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Is Creative Fulfillment in a Career Possible

‘Advertising began as an art,’ (Rosser) Reeves noted, ‘and too many advertising men want it to remain that way — a never-never land where they can say: “this is right, because we feel it’s right.”’

Actually, said Reeves, advertising is a science like engineering, with some incidental esthetic potential but essentially a tool, an instrument of commerce firmly grounded in practical matters. []…] At all costs, admen should avoid ‘the most dangerous word of all in advertising — originality,’ an esthetic conceit deadly to maintaining a proper USP (unique selling proposition).


Like Rosser Reeves, he (Marion Harper) denied that advertising was an art not because he meant to denigrate advertising but because he had some sense of what real art amounted to. ‘What the audience receives from advertising is all-important,’ he explained. ‘This is not the character of the creative arts, in which the artist’s inspiration is paramount, and in which there can be indifference to the audience response.’

Stephen R. Fox

Still reading this great book on the history of advertising. Still finding so much of my current churnings in it.

Is it possible to be creatively fulfilled and support a family + live responsibly?

I struggle. I think I might, essentially, be a publisher. A publisher is concerned with numbers and eyeballs and moving product. A publisher is concerned with getting the damned thing out in time… whatever the damned thing my writers happen to be writing.

I used to fancy myself more of a creative. Almost an artist, but that’s, like, a heavy word, man. I used to dig and write or make videos like this one just for the hell of it. I used to create websites for fun.

That stuff was fun because it was new. Or because it was lewd and inappropriate. There’s always lewd and inappropriate in a pinch.

Now that stuff’s not new. I’m building a company and supporting partners and customers and there’s this big mess of people who could receive enormous value from the thing we’ve made and I should get this in front of them in a language they can easily receive and if they have different standards from me, different senses of humor and different experiences to draw from, well then I should meet them in those places rather than insist on them learning my own.

This is what it looks like to grow, to get big, to succeed.

Don’t wallow in your whiny artist-isms about “digging” and “the truth” and “what feels good right now” and all that immaturity… don’t be so conceited.

Do that on the side. In your spare time.

Rosser Reeves, quoted at the very top, the villain of 50s advertising (responsible for several of the largest successes) WROTE POETRY ON THE SIDE. Wrote a novel. Put together the first team of chess players from the US to tour Russia. He wrote a short story that was included in a book called The Best from Fantasy and Science Fiction (11th edition).

Is that what we have to do? Keep our art separate from our work/career?

Is there a sane and sustainable way to mix the two, or do they necessarily pollute one another?

The two quotes above, both from admen in the 50s, point in one direction. My own success points in another. (It was fucking about and exploring that brought me to any success I’ve found… not calculated strategy or an enterprising point of view.)

Here’s one image I find helpful.

I’m a big fan of Louis C.K. I love his comedy. I love his rambly path to success. And I think I’m learning to see the calculation in his (and other successful comedian’s) act. And the one image I have that helps me hold this question in balance is this:

I picture Louis C.K. as the head of a newspaper company. He’s every yelling, cigar-chomping guy in every superman comic or movie about a newspaper. He normally says things like, “This is shit!” and “I need that piece YESTERDAY, Scott!” He’s that guy, except he’s Louis C.K.

One day I break down in his office. “I got into this racket to tell the truth,” I scream. “But all the people seem to want is this bullshit we keep selling them!” The anger gives way to a kind of creative brokenheartedness. Louis recognizes it. He sits down behind his desk, opens the top drawer, hands me a cigar, lights it for me.

“You know how long I’ve been here, kid? 28 years next month. Here’s what I’ve learned: you’ve gotta give them what they want. Appeal to their shit nature, cuz it feels good to them, to push those bruises and pick those scabs. They love it. Get good at that shit, kid, cuz you gotta give them what they want… so they’ll read enough to find what they need. Surprise them with it, their gross reality, OUR depravity and selfishness, the ways we all fool ourselves, you gotta wrap it in shit so they’ll stick around long enough to maybe, just maybe get a nugget of truth in there… between the shovels of shit. I need your next piece on my desk by 3pm. Get out of here.” That last bit said with more than a little father-son fondness.

There’s a little glimpse into one of my sick fantasies… and one of my current struggles.

