Brain vs. Me

-by Albert Berkshire

Somedays, it's more accurate than the brain wishes to admit.
Somedays, it’s more accurate than the brain wishes to admit.

“Brain?” I asked, “Why must you be so fucking difficult?

There was no measurable response. Seems Brain thought it best to turtle in its moment of study light interrogation.

I persisted.

Why do you ignore the rational? Why do you insist on dragging yourself out of the light and into the spaces that exist on the fringe of positive thought? Why, when you are supplying a perfectly acceptable appreciation of the beauty this world possesses, do you feel the need to surmise the opposite reality?

Why can’t you just enjoy the sunset?

Brain, it seems, likes to play by his own rules. He dances around the necessary, ignores my desires (primarily writing, I might add), and seems to expend enormous computing power creating scenarios that will likely never happen. (Heli-skiing still has a chance, though.)

And then there’s his relationship with my legs and stomach. With Legs, he’s in harmony. They’ll hike for days through mountain passes or hammer out a 100km mountain bike ride together with minimal disagreement. But the moment he reads a menu and sees Eggs Benny – he orders Huevos Rancheros. This, I suspect is to deny me a finish line in my lifelong pursuit of the perfect poached egg. The one that comes from the fabled Swirling Vortex of Poach. The one that Brain refuses to even attempt. Chicken!

Why, Brain, do you go through spurts of social segregation? What is it about going out with friends that you occasionally find so unbearable that you will hang out with the cat and hammer out words on a screen rather than pick up the phone and make plans with the wonderful people in your life? (This, I might add, is a rather rewarding delight until it has to be explained as, “I just wanted to stay home and write.”)

Brain fails to fully appreciate the proven scientific benefits of companionship. (He has also misspelled scientific twice in this piece). His approach is to let someone else be the first to pick up the phone to make plans in the event his invitation is declined. He likes to just be on his own, knowing full well it leads to an overdose of sci-fi movies and a repeat viewing of the IT Crowd. The latter, showcases his inability to admit that chick flicks are high on his list, too. Maybe he’d respond well to a viewing of The Holiday. (It is almost Christmastime.)

But it isn’t just movies where Brain and I disagree. We have battles over music. My gut calls for classic rock. You know, the stuff to which our older brothers listened when we were kids. That music left me forever tainted, except for my appreciation of the once-upon-a-time mentioned Led Zepplin, Jethro Tell, and a more recent appreciation for Muse. And Rod Stewart. The early stuff around the time of Faces. (And why does Brain insist Mona’s “Lean Into The Fall” is so reminiscent of Stewart’s “The Killing of Georgie”) Brain, instead, prefers to write to modern, alternative music. It’s an angst-motivating genre. Great for intense writing moments and a flow of thought. It’s that moment when your fingers are actually keeping pace with your thoughts. (If you’re my neighbour, and your bluetooth speaker system is Hydra, I apologize for the Saint Motel and K. Fray marathon. I didn’t (Brain didn’t) realize we were connected. Rocks, though, doesn’t it?)

And then the moment Brain and I agree on the benefits of him winning the music-selection argument, we suddenly have more questions for each other. Or him. Mostly him.

Brain, I continued, “Why did you suddenly think that pressing the Home button on your iphone would turn off the bidet? More importantly, why did you press it two more times before acknowledging that the controls were on the wall? And why, I shudder to ask, did you instantly wonder if there was an app available to control the bidet? How did you go from “Ha Ha. Silly mistake!” to “Fuck, that would be a killer piece of home automation. I wonder if there is money in that?””

Have I overloaded you? Have I exposed you to too much Facebook, Ello, Twitter, Instagram (surely our four times looking at Instagram together was not overload)? Is the espresso getting to you? Do we need to downgrade to dry cappuccinos? Please don’t say you think decaf is a better option. Do you need more protein? Do you need a break? Do you need an app for that? Would you prefer to shut off more frequently? Or is that what spurs your creativity?

And where does your creativity originate? Your family members (I realize there’s only one brain in my head, but I mean those controlling your relatives. My relatives.) all seem fairly normal. Or are you now suggesting that they’re all as nuts as me (us) and they are just better at hiding it?

And why did talking to the empty chair do so much for you in such a short time? More importantly, why can’t you live the rest of your life in that peaceful moment of reconciliation?

Perhaps, Brain, you just want to be free to run amuck and create whatever streams through your senses. I’d ask you how you’d reconcile that with mortgage payments and grocery purchases, but I’m not entirely certain our better-half would appreciate the cynicism of the explanation.

Or maybe, you just need to find your focus again. Rediscover your passion for storytelling. Embrace your unexpected desires to throw words at a page.

How does that sound, Brain? Have we agreed on a plan that allows us to get back to writing? Or was this your plan all along? To get me into the mindset of one of our new characters?

And Brain? If it was…well done.

Well done, Brain.

 

Albert Berkshire is a storyteller. When he isn’t writing, he’s usually thinking about writing. Sometimes he’s just fighting with his less-than-motivated brain. Or he could just be getting in the mindset of one of his new character. His first novel of fiction, We Made A Pact, is published by Friesen Press. It is available in hardcover, paperback, and in various e-book formats. You’ll find it at amazon.ca and at chapters.ca  For a much shorter, and less frequent rambling, Albert is found on Twitter @albertberkshire, and anti-socially at www.facebook.com/AlbertThomasBerkshire

Elongated Pause

-by (the current) Albert Berkshire

No story is ever completed in a single lifetime.
No story is ever completed in a single lifetime.

I’ll start in this life.

Quite a few years ago, back when I still asked people what they did for a living, thinking that was appropriate conversation material, I spoke with a man who answered by starting with, “In a past life, I used to…”

In a past life. At the time, it was my first introduction to the phrase, or thought, or ideology that a person would have a future life, and thereby, a past life. Initially, I understood him to suggest he had lived a life, and was now pack to live another. My most elementary understanding of Buddhism lead me to assume he remembered his previous life lived. Of course, I was wrong.

Call it small town experience. Or lack, there of.

I did question who lives more than one life. And later in life argued that with all respect to those who believe in reincarnation, we only get one trip that we remember, so we’d better make the most of it. Call it a precursor to hearing my friend Bruce say, “Use the good china.” I’ve since used his expression to the point of wearing it out. Mostly, I might add, I use it every time my wife, Robina, and I discuss using something that may or may not be in the “save for guests” category of our social life. Most notably, Terroir Jurassic, Compte, Sauvagine, and a few ash covered gems from my more recent cheese fascination. Robina likes to make things last. She’s a saver. I like to dive in…make a ridiculous grill cheese sandwich.

I’m very much an all-in kind of person. Especially when there’s cheese. I also work from home, so being armed with a refrigerator filled with all the things I love causes me to throw caution to the wind much more than one should. Again, I’m using the good china before the bus meets me on the crosswalk. I think you know what I mean.

I also mean, cheese before death. What a delicious way to go!

So…back to my past lives. The ones before my cheese life.

All these years later, I’m still fond of that chance meeting with a person who innocently, and quite correctly, referred to having past lives. I realized a few years ago that many of us do. We just don’t really see them as lives lived. At least not until we get older. It’s probably about the same time we start to develop an intimate relationship with our own mortality. Pretty much the same moment we hit the brakes on the downhill section, take the ride-arounds, and avoid the drops when we’re mountain biking. Except my Robina. She’s a bit of a grizzly on the mountain bike. Straight-lining is her thing. A faster route to the beer, probably.

