Sunday, September 8, 2013

Pulling Mussels From The Shell with Hemingway

So rain, finally, rain for my flowers and tomatoes and trees and weed-choked lawn. I think about the birds and squirrels and chipmunks and rabbits and wonder if they rush out to prance in the puddles and feel the wet droplets on their feathers and fur and faces.

I try to sleep, or at least doze. Rainy weekend mornings are a gift, and I cherish them. But the cat insists that I wake and feed her and listen to her mewl and chuff, so I acquiesce and make my way to the cupboard to fetch her a can of the food she likes best.

Next, it is time to grind coffee and measure the water and freshly ground beans into the old coffee maker. I knock a framed photograph into the open water receptacle by accident. After doing my best to shake the water out, I pry it open to rescue the small black and white portrait of me and my sister when I was three and she was a baby, old enough to sit and smile. It is a darling photograph. My blonde hair is long, pulled up in two ponytails on either side. I smile, seeing the thick fringe of bangs, as this is the style I wear now, forty-four years later. I'm sitting cross-legged, with one arm around my sister Laura. The photographer has propped my right hand over my heart, which is unnatural yet adorable. Thankfully, the photo dries well. I see my mother's perfect cursive lettering on the back, identifying the two of us, Rebecca Lynn and Laura Renee, for she gave this portrait to one of my dad's cousins and she in turn gave it to me as a wedding gift. The photograph has now outlived my marriage and the bath in the coffee pot.

With the rain still falling, I take a warm cup of coffee and A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway out to my rickety back porch. I plug in the strand of white lights that I outlined the windows with two years ago, then I turn on the small lamp with the rustic lampshade encircled with bent twigs. Candles next, lit with the tool I use to start the barbecue pit, and finally, I turn on my daughter's CD player. It's faulty, and crackles, and can't decide at which volume it will actually produce sound, but I figure it out and sit on the wicker couch with my coffee and my book to listen to Squeeze and watch the rain and read.

I never picked up Hemingway, as a requirement in school or by choice at a library or bookstore. I'm so happy to have discovered him now. I read and reread several passages on this rainy morning. The first from a bit of dialogue between Hemingway and his wife Hadley. "We're always lucky," I said and like a fool I did not knock on wood. There was wood everywhere in that apartment to knock on too." In the next chapter, he describes the changing seasons. "You expected to be sad in the fall. Part of you died each year when the leaves fell from the trees and their branches were bare against the wind and the cold, wintry night. But you knew there would always be the spring, as you knew the river would flow again after it was frozen. When the cold rains kept on and killed the spring, it was as though a young person had died for no reason." I read that passage at least three times, and again just now to transcribe it. Then the next chapter begins, "When spring came, even the false spring, there were no problems except where to be happiest."

True, so beautifully, heartbreakingly true. I remember myself as I was decades ago, listening to these same songs and kneeling on the floor in a fraternity house next to mine, working on a banner for Homecoming. I was so shy in those days, and didn't make conversation, only progress. Still, anything was possible and I knew I'd meet someone who didn't mind drawing me out and would enjoy listening to music together and taking walks and crunching leaves and eating a slice of pizza because that was all we could afford yet was just enough. It's harder now, to think like that, to believe in the inevitability of compatibility with someone, the sort that leads to talking and walking and holding hands and sharing a bed and staring into one another's eyes and smiling so hard because you can't believe your good fortune.

I unplug the lights, turn off the music and retreat indoors where tattered screens will not allow mosquitoes to unexpectedly drink in my melancholy. I wonder if feeling sorry for one's self sours one's blood. It certainly sours one's mood. So I force myself to think cheerful thoughts for I am truthfully so lucky, with two strong young daughters and a good job and a snug house and a sweet rainy Sunday morning to spend with my cat and my thoughts and my book.

Friday, June 28, 2013

My "Goodbye, Momentum" Email

“I’m not going on a mercy interview.”

