Friday, November 7, 2014

So You Want to Work in Advertising?

You do not want your creative director to give you this look. Ever.

I am an advertising copywriter. I write the words that appear in any kind of advertising you might see. Over the course of my career, I have written spam email, the junk mail that winds up in your garbage can, magazine and newspaper articles, catalogs, brochures, radio spots, online advertising, posters, print ads, billboards, packaging, video scripts, press releases, newsletters and a sex advice column.

A lot of people don't realize someone is paid to write all this crap. So the next time you complain about all the junk mail you've been getting, just think of my kids. You're sending them to college. (P.S. Thank you. I'm really hoping one of them goes to an Ivy League school.)

When I first started my career, I worked for a man who was notoriously difficult.* He was hostile. He was intolerant. He was addled-minded and vague. On top of all that, he didn't know what he wanted. But he was my boss and I had to please him.


Without any direction or supervision along the way. I was a mere flag in the winds of his ever changing mental state and cognitive abilities—which were sometimes so muddled and unreliable that he walked into glass doors like a confused bird.

I often tell the following story about him, especially when people express concern over giving me critical feedback. As a part of my job, I must submit to regular and widespread criticism. Everyone has to put their two cents in. The account people, editing department, legal department, product specialists and creative directors all make comments on what I've written—and all of that before the copy has even left the advertising agency. Then I get an entire round of client feedback. Each and every person who sees my writing will mention something to change, edit, alter, re-write or lambaste.

I take it all in stride. Unless the comment is proceeded by multiple exclamation marks or question marks. I mean, that's just rude. It's easier to write "Sentence fragment" than to write "Sentence fragment???" Am I right or am I right? And I happen to like sentence fragments. It's my way of taking creative liberties.

So there. (Go ahead and try to find a verb in that sentence. I dare you.)

Advertising copy is a process and no one really owns it. I mean, sure, the copywriter takes the public beating for the stupid headline, but everyone along the way has their hands all over it. It's not like I, alone, am responsible for the final product. By the time it hits the streets, it looks nothing like the original. It is truly a group effort.

And now you know why most advertising sucks.

Haha. I kid. I joke. But not really. My original ideas really are the best. Some day I will show everyone the sheer enormity of my creative genius and I will be vindicated for all of the multiple exclamation marks thrown my way.

*Shakes fist*

Let's go back, shall we? Back to my former boss, in the shadowy past, in the somewhat distant and fictionalized history of my mind. The difficult gentleman in question was a cigar smoker. Let's call him "Satan." Satan had a huge white office with white leather furniture. White walls. White carpet. All stained with a smoky beige tar. He would sit all of us—the entire team of fifteen people—gathered around a glass conference table in his office. The cigar was perpetually resting in the glass ashtray. It spilled smoke over our layouts and concepts, the paper absorbing the smell.

One day, he lasered his eyes at me across the table, my copy in his hands, smoke billowing over his head. I sat and returned his stare. I waited to hear what he was going to say, trying not to betray any emotion whatsoever. He made me wait while he took a long drag off that stinking cigar. He exhaled and gave me a withering gaze. I met that gaze with the enigmatic face of the Mona Lisa.

"Did you mean for this to suck when you wrote it?" he said, his eyes assessing me through the fog. All of my co-workers had gone silent. No one moved a muscle nor made direct eye contact with Satan.

"No," I said and gathered myself together. "What exactly would you like me to change?"

"I'd like you to change the fact that it sucks." He pointed his cigar at me like an accusation.

"Did you not like the headline, the body copy...," I began again, despite my co-workers urgent glances. I knew they were communicating one unified message of "SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP!" But I couldn't stop myself. I wanted clarity. I demanded it through the stink of cigar smoke.

"I SAID I WANTED IT TO NOT SUCK!" he spat out his cigar and threw the papers on the table. Everyone continued to remain motionless, staring at the table. I pursed my lips and kept quiet. Finally, one of the account girls that Satan was particularly fond of changed the subject and moved something else in front of him to review.

When the meeting was over, we all collapsed into an office together and shut the door. Had we liquor, we would have passed around a bottle. Had we a joint, we would have smoked it like soldiers in a foxhole. Seeing as we had neither, we took a two-hour lunch and considered alternate careers which none of us ever pursued.

Despite this, I am grateful for the experience. It is why I can take criticism from just about anyone. Unless of course you use three exclamation marks. That may move me to curse you very quietly, under my breath. Beware the repressed fury of the lowly copywriter, my friends. We have blogs now and memoirs to write.

*Evil laughter*

*I have changed any identifying details about the man so he is unrecognizable. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

I Was Raised by the Village

I’ve always been moved by the saying, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Probably because I was raised by the village.

