Sitting for Ideas

From the vault:

Today I am going to share a secret with you – my superpower, if you will.  I sit for ideas.

A mentor once told me, “Hugh, lots of people in this world are going to tell you that you should work on your weaknesses. But if you do that, you just get a lot of strong weaknesses – things other people would be better at doing anyway. I think you should outsource your weaknesses, and focus on what only you can do.”

I have thought a lot about this advice over the years. And while I see the limits of it (and also remember that said mentor died of alcoholism and estranged from his family and thus, perhaps was not equally brilliant in all areas of his life) it really has served me well.

And sometimes, I have learned, you can modify a weakness so it becomes a strength. An example is meditation.

I like the idea of meditation. I like the outcomes. I even like the practice of meditation – for about 2 minutes. Then my mind goes all ballistic – the Zen practitioners call this “monkey mind” – and ideas rush in at ballistic speed.

Now, I’m not alone in this. Many people report this experience, and as I said above, there is even a term for it. But I also noticed something: Some of my best ideas happened during this time. Game changing ideas. Career changing ideas. Ideas that rocked my world. Ideas that apparently had been floating around in my head and co-mingling with ideas like, “We should eat dessert first” and “I need some new socks” and ‘It’s time to weed the flower bed.” Until one day, I sat still, closed my eyes and created space, and the idea finally saw a wedge of space and showed up.


So I asked myself, “What would happen if I was actually intentional about sitting still, closing my eyes and waiting – would the ideas still show up?”.

Yes. Yes, they did. Later I would read that Thomas Edison did something very similar. He would spend an hour a day, alone, in solitude, without distraction or noise, waiting for ideas to come. He said, “Ideas come from space. This may seem astonishing and impossible to believe, but it’s true. Ideas come from out of space.”

Here is how I do it.

  • Set aside 10 minutes or so. Longer is better, but even 10 minutes has value.
  • Eliminate as many distractions as you can. Sometimes, I put in my earbuds and use a white noise app, because the inner-city can be noisy.
  • Assume a position of comfort, but not total relaxation. I usually sit upright in a kitchen chair, feet flat on the floor.
  • Have a paper notebook and pencil beside you (in order to capture the ideas).
  • Pretend to meditate.  – I’m sorta kidding here. But seriously though. Close your eyes. Notice your breath. Relax. Your mind will begin to drift. But instead of calling it back, like you would with meditative practices, you let it roam.
  • Enjoy the ride.

Your brain will go everywhere. Things will pop in your head you haven’t thought about for years. People you haven’t seen. For me, anyway, it feels like body surfing in a sea of thought, flitting from idea to idea, never fully landing, just surfing.

Until it hits you. The connection you make you wouldn’t have made before. The solution to that problem you had last week at work. The idea that could revolutionize your industry. It will hit you like a ton of bricks. And when it does, pay attention. Look at it from all angles. Notice the colors, how it feels – and then, quietly, calmly, open your eyes and write it down. And keep writing until you have the idea down. And now, it’s yours.

Now you just have to do something with it. But that is another blog post, for another day.

The stories we know

“I don’t know how you live in such a shithole state”, they said.

I was sitting at a sidewalk table in a college town in New England a few years ago. I had been invited up because this church thought I knew something about building relationships between their congregation and the unhoused folks who slept on their porch at night, and were willing to pay me to talk to them about it.

Typically when I go and consult somewhere, the host organization furnishes a liaison person, who picks me up at the airport, answers my questions, and can help if something goes wrong. This time, the liaison person wanted to buy me lunch before they took me back to the airport.

It was then that they told me I lived in a shithole state. I’m sure they meant it in the nicest possible way.

I must have looked some kind of way because they quickly began to backtrack. But they were sincere, if rude – in light of the history of civil rights atrocities, the history of slavery, the Christian nationalism, the economic devastation, and so on, why on earth do I, an educated, articulate, white cis-gendered male with every kind of opportunity insist on living somewhere like Mississippi.

I was feeling particularly generous that day, and I explained that I knew those stories about Mississippi better than they did and that the reality of those stories is far more horrible than they could know from such a distance.

“But the thing is,” I said, “I know other stories, too.”

