THE STORY OF INSTANTIVITY.

 

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Although I was an actress with a respectable résumé, and was comfy cozy in the belly of the beast (L.A.), I promptly jonesed from the biz once my marriage broke up and I became a single mom to a 5-year-old. It was time to grow up and become a good role model for my daughter. It broke my heart, but the extreme highs and lows of the acting profession didn’t seem particularly suitable any longer.

Thing was, I had no marketable skills. I mean, I couldn’t type. I couldn’t wait tables without someone getting really pissed-off about it, and I couldn’t bartend (one for the customer, two for me). No real-world skills to make a living, so…

I went into advertising, Turned out, it was in my blood. And plenty of it would be spilled over the course of a career spanning two decades. But that’s another story.

Early days found me at a MadMen-esque agency. It was heavenly. My boss sagely lifted a well-groomed eyebrow and murmured some wisdom in my ear: in advertising, she said, if anyone should lose interest, or hate your taglines, or threaten to jump out a window, just stick around for a minute because the whole issue would evaporate and some shiny new object would spring up in its place, making everyone happy again. For at least a minute. Not only that, they served pitchers of margaritas every Friday afternoon!

I couldn’t believe I had finally found my tribe.

At night, I took a portfolio class, and then picked up my daughter at her friend’s house. By the time we got home it was usually around 9pm and we were starving. Microwave something? Hells no: that took way too long. We practically knocked each other down in the race to the Big Yellow Box, the milk, the bowls, and the spoons. Cheerios in front of the TV was our happy place every week night.

And then the internet showed up, —and, oh Christ, smartphones!— and us copywriters and art directors became drunk on connectivity, and instantivity, because, to paraphrase Tyrion Lannister, it enabled us to “drink and know things.” With no downtime wasted on searching for stuff old-school-Library-of-Congress-style.

Not coincidentally, this ability to smash and grab experience/information/goods and services synchs up with my (and apparently the whole world’s) obsession to live faster. Acquire faster. Feel faster. Get off faster. Like lightning on steroids and crack in a bottle. We want it all, quality-assured-and-delivered-in-massive-quantities. We want to be blasted with experience. Whenever we want it. Whenever we even wonder if we want it. What did the postsynaptic neuron say to the presynaptic neuron? “Get on with the story, pal.”

And that is precisely where us humans part company with the beasts. We tell stories. And we love to be told them, too. I had an amazing boss years ago who would, were it necessary to go on living, sacrifice everything, even her two-inch red lacquered nails. But not her stories, no sir. Sadly for her, soap operas have pretty much shriveled up and died.

But! Now we have Netflix. Amazon Prime. ShowtimeAnytime. If House of Cards isn’t holding your rapt attention this season, HBONow will do you a solid with a free 30-day trial run. You see, analytics wonks sat around a conference table and: Figured. You. Out. When day 31 rolls around, you will subscribe. And they will get their 30 pieces of silver. Because why? Because BINGE.

Ask an alcoholic what their favorite drink is, and they’ll tell you: the next one. Same thing for binge-watching. You know that glazed sensation you get at 12:47am when you have been titillated into believing that whatever hinkiness that crept into episode three’s storyline will be resolved in episode four? You need to be up in six hours, but your finger trembles on the trigger, er, play button. Remember the promise of “having it all?” At 12:48, you’re thinking maybe you can.

Searching and Streaming turn out to be the twin embodiments of instantivity. If you want it. If you need it. If you want to look at a picture of it, or listen to it or laugh at it or tilt your head and say “Awww” at it, it’s all available. Pronto. Search no more, ye searchers. Spoiler alert: delayed gratification is officially fired.

A New Yorker named Alejandro Fragoso recently conducted a 94-hour binge that was set up and funded by multimedia software company CyberLink, winning him the Guinness World Record for TV Binge Watching.

Sound like fun? This 25-year-old came away with a different take.

“I learned that binge watching TV for abnormally long durations can be quite physically taxing,” Fragoso stated afterward. Oh, hon, ya think?

An ER physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in N.Y, Robert Glatter, ran a checkup on Fragoso before and after the binge, to measure any marked physical changes. What did he find?

