Monday, August 16, 2021

Paths of Gory.

When you're busy--and touch wood I'm busy--sometimes I seem to go weeks without organizing the 97 or 102 files I have open. Though I'm blessed with a prodigious memory--and have lost maybe ten files total in the twenty years I've been using a Mac--sometimes I have to do a little sleuthing to find exactly what I'm looking for.

Slobs--and I count myself as a member of that fraternity--will tell you that one of the great advantages of having to look for things is that you never know what you'll find. Serendipity is a writer's best friend. Just as it is an archeologist's. You never know when a stray shard, a small sentence fragment, a verbal fly encased in amber will bestow upon you the bit of an idea that an orderly mind would have no chance of locating.

I'd guess that more things have been found when looking for something else than when looking for what you set out to discover. Columbus setting out for the Indies and landing in the Caribbean might be a good example. 

Not long ago as I searched  for some long-forgotten set of phonemes, I came upon this quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore. A note I wrote to myself almost four years ago, when--in another homage to Edgar Allen Poe--I had already heard the creaking of the beams in Ogilvy's House of Usher and I knew before long the place would burst into metaphorical flames and tumble--as Trotsky, not Poe said, into the ash-heap of history.

I don't keep a diary--I have my memory, and this blog. But on
occasion, it's nice to see what you were thinking at a particular moment. This was from a rainy day in November--"a damp, drizzly November in my soul" no doubt, when I was thinking about leaving Ogilvy on my own before they booted me out. 

So return to me to November, 2017. Sit and think.


It was raining hard-enough this morning, raining and cold when I left the house at 7:20. I left early because I had scheduled my dentist appointment for 8AM. The thinking being I could see the yanker and still get to work without too much of my day being sullied.


It’s now sometime around 11, and most-everyone who will be in for the day is finally in. There are the usual no-shows. Stomach aches, meetings at school, or the kid has the sniffles. But most people have made it in. Most mornings I’ve been in at this point for about three hours when they’re just arriving, but like I said, this was a late morning for me, having had the dentist.


In any event, sometime around 11, I was just handed, or sent, or emailed my fourth or ninth asinine request of the day. Can I attend a meeting with an unappreciative client who would rather write the social tiles themselves? Can I cut new end cards onto 13 spots with a new line that the client doesn’t quite agree with? Can I look at this drooling copy that is 40% too long and the writer can’t seem to cut it. Can I somehow meet on a brief that seems destined to lead to work that is mediocre at best?


This kind of morning doesn’t happen often, but it does happen. And it seems to be happening with more and more regularity. It seems that due to a recent creative reorganization more and more of the thankless and crappy work is landing in my camp. Crap, I understand, is a fact of life, but I seem to be getting more than my fair-share of bullshit, garbage and abject stupidity.


In one of my favorite novels, “Bang the Drum Slowly,” Red Traphagen, a wise-old catcher on the club, an anchor, has his finger split open by a fastball he catches wrong.


He returns to the bench, “his nail hanging off,” and says to the manager, “That is sufficient.” He then “stepped out of his gear and never even went back east with us but went to San Francisco and taught in the college there.”

But I don’t have another place to go, no college to teach in.

Though I have a reputation second to none, a stellar portfolio of recent high-quality and visible work, and a vast network. Which means, while I have no college, I could probably freelance steadily.


The question is, could I adjust my head to freelance—subsistence freelance, not ‘make what I was making freelance.’ So could I?

The agency business is a funny one. And not just because, right now, it seems to be just about done. It seems like a fuse still sparkling but about to die for lack of oxygen. Or a clown at a kids' party when you're too old to be amused by clowns.

No one actually asks anyone in an agency how they're doing. Certainly no one in management asks anyone who's not in management. And the discontent reminds me of a scene from what might be Kubrick's best movie, "Paths of Glory," when the HQ-generals tells the trench-bound soldiers to charge.

The men in the castles--safe and brandied--don't know what's happening down in the trenches. And they don't much care to find out. They don't ask. And most don't even take a swing around to see for themselves. The Holding Company nabobs are even further away. They don't come from where you come from. They don't know the stink and the death and the terror.

Now that I'm on my own, about five people a week ask me what it's like. If they could do it. If it's safe to do.

Each to her own destiny, is all I can say. I can't tell anyone that because things, so far, are working out for me, that they'll work out for you.

I can, arrogant as it may be, give you two thoughts. 

ONE: A good ratio at work is 3:4:3. Three days where you like it. Four days where it's meh. Three days where you hate it.

That ratio probably works for almost anything. From being on a ball-team in the Mexican League to being married to being a lighthouse keeper during a bad one.

If your ratio is 2:5:3 or 2:3:5, well, it's time to do some thinking.

TWO: For $3.99 and in just 87 minutes you can watch the entirety of Paths of Glory.  If you write me a note about it, I'll consider reimbursing you if you need the money. 

Then, it's also time to do some thinking.


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