Monday, March 31, 2008

The Gas Can Incident

It’s Monday, my last day with my Mom and family in Emmaus, PA. I decide to run to the store to pick up a gas can because the two that she has both have issues (which we learned when my brother had run out of gas and needed a bit to get to the gas station.) The one does not have a cap so that if someone tipped it there would be a spill with potentially serious consequences, not the least of which might be a fire that destroys… well let’s not go there. The second gas can has no spout at all, so there is no way to pour the gasoline into a car engine.

Alas, I drove to Wal-Mart, parked and walked to the furthest corner of the supersized super store. Indeed there were red plastic gas cans, but upon inspection they were definitely changed from my own gas can. They had a spout that seemed too short to be effective, and also a springloaded method of holding the cap on while dispensing gas. But for some reason it seemed too complicated for me to understand. The instructions did not make sense to me and I asked for assistance getting an explanation. The customer service rep essentially said, “I’m not sure how it works, but this is all we sell now.”

I left the Wal-Mart seeking an auto parts store, hoping for a more suitable gas can for Mom. A few blocks down the road I stopped at the gas station to ask directions to nearest auto parts store so I could buy a gas can. “We sell gas cans,” the friendly woman behind the counter said while pointing to the lower shelf behind me.

I placed the gas can on the counter and looked at the dispensing tube. Like the Wal-Mart dispensing unit it was likewise complicated, but even more complicated than the Wal-Mart version. It had a double spring plus some kind of means of “locking” the spout before it would release gas. After reading the instructions I finally asked the two women there for help. The one said several times that her husband could explain it. I didn’t realize that he was there on the premises, so when she fetched him I thought I was making progress.

Unfortunately, despite the good intentions, he could not get the spout to lock properly, which meant you could not get the gasoline to come out. All the while I am wondering how to explain this to my mom or brothers. After thanking them, I went back to my original query… how to find an auto parts store.

From here I drove to Wenz Hardware where they had a shelf of gas cans in a range of sizes. I purchased a two gallon plastic can which appealed to me because it appeared less complicated… but after filling it, the lid leaked. While reading instructions, I also notice the label which read, NOT FOR USE FOR VEHICLES THAT GO ON THE ROADS. When I asked the gas station attendant where I could dispose of the gasoline, she said that was not possible. I did not think it wise to put the gas container in the trunk, which would spill and smell up my mother’s car. Nor could I risk putting it on the seat and holding it upright, which would likely also dribble a bit of gas smell into the car. So, I offered the free container of gas, filled, to the first guy in a truck who came along, believing he would not care about a little spilled gas. Sure enough, he took it.

I drove back to Wenz, and discovered that ALL of the gas cans had that message. What’s a car owner to do?

I’m not sure if this is a problem that Pennsylvania environmentalists have created or whether it is a national matter, but it does seem we’re going a bit far with government meddling. My guess is that the worst is yet to come.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Future Remains Unwrit

We're a complicated people,
a mixed and crazy breed.
We can always blame our parents,
for we're all of Adam's seed,
though in fact it changes nothing
and there's nothing guaranteed.
The future remains unwrit.

The species dreams a dream,
all bounds unspecified;
horizons stretch from berm to beam
with hearts can-opened wide;
though nothing makes much sense to us
there's much left to decide.
The future remains unwrit.

The grand and glorious grief
of heroes' anguish, spent
unwinding numb sensation,
reflecting inelegant
the image streams of crisis
without form, impermanent.
The future remains unwrit.

No matter how you cut it
there's a strange, weird story here.
Denials, accusations,
obfuscations, and veneer
--no final answers given,
all the songs sound insincere.
The future remains unwrit.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

A Few Quick Shots







A few quick shots from the New York International Auto Show. The future is unfolding here.

Automakers have all begun making moves toward greener transportation. A lot of technologies are being explored, but no one is certain what the future really holds in that direction. The only thing I know is that cars look sexy in the showroom. Hard to say what the marketplace will show us. There is plenty of work to be done in setting up new infrastructures. It will not be as simple as waving a magic wand.



Friday, March 28, 2008

Strength from the Void

What is it that gives a bowl its usefulness? It's the vacant space where there is no bowl, no substance. That's where you pour the cereal or the milk, or whatever.

What makes the wheel useful? The vacant space where the axle goes through.

A room is essentially a vacant area within a building. Imagine a doll house that was a solid block of wood with no spaces within the exterior walls. Kind of a strange picture, but you can probably grasp it. The vacant spaces enable a child to put doll furniture in place, and re-enact imaginary scenes.

Yeserday I spent the day in New York City. What a bundle of energy! I have to believe that to survive in such a place one needs to create voids, spaces to close oneself off from all that frenzy of human interaction.

In the business world it seems that computers and all this technology are not alleviating us from work to give us more time. Instead, we have more connections, more emails, voice mails, tisks and tasks and tusks twisting our time into a torrent of energy raining output.

In order to survive, we need to create voids, little spaces where we can hibernate, even briefly, to recharge our emotional batteries. Let's not be deceived into thinking that doing more and more is the way to accomplish more. The truth is sometimes counterintuitive. By doing less we may accomplish more because we are not just busy, but busy doing the right things.

Make sure you carve some space for yourself today. You'll be a better person for it, and will likely enjoy a longer, fuller life.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Where's Waldo?

My son was born in 1986. The Waldo books emerged in 1987. When we got Micah that first Where's Waldo?, searching for that skinny guy in the red and white striped sweater enthralled the whole family. Whether he three or four or five I have no recollection, but I do know that dad enjoyed it as much as the boy.
Well, on Easter Sunday I was driving my mom home from her winter digs in Tampa, and guess what? I now know where Waldo is. It's a town in Florida between Gainesville and Jacksonville. Here's a snapshot I captured as we were passing through.

