Archive Monthly Archives: December 2008

Why I’ve Been So… Strange, Lately…

Friday, 11:07am
Reno, NV


I haven’t quite been myself these past couple of months…

… and I think I owe some folks an explanation.

Michele and I spent our tenth anniversary seeing specialists (including flying over to Palo Alto to hit up the Stanford teaching hospital) and doing our best to be as proactive as possible about a very tough situation here.

We’ve seen eleven doctors, and had a review board that included radiologists weigh in.

Now, at last, we’ve got a plan.

On Christmas Eve, Michele will go in for major surgery.

We both feel good about this decision, aided by the best medical opinion and advice we could muster.

Four to seven day hospital stay, three to six week recovery. We’ll know more about what we’re dealing with at some point during the recovery.

I’ve only told a few close friends…

… but the unreturned calls, and unexplained lapses in dealing with colleagues is catching up with me.

And now, of course, I’m going to be focusing on taking care of Michele for a couple of weeks. So I’ll be even harder to reach, and even slower to respond.

We’ll appreciate any good thoughts and good energy you can send our way.

Oddly, several of my colleagues and friends are going through similar gut checks. I just traded emails with Michel Fortin, who will be helping Sylvie recover from surgery during the same time frame. One of the other speakers in Dubai is about a week behind us in deciding on a surgery plan. An old buddy from high school just suffered his first heart attack.

It’s like… wow.

I’m not asking for special favors. There’s trouble enough to spare in the world right now.

Just cut me a little slack here for a few weeks while we deal with this.

I won’t be entirely out of touch… but Michele is, of course, my first priority and will remain so.

I’m all fortified with Zen-level positiveness, and we’ve got a small army of friends and family eager to help out. It’s nice to see how the ranks tighten up when necessary. Michelle and I agreed to stay upbeat, remain engaged with our professional lives, and laugh as much as possible whlie we’re gearing up.

In a way, it’s like training for a marathon. At some point, the day arrives, and you gotta take a deep breath and just get on with it.

If you take anything away from this, please realize how important it is to enjoy your friends and family during this holiday period. Maybe re-evaluate some old grudges, maybe make that call you know you should make. Say what needs to be said.

Life is wonderful and strange and unpredictable. As Halbert loved to say, “If you want to make God laugh, just make plans.”

Live your days with gusto, and spread the good vibes around generously and with abandon.

I love all you guys.

Stay frosty,

John Carlton

P.S. Small piece of biz: I just found out several friends have been following the wrong dude on Twitter. I’m at

No promises, but if I do post anything in the next couple of weeks, it’ll be there.

In the meantime, don’t neglect the archives here. Good time to catch up.

Be well.

Boithday Star-Crossed Ruminations

Monday, 4:30pm
Reno, NV
“Yeah, we’re gonna have a party, party…” Beatles, again



The Dude’s another year older.

As to how much wiser I’ve gotten… well, the jury’s still out.

So here’s my question to you: Do you buy astrology’s promise…

… and if so, do you think there’s no better sign to be born under than yours?

(And you gotta cut me total slack here, cuz it’s my birthday. So no sniping.)

My confession: There is, clearly, no rational reason to be into astrology. It’s basic premise — that the celestial arrangement floating overhead at the moment of your birth somehow influences how your life progresses — can be demolished by a fifth grader.

Empirically-minded friends are aghast at even a hint from anyone that they’re paying serious attention to the “star-crossed lovers” concept of looking for meaning in the real-world soap opera we all live in.

And my more spiritually-minded friends take guilty pleasure, anyway, in getting their horoscopes professionally done every few years.


I don’t see any reason for astrology to actually “work”.

Nor do I see any overwhelming evidence that attempts to read meaning into metaphysical matters are all bullshit.

I am officially a fence-sitter.

It’s like chiropractic, in many ways. I know that if you examine the roots of the practice, you’ll discover that the pioneers were completely nuts… and without question absolutely wrong about what adjusting muscles and bones could accomplish.

And yet, I first visited a chiropractor in my late twenties, when I was having horrific migraines every week. (Not headaches, but debilitating, brain-curdling migraines. We’re talking 8 hours in a fetal position in a dark room, wanting to die.)

My friends begged me not to go. They considered physically restraining me.

But I was having an aura one day — peripheral clouding of my vision — which meant I had about an hour before finding a cave-like refuge to ride out the coming pain…

… and I just decided to screw all the bad PR about chiropractic, and give it a try.

Nothing else had worked.

And this doc — an old-school Palmer type, with archaic electric gizmos cluttering his office — simply adjusted my neck (took all of 30 seconds)…

… and the aura vanished.

The migraine never arrived. And, though I had been leveled by them weekly for years at that point, I never had another one for two years.

When they did appear again, I found another chiro, and they stopped again.

