Friday, November 28, 2008

Hot House for Consumer Confidence

I asked for a meeting with a big boss the other day.

He'd come to one of our regularly scheduled status meetings to give us a state of the nation address and he told us if we had any ideas about how things should be done differently, to come and see him.

Well, I had an idea.

So I pitched it to the big boss, and he liked it.

The idea is pretty simple -- no one understands the hearts and minds of consumers like advertisers. Our gift is our curse.

But maybe we can use our power for good. By gathering the collective intelligence and creativity of the agency, maybe we can help jolt a bit of consumer confidence into the economy. Grease the wheels. If people feel hopeful, they'll spend their money rather than horde it. And if they spend their money, not as many people will lose their jobs.

Things might still be bad....but they won't be as bad as they could have been.

I proposed we do it Hot House style -- write a simple Brief, and then get teams to power brainstorm ideas about how to make it happen. They don't have to be client specific. Who knows, we might even end up with a Ministry of Happiness, like our friends in Bhutan.

But the idea has another purpose, too.

People throughout the agency are scared as hell. Holding a Hot House for Consumer Confidence will help everyone around the agency move from feeling victimized by the economy and the looming threat of job loss to feeling positive and empowered.

If we're all moving powerfully in the direction of doing good, I know for sure that good will come of it.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

There will be blood

I'm joining a gaggle of girls from my office for a screening of Twilight tonight.

If you haven't read or heard about the Twilight phenomenon, you've been in a sensory deprivation tank.

It's all anyone between the ages of 11 and 17 can talk about. And, apparently, between the ages of 17 and 47.

Why are we all so preoccupied with vampire love stories these days? Is it because we feel the markets are sucking the life out of us?

I like to get on board for these things, because there's something oddly soothing and reassuring about being a part of something. Even if that something isn't particularly good.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving, American Friends

In honour ...or rather I should say "honor"... of Thanksgiving, I thought I'd share some of the things I'm grateful for today.

I'm grateful that I'm in good health. I'm reading Philip Roth's novel, Everyman, in which his protagonist (an aging advertising type) grows older and more infirm. Roth explores illness with chilling precision. It's made me exceedingly grateful that I can wake up in the morning, leap out of bed, enjoy a full breakfast and take a vigorous walk to work. These simple pleasures are denied to so many folks.

I'm grateful that I have a job I love to do. While it lasts, I'm going to enjoy every minute of it.

I'm grateful that I'm enjoying my forties even more than my thirties. I like myself better now then I ever did....which is great, since I can't seem to escape me no matter where I go.

I'm grateful that I'm not a turkey.

I'm grateful that I work in an environment where we laugh loudly and heartily at least once a day. Usually way more than that. And usually not always at me, which is great.

I'm grateful that our neighbours to the south chose a leader who ran on a platform of positivism. Despite all the negative press about the economy, don't you just feel better knowing Obama is heading to the White House?

What are you grateful for today?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


If I suddenly grew an extra arm, the first thing I'd do is use it to hold my blow dryer.

I bet my hair would look fabulous every day, then. Although I'd probably have a hard time buying sweaters.

Monday, November 24, 2008


Boy oh boy did I find the perfect weekend antidote for time spent with mostly tortured advertising types: a Buddhist retreat with Sharon Salzberg.

I spent a good part of the weekend deep in the practice of metta meditation.

Metta is from the Pali world for "loving-kindness". There's a real structure to the way the meditation happens but it involves love without attachment. Love without dictating the outcome.

In my experience, it can be a transformative practice. Interestingly, one of the long term impacts of metta meditation is that it's thought to be an antidote to anger and fear.

I've been lucky enough to have had several instructions in metta meditation over the years -- including another by Sharon, herself -- and it never fails to make me feel better.

It seemed to work the same kind of magic on the group, too, who you might of guessed were the usual rag-tag group of Birk-wearing hippies and Bu-jews, the affectionate name for the Jewish Buddhists.

One person reported that after weeks of insomnia, she slept peacefully through the night on Saturday.

There's something about letting go that can do that.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Be not afraid

So, as usual, it turns out there was really nothing to be afraid of after all. Funny how the anticipation of fear is worse than the fear itself.

The assignment calls for heart -- something that the largely male teams are struggling with -- so, by virtue of possessing a pair of ovaries apiece, we're already ahead of the game.

Despite the pressure and the lofty expectations and the big shoes to fill, my partner and I have managed to produce some good work, in a limited period of time, for a large and lovely iconic brand.

We even managed to survive a meeting with one of the greats in the industry yesterday. One of the real Mad Men. A true legend.

