Untitled Draft

When they said “she’s a breath of fresh air” they didn’t mean me—

brown and small as a nut and grouchy, too. My therapist said as much, admitting that he discounted some women—frowning women, er, when he was younger, he amended.

I feel so proud when I see younger women feeling proud. 

Their ex mother in law will never say to them, “I thought we solved all that in the 60s” (though she didn’t know my mother, or her own son) and their bosses will never force them against a wall. 

Now I think about developing a self-help program for women like me, like us, with unhappy mothers and small paychecks, the ones who still sing along with Tori Amos when no one’s picking up the phone

I pull my leggings up over my belly, playing today’s music, skimming today’s headlines, imagining that I’ll never be passed over for a job again. 

That maybe the proud young girls will make the lawmakers listen and, maybe together, we can stop what’s coming for girls younger than all of us. 

I think about the possibility of being counted, about the ones doing the counting—I think about my mother’s mouth
hardened into a quiet line.

Getting this off my chest.

This morning, I woke up in a piss-poor mood. It was humid and hazy, and I grumbled about living in a swamp as I took the dogs outside. I picked up my medication at the pharmacy and wondered if I could afford counseling or if I would have to let that idea go. Once I got to the office, I scanned the headlines and my friends’ posts on social media before starting work. And I felt bitter. There was something bothering me — the same thing that’s bothered me for months and years now.

See, for the past thirty years, members of my family and people I’ve called friends have watched news channels and listened to radio programs that made them feel good about themselves. As have many of the people in the states I’ve lived in. It’s understandable, and it seemed harmless at first. But now these people, who claim to love me, look at me with a combination of wariness and pity. Our topics of conversation are limited, and they’ll sometimes start to say something — in a way that sounds like a challenge — and then drop it. Or chuckle and move to safer ground.

It wasn’t always this way! I used to enjoy talking politics with my uncles, cousins and friends, even when we disagreed. It was an honest debate. I respected them — and felt respected by them. Sadly, apart from a few who lean conservative but never went full Tea Party, that’s not true of those folks anymore.

Now, the voices in their ears and the feelings in their heart tell them I’m a radical socialist. I’m a “Lib.” And as a Lib, I’m hateful and amoral. I’m both hopelessly naive and sinister, with an agenda that would dismantle the freedoms we hold dear in this country.

What a shame that I’ve turned out this way…

The values they hold onto — of family, patriotism, and faith — are values I don’t share, according to them. And that makes me misguided at best — and a threat to their way of life at worst.

Sometimes they wonder if they’ll have to take up arms against people like me. People like me and people like my friends, the students I’ve taught, the people around the world I’ve learned from.

All sorts of things get them going and plunk coins in their outrage machine: mask mandates, Biden, the rights of trans people, Black Lives Matter, Biden, Afghans who might have Covid, Mexicans at the border, the things teachers might say in classrooms, the junk that might be in that vaccine, cancel culture, criminals who destroy Democrat-run cities, Biden. Oh, and their unshakable conviction that I’m just dying to take away their guns and start a class war. Just like a typical Marxist.

I guess they think I’d rather sponge off the government than work hard — even though they’ve known me my whole life, and they surely know that I’ve worked steadily since age 16, just like they have. I guess they think that the things I’ve learned in school and abroad, or the values I’ve gained as an educator and a writer, make me weird. Uncomfortably unknowable. Not … (hopefully) more compassionate or wiser. Just … a snowflake. Feminazi. Leftist. Lib.

Am I being paranoid? Sensitive? Maybe. But I live here. I’ve been around these folks all my life. I’ve listened to the things they say and I’ve noted the way they’ve changed.

Sometimes they say to me, wow your [sic] brave, with a look in their eyes that betrays what they really think. They’ll earnestly say to me that Obama is a secret Muslim and blink at me when I disagree. They’ll freely call young Black men thugs, they’ll laugh when I express a pro-immigrant or pro-LGBTQ+ or pro-choice point of view, and they’ll bemoan aloud, usually after asserting a Hannity talking point or blatant untruth, that people like me always make everything political.

And I am so tired. I feel this sad bitterness when I read their Facebook comments and learn about the conspiracies they believe in. Thinking about making small talk with them over the holidays and doing my best to understand where they’re coming from exhausts me. Because it’s in no way reciprocated.

This is the despair of watching your fellow Americans slide from honest values and heartfelt Christianity to … something else. Something that looks and feels like a death cult.

I’m still hesitant to say the word fascism. And I’m not equating my countrymen and women with Nazis. But I will say this: I understand a little better how trapped and helpless so many people in Germany must have felt as their democratic experiment descended into dictatorship. As their neighbors and family members happily ignored the cruelty and waved red and black flags.

Taking the “Boring” Out of B2B Content Marketing

I used to teach freshmen composition at a local university. 

You may have taken this class in college. You probably didn’t enjoy it. The class was a requirement, and the students who took it were there to get it over with. 