I know stories about Fannie Lou Hammer, who rose from sharecropping and eventually took on the Democratic Party and insisted she be seen. I know stories about Will Campbell, a white Baptist Minister who insisted that God loves everybody, even when we wish God didn’t. I know stories about snuff-dipping old white ladies who baked cakes to sell to buy poor black kids some school clothes. I know that the first lung transplant in the whole world was done in 1963 in Jackson, MS, and then in 1972, they mapped the human cardiovascular system for the first time in that same building.

I know stories of resistance, and hope, and resilience, and perseverance. I know stories of people who risked it all on a dream and rose to great heights and then came back to lift others up, too. I know of our storytellers and writers and poets. I know the sounds the gurgling creek that runs near my house makes, the song of the barred rock owl, the rudeness of the bluejay, and the cry of the mockingbird.

And mostly, I know the stories of our people, because I listen for them as I move around this state. On a recent day, I had lunch with farmhands in the Mississippi Delta and then ate supper in the foothills of the Appalachian mountains. The week before I was on the Gulf Coast where I saw dolphins at play. I live in the middle of it all on top of an extinct volcano, next to a river where alligators swim.

I know of our diversity – not a corporate buzzword for us but our lived reality. I know of the Chinese folks who live in the Delta and brought us their gifts and taught us new ways to cook the foods we have eaten forever, and the brown-skinned folks who took our foods and made them their own. (A Delta tamale doesn’t taste like any tamale you ever had in any Tex-Mex restaurant – it’s far better than that.) I live among and am known by descendants of the indigenous people who cared for this land in civilized societies when my ancestors were naked and living in caves.

And I know that the people here – Black, white, Brown, Queer, straight, rich, poor – all of us – have been played, and made afraid by powerful people who profit from their fear, and who will do anything to keep us apart, lest we recognize our common cause. And because the people here are afraid, they don’t make wise decisions all the time. None of us are our best selves when we are afraid.

I know all those stories. And those stories are also Mississippi.

My host that day, while rude, wasn’t wrong. They knew a story about Mississippi. But they only knew one story. I know hundreds. Which is why I stay.

It’s also why I tell the stories I do. The job of the storyteller is curation – to decide which stories are told. That is as it should be. But we never want to only tell a story because it just happens to be the only story we know.

The blinking cursor

Sometimes, you do everything right, and it still doesn’t work.

You get 7.5 hours of sleep.

You eat a high protein breakfast.

You drink your large cup of coffee.

And you sit at the desk, turn on the classical music channel on the stereo, fire up Microsoft Word, and you begin to write.

Well, that’s not quite true. You have prepared to begin to write. But there is the blank page. The blinking cursor.

But the problem is that not only is the page blank, so is your mind.

Well, maybe that’s not quite true. Your mind is never quite blank. As your therapist is fond of saying, it’s not that you have a deficiency of attention as much as you have a surplus of it. Your brain is overflowing with ideas, with stories, with plans, with things you want to try and to test out and it is all just swirling in there. How do you pick just one of them to focus on for the next two hours to write an 800-word essay?

Some days it’s easy. You have an idea or a story that has been in your mind for days or, sometimes, weeks. You can’t shake it. You just turn it over and over, looking at it this way and that way, so that when you do sit down in front of the blinking cursor, it really writes itself. You are just the medium, and you understand, briefly, why the authors of scripture thought they were inspired by God. It’s as if you are just the hands that type it, while the ideas come from elsewhere. Those are the best days.

Other days you agreed to write a particular thing – an article for a newspaper, or a review of a friend’s book, or something. And because this is for someone else, there is a deadline. You try to put it off, hoping clarity will come, hoping that it will rise through the swirl of ideas in your brain to the surface. Sometimes it does, but not on these days. No, on these days it is the day before it is due and you simply must write something, and so you apply ass to chair and you begin typing, and sometimes what you write is amazing, and sometimes it’s serviceable and sometimes legible is all you can hope for. But regardless, you did the thing, and after all, fed is best.

And then there are the days like this one.

The cursor blinks. Your ass is in the chair.

And nothing swirls up. Nothing stands out.

But the cursor blinks.