Haven’t had one in twenty years now. First thing I do when I move to a new city is find a chiro I like. (And no, I don’t go very frequently. I’m always on a “call as needed” basis, and never go in unless I’m feeling those familiar-but-vague warning sensations.)

So, you can “prove” to me that chiropractic is bullshit all you want.

I don’t care what you come up with. I’ve got all the proof I need in my non-scientific, totally subjective personal experience.

Same with astrology.

I have no idea how to argue for it to anyone else. Back in college, some chick did my chart… and, though she didn’t know a thing about me, just nailed my past and predicted some very near-future events with jaw-dropping accuracy.

And — even stranger, to me — years after my college career, I discovered that the core group of people I kept in touch with…

… were all Sagittarians. Born in December. And we all get along like twins. And did so before we realized we shared a sign.

I realize this is hardly earth-shaking news.

But I have not been able to rationally put away my suspicions that astrology may have something going for it… something way beyond my ability to understand.

I’m a psychology grad. I’ve spent a lifetime examining the mysteries of human personality and interaction… which has come in handy as a salesman, let me tell ya.

As a hard-core direct response dude, I care more about results than theory.

I cannot always explain to someone why a certain tactic works in marketing. As an old-school copywriter, I learned early to listen to my gut when approaching new markets with a pitch… and sometimes, your gut will deliver advice that runs counter to every sane, logical, and rational direction available.

And to insist to a client — when there’s big money on the line — that your gut is right… even as other experts are tearing out hair and rending clothes at the very thought of doing what you suggest…

… well, after a while (if you’re successful), you start to appreciate the Mysterious Forces floating around us.

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

Even so, I don’t make any hard decisions based on astrology. I just like to flirt with it.

I like to visit psychics, too, every few years. Back when I was studying street-level salesmanship (hanging out with 3-card Monte experts and other sleight-of-hand masters), I became aware of “cold reading” skills (gaming the gullibility of a stranger using physical clues and “tells”)… and I like to see how experts continue to use them.

A good psychic is, most often, a bullshitter of immense talent. They practice their craft as well as a great poker player. (And you know the mantra of playing poker, don’t you? “If you look around the table, and you don’t know who the sucker is… then YOU’RE the sucker.”)


… a couple of times…

… well, let’s just say that certain psychics I couldn’t nail as cold-readers… laid some heavy duty observations on me that turned out to be shockingly accurate. Just like the amateur astrologer back in college.

Some people just wave all this nonsense away, appalled that anyone with half a brain could even tolerate its existence.

To me, though, it’s like love.

Have you ever tried to explain love to someone who’s never been there?

There is a case to be made that it’s just a complex (yet chartable) series of chemical and mechanical reactions in your body and brain.

A glandular event, genetically engineered to propagate the species.

But, as a human being, that doesn’t come close to adequately explaining love, does it.

One of the biggest advantages I’ve experienced as a professional ad writer…

… is that I get to dally with all this metaphysical, spooky, out-there stuff to my heart’s content.

And, oddly, it actually provides killer insight when selling stuff to other humans.

Cuz we’re a wacky blob of biology and life-force, lemme tell ya.

And yeah… as a proud Sagittarius, born at 4:44pm on a Saturday with the moon in Leo (and living with a Scorpio who keeps me challenged and on my toes)…

… I can say that I honestly feel sorry for anyone not born under this sign.

How do you Taurus’ and Gemini’s live with yourselves?


Okay. Rumination over.

Love to hear your thoughts.

Stay frosty,

John Carlton, b-day boy

Salaam, Dubai

Saturday, 9:28pm
Dubai, U.A.E.
“I don’t know why you say Dubai, I say salaam…” (with apologies to the Beatles)


Just scratching out a few notes, waiting to fall asleep so I can get up before dawn and head for the airport to start my 20-hour trip home.

Dig this: Have you ever had that thing happen…

… where you never give something a moment’s thought… and then, once it’s in your mind, you hear about it everywhere?

I knew about Dubai, vaguely. Couldn’t find it on a map, but knew it was somewhere over “there”.

A long way away, at any rate.

Then, last February, this intriguing fellow named Ernesto — a Mexican national living in Amsterdam — cornered me at some event and asked me to come to a seminar in Dubai.

“Uh, okay,” I said, shrewdly.

Since then, it’s like the joint has been attached to my consciousness by an umbilical cord. “60 Minutes” does a long piece on it. I discover one of Gary Halbert’s old friends, Don Camp, now resides here.

Every freakin’ magazine I pick up has a story or reference about the place.

Hey — flying out here, I had to jog through Vegas to catch a plane to JFK… and got lost trying to get from Concourse A to Concourse D (where Delta had cleverly hidden their plane).

Turns out there IS no way to do that at LAS without going through security again. (“You can’t get there from here.”)

