Rogue Ink

May 7, 2008

Versatility, Hats, and the Happy Man

Filed under: Copywriting,Entrepreneurship,Writing — Tei @ 6:42 am
Tags: ,

Charlotte was versatile. You remember Charlotte, right? With the web? Well, she was. She made a huge egg sac and Wilbur was looking at it and she said, by way of explanation, that she was versatile.

“Does ‘versatile’ mean ‘full of eggs’?” Wilbur asked.

“No. Versatile means that I can change with ease from one thing to the next.”

Which is how you know that Charlotte’s Web was one of the best children’s books ever. NezSez did a fantastic post yesterday on versatility, and I wanted to riff off of it, since versatility is one of the things that’s been amazingly useful to me as a writer and a business owner (she says, as though it has been SO LONG since she became that latter thing).

Sure. I can do that.

I would never, ever utter those words again if I weren’t versatile. When you’re a freelance writer, you very rarely see the same project or the same subject twice in a row. One week you’re writing about a cow’s gastrointestinal tract and the next you’re writing about underprivileged children in downtown Oakland and five minutes later you’re writing weird trivia facts about chocolate.

Favorite trivia fact about chocolate: A survey of office workers in London found that almost three quarters would reveal their network-access password in exchange for a bar of chocolate. Now that I know what the going rate is, I’m holding out for two bars.

If I worried about having the exact relevant experience necessary for each job as it presented itself to me, I’d never write again. But I don’t. I’m versatile. I’ll write about chocolate, and then I’ll write about electronic resumes, and then I’ll write about modern art. Different voices, different backgrounds, different set of facts. One of the great things about being versatile is that you’re never bored, and you’re never boring. And as we’ve established over here in Rogueville, being bored sucks, and being boring sucks more.

Mad Hatting

It finally happened. Wendi made the Tei party joke. And since she has, let us celebrate with a Mad Hatting Tei Party, and talk about wearing different hats in a business.

I get to be a lot of people in my business. I’m the project manager and the head honcho (a VERY cool hat, by the by, like something out of Dr. Seuss) and the secretary (what, like you have someone to make your coffee for you?) and the accountant (surprisingly cool hat, it’s one of those visors the money-counters wear in Vegas) and the marketing director (evidently, no hat, but a yellow jumpsuit and a katana) and, of course, the copywriter, or as I like to think of it, the talent (beret. What? I look great in berets).

Versatility is your friend when running your business. You can’t have someone call and ask you for a price quote and say, “I’m sorry, but I’m wearing my head honcho hat right now, I’ll have to refer you to my secretary hat.” You are all hats, and no hat, and every hat individually. You are Zen and the Art of Hatting, my friend. That is what versatility is.

Wisdom from a Cabbie

This is a true story, so parts of it aren’t funny. It’s worth the payoff, though. Come along with me.

When I was moving out of my apartment in Chicago into another one, I left everything too late. I tried to move everything, by myself, in the Chicago heat, which is another way of saying I wandered into hell and tried to take over for Sisyphus. I was so stressed out and unable to sleep that I actually gave myself shingles. Yes, that is correct. Old people’s chicken pox. If you are insane enough, you too can fool your body into thinking it is past menopause and on into second childhood.

There was a great moment where my man-friend at the time convinced me that some of this stuff just wasn’t worth it, and we spent a delightful hour or so throwing all my glassware twenty-two stories down a garbage chute. It was wonderful and it didn’t last long enough.

The final morning, I had six boxes that needed to be transported from one apartment to the other. I had not slept at all. We both had flights to catch. The moving van had already been returned, since I couldn’t afford to keep it an extra day. We called a cab.

The cabbie showed up on time, driving a cab-van. I was so thrilled that he had a huge van instead of a little cab that I ran outside and said something blatantly honest, which is not generally wise if you have not slept and you have shingles: “We are going to be a huge pain in the ass for the next three hours, but there is a huge tip at the end of it for you if you can help us out.”

The cabbie, who was tall, dreadlocked, about thirty, and looked like he’d rather be doing Capoeira or some other highly difficult martial art, immediately perked up. Versatility, people, I’m telling you. “What can I do?” he said, and we had a friend and an ally. He not only folded down the seats in the back of the van, but helped my man-friend carry all six of the boxes up three full flights of stairs and refused to let me do anything. I suspect this was because I looked like the living dead, but it was still sweet.

While we were driving to the airport, my man-friend inquired after the best fare the cabbie had ever had.

Immediately, the cabbie said, “The happy man.” My man-friend and I waited in the backseat. We can see a good story coming. We know from introductions. “There was one man, older man, and he was just incredibly happy, shone all over with it. And I asked him, I said, wow, you look like you’re having a good day.”

