Saturday, October 30, 2021

Vonnegut, Envelopes, & Farting Around

Kurt Vonnegut Self-Portrait

In a 2005 discussion with NPR's David Brancaccio about an essay in A Man Without a Country, the last book Kurt Vonnegut published before he died, Vonnegut recounts a story that begins with him telling his wife he's going out to buy an envelope:

"'Oh,' she says, 'Well, you're not a poor man. You know, why don't you go online and buy a hundred envelopes and put them in the closet?'

And so I pretend not to hear her. 

And go out to get an envelope because I'm going to have a hell of a good time in the process of buying one envelope. 

I meet a lot of people. And, see some great looking babes. And a fire engine goes by. And I give them the thumbs up. 

And, I ask a woman, 'What kind of dog that is.' 

And, and I don't know. 

The moral of the story is, is we're here on Earth to fart around. 

And, of course, the computers will do us out of that. And, what the computer people don't realize, or they don't care, is we're dancing animals. You know, we love to move around. And, we're not supposed to dance at all anymore."

A decade earlier,
 in an interview in the November 1995 issue of Inc. Technology, Vonnegut told the same story when asked about  how he feels about living in an increasingly computerized world. 

After reading this, look back at the above. You can see that in 10 years, Vonnegut has refined the story and added a more pointed moral. 

"I work at home, and if I wanted to, I could have a computer right by my bed, and I'd never have to leave it. 

But I use a typewriter, and afterward I mark up the pages with a pencil.

Then I call up this woman named Carol out in Woodstock and say, 'Are you still doing typing?' Sure she is, and her husband is trying to track bluebirds out there and not having much luck, and so we chitchat back and forth, and I say, 'Okay, I'll send you the pages.' 

Then I go down the steps and my wife calls, 'Where are you going?' 

'Well,' I say, 'I'm going to buy an envelope.' 

And she says, 'You're not a poor man. Why don't you buy a thousand envelopes? They'll deliver them, and you can put them in the closet.' 

And I say, 'Hush.' 

So I go to this newsstand across the street where they sell magazines and lottery tickets and stationery.
I have to get in line because there are people buying candy and all that sort of thing, and I talk to them. The woman behind the counter has a jewel between her eyes, and when it's my turn, I ask her if there have been any big winners lately. 

I get my envelope and seal it up and go to the postal convenience center down the block at the corner of Forty-seventh Street and Second Avenue, where I'm secretly in love with the woman behind the counter. 

I keep absolutely poker-faced; I never let her know how I feel about her. 

One time I had my pocket picked in there and got to meet a cop and tell him about it. 

Anyway, I address the envelope to Carol in Woodstock. I stamp the envelope and mail it in a mailbox in front of the post office, and I go home. 

And I've had a hell of a good time. 

I tell you, we are here on Earth to fart around, and don't let anybody tell you any different."


Monday, October 25, 2021

Exhausted & Pissed Off

Rough week.
Scott Frothingham - Exhausted & Pissed Off

Exhausted by too many short deadline projects.

Pissed off by the recent loss of my ability to say, “No.”

But it all turned around in an instant.

Eddie Shleyner asked to interview me for a Very Good Copy Micro-Interview.

The same platform that has interviews with Ann Handley. Dave Harland. Drayton Bird.

And now, Scott Frothingham.

Holy Crap!

Slapped the fatigue and foul mood right outa me.

Here's where I should add a insightful observation about staying positive ... or at least an "after" photo in which I'm no longer grumpy. But I'm not going to. Too busy doing my happy dance.

Here's the interview: 

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Plain Language: It’s the Law. Really.

Plain Language. It's the Law. - Scott Frothingham Blog
If you write for the U.S. Government you must improve your ability to communicate with the public you serve ... if not, you're breaking the law. 

Public Law 111-274, Plain Writing Act of 2010 “promotes the use of clear, concise, and well organized language in documents to effectively communicate with intended audiences.”

All branches of the government are required to comply with this law and some, in communicating the need for compliance to their staff/management, have developed training that can be useful for marketing writers.  

For example, the Air Force offers advice for communications basics:

Plain Language Concepts 

Be Clear 

  • Use plain language whenever possible; avoid jargon 
  • Avoid overuse of acronyms; when used, make certain acronyms are established [written out] upon first use 
  • Use the active voice 
  • Format documents so that they are easy to read and understand 
  • Use tables and figures if that’s the best way to show information 
Be Concise 
  • Remove unnecessary words 
  • Focus sentences on a single thought or action; strive to write sentences with no more than 20 words
  • Focus paragraphs on a single main point; strive to write paragraphs with no more than seven sentences 
Be Specific 
  • Include only information that the reader must know 
  • Use words with precise meaning 
  • Include details that are directly relevant to the main point 

The Air Force suggests supporting these concepts with FOCUS Principles:
  • Focused: Address the issue, the whole issue, and nothing but the issue. 
  • Organized: Systematically present your information and ideas. 
  • Clear: Communicate with clarity and make each word count. 
  • Understanding: Understand your audience and its expectations. 
  • Supported: Use logic and support to make your point.

Relax, if you're not writing for the U.S. Government, you're not running afoul of federal law if you don't use clear, concise, and well organized language. And, if you are writing for the government, I'm guessing you're not going to do prison time over a wordy preamble in a blog post.

All that aside, the fact that this law was written and passed is another example that using clear, concise, and well organized language is important.

And as marketing writers being judged by response, we know this makes our writing better and more effective.

So when you're writing and editing, it's in your best interests not to break the law.


Source: The Tongue and Quill, 5/27/2015 

Sunday, October 3, 2021

Stare Out a Window

Staring out a window - blog post from Scott Frothingham

"Sometimes letting your mind wander is a freeing experience
that unshackles the concepts that were just out of your reach."

Mrs. Donnelly didn't understand this concept when I was 12 and staring out the window during her math class.
She made me write, "I will pay attention in class" one hundred times.
She had no idea that I was paying attention. Sort of. Processing might be a more accurate description
She didn't understand that my mind worked in a different way than she thought was the right way. For her, the only acceptable way.
Her punishment failed. She didn't teach me to stop staring out the window.
She did teach me a lesson in not respecting people with power until they earned my respect. Which she never did.
Back to the quote above.
When you're wrestling with piece of copy or content and you just can't get the dots to connect, take a walk, play with your pet, have a snack, read a chapter in a book, watch a video, call a friend, take a drive, listen to some music ...
Stare out a window.
A relaxed mind can help you take the next step.
Or the next leap.
Don't worry. Mrs. Donnelly is not there to try to punish you into submission.


A note to Mrs. Donnelly, who, based on her advanced age when I was 12, has most likely shuffled off her mortal coil: I understand you were a product of your times and teaching all kids differently according to their needs is a tough assignment. Although some of your fellow teachers tried. I hope you would agree with me that maybe technological advances and expanded understanding of how kids learn will help us get there sooner rather than later. And that this would be a good thing. Not an easy thing, but well worth the effort.

The Parking Spot Next to the Front Door

“You could sell sawdust to a lumber mill,” said my boss as he threw his arm around Byron’s shoulders. The team applauded as Byron held up th...