Post-binge, Fragoso had an elevated heart rate and Dr. Glatter noted that depriving the body of sleep can also result in neurological side-effects like acute hallucinations. “You are sitting down for sometimes 20 hours and watching 15 episodes; you are doing a lot of damage to your body,” Glatter said.

So, the reality of having it all might not be so great after all. Perhaps it’s a perception thing. The knowingness that you could have it all. That you do have the capacity to have it all. Choosing to forgo the hallucinations and crazy blood pressure? That’s up to you.

Taking the mental fallout of bingeing a step further, docs at the University of Texas at Austin conducted a study that showed marathon-watching can result in some pretty miserable mental health. Yoon Hi Sung, the lead researcher in the study, says, “Our… research show[s] that those who feel more depressed tend to watch more programs.” So, does bingeing cause depression, or is depression locked and loaded in those of us who choose to binge? I would argue for both. Chicken and egg, etc. You say potato, I say po-tah-to, let’s call the whole thing off.

And if you can’t remember the reference for that line, you can promptly Google it. No longer do you have conversations over dinner with friends; something comes up that your dinner-mates disagree about, everyone whips out their phone to source evidence that proves their point, et voilà! Disruption! You can’t even have an old fashioned debate about something because, “It says right here in Wikipedia that I’m right and you’re wrong.” From there, the only kind of conversation you have is whether or not to believe everything you read in the papers, ahem, instanternet.

Years ago, I had a creative director I absolutely adored. Not only did he hire me when I really needed a job, he gave me plenty of line to rappel down the craggy face of creativity. However, after the account peeps asked insisted I describe our agency as “nimble,” “agile,” and “blazingly fast” for like the thousandth new biz pitch, I trundled over to his office huffing disgust. I wanted to rely on imagination; he felt the template had been laid across the universe and that it further enabled us to go all Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 in our minds. That’s usually when we picked up our running argument that went like this:

“Tiago, you want too much information all the time. One of these days they’ll implant—“

“—a chip! YES!! I know! It will happen in our lives! A chip in our brains that will contain—“

 “—all the information about everything in the universe? That’s totally messed up! We’re not meant to have—“

 “—access to everything? Every piece of knowledge and creativity and music and poetry and architecture and—“

 “—that, my friend, is a very scary idea you’re running with. Humans can’t, they don’t have the—“

 “—capacity? Shit, of course they do! I know I do!”

 “Well, you speak Portuguese and English fluently. I guess you do.”

 My daughter is now a young woman, and lives in the fiercely-guarded analog world of Maine. She is a sous chef at a demanding and popular restaurant, she collects albums to play on a beat-up old record player, she reads books. But…she does like using my Amazon Prime Video membership to watch “Catastrophe.” One episode at a time, non-binge-style. That’s my girl.

Polly Wanna.

candle-304x950So I just moved into an apartment that I love. I’ve got barely a stick of furniture and all my books and paintings are in Portland, Maine. But I’m comforted to know my daughter will inherit them, along with some furniture I collected over the past 20 years.

That said.

I just got an over 500 page catalogue from Restoration Hardware. A place from which I never purchased, even in my glory days, it’s so godawful expensive. But have I tossed the tome? No. I keep looking at it, opening to a random page and slobbering on myself as desire rears its head; it’s like picking a scab. Sooner or later you’ll draw blood.

That’s when it hit me.

This catalogue (and to a much lesser extent, Pottery Barn’s) is porn. For ladies. Of a certain age. Who have champagne tastes and can’t even afford beer.

Okay, okay, I don’t drink, but you know what I mean.

Like a guy who has an addiction to porn, I lust after pretty stuff. I want to be SUNK in that lust. I want to get off on it. I want to HAVE again. And that was all well and good when I was a youngster. But at this point, these urges must be guarded against. After all, I’m on a quest to discover my inner Jedi Knight; I must find her if I’m going to stay alive for the next 13 years. (Don’t ask, I’ve just known ever since I was a child at what age I would shuffle off this mortal coil.) (Terrifyingly enough, I’ve always known I would be around for the end of the world, so…you know, take it with a grain of salt.)

