Rules of Thumb

Rules of Thumb:


Best practices for a better life

Written and performed by John Gibson,
Produced by Tiffany Morgan,
Post-Production and Original Music by Van Gunter


What is “Rules of Thumb”?

What do you say to a grieving friend? Which color sheets should you buy? When are you too old for dumpster diving? Is ‘revenge’ a proper criteria when picking a nursing home?

All of life’s questions seem big when you’re in the middle of them. But whether your questions are domestic or global, aesthetic or philosophical, I’ve been there and wondered that. I’m John Gibson, and my new podcast ‘Rules of Thumb’ sets aside giant, intractable problems, to find nuggets of certainty in the everyday.

Our journey is guided by the philosopher’s basic question (‘how are we to live?”), but focused on actionable, everyday answers, aiming for the sweet spot between David Sedaris and Martha Stewart: certainly doomed, probably terrible, finding solace nonetheless in a properly set table. Together we’ll find lasting lessons, no bigger than your thumb, and just as handy.

Some of the teachers you’ll hear from are famous: Marcus Aurelius, E B White and Edna Lewis show up in the first season; Alice B. Toklas and James Baldwin, Rebecca Solnit and Justin Vivian Bond are just ahead. But we’ll also hear from teachers you’ll only meet here: the armed and dangerous old lady on the front porch across the street, a couple of snarky queens on barstools, and my very wise (but not at all saintly) mother.

Like many of them, I’m at a loss when it comes to climate change.  But I can tell you how long your sofa should be, how best to regard naps, what kindness we owe to our neighbors, and which ten bottles you want on your bar. One more thing I’m sure of, from the middle of middle age, and the center of Atlanta:

In a world of infinite choice, having rules sometimes grants the greatest freedom of all.


Meet Your Host

I spent almost twenty years running a theater, became accustomed to people seeking advice, and good at giving it. The podcast grew from books, heartbreak, stepchildren, dogs, and true love (twice).

I’ve catered parties for the Hell’s Angels,worked as a freelance eulogist, and as a Cirque Du Soleil janitor (two words: clown barf). I know how to raise ten million dollars, where to rent a live camel and/or robotic angel wings. I’ve been stalked and widowed, owned a bakery and an antique store, and though a child of privilege, my nanny was both a kleptomaniac and an arsonist. I was once a licensed firearm instructor, but now I’m just a postmodern trophy wife and a master gardener who knows exactly how many salvaged bricks you can load in a Mini Cooper without cracking an axle. Ask me about the time I got Nancy Reagan’s dog high. Or just sit with me in silent wonder at the glory and absurdity of the universe*.

*though every other word is 100% true, I’m kidding about the ‘silent’ part.”


Target Audience(s):

Here are three legitimate responses to the current state of the world:

1. Complete pinheaded denial

2. Hiding under the bed weeping

3. Clinging desperately to and holding above the flood waters (simultaneously being saved by, and saving) whatever shards of truth we manage to salvage from the wreckage.

“Rules of Thumb” aims squarely at those in this third camp.

The subject of each episode is clear: naps, grief, storage, foraging, gentrification, front porches, and cocktail parties are up first. The rules that I articulate are practical and memorable; the path leading from the topic to the rules is anything but straightforward. Listeners who love history or philosophy, anecdote or etiquette, aesthetics or dialectics will all find value in “Rules of Thumb. I think of actionable advice as like a flint, striking it against tiny questions so sharply that sparks fly (just the thing for the dark days).

At a time when the giant questions feel intractable, some people will find comfort in learning the six word mantra behind all fabulous parties.

“Rules of Thumb” is for those people.

Now, how will they find it?

I can only answer with how best I know to make things prone to being found:

  • Resonate with a strong, clear tone.

  • Speak in the one true human voice you have been granted.

  • Seek the hole in the universe which precisely conforms to the patch outlined by your particular humanity.

  • Do not grasp after the slippery tail of opinion or trend.

  • Make clarity, precision, and transparency your polestars.

  • Don’t make things for everyone. They’re doomed. Make the thing only you can make, with all the ingenuity and revelation you can muster. The universal is only available to us within the particular. Collaborate compassionately with kindred spirits. Work from where you actually are (in my case, Atlanta Georgia).

  • Then, get out there and shake your moneymaker. Rattle the cages, find your light, speak into the microphone, show up to the studio early, be kind to the makeup person, value word of mouth above all other marketing, drive yourself to the book-signing, go speak to the Rotary Club (even when you have a cold), don’t leave before the audience does, help put away the chairs, and send a thank you note. I grew up a child actor, spent my life in show business, and know in my bones the value of every ticket sold, which is the same as of every podcast downloaded.

Show Structure


“Rules of Thumb” is a spoken-word essay series, at the intersection of anecdote, philosophy, and close observation, written and performed by John Gibson, produced by Tiffany Morgan, with post-production and original scoring by Van Gunter. Episodes currently range between six and twenty-six minutes, though if a standard episode length of approximately eleven minutes is desirable, that’s possible. Ten episodes of the first season are fully produced. Topics for two subsequent seasons are mapped, and in those seasons the format expands to include conversations with guest experts, and advice to listeners. The series has not been publicly released.


“The Inspiration” 

It was only when I heard ‘The Memory Palace’ by Nate DiMeo that I fully understood what the podcast form was capable of. Nate’s sense of intimacy, of mastery, the feeling of journeying with an open and inquisitive guide, the poetry of it-- hands down, the gold standard. Not ‘the competition’; the inspiration. My recipe is equal parts revelation, introspection, quotation, and exhortation. Some other great chefs from whom I’ve pinched ingredients include:

  • Dear Sugars Radio by Cheryl Strayed and Steve Almond, WBUR

  • Getting Curious with Jonathan Van Ness, Earwolf

  • Imaginary Advice by Ross Sutherland

  • Revisionist History by Malcolm Gladwell, Panoply

  • The School of Life, YouTube

  • 99% Invisible by Roman Mars, Radiotopia

What sets our podcast apart from these? They are them and I am me. If each of them is a road, look for me at the intersection.

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