St. Baldricks and Why You Should Give

donateI am raising money for pediatric cancer research and am asking you for money.  I am honoring Lauren G., whom I have sponsored since 2008.

Lauren is now 12.  On March 4, 2005, seven years ago today, was diagnosed with Langerhan’s CellHistiocytosis/Ensophillic granuloma.  It is every parent’s worst nightmare to have a sick child, but when you hear scary words like “chemotherapy” and “survival rates” as a parent, it is beyond one’s ability to process. Moreover, on December 13, 2007, Heather’s husband – and Danielle and Lauren’s daddy – George – was killed in an automobile accident. Imagine police knocking on the door. Having to tell two little girls that their daddy has gone to heaven – right before Christmas.

As I mentioned in a prior post, I am both participating in the annual St. Baldrick’s head shaving ceremony, but also running a half marathon in the hopes that I will attract more donors.  That, plus the fact that it’s important to me to do more than just show up and have my head shaved.

Children are supposed to run, laugh and play.  So I am running – longer than I have ever run in my life – because of the children who can’t.  Or the parents whose own grief and angst does not allow them the psychological freedom to do something for themselves.

Please give whatever you can to St. Baldrick’s.   Small donations add up.




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The Dark Side of Teenager-Generated Content

I am the father of two young children and I frequently speak with them about bullying.  Schools seem to take it much for seriously than when I was in junior and senior high school.  These days, there are all kinds of acronyms, programs, guidance counselors and other resources designed to reduce or even put an end to one child (or childrens’) cruelty to another.

Back in the day (which is what middle-aged people like me use as a euphemism for when we were younger), it was a dog-eat-dog world in junior and senior high school, a caste system in which you were to assume your rightful place.  Jocks, nerds, “popular” kids, you name it.  There seemed to be a category for everything.  And you had to conform, or else.

And there were the weak.  The kids who got picked on incessantly, and often times, got beat up.  That was bad, humiliating and worse yet, that reputation followed kids around high school.  “Hey, Danny got his ass kicked the other day by Chris.  You wouldn’t believe it!”  Being a “wimp” was a moniker that followed kids around like a dark shadow that they could not outrun.

What sparked my thinking on this was a disturbing Washington Post article, “When school fights land on YouTube.”  The premise of the article is that one poor kid was on the losing end of a fight, but this one-sided brawl was captured on a cell phone, uploaded to YouTube and garnered the wrong sort of attention:

Two boys are fighting in a Calvert County middle school. A crowd of students laugh and jeer until a teacher arrives to break it up. Later discipline is meted out.

But the fight is not nearly over.

A video goes up on YouTube — 32 seconds of personal humiliation for the boy who is taking most of the punches. He has often been bullied in middle school, according to his family, and now is shown being hit in the head and side and placed in a headlock.

There is no apparent serious injury, and the clip is posted as “Weak People Fighting.” It is uploaded onto Facebook, tweeted, shared and commented on.

Embarrassing or humiliating incidents caught on YouTube are nothing new (ask Giselle Brady, Tom Brady’s wife), but this sort of torment takes humiliation to a different level.  One’s supposed weakness/”wimpiness” is captured, recorded and spreads virally in the child’s community – that in which he has to live, go to school and just survive.

The article goes on to state:

The episode Feb. 8 left 14-year-old Darin King feeling too taunted to continue at Windy Hill Middle School in Owings, his family said. For now, he is being home-schooled. “This took it to a whole new level,” said Vicki King. “This was for the world to see.”

I wish I had an answer for this, some strong condemnation coupled with a call to action to keep this thing from happening.  I don’t and I don’t hold YouTube responsible either. There will be fights for sure, but the humiliation should not go viral.  When YouTube was contacted (by the Washington Post, no less), they pulled down the video.  But the damage was done.  It was shared on Facebook and Twitter as well.

Read the article, but the usual cast of characters (school officials, think tank people, privacy “experts”) were interviewed, but the bottom line is this:  it’s not right, it takes cruelty and humiliation to a new level at the time at which kids are forming their own sense of self – and having it severely damaged in the process.  It is so, so sad.

When I was a kid, I was in a couple of fights and ended up on the losing end.  But as I watch what happens now when kids film just about anything on their phones, combined with a a teenager’s lack of judgment, I have altered my stance on fighting.