I think I'll need to sleep for a week when this is over.

Keep sending the good vibes. They're helping.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Freedom from fear

I'm up early this morning because I have that sick, uneasy feeling that comes from believing I'll never have a good idea ever again.

If nothing else, I hope fear is a big calorie burner.

I welcome you to send me your ideas, no matter how big or small. They don't even have to fit the Brief. Anything would look better than a blank page at this stage.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Elevator Doors

I arrived at work at 7:30 a.m. this morning.

I was balancing my purse, computer, suitcase, mittens, ear muffs and coffee. I was feeling a little over-heated and frantic. Then something magical happened.

Someone held the elevator door open for me.

I like to see this as a metaphor for life. When I'm feeling overwhelmed, some divine presence reaches down and holds the door open for me. Or lets it close, because I wasn't meant to ride that elevator to begin with.

It's a good lesson to learn as we jet off to Chicago this afternoon.

Not feeling as frustrated now. Just grateful.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Job Opening: Catholic Church Spin Doctor

I took my Mother to mass at the Cathedral this weekend and found the following advertisement in the Church Bulletin.
November 25th. The Cathedral's young adult group (26-39 years) invites you to participate in faith formation, community service and socials. Guest Speaker for the next meeting is the rector of the parish, Father Mike. Topic: Suffering: Drinking the Cup of Christ.

I had to laugh.

I don't know Father Mike. He's probably a great guy. Well-intentioned. But OH MY GOD, does he really expect anyone to show up for this?

And the kids that they're right this minute ordering Proactiv off an informercial. Not to mention -- when was the last time anyone referred to the 26-39 year old demographic as young adults?

I think Father Mike could use my help, so I'm going to propose some titling alternatives. Take them or leave them, I think they'll be a bit more appealing to his target.

Jesus says, "Come in. Drinks are on me."

When life gives you a Vente cup of suffering, Christ'll make it a Tall

Suffering 911: Let Jesus be your 24/7 Emergency Operator

You think you've got it bad. Have you seen the guy on the cross?

The actors from that Twilight Movie are here and they want to talk to you about suffering.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Hot House

I'll be in the Windy City for most of next week. I'm participating in something called a Hot House.

Barb, my great friend and best partner, and I know this exercise as Creative Fusion. We were involved in something quite similar in the Netherlands a few years ago.

It actually doesn't matter where they hold them, since you rarely see the light of day for these things. It's actually kind of cruel to organize one somewhere you'd actually like to visit.

The idea behind the Hot House is this: you bring creative teams together from different cities, give them all the same Brief, and then watch them go to town.

They Brief. We power brainstorm. We present. They cull the best. Then we go away and develop, develop, develop until there's a winner.

It's pretty stressful. It's a breeding ground for neurosis. But it's also really interesting.

As a creative team, you rarely get a chance to see how other people interpret the same Brief. It's fascinating to watch everyone try to solve the same problem.

When we did it in the Netherlands, there were maybe 100 ideas from 5 teams and no two were the same. That's pretty incredible.

Sure there's the occasional, "Wow, that's dumb." But there are also dozens of, "Wow, wish I'd thought of that." Bastards.

I fully expect to leave Chicago on Friday night feeling like I've been put through one of those old ringer washers.

Maybe I'll just have to go hang out in front of Obama's house for a little inspiration.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

See, this is what I'm talking about

Picture one was on the front page of The Globe and Mail's online edition when I came into work this morning. The headline read: Developed world in recession. Cue frazzled broker with head in hands.

I want to take the editor of every newspaper in North America, along with the wailing coyotes from CNN, and bang their heads together.

You're not helping!

Scaring people will only make it worse.

People are scared of: losing their job, keeping their job, losing their house, watching their house devalue, losing their retirement income, never being able to recover from this economic downturn and it goes on. And that doesn't even include the other scary things like global warming, rising cancer rates, and the Guy Ritchie and Madonna divorce proceedings.

And we all know what fear does. It immobilizes.

Remember how, immediately following 9/11, they repeatedly showed that horrific image of the second plane hitting the World Trade Centre? They did it for a couple of days until someone finally clued in and said: "Okay, we get it. But concentrating on the horror isn't going to fix anything. It just makes us afraid to leave our houses."

So here's what I'm going to do today.

I'm going to give some money away. Not a lot. But enough that I know I'm giving it.

You see, I've found that the more I give out, the more I get back. Funny how that happens.

Charities are the first to feel the pinch of discretionary spending cuts, so I'm sure I can find one that needs my money more than I do.

I'll bet you it works, too. I'll bet you that it comes back to me.

But you know what -- if it doesn't, that's okay too.

