Sunday, June 8, 2008

The Bet

Always a surprise. Losing this bet with myself is a boon I understand little and appreciate less. Setting: a tough problem lingers and bleeds away my righteous flow. Frustrated, I eventually remember The Bet, always with great skepticism. I never feel confident I can solve a nagging issue taking a walk or a shower or a dump. So I bet myself I can't, and then lose.

A software bug, or a thing I gotta write, or a person I gotta deal with. I scoff. Keep grinding away. I'm such a pit-bull persistoid, letting go for extended distraction feels unwholesome. But it works often enough to require some practice and some twenty-cent shifts. I wonder whether it's better to play it out cynical or confident. I'm leery of jinxing either way, so my standard attitude is cautious ambivalence. Maybe that's optimal. I do think it helps to soak in the matter to the point of frustration first.

It keeps working. A lot. I'm sure I've blocked memory of failure, but I really can't remember not coming away with a solution. Am I being clear? I have a difficult problem. I do something else for a while, convinced I won't think of a solution during that time. Bet myself I won't. And then I nail the solution. Bet lost, I feel like a winner.

Lately I've been working on a new round of online ads. (I make cheatsheets for web designers, condensed collections of arcana to jog memory when composing in the languages of web sites. If you've ever tried to remember some obscure technical fact you once knew, that's what a cheatsheet helps with. And that's why the theme of "memory" is in all my (successful) ads.) I like showing off with double-entendres. For example in one ad I use "Be more than just a memory." Meaning 1: cheatsheets augment your rote memory. Meaning 2: surpass has-been status. Out of several dozen slogans I took the half dozen that performed best and added a third slogan in fine print, and tweaked its visual attention-getting powers. (I wish I could remember who first called that "chimp-attract" but I love the term. It belongs somewhere between wiktionary and urban dictionary.)

I had a nice set of new ads done and checked the stats one more time. I had somehow overlooked my raciest ad. Anti-Freudian-slip? The text version was rejected by Google out-of-hand, but I have so far gotten away with it inside a Flash animation. I didn't think it was performing well, but over time it proved to generate the most bang for the buck of all the ads. (Puns intended. You'll see.) Here was the two-slogan version:

1. Not what it used to be?
VisiBone cheatsheets (logo)
2. Viagra for your memory.

Now of course I wanted some solid product hawking, plus a trace of shameless attention-grabbing innuendo. But even more (here's where the high vanity kicks in) I wanted some kind of sublime message. Something noble and inspiring. Tall order, eh. (Get it?)

I have this lofty, snooty theory: The only real commerce is turning one's own ideas into something useful for many. It is the connection so forged, however tenuous, with those many. All else is fake or practice. If you hate your job I look at you as a pimply teenager in the dark with smut. Ok, you might learn something that'll please your true love someday, but mostly you're wasting your time. Even worse is when you confuse pathetic habits with being pathetic, as in doing a half-assed job for people you can only half stand. So I care about my customers for three big reasons. They sustain my avoidance of a real job. They slake my ego with fan mail. And most of all for this discussion they keep me smug on my high horse point about forging ideas into usables.

So I care about people using what I make because I'm vainglorious, in a tastefully understated way. (Don't you think?) I wanted the third slogan to shout out to all my hardworking customers, something to encourage and inspire and light their rockets. Whenever I try to write along these lines the first attempts feel corny or patronizing. Yuck. I was stuck on this one ad for days. The others flowed, but this one stalled and galled. Until I remembered The Bet: I bet myself I could not think of a good third slogan while taking a shower.

Once in a while I get an idea that makes sense and works. Like all the most precious quests, the best aim is indirect. All comedy deserves at least a little credit for the risk of appearing stupid, as this may seem to me in a few days, or to you right now. But the shower epiphany felt pretty good. (No, that one was not innuendo.)

Here's the three-slogan version:

1. Not what it used to be? VisiBone cheatsheets (logo) 2. Viagra for your memory. 3. Make room to remember your finest hour. Cause it's coming.

(GIF) (SWF animation)

The last line used to start with "Make it bigger." I hated taking that out, but it really was over the top. Not just dangerous for Google-censure, but so much worse, dangerous for prospect-censure as stoopid. (But you do see the pun I left in there, right?)

So here's my theory why The Bet works, that is, why I keep losing it: Distracting my overbearing left brain (verbal, persistent, obtuse) allows my timid right brain (visual, intuitive, flakey) to wander free and work her magic. No matter how long I keep her chained in her tiny cage, she still flies and she still smiles on me from time to time.

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