One Thing & Another

Delray Beach, FL

Notes From My Journal: I hope I don’t turn into Hunter Thompson

Every once in a while, when I’m up against a deadline and devoid of ambition, I pop a Ritalin in the morning to help me do my job.

I’ve convinced myself that one little pill every week or two won’t harm me. I’m not sure if that’s so. But I’m quite sure that this type of thinking can be dangerous.

When I pop a pep pill, I think of Hunter Thompson. He developed a stimulation routine that was absolutely insane.

“I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone,” he said, “but they’ve always worked for me.”

From his journal:

3:00 p.m. rise 

3:05 Chivas Regal with the morning papers, Dunhills

3:45 cocaine 

3:50 another glass of Chivas and a Dunhill

4:05 first cup of coffee & third Dunhill

4:15 cocaine

4:16 orange juice, Dunhill

4:30 cocaine, 4:45 cocaine

4:54 cocaine, 5:05 cocaine

5:11 coffee, Dunhills

5:30 more ice in the Chivas

5:45 cocaine, etc., etc.

6:00 grass to take the edge off the day

7:05 Woody Creek Tavern for lunch – Heineken, two margaritas, coleslaw, a taco salad, a double order of fried onion rings, carrot cake, ice cream, a bean fritter, Dunhills, another Heineken, cocaine, and for the ride home, a snow cone [a glass of shredded ice over which is poured three or four jiggers of Chivas]

9:00 start snorting cocaine seriously

10:00 drop acid

11:00 Chartreuse, cocaine, grass

11:30 cocaine, etc., etc.

12:00 ready to write 

12:05-6:00 a.m. Chartreuse, cocaine, grass, Chivas, coffee, Heineken, clove cigarettes, grapefruit, Dunhills, orange juice, gin, continuous pornographic movies

6:00 the hot tub, champagne, Dove Bars, fettuccine Alfredo 

8:00 Halcyon

8:20 sleep


Today’s Word: equipoise (noun)

Equipoise (EK-wuh-poiz) is an even balance, a state of equilibrium. As used by Oliver Goldsmith in Citizen of the World: “So does the mind, when influenced by a just equipoise of the passions, enjoy tranquility.”


Fun Fact

It takes six months for a fingernail to grow from base to tip.

From My “Work-in-Progress” Basket

How Not to Conduct an Interview

I never give interviews. But for some crazy reason, I made an exception to my rule recently.

I got an email from a reader. She said she worked for some trade journal and had some questions for me.

She reminded me of myself 35 years ago – brand-new to the business of publishing, hoping to get some good interviews, eager for success. So I told G, my superstar assistant, to book a half-hour.

The day came and I took the call. The first thing she said was, “I am going to record this conversation. Is that okay?”

“I guess so,” I said.

I could hear the tape recorder click on. I have to admit, it made me nervous. “Better watch your language,” I said to myself. “And no double entendres.”

“Would you please state your name and spell it out for the record,” she said.

“W-what?” I stammered.

She repeated herself.

“Do you work for some government agency?” I asked.

If she saw any humor in my remark, she didn’t indicate it. “I am a reporter for XYZ trade journal,” she said. “I want to make sure that your name is spelled correctly in the article.”

“Do you have any of my books?” I asked.


“Then how did you find out about me?”

“I read your blog,” she said.

“Well,” I replied, “in that case, you know that my name is spelled out at the top of every issue. You can use the spelling you see there.”

There was a long pause. Then she said, “Can you tell me the names of the businesses you own?”

For the third time in two minutes, I was taken aback.

“The businesses I own? Why are you interested in that? I presumed you wanted to speak to me because I’m an author.”

“I can see this was a mistake,” she muttered. And hung up the phone.

Was she some secret agent, trying to get me to say something foolish “on the record”? Or was she some young journalist, overly impressed with her status as a junior editor of some magazine nobody ever heard of? I couldn’t tell.

But when I repeated the story to K that night, it occurred to me that if she were just an arrogant fledgling journalist, she was on a path toward certain failure.

Interviews are great ways to make friends and influence people. When I was her age, working for Africa Business & Trade in Washington, D.C., I regularly interviewed international CEOs, top government officials, and ambassadors. I got to know a lot of interesting people.

One of those contacts got me invited to a private birthday party for Jimmy Carter. (Against K’s wishes, I brought along Number One Son, two years old at the time. JC pinched his cheek. We have the photo.) Another one of those contacts got me two job offers with major newspapers. And another one got me a substantial raise in salary.

These were all “glicken” – unexpected side benefits beyond the expected benefit of building an impressive journalistic resume.

Because of my own experience, I’ve advised my protégés to hone their interviewing skills. There is no better way to get close to very important people than to spend some time asking them questions about why they are so great.

My young friend from the trade journal will not be able to do that, because she has no idea how to conduct an interview. And that’s too bad, because the tricks and techniques that experienced interviewers use can help you in all sorts of business situations. Learning how to get someone important/powerful to open up to you is like discovering the combination to a vault that manufactures its own money.

