The Odd Couple

•August 5, 2009 • 14 Comments


In the new movie Funny People, Adam Sandler is at a friend’s house for Thanksgiving when he walks out on the patio and interrupts an intense argument between buddies.

Now it’s starting to feel like Thanksgiving,” he quips.

That feeling — of being surrounded by people who alternately bring you the greatest joy and most exacerbating irritation — is known universally as, well, family.

I mention this because one of my favorite people in the whole wide world — my husband — can drive me batty.

During the first couple of weeks of marriage, I was rushing around, readying for work, when I placed my toothbrush and toothpaste on the sink counter. I walked away to fetch an old tshirt to throw over my blouse. When I returned, the toothpaste and toothbrush had been neatly placed back into the medicine cabinet. Before. I. Even. Used. It.

Given that one of my degrees is in literature, the ominous soundtracks of foreshadowing should of instantly cued in my ears. But those pesky lovestruck stars twirling around my head distracted me. Sigh.

There were other signs. His clothes, arranged by type, then by color, were perfectly aligned in the closet. When we folded laundry, his pile resembled a giant stack of neatly placed dominos to my Leaning Tower of Pisa. His office desk was stark, save for a few key items, lovingly placed at 90-degree angles. He typed iteneraries for our out-of-town guests.

Just for the record, I am no Oscar Madison. I keep my house and work areas neat and tidy, but I am not — how do you say it? — a detail person.

As a result, I often gloss over the little things, like leaving those tiny plastic tags on my clothes. For years. And so what if my entire family is deathly afraid of the abyss that is my purse? I also have self-diagnosed myself with Freethrow-itis — a serious disease that causes me to miss the trashcan by miles when I’m throwing light items, like gum wrappers and tissues.

That particular ailment also prevents me from picking said items up off the floor. Bless my heart.

Not a problem. My husband, for more than 20 years now, took care of it. Of course, what I once thought was cute, started getting on my nerves. To wit: 

• There was the time he objected to the Colonial-style G.I. Joe outfits I purchased on clearance for the kids because the dolls were World War II soldiers. (“They can’t carry bayonets,” he insisted.)

• After I shove all the cups and plates in the dishwasher, he sneaks into the kitchen and rearranges them.

• He instituted a recycling system in our house, complete with a family workshop (which, by the way, the teenagers LOVED) and now inspects the trash every night for any flagrant violations.

Last weekend, though, he pushed me over the edge. I was born with Beverage Container Dispose-ism, which forces me to have several drinks (a mug of coffee, a Diet Coke) at various levels of consumption strewn around the house. But sometimes I come back for them.

So last weekend, ready to workout, I went searching for my blue Powerade Zero, which I knew, for a fact, had 75 percent drink left in it. (Let it be noted here that I don’t like plain water. And this was my LAST Powerade Zero.)

“I drank it,” my husband said, rather smugly, I might add. “You never finish them.”

By Bill Loytty

By Bill Loytty - / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

It’s possible I pitched a fit. Just a little, tiny age-appropriate one. Until my daughter discovered a new container of Powerade Zero tucked behind the kitchen island.

A few days later, I had cracked open another Powerade Zero in anticipation of a gym class, took a sip and placed it on the counter.

I turned my back for a moment, and swung around to catch my husband guzzling it down. “You were done with this weren’t you?” he asked.

Just as my blood pressure spiked, he stepped away from the counter to reveal my beverage still sitting there, where I left it. He had opened a new one.

I have had several fantasies about how to hurt him. But the truth is this: He always makes me laugh. And he is, indeed, the ying to my yang. I would have it no other way.

We are the perfect match.


A kiss of disappointment

•June 24, 2009 • 6 Comments

My 17-year-old son is an old soul. He loves politics, philosophy and classic crooners, like Bruce Springsteen and Marshall Crenshaw.

Lately, he’s been delving into 70s’ and 80s’ rock. Specifically, KISS.

In the car today, Nathan dropped this factoid on me: Apparently, the driving force behind Kiss’ over-the-top concert performances was pure and simple disappointment. Gene Simmons had attended a rock concert as a teen and was let down by the lame gig.

Fueled by mediocrity, Simmons was fired up to offer the best damn rock concert ever. (Interestlngly, his band was crowdsourcing before it was popular — allowing the fans to choose each band member’s persona and costume.)

