Tuesday, December 15, 2009

All A-Twitter - Not!

It seemed like a great idea.

And it gave us a lot of words to make fun of - twitter, tweats, twit, twittering. (Or maybe "twit" is the name I use for drivers who blow their horns at me just because I don't begin to move when the light is still red.)

We never followed anyone on Twitter. Couldn't figure out why we should. It never made it on our "Ya Gotta Love This" list. We had followers, but once we caught on to -- and blocked -- the scam artists and the questionable invitations from women with provocative names, we had still a pretty good number of followers, but we weren't sure they were paying any attention. After all, some of them were following a gigantic-mongous-normous number of people (now, I've heard of being bored, but reading tweats from twitterers every hour?) and others seemed pretty unlikely to care what we said.

We bragged about client accomplishments, mentioned some of our own stuff, and then got tired of thinking up something new that would fit in that tiny space and go, mostly, unnoticed or unloved.

So, perhaps we're at the beginning or the end of a trend, or maybe we're just alone in this. We've killed Twitter. Well, our Twitter, that is.

We'll continue this blog posting. We have our company website for new and exciting things and our "creative writing" website - www.mesaverdepress.com - is going strong. In fact, we're at the onset of redoing it, so we can continue to promote my books (selling some, we hope) and raising funds for the opera, "Biafra." Sure do want to get it funded so awesomely talented composer Nathan Blume can finish scoring it and I can hear my libretto sung through all three acts. But, as you know by now, when that's said and sung, I won't be tweating about it.

So, good-bye, ol' Twitter. Facebook is a-comin', LinkedIn, Smaller Indiana, and Plaxo are alive and well (once the blitz of unintended LinkedIn invites were stopped!).

See you there. Or, hey, pick up the phone, write a letter, send an e-mail. Wave to me. Just don't blow the horn. I tend to wave back with only part of my hand.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Back Home Again in…Nigeria

You can go home again.

In 1969, I flew north from Kano to Cairo, after completing my Red Cross work during Nigeria’s civil war, on my 25th birthday.

A few weeks ago, I returned to Nigeria, carrying my Medicare card.

This time, I attended a conference in Abuja where I spoke about my war-time experiences, using my book, War Stories: A Memoir of Nigeria and Biafra, and my libretto for the opera, “Biafra.” I was pleased to have my presentation so well received, especially by those who had lived through the war, inside Biafra, fleeing from the shrinking front lines.

I had hitchhiked through the 1969 version of Abuja on my long, long journey from Lagos, then the capital, to Maiduguri in the far northeast. In the intervening 40 years, Abuja had changed from a very small city to the country’s capital, mushrooming, by some statistics, to 1.5 million inhabitants.

The Indianapolis Star published some of my observations about the return visit. In the article, I described the warmth and friendliness of Nigerians and how that had not changed – I hadn’t expected it to. I told a journalist in Abuja that I have always felt “comfortable” in one of my favorite countries. I was, once again, using the snapping-finger handshake, speaking a few words of Igbo, reminiscing about Nigeria of the 1960s, comforted by the familiarity of Nigerian stews, fried plantain, and Star beer, but now in the midst of cell phones, laptops, and CNN.

If you didn’t get my email with the links to the photos I shot in Abuja and to the Indianapolis Star piece (“I Just Got Back From…..Abuja”), let me know and I’ll send them to you.

I will not be able to say, truly, how I view changes in Nigeria until I get the opportunity to re-visit Port Harcourt and nearby Eleme where I taught secondary school as a Peace Corps Volunteer and return to Elele, north of P.H., where I was stationed with the Red Cross. That, I hope, will come soon, as I am eager to see the former Eastern Region (that became, and then ceased to be, the Republic of Biafra) and to meet the people – or their relatives – in those areas where I was either a teacher or a relief worker so long ago.

Some weeks after my return home, I participated in a conference at Marquette University in Milwaukee where the sole topic was the Nigeria-Biafra Civil War. I spoke about my experiences and the participants viewed the 20-minute DVD that presents the portion of the three-act opera “Biafra” that has, thus far, been scored by composer and conductor Nathan Blume. You can view it on YouTube (it’s in three parts, to fit on YouTube, but you can easily click from 1 to 2 to 3)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=px3ddjcPWOk or go to my website, www.mesaverdepress.com, to see that performance and, if you like, hear my remarks about the war that I made just prior to the performance. Paula Dione Ingram is the lead singer, portraying Ruth Okonkwo, a nurse in a clinic inside Biafra. Paula’s costume includes my Red Cross badge, which I’ve saved since I worked with that organization in 1968-69.