I’m working a lot this week and that’s just the way I like it. I’ll get paid and then wave goodbye to my money the second it gets in my bank account. Hey, that’s what I’m working for. That and enough to get a large French Vanilla Iced Coffee at Mickey D’s each morning. (Seriously, it’s crack. And just like crack, they priced it at the low, lowness of $1 at the start of warm weather. Now that they’ve got a swarm of devotees who don’t want to pay Starbux or Whole Paycheck their entire salary, they’ve jacked it up to $1.48. Hmph.) Still, I’m okay with being poor.

Gee, don’t I sound all zen and shit?

It didn’t happen overnight boyz and grrls. It required much pain, many tears and a lot, I mean a LOT of hard work.

But that RH catalogue really pulled my covers, I’ll tell ya. I feel myself sucked right back into the whirling vortex of whining, “Eeeshhh, I don’t have any money, I’ll never get nice things again, I’ll never buy anything from RH.” Instead of, oh, I don’t know: LOOKING AT MY DAUGHTER WHO’S AMAZING. (Yeah, I know, everybody says that about their kid. But in her case, she really is a Bentley convertible overflowing with amazeballs). She’s smart, she’s weathered the storm of her teen years, she’s a chef for God’s sake, and she’s going to be ALRIGHT. I had a hand in that. And then, well, look at me. I’ve written a damn novel. Hell, I’ve written two and a half novels. Yes they need so much help there’s a telethon coming up, but I did write the bastards. I DID.

So this… not havingness… has to be enough. Because it’s mine. It’s my damn life. I don’t answer to anyone but God. Really, now, come on. How cool is that?

Will I throw the RH catalogue out? Probably. At some point. After I’ve stewed in it a bit longer. And when I finish with that, I just got the Crate & Barrel catalogue yesterday. Enough bathroom reading material to see me through the summer I should think. And by then, it will be time to go to Portland for a visit. I’ll see my daughter and my stuff will be out of storage and in her apartment. I wonder if I’ll kiss any of it, you know, on the DL. And maybe I’ll bring my David Mellon painting back with me (it’s roughly 5′ x 2′).

Hey, a Jedi Knight can dream, can’t she?

AGE CANNOT WITHER HER, NOR CUSTOM STALE HER INFINITE VARIETY.

FullSizeRenderI just celebrated (:-/) a birthday that moves me into a whole new decade, and as I have at the start of all the other decenniums, I set a lot of store in the date and what follows.  It’s about as ludicrous as the question, “Do you feel any older today?” but it can’t be helped. I cling to magical thinking, more than I ought.

I began with the ice cream. I would stop it, post haste. Five days passed before I got a lulu of a migraine and a case of the whatevers, and ate a pint of choco-mint chip (that’s what it was called, so help me, because, according to the ingredients, the chips were “chocolate flavored” whatever that means).

I went back to my novel; the one about Jack the Ripper. There are several parts of the first third that are problematic, and, as I learned when I bought a house, if there’s trash in your yard, you’re the only one who’s going to pick it up. So I threw myself into the revisions. They were and are tough sledding, keeping in mind the overall voice and tone I’d established throughout the book two years ago. Yes, attention must be paid, even if it’s to a story that will never see the light of day. It’s my child with a dirty face. When the weekend rolled round, I decided to take time away from it. But it sucked me back in and I found my Saturday eaten whole by a matter of two pages. Nothing like spending hours on a few paragraphs to make you feel productive.

I told myself I’d take more opportunities to socialize. I’m planning on going out with friends to dinner at a nice restaurant this week, but already the voice is whinging away in my head: “You don’t have the funds to do something so reckless! Think of the bill you might be able to pay with that money!” And, sadly, that moaning is the voice of reason. But if I am to follow the game plan for this new epoch, I must sometimes take contrary action. My, how scary it is!

Today is Monday, so I’m happily working away on an actual assignment which is, of course, gratifying. Once it’s done, it’s done— with nary a backward look, which I rather like: it’s so unlike the me of the past decade. You see, I do miss the me of the ten years before last. She was disorganized, but strong. She was, dare I say it, innocent. Not cynical. Life had not yet worked its will on her, and her expectations were wide open like a beautiful prairie of waving wheat, shot by Terrence Malick. While I’m name-dropping, I feel Edith Wharton would have something to say about the losses and backward glances of the someone I’d become. She’d murmur something disparaging, yet, at heart, kindred.

