Continued from previous post…

You began acting callously and with impunity. Courting the trade press, you would say whatever came first, seeking credit and taking it. You then collected these stories in a shoebox, like scalps. The more awards you won the more you took winning for granted. You expected victory. When you got a substantial raise you asked for stock in the agency. You demanded monster bonuses. And got them. No title was big enough. Executive Chairman? You weren’t even sure what that meant. Put it on the fucking business card.

Sure, you created bridges but you began burning them as well. Whoever could help you was a loyalist. Everyone else was simply in the way. Always a competitive field now became ruthless. You made enemies, inside and outside your company. They were just jealous, you thought. And did it matter? Tables turned they would treat you the same as an opponent. Or so you believed.

In the eye of this storm a moral compass was useless. Drugs and alcohol became your closet allies. Feeding your ego. Telling you full speed ahead. Cunning, baffling and powerful! They would deliver you to the Promised Land. Back to that feeling you once experienced by the elevators. But of course it was all an illusion, their siren song leading you out to sea alone in a tempest. You would not be the first captain to have crashed upon the rocks.

Your hands trembled in a meeting. So you folded them under the table, hoping no one would notice. You perspired so you brought an extra shirt to the office. You ran for miles along Lake Michigan. At the gym, you tried to work out what was wrong. In the steam room you couldn’t see what was happening. Fear crept in where confidence once reigned. You took Valium and Xanax, along with the drinking.

The wheels were coming off.

For all your hubris it was this obsession with work that would save your life. When you realized your job was at stake, then and only then, you decided to quit. Not for your marriage or your family or even your health. Those lines you’d crossed a long time ago. You’d mortgaged most of your relationships. Your wife was in denial. Your father had written one of his letters. None of that mattered. The great copywriter and rainmaker you were not willing to lose.

In rehab, the group leader, himself a former addict, told you that maybe an advertising career wasn’t in your best interest. That it threatened your sobriety. He warned its venal culture would only suck you back in. You spitefully replied that you made more money in one week than he did all year. Quit your job? Unthinkable. Keeping it was why you’d stopped drinking in the first place! Sick as you were, this had been the most lucrative time of your life. You’d made over a million dollars. Losing all that for something as ephemeral as serenity? Please. What you did not tell the social worker was that you feared he was right.

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Man and his thoughts. Untitled photo by Daniel Postaer

My youngest brother, Daniel came to visit my family Sunday night for dinner. He brought along some photographs he took since beginning photography studies at the San Francisco Art Institute. The pictures he showed us were quite good and, in fact, he received honors in all of his classes. This winter, after being recruited by several prestigious art schools (the Art Institute of Chicago being one of them), Daniel has elected to remain where he is for the next two years. In June, he will be traveling with one of his professors to India to take more pictures and learn more things. He also has been commissioned by the city of Los Angeles to make a photographic study of the LA River. Not bad for a freshman.

Daniel is 34 years old.

A little over a year ago he walked away from a six-figure job in marketing at a booming shop in China. He was very good at it. As a matter of fact, he played a significant role in getting the well-received motion picture starring Bruce Willis, Looper, produced and marketed. Freeze-frame the credits and you’ll see his name. Before that he brought NBA superstars like Kobe Bryant to China for lavish promotional spectacles. During the Beijing Olympics he chaperoned swimming phenom, Michael Phelps from gymnasiums to the Great Wall. I wrote about it here: http:// https://godsofadvertising.wordpress.com/2009/01/13/little-brother-in-big-china-daniel-postaer-makes-marketing-magic-in-the-far-east/

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My brother Daniel (far right) and what’s his name -Beijing, China

Why did he leave such an exciting, well-paying job to go back to school –let alone to study a field said to be dying by Instagram?

Because he could. And because he wanted to. Apparently, the highflying marketing gig was wearing him out. At least on some level, we can all relate to that. But the real draw was a chance to do something that makes him happy and feel fulfilled. To make photographs. How might we relate to that?

My other brother, Jeremy studied painting in college and graduate school. He was exceptional. He had a gift. And while he toyed with making a career of it he opted to follow his big brother into the field of advertising. And that was that. The paintbrushes were stowed for life, literally and figuratively. I’m not sure if he regrets it. Lord knows, he’s had a prolific, even notorious career. But still…

Daniel laughs at himself for being a grown man among kids. He jokes that he can’t hang with the crew on Friday nights. But his smile is a mile wide. The man is happy. He works his ass off, like he always has, but instead of hitting the phones and making meetings he’s up with the sun taking photographs. Developing them. Entering them into shows. Then making better ones. Learning.

Pretty sweet.

