Monday, January 24, 2022

History. Mine and the Greeks.

Like Herodotus' messengers of yore, my wife and I are prodigious walkers. We're out every morning, whether we face the 85-degree temperatures of Turks and Caicos or the 15-degree temperatures (with Shakespearean winds) along the Gingham Coast of Connecticut, we don't miss a day.

Herodotus wrote: Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds. 

For something roughly 2500 years old, that's pretty good. I can't imagine even trying to improve upon it--the current state of humanity's literacy be damned.

In any event, my wife and I were out walking one blustery morning. The sea just yards away from us doing its best North Atlantic imitation--it screamed cold and death. 

With my usual blithe spirit, I asked my well-read wife if she's ever heard of the Siberian Dilemma

She hadn't.

I mumbled something like this, with my usual Mr. Peabody authority: "Kurt Campbell in the New York Times tells of fishermen of northernmost Russia who go out onto the frozen lakes of Siberia in temperatures at times approaching 60 degrees below zero centigrade to fill their catch. 

"They know from experience that the biggest fish congregate at the center of lakes where the ice is the thinnest. They slowly make their way out across the ice listening carefully for the telltale signs of cracking. 

"If a fisherman is unlucky enough to fall through the ice into the freezing water, he is confronted immediately with what is known as the Siberian dilemma. If he pulls himself out of the water onto the ice, his body will freeze immediately in the atmosphere and the fisherman will die of shock. If, however, he chooses to take his chances in the water, the fisherman will inevitably perish of hypothermia. Such is the stark choice presented by the Siberian dilemma."

These days, as the general collapse of civilization seems to gather momentum, I get about three calls a week, two from ad friends, one from regular humans, wondering what to do.

"If I stay at big agency, my life and career seem over. I'm working longer and longer hours. The work is less and less satisfying. My salary is going in the wrong direction. There's no mentorship and each year I get closer to..."

"What happened to me. Tossed out like a browned apple core."

"You said it," I say and we laugh.

"George," they rap on my forehead, "should I stay or should I go? Should I go freelance? Or stay where it's safe."

Well, who the fuck am I to say?

I wasn't born an entrepreneur. I'd hate chasing people for the $62,000 they owe me for the $120,000 of work I did. I hate worrying about where my next assignment will come from. I hate the logistics of W9s and paying the people who help me. 

In fact, I hate everything about the advertising business except the business of creating ads. Of getting proper input and sitting down and writing up ideas and bringing them to appreciative clients.

So we face a Siberian Dilemma.

Do we squash ourselves and stay in our near-frozen lake, or do we hoist ourselves from sure death to the surface and hope to find our own impossible way home?

It's been two-years-and-eight-days since Ogilvy fired me at 4:30 in the afternoon, nearly eight hours after they fired four other ECDs. I suppose they wanted to keep me, but found out they still hadn't hit their WPP-mandated "fat old creative white man" number. So, zing went the strings of my heart.

In those big 738 days since my spiritual tablecloth was pulled out from my place setting, I've become a better advertising person and a better person period.

The agency talent-tamping is no more. The squeamish staying in your place and buttoning-your-lip is no more. Marx (not Groucho) was right.

We workers have nothing to lose but our chains.

Life is uncertainty.

Of not knowing what comes next.

But now, back to the ancient Greeks.

Think of clever Odysseus. From the land of the Lotus eaters, to capture by Polyphemus to Scylla and Charybdis, to Circe and Sirens to more. 

All those obstacles are a metaphor, folks.

Every journey, every decision involves a Siberian Dilemma of sorts.

Everywhere we go we make choices.

Do we stay or do we go?

The trick is not letting yourself freeze.


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