We differ that way. I’m more reflective. Also more of an Elmer The Safety Elephant. (You can research that one if you like.)

Past lives, as I came to understand, really meant “when I was that person. When I was someone else before I became the person I am now.” More of a growth perspective, one might say. In one of my past lives, I worked in radio as a radio personality. Actually, to this day, I’m convinced my brother still thinks I’m a DJ. I was, I guess, until the late 90’s. Now I write for the industry. Essentially convincing people to buy shit they don’t need with money they don’t have. But that’s a demon I write about elsewhere.

That past life had a lot of crazy moments. The people I met, the listeners who called, the work I did and the people with whom I did it, all helped shape my life back then…in that past life. We all had our professional crutches. And perhaps, the most notable for anyone who worked on-air in radio, was the elongated audible pause. That “ahhhhhhh” that people used to fill in the space while they were thinking amidst conversation. It’s a terrible crutch that we all tried to avoid, and now, mostly, cringe at the first inkling of it being heard in an interview.

And I can’t help but mention it. Every. Single. Time. It makes me crazier than normal. If we know each other personally, you can relate to my level of crazy on any given day. Well, maybe not relate (I barely can), but at least recognize my form of crazy.

Elongated pauses – audible or otherwise – always make me feel like something isn’t flowing. Like the conversation is disjointed, forced, or the two people aren’t understanding each other, or one has a lot less to say than the other. Or both just have nothing to say. If there’s only one, I guess it’s fair to say the person has nothing to say at all.

Or just can’t spit it out.

That’s been my writing for a dreadfully painful nine months. Nine months. I guess I could have even given birth to an idea in that time. Though any dependents – words or otherwise – would be not be welcome in my world. I just looked after a dog I love for people I love for one night and it was a new level of commitment that just isn’t for me. We did, however, quickly learn who in this house would have been the primary caregiver of children (if they existed in our world), and what each of us would have had for a parenting style. Alarming, I admit, is an understatement.

So in these nine months, I feel like I’ve written only obits and do lists. The latter being only slightly happier a task than the former.

As for writing, it’s difficult to devote so much mental energy to a character and then have to develop an entirely new mental creature. And while I am quite comfortable in saying these new characters that have been floating around in my head are infinitely more my style of characters than those from a former writing life, I struggle with putting their story to paper. I know it. I can write it start to finish, but I just can’t get it to paper.

Seems the only ting that is flowing is a stream of consciousness. And that can make for some oddball writing.

Complete with elongated presses on the pause button.

Maybe I should just consider new characters part of a new life. Maybe in month ten. Until then, there’s cheese…as soon as my honey leaves for work.

 

Albert Berkshire is an author and storyteller. He does his best to live one life at a time, though proper character development sometimes requires a break from reality. The latter being something his current characters fully understand. For a much shorter, and less frequent rambling, Albert is found on Twitter @albertberkshire, and semi-socially at www.facebook.com/AlbertThomasBerkshire

Bowie, Pride & David

by Albert Berkshire

David didn't even know it was us. He didn't care. A celebration was a celebration, no matter what you were wearing.
David didn’t even know it was us. He didn’t care. A celebration was a celebration, no matter what you were wearing.

Bad news is bad news.

I don’t know that I’ve ever really paid much attention to the practice of qualifying the level of badness. Terrible. Horrible. Worst possible news. And the new internet-of-things triple-period emphatic overstatement: Worst. News. Ever.

In this case, It. Is.

An old friend died. We only hung out on a handful of occasions over the 13 or so years that I’d known him. We talked a lot on the phone, but only saw each other in person every couple of years. We’d meet up at concerts, football games, and once at a figure skating event. I knew he was passionate about figure skating, but I thought it was more of a business passion – until I read the condolences attached to his online obituary. A representative from Skate Canada had left a message expressing how great a loss his passing was to their sport.

David Ash and I first met when I was assigned to write some radio commercials for him. Over time, and after I left my day job at a radio station, he kept in touch. I continued on as his writer and producer for his radio commercials for his sports tours, concert promotions, and pretty much everything else he wanted to advertise – including the radio campaign to sell his over home at Big Valley Acres in Saskatchewan. We did a lot of work together over the years.

David was one of those clients who got away with phoning me at home – at ten o’clock at night. He didn’t seem to have an off switch for work. Mostly, as I recall, because he loved his work. He was, after all, The D Ash of Dash Tours. I swear, I was working for him for about eight years before it registered with me that D Ash made up Dash Tours. Sometimes, I guess, we writers are a little too close to the product.

And what a product, was he!

David was delightfully generous. He would send me concert tickets, football game tickets, invite me to the VIP parties, and always wanted to feed us. And we – my wife, my friends, my colleagues – all had some crazy times and some wonderful times with him. His generosity never ceased to amaze. Everyone left with a smile.

Years ago, we found ourselves in Vancouver with David. Irish rockers U2 we on tour, and we were there with David. My friend flew out from Newfoundland to come to the concert because we promised him his $1000 seat would only be $250 and he’d have the time of his life. Of course, this friend also trusted me the time I told him we had a condo in Whistler that turned out to be a basement studio apartment. At least this time, with David, he was guaranteed there would be a band…possibly a drum solo, too.

After hammering back a couple Red Bull knock offs (I highly recommend against this activity, and have never had one since), we headed to Vancouver’s GM Place to see U2. Turns out, our tickets were behind the stage. But the that “behind the stage” was in the Vancouver Canucks’ private owners’ box. Yup. David had a connection, and we had the box! And that’s when the real David started to shine. About 35 of his guests were treated to a full hot buffet; we had a waitress and a bartender; a private washroom; and we had David. And throughout the course of the night, the 14 or so rum and Cokes (again, on top of the upper drinks that started the night), David invited every single person down to the front row of the box to get a close up look at the band, to hang out and chat with him, and to hear his stories. And they were great. He was incredibly generous, inclusive, and everyone there – many who had known him for many years – loved him.

I credit David with sending me to the best concert I have every seen in my life. Back in the 1995, David Bowie was going through his “don’t talk about the past” phase. He would never play anything in concert except his current album. So years later when David Ash sent me tickets to see David Bowie in Kelowna, BC, I figured, “Well, Reality is a pretty good album. I should go see Bowie.” That night, Bowie played everything from Reality – all the way back to Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. It was brilliant. He was engaging, funny and everything I hoped he would be. And to this day, when we old dogs who are now coat tailing the baby boomers, sit around and tell our own concert stores, I still tell people about the concert David sent me to see. And all he said when he told me he was sending tickets was what he always said, “You make me sound good. It’s my way of saying thanks.”

A couple years later, I called David looking for Neil Diamond tickets for my wife. At the time, $200 got you in the upper levels at Neil Diamond concert. The nosebleed section. But she was determined and David said he’d send her tickets to the middle deck. She was thrilled. When the tickets arrived, she was on the floor – third row from the stage. I called David, and all he said was, “Tell her to have a great time.” Again…unbelievable generosity from a man we rarely spent any time with in the course of the average year.

