A little while back, in honor of the forthcoming music festival honoring my dad, I posted an article inspired by him on this site. It’s parental parity time: my mom’s birthday is this coming Thursday, so this seemed the right time to post a piece inspired by her.
This occurred to me morning, when Ana said, “I was just thinking how grateful I am to your mom.” When I asked why, she said, “Because she gave you such unshakable confidence.” It’s true—and can you think of any greater gift one could give to a child?
For that matter, what better gift could one give to anyone than your unshakable belief in them?
That’s what this piece is about.
Exactly one year ago, my dad died. He lived a very long life (he would have turned ninety this April) and a very rich one, too, and was loved by pretty much everyone who ever met him, none the least of which were his three sons (the middle one of which — the baloney in the brother-sandwich — is me).
He had no major illness, no prolonged suffering, no terminal trauma. He just went to bed on a Wednesday night after a normal day and, absent-minded professor that he was, simply never got around to getting up again on Thursday.
I think this is the way I’d like to go, when it’s my turn. (I have already placed my order with the Fate & Destiny Dept.) And for that matter, I wouldn’t mind leaving a legacy like his, either. I’ve studied under him (composition and conducting) and performed under him (cello and recorder in his Bach Choir orchestras — even once in Bach’s own church in Leipzig, behind the Iron Curtain, when there still was such a thing), as well as grown up under him. As role models go, it’s hard to imagine one could do better.
A few years ago, in the autumn, he was starting to feel used up and began making very Eeyore-like predictions that he would not last the winter. But then he got a new project to work on, and it blew fresh spring air into his life for another handful of years. (Note to self: purpose = longevity.) The project was this: there is a rich correspondence between Johannes Brahms (the famous composer) and Clara Schumann (the pianist and wife of the other famous composer) that extends for decades. Although fourteen years separated them, Clara (the elder of the two) and Johannes became fast friends and remained close throughout their lives. Their letters had never been fully translated into English.
This became our task. Over the last few years of his life, my dad would call me twice a week and dictate one translated letter from his handwritten notes, which I would type on my computer. I would then translate his “English” into something that you and I would think of as English. (Although he came over to the U.S. in the late 1930s and made this country his home in almost every way, his English never quite escaped its German-thinking underpinnings.)
We started with the letters of 1855 and had gotten all the way through 1871, when he called one day and said he had something a little different: he wanted to skip a quarter-century, just for the day, and translate the correspondence from 1896.
On May 7, 1896, Cara Schumann wrote to Brahms: “Warmest good wishes from your affectionately devoted — Clara Schumann” and then added this postscript:
“More I cannot do now, but all soon. Your —”
It was her last letter to Brahms.
Brahms, not realizing that he was writing the final chapter of his correspondence with his lifelong friend, wrote her a reply the next day that concluded with a pledge that he would write again soon:
“You wouldn’t believe how countless many more things there are, waiting for me to tell you. — Johannes”
Clara left this life less than two weeks later, and in less than a year’s time, Brahms joined her.
As it turns out, these were also the last letters my dad dictated to me. He must have known, on some level, that his symphony had reached its coda, and he made sure that I had the end of the Clara-Johannes story, leaving it to others to fill in the missing, still untranslated pieces in between.
I imagine him saying, “More I cannot do now, but all soon.”
To which I can only reply, “You wouldn’t believe how countless many more things there are, waiting for me to tell you.”
This month’s edition of Networking Times is on the stands, and it features an interview with Seth Godin, “The Importance of Being Extraordinary,” in which Seth explains what Squidoo is; why hunting is out and farming is in; and why it is that we all sort of live in Hawaii.
You have to be a paid subscriber to read the interview online; however, simply registering on the site as a guest will let you read these other pieces for free:
my editorial, which is a bounce off the Seth interview and talks about a revolutionary marketing concept (asking me what I want, instead of ramming your idea of what I want down my throat to the shriekingly insane tune of “Ring Around the Collar”);
and this review of Seth’s summer bestseller, The Dip, written by my partner and fiancée Ana, in which it is revealed that Seth is secretly channeling Robert Frost (or perhaps it is the other way around).