Campaigns for George

Ever heard of George McGovern? There’s a story about this guy’s run for presidency that’s instructive for any of us looking to do good work in the world.

See that picture above? It’s a bunch of artists contributing pieces to a large mural in support if George’s run for presidency. (He ran against Nixon.)

I randomly stumbled upon this picture while staying in a friend’s house. It was in a book about artists and writers and the parties they threw in the Hamptons from 1950-1980.

As I flipped through the pages, taking in all the famous faces pictured in house parties and on sandy beaches with cigarettes and coffee mugs and cocktail glasses in their hands, a fable about these people evolved in my head.

It made me think about my own work and my own friends who are doing good work. It made me think about some parties I’ve attended and the faces of other people who were there.

And a kind of fable about the people in this particular picture (the one above, here’s a bigger version) sort of came clear in my head.

Here’s some ideas that stuck with me.

(Please spare any political tirades or history lessons. I don’t know much about this time or these people. Don’t care to.)

Must have been a lot of work getting everyone together to work on this.

I bet these artists think they’re doing something big. I bet they think they are big deals.

I have a little reach myself. I’ve been in (extremely minor) situations where I felt similarly, when someone thought my contribution would help in an important way.

“People pay attention to me. I’m sort of a big-ish deal,” they think to themselves. “Sure, I’ll help support the cause.”

I have never heard of George McGovern. I can paint a bit of a picture: he was the democrat running against Nixon. Artists love dems, traditionally… or so I’ve heard.

“Hey guys, let’s do something big, something important to make a stand. To make a statement and support this guy. We can’t let the republicans ruin this country. Let’s do something together… let’s make it count.”

But then George didn’t win.

What did they feel then? What do they think looking back? Did they already know they’re help wasn’t going to matter? “We tried. Whatever. Meh.”

Were they discouraged? “Last time I ply my oars for this backwards fucking party… backwards fucking country, too.”

Again this is all some fable in my head. I don’t know if any of this shit is true. But I could imagine myself as one of the artists here. It’s a fable, but it’s instructive for any of us trying to do something big, something that makes a change, something that brings light to darkness and joy in the suffering.

Many of our projects will end up being campaigns for George. If, instead of trying, we hold ourselves back, don’t contribute, we’ll save a little face. We won’t have put our necks out for a loser.

But I see another story in these photos. I don’t see anything about a president. I don’t see any real purpose.

I see an excuse for a bunch of weirdos and ragamuffins to get together and make something.

I don’t see art critics talking about “what this means.” I see a weird dude in a hat painting on his friend’s back.

I see cocktails on a massive canvas.

I see an old dude in a chair smiling lackadaisically and another old dude on his knees measuring meticulously.

In episode 47 of the podcast I intro us as the muppets. And at the end I mention this great quote about the moral of the muppet movie:

“The message of the movie is that a bunch of wonderfully eccentric, creative and outlandish individuals can somehow be brought together and stay together, because they take great joy in what they do.”

That’s what I see most in these pictures.

The guy they were rooting for didn’t win. George lost.

These folks painted anyways, almost as if they were dancing to their own music, following the joy and groove of the making, doing what they can with what they have focusing on what they can control (the making) disconnected from what results may come.

It’s just a fable in my head, but I want to get into that groove, the joy in the making, more… For a while at least.

When you work for yourself you need results too. I gotta make that coin. But I’m prone to an imbalance, and when I’m too results-focused I make worse stuff… Because I’m smiling less in the making.

Go get some friends together and help a George get elected.

The Only Music I’m Listening To

I have been listening to one playlist non stop for the past 2 months. It’s not a big playlist, there’s only 4 albums in there. But the mood of this music is completely addictive.

Did you see Drive yet? I enjoyed the crap out of that movie. This music makes me feel a little like I’m in that movie.

Drive Soundtrack

Drive soundtrackFirst off is the drive soundtrack. Here’s the thing you need to know about this: there’s a bunch of weird ambient tracks and 5 actual “songs” in this album. Doesn’t matter – you’ll be putting the playlist on shuffle, and the ambient stuff actually builds the experience a little. (more…)

6 Lessons in my 6th year of marriage

Today is the day my wife and I celebrate our 6th year of marriage. Six years of waking up to each others’ farts and smiles. Six years of clothing left in piles near my dresser. Six years of my wife saving the planet one unflushed toilet at a time. Six years of “thank you, hunny” and “do I look good in this?” and “but I don’t believe in homeopathy” and “right there! DON’T STOP!”