The man says, calmly, as though he’d thought about it before, “I’m always having a good day.”

The cabbie was a little startled. “That’s . . . that’s unusual.”

“I suppose,” says the old man, and smiles at him.

“Look,” the cabbie says after a moment of thinking about it. “I don’t suppose there’s any wisdom you have that you can offer a young guy like me, just trying to figure it out.”

The man leaned back into his seat and smiled. “Well,” says the old man. “There’s one thing. I learn something new every year.

Versatility. That old man learned to wire electricity one year, learned glassblowing another, learned how to take a car apart and put it back together again, learned to play the guitar. Every year, he picked something he didn’t know anything about, and in his spare time, he learned all about it. And he found that every new thing he learned made him happier, because he understood more and more about the way the world worked. He never stopped learning. As he neared the end of his life, he was happy enough that a young Chicago cabbie was so taken by his air of contentedness that he asked him to impart some wisdom upon him, as though any of us ever actually says such things to each other any more.

That’s the story. From my Chicago cabbie to you. Learn something new, be a jack of all trades. It will make you better at life.

I hope that’s useful to you. I stopped being sarcastic just to tell you that story. But hell, I can be sentimental sometimes. I’m versatile that way.

I am also full of eggs. Omelettes for dinner are the best.

Subscribe. Roguishness is always versatile.



  1. You’ve nailed two of the most important truths of life:

    * Being Boring Sucks
    * Breakfast For Dinner Rocks

    Mmm, omelettes …

    Comment by Dave Navarro — May 7, 2008 @ 9:47 am | Reply

  2. I have edited through my Google Reader subscriptions twice since I added you. I like to cull the ones that have so many unread posts in them that I realise I will never get through them, because it feels like like a chore to have them staring back at me in all their un-read horror. I’m easily amused by new things but ALSO fickle and get easily distracted and lose interest in things, so that ends up happening to a lot of feeds. While I don’t have a great memory, I am pretty sure that of all the feeds I had been subscribed to at the time when your’s was added, only your’s and one other remains. Just so you know. That is all.

    Comment by Sunili — May 7, 2008 @ 9:48 am | Reply

  3. Learning is only part of it. The “happy man” had the right idea, but there’s more to it.

    First of all, happiness is the absolute goal you should be focusing on. People get confused by money, prestige, fame, power and so on and think those are the goals. They aren’t: those are things you seek in order to get what you really want, which is (of course) happiness.

    What do you need to be happy? Really you don’t need anything but your own attitude, but security, health, love and friends can sure help. As part of health is mental health, learning new things is never a bad thing. It also helps prevent “where did my life go?” questions – you do NOT want to be asking that question any time past forty!

    Learn new things, experience new things. Not just once a year, but every opportunity you get. Make new friends, try out a different style of restaurant, drive a different road to work. Little things like that bring more color to your life.

    Comment by Tony Lawrence — May 7, 2008 @ 11:16 am | Reply

  4. Tei,

    Nice,very inspirational.

    Too bad you moved away from Chicago. I could have called in the troops around here and had you moved in a jiffy.
    You need more friends with big families.

    Comment by wendikelly — May 7, 2008 @ 1:21 pm | Reply

  5. Damn fine post! WOW. Also, it made me think of the other day when I posted about that guy telling me he wanted experience with TV and Radio ad-copy and I argued that a good writer — who has written things about beauty (when she doesn’t know the first thing) and houses and chiropractic care and insurance and legal action and froggy fundraising, ad nauseum — should be able to write anything. Versatility, folks, as you say. Tell me what you want and I’ll deliver. But no. He was willing to give up many years’ writing experience for one year *TV and Radio* writing experience. Bah.

    Comment by steph — May 7, 2008 @ 1:42 pm | Reply

  6. Also checked out your excellent post on the do-over. Funny, again, because I was just posting about this too. Only you’ve been way more focused and informative. I was just freaking out and overwhelmed by all the shit that makes a good blog and all the stuff I’m supposed to do and how influenced I am by other people’s blogs, and crying over the fact that I just don’t know what I want, exactly. In fact, I still freaking out and overwhelmed and even crying, just a little bit. This could be a full-time occupation…but I have to get back to editing (which I suspect might be what makes me boring).

    Comment by steph — May 7, 2008 @ 1:57 pm | Reply

  7. Hi Tei,

    I’m glad to have provided the little spark for your fantastic post — really a veracity of a versatile virtuoso.

    Comment by Nez — May 7, 2008 @ 2:09 pm | Reply

  8. This reminds me of my favorite saying, “I can do anything.”

    Of course, I am not always the happy man, because there are things I cannot do that drive me mad. Like flying. I can’t fly. I’m working on it.

