Larry Mannino's Blog

Branding | Creativity | Life

Seeds of Unrest: A Poem about Censorship

If in your Heart
There Lies an Ache
To Say
What you Do Feel

If True will Grow
Even if You
In Darkness
Try Conceal

For Truth, You See’s
A Fertile thing
Imbued with Life
And Might.

And True Ideas
Like Redwood Seeds
Can Grow
To Stagg’ring Height

The True Idea
Is Threatening
To Those who Run
The Show

Modern Herods
Methodically
Try Kill It
‘Fore it Grow

Limit, They Try,
What Can be Said,
De Facto
Censorship

A Public Square
Of Cancel-Shame
If Dare Your Truth
Let Slip

“It’s For the Good of All”
They Claim,
Yet Alone Define
Those Terms

And Try to Keep
Ungerminated
Truth Below,
With Worms

But That’s a Fruitless Task,
You See,
Like Rhizomes
Truth Does Spread

That Single Sprout
They Watch For
Will Emerge as Field
Instead

And if Expression
Of One’s True-Held
Truth Does
Truly Cease

When that Light
Is Extinguished
With It Goes
All Hope For Peace

And we will Live
In Darkness
Though Appearance
Will Be Light

Of False-Veneered
Subservience
To Those Who
Deem What’s Right

So Be Now Bold
Let Truth Be Told
Regardless of
Condition

Of Course, Be Kind,
But Speak Your Mind,
Without
False Inhibition

And Over Time
T’won’t be A Crime
To Say What’s
In Your Heart

But Action Now
Is Needed, and
Today’s The Time
To Start.

Bird Logic; A Very Brief Meditation on Change

An old and much-loved Maple in our backyard came down in a storm the other night. It had been visibly ill for a few years but, when it went, didn’t just bend silently to the ground. Instead, it broke with a mighty crack as if defiant ’til the end of age and storm and illness.

They’re coming to remove it today. About three hours of work, they said. Life is like that sometimes; years of growth gone in a seeming instant.

That tree served us well. My kids climbed and swung on its branches. Birds nested and squirrels chased one another in its leafy arms. It sheltered our pond-fish from the osprey’s eye, and us from the sun.

I watched, just now, as a robin, fresh from its bath, preened itself on a now-low branch that used to stretch toward the sky.

The robin only perceived a Difference, not loss, in this great Change that I mourn. It did not stop for days, frozen in consideration.

Instead, it saw only new opportunity, accepted it, and, without hesitation, adapted.

I’m appreciative of the lesson.

 

Always Searching For Answers? Here’s a Very Short Poem That May Help.

We Get what we Ask for
Through Work, or Inaction

Depressed and Regretful
Or Full Satisfaction

So if You look at Self
And Don’t Like What You See

And Think ‘Whom Should I Blame?’
Only Me, Only Me

And if you’re looking Outward
For Answers, You’ll See

You Need only Turn Inward,
Only Me, Only Me

So Stop Now your Searching
For Elusive Key

To Door to Fulfillment?
Only Me, Only Me

And When you Exhaust All
Outside Options, You’ll See

That The Answer is Action.
By Whom?
Only Me.

In The Shell: The Power of The Individual, or There’s Always a Me in Team.

When I was in college, I rowed Men’s 8’s for the Crew team.  For the uninitiated, Men’s Eights is a physics experiment that involves stuffing 8 reasonably large men into a long, skinny, fragile rowing shell along with a small, very loud coxswain perched at the end just to see how fast we can get from point A to point B without killing ourselves.

When you row in a boat like this, everyone is in sync. With each stroke, as you pull pivot and push the massive oar in your hands, your tiny seat slides up and you temporarily occupy the space of the person ahead of you. On your return, you straighten your legs and are back to your starting position – which was, seconds before, occupied by the rower behind you.

It’s that tight.

As the boat thunders through the water, the force is tremendous. Scary even, and exhilarating because you are a piston in the engine generating that force. If someone stops for some reason, the results can be devastating. Crabbing – when the rower loses control of their oar and it gets trapped in the water – can lead to anything from broken ribs to broken boats.

