Thursday, August 14, 2014

It’s our policy

How many times have you heard the phrase, “It’s our policy”? From personal experience, it seems the larger a company becomes, the more it tends to initiate policies in how to deal with certain situations.

Here are some examples:

“Our policy is to only give store credit for returns.”

“Our policy is that you must have two forms of ID before I can help you.”

“Our policy is that if you want to upgrade your phone, you have to pay a processing fee.”

Here’s the thing. I’ve been in rooms where policies have been decided. Sometimes, they are logical, and it seems like a good rule to follow. Sometimes, no one knows for sure how to handle a problem, so they come up with something that they hope will work. And sometimes, the “policy” is put into place strictly for the betterment of the company—not the public.

Case in point: I have a business account for my authoring revenues and expenses. I received a letter from my bank recently that they were “upgrading their policies.” (Notice how they chose the word “upgrade”? Makes it sound like an improvement, right?)

Basically, the bank used to process deposits starting with the largest amounts first. The “upgrade” is that they were now going to process the deposits in chronological order. This may not seem like a big deal, so let me clarify.

When I opened the account, one of the benefits they sold me on was that they process the largest deposits first. That way, if I have expenses leaving about the same time, I’ll be covered.

Now, by doing the deposits in chronological order, those businesses which live on the hairy edge of money coming in and out are going to start to get hit with all sorts of fees.

The kicker? The letter included a section in big bold letters which read, “How this benefits you!” What was the first of these so-called benefits? To paraphrase, “This change will help you stay focused on the timing of your transactions as to avoid fees.”

How is that a benefit? When I think of a benefit, I think of something that works in my favor.

I happened to be in that bank a few days later to make a deposit. At the teller line, I asked about this new deposit policy change. How did the teller respond?


“It’s our policy not to discuss the pros or cons of our policies.”

Monday, July 28, 2014

For those who are not easily offended

One thing the general public doesn’t understand is that most successful authors spend a lot of time on promotion and marketing. It doesn’t matter if you are published through a traditional publishing house, or you have taken the indie route. Unless people know about your work, they can’t buy it.

To that end, I do a lot of research on different marketing methods and I’ve joined a number of online groups that share ideas and such with each other. In the process, I note how other authors promote their work.

Recently, an author I’d never heard of posted about their book. The cover was very sexually suggestive, and the description said, (and I’m paraphrasing here) “Filled with graphic sex and violence, this book is not for those who are easily offended.”

I paused at that statement, and thought about what it implies. In a sense, the phrase “someone who is easily offended” is a bit of an oxymoron. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the word offend is defined in the following ways: “To transgress the moral or divine law” and “To cause difficulty, discomfort, or injury” and “To cause to feel vexation or resentment usually by violation of what is proper or fitting” and even “To cause pain to.”

If you look at all those definitions, a common theme is that a type of action creates something considered offensive. In the case of the book noted above, the author chose to create subject matter which many people would consider is not “proper or fitting.”

All of this begs the question, “Where is the line between offensive and not offensive?” To include the idea that people can be “easily” offended implies that the line may be different for each person. In other words, the phrase suggests it is the nature of each person who determines what is offensive and what is not.

For example, one person may find it offensive if the “F” word is used in a movie. Someone else might care less if the “F” word is used. Does that mean the person who doesn’t want to hear the “F” word is “easily offended?” That seems to be the implication.

But if you look again at the definition, offense is tied to more of a general concept of what is okay, and what isn’t okay. Society, as a whole, has certain things it will put up with and certain things it won’t.

Can you imagine someone who robbed a bank using this as a defense: “Your Honor, I see nothing wrong with putting money from a teller’s drawer into my bag. I even told them ahead of time I was going to do it. The bank is being too easily offended by my actions.”

That concept seems ridiculous, no? Is it any more ridiculous for an author then to write something that could cross a generally accepted line of what is offensive and then blaming it on the reader if they don’t like it because the reader is too “easily offended?”   



Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Missing the Target

I’m a bachelor. Sort of. For about a week.

My wife and three oldest daughters are at Girl’s camp for the week, roughly 90 minutes away. My youngest daughter, who is 11, is hanging out with her best friend / cousin for part of the week. So, for a time, I’m living the life of a bachelor.

On the way home from dropping off my youngest daughter, I decided to pick up a few groceries from Target. You know, the basics: Milk, cereal, TV dinners, and the makings for Root Beer floats.