All this got me thinking about the beauty of disappointment.

How many times in your life has a product, an event, a movie left you dissatisfied?

And how often does that inspire you to create something better?

What’s more: If we avoid being disappointed or protect our children from it, we are acting as roadblocks to creativity, inspiration.

So get out out there and get disillusioned. You never know what second-rate experience might be your muse.

Big dreams fueled by little words

•June 18, 2009 • 6 Comments

One phone call.

That’s all it took.

And my destiny was sealed forever.

Mrs. Echeverria was my 6th grade teacher in elementary school. It was a small public school in a rural New England town in the late 1970s — pre-microwave, pre-computer, pre (gasp) DVD player. Up until that point, I was a good student. And I could devour a Nancy Drew book in one sitting. But my schoolwork mode was strictly autopilot.

Then I landed in Mrs. Echeverria’s class. She sported long, hippie hair and eschewed polyester suits in favor of flowing sundresses and leather, thong-style sandals. Her husband was a professor at Brown University. They traveled extensively and gardened organically before it was popular. She was the first feminist I ever met.

I think it’s safe to say that she rocked my world. Phooey on the textbooks, she used to say — instead allowing us to paint huge sea animal murals on the back wall, write and act out plays and go outside and wriggle around in the grass while she read stories.

She brought us photos and descriptions of her Greek travels, baklava to taste, exotic jewelry to try on (I still have a turquoise ring in my treasure box) and pressed worn, yellowing paperbacks into our hands. “I thought you’d like this book.. it’s one of my favorites,” she would say. Snoozing in the back of class? She’d bing you with one of her lethal bean bags.

Once a week as part of a creative writing exercise, she would pull out an index card from a small green box. She would read an opening sentence and we students had to write the rest of the story.

I lived for those assignments.

One day our project was to create a new story based on “Mary Poppins.” I dug in for two days. And the night before it was due, I pulled out our home typewriter and stayed up until midnight, typing away — painstakingly lining up the old powdery paper whiteout and plunking the backspace key to erase my errors. I was delirious with creative energy.

The next night, my parents got a phone call from Mrs. Echeverria, who complimented both my story and my effort . In class the next day, she read my Mary Poppins adventure out loud. And for the rest of the year, she would drop little phrases of encouragement and urge me to practice the craft.

When people ask: “When did you know you wanted to be a writer?”

I say: “In sixth grade.”

And it’s true.

The power of that sincere encouragement has buoyed me for 30 years.

Thank you, Mrs. Echeverria.

* Photo by D Sharon Pruitt – Creative Commons license Pink Sherbert Photography

Goldilocks Goes to Podcamp

•May 18, 2009 • 5 Comments


My Official Podcamp San Antonio 3.0 Badge

My Official Podcamp San Antonio 3.0 Badge

Dark clouds and rain descended on San Antonio this past Saturday, May 16th, but it was barely noticeable to those of us cozy and dry at Podcamp San Antonio 3.0 —held at the kitschy El Tropicano Hotel on the outskirts of downtown.

 What, you ask, is Podcamp?

 Podcamp is a loosely organized (Free!) daylong meeting to share and learn about social media. Although the Podcamp planners (To read about the founders click here: put in a lot of elbow grease into lassoing sponsors, badges (see mine in the photo above), t-shirts, tables, WiFi, microphones and more, the actual agenda isn’t decided until that morning.

 Campers straggle in. Those with expertise and bit of courage grab a marker and sign up for a speaking gig or to lead a break-out session. Everyone gathers in the main room and fires up their laptops, PDAs and cameras. Attendees range from pure novices  to the wired-to-the-max social media business gurus and academic experts.Podcamp Schedule

 To yield the true benefits of Podcamp, you have use the Goldilocks strategy: Try listening to something exciting and new, way beyond your skill level, like writing code. (Too big!) Attend a break out session on something simple, like how to sign up for Twitter. (Too small!) Participate in a discussion about how to livestream your event from your phone. (Just right!)

 In the process of finding the perfect bowl of social media porridge, you taste some samples (or “examples” as my 6-year calls them) that will keep you thinking about the future. Here are a few of the morsels I digested this year:

 1. Video live from your PDA or phone by using or courtesy of @CharlotteAnne who is a former professor of digital journalism at University of Nevada, Las Vegas and journalist.

