Archive Monthly Archives: April 2008

What Does A Good Life Look Like?

Monday, 8:46pm
Reno, NV
Shake, rattle ‘n roll… ‘n roll… n’ roll… n’ roll…


Not sure if you’ve been following the micro-news or not… but our little town here nestled against the Sierra Nevada has been Earthquake Central for the last week or so.

That’s right. Reno made the national newscasts by shaking its butt.

Actually, a flurry of heart-pounding smallish quakes has been unsettling the joint since February… but things got really interesting this past week: On average, we’re experiencing over a hundred shaking events a day (!), with the largest so far nudging 5.0 (knock you off your feet level).

The experts assure us a volcano isn’t about to emerge from under Fourth Street and shower us with lava or anything like that.

Still, the whole city is holding its collective breath, waiting for the punchline to arrive.

Now, I’m from California, and we’re so blaise about seismic activity, we named our minor-league baseball team after earthquakes. (Literally, the Cucamonga Quakes, single A.) I slept through most of the big ones while growing up — my bed would bounce across the floor, and everything from the walls and bookcases would doink off my head, yet I refused to leave slumberland. (Probably helped that I grew up less than one hundred feet from active train tracks, where the Southern Pacific freights would rattle the house several times a day.)

So I’m not particularly nervous. Been sleeping fine, even when the big jolts arrive in the wee hours. I’ll get up, calm the dogs down, check for flaming lava in the hallway, and fall back into a deep snooze before the first aftershock arrives.

Of course, everyone who didn’t grow up in California is freaking out. Michele’s downright jumpy — her hometown of Chicago was, she insists, firmly nailed down like a city is supposed to be. Damn it. She is actually offended by my smug refusal to sit up all night waiting for the next tremblor.

And hey, being jumpy is fine. As long as you channel that energy into being prepared. We’ve been chatty with neighbors we haven’t noticed since last summer (when everyone spent the evening sipping wine in the middle of the cul de sac, watching the nearby hills burn and taking bets on whose house would go up like a matchhead first if the wind changed). Trading info and phone numbers and secret emergency plans.

And also trading fears.

It’s gotten me thinking about what life is really all about, again.

You know — once the danger passes, how are you gonna change things so you enjoy this corporeal ride with a little more gusto?

Gary Halbert and I used to gleefully have a very similar conversation, over and over, whenever the mood struck: We asked ourselves, what does a good life look like?

It’s a subject worthy of repeated exploration.

If you need help getting started, consider those inane celebrity interview modules in magazines… where somebody pitches them 20 fast questions like “What is your perfect day?” and “What do you see yourself doing five years from now?”

They ask these questions as if, of course everyone has an instant answer handy. I mean, who doesn’t constantly obsess on what a perfect day would be?

Try it on your friends, and on yourself. You’ll find that, in reality, very few people have even considered the concept of looking ahead like that. (I’m betting the celebs have their PR handlers do most of the answering in those articles, anyway.)

Many folks are just plain superstitious about imagining the future, like they’ll jinx any chance they may have of attaining a good life down the road…

… when — once you understand how goal-setting works — that kind of avoidance is actually a damn good way to guarantee you’ll never get close to a perfect anything.

A good life seldom just happens to you.

You gotta envision it… go after it… and attain it.

You want it… you take it… and you pay the price.

Here’s a tip you may not discover immediately, that will help you understand why it’s so hard at first to see your future very clearly: Your desires, and thus your “perfect” goals, will change dramatically over time.

If you have your old high school yearbook, go read what your pals wrote about the impending future. If life just kinda “happened” to any of them in the cruel adult world, there wasn’t much in the way of startling surprises. Or adventures.

It’s very much worth thinking about what a good life looks like.

The rules Halbert and I came up for our incessant chats on this topic were simple: We had to be painfully and excruciatingly honest.

Sometimes, this meant our talk degenerated into locker room fantasies. That was allowed. We both had bloated biological imperatives.

Mostly, though, we talked of finding not a moment in time where bliss was attained… but rather an ongoing series of opportunities for exploration and sampling.

In other words… we suspected that the Perfect Life would be too full of surprises, too unpredictable, and too intertwined with edgy adventure to allow a quick, pat, consistent answer.

