Burning Question

December 19, 2020

The non-addict asks what is the meaning of life? The addict asks: Is this all there is? You called this many things: frustration, dissatisfaction, expectation… the yearning. Desiring something else. More. These unmet desires found respite in drugs and alcohol, albeit temporarily. But it was better than the alternative, or so it always seemed at the time, all the time.

When you finally found a church basement full of others like you, you thought: At last I am not the only one asking this question! It was the right idea, this revelation – a solid first draft. Alas, the yearning remained, humming like a generator, at times hissing, demanding, always there, always on.

Nor could you placate it with a Higher Power, not sufficiently. Your God wasn’t big enough. Is still not big enough. Would never be. But then came a realization as central as the question itself. It wasn’t that you stop asking: Is this all there is? But rather that you begin answering: Yes, this is all there is. And so be it.

Mustard Seed Epiphany

September 29, 2020

Start small…


“I had an epiphany.” Far from spontaneous, you are looking forward to discussing it with her.

“Do tell,” she replies. “I’m all about the epiphanies.” Mia peers at you from behind a large coffee mug. The image would make a good shrink Emoji.

“Do you know the biblical story regarding the mustard seed?

Mia nods. “It’s an allegory. Something about inauspicious beginnings.”

You snap your fingers. “That’s the one. The Kingdom of Heaven is like a grain of mustard seed… I take it to mean great things can come from the tiniest of starts, like faith in God.”

“Are you born again?” Mia asks, feigning surprise. She knows you too well.

Her sarcasm does not deter you. “I believe we all plant mustard seeds knowingly or unknowingly. Acts of kindness. Helping others. Practicing these principles in all our affairs.”

“Okay…” Mia purses her lips. “But I’m not sure that constitutes an epiphany?”

“Hear me out. Most people think being of service means action. Something one does. Like giving money to charity. Meeting another alcoholic at Starbucks.” You pause. “But what if it also meant something you don’t do?”

“Like not drinking?”

“Exactly. But that’s only the beginning.” You polish off the last of your Red Bull, which explains your exuberance, part of it, anyway. “Not taking sides. Not criticizing. Not trying to be right all the time. Listening instead of talking. Not being that guy anymore.”

Mia nods. “I’ve noticed the difference,” she says. “Your anger has abated considerably since we first met.” She leans toward you. “I’ve told you this before.”

“But I didn’t really believe you. I’m suspicious of my own progress.”

Mia sighs. “You don’t accept praise well.”

“Never have.” Which is odd, given how much I’ve always sought it out. But I’m learning. Instead of deflecting a compliment by saying something sarcastic I’ve learned to say thank you. That’s my point. My epiphany. By not reacting I’m, in essence, acting. Does that make any sense?”

“Doing nothing is underrated,” Mia says. “Especially given the reactive culture we live in today.”

You roll your eyes. “It seems like everybody offends everybody. Trolling. Protesting.  Where does it end?”

“I’m afraid it doesn’t.”

“Well, it will with me.” You throw your hands into the air. “Let the world trample all over itself. I’m done.”

“Hallelujah!” Mia exclaims.


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The glittery potential for every brand…

According to Zen, one’s serenity is inversely affected by one’s attachment to things. The more you live the more you realize it. Obviously, you can’t take anything with you but I wonder why it takes us so long to figure that out? On some level, we all accept the spiritual truth in this idea but on a day to day basis most of us don’t “go there.” We are too busy acquiring things, building things, starting things and ending things.

When I began this blog a decade ago I titled it the way I did for irony’s sake. As if there could be Gods of anything, let alone advertising. Ha! I also gave the blog a subhead: “We Make You Want What You Don’t Need.” Even then I felt the low-level hum of tension inherent to making a living in Adland. I’m an agnostic (mostly leaning on belief in a higher power) but I’m also a realist (leaning on skepticism). Still, I knew and know that making people covet brands was a form of idolatry. Obviously, I’m not talking about selling a car on Craigslist. I’m referring to branding. Big “A” advertising: Nike, Apple, McDonald’s, etc…

As brilliant as Nike’s historical marketing story is (and precisely because of), there is a tension to it. When Air Jordan’s came out with its iconic marketing (the jump man and the swoosh and “Just Do It”), all hell broke loose. People who could least afford them wanted them the most. And, well, bad things happened to realize those aims. People stole for them. Harmed others. Or more casually frittered away resources. Nike had become a religion. It is believed God can walk on water. And so, as all of us are lead to believe, with a pair of Air Jordans, can we.

This is an extreme example and not typical of most branding efforts. Yet, that is not because we don’t try to achieve those results. We do. Therefore, in theory and sometimes practice, we are efforting to “make people want what they don’t need.”

Admit it, copywriters. When you’re drafting a manifesto for a product or service or company (it doesn’t much matter what the thing is) don’t you feel the power at your fingertips? There, at your desk, you are creating a myth. Our words are like sparks and we want them to ignite. We are toying with Pandora’s Box and it is nothing short of thrilling. For me it is.


As far back as 2008, I made a presentation at Cannes (at the Palais no less!) sharing some of the above ideas. I recklessly compared coveting Gold Lions to the Israelites worship of a Golden Calf. Needless, to say I was not invited to give that speech again. Ever.