Today I am in Pennsylvania. Tomorrow I take a bus into NYC for the New York International Auto Show. It will be a whirl of a day, returning late, and then waking to go with my three brothers to Bridgewater NJ where we went to high school and did most of our growing up.

Also being celebrated is my brother Don's 50th birthday. Half a century! That's a big one.

I doubt there will be access to blog the next few days, but hey, you can always go back to June or July for some fresh material.

Wherever you are and whatever you are doing today, make the most of it. And I hope you feel a little better now that you know where Waldo is.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

How Badly Do You Want To Be Free?

Recently watched Walk the Line again, a movie about the life of Johnny Cash up thru his marriage to June Carter. Here is a man who knew well the gritty side of life. Hard times in his childhood, with deep wounds. And hard times from bad choices as he wrestled with personal demons. Yet out of this inner turbulence there came some powerful songs and by the grace of God he became a survivor.

These past few days I’ve been driving my mom from her winter home in Tampa back to Pennsylvania. I often sing to myself to pass the time as we rack up the miles. Yesterday some Johnny Cash songs came up on the mental dial, and this one, San Quentin, really hit me.

I remember several decades ago hearing a song about our personal prisons which we make with our own hands, the consequences of our own choices. The prison was a metaphor for everything that snares.

While singing San Quentin these old thoughts rose up and I saw the song as an anthem, a starting point for liberation from addictions. Perhaps many of our problems stem from a lack of real motivation to change. We lack the willpower, the drive, the determination. Instead we make a mild effort and then lean back against the wall with a shrug.

It’s not until we have an abject hatred of our prisons, whether habits or addictions, that we will do what it takes, whatever it takes, to find freedom. Johnny Cash sang,

San Quentin, you've been livin' hell to me
You've hosted me since nineteen sixty three
I've seen 'em come and go and I've seen them die
And long ago I stopped askin' why

San Quentin, I hate every inch of you.
You've cut me and have scarred me thru an' thru.

Until we absolutely hate our prisons, we’ll just reside there making the best of it. That’s why movies like Cool Hand Luke, Runaway Train and Shawshank Redemption have such power. At the center of each story is an existential hero who will not submit to his fate. He is committed to one aim: freedom. “San Quentin, you've been livin' hell to me,” Johnny Cash wrote. What is it that is living hell for you? Maybe it’s time to do something about it.

If your problem is an addiction and your will power feels like wet toilet paper, you might find help through True You Recovery.




Don’t let your prison keep you from your dreams.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

More Eggplant Mysteries

Q: Why did the eggplant cross the road?

A: Nobody knows. That's why it's so scary. When, or if, anyone finds out, please let me know so I can post it here. There are a lot of people losing sleep about this problem.

PHOTO CAPTION: Nesting eggplant on forest floor in Central Florida. The eggplant is especially fond of Spanish moss. Please do not disturb. And if you come across nesting eggplants while hiking in Florida, please do not be disturbed. Most eggplants are generally harmless.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Floridians Alarmed By Growing Eggplant Violence

A battle has been raging in recent years between environmentalists and government leaders here in Florida regarding the rapidly increasing number of eggplant assaults. Yesterday’s death of a woman boater has officials under pressure to take action regarding the matter. The woman was killed by a head trauma after colliding with a flying eggplant off the coast of West Palm Beach.

Dr. Eldon Hoffman, an environmental advocate who has taken up the cause, insists the incident was accidental and that the flying eggplant struck the woman without malice. “It was simply a matter of wrong place, wrong time,” Hoffman stated. “The eggplant is an extremely gentle vegetable. Up until the past few years there have been very few instances where an eggplant will assault a human.”

Allison Nichols was riding in a boat at approximately 50 miles per hour when the flying eggplant struck her on the side of the head. The force of the impact killed her instantly.

Although media reports of such encounters appear to be rare, numerous phone calls to Florida news rooms indicate that eggplant attacks on humans have been rising significantly. Statistics reveal that in the ten years preceding 2000, there were approximately 1.4 eggplant assaults reported per year in Dade County. In 2007 there were 47 assaults reported in Dade and more than sixty in the communities surrounding Tampa Bay. This was the first known death caused by an eggplant.

Hoffman insists that more research should be undertaken to determine why Florida eggplants are going bad. Hoffman is currently lobbying the legislature for funding to determine the cause of this outbreak of violence in recent years. “The media is as much to blame as anyone,” said Hoffman. “They downplay the problem because they do not want to adversely affect tourism. If there were more stories on the situation, we could raise awareness and help fund the necessary research.”

Critics say Hoffman is going too far in his defense of the purple vegetable.

Hoffman, whose hobby farm outside Orlando includes eggplants, couch potatoes and a menagerie of small rodents, has long been considered a kook by his neighbors.

PHOTO CAPTION: Eggplant nesting on roof of a home near Sun City.

Is my fan here?

You gotta start somewhere. The bottom is usually a good place to start because it’s all up from here.

OK, let’s see a show of hands if you want to hear eggplant jokes?
My stage name is Eddie Danger. Most likely you will never see it in lights. And it's true I am probably not that funny for most of my waking hours. I have several friends who have an incredibly comic wit and at one time I wanted to write some funny material by sending one of them my sentences to see what kinds of comeback lines they'd produce.

As you walk into Side Splitters Comedy Club in Tampa, there is a large print of Charlie Chaplin, one of America's first famous funny men. I just finished watching the film Chaplin (about his life) and his classic Modern Times. Truly, he was an awesome performer.

I read that Johnny Depp studied Chaplin's films because he'd learned that Chaplin created comedy by using the tension of contradictions. Not only did the actor wear contradictory clothes (large shoes, baggy pants with a small tight coat) he also used his eyes in a contradictory manner. He would communicate the opposite emotion with his eyes from that which was on his face or opposite of what the scene required. Depp used this to great effect in his Pirates of Caribbean blockbuster.