Fed is best | Weeknotes 5/6/23

I’ve been really swamped at my day job for the last few months, and, surprise, my routines have suffered. But a huge project I was working on just ended, and things should revert to something like normal. But the end result is my writing practice has suffered. I have still sent my newsletter each week, even if I have sent it late twice. People were kind enough to not remark on that. 

In the neurodivergent world, we have a saying that, “Fed is best”. Sure, it might be nice if you made a wholesome, nutritious, well-balanced meal for your kids with organic ingredients. But if you just don’t have the spoons, or the finances, or the time to do that, it’s better to feed them frozen fish sticks and boxed macaroni than to let them starve because you don’t have the bandwidth to do what you want to do. 

Like many folks with ADHD, I feel a great deal of internalized shame about how I show up in the world. I have let many people down, many times, over the years because of my struggles with executive function. So I am always very aware of deadlines, and they both are essential for my functioning and a source of a great deal of anxiety for me. 

In the past, if for some reason I couldn’t hit send on a newsletter on Monday, I just skipped that week. This made me feel shame twice – once for missing the deadline, and another for sending nothing. But, the reality is that even my most ardent fans – both of them – are not sitting there, staring at their inbox on Monday morning, waiting for my email to show up. It will be OK if it showed up Tuesday morning. The world won’t end, and most folks don’t even notice.

Fed is best. 

The Vault

I have been writing publicly for decades. Because of platforms shutting down, industry consolidation, and unpaid web hosting bills, some of that is no longer online. Besides, as the newspaper of my youth used to say, “If you haven’t read it, it’s still news.” So I’m republishing things that aren’t available elsewhere so I can link to them in the future and make them available for a new generation of readers. They are on a section of the blog tagged as “The Vault”.

Some of it has held up remarkably well. I am doing some light editing to bring things into current style requirements, but mostly I’m leaving it alone, so I can have a conversation, as it were, with the Hugh of 20 years ago. 

Google Docs

I’m trying to learn ways to streamline my inefficient, cobbled together over decades workflow. The pandemic broke many things, including most of my coping mechanisms. The combination of that, plus having a job where I am not 100% in control of my time (I know, poor baby) means I have had to reconfigure lots of things over the last year. 

Like, for almost 20 years I have written blog posts in MS Word, then copied and pasted them into WordPress. This is terribly inefficient, and pretty much means I have to be at my desktop to write. But it has worked for me all these years. I saved those files to Dropbox, so I could edit them either on my desktop or laptop, but it was still clunky. 

Recently I have begun using Google Docs for my blogging (and other writing). I have used Google Docs for years, but primarily as a means of collaboration. But I am trying to simplify workflows and the number of programs (and subscriptions!) I use. 

This add-on for Google Docs allows you to write, format and even put pictures in a Google Doc and then import it to your WordPress backend as a draft post. Note: It says it’s for, but if you use self-hosted WordPress and have it tied to a WordPress.Com account (as you do if you use Jetpack or Askismet) it will still work. It’s a game-changer. 


I’m working my way through the Rivers of London novels of Ben Aaronavitch. He writes London mysteries with some light fantasy mixed in. A friend recommended it and I’m hooked, I think.

I’m also dipping in and out of Orwell’s Roses, by Rebecca Solnit. Hope and beauty during the rise of totalitarianism? Yes, please!

And I’m car shopping. I hate car shopping. I hate everything about it. Exactly zero part of it gives me joy. In fact, it fills me with anxiety. I picture this going very wrong and then I have a car I hate and yet still owe money on for years.

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Tales From The Vault

My life changed forever in late 2003 when I set up an account on Blogger and decided to share my thoughts in public. Writing in the public sphere – literally thinking out loud in front of the entire world – changed how I think. It turned my private musings into a conversation with the world.

I’ve now been writing publicly for more than 20 years. It’s so strange when I come across people who knew me before those days, who only knew the Hugh that was informed by people he had met in real life and the one-sided conversations he had with people who wrote on paper. It’s like they knew a beta version of me.

I have written publicly in many places – Facebook, Blogger, Tumblr, Twitter, and MySpace to name the main ones, as well as the sites I have owned, and the many sermons I have written that do not exist anywhere online, but that are still public conversations because I performed them live.