And next? The Igbo Studies Association conference at Howard University in Washington, DC, in April 2010 where, once again, I hope to discuss the civil war from my perspective (including my memories of the events leading up to secession, the day of secession, and the onset of the war).

While these conferences bring up many difficult memories for anyone involved in the war, they have been enormously encouraging at the same time. The opera has been very well received. At Marquette, many who recalled the war, including former Biafran army officers and boy soldiers, Biafran Red Cross workers, and civilians,, told me they found the performance “powerful” and looked forward to seeing the complete performance. So do I! Once we raise the funds, we will be able to complete the scoring and offer “Biafra” to opera companies everywhere.

The opera will provide a vivid, anti-war performance piece that uses stories of real people I knew to illustrate the futility of war.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Zen of Sauna

I have just returned from my workout that includes the most peaceful time of my week: sitting in the sauna, deep in the heat of the night in a relatively dark room with one or two others as quiet as I am.

Oh, that’s right. That’s my dream sauna experience. Tonight, for example, I was subject to yet another gulper. These are the guys who feel compelled to drink incessantly, gulping some liquid down, taking deep breaths, gasping for air just prior to – did I use this word already? - gulping their liquids and then exhaling loudly. Five, maybe six seconds later, just when they are on the verge of death from the sauna’s dry, hot air, they begin again. They do not notice my involuntary, incessant twitching.

Where have I heard this before? Ah, yes, in the movie theatre where the trough-of-popcorners gasp and wheeze and smack their mouths, not having eaten for at least 25 minutes, performing the seemingly impossible task of shoveling a large handful into their mouths before they could possibly have swallowed the previous one while I, silly person, actually try to hear the dialogue. (This is driving me not only to thoughts of criminal action but to the decision only to see foreign films with subtitles.) While I’m still digressing, consider with me the thought of a Corn-Smackers-and-Drink-Gulpers section as far as possible in the theatre from the I’m-Just-Here-for-the-Movie section.

But, back to the sauna. There was also the guy who was listening to “music” (I just know that, somewhere, both Beethoven and the Beatles were sobbing) on whatever it was he owned: an iPod, iPhone, iNoise, Boom Box. Even with his earphones, discordant sounds were blasting into the room, almost – but, sadly, not quite --drowning out the guy taking the 666th slug of his liquid near my other ear. Way too near. The twitching continued.

Isn’t the idea of the sauna not to sit there, rapidly and massively (and, of course, noisily) over-replenishing the liquids we pay to have drained out of us? I so, so wished for him the bus ride I took from Kano to Maiduguri, Nigeria, many years ago, where the heat and the lack of potable water almost made me hallucinate and give in to the repeated offerings of kind strangers to drink from their bottles of water that would have done me in. Instead, I dashed into each petrol station and downed as many Cokes as I could at our short stops, realizing the sugary drink would make me thirsty, but also knowing I had to consume some boiled-and-filtered, water-based liquid to keep the insides of my mouth from bursting into flames. If anyone on the bus said, “Oh, but it’s a dry heat,” I didn’t hear him. I was inside, swallowing my third bottle of Coke in one…..gulp.

Oh, yes. Again, the sauna. I forgot to mention the guy who was reading a magazine. I might have forgiven him if it had been the New Yorker, but it was People with big teeth, big hair, big headlines, necessitating the way-too-bright light that I hadn’t even known was there. Had he not been so intellectually involved, he would have seen me twitch.

So, drink-gulper, too-loose-earphoner, and the purple-prose-people-reader.

Some nights, I am there alone or with those who understand the point of a sauna: Quiet. Dark. Quiet. Dark.

Is it permissible to yearn for moments of Zen? Or do they have to come to you, uninvited, dark, and quiet?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Now, More Than Ever

We’re just like an air conditioner. We help create the environment that makes you feel good, look good, and get reinvigorated.

We are not fundraisers or sales people, we’re attention-getters who wave a newspaper story, an e-mail blast, a jazzy/user-friendly/informative website, a magazine profile, a TV spot, and/or a radio interview in front of those who will be enticed to write you a check, buy your product, or, as one client once put it, “put butts in those seats” (of auditoriums, chapels, or classrooms). In other words, you could say we offer booty calls. Never thought I’d put that on our list of PR and marketing services!

