Skrip - tyur' - i - ent: adj. Possessing the violent desire to write.


#255 In which our hero discusses what was said to him by a coworker recently causing flames to shoot out of his eyes (our hero, not the coworker)

nIf you follow my Twitter account, you already know that a coworker called me an “asshole” last week. And I mean really called me an asshole, in anger, with malice. I have to make that distinction because when creative people in the advertising industry get together the conversation often quickly drops to the level of 8-year-olds on the playground.

I’m not going to get into the particulars of the project because a.) it wouldn’t be wise for me to discuss actual client work on my dumb blog and b.) it’s irrelevant to the story. What this really is about (other than the account executive (or AE) in question being an arrogant knob who’s pretty piss-poor at his job) is the constant and universal struggle between AEs and the creative staff.

I’ve worked at several agencies, and it’s always like this. The reality is that the system we all labor under is really set up to fail. It works like this: the client gives some sort of direction about what s/he wants in the latest print ad/radio spot/brochure/whatever. The AE in turn takes that information and relays it to the creative staff, usually in the form of a written document (generally called a “brief.”) The problem should already be obvious: the creative staff, ie., the people who will actually write and design the end result, are getting the information from the client second-hand. To make matters worse, we’re getting the information in a written document, usually well after the actual meeting between AE and client. So we don’t have the opportunity to ask question as the information is being relayed to us, then, if we do go back to the AE and ask questions, the information is no longer fresh in his/her mind.

So every project generally starts at a deficient.

But that’s just a little background, and not really important to what the AE called me (which, you’ll remember, is “asshole.”)

So we have a industrial parts manufacturer with a new product. They are very excited about this new product, so they’re pulling out all the stops to tell the world about it: brochures, trade show panels, email alerts, new mini-website and more. So we, the creative staff, get all this crap thrown at us and we start digging through it, producing the most important bits first. The website, which this tale hinges on, is pushed to the bottom of the pile, because it’s not a critical element and is quick and easy to turn around.

So early last week the AE suddenly sends out an email saying, “Hey, what’s up with the website? I want to show the client something on Friday.” He hadn’t indicated that there was any urgency with this part of the project up until this part. And honestly, it wasn’t a big deal, because the art director and I had been working on it, off and on, all along, and we had finished stuff to show.

Then it got interesting.

The AE looks at our work, then sends out an email the next day. It’s a three page mini-site and he has commentary about each page. And this next part is the problem.

Account executives aren’t writers. They aren’t designers. The best of them have insights into what the client likes and dislikes, what hot buttons set them off or make them fall in love with projects, and can share this insight with you to make the project better. But this guy isn’t the best of the best. And in his commentary, he wasn’t providing any insight anyway, he was art directing the project. And more to the point, it wasn’t really about his comments, it was about the way he delivered them. He was arrogant and condescending, and gave himself a lot more credit then he was due. “This layout is too busy,” he wrote in his email, “and where are the bullets that were outlined on the brief?”

So, hackles up, I write an email in response, saying that the creative team doesn’t think the layout is too busy, and that all the information from the brief is in there, if he would look for it (I said this in a more polite way). The emails keep going back and forth, and get a little heated. His attitude is clearly: I TOLD you want to do, why aren’t you art monkeys following orders?

My attitude is “fuck that guy.” Because he’s trying to act as a creative director, and he has neither the experience or aptitude to do it. My email responses are getting shorter, but haven’t crossed the line to insulting yet.

Finally, the associate creative director and I end up in the art director’s office. The AE storms in all in a huff. The ACD says “Okay, what’s the problem with this layout?”

The AE says, as closely as I can remember it: “ALL I need to know is how this animation is going to work. THAT’S ALL. You just have to give me the information. There’s no need”--and here he looks directly at me--“to be an ASSHOLE in emails!”

Yeah, I know, a little anticlimactic. He didn’t say, “Hey, you’re an asshole!” but it was clear from his body language that he was saying exactly that.

Anyway, I am FURIOUS. And, I’ve been known to fly off the handle once or twice, especially when needlessly confronted by incompetents, so I immediately get up and square off with the guy and say, “Look! I’m not the one being an asshole here!”

The ACD intercedes and brings things back down to a reasonable level--which is nothing short of miraculous being that this ACD is an angry little man--and we hash things out reasonably. I think some of it was miscommunication, but more of it was this AE needed a dumb amount of hand-holding because he can’t properly do the job on his own. All the information he needed really was right there, if he took a moment to think about the project and look at the supporting materials.

So now the guy is all fakey nice-nice with me, as usual. Maybe he’s already moved past it. But I have been known to keep grudges FOREVER and can’t imagine I’m going to forget this any time soon.

But that’s just me being an asshole.

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I sometimes think that I’m really missing the boat with this entire blog thing. That instead of posting occasional op-ed pieces about back yard flooding or shoes or religion or what-not, I should be obsessively recording every little detail about my children because, well--let’s face facts here--they are goddamn adorable. But every once in awhile The Scientist will say something like, “Don’t you remember how Lily used to do this thing?” and I’ll be like, “What? I don’t remember that AT ALL!”