I was fortunate to grow up in a neighborhood that was filled with kind people. I spent as much time or more at my neighbor’s homes than at my own. I always knew I had a warm house to go to where the lights were turned on and dinner was on the table. I was a bit of a fixture at my closest friends’ and neighbors’ homes and I’m filled with wonder that they put up with me as much as they did.

It wasn’t always like that. I have dim-lit memories of a warm house of my own filled with a family—people, activity, food. But somewhere over the course of elementary school the people left and the house got dark. Rather than stay there alone or with a sleeping alcoholic in the upstairs bedroom, I’d run off to other people’s houses.

As an adult, when I asked a friend if her parents had realized that something was wrong at my house, she said, “No one called for you. My mom had to send you home every night at 9 o’clock. She knew something was wrong, of course.” That triggered memories of running home in the dark, winding my way across the neighbor’s lawns, through their bushes and across their patios on well-worn shortcuts. I ran past other houses with yellow windows to mine, which was dark.

I’d slip in the front door and call out, “Mom?” But no one answered. I’d flip on the kitchen light, go downstairs and start turning on lights in the family room, turn on the television for more light and sound, let the dog out who was tapping on his toes. Call for the other dog who was most likely inside the next door neighbor’s house. She too was raised by the village.

Now that I’m an adult, I wonder at their generosity. I never once heard, “We’re about to eat dinner. It’s time you went home.” Instead, it was always, “Would you like to stay?”

One of my friend’s parents, also a neighbor, even took me to Croatia one summer. I mean, it’s one thing for dinner every night and sleepovers on the weekends, but who flies some lonesome straggler off to Europe with their family?

My neighbors. That’s who.

Even in high school, I remember spending a week at a friend’s house when my mom went out of town. I awoke one Sunday morning to find an Easter basket in the guest bedroom, filled with chocolate rabbits, candy and a stuffed animal. I held the basket with the morning light streaming in through the windows and cried. I’d completely forgotten it was Easter and the basket brought back memories of the baskets I’d gotten as a child.

I had been loved.

I knew what it was to be loved.

You never forget that. I think if you had it once, you keep seeking it out. Maybe that’s why I kept showing up at the neighbor’s doorsteps? Even though my mother was no longer able to provide it, I knew that love was out there. Somewhere.

Maybe just around the corner.

This post is a part of National Blog Posting Month or NaBloPoMo. Today's post is inspired by the BlogHer's NaBloPoMo Prompt, "Tell us one time that you benefitted from the kindness of strangers." 

Click here to learn more and to participate on your own blog. If you've written a NaBloPoMo post, feel free to share it in the comments here too. 



Monday, November 3, 2014

A Moment With My Daughter

I had a moment with my daughter this weekend.

She's had a tough time lately dealing with her emotions. Earlier, when we had gone out to lunch, she was starting up a temper tantrum in the restaurant so I had to take her outside to chill for a minute. Only, she had no intention of chilling.

She raged at me. She yelled. She screamed. Told me I was a bad mama. Said this was a bad family. Said she didn't like any of us and no one liked her.

"We do like you. We love you," I replied. "I just need you to stop screaming so we can go back in the restaurant."


And so it went, back and forth.

"I'M COLD!" she finally screamed.

"If you stop screaming, we can go back inside," I said.


I didn't know how to navigate this storm with her. If I tried to wait her out, we might both freeze to death or starve to death. Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating, but her will is strong. No matter how I tried to alternate between patiently waiting out her tantrum and then offering her an opportunity to go back inside, she would not relent.

When it seemed we had reached an impasse, I walked over to her, picked her up and hugged her.

She went limp in my arms.

"Do you want to go inside?"


"Are you all done screaming now?"


"Do you want pancakes?"

I felt the little head nod on my shoulder. And so we went back inside and she was perfectly lovely for the rest of the meal.

Later that day, we were playing in the house. She was laughing and adorable. All smiles, a tumble of blond hair and spindly four-year-old legs. I picked her up and held her at arm's length, both of us laughing and looking into each other's eyes.

And we held the look. Something in me connected to her in a way that almost merged us. So often people have told me that she looks like me and I haven't really seen it. But in that moment, with her head cocked to the side and her long hair spilling over her face, perhaps the angle of her chin or her smile—whatever it was—I saw myself in her. A little me. And my heart swelled with such empathy and love, for both of us. For the four-year-old little girl she is and for the four-year-old little girl I once was.

And it was good.

This post is a part of National Blog Posting Month or NaBloPoMo. Click here to learn more about it and to participate on your own blog. If you've written a NaBloPoMo post, feel free to share it in the comments here too. XOXO, Mandy