2. To build a Facebook page for your company or organization, you have to scroll down to the bottom of the page and click on the “Advertisement” tab. @CharlotteAnne shows us this, and even longtime users had been struggling to find this button.

3. To manage your multiple social networking tools, is a great tool that @epodcaster (Jennifer Naverrete and Podcamp San Antonio co-founder) uses.

Jennifer Navarrete

Jennifer Navarrete

For me, the best part about Podcamp is that — like Goldilocks — you get to be a little naughty. Because of the social media nature, you are not only allowed — but *encouraged* — to be logged into Twitter or Facebook during the presentations. You can Tweet out informative tidbits from the speakers, interact with the other people in the room (just like passing digital notes in class, but on steroids) and you can access the Web to look up some of the tools presenters suggest.

 So, later in the afternoon, I just couldn’t be help myself. I was sitting directly behind classmate @colleenpence (a pro marketer and work-at-home-mom) and noticed that she has awesome hair. It’s brown with golden streaks and hangs down from her head in cascading, loose curls.

 Being a bit of a troublemaker, I almost reached out and touched it. But since I was at Podcamp, I took a photo of it with my BlackBerry Curve, and posted it on Twitter. 

Colleen's Hair

Colleen Pence's Goldy Locks

Turns out, almost everybody in the room also thought Colleen’s hair was da bomb. Suddenly Jennifer Navarrete, the Podcamp Organizer extraordinaire, chimed in. People all over town not even *at* Podcamp– – were commenting about the golden locks. And suddenly the puns started flying about the “mane” event. We invited people to “comb” on over; and accused others of giving us the “brush” off. Blogger @lettergirl even got into it: “I’ve been to @colleenpence hair camp. She’s a product dictator and demands to be called Mousselini.” And KSAT’s @bkearney even piped up from across the city with the hashtag #hairenvy. Oh the shear excitement.

It was locks of fun. Silly. Spontaneous. Creative. And that, in a nutshell, is the beauty of Podcamp. When we hit happy hour in the Tiki Lounge, the banter continued. I met:

 > @kr8tr (Rob La Gesse, the Racker responsible for luring big-time videoblogger Robert Scoble to the San Antonio hosting firm Rackspace);

 > @guidedmouse (the big cheese at http://www.guidedmousecom which helps people demystify technology and is one of the quickest punsters I’ve ever met.)

 > @discowhore (a dj that writes a blog about electronic music news) His name launched a whole conversation about inappropriate Twitter handles, pornography on the Web and, well, it got awkward after that.

 > @jbhughes (Bruce Hughes a small biz expert from the Small Business Development Corp. at UTSA who has a good karaoke voice and spent his birthday at Podcamp) During our hair-raising discussion, Bruce said that scientists suspect that Rapunzel’s hair would have weighed 60 lbs. I was going to tell him that Rapunzel was a f-hairy tale, but Bruce sports a lot of bling on his hand, so I didn’t want to *tangle* with the guy.

 @jackieadame (sister of @epodcaster who moved to San Antonio from Houston and does a regular podcast about coffee with her sister)

 @scvanderver (Stephen Vanderver, a technology enthusiast, who ironically, totes a retro composition notebook covered with random stickers around to write down people’s Twitter handles.)

 Sure, gaining knowledge about today’s technology is the point behind Podcamps. But meeting the smart, clever, witty, helpful people behind it all and expanding your human circle is the real moral of this story.

 The End.



PR Pitches: It’s *Not* About the Packaging

•April 29, 2009 • 7 Comments


Despite the earth-shattering changes in today’s media, online chats and forums almost always revolve around one magic question:

How should PR types pitch journalists?

There is a lot of worrying going on out there — when, in fact, pitching the media should be fairly easy and straightforward.

1. Be informed.

You can’t be helpful to a newspaper or television station if you don’t read or watch them. Understand the content, niche, audience, and most importantly, deadlines.

For example, I work for a weekly local Business Journal. We cover the business news in San Antonio where the Wall Street Journal leaves off. A story on a Nevada-based company with no meaningful impact or relationship to San Antonio is *not* news for us. Neither are rabid raccoons, unless, course, the local company that manufactured the cages is seeing a spike in business.