So our vision changed, constantly. Curiously, neither of us gave a shit about material possessions. Or power.

In the end, the Introvert usually triumphed within us. A good life had its lovely carnal pleasures, sure… but central to complete fulfillment was a pursuit of intellectual goals and long greedy spells acquiring knowledge and (as silly as it sounds) wisdom.

(I’ve recently heard how Gene Simmons, the bass player from KISS, describes his perfect day… and I gotta admit, he has a point about not getting too philosophical about shit. Fortunately, I’ve had a few extended spells of hedonistic excess to enjoy… and while I do not regret a single hour, I will admit that it gets boring after a while. Especially for someone who spends an inordinate amount of time deep inside their head.)

(Still, you go, Gene. Party ev-er-y day…)

Now, here’s the kicker: You cannot just possess wisdom. To set up a life where you have the LUXURY of pursuing such lofty crap… you need lots of freedom.

I realized something a very long time ago: Many entrepreneurs really do get into biz for the money, and all the things money can buy. The freedom they enjoy is the freedom from want, and the giddy gorging at the teat of modern pleasures.

However, there are just as many others for whom money is just a way to buy different kinds of freedom: Never having others choose for you, never needing to shoulder responsibilities you don’t freely seek, never wondering when “life” will begin… because you’re highly aware you’re deep into it, every day.

As you explore your own notions of a good life, judge harshly against your intuition and your gut. Make sure no one else is influencing your dream, unless you welcome the influence. (My first lists of goals — while I was struggling with the concept of being able to actually “want” something and go after it — were heavy with rewards I didn’t actually want… like boats, or a big mansion, or fame. I had to extract myself from the quicksand-like influence of other people’s desires, before I could find where my heart truly lay. It’s a process. I had a long way to go, but each attempt at refining and reshaping my peculiar goals paid off hugely.)

Is freedom important to you? It’s not, for everyone. Like Dylan said, you gotta serve somebody. A higher purpose, a god, an addiction, a family model, something. If you choose something hard-to-define, like a “higher purpose”, then your everlasting homework assignment is to explain to yourself HOW you will serve that purpose.

You can’t just say you’re after it, either. When you’re engaging life on all cylinders, you get busy, not philosophical.

You go after it.

In Gary’s case — and this still influences me today — he had a peculiar inability to settle down and enjoy any reward he’d attained. For him, the happiness of succeeding meant only that another chapter in his life had ended… and he had to hunker down to find that next challenge, that next hill to climb, that next dragon to vanquish.

That’s an exhausting way to live, but it’s also invigorating when you do it right.

And, because you have the freedom to choose your goals and directions… and the freedom (in your mind and your bank account) to pursue them with balls-to-the-wall fervor… you can change direction any time your gut tells you it’s time.

Consider, as you mull your own perfect day and good life, if the destination or the journey is more important to you.

For me, it’s always been about the ride.

Sometimes, I get too complacent about success, and make the horrible mistake of thinking “I’ve done it, by Jove!” When, according to my private scorecard, I haven’t done jack shit yet in life.

I’ve been telling people lately to think about their life story as a movie. Because that’s easy to digest. For me — and maybe for you, too — the better analogy is a big long novel.

When chapters end, new ones begin immediately. The tale has no clear final act, because life isn’t a static frozen moment, but a continual jaunt through ever-changing scenery.

Still, it’s good to think (and to talk about, with good friends) what your good life looks like.

I’m always fascinated by other people’s ideas on this, too.

Comments are welcome. If you’re just beginning to consider your own journey, all the better — here’s a forum for your thoughts.

I am constantly blown away by how smart, how involved, and how alive the commenters in this blog are. It’s a rush, I gotta tell ya, to know so many people of quality and insight are out there.

Love to hear from you.

My good life is taking me over to San Francisco this weekend, of course — out of the Sierra Bed O’ Earthquakes, into the quivering bosom of The Mother Of All Fault Lines in the Bay Area.

If we survive, I’ve got a big damn fresh list of “good life” things to indulge in over the summer.

What a ride we’re on…

Stay frosty,

John Carlton

P.S. If you’re still bummed about missing out on this upcoming copywriting workshop… and who in their right mind isn’t bummed about missing it?… remember that we’ve still got several coaching programs in place, all heavily loaded with personal attention from me.