So for my own opening I told a joke, communicating only with my eyes. It seems inevitable to get a response. Then a follow up line about messing up the timing on the punch line. As if there had been a punch line.

I have done it a couple times before and found it effective, but this time I had a recording device in my hand and was going to play a laugh track when I got to the theoretical punch line. It was a new twist on my opening, but instead of hitting the play button, I accidentally hit record. It was an oops moment an messed up the set up for the next line, but actually made for laughs, too, because I did not get flustered, acted as if it was intentional.

Maybe next time I'll get it right.

One thing I noticed is that five minutes goes very fast. Which means you have to do fast setups and keep your little routine moving forward.

A few lines about enlightenment, idealism, the current Democratic candidates, and the introduction of my eggplant wound up the show.

Gotta run. Take care, dream big and have a great day.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Carpe Diem

Of all sad words of tongue or pen,
The saddest are these:
It might have been. ~ Whittier


To my family's chagrin and horror, I have taken up an interest in stand up comedy. It's undoubtedly just a phase, but for the time being it has been personally rewarding to step up to the challenge. True, I am no Cosby or Steve Martin or George Carlin, but then again, they're not me either.

The photo here is yours truly, on stage, at Side Splitters Comedy Club in Tampa. I have no illusions about what I am doing, but each time I feel a bit more comfortable. Good warm crowd that seemed engaged.

Maybe you have a secret interest that you want to pursue. Writing poetry or songs, making sculpture, playing a new instrument, riding a motorcycle, taking up a new hobby, taking a trip to somewhere exotic, perform in a play... It all starts with a dream. And you'll never know where it ends till you give up.

It's your life. Make it happen.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

It's Your Move

To appreciate this ad you have to know a little about the fast oil change business. For years the oil companies recommended a 2,000 mile oil change interval. The reason was that oil was just a commodity and junky at that. Eventually, oil quality improved some with minimum standards encouraged by the API with the result that the 3,000 mile oil change became the norm.

There are problems with the 3K oil change, however. If you drive a lot, finding time for frequent oil changes is a hassle. Second, you simply create a lot of waste oil, as well as packaging waste, and filters which have no easy way to be drained. Huge mess and not good for the environment.

Nevertheless, the oil industry has done everything it can to keep oil drain intervals at 3,000 miles because it adds dollars to their bottom line. I have a quote in my drawer from the CEO of Pennzoil who said if he could get people to change at 2900 miles instead of 3,000, their company would make an additional 22-24 million dollars. Sounds to me like a statement that does not really reflect a concern for what is best for consumers or the environment.

General Motors several years ago stopped recommending a specified drain interval. Instead they installed an oil life monitor which sends a message to the dashboard when it is time to change oil. The "Change Oil" light may come on at 4700 miles or 7800 miles, or even 12,340 miles. It is based on an algorithm that analyzes you driving style and its impact on the oil's service life.

This ad here was directed toward businesses in the Do-It-For-Me oil change market. It addresses their biggest fear, that as oil change intervals lengthen they will see their customers less. AMSOIL offers a win-win-win solution. It's a win for motorists, for quick lubes, and for the environment. Much more could be said, but for that you'll need to visit the AMSOIL website.

What I Like: I realize this ad violates Ogilvy's rule about reverse type, but it is a compelling headline and image. The writing is tight and direct as well. What I really like is that I had no idea what the image should be for this ad. I wrote the copy, sent all the words, headline, etc. to Service Printers, and this is what came back. Seeing it was like opening a Christmas present. It's great to be part of a team, and in this case the Service Printers art department proved to be my ace in the hole. Thanks!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Motorcycle Ads

Quite a few years ago AMSOIL synthetic motor oils had reformulated two of its viscosities for motorcycles and indicated thus on the back of the label. When the front of the label proclaimed Motorcycle Oil, consumers snapped up the product like hotcakes. A great product will almost sell itself, but all the elements had yet to come together, though we were moving in the right direction.

When three years ago we introduced the Motorcycle Oil White Paper, things began to fall into place. We also introduced a new line of premium motorcycle oil and air filters, bumped the advertising up a notch and gave our Dealer network the ammunition they were craving in order to do battle on the front lines.

The ads here are three which I especially liked from this period.

1. You Ride. We Take Care of the Rest.
What I Like: Two things I especially like. First, the headline contains a strong promise that AMSOIL delivers on. The copy supports this and admonishes readers to take action: Find out for yourselves... Second, I also enjoyed conceiving the image at the heart of the ad. I was in my garage working on my car and saw the unpretentious layout with rag, ratchet set, products and tools. The next step was finding a location, which I accomplished with the assistance of award winning photographer Jeff Frey of Jeff Frey Photography.

2. Ride Hard, Run Cool
What I Like: I love the photo, courtesy Ron Nelson of Hot Bike Magazine (at the time) who sent me approximately 300 slides to sift through. Over light table with my lupe I was fully engaged, seeking the perfect image. This one just smacks of cool. Not sure who came up with the headline, or if I might have, but once I put it down it was set in stone. Headline, copy, image all work together to tell the story. The ad was popular enough to become a poster.

3. The Most Advanced Motorcycle Oil...
What I Like: I just really like a good photo of bikers out on the open road. Colleen Swartz of Digital Magic BigShots provided me a range of selections and this one seemed really fun because of the little kid on the back of the bike on the left. Turns out this was Colleen's son, who thus appeared in a number of national publications, which must have been especially fun for them.


Monday, March 17, 2008

Snowmobile Ads

Generally there's been a wall of separation between the topics in my blogspot and my professional activities. In point of fact, however, our lives work best when our profession is a harmonious extension of our selves. Our careers soak up so many of our waking hours that it seems anyone who is not plugged into a situation that they enjoy and that uses their natural abilities ought to seriously be looking for a different situation. At AMSOIL I've found a wonderful place to do what all of us desire to do, which is to "bloom where you are planted." I've been given the opportunity to really pour myself into my work, utilizing my writing and design skills as well as problem solving and marketing experience.

