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Ghost writer, essayist, marketer, Zen Buddhist, academic refugee, living in Athens GA, blogging at A Quiet Normal Life: https://www.quietnormal.com/

If you think you know, you don’t

Two young women in knit dresses and floppy hats talking and laughing
Two young women in knit dresses and floppy hats talking and laughing
Image by Pexels

Lord have mercy, if I have to hear another Yankee say that “bless your heart” is Southern for “you’re an idiot” — or worse — I think I might just blow a gasket.

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t entirely blame non-Southerners for this misunderstanding. I have a sneaking suspicion that much of the blame lies with Southerners themselves who enjoy blowing smoke and making folks feel like they know something when they don’t just to play with them.

The reality is, “bless your heart” is a linguistic chameleon. It can mean…


It’s tasty, healthy, good looking, and almost sinfully easy

Table with potluck dishes including boiled eggs, tuna salad, stuffed olives, brie, hummus, and asparagus wrapped with ham
Table with potluck dishes including boiled eggs, tuna salad, stuffed olives, brie, hummus, and asparagus wrapped with ham
Image by congerdesign (edited)

There’s times you really want to pull out the stops for a potluck and fix that specialty dish everyone asks for — rum cake at Christmas, three-tier dip for the Super Bowl bash, hot and spicy deviled eggs for the family reunion, that sort of thing.

Then there’s other times…. Like when you forgot to put the neighborhood block party on your calendar and you’re so covered up you’ve barely got time to think.

OK, I hear you — just bite the bullet, you say. Go and pay an arm and a leg for the sandwich tray in the deli…


Social is a waste of time for most creator’s goals

Woman with a finger over her lips, surrounded by social media symbols
Woman with a finger over her lips, surrounded by social media symbols
Image by Gerd Altmann

I’ve been making a living “creating content,” as they say these days, since the 1990s. Never had a professional social media account.

So I’m something of an odd duck. But it’s not because I have any philosophical stance against social, or because I’m stuck in the 20th century. The ROI simply hasn’t been there for me. And I guarantee you, a lot of creatives would be better off without it if they dared buck the accepted wisdom that creators “have to be on social media.”

What I learned from my mother, who spent $0.00 on outreach

My mom was a stenographer, one of those folks you see typing everything down on…


The Soul and the Id: Understanding the Hard Problem of Consciousness

Neuroscience is both more and less advanced than it’s rumored to be

Bearded man in a black sweater with a car engine emerging from the top of his head, adjusting it with a screwdriver held in his left hand
Bearded man in a black sweater with a car engine emerging from the top of his head, adjusting it with a screwdriver held in his left hand
Image by aytuguluturk (adapted)

Aside from the eternal mystery of why reality exists at all rather than not, our own conscious awareness of it is likely the most baffling puzzle humans face.

Our discoveries since the dawn of neuroscience in the mid-1800s are genuinely astounding, and often profoundly counter-intuitive. But a comprehensive answer to the fundamental question of how the brain produces our mental worlds is as elusive as it’s ever been.

Sadly, popular writing on consciousness is often riddled with errors, at times making grandiose claims with no basis in fact, or rehashing philosophical debates left behind by science decades ago, or yoking…


Then refused to take it back — twice

Bob Dylan playing guitar on stage in Chicago in 1974, flanked by Robbie Robertson on guitar and Levon Helm on drums
Bob Dylan playing guitar on stage in Chicago in 1974, flanked by Robbie Robertson on guitar and Levon Helm on drums
Bob Dylan and The Band, 1974 (photo by Jim Summaria)

Sometime in 1966 Bob Dylan lost a million-dollar guitar — and when the finder phoned up, couldn’t be bothered to get it back.

The guy on the other end of the line was New Jersey charter pilot Vic Quinto. He moved a lot of Albert Grossman’s talent and their gear around, and one crew had just left three guitars on his plane, each with “Property of Ashes & Sand Inc.” — Dylan and Grossman’s production company — stenciled on the case. …


Rep. Clyde’s IRS dust-up raises questions

US Congressman Andrew Clyde in a blue suit, on the corner of a balcony, posing in profile with the US Capitol dome in the background
US Congressman Andrew Clyde in a blue suit, on the corner of a balcony, posing in profile with the US Capitol dome in the background
US Representative Andrew Clyde (US House of Representatives, public domain)

During a May 12th, 2021, US Congressional hearing, an obscure Georgia representative leapt to international infamy with a lie so colossal it made headlines around the world, even in this jaded post-Trump era.

Speaking of the January 6th riot at the US Capitol, Andrew Clyde of Athens, GA, denied there’d been any attempted insurrection at all. Rather, some of those who entered the Capitol had merely been “unruly” and indulged in a little “vandalism”. Then he let loose this whopper:

“If you didn’t know the TV footage was from Jan. …


An old fart learns to lighten up

View of a man’s lower body seen from above, clad in a disheveled T-shirt, sweatpants, and wading shoes, standing before a floor bin of adhesive letters and yard signs at a Walmart store
View of a man’s lower body seen from above, clad in a disheveled T-shirt, sweatpants, and wading shoes, standing before a floor bin of adhesive letters and yard signs at a Walmart store
Photo by author

A while back, I saw a tweet that said:

I can’t decide if people who wear pajamas in public have given up on life, or are living it to the fullest.

That little sentence crawled into my head like an earwig and stuck there. It became my Zen koan, my Gordian knot, my P versus NP.

For most of my lifetime, the only people I ever saw going around in their nightclothes were either drunk or crazy. So for me, the onset of all this PJ-ing about town was a bit distressing. I…


How one shift in your thinking solves multiple problems

A fairy tale castle towers above the crowds at the end of a theme park midway in the style of an early 20th century American city
A fairy tale castle towers above the crowds at the end of a theme park midway in the style of an early 20th century American city
Cinderella Castle and Main Street USA, Walt Disney World, Orlando, FL (Wikimedia Commons)

My first full-time job in public relations was with Walt Disney World in the late ’80s and early ’90s. It was grunt-level stuff, but what I learned there would fuel my career as a copywriter and ghostwriter up to today.

Now I’m not talking about “tips and tricks” here. What I want to share with you is how to shift your perspective on the task of writing in a way that solves multiple problems at once — a single master key that opens many locks.

Stop producing content

I used to teach creative writing and composition at a state university, and for a…


In the South, etiquette is a game of chess

A little girl with blue eyes sitting in an Adirondack chair on a screened porch, holding an upcurved watermelon rind in front of her mouth
A little girl with blue eyes sitting in an Adirondack chair on a screened porch, holding an upcurved watermelon rind in front of her mouth
Image by popofatticus

Lots of folks are moving to the South these days, and I’m gonna do all y’all transplants a big favor. You can thank me later.

There’s a lot that goes unspoken down here, so it’s real easy to screw up and not be aware of it. For years.

I don’t know exactly why this is. But everybody seems to like to gripe about how the outsiders don’t know how to act, but God forbid anybody actually up and tell them what to do.

Now if you are in the US Southeast, you must understand that invitations here include a practice…

Paul Thomas Zenki

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