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Following a dream. Untitled photo by Daniel Postaer

I’m not dissing advertising. Hell no. I’ve enjoyed (almost) every minute of my time in Adland. Yes, I’ve written novels and screenplays but my first love has always been what I’m doing right now. Yet, I wonder if given other circumstances I would have the courage to leave. Considering my bills and a young family, I doubt it.

Unencumbered by such concerns, Daniel is doing as he pleases. It sounds like a cliché but he’s following a dream. Where it takes him who knows. But isn’t that the beauty of it? I’m betting most nights he thanks God and his family for the support and courage to do what he’s doing –and not doing. He’d better. It’s a blessing few of us will ever know.

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Ambition does funny things to a man. It really is like blinders put on a horse to make him go. The creature does not see anything but the track ahead. He is oblivious to the horses on either side of him. For him the path is clear. Nothing can stop him now!

Blindly ambitious a man becomes arrogant.  He forgets. He ignores. He wants only to move ahead. Promises to others are swept away. Commitments are eliminated. Partnerships dissolved. At this point perspective becomes a nuisance. The man calls it “destiny.” Perceives himself to be on a “journey.” He accepts that there are supposed to be losers and he creates them. He is self will run riot.

In Adland:

He is the new boss who fires his agency merely to assert himself. He is the partner who balks at his comrade to take another job. (I have been both.) He is the scammer looking for praise. He is the hack undermining his way to the top.

He is any one of us if we don’t take stock.

Don’t get me wrong. In moderation ambition is most desirable. Yet unbridled it can be devastating.

Ambition is a colt born of pride. You may very well win a few races but one fine day you will be put down.


Books unread and way past due…

Recently, I attended a charity auction for my kid’s school at a downtown club, where I found myself having a Don Draper moment in the unattended library, a stuffy, decrepit sort of room where the nicked and worn bookcases were filled with countless navy and maroon hardcover volumes. Clearly, none had been opened in many years. Maybe decades. There was dust on all of them. I even saw cobwebs.

I gazed upon the titles. I’d never heard any of them or their authors. I opened one up and read a few paragraphs, something about a bachelor going over his dead father’s keepsakes. The man’s name was Jack. Or was it Henry or Bill. Anyway, the sentences were finely written. They moved along nicely enough. For a moment I could almost see myself sitting down in the nearby armchair. But no. I already had a bad rap as being anti-social, especially at events like these. If my wife caught me wiling away the evening reading I’d catch hell. The car ride home would feature another steely lecture. I put the book back. Sliding it into the slot, I imagined the bookcase, a la Sherlock Holmes, opening up into a secret passage! Wishful thinking. I’d have to go back to my party.

Before adjourning to the ballroom, I pondered the books once more, and their authors, now so utterly forgotten. When I was younger I thought being a published author was the pinnacle of achievement. For me, it was the goal of goals. The penultimate. Even deeper I believed creating a book was a form of immortality, a legacy. I knew someday I would. Had to. Otherwise, it seemed to me, my inevitable death would be in vain.

Now, gazing upon these hundreds of decaying volumes, I had a different view. There is no immortality, even through books. Unless you are blessed with creating a masterpiece like Moby Dick or Portrait of the Young Man as Artist, nobody but no one will care about it or you. And even in the unlikely event you did create a masterwork, you’d still fade eventually. Ashes to ashes. Dust jackets to dust jackets. High school kids would be required to read your prose but they would do so begrudgingly. A few nerds might carry the torch, less and less of them every year.

Needless to say, the same epitaph exists for movies and other art. For every Hemingway or Caravaggio there are millions of fabulous nobodies. People like me. I’ve written three novels, struggled to have two of them published, and dozens of short stories last read by a college professor whose name I can’t recall anymore than he would my stories.

Staring up at all these old books, I realized how silly my ambition was. Legacy! Please. Besides my kin, who in the hell did I think would read my stories? In fifty years my novels would be lucky –damn lucky- to be housed in a decrepit room such as this. Unlikely, given they are paperbacks. Even online they will be “out of print.” Maybe even –gasp!- Google proof!

Still, I would not trade the years I spent toiling on my books for anything. The countless hours I’ve spent conjuring tales are among the best times of my life. Selfish in the extreme, it was and is the one place where I felt and feel in control. Certainly more so than in all those mind numbing cocktail parties I’d attended and will attend.

So, what’s the lesson here? What is my point? I think it has something to do with living in the present and not worrying about the future or fretting over the past. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating hedonism. This does not mean sex, drugs and rock and roll. Lord knows I tried that. It means if my present is about writing (be it books or ad copy) then that is what I should do. It is my ambition that needs to be tempered. Rethought anyway. For all my blessings, my ambition got me right here, between a few hundred unremembered books and about as many drunks in the next room.

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