Yesterday's blog entry presented some of the ideas of David Ogilvy, a big influence on my development. Today's entry presents a few of the ads I've produced these past twelve years for AMSOIL, the leading independent manufacturer of synthetic motor oils, along with a few comments about each.

1. Secret of Our Success
This ad represents our early involvement in the extreme sport of WSA Snocross. Our very first year was challenging because ads that appear in mags for the snowmobile season are being developed in late summer. The very first year in the sport we really didn't have photos of our team.

The second year I was still unhappy about what I had to work. In addition, we had switched riders of the AMSOIL sleds. However, the local paper had sent a photographer to cover an autograph signing, and when I saw the photo I knew it was exactly what I wanted.

What I Like:
It is pretty much a standard layout, conveying the message with direct, logical arguments and traditional flow of ideas. Good writing, great photo. Count the AMSOIL logos in that photo!

What I Especially Like: When AMSOIL got involved in snocross. we were one of seventeen two stroke oil companies with 2-3% marketshare (according survey by Supertrax Magazine). within two short years the combined synergies of sponsoring a high profile snocross team along with the supporting advertising and the newly emerging internet resulted in significant sales growth, and 20% top of mind awareness, with continuous growth in sales and marketshare throughout these past ten years.

2. Faster, Higher, Farther
What I Like: Obviously not a lot of copy here, but even in its brevity it supplies plenty of information. Add the this a dramatic image that speaks more than its allotted thousand words... and you have something tantalizing for the eyes as well as the mind.


3. When it comes to performance...
OK, so the reverse type violates a principle underscored vociferously by Mr. Ogilvy, but I don't think it is so much copy that one would disregard it utterly. The copy itself is tight, says plenty in a few short sentences. It's clear what we're selling here. Two stroke oils for snowmobiles.

What I Like: The photo of D.J. Eckstrom is strikingly energetic, but that vivid image in the background has an almost haunting dramatic quality that I especially like. When I see this ad, I think of the song, "Ghost Riders In The Sky."

What I Especially Like: It makes a strong promise in the headline, and AMSOIL products deliver.

Special thanks to Service Printers of Duluth for their art department, whose contributions make my success possible.

CLICK ON IMAGE TO SEE FULL SIZE

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Ogilvy On Advertising

I have written several times about the value of mentors and heroes, mentioning many by name. One of the great men who has been influential in my advertising career is David Ogilvy whose first book, Confessions of an Advertising Man, changed my life. Then, in 1987 (can it really be two decades already?!!) I purchased this wonderful resource, Ogilvy On Advertising, at a bookstore in the belly of the World Trade Center in New York City. Anyone serious about advertising as a career should own a copy of this book, and study it like a Bible. For that matter, anyone who owns a business who is serious about the success of that business should own this book. It is a continuous spring of inspiration, and a perpetual prod to remain faithful to the high ideals which advertising ought to serve.

For the next several days -- if I can stay on task -- I aim to share some of my own work in advertising. But first, I wanted to tip the hat to the master in this field. Thank you, Mr. Ogilvy.

Notes and quotes from this book will hopefully encourage you to take the next step, which is to visit amazon.com or Barnes & Noble to place your order. This first one I used to have on my wall. It is eternally relevant for all who wish to influence. "When Aeschines spoke, they said, 'How well he speaks.' But when Demosthenes spoke, they said, 'Let us march against Philip.'"

Insights From Ogilvy

1. "I am sometimes attacked for imposing rules. Nothing could be further from the truth. I hate rules. All I do is report on how consumers react to different stimuli. I may say to a copywriter, 'Research shows that commercials with celebrities are below average in persuading people to buy products. Are you sure you want to use a celebrity?' You call that a rule?" ~ p. 8

2. "Big ideas come from the unconscious. This is true in art, in science and in advertising. But your unconscious has to be well informed, or your idea will be irrelevant." ~ p. 16

3. On Ambition: "Few copywriters are ambitious. It does not occur to them that if they tried hard enough, they might double the client's sales, and make themselves famous. 'Raise your sight!' I exhort them. 'Blaze new trails! Hit the ball out of the park!! Compete with the immortals!!!'" ~ p. 21

4. "At the start of your career in advertising, what you learn is more important than what you earn." ~ p. 31

5. "The best leaders are apt to be found among those who have a strong component of unorthodoxy in their characters. Instead of resisting innovation, they symbolize it -- and companies cannot grow without innovation." ~ p. 51

6. "With public opinion on its side, nothing can fail." ~ Abraham Lincoln

7. Research has found that "people who know a company well are five times more likely to have a favorable opinion of it." ~ p. 117

8. "The key to successful marketing is superior product performance... If the consumer does not perceive any real benefits in the brand, then no amount of ingenious advertising a selling can save it." ~ Ed Harness

9. "You can judge the vitality of a company by the number of new products it brings to market." ~ p. 167

10. "Some products which sell well without being advertised may sell better and make more profit with advertising." p. 168

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Glacial Speed

Which is faster: a snail, a glacier or a piece of government legislation passing through Congress?

A Snail’s Pace
Anyone who has seen a snail slime across the driveway knows that snails do not really sprint. Nevertheless, for amusement, there have been snail races conducted here and there throughout history. The world’s fastest snail has been enshrined in the Guinness Book of World Records. At the 1995 World Snail Racing Championship, in Longhan England, a garden snail named Archie tackled the 13 inch circular course in a mere two minutes twenty seconds. Imagine how fast he could have gone had he not had to brake for the turns!

By comparison, you’ll be impressed to discover that even the slowest snails move faster than glaciers. Archie reached a maximum velocity of 0.092 inches/second which means that he could speed across a ten foot wide driveway in 1304.34 seconds or just under 22 minutes. If you think 22 minutes is like a long time to travel ten feet, consider how fast (or slow) glaciers tend to move in the same time period.