As I chose readings and designed assignments each year, I learned something that helps me in my current role: I learned how to get people talking

Finding the Passion that Makes Sentences Sing

Many of the students in my class were athletes who hated writing. If I asked them to write a descriptive essay about, say, their neighborhood, they’d fill it with clichés and vague sentences. So, instead of choosing a writing prompt from the textbook, I’d ask them about the most exciting game they’d ever played. 

These formerly dull writers would come to life. Given the right topic, their words would leap from the page. Their sentences would have an energy that even experienced writers can’t always generate. All it took was finding that question – that topic, that job – they felt passionate about. 

I think about this whenever I write for a tech or manufacturing B2B company. B2B content marketing for industries like medtech, managed IT services or cooling and ventilation can be tough to get excited about. And it often shows: too many B2B companies publish bland content that doesn’t represent what’s really cool about their line of work—leaving the thoughtful prose and engaging storytelling to B2C brands. The result is content marketing that isn’t interesting to read and, therefore, not as effective. 

I once toured a manufacturing plant and was fascinated as I listened to an engineer talk about the to-the-millimeter precision of his tools and how vitally important his job was to industries like aerospace and oil and gas. It was an industrial process I’d never heard of before. As this engineer rattled off numbers and statistics, I realized that his kind of passion was infectious. 

And that’s what copywriters need to tap into. 

6 Tips for Writing Engaging Technical B2B Copy 

If B2B marketers and copywriters can inject a little bit of the energy that engineer felt as he talked about industrial honing – or the beauty in description that my student athletes tapped into – then their copy will sing. Here are a few more tips for writing engaging B2B copy: 

  • Interview the Right Subject Matter Expert

When it comes to B2B content, especially highly technical content, you shouldn’t try to muddle through on your own. And you shouldn’t just rewrite information you find on a competitor’s website. To be a true thought leader in any industry requires original ideas. Regurgitating information from articles you find online won’t cut it. 

My advice? Do the work and get the right people talking. You’ll be amazed at what you learn. Subject matter experts can explain difficult concepts, which a skilled copywriter can then present from a fresh angle. Asking the right questions (even the stupid ones) and allowing conversations to unfold is key. That’s what will produce thought-provoking and valuable content. 

  • Use Jargon Sparingly 

Too many writers fall back on industry jargon. It’s understandable; there’s a balancing act between speaking to an audience that understands the industry – and doesn’t need basic concepts explained to them – and writing about complicated, highly technical subjects that require precise language. But while jargon can be useful for SEO purposes, it can’t do the whole job a copywriter is called to do. It can’t grab attention or get a reader to engage with a brand. There’s just no story in jargon. 

  • Lean Into the Specs and Numbers 

Details, on the other hand, matter. Details about manufacturing or IT that might make a layperson’s eyes cross mean something to your target audience. So, lean into the specs and numbers. Put them front and center. To the right people, they’ll tell a pretty compelling story.

Once, I wrote for a company that did custom casework – basically the countertops and cabinets, soffits, lighting sconces and other custom products used to furnish a restaurant or dentist’s office. When I got these craftspeople talking about the type of material they used to make a countertop resemble hot-rod chrome, for instance, or the exact dimensions required to create a 3-dimensional, tapered diner counter, their words painted pictures. Suddenly, the back-and-forth process of typing measurements into a computer, envisioning a project on a drafting table, and wrestling laminate into a new shape took on the suspense and gravity of a hero’s quest. 

  • Write to One Person 

Experienced copywriters suggest that you imagine having a conversation with an actual person when you write. This is good advice, and I’ll add to it: think about what your actual person might geek out about. Then, fire them up. 

Here’s what I mean: I worked with a writer and social media phenom who discovered an entire community devoted to scrapping and metal recycling. She “listened” to what this community said online. She was able to engage them with highly specific, industry-related content they loved debating amongst themselves. Before long, this community became a fan base, trading the type of user-generated content some B2C companies can only dream of. All for the type of industry many people wouldn’t think twice about. 

It’s that kind of passion that makes B2B copywriting interesting: finding it, injecting it into a brand’s story, and igniting it in their audience.  

  • Provide a Solution to a Problem 

As with any good piece of marketing, it all comes down to this: what job is the product or service designed to do, and how will doing it make a customer’s life better? 

This goes for B2C and B2B content alike. So: why is the cutting-edge AI in a company’s product so important for the hospital nurses who will be using their software? What makes the manufacturing process at a prefabricated construction facility so groundbreaking, and their products so innovative? 

Making solutions the goal of your copy – and telling the right story, in the right way, to the right people – will help you uncover the spark in B2B content. 

  • Finally, Consider the Bigger Picture – the Why 

The final thing to always keep in mind is the company’s why. Every business – no matter if it’s in shipping, cybersecurity or heating and cooling – has goals beyond the bottom line. They’re in it to make a useful impact on the world around them. 