I may get flamed for this, but I have repeatedly told my son, “Don’t ever start a fight, but if you are in one, finish it.”  This may encourage violence; it may be Neanderthal “guy speak”; it definitely runs counter to all of the counsel that the school provides.  But I would rather he go down fighting than have to be faced with an “Internet is forever” clip of being humiliated – that will follow him throughout his time in school.

Primitive?  Probably?  Protective? Given every kid with a camera phone, you’re damn right.


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The Unspeakable Cruelty of Childhood Cancer – and What You Can Do

donateI am raising money for pediatric cancer research and am asking you for money.

I have been involved in St. Baldrick’s for four years now.  St. Baldrick’s has a pretty simple premise.  For those parents who face the nightmare of pediatric cancer and resulting harsh treatments causing hair loss, many shave their heads in a show of solidarity with their children.  And raise money in the process.

I am raising money again this year.  I will move on quickly to why it is important that you click here now donate, but what’s new this year is I am combining my fundraising efforts plus my participation in the Rock n’ Roll Half Marathon on St. Patrick’s Day.  So if you are thinking about donating, in addition to shaving my head, I’ll be running 13.1 miles on March 17th – pushing my body to its limits because so many brave children do as well.  And I am hitting you up for money.

Read what’s below, why it’s SO, SO important.


I wrote this on February 10, 2010:

It has taken me about four days to write this post.  I start.  I stop.  My eyes well up.  Then I start again.  Please read the whole thing.

And yes, I will end up asking you to make a contribution to help fund research to beat childhood cancer.

About Lauren

Lauren is 12 years old.  I have never met her, but outside of my own daughter, I think that she is the prettiest little girl in the world.  On March 4, 2005, this beautiful little girl was diagnosed with Langerhan’s CellScreen Shot 2012-02-26 at 8.55.17 AMHistiocytosis/Ensophillic granuloma.  It is every parent’s worst nightmare to have a sick child, but when you hear scary words like “chemotherapy” and “survival rates” as a parent, it is beyond my ability to process.  My own story is not important, but I spent plenty a day in the waiting area of the Lombardi Cancer Institute in Washington, DC watching the looks of anguished parents as they carried in their children whose withered bodies were unable to move themselves.

Lauren’s mom and dad joined the CarePages site (an online support group – you have to join the site) in 2005, and as of this writing, there are 609 postings – chronicling disagnoses, treatments, illnesses, operations, WAY too much time spent in hospitals.  And unspoken anguish.  Eleven year-old children (like my own son) should be out playing, running, jumping, giggling.  Skinning their knees.  NOT being hooked up to machines, poked with needles and spending hours in the car going to and from doctor’s appointments. IT JUST IS NOT RIGHT.

I “met” Lauren’s mom, Heather, in 2008 when I decided to join a St. Baldrick’s Team.  I chose to sponsor Lauren at random, since she and my son are about the same age. The premise of St Baldrick’s is simple:  I raise money that goes to “…most brilliant childhood cancer research experts in the world to find cures and improve the quality of life for patients and survivors.” I raise money, show up in an Irish pub in DC and get my head shaved.  I am almost ashamed at how little I do compared to the enormity of that parents of childhood cancer victims – and the children themselves – face every day.  UPDATE:  THIS YEAR, I AM TYING IN MY FUNDRAISING EFFORTS TO THE HALF MARATHON I AM RUNNING ON MARCH 17.

The Unspeakable

It is hard to find words to describe her, but Lauren’s mom, Heather, is strong and determined – but in ways that someone should never be tested. On December 13, 2007, Heather’s husband – and Danielle and Lauren’s daddy – George – was killed in an automobile accident.  Imagine police knocking on the door.  Having to tell two little girls that their daddy has gone to heaven -  right before Christmas.  Heather has endured the loss of her husband and partner in Lauren’s care while managing her daughter’s illness and attempting to provide a sense of normalcy both for Lauren and Danielle.  From everything that Heather has told me, George was a strong man, and one who would always know what to do.  Two years ago, when I did St. Baldrick’s, I held a picture of the family in lap because I wanted to honor all of them, but also wanted George to be there in spirit.