Glaciers are essentially enormous rivers of ice. Alpine glaciers are found in mountainous terrain where great quantities of snow fall. The snow gets packed down and when it reaches a mass of fifty feet or more in thickness, the weight of the ice causes the mass to slowly slide down the ravine, lubricated by its own meltwater. Friction between ice and rock, and geothermal heat from the earth itself, all contribute to the thawing that allows it to flow.

The speed at which these glaciers move varies, but according to online sources the Byrd Glacier in Antarctica moves from 750 to 800 meters per year, or approximately six feet per day. Six feet a day amounts to three inches an hour. In other words, Archie the snail is to glacier speed as Dale Earnhardt Jr. is to a child’s pedal car.

As for the typical speed of a bill through Congress? Don’t even ask.

Friday, March 14, 2008

It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want To Be

I found Paul Arden’s book at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art last year when we were on the West Coast visiting Micah & Ashlee, our son and his wife. The book appears to be a collection of insights and lessons about creativity, originality and success. Though written by a man in the ad agency scene, the book has much that is applicable to almost anyone in any career. What follows are a few thoughts which especially resonated with me.

“Everybody wants to be good, but not many are prepared to make the sacrifices it takes to be great.”

“There is no instant solution, the only way to learn is through experience and mistakes.”

“Failures and false starts are a pre-condition for success.”

“You can achieve the unachievable. Try to do the things you are not capable of.”

At one point he recommended James Webb-Young's excellent little volume, A Technique for Producing Ideas, which I read about ten years ago and would happily loan to anyone interested in an important summary of the creative process.

At the end of the book Arden shared some of his favorite quotes from other authors, a few of which are reproduced here.

“It’s better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation.” ~ Herman Melville

“Success is going from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” ~ Winston Churchill

“Early to bed. Early to rise. Work like hell and advertise.” ~ Dr. Scholl

“There are no short cuts to any place worth going.” ~ Beverly Sills

“You can lead a horse to water, but a pencil must be lead.” ~ Stan Laurel

“Those who lack courage will always find a philosophy to justify it.” ~ Albert Camus

“Some people take no mental exercise apart from jumping to conclusions.” ~ Harold Acton

“Show me a sane man and I will cure him for you.” ~ C.G.Jung

“If everything seems under control you’re not going fast enough.” ~ Mario Andretti

Just thought a few of you might enjoy this little handful of seeds from a mind farm.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Heroes

Who are your heroes? Do you have people from whom your life has taken inspiration? I have had quite a few at different times of my life. Here is a short list of people whose lives have given me insights, helped form my values, and have served as a motivational influence.

Daniel Boone was an early inspirational force in my life because our family is descended from this historical pioneer. Boone is credited playing a major role in the development of the Wilderness Road, which opened the way for early Americans in eastern states to go west and settle in the midwest. Numerous qualities made him a great man. He was a truly courageous person, extremely knowledgeable about the ways of the wilderness, and very responsible.

In reading many books about his life, one quality that I especially identified with was his distaste for government, power politics and legal shenanigans. After settling Kentucky, Boone served his friends and neighbors as a surveyor. Unfortunately, because the title deeds were not properly submitted, each of his friends lost their land. Boone made good by severing off his own property, eventually giving away all of his one million acres. The whole experience so disheartened him that he decided to leave the country and moved to Missouri. Once again, a bad turn intervened as Missouri became part of the U.S. in the Lousiana Purchase.

Boone was a peaceful man whose one regret was that in the defense of Boonesboro and the settlements of Kentucky he was forced three times to take the life of a Native American. He was a man highly respected by the Native tribes and at one time he was adopted into one where he lived for two years. His was a remarkable story and he was a man bigger than life.

I have already written elsewhere about the influence of Ulysses S. Grant on my life. He, too, had many qualities that made him a great leader, but unfortunately was not skilled at navigating the political garbage that he had to deal with in Washington as president. You can read about U.S. Grant here.

A third inspirational leader for me was Chief Sitting Bull of the Sioux. The contrast between Native American leadership style and Machiavellian power games is nowhere more appaent than in the lives of Sitting Bull and General George Armstrong Custer.

To be a leader of an Indian tribe you had to earn this privilege. Sitting Bull's power came from being himself powerful in himself, wise, courageous, worthy of respect. Being a general in the army was a matter of graduating West Point and being given a command. You could be the world's most arrogant, idiotic jerk, and Custer was, and men would have to obey you. Sitting Bull's leaadership was based on persuasion and influence. There were no top down command chains among the Native Americans.

Perhaps in another entry I will share some other names of people who made an impact on my life. In the meantime, who are your heroes? Learn more about their legacies through books. As you read about their lives, ask questions. What were the values that made them great? Their motivations? The circumstances that enabled them to extend their influence to a wider world?

Then share what you learn. It will reinforce these same values in your own mind and life.

Here is a link to a few more of my own personal heroes. I call it Living Lessons from the lives of Great Men.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Thought for the Day

Both Nietzsche and Kierkegaard most forcefully rejected the herd mentality. That is, being in agreement with others because it is convenient instead of thinking for yourself and using your own observations is a character flaw and ultimately tragic.

Monday, March 10, 2008

My Back Pages

Bob Dylan has been one of the most influential people of our generation. For nearly five decades he has been songwriting and making music. He has never asked to be a spokesperson for this generation, but many tried to straitjacket him into the role, which he resisted.

For sure, one feature of Dylan's career has been continuous regeneration, never allowing himself to be typecast as a specific genre or style. Most interestingly, his concerts draw from every period of his life with song selections that show a many faceted man.

Below are the lyrics to one of his early songs that has been a favorite at times. If you have an interest in my review of the 1998 Dylan concert I attended in Duluth, the link is here.