Although synchronization is demanded in an environment like this, the Truth is when you’re in the race you must be incredibly focused on yourself first because, ultimately, that’s all that matters. And all that you can hope to control.

In the shell, it’s really not about Team. Fact is, as in Life, it never is. Not really.

It’s always about individual choice.

A Different Perspective: Team, Deconstructed.

If you think about it, any ‘Team’ is actually a group of individuals. In the case of Men’s Eights, the ‘team’s’ success or failure is really an aggregate byproduct of 8 simultaneous and ongoing personal choices. From that perspective, the eventual victory or loss is simply the tallied sum of all of those personal, in-the-moment decisions. Sure, that may give the appearance of synchronicity but, like the most solid object viewed at the atomic level, appearances can be deceiving.

In the shell, the reality is this: when you’re two-and-a-half miles in to a three-mile race, even the most elite athletes are in pain.  Your breath burns in your chest, everything aches, you’re gasping and pulling and trying to maintain focus on every little part of every little stroke, dropping the blade, pulling through, snapping the wrist to rotate the oar.  The coxswain’s voice becomes little more than a buzzing metronome. Again and again and again, pulling through each stroke. You want to stop, just for a moment. But you can’t. If you don’t focus on only what you can control, in an instant everything shatters.  You know this. Yet, still, again and again you’ll want to pause, just for a moment…just this once….

That’s where the battle is won or lost. Individually. Inside of each member of the team.  Inside of you.

Yes, there are benefits to working together; an economy of efficiency created by communally deciding to focus the efforts of a group on a common goal. Is Teamwork required? In the shell, absolutely. But is your value determined by your membership in the team? Absolutely not.

Ultimately, even in the most team-centric setting, success of failure is not about the team as entity; it is about a series of constant individual decisions that, when viewed from the outside, appear to be a synchronized group-think achievement.

If you’re looking to make a change in your life and feel stuck, consider this:

There is danger in always identifying as a part of the Team; if we allow our own sense of self to be determined by the success – or failure – of the Team (business, sports, society) with which we surround ourselves,  then we may become psychologically attached to the idea of the Team’s success as being a primary indicator of our own personal worth and potential.  What’s more, there is a false security in tying your identity The Team; the impact of  failure can be diluted if you can share it with others. But the same also applies to achievement.

Ultimately, a dependency on the Team – and that can be everything from our work situation to the comforts of community, family or even geography – can keep us from moving forward by ourselves. Of trying new things, and making the necessary changes to evolve our lives, our careers, and our relationships.

Corporate blasphemy?  Maybe but even – or, perhaps especially – in these tumultuous times, we need to remember that everything stems from the choice of the Individual: Your choice. In Every moment. Creates your Reality.

Once you embrace this concept, you realize that you – and only you – are the lynchpin of your own Life.  You are completely in charge of yourself, and your destiny regardless of circumstance or surroundings.  This requires responsibility.  And mindfulness. And also a realization that there is no greater force – no team or group or organization of any sort – that dictates your fate, good or bad.

The thing to remember is this: when YOU need a change and, finally, draw that line in the sand, that line is drawn individually, by YOU, not by consensus. When you recognize this, you are free to move forward into the scary and exciting unknown.

So Congratulations, you are in charge of your own success or failure. You are also in charge of how you feel.  That is true empowerment. And something that we all have in equal measure. And always have had, since birth, even if we’ve lost sight of that in the tumult of life, or been told otherwise by even the most well-meaning of people.

If by chance the larger  ‘team’  – be that family, society, government, or those other folks in your boat – happens to benefit from your personal choices, terrific. If not, too bad. But then, they too have the opportunity to make their own choices.

So when your legs are exhausted, your mind muddled, and your lungs on fire, choose. To push on. Or change. Or accept.

But don’t just sit there ‘for a moment’ and take stock…because moments become years.

Just know that win or lose, the responsibility – and opportunity – of your life lies solely with you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unhappy? You Don’t Need an Exit Strategy. You Need This.

If you’ve been deeply unhappy in your current situation long enough to recognize that band aids won’t work and you need a fundamental change, the last thing you should do is look for an exit strategy.

Yes, that sounds counterintuitive. When something hurts we try to get away from it, right?

Most of us remain in unnecessary pain for far too long. There are two reasons for this:  fear of change is the biggest, and the incredibly insidious quicksand of routine is probably the most potent. But when you finally stop complaining and actually accept that you’re done, and that it’s time, the natural next step is, of course, to focus on leaving the situation.  To put distance between yourself and the pain.

In the most primal sense, to run away.

But that doesn’t work, because it usually doesn’t happen.

The real question is: Why do we remain stuck? Because when you finally hit that point, or have that epiphany, where every fiber of your being screams ‘That’s it! I can’t take this endless inertia-loop of frustration/anguish/false hope/frustration for one more second!”, there is still one powerful thing that keeps us tethered right to that very spot that causes all the pain.

The Unknown.

Regardless of how evolved we proclaim ourselves to be, how refined and in control and not beholden to our physical urges or instincts we say we are, every single one of us – at the very center of our beings – remain biological creatures.  We have millions of years of experience burned into our basic wiring, and even today that indelible base-code translates into survival above all as a gateway to procreation and the continuation of the species.

So while we like to tell our Tesla-driving, iPhone-gripping, locally-sourced and well-scrubbed selves that we’ve evolved beyond the dirty primality of our mammalian past, when the organic fertilizer hits the fan and our survival circuits are activated, the lumbering club-dragging near-ape versions of ourselves are still running the show.  That other stuff?  That’s the privilege of safety and status and the thin veneer that falls away as soon as things get serious.

And  that primitive hard-wiring? That’s the very reason we can’t just ‘RUN!’ when faced with the suffocating pain of long-term unhappiness.

Actually, Grog Say Fire Good.

You see, back in the cave days, the unknown things creeping around in the dark just beyond that little circle of firelight were much more of a threat than a mere feeling of unhappiness.  The threat of the unknown was a real threat. An end-your-life sort of threat.  So you kept by the fire until dawn.

In today’s world that threat of the unknown is different, but equally potent. In this case “The Unknown” comes in the form of The Exit Strategy – that willful step into uncertainty to relieve a deep pain.  Unfortunately, stepping into The Unknown, even for the most necessary of reasons, could very well lead to the loss of other necessities, like your job, your spouse, or even your house.  In other words, The Unknown fast becomes the primary threat to our  source-code-level programming toward survival.

In addition, a willful decision to choose uncertainty could also result in the potential loss of social standing and public embarrassment, which probably accounts for more painful life-stasis than everything else combined. These possibilities are more than enough to override your “I’ve had it and need a change” declarations and consequent Exit Strategy.  The potential for new and greater pain snuffs your will.

In short, your great internal conversation boils down to something pretty simple, like this:  “I’m in terrible pain, but what if I leave? I could be worse off….”

Better the Devil you know, right?

So regardless of our heartfelt declaration of freedom in the moment,  we remain in the rut of hopelessness and pain by choosing, even through our inaction, the familiar and seemingly stable.  And in doing so – in now essentially consciously choosing the pain – we compound it, often through self-accusation.  We now have proof that we’re losers because we ourselves have chosen this, that life is a dark and terrible place and that perhaps we even deserve this pain, because we’re too weak to act.

Suddenly that rut gets even deeper.

And even when you’re pushed to the very edge, when negativity, cynicism, sadness – sometimes deep depression – becomes the lens through which you view even the best of things, still you stay. But not calmly. No, you are no longer resigned to your fate, just paralyzed.

You are now in a very difficult place, caught between the natural instinct to get away from that which is painful, and the ingrained code that says to remain where it is familiar and safe.  Both are survival instincts. Both are in some ways correct.  Both bring you pain.

So you drag your heels. “I’m gonna do that.  But not today.  I’m too busy. Today wasn’t too bad.”

But it is.  You’ve already established that.

And a week, a month, a year – even ten passes.

And you’re still there. In pain. So what do you do?

When salmon swim downstream, they’re happy, healthy and by all accounts having a great time.  When they head back upstream to mate, well, they exhaust themselves and die and feed a lot of bears along the way. Pushing against the current is not the natural order of things that are meant to continue and flourish; it exacts a toll. If you look around in life the things that last are at peace; they are the things that flow.

