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Steve Jobs (left) told three stories in his 2005 Stanford University commencement address, each employing the Hero’s Journey story archetype. Dr. Martin Luther King told just one in his famous 1963 ‘I Have a Dream’ speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC, employing the archetype The World the Way It Is/The World the Way It Could Be.

Know your heroes

Although I know several great writers, I know very few great storytellers.

Because a story is a particular type of writing that emphasizes an emotional arc of challenge, personal growth, triumph or tragedy, writing a story is a different experience (for the writer) than journalism, or technical writing, or ad copy. To create an emotional arc for the characters, many writers must experience the negative emotions for themselves, and this is why great story-telling is so difficult — because it requires the storyteller to be vulnerable in ways that most writers are unwilling to experience.

Nonetheless, there’s lots of great advice for story writers and most of it you’ve heard already, whether it’s “good stories always have conflict,” or “torture your protagonist.” For example, one of the most successful group of storytellers is at the computer animation movie studio Pixar, and they’ve published ’22 Rules for Storytelling,’ in case you want to know how they do it. But none of Pixar’s rules describe the essential difference between the two most popular story archetypes. …

“Technology is the study of technique,” and language is a technology for thinking.

Use language as a technology to improve your thinking.

How do I know what I think until I see what I say?”

― E.M. Forster

It was Neil Postman’s book Technopoly (1992) that first alerted me to the idea that language is a technology for organizing and communicating thought.

And it is more than that.

Marshall McLuhan realized that we shape our technologies, and our technologies shape us back. That is, the technology of language not only helps us externalize our thoughts, but it also changes the way we internalize our perceptions. Thus, the purpose of language is more than a mere communication of messages. …

Knowledge is meant to be shared.

Universities are in the knowledge business.

  • They create it with research.
  • They share it with education, books, and article publishing.
  • They organize it, curate it, and interpret it in their libraries, datasets, and faculty.

Prior to invention of the printing press, knowledge resided primarily in the minds of the people who knew things. Books were expensive to reproduce, because they had to be copied by hand.

In fact, the very first university lectures were little more than a group of scribes, copying word-for-word. A Reader with a valuable book would stand at a lectern, reading from the text, so that the students could copy it over into their own notebooks in parallel, which was much more efficient than passing the book around so the students could take turns making their own copies. …

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A journey of personal self-improvement does not have to be taken alone.

Find out what is, and work on that problem instead.

There are dozens of articles on Medium with the title “Why you self-sabotage.

The latest is from Ayodeji Awosika, who is a terrific writer, much more popular than me, and generally very helpful.

He writes:

Over time, you come to emotionally love your own messed up self-image, confirmed by your self-sabotage, even if you logically want to change it.

— A. Awosika in ‘Why Your Self Sabotage

And I think that’s a garbage idea.

The rest of his column is excellent. While he recognizes that change is painful and that it will create grief and a sense of loss of identity, Awosika goes a little further when he challenges his readers to ask, “What’s your payoff?” …

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Photo by Jannes Van den wouwer on Unsplash

Centralization vs distribution of the political economy

While you reflect on the year-end essays that summarize the events of 2020, you might struggle to make sense of the disjointed, incoherent, and nonsensical experiences that characterize 2020.

If there is one theme that connects, explains, and makes sense of all of these disconnected and incredible phenomena it is this:

Politics.

The study of politics is about power: who has it, how did they get it, and what will they do with it. …

Childhood pictures may help you reparent yourself thru trauma

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This is me, Little Tommy, circa 1968.

There is a passage in Pete Walker’s Complex PTSD (2013) in which he implores his readers:

Do not take the side of those who bullied and abused you when you were a child.

— Pete Walker, Complex PTSD

For me, the advice was a revelation.

In reading his book, I discovered that the criticism I levy towards myself was too often not the well-reasoned voice of self reflection, but the echo of exploitation and abuse that I was subjected to in childhood.

I was so young at the time, and so malleable, that I internalized the criticisms I could not defend myself against. Thus, I carried the voices of my critics into my adulthood, and I habitually turned them on myself. …

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Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

Your polyamorous inferences are not helping.

Hannah Rothblatt gave us a pretty good list of reasons that a “work husband” might be angry about a relationship with a “work wife.”

Her article is helpful only in this sense: when a critical collaborator at work resorts to passive-aggressive manipulations, you’re going to take a productivity hit until you figure out why and fix it.

However, I reject familial metaphors for work relationships. The inferences that “work spouse” cliches invite are distasteful to me, cheapen the institution of marriage, and titillate the imagination in ways that have little to do with improving worker productivity. …

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Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Are you transactional, reciprocal, or personal?

At our little ice bath startup Morozko Forge, we’ve been thinking a great deal about what constitutes our company, and how we relate to all the myriad different people and organizations on which we rely to grow our venture. To help us sort it out, we created a way of thinking about our relationships as belonging to one of three categories: 1) transactional, 2) reciprocal, and 3) personal.

Transactional relationships are those in which the terms are made explicit, and there is little, if any, expectation of continuance. …

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Photo by Nonsap Visuals on Unsplash

Failing to save my marriage was only the beginning.

Al-Anon is the 12 step program for people who are in love with an alcoholic. When my children yanked me out of denial of my wife’s alcoholism, several of the people in my life whom I respect advised me to attend.

So I did.

The best thing about groups like Al-Anon isn’t the books, or the steps. It’s the other people you meet that have been down a road that might look a lot like yours.

I chose an all men’s group, because my qualifier was my wife and there were going to be aspects of my story that I needed to talk about without the additional static of being observed by women. …

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Sometimes I was more motivated to draw comic strips about homework than I was to actually do my homework.

Everyone needs a future they can look forward to.

Every student in every class I’ve ever taught has, at some point, felt a loss of motivation.

I can relate.

When I was student, it was sometimes all I could do to drag myself out of bed and trudge thru the snow to get to my undergraduate physics lectures.

Even though I wanted to learn physics, there was something blocking me from showing up in class, taking notes, and following instructions.

It wasn’t the difficulty of the challenge. The material was always within my grasp.

So, what was holding me back?

One theory on loss of motivation is related to dopamine (e.g., Wise 2004). According to this theory, learning and memory are more effective when they are accompanied by dopamine supply to the brain. And when your brain is low on dope, it presents such a serious psychological problem that you’ll do almost anything to get it. …

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