Saturday, December 3, 2016

Three Thoughts In Response to Mary Roach's Packing For Mars

The full title of this book is Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void. I listened to the audio version of the book while commuting this past eight or ten days. I picked up the book because the topic of a manned mission to Mars has gained a lot of interest in recent years, inspired in part by Buzz Aldrin's passion along these lines and Elon Musk's enthusiasm for this project. Films like The Martian have not diminished the dream either.

But having read more than a few books about the astronaut program over the years, I've repeatedly wondered who in their right mind would want to undertake such a trip? Mary Roach's painstakingly researched collage of details regarding all that is involved with regard to eating, peeing, pooping, bathing and sleeping only serve to affirm what I've intuited all along. It just feels like a most horrid adventure from the outset.

The aim of today's blog post is to share three conclusions I've deduced from reading this book.

First, is Mary Roach's aim in writing Packing For Mars to inform us of the challenges or to dissuade us from actually imagining this is a worthwhile undertaking?

Second, did David Foster Wallace create a new mania for footnotes?
This past month I read Tom Wolfe's The Kingdom of Speech and I couldn't help but notice the preponderance of footnotes in the text. I had never noticed this in Wolfe's work before, having read The Painted WordElectric Kool-Aid Acid Test, The Right Stuff as well as Mauve Gloves & Madmen, Clutter & Vine.  Ms. Roach has an absolute ball with her footnotes, and it makes me wonder if David Foster Wallace really did pull a Hemingway on modern lit. That is, he's certainly appeared to have left some fingerprints. Check out his essay on cruise ships, A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again. More than 130 footnotes in a single essay. It's a stylistic coup.

Third, I couldn't help but wonder, is our discomfort in talking or joking about body functions a particularly American thing. I've read and heard that more primitive cultures have no qualms about making jokes about passing gas and other topics that tend to make us squeamish. Mary Roach holds nothing back. When you look at the subject matter of her other books, you might conclude she's building a reputation on this "insolence."

The Amazon.com book description reads as follows:
Space is a world devoid of the things we need to live and thrive: air, gravity, hot showers, fresh produce, privacy, beer. Space exploration is in some ways an exploration of what it means to be human. How much can a person give up? How much weirdness can they take? What happens to you when you can’t walk for a year? have sex? smell flowers? What happens if you vomit in your helmet during a space walk?

Many of the reviews are five stars, but this one by Rex Xala seemed to more accurately coincide with my personal feelings about this exploration:

Combine equal parts of Sylvia Branzei's 'Grossology' and the Bathroom Readers' Institute's 'Uncle John's Bathroom Reader' series, make mention of something coming out of (or going into) the anus in nearly every chapter, add a thin pretext of future Mars expeditions, then glaze it over with stories of Astro-chimp masturbation and prehensile dolphin penises - Voila! - You now have an idea of what to expect from Mary Roach's 'Packing for Mars.' (Be sure to wash it all down with a nice chilled glass of charcoal filtered urine - Ms. Roach describes this beverage as "sweet...restorative and surprisingly drinkable" - Yum).

Xala does soften his edge with this follow up statement:

Do you believe we will one day be colonizing Mars?
Okay...perhaps the aforementioned description of 'Packing for Mars' is hyperbolic and a little bit unfair. To her credit, Ms. Roach seems to have put forth painstaking efforts in her research (she also includes long, ancillary foot notes on almost every page of her book). Moreover, through her emails and interviews with cosmonauts, astronauts, NASA personnel, etc., she manages to coax some rather candid information about seldom discussed issues/problems associated with space travel (e.g., personal hygiene, lavatory practices, sexual activity, etc.) Parts of this book were truly insightful, and from that perspective, I say "kudos" to Ms. Roach for her efforts.

This latter paragraph does a good job of indicating how anal Ms. Roach can be about her devotion to detail. If you are a writer, you will readily grasp that she has done an immense amount of research here. She clearly found ways to gain access to things most people would never have attempted to find, such as logs of all the astronauts conversations. She didn't stop there. Her sleuthing through cosmonaut history proved equally enlightening. Why did NASA first send monkeys into space whereas the Russians sent dogs? Ms. Roach answers this question and many others that you may have never thought to ask.