Check out, while you’re contemplating your future.

Might be a great fit there, you know.

Watching People’s Heads Explode

Thursday, 8:35pm
Reno, NV
“How do I get out of this chickenshit outfit?” Pvt. Hudson, “Aliens”


Okay, so I’m a little grumpy today. I’m still exhausted from the Kern “Mass Control” seminar (major blast, but even fun can suck the juice out of you), I’ve still got days of hard work ahead getting ready for the workshop next week…

… and we just had a flurry of FIFTY freaking earthquakes today. The largest was 4.2 (definitely not fun), and there were at least half a dozen over 3.0 (the kind that rattle the eaves).

This would be a slow news day in California… but folks in Northern Nevada are freaking out. Like most of the continent, we’re settled on a few fault lines here and there. But they’ve never been this antsy before, that anyone remembers (or has kept records of).

So if you never hear from me again, you’ll know why.

Freakin’ earth swallowed us up.

So, yeah, I’m a little grumpy.

And I want to take full advantage of this grumpiness… and continue, just a wee bit further, on last week’s post on paying taxes.

First, let me be clear: I LOVE it that people post comments, and I urge you to disagree with me whenever you feel the need. That kind of “heat” keeps the blog full of energy and action. I wanna hear whatever you have to say. Don’t be shy.

Not that any of you are.

If you read the comments from the most-recent “Cuz I’m The Taxman” post, you will have noticed the plethora of near-dumbfounded disagreement with my attitude about paying The Man his pound of flesh. I know many of the posters, and I respect and like them. (Yes, in spite of the flogging they delivered.) (Hey — “blog flogging”! Much better than the tired old “flaming” phrase, don’t you think? I just invented another word!)

And trust me on this: Because of a tech glitch, only a fraction of the comments made it into the blog. The rest, I had delivered via email… and man, they were viscious.

Because, when it comes to ideology… and getting all riled up about taxes is very much an ideology… sparks can fly.

And I must have gouged an ideological nerve with that post.

To recap: I wrote about my feeling of “belonging” when I first paid quarterly taxes as a freelancer. Early in my career — because of my success — those estimated payments alone were more than what I used to earn in a year.

And, instead of obsessing on having to “give up” all that money… especially to a dysfunctional government that was dead-set on wasting it… I chose to take the advice of a very, very rich man who was also very, very centered and happy. His nudge: Pay all you owe, and forget about it.

In fact, he said, look at your glass as half full — you’re paying so much, because you’ve earned so much. You’re a freakin’ success. Go make more.

Stop bitching.

Gary Halbert and I used to have a saying: “Just tell me who to pay, and how much.”

It was our code for GETTING THINGS DONE. The joke was that, in a world run by gangs and mobs — which is how the joint IS run, without organized governments, by the way — you were expected to pay extortion, protection and bribes just to engage in normal biz activity. And so what if it’s now called “taxes”.

Just point out the guy I’m supposed to pay, and let me get on with my day.

The other relevant saying: “Choose your battles.”

You wanna get all high-blood-pressured over something? First, make sure it’s a matter you have some control over.

Otherwise, you’re like the fabled king who stood on the shore ordering the ocean to stop making waves. Huff, and puff, and blow as hard as you like — if you’re railing against a monster that will swat you like a gnat, then you’ve chosen the wrong battle.

Check Sun Tzu if you need to. The Art Of War is all about achieving desired results, not “winning”. You can let the other guy win all the battles, and still end up demolishing him. You only reach the real endgame intact and ahead… IF you know what the war really is about.

For me — and for the scattered few folks out there who share my shrugging off of the “tax burden” — I’ve got better things to do than obsess on taxes. Things I can control. Like being successful.

Guys like my old buddy Ken C., and Jim, and Ian, and Kyle in the comments section understand. Thanks for chiming in, boys. I was starting to feel like a punching bag.

And if you read my prior post without letting your rage blot out your eyesight first, you know that my meaning was clear: Taxes suck (that’s a quote)… the world’s not perfect… and this is a piss-poor battle to choose to fight.

Cuz you’ll lose.

Yes, the government is riven with corruption. Yes, the education system is a rat’s nest of problems. Yes, America is stumbling like a giant drunken beast, lashing out blindly and ineffectively.

