Monday, May 31, 2010

memories of mothering before it was a verb

Work has always been important to me. Here I am at age three, helping my mother and grandmother do dishes. We are also packing provisions for a road trip. See slices of white bread already mayonaisse-d, on wax paper? My dad's parents lived in Atlanta and my parents, sister and I had driven to visit them from Oak Ridge, Tennessee. That trip, and the one to my mother's folks in Chicago were the only vacations my parents indulged in for years. We never stopped along the way, to "squander money" at roadside restaurants. My mother packed whatever we needed in a cooler. If we were making good time, we'd stop at a rest area where my mother would shake out a freshly ironed floral cloth to cover a picnic table. More often, we'd make do with meals in the barreling car, even though this inevitably meant one of us kids would get carsick, which my engineer father considered a small price to pay for making good time.

I'm struck by how dressed up my mom and grandma are to do housework. Perhaps it was a Sunday and we'd been to church that morning. But I recall my mother looking well groomed just about every day, even when there were eight of us kids to take care of. I get tired just thinking about how much work that must have been: finding stockings that matched (no pantyhose then), making sure seams were straight, pulling on heavy foundations, ironing dresses, even aprons. (Not much was dry cleaned. My mother ironed even my father's shirts.)

Dress-wise, my mother had a lot in common with Betty Draper which I guess is one reason I chose to play that character on Twitter. But the resemblance stopped at appearance, luckily for me and my siblings. (Although I do recall hearing that "Only boring people are bored.") She liked to keep up with fashions, but didn't want to shell out for department store prices. She sewed her own clothes and ours. She took us on shopping trips in which we wouldn't buy anything; they were scouting trips for latest trends. I recall a few bouts of embarrassment when she'd pull out a tape measure and surreptitiously place it against outfits on mannequins. But I was always pleased to put on a perfectly fitted new dress with smart buttons and stylish collar. She still dresses well, though she doesn't sew anymore. She keeps a figure that can fit into petites at Talbots.

Unlike Betty, my mother enjoyed being a stay at home mom. She'd gone to Chicago Teacher's College because she liked working with children. But she was always encouraging of my sisters and me to pursue passions that would lead to other kinds of work, too.

My mother and many of her generation wouldn't call themselves feminists. But their quiet work and steady support gave their daughters confidence to claim a stake in the workplace. And paved the way for their granddaughters to consider that stake an inalienable right. This Memorial Day, I'd like to acknowledge them.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

my father's day, and mine on The3Six5 project

Thanks to Len Kendall and friends for giving me a page in The3Six5, their remarkable crowd-sourced diary. I wrote a tribute to my father, a pioneer of computers, who is as sharp today as he was fiddling with the console of a house-size computer. And to his son, my brother, who shared our dad's passion for how things worked. It's here, preceded by 148 interesting stories. Enjoy.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Day #149 of The3Six5 project

What if your blog had a lifecycle, say, of exactly one year? And what if you got others to write it for you? 365 different writers, one for each day? At the end, you'd have a fascinating collage, a snapshot of a year reflecting ranging perspectives. This is the brainchild of Len Kendall and Daniel Honigman who launched The3Six5 Project on January 1. It's a crowd-sourced diary that has already generated attention from press and blogs and an approach from a publisher. So far, they've compiled a wealth of interesting pieces. Bob Knorpp (The Beancast) shared a moving story about what it's like to have lost a hand. Bill Green (AdVerve) posted an eerie photo of a TV on a sidewalk and speculated about a world without Super Bowl Sunday. George Parker (AdScam) recalled (without nary a cuss) his life as a Mad Man when talk was face-to-face and people left offices behind when they went on vacation. Ann Curry, Edward Boches, Alex Bogusky and a great host of others are lined up for later. (Calendar here.) I'm honored to be included. Today is my day. 365 words. 9 PM deadline. Topic suggestions welcome.

Friday, May 28, 2010

the business world is no place for ladies

I took my millennial daughter to the Clio Awards last night, which was a splendid affair. Non-recessionary menu (quail eggs and tartar), flowing bar, great work, fun crowd. She still can't get over having been in the same room with Pharrell Williams. But, perhaps because I was seeing things through her eyes, I couldn't help noting how lopsided the awards acceptances were. Virtually all who took the stage to receive them were men. What bothered me more than this was--my daughter didn't notice.