As I have closed sites and accounts, some of that stuff was orphaned. Whenever possible, I have archived it, so it still exists in a file on my hard drive, but not in public. It’s as if they are safe in a vault.

As I come across things I have written elsewhere, I’m going to open the vault and post them here – both to archive them publicly, but also to be able to enter into a conversation with them, to link to them in the future, and to be able to recognize the ways I have grown as a writer and a thinker.

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Dictating How People Show Up

I’m republishing things I have written elsewhere in the past to archive them here. I think of them as tales from the vault. This is one of them.

I recently observed something that suddenly made me understand something I have struggled to understand for years: That people who want more diversity to happen in their groups also want to dictate how the diverse people act, and would put limits on those people.

Who the hell do they think they are to do that? And then I realized that for older folks especially, that is how they have observed change, and then they assume all people in that group should act that way.

A thing I see *a lot* – especially in people and groups that have seen themselves as historically progressive, that fought early battles for inclusion of people previously excluded – is how they point to the non-combativeness of the first person from that group they included and then expect that will be the way all people from that group will behave.

Example: I have had a personal conversation with a famous minister who personally knew William Stringfellow. For you who do not know, Stringfellow was an Episcopal layman who was incredibly influential in the 1960’s, and was a major influence on Walter Wink. Stringfellow was also gay, and lived with his partner.

This famous minister held Stringfellow (who was not officially out, but it was known to his friends) as the model for how gay people should act. I.E. They should leave all of their sexual identity in the closet.

Because Stringfellow had to (and let’s be honest: chose to) act straight in order to get published and to have a lecture career, because he chose to diminish himself in order to overcome prejudice that would have otherwise silenced him, that is seen by people who knew him as the model for how Queer people should act.

Or the woman minister I know in my denomination, who was the first woman minister in her regional body, who is praised by her contemporaries as “knowing how to not be confrontational” and “knowing how to meet the group where they were”. They praise this as if it is the model for how a woman minister should be, rather than acknowledging that this woman had to diminish herself in order to be seen as non-threatening, OR recognizing that this particular woman had the choice, personality, and support structure that allowed her to do this.

Some people who are members of oppressed peoples have the desire, giftedness, support structure, and mental health to purposefully choose to diminish themselves in order to advance the group they represent. Bless those people. But that doesn’t mean it should be normative for us in the dominant culture to expect that, nor does it obligate them to perform in ways that do not threaten our dominance.

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Thank you for reading. This website is free and ad-free because of the support of my members. Or, if you want to say thanks for this post, you can just buy me a cup of coffee.

The comfort of books

There has never been a time when I did not love books.

Growing up in my small rural life, books were my window to the wider world. I explored the streets of Paris with Dupin, the alleys of Victorian England with Sherlock Holmes, swung from trees with Tarzan, and visited brave new worlds under the tutelage of Isaac Asimov.

The tiny library in the town 7 miles away from my parent’s house filled my childhood hours with adventure and excitement. It was there I was introduced to dinosaurs, knights, and Druids. The way it smelled, the lighting, the posters on the wall, the massive oak desk with Ms. Lee behind it, glasses on a chain around her neck. The whole gestalt of it all felt like magic.

No, it felt Holy.

Later, as an adult, I would go through a horrible divorce (is there truly any other kind?) and quit my good job and buy a paperback bookstore in Midtown Memphis. It was my act of rebellion, my following the admonition of Wendell Berry to “So, friends, every day do something / that won’t compute.”

It was, I would later say, a great way to go broke slowly.

I watched my income drop by $80,000 year over year and went from living in a large apartment overlooking the Parkway to a tiny attic room over a friend’s office. I delivered pizzas at night to support the bookshop and me. I entered into all sorts of ill-advised romantic relationships with art college students who loved the romance of a bookshop. Later I would learn that addicts often slept with their dealers. I leaned into the Bohemian existance of a man in his early thirties who drank wine from boxes, listened to jazz piano, walked to work, and read. God, did he read.

Books saved me during this time. Every moment I was at home, in my tiny attic room, I had a book open. I read poetry. Complicated fiction. Magical Realism. Sci-fi. Biographies of all the major Beat writers. I read that Truman Capote said that Kerouac wasn’t writing – he was typing. I loved that, so I read all of Capote.

It was an intense year.

