The artist works alone.

I’m not sure if “pleased” is the right word but I share with others a relief of sorts knowing that I’m not the only introvert making a living in the creative ranks of Adland. Since my last post on the subject, a fair number of readers commented or emailed me directly stating that they too are introverts and that it has periodically caused them a fair amount of pain. But mostly they were just relieved to be acknowledged and, in turn, respected.

From Chad:

I’ve been an introvert trying to come off as an extrovert for most of my life. Perhaps this is the source of my internal conflict. Even in the company of my closest friends, sometimes my own head is a more comfortable place to be. Mine, too, can be a bad neighborhood at times. After all, it’s where the selfish and resentful things are. But it’s also where I find most of my inspiration. Like Luke seeking Vader in the dark corners of his mind, I face the demons, learn and emerge stronger in my resolve. As a creative, this is invaluable. Nothing, for me, is scarier than the blank canvas. And no amount of socializing will paint the picture. I have to go “upstairs”. Alone. Shut the door and create.

I can relate, Chad, especially with your last sentence: “I have to go upstairs. Alone. Shut the door and create.”

For years now the talk in our business has been about integration, unification and collaboration. Brought about by new media, we (not just ad people, all people) are connected in ways before unimaginable. Naturally, it was required the creative process follow suit. And so we are. Working in confluence with others, adding digital and new media specialists into our midst, building off each others ideas; these are becoming standard practices at agencies all over the world. At the Hyper Island Master Class (digital training for advertising professionals), we are told that even the writer/art-director dyad is obsolete. Two people are no longer sufficient for creating robust integrated marketing concepts. Hmmm.

These changes are almost certainly for the better but there is a wrinkle: the creative process is, and in certain respects always will be, a solitary one. Individuals conceive the vast majority of all artwork, be it books, paintings, essays, poetry, sculpture, plays, etc. Obviously, producing music, films and other forms requires collaboration but chances are the essence of the product belongs to one creator. And chances are that person was or is an introvert.

Introverted or extroverted, creating concepts has a deeply personal component that cannot be ignored. Even traditional teams worked apart and then “presented” ideas to their partner. As a copywriter I value privacy to “shut the door and create.” As a creative director I must respect the same desires from all who work for me.

One of my favorite pieces of Leo Burnett lore is the famous ad man’s salute to the “lonely man…the man at his typewriter or his drawing board or behind his camera or just scribbling notes with one of our big black pencils – or working all night on a media plan.” Darn near admonishing his troops, Leo tells them if and when “you lose your respect for the lonely man…THAT, boys and girls, is when I shall insist you take my name off the door.” ‘Nuff said.

For those interested, here is the transcript of Mr. Burnett’s speech, from 1967.

Thinker or stinker?

I went to a cocktail party the other night. Given I don’t cocktail anymore I’m pretty much there for chips and the occasional conversation. That means most every social gathering is, for me, a chore. Especially without the social lubricant. But, honestly, I wasn’t socially adept even when I was drinking. Neither a good time Charlie nor a brawler, I tended to hop from person to person nervously trying to make a connection. Failing that I would drink until it was time to go home and pass out, hopefully in that order.

Thing is I’m in an introvert. For myriad reasons –good and bad- I’m more comfortable living in my own head than most anyplace else. Consider my passions: reading, writing, running, cinema, working out, fishing; things I can and do all by myself.

Maybe “comfortable” is the wrong word. Frankly, my head can be a bad neighborhood. It gets pretty scary in there. Yet, I’m used to it. And it’s been my M.O. since I was a boy.

So, I’m at this party and I notice one of the children shying away from the pack. One of the other kids asks the little girl to play. She shakes her head no. Then the child’s mother intervenes. “Go on, sweetie, you’ll have fun.” Her daughter is having none of it. As I was nowhere near the adult party (see above explanation), I walked over and ask what’s the matter.

The mom says what moms always say when her child’s behavior is called into question: “She’s just tired.”

“I wonder if she’s an introvert,” I offer.

Aghast, the mother ruefully denies the possibility. It’s as if I accused her daughter of being abnormal.

Feeling guilty for exacerbating things, I tell the woman that I’m an introvert too, and that, after all, the world needs introverts. “Who would write all the books,” I joked, “if everyone were outside playing?” Not the best argument but it seems to make the mom feel better. Which makes me feel better, especially given how infrequently I add value to a conversation. I also think most art requires looking inward.

Driving home I thought about the incident and introversion in general. Tough being wired the way I am and having a large family. Moody and introspective, I am often seen by them as the bad guy: anti-social and self-centered. I’m working on it but isolating is a hard habit to break –even with loved ones, especially with loved ones.

At work, I make it a point to walk the halls even though my every instinct would have me in front of my laptop with the office door shut. Thankfully, I trained myself long ago to be more than capable presenting work, to the point where I genuinely adore this facet of the job. But it wasn’t easy.