Both girls are definitely growing up fast. It’s hard to believe that there was a time when Lily could talk, but her sister could not. Now Macey is a little chatterbox, and it’s hard to get her to shut up at times. It makes me wish I had done a monthly update (ala Dooce) so I could always look back and say, “Oh yeah! Macey was only two when she tried to choke to death on grapes! Good times… good times….”

But, I’m held in check by the knowledge that nothing is more boring than listening to someone talk about their kids. It even bores me, and I can relate as a parent. Frankly, if it’s not MY kid being cute, I don’t give much of a crap.

Maybe this is my way of warning you, the three or four people who read this on a regular basis. I may start trying to capture the adorableness of my kids. It’s probably futile, because the stuff they say that gets me rolling usually is funny because of the way they say it, or the expressions on their faces. It may come across very much like trying to explain why a joke is funny.

Of, if that fails miserably, I’ll probably go back to naked triplets*.

* Amazingly, this remains my #1 hit on search engines, even though I only wrote once about those dumb girls, and that, more than a year ago.


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#254 In which our hero discusses a small cabin in the woods, and the deteriorating condition of the same.

“My family owns a cabin in the Allegany National Forest Reserve.”

I’ve spoken this phrase probably a thousand times in my life; always in response to the question, “Where are you going this weekend?”

This cabin has been in my family for more than 60 years. While that’s not a huge amount of time, big-picture wise, it far exceeds my lifetime. I’ve never known a time when we didn’t vacation at “the cabin.”

That’s the only name it’s ever been called; “the cabin.” And while there are plenty of little hunting cabins in the region with fun names, like “Termite Tavern,” “Aces Wild,” “Bob’s Whispering Pines” or “Hole in the Fall”… this cabin, our cabin, has never had any other name.

I never thought it strange that my family owned a cabin in the woods. I did think it odd that it was smack-dab in the middle of a national forest reserve, though. I don’t think most people know that there are tiny dots of private property sprinkled throughout the thousands of square miles of virgin forest. I’m not sure if the land was purchased before it was declared a forest reserve, or the state sold parcels to help finance roads or whatever... but there are a lot of private cabins. In fact, there are probably 50 other cabins within a short walk of our cabin. So that kinda destroys the remote cabin in the woods imagery, I know.

But remote or not, it is primitive. One big bunk room, one big kitchen/dining room/living room. No running water--the outhouse is a short distance away. There is electricity, however. At one point we had a phone line (a party line, remember those?) but we cancelled the service years ago. Just not worth the price for the one or two calls that ever came in. And now, you can actually get a cell phone signal if you walk up to the road.

The cabin is top-of-mind for me right now because we were just up there a couple of weeks ago. I loved this place as a kid (and still do) and I want my kids to love it, too. They seem to… they enjoy running around the cabin, playing in the leaves, collecting acorns, and all the other dumb stuff that I used to do.

While the cabin has hosted dozens in the past (complete with tents and campers to house those that couldn’t fit in the actual cabin), this was a low-key affair; only me, The Scientist, the girls and my mom. In fact, this is what the gatherings have been like in recent years. All the regulars are getting too old to go, or are dying out.

My Aunt Joyce died last year. Uncle John, who can’t drive any more, comes when he can. Aunt Joan is in Florida and has had both hips replaced. Uncle Frank refuses to return since his wife died. Dad’s been dead for 15 years. Mom’s the most able-bodied person to go, and she’s 76.

This is a different generation than mine, of course. My sisters are spread out all across the country, and only get up every few years. My cousins come sometimes; but no-one goes up on a regular basis, like this older generation used to.

And it shows on the cabin. Built by amateurs, it was never any sort of feat of engineering to begin with. And the harsh winters take their toll. Chipmunks have free access to the attic through any number of holes they’ve chewed through the eaves. Spiders nest in every corner.

I’ve seen cabins literally fall to pieces up in those woods. For years, there was a cabin down the road from ours that slumped lifelessly, roof fallen in, walls bowed outward, utterly unsalvageable. And there was another cabin--a really nice one, in its day--that did the same thing. Uncared for, it collapsed into a heap of rotten timber and memories. It was eventually cleared away, and the plot of land bought up by a neighbor. This sign is the only reminder that it was ever there.

This makes me sad, because I fear a similar fate for the cabin. I’m not at all handy, so I don’t really possess the skill or know-how to make real repairs to the structure. I’ve re-tarred the roof many times, and repainted the wood, but that’s really about the extent of my ability. And, honestly, there’s so much work to be done that I’d guess that it would be cheaper to raze the thing and start new.

And that’s my dream. Build a brand new cabin, one that will last another 50 years, a hundred years… so that my kids and their kids can still go up there and enjoy roasting marshmallows around the fire, playing cards late into the night, and laughing and catching up with friends and relatives.

But I don’t know if that will ever happen. Maybe if I win the lottery. But Lord knows I detest the idea of this wonderful get-away simply sinking into the dirt; unused and forgotten. I hope my children can always tell their friends, “We’re going to a little cabin in the woods that my family owns.”


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