I got to the check-out line with my items, and the conversation with the cashier went something like this:

“Do you have our Target card?” asked the cashier.

“My wife may have one, but I don’t,” I said. “She’s out of town so I’m just picking up a few things.”

“Oh! Let me tell you about it. You can save 5% on … yadda, yadda, yadda.”

“That’s nice, but I rarely do the shopping. That’s something my wife likes to do. And I really don’t need more plastic in my wallet.”

“But, you could be saving on these purchases right now!”

In total, I had about $15 worth of items. That could have saved me 75 cents. “I appreciate it,” I said, “but like I told you, I just don’t do enough shopping for it to be worth my while.”

The cashier gives me a blank stare. “I don’t understand,” he said. “Won’t you be doing more shopping now that your wife has left you?”

Quickly thinking back over the conversation, I tried to figure out what would have given him the impression that my wife left me. Nothing came to mind.

“Uh, my wife didn’t leave me. She’s just out of town for the week.”

“Out of town without you, right?” the cashier clarified.

“Yes. That doesn’t mean she left me.”

“It’s okay. Really,” the cashier said, his facial features softening. “My wife left me three years ago, and I kept telling myself it was only for a week. You don’t have to be embarrassed by it.”

I glanced around, trying to see if anyone else was hearing this conversation. No one was.

“Look, I’m not embarrassed,” I said. “I’m sorry your wife left you. Honestly. But my wife didn’t leave me.”

He gave me a look like he didn’t believe me. “Do you have a cell phone?” he asked.

“Yes, why?”

“Give her a call right now. That way we’ll both know.”

“Uh, no. Please just ring up the rest of my items so I can be on my way.”

As he continued to scan in my groceries, he said, “I don’t see why you are afraid to call her.”

“I’m not afraid. She probably won’t answer. She’s at—”

The cashier interrupted me. “She won’t answer? Oh, dear, oh, dear.”

I decided to keep quiet, not quite believing this conversation was actually happening,

By this time, the last item was scanned in. “Your total is $14.96. You could have saved 5% if you had our Target card,” he said.

I paid for the groceries. While I was gathering up my items to leave, a lady came to the register with a few items.

“Well, hello!” the cashier said. “Do you have our Target card?” he asked her.

“I sure do,” she said. “I do all the shopping. My husband hates to shop, but I can’t see why.”


I thought about giving both of them a few ideas of why that may be the case.

Monday, July 14, 2014

A Tale of Two Lawns

I have a new appreciation for the saying, “The grass is always greener on the other side.” 

Yes, I understand the phrase is a metaphor for not appreciating what you have and always thinking that someone else has it better.

But recently, I’ve had an experience where in fact the grass has been greener on the other side.

Growing up in Utah, which is considered a desert, we had to water our lawn or it would die. My mom had a cool timer that she would set to remind her to move the hose which was watering the lawn. The timer looked something like this:



I always thought the middle part of the timer looked like a spaceship, but then again those were the days when Star Wars had just come out.

When my wife and I moved to Idaho, the house we bought didn’t have a lawn—just dirt and weeds. (It was also in a desert type environment.) I tilled the lawn using only a shovel and planted grass seed. A lot of watering and time later, we had a really nice lawn.

On a side note, last year we visited Idaho and drove by our old house. The person that owns it now stopped watering the lawn, it is back to weeds and dirt. It broke my heart.



North Carolina has its own unique issues with lawns. Generally, our winters are very mild and the summers can be brutal.

Our house in North Carolina had a lawn, but there were patches where it was just dirt, or what I thought was dirt. I’d grown a lawn before, so I figured, “Heck, I can do this.”

I tilled the yard, planted grass, watered … and nothing. If anything, things got worse. I was baffled.

Turns out our lawn was mostly clay, and not dirt. Also, I planted fescue grass, a type I used before, and it doesn’t like the heat very much. It fact, it dies out pretty quickly during the summer unless you water it all the time, especially in NC.

I ended up tearing up the front yard, adding topsoil, and put in a different kind of grass: zoysia. It was a grass type I’d never heard of before.

Basically, the grass withstands the summers really well and requires very little watering on my part. Most of the time, the regular rainstorms we get do the trick.