I can’t say I’ve ever been a football fan. David, as anyone who knew him, was the ultimate – and original – Super Fan. He was the original Gainer The Gopher for the Saskatchewan Rough Riders. The man lived and breathed Canadian Football. He was known in every circle of the CFL. And when he invited us to sit Centre Field at a Riders vs. Lions game in Vancouver, we thought it was a great idea. And really, a chance to head down to VanGroovy for a weekend, stay downtown and shop and dine was a great getaway at a great time. It was, of course, Halloween.

And that’s where it got a little bit weird. At least for David.

My wife loves to dress up. She has a robust Tickle Trunk. She loves costumes. And loves to stick a wig on me. We also had made YipYip costumes the year prior for a Halloween party at our house. You may know where this is going. We stuffed the two YipYip costumes in the back seat of our car, put seat belts on them, and drove to Vancouver. The poor valet at our place in Vancouver had no idea what was happening. He thought we left our kids (we don’t have any) in the car. And that should have been a hint that our humour was not as recognizable as we thought it might be.

Sir? You've left your...children(?) in the car.
Sir? You’ve left your…children(?) in the car.

Maybe I should explain…again. YipYips, if you aren’t familiar, are big furry alien characters from the TV show Sesame Street. They come to earth, discover a house with an open window, a phone rings and they assume it is intelligent life and try to communicate with it. “Burrrrrrrrr-ring!”

It’s okay. David didn’t know either.

So we dressed up as YipYips for the game, sat next to David for the entire game – right on the 55 yard line (Yes, in the CFL, the field is 110 yards long, though being Canadian, one would think is should be 110 metres), and David never had a clue who we were or why we were sitting in the seats he had reserved for us! And still, he didn’t ask these furry aliens to leave. He just let them have fun.

And we did. A lot of it. We were also the darlings of Chinatown that day, being stopped for a lot of photo ops on our way back to the hotel. But that wasn’t a surprise – we were furry cartoon-like creatures in Vancouver. Statistically speaking, it was a social inevitability.

That evening, we met David for dinner with a number of his other tour guests. We were late (I should clarify here, in case my wife reads this, that I was the cause of us being late.) And when we arrived at the restaurant – a steak house (we are vegetarians), David greeted us, told us he was sorry but they didn’t have a big enough table for us to join them, but he had the owner reserve a booth for us, and took the liberty of ordering some Alaskan crab legs for us as a starter. I hadn’t eaten crab in 20 years. It’s shellfish, bottom-of-the-ocean hangup to which I like to cling. My wife asked me if I was going to eat the crab, and I said, “Of course. David ordered it.”

And that was the thing; people wanted David to know they appreciated his generosity. He never sought praise or recognition. But he certainly earned it.

Over the next few years, I, along with a couple of friends, were his guest at a couple private parties at the top of the CN Tower, and at that same event, he took the time to talk to everyone. There must have been over 200 people there, and most he knew by name. We did photos with David, we had laughs, drinks, dinners, and we had access to everything during the 100th Grey Cup weekend. We were travelling with David.

David, as some know, was that guy in the crowd at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, BC, who handed off the giant Canadian flag to Sidney Crosby so that it could be skated around the ice with Team Canada when they won the Gold Medal for Men’s Ice Hockey. He was the crazy guy in the stands who had the flashing red light on his head that he turned on every time Team Canada scored – in both Women’s and Men’s ice hockey. (He even had a green one for Rider’s games!) Incidentally, he donated that flag to the Canadian Hockey Hall of Fame. Personally, I think it should have been draped over his coffin and buried with him.

It was because of David I saw Bowie. It was because of David I got to understand Rider Pride. It was because of David that I realized just how great crab legs really are, that one should never drink two Red Bull thingy drinks and then finish the night with a diet of rum and cokes. (I think my dilated eyes really concerned him that night). It was because of David that Neil Diamond pointed at wife and sang to her – and they had their “moment” – as she describes it. And it’s because of David that I have so many crazy stories about so many crazy people I met in the stands – everywhere we went with him.

I can only imagine the stories David had – that he wouldn’t dare tell us.

He was, after all, the Original Super Fan.

The author with David Ash of Dash Tours at the Riders In the Sky Kickoff Party during the 100th Grey Cup celebrations. David is now the biggest Rider in the sky.
The author with David Ash of Dash Tours at the Riders In the Sky Kickoff Party during the 100th Grey Cup celebrations. David is now the biggest Rider in the sky.

David Ash died on February 28th, 2016 in Regina, Saskatchewan – fittingly, the home of the Saskatchewan Rough Riders. He was the most generous person I have ever known. A friend whose phone call I will forever miss. His memory, however, will always warm my heart.

Albert Berkshire is an author and storyteller. This one is true. For a much shorter, and less frequent rambling, Albert is found on Twitter @albertberkshire, and semi-socially at www.facebook.com/AlbertThomasBerkshire

Your Service Needs Service

(a rant of near epic proportions)

– by Albert Berkshire

I’ve been fuming for about a month now.

I intended to write this article back a couple of months ago when Toyota set my tolerance for stupidity on fire. Then a local BMW dealership left me dumbfounded in my silence. The next day I called a company looking for someone (actually, to my embarrassment, I’m a major shareholder in the aforementioned company) and was stonewalled at reception. And a couple of weeks later Westjet tipped me over the edge.

That’s when I wanted to call this article “Stop Lying To Your Customers”.

I’m not naming names, but I’m sure a google search or two will answer your questions, and if you’re in these industries, THIS should be your wake up call from your arrogant complacency slumber.

In my day job, I write and produce advertising creative for radio companies, advertising agencies and some select clients with whom I have chosen to work (we must be a fit, or I’m not interested) – mostly in North America. I write a lot of promises about service, knowledge, respect, and commitment. I do this on behalf of paying clients. I’m very strict about claims and very focused on helping my clients do better – not just in sales, but in expectation, service, and reputation. I think about these things a lot, and being what we call an educated consumer, I look at it from the other side of the purchase experience. I think like the customer – not the seller – because the customer only looks at it from their perspective. It’s completely understandable.

A few years ago I purchased a Toyota pick up. I haul around mountain bikes, touring kayaks, camping and backpacking gear, and in the winter, lots of ski gear. That’s my after hours life. It doesn’t see a lot of driving, but I’m big on maintaining it to factory recommendations. I like my stuff to last.

When I called to book a service for 66,000km, the local Toyota dealer representative took the appointment and confirmed I was requesting an oil change. In my experience an oil change takes and hour or less. I planned to work in the waiting lounge.

On the day of the appointment, I called to tell the service representative I was running ten minutes late because of traffic. (I work from home, and rarely commute in morning traffic) When I arrived, I told her I would wait and she informed me she needed it for 3.5 hours to do a long list of work on my vehicle. This was new information for which I was not prepared – nor was I previously informed.

Strike one. Poor communication on the part of the dealership.

Then she told me she booked me for the shuttle service. I thought this was okay until she looked at me and said; “Oh, but we don’t go across the bridge.” (I live on “across the lake” as it is known here).

“Excuse me?” was my response.

“Too much traffic.” she replied.

Of course they’ll sell a car to me, but they won’t provide a courtesy ride. It was 10 – 12 minutes away. They would gladly drive me to another neighbourhood on “this side of the lake” that was 30 minutes and 23 (I counted) traffic lights away. But not “across the lake”.

I asked for my keys. Then I was told they had a courtesy car available.

Strike two. Where was this offer earlier?