You see, I'd rather be a smiling kitten than a stock broker any day.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Performance Appraisals

I got my formal performance appraisal yesterday and it was good. Seriously good.

So good that it got me to thinking: are they nuts?

I guess no one can tell that every time I get a Brief -- every time -- I think: what if my last good idea was just that: my last good idea.

So I work like hell to overcome it. Maybe that's what makes me good at what I do.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

More things I know for sure

It's easier to believe the bad stuff. Anyone with a voice box is calling themselves an expert on the economy these days. "Oh it's going lower," they'll say with absolute certainty, "and soon we'll all be pushing apple carts and riding the rails." No one knows what's going to happen and everyone is scared as hell. But what's the first lesson we learned during our Grade 3 fire drill? Don't panic. In fires, as in the economic downturns, survival depends on being the person who has the presence of mind to put wet towels around the door, instead of flinging the door open and running straight into the inferno.

Negativity requires less effort than positivity. Positivity means you need to invest in the solution, instead of blaming the past.

Molten chocolate lava cake is the best invention since the polio vaccine. If, or rather when I'm on Death Row, this will definitely be on my hit list.

Raisins are nature's candy. My office mates mocked me when I brought my mini-boxes of raisins to work. Then they all started eating them. Next up on the agenda: cat food.

Nothing is as good, or as bad as it seems. Buddha was really on to something with his whole "middle way" approach. Maybe that's why he was Buddha.

Scrub your iPOD of Tori Amos music. Unless you want to start cutting yourself with a rusty blade, there's no good reason to be listening to Tori Amos. Try ABBA instead. Your happiness-o-meter will go up exponentially.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Things I know for sure

If possible, be kind. It is always possible. I picked up this little chestnut from your friend and mine, the Dalai Lama. I figure if you can still be spouting off positivity like that after you've lost everything and your country's been stolen, maybe I can let the Cavalier pull in front of me without leaning on the horn like a psychopath.

Don't carry a balance on your credit card. The bank does not love you. They do not recognize you as a valued customer. They only raise your credit limit when you're getting close to it because they want you to carry a balance from month to month. Likewise with balance transfers. Interest charges are how they make a lot of money on you.

Beverley Hills Chihuahua isn't as good as the trailer makes it look. Surprise. Despite what you might think, there are no singing and dancing chihuahuas on the steps of Chichen Itza anywhere in the movie.

No matter how many times you go over it, you can't change the past. I know it's tempting to re-live the hurts of the past -- the thing you should have said, the thing that should have been said to you -- but truth is you can't change it. No matter how many times you go over the same scenario in your head, it'll work out the same way.

Happiness is an inside job. No one can give you what you don't already have.

You'll always run into your ex when you're having a bad hair day. It's one of the ways the universe helps us not take ourselves too seriously. You can help your case by promptly throwing out underwear with bad elastics, and not wearing anything that an entire other person could fit in with you.

Friday, November 7, 2008

I heart my mortgage broker

I'd like to personally thank my mortgage broker for talking me into a variable rate mortgage.

My cautious and risk averse nature made me a natural for the fixed rate mortgage. If I'd listened to my fears, I'd be paying nearly 6% now.

Instead, my current interest rate is 3.1%. That's right. 3.1%!

I'm thinking of canceling the depressing, world-is-going-to-hell-in-a-handcart, nay-saying newspaper and pumping the extra money into my mortgage.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Happy Birthday to Me

Today is my birthday.

Thank God for Facebook. It's turned everyone's birthday into a giant love-in. You need never feel forgotten or unloved again.

Anyway, here are my wishes on my birthday.

1) That I will always remember what a great and wonderful life we are given to play with. That I won't needlessly create problems for myself. That I will choose happiness and serenity over offense and discord. That I'll just relax and enjoy the ride.

2) There's a place for doing good work but work, too, can become an addiction. I wish for balance in all things.

3) That the Yes We Can attitude sticks around for a bit. What a relief it is to feel like the world as we know it is has substituted fear and isolation for openness and possibility.

4) That I remember that it's more important to love well (and that includes loving myself) then to look for someone to love me.

5) That I remain healthy, happy, and at ease. And I wish this for everyone else, too.

6) That there are more great books to be read over the year. The geeky part of me is never happier than when I have a good book on the go.

7) That there are more vistas to explore and more countries to discover. Where next? Bhutan. Nepal. Tibet? Back to Australia.

8) That we have peace in our time. In honour of my birthday, I joined MSF's (Doctors without Borders) monthly giving program with a small monthly donation.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Yes we can!

Don't you love it when the good guys win?

