Hence my official position: it’s fine to abandon books or other projects – but you’ve got to really abandon them, not let them fade amid vague intentions to finish them some day. “It cannot be said often enough that one should not postpone; one abandons,” said the management expert Peter Drucker. Give the unassembled bookshelf to someone who wants it; throw the beach-read into the sea. Make abandonment a positive choice.

The Rise and Fall of Mr. Zip

Informative and fun little article on the US Postal Service’s push to get Americans to add a 5-digit ZIP code to their envelopes and post cards. The effort started in 1963 and it took almost 20 years before Americans changed their habits – or knuckled under, depending on your point of view. Mr. ZIP promoted the use of ZIP codes for the ...

Interesting slice of Americana, with a special role played by an, at one time, iconic – though now largely forgotten – cartoony character.

The campaign began with the name itself — ZIP. It was a good name. ‘ZIP’ sounded a lot friendlier than Zone Improvement Plan, the Orwellian phrase for which ZIP was an acronym. At the same time, ZIP said speed. Mr. Zip — a hand-drawn, wide-eyed little postal guy — became the face of ZIP code promotional efforts, the embodiment of the harmless yet zippy quality of ZIP codes. (‘Mr. Zip’ was also a significant improvement on Mr. Zip’s original name “Mr. P.O. Zone”.) Mr. Zip was speedy and clever, like other American cartoon heroes: Bugs Bunny or Speedy Gonzalez or the Road Runner. After July 1, 1963 Mr. Zip was everywhere. Americans would turn on their radios or televisions or open a newspaper and there was Mr. Zip, banging the drum for ZIP codes.

via The Smart Set: Happy 50th Mr. Zip - June 12, 2013.

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Occasionally, just writing without a plan is a worthwhile exercise, especially early in the conception so you can hear the voices of your characters. But I’d leave writing any actual script of an episode until you know how it ends. You’ll think of a better ending as you write the script. But if you don’t have any ending when you start writing, you almost certainly won’t think of one.

Pretty much a perfick day

Several memories and ideas bubble to the top of my brain and collide: this is an opportunity to try out ideas in a non-judgmental space, what can it hurt to put myself out there a little, follow the energy, one of Mike Uhl's early urgings to me to become a time management coach, since he'd benefited from our frequent conversations about his workflows and habits at the office, if the next thing I say isn't interesting then I can tweak it for the next person, oh come on what could it hurt.

So I tell Heather that, well, if I were to sell a service, it would probably be something like this (dredging up the old marketing template of "I help X do Y so that they can Z): "I help artists and creative entrepreneurs solve their time management problems so they can get more of their creative work done." Her eyes widened, she smiled, she leaned forward -- I'm on to something! I mention it again later to an artist who we talk to; she's immediately enthusiastic and suggests a few venues where I could hold small roundtable discussions on the topic with artists.

Met a few of the vendors and talked to one fellow who's part of a non-profit that helps veterans get their own businesses started. I rattle off my spiel to him. He nods his head, leans forward, says I could register as a government contractor to teach stuff like that.

We go in to the keynote and receive some fabulous information on Durham's "Creative Vitality Index": in short, compared to the rest of the state, similar cities of our size in the Southeast, and the US, Durham is incredibly energetic and vibrant as more artists settle here and more revenue is generated from arts and culture activities. I don't know how they gather their data. I note that technical writers count as a creative jobs category and the numbers of technical writers in this area have decreased markedly since 2006, which confirms my observations.

I heard one of the vendors say that way more people showed up than they expected, and the second-floor theater was indeed packed. The keynote speakers were entrepreneurial gurus who have started their own organizations and teach at Duke. Their aim appeared to be to introduce common business  concepts and jargon to the artists, with their core message being that with the decline of traditional industries and revenue in this geographic area, the arts and culture are taking up the slack by bringing in increasing levels of revenue; therefore, more opportunities may arise for profit/non-profit collaborations.

It wasn't the first time that day that we would hear about how artists need to manage their work as a business. Fred Hathaway of Entredot gave a presentation on the basics of business, with the (to me) comforting idea that there is a method here and no one needs to create a business plan from the start. He echoed the keynote speakers' advice to stage lots of small experiments, fail quickly, and iterate often. Plan while doing and do while planning.

For me, the star presenter was Tivi Jones of Tivi Jones Media, who gave a great talk on creating a marketing plan. She called on people at random and asked me, "Sir, what is your business?" I cheerily waved my hands and said, "I don't have a business. I'm just observing." She moved on to  someone else and I was instantly besieged by thoughts: Why did you do that? This is the perfect place to try out the pitch. The energy in the room is great. You're never going to get a better opportunity than now. Just do it.

So after she posed the next question on her worksheet -- What problem does your product or service solve? --  I raised my hand and said I'd changed my mind. I said something like, "I help artists and creative entrepreneurs figure out custom time management solutions so they can end their days feeling more productive rather than tired." (In talking with Mike about elevator speeches, we'd noticed that the most memorable ones included a built-in duality or contrast.)

Even before I finished my pitch, Tivi sort of yelped and said, "I need this!" The woman sitting beside me asked for my contact information. A man asked me later for a card (I didn't have one! I was only going to explore!).

And oh, my brain is buzzing.