Things aren’t perfect. They aren’t even remotely good.

So fucking what?

I’ve been on the warpath against idealism for decades now. I loathe idealism because I WAS an idealist when I was young. I saw the flaws in the system, and I recoiled in horror. No way could I join the adult world, if it insisted on existing in a flimsy state of near-unconscious stupidity. Count me out, dude.

Except, that attitude didn’t work out so well for me as time wore on.

And I didn’t have to leave my intelligence, or my dignity, or my lust for making a difference at the door when I finally entered the business world and became a full-fledged capitalist.

Idealism sucks. It’s a mostly-empty threat to take your ball and go home unless everyone immediately starts playing by your rules… and the universe will laugh at you for the entire time you insist on this quixotic quest for an ideal civilization.

Me? I’m amazed that civilization works at all. As a species, we’ve still got one foot firmly back in the primeval jungle. The corruption and bullying and murderous greed that soils our culture is imbedded in our DNA. Our natural state is closer to anarchy than order… and if you just got through your day without barbarians torching and pillaging your town, then you may need to sit back and take stock of exactly what we’ve accomplished in this imperfect country.

Yeah, I hate a lot about the place. I’m appalled at the high incarneration rate, embarrassed by our national level of ignorance about the rest of the world, and saddened by the aggressive dunderheaded arrogance of our leaders.

I’m also nervous about the way critical thinking is denigrated, and pissed off that celebrity has become a religion.

Are these battles I can fight? In small ways, perhaps. I’m not above choosing a fight that will exhaust me. And yet, I can count rather impressive numbers of people whose lives have been affected by what I’ve shared. It’s a long way from a revolution, but I’m damn proud of having dragged (kicking and screaming) a small mob of folks into business success, by helping them break down the process (and the obstacles) and get busy with living the life we OWE all the men and women who died to keep some trace of real freedom alive in this little democratic experiment.

Yes, our country is flawed.

It is still, however, the dream of every serf and slave and vanquished schlub over the long, cruel course of history who ever wished for just a small shot at being able to live without undue interference. Without a boot on his neck. With an equal opportunity to do what he wanted, how he wanted to do it.

The folks whose heads explode even thinkiing about taxes need to stop and consider: Even though a huge percentage of your dough is being confiscated by the gummit… are you being restrained from being more successful? Has some jack-booted thug come by and placed a ceiling on your dreams and goals? Are you being thwarted from creating your own little empire of wealth and fame?

Okay, if your idea of a good biz is engaging in illegal shit, then sure — you’re being thwarted.

Otherwise… gimme a break.

Choose your battles.

And if you want a seat at the Feast of Life, get your head clear. People with a chip on their shoulder, permanently pissed off about boogeymen coming to steal their “stuff”, aren’t welcome. The Feast is an optimistic place — not immune from caution, prepared for calamity, and alarmed at real dangers… but still hugely and gratefully optimistic.

The entire world needs help. Not bitching and moaning, but real help.

And we can all start by tending our own gardens, and doing what we can to harrass the evil bastards who want the good times brought down.

Choose your battles. If it’s taxes, then great — I wish you all the luck in world. Taxes suck.

It’s just not my battle. I’ve got other, equally urgent and important things to attend to. And I enjoy not having my head explode every time I need to write a check for estimated taxes. I spend somewhere in the vicinity of eight hours a year even thinking about taxes. That’s it.

The rest of my time is mine. To quote Pete Townsend, I call that a bargain.

Geez, I AM grumpy today.

I’ll be better tomorrow, I promise.

If the earth doesn’t swallow us up, that is.

Just felt another one. Screw it — I’m off to the fridge for a cold pale ale…

Stay frosty,

John Carlton

P.S. At the Mass Control seminar, I announced to the world that we were taking the Bag of Tricks off the table very soon. So it’s officially on the nearly-extinct list… a breath-taking offer so generous (especially with personal attention from me) it will be the stuff of myth when it’s finally gone.

However, we will honor all promises as long as the offer is up at

If the reason your head is exploding is your lack of biz success, then you may wanna check it out.

While it’s still an option, that is.

P.P.S. And, right on cue… Hollywood star Wesley Snipes just got handed a 3-year jail term for avoiding taxes. Misdemeanors. Three years.

