Use your words.

Last night, best-selling author Ann Patchett spoke at the Mercantile Library in downtown Cincinnati, in front of a packed house of book nerds. She was engaging, charming, downright funny at times, and her talk was a great peek behind the curtain at a word wizard.

photo from annpatchett.com

A couple of things stood out to me:

  1. She referenced several other authors and novels, often showing a slide of a book cover on a screen near her, and every time she did, there was an audible gasp of appreciation from those in the audience who had read the book. “Yes!”… “so good!” It’s great to know that there are folks who still savor the written word in the Instagram/TikTok era.
  2. Through her novels, and her independent bookstore in Nashville, and her interviews with other authors, she’s done more to promote reading than anyone else I know. She’s like a Levar Burton for grown-ups.

BTW, Ann’s list of favorite books is here.

During the Q&A, a young woman in attendance asked “What’s your advice for young writers?” Ann’s reply was that any and all advice she had to offer on that topic was contained in her essay “The Getaway Car” from her book This is the Story of a Happy Marriage. (She wrote the essay because she gets that “what’s your advice for aspiring writers” question a lot… one time a woman even followed her into a public restroom and asked Ann that question while she was in a stall!)

But Ann did offer a few words of advice, and there’s no secret code to be cracked. The formula she mentioned is simple, really:

If you want to be a writer, read a lot, write a lot, don’t spend too much time trying to perfect a particular project, and don’t go into the process thinking about how to sell your work.

Read a lot, and write a lot, for the pure joy of it. Sounds like a winning plan to me!

Ann Patchett’s latest novel, The Dutch House, has spent 20 weeks on the New York Times Best Seller List.

Two-fer Tuesday. Two for every day.

Seth Godin’s daily blog posts (you can sign up here) are pure magic. They never fail to provoke, challenge and/or inspire. Two recent ones really hit home for me. Here’s Seth’s post from January 25th:

Awareness vs. experience

We are more aware than ever before. More aware of victims of violence, or a natural disaster. More aware of insane wealth or grinding poverty. It gets beamed to us, regularly.

We’re even more often exposed to social hijinks, sports stars or business moguls.

We’re aware that people run a marathon, or fast for a week. That they start a business or meditate every day. They know how to code, or to take pictures.

But there’s a difference between hearing about it and experiencing it.

There’s no excuse for being uninformed. But when it matters, there’s also no good reason for being inexperienced.

There’s often a piece of glass between us and the world as it’s delivered to us. That glass magnifies awareness, but it doesn’t have the same impact as experience does. It can’t.

Our awareness has been stretched wider than ever in history, but often at the cost of taking away a lifetime of experiences.

So true! Let’s repeat that last sentence, shall we?

Our awareness has been stretched wider than ever in history, but often at the cost of taking away a lifetime of experiences.

And now for the Seth Godin double shot, a post from yesterday, Feb. 3rd:

Something’s more interesting than this

And now, that’s always true.

Whatever you’re doing.

No matter who you’re with.

Something, somewhere, is more interesting than this.

And it’s in your pocket.

All the time. As long as the battery lasts.

There’s an alert, a status update, breaking news. There’s a vibration or a text, just waiting. Something. Right now.

Until infinity.

Unless we choose to redefine whatever we’re doing as the thing we’ve chosen to do, right here and right now.

Ignore the distractions and the coming attractions. Don’t take the clickbait. Focus on what YOU want to accomplish, not the dopamine hit that some AI algorithm is pushing.

Thankful all year long

Seth Godin just plain gets it. First of all, the dude writes a blog post every day. Yes, that’s right. Every. Single. Day. Neither rain, nor snow, nor authoring books nor hosting workshops nor speaking at conferences, will keep Mr. Godin from his appointed rounds — sharing pearls of wisdom with folks like you… and fanboys like me.

Here’s Seth’s post from earlier this week:

If every day were Thanksgiving

It’s my favorite holiday for a good reason: It doesn’t matter what country, what culture or what background you come from…

Gratitude works.

Gratitude scales.

Gratitude creates a positive cycle of more gratitude.

When in doubt, default to gratitude.

Brief and brilliant. Words to live by. Not just today. Every. Single. Day!

[I’m extremely grateful for Seth’s “write a blog post a day for a week” challenge a few years ago — it kickstarted my blogging habit. I’m also grateful for you — thanks for reading!]

Rictile unleashed

About a month ago, my old radio pal Ric “The Rictile” Cengeri was unceremoniously dumped from his Vermont Public Radio gig, after 12 years of faithful service.

Full story is here.

I worked with Ric for three years at 97X. We were roommates for much of that time, and morning show co-hosts for a year. So we spent a ton of time together. You won’t find a nicer guy, or one more passionate about creating great radio programs.

His energy was off the charts. His sense of humor was keen. His joie de vivre was contagious. His ability to remember listeners’ names was Rain Man-like. The way he mentored our college co-ops was admirable.

You could drop Rictile onto an uncharted desert isle (not Gilligan’s Island) and come back in three weeks to find a full blown party with hundreds of people. (He earned his Dirty Mayor nickname from his local pub, where he made so many fast friends that they called him “the Mayor.” He even has a cider named in his honor.)

After such a shock, Ric could’ve chosen to wallow in self-pity. But that’s not the Way of the Rictile. Instead, he’s doing what he’s always done. Going to concerts, to museums, to sporting events, to restaurants, to the symphony, to poetry readings, to the pub, to farmer’s markets, and volunteering in the community… The Man stole his livelihood, but he’s not going to mess up his life.

The Facebook post below from a former co-worker — and Ric’s reply — speak volumes about the kind of person he is.

Ric’s VPR job ended on a sour note, but the Dirty Mayor’s life is a thing of beauty. I can’t wait to hear about his next adventure.

Sedaris. Rhymes with hilarious.

I attended a performance by author David Sedaris last night. You may think it’s a bit of a stretch to call it a “performance” when he was merely reading his stories, followed by an audience Q&A. But that means you’ve never seen David Sedaris live. And I was in that group prior to last night.

I’ve read most of his books, and love them. I knew he’d be funny, insightful, witty, [insert other adjective for a writer of humorous, satirical essays here]. But I didn’t expect it to be bust-a-gut, rolling in the aisles, laughing-so-hard-I’m-crying funny. Yet it was. I haven’t laughed that much, or that hard, in ages. He’s not just a masterful writer, but also a powerful performer.

The promo blurb for the show was spot-on:

If you love David Sedaris’s cheerfully misanthropic stories, you might think that you know what you’re getting into at his live readings.  You’d be wrong.  To see him read his own work on stage allows his autobiographical narrative to reveal a uniquely personal narrative that will keep you laughing throughout the evening.  

Best of all for a hack like me was the fact that the laughs were powered by David’s written words. No props, no fog machines, no show business shtick. Just short essays read by a 62-year-old man standing at a podium on an otherwise bare stage. Observant. Trenchant. Moving. And Hilarious.

David’s tour continues in the U.S. through early December. If he’s performing anywhere near you, you simply must go.

[David also used a bit of his stage time to promote another writer’s latest book. He raved about Ann Patchett’s new novel The Dutch House. I’ll have to check that one out.]

You know you’ve chosen a horrible name for your blog when…

… the blog hosting company suggest this as an alternate name:

I suppose I really should start washing dogs – it would contribute more to society than my blogging.

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