Friday, November 26, 2021

Learning. Life-long.

I met a woman the other day who worked for one of my clients as a content writer. We spoke a couple of times over the phone and we quickly fell in like. That happens some times. Things just click.

I'll call her Zelda. We quickly exchanged 21st Century formalities. Like the British in the 19th Century exchanged engraved calling-cards on silver platters. Today we do something similar. We Link In and exchange pleasantries. Maybe a smiley face emoji.

That evening, Zelda sent me a note. It was full of praise for my writing and the clarity of my work on the assignment I was paid to help on. Of course, since Zelda is a writer, she took a turn at disparaging herself. 

That's what creatives do.

I wrote something back. I hope it was encouraging. About how hard I worked to learn my trade. How when I worked downtown, I would run to the Strand, the world's largest bookstore--eighteen miles of books--on 12th and Broadway, and scour their spiderwebbed spiderweb of shelves for old advertising annuals. 

Once I ran into a headhunter on the street. She carried two large canvas totes of old annuals. I said, "The Strand will give you five dollars an annual. I'll give you $10." She sold them to me. And we both made out well. It was a drug deal of Art Director annuals.

Those days, I was young and poor. 

I probably spent forty-percent of my disposable income on old annuals. I had faith that learning would pay off in the long run.

I thought last night of Estuardo Lambresas. According to my manager, Hector Quesadilla, he was the best left-hand pitcher in the Mexican League for about six or eight years in the mid-60s. Unhittable.

As Hector said when he told me about Lambresas about 50 years ago, "He played for the 
Toros de Tijuana. He was our Koufax, our Marichal, our Gibson.”

Hector was never one for a short story. He had learned that there's too much time when you play ball for a living that needs to be filled. You should never rush an at bat, a warm up, a practice session or a story. So he continued.

“Lambresas was a smart man. Like you are a smart boy. Like you, he knew the Latin language and also mathematics. But he did not in school learn Latin and mathematics, because his parents could not afford to send him to school in his neighborhood in Mexico City.

“Instead he would climb on top of the red tile roof on the top of the school house and listen through the chimney to the teachers teaching below. In this way, through the soot of a chimney, Lambresas became an educated man.”

An educated man.

I am nearing 64. 

Back when I was 12 and taking Latin in Mr. Comeau's seventh-grade Latin class we were taught probably the same way students were taught in the Anthony Asquith-directed movie written by Terence Ratigan, "The Browning Version." 

The Browning Version (1951) will likely bore you.
And it might also shock you to see how intelligent and human movies once were.

While Mr. Comeau never smacked us with a hickory switch, the regimen in Latin class wasn't easy. One thing he made us do was to memorize things. Memorization is out of favor today and has been probably for three decades. They say it stifles creativity or something. There are probably a few hundred PhD. theses that prove that assertion. 

Still, six decades later, I can decline Bonus Bona Bonum, Hic Haec Hoc and Ille Illa Illud, all five cases in three genders in singular and plural in under ten seconds. I also know stupid things I'll never forget like the acronym PAIN, which is made up of the four first declension words that are masculine and not feminine--Poeta, ae; Agricola, ae; Insula, ae and Nauta, ae. 

I never once felt stifled.

I think the best way to learn advertising or writing or anything is to find practitioners you like and shadow them. Memorize their work and their styles.

Lambresas learned through an old chimney, writing notes in soot on pieces of cardboard he would find on the street. I read and memorized ads by McCabe, Puris, Messner, Durfee, Robinson, Koenig and other lights from books I bought from headhunters in the street.

There is no "doneness" to learning.

Like memorizing my Latin, getting good at something is like painting a giant suspension bridge. As soon as you're finished, you have to start again. It's like reading Cervantes or Homer. You keep reading. It's not a tick mark on a list. 

No real point today.

Given that it's the day after American Thanksgiving and a Friday, readership will be woeful. 

But I made a new friend. 


And I'm thankful and wanted to tell the world.

No comments: