Cold-Air Intakes and the Mountain—Words to Make Livings, Words to Make Meanings

You Know You Want One

A couple of years ago, I had a peach of a ’68 Mustang. Though the creature drank gasoline like a Death Valley marathoner drinks water, it was a clean machine, and fun to drive. But like any car that’s 40+ years old, it had a loose tooth or two. So I scoured the InterWebz for Mustang parts suppliers, and bought a couple of items from Steeda, the company whose recent ad is pictured above.

Sidestepping the phallic push of this incomparable cold-air intake, I was struck by the flatly declarative copy of the ad. Not because it’s sweepingly imaginative, but because there’s such a narrow audience for whom it’s intended. Cold-air intakes, that’s what we got here—all other parties move on. Now the reason this struck me in particular is because I’ve been mulling whether my “one-size-writes-all” copywriting biz is too many things: flowers, trees, sky above, dirt below and cold-air intakes in between.

You see, I write web copy, press releases, marketing collateral, ads, case studies, direct mail, and a bunch of tech stuff too. And I edit all of the aforementioned, and more. In fact, just yesterday I finished editing a small book on how to play any chord on the banjo. Though twangy, it was quite technical.

Towards or Away from the Mountain?
I’ve always enjoyed the variety of writing/editing I do, but sometimes there’s a haphazard, slapdash aspect to the servings in my restaurant: can you trust a place to make great Chinese if they are advertising pizza too? And though I do OK with the dough, it’s not like I can buy a load of Facebook stock (though if they keep going in the direction they have, I can at least buy a bucketful). Amusingly, in the way of how when you begin to mull something, you’ll see signposts and UFO sightings about that subject everywhere, today I watched this commencement speech of Neil Gaiman’s on Tim Ferriss’s blog, where Gaiman speaks (at around 4:20) about whether his ongoing work was taking him “toward or away from the mountain”—the mountain being his deepest goals. If away, he suggests to leave that work behind, if you can.

But “follow your bliss” doesn’t precisely translate in this instance: I love the play of language even in a technical book on the banjo, but I don’t feel passionate about that play. But then again, I’m further muddled about my mountain, because I waffle whether it’s imperative to feel soaring passion about your work when it gives you pleasure at a basic level, and provides a sense of accomplishment, however ephemeral. Still mulling on passion’s place, and where that place might be on my own map.

We all move through our days, trying to figure out what to do if we have a surgeon’s hands and a troubadour’s heart. (I have neither, but I do have impressively large feet.) In the meantime, I’ll contact Steeda and see if they have made such a killing on cold-air intake sales that they can become my patron, and I can simply work on my novel, which has suffered sore neglect lately.

Bonus Book Giveaway
There’s only a few days days left on my giveaway at the Guide to Literary Agents blog of Flowering, my new book of short stories. My essay there is on the weird nature of short story collections within the publishing world. You don’t even need to read my transcendently engrossing point-of-view on that subject to comment, and be in the running to win the book. Do it.

Follow the blog by email and give us a nod on social:

13 thoughts on “Cold-Air Intakes and the Mountain—Words to Make Livings, Words to Make Meanings

  1. Tom, I can say with confidence that focus brings us closer to our mountains, as I’ve been extremely focused lately and I feel, well, unstoppable.
    Yet we need to be careful about how we define that focus. Perhaps all of it- writing fiction and editing disparate works and writing about writing- is, after all, a very focused thing to be doing.

  2. In the words of Milan Kundera:

    “Metaphors are dangerous.”

    And, I’d add, not always transferable.

    I can enjoy a bit of danger—but the idea of mapping out and scaling that singular, life’s-deeper-goals mountain leaves me feeling more tepid than intrepid explorer.

    But thinking of my purpose/passion/bliss in terms of choreography, not cartography? As a dance rather than a destination? As a structured, disciplined and yet improvised set of steps and rhythms, leading me in different directions at times?

    That resonates.

    While seeing it as being commendably “putty-like” (rather than unfocused) seems to work very well for self-described multipotentialite blogger Emilie Wapnick.

    What metaphor might do it for you, Tom?

    (If it happens to be dancing the Paso Doble, don’t get too discouraged when those impressively large feet occasionally get in the way.)

  3. Rick, focus is major; I have not been able to focus well while I’ve been here in Panama—lots of distractions and strange incidents (including crashing the host’s car two days ago), and my own laggardly ways have made things murky.

    I do agree that a particolored palette of pursuits might not indicate dilettantism but just a means of dividing time into working wedges. I can’t quite seem to figure out why I am so restless with it all—other than hearing faint calls from mortality’s trumpet.

  4. Annie, yes, I’m not one of those people who has a five-year-plan—that joke about how people planning things makes God laugh rings true for me. But I do fear that scattered attentions mean that “bigger” interests might not be fulfilled.

    It IS a dance, and the partners and the melodies change, and that’s inevitable and for the better in most instances. How’s that for saying something definitive and murky at the same time?

    Emilie Wapnick? Isn’t he the greengrocer down at the farmer’s market?

  5. That’s it, Tom! You’re “dividing time into working wedges” but that’s still focused. It’s no different than me doing a composite resin restoration one hour (in which I am still thrilled each time after many years by contemplation of how the adhesion to a tooth actually works), then a crown in another hour, then perhaps some Invisalign planning in the next.

    As we talk through this, my conclusion is: Focus on a variety of things in the same field is still focus.

  6. Rick, I am thrilled that you continue to be thrilled by your work. I do understand: if you are present in your work, each restoration is a new thing, one that requires new concentration and fresh application of skill.

    I have to remind myself to be present in work that sometimes becomes routine to me, because there’s always something new to discover (and fascinating new mistakes to make, but I won’t tell my clients or your patients).

  7. Elliptical Wilson: All I said in my comment was a parroting of what you said, but since you admired your comment so much, you thought mine was diamond-eyed as well, you tricky guy.

    Keep those restorations alive! I will have you work on my next vintage automobile.

  8. 1. Get a silk worm
    2. Go up in an airplane
    3. Grip the silk worm firmly
    4. Verify that you are NOT wearing a parachute
    5. Jump
    6. Watch what you create on the way down. That was probably what you really wanted.

    I think it works best if you do this metaphorically in your head.

    All seriousness aside, don’t we all have to be of two minds, the artist, and the accountant? At least until our art can hire an accountant.

    If those lucre-drawing tasks fit in with your rayzun detter, take the money and hobble. I’ve realized that all my stuff, coaching, web, writing, fits under a single umbrella. And new ideas that don’t fit get tossed. But it’s about the umbrella, and that’s how I present it.

    I think I’m rambling, but it’s pizza night, which means I’ve already got my head in the sauce. D’oh. I mean dough.

  9. Joel, have you been making that ergot pizza again? I do enjoy your silkworm fancies, no matter that the thread spinner has become unwoven. I still haven’t quite figured out what I’m going to do when I grow up, but it’s nice to have you guys with me in the sandbox.

  10. I’m considering a rye/barley crust, thought probably without fungi (in the crust, that is. We always invite mushroom to the toppings, because he’s such a fun guy.)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.