In 2000, my then-husband Ross had met a guy at driving school who worked at Momentum. I had a few freelance clients, but I’d really put my writing career on hold to raise our two young daughters Madeline and Julia. I thought, “Work can wait.” But Ross could not. So eventually, I acquiesced and called Brent Wilson.

That mercy interview led to freelance work, part-time work and full-time work. I was hired as a copywriter, but quickly updated that to senior writer. (New hires, stick up for yourselves. The squeaky wheel and all that.) And today, I’m a VP Creative Director.

But not for long.

This afternoon, I’ll pull out of my parking space and drive away from Momentum for the last time. I’ll have a box of books, some posters and a Pennzoil cooler shaped like an engine bouncing about in the back seat. And so many wonderful memories rattling around my brain.

Things that could only have happened to me at Momentum:

·      Brett Seher and I created a graphic novel series called Oil Masters for Pennzoil. The first issue was penciled and everything. Dammit, Pennzoil. You should have trusted us on that one.

·      I sang in brainstorms.

·      I invented a game called Crapshot. Every day, my team would spin the wheel and face the consequences. Which usually included a shot created by me. Some of my concoctions were delicious. Others? Not so much. (Quote: “It tastes like someone farted in my mouth.”)

·      I went to pizza school. NASCAR drivers don’t like it when you’re faster at making pizza then they are.

·      I talked Chris Weil into fronting the money to finally win AdStock, the St. Louis battle of the ad agency bands. God, that trophy was ugly. I adored it.

·      I rode roller coasters. For work. Teenage Rebecca would be impressed.

·      I had awesome meals and many drinks with coworkers and clients.

·      I wrote and sang a jingle to help Carolyn Beilsmith’s daughter win a free wedding.

·      I wrote a song about SmartStax for Brad Stamulis to sing for Monsanto.

·      I helped Brent Wilson’s team win a lot of new business. Pennzoil/Quaker State, Enterprise, Hostess, Domino’s, The U.S. Mint, Genuity, a second stint with the U.S. Army, Genuity again, O’Reilly Auto Parts and Florida Power & Light.

·      I ran a half-marathon, thanks to Bill Schmidt.

·      I sang at client presentations.

·      I cooked up a story about a deranged rocker named Sylvie who took out her aggression on unsuspecting fans and kept a finger from each victim as a souvenir. The folks at Busch Gardens bought it. Then changed their minds. Then bought it again. I wrote three songs for the campaign, including the eponymous My X. My own band recorded that one too. I could blah-dee-blah about that experience forever. If you’re curious, hit me up.

·      I wrote and produced Energy House Calls, a reality series for P&E. I lived in California for 6 weeks, which was grueling for everyone. But I think it turned out pretty neat.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, Anything Is Possible Here. If you’re not doing what you love, you’re not doing it right. Thank you all, for everything you have taught and shared with me at Momentum. I am the Connected Protagonist and you are all characters in My Story!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

If it feels good, do it.

How I got into the spirit of giving back.

I’ve walked for the cure. I’ve dined out for life. I’ve written checks, signed petitions and donated food and clothing. But I’m not what I’d consider as highly altruistic. Do I care? Yes. Do I make time in my everyday life to care? Not really. I’m a Gen X single mom balancing life with two teenagers who want to go to top-notch schools with a demanding career in marketing. Sometimes it’s hard to care about clean laundry, much less giving back.

So perhaps you’ll forgive me for the little zing of glee I felt when I read the article “Millennials might not be so special after all, study finds” on Check this out: “Published online in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, the study finds Millennials (born 1982-2000) more civically and politically disengaged, more focused on materialistic values, and less concerned about helping the larger community than were GenX (born 1962-1981) and Baby Boomers (born 1946 to about 1961) at the same ages.”

Yes! I mean, whoah, that’s too bad.

It seems those Millennials are volunteering because their schools require it. I can attest to this motivator as my eldest daughter is worrying herself sick about her lack of volunteering and how it will impact her college applications. If only she’d turn off “Nashville” and go collect canned food.

