What Reading Moby Dick Taught Me About Life Today

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

By tomorrow, I will have finished reading one of the most heralded works of fiction in the annuals of American literature. For the past month of so, I’ve taken on Herman Melville’s monumental classic, Moby Dick, otherwise titled, The Whale.

Being engaged in a masterpiece like Moby Dick compels the reader to focus on one body of work.

As for my critique, that may happen in some form later this year, after I complete the next course in my “quest” (felt it appropriate to use such a superfluous noun, given the plot of the aforementioned book) for my Master’s degree in English. Upcoming this Fall: “English 507 Theory, Rhetoric, Aesthetics: Unthinking Signification.”

Taking on a novel, or any voluminous fiction or non-fiction work the size and scope of Moby Dick requires dedication and patience. The hardcover University of California Press edition I’m reading spans 577 pages and includes some informative illustrations of ships, big fish and the men who sail the ships in order to hunt big fish.

Furthermore, Melville’s prose is not what I would rank as “light reading.” Symbolism aside, this is serious, yet compelling, prose, as detailed in this passage from Chapter 42, “The Whiteness of the Whale:”

“But not yet have we solved the incantation of this whiteness, and learned why it appeals with such power to the soul; and more strange and from more portentous — why, as we have seen, it is at once the most meaning symbol of spiritual things, nay the very veil of the Christian’s Deity; and yet should be as it is, the intensifying agent in things most appalling to mankind.”

Someday, my prose may be this good. Someday. Maybe.

Now, let me direct this conversation to what reading Moby Dick has taught me about one aspect of life today. On my weekday commute on the CTA Blue Line, I observe fellow passengers and ascertain that they would not have the patience to read a novel, especially not a gargantuan work like Moby Dick. Most fellow passengers, not all, ride handheld in hand, dexterously swiping between Pinterest and texts, Facebook and Candy Crush Saga.

Do these folks — young and old — read novels or other long-form literature?  Will they ever? Will a significant number people from future generations only absorb information through images and videos, subheads and captions, texts and instant messages? And, perhaps more vitally, will they ever learn to savor reading a masterwork without responding to an incoming digital message?

Without question, psychologists, sociologists and anthropologists are studying this relatively modern phenomenon. Assuredly, there are plenty of options for conducting primary research, beyond the Blue Line el.

Now, as noted, I still have a few chapters to go. So, please don’t respond with the fate of Ahab, Ishmael and my favorite character Queequeg — much less the big white whale.

Of course, I could quickly consult my handheld and have the answer.  But, nawh! I prefer to savor and learn, page by page.

 

Advertisements

Three Places Vladimir Putin Should Visit in Washington, DC

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

Russian President Vladimir Putin at an informal summit of CIS heads of state at the Novo Ogaryovo residence. (Credit Image: © Sharifulin Valery/TASS via ZUMA Press)

In a presidency fraught with seismic announcements, actions and adventures, the proposed invitation made last week by President Donald Trump to meet in the nation’s capital with Russian President Vladimir Putin was certainly among the most noteworthy.Hey

After all, relations between the two nations has not at all been rosy, so to say, given charges of meddling related to the 2016 general election. And, it’s been reported that Mr. Putin often resorts to very, very hardball tactics to combat political challenges.

But then, hometown meetings between the leaders of these two world powers has happened before. In 1972, President Richard Nixon joined a summit soiree with General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev of the Communist Party of the then Soviet Union.

So, perhaps the U.S. is due to invite a Russian leader to the White House.

Plans for the Putin visit this fall are still being finalized, and it’s certainly speculative that the visit will materialize. Should he commit to the trip, I offer suggestions on three places to visit while in Washington — should time allow between formal dinners, closed-door meetings and other “regular” agenda items.

  1. The International Spy Museum: Okay, this is a no-brainer.  During our 2016 vacation, Susan and I included a stop at this multi-level building on F Street containing “the largest collection of international espionage artifacts ever placed on public display.” Who knows: Perhaps Mr. Putin, a 16-year KGB employee, already has visited the museum.  Better yet, maybe some of the stuff on display was even used by Mr. Putin. Maybe he’ll even add personal stuff to the collection.
  2.  The Lincoln Memorial: Yes, there are lots and lots of compelling monuments, memorials and bronzed men on horseback on public display throughout Washington. But I would highly recommend that Mr. Putin stop by the Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall and read these words above the gigantic seated marble figure of the 16th president. “In this temple, as in the hearts of the people for whom he saved the Union, the memory of Abraham Lincoln is enshrined forever.” In case Mr. Putin is not a student of history, the United States remains a union and a democracy. It will remain one forever, even if foreign powers attempt to surreptitiously alter elections.
  3.  The Big Hunt: International travel and formal meetings can take their toll. Mr. Putin may want to chill out with an adult beverage after the rounds of ceremony, news conferences and pomp and circumstance.  My suggestion: Stop by The Big Hunt, an unabashed dive bar and restaurant on Connecticut Avenue in DuPont Circle. I visit this establishment whenever I’m in the District because the Big Hunt is raucous and real, beers are plentiful and cheap and the conversation among patrons stimulating. I’m sure the locals would welcome a discussion with Mr. Putin over a glass of vodka. Hey, maybe he’d even buy a round!

