Thursday, July 29, 2021


My ever-loving and I did something unusual yesterday morning. We had an actual conversation. You may think I'm being cynical about that, but you wait and see how euphonious you're doing after 37 years of marriage.

What we talked about was memory. Not memories. Not the time I changed a diaper on the lawn of Pacific Palisades' City Hall. Not the time we saw a hammerhead shark while scuba diving. Not the time Bob from Sesame Street gave each of my girls a kiss. No, we talked about memory. Or cap M, Memory.

Apparently, some years ago I said to my wife that a good writer has to have a good memory.

She brought it up this morning, though I had forgotten I said it.

Despite that, I elaborated. Something to do with a surfeit of Y chromosomes.

"I don't mean the dates of the Boer War type of memory, or that in the early 20th Century, three American presidents in a row had first names that started with Ws. I mean a different kind of memory."

I took her rolling her eyes as an invitation to continue.Something to do with a surfeit of Y chromosomes.

"What I mean is that sometimes writing is a bit like making a quilt or putting together a scrapbook or a bird building a nest. You can't get all the materials at a central depot and start hammering away. You pick up little shards and shreds here and there and you add to it as you build.

"Those bits and pieces might be out of sequence. They might not be chronologically precise. They might be tinged with a bit of fiction or even make-believe. But the important thing is they're constructed from reality--from things that happened one time or another. You store them until you need them."

It was time for me to stop my lecture and get on with some of my morning chores. Yesterday that included taking my 1966 Simca 1500 175 miles south to Toms River to see Lothar, the world's best Simca repairperson. Lothar had sent me a hand-written postcard at the start of July telling me, in no uncertain terms, that I was overdue for my 600,000-mile tune-up and perhaps I did not deserve him as my mechanic if I were not up to treating the Simca as automotive royalty.

As I threw the Simca into 2nd gear (I lost gear one somewhere on I95 around Milford) I remembered example one. Something real that I will someday include in a story or a piece of copy or a conversation.

I was working with a noted English designer. It was around 6PM my time, so 11PM his time and it was time for us to get off the phone.

He said, "I have to put my three daughters to bed. You have two girls. What are their names."

"Sarah and Hannah."

"I named mine after typefaces."


"Yes, I have Perpetua, Clarendon and Helvetica." With that, he hung up the phone.

The other memory also came to me in a phone call. A young friend and I were talking about an agency we had both fled. It wasn't long before our conversation began to skulk around and turn a trifle feline. In fact, it positively meowed.

I mentioned an almost universally despised C-level executive. You know the type. Someone hated by everyone below her and busy kissing the keister of everyone above her. 

My friend said, "You know what [eminence grise] said about her?"

I waited.

"She's nothing but nail polish."

I've been "a creative" for virtually my entire life. And I never much liked the moniker.

Much of my so-called creativity comes from hearing things and seeing things and storing things that others might not hear, see and store. I hardly "create" anything. Mostly, as I said above, I pull-together a good patchwork and people call it creative.

Likewise, our industry-obsession with "finding insights" falls into this camp. Much of insight-alchemy-bushwa really comes from reading annual reports, or the Wall Street Journal, or listening to CEO keynotes, or recalling something from history. A lot of it comes from listening to your mind's subconscious meanderings while you're walking the dog, taking a shower or deep into REM. Not the rock band.

Many decades ago, the great sage Yogi Berra said, "You can observe a lot by watching." 

Yogi almost always hit the hammer on the nail.

He might also have said, "you can hear a lot by listening."


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