Here are some of the best interviewing tips, techniques, and strategies I’ve learned over the years:

  1. Before you meet, find out something personal about your interviewee and use that to break the ice. For example, you might discover that he loves golf and once played at the Old Course in Scotland. You might begin your interview by asking him about that.
  2. Occasionally, a small gift works well to break the ice. With the aforementioned interviewee, for example, you could come to the interview with a vintage golf magazine for him.
  3. Don’t record the interview. It makes people defensive. Take notes. If you need to verify something that was said, do it later by email.
  4. Make the first several questions simple and positive. The point is to get the person to loosen up and feel comfortable with you.
  5. It’s very important to show that you have prepared for the interview. Know what your subject has done and what businesses he owns. Read anything and everything he’s published. The better you know him (and admire him), the more candid he’ll be with you – both during the interview and afterward.
  6. Let your interviewee know the purpose of your interview – and make sure most of your questions are on topic. If you are interested in how he built his real estate empire, tell him so. If your interest is in discovering the technical secrets of real estate investing, say that in the beginning. Then he’ll be mentally geared up to give you the answers you are seeking.
  7. Always be gracious, self-effacing, and polite.
  8. If, for any reason, the interview starts to go bad (as it did with the trade journalist, above), apologize and ask if it would be possible to reschedule.
  9. Within 24 hours of the interview, write a brief note thanking the interviewee for his time.


Recommended Reading

On Being an Unreliable Narrator

By Hilary Illick

The first friend I met in college I remember as wearing a bow tie. He was fresh out of Utah Mormon country, and stood out to me as exceptionally clean cut – as well as earnest, dry-witted, and able to see the world with unique perspicacity. “I’ve never worn a bow tie, Hil,” he says to this day, “never even owned one.” But my mind tells a different story. Circa 1982, John is standing there in the fluorescent lighting of a freshman dorm dining hall, blue eyes dancing, wearing a bow tie.

As a girl, in school, I got in trouble quite a few times for insisting something happened that in fact did not. I wasn’t lying. I was clinging to the images in my mind that I experienced as true, even though it turned out that more than once they were not. The most egregious of these examples was the time in fourth grade that I told my classmates my uncle had come to our house and was crazily trying to bite off the heads of our pet chickens. (We lived on what was called a “gentleman’s farm,” meaning we had a surfeit of pets, some of them true barnyard animals like goats and lambs, but we were not farmers. In fact, we were overwhelmed. At least, I was. It was the ‘70s and my parents were winging it with the permissive parenting approach that their own parents had not used in the late-40s-early-50s, letting me Go For It with pet acquisition.) The tale of my unhinged uncle disturbed by classmates, which made its way to the teachers, who promptly sent me down the hall on a route I knew too well to the psychologist who picked up the phone and called my mother.

My mother, to her credit, came to the school and helped sort things out. Luckily, she was in graduate school becoming a family systems psychotherapist, so she could translate what the eff I was saying to my friends. “Okay,” said my mom, in her Marimekko minidress and long dark That Girl!hair. “Hilary’s uncle hasn’t tried to hurt any of our animals, but he is doing something quite dramatic right now that has us all concerned.” She explained that the adults were talking fairly constantly behind closed doors about what was going on with my uncle, and how I on my own must have tried to connect the dots by creating my far-fetched story. “So even though the facts are all wrong,” Mom told the school psychologist, “what Hilary is saying is emotionally true.”

I exhale deeply as I write this, forty-plus years later – feeling so grateful to my mom, not only for bailing me out in the shrink’s office but helping me to understand myself.

Memories are strange subjective animals. How many times have you heard or said, “That is not how it happened.” “I never said that.” “That is not what she did.” Or something along those lines. “That big family meltdown did not take place on vacation! It happened in our kitchen! At home!” Or how about the good ole back and forth that goes: “I did not.” “Yes you did.” Or, “He did not.” “Yes he most certainly did.”  There is an expression, posed as an inquiry: “Do you want to be right, or do you want to be in a relationship?”

Even though I know there is emotional truth to my mem0ries – to the exaggerations and hyperboles I experience as true – I am also aware that it is highly likely my renditions do not line up with consensus reality. In experiments, run by both psychologists and teachers of memoir writing, groups of people asked to describe the exact same scenario witnessed en masse describe it differently. The order of events varies from account to account, lines of dialogue alter, details such as hair color and clothing may swap from one person to another. There has to be such a thing as consensus reality, stuff we can all agree on, but the emotional margins are subject to personal interpretation – to emotional truth, which is different for each of us.

I’d like to think my inaccuracies are fairly benign: an added accessory here, a few punched up lines of dialogue there. My brother refers to my style as X+1, and I’ve learned to take responsibility for the +1 and be willing to jettison it when challenged. To be honest, though, I may go a round or two defending my memory. “Okay okay okay, so maybe that woman yelling at us in CVS didn’t– in fact – have a yapping dog in her purse with ribbons on its ears. But don’t you think she may as well have?” I try to defend the emotional truth of my brain’s symbolic additions. “Just grant me this: If that woman were a dog, she’d live in a purse with ribbons on her ears, right?”