June 16, 2020


You‘re different around people, seldom for the better. For the longest time you believed it was you alone who’d suffered this way: the flutter in your stomach, the faint patina of sweat on your brow and, regrettably, the overcompensation of self. Make men laugh. Turn women on. You had to create an impression… or else.

You had ludicrously sensitive radar, capable of detecting and amplifying all manner of human behavior. The way bats and sharks sense their prey or a dog’s keen sense of hearing. You too were so blessed. Beyond just moods and personality, people brought energy into a room and you’d sense it. Hand gestures, the way a husband touched his wife at a party, or didn’t. Eye movements, when a pretty woman glanced over your shoulder at someone else in the room. Her perfume, his aftershave, and the perspiration it hid. The argument they had before coming to the party… or to work…or to your house. Anywhere. Anyone. You could feel all of it, or so it seemed.

Hating this feeling, you assumed a couple pops might loosen you up, make you more comfortable, more social. A common strategy for others for you it never worked. Liquor didn’t quiet your nerves as much as gave them somewhere to hide. Temporarily. Inevitably, they would erupt from your mind like the roaches in that storage unit. Then you said cruel things or acted out, alarming friends and infuriating loved ones. Booze did not quash the radar. Instead of simply being nervous you became drunk and nervous. Why this had taken so long for you to comprehend was a mystery of alcoholism. You smoked weed for over 20 years, even though it made you uneasy and paranoid. It was the same with Cocaine. In the end, you chose the bottle over people. Alcohol wasn’t the problem, they were. Alcohol wanted you alone. So, that’s where it took you.


Choose wisely…

Has anyone read The Paradox of Choice (Why More is Less) by Barry Schwartz? I started it the other day. His premise that our “culture of abundance robs us of satisfaction” captivated me. Deep down I’ve always felt –in spite of being a capitalist and an ad man- that having too many choices makes life chaotic. Mine anyway. Here was a book espousing the same idea!

The pressure to keep up is real. In high school and college we are given a syllabus: a defined and finite list of books we had to read. For most of us that was all we could handle.

Upon graduation, we create our own reading list –presuming we still read. I certainly do. However, I also love movies. I make it a point to see every best picture nominee in the Academy Awards. Recently, Oscar expanded that list to what, nine? How am I supposed to see all these films (not to mention the genre pictures I adore) and finish that book I just started?

It would help if I got off the damn computer…

Ah, the computer. Like many of us, I’m hopelessly addicted to the Internet. The trade blogs, the film blogs, the book blogs, and all those I-can’t-believe they’ve-got-a-site sites. Nothing says choice like the Information Superhighway. Damn you Al Gore for enriching my life! Damn you, Apple computers, for creating such glorious shiny, silver hardware.

On my devices I sail down the Amazon. There I can get anything I want -fast, cheap, easy. Do you like Ebay or are you a Craigslist guy? Perhaps there’s another etailer you prefer more – one that really knows you and what you like.

Am I missing anything? That’s the big question, isn’t it? Am I missing anything? The answer is yes. And that makes me nervous. Irritable. Discontent. It’s sort of like New Year’s Eve. No matter which party I chose I was missing another far better one.

But we prefer having choices, right? Sometimes I wonder. I’m relieved when a restaurant has only three dishes on its menu. The chef has chosen for me. Picking one of his specials is a no-lose situation. It’s even relaxing and enjoyable, which, come to think of it, is the whole point to going out for dinner.

Schwartz opens his book by recounting a visit to the Gap to buy blue jeans. Instead of merely having to find his size, which is daunting enough, he is faced with myriad styles to choose from: boot cut, relaxed fit, skinny, distressed, button fly or zipper. Black, brown, white or blue. And so on.

He wanted jeans. Not choices. What should have been a simple task became complicated, even fraught with peril. Yes, freedom of choice is the American Dream. But is it turning into a nightmare?

I was born moody…

Are we having fun?

I ask because sometimes I think we take ourselves too seriously. I know I do. I also know it’s often a character defect disguised as something noble, like integrity or being a hard worker.