I'd already decided to take the rest of the day off from work. I check out a book from the library. I go by Parks & Rec to pick up free tabloids and giveaways for our Sunday neighborhood association meeting.

It's now 2pm and I've not had lunch. I grab a hotdog and eat it in the parking lot with my windows down. A woman in scrubs asks me to help her get a traffic safety cone unwedged from under her car. Why the hell did she run over the cone in the first place? Nonetheless, I crawl around on the pavement and somehow wrestle it out.

I go home, prune some tree limbs, and cut the grass, since light rain is being forecast every day for the next week and I hate cutting wet grass. I shower and nap.

Liz comes home and we go to a new restaurant for us, Dain's Place, which has awesome hamburgers. I debrief Liz about my day and show her the stack of papers, business cards, leaflets, etc. that I collected.

As we walk out, we see Peggy Payne walking down Ninth Street in a cobalt blue sequin party dress and cape, handing out cards advertising her new novel, Cobalt Blue, and inviting us to a reading she's giving with her friend Carrie Jane Knowles, whose novel Lillian's Garden has also been released. (Peggy and I were both in a creative writing class taught by Lee Smith in the mid-80's.) Liz and I agree: when you're invited to the party, say "Yes."

To pass the time before the reading, we go to a near-empty Francesca's and get ice cream. Thence to the Regulator Bookshop for the reading, which is very well attended and entertaining. I also see David Halperin there; I'd last seen Peggy at the book launch for David's novel.

What a rich, bizarre day for me. I met more people today than I normally meet in a week. I made a list of at least three new people I want to take out for coffee and a door has opened for me to ... do what? I don't know. But someone was knocking, and I opened it. I did some hard physical work that also made the house look good. We went to a new restaurant on a Thursday night (!) -- very out of character for us -- and diverted ourselves to an impromptu book reading.

Thence home, where I checked my email for the second time that day and saw that there really was not a lot worth spending my time on at all.

Thence here, where I wanted to write up the events of this day before their freshness faded.

And so to bed.

And this is basically the viewpoint underlying Miles’s criticism: it doesn’t matter what Gatiss meant because the episode itself is horrifically xenophobic. But let’s peek forward and see if any of the subsequent eighty years or so of literary criticism has provided anything useful. Spoiler: it has, of course. The main one being some of the fruits of reader-response criticism, particularly the idea of the implied author and implied reader. (The former was formulated by Wayne Booth in The Rhetoric of Fiction, the latter by Wolfgang Iser in, of all things, The Implied Reader. They’re odd recommendations, but if you want to know how narrative structure works, read those and Aristotle’s Poetics and you’re basically set for life.)

The best advice I ever got about reading came from the critic and scholar Louis Menand. Back in 2005, I spent six months in Boston and, for the fun of it, sat in on a lit seminar he was teaching at Harvard. The week we were to read Gertrude Stein’s notoriously challenging Tender Buttons, one student raised her hand and asked—bravely, I thought—if Menand had any advice about how best to approach it. In response, he offered up the closest thing to a beatific smile I have ever seen on the face of a book critic. “With pleasure,” he replied.

There’s a character in the film who, in passing, mentions that “talent plus persistence equals luck.” Are those your words? And has that been your experience?

Those aren’t my words. I got that from a book that Steven Soderbergh wrote about his experience making sex, lies, and videotape. He may have even been quoting someone else. I don’t know if he came up with it. But I read it in the book, and I’ve always liked it, and I believe in it. I feel like a lot of people who are very talented bow out early. They bow out after the initial wave of obstacles, which will definitely be there. So I think you absolutely need to be tenacious, and diligent to present opportunities for yourself. And sometimes, people will get lucky and the opportunities will present themselves very quickly, but for many others, for the vast majority of us, we have to kind of keep overcoming many, many obstacles before we’re able to take advantage of an opportunity. In retrospect, it will resonate as luck, but the outcome is the result of drive and natural talent, I think.

Tom Waits on habits

“It’s very hard to stop doing things you’re used to doing. You almost have to dismantle yourself and scatter it all around and then put a blindfold on and put it back together so that you avoid old habits.” 

― Tom Waits

Wipe the slate clean every day.

You don’t need to worry about your reading lists. Mark them all as read. Don’t worry about all the social media posts you haven’t read. Don’t worry about all the blogs there are to search through, or all the news sites there are to keep up with. Each day, your slate is clean. Then you can decide how to fill that slate each day, and enjoy whatever you choose to experience.

Then let go, with a new slate each day.

Here’s what I’ve learned from not writing about my life because I was scared you wouldn’t like it: I’ve learned that you don’t care what I do in my life as long as I’m interesting. If I am doing something that’s scary, and I tell you, then you can identify with me when you do something scary. What this community is, really, is people who want to do something scary. Because life is very, very boring if we don’t scare ourselves.

After attending the Green Vale School in Old Brookville, N.Y., where her classmates included Gloria Vanderbilt, and graduating from St. Timothy’s School in Stevenson, Md., she turned down a scholarship to Radcliffe to marry Arthur Twining Hadley II, whom she later described as “handsome, but a cad.” Her mother handed her off with the only bit of intimate advice she ever imparted: “Don’t worry, Dear, sex will only last a year.”