Except, I ask this pilot strolling past if he knows how to do it. “Sure, I’m headed there myself,” he says, and personally escorts me though a secret passage behind the TSA station, so we skip security.

“He’s with me,” he keeps saying to the armed guards eyeing me suspiciously.

How ya doin’, I mumble nervously. (Cuz I know that the hypmotized never lie…)

The pilot and I chat a bit… and turns out he’s flying to Dubai today, too. But from Atlanta (the Delta hub).

Small world.

Back home, every time Michele tells someone where I am, someone else in the group relates a personal story about Dubai — just came back from there, got friends there, going there next month.

This place is a marketing success story… making some of the PR happen, and enjoying the happy accidents of being in the news for the other mentions. They even seemed to benefit from the spotlight on Mumbai after the terrorist attack — the Dubai airport is the gateway to every conceivable destination in this part of the world, and if they’ve suffered a slowdown, you can’t tell from the seething crowds in the terminals. (I met several Brits on their way to Mumbai, all of them shrugging off the idea it might be dangerous. Made the American speakers who bailed at the last minute — and there were a few — look like wussies…)

I won’t do a travelogue on this city — heck, now that I’ve put it in your consciousness, you too will start seeing stuff about Dubai everywhere.

Let me just say this: It’s like a Disney Epcot center for the financial world. This was a tiny, undistringuished port town thirty years ago… and now, 25% of the world’s construction cranes are here, with new building rising so quickly, the skyline changes almost hourly.

No, seriously. You blink, and another skyscraper is teetering on the horizon.

Tallest building in the world is here. (Singapore is kinda pissed about that, too — they’re also erecting a steep one… but the Dubai entrant has an extention flagpole that will be run up to whatever height necessary to claim “tallest”. They don’t even have an official height for the tower yet, because they’re gonna wait until all the competitors around the globe finish… and then ramp theirs up another few feet. That’s just mean.)

I think we got the only 7-star hotel across town here, too. One of the other speakers is staying there, and admits that the extra stars have been earned through sheer over-delivery of extras and luxury.

The city is something to see, I’ll give you that.

Stunningly international crowd at the event, too. Traditional Bedouin desert garb, veiled women, Armani suits, Americans in tennis shoes, every kind of accent possible.

English is more or less the default language… though I’m pretty sure I threw a few people with the slang I was using during my presentation. (“Does ‘zombie’ translate well here?” I asked, to a sea of blank stares. “How about ‘roadkill’?” Lots of blinking.)

I learned something, too, about speaking at international seminars.

My hosts (very generous and nice people) assured me that the copious sexual references and occasional swearing in my PowerPoint would not be a problem with this very religious-but-tolerant crowd.

Um… it was.

We are spoiled here in the States. Howard Stern can’t hardly shock anybody anymore with vivid language, and if there are any taboos left to bust, I couldn’t tell you what they are.

Elsewhere, however, people still get all riled up over matters sexual or politically incorrect. Or religious. Or a lot of other things we’ve either skirted around or jumped past long ago.

Gotta be on your toes.

It’s one of the great benefits of travel — you are reminded what a hoot the good ol’ USA is, and how much the rest of the world thinks we’re mostly nuts and embarrassing in a favorite-uncle-with-a-drinking-problem kind of way (though they do seem to like us again, over all, since we’ve tossed the bums out).


… what’s the marketing lesson from all this?

Just that there remains a TON of moolah floating around, despite the recession and rumors of deeper recession.

If everything is about to come crashing down, shhhh, nobody in Dubai got the memo.

It is full speed ahead here, and damn the torpedos.

It’s a big world… but the Web has made everything closer and — in a few very important ways — friendlier.

My favorite times during this past week of wonder and mystery has been the nightly gathering on the hotel roof to smoke shisha (flavored tobacco) from the hookah… while trading lies, insults, and even some brilliantly useful info with the Brits, the other Americans, and all the ex-pats hanging out for the event.

Okay, the belly dancer was a big plus, too.

If you took a snapshot of Dubai right now, and froze it… you might be tempted to think it’s not very wired to the Brave New Online World. I mean… the luxury hotel we’re staying in has dial-up Internet service.

That’s just… medieval.

But the place is catching up with us at a rocket’s pace.

I know we all tend to get too smug about being so cutting-edge cyber-hip… every top marketer I know is guilty.

But bringing the dialog down to where the rookies in this seminar can grasp the opportunities of the Web has reminded me of how far we’ve advanced in online marketing… in record time, too.

It’s good to pause, and let everything settle like this. Get your nose out of your Macbook and your iPhone, look up from Twitter, Facebook, et al… and re-engage with the “real” world, with no digital interface.

It’s an interesting place, this Earth.

And still a rockin’ marketplace where fame and fortune await the savvy entrepreneur.

More later…

Stay frosty,

John Carlton