I opened the shop at 10 Tuesday through Saturday. But I’ve always been an early riser, so I would find myself at the store around 7:30 many mornings, drinking coffee and sitting on the couch in the middle of the store, surrounded by books.

The shop had large windows that faced North, giving good, soft light throughout the day. In the early mornings, the edge of the sun would peak through, casting light across the shelves. Motes of dust would drift lazily through the sunbeams, and Monk would play on the 80’s era jam box I hid behind the counter.

During these times, when the stack of bills on the counter went unopened – when I could briefly not think about the many people I had let down, the rural life I had walked away from, the marriage I had walked away from, the careers I had walked away from. When I could just stop walking away and just be, on that couch, surrounded by thousands of books. It was then that I felt the way I always assumed a better person than I would feel in church.

Meta Data – Weeknotes 4/7/2023

It’s always a balance – I make a portion of my income from my writing, including the weekly newsletter and this blog, and so I try to treat them like a business.

Confession: I suck at treating things like a business. I’m just not very motivated by money, as much as I recognize the need for it in the world we currently have in place.

So, it’s always a balance between nerding out and spending hours trying to figure something out, and doing the “least viable” thing, so that I can get back to actually writing. That was this week in a nutshell.

As someone with ADHD, I hate having to assign a category to a blog post, so, I generally don’t. But the theme I use (and most themes by default) will display one anyway in the metadata (the place on the post page where it shows things like the date, often under the title of the post – see picture above). So, I spent about an hour this week trying to figure out how to remove the “category” link in this theme’s meta block.

I’ve been using WordPress from almost the beginning, and it used to be fast and elegant – so elegant and clean that it was easy to tinker with. None of that is true anymore – it’s bulky and bloated and every “improvement” they make to make it more “user-friendly” just makes it more and more complex and harder to make it your own. It’s far more powerful than I need at this point, and I wish I had the time to learn something flat and simpler like Jekyl.

I spent about 30 minutes trying to figure out how to remove the categories link on the wordpress theme I use – TwentySixteen. In 2008, this would have been ridiculously simple to do. It is no longer simple. In the old days, you would just comment out (or delete) the PHP that creates the link. Now, you generally have to make it invisible with CSS, which means you have to find the CSS that displays it, which will vary from theme to theme.

Because of “improvements”, it’s recommended you make a child theme to make changes like this to your blog, so I followed instructions on how to make a child theme – this killed most of another hour.

One reason I use the Twentysixteen theme (other than it’s damn hard to find a traditional blog theme, with a main column and one sidebar anymore) is it has a ton of documentation online. Eventually, Google led me to the instructions on how to make the “Category” link disappear. At this point, we are 2.5 hours in. And what’s perhaps most frustrating is that nothing I learned today is really transferable, other than very generally. Every theme handles these things a different way. #sigh

This week I also made the beginnings of a colophon page (the link is in the footer), where I will link to the tools I use to make this blog.

It’s not ready to share yet, but I’m laying out the basics for a NOW page, like all the other cool kids.

And because I was super-swamped at work the first half of this week, my Monday newsletter went out on Wednesday. Normally if I can’t publish, I just don’t (this happens 3-4 times a year) but I always hate that, so I’m figuring late is better than nothing. I also don’t publish when Monday is a holiday, and Monday the 10th is a holiday (Easter) here in the US, so that would mean two weeks without publishing had I skipped it.


In the fall of 1969, my mom and dad were newly married. They were home one night, no doubt staring lovingly into each other’s eyes when the phone rang. It was my grandfather, Mom’s dad, and he needed a ride.

My Grandfather was a retired Navy man, and after he retired, he went to work for a munitions company. This was at the height of the Vietnam War, so business was booming, no pun intended.

He was an executive of some sort and often had to “entertain” people after work. And he sometimes drank too much at these meetings, as he had on this night. And on those nights, he called Mom to come to get him.

It would be a quick 20-minute trip these days, what with the new interstates and all, but in those days it was two lanes and traffic lights all the way, so it was an hour’s drive, easy.

Mom and Dad set off through the hot sticky night to pick up my grandfather and drive him and his car home.