Assuredly, I’m not an expert on all the most memorable, fascinating and cool places to visit in the District — although I have visited there at least 10 times over my lifetime. In fact, I published a retrospective piece inspired during my visit in January of this year and this travelogue post from the spring of 2016.

My plans call for a return visit to Washington in January of 2019. Wonder if the town — or the nation or the world — will change should the Russian leader, indeed, arrive this fall and leave his mark on Washington.

Now, it’s your turn: What venues in the District would you recommend?

 

 

 

 

 

Two Corporate Blunders That (Fortunately) Were Not (In All Instances) Labeled “Public Relations Disasters”

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

This space has remained stalwart in addressing occurrences of corporate operational or administrative mistakes that were unfairly categorized by the media as “public relations disasters” or better yet, “public relations nightmares.”

In a sound strategic move, Papa Johns will remove its founder from print marketing materials. Image courtesy of the New York Post.

The rationale, as I comprehend it: A company gets grilled when news breaks (and these days, news often is accompanied by a video account) that results in an embarrassment, loss of business or possibly a fine or legal action. This constitutes unfavorable media coverage or “bad PR.” Hence, the correlation — albeit inaccurate and unfair — to public relations.

Well, any reference to a “public relations disaster” was, remarkably, absent in some news reports I read in print or online of two recent corporate blunders:

  • Papa John’s International.  On a conference call, pizza chain founder John Schnatter uttered a racial slur, leading to his resignation as chairman of the board from the publicly traded company.  As a way to mitigate this crisis, the company also is removing Mr. Schnatter’s image from its marketing materials.  I’ll also bet Mr. Schnatter will no longer be featured in TV spots.
  • Build-A-Bear.  Yesterday, this company that allows kids to design and build their own stuff animal created pandemonium — and left a lot of kids and parents unfulfilled — when a “Pay Your Age Day” promotion drew overflow crowds at shopping malls across the nation.  Parents received $15 vouchers as an appeasement, and the company CEO promptly issued a video apology.

But, doing a Google search, yes, I found some references to “public relations crisis” in both stories noted above.

I had hoped the media would dissolve an instance of outright stupidity and callousness (Mr. Schantter) and one that failed to comprehend the consequences of a marketing initiative (Build-A-Bear) from the realm of having anything that originated with a strategic public relations plan.

Assuredly, the public relations teams for both organizations — departments that did not initiate what led to the negative publicity in both instances — will marshal its crisis communications plan in the days to come. Perhaps both companies will get some “good PR” in the future.

 

 

My Favorite Summer Place

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

The front porch of our Avondale home is where you’ll often find me these months of summer.

The summer, at least here in Chicago, has been sultry and scorching, the sun frequently scintillating from the blue sky often void of clouds.

Yes, the days of June and July of 2018 have been marked at times by record heat, tropical dew points and often fierce, drenching thunderstorms that swept across the metropolitan area, leaving flooded roadways, shattered tree limbs and a reminder that the forces of nature can often prevent the even emboldened from venturing out from the safety of a covered roof and air conditioning for very long.

And, it’s only the first week of July.

Still, there’s much to revel about in summer, much to savor. Like finding a favorite summer place.

Mine is depicted in the image above, the front porch of our Avondale home.  There, on the corner of two one-way streets, I can observe or appreciate:

  • The evolution of our neighborhood, from decidedly diverse and middle class to increasingly youthful, Caucasian, artsy and professional.
  • People in motion, on foot, on bicycles, on skateboards, on scooters and pushing carriages. People walking dogs, people with arms outstretched, their eyes and attention directed to a handheld.
  • The flight and calls of all sorts of birds — robins, cardinals, sparrows, grackles, crows, finches and, this being Chicago, pigeons.
  • The emergence of fireflies and the symphonic sounds of cicadas, unseen but yet there.
  • Vendors selling frozen desserts from push carts, including the Hispanic man with the tanned skin who knows I prefer the lime popsicle.
  • Peaks from the sun coming through the trees to the east in the morning, and the remaining rays of light to the east at dusk.
  • The opportunity to read without a light, not caring if my mind wanders off the page, the result of a distraction by the world around me.

In essence, simple things, aspects of the world around me punctuated by the perspective provided by positioning my posterior on my modest perch.

Bring on more heat. I don’t care. It’s always cool in my favorite summer place.

Now, what’s yours?

* * *

Have a little more time? Then read my essay, “The Greening of Avondale,” written in fall of 2017 for a Non-Fiction Writing Workshop class.

 

.