I took the keys and got in the very basic, 5 year old car.

No gas. <sigh>

I got out, went back into Toyota and explained the vehicle was out of gas. Then the lady said, “Oh. We just ask customers to replace the gas they use before they return it.”

“But I haven’t used any gas – because there is none.”

“Yes. Just put in what you think you’ll use.”

“So you want me to go to a gas station and put gas in your customer service vehicle?”

“Yes.”

“I’ll take my keys, please.”

She handed them to me and I took my truck to Great Canadian Oil Change where they showed me the Toyota recommended service items for my mileage (kilometer-age). Less than a third of the items Toyota wanted to do were on the list.

So now they’ve delayed me and lied to me.

Strike three. I’ll never go back to that Toyota dealership.

Back up a few minutes. As I was leaving Toyota (before my GCOC oil change) I decided I would go back and see a manager. The short version is the only person available was the assistant sales manager. I explained my experience, my professional background, told him where they were at fault and how they could improve their customer service. I gave him my business card so that the General Manager could call me to discuss.

I never heard from them. That’s how much my business means to them.

On to BMW. My wife wanted to buy a new SUV. It turns out it is my job to execute these wishes. (Sexist? It works like reverse psychology, actually.)

Ignored. I stood on the dealership lot for 10 minutes, then sat in my vehicle for another 10 minutes making notes, and not one sales person came out to ask if I needed help. I was the only vehicle in the customer parking area. I was right in front of the main windows and could see sales people at their desks texting or tweeting or ordering donuts.

Strike one, two and three all in one visit. Actually, it happened twice at the same BMW dealership.

Here’s the thing. I don’t dress up to go shopping, but just because I am wearing jeans (usually Etiqueta Negra of SoHo) doesn’t mean I a) can’t afford the things for which I shop, and more importantly b) should receive anything less than exceptional service.

I bought the BMW in another city and have it serviced at Motor Werke. They get service right 100% of the time. Yes. They are that good that I’ll mention their name.

I mentioned trying to get through to a person on the phone. This one makes me shake my head. The short version is I called during the person’s lunch break. The person who took my call sounded like I was inconveniencing him by calling his place of work. He’s a sales guy. An incoming phone call always – ALWAYS – means there could be new business on the other end.

“He’s gone to lunch.”

That was it. I stayed silent for a moment. I learned in journalism school that pausing to let the other person fill the awkward silence was a good way to let them provide a solution, or more information. Nothing. I swear even the standard crickets sound effects left the room.

I wasn’t offered voicemail, the option to leave a message, or even asked if he could help me. Insane. I’m afraid to know my share value.

And then there is WestJet. It was, at one time, a discount airline. These days, they are the same price as Air Canada (the other national servicing carrier in this country) on almost every route. I now see them as nothing more than providing discounted service.

Against my better judgement, I agreed to take a flight change on the promise of a flight credit, full hotel and meal reimbursement. They, in returned promised someone would meet me at the gate to confirm everything and direct me to my towncar to take me to my hotel. That was the deal.

No one was there. And when, after speaking with two other WestJet agents in the airport, I finally found someone to help me, no one knew anything about the agreement. Fortunately I had a printed copy of the confirmation.

By the way – The Delta Chelsea hotel in Toronto is about to no longer be a Delta hotel. Why? Because at best it is 2.5 stars. What a shit hole WestJet booked me into. Their complaint letter is coming soon. And apart from burning off the flight credit with them (which I’ve tried to slough off onto my wife) I will never fly their airline again. I really don’t like being lied to by anyone in the service industry. Or any industry, for that matter.

So ho has gotten it right lately? In my experience? Kelowna Infiniti. Open Road Lexus. Auto West BMW. Motor Werke. Air Canada (don’t be shocked). Westin Hotels. The Bike Barn. Hanks’s in Toronto (always).

Here’s the rub. There’s a great line in Netflix’s Americanization of House of Cards. The character Chloe Barns, after being called the C-word by her employer, starts to tweet the experience to her Twitter followers. She looks at him and says, “Don’t forget, when you’re speaking to me, you’re speaking to a thousand people.”

Word gets around, and when I conveyed my experiences to a few friends, they all had similar stories – and some where a lot worse than mine. And if you are a business owner, take heed. Our money, no matter how much we have to spend, is our money. We may want to purchase something nice for ourselves, or for those we love, but we don’t want to make that purchase with a promise of service.

We want actual service. Great service.

 

Albert Berkshire is a writer, producer, voice actor…storyteller. He’s been away finishing his first novel of fiction, and trying to live life with minimal service interruptions. So far, the customer service landscape has tipped him over the edge. Clearly defining his expections – and those of consumers – has helped make his company, GreatCreative.Com, successful. For a much shorter, and less frequent rambling, follow Albert on Twitter @albertberkshire

Mixed Messages & The Art of Confusion

– by Albert Berkshire

Sing with me. ‘Tis the season for mass confusion. Fa la la la la lah, la la la lahhhhhh.

December is the most frustrating time of the year for any of us in the advertising and marketing industry. Since the modern celebrations of Christmas – the Christian holiday – (insert record scratch for effect)

I write “Christmas” and not “the holiday season”. No one calls Ramadan “the holiday season”. No one calls Kwanza “the holiday season”. No one says Happy Holiday Season during Hanukkah. So let the Christians have their Christmas and let’s all get over some court injunction a la oversensitive agnostic (like me) and get on with December 25th. It’s Christmas. Get over it. <Albert’s mom cheers from afar>

Roit. Since the beginning of the modern day Christmas celebrations that began back in the 1800’s – not when three dudes in robes supposedly showed up with gifts. Actually, let’s explore that brilliant branding idea for a moment. Three guys showed up with baby gifts. Are you kidding me? NO guy shows up with a baby gift. My gay friend Andrew might. He’s thoughtful. (not that Andrew, or that one, the other one. Yeah, with the good hair.) But if we believe that Christmas gift giving came about because of The Three Wisemen, we’re all doomed. What’s next? 12/21/12? (Note to self: post this tonight)

So since we’ve been engaging in the practice of modern gift giving, someone somewhere has been trying to sell us something. Generally it’s people like me. Sorry to inform you of this, but I’ve been manipulating message that bypass your Broca and go right to your wallet.

Do not reach for your tinfoil helmet. It won’t work.

The biggest challenge I, we in the industry, face is the mixed message. None of us like mixed messages. We don’t want them from friends, employers, lovers, the toll booth lady (long story, I was nervous), the descendants of Colonel Sanders, or our favourite brand. For me, I don’t want to give you a mixed message from an established brand. Especially if I’ve busted my hump to create and maintain that brand.

It would be like me suddenly write love letters and poetry in this Blog.

In effective advertising, of which I am a student and keen participant, we spend months, even years, establishing a brand. Ripping the foundation out for a one off is akin to – well, I’m not one to judge, but I think you know where I was going with that. Think Tiger and a waitress. In fact, please – think about that for a moment longer. THAT’S a perfect example of a mixed message that destroys a brand.

Look. If she has a beautiful mind…or he’s the guy who listens to you, you may want to test the message. But Tiger tossed away a brand on a little pie from the pie lady.

