Friday, August 13, 2010


Yesterday, a friend who works in advertising said, "I don't want to work in advertising anymore." She then sent me to this ad agency's website. I read the "About Us", and I immediately felt disgusted. I know that's a strong word for such seemingly innocuous copy, but I hate buzzwords. I find myself reading stuff like that and thinking, "I'm not even really sure what that means anymore!" even though I know good and well what it means. Each of those words should mean a lot, but within the context of advertising copy, they become jibberish.

According to their "About Us", this company "delivers the smart business strategies and creative ideas that clients need to increase market share." This sentence makes my skin crawl. At this point, every marketing company "delivers" the "smart" "strategies" and "creative ideas" clients "need." These are words and phrases used in all marketing copy everywhere. These words are used because of their power. In fact, if you've worked in this industry, you've been asked to use "power words" when working on a project. When everyone is repeating these supposedly powerful phrases over and over to describe pretty much everything, though, they lose all their power. How powerful can it be to describe an advertising agency as "creative" when every advertising agency is supposedly "creative"? Ever repeated the same word to yourself over and over until it starts to sound really weird and you're not even sure if it's a word anymore?

That's how I feel about buzzwords.

I got in a fight with someone recently over the meaning of a word. We agreed on the approximate meaning, but I feel like there are subtle differences in the meanings of words that mean approximately the same thing. Even though two words might be synonyms, I don't consider them to neccessarily be interchangable. It became clear to me at some point that the person with whom I was having this argument thought I was being a real jerk. And, really, I'll concur. All that to say that I find myself overly preoccupied with the meanings of words at times. I'm not just talking about the dictionary definitions. Those are fairly static and not really up for debate. I'm talking about the connotations of words. I've had arguments with people where it became clear that we didn't really disagree about the fundamental points within the topic we were discussing--we were essentially arguing about the connotations of the pivotal words used in those arguments and we didn't even know it. My father and I do this all the time. Language is fascinating like that. Marketing copy is all about the meaning of words. Or, at least, it should be. What I don't understand is how people can read a sentence--let alone write one--like the one referenced above and not want to throw themselves off of a 70-story building.

We live in a world where we're surrounded by marketing copy all the time. It's so pervasive that it makes up a large chunk of our reality. It simply is a fact of our lives, not separate from our lives. What happens when such a large chunk of our environment is so devoid of any meaning? I completely admit to the limitations of words; it's one of the characteristics that makes them so interesting and so very fun to play with. But I will also say that words are one of the tools we use to explain ourselves. They are one of the ways in which we seek connection with each other. They fail us, but it is at their very point of failure that they also spur us to desire even greater understanding. If they're rendered meaningless while still playing such a fundamental role in how we perceive our reality, how will we share our experiences in a meaningful way?

I will admit that I've come to the conclusion that the most meaningful things that happen in life often cannot be explained in words. I had a dream last night that I was at the mall with a bunch of my brother's friends. I was trying to explain to them my newest theory on spirituality, and it sounded rather trite. It didn't feel trite. It felt very important. It felt important in my body. That felt like truth. But when the words were coming out of my mouth, the looks I was getting were the same kind of looks one gets when one is five and trying to tell an adult something very important. I remember feeling very frustrated because it even sounded stupid to me in the dream, but I couldn't think of any other way to explain it. I can admit to the fact that the meanings of words can fail on many levels in many situations. I can even admit to the fact that the things we might be trying to describe with those words are themselves ultimately meaningless. I don't know that I can believe that one hundred percent, but it's a proposition I cannot rule out.

So perhaps I simply love words too much. Perhaps it is merely that marketing copy is abusive to language. It doesn't play with it. It beats it up to the point where it is no longer even recognizable. Maybe marketing copy and it's place in the framework of our reality isn't a threat to our survival as a species or our ability to figure out the meaning of life. But it's possible that by kicking meaning in the dirt and dragging it through the mud like that as a matter of course, we're missing out on something really special.

Something like...meaning.

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Little Boy and the Rattlesnake

The little boy was walking down a path and he came across a rattlesnake. The rattlesnake was getting old. He asked, "Please little boy, can you take me to the top of the mountain? I hope to see the sunset one last time before I die." The little boy answered "No Mr. Rattlesnake. If I pick you up, you'll bite me and I'll die." The rattlesnake said, "No, I promise. I won't bite you. Just please take me up to the mountain." The little boy thought about it and finally picked up that rattlesnake and took it close to his chest and carried it up to the top of the mountain.

They sat there and watched the sunset together. It was so beautiful. Then after sunset the rattlesnake turned to the little boy and asked, "Can I go home now? I am tired, and I am old." The little boy picked up the rattlesnake and again took it to his chest and held it tightly and safely. He came all the way down the mountain holding the snake carefully and took it to his home to give him some food and a place to sleep. The next day the rattlesnake turned to the boy and asked, "Please little boy, will you take me back to my home now? It is time for me to leave this world, and I would like to be at my home now." The little boy felt he had been safe all this time and the snake had kept his word, so he would take it home as asked.

He carefully picked up the snake, took it close to his chest, and carried him back to the woods, to his home to die. Just before he laid the rattlesnake down, the rattlesnake turned and bit him in the chest. The little boy cried out and threw the snake upon the ground. "Mr. Snake, why did you do that? Now I will surely die!" The rattlesnake looked up at him and grinned, "You knew what I was when you picked me up."

-Old Native American Fable

Sunday, August 8, 2010

A Few Forgotten Things


Where have you gone?
I believe I saw your back
disappearing over the black
hill, but I cannot be certain
it was you. Maybe it was myself
I saw, or a ghost of myself,
so murky and muddled I
could not make out the particular
features that made it unique.
All that I know is that you
are not here now, and I want
to believe you are gone,
not left, for it is so much
better for the both of us.

Letter to the Editor

I know what you're doing, you harlot--
you think I don't know, but I know it.
You think I am dumb in my silence;
you think you're escaping my notice.
You've never seen me:
I climb down in between things.
I've always had a talent for sneaking
unseen through even the most well-lit
rooms. I can hide in plain sight,
and at night I need not even cover
my head with the blankets. No one
knows me here. No one knows me anywhere.
I am only a faint feeling. People recognize
I have a face, they just aren't sure
whose it is. And the invisible, the ignored
see everything, the same way you can't
bullshit a bullshitter.

I know what you're doing, you overgrown
ingenue. You think you're still slick, but I
know that sickness. I had it once, a fever
in the middle of a summer morning,
bright and sharp as a burning red stamp.
My dear, you don't scare me. You are me--
I was you. I feel so tricky remembering your
tricks as I watch you perform them. You pull
a rabbit out of a hat, but I can see the hole in
the bottom and the man under the table.
So leave me be or don't, it doesn't matter.

The end is the same either way.