In order to get away from the perpetual pain and break the cycle of unhappiness, what you really need is an Entry Strategy.

What’s an Entry Strategy? Like the Exit Strategy, it’s a means of getting to someplace new. But unlike the Exit Strategy, the Entry Strategy is not driven by fear.  It is not running away, it is being pulled toward.

That’s a critical distinction. And a complete mental shift. Focusing on what you don’t want, which is inherent in the act of fleeing, or the Exit Strategy, is burdensome.  It drains energy, because even with the best of intentions, you’re focusing on something negative.

Don’t believe me? Think about what you don’t want right now.  Did your brow furrow?  Did you sink a little deeper in your chair, or feel tension in your body?

Now think about something you do want.  I’ll bet your forehead and jaw tension loosened.  You might have even smiled a little.

Here are some actual steps to get it done, or “How To Know What You Want in Only 14 Minutes!”.

Take a notebook, pick a page, draw a line down the middle, and write “Good” on one side, and “Bad” on the other. Every day at, say, 7 pm take no more than 2 minutes to take quick stock of the 24 hours since your last entry, and jot – don’t overthink – the good things and the bad things that happened.  The columns will not be equal.  Resist the urge to even them out.

Keep at it for a week.  A pattern will start to emerge. You’ll start to see not only what you don’t like, but also what you do.

Once you have a good handful of those things that were good, and consistently so, write a sentence that goes like this: “I like ____ and ____ and _____.  And I really like _____.”, and fill in the blanks. Yes, write it simply, like a child would.

Now you know what you like and what gives you joy. You are now armed with concrete knowledge; not a vague and fuzzy sense. It may not feel immediately doable but trust me, it is. It will also likely scare you – that’s good, because if it didn’t it would probably just be more of the same.

Now make actual good use of the internet to narrow down in a larger and more practical sense what kinds of activities or careers or places jibe with that simple declaration of what you like and what makes you happy. Doesn’t matter what it is.  Doesn’t matter if it makes practical sense. Oh, and I’d also recommend talking to a couple of people who do something similar to what you like.  Shoot them and email, or find some way to connect, respect their time, and just be honest and ask. People are inherently good, and most of us like to help.

Your next step is the hardest. And the Best.

You have to make those things a small part of your day, now.  Every Single Day. Just a little to start, but every day.

In my case, I’m a writer and that is indeed my happiest place, and the place that somehow gets pushed to the bottom of the list every day after my morning journaling.  Sure, writing is a big part of my ‘job’ as a copywriter and brand strategist, but it’s not always the kind of writing that fills my soul.

I too would love to leap, but I too have responsibilities, fears and a tendency to get stuck in routine. What I’ve realized is this: writing is not done in the head, but with the hands.  There’s something in engaging with the process that lights the fire and keeps me happy, hopeful and reasonably sane. The same thing will be true about whatever it is you find you like.

Action is always the antidote; thinking never is.

So every day, regardless of my schedule, I make myself sit down at the keyboard and get typing. That’s how this post was birthed, by the way.

It makes the worst of days better, and I’m building a body of “stuff that I like” which, eventually, will be all that I do. Doesn’t that sound nice? A goal that pulls me forward.

Final Thought: When you get in your car, you don’t just drive away from where you were, do you?

Of course not; you pick a destination.  That’s how you get there.

And now you have a destination. A place you want to get to. An Entry Strategy.

And it works every time.

Now stop reading, and get going.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“The Reminder” – A Quick Poem About Your Life

I Choose to be Fat
I Choose to be Thin
I Choose to Lose
I Choose to Win

I Choose to Sleep
I Choose to Wake
I Choose the Path
My Life Does Take

Yes, I Choose Sick
Or I Choose Health
The Same Applies
To Poor or Wealth

I Choose to Love
I Choose to Hate
I Choose How I
Desires Sate

I Choose my Life
I Choose my Death
I Choose More Years
Or Soon, Last Breath

I Choose Do Now,
Or Choose to Wait
In Doing So,
I Choose My Fate

 

Rush Hour in Cutchogue, November 6th, 2020

I took a break from work (my office is in the lower left corner of the first frame), took my drone for a spin.  Sometimes I forget how lucky I am to live here on the North Fork.  Good to be mindful and appreciative, especially these days. Peace.