Or, she could follow her mother’s example. That’s right, I have found a way to give back that reflects my personal values, plays to my strengths and gives me untold satisfaction. I’ve become a mentor for ready+willing, a St. Louis nonprofit that pairs other local nonprofits with professional marketing mentors (that’s me). I recently attended a recruiting event where I interviewed writers, art directors and designers to assemble my team. Frankly, the event did not live up to my expectations. I was unaware that many of the volunteers were looking to break into the creative field or build their portfolios. That’s where Momentum stepped in. Or rather, my friends and colleagues did. Momentum is not officially sponsoring our endeavors, but we are holding meetings in the St. Louis office. And I’ve assembled a first-rate team.

Business Leadership Manager Amy George volunteered to be my co-captain. Account Executive Lauren Durand took on research. Art Director Josh Rogier and Junior Copywriter Nicole Conoyer will be art directing and writing. Broadcast Business Advisor Mary Mitchell will help us find editing resources. And Associate Creative Director Jonathan Reed will shoot.

Which brings me to our project. We’re going to write and produce a promotional video for Magdalene St. Louis, an offshoot of a successful two-year program founded in Nashville, Tennessee by The Reverend Becca Stevens to help victims of human trafficking and addiction rebuild their lives. Magdalene St. Louis has a board of directors and a goal to open a house in 2014. The video we’ll produce will help create local advocacy, starting with the realization that human trafficking is a problem in St. Louis. I had no idea that I live in one of the top 20 U.S. cities for human trafficking. We can thank our robust highway system that branches out to both coasts for that. According to the agreement Magdalene St. Louis has with ready+willing, we only have to provide a script. But I am determined to deliver what they actually need, a video that will inspire St. Louisans to learn more, tell their friends, get involved and donate.

I had the opportunity to attend an open house for Magdalene St. Louis called “Opening the Door” on Wednesday, May 8 at Christ Church Cathedral. Over the course of the evening we heard success stories from former prostitutes and victims of abuse and drug addiction who turned their lives around with the help of the Magdalene program and community support. Their tales were shocking. Yet the statistics are worse. Did you know the preferred age for prostitutes is now 14? My youngest daughter is 14. The women who will live in Magdalene House in St. Louis will be considerably older. But imagine what it must feel like, to be an adult caught in a cycle of abuse, prostitution, addiction and life on the street. Magdalene House will help give these women a new life. And in a small but significant way, my team will help give these women a new life too.

Becca Stevens closed the open house on that warm May evening with this thought. On Monday, May 6, three Cleveland women were trapped in a nightmare of abuse and victimization. When Amanda Berry screamed out, Charles Ramsey helped her kick out the bottom of the door that opened to freedom. Now we have the opportunity to open doors for women who desperately need our help. I am humbled and inspired by this project and the chance to use my skills to do something meaningful.

I’m giving back. And it feels amazing.

I was an intern once

The summer between my junior and senior years at the University of Missouri-Columbia, I was an intern at LIDA Advertising. An agency in Des Peres, mere minutes from my parents' home. How convenient! How terrific for my future resume!

Let's just say I was in college before the days of Google. If I had done a search, I would have done declined the offer.

Turns out, LIDA was a yellow pages agency, owned my LInda and DAvid. How adorable.

On my first day, I got someone fired. Because when DAvid shared my 3.9 GPA with one of the ladies in the office, she bragged that she had graduated with a 4.0 from La-De-Da University. So like a true yellow pages advertising specialist, DAvid looked up her alma mater to verify. She had never attended that school. Good bye, Liar Pants.

The other LIDA intern that summer was also from Mizzou. Her name was Kimmer. I'm so thankful that Kimmer was there. Because LIDA was dreadfully boring.

You see, we weren't creating ads. We were verifying listings! DAvid was big on verification. All day every day, we'd call doctors to see if their numbers were still correct. The highlight of my first month interning was getting my request played on a radio station that Kimmer and I listened to during lunch. "Brand New Lover" by Dead or Alive. Good times.

