Category Archives: Speeches

The Allure of Radicalism, Take 2

The following is the first guest post I wrote, back in the days when Trial Balloon blog was just a fledgling. I’ve updated slightly and given it a different question – only a handful of our usual readership has seen it before (I think).


A few years ago when Husband and I were on a Minnesota stay-cation, we were honored to attend a memorial service for a man who had been a real “mover and shaker”, someone who was active in many arenas and really got things done. In addition to this, he was considered a “radical.” On a hilltop overlooking the gorgeous green valleys of Southeastern Minnesota in August, people told stories about this man for three solid hours – how he kept to his principles, questioned and at times defied authority, blazed trails, and worked incessantly for environmental and community-building causes.

I grew up in a household of mixed messages: Be Different (but not So Different That You’d Embarrass Us). In the late 60s and the 70s, there were so many ways to Be Different! You could blaze a little trail by trying out vegetarianism or marching in protest to the Vietnam War. Some of us left for the East or West coasts, or abroad, hoping to find something radically different, and of course we did. When ready to settle down in the late seventies, I came to the Twin Cities, hoping what I’d heard was true – there were Radicals in Minnesota. I’ve never been disappointed – the coastal hot spots had nothing on this state!

Most of us are now more subtle in our radicalism – there are hundreds of ways to be a little bit radical. I still enjoy getting people to raise an eyebrow by telling them, say, that I participate in a blog peopled by listeners to a former public radio Morning Show.

What would you like to do that’s a bit radical? (Or have you already done it?)

Fancy a Game?

I discovered Tom Stoppard when I was in junior high. I was involved in a youth theater program and one of my pals showed up with a copy of “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.” I was immediately hooked. I was giddy with the word play Mr. Stoppard employs. She and I would spend hours sitting on the steps between rehearsals or during breaks reading that script – she as Guildenstern, me as Rosencrantz. (Decades on, we still address each other with those names and can recite parts of the play from memory.)

The best part of the whole script is the scant few pages that encompass the Questions Game. Rules are simple: keep asking questions. A point is scored if the opponent returns with a statement, repeats a question, hesitates, or uses rhetoric. Check out how Gary Oldman and Tim Roth play the game in the movie version here:

I was reminded of this when my buddy Guildenstern posted a video from the Old Vic with Daniel Radcliffe and Joshua McGuire playing a non-scripted version of the game as a promo for their upcoming production. Check out their version here:

An online game of questions quickly ensued with friends from different parts of my life chiming in. A portion of the exchange:

Was it your intent to score?
Did you start the game?
Ooo, can I play?
Is it good if I am already down one point?
Would you prefer it to be good?
Would I be a fool to prefer it so?
Are fools the only ones who can play?
Are you foolish?
Could any answer truly stop us from playing?

I couldn’t help but think to our conversations here that always start with a question.

A brief recap of the rules: only speak in questions. Statements, pauses, repeats or rhetoric will give a point to…someone. How much of the day can we spend only speaking to each other using only the interrogatory?

Would you like to play at Questions?


Macy’s Doth Murder Sleep!

Thanks to Linda, who gave us all a lovely gift in the comments section of yesterday’s post with a link to Clyde’s excellent Thanksgiving Day essay from 2011. Sometimes the oldies are golden indeed!

I’m going to take a cue from Linda and do the same for Black Friday, in part because the newest B.F. trend seems to be finding a way to make it easy on yourself – witness the uptick in people who hire surrogates to stand in line for them.

In this post from 2010, we explored the Shakespearian potential of the annual Black Friday drama.

Methought I heard a voice cry “Sleep no more! 
 Macys does murder sleep,” the innocent sleep, sleep that knits up the ravell’d sleave of Ladies Charter Club Cashmere Crew-Neck Sweaters, only $39.99 before 10 am on Friday alone!

What do you mean? Who was it that thus cried?

It was the owl that shriek’d, or some Tribune. The Star, perhaps, or the News of Duluth, formerly the Herald. It was a sorry sight.

A foolish thought to say a sorry sight. Such sales will make us mad! Summon again the page!

All great Neptune’s ocean will not wash this ink clean from my hand. I am afraid to think what I have seen. Look on’t again I dare not.

Infirm of purpose! 
 Methinks the doors are already open and the surfeited clerks do mock their charge with snores. Give me the plastic daggers. I’ll gild the aisles of Macy’s withal; 
 That which hath made them drowsy hath made be bold; what hath pinched them hath given me fire. Hark!

What is your greatest shopping drama?

Power & Privilege

Yes, our miserable world is overrun with meaningless awards and empty accolades.

It used to be you could get either a Pulitzer or a Purple Heart and that was about the full extent of it, but now if you are an ambitious person with a global “brand,” you have to leave enough space on your shelf to separate your Emmys from your Grammys from all your Nobel Prizes.

And with each of these prizes, there is a requisite amount of gratitude one is expected to express publicly.

That has proven to be a boon for the Acceptance Speech Writers of America (ASWOA), whose members specialize in crafting all manner of short, humble statements that are designed to publicly recognize the inescapable fact that no one does anything of consequence without help.

I’m a member of ASWOA, and I admit I’ve never scored a large-scale acceptance speech, even though I’ve studied and practiced the various forms.

For example, we know that Oscar acceptance speeches are famously long-winded, thanks-wise. Enough said (except that enough is never said in one of these).

One of the best things about that MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant is that you don’t know you’re in the running until you get it, so your reaction is pretty much pre-written.

“This came totally out of the blue and I can’t believe I was even up for it. I’m stunned speechless. Love you mom!”

The shout-out to mom is important because there’s hardly anyone else to thank. It’s so much about YOU.

But the one global prize the members of ASWOA absolutely detest is the Forbes Most Powerful Person Prize, which went to Russian President Vladimir Putin this year for the second year in a row.

Why no love for this mighty sounding accolade?

Because winners of the FMPPP rarely give an acceptance speech of any kind. To understand why, all you have to do is take a look at the draft I wrote for Putin last year:

“Me getting this means the world finally recognizes what I’ve known for a long time. I’m awesome! So to pretend I’m grateful would be counter-productive.
After all, you can only be the Most Powerful Person if every other person is weaker, right? How can I thank anyone for that? Does a mountain thank the prairie for being flat? I don’t think so. For me to credit anyone for my greatness would make me less than them, thus disqualifying me for the award I just received.
So there’s no way I can accept this award, because I already had it long before you realized I am the winner! And only by being a complete jerk about it can I clearly indicate to you that I totally deserve to be The Most Powerful Person in the World, and that with the announcement of this award I am simultaneously delighted and completely and thoroughly bored out of my mind.”

Not only did Putin not give this wonderful acceptance  speech I wrote for him, he wrote back and told me I was a worthless little worm who was destined to do his bidding, or die trying.

Of course I took that in the way it was intended – as the highest possible compliment.

Who is the most powerful person in your world?