Shot on DJI Mavic Air 2, 4K 30. Quick and Dirty Video via Adobe Premiere Pro. Audio: Piano Moment, courtesy BenSound.com

 

Squirrel Wisdom: A Very Brief Meditation on Change

A squirrel came bounding toward me just now. I noticed him and he me, and he stopped.

For a brief moment we stared at each other, frozen. Then I saw him decide.

He spun and bolted off, disappearing into the bushes. I saw him re-emerge on the other side of our small pond. He made his fast, agile way through the plantings and rocks. I watched as he bounded, equally happy and energetic, across the bright sunny lawn toward whatever came next.

If he’d had an initial path in mind, some plan or intent, it ended when we met. Even though it is Autumn, and every moment of preparation now critical to his survival through the long Winter, he did not panic. He did not slink off sadly or bolt blindly in fear or even stop and ponder when his plan – his path – unexpectedly changed.

No, instead he just kept moving in a new and unexpected direction. And this kept him safe.

The Only Way To Grow a Big Pumpkin – and a Big Life.

Every year I try to grow pumpkins. Every year I fail.  Except for this year.

I have a very small patch for my pumpkins. It’s not big enough, and I know it.

Still, like Charlie Brown trusting Lucy to hold the football, every year I give it a go.

My wife and daughters are amused, but supportive. They even buy me exotic gourd and pumpkin seeds to support my quest.

So every Spring I till the soil.  Add compost and nutrients. Weed. Make the mounds out of earth for the seeds. Plant, water, and wait.

Every year they sprout – maybe a half-dozen plants on each mound. I watch for rabbits and deer.

To have the best chance for large, healthy pumpkins, I’m supposed to cull the plants down to one per mound.  I’ve never done that, because it seems risky.  You see, if there’s only one plant, instead of the usual five or six, what happens if that plant dies?  I’ll have nothing, right?

So I’ve never culled down to one plant.  Plus because I want to try so many types of pumpkins, I have too many mounds for such a small space. This too is a problem. Still, I always let them ALL grow, hoping that this year will be different.

Jen, my wife, is the practical one.  She says “You really have to get rid of some of those plants so you’ll have room to grow.” I suspect she’s talking about more than plants.

Still, every year I ignore this advice.

So, every year all of the plants grow and overgrow and spill out into the lawn.  Every year I lose track of which vines are which because there are so many.  The squirrels and mice and groundhogs get in and chew up the young fruits because they’re hidden in the labyrinth of plants.

Every year I see the powdery mildew disease start, but by the time I see it, it’s too late. Why? because there are too many leaves and vines and the fungus starts where the the air can’t penetrate.  Eventually the mildew wins, methodically taking down all of the vines and cruelly exposing  all of the colorful fruits rotting beneath the canopy of leaves. All because I’ve again failed to do one important thing.

So every year I am left with maybe a couple of small pumpkins and gourds, not even large enough to carve.

Every Year… except for this year….

I live in a postcard-perfect small town on the North Fork of Long Island. It’s an easy hop to NYC, but far enough away to be rural.   It is, in many ways, idyllic.  But it is not easy to make a living here using fairly specialized skills – in my case being a brand copywriter and strategist. That said, I’ve built a very good business helping fix, reposition and grow other people’s businesses. I’ve done good work, and supported my family in the process..

Problem is my clients trust me and, over time, ask me to do pretty much everything marketing-related for them. And because I know advertising and marketing and did a lot of that before I moved over to the brand side, I can do it. But I also know I shouldn’t. For someone else, that’s a great thing; for me it’s grind-work.  Mission creep due to the halo effect. Even good problems are still problems.

I am at heart a writer and creative. For a long time now, I’ve wanted to trim down what I offer professionally. A long time.

Every year I think I should just focus solely on the writing, creative and brand strategy. It’s what I enjoy do best. It’s why new clients call and where referrals come from. Every year I also tell myself to say “no” firmly far more than “yes” weakly. That I need to cull to be strong and healthy and grow. I recognize that I am a limited resource.

But every year when I start to walk that path, I think “What if…”

So every year I take on more rather than less. And wind up with less as a result.