Then, quite magically, DAvid found out that I could draw. I sketched a one-panel comic of people walking on their fingers. (For you youngsters, the yellow pages used to have a jingle that suggested, "Let your fingers do the walking, it's a snap.") 
Boom. I was in charge of creating comics for a newsletter. In addition to my daily verification calls, of course.

Did I get anything out of the experience? Nothing I could put in a portfolio. But my internship did introduce me to office life. And what giving up on being a Real Copywriter might look like.

Today, I'm a VP Creative Director At Momentum Worldwide. And on July 8, I will be a Group Creative Director at Group360.


Monday, May 6, 2013

Dads Be Crabby

"Your dad left Madeline and Julia a message about thanking me for showing up," my mom stage whispered. We were at Kirkwood High School for the final band concert of the year. My freshman Julia plays the French horn.

"What?" I whispered back. "What are you talking about? They always thank you."

"When prompted," sighed my mom as she smacked her strawberry gum.

After the show, I made a beeline for Julia.

"Make sure you thank Gramz for showing up tonight," I instructed her.

"I always thank her," Julia said, somewhat quizzically. 

"Thank her effusively," I suggested, then we made our way through the shifting crowd of parents, grandparents and students. "There she is."

My mom was waiting on a bench, leaning on her cane and dangling her camera from her wrist. She looked so tired and uncomfortable, but she brightened immediately when she saw my tall, slender, redheaded wonder of a daughter Julia. She looked so adorable in her red skinny jeans, black Tokidoki tee and high-heeled shoes with laces.

"Take her picture!" my mom commanded. Julia sat next to my mom and they both smiled broadly. I took one, then another.

"Do you need help getting to your car?" I asked as she hoisted herself up. She's gained so much weight. I sucked in my own stomach, acutely aware of the pounds I've put on.

"I guess you could just watch and make sure I get out," my mom replied offhandedly. So of course we walked her straight to her car. It was parked illegally on the side of the building. No ticket though. Good job, mom.

"Thanks for coming!" Julia smiled warmly.

"You're so beautiful and smart. Give me a hug!" gushed my mom. We both hugged her, made sure she made it into her vehicle and waved goodbye.

As soon as we got home, I listened to the message my father had left earlier on our answering machine.

"Uh, hello. This is Tom Reardon. When your mother...your grandmother goes to your show this evening, make sure you thank her. You usually don't bother for more than a minute because you have much more important things to do. She's 71 years old and can barely get around. It doesn't show common courtesy, informing her of a performance the day of the show, then expecting her presence. Have a good life, and I hope someone shows you more courtesy in the future. Goodbye."

I wanted to call and tell them that the entire flipping calendar of events is available to one and all on the Kirkwood High School website. Instead, I pushed the erase button.

I can't wait till he comes over for Mother's Day brunch.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Day Trip Down Memory Lane

It's been a long time since I was a student at the University of Missouri-Columbia. Just ask my daughter Madeline.

Mizzou wasn't exactly high on her list of collegiate destinations. At 4:30 this morning, it wasn't on mine either. But I'd registered us to attend Meet Mizzou Day, and by god, we were going to meet it, even if it would require speeding most of the way there. (Except through Fulton. Never speed through Fulton, trust me.)

Despite our late start, we managed to get to the Memorial Union pretty close to 8 a.m. As we hustled to the check-in station, I squinted up at the ornate clock tower. It was prettier than I remembered. Impressive, even. Not that Madeline noticed. For one thing, I embarrassed her by chatting with the greeter. And by making a restroom stop. And by asking a question at the Honors College table. How she suffers.

After a 30-minute introduction by a recruiter and two students, Madeline and I found a campus tour guide outside the Union. Her name was Ashley, and both of her shoes were untied, which I promptly pointed out when she asked if we had any questions before our tour. Madeline was not pleased.