How acclimated we all are to the role of women applauding others. Barbara Lippert (Adweek) and Penny Baldwin (Yahoo) did a swell job presenting well-deserved Lifetime Achievement Awards to Rich Silverstein and Jeff Goodby. But only two women were lauded as winners themselves. The first approached the stage accompanied by a male teammate. She hung in the shadows as he delivered a few words, then he gestured for her step up to the mic. But she was as hesitant to comply as if he'd asked her to give it a blow job. She kept her distance, leaned forward and said only, "Thank you." Later, another woman was honored, but instead of accepting her due, she apologized for it. "I don't want to take up your time. Enjoy your evening," she said, hurrying away.

It's true that the world isn't fair, that the playing field is tilted, that the world's default setting still seems to be Male. Clio jury committees average 9 men to 1 woman. But women tend to worsen the odds by refusing to get comfortable with putting themselves forward. By adhering to vestigial mandates to act like a "lady."

In the lobby, while waiting for the awards ceremony to begin, I met a young guy who'd flown in from Stockholm. "Guess that means you've won something," I said. "A Silver," he nodded. "But I feel a bit sad. They won't let me on stage to accept it." Unfortunately for him, there were too many Clios and not enough time to publicly award them. I asked to take his picture and said I would blog him. His name is Carl Jannerfeldt. He was a copywriter at now-defunct Farfar. He and his team won for building the World's Biggest Signpost. And because he was forthright about his achievement, I know about him and now so do you.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

there's more to Clios than statuettes

The Clios aren't only about awards, they're also a two day conference that connects you to insights from movers and thinkers in advertising and digital space. Like Cindy Gallop, former chairperson of BBH, who, after getting audience attention by pulling a jewel-encrusted sex toy out of her bag, leaned into the audience and challenged, "I say this without rancor. But, Guys: Just think: what would it be like to live in a world where the default setting was always for the opposite sex?" (Audience: silence.) In less confrontational but equally interesting presos, Sam Cannon (Organic) and Tom Christmann (JWT) mused on how innovation influences pop culture while Faris Yakob (MDC), Benjamin Palmer (Barbarian) and Michael Lebowitz (Big Spaceship) shared the coolest stuff they've seen on the interwebz. Faris' complete collection here. My favorite is the Towel-Folding Robot, below. One mantra from the morning was Lebowitz's "Failure is cool because it means you've tried something" which I shared at dinner with my millennial daughter who promptly looked up from her vegan plate to declare "That's what they used to tell us in preschool."

Oh, yes! The awards. Last night's ceremony was for Print and TV/Cinema/Digital. Congrats to the winners, listed here. Panels continue today at sleek, just-opened Trump Soho. Tonight, Interactive and Innovative awarded at nearby Skylight Soho.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

there goes the manicure

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

end of an Empire

On my way to a benefit last night in Chelsea , I happened by the Empire Diner and was distraught to see a closed sign in the window. The Empire Diner! Another icon of Olde New York Dinery gone. Lost its lease, said its blog. (Yes, it had a blog! But social media savvy doesn't always pay the rent, as many are dismayed to learn.) For thirty years, the Empire's chrome and black interior, marquee lights, flashing "EAT" sign and stainless Empire State building silhouette presided over the corner of 22nd and 10th, a landmark in pre-Rennaissance Chelsea before machine shops, gas stations and auto parts stores morphed into art galleries tony enough to be event sites for benefits. Will the historic eatery turn up in another time zone, as did the nearby Cheyenne (now in Alabama) or Soho's Moondance (Wyoming)? Surely New Yorkers aren't the only diners capable of properly appreciating Empire Chili Sundae. Until then, memorial T-Shirts are available.

Monday, May 17, 2010

work that sustains

We all have work, if we're lucky. But for most of us, work doesn't require rolling out of bed before dawn seven days a week to toil outside in all kinds of weather. And fretting about weather because, if not correctly predicted, it could wipe out months, even years worth of effort.

My great uncle was a farmer. Patriarch of a smalltown Illinois corn-growing family, who inculcated in my father respect for hard work and knowing how to drive as soon as your feet could touch pedals. Was it the fresh air? The farm food? The potent homemade moonshine? My uncle lived to be 104, outliving his 102 year old wife by two years. When I went to pay my respects last week, I saw, next to him in the coffin, two husks of his cross-bred specialty corn. How many of us do work we'd want to take with us?