    But because I think I can do anything (except fly and write Forex), I think I’m happier than other people. Hm.

    I hate eggs.

    Comment by James Chartrand - Men with Pens — May 7, 2008 @ 3:17 pm | Reply

  9. Versatility also makes you fun at parties and family get togethers, and the go-to person for strange, weird and sometimes useful facts and info. My friends call me for everything from how often to water a lawn (1″ per week, preferably twice a week 1/2 inch each time) to one of the cheapest travel days (early, early Saturday morning). I love the Zen and the Art of Hatting. Today, I’m a magician. Watch me make rocking copy appear when you’ve given me nothing to work with – ta da!

    Comment by Karen Swim — May 7, 2008 @ 3:18 pm | Reply

  10. Gah, comment catch-up. Right then.

    Dave: I live to impart the wisdom of Boring = Suck. I shall never rest in this mission. Thanks for coming around, I’m glad to see you.

    Sunili: Sweet. I feel like I’m winning a contest.

    Tony: Love above all things. Love what you learn, what you do, who you’re with. That’s happiness. Simple little code. I try to keep it.

    Wendi: DAMN it. At the time, everyone else had already gone home for the summer. I would never live in Chicago again. The weather gods there are evil.

    Steph: Don’t cry! Drop me an email, we’ll talk. It’s really not that bad. It actually gets really awesome, really soon.

    James: You know why you can’t fly? Because you don’t eat your eggs.

    Karen: Ooh, magician hat. Awesomeness.

    Comment by Tei — May 7, 2008 @ 3:28 pm | Reply

  11. Nez – I’m sorry! I missed you first round! You were caught in my comment filter! And you were alliterative! I love alliteration! The way I hate excessive exclamation points!

    Oh. Wait.

    DAMN it.

    Anyway. Glad you’re here.

    Comment by Tei — May 7, 2008 @ 3:42 pm | Reply

  12. @Tei

    Chicago weather gods=Boo Hiss
    The nice smiling picture of me is because I am standing in sunny San Diago
    where the next time the money gods smile on me for things other than college educations and what not,(after the kids move out) I am leaving this monster weather behind and heading for the sun.

    Comment by Wendi Kelly — May 7, 2008 @ 4:00 pm | Reply

  13. Be happy and eat eggs. Mmmm the stuff of legend.

    Comment by Sandie — May 7, 2008 @ 4:53 pm | Reply

  14. Tei: Thanks for the invite! As soon as I get in enough editing that I don’t feel guilty, I’ll for sure drop you an email. Be forewarned and bring a gas mask: it might have the stench of desperation attached.

    Anyway. I see that James hates eggs and you were recently full of them, the thought of which just made me gag a little. I’m on the fence, trying to get over the whole “hen periods” thingy.

    Comment by steph — May 7, 2008 @ 5:00 pm | Reply

  15. I’m hoping this post is merely a prelude to when you conduct your OWN study of “things Americans are willing to do for a chocolate bar”…

    Comment by Lizbeth — May 7, 2008 @ 7:25 pm | Reply

  16. Wendi: Did you like your Tei party? I’ll actually be up in Chicago this summer. My old housemate is getting married at the university chapel, because they are lovable dorks like that.

    Sandie: The Legend of the Happy Egg. Yes indeed.

    Steph: Hey, anytime. Email’s up in my about me section. Hen periods are fine. You eat chicken, yes? Blood is blood is blood. Embrace your inner carnivore.

    Lizbeth: Hey sweetie. That list would be too long to calibrate. Though I can tell you EXACTLY what Tess will do for a chocolate bar, and it ain’t pretty.

    Comment by Tei — May 7, 2008 @ 7:39 pm | Reply

  17. […] drowning in the Wading Pool of What-the-Hell-IS-All-This? I am here to tell you the story about the Happy Man, to rant about the War on English or lumberjacks or running the perfect con. I am here to entertain […]

    Pingback by When Your Business Blog Isn’t a Business Blog « Rogue Ink — May 8, 2008 @ 4:18 am | Reply

  18. Good post!

    Jack of all trades. Master of none. That’s me to a tee.

    (By the way, I’m embarassed to say I have never read Charlotte’s web)

    Comment by Friar — May 8, 2008 @ 3:53 pm | Reply

  19. […] drowning in the Wading Pool of What-the-Hell-IS-All-This? I am here to tell you the story about the Happy Man, to rant about the War on English or lumberjacks or running the perfect con. I am here to entertain […]

    Pingback by Rogue Ink: The Pub Denizens « Rogue Ink — May 9, 2008 @ 3:13 am | Reply

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