One of Atomicdust’s clients hardens the metal components needed to make safe, reliable seatbelts. That highly specialized, specific product may sound boring – until you think about the car crash you passed on the highway and the family, alive and unhurt, standing beside a nasty-looking wreck. 

So, once you’ve “zoomed in” to the details, zoom back out. Consider the bigger picture. The why. That essentially human reason B2B industries are so important. With a story any human reader can relate to, a process that hardens metals suddenly becomes that much more fascinating – and your brand does, too. 

Whatever You Do, Don’t Be Boring 

I used to tell my students, “If you’re bored writing something, I’ll be bored reading it.” 

Our job as content creators is to amplify the importance of B2B brands and engage customers with the kind of details that energize them, not make their eyes glaze over. But first, we have to find those details. Mull them over. Make them reveal themselves.  

Clearly, I’m not an expert in transportation logistics, Remote Patient Monitoring (RPM) or HVAC systems. And if I didn’t know any better, I’d think that drafting copy for these industries would be a long slog. But here’s the thing: once you find the right subject matter experts and tap into their passion, B2B content isn’t bland at all.   

Your Children are Watching

Do you remember when the Berlin Wall came down?

I was only 12, but I remember lying on my stomach on our living room floor, watching it on TV. My parents let me stay up late for the images and the commentary, or maybe they just weren’t paying attention. I remember so vividly the joy–the young people leaping up on top of the wall, bringing hammers down, hugging their East German neighbors! I don’t exactly remember this, but I like to imagine my dad or mom saying, “wow” in an awed voice. What I do remember, clearly, is the feeling that the world could be an inspiring place. Shit. Even today I can’t listen to the Scorpion’s schlocky Wind of Change without tearing up a little.

That hope has been a hard feeling to hold on to lately. Of course, I cried with joy and frank astonishment when Barack Obama became the first African-American president. And I felt a cautious sort of happiness as I followed the brief Arab Spring. However, I also witnessed 9/11, the wars in Iraq, and police brutality in my own backyard.

Do you know, after 9/11, I imagined for weeks what I would do if anything happened in my office, in my school? Did we all do that?

I wonder what particularly-imaginative young people today will remember when they think back on the ubiquitous images of their childhood. I wonder how much the constant exposure to screens will affect the way kids perceive this presidential election, or the protests flaring up in nearly every big city. I mean, you don’t have to be a media specialist to understand the power of images. And you don’t have to be a psychologist to understand that our earliest memories shape us in ways we can’t always predict.

I was an 80s kid who “was born in a house with the television always on.” From age 3 to puberty I absorbed the Reagan years. While my family was religious, it was also liberal. (I know that seems rare among the white middle-class of the Midwest, but it’s the truth.) I must have overheard comments from my parents as I watched the evening news. And I must have somehow processed them! As a grammar school kiddo, I voted Dukakis in our mock election! So I was surprised one night when I was scolded for badmouthing Republicans.

Reagan was on TV giving some speech and I, trying out a new word I’d overheard, said, “What a jerk-off!” My dad immediately scolded me. “I don’t care whether you agree with him or not – he’s still our president!” His words surprised me then, and they surprise me even more now. Especially when I hear from other, younger Midwestern friends who talk about the hateful things fired, nonstop, at the Clintons in their households.

I don’t think I have to remind you of the hateful things shouted across America’s Great Ideological Divide today. It’s hard for me to imagine a right-leaning parent admonishing a child to respect a candidate on the other team. It makes me admire my father even more, and it makes me listen even more closely to what my students are saying about politics …

My students, like most teenagers, are master hypocrisy spotters. They also thrive on images and sarcasm. Maybe that’s the reason we live, increasingly, in a meme society, in which snarky sound-and-picture bites take the place of thoughtful, well-researched news. Some of our more discerning journalists have identified the problem: In a Trump era, feelings are the same as truth; facts change depending on the source; insults and vague insinuations equal sound political strategy; reality is nothing more than solipsism.

What a time to be alive.

I teach in St. Louis, and before the Michael Brown verdict came out, we gathered the kids in the cafeteria to talk to them. These 8th and 9th graders were allowed to ask questions or make comments. Among them:

Why do white cops hate us?

Why does it always have to be a black and white thing?

I feel like I live in a war zone.  

I turned away from the kids to hide my emotion, and I thought to myself: What else are they seeing and hearing? How will they process and remember these things? What will they be like when they grow up?

I don’t intend for this to be a defeatist piece. I’m a firm believer that “the kids are alright.” My students, at least, are observant and savvy, and they have more of a voice than I ever did at age 14. I do, however, want to echo what Hillary Clinton has already stated in a pretty sharp ad: “your children are watching.”

Anyone who’s ever been around kids knows that’s true.

I believe they’re watching, and I believe they’re listening to us as we watch. And as we react.