Tiger Woods spent more than a decade building himself as a brand. He was a symbol of success. A trusted name that represented the finest watches (Tags are really that good, by the way), all things Nike, and Buick. Okay, maybe Buick wasn’t such a good example. Sometimes you just have to take the cash. We all do it. But the moment he tagged the waitress (excuse the play on words, sexist and inappropriate innuendo, and outright shift in my general polite nature – I’m nursing a case of Christmas angst) he sent out a message that his brand loyalists couldn’t compute.

This is where the Daleks in Dr. Who frantically repeat “Does not compute. Does not compute. Does not compute” until they spin three times to the right and then explode.

It was a mixed message. And it was bloody annoying. Aside from every woman on the face of the planet feeling sorry for his wife. (I’ve seen the scowl on her face. He needed that serving a la mode.) Still, it was the ruin of a good brand and now no married man is allowed to buy Nike balls.

Tiger is no longer cute and innocent and lovable. He’s a bad boy.

End of brand loyalty.

Sidebar quickie (bring ice cream): I have NO idea how I got onto the Tiger Woods thing, and how I’ve been able to overextend the metaphor to this length, but I am starting to regret it and desperately want to stop. But I can’t. Pass the sprinkles.

When advertisers realize that Christmas is, again this year, on December 25th, they get stars in their eyes. Actually, dollar signs. Then, in a moment of make or break desperation, they often break with an entire year of branding to make ridiculous offers in a style that is a complete departure from their overall branding message.

And it is wrong. With caps. WRONG!

The hardest part is that this is Make Hay season for many retailers. It if doesn’t happen between October 31 and December 24, it’s not going to be a very happy layoff season come January.  And when desperation sets in, most retailers – being in a reactionary industry (waiting to see what their competitor’s are going to do) – will toss out the rule book and start throwing Hail Mary’s all over the place.

That makes their customers (the ball) perfectly suited for an interception. (Good Lord, now I’m onto a football metaphor. Someone help me.) A customer who may have been loyal to your brand suddenly realizes that all the time they were listening to you tell them about your USP – Unique Selling Proposition, that which makes you different form the rest and really the superior choice – you really weren’t much different form the other guy / product / service. It creates confusion. When all the retailers fall into that trap, it creates mass confusion. And what’s it come down to now?

Price. Now the odds are even. May the cheapest pie win.

End of brand loyalty.

My advice…as much as it kills you to do it, listen to the guy you hired to give you marketing advice. Because he’s been listening to you and your customers for along time. Remember, you’re not in business for three months of the year, and if you spend money on changing the message, you better be willing to accept that once you change a loyal customer’s perception of you, you’ll likely never change them back.

Not even with a nine iron to the window. Not even with a serving of humble pie.

Mmmmmm…warm apple pie. (hold the ice cream). A la mode isn’t really me. I’m all inclusive kind of listener.

Albert Berkshire is a writer, producer and voice actor. He grew up with brothers and sisters who – to this day – love to celebrate Christmas much more than him. Ironically, last Christmas his mother sent him a card that read, “Have a blessed and holy Xmas.” Way to keep Christ in Christmas, Mom. Merry Xmas to you, too. The advertising industry makes people cynical this time of year. Rum and eggnog helps. So does knowing you learned something from this. Hopefully you’ll let me know. Sharing ideas, and honest feedback has helped make his company, GreatCreative.Com, successful. For a much shorter, and less frequent rambling, follow Albert on Twitter @albertberkshire.

I’m Feeling…Pewter

– by Albert Berkshire

Colour me present.

Most of my life is about describing things. Commercial products someone wants you to purchase, events you may be convinced to attend, companies you might find interesting or useful, a way to help save the planet, a way to contribute to its demise…the list goes on and on, and somedays…on and on and on. I write a lot of material for commercial radio and television, internet content and, much to my delight that they still exist, print publications. I am in the business of expression. This fact alone, if you have ever spent any amount of time with me, may be alarming as I am more recently lost for the words needed to express myself.

But give me a brief and I’m off and running. Or…writing.

I can dream up anything. I can’t promise most people will understand it – because I live on Planet Albert – but with a couple of passes over the material, I’ll polish the language to make it fluid and colourful. And colourful is one of my goals in everything I do. It may not always be what the client wants, but colourful is always the starting goal in my work.

Sidebar: I know we have discussed this in the past, I should address it again. I live in Canada and use the Queen’s English. Hence, “colour” is correctly spelled with a “u” in my neighbourhood. Same with “neighbourhood”. But I think you may have caught that. Just didn’t want you to be confused, annoyed, or feel things are off colour here. Byegones. Onward.

Colours, as ruined forever by psychologists, now represent emotions and moods. This is great news for those of us in the advertising business who wish to pull on your heartstrings. Ever wonder why all the fast food restaurants in world use some or all of the combinations of red, yellow and white? Now you know. A quasi-shrink put us onto it. This makes me feel as though the innocence of colour is gone. We’ve invaded one of the last bastions of our childhood. The little girl with the colouring book doesn’t know why she’s colouring everything pink, or green, or blue, or black. It could be that’s the crayon she chose. But if she has a few bad days at school and the teacher suddenly points out she been colouring everything with red or black (most commonly used for alcohol ads, by the way), they might suggest she is angry or depressed.

When planning a kitchen renovation the decision was made to go with black cabinets and the designer stopped and said, “Wait a minute. Any time a person wants black that sets off alarm bells that there are some serious emotional issues or problems happening.” Truth is, it just goes with the New York Loft style of the house. We got a new designer.

So what does being colourful really mean? Maybe we are expressing something from inside. Maybe we just like to colour with red and black. Maybe the use of colour is a form of expressive communication to which most humans can relate. And we all want to be able to relate.

I once had a client tell me my language was very colourful. Normally, that statement is reserved – in North America, at least – for describing a person who can make a sailor blush. Like my friend Bryan, or the guy at the football game last Friday night. But it is true, in many ways. And I use colour to describe many things.

Warm colours, cold colours, inviting colours, stalwart colours…the palate is almost never ending. If you look at a colour swatch from Farrow & Ball you’ll find thousands of colours. Colour gives us so much inspiration. Almost as much as music. Almost.

But my client wasn’t telling me that I use improper language. I don’t do that. Certainly not in the presence of a client. I’m smarter than that. He was referring to my descriptive language, and the irony that I was using colours to explain the emotion of my message. And I don’t like to use “blue” or “red” or “yellow” or “grey”. Too vague. I like the off colours. I like the descriptive colours. The colours with personality. The colours that pop off the page as much as they pop off your tongue. I like the more passionate residents of the Crayola box. I like aquamarine or scarlet or laser lemon or pewter.

I like the idea of having a colour that defines you. Don’t be orange or pink or green. Be Mango Tango. Be Flamingo. Be Magic Mint.

I’m not okay with Maize. That’s as boring as Corn. Can you imagine that language in a commercial? Let’s try it out:

Annc: “Michael Hill Jewelers presents a stunning one carat of diamonds set in a remarkable corn setting…” 

Maybe we can stick with gold for gold.

Sometimes, there is little or no colour in my language. There are times when colour is absent from all creativity. That’s when there’s a nothingness to my work. A void in the cosmos of expression. And the closest I come to applying a colour is the cold black of cheap tire rubber making circles on the bitumen. It becomes a monochromatic existence revolving around creative frustration.

This is what being stuck feels like. It fills every valuable piece of real estate in your brain. (ironically, grey matter) It gives you the shakes. It makes you physically ill. It makes every song you hear all about your failure. It bores a hole through your heart, and then eats you alive.