My grandfather was six feet tall and had long ropy muscles that looked like the metal cables that ships tie to the dock with. His cheekbones were prominent, and he had eyes that would stare a hole in you. He had been a Frogman in WWII, and then was shot down over Korea during that war and was lost behind enemy lines for more than a week with a broken arm before he fought his way out to the DMZ and was found. He did not suffer fools, and he had not wanted my mom to marry my dad.

But this night was different. The business meeting must have been a good one, as my grandfather was in a good mood, and apparently felt generous.

He was a social drunk. When in his cups, he was always full of advice, and this night was no different. He wanted to stop at a diner and get some coffee and food, to “settle his stomach”. After they ordered, Mom went to the bathroom, and my grandfather began to hold forth on Dad, giving my newly married, 18-year-old father life and business advice.

He watched Mom’s back as she walked to the back of the diner and disappeared into the bathroom, then leaned back in his chair, holding his cigarette between his fingers, and turned to Dad.

“Young Feller, let me give you some advice. If you ever want to get anywhere in this life, you got to get noticed. People need to know your name. Hopefully, it’s because of something good, but it’s even OK sometimes if it’s for something bad. But if you are gonna get ahead, you have to get noticed. They have to know your name. People can’t help you if they don’t know your name.”

When Dad told me this story, he laughed at this point, because he said that about then, Mom was coming back from the bathroom, and my grandfather suddenly straightened up and changed the subject, as if they had been swapping dirty jokes unfit for mixed company.

* * *

One Saturday in August of 2013, I, along with some other volunteers from a local church, was threatened with arrest for giving food to hungry people on a sidewalk in Raleigh, NC. It’s a long story, and one I’m tired of telling, but I got a lot of media attention really fast – Time, Newsweek, NPR, and Fox were all blowing my phone up, and the city got a lot of negative attention. The week before, Forbes had named Raleigh, NC the most hospitable city in the nation, and then this happened.

The city made a few missteps, strategically, and one of them was when the Mayor called me and asked me, point blank, what I wanted. Up until then, I had not realized we were negotiating. I just wanted to be left alone, so we could keep giving hungry people food. Had they apologized and told us to carry on, we would have. But, I figured, if they were asking what I wanted? Well, I had a list.

Eventually, much of that list got implemented. It cost the city more than $5 million dollars. Policies got changed. Programs got funded. Buildings were built and people got hired. But all of that was later.

There were endless meetings in those days – I made the rounds, meeting City Council folks, the mayor, police officials, the talk shows, and reporters. It was my first real immersion into political life. Baptism by fire.

My Dad was back in Mississippi, where he worked for the county as their Emergency Management Director. His whole life was politics – he had to get budgets passed, and he had to advocate for Federal dollars – both to the Feds to give them to his county and to the politicians in his county to accept them. He had to work with people who were different than him and thought differently from him.

“You can’t always control who you have to work with, but you have to find a way to work with them just the same. In both poker and life, Son, you have to play the cards you are dealt, not the cards you wish you had.”

The weeks this fight with the city was going on was one of the times I felt closest to my Dad. We talked on the phone often. He was my coach through this world of politics and relationships, my wartime consigliere.

My notes from those conversations are filled with soundbites.

“You have to let them think they won. That doesn’t mean you can’t get what you want, but they can’t think they lost.”

“You have to give something up, so they are happy. So ask for things that will never get approved, so when you give them up, they think they beat you.”

“They have to justify whatever happens to the people who elected them. So make sure they have a story that makes them look good.”

“If you are going to keep living there, you have to be able to look these people in the eye when this is over and work together on the next thing.”

“This stuff affects people personally, but these folks don’t treat it as personal. It’s just another day at the office for them. Next month they will be working on other things that people feel just as strongly about as you do this. Their lack of involvement emotionally in this is an advantage for them. Your passion is an advantage for you. But make sure your passion doesn’t eat you because you don’t win a war by dying for your country.”

But my favorite conversation, and the one that stuck with me the most, was the night before the big Council meeting deciding if the $5 million dollar package would go through. I was on the rocking chair on my front porch. It was an unseasonably warm night in late fall. We were months into this campaign. I was on my phone to Dad, while watching my inner-city neighborhood come to life as it often did around dusk. I was nervous.