My Pitch

A child’s life should carefree, fully of laughing and playing, but Lauren’s short life has also been full of ER visits, chemo and the loss of her daddy – things that many people could not endure in a lifetime, let alone 12 short years.  I wish — more than just about anything — that I could bring back George, Heather’s husband and Lauren and Danielle’s daddy.  I wish that I could take away Lauren’s illness and that of any other childhood cancer victim.  I can’t.

What I can do is to use my own skill sets and determination to raise money to fight this.  To hopefully add to the cadre of online supporters that  the family has.

So for those of you who follow this, I am literally begging you:  please consider giving a donation to St. Baldrick’s.  If you are not in a position to donate, then please share post this with your friends or re-tweet it.  I have set a pretty aggressive fund raising goal based upon my own passion.

None of us can change the past, but with a few tears, determination, courage, and yes, funding, we can change the future.

Please give.


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The Day That Changed Me Forever – One Year Ago

A year ago today, my life changed forever.

On February 22, 2011, I came to work not feeling well.  Even small amounts of exercise fatigued me and caused what I later discovered was chest pain.

In my mind, it was inconceivable that anything serious could be wrong.  I went 12-14 hours a day, held down three jobs and got by, right?  It was just the stress that was causing me to feel this way, for sure.

And on that day, one year ago, I could not walk the 100 or so yards from the train station to my office.  It felt like an elephant was sitting on my chest.  Pain, tightness, shortness of breath.  But I KNEW that I had to be healthy.  I didn’t have the time to slow down.

I called my primary care physician and described the symptoms via a phone message and opted to take the subway back home and rest.  He called me back minutes later, and in a profanity-laced tirade, told me to call 911 -NOW.  In retropect, it was only his vehemence that spurred me to action (I later jokingly thanked him for “being such an asshole”). So a few minutes later, I was in an ambulance, headed to GW Hospital, insisting that I did not need to be there and that I was just clogging up the healthcare system.

When I was told that I was to be kept overnight “for observation,” I was mad.  Really mad.  THIS COULD NOT BE ME.  I was indestructable.

Later than night while being visited by the head of cardiology and a bunch of other white coats, I engaged in a back-and-forth argument over my condition – and I did not say anything at the time, but as I watched the monitors I was hooked up to, my pulse and blood pressure soared.  And guess what?  The pain in my chest returned.

I reluctantly agreed to an angiogram for the next morning based only on the fact that I was told that stress test would keep me in the hospital for an extra day.  So the next morning, the wheelchair showed up to pick me up, I did my best to close the back of the gown (why do they make them like that?) and was wheeled off into the “cath lab,” where they do cardiac catherizations.

Then they got my attention – fast.

My now cardiologist explained the procedure to me:  they would shoot dye into my cardiac arteries and a) find nothing and send me home, b) if there were blockages, they would try to fix them with stents, or c) I would go straight into the operating room for bypass surgery.   That was probably the most frightened that I have been in many, many years.  BYPASS? What if I woke up in a recovery room, just having had my heart and lungs stopped to fix me? My family was supposed to take a long paid-for vacation six days later.  I DIDN’T HAVE TIME FOR THIS.

So, off I went, and the part that I needed the most was the first jolt of anesthesia, something to calm me down, lower my heart rate and relax me.  Then, I went to sleep.  Sort of.

I was so worried about the outcome – not so much for me, but for my family – that I forced myself awake during the procedure, felt the cath tube in my chest and slurred a question asking what they saw.  All I remember is hearing the word “morphine” and I was back out.

Two and a half hours later, I heard someone calling my name.  The doctor who did the procedure told me that I had three blocked cardiac arteries.  Two got stents and one had been blocked for so many years that shunts had grown around it.  And no, I did not need bypass surgery, only because the main cardiac artery was not blocked.  I had escaped both major surgery and likely a massive heart attack.

A wave of relief came over me the likes of which I had not felt since my children were born with ten toes, ten fingers and were pronounced healthy.

And as for getting my attention, since then, I have lost 45 pounds, shaved about 150 points of my cholesterol, lowered my blood pressure enormously, and best of all, have developed what the docs tell me is the cariovascular system of someone 16 years younger than me.