That’s a monochromatic moment. I’m having one now.

I have the beginning. I have the end. I have loved everything in the middle. I just can’t make it across the bridge to connect the dots. Something prevents me from getting to where I know I am supposed to go.

My crayon is broken. (I’m not the purple crayon; in case you wondered.)

And that renders everything I’ve done null and void…worthless. It makes failure’s eyes glimmer in the dimly lit corners of a colourful life.

It kills a story.

It turns light into dark. The energy of white into the depression of black. Sparkling gold turns into mustard. It turns the understated beauty of pewter into a simple old grey.

It’s a shame, because I always had an attraction to the colour pewter.

 

Albert Berkshire is a writer, producer and voice actor. He makes every effort to live life to the fullest, write with passion, and see the beauty in the colour of language. Telling colourful stories about adventure – and products – is his passion in life, and has helped make his company, GreatCreative.Com, successful. For a much shorter, and less frequent rambling, follow Albert on Twitter @albertberkshire.

Heart Palpitations, Hold The Ketchup

– by Albert Berkshire

A little over a year ago, I wrote an article about writer’s block and the highs and lows of being, as my good friend Trent calls us, a Creative. It was one of those things that rattled around in my head on a four hour drive and pretty much wrote itself.

Most of the things I write are not so fluid.

I can struggle for hours, days, even weeks waiting for the little nugget to come to me that fires me up to write. Tangents don’t just happen. They have to be fueled. And whether that energy source is conversation, alcohol, the observation of sheer stupidity, people watching (the previous often a byproduct of such actions – usually in a grocery store), or my personal favourite – other people’s quirks and hang ups…

…perhaps we better explore the latter. I’m not judging you. Or you. Or you. I have some serious hang ups. S E R I O U S hang ups. For instance. I don’t like feet. I hate people’s feet. Feet whig me out in ways you can’t imagine. I once worked with a girl – let’s call her Lisa, cause that’s her name – who used to come into my office barefoot. Sure it was because she was 7, 8, 9, 10 – maybe 11 months pregnant and her feet hurt from wearing her big people shoes. But I had a rule and would promptly ask her to leave and slip some pillow covers or shams over her pedicured, but swollen feet before returning to continue talking about whatever we were discussing before her FEET came into the equation. And the first time my wife, then “friend” (I’m pretty certain she’s never read anything I’ve ever written, so we’re all safe here) put her feet up on my lap whilst watching a movie…I lost complete track of the plot line and possibly the fact that the machine started eating the VHS tape (yeah. VHS. I’m over 40. Try to get past it. I know I am.) And then there’s showering with people. YMCA? Not on your life. Years ago when I was a young single man who would do anything for girl? No way. Jodie Foster. I’d shower with Jodi Foster. I think that’s my safe zone. Right there. Jodi. Hang up solved. And there are many more. I can’t touch meat. I can’t touch someone after they’ve touched meat. If you eat meat…that’s great. Grill it up and have yourself a scoff. I’ll be in the corner like a little school girl in Halloween 20, or some other relevant horror film. I once cooked chicken for a family friend who has a severe allergy (or something medical) to all things spice. I cooked it without ever touching it. No hand or finger of Albert came in contact with the chicken parts at any time. And I had them on skewers with pineapple. That’s some serious hang up skill.

Jesus. And people pay for therapy. It cost me $10 a year for this domain name. Somewhere out there (we’re not singing yet) a psychologist is crying into her wine.

So back to other people’s hang ups. I will first point out that conversation is my greatest inspiration. I love LOVE LOVE LOVE the art of conversation. I’ll talk about anything with just about anyone. My friend Bob? We will never talk about politics because he ends every debate with “You’re my favourite liberal Canadian.” Guess what Bob – WE ALL ARE! Love ya. Mean it. (Bob’s form LA. That’ the equivalent of saying “Hi!”)

Where was I? (Oh my ghad. I have some great 3AM in LA stories. Maybe next article.)

The Hang Ups. Sounds like a B-Movie knock off.

Conversation, if you really pay attention, is one of the great pieces of humanity. If you can put your BlackBerry away for ten or sixty minutes, you’ll discover the most amazing stories that people have to tell. It is the one great benefit to our species’ evolutionary development into self-aware beings. I say this because when we listen to a person, and I mean REALLY listen to that person, we come to understand so much more about them. In particular, those of us who are so incredibly fortunate to have our hearing and sight intact, we get the bonus body language to back up the nuances (my goodness I love that word) of conversation. And in those moments when we are actively listening, doggedly ignoring all peripheral distractions, and keenly engaged, we are graced with the special revelation of that person’s most intimate characteristics.

But not just because we are listening. Because we were paying attention.

That’s when you come to not only understand the person, but to appreciate them for exactly who they are. The person who can’t take another moment in their high heel shoes. The person who really just wants to run away and start life over. The person who desperately needs their kids to take a time out. The person who gets whigged out by ketchup. (For the love of all things considered holy, it is NOT catsup. That’s two kitties getting acquainted. “Sup?” “Sup?” “Meow.” “Meow”.)

Those are the moments that make conversation the greatest purveyor of all things worth writing about. And as some people, who actually read what I write, not just glaze over it like they are icing one of Tim Horton’s finest, fully understand, when inspiration walks into the room – bare feet and all (ick) – you just have to go head down like Schroeder (not Rick, the piano one. Oh ghad I can’t believe I had to explain that one) and click away on the keys like it is going to be the last moment in your life that you’ll get to write.

And sometimes, it feels like the last time you’ll ever get to write. Actually…it feels like that a lot of the time. Even right now. Which is why, I think, I wanted to write this piece.

Last year, after I wrote that article, or blog, or piece called High Tide, someone told me it may have been the most honest thing I had ever written. And until that point, I think it was. But I now realize, like the actor standing in the rain after the girl walked away with his heart (I also love mediocre chick flicks), that that reader, that – person – was actively listening, doggedly ignoring all peripheral distractions, and keenly engaged in what I was writing.

It made my heart race.

And that’s something pretty overwhelming for a writer to experience. Someone not only got what I was saying, but could relate to what I was sharing. Maybe that’s the biggest truth in writing. Maybe that’s the experience the crack addict is lusting after when chasing the dragon. Maybe that’s the runner’s high that eludes so many people. And like the crackhead who keeps on hitting to experience again the first high, or the runner who goes a little further looking for that euphoric moment afoot, the writer just keeps on writing with the hopes that they’ll get on that roll and share something that binds him or her to that reader – that person – who’ll take to time to absorb the story.

I love stories. And I love the one that I should be working on right now. But this was in my head. And I just had to get it out.

Just like the feet had to be covered. The shower had to be shared. The meat had to be cooked. The ketchup had to be removed from the table.

Or maybe I needed to clear my head. Done.

It’s the little things.

Maybe the story I’m supposed to be working on will be the most honest thing I’ve ever written.

Maybe the story is only interesting because it keeps playing hard to get.

I mean, I’m no professor in a bean bag chair, but I think the sweetest things can make your heart race. You know it’s real when it doesn’t need any ketchup on the side.

I’ll see you around. I have a book to finish.