At the end of the day I appreciated the information packed into this well-researched volume. In the event that my friends or children of friends become mesmerized with the notion of planting their feet on Mars one day, I will feed them this dose of reality. At least they will know what they're getting into. It won't be pretty, though it will undoubtedly be historic.

Meantime, life goes on.... 

Friday, December 2, 2016

The Power of the Poetic: Poet Laureates Local & Global

FRIDAY NIGHT  LIGHT

It came in the mail today and I'm listening now to my newest Dylan CD, The Real Royal Albert Hall 1966 Concert! (Exclamation point in the title.) It has become apparent that with the Nobel Prize announcement everything Mr. Dylan has ever done is being revisited and being amped up in importance. 2016 is the 50th anniversary of a major year in the young poet performer's life. From a marketing point of view, one could not possibly ask for a more powerful endorsement of one's career than the Nobel Prize which was announced in October, to be celebrated next weekend.

The Wall Street Journal today published a front page story about this event with the title Bob Dylan Is Blowin' Everybody Off, But Minnesotans Don't Mind.  I like the way they used the word Blowin' which hearkens back to Mr. Dylan's second album The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan and its opening cut "Blowin' in the Wind."

This alone shows the power of Dylan's music and influence. Can you imagine a Wall Street Journal article in the 1960's that would headline a story with the slang Blowin' or Changin' or anything so anti-establishmentarian?

Dylan has spent a lifetime knocking the masters of war, haranguing the rednecks who pummeled Emmett Tell, denouncing the pathetic murderers of Medgar Evers and Hattie Carroll... and has now been endorsed and recognized as an important voice for our world in our time.

In Our Time was the title of Ernest Hemingway's first published book of short stories, another American winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. Whatever people think of the man himself (he has his detractors) his influence and impact on the direction of literature is indisputable. For me personally, In Our Time was a life-changing experience. In the same way, as has been previously noted by John Bushey and many others, Dylan had a similar influence and impact on rock and roll, the signature sound of the Sixties.

All this to say, yes, Mr. Dylan is worthy of this recognition and honor. He has been more than a songwriter, more than a performer. His presence has made a difference that will extend far beyond his moment in time.

* * * *

In our local community poetry has emerged to become a surprisingly vibrant feature of the Duluth arts scene. That a Nobel Laureate was born here may be a contributing variable in the equation, or maybe there's just something in the water.

This Sunday there will be a ceremony and inaugural reading by the incoming Duluth Poet Laureate Ellie Schoenfeld at the Peace United Church of Christ. I for one have been a longtime fan of Ms. Schoenfeld's pointed and inventive turns of phrase.

Here's a piece from her most recent collection titled The Dark Honey.

Taking It Off

Some years are just
one hair shirt layered onto another,
each one doing its best
to fuse with skin.

Now is the time
I will finally peel them off,
a slow psychological striptease.
I examine each one only briefly
then throw it
onto an enormous fire,
that original bonfire
fueled by grace and forgiveness,
by the bones
of a thousand other troubles.
Its tongues of flame
sing torch songs and the blues, praises
for every dull, flawed, and disastrous thing.
Its flames lick and illuminate wounds,
leave smoke and spark and new mirrors.


Finally the last one comes off.
I stand here
naked and perfect.
Just like you.
Just like everyone.

* * * *

Meantime, life goes on all around you. Open your eyes.

A Visit with Tracy Maurer, Author of 100+ Books and Still Going Strong

I first met Tracy Maurer twelve years ago when she came to the Twin Ports to donate her book about snocross to the Superior Public Library. It was the first of several picture books on various action themes designed to attract boys to books, I suspect. Muscle Cars, Monster Trucks, Limousines, Lowriders and Desert Racers were all products of this series. For me, I had enjoyed getting the opportunity to verify facts, and in some cases provide a few photos. The first of these was titled Snocross, and it became a media event that included an AMSOIL snocross racer, the author and the local press.

We stayed in touch in part because I have a lot of respect for writers who are actually writing and not just jawboning. Tracy has a great spirit and I suspect her editors enjoy working with her because she's committed to meeting deadlines, works hard, is conscientious about quality, and is a great PR weapon. By this I mean, she genuinely enjoys going into the schools to share her passions with young people. It's real, not artifice.

After you finish reading the interview, check out some of the books she's written. You might find some Christmas gift ideas for sons or daughters, nieces and nephews. Her two latest books won't be out till spring, but don't let that stop you from checking out her other titles.

