter that I have many young friends or that my legs still look pretty good or that I still have my original hips and knees and teeth (well, one inplant). 
 The Greek philosopher Zeno  contended that time (motion)  isn't a feature of the outer, spatial world, but rather a conception of thought?  Experiments  suggests that Zeno was right.  Scientists demonstrated the quantum equivalent of the adage that "a watched pot doesn't boil." This behavior, the "quantum Zeno effect," turns out to be a function of observation. "It seems,"said physicist Peter Coveney, "that the act of looking at an atom prevents it from changing".   
Oh, Zeno, Zeno, Zeno.  If what you say is true, please look at me.  
On a brighter note, this blog is growing in viewership.  On my "stats" page it shows not only the source of my viewership (what site prompts someone to link to the blog) but also the country of origin.  I have viewers from Malaysia, South Korea, 9 from Thailand, 3 from Singapore and half a dozen other countries.  Google is truly the big brother we were told about.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

You shouldn't go home again even if you're the President

I feel sorry for the President going back to visit his childhood home. No matter how far you've come, it's the bad lunch table all over again. I went back to visit St. Mildred's Academy where I was a boarder in elementary school. I almost threw up with apprehension. Suppose Sister Francisca was still alive? My convent boarding school was in Laurel, Maryland, situated between an insane asylum and the Bowie Racetrack. When the nuns took us for a walk we either watched the loonies walking a straight line and counting every step or went the other way and looked for pennies in the racetrack bleachers. The demented were allowed to roam unimpeded and often they walked with us just as they do in New York. Everyone thinks nuns are extra nice but Sister Francisca was petty and vengeful.  One day, our favorite nun fell dead right in front of us on the baseball field. Some devilish thing traveled to her brain and zap.
They told us she had died when we were in the chapel for evening prayers. All that stuff comes back when you visit your childhood places.  Let's be extra nice to the President when he gets back. He needs to know we're all in the same boat.

Apropos of nothing, if you look to the right of this post, you will see that I've put up a section where you can read free samples to any of my books.  This seems to be a popular thing so I say give them what they want.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Read a sample of my book Nothing To Lose

Okay. Stats tell the story.  After several weeks of blogging with growing but very modest pageviews, the stats graph went sky high (well, to the top of the page) when I offered a free sample of one of my books.  This week, I will offer a free sample of Nothing To Lose, a novel I wrote about a wonderful fat girl who works as a copywriter in a department store selling softgoods (a retailing term).
The stats also tell you where your views are coming from.  Some of the views for my blog are coming from the Huffington Post where I occasionally comment.  I love to comment in the Huffington Post because most of their stories are very serious and my comment is more relaxed.  Still they let me in and last week I commented on an academic treatise about the brain attributed to people who are probably nobel laureates. My comment included the following: "I was relieved to find from watching a PBS special that just by jiggling (yes, poking mildly back and forth) on a part of the brain, you can stop circular thinking that makes you obsess on why the bank teller calls you by your first name as if they've known you socially and had you over.  It turns out all you have to do is jiggle that brain spot and say: "This isn't real, just cut it out!"  It makes the brain sound like a toddler that you have to treat with tough love." I also put in the comment that surprisingly (according to a New Yorker article), one of the early signs of Alzheimer's  is the inability to recognize sarcasm. So when I visit my 99 year old mother I will say: "That pink agora top is perfect with the lime green chevron patterned slacks."  When she answers, "the girls dress me," I know everything is okay.   That comment elicited four blog views connected to that article.  Thank you Kelly DeVine for your wonderful marketing tips.
Hope you like Nothing To Lose.  

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Read a sample of my book: One Hundred Open Houses
I'm trying to be smart and use all technology available to me.  Yes, that bunch of red letters and numbers up above can take you instantly into the inside of one of my books the way an ultrasound takes you into the inside of your body.  There is a man, Harvey, over at the Kindleboards who spends  most of his off-time devising ways to help the authors on his forum sell their books.  I could spend all day chatting and reading on the Kindleboards.  I've entered two contests and come in second in both of them.  The first one was to write a book in 55 words or less.  For a person who spent her youth writing catalogue copy for Macy's that was a snap.  Try writing "Toddlers all cotton girls camisole tops in green, blue, white and pink, small, med. lge.  Lambs, turtle, piggy motifs," in a one inch slot. Those catalogue entries could have been early tweets that's how economical they were.   I came in second in the "55 word novel contest "and also second in the "eulogy of a character in a novel contest."  My eulogy was for the Tin Man in Frank Baum's Wizard of Oz. Tin was a victim of the skyrocketing price of scrap metal.  In both cases I've won small gift certificates to use at Amazon.  I used the money to buy an e-book that was part of a marketing scheme of another indy author to help him run up the Amazon bestseller list.

If I had any discipline or any idea of how fast time is going and how old I am getting, I would spend my time writing my own books and winning the contest of self-esteem instead of trying to win $10 gift certificates. But here's the dirty little secret.  I feel so validated when my fellow authors vote for my anonymous entries.

Next blog I might put up a sample of Best Friends.  I hope you like it.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Same Store Sales - Up 50%

That's the way Wall Street reports it.  Yes, I doubled sales of my e-books in October and by far the most popular title was Daughters and that's the title I push.  If my books were children, Social Services would come and take away five of them because whenever I market (and I use that term loosely) it's Daughters, Daughters, Daughters.  Do I love it that much?  I love the others, too.  I love, love, love, One Hundred Open Houses but seldom showcase it.  The book I never talk about is Report From The Heart.  This is a book I wrote as a young wife and mother and it was non-fiction.  It was about my own family and when I read about the woman I was, it makes me want to get in bed and pull the covers over my head and stay there for a month.  Still, the San Francisco Chronicle said: "A book whose aim is so true, it's a bullseye to the heart."
Today there is a thread in the kindle forums that says:  Who has the nerve to report their October sales?
Dozens of authors responded and except for two or three, the sales are outstanding and astounding. I become discouraged when I see how far I have to go but only momentarily. It is still thrilling to have my own virtual bookstore.  When the month begins, Amazon, erases all your previous sales and puts in their place an ugly brown bar that says:  no sales to report this period.  They might as well say: nobody wants to read your books and just stop looking to see if anything has sold.  We call it "the dreaded brown bar of shame."
A more interesting thread in the Book Bazaar, one of the Kindle forums, had an interesting proposition:  post page 99 of your novel without explanation or promotion and a simple link to the book.  This is an exercise to see how the book fares with a serendipitous sample.  I found page 99 of Daughters (what else?) and put it up. If anything results from it, I'll let you know.  Oh, by the way, I had three sales in the U.K. Thanks Brits.