writer
Driven to write…

A couple years ago, Pastor John Buchanan of Fourth Presbyterian Church Chicago (now retired) gave a terrific sermon on the rite of baptism, which I had the privilege of attending. Earlier he had performed the sacrament on two babies. And so later spoke of names, identities and how they relate to God’s plan for us. Interesting stuff. Especially for a borderline agnostic like me.

While there was much to glean from his sermon, I want to focus on one thing in particular. Buchanan referenced a book he’d read by Sister Joan Chittister (The Gift of Years) that struck a nerve with him. It did the same for me. I think many of you will relate to it as well. We define ourselves by our work. It becomes the Who, What, Where, How and Why of our lives. Can you deny it?

In our society, introductions to people almost always include asking what the other person does for a living. I do it all the time: “So, Phil, what do you do?” Big deal. It’s a good way to find common ground.

But what happens, the pastor asked, when ‘what we do’ is over with or, worse yet, taken from us as in layoffs or job eliminations? Do we lose our identities? Do we become nobodies in the eyes of our peers and ourselves? Buchanon suggested living by such a self-absorbed credo devalues us as human beings, often causing serious anxiety and depression. In America, our identities are inextricably tied to ‘what we do’ versus who we are or what we believe in. Take away that and we’re left with… what exactly? Given the current recession and myriad job losses, his sermon was especially poignant. Yet, even in good times the ‘what we do’ credo is troubling. For one thing: what happens when we retire?

Uh oh.

I have always unabashedly identified myself as a writer, be it of copy, editorial or fiction. To wit I wrote and edited my high school newspaper (The Lane Tech Warrior). I did the same for both student papers at the University of Wisconsin, Madison (The Daily Cardinal and Badger Herald), not to mention scribing for an independent publication, The Madcity Music Mirror. I started my career as a copywriter at Leo Burnett and continue to do so at gyro in San Francisco. I’ve written three novels and dozens of short stories, some of which have been published. I wrote two screenplays. I write and maintain Gods of Advertising as well as The Rogue’s Gallery, which, as some of you know, was originally intended to be a forum for copywriters to showcase their writing.

So, yeah, for me it’s all about the writing. The point I’m building to: What happens when all that ends, as one day it surely must? I get paid to write and creative direct copy. This also gives my blog a modicum of credibility. Take away my job and then what do I do? Relax? Hell, I barely do that now. How am I supposed to do it 24/7?

According to Buchanan, if we are spiritually fit we are more content and serene, regardless of our employment status. But getting fit means letting go of intense personal ambitions. Self-centeredness must slip away. Easier said…

To me writing is a very selfish act, even if for clients. It has a narcotic effect. I not only get off doing it; I can’t stop. There is always another brief, another story, another presentation. Writing takes me away from my family, friends and other obligations. Buchanan suggests it also takes me away from God.

His point isn’t that writing is a despicable act (even ad copy!) but that putting it before others and God potentially is. Similar counseling is given to alcoholics: ‘Get outside of your head,’ we are told. ‘Think of someone other than yourself!’

I promise. Just as soon as I complete this post, rewrite that presentation, and edit some copy…

(Special thanks to friend, Anne Ross for reacquainting me with this post and Buchanon’s brilliant sermon. It is a lesson I have yet to master.)

Advertisements


Could I be any greater?

The American Psychiatric Association held their annual meeting in Honolulu last week. A primary objective for the group was outlining revisions to the next edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM-5. The book was last updated 20 years ago. Shrinks the world over use this manual for diagnosis, prescription information and countless other important matters. It’s like a bible of psychiatry.

According to a report in the Chicago Tribune, “among the myriad proposals now on the table (at the convention): reducing the number of specific personality disorders from 10 to five, a move that would eliminate the diagnosis of narcissistic disorder.” Narcissism has long been a marker for mental illness, including sociopathic behavior. In general, most societies view the behavior as a bad thing. Serial killers are said to be narcissists.

That said I think removing the classification is probably the right move. Like it or not, the world is full of narcissists. And the number is only increasing. I attribute this to two things in particular: social media and marketing.

