• Books
  • “You need to ask smaller questions”

    With every turn of the page of Humans of New York: Stories I was reminded of that saying “Be kind; everyone is fighting a great battle.” The micro stories that accompany each photo are fascinating. And must reading for anyone who is a writer.

    My favorite photos are the “microfashion” ones of toddlers in adorable attire.

    My favorite story might be the one on page 326:

    “I’m a neuroscience researcher.”
    “If you could give one piece of advice to a large group of people, what would it be?”

    “Listen to your inner voice.”

    “You’re a scientist. Isn’t ‘inner voice’ a spiritual term?”

    “Bullshit! You’ll hear scientists talking about following their inner voice as much as you’d hear a musician or priest.”

    “So how do you know which of your thoughts are your true inner voice?”

    “All of them are! The question is – how much weight do you give them? How much authority do you give your own thoughts? Are you taking them seriously? Or are you sitting in front of the damn tube letting other people tell you what to think?”

    “Studying the brain is like working in a toy store. Nothing could be more fucking fun.”

    “What do you think is the greatest weakness of the brain?”

    “That’s a lousy question! I’m not answering it.”

    “Why is it a lousy question?”

    “What do you want me to say? Road rage? That we get pissed and shoot people? That the newest parts of our brain should have been in the oven a little longer? How’s that going to help you? If you ask a crappy question, you’ll never get a decent answer. You need to ask smaller questions – questions that give you a pathway to finding some pertinent information. The major advances in brain science don’t come from asking crappy questions like, “What is consciousness?” They come from microanalysis. They come from discovering pertinent information at the cellular level.”

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  • Books
  • On becoming a “dedicated spirit,” falling in love with a work, and the marriage of marriages

    David Whyte is my favorite poet because he also understands the corporate and business world and brings his poetry into business workshops. In his book The Three Marriages: Reimagining Work, Self and Relationship he describes how we have the ability to fall in love with another person, a work, and even ourselves.

    On becoming a dedicated spirit:

    “…we reach a certain threshold where our freedom to choose seems to disappear and is replaced by an understanding that we were made for the world in a very particular way and that this way of being is at bottom nonnegotiable. Like the mountain or the sky, it just is. […]The only question is whether you will respond, whether you will not turn away, whether you will turn toward it – whether, in effect, you will become a dedicated spirit.”
    We put so much emphasis on finding our calling or vocation when in reality our work often finds us:
    To glimpse our vocation, we must learn how to be sought out and found by a work as much as we strive to identify it ourselves. We must make ourselves findable by being seen; to do that we must hazard ourselves and make ourselves available to the world we want to enter. Finding and being found is like a mutual falling in love. To have a possibility of happiness we must at the beginning fall in love at least a little with our work. We can choose a work on a mere strategic, financial basis, but then we should not expect profound future happiness as a result.”
    He uses Robert Louis Stevenson as an example in the marriage section of the book, which is the only downside of the book, as Stevenson doesn’t interest me much. But Whyte’s insights on marriage are well worth reading:
    “Marriage is where we realize the other person actually is alive and has notions and desires that have very little to do with our own hopes and dreams. Marriage is where we have to be larger than the self who irst made the vows. Marriage is where we learn self-knowledge; were we realize that arts of our own makeup are stranger even than the stranger we have married and very dificult for another person to live with…Marriage is where al of these dificult revelations can consign us to imprisonment or help us become larger, more generous, more amusing, more animated participants in the human drama.”
    I really enjoyed his use of Jane Austen as a example of how to write even if you have less than ideal conditions for writing. If you are a writer Whyte pretty much eliminates any possible excuse you have for not writing:

    The greatest, most prized excuse for a writer is the lament over our lack of time in which to write. It is a false and paper-thin defense against another more difficult, underlying dynamic: The inability to have the will to find the time. It is quite sobering to find with experience that if we write only a hundred words a day – a normal paragraph – we will have a book of ninety thousands words in three years. Three years is about the average time for a good prolific writer to produce a new work, given that the first year is often spent not writing at all, the second year telling ourselves that we must write, and the third in a gradually increasing frenzy building up to perhaps three or four thousands words a day.