He did not wisely choose his battle.

The Fed plays rough.

Cuz I’m The Taxman…

Monday, 10:44pm
Reno, NV
“…and you’re working for nobody but me…” George Harrison


Just plowed through the old tax grind here. Spent several hours chasing down documents, digging through files, double-checking my math.

Cuz I suck at math, you know. How I got through trig in high school is a mystery (let alone statistics and matrix theory in college).

In fact, I’m only half-joking when I say I’m pretty sure I’ve lost the ability to multiply by 8. That entire synapse has just dried up and fluffed away. (I still have vivid memories of squirming in my third grade class during the vicious head-to-head multiplication games the teacher forced us to play. I got tricked more than once with “five times zero”, blurting “FIVE!” before realizing my blunder. Argh!)

This is why one of my first splurges when my career got going was hiring an accountant.

Accountants like numbers. Watching their hands fly across a calculator is something to behold. Looky there — all my money vanishing like dots on a digital screen…

But here’s the thing: The first time I wrote a check to the IRS for an estimated payment… I was actually thrilled to death.

This first quarterly payment was proof that I was — finally — my own man. In my own biz. Paying my own taxes.

No withholding. No payroll check. No timing my bills to The Man’s schedule for doling out my hard-earned dough.

But I enjoyed that thrill alone.

Many of my early gigs as a freelancer were with business owners who considered taxes to be evil, evil, evil. Reagan encouraged them in this hatred — it was a time when government was seen as the problem, and unfettered free enterprise the solution.

The only solution.

I’m not gonna get into it… but after last month’s bailing out of Bear Stearns with taxpayer money (mine!) — because deregulation allowed them to act like four-year-olds with someone else’s piggy bank — I’m gonna slug the next guy who spouts ideological bullshit about the free market being able to regulate itself and fix any problem.

Economics has never been easy to understand, no matter what anyone else tells you. It’s a complex mix of theory, emotion, psychology, greed. con-man tactics, and lots and lots of wishing and hoping.

Oh, and gambling. The entire financial infrastructure of our civilization is essentially a big damn roll of the dice. If everybody woke up tomorrow and decided that paper money was worthless… it would be. Same with gold. And IOUs, and everything else of “value” you can’t eat, use for fuel, or build anything with.


…I was damn proud to start paying my taxes as a rookie freelancer.

Damn proud.

This confused nearly everyone I worked with at the time. Especially since I was hip to Ayn Rand and Robert Ringer and a small bit of economic theory…

It was like, I should know better or something.

Back then, it was almost heresy to like paying taxes. A few of my colleagues even became tax rebels, refusing to pay anything under the hazy notion that income tax wasn’t “in” the constitution, and so… blah, blah, blah.

They got in trouble. Ayn couldn’t save ’em.

I kept my thoughts mostly to myself. As a vandal in my formative years, I destroyed lots of stuff. We were removed from the creation of bridges, street lighting systems, even stop signs. So we burned, blew up, cut down and defaced public property like it was a game.

Seriously. It seemed like a game.

I’ve had this idea for a “basic lesson” I’d like to deliver to “pre-vandal” kids in grade school and junior high. In this lesson, I would explain to kids where they “fit” in the culture, and where stuff like street lights and earth-moving equipment came from. Cuz no one ever did it for me.

My theory is that kids are too removed from the creation of the stuff around us. Strangers arrive in uniforms, build and fix shit, and vanish. In earlier times, you may have known the folks who put up the lights (“Hi, Mr. Edison!”), ran the tractors, painted the walls, dug the holes for power lines, etc. (Heck, you may have even been involved — I doubt a kid who helped raise a barn would later vandalize it.)

I got a taste of this when my little town formed a Little League. Parents got together, pooled scarce resources and money, sought out sponsors… and my Pop helped build the freaking baseball field. From scratch. Went out there and leveled the field, cleared the debris and rocks (big rocks in the dirt, too), erected the stands and concession, wired the microphones, poured concrete for the dugouts… all of it.

We treated that diamond like church, too. It was sacred ground.

Slowly, it was dawning on me that anarchy was dumb, and could harsh your mellow.

Building stuff… and (gasp!) even taking care of it… could make life better.