There is one aspect of zoysia grass I’d not experienced before. It goes dormant, or “to sleep” in the winter. Meaning, it turns a shade of tan. It doesn’t look bad, just different.



And that brings me back to the grass is always greener. You see, my next-door neighbor has fescue grass in his front yard. During the winter, when my lawn is tan, his is bright green. He’s even mowed it on Christmas Eve.

Yet when summer rolls around, his lawn dies. Like dead, kaput, gone. It turns to dust. (It doesn’t help that he won’t water it.) Then each autumn, he reseeds and starts all over again.

So, in the hottest months of the year, my lawn is rockin’. It’s green, thick and beautiful.


In the end, depending on the season, the grass is truly greener on the other side.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Homeschooling

I’m sure this blog is going to ruffle some feathers. It won’t be the first time, nor the last. But those that have the stomach to read all the way to the end of this blog may actually forgive me. We’ll see.

Here it goes. In general, I’m not a big fan of homeschooling. Right now, I’m sure several peoples’ blood pressures just rose. Before you start to type a reply on all the values of homeschooling or the negative aspects of public schools, hear me out.

Although I was born in Wyoming, I grew up in Utah. My family moved to Orem when I was six. I lived in Utah until I was nineteen. I attended public school.

After graduating from BYU (which is in Utah), I started my TV production career. I worked my way up until I got a job in the NYC market. We lived in Connecticut.

Within a very short period of time, I realized that I had to work with people from all sorts of backgrounds and belief systems. It was a struggle. My experience with such a diverse cultural base was limited, and it caused a lot of problems.

What does this have to do with homeschooling?

It is my opinion that school experiences consist of more than academic learning. There is also social education involved.

While studying at BYU to become a TV director, we had a producer who couldn’t get along with anyone. One day, this producer and fellow director of mine got into an argument. What the disagreement was about isn’t important. What I do remember vividly is something the director told the producer. He said, “You know what your problem is? Because you were homeschooled, you missed out on a four year program that teaches you social skills. It’s called high school!”

“But! But! But!” People maybe saying right now. “YOU went to public school and still you had problems when you moved to the east coast.”

My response: Yup. You see, where I grew up in Utah, there was a very dominant culture influenced by my religion. That’s not unique to Utah. It’s true of many places over the world. Because I associated with only people who generally shared my same beliefs, I never learned how to deal (and work) with people who had radically different lifestyles.

Please understand, I’m not saying that public schools are perfect. In some ways, homeschooling has several advantages. In theory, homeschool students get better one-on-one attention. They are able to work at a pace that is suited for them—one not dictated by the whole class. There is a lot more flexibility in schedules for things like doctor appointments or field trips. Like I stated, good stuff.

My biggest concern for homeschooling is those parents who elect to keep their children home to protect them from the evils of the world. I think that’s great in theory but doesn’t work in practice.

I love my four daughters, and I do all I can to keep them safe. I never would intentionally harm them. At the same time, I understand that there is only so much I, as a parent, can do to teach them. There is no substitute for experience and learning from those experiences.

Yes, high school can be a rough place. There is a lot of bad language. There are drugs. There are teachers who don’t care. There are students that don’t care. In a lot of ways, it’s like the world in general. And that’s my point.

Sooner or later, children grow up and have to move on. Much of the time, they go out into the world for any number of reasons. If a person has never had any exposure to the “evil” elements of the world, it has been my observation that these folks missed out on gaining coping skills and they are then given a crash course whether they want it or not.



Warning: religious belief paragraph ahead!

I believe that our Heavenly Father sent us to Earth to get experiences because that was really the only way we could progress as individuals. He knew it would be hard. He knew there were bad things that could happen. But He also sent us help, and He is there for us. We can talk to Him at any time.

For those who choose to homeschool your children: that’s your choice. Just as it is my choice to send my kids to public school.


Still, I implore homeschool parents: please include social interaction as part of the curriculum, especially with those individuals who may be different than you. 

NOTE: these are my opinions, and you are free to disagree. However, to keep trolls off my blog, I monitor all comments before they show up below. Thanks! 

Sunday, June 29, 2014

My Own Time

One of my daughters “graduated” from eight grade this year. It’s considered a graduation because she’ll be starting high school in the fall. This was the third time we’ve had a daughter go through these graduation proceedings. It’s held in the gym at the first part of June—a gym that is like five-hundred years old with air conditioning that is about as effective as thinking cool thoughts.

