danniewriter

A Dickens of an impact

The frontispiece of the original printing of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. (public domain photo)

I love movies, but am no longer someone who “must” see a film on opening weekend; sometimes I’m even a year late.

Falling squarely in the better-late-than-never category is The Man Who Invented Christmas, which I missed in 2017 but now intend to add to my “best Christmas movies” collection.

The film follows Charles Dickens’ frantic and very bumpy road in writing A Christmas Carol. His family in dire financial straits, Dickens needed a bestseller. A frequent speaker on the charity circuit after the tremendous success of Oliver Twist, Dickens was keenly aware of society’s poorest of the poor, even as he wrestled with personal money woes.

In reference to the title of the film, obviously, the celebration of the birth of Christ pre-dated Dickens’ lifetime, but how the day is celebrated definitely was impacted by the novella.

With the success of the small book, Dickens inexorably linked the holiday with overt expressions of compassion and generosity toward the less fortunate. In a 1998 article, The Washington Post shared examples of the book’s instant impact in 1843. Here is just one:

A young Robert Louis Stevenson was beside himself after reading A Christmas Carol for the first time: “I want to go out and comfort some one; I shall never listen to the nonsense they tell me about not giving money— I shall give money; not that I haven’t done so always, but I shall do it with a high hand now.”

The book has never been out of print. It has been adapted for the screen dozens of times. It is performed on thousands of stages, small and large, every year. I would argue that every red kettle, every toy for a tot, is linked in some way back to this small book with its huge message.

I read it every Christmas, for no particular reason other than the sheer joy of experiencing Dickens’ words. Now, having watched The Man Who Invented Christmas, and having dug into the story behind the story a bit deeper, I love and appreciate it even more.

Just as the fortunes of every retailer rise and set on the period of Black Friday through Dec. 24, non-profits depend, mightily, on the public’s generosity this time of year. Without Dickens and his novella, how different that picture might be.

Foto Phriday

As welcome as Santa …

A beautiful member of my sister’s family for more than 20 years, her Christmas Cactus blooms faithfully every year, but truthfully it sometimes is so excited to show off that it’s been known to be a Thanksgiving Cactus. Whatever you call it, it’s a welcome spot of brightness and color during the gray days of winter.

Head butting, reconstructed

If you own or manage a business, it’s likely that one of the least-favorite aspects of your job is responding to customer complaints. And, if you are on social media, it’s possible that the headache turns into a migraine if a troll has latched onto you.

Business Unplugged’s Carol Roth compiled a great collection of advice from business and communications pros about how to handle complaints, and trolls, and how to tell the difference. Some tips mentioned often:

Don’t respond in an angry or defensive manner, especially if you are dealing with a troll instead of a legitimate customer. Trolls want conflict. Don’t feed them.

You may feel that a customer’s complaint is unfair or possibly even untrue. It is your job to listen and respond with professionalism. Provide them with a way to communicate with you directly about their complaint. Direct messaging via the platform (Facebook or Twitter, for example), is the best way to start.

When you respond with patience and restraint, your faithful customers and supporters will chime in with their stories of great experiences at your business.

Respond, even if you need to step away from the computer for a while first to cool down. The silence of not responding screams to current and potential customers, “I don’t care if you’re happy or not.”

You have no control over reviews and comments on other sites such as Yelp, but it’s possible for you to block a follower from your own Facebook or Twitter feed. Do this only as a last resort. If you are dealing with someone who simply wants to rant, and if you have made an effort to respond in a reasonable and professional way, you can control who can post on your feeds. Do it too often, however, and you get the same blowback as not responding at all.

Finally, try to keep a sense of humor about everything. It’s not always easy, but it’s possible it will keep your blood pressure in a healthy range. As an aside, it’s OK to approach complaints and haters with humor, too, but make sure you really have a gift for it first. It’s a tricky business to convey sarcasm online. Check out some pros who do it really well, Moon Pie and Wendy’s.

From Magnolia to Mississippi

The song, “Once in a Lifetime,” by Talking Heads has been going through my mind quite often of late, especially the lyric, “You may ask yourself, ‘Well, how did I get here?'”

Never thought I’d find a kindred spirit in an eccentric Scottish rocker, yet here I am.

For reasons frequently murky to even myself, I recently moved from Kentucky to Mississippi. At a very tired 53, I thought that, maybe, I had one more transition in me. Living a landlocked life for virtually all of my existence, I’ve always loved the beach. Not the crowds or the mid-summer heat, but the awareness of the vastness of the world that I seem to experience nowhere else except standing at a point where land disappears underwater.

I get the slightest twinge of fear in those quiet moments, realizing how possible it would be to get lost out there on the water. I don’t feel the same about getting lost in Kentucky’s mountains, forests and hollers–although Lord knows, under the right circumstances, I could pull that off quite nicely with just one or two stupid moves.

In my few short months here, I’ve discovered a few things about Mississippi:

  • Whatever number of Waffle House franchises per capita you think could be considered excessive, double it, and you are getting close to reality.
  • Ditto Sonic.
  • They grow roaches big down here. The palmetto beetles I experienced in Georgia would be flayed into submission immediately by the monsters here.
  • When driving to Mississippi from Kentucky, Alabama becomes the largest state in the lower 48, extending all the way to the Florida Keys.
  • A fried oyster Po’ Boy is food of the gods.

I like the small-town feel of Gulfport. It has fewer than 70,000 residents. Most recently, I lived in Louisville, which is Kentucky’s largest metro, and home to more than 600,000.

I lived in Louisville for several years, and love many, many aspects of that great city. Still, I often felt like a fish out of water, having spent the first years of my life in small-town Appalachia before the family moved to an even-smaller town pretty much smack dab in the middle of the state.

You’ll notice that Magnolia (population 524) is in capital letters, however. (Note: this is a vintage map that incorrectly identifies the LaRue County seat as “Hodgensville.” The correct spelling is “Hodgenville” … It matters.)

The excitement and fun of the transition from Magnolia to Mississippi (the latter being the Magnolia State, by the way) is struggling to outweigh some fairly epic disasters regarding my new home. A dear friend tells me the house was suffering and I’m here to rescue it. An appealing thought, but Bruce Wayne, I ain’t.

My takeaway on the entire experience is that spontaneity often comes at a very high price, literally. Were I looking for a smooth transition to assure me of the wisdom of my decision, I’d be as lost as I sometimes feel when I look at the Gulf.

It is what it is.

I’m here. Loving my gorgeous 300-year-old live oak in the back yard, meeting new people, and after living in gas-gouging Louisville for more than a decade, reveling in $1.95/gallon unleaded.

How did I get here?

I’m trying to tell myself that answering that question isn’t really all that important. The bigger question is, “What now?”

Hell if I know. Stay tuned.

The cardinal is the state bird of Kentucky.