The Meek Do Not Inherit the Earth — In Defense of Shameless Self-Promotion

Disclosure #1: There’s no gardening in this post, unless you count nature, which one could call divine gardening, if one were inclined. My intention is that this blog will be primarily about gardening, but it’s January and it feels like it’s never going to rain again in northern California, and it’s a challenge to write about gardening when I’m not doing any.

But gardening can serve as a metaphor for all sorts of things, so I think I’m covered until I get some seeds in the ground. Meanwhile, here’s a blast from the past that does include gardening — Two Top Ten Lists From the Lazy Organic Gardener.

I grew up in the Midwest and my parents were serious, albeit liberal Catholics, with maybe a bit more Calvinism in the mix than some. (I remember my Mom once saying, “You kids are having too much fun.” Now in her defense, usually one of us was crying five minutes later, so it’s not that she didn’t want us to enjoy ourselves. It’s just that pleasure was dangerous.)

Modesty was a big part of this package. How much of that came from being a Midwesterner, how much from being an Irish Catholic, and how much came from my parents is hard to sort out. But bragging was not something we did.

I’ve forgotten much more than I remember of the biblical stories and phrases we learned, but “the meek shall inherit the earth” — that stuck. It’s not that that sentiment was pounded into us as much as it was in the air and water. We were supposed to be patient, not pushy. Good things will come to those who wait.

Now for a child, those imperatives makes some sense. There’s plenty of evidence that children who can delay gratification tend to be more successful. And happier.

But the meek-shall-inherit-the-earth message is arguably about delaying gratification until you’re dead. Which is way too long.

Anyone who has actively worked to make the world a better place knows it’s not going to happen if you wait patiently. We didn’t get the Clean Air Act or the rights of women and blacks to vote or gay marriage by waiting patiently. Every advance had to be fought for. Has to be fought for.

But fighting for things. That can annoy people. Who wants to be a nag?

I bring this up because within the last month, I published Bones in the Wash — Politics is Tough, Family is Tougher, a novel set during the 2008 presidential election in New Mexico, and I left my job at the Sierra Club after 25 years.

Because I do want people to buy and read my book and I do need an income, now I have to become a shameless self-promoter.

(In case you’re wondering what these photos have to do with modesty, well, I took a long hike in Point Reyes to mark the new year and get some inspiration from the natural world — that pretty much never fails — and composed this post as I walked.)

For many years, a major chunk of my job was to promote the activities and visions of others. I was a writer, editor, and designer, and I told stories about the people on the front lines, who were fighting for clean water or endangered turtles or wilderness.

It was a behind the scenes role, and in fact, about seven years ago, I received an award called the Behind the Scenes Award for my work. I remember I gave a little speech, and talked about happiness, sharing the work of psychologist Martin Seligman, who differentiates three kinds of happiness.

The first is pleasure. We enjoyed a good meal. Had an exciting day skiing. The second is absorption, where we are so focused on what we are doing that the rest of the world recedes. Seligman uses the example of an geologist who studies crystals and starts the day looking into his microscope at a crystal and then is startled because he thinks someone has come into his lab and blocked the light when in fact the sun has gone down.

The third kind of happiness is meaning, in which what we are doing is bigger than we are. That’s why I stayed at Sierra Club for 25 years, because of the meaning.

(I don’t recall if I included my favorite Seligman anecdote, which he uses to illustrate optimism, but I can’t resist including it now. A child and her mother are driving, and the daughter says, “Mom, where are all the assholes today?” Whereupon her mother answers, “Oh, they’re only out on the road when your father drives.”)

But meaning, I was talking about meaning. That was how I was able to push past my modesty and promote various causes and people. It wasn’t about me.

Now it is

In my farewell note to my work colleagues, I said a lot of nice things about people I worked with, and I ended with a little blurb about my book and my modesty.

If I were a shameless self-promoter, I would tell you all about my recently published novel, Bones in the Wash, a political thriller + family soap + murder mystery set during the 2008 presidential campaign in New Mexico. And available as a trade paperback and e-book. But I was born and bred in the Midwest, so it’s hard to break out of that modesty-is-best mentality.

Oh, did I mention you can read the first three chapters at


That’s one way I’ve managed this self-promotion. By keeping it light. By mocking myself a bit.

Oh, did I also say that I’m a skilled and experienced writer + editor + designer + strategist, occasionally brilliant and always reliable?

I welcome your ideas on self-promotion.