And now, as August looms, with the economy s-l-o-w-l-y heating up, you need air conditioning like never before. And, come November, you’ll need heat (we’ll go with the image of a comfy, roaring fireplace) – the other side of that environment-creating business.

In this challenging time, when the markets are hot and cold, those of us in public relations, marketing, advertising/underwriting, graphic design, printing, photography, and related businesses strongly believe – and we want you to raise your hands and say, “I believe, too! I really do!” -- the way to combat this slump is to make use of our talents, as the above headline says, “now, more than ever.”

My nephew Mike provided me with a link to stories of companies in the Depression that spent money on advertising as if there were no downturn, as if there were a tomorrow. They survived -- and they’re still with us today (unlike their competitors). No hesitation, no slowing down, but plenty of grit and determination, along with PR and promotions.

That ol’ power of positive thinking, through display advertising, now offered in print and electronic formats, will see you through.

We have a vested interest in this strategy, but we are also common-sense, cost-effective folk and have been, in our case, since 1991. Actually, I think it’s on record somewhere that my mom invented common sense back in the early decades of the 20th century. So, we come by it naturally. (Her use of the same piece of tin foil for decades suggests she invented recycling, too, but I’ll save that for another blog.)

Take advantage of the fact that a lot of your competitors have cut back, so that leaves you with an advantage – I’d say a full-court advantage, but, not knowing anything about sports, I’ll leave that to those of you who do. (I am guessing that’s a basketball thing, since even I know football isn’t played on a court. Or is it tennis? Or Supreme Court nominations?) It’s time –chant once again our mutual mantra, “now, more than ever” – to give us the opportunity to hit hard at creating and implementing an aggressive, focused marketing strategy.

The dollars spent when there were a few more dollars in the drawer now seem to be the ones you want to hold on to, while you wonder why your market share is suffering. It’s time for us to provide you with snappy press releases, smart collateral materials, friend-raising events, fresh website copy, and colorful photos.

Let’s work together to create hot campaigns that are cool.

Booty call!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Blackberry Winter

This poem seems appropriate now, with the cool June days we've been having - more or less - not so cool perhaps as indicated in the poem (which appears, by the way, in my book, Marjorie Main: Rural Documentary Poetry, Mesa Verde Press, 1999, $8.95, available on amazon.com and, in Indianapolis, at the Indiana Historical Society gift shop).


blackberry winter my wife calls it
when june turns cold after hot may
and sweaters are unfolded
when not already mothballed
and coffee cups are held in two hands
as we purr in the chilled sunlight
fighting its way
through the window glass
to get inside to its own warmth

blackberry winter she calls it
and I remember picking berries
and seeing my pigment change
finding relief in standing up
and rubbing the small of my back
and arching my usual stooped shoulders
backwards wanting it all somehow
to snap and pop into place
but instead bending over once again
to reach for the stainers of my fingers
privately throwing some now and then
into my mouth
and later grinning away my secret
by showing my two tone teeth

blackberry winter:
a nice name for a respite
before the sidewalks
fry eggs for front pages
and the intensity of the weather
again becomes the first thing
one mentions when one walks
through dark wooden screen doors
marked wonder bread and welcome
greeted by sure hot ain't it
and you say sure is
before you dare ask for
whatever you want to carry back
into that heat that reminds you
not of other hot times
but of your wife smiling at you
across the ray of sunshine
holding her coffee cup
in her strong brown hands
telling you of the
blackberry winters of her youth

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Motel Freebies

Sometimes, when I walk into a hotel bathroom and spy the little bottles of free stuff all lined up, I am reminded of my family’s car trips decades ago when we stayed at motels.

Even more appealing than the promise of “Free TV,” something we didn’t yet have at home, were the complimentary items found in our room. I was mad for them.

As soon as Dad opened the door, I rushed in, throwing open dresser drawers, running in to the bathroom, shouting out the results: “Three bars – no, four! Four bars of soap! A post card!”

Never mind that my parents and sisters were struggling to bring in enough suitcases to see us through Armageddon. I simply had to know what this particular motel room had to offer.

Not only did I conduct a survey, I saved as much as I could for my souvenir collection. Once, my dad yelled from the shower, “Where’s the soap?” and the entire rest of the family had the nerve to turn to me.

“But—“I said.

My mother called out my name in that certain tone. I reached into my suitcase and took my dad one of my precious bars.

