What I Learned On My Summer Vacation (That I Didn’t Take)

11Sep09

I worked in corporate training departments on and off from 1978 to 1996.  During that period, I was laid-off 3 times (frankly, the term “downsizing” – which is how my employers described those traumatic events – strikes me as infantile… like saying “spit up” instead of “vomit” or “boo boo” instead of “shotgun blast to the chest”).  So, the cliché is “the third time’s charmed,” right? Well, I don’t know if “charmed” would be the first adjective I’d use.  But, since that last layoff, I’ve been able to support myself as a freelance writer/instructional designer/training project manager for over 12 years.  And, for the last 11 years, the people who’ve lined up most of that work for me have been Cindy and Pat, the two women who founded and own a consulting firm called CPS.

The company has a Yahoo Group to facilitate communication with and among its network of contractors.  Regular readers of this blog – and WordPress stats indicate that there are several score of you out there – will be amused to learn that, on August 27th, Cindy and Pat sent out the following message to the members of that Yahoo Group.

Thought we’d get some end-of-summer juices flowing by posting a question that received a lot of action on one of my LinkedIn groups…
What have you learned this year?

As a white male, I didn’t feel I could effectively deliver my ideal response to that question: “Oh no, you did-uhn’t!”

They had either “borrowed” my blog’s tagline… or hadn’t read it. 

Oh well, c’est la vie.  Having been asked this extremely familiar question, I decided to use it as an opportunity to reflect on my first three months as a blogger.  Because, one thing I’ve learned this year is I really enjoy blogging.

Let me explain how I started writing the dorn blog.  Very simply, I had no work.  I can imagine Cindy and Pat reading this and thinking, “That can be arranged again, Mike.”  However, it wasn’t their fault; it was the recession – lots of companies were putting training initiatives on hold.  Besides, they had a rather obvious incentive to keep me busy – when I’m working, they’re making money too! 

I’d been thinking about writing a blog for a while, but couldn’t figure out what to write about.  So, rather than deal with something important or difficult, like my blog’s purpose and content, I decided to come up with a name for it.  Somewhere I have a long list of puns on my last name.  My wife, Robin, being a huge Springsteen fan, was partial to Dorn in the USA.  Not bad, but I thought I might tire of it.  Ultimately, one of the very worst of the punning names – That Dorn Blog! – got tweaked to become the name I went with.  One thing I learned as an adolescent that continues to be just as true as I prepare to leave middle age: when in doubt, be vague.  I liked the dorn blog because it was vague enough that I could write about damned near anything.

Okay… the blog had a name.  Now what?  I started listing things I wanted to write about… it was all over the map:

  • Having the same name as someone slightly famous
  • Memories of high school and college
  • Stupid work experiences
  • Television commercials
  • My theory about sarcasm
  • Rock music

With the exception of the last subject, I figured I could lump them under the rubric “Humorous musings.”  Regarding rock music, I even had a story about my brief career as a record reviewer for Rolling Stone that would fit in that category.  Yet again, vagueness demonstrated its utility.

I got an account on WordPress at the end of May and started drafting my first post.  Even though I had a general idea of what I was going to say, the discipline of trying to coherently (and humorously) express that idea led to a kind of quantum leap of consciousness – things just popped into my head.  I remembered that feeling from decades back, when I wrote fiction – it’s called creativity.  Even though my blog is non-fiction, the concept still applies – how you tell the story or convey the idea requires imagination.

As I neared the end of the first post, I was looking for a way to wrap up the story.  I was writing about a comedy record that I loved in junior high: Stan Freberg Presents the United States of America.  Thinking about junior high reminded me of another humorist I enjoyed back then: James Thurber.  He had written a series of short pieces called Fables for Our Times1.  In these fables, he took seemingly innocent stories and injected a strong dose of cynicism into them.  Like most fables, each of Thurber’s ended with a moral – except that his were essentially the punch lines of the story. For example, here is his take on Little Red Riding Hood – The Little Girl and the Wolf:

One afternoon a big wolf waited in a dark forest for a little girl to come along carrying a basket of food to her grandmother.  Finally a little girl did come along and she was carrying a basket of food.  “Are you carrying that basket to your grandmother?” asked the wolf.  The little girl said yes, she was.  So the wolf asked her where her grandmother lived and the little girl told him and he disappeared into the wood.

When the little girl opened the door of her grandmother’s house she saw that there was somebody in bed with a nightcap and nightgown on.  She had approached no nearer than twenty-five feet from the bed when she saw that it was not her grandmother but the wolf, for even in a nightcap a wolf does not look any more like your grandmother than the Metro-Goldwyn lion looks like Calvin Coolidge.  So the little girl took an automatic out of her basket and shot the wolf dead.

(Moral: It is not so easy to fool little girls nowadays as it used to be.)2

For some reason, I liked the idea of a moral but didn’t want to use that term.  The phrase “Lessons Learned” crossed my mind, but sounded too corporate.  In the end, I went with:  So…what have we learned?

On the afternoon of Tuesday, June 2nd I hit “Publish” and joined the blogosphere.  Then, I had that David Byrne moment… from the Talking Heads song Once in a Lifetime:

“And you may ask yourself,
Am I right? …Am I wrong?
And you may tell yourself,
MY GOD! …WHAT HAVE I DONE?”

Every week a new post… like a beast I have to feed.  But I do it… and I like it.  Who cares?  Why bother?  Well, it’s pure self-motivation – I care.  It’s a form of self-discipline, like going to the gym… but it takes much longer to break a sweat.  And so here I am on week 15.

Oh yeah… the readers.  Since June, I’ve had over 3,900 separate views!  I’ve done a small amount of shameless self-promotion, but most of those readers found my blog on their own.  Roughly half of those views were for a single post – the one titled Not Quite “Almost Famous” – that story I mentioned earlier about my very brief career reviewing record albums for Rolling Stone magazine.

So… what have we learned?

  • If you want people to read (or at least look at) your blog, include celebrity nudity.  It’s true!  In my most viewed post, the example is not very titillating – and it is absolutely essential to the story (really!) – but WordPress statistics tell me that most people found it through a search that included the names “John Lennon and Yoko Ono” plus the word “nude.”  I’m shocked, shocked I say!
  • Clearly, Cindy and Pat have been so busy networking with potential clients that they haven’t had time to read my blog.

Okay, ladies, back to work!

Later…

P.S.  I will be introducing a second blog in about 6 weeks – one focused on rock music.  It will feature a “song of the week” – including streaming audio of the song plus a short anecdote about why I selected it.  Basically, it will allow me to play DJ once a week.  Stay tuned for details!

  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Thurber
  2. http://www.amazon.com/Thurber-Carnival-Perennial-Classics/dp/0060932872#reader
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3 Responses to “What I Learned On My Summer Vacation (That I Didn’t Take)”

  1. 1 jallebrand

    Should we worry that the blog is talking ’bout the blog? Talking Heads, talking heads? Dorn, dorn it?
    Nice what have we learned story about the genesis of what have we learned, capped off by a couple of, as to be expected, what-have-we-learneds.

    • Well, John, that reminds me of the cautionary tale of the bird that flew in smaller and smaller circles until it flew up its own ass and disappeared. I’ll consider myself warned.

  2. 3 ted

    Two Dorn blogs for the salary of one! The genius is multiplying!

    My suggestion for the new blog – CSI Dorn: Sherman Oaks


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