EN: Is this really your 100th book? What are you doing to celebrate this occasion?

Tracy Nelson Maurer: My writing projects include many books for the education market. Those publishers tend to release several nonfiction books at a time in a series, which is why I have more than 100 titles to my credit. For example, I recently published three books on maps for the education market, including Using Road Maps and GPS, Using Economic and Resource Maps, and Using Topographic Maps. For the retail market, I’m looking forward to several book-launch events for John Deere, That’s Who! (Henry Holt, March 2017) and Noah Webster’s Fighting Words (Millbrook, April 2017).

EN: It's really fun how you have Noah Webster injecting himself into the story, making comments and such. Where did the idea for this kind of treatment come from?

TNM: At the New York Public Library’s Rare Book and Manuscripts Division, I found a small, yellowed newspaper clipping of an article written by Noah’s granddaughter. She claimed that he would often go back and edit his work with a red pencil, even 50 years after it was published. He just couldn’t help himself. That was more than a tidbit! It launched the idea of Noah editing my manuscript, which turned into a major revision and, eventually, made it a better book.

EN: Has book production become easier over time? When did you feel like you were getting into your stride?

TNM: I’d love to tell you it’s a breeze now. It’s not. Every book presents its own challenges and rewards.

EN: Are all of your books for young people or have you done any writing of adult non-fiction?

TNM: Young readers are tough critics with bouncy attention spans and boundless curiosity. They’re great! And frightening! To help me do my best work for them, I earned a Master of Fine Arts in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Hamline University in St. Paul. Studying with award-winning authors on the faculty there gave me insights and skills that I apply to all of my writing now, including books, websites, and marketing work. Along the way, I’ve written three nonfiction books for adults that were essentially community marketing tools and I’ve edited several other publications for adults, too. But, kids? They’re where my heart is.

EN: It's amazing how many stories there are to tell. So many interesting people in the world both now and in the past. How did John Deere, That's Who! come about?

TNM: Isn’t it great to learn about the incredible things people have accomplished? Fun facts seem to trigger book ideas for me. A while ago, I co-authored a book about John Deere tractors with Rod Beemer, a tractor expert. That’s when I learned that John Deere did not invent the tractor (he died 30 years or so before the first “traction machine”). However, he did invent a better plow, and that changed America forever—definitely a story worth telling.

EN: Of all your books, which have been your favorites?

TNM: Come on! That’s like asking which of your children is your favorite! Honestly, my favorite book is the next one I’m working on…whatever it is…. because I’m happiest when I’m writing.

EN: When Noah Webster comes out, where will people be able to find it?

TNM: Watch for Noah Webster’s Fighting Words and John Deere, That’s Who! at your local independent bookseller or online retailer.

* * * *
You can follow stay in tune to Tracy Maurer's career by bookmarking her website, www.tracymaurerwriter.com or signing up for her newsletter there on her home page.

FAQs: When Tracy Maurer goes into schools to talk about her books and their various themes, she routinely leaves time for a Q&A at the end. Here's a page full of other typical questions she is asked, and her answers. Just in case you, too, had an inquiring mind that wanted to know.

* * * *
Meantime, life goes on all around you. Make a difference. 

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Twin Ports Arts Scene: December Happenings

Un-Typing Casta at the Tweed
Hard to believe it's December already. Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday have passed, but My guess is that your Christmas shopping has only just begun.

Well, quite a few of this month's arts activities will give you a chance to work through your gift lists. We have oodles of local artisans making items that are perfect as stocking stuffers to wearable art and functional art. Lift the spirits of loved ones and support the local arts simultaneously.

I'd like to begin here with a shout-out to Esther Piszczek who assembles much of the info I use on these monthly postings. Thank you. And if you have not seen her Zentangled piano and the story of its creation, visit this link to the 17-minute documentary Life and Art Entangled.

Now, for the List.
(EdNote: I am using colored fonts for eye candy. Live links are blue, like the one above.)

Pepperkakebyen, Duluth's Gingerbread City
Saturdays and Sundays, 1-5 p.m., through December 11 at the Nordic Center, 21 N. Lake Avenue View this amazing collection of Gingerbread houses handmade in Duluth.

Get It Local Art & Gift Fair
Saturday, Dec 3, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. at Peace Church, 1111 N. 11th Avenue E.
This is one of many local art fairs filled with talented artisans and artists.