We've taken several college tours, so Madeline and I were expecting the backwards-walking routine. But Ashley didn't care for walking backwards. Perhaps she'd tripped on those shoelaces before so really, who could blame her. Besides, the campus was treacherously packed with other tour groups Meeting Mizzou. We paused at the corner of the famous quadrangle long enough for Ashley to explain the origin of The Columns, a majestic row of six survivors of a long-ago campus fire. I was looking forward to a walk around the Quad, but Ashley decided to shake things up and head right back toward the library. 

"Do you want to go in the library?" she asked. Her tone implied the obvious answer was "no." So we headed to another building to check out a classroom. It wasn't as cavernous as the lecture halls I remembered from my academic glory days. And hey, the class was equipped with those clicker thingies that allow you to select an answer to a question and immediately see the class results on a screen. Madeline is accustomed to seeing such results on an active board at Kirkwood High School. Mizzou students see them on their own laptops and iPads. Still, this was progress! Mizzou didn't have a Mac Lab until I was a junior. Yes, I'm That Old.

Ashley rounded us up for a quick peek at The Shack, a reincarnation of a storied hangout of Mizzou alums even older than me. The Shack was destroyed by fire before I had the chance to enjoy it, but now we could see it rebuilt, complete with an area to carve your name into the wall. Just like the olden days. Cartoonist Mort Walker used to hang out at The Shack, so there was a statue of his creation Beatle Bailey in the foyer. "Who's Beatle Bailey?" Madeline asked. Sigh.

Next we briefly checked out the bookstore. Then our tour group headed for the gymnasium, where we spent an inordinate amount of time milling about. Basketball courts, racquetball courts, the Pump Room, a swimming pool that rivals hotel amenities, another swimming pool that Michael Phelps proclaimed had "fast water" and yet another pool outdoors that marks the spot of a former campus watering hole. And no, not the boozy kind, an actual watering hole where Mizzou students had once refreshed their horses.

After a quick tour of a dorm, we headed back to Memorial Union. I didn't bother asking Ashley questions because frankly, I didn't want to trouble her. 

"What now?" Madeline huffed. The girl does not care for exercise, and our tour had worn her out. According to the schedule, we had two hours to burn before the Honors College session, so I led her back to the bookstore. Boring. Then I asked for directions to a cafeteria where we could have a free meal. Embarrassing. Once we found it, we sat outside for a bit, thinking that the doors didn't open till 11. Wrong. And Embarrassing. Madeline cheered up when she found out that once you hand over your ticket, college cafeterias provide an all-you-can-eat gorge fest. "I can see why freshmen gain so much weight," Madeline acknowledged. Our chicken quesadillas were prepared to order and surprisingly delicious. I had a Diet Pepsi, while Madeline opted for grape juice. Then we both had soft-serve ice cream. We tried to have more soda but to be honest, we were just too full. So we headed back out into the sunshine. Madeline was upbeat until she found out I wanted to revisit the Quad.

"Whyyyyyyyyy?" she beseeched me. "I'm tired! I don't wanna." I literally had to grab her arm and pull her there. For me, it was worth it. The Columns and grounds are so inviting, an opinion obviously shared by the many students flopped in the grass with their Shakespeare's pizza and frisbees. Madeline didn't care for frisbees. Or grass. Or sunshine. Or at that moment, me. Still, I dragged her to one of my favorite buildings, Pickard Hall. There's a plaster cast gallery of famous Greek statues on the first floor, and a tiny gift shop upstairs. I snapped photos blissfully until Madeline asked, "WHY are you taking pictures of naked people?"

We got back to Memorial Union just in time for the Honors College session, the last item on the Meet Mizzou agenda. There were only four other kids in the room with an assortment of parents who inferred they'd like to wrap things up quickly and break for lunch. Madeline wasn't enthusiastic about another session either. At one point, I think she dozed off. As for me, this was the main event. I didn't even know Mizzou had an Honors College! The premise is that the Honors College makes a giant land grant campus like Mizzou feel like a smaller, more selective university, populated by like-minded students who favor academic pursuits. The overview was satisfying. Still, I had a few questions, like, "What's your take on Mizzou versus Missouri S&T?" My ex-husband was pushing the state school in Rolla, a town I must tell you is an armpit. Much to my satisfaction, the professor shared my preference for Mizzou, and he gave me ammunition for future battles with Madeline's dad. He said S&T focuses on engineering, which is limiting in this day and age. Mizzou gives students like Madeline the chance to apply their interest in chemistry and physics to a wide range of research opportunities with topnotch programs like medicine, journalism, law and more.