2. Simple is better.

We’ve had baskets overflowing with peanuts, popcorn, donuts, candy and beer delivered to the newsroom. We’ve had cartoon characters, flying pigs, and accordion-toting, singing telegram-ists parading through our foyer.

I’m all for the fun and games, but the PR ROI on gimmicks like that are just about slim to nothin’.

Send us an email or a Tweet. Pick up the phone. Give us the basic information and good contacts. Let us do the rest.

3. Take “NO” for an answer.

Look, I have four kids at home with whom I referee every day, every week.

I don’t want to do that kind of negotiating at work. I expect a higher level of engagement.

You can pitch me all day long on email, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, telephone, at Starbucks and in the grocery store. I draw the line at the restroom.

I am *happy* to spend a reasonable amount of time getting to learn about a new company or a hot idea or trend. That’s my job: to listen and learn about the local business community. Build relationships with all the cool peeps who live and work here. 

But, please, when I say: “I’m sorry that just doesn’t fit our editorial needs right now.” or “Just send me the information.” You say: “Thank you for your time.”

No haggling. No pleading. No arguing. No harassing. No bullying me or putting me on the spot for a lunch date.

*This* is the root of all journalist/PR hostility. It is easily fixed. Let’s everyone use their manners.

4. News Flash: Some reporters have bad attitudes.

Like any profession, there are some bad and egotistical apples out there — sitting on their media thrones.

Any journalist who goes out of his or her way to make it difficult for you to deliver or submit information is on a power trip.

Do you really want to waste your time if pitching is a big mine field that could blow up with one misplaced press release or random Twitter?

5. The real secret: Know more than one person in the newsroom.

When I get a pitch, I analyze where it best fits in the newspaper:

* Hard, breaking news -print
* News or Feature Web
* Feature/trend
* Special pages: Profile, Five Minutes, Photo Spread
* Special magazines and publications: Health Care Heroes, etc.
* People on the Move
* Calendar
* Biz Notes

You open up more avenues for disseminating your information if you take the time to get to know more of the people and their roles at different publications.

Got a San Antonio business lead or some interesting information? Email me at: or call me directly at 210-477-3235.

If I’m not available, I’ll get back with you… right after I finish off those macadamia-nut crusted, Alamo-shaped chicken wings sent to celebrate Texas Poultry Day.



Photo courtesy Flickr via Creative Commons

Creativity: It’s a Silence Thing

•April 16, 2009 • 3 Comments

So, yes, it’s true.

I (and 10 other people) had dinner with humorist, actor and writer John Cleese this week. He was lecturing at Trinity University, where my husband works. President John Brazil and his super cool wife Janice invited David and me to be part of the special pre-lecture dinner in their lovely home on campus.

Some people get nervous about what they’ll say at a dinner like this. I’m more worried about getting through the meal without misidentifying the floral-shaped butter pats as cookies. At the Brazils’ annual holiday open house I am infamous for derailing the choo-choo train that chugs around the dessert-festooned table. Crushed bull’s-eye peanut butter balls, spilled coffee, well, I don’t want to talk about it.

Let’s get to the important stuff: Here are some juicy John Cleese tidbits : he’s really tall, talks with an English accent, and does *not* do silly walks at dinner parties. He loved the grilled beef tenderloin with tomatillo sauce and the triple sorbet with fresh berries. He is working on a musical of the “Fish Called Wanda,” in which he would likely be the narrator. He loves Steve Martin. And I think he said he had a mad crush on Darryl Hannah, but I was sitting on his side of the table maybe it was Martin who had the crush. At any rate, Cleese’s current favorite work is Operation Lemur with John Cleese.

Though many suspected he’d have us all rolling on the floor, the truth is: he was soft-spoken, thoughtful, engaging, introspective. Like many comic geniuses, he is a man of great intellect who has a very serious side — and good manners. *He* asked us a lot of questions and pretended we were interesting.

The highlight at dinner, for me, was Cleese talking about creativity, the whole reason for his visit to Trinity.

True creativity, Cleese says, comes from the unconscious portion of the mind. For example, Cleese once wrote down a problem. He left it for a couple of days, and the answer arrived in his head quite naturally when he *wasn’t* tumbling the issue over and over in his brain. He lost a script and rewrote it from memory. When he found the original script and compared the two, the second was almost word-for-word — except, well, better. Cleese believes his brain edited that work while it simmered in his unconscious, safe from real-world, task-driven edit mode.