Once I became an entrepreneur, I was ready to step up and be an “owner” of the civilization I was living in. Taxes weren’t “taken out” of my paycheck anymore. Instead, I wrote quarterly checks to do my part in funding the upkeep and creation of local and national crap.

Crap we needed. Like roads, sewers, firehouses, power lines, the whole interconnected mess that kept the lights on, the beer cold, and garbage picked up.

Yep. I’m a proud taxpayer.

I have never forgotten listening in on a heated conversation between a couple of advanced businessmen, back when I first weaseled my way into those kinds of meetings. (Literally smoky back rooms.)

Most of the guys were all pissed off about taxes, hated the thought of paying even a single penny to “the gummit”, and considered the whole thing extortion.

But there was this one guy… the wealthiest and most Zen-centered dude in the group… who just shrugged.

He said — and I remember the sound of his voice — that he made his millions, and paid every penny he owed in tax, when it was due. And slept like a baby, and went about earning another million.

The other guys grumbled and bitched and moaned and agreed with each other that this was the wrong way to go about being a success. You fought with the taxman over everything, smuggled money into hidey holes whenever possible, lied, cheated, played dumb and dumped vast sums into off-shore accounts.

Over the years, I paid attention to who led the better life. No contest.

Off-shore money vanished (“Oops!”)… years were spent wrangling with attorneys and IRS agents… and many sleepless nights ensued.

And I slept like a baby, having taken the rich guy’s advice. And got busy with my career.

No one understands my joy at being able to say I pay for the upkeep of my quirky little town and my staggeringly-big nation. And though the checks I write are pretty damn huge (I quickly got used to paying more in quarterly’s than I used to earn in a year), I do not begrudge Caesar a single coin.

Sure, lots of it is wasted, misspent, stolen and worse.

The world’s a messy place. Choose your battles.

I focus on the never-ceasing wonder of living in a joint where a guy like me — lowly, formerly-clueless, working class me — had the opportunity to grab a seat at the Feast… simply by getting busy and setting goals.

This is an astonishing playground we live in here. Most of the rest of world is agog at our freedoms, and would happily pay twice the tax we dole out just for the privilege of being able to bitch about paying it… and not being jailed or shot in the process.

Taxes suck.

So pay ’em and forget about it until the next quarter.

You really should be too busy making hay to even notice the money’s gone…

Stay frosty,

John Carlton

P.S. Important note to anyone who’s been gazing longingly at any of the offers over at Every single package there is on the front burner for being taken OFF that site (probably forever).

In particular, the mega-popular “Bag of Tricks” package is about to be retired.

It’s just too good a deal (especially with the personal attention from me included).

We’re not getting greedy, mind you. We’re just getting hip to the structure our new biz model is becoming. And that killer offer needs serious revamping (and higher prices).

However, as long as it’s there on the site, we’ll honor the deal. I’m heading down to San Diego this week to speak at Frank Kern’s spectacular seminar, and I’m kinda focused on the upcoming “17 points of copywriting” workshop just around the corner.

Still, we’ve got geeks scrambling… and as soon as we can, the entire current set of deals at vanishes. I can’t tell you, right now, what will replace them… but I CAN tell you this: You will never see an amazingly hyper-generous deal exactly like the “Bag of Tricks” again.

So pop over and check it out while you can. This particular “menu” of essential info and tools and skills is what fueled so many of the top marketers now doing their thang online. Just check the testimonials.

We’re not shelving the “Bag of Tricks” to be mean… it’s just time to grow into a new model. Changes online demand it.

Don’t dally. I know you’ve been lusting after that package. I’m announcing it’s demise at the Kern event, and we’ll follow through soon after…

P.P.S. By the way… all incoming comments were disabled last night, due to a technical glitch while our server was upgraded. I know at least a few people emailed me, privately, to tell me they were denied.

Anyway, it’s all working fine now. Fire away, if you like…

What Would Halbert Do?

Thursday, 11:09pm
Reno, NV
“We still miss ya, man…”


This past Tuesday — the first anniversary of Gary Halbert’s abrupt exit from this mortal coil — my first call was to Bond, his son.

We laughed a bit, shared some memories, and — in Gary’s honor — even discussed some business. (Please watch for emails from Bond and Kevin — they’re getting cranked back up, and I’m doing all I can to help.)