I now live nearly without possessions. I remember a thirty-seven year-old me laughingly saying that my life is so cognitively dissonant I expected to go from being a true blue material girl to a buddhist nun living in a cave in Nepal toward the end of my life. While Pennsylvania isn’t exactly Nepal, I certainly have divested myself of ownership of just about everything. And in some respects, it’s freeing. I’m not the Ghost of Marley, chained for eternity to a huge armoire and a settee. But there are days when I miss my stuff. When I miss the woman who looked forward to the next issue of House and Garden. But even that venerable publication died away several years ago. I read the memoir of the woman who was the editor in chief, Dominique Browning. She certainly went through the mill after the magazine closed. She didn’t want to lose her idealism, either, but in the end, she came through the fire knowing she’d certainly lost something more than just a job. She insisted, though, that she’d found something, too. A state of grace, for lack of any other descriptors.

There’s an honesty in calling a spade a spade. I’m not a finished product; far from it. But I’m moving through this passage, this hallway, without pretense. Things are weird these days, and I get morose sometimes. But then something will happen out of nowhere, and suddenly I’m thrilled with the enormity of life and its many, many possibilities. My Dad, Mr. Platitudes, used to say, “If you’re mad, get glad.” And I’d roll my eyes. But having lived as long as I have now, I realize he was singing my theme song. If I’m furious about something, I can’t let Miss Crankypants eat me alive. I value this activity, this living, too much. For what it’s worth, and it ain’t much, I love my life. All its loss, all its energy, all its passion, even its mediocrity. My dog tells the story best. It may be hot and humid and absolutely miserable here in Philadelphia. But she doesn’t fume about it. She just pants. And damned if she doesn’t look pleased as hell about it all.

The Power of No

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I was recently up for a writing job and asked for something I’d never heard of before. My recruiter called me the day before my phone interview with the client and told me I’d need to take a “copy test.” This was the gauntlet I had to pass through in order to secure a freelance gig? No matter that I had a portfolio filled with award-winning work that was available at a keystroke on my website. No, this person wanted to see if I could string together sentences that would compel readers/users to respond to a direct mail piece or click through to a landing page that would do the heavy lifting of explaining an offer and closing a sale. Yes, Don Draper. Welcome to the manifestation of mediocrity. Be glad your series has ended.

When my recruiter told me about it, we both chortled over the ludicrousness of such a thing; clearly the person demanding this particular hoop for me to jump through hadn’t looked at my portfolio. But I could hear in the head hunter’s voice the scratchy hope that I’d go through with it. Reluctantly, I said I’d think about it, and then went on with my day without another thought about it. But that night, I tossed and turned. The word that kept surfacing in my mind was “No.” As the night wore on, I became more and more indignant. What did they think I was, some beggar hack pleading for alms so that I could pay my rent and keep the wolf from the door? (Don’t answer that.) By the time I got up the next morning, my mind was made up. I would refuse the copy test.

Then, I took the phone call that afternoon. It was, all in all, an enjoyable conversation; clear to both of us that we were intelligent, funny and articulate. I thought to myself, “For God’s sake, she can certainly hear that I’m capable of writing direct mail drek and emails.”

But then the clanging words came. “I have a small test for you, just so I can see how you handle an assignment.” I paused. The word “No” was like an emergency broadcast: echoing in my ears. My mouth silently formed the smackdown. But, lo, an inner child with a greedy desire to capture this assignment won out, and the word that exited my mouth was, “Okay.” After all, it was only a “small” test, right? And “okay” was a similarly small commitment. I knew I’d pass it with flying colors, so why not? She asked me to turn it around in two days. I accepted.

The small test turned out to be a creative brief that demanded two full (and fully blown out) concepts for a financial client’s direct mail piece, and two full concepts (copy above) for follow up emails that weren’t “meant to be a one-two punch,” which I took to mean they had to be stand alones. This was far more than a “small test.” This was a job that, were it given to a senior writer at an agency, would be expected in a week’s time.