I had a few more questions. And a few more after that. Then, I hit the presenters with a whammy. "So what do you say when people dismiss Mizzou as a 'fall-back school?'" The professor emitted a strangled sort of gurgle. The three students on stage were quick to point out that they were from other states and had specifically selected to attend Mizzou. They all seemed baffled by such an assessment. As the professor regained his composure, I explained that I had graduated from the School of Journalism, so I thought quite highly of the university. But in the 80's, Mizzou had a reputation as a party school. The professor nodded, then explained something I'd never heard. The admission and scholarship requirements are published on the Mizzou website. If you meet the requirements, you know you'll be admitted. Consequently, the acceptance rate is really high. Other schools don't do that. You apply, then hope, then pray and eventually find out if you're in. Mizzou's common sense practice bites it in the butt when it comes to national rankings because the rate of acceptance figures into the system used by US News & World Report. A high acceptance rate leads to a lower rank.

Suddenly, I didn't feel guilty about potentially sending Madeline to Mizzou. In fact, I felt pretty good. Too bad she was getting surlier by the second. After a quick trot around downtown filled with cranky queries like "where are we going" and "my feet hurt" and "why do you go into shops without buying anything," we finally made it back to our Subaru. I had wanted to walk through the journalism buildings and take a look at my sorority house, but I spared Madeline the agony and headed back to St. Louis. 

See you next time, Mizzou. Perhaps in the fall of 2014.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Pure Bronze

On April 4, I attended the 30th annual Reggie Awards Gala in Chicago. According to Promotion Marketing Association, the organization responsible for the Reggies, winning an award is "one of the most prestigious honors in the marketing industry." We were told that Energy House Calls, a transmedia program I worked on for PG&E, was going to win either Bronze, Silver or Gold in the Local, Regional Market Campaigns Category (Campaigns directed toward consumers on a local or regional level, or targeted to specific geographic markets.)

Our client Steve Propper (we call him Propper) made the trip from San Francisco to accept the award and spend a long weekend. It was Propper's first trip to Chicago and while I can't go into the details because I am a lady and a gentleman, I know he had a good time. 

On the evening of the Reggies, we were a bit late for the dinner, which turned out to be stand-and-eat hors oeuvres . Resourcefully, my teammate Niki and I staked out a table in the ballroom, then ran back to the bar before it closed. Propper followed my lead and stocked up before the show–we each had three drinks in queue on our table, including two glasses each of champagne. 

When the Reggie chairwomen took the stage in their sparkly garb, Propper noted that Midwest ladies "sure like their bling." A Disney Channel performer named Coco Jones performed a few songs. That was fun. Later, a male performer whose name escapes me took the stage. Not so fun. 

After they announced that Energy House Calls won a Bronze Reggie (Propper sure wanted Gold), we headed to the lobby to pose for our photo, then ducked out to hit the bars. I can't remember the name of the first stop, but I know we spent a bit of time at a Chicago institution called The Lodge. 

I also recall re-pitching the reality TV series Propper and I had joked about during the Energy House Calls edit. Essentially, it would be a modern take on "The Odd Couple," starring Propper and an uptight roommate named Primm. We'd call it "Primm and Propper." Propper loved the idea in July, but this time, he was unimpressed. Bored, even. 

Lesson: What's funny last summer is 'so last summer.'

Of note:
The actual award is in the shape of a cash register because these awards are about more than creativity, they're about making the cash register ring. When's the last time anyone heard a cash register ring? These days, they do more of a beep-beep-boop thing, right?

I was a judge this year. I found one of the campaigns in my category lackluster at best. It still won an award. Which I must admit, tarnished the experience of winning our award.