Bond and I know each other well. I still think of him as a cocky teenager, but he’s grown into a fine man. Kevin, too. I’m proud of both of them.

Anniversaries are funny things. It’s good to have a reason to remember someone, or to celebrate something… but I’ve largely avoided any kind of official remembrance of the mounting number of significant events and deaths in my life.

I don’t have a clue, for example, exactly when my mother passed away. I know the year, but not the month. I’m not entirely clear on the season. I could find out, easily enough… but I don’t feel the need to.

Sometimes, time is a stupid way to keep track of life.

What I remember from Mom’s demise is that it had been almost a full year of horror and grief and fatigue, and then, after a final stretch of pure, undiluted shock… it was over.

The months before had lost meaning — the sun came up, and the sun went down, and the only change seemed to be the incremental increase in numbness. I deeply appreciate that numbness, too — without it, the days would have been one long scream of indignant frustration. With it, I was able to stumble through my duties as a writer and a son.

The months after seemed just as unmoored to time. And yet, with each sun-up/sun-down, a faint sense of renewal stuck around, and grew. I quit advertising, wrote a novel (finishing just before my 40th birthday, to fulfill a promise), and took stock of my life.

Thanks to Halbert, I had enough moolah stashed away to be leisurely about deciding what to do with myself. The events that unfolded over the next year were the impetus behind where I am today.

I was fried to a crisp, as far as my career went. Over the previous several years, I had increasingly ditched all other clients, and teamed up with Gary exclusively. It was the period we were producing those infamous “Hot Seat” seminars down in the Florida Keys (inventing the model, actually)… and while there was a lot of fun going on, the foundation of Gary’s little empire was actually crumbling.

We all sort of hit a wall at the same time. I was just done with advertising, and burying Mom took me to a place where it was simply impossible to stand up and get back after a career. (If it wasn’t for guys like Joe Polish and Dan Kennedy keeping my name alive in the entrepreneur niche while I was AWOL, I may have disappeared forever.)

Maybe it was a mid-life crisis. I hid out in my bitchin’ little hovel in Hermosa Beach, hanging around the beach and immersing myself in writing fiction. Very theraputic.

And I severed contact with everyone for a few months.

Except Gary, of course.

For all his faults — and believe me, his faults were legendary and multiple — he, at his core, was perhaps the sweetest and most caring man I’ve ever known.

When my mother fell sick (vicious, wasting cancer), I held it together with gritted teeth, because people depended on me. I did the seminars, sharing the stage with Gary and tending to the backstage bullshit that always accompanied the events. I wrote copy, wrangled with clients, did my best to keep Gary focused. (Tough job, lemme tell ya.)

I also flew across the country almost every month. Mom was in Southern California, about as far from Key West as possible in every way. But I made the jaunts (piling up around 100,000 miles on Pan Am in the process) because I felt it was also my job to be there during doctor visits and chemo and all the other tortures the medical establishment had lined up.

At one point, the doc pulled me aside and revealed that we were the only family doing this. Nearly every other patient he had came alone to the consultations, and faced down the radioactivity without family present.

I think about that sometimes.

Because something very similar was happening in my own life. Close friends were not returning phone calls… a stunning development. They didn’t know what to say, and so said nothing. And, I dunno, eventually they just couldn’t muster up the energy to even stop by and say nothing.

The ONLY friend I had who stuck by me during that time (while I was admittedly distracted and not fully myself)… was Gary Halbert.

Gary had a selfish side, and was even proud of it. He proudly listed one of his hobbies as “finding new mehtods of self-aggrandisement”. His personality could suck the air out of any room he entered, and he enthusiastically enjoyed humiliating friends and colleagues, both publicly and privately.

Oh, he could piss you off.

But you always forgave him. Because when push came to shove, there wasn’t a more loyal man on the planet.

Gary called me almost every day that year. Just to say hi, and — if I needed to vent — to listen patiently to the latest absurd travails of my journey through the hell of western medicine.

And he made me laugh. God dammit, no matter how grim it got, that dude could force me to smile through the pain, and then start guffawing lustily.

Oh, it was good to laugh. It was so, so necessary to laugh once in a while…

And to able to vent to someone who cared, and took my side.

