taking the passive out of passive-aggressive

Sunday, April 27, 2003

The only thing I want to do any more is watch the cable TV (pronounced TEE-vee) and plant perennials. Oh yeah, and drink beer and run long distances. I guess I'm supposed to long for other things, like promotions and new, shiny cars, but I just can't seem to care. I'd also love a good night's sleep for once, but that's not going to happen. Perhaps the lack of sleep has something to do with my apathy. Insomnia's a bitch. You can be utterly bone-tired, you might've slept six hours in the last sixty, and it doesn't matter.

Thursday, April 24, 2003

So last night I went to this event where this branding guy was speaking. OK, there's nothing more stupid than "branding". I've been living around this crappy idea long enough to see that the emperor's got no clothes. Nice enough guy, decent speech, but I swear to God if I have to sit in a hotel ballroom one more time listening to these types--people who are too creative to sell insurance, but not brilliant or self-sacrificing enough to publish a novel--sublimate their creativity into corporate work and pretend it's not what it is... I just hate the fucking denial, I am so tired of it.

Personally, I don't think there's anything wrong with selling shit. In advertising, that's what we're doing. The clients admit it, but the agencies (even those few that pay lip service to the idea) won't admit it. It's got to be all high-minded: brand, identity, integrity. It's SALES, people! Please. You've got to make the close. Sure, it's fun to play with brand--wow! it's like reinventing myself in the form of a company! cool! a few new words, a new typeface, some "big ideas" (read: simpleminded platitudes) and we're reinvented! Please.

This guy last night was talking about using honest language to speak for your company. It's commercial language--it's not even protected by the constitution--how honest can it be? Like a poem written by or in the service of a corporation can be meaningful? That is SUCH bullshit.

At the same time, there's absolutely nothing wrong with selling stuff to people and using language to do it. But DON'T tell me you're bringing some great thing to consumers, that's it's world- or life-changing, or that it's meaningful. It's not. It's products. We can give people aspirations and fulfill them. I'm all for it--personally, I love the way a new pair of shoes makes me feel. But I also know that feeling is fleeting, at best.

The self-congratulatory nature of the agency world is pathetic. The movie "Glengarry Glen Ross" is more analagous to what we do than, say, the work of Don DeLillo. Besides, the agency people I've met are generally less well-read than I'd expect. So for these people--most of whom probably read more business books than novels--to talk about narrative is a fucking joke.

Wednesday, April 16, 2003

When my father died four years ago, he left me only a ring and a box full of papers. The box, bursting at its seams and damp on the bottom, I took to my basement and left there; the ring I still wear.

I didn't have a breakdown or anything when my father died--well, maybe the usual crying and gnashing of teeth, the endless bowls of spaghetti at midnight, the falling-asleep-with-a-business-suit-on kind of thing. That lasted maybe six months. When we moved into our new house I imagined I'd get over it all, that the light on the walls of my very own house would cure me or maybe even bring me closer to this disembodied force I thought my dad was. My dad was disembodied even when he was alive, anyway, so imagining that he existed in light on the walls or in the soup or whatever was not so far-fetched.

But in fact it's gotten worse. I function better, sure, but I miss him more. I'd like to go have lunch with him. I'd like to hear some stories. It seems like I didn't find out enough when he was alive. I wasn't really capable of understanding anything he told me.

Monday, April 14, 2003

My friend Jessica lives in this gigantic house in Roxbury--twelve foot ceilings, ornate plaster molding, and the place was built by the guy who invented the Bartlett pear. I went up to her house this weekend, upgraded to first class on Air Tran, which meant I simply had to drink wine and black coffee on the plane. My friend Morgan came up from Atlanta, and we ate flan and wandered into expensive stores, pretending nothing was out of our reach.

Nowadays, the three of us watch HGTV, invest in real estate, and don't hesitate to buy Via Spiga boots or Kiehl's toner, even though we can't really afford any of it (savings? ha!) But thirteen years ago, things were very different. Morgan's hair was long and black; she worked at the Swensen's ice cream parlor, she could get served anywhere and even in black thrift store skirts, she had style. She dated all the boys I thought were hot (none of them are hot any more, sadly).

Jessica, like me, attracted boys in the juvenile detention system. We rode around town in my little Tercel, looking for trouble, and mostly we found it. The boys were forgettable--we knew that even then--but Jessica, like me, was up for anything. She was tall and a little bit crazy, which gave us just the edge we needed. Nowadays, Jessica is the envy of our friends for her financial acumen and adorable husband, her sweet dog and her duvet covers.

So what happened here? Why are we married and living in nice houses? I'm not complaining, I'm just thinking it's like that Talking Heads song--This is not my beautiful car, this is not my beautiful wife, how did I get here?

This weekend, the three of us found ourselves again in the exact same place--a different place than we were in in 1989, to be sure, but the same place at the same time nonetheless. We might still be going through phases, like 5-year-olds. Like, you know, this nesting thing is just a phase.

When you're a young woman, anything is possible. Traffic tickets disappear, drinks are free, you change lanes with impunity. And then you get up near thirty. Good grooming can compensate somewhat--you suddenly become conscious of your eyebrows and toenails--but ultimately, you have to realize that your true magic is gone.

It was powerful juju, whatever I had from age twelve on, and I'm sad to watch it go. It occurs to me now that my only cushion is money, or at least the appearance of it. After all, the world looks at women in a very Jane Austen way: if you're not young or rich, or both, you're invisible. Your potential is severely curtailed.

I've noticed that a lot of women take refuge from this reality in childbearing and mothering--hence their bad, helmetlike hair, their ill-fitting pants, their minivans. They think that by desexualizing themselves--getting out of the game--they can escape their female doom.

Personally, I like the money route better, not because it will buy me more things, but because it's a more honest currency than either sex or mommyhood. Anyway, it lasts longer. When I had that ineffable youth, I knew it was a chimera after all, I knew I was bargaining my way through the world--I've always been fine with a fair exchange. I worry, though, that I'm losing my bargaining chips.

There's a third way, there must be... and it must have something to do with letting go of other people's expectations. But relinquishing is much harder than it sounds. You have to be willing to face the consequences--snooty shopgirls, lower-paying jobs, and flax skirts. I don't think I'm there yet. We'll see in a few years.

Tuesday, April 08, 2003

Amidst all the war coverage, I don't think our freaky-ass weather is getting enough attention. Before the war, all anyone could talk about was the weather--our 53 inches of snow, the constant cold, when would it end? No one could have imagined that it would get to be tax time, baseball time, with no end in sight.

Yes, it snowed yesterday morning, and today it was cold and dreary, and yes, it's April. The pansies I planted last week are wilty and sad, and I'm still using that fire hazard space heater just to take the edge off. And, brilliantly, I planned a vacation to Boston for this weekend. Boston! I thought, surely by April Boston will be tolerable. But no. My friend reports it's 34 degrees and there's snow on the ground. So much for showing off my legs.

I like conspiracy theories, but I can't even think of one for the weather. While I firmly beileve there's some volitional force behind it all, it's hard to imagine what that might be and how I might influence its decisions.