Less time. Less focus. Less Satisfaction. And probably, despite all of the churn, angst and effort, about the same amount of income.

You would think I’d learn.

And maybe I have….

This year I culled. Ruthlessly. And it’s made all the difference.

That pumpkin in the picture up top? That’s one of two huge ones from a single plant in my garden.

It’s big, healthy and immensely satisfying to see. And it’s still growing.

Yes, it was hard. Pumpkins don’t replant easily; culling wasn’t moving, culling was killing. But it was necessary.

I now have the pumpkins that I want. And, because this single plant has grown and thrived so robustly, I don’t miss the others at all.

In case you missed it, the trick is this: you need to prune and discard those seemingly safe things that actually get in your way.  You need to cull. And that’s hard.

It’s easy to rationalize: what if they all grow? Or, if you are brave and do cull, what if that One dies? Both could happen, but neither will.

Nope. You’re just avoiding the unpleasant prospect of making some hard choices in order to get some real results.  You’re hedging your bets.  And you’re letting Fear take the wheel.

That’s dangerous. You need to take the wheel.

I have. Every day I’m culling and pruning.  Even in this time of Covid uncertainty I believe that brand differentiation and perception is more important that ever, so writing and strategy has become my focus.

Can I build a website, make digital ads or cut a video? Sure. But no.

Instead, I’m managing the people who do that best according to the communications and brand strategies I create. Which means I’m freer to do what I enjoy and do best.

And maybe growing a larger healthier pumpkin – and Life –  as a result.

Why I’m Glad I Broke My Guitar.

I’ve been trying to learn guitar for years. I’d  pick it up, learn for a stretch, get into it, stop making progress, forget about it, lose my callouses Rinse and repeat. When Covid hit, I had more time and decided to, once again,  take another stab at learning the guitar. Fender made this easy by offering all of us shut-ins free lessons.

A few weeks in I was still at it, and decided I wanted to try and  change the strings on my favorite guitar. I’d never done it by myself before, so I asked Olivia, my oldest daughter, if she wanted to do it with me. She’s getting older and, though still a couple of years away from college, I already see the writing on the wall and sometimes feel pre-wistful about her eventual departure. I may be Superman to the outside world, but my girls are my Kryptonite, so whenever I get a chance to spend time with them, I carpe that diem.

Anyway, she said sure, we sat down on the floor, pulled up a You Tube video, and got to the step-by-step work of replacing the strings.

Just me and her trying to figure it out. Laughing, talking…just being. It was simple and effortless and breathtakingly fulfilling in the way that only maybe a parent can understand. At one point we couldn’t loosen one of the bridge pins that hod the strings down. I tried to use a pin-puller tool, slipped, and put a pretty good ding in the top of my otherwise near-perfect Guild D50.

No, not a hole, but, well...Aaargh!

“It’s alright” I said, and we got back to the business of changing the strings. And talking and listening and learning and just just having great time together, me and my 16-year-old buddy.

Finally we finished, tuned up, gave each other a fist bump, eventually put it back in the case, and left.

A few day later Olivia asked me if I was going to get the ‘ding’ fixed. I shrugged “I don’t know” I said.

Later that night I pulled it out to play and ran my fingertip over that chip in the finish. But when I looked at it all I could see, and feel, and relive was a great, warm, fun time with my daughter.

Not a now-imperfect  guitar. Not a ham-handed mistake that I regretted. Nope, that ding will remain forever, because every single time I think about it, or see it, a smile comes to my face.

I will never fix it.

As a brand copywriter and strategist, a lot of my time is spent shaping perception. One thing I’ve learned is that the meaning we assign to things is, in large part, more real than the objective thing in and of itself. Long story short, we have a choice about how we see the world. How we respond to everything that affects us. And how we feel.

We can choose to define something as good or the bad by what we associate with it. The meaning we choose means everything.

How we choose to see becomes our truth. Our truth becomes our Life. And our Life can be made better or worse, painful or joyful as a result.

When we remember this, even in these odd times, we realize we have all of the power to be happy or otherwise.

Every time I pull out my guitar, I see that chip in the finish. And I smile.

Choose wisely.