For all his faults… Gary harbored a profound humanity. He truly would face monsters with you, shoulder-to-shoulder. I believe — and his friends will likely agree with me here — that he would die for you, if that’s what needed to be done.

Over the ensuing years, I found myself armed with a new tool for living life well. We all know the phrase “do the right thing”… but I now understood what it meant to actually DO the right thing. Every freaking time.

Absorbing that lesson freed me from a lot of competing bullshit in my head. There was no longer any chatter from my other urges. I had a single rule: Never turn away, never abandon responsibility.

Life is actually easier when you no longer struggle with decisions when friends need you. You siimply figure out the right thing to do… and do it. Immediately. And without keeping score.

Gary taught me that.

I took many more trips across the country in the following years, hopping on planes with little notice to go do battle with Gary’s demons. I never thought twice about it… and I still don’t, today, when the often-arduous duties of being a friend demand sacrifice.

The world can seem like such a lonely, dangerous place. Hostile to happiness, aggressively working to destroy everything good and righteous.

I know I can’t change much about that, either. A bit, here and there, perhaps.

But we’re in a big damn mess here, and it’s gonna take a whole generation of people doing the right thing to make any real difference.

Still, it all starts with a simple decision, on a personal level.

Outsiders might find it funny to hear, but I discovered there is honor in business.

I know. The embodiment of that honor was a close friend of mine, and I’m damn glad I got to hang out and learn from him.

Gone, but never forgotten, pal.

Thanks for everything. We’re still down here, trying hard to stay frosty…

Oh… and I don’t need a freaking anniversay to remember you. You’re here every day…

John Carlton

How To Communicate Incoherently

Monday, 6:56pm
Reno, NV
“When we remember we are all nuts, the mysteries disappear and life stands explained.” Mark Twain (sorta)


Have you seen my partner Stan’s first information video?

I think you need to see it, if you’re interested in mastering communication (which is the life-blood of selling lots and lots of stuff).

Personally, I find his video fascinating. He’s getting a ton of feedback on it, and we just spent an hour on the phone talking about it. One guy sent him such a personal email that Stan called him… not to argue, but to get the background story on why the guy had the opinion he had.

It was a calm conversation, Stan tells me… yet, at first, it was like sharing a bench on the fourth floor of the Tower of Babel. Each person was saying something important, but mere words didn’t seem to be able to get any points across.

I’m laughing my ass off over this as Stan tells the tale.

Cuz this is all about communication… and for the 25 years I’ve known Stan, we are constantly bickering about who said (or didn’t say) what, and who’s right and who’s a miserable toad for being so wrong.

It’s the foundation of our friendship.

Remember Star Trek? Stan’s like Spock, only with a sense of humor (and a taste for jazz and good beer). Very, VERY logical, and impatient with people who process info in illogical ways.

Like, oh… me, for instance.

Drives him frigging bonkers.

And I’d have to say I’m like Captain Kirk… not a Read more…

The Embarrassing Re-Appearance of Dr. Smooth…

Thursday, 9pm on the dot
Reno, NV
“Oh, jeez, he’s not back again, is he?”


Quick post tonight.

Gonna cover something I get asked about a LOT by aspiring copywriters.

Let me know if ya got questions.

Here’s the story: When I first started my freelance career, I hit upon the idea of adopting a “writer” personality.

I had to — my slacker personality of the time wasn’t gonna cut it. It would, in fact, murder any shot I had at success.

I didn’t need much encouragement to mess with alternative personalities. As a kid, we experimented daily with “being” someon else — an astronaut, a vampire hunter, a bug scientist guy (we dug up anthills with glee and fed flies to spiders), a doomed cavalry officer, a neighborhood vandal (did that a lot), a detective, and so on.

We went hog-wild, too, going as deep as possible (as kids) into the personality traits we imagined a fearless vampire hunter would actually possess.

So we were little actors. (When we weren’t vandalizing shit.)

I decided to spend some time developing this “writer” character I would play, because the consequences were serious. Deadlines, writing to get results, meeting client expectations… it wasn’t playtime anymore.

I didn’t go into any kind of schizophrenic break, or develop a different speaking style… no, wait, I DID work on my Read more…