Albert Berkshire is a writer, producer and voice actor. Most of the time he just rambles on in a somewhat incoherent fashion, and sometimes people understand. He loves conversation, appreciates a person’s story, and likes long walks on the beach. Okay, that last one might be another hang up. Albert prefers climbing mountains. Telling other people’s stories has helped make his company, GreatCreative.Com, successful. For a much shorter, and less frequent rambling, follow Albert on Twitter @albertberkshire.

External Irritation and The Clinton Principal

– by Albert Berkshire

In the September issue of Vogue Magazine, buried near the back of the 916 pages, of which I am certain is 80 to 90 percent advertising or puff-piece journalism, is an article by Jonathan Van Meter in which Chelsea Clinton is quoted as saying, “I like the right words. I think economy and precision of language are important.”

While Ms. Clinton has much more formal education than me, I will state that she should have said, “…economy and precision of language is important.” Language being a single noun and economy and precision being qualifiers, or adjectives. But that’s a point for another paragraph. And it’s just down below if your attention span insists that you move along quickly.

Despite her grammatical faux pas, I find myself quite enthralled with the former US First Daughter. I find it considerably refreshing that other people, far more notable than me and many notable people I know or have known, are concerned with proper, efficient and effective uses of the English language. In particular, since I am in the communication business (yes, I’m one of those people who gets paid to make up shit that convinces you to buy shit you don’t need. Advertising. It’s the scourge of society that is paying for a house with a killer view and a lot of vacations to places with more great views), it is only logical that I be transfixed – perhaps transfixed isn’t the right word. Perhaps in the figurative sense, I am affected deeply when communicators – people in public relations, sales, client management, and advertising – fail to use language properly.

Economy and precision of language presents me with a challenge. There is a common knowledge among friends and colleagues, with whom I speak regularly, that there is no such thing as “a quick story from Albert”. It’s true. I am a little long winded, but that comes from a) being raised in Newfoundland. Newfoundlanders love to spin a yarn; b) I tell stories for a living and rarely find myself lost for words, although a few friends have left me speechless as of late; and c) sometimes you have to rage on to make your point.

And that brings me to a point in which economy and precision are more important. Brevity is nice. Some people say so much without ever saying more than “hello”. (No this isn’t a Jerry McGuire moment) Some people have the the ability to recite the equivalent of War and Peace (in length, certainly not in relevance, and by no means anywhere close to the former in significance) without conveying a single coherent thought.

Pssst. Over here. The other day I was on the phone with an account representative for one of my clients. I prefaced the call with “I just have one quick question…” FIFTY TWO minutes later I said, “I really have to go and get this done for you.” I wonder how Ms Clinton would have handled that situation? That’s rhetorical. I don’t need to know.

When it comes to communicating effectively, part one of what I will now turn a phrase as “The Clinton Principal”, economy of words is vital.

And that brings me to precision. Part The Second. This is where it gets serious…‘cause rambling on and on is no crime against the Queen’s English.

I take exception to using a lot of words to convey a simple point (unless I’m writing an article or novel and then I’ll spew hyperbole and harvest adjectives until the cows come home). One of my more favourite examples is, “We’ll need to convene in order to establish a dialogue.” My version is, “We should talk.” Now I know it sounds more impressive and carefully planned to present your thoughts in a, well, fancy way. But when you really want to make a point to the natives, speak in the tongue they know. Brevity, or precision, is golden. It really is.

And can you imagine what radio and TV commercials would sound like if we used extremely long or confusing phrases to sell you a product?

Actually, I can give you an example. this evening, while watching some TV show, a commercial for some sort of vaginal cream (yes, you are actually reading this) came up on the screen. They clearly stated that you could take one pill for your yeast infection (I may never eat bread again) and it would stop “the symptom of external irritation”. External irritation. Admittedly, despite my profession and exceptional Google-Fu (thank you Stephanie Pearl-McPhee for bringing that wonderful term into my life), I had never heard of external irritation – aside from my neighbours (no no, on the other other side). I had to turn to my wife and post the exceptionally economical question, “What the?” to which she replied, “Itching”, and then promptly left the room.

Itching. Now let’s put that in context. A context in which you or I might use that term in a real world situation.

You: “I’m experiencing external irritation.”

Albert: “Really? I’m just itchy”.

You: “Do you think we might be encountering the occurrence of an adverse immune response to –

Albert (cutting you off): – this conversation? Most certainly. Or, I’m just allergic to you.”

And people pay me to make this shit up. Amazing.

I’m not sure what makes me feel more odd. The fact that you know I read Vogue Magazine, the realization that there was actually words in the magazine outside of the advertising agent’s contact information (seriously, pick one up if you can lift it and look through it), or that fact that I referenced Chelsea Clinton and a vaginal cream in the same article.

If not effective communication, certainly this would serve as some sort of example of comic relief. If not for you, for me.

Such a shame that a delightfully articulate subject gets buried on page 828 of 916. Ms. Clinton deserves better, if for no other reason than her prowess with English grammar. And she’s still really cute.

Albert Berkshire is a writer, producer and voice actor. How’s that for economy? I’ll tell you. It’s horribly unsatisfying. Grabbing your attention, create a desire, making you an offer, and compelling you to act in under 30 seconds has helped make his company, GreatCreative.Com, successful. For a much shorter, and less frequent rambling, follow  Albert on Twitter @albertberkshire.

 

Ich Kompromittierte Meine Direktion

– by Albert Berkshire

I thought it would feel better in a different language.

It doesn’t.

I have, on occasion, asked myself, “Why did I just do that?” It may have been after I overstated the obvious when attempting to make a point. It could have been when I ordered fish when I really wanted the salad. It could have been when I used Hotwire to book a hotel knowing that I was risking a stay at the lovely, doily-appointed Sutton Hotel when I really wanted to stay at The Westin. It could have been when I had a beer instead of a much more enjoyable option like a vodka-club soda-lime. But until now, it had never been after I agreed to take on a job that I really, really…really didn’t want to do.

I compromised my principals.

I did a project for a client I really, sincerely, like; with a talent whom I never wanted to hire; for a fee that made me scratch my head.

Now, the fee part is my own issue. I have a client who has been here from day one. Always pays his bills, is always clear and concise with in expressing his expectations, and is genuinely appreciative of my time and work. And he always buys me dinner and drinks when we are in the same city. Without fail, he is a generous man.

But doing the job I didn’t want to do…well, that’s just a small thing about not wanting to hire a certain talent because of my own little set of rules. You put me in a difficult position once, and we’re done. I don’t risk my reputation, or my business relationships, for anyone. No matter how good you think you are at what you do.

You may wonder why I would take the job. Why anyone would. Why it matters. Why I would write about it. Why the sky is blue. Actually, I can answer the latter more easily than I can any of the previous self-inquiries. But like anyone like me who does what I do for a living…(actually, there is no one like me who does what I do for a living. Sure there are others who do a similar kind of work, or may seem to be similar to me in some way or another, but they are not like me. I am Albert. That’s who my clients hire.)…feels the need to write and explain and tell stories. It’s just what we – what I – do.

And then there’s the other, directed, or instructed, “do”.

We, business people, do things in the course of our daily business activities that astound us, and most certainly, the pundits and consultants (certified or otherwise) who observe that which we do. We make adjustments to our day to make a client, or even the housekeeper, happy. Some of us might even have a “drop everything for that guy” policy. It’s not always fair, wise or enjoyable, but that’s a part of doing business. It is, however, never unethical in my world. THAT’S where I draw the line. Yet, we never tell the clients we are doing something beyond the scope of our professional comfort zone (unless we aren’t going to do it, then it is a reason), we just suck it up and do it.