I can't remember the last time I felt this positive about where the world was going.

God Bless Barack Obama for wanting what is clearly one of the biggest, toughest and most thankless jobs in the world. And for embracing it with pride and dignity. And God Bless the real John McCain, who conceded with more grace than I have seen in a politician in a long time.

One of the art directors I work with is one of those glass half empty kind of dudes. Always pointing out what can go wrong. Even he, on this fine history-making morning, came in to work with a smile on his face saying, "I don't know. I kinda believe change might be possible."

Wow. Talk about harnessing your wagon to a star.

With our thoughts we make our world.

And while Barack Obama was winning a victory in the US, there was a contest of another kind going on in a tiny little area of our city. An advertising awards show.

Many of my colleagues from throughout the city were there. And many of them -- talented folks, all -- walked away with some awfully pretty and shiny awards.

But there were two that I'm really happy about, that I share with my good friend and best partner, Barb.

We won for UNICEF in the not-for-profit category. But we also won something bigger -- Best of the Best. A real surprise.

Although Barb couldn't be there -- because she was sitting on a beach in Hawaii, no doubt listening to election results -- she'd be happy to know that I screamed like a school girl, held hands with the account director, and skipped to the stage to collect our award.

Anything is possible. For the children of the developing world. For me. For you. Yes we can.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

It's been the "white" house long enough.

In case you haven't heard, there's an election going on.

Our neighbours to the south are voting today. I don't think I've seen this much engagement from an electorate since the first full and free elections in South Africa. Hope they've got as many election monitors on the job, as well.

For your reading pleasure, I've excerpted one of the great speeches of all time. Free at last. Free at last. Thank God Almighty, we're free at last.


I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of "interposition" and "nullification" -- one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; "and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together."²

This is our hope, and this is the faith that I go back to the South with.

With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

And this will be the day -- this will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with new meaning:

My country 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing.

Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim's pride,

From every mountainside, let freedom ring!

And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.

And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.

Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.

Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.

Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.

But not only that:

Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi.

From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:

Free at last! Free at last!

Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!³

Monday, November 3, 2008

Rufus on this Monday Morning

There's no ambivalence with Rufus Wainwright. You either love him, or you cringe at the sound of his voice.

I love him. And I especially love this song: The Consort. Here are a few of the lyrics, along with a link to a shakily shot video of him performing it in concert.

Happy Monday. Be good to yourself, and each other.

Entrust in me
You're not alone
Even though my throne's slightly smaller than yours
Beautiful queen
Together we'll wreak havoc you and me
Together we'll wreak havoc you and me
Together we'll wreak havoc you

Prepare your things
Dissolve your mind
'cause I'm your consort beautiful queen
Of seventeen

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Favourite Aunts

The children's hospital that I do work for acknowledges a particular marketing segment called "favourite aunts".

These are women who don't have children of their own, but are deeply invested in other people's children. These are the people who take their Lean Cusines and disposable income and shop at Baby Gap. The baby's Mother, on the other hand, usually shops at WalMart.

I get favourite aunts because I am one.

My pseudo-baby is nicknamed Bub, and we spent a glorious Hallowe'en together.

Bub is a little over two and a half years old and she has a barrel full of personality and a shocking head of wildly curly hair. She seems to be learning about 100 new words every a day.

Her parents won the lottery with her. You couldn't design a better kid.

After a tense week, there's nothing better than arriving at a place and having an energetic toddler squeal and come running towards you with her arms uplifted. Nothing better.

So we took Bub out trick or treating for the first time.

Her parents live in a spirited neighbourhood -- no pun intended -- where every house competes to outspook the next.

There were front yards transformed into graveyards, a neighbour who'd hauled his electric piano out on to the front porch and was playing a decent version of Tubular Bells, and one house in which all the occupants were dressed up as characters from horror movies -- complete with a smoke and light show and a chainsaw (minus the chain).

It was a little overwhelming for a little Bub.

But it wasn't getting candy that impressed Bub. It was the giving that really tickled her fancy.

While somewhat shy and reserved as we went door to door, she turned into a carnival barker when we got back to their house.

She pulled her tiny chair on to the front porch and started screaming, "We have candy," at the top of her lungs.

The other kids came running. Dozens of princesses, a Ginny Weasley, a baby chicken and my favourite: a kid dressed like Bacon.

Dressed in her Curious George costume, Bub made monkey noises as she dished mini chocolate bars into waiting bags.

Later, as we all ate dinner, she fell asleep in her high chair. It's exhausting to have that much fun.

As I left on Friday night, I turned to her parents and said, "Thanks."

"What for?" her Mother said.

"For having Bub," I said.