I'm just about to start my fourth year of running GeorgeCo., LLC, a Delaware Company.
While my business is better--more spiritually and financially rewarding--than I ever imagined, it's lonelier, too.
While I have an Account Director I work with daily, bonafide decent people as clients, and the occasional art-director, producer or planner to interact with, most of my days and nights I'm alone. Digging ditches.
There's no pals a couple of desks over. No people to kibbitz with in the elevators. No hijinx to engage.
It's me and my shovel for the most part.
There's also a certain degree of relentlessness to my life now. Though I still harken back to the 80s, I maintain the energy to field new business requests, write proposals, sell the proposals, do the work, revise the work, send my invoices and actually collect my money. All while getting more business.
The worst part about project-based work is that there's no annuity aspect to it. The work doesn't keep paying--like an AOR relationship. When you're done, and the client's happy, your revenue stream dries up.
Of course, I get a lot of referrals from clients current or past. And a lot of new assignments from existing clients. But you have to keep your ear to the ground and listen for the far-off rumble of new business, then go and get it.
There's no smooth sailing in life. No coasting.
I heard through the grapevine that when Sisyphus is frustrated he says he's engaged in a Tannenbaumian Task.
Some of it good.
Some of it less-than-good.
Because my brain and typing fingers and, I guess, age-old-old-age wisdom is so prized by clients, I am paid well by clients. Touch wood.
With all that remuneration comes a ton of responsibility. I'm not just writing ads for people--I'm helping company owners shape their companies. Without a lot of direction from them other than, 'I wish we could give you more help.'
That's tough like you can't imagine.
Did you ever see the great French movie directed by Jacques Becker, 'Le Trou'? It's three cons escaping from an unescapable French prison, essentially with nothing but their wits and a spoon.
A true story.
Life is like that sometimes.
There are times when a meeting is over and I have just been handed the advertising equivalent of the riddle of the Sphinx that I go off and find some place where no one can disturb me, where no one can see me and I cry.
I cry and I scream. Sometimes I dream and I scream.
BTW, all the holding company bushwa about treating diverse populations with equity and respect doesn't add up to a hill of beans if you're not the right kind of diverse. Or you're outspoken. Or you're old and fat. Or you make a high five-figure, or even six-figure salary.
That hurts. Yes, it does. And it's not something you'll 'get over,' or have to accept or anything else. When you give your life to a company and they toss you away to the ravenous gulls of ageism like you're fish-offal, it's awful. It's doesn't matter much that you're happier now. Jilting sucks. (How's that for a t-shirt?)
There are many times during my nearly 66 years when I've felt the weight of the world on my arthritic and torn-rotatored shoulders.
Like Atlas, I sometimes feel I am at the center of every battle, and in the words of Stephen Fry in his great book, "Mythos,"
Atlas had been "rousing his fellow Titans into combat, shouting for one last supreme effort even as the Hecatonchires were battering them into submission. As punishment for his enmity, Zeus sentenced him to hold up the sky for eternity. This killed two birds with one stone.
Zeus’s predecessors, Kronos and Ouranos, had been forced to waste much of their energy in separating heaven from earth. At a stroke Zeus relieved himself of that draining burden and placed it, quite literally, on the shoulders of his most dangerous enemy. At the junction of what we would call Africa and Europe the Titan strained, the whole weight of the sky bearing down upon him.... In time he solidified into the Atlas Mountains that shoulder the skies of North Africa to this day. His straining, squatting image is to be found on copies of the very first maps of the world, which in his honor we still call “atlases.” To one side of him lies the Mediterranean and to the other the ocean still named “the Atlantic” after him, where the mysterious island kingdom of Atlantis is said to have flourished.
That's a helluva row to hoe.
When I first started emerging as a baseball player, I was two-times the youngest player on my team, or even youngest in the league. That was an Atlas-like weight, too, for a guy who takes even dumb games seriously. First when I made my high school varsity at just 14. The second time when I played for the Seraperos de Saltillo when I was just 17. In both instances, I felt over my head.
There's a certain heavy psycho-analyzed bit of my psyche that feels always like Moses' son, Gershon, a "stranger in a strange land."
That unstrange stranger feeling, that sense of un-belonging, however, could be a weakness--a liability--unless you have the wherewithal to turn it into a strength.
Strangeness becomes a strength when you can use your outsiderness, your differentness as a perspective from which you can view with heightened awareness your surroundings.
You have to do that, maybe, when you feel screaming and crying.
The most awarded film-maker in American movie-making is probably Billy Wilder, a hero of mine. Wilder was born in Galicia, in what was Austro-Hungary. Such a strange land that it's been wiped off of virtually all maps. Wilder emigrated to the United States during early Nazidom, in 1934.
Wilder spoke no English when he came to America. But as he learned the language, he saw the language as an outsider. He saw the foibles, comedies and idiosyncrasies of his adopted land, as only an outsider can.
By 1938, his outsiderness helped him become one of Hollywood's top writers. He went on to amass twenty-one Academy Award nominations--thirteen as a writer and eight as a director. He won six Oscars. I remember seeing a portrait of him many years ago on the TV show "60 Minutes." He was using one of his Oscar statuettes as a doorstop.
What's more he created great movies in more different genres than I can even name. Rom-Com (Sabrina.) Noir (Double Indemnity.) Black Comedy (The Apartment.) Comedy (Some Like it Hot.) War. (Stalag 17.) Mystery (A Foreign Affair.) Social Cause (Lost Weekend.) Movie-making itself (Sunset Boulevard.) And if you stretch a bit, even a western (Ace in the Hole.)
Listen to the language in the clip above. Wilder, a non-native speaker, hears things, like a bat or a dolphin, that you and I can't.
More than just hearing them, Wilder was able to turn his outsiderness into a career.
I miss having people around to work with. People to joke with or flirt with during the day. Someone to bounce and idea off of or, rarely, get some reassurance from.
It's hard playing solo.
Sometimes, the loneliness of the long-distance writer makes me lachrymose. Even lugubrious, I'll admit.
It leaves me time to write.
And be me.
Such as I am.