For the record, his most recent recording Modern Times is superb. The music, the songs, the production is all top notch. If you have ever been a Dylan fan and have not kept with him, here is a great piece of work.

YouTube has quite a few song clips from Dylan's career, by the way. There are some great moments that have been captured and shared. You might want to check out the My Back Pages version that was performed at the Dylan 30th Anniversary Concert, with luminaries such as Clapton, Roger McGuinn, Tom Petty and Neil Young chiming in (among other notables.) Here are the lyrics to this memorable song.

MY BACK PAGES

Crimson flames tied through my ears
Rollin' high and mighty traps
Pounced with fire on flaming roads
Using ideas as my maps
"We'll meet on edges, soon," said I
Proud 'neath heated brow.
Ah, but I was so much older then,
I'm younger than that now.

Half-wracked prejudice leaped forth
"Rip down all hate," I screamed
Lies that life is black and white
Spoke from my skull. I dreamed
Romantic facts of musketeers
Foundationed deep, somehow.
Ah, but I was so much older then,
I'm younger than that now.

Girls' faces formed the forward path
From phony jealousy
To memorizing politics
Of ancient history
Flung down by corpsed evangelists
Unthought of, though, somehow.
Ah, but I was so much older then,
I'm younger than that now.

A self-ordained professor's tongue
Too serious to fool
Spouted out that liberty
Is just equality in school
l"Equality," I spoke the word
As if a wedding vow.
Ah, but I was so much older then,
I'm younger than that now.

In a soldier's stance, I aimed my hand
At the mongrel dogs who teach
Fearing not that I'd become my enemy
In the instant that I preach
My pathway led by confusion boats
Mutiny from stern to bow.
Ah, but I was so much older then,
I'm younger than that now.

Yes, my guard stood hard when abstract threats
Too noble to neglect
Deceived me into thinking
I had something to protect
Good and bad, I define these terms
Quite clear, no doubt, somehow.
Ah, but I was so much older then,
I'm younger than that now.

Copyright © 1964; renewed 1992 Special Rider Music

On the Road Again

Well, it's pre-dawn darkness here, early Monday morning. My bags are packed and I'm ready to go.... Heading to Las Vegas for a quick lube show at Mandalay Bay and what do ya know, I'm also doin' the Con Agg show at the Convention Center once I get in the flow.

If all goes according to plan, I may also be performing at Pounders tonight, an open mic stand up comedy club. It brings my family shame when I do this, but hey, you only go around once in life. They say I am not cut out for comedy, that I am too serious. Plus, bad timing. My brother concurs. "Ed, you're not funny." O.K., that's throwing down the gauntlet. That's waving a red flag in front of a bull. And maybe they are right, so I have changed my name. If you ever see it in lights, you will know it's me: Eddie Danger. And in all likelihood those who know me best are right, so I'm not quitting my day job.

Meantime, life goes on all around us. Smile and have a great day.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

"Eddie Did It"

It's been said, and well repeated, that the weakest ink is stronger than the strongest memory. For this reason people keep journals, genealogical records and baby books.

In my mother’s recording of my brother's first words, his very first sentence was “Eddie did it.” I was his older brother by two years. With this utterance of “Eddie did it”, he was simply proving that he had entered the “Adam and Eve blame game," the age-old drama of finding creative ways to avoid responsibility and shift the blame to someone else. We do not like the negative consequences for poor choices we make, so we try to throw them onto others. Let others take he rap. At a very early age my brother Ron began practicing the part.

It is a profound insight when we finally learn that we are responsible for the things we say and do. Especially in the post-Freud era in which pop culture assumes that my parents or my circumstances made me the way I am, that I have no choice but to be this way, to behave badly or whatever.

Politicians are especially good at this. When an initiative fails, it was not their fault. "I inherited an impossible situation." This is why people have lost respect for their elected officials.

In many work environments, the blame game can make it almost impossible to learn from previous mistakes because rather than get to a good diagnosis of what happened all the players have been more concerned about covering their tracks. In a recent book I was reading, the author noted that when we have autopsies without blame, only then will we discover what killed the patient.

Mistakes are inevitable in life, and in business. Some decisions in business are simply educated guesses. New product introductions do not always find welcoming arms to greet them. The Polaroid Camera had a very long runway before it got off the ground, for example. It took a lot of faith and persistence to stick with that one. Many other products, however, were doomed before they left the lab. Does this mean we should simply stop trying? No, each failure is a learning opportunity.

I'm grateful to work in an environment where my past blunders are not posted on billboards around the office. No one ever pulled a gun and threatened to walk me to a shallow grave in the back forty for an ad campaign that bombed.

Maybe it's easier in a workplace where there is corporate growth. We're a team without a backup squad with plenty to do, so we need each other. I can imagine that in some companies this is not the case. It has to be tough working in a setting where you know there are people sharpening axes in the back room.

In the meantime, if you make it a habit to assume responsibility for your words and actions, you will be trusted by others and get more opportunities in life. Editors, for example, enjoy working with writers who meet deadlines. They schedule space in their mags and do not like the idea of scrambling at the last minute to fill a slot. You will start to lose cred when you resurrect the old "dog ate my manuscript" excuse, or any other excuses.

Excuses, excuses. If you need one, and your don't have a really good one up your sleeve, put this one in your back pocket, just in case. Remember, you can only use it once. "Eddie did it."

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Blue Notebook, Purple Fire

More Journal Notes from my Blue Notebook, July 1990-92

1. Began outlining possible re-telling of story of Samson. Mann wrote 4 volumes on Joseph & His Brothers. Gide wrote Saul. I shall tackle the interplay of forces (soverignty and free will, grace and desire) in the life of this amazing man of God.

