Tweet Tweet

Outside my study window, our garden is visited constantly by birds. Cardinals, redpolls, finches, doves, grackles, catbirds, downy woodpeckers, flickers, evening grosbeaks, bluebirds, owls, even two big gorgeous hawks. This week, they have become my muse, because they know how to do something that I needed to learn. They know how to go “tweet.” After writing last week about brevity being the soul of wit and Oliver Strunk’s famous Rule 17 (“Omit needless words!”), I found myself wrestling with a new opportunity to put Rule 17 to the test. It turned out to be a pretty severe test. A few days ago I realized that today is the day a new book comes out. Or more accurately: a new edition of a book. Today, July 29, is the release date for the mass-market paperback edition of The Red Circle, the memoir I wrote a few years ago with my buddy, SEAL sniper Brandon Webb. Sis-Boom-Bah! I’ve never had a book go to mass-market paperback before. (A few definitions: “Trade paper” is the larger-size paperback, the one they print with the exact same page layouts as the hardcover, typically a year after the hardcover’s release. “Mass market” is a whole new layout with smaller pages. You know: back-pocket format. For beach-reading.) I decided I’d take the opportunity to do something else I’ve never done before: a Twitter campaign. I would condense the entire book into a month’s worth of daily tweets. Actually, since I added two days’ lead time, into 33 tweets. So two days ago, Sunday, I tweeted this: “For the next 33 days: The Red Circle, condensed to...

Say What You Mean

This week a sad thing happened: it was announced that some 12,500 employees are being laid off at Microsoft’s devices unit. What elevated this event from merely a shame to an outrage, and at the same time a sort of uneasily, weirdly hilarious outrage, was the way they found out. As reported in New York magazine, the man responsible for sharing this news did so through a truly awful memo that starts out, “Hello there…” and goes on to dribble out more than 800 words before getting to the point. The point being, “So sorry—you’re fired.” Long before it gets there, though, it has fully numbed the brain with passages like this one: Whereas the hardware business of phones within Nokia was an end unto itself, within Microsoft all our devices are intended to embody the finest of Microsoft’s digital work and digital life experiences, while accruing value to Microsoft’s overall strategy. Our device strategy must reflect Microsoft’s strategy and must be accomplished within an appropriate financial envelope… … which is followed immediately by this: Therefore, we plan to make some changes. Aha. Changes. So, what changes, exactly? The memo blatts out 583 more words of nerve-deadening explanation (“To win in the higher price segments, we will focus on delivering great breakthrough products in alignment with major milestones… we will ensure that the very best experiences and scenarios from across the company will be showcased on our products … we plan to select the appropriate business model approach for our sales markets while continuing to offer our products in all markets with a strong focus on maintaining business continuity...

May I Help You?

Apparently I’ve been ambling in and out of Amazon’s “Top 100 Most Popular Self-Help Authors” list for the past nine months. I had not really thought of the stuff I write as “self-help,” exactly. Whenever the term comes up, it invariably calls to mind the wisdom of Steven Wright: “I went to a bookstore and asked the saleswomen, ‘Where’s the self-help section?’ She said if she told me, it would defeat the purpose.” Still, this list represents a thumb on the pulse of the masses and is updated hourly, so I figure, hey, it must be an accurate metric of how helpful I am to the planet at any given moment. Maybe I should pay attention to it. I hit #29 on the list on Thanksgiving Day of last year. I was not aware of this at the time and have to admit, as far as I can recall I did not feel a thing. I don’t remember hitting anything at all that day, other than the post-turkey couch coma. I did not, in fact, become aware of my standing among Self-Helpful Human Beings till this summer, when I noticed this listing on Amazon. As I write this, I am currently at #86 (think of it as an homage to Maxwell Smart), where I am sandwiched between Arianna Huffington and M. Scott Peck. And trailing behind the three of us, in 88th place, is my good friend Cameron Diaz. Cameron and I first became acquainted a few weeks ago, when she was perched fetchingly in her present position (#88) and I had come up from behind to breathe down...

Making Things Happen

When my older son Nick was a toddler, he used to sit in the kitchen and smash trucks. It went like this: We had a long, picnic-table-style oak dining table that we kept along a wall across from the refrigerator. Nick would sit at one end, slung snugly into his hook-on infant seat, grab his big toy truck, and push it as hard as he could. It would careen clear down the length of the table, go flying off the other end, and go Crash! onto the floor. He would laugh with unbridled glee. We would then fetch the truck, walk it back over to him, and he would start the process over again. And again. He got the biggest thrill out of this, and we did, too, watching him. I didn’t think it was simply the guilty-pleasure shock value of the loud crash itself that he loved. It seemed to me, it was what psychologists sometimes call sense of agency: the awareness that you are initiating, executing, and controlling your own volitional actions in the world. It’s why toddlers love to break things, drop things, toss things, as soon as they’re able. It’s not a destructive impulse; quite the opposite. It’s the exhilaration that comes with the realization, I made that happen. I thought about Nick and his truck a few weeks ago. I’d been a little frustrated with the process of publishing. Brandon Webb (my Navy SEAL sniper buddy and Red Circle coauthor) and I have written a second book together, but it’s taking a tortuous route to get it into the marketplace where people can actually...

Bouncebackability

It still surprises me sometimes. Awakening in the morning, stretching out my toes under the sheets as the vestiges of dreams resolve themselves into the sounds and smells of my life here and now, then gradually opening my eyes, turning silently until they rest on my wife’s sleeping face — and realizing just how happy I’ve somehow become. Life could easily have done the mathematics of mood and biography and come up with a different result. But day after day, there it is again. My father used to call me the stehaufmänn (shtay-owf-mahn). That’s German for guy who keeps standing up, and it refers to one of those balloon/punching-bag toys that bounces back up every time you knock it down. Lord knows I’ve been knocked down a few times. Made a fortune in my forties, then lost it all. (Oops.) Lost my first business, then lost my next one, too, pushed me into bankruptcy. Lost my first child to meningitis. Lost my first marriage, then lost another. Throughout the confusing, messy, haphazard process of picking my way from sixteen to sixty, I’ve seen wrenching defeats and slogged through patches of anguish that sometimes felt interminable. But here’s the odd thing: I seem to have ended up a good deal happier after all these tribulations than I was before. How did that happen? I think it’s a question of focus. When you go through something difficult or painful (or both), what’s the story you tell yourself about it? While it’s happening, does the little voice in your head (the inner Cronkite) say, “This is awful, this is terrible, I don’t...