I solemnly believed that when a sign said, “Take one,” there was a moral obligation to do so. One motel clerk snarled at me when I reached once too often for a postcard of a cactus. “Look, kid,” he said, “with a tone of voice I thought only my mother had mastered. “If you take one more of these free cards, I’m gonna add a surcharge to your dad’s bill.”

On the same trip, my mother spied me trying hard to fasten my suitcase and got suspicious.

“Why are you sitting on your suitcase?“ she asked.

“It won’t fasten right,” I answered, jumping off and letting it pop back open.

“What’s that blanket doing in there?” she demanded.

“It was in the drawer!” I protested.

Just then, one of my sisters came back into the room carrying a pillow I had carefully placed in the car. “You can’t take these,” she said, in a voice that sounded suspiciously familiar.

Later, when we were barreling down the road far from the motel, my mother spied what I was reading. “Oh, good heavens,” she said. Turning to my father, she announced, “Your son now owns the Kansas City telephone directory.”

I decided that it was probably not a good time to brag about being the proud new owner of my very own Gideon Bible.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

50 Bucks

Tucked behind my driver's license with my real age and fake weight and the photo that, sadly, looks just like me, are three folded bills - two 20s and a 10 - the same, but different, $50 that my dad gave me about 10 years ago as tuck-away money, a little security blanket for those too-frequent times you need to buy something and your wallet is empty.

I think of Dad when I am forced to dip into the emergency stash and I think of him again when I replace the money. The original 50 disappeared about 9.9 years ago, replenished, on a regular, persistent basis, by newer bills. I always replace them, partly because it's proven to be helpful numerous times, and partly because it is a link to a man who could not, for much of his life, enjoy the sheer luxury of having that much money that could stay out of the mainstream of obligations. The gift had this edge of irony to it, in a sense, and I think he sensed it, too, sometimes voicing that he wished he could have been more generous when we were children, handing out "unnecessary" money, but knowing, too, that we valued our parents for gifts far too many kids never received.

This June, Dad will have been gone for five years, remaining impossible to accept. Mom has been gone two months. He would be 94 and she was 93, due to turn 94 this September. They were married almost 70 years and had known one another for about 80 years when he died.

Her passing brought back memories of him as much as it did of her, not only for my sisters and me, but for so many others who knew them as a wonderful pair, surrounded by people who could be heard, laughing, crying out, "Oh, John, that's a good one!" or "Dorothy, how do you put up with this man?"

I said I had 50, but I'm actually down 10 bucks, as I write this. So, this week, I'll re-stash the balance to bring it back to the full amount, his and my 50, that I carry with me for convenience, but not really necessity, in a world of credit cards and ATMs, and, mostly, for the closeness I feel just by carefully folding as flat as possible a replacement bill and pushing it behind my license that bears both my name and his.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

I'm 19! (Why do you scoff?)


On April 1, 1991, in a land far, far close to this one - two floors up, actually - Sherman & Co. was born. No clients. No employees. No shoes. (Not strong in math, I still found it to be a good equation: No employees+no clients = no shoes.)

We now begin our 19th year. Hmmm, that would mean I was 21 when I founded the company. (Again, why the scoffing?) Now, a whole floor, not just a spare room, with art work (some original), oriental rugs (copies, sadly, not originals), glass-block windows, dozens of plants that survive my infamous "tough love" gardening methods, computers (nine, I think, but I've lost count - but if that's right, it would be eight more than 1991, and some are laptops and all are networked), and - a big drum roll - the Internet and e-mail and - a REALLY big drum roll - clients!

Gone is the gooey-paper fax machine, the computer with the black screen with green lettering, the answering machine, the non-digital camera, the printer that was a size that matched its price (huge), and the Rolodex file.

See some of our digital photos by visiting www.shermco.smugmug.com.

Visit our website www.shermanandcompany.net.

Save the date: April 1, 2011, when we have a party celebrating the completion of our 20th year. Dress code? Shoes optional.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The world's newest - but not youngest - blogger

A classic understatement (the "youngest" part, that is). Well, here we go, shooting into the future from a guy who remembers, too well, the manual typewriter. Now, we're blogging. It's pretty exciting, actually.

Hope you enjoy this blog (and our Twitter, too! -- look for "ShermCo" on Twitter).

Even if you don't have $200,000 available to fund the completion of the opera, "Biafra," you're still welcome to write something here - libretto by yours truly and incredibly beautiful music by composer Nathan Blume. You can view the 20-minute public performance that was given at Indianapolis' Artsgarden by visiting Mesa Verde Press, the website for my writing.

More later. Another classic understatement.