Duluth Art Institute's Free Family Day: Handmade Holidays
Saturday, Dec. 3, 11 a.m.-2 p.m.  This event will take place at their Lincoln Park location at 2229 W. 2nd Street. "Make unique handmade gifts and cards for your loved ones this season. Even the littlest of gift givers can get in on the fun. No registration necessary."

Lake Superior College Student Art Show - Opening Reception
Monday, Dec. 5, 5-7 p.m.
Lake Superior College, 2101 Trinity Road, S Building;
Show runs Dec. 5-7, as follows:
Monday, Dec. 5: 12 p.m.-8 p.m.
Tuesday, Dec. 6: 9 a.m.-8 p.m.
Wednesday, Dec. 7: 9 a.m.-8 p.m.

Brian Barber Art Opening
Thursday, Dec. 8, 6 p.m. @ Beaner's
I don't know anyone who doesn't enjoy the work of animator/illustrator Brian Barber.
With music by Jason & Veikko of Woodblind, Beaner's Central Coffeehouse, 324 N. Central Avenue.

2nd Fridy Art Crawl
Friday, Dec. 9, 6-8 p.m., 2nd Friday Art Crawl @ Duluth Fine Pianos, 305 E. Superior Street
Always a good place to stop on the 2nd Friday of the month if you are downtown. Esther P's home turf. There will be cookies for this festive evening surrounded by patterns and pianos.

Plys with Purpose @ the PROVE
Friday, Dec. 9, 4-7 p.m., The Prove Gallery is located at 21 N. Lake Avenue
"Plys With Purpose is Prøve Gallery’s third exhibition and silent auction of 30 crafted skateboard decks by local, national, and international artists all sharing one purpose, building skateboard parks in our communities."

Get to the Point: Awesome Art & Gift Fair
Saturday, Dec. 10, 10 a.m.-3 p.m.,  Lafayette Square, Park Point, 3026 Minnesota Avenue

Textiles for Body & Mind
Erika Mock's studio is open the next two Fridays till Christmas. 4701 Cooke Street in Lakeside. While you're in the neighborhood, stop in at the Lakeside Gallery at 4431 East Superior Street where you find Aaaron Kloss's landscape paintings and plenty more. (Including a few of my pieces. You can also find my art a the children's book A Remarkable Tale from the Land of Podd at Goin' Postal in Superior.)

Winter Moon Holiday Boutique
Saturday, Dec. 17, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Zeitgeist Arts Atrium, 222 E. Superior Street
This is another one that is becoming a tradition, like the gingerbread houses and the Plys with Purpose. I think I've purchased something here every year they've done this. It will be the week before Christmas and if you haven't finished shopping, it's the last weekend you will have free.
Artists this year include:
Esther Piszczek of E.P. Designs, patterned cards, playing cards, puzzles, silk scarves, ceramics;
Patty Salo Downs of Miina Designs, felted scarves, bags, clothing;
Sally Cavallaro of Sally Cavallaro Designs, silver jewelry;
Mary Reichert of Otlak Felt Studio, felted scarves, bags, and rugs;
Natalijia Walbridge of Dock 5, custom screen printed canvas bags;
Barb Collette of Stained Glass by Collette, stained glass ornaments and art;
Lila Boehland of Lila Felt Creative, felted landscapes, bracelets, ornaments;
Annemarie Gorham of Lake Superior Beach Glass, beach glass jewelry, and
Heidi Ash of 185 Chocolat. (Heidi's chocolates exemplify the expression, "something to die for." They are that that yummy.)

There are number of new books from locals this year. Lucie Amundson's story about their plucky business Locally Laid came out this spring. It's vibrates with life and insights about life and business.
Patterned Peace, by Esther Piszczek, CZT, published by Whole Person Associates, Duluth is available on Amazon.com and The Bookstore at Fitgers. Original, hand-drawn artwork ready to color. Includes full pattern index.

If you get over to Superior there's always art to see at the Red Mug Coffeehouse, and a Christmas Village of artists kitty-korner akross the street where you can enjoy hot chocolate and more works by local artisans. Open on weekends. There's also plenty of art to see and purchase at Art on the Planet, 1413 Tower Avenue, Superior, WI (new name / new location -- adjacent to Wine Creations.) There's parking in the back.