Two issues in Samson's life:
1) How his self-determination inter-relates with God's sovereignty and purspoes
2) How he develops false confidence in his own autonomy and self-sufficiency

2. Read/finished Gide's Pastoral Symphony last nite. The writing is so fine, so rich, so simple... and the story painted so realistically. Gide is a master. His ideas are so well woven into the fabric of the story... it all fits so nicely together.

An essay on Gide mentions that he paid for the publication of his first 23 books himself, and he sold very few of ANY of them. If nothing else, he learned how to write books.

3. Completed re-write of Terrorists Preying. Need to print, edit, get feedback. It feels good to complete a story I've worked hard on, but my happiness after New Color TV* was short-lived. Maybe it was premature (more re-working needed?) or simply a good feeling because I was "done with it."

Still reading Gide -- about him now... The focus of many is on his life and his message. What about his craftmanship? His ability to re-create realities, to build believable people in believable situations, is superb. I am inspired by this master.

Two other aspects of Gide's appeal for me:
1) He deals with ideas, not simply action. His characters all have depth -- rather, his heroes do, and he masterfully probes this depth via first person viewpoint.
2) He legitimizes 1st person viewpoint, and brings new methods of achieving story effects. Is this not the way we usually hear a good tale? It's told in first person or written this way in a letter or letters. Gide understands story telling.

4. Morning thoughts focus on Samson. He led Israel for 20 years. Virtually nothing is spoken of that portion of his life. Did he ever marry again? Did he do other incredible things? The record is silent. It would seem his years were filled with relationships with friends, family, action... What did he do with those 20 years? Regrets about first marriage? Where did he live? How did he "lead Israel"? What did he do with his time? Let's imagine... He helped people. He was not totally selfish. Was he a people person? Or did he prefer being a loner? Or mixture? What did he think about? Stories of Moses, Joshua, Gideon... He thought about God... He also thought about women. Must have been about 40 when he met Delilah. He'd seen her many times before. If she was married, he didn't pay attention. with her husband gone... or did he see her growing up? Was she a young beauty? Or a more matured woman? The chapter begins with Samson's visit to a prostitute. Is Delilah a loose woman as well?

FOOTNOTE
* The story New Color TV cited above later went on the win the five state 1991 Arrowhead Regional Fiction Competition under its revised title, The Breaking Point.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Blue Notebook

Journal Notes from my Blue Notebook, July 1990-92

1. "It is a mistake to intend to write only very important things in a journal. That is not its justification." ~ A. Gide

2. On certain days I feel so strong, so able, that success is an inevitability. Dreams will be fulfilled. Then other days, I feel deflated, that all my work is in vain, is useless... and my message too.

3. When young we feel inspired to “follow our own star" wherever it leads and whatever it costs. Later in life we recognize the compromises we have made and prices we are unwilling to pay. There are things that I value which I am unwilling to jeopardize and put at risk.

4. We are not static "items" or "somethings" that we "discover" through analysis. Probing our past can help us understand our roots, where we've been, and occasionally why we've done certain things... but life is a future thing, and that which is in our power is the ability to create what we will become.

5. Life is the process of creating what we shall become. To each of us is given the responsibility of shaping the future. Focus: Not political, changing the world by enforcement of my vision and views, but changing the world by taking charge of who I am, what I will be tomorrow...Too many "world changers" are simply malcontents who have never known happiness in themselves, with delusions that by changing everything else they will then be happy.

6. This process of artistic creation in fiction is so fabulous, I am like a blind man whose sight has returned, a mute who has suddenly found voice. Art is indeed a high calling. Susie experiences the same exhilaration in her pottery, playing both role of creator and spectator simultaneously. Creation is an adventure, and in creation, we have ringside seats. "What will we discover next?"

7. I am too excited. I feel that all my work these past 5 years was preparatory for what I am working on now. The exercises completed (I realize I still have much to learn) I am more at a place where I can have a more complete grasp of my personal "life themes".

"Memoirs are never more than half sincere, however great one's concern for the truth: things are always more complicated than words can express." ~ Andre Gide

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Introduction to the Story of Samson & Delilah

"Man is not a god, Dostoevski asserts, and the individual man's inner voice will always tell him this truth." ~ Rene Girard

"Everything that deceives may be said to enchant." ~ Plato

What follows is the introduction to a manuscript written by an unnamed man who signed his name N.


An Introduction to the Story of Samson & Delilah

From my earliest youth I have wondered - not in these exact words, of course, but with an earnestness as perpetual as consciousness itself - how can God, who is perfect, work through man, who is imperfect, to achieve His immutable purposes?

Whether this question was born into my heart from above, or cultivated in me by the priests and Levites who instructed our family in the ways of Yahweh, I do not know. These were the days when Israel was without a king; these were the days of Samson. Indeed, what better example of the Great Riddle than the life which Samson lived in our midst for more than twenty years?

Through the stories I am about to relate, God, in His great and infinite mercy, has in a small measure given me an understanding of this impenetrable mystery.
·
Here is what I believe: we receive that for which we hunger. He whose longing is for riches, to him riches will flow. That man whose mind dwells on things carnal will find a world of sensuality beyond his wildest imaginations. These satisfactions are not without a price, however. For this one thing I have seen: that a man not only receives that for which he longs, in the end he always gets more than he bargained for.

My longing was for understanding. I hungered. I thirsted. And I believed my desire -- to grasp with my full consciousness the deep things of God that were hidden in the womb of this dark mystery -- would be satisfied.
·
Here is something else I believe: each of us is unique, with unique experiences that enable us to discover things that no one else has ever thought about, has ever heard, having never had our own experiences.

Our experiences, as well as their unique lessons, are not only ours to learn, they are ours to share. If, in fact, once having learned we fail to share, we are violating, even thwarting the purposes of God in His self-revelation. (Are there not sins of omission as serious and equally terrible as any we commit?)

Why do we hold back then? Because we believe we have nothing worthwhile to say? Because we believe everyone has these insights, this understanding?