I mentioned to a couple of friends what would fill my next two days and they were horrified. “You can’t do this! How dare they! Don’t you know how hugely insulting this is? They have their nerve taking your hard work with no assurance of giving you the job! You’re better than this. You have to say no. You have to hold on to your dignity!” I ended up feeling lousy on both counts: lousy for agreeing to do this in the first place, lousy for telling my friends and having them look at me like I had grown a second nose.

I headed to the public library to go to work on the assignment. Okay, so when did libraries become noisy places? When I arrived, there were two gentlemen at the next table engaged in a rather heated argument. The subject was literacy, and the one was clearly the teacher of the other. Much disagreement ensued with enough distraction to make me plug my ears. After they left, I was able to get a fair amount of work done, but within an hour a group of three foot tall monsters took over the children’s area (which was positioned directly behind the study tables) and the woman leading story time employed stentorian tones in order to overcome the clamoring of bad behavior.

Still, I worked on. I came up with two concepts for the direct mail piece that I saved for development the next day, and that night at home, began work on the emails. I was happy with the work I was doing, and, as pathetic as it sounds, I told myself that I wasn’t doing anything else with my time right now, I might as well keep my creative hand in the game.

After putting in a little over 10 hours work, I turned the fully developed concepts in on time. And got a phone call from the woman within an hour. “I want to redirect you,” said she. “It’s clear you’re a very good writer, but I’d like to see a quicker grab. Don’t bother doing anything with the direct mail pieces, just concentrate on the emails: edit, shorten, tighten. Make the user click through to the landing page. That’s all you have to do. Just get them to click.” Simple enough, I thought.

“When can you have these for me?” she asked. It was now Friday afternoon. I promised her the revisions by Monday morning. That was fine. Now, I wasn’t just ten hours in, I was signing up for another five. But the stupid ego in my head said, “She likes your writing, you just have to slice these little monsters down to size and drive the user to the call to action.” And so to work I went.

I turned them in on time. But instead of getting a call within an hour, several went by. By late afternoon, my recruiter texted me saying, “She said you still hadn’t gotten the direct pieces done. We’ll talk tomorrow.” I sat down hard on the floor. Was I crazy, or did the client tell me: Don’t bother with the direct pieces??

The word that I’d pushed to the side now took center stage. No. Such a small exhalation of breath; nothing to it. And yet, I hadn’t managed to utter it. Yes, I know. I needed the money. Yes, I know. My recruiter wanted his cut. But this was my own grievous error. If I were to create a piece that would drive me to click through to NO, I would tell myself this story. But would it be effective? Would it be too long? Would it need rewrites? Would I put in a total of fifteen hours work only to receive a deeply mixed-message response from me? The hell is the point of an exercise like this? After pushing the stone-cold peas around on this particular plate, I realized I had to choke them down if I was to come away wiser. This nasty little dish is called experience, and sometimes it’s the ill-tasting lessons that are the very best educators. The ones that teach you gut-deep.

So, while I’m a great one for saying “Yes” to the universe, the next time I’m asked to do something for nothing, I’ll remember these peas, my gag reflex shall be tripped, and the only words to projectile vomit from my lips shall be, “No. Oh, HELLS no.”logo@2x

DON’T EVER STOP.

I am on part 41 of the Spanish series “Gran Hotel” on Netflix, and let me tell ya, it’s got more twists and turns than a bucketful of nightcrawlers. Some of which I can see coming from a mile away, others, I know they’re gonna get there but for the life of me, I don’t see how they’ll pull it off. It’s really just a telenovella dressed up in Masterpiece Theater costumes, lighting, and art direction, but I can’t stop watching.

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NOTHING CHANGES ON NEW YEARS DAY. OR, DOES IT?

New Years Day is just another day on the calendar. But humans have the capacity to mythologize it into a turning page; a new beginning. There was an upsurge in spending confidence in 2014, but also there were so many horrific incidents that made us turn inward in a bone-tingling fear of what the future holds for us and for our families. Still, what inspires me is that a lot of these events made so many of us turn outward; to find a cure, to work for peace, to march in the streets demanding equality. To find a way to do good in the world.

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