If you're looking for gift ideas for newborns and infants, be sure to check out this Etsy shop, Picture Book Boutique. You don't have to live in the Twin Ports to get there. Original creative expressions for baby showers and Christmas.

Last note: the Tweed and the Duluth Art Institute both have some great exhibits right now. Check 'em out while you're out and about.

Meantime, may your December be one to remember.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Nobel Echoes: Bob Dylan Is Second Writer From Duluth to Receive Nobel Prize in Literature

Gabe Rubin in front of Dylan's boyhood home in Duluth.
This week a journalist from the Wall Street Journal flew into town to gather material for a story on Bob Dylan's home town's, to appear next week on the day the Prize is to be officially awarded, December 10. Dylan fans come from all walks of life, from knighted university professors to Pulitzer Prize winning authors so it should not have been a surprise to find WSJ's Gabriel Rubin to be so thoroughly enthused by the assignment he acquired, to do a first-hand research on Dylan's roots here in the Northland.

Before heading to Hibbing, Mr. Rubin met with several members of the Duluth Dylan Fest committee and long-time Duluthians Steve Goldfine and Craig Grau. The latter two shared several stories and insights I'd not heard before, so I took notes and did a lot of listening. Afterward, we gave Mr. Rubin a tour of the various points of interest related to our theme.

One of the items that came from the encounter was a new realization about a Sinclair Lewis-Bob Dylan connection I'd never recognized before. It's only natural that I'd not previously had this thought because up until this fall Bob Dylan had not yet been honored with a Nobel Prize.

What Mr. Grau highlighted for our guest was that Duluth was not only the home town for Bob Dylan for a season, but was also home town for another Nobel Prize winner, Sinclair Lewis, who lived here in the mid-1940s. Once you recall that Dylan was born in Duluth in 1941, it doesn't take much figgerin' to notice that Lewis -- the first American to win a Nobel Prize for Literature -- was here in the Zenith City at the very same time.

When Sinclair Lewis won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1930, he was the first American ever to do so, the award mainly a result of his novel "Babbitt" (1922) set in the fictional city of Zenith, which happens to be a popular nickname of our Northland home town.*

Lewis was born in Sauk Centre, Minnesota in 1885. He received his accolades from the Nobel Prize committee in 1930 at the age of 45. Many people are unaware that in his fifties Lewis moved to Duluth and lived here at 26th Avenue East and 2nd Street for a few years in the 1940s. The book he wrote while living here, Kingsblood Royal, happened to be a book about race.

A book about race while living in Duluth in the 1940s? Only 25 years earlier Duluthians broke into the jail and lynched three black workers from a travelling circus that was in town that summer. This incident, is re-painted in Dylan's haunting Desolation Row's opening lines, "They're selling post cards of the hanging.... the circus is in town." Anyone else hearing an echo?

* * * *
The Wikipedia entry on Sinclair Lewis begins...

Harry Sinclair Lewis (/ˈluːɪs/; February 7, 1885 – January 10, 1951) was an American novelist, short-story writer, and playwright. In 1930, he became the first writer from the United States to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature, which was awarded "for his vigorous and graphic art of description and his ability to create, with wit and humor, new types of characters." His works are known for their insightful and critical views of American capitalism and materialism between the wars. He is also respected for his strong characterizations of modern working women. H. L. Mencken wrote of him,"[If] there was ever a novelist among us with an authentic call to the trade ... it is this red-haired tornado from the Minnesota wilds."

A little further down Wikipedia describes the nature of Lewis' writings.

In 1930, Lewis won the Nobel Prize in Literature, the first writer from the United States to receive the award, after he had been nominated by Henrik Schück, member of the Swedish Academy. In the Academy's presentation speech, special attention was paid to Babbitt. In his Nobel Lecture, Lewis praised Theodore Dreiser, Willa Cather, Ernest Hemingway, and other contemporaries, but also lamented that "in America most of us—not readers alone, but even writers—are still afraid of any literature which is not a glorification of everything American, a glorification of our faults as well as our virtues," and that America is "the most contradictory, the most depressing, the most stirring, of any land in the world today."

And in this description of the novelist I hear echoes of Dylan's "It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)" and other songs, which is why so many disenfranchised young people of the Sixties so resonated with Dylan's music.