Who doesn’t want their copy to go viral? To be shared. To spread like, frankly, a disease. If it does, we are blessed with silver in our paychecks and Gold Lions at Cannes. With powerful alchemy, we will have turned people into consumers. Into Believers. We will have become GODS OF ADVERTISING!

Exile and bliss. I can relate…

listening to music while pushing through a run this weekend my iPod Shuffle selected “Disappearing Act” by U2. Instantly, my heart soared. My runner’s aches vanished. I got a second wind. At that glorious moment, I knew I’d finish my workout strong. Such is the power of music.

I also realized that this particular U2 song might just be my favorite from the band’s entire, vast catalog. Given U2 is my favorite musical group (if a grown man can have a favorite musical group), choosing above all others a non-hit like “Disappearing Act” seems pretty random. Especially considering the following bit of history from U2’s guitarist, The Edge:

“‘Disappearing Act,’ formerly known as ‘White City,’ was recorded at the beginning of the Slane sessions (for The Unforgettable Fire)…but for whatever reason, it never inspired a compelling vocal…then, after 25 years, between shows on the 360 tour, ‘White City’ was completed and became ‘Disappearing Act.'”

Yikes. Perhaps my favorite U2 song almost never got made. Regardless, it’s an amazing number. Listen to it. “Disappearing Act” is both a soaring anthem and a deeply personal work, indicative of the very best U2 songs. It has all the elements: inspiring guitar hooks, beautiful chorus and Bono’s classically enigmatic lyrics that seem to be simultaneously about mysterious women and the eternal quest for truth, beauty and a higher power.

Say what you will about Bono yet the fact he rarely writes about sex, drugs and rock and roll (not that there’s anything wrong with that) is one of the band’s greatest virtues. Since Day 1 U2 has remained unabashedly spiritual, never forsaking their faith for rampant hedonism readily available to rock stars fractionally as famous as they are. I find that truly amazing.

But it’s the personal connection I make with this song that, for me, puts it above their many terrific others. As a lifelong introvert and someone who has never mastered social intercourse, I’ve done my share of disappearing acts. It’s painful. It’s regretful…


“Exile, it’s a small price to pay for bliss.” A haunting line, containing two seemingly disparate ideas (exile and bliss) and it nails me to a cross. For all my blessings of family and friends, I often find myself alone. Indeed, I put myself there, preferring it to the company of others…

“When there’s only one thing you need to own…hunger, hunger itself.”

I view “hunger” as a search for reconciliation as well as a description of the ambition and creativity that can restore me to sanity. Or at least get me out of the “graveyard before I turn to bones.”

With “all the lepers (I) let in my head” sometimes I wonder how I “can love” at all. The song keeps asking that question. And if I’m being honest so do I.

Even though Bono wrote “Disappearing Act” in the second person I obviously take it personally. I love this song even as I struggle liking myself. And isn’t that what true art (be it a novel or a pop song) truly does: point to our flawed humanity while providing eternal hope for its salvation?

Writer’s note: I may have crossed the line here, providing “too much information.” Forgive me that indulgence. Yet, finding meaning in popular culture is absolutely part of this blog’s modest legacy. Thank you for your patience. Below is “Disappearing Act”

Buying makes me feel good!

I had a lot of alone time this Thanksgiving, as my girls went to Kansas City to see their cousins. I stayed back to spend the holiday with my dad’s side of the family. My grandfather is 97 and the Postaer men thought it proper to spend Thanksgiving with him. Come Friday, however, my father and brothers went to their respective homes on opposite coasts. That left me by myself, which was both nice and weird.

Being an introvert I’m already prone to introspection. Even in crowds, I hang out in my head. Needless to say, I was there a lot this long holiday weekend. Here’s the weird part: I kept on being nagged by this desire to buy stuff. Maybe it was all the holiday advertising beseeching me to get going on my Christmas shopping. But I actually think it runs deeper than that. I’d like to think I’m inured to the siren songs of the season, no matter how bright, brassy and loud they may be. After all, I am in the advertising business.

But I also have an addictive personality. It’s like there’s a hole in my person that demands being filled. Under it’s sway, I easily become restless, irritable and discontent. Back in the day I looked to fill the void in unhealthy ways. No more. These days I channel my obsessions with healthier activities like writing, reading and working out. But somewhere in between good for you and not good for you is the craving to buy things.

We like to joke about this craving for material possessions, calling hopeless cases “shopoholics.” Madonna sang about being a Material Girl. We laugh along with the powerless protagonist in Confessions of a Shopoholic. However, in the extreme this obsession can be just as troubling as any addiction.

Like a lot of men, I hate shopping. Still, I get urges. That new Macbook Air whispers to me. Normally, impervious to the lure of gadgets, my defenses weaken in the shiny, silver glare of Apple. Once the fever hits, I can also find myself dog-earing GQ magazine at this pair of boots or that sweater. I love watches, too. Cartier. Every year I covet their new watches, as if a gold and steel Chronograph will make me happy. Like I said, I hate shopping. But the Internet makes it so damn easy.

Understandably, advertisers would love nothing more than for all of us to succumb to these urges, to fill the holes in our souls with stuff and more stuff. Especially during the Holidays. Go nuts in December. Pay for it in January.

The last couple years the recession has tempered our consumerism. Retailers hope and pray not this year. They pray to pagan gods. Gluttony is not a sin when you’re doing it for others, right? Still, I wonder: Is there’s more to the name “Black Friday” than ledger sheets?