No surprise I love email. With it, I can communicate without actually socializing. I’ve taken to social networks for much the same reason. My guess is the creators of many social media platforms are introverted, perhaps trying to get out! Certainly Mark Zuckerberg is.

While at times I rail against it, clamoring to be socially awesome, I am and always will be an introvert. And if that little girl’s fate is to be one too here’s hoping her mother cuts her some slack. After all, the little one might have some very big ideas cooped up inside.

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?

My home office, not a “closet.”

My last post was a rebuttal of sorts to a comment made on this blog challenging my ability to create a gay main character in my new novel, Sweet by Design. I replied, tartly, that I’d been doing it for years, citing the campy Altoids campaign as evidence. They didn’t call it “curiously strong” for nothing.

Yet, the blogger’s challenge is a fair one. And damn intriguing.

A reader and contributor to this blog, Charletta Lynn Barton, an African American, provided great insight into the possible motive behind my heckler’s jibe. Actually, several comments on the post are worth reading. Another commenter, Bryan Carmody pointed out that straight actors have been portraying gay characters forever. And vice versa. Can you say, Rock Hudson? This got me thinking…

Many years ago, I had the pleasure of sitting next to Tom Burrell on a flight from Los Angeles to Chicago. Tom, as many of you know, is the founder of Burrell Communications, one of America’s first advertising agencies devoted primarily to the African American consumer. He is also black.

Tom Burrell

Among other things, I debated with him whether an advertising agency could (or even should) be an expert on African Americans in the first place. Was that not racism in reverse –that only black people can sell to black people? I was trying for idealism but probably came across as naïve. Still, I think in a perfect world a good writer should be able to understand and then write for any segment of the population. Including blacks. Including the opposite sex. Including gays. That’s the job.

His response was not surprising. “It’s not a perfect world. Not only are black people woefully underrepresented in agencies but they are portrayed incorrectly by them as well.” I’m paraphrasing Tom but those were his points and they were good ones. Still are.

Yet, part of understanding people from other cultures is to walk in their shoes. While that is not literally possible it is possible in literature. And art. And copy. Moreover, I think it’s critical we try and that we try to get it right. Empathy comes via sharing experiences. No other way. Writing is one of them.

And so I endeavored to be empathetic to gay life. I have that right. Maybe it’s even an imperative. We have a black President. We almost had a female President. And, if the current scholarship on Abe Lincoln is to be believed, we may have already had a gay President.

As my former creative partner, Mark Faulkner (who is gay) once told me: “It’s not a lifestyle; it’s a life.”

I invite you to read Sweet by Design. Did I get it right? And just as important, Is it a good read? Let me know. The story comes free. And I’ve added various interactive elements to make it more entertaining, including a design contest in which the winner gets an Ipad! Work has already been submitted, and, as fate would have it, by an African American: Sweet by Design (the first cover!)

My previous novel, The Happy Soul Industry

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We can never satisfy these ladies but we keep trying…

Possessions possess us.

My father made the above statement to me eons ago, I think as a reaction to some big material item I was thinking about purchasing. Maybe it was a house or a car or a cabin in the woods. I don’t remember. But I cannot forget the comment. Accursedly true, not to mention prescient. Coveting stuff is dangerous business.

First of all, it’s a borderline sin. Wait a minute, you say! Wanting what we don’t have is benign. Everybody does it. We all wish for things, right? You’re thirsty you want a Coke. You have a baby you want a new house. You’re bored you want to have a fling with the neighbor…

Subtle the progression from natural instincts to self will run riot. While my latter example is obviously the egregious one, I could argue they all are. Coveting a new home because you have another mouth to feed might be entirely inappropriate. What if you’re barely making ends meet as it is? Maybe only Mom wants the new home. She’s met a bunch of new moms at school and, gee whiz, they all have such lovely houses. Dad’s realistic. Why can’t we just convert the extra bedroom for the baby? They fight about it. Things get worse. Dad starts thinking about his secretary, who’d be happy with the life he can provide. And so on. If you’re diabetic even desiring a Coke can be unhealthy. The point is: wanting is not far from craving, coveting, possessing.

Having an addictive personality, I am especially vulnerable to my desires. Thankfully, I rarely act on them…at least not the material ones. Truth be told, my wife is the shoppaholic. For her, shoes fill far more than closet space. Something is going on that makes her want what she doesn’t have or even need.

This, then, is the crucible. Not only in my marriage and (I suspect) countless others but in life. The thought anchors this blog. Drives my vocation. Why do we want what we don’t have, let alone need? One reason (albeit a minor one) is advertising: We make you want what you don’t need! But the pilot light is on in all of us. Desire burns 24/7. Advertising merely fans the flame.

In my novel, The Happy Soul Industry advertising is the devil’s hand maiden.

Ironically, my father was referring to none of the above when he made his comment. It was more of a warning: once you buy that second home, son you’re going to be spending the rest of your life and money tending to it. Possessions possess you.

Indeed it does, but that is a topic for another blog. Mine is ostensibly about advertising, where obsession precedes possession!

Possession via Twitter