    The sober truth is that any of us can find the time to write a book, no matter the schedule of unstoppable events in our life. Finding the part of us that wants to write the book is a different matter altogether.

    Indeed.

    Finally, I appreciate how he looks at the work/life/relationship balance in a different and more nuanced way. The “marriage of marriages” as he calls it:

    “…the need to live in multiple contexts, multiple layers and with multiple people all at the same time without choosing between them. A kind of spiritual and imaginative multitasking.”

     

     

  • Email Copywriting
  • Why an email is like a mustard seed

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    As Seth Godin likes to remind us, small is the new big.

    Jesus had the idea first:

    “The kingdom is like a mustard seed that a person planted in his field. It’s the tiniest of all the seeds, but when it matures it’s the largest of the garden plants and becomes a tree.”

    A mustard seed is so tiny you could easily overlook it.

    Yet Jesus chose this as an image for describing a kingdom

    Email is easy to overlook too.

    Sales letters and VSLs get so much attention.

    But a single email and blog post, sent one by one, builds rapport and trust, and yields more fruit than a sales letter.

    In thinking of my own freelance email copywriting experience, I recall two times I wrote an unsolicited email for free for two prospective clients, who then went on to hire me for many projects.

    There was the time I left a comment on a John Carlton blog post, buried way near the bottom of 100+ comments, yet a few years later a prospective client came across it and hired me for a project.

    Those little seeds add up.

    If you were looking for an image for your own business, a mustard seed might not be the thing that would immediately come to mind.

    But it’s those tiny mustard seeds that will entirely transform your business.

    If you’d like 52 of my mustard seeds, you’re invited to my A Year of Email Copywriting course.

  • Humor Columns
  • You’re not my friend if you don’t repost this

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    Yes, I write humor columns too. This Humor Me column originally appeared in the Herald-Independent on March 10, 2016.

    In all my years on Facebook, I’ve never posted one of those chain Facebook statuses. But who am I to pass up an opportunity to be slightly passive aggressive? It’s time to get off my high horse and come up with some posts. Here goes:

    Please put this as your status if you, or a middle-aged woman you know, have worn makeup in a desperate attempt to look more youthful, only for your face to break out like a teenager’s in return. This is not the type of youthful look you wanted. There is still no known cure for this cruelest of ironies. Many won’t copy and paste this. I did. Will you?

    Unfriend me if I’m wrong. But all of us have a thousand wishes. To be thinner, to have more money, more days off or maybe just to scroll through our Facebook feed and not see political posts. Office workers everywhere have only one wish: to not freeze at our desks every working day of the year and never again here the dismissive words “Just put on a sweater.” Wearing cardigans in mid-July sucks! I know that 97 percent of you won’t broadcast this, but my friends will be the 3 percent that do.

    I don’t normally do this kind of status update, but this one seemed too important to ignore: After all these years of being online, too many videos still auto-play when you bring up a web page, as if this was 1990s Internet. If you, too, have been the victim of an assault of unwelcome audio when browsing the Internet in the middle of the night during a fit of insomnia, or while attempting to surreptitiously check your phone during a boring lecture or meeting, then copy and paste into your status and leave it there for one hour.

    On April 1, 2016, Facebook will change your privacy settings and will own all the media you have ever posted, such as your pet videos and vacation photos, and even including your daily memories status updates from five years ago that nobody wants to read again. To stop this from happening go to Settings > Emotional State > Paranoia > Off.

    Send this column to 10 people in the next 10 minutes or next time I will become even more passive aggressive and start vaguebooking, which I can’t go into right now, because I haven’t felt like this in a while, but I’ll post more information soon.