And while I think everyone could benefit from lightening up, I’m primarily talking about us folks in the advertising business. Obviously, doctors need to take themselves seriously. (I want mine to.) Plenty of other vocations demand a more serious attitude.

But we in Adland are not one of those groups. Nor should we be. First of all, we don’t make anything. Our product is ideas. Each one of us is a creator or a facilitator of creation. Therefore, when we take our craft too seriously we risk playing God. It’s okay to debate whether what we do is art or commerce or both. However, we go too far when we think of marketing ideas as precious. They are not. And despite what your mother told you, you are not either. We may be talented. We are certainly lucky. Said another way: what we do isn’t precious but that we get to do it is.

I’ve always considered my job one of the greatest blessings I’ve ever received, be it through hard work, good luck or likely both. And I’m not just talking about now. I loved my first years at Leo Burnett as much, if not more, than any other time in my life. And that’s saying a lot because I love my current job. Love it.

Advertising (or whatever we’re calling it) has been very, very good to me and to a lot of people. You, I hope. Though our business is changing, perhaps diminishing, it’s still one hell of a gig. I won’t waste space selling the proposition. You know what I mean. Next time you’re at a dinner party or something similar, take note of what the other guests do for a living. We are surrounded by traders, financial advisers, retailers, lawyers, and, sadly, the unemployed or underemployed. High salaries or not, in good times and bad, I wouldn’t trade places with any of them. Would you? (Note: teachers are pretty special; they are an exception. ☺)

That is not to say we should get on high horses. I suggest we count our lucky stars and say a prayer to the Gods of Advertising and to God period that we get to do what we get to do. Those of us still gainfully employed in this ephemeral task should lighten up. If any group should be whistling while they work it’s us!

Special note: I’m unsure of this writing. I wrote it some days ago when my mood was better. Now, I worry it’s more wishful thinking or even magical thinking. Lord knows, there’s plenty to fret and wonder about when it comes to our business. I’m also considering the many creative directors who’ve recently resigned their seemingly wonderful jobs. Why? I’m afraid the answers are in conflict with my above points. What do you think?

Another funky Xmas: the cat’s in the cradle…

Now that Christmas is over I have a confession to make: I struggled with it. Warm and fuzzy sentimentality interrupted by bouts of anger and depression. My temperament resembled the Chicago weather: cold and slushy. Regrettably, the holidays baffle and frustrate me.

They didn’t always. As a kid I was a receiver. I went places. Endured hugs. Got presents. Lots of presents. Even when my family had only modest wealth, I identified with material abundance… stuff.

In my teen and college years the holidays were about avoidance and hedonism. I thought mostly of myself. I wanted to do my own thing, which meant reading, writing, getting high, pining after women and generally dreading family obligations.

Then I grew up. Sort of. Marriage and children predicated I could no longer carry on as I pleased. I had dependants. An immediate family cannot be avoided, nor should they be, especially during the holidays…

But I remain baffled. Divorced when I was three or four, my parents hadn’t been overly present in my life and, at times, I’m ignorant on how to be present myself. I compensate by being a good provider. I focus considerable energy into forging a career. Advertising I understand. I know how to write and sell copy. I have a role I can play and I excel at it.

Needless to say, galloping through life (let alone the holidays) with blinders on is far from ideal. I miss things, too many to name here. Yet removing them is harder than it sounds. The muscle memory remains. The holidays only accentuate this defect. And I struggle.

In addition, the rampant commercialization of the season infuriates me. Christmas carols and retail jingles blur together. It makes me ill. Ironic given my vocation, and the fact that I’m wired to provide stuff and not much else. Sometimes I feel like a robot and a malfunctioning one at that.

So I’m glad Christmas is over. But I’m also sad I didn’t do a better job of it. Are “job” and “it” even the right words? I don’t know. Once again, I missed things. Thankfully, not as much as last Christmas or the one before that. I recognize the problem is more mine than the season’s. And now I have another year to work on it.

Happy New Year and God Bless.

Order my novel on Amazon

Follow me on Twitter