It was then that he told me the story about my grandfather and the advice he had given him.

“I think he was right, in one regard. Folks can’t help you if they don’t know who you are. Nobody’s gonna speak up for the redheaded guy with the nice smile. One day, bad things will happen, and when that happens, you will need friends and people who know your name.

He chuckled at this point. “I’ve seen the news stories. You have that part covered, it seems.”

“But I’m older now than your grandfather was back then, and I would say that while it’s important that people know who you are and what you can do. I think that if you work hard to be good at your job then you don’t have to rub it in people’s faces. They will know.

“Work hard to be indispensable to the work, and invisible to the process. These politicians aren’t going to tell their people how awesome you are, because then their people will start thinking maybe they should elect you instead of this politician. But they will know. And they will remember.

“Some work needs doing. And it’s easier to get it done if your name doesn’t have to be attached to it. You can accomplish great things if you don’t have to be the one to get credit for it. The people who need to know will know, and if they don’t, the people who know your name will tell them.

“So let them have the headlines, and while they are flashing those around, you get your $5 million dollar package passed.”

* * *

I’m an organizer these days. I am the invisible man, off to the side in the group photos. If the press prints my name, that’s a failure, because this work is not about me, but the people I work with. My work is to find out what issues are important to the people I work with, and then we develop strategies for them to get what they want.

I hold press conferences where I’m not in front of cameras – I’m the guy with a clipboard writing down what media responded to the press releases I sent out. I draft op-eds that get published under other people’s names. And when our people ask me what we should do, I ask them, instead, “What do you think we should do?”

Because some work needs doing, and it’s easier to get it done if it doesn’t matter who gets the credit.

Friction | Weeknotes – 3/31/2023

(This is a weeknote: a weekly update of the behind-the-scenes work and thinking that goes into being an independent web publisher. You can read past weeknotes here)

In Consistency is Easier Than You Think, CJ Chilvers writes about how consistency wins, more often than not. What I love, and what I have been wrestling with on my own work, is his thinking about the things that get in the way of his publishing on his blog consistently. He makes a list of things that get in the way of a regular publishing schedule that is pretty much the same list I have in my head.

Strip everything away that poses a threat to consistency.

  • Photography decisions
  • Design decisions
  • Aggregation decisions
  • Over-editing
  • Content length
  • SEO considerations
  • Email deliverability optimizations
  • Social integrations
  • What’s personal vs. what the audience wants

The last two weeks in particular and this year in general have been about paring down my online work.

It’s worth noting that virtually none of these were problems in 2005. Back then, we just posted things on our blog. Maybe 3 sentences. Maybe a picture. People read via RSS, or they just periodically checked in, as we do with social media now.

Social Media is a hellscape that has a lot to answer for, but one thing they have done remarkably well is reduce the amount of friction in sharing the things you make.

I moved my blog earlier this month from Humidity and Hope to the oldest URL I own – I got a Twitter account sixteen years ago this month, back when it was easy to get the username you wanted. I got hughlh, which has been my preferred username ever since. I bought that domain name shortly after.

I shut down the site Humidity and Hope because it was limiting – I want to write about more than how to live a good life in the Deep South, which had led to my creating other sites and platforms, but each of those demanded maintenance, so they became chores and added friction to the process, which meant I didn’t write…

So, right now, my online platform looks like my personal website, this blog, and a weekly newsletter. Blog posts are crossposted to a variety of platforms (see the list in the sidebar –>). Right now, some posts will be published in full on my personal Facebook page, but you can’t count on that. If Facebook is your primary platform, you should “like” my professional page over there, where each post is autoposted.

I have had things hosted at for years, but over the last few years their customer service has gone way down. They hid the phone numbers, email tickets take days to get a response – not ideal when you have an outage – and God help you if you try to use their chat with an agent feature. When they screwed up something as simple as a URL redirect, I had had enough.

I moved my blog’s hosting over to Namecheap, which has 24-hour chat and their WordPress hosting packages still give you FTP access, which didn’t do.

There is a lot of information out there in the world about hosting options if you want to spend real money, but we small-timers don’t need much beyond a shared hosting account. Namecheap should do me fine until the New York Times links to me and I go viral and my whole website crashes from the struggle. I dream of problems like that.