* * * *
Dylan tribute on the elevator doors in the lobby of the downtown Holiday Inn.
History is about people, times and places. The people in this instance are Nobel Prize winners from Duluth who shared this town for a brief space of time. The houses where they lived remain, even if the now famous residents have moved on.

If you're taking notes, be sure to review them next May before Duluth Dylan Fest. At least one detail here will be the answer to a question in our Trivia Contest on the first evening of the week.

EdNote: The Hibbing Dylan Project wants everyone to know that Will Call tickets are still available for the December 10 Nobel Laureate Reception at the Androy Hotel. Details here.

EdNote 2: Be sure to pick up a Wall Street Journal, December 10. It might make for a good collectible if you're a Dylan fan.

EdNote 3: Breaking News. The info in EdNote 2 is incorrect. Due to a schedule change, the article will go online tonight and appear in print in tomorrow's Wall Street Journal.

Meantime, life goes on all around you.

*A silly aside: Whether you look at history backward or forward, these two American Nobel Prize for Literature winners are first and last to receive it, and both from Duluth. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Richard Bolles' Three Boxes of Life

You only live once. How much of what you do each day determined by the paradigm you are living in? How many of your life decisions were made by uncritically accepting certain premises that you adopted uncritically?

I am not suggesting that we start every day from scratcch trying to make all our decisions in the now, as we go along. Your thoughts would run haywire. Do I get up or stay in bed? Do I get dressed? What should I wear? Should I eat or not eat? Where should I eat? Should I eat with my fingers this morning instead of the usual way? Should I eat on the floor or on a seat by the door? Should I eat standing up at the counter?

When the alarm interrupts my sleep I turn it off and begin my day. Habits like that are O.K. That's how we keep going. These are not the life decisions I'm referring to anyways.

Rather, I am thinking about the internal picture we carry around in or heads, consciously or unconsciously, of what a normal life map looks like.

You may know Richard Nelson Bolles as the author of What Color Is Your Parachute?, the job-hunting manual that has helped gazillions of job seekers get re-connected to the employment force over the past four decades. In 1996 the Library of Congress names his book one of the 25 top books that has changed peoples' lives. (You can read more about him here.) His sequel to this annually updated job hunt manual was The Three Boxes of Life.

Here's what one of the reviewers at Amazon.com wrote:

I first read this book when it had been out only a few years, and it turned my head around. I had been brought up, like most children of the 'fifties, to think of life as a series of rigidly defined serial roles: first you were a student, then you were a worker, and finally you retired and got to do all the fun things you'd been putting off for the past 40-odd years. Having worked my way through graduate school, and done a bit of traveling in the process, I of course knew how artificial these distinctions were -- but I still tended to feel vaguely guilty about my "immature" lifestyle and rebuke myself for not "settling down" like a Real Grownup was "supposed to." Bolles set me straight -- in fact I was doing a pretty good job of balancing growth, work, and leisure in my life, and had nothing to be ashamed of. My subsequent work history has borne out the wisdom of his advice: I've been happiest and most productive when my life achieves that same balance; the most miserable time of my life was the nine-year period when I succumbed to the siren song of Silicon Valley and became a money-obsessed workaholic. This is a terrific book, and one that bears rereading every few years, especially when you feel your life slipping out of balance.

Here's another:

Bolles' What Colour is Your Parachute? has, in the short time since its release, become a classic in how to find a job. The Three Boxes is a related but rather different work. The author takes on the broader issues of life planning, which includes not only career, but also educational and personal planning. In some ways, this book is a rebuttal to the traditional college/career/retirement paradigm by showing that people don't have to (and, for that matter, won't even if they wished to) live their lives in the traditional career path straitjacket. The tone of the work is thoughtful but practical. A lot of self-help oriented material nowadays seems to focus on mustering your potential to achieve your dreams. These works have their place, but they fail to answer a preliminary question--how does one know what one wants from life?

The Three Boxes is about the task of actually figuring out what you want, and then implementing what you want. It's remarkably free of needless fluff about the inner person, while filled with practical ideas on "breaking out" of the "traps" of modern career life. This is a book to own. It's an easy and thought-provoking read, presented in light style with interesting graphics.

We all have a picture in our heads of what a "normal" life should look like. Bolles' book aims to provide a more balanced view, and one that is psychologically more fulfilling and healthier.