So at what point do we stop the bloated rolling medicine ball of commerce and say; “I’m sorry, but I’m not willing to compromise my better judgement, my sense of self worth, my personal time with my family, or my peace of mind to do that for you”?

Sidebar: I am quite certain that at “I’m sorry”, the response, or more accurately, the interjection, would have been, “Don’t apologize. Just get it done.” And this takes me back to the day back in 2005 when a fellow worker stood at my, then, desk tapping his foot waiting for me as I typed on my merry way down the cart path of the creative world in which my brain was vacationing at the moment, and then barked instructions at me in a less than polite way that ended with “just get it done”. That was the day I decided to quit my day job. I couldn’t imagine 20 more years of that environment…or that guy peering over the top of my 14-inch CRT monitor (yes, even in 2005) barking instructions that I knew would always end with “just get it done”. Jesus, I hope I either outlive him, or retire before him. Success, they say, is the best revenge. 

So, anyway, there I was on my now faux vacation…working. Seated in my hotel room, laptop on the makeshift office desk, my family all sitting around having drinks, laughs, and snacks; and I’m sending work to a voice talent I didn’t want to hire, and getting ready to produce concert tour commercials for a radio campaign. All because a client I really like and appreciate – asked me to do it.

And I’m pretty certain I won’t be getting any Paul McCartney & Bruce Springsteen tickets in the mail for my efforts. I just know the voice talent I didn’t want to hire, will.

As a good friend likes to remind me; “The suckage ratio on that is pretty high.”

 

Albert Berkshire is a writer, producer and voice actor. He considers “time off” to be more than just a sport. It is the bridleway to regaining workplace sanity where the vehicles of business are not welcome. And as such, he vacations with vigour…even when there’s work to be done. Getting the job done, despite his crumbling fortress of self-imposed principals, has helped make his company, GreatCreative.Com, successful. To read about his professional side, visit www.greatcreative.com. And for a much shorter, and less frequent rambling, follow Albert on Twitter @albertberkshire.

In Lieu Of Flowers

– by Albert Berkshire

In December of 1997, Hilary Montbourquette taught me two of the most valuable lessons I would ever learn in business.

1) Never be the drunkest employee at the company Christmas party when you know there will be cameras present; and

2) Always make your Thank-You’s personal.

As I opened his card in my office, a few days before Christmas, he exposed a rather disturbing grin as he walked away from my desk, and on to see the next person, who, I was about to discover, would likely experience the same fate as would I.

Inside the Christmas card, was some cash, a personal note thanking me for being a loyal and hard-working guy who was always ready to step up when needed (I was) … and a photo of me … well, I was indeed the drunkest person at the party, and there was evidence…and possibly a wig. I still have it in a box labeled “Shit Albert, For Some Reason, Can’t Throw Out”.

Sidebar: Also in that box are three Toronto newspapers from January 1, 2000, a number of photos I shot and particularly liked from my days in Journalism School, a video tape of the artist L. Hope Young smoking a cigarette to the music of Sinead O’Connor, a few important-to-my-security photos of some people I know, a couple of photos from Nassau in 1995 documenting my friend Jen consuming a lot of beef noodle soup, and me with the Stanley Cup (also very drunk and again in front of a camera, despite having learned the photo lesson from Hilary two years prior). The Stanley Cup story, by the by, is particularly odd and wholly deserving of its own story…and thank you card. Oddly, I drink very little these days. There’s just no time. There’s writing to be done.

The photo from Hilary was amusing, and I wasn’t the only person to receive one, thusly, we all had some good laughs recalling the 1996 Q93 Christmas Party. (Sometimes holding onto a photo for an entire year is worth the self-imposed suspense. I’ve done it myself.) And while I may to this day question his motives in presenting me with what was certainly a ‘copy’ of the photo, I do know that even if it was a reminder to me that he had the upper hand, it was also very personal.

I don’t know of many instances when I have received a photo of me from someone else. I’m sure the guys have shared some pictures, and a few colleagues have done the same, but those are more common since the explosion of the digital age, where it is quick and easy to email or post a photo and tag a friend in the process.

Instant. Cold. Impersonal. Yes decidedly convenient. Meh.

The fact that Hillary took the time to write a personal note, in a card, and include a copy of the photo (actually on Kodak paper), meant more to me than the $50 or $100 bucks in the card – despite my paltry salary. I am, perhaps, more touched by the recollection of the sentiment, than I was back that December day. Still, 15 years later, it remains fresh in my mind.

The personal thank you card; one you actually write in, sign, and post, is the quintessential form of communication. And I will defend it beyond the day Canada Post, USPS, or even the Royal Mail cease to exist.

Digital junkies, hold-over yuppies, corporate multi-multi-multi-taskers will argue it takes too long and they can send emails with their signature already formatted at the bottom of the page to fifty clients in the time it takes to send one, personal card.  But to what end? Anyone can type (or copy and paste) a thank-you email, complete with the luxury of digital editing, spelling and grammar check – although it seems to be less important to an alarming number of “corporate” types. On the flip side (a place you know I like to spend my time…debating…everything), there is something profoundly special about a) receiving something in the mail; b) the unedited, personal note in the sender’s handwriting – however unpracticed it may be since we all spend far too much time typing and very little, if any, time writing with a pen or pencil; and c) having something to display on your desk, night table, studio speaker, cork board, refrigerator, or the like.

It is real. It is tactile (humans being a tactile species – we like to touch). It is far better, more important, better received, and more fondly remembered for years and years and years than any email you could ever write. I’m a writer. I know this fact because I carefully craft every email I send. (Yes, you may have received a few quick replies form me, but I am very anal-retentive about my grammar and spelling. Typos are free game from time to time – everyone has to have a signature quirk.) Plus – you can’t delete a real thank you card.

And if that doesn’t convince you; it is something in the mail that isn’t a bill or a flyer.

I have received a lot of thank you cards from people over the years. I love every single one of them. I keep them all. From family, friends old and new, employers, past lovers, business colleagues, clients, and my spouse. Some come in the mail, some are hand delivered. One client likes to courier them to me. (seriously)

The thing is, if you really want to be remembered – a month from now, or 15 years later – be the person who took the time to send a personal note, penned in your hand, with something personal that you know will matter to the recipient. Even if you print a couple of photos on standard printer paper. Because short of sending a person flowers (Oh, the cliche) with a little card on a pitchfork wedged into an oddly textured green sponge-like substance, nothing says I appreciate you more than the Thank You card.

I smile every time I read, and re-read them. And I fondly remember the sender.

It matters that much.

What you write, in your own hand, means far more than you could ever imagine.

 

Albert Berkshire is a writer, producer and voice actor. He writes for a living, and refuses to allow the digital world to erase the purity and significance of the hand-written word. Currently, he lives, writes, plays, and consults for clients on Canada’s West Coast. Pouring his heart onto a page, and relentlessly appreciating the emotion found in the written word, has helped make his company, GreatCreative.Com, successful. To read about his professional side, visit www.greatcreative.com. And for a much shorter, and less frequent rambling, follow Albert on Twitter @albertberkshire.