The only way to get those naturally creative juices flowing, Cleese says, is to carve out uninterrupted quiet space and time. No computer. No TV. No Twitter. No newspaper. No cell phone. “After the lists stop running in your head, things will quiet. You can train yourself to be creative,” Cleese says.

This reminds me of an interview I did a few weeks ago with Dr. Tyler Curiel, executive director of the Cancer Therapy and Research Center in San Antonio. This guy’s a genius and an ultra-distance marathon runner. I asked him what was playing on his iPod during those 4 – 7 hours runs. “I don’t use one,” he said. “That running time is when I work out all my lab problems. Any big breakthrough I’ve had in the research lab, has happened on those runs.”

I suspect you have had moments like this, as have I (the unconscious thinking part; not the genius part). And it is a wonderful reminder to give ourselves and our children space and time to just *be*. Some of my favorite childhood memories are of cracking the ice on the birch trees after a snowstorm, feeling the smooth petal of a ladyslipper flower or watching the polliwogs swim in a muddy puddle. When we are quiet and still, our senses do their magic.

Give yourself the gift of creativity today. Me? I’ve got to go scrub the salad dressing stain I got on my skirt from dinner.

Photo by D Sharon Pruitt, used under a Flickr Common Creative License

The Breakfast of Global Champions

•April 9, 2009 • 4 Comments

Something crunchy is on my mind.

It’s cereal. 

Over the last several weeks I have overheard several people bluster: “Twitter?! I don’t need to know what cereal people had for breakfast!”

Someone, please, tell me: Why is cereal getting such a bad rap? Cap’n Crunch and Toucan Sam never did anything to you. What’s more, I kind of like knowing what type of cereal people keep in their cupboards. It speaks to their personality or frame of mind. When my husband is eating Kashi I know he’s in his professional groove. When the Chocolate Lucky Charms appear (and disappear), the rest of the family retreats to its bunker. 

More to the point, though: In my 12 months on Twitter,  never once have I read what kind of cereal my friends and followers are pouring into their bowls. The people who glibly drop the the cereal line only make one thing painfully obvious: they haven’t *really* engaged in Twitter.

On Twitter, I regularly learn about projects on which  San Antonio business professionals are working, cool new initiatives by local companies, how journalists across the globe are using social media channels to improve the way they do their jobs, and how to get a steady stream of real-time, global news.

To measure Twitter by its tangible take-aways, though, is like judging a cereal box by the toy on its box cover. If you dig for the Light-Up/Twirly/Lawn Mowing Ninja Spoon, leave the box open and never eat the cereal, well, things get stale quickly

Following up in person with the people I’ve met on Twitter and converse with regularly has yielded real friendships, a broadened point of view, an expanded world and a chance to re-examine my job as a journalist. It forces me to consistently ask myself  hard questions about our newspaper’s role in this city and forge a kinship with other reporters from whom I both learn from and laugh with.

So when I pull up my Tweetdeck every morning and see a Tweet  about some great tacos a friend had yesterday, it is so *not* just about the avocado and queso . It’s sharing the little daily tidbits with people — fun facts, snarky comments, a joke — that build relationships beyond an economic exchange of data. It is my office outside my office.

Last night at a lecture by international relations expert Andrew Bacevich, a man in the crowd who had just retired from the federal government in an international capacity, said this math equation is at the root of our country’s  foreign relations: Arrogance=Ignorance=Incompetence.

Think about that. If we are too arrogant  — believing we don’t need to try new things, meet new people, go to events — we become ignorant about what’s going on around us because we limit our point of view and information sources. The result is that we start projects, write stories and produce products that don’t work for our audiences. We become incompetent, or at least, ineffective.

Because my husband works at a university, I often have conversations with college students who recently have returned from abroad and feel they left a restless spirit behind in those other countries. That spirit is the uncomfortable realization that we are tiny spokes in the global wheel of life, and only together can we move forward. Suddenly, that isolated group of U.S. friends doesn’t seem enough to paint the whole picture.

I can’t travel to Japan and India anytime soon, and maybe I don’t have time to go to that downtown luncheon today, but I can check my Twitter account and keep up with what’s going on.

First, let me crack open a new box of LIFE.