Michelle Singletary’s piece appeared again yesterday, this time in a somewhat shortened version in Louisville’s Courier-Journal (Singletary’s Post column is widely syndicated). You can see it here.
Interestingly, in this version, the oxymoronic “mixed message” phrase we pointed out to her, legitimate multilevel marketing scheme, has been deleted:
“With a legitimate multilevel marketer, participants make money selling products or services and getting commissions on sales made by their own recruits, not just by paying a fee and getting others to pay a fee to join the organization. It’s difficult to distinguish these [Note: not legitimate multilevel marketing schemes, just these] from pyramid schemes, which is why you need to be very cautious before joining, the FTC said.”
Hmm. It’s an improvement. Not a big one, but hey, sometimes victories come in inches. Did Ms. Singletary make the change herself, after receiving our letter? Or was this just an artifact of the syndicator’s copyediting desk? (Probably the latter—but I hope the former.)
I’m writing to you because an article appeared yesterday [8-26] on the front page of the Sunday Business Section of the Washington Post that I believe leaves a negative impression about network marketing. I think a response should be written and suggest that you’d be the perfect person to do so. — Susan Katz Clark
Thanks to Susan for pointing this out; the article, “A 400 Percent Return in 7 Days? Riiight,” is by Post writer Michelle Singletary, and you can read it here. My reply is below. — J.D.M.
In your 8-26 column, “A 400 Percent Return in 7 Days? Riiight,” you say in your opening paragraphs, “two tried-and-true scams—pyramid and multilevel marketing schemes—keep trapping investors.” Later on you say that the FTC, SEC and BBB have all “issued warnings about multilevel plans.”
I’m sure this is not what you intended to communicate, but the unmistakable impression the reader would draw from these casually worded salvos is, Watch out for multilevels, they’re all scams!
The facts are quite different. According to the web site of the Direct Selling Association (www.dsa.org), multilevel marketing organizations account for 96.6 percent of direct selling worldwide. We are talking here about an industry comprised of 55 million people worldwide, doing about $100 billion in annual sales—a market segment roughly the size of New Zealand, Pakistan or the Philippines. (Mr. Musharraf is having his share of political challenges these days; having his entire nation labeled a “tried-and-true scam” is not one of them.)
It’s true that a few paragraphs into your piece, you do refer to “legitimate multilevel marketing schemes” (although the nonchalant use of the word “scheme” in conjunction with “legitimate” makes for quite a mixed message!). But the context just piles on more condemnation: “It is difficult to distinguish legitimate multilevel marketing schemes from pyramid schemes, which is why you need to be very cautious about joining.”
In fact, making this kind of distinction is not at all difficult. Visit the DSA’s web site for clear, articulate guidelines. It’s actually fairly easy to distinguish the legitimate players in this $100 billion community from the transparent hucksters. You provide some succinct guidelines right in your piece.
I am not familiar with Financial Independence Group, the specific company you investigated in your article. I note that they are not among the DSA’s 210 member organizations. While that does not in itself mean they are not a legitimate operation, it certainly doesn’t bolster confidence. And as you point out, just a few minutes spent on the company’s own web site yields an almost absurd lack of any tangible information about who they are, what they sell, or anything else. (The site mentions that they have not yet finalized particulars for their “October Conference and Boot Camp in Las Vegas.” Hmm. Today is September 1. This does not augur well!)
But no matter how suspect or slipshod this particular operation might be, that doesn’t justify indicting the entire industry. The subprime mortgage fiasco doesn’t mean all mortgage operations are scams, and Enron doesn’t mean the entire corporate world is rotten.
John David Mann
Editor, Networking Times, author, The Zen of MLM