And since just July 1st of last year, I took up jogging – at 46 years of age.  Since that time, I have run 273 miles, done a 5k, an 8k and a 10k.  And my biggest challenge awaits on March 17, when I am going to push my body to do a half marathon:  13.1 miles.  I will my body to do things to prove to myself that I CAN do this.  My legs ache, my feet hurt, but my chest feels fine.

Shortly after my illness, I was told that a sense of mortality could be a blessing.  Live like you were dying.  Since then, I have jumped out of an airplane, traveled to China and have a half marathon in front of me.  All of which are on my bucket list.  Plus, my book manuscript is due at the end of March and I have enjoyed writing every word of it.

I would not wish what I experienced upon anyone, but I can’t help thinking that one year ago today, my life was changed.  Forever.


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Rant: Social Media Bullshit Artists Pollute the Space

It’s entirely possible that this post is filled with envy and narcissism. But I don’t think so.

This topic has been brewing in my mind for some time, and yesterday, I arrived at a point at which my thoughts crystallized and I could make sense out of what I was thinking.

My point: I hate social media bullshit artists. As a practitioner, it is getting harder to teach internal and external clients the skills to distinguish what is helpful, concrete advice and what is self-serving of shallow counsel. This frustrates me enormously because some high-profile names pollute and dominate the space with pontifications and advice that I feel is at times, self-serving and at others, a firm grasp of the obvious. This makes it SO much harder to have solid advice sink in when a client’s response might be “Well, [person here] has written four books and was the keynote at BlogWorld Expo. Why should I listen to you?”

I’ll tell you why: because I am not a bullshit artist.300

Could I have envy that so-called “A-Listers” write books, get huge speaking fees and make a bazillion dollars a year? Sure. But again, I’m content with my place in the world of social media advice but am frustrated that some big names make it harder for the rest of us who try to offer actionable advice. Recently, I was horrified to read a blog post in which an A-Lister posted his normal speaking fees, and the cost of one speech – ONE SPEECH – could easily outstrip the annual salary of a junior social media worker bee in a smaller market.

I have to offer a caveat, and it is a big one: I am writing a book so point the finger at me with many of the same criticisms that I will level here. Here’s the difference, though: I am not trying to sell more books (it’s not even out yet), but an important part of the book is to attempt to help up-and-coming social media practitioners distinguish between those who are smart and they can learn from, and those who I think are phoneys and bullshit artists.

The best advice that I can give here is a combination of my own ruminations, those of my colleagues and friends in a Facebook group (you know who you are) and specifically what my friend and author of “The Like Economy,” Brian Carter pointed out. When starting out or hiring someone to help formulate a social media strategy would be to ask them:

  • In the recent past, what accomplishments can you point to that you have achieved for others? The unspoken point here is, aside from writing books, counting your Twitter followers and crowing about your speaking engagements, what have you actually done that has helped others achieve their social media communications objectives? And how have you measured the success?
  • What types of clients have you served? Again, many offer case studies about helping Fortune 500 companies (or at least speaking at their events), but the majority of companies in this country are small or medium-sized enterprises. Is the strategic advice that you give applicable to all companies, and does the difference lay in the tactics? Most companies don’t have multi-million dollar budgets to throw at social media. When I was teaching, the fixation of texts and Harvard Business Review articles to focus on Fortune 500 companies missed a critical point: most people will NOT end up working there. They will end up at much smaller organizations and need advice on how to make it work there.
  • Finally, is there as much listening as there is pontificating? I spent nearly 15 years in the agency world, and through practice (and mistakes), I learned to listen to clients and tease out what is was that they were attempting to accomplish through the use of social media. Start with the client’s communications objectives. Some more recognized names go on about the latest, shiny tool, but one size does not fit all. Nor does one strategy or one tactic. And tenting ones fingers and saying “engagement” over and over again serves only to pollute the space in which many of us operate. It makes it harder: damn harder.

So yeah, I’m writing a book and have pimped it here. I am at best, a B-minus Lister, but in my career (or for most of it) I have tried to be a good listener, stay on top of what is new and interesting in social media and offer practical, actionable advice to clients. Not sell books. Not trying to build my “personal brand.” Not increase my Klout score. And certainly not crow about what I charge for people to come listen to me.

Am I envious? Not really.

I’m disgusted.


Image:  Shark Bait Shirts.

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