Believe me, everyone does NOT have your insight. And the world is poorer by the very degree to which you keep silent.

Organize your thoughts; sift what you know, and present, then, your offering. Take courage. Honor God and speak! Spill out your heart! We are a world in darkness; we are in need of your light. In service to those who do not, can not, know the messages of life you bring: speak the words you alone can speak. Speak, that we may understand.

What follows here are the words I alone can speak, for the story of Samson and his struggles - with God, with himself, with obsession - is my story. That is to say: For this I was born, to listen and to hear, to record what I have heard, and to make an offering of this record to the world.

Continued here

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The Wake-Up Call

At one time I wanted to write to Baby Boomers who have not yet completely yielded to self-imprisonment. When I think back, I realize that you don't have to be a Boomer to experience these warning signals.

• Feeling of superficiality and fakiness, having to play games.
• Creeping deadness... lack of enthusiasm for life, work, etc
• Aimlessness, lack of direction
• Weakness, helplessness to change situation, powerlessness
• Aware that you are not changing the world.... lack of social impact

If you recognize any of these symptoms in yourself, it’s time to wake up. Remember who you were meant to be.

AUTHENTIC
PASSIONATE • MOTIVATED • ENTHUSIASTIC
PURPOSEFUL
POWERFUL
SOCIALLY CONSCIOUS

Remember your roots! Draw strength from who you are.... Don't give in to the siren song of the cynics. Wake up! This is your life. It is not a dream. Open your eyes.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Reflections on a Phenomenon

I recently watched the movie Phenomenon again. For those who haven't seen it, John Travolta plays George, the central character, a somewhat slow-witted nice guy who has a strange experience that awakens his consciousness and begins to hyperactivate his mind. In short, he becomes a phenomenon.

The movie does a wonderful job of presenting George's struggle as he seeks to understand what is happening to him. His friends, however, are equally befuddled and the unanswered questions that arise from their own insecurities cause misunderstanding, pain and rejection. It's almost as scary to know a phenomenon as to be one.

In my opinion it was a good story well told. Like all good stories, it unearthed regions of my own soul, areas I have mined before and will mine again because I believe their are still some precious stones to uncover there.

It is a life theme to which I often return. Are we not each a phenomenon in our own way? What is the meaning of my life? What are my unique gifts? Where has my power come from from? And how much of it is unused, undeveloped, unactivated.

We use so little of our strength, our psychic powers, our capabilities. We choose, instead, to live in a dark, dull, ill-lit corridor called 'life', a cramped hallway with narrow walls, yellowed, peeling wallpaper, moldy and stifling. Windowless and without wind. No unpredictable weather. And we wonder why it bores us, why we've lost our passion.

John Updike made the observation that there are Four Life Forces: Love, Habit, Time and Boredom. Love and Habit are powerful, giving short term energy and stability to our lives. Time has a more long term grinding influence. But Boredom, the great leveller, is a prison that captures us subtly. When boredom becomes a habit, life passes us by.

For you, may it never be so.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Mentors

One should never underestimate the role of mentors in helping one's career obtain a good trajectory.

Back in the early eighties I was a beginning writer trying to figure out how the real world works. I had just returned from a year in Mexico working at an orphanage. I felt a certain sense of calling as a writer and therefore worked hard to develop my skills, but could not figure out how to plug them in. Through the process of of participation in a writers group I managed to connect with another writer who, like myself, was searching to move his work to a higher level. This other writer was ten years ahead of me, made his living as a writer in a major corporation, and understood much more than I about the business world.

Ours was a fateful friendship. John Prin helped me navigate those early steps toward publication. A few years down the road my wife and I left the Twin Cities and headed to Duluth. John again helped me in a critical way to present my published work in the most professional manner possible. After a relatively short time pounding the pavement up north I landed a position using my writing, with an opportunity to further develop my skills.

To this day John has played a role in my life, as friend and confidant. At key junctures, he helped me navigate challenging waters.

Perhaps you're a young person with challenges you're not quite sure how to handle. Perhaps your career is floundering. My recommendation is to find a mentor, someone who has been there and understands the terrain your traversing. And someone who will take an active interest in your life and career.

Or maybe you're someone who has accomplished things, have achieved a measure of success, and need to turn around and look back down the ladder. There are many bright and talented young people who could use a helping hand. These are our future leaders, influencers, world changers. We have received much, let's be sure we give back.

Thanks, John, for having been there for me. Good luck as you keep pressing into those dreams to fulfill your purpose for the second half of your life.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Postmodernism

I had a boss once who told me “Stop and smell the roses.” Evidently I was working too hard. I had always thought working hard was a virtue. Guess in our postmodern world it’s better to be hardly working.

Has anyone noticed this new word that crept into our vocabulary in recent years? Post-modernism.

Based on my research and reading, here are the basic tenets of Postmodernism as a philosophy: Certainty is bad. Confidence is wrong. Progress is a myth. History is NOT going anywhere. (Kind of like my comedy career.)

According to academics, it is dishonest to be certain. Reason does not add up. How do we know 2 + 2 isn’t five? How can you be so sure?

How do I know my fly is down? I don’t know. Is it really down? What is down? Maybe down is up? What if the top of the world is really the bottom?

Doubt is the central pillar of our contemporary belief system. Did we really land on the moon or was that a massive media manipulation?

Did Lee Harvey Oswald act alone or was there a massive conspiracy involving 194 million Americans, excluding Jackie, Caroline and John-John?

Did the Twin Towers in New York collapse or was this a brilliant plan designed to draw attention to President Bush’s involvement in the Florida public education system?

I have friends in New York who tell me the Towers are still there. The whole thing was done with mirrors to create the illusion of a disaster.

Yes there are still some things we can be sure of…. but I can’t think of any off the top of my head. Am I really standing here at the Fillmore? It just doesn’t seem real.