Each year, the chorus sings. And each year, they sing the same song—one that drives me nuts. It’s called “Seasons of Love” from a musical called Rent. The opening lyric starts out as, “Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes.” (I guess that’s appropriate because that’s how long the graduation ceremony seems to last.)

That number, 525, 600, is the number of minutes in a year. Well, a standard year, not a leap year. Hmmm. Now that I’m thinking about it, maybe during a leap year, they won’t sing that song. Oh, who am I kidding? Of course they will.

Anyway, it’s a cliché that everyone is given the same amount of time each day, or each year. How we choose to spend it is up to us. Kind of.

Let me elaborate.

Last year, I was able to help our church with supplying food for those in need. It’s actually a really neat program. For those in the LDS faith, there are food warehouses filled with various types of food. If a family is in need—health issues, job loss, things like that—they can get food from the church twice a month.

It’s a little more involved than that, and needs some clarification to make my point. In order for someone to get food, it needs to be approved by the congregational leader (known as a Bishop) and the leader of the woman’s organization (called the Relief Society President). The Relief Society President works with the family to find their needs and then orders the food ahead of time.

When the food arrives at the church twice a month, the people from the warehouse only bring what has been ordered for the various families. There aren’t any extras.

One time I was helping a lady pick up her order. She was one of the first people to come in that morning. I had a sheet of what had been ordered for her. As we filled her order, she kept saying things like, “I want two of these instead of one” or “My kids really like those. Give me a few more.”

I kindly, as I could, told her we could only give her what was on the order sheet. If she needed more for her next order, the time to decide that was when she next met with her Relief Society President.

At one point, she became frustrated with me and said, “I don’t understand why I can’t have more. There is plenty here.”

I stopped, looked directly into her eyes, and as nicely as I could explained, “There isn’t any extra. They only deliver what is on the order sheets. If I give you extra, then I’m taking away from someone else who ordered it, and therefore needs it.”

It took her a moment to process this concept. Here she was, surrounded by food, yet she struggled with the idea that she couldn’t take all she wanted; the rest of it belonged to someone else.

What does this have to do with the “time” story earlier in the blog? It’s this: I have had to attend a lot of meetings for various reasons during my life. Each of them usually has a start and end time. Sometimes the person in charge of the meeting decides they are going to use more time than scheduled—to them, it’s important, and there is plenty of time left in the day.


But, you see, that time doesn’t belong to them. Sometimes the meetings are back-to-back. So if one presenter goes long, they are taking time away from the next presenter, a presenter who was told they were given a certain amount of time, but now won’t have it because someone else took it.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Re-Living The Dream

I have this reoccurring dream (nightmare?) where I’m at a school and I’m close to graduating. And then I remember: I have one more class I need to pass in order to be truly finished. In a panic, I realize I haven’t been to this class all semester. I’m not sure where it meets or when. I think that maybe, just maybe, if I take the final and do well on it, I can pass the class.

For giggles, I looked up possible meanings of this dream. The results varied from “The dream often occurs in approximation with having forgotten or being concerned about forgetting to do something important in waking life” to “The dream is a reminder not to miss an opportunity or take a more active role in one's destiny” and even, “A change involving the end of something is imminent and there is low confidence about the future.”

As I thought about it some more, my dreams could mean any of those things. Or perhaps, it is based on reality.

In high school, I was less than a stellar student. I failed some classes—not from being smart enough—but rather from just not attending class. (Those were different days back then.) I had to take several “study-at-home” courses in order to graduate.

In college, I walked through the graduation ceremonies before I actually had finished my degree. True story! You see, I was allowed to do that if the only class I had left was my internship. So, even though I put on my cap and gown in April, I didn’t finish my degree until August.

And now, there is my Master’s degree. I’m done. I’ve earned it. Nothing else has to be completed for me to receive my degree. But wait. As I started looking for possible teaching positions, many of the colleges require me to have 18 credit hours in English. My degree is in Creative Writing. I realized as I finished my MFA I was one class short of having 18 credit hours with the letters ENG before it.

And so, here I am in June 2014 taking one last English class, even though I’m officially done with my degree.


Maybe it’s just me, but I think my real life experiences could have more to do with my reoccurring dreams than my mind trying to remind me to pay the electric bill.