In the previous “attaining marital bliss in 5 easy steps” post I gave you 5 lessons in 5 years of marriage. In this post I aim to give you 6 lessons from the past year alone. (more…)

What you need for a party: a list of liquor requirements

A buddy of mine is throwing a party and he emailed me about what kind of booze he should get and how much. It was surprising to me how many ideas come flowing from inside me, like some deep spiritual well of wisdom.

I come from a good family, who knows how to throw a party (i.e., if mom’s not on the table one-leg-fluting it to Jethro Tull, the party hasn’t started yet). I’m grateful for the blood-deep education I have on giving people a good time at a party. And in the spirit of “all good truths are free” I thought I’d share some of this deep wisdom. Please comment with any ideas of your own! (more…)

A Guided Meditation

I just finished up a guided meditation. Gil Fronsdal. It was a stretch, but I’m glad I did.

Pool Shirt

I feel very fat. I sat there feeling my love handles against the back of my shirt like gentle guilt. Then Gil told us to start relaxing parts of our body… the belly came up. I relaxed it. Holy shit! I was holding it in, like, 12 inches or something.

So I have all this fatness control under the surface of my mind, like some kernel task. I’m constantly sucking in, elongating my torso, trying to look buff-er and in-control-er.

So Hungry About Design

I recently tweeted: I am so hungry these days to learn more about good design…

Then a friend tweeted back: What kind of good design?

This post is sort of a free-flow answer to that question. I could try to organize it, but I don’t have time for that… er… I mean… this is really well thought out art!

Recently I’ve undergone a bit of a re-evaluation of my stuff, my stuff I do for a living, my direction, my center/core, my reason to be, my way to be reasoning.

5 Lessons In 5 Years Of Marriage

Today my wife and I have been married for exactly 5 years. We’ve both changed a lot over that time. From 23 year old idealists to exhausted and hopeful parents of a baby human called Aiden… which was the result of me totally getting it on with Mellisa (BOOM! Score!).

Our marriage has survived these changes and we – seemingly barely, seemingly gloriously, like a 3 legged show pony – live to tell the tales, both good and bad.

I wanted to commemorate this occasion with a short list of tips for marriage, one for each year we’ve survived. This list isn’t going to change your life overnight, but if you follow through these just may save your marriage over the long-haul. So, let’s get started being awesome at marriage: (more…)

Barefoot Running

This summer I’ve been geeking out about barefoot running. You heard right: running… barefoot… Below you’ll find some notes on my experience and some resources to learn more.

Let me clarify: Barefoot running is more about the art of running as if you were barefoot than it is about running actually barefoot. There are many “barefoot shoes” out there to choose from that will help you run more barefoot and protect you from rocks and such.

My thoughts so far: I’ve been running the “barefoot” way for almost 5 months straight… I absolutely love it. (more…)

Creative Process — A Couple Resources

If there’s one thing knowledge workers, artists, musicians, writers, and producers of any kind want to get better at it’s the creative process. Our technology and culture can make it extremely hard to follow through on great ideas; because there’s just too many great links to click, am I right?

So, in the spirit of passing on some high quality links, here are a few resources that might help you center over your work and fire away. (more…)

Self Discovery & The Enneagram: Find Out You

be who you are. the enneagram can helpI used to be a bit of a personal development nut. Through my late teens and twenties I spent an ungodly amount of time in coffee shops reading through spiritual classics, self help books, Kahlil Gibran, and The Inquirer. I also spent an even ungodlier amount of time writing in a journal… good ol’ paper and pen and writing till the answer came out.

I don’t know what I had up my butt, but I felt a good deal like the universe was some swirling mess of possibilities and I wanted to figure out what bits of it which concerned me. My dad told me at the time life doesn’t work like that, that you have to just dive into the workforce, get wet and figure things out as you go. I believe him now, but at the time there was too much magic in all the dreaming. (more…)