Once we were just ordinary people. Joe from accounting. Sally, the girl next door. Minor roles in the grand scheme of things. Cogs in the proverbial wheel. But the new century changed all that. Our roles got bigger… better… and badder. Joe became a rock star. Sally a goddess. He’s got “fans.” And she has “followers.” We became main characters in the screenplay of our lives. Veritable movie stars! Now people, places and things revolve around us. Our names are like brand names, with images to think about. In other words, we became narcissists. Popular websites like Klout measure our “social currency,” giving each of us a score, which determines are sphere of influence. Basically it tabulates “fans” and “followers” and “likes.” Engagement is a major criteria. More is better. Therefore, Klout is but a measure of our narcissism.


Validate me!

That marketing feeds our desires for popularity, prestige and success is beyond debate. Of course it does. Sally wants to look more like Jane so she buys what Jane has. Jack wants to impress Joe so he drives a BMW. And so on.

Consider Apple: Imac, Ipod, Ipad, Iphone. We love “I.”

Ad copy has always played to our prurient desires, be they material or psychological. Most religions of the world consider that a sin. Whether or not that’s true is a broader discussion and one that we will all be having for the rest of our lives. Yet, while many of us are some kind of crazy we are likely not serial killers. Hence, I think it’s a good move for the APA to take narcissism off the punch list of mental disorders. In the age of Facebook and Twitter, what choice do they have?


Is what you are who you are?

Last Sunday, Pastor John Buchanan (Fourth Presbyterian Church Chicago) gave a terrific sermon on the rite of baptism. Earlier he had performed the sacrament on two babies. And so later spoke of names, identities and how they relate to God’s plan for us. Interesting stuff. Especially for a borderline agnostic like me.

While there was much to glean from his sermon, I want to focus on one thing in particular. Buchanan referenced a book he’d read by Sister Joan Chittister (The Gift of Years) that struck a nerve with him. It did the same for me. I think many of you will relate to it as well…

We define ourselves by our work. It becomes the Who, What, Where, How and Why of our lives. Can you deny it?

In our society, introductions to people almost always include asking what the other person does for a living. I do it all the time: “So, Phil, what do you do?” Big deal. It’s a good way to find common ground.

But what happens, the pastor asked, when ‘what we do’ is over with or, worse yet, taken from us as in layoffs or job eliminations? Do we lose our identities? Do we become nobodies in the eyes of our peers and ourselves? Buchanon suggested living by such a self-absorbed credo devalues us as human beings, often causing serious anxiety and depression. In America, our identities are inextricably tied to ‘what we do’ versus who we are or what we believe in. Take away that and we’re left with…what exactly? Given the current recession and myriad job losses, his sermon was especially poignant. Yet, even in good times the ‘what we do’ credo is troubling. For one thing: what happens when we retire?

Uh oh.

I have always unabashedly identified myself as a writer, be it copy, editorial or fiction. To wit I wrote and edited my high school newspaper (The Lane Tech Warrior). I did the same for both student papers at the University of Wisconsin in Madison (The Daily Cardinal and Badger Herald), not to mention scribing for an independent publication, The Madcity Music Mirror. I started my career as a copywriter at Leo Burnett and continue to do so at Euro RSCG in Chicago. I’ve written three novels and dozens of short stories, some of which have been published. I write and maintain Gods of Advertising as well as The Rogue’s Gallery, which, as some of you know, was originally intended to be a forum for copywriters to showcase their writing.

So, yeah, for me it’s all about the writing. The point I’m building to: What happens when all that ends, as one day it surely must? I get paid to write and creative direct copy. This also gives my blog credibility (hopefully). Take away my job and then what do I do? Relax? I can barely do that now. How am I supposed to do it 24/7?

According to Buchanan, if we are spiritually fit we are more content and serene, regardless of our employment status. But getting fit means letting go of personal ambitions. Self-centeredness must slip away. Easier said…

To me writing is a very selfish act, even if for clients. It has a narcotic effect. I not only get off on doing it; I can’t stop. There is always another brief, another story, another presentation. Writing takes me away from my family, friends and other obligations. Buchanan suggests it also takes me away from God.

His point isn’t that writing is a despicable act (even ad copy!) but that putting it before others and God potentially is. Similar counseling is given to alcoholics: ‘Get outside of your head,’ they are told. ‘Think of someone other than yourself!’

I promise…just as soon as I rewrite that body copy.

Pastor Buchanan\'s sermon

Follow me on Twitter

Order The Happy Soul Industry on Amazon