Bolles's books are an extension of his life mission, which was devoted to helping others in one of the most important areas of life: understanding who we are and being all we're meant to be.

Here's a page of R. N. Bolles quotes from the Brandon Gaille blog. I myself encountered him through an interview in Radix magazine back in the '70s. The interview impressed me at the time because it was clear his religious beliefs formed a foundation for his worldview, but he was engaged in work that focused on an extremely important area of life success: finding employment stability and meaningful work. 40 years later and it's apparent that he has never deviated from that mission.

May your day be immersed with good energy as you move through your paces and do all you set about to achieve. 

Monday, November 28, 2016

A Rewarding Visit with Influential Writer/Entrepreneur Charles Chu, Including 4 Tips for Bloggers

I discovered the blog of Charles Chu by coming across an article he wrote about mental resilience and the techniques Navy SEALs use to develop it. The article struck me as not only useful, but engaging enough to make me want to explore more about the author. Its home was a blog with the intriguing title Market Meditations.

EN: Where did you grow up and how has your family influenced who you are?

Charles Chu: I was born in the United States to Chinese immigrant parents. My parents were extremely poor and came to the US in search of a better life. It's the classic immigrant story. I grew up with a Chinese cultural environment at home but a very American one everywhere else. There was always a sense of not belonging and not fitting in. That made me ask a lot of questions about human nature, how the world works, etc.

EN: How long have you been writing your Market Meditations blog? What was its original purpose and how has it evolved?

CC: Funny story. The original blog was meant to be about finance, particularly global macro trading. That's why the word "Market" is in the title. That was one of the dozens of failed experiments I've had.

The real blog (as you know it) has only been around for two months. I was answering questions on Quora, and I was surprised to find that over one million people read my answers in a single month! That was the proof I needed that people like the way I think. I take a different approach to challenges (both philosophically and technically), and that reflects in the success the blog is seeing.

EN: Where did your belief that "success can be engineered" originate?

CC: Few people know this, but I come from a mathematical background. I used to do math competitions in grade school. I've also dabbled in poker and equity trading. If you look at successful performers in this field (or any field), they share common philosophies and attributes. And when you study the failures, they tend to lack these same qualities.

Success in investing or gambling is typically attributed to "luck", but the best know that it is engineered. You can create conditions to maximize the probability of profit (or success, in our case). Afterwards, all that is left is to survive long enough for results to start coming in.

EN: Who are some of the great thinkers whose ideas you deconstruct and share?

CC: Anyone who inspires me. The blog hasn't been around that long, but I've looked at statesmen (like Ben Franklin), writers (like Isaac Asimov), marketers (like Seth Godin), and even Hedge Fund managers (like Stanley Druckenmiller).

EN: What was your method for generating blog traffic?

CC: I can't cover this in detail without several dozen pages, but let me outline the general concepts.

• I borrow traffic. I write 90%+ of my stuff off the blog. Why? Because posting things on a blog shows it to nobody (except for your existing readership). You have to find places where people gather, show your work to them and give them a way to come to your site.

• I don't use SEO. For new bloggers, SEO is like picking pennies in front of a steamroller. You can do hours and hours of research to target keywords that bring 100-200 readers a month. I could spend that time engineering a hit on Reddit, Quora or another social sharing site and bring in 10-20 thousand readers instead.

• I find the right audience for my work. If I write something about minimalism or frugality, I'm not going to promote it to an advertising channel. It's not my right audience. I write about what interests me. This tends to fall into several core categories. The rest is just about finding where those people gather and showing them your work.

• I don't network. One of my posts was recently featured on the NY Observer. The editor emailed ME to ask to republish it. All I have to do is focus on putting my work out in public and making it top 1% in quality. Why spend hours pitching editors and other bloggers with mediocre writing when I can put that time into making amazing writing that other people beg me to share?

EN: Excellent advice. What are your favorite topics to write about?

CC: I scratch my own itch. I have a long laundry list of exciting ideas, but here are some—entrepreneurship, human nature, cognitive science, philosophy, biohacking, movement, productivity, world travel, risk-taking, guerrilla marketing, learning languages... I could go on forever.

My advice to other writers: if you want interest, you need to be interesting. And if you want to be interesting, be interested first. There are millions of other wannabe writers out there. What makes you the best in the world at what you do?

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A lot of good suggestions here. Don't just read it. Ingest it and make it your own.