Category Archives: Musings

the [cross]road ahead

Is this worth it? I could do hot yoga. I could go to a normal gym. I hear Piloxing is a thing. My ponytail is a mess. Good lord, even my hair follicles are sore. Maybe it’s time for something different.

I hit the floor for yet another burpee during today’s WOD (for the uninitiated: workout of the day). If I were to stretch my arms wide and wiggle, I’m fairly certain that I could create a shadow angel out of my own sweat. I push up, halfheartedly clap my hands above my head, repeat, repeat, repeat … I’m tired, and I just want to get this done.

It wasn’t always this way. I fell in love with CrossFit fast and hard, the way I imagine all cultists do when they find their raison d’être. I’ve never developed runner’s high (I find little joy in forcefully separating my shinbones from their tendons), but I regularly experience the CrossFit delirium. An intoxicating cocktail of Olympic weightlifting, high intensity interval training, and metabolic conditioning, CrossFit demands a lot of its devotees. That said, it’s also a hell of a lot of fun. With its climbing ropes and rows of colorful medicine balls stacked like candy buttons, my box is essentially a jungle gym for big kids.

But what happens to the little girl who, after one too many falls from the monkey bars, becomes disenchanted with the jungle?

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In answering this question of disenchantment, I find myself comparing the personal and professional, one not-quite-new-anymore experience to another. I joined CrossFit nine months ago; I began work at Riggs Partners shortly thereafter. Although the challenges are different—writing perfectly crisp copy is hardly equivalent to a series of hanging squat cleans—postgraduate life and gym-goer ennui make interesting bedfellows.

My first few months at Riggs were nothing short of wonderful, albeit occasionally overwhelming. Every week, I grappled with a distinctive new challenge, a new learning opportunity, a new means of stretching my creative abilities. By contrast, the last few days have blurred together, one round of client edits into the next conference call into the next staring contest with a blinking cursor on a white page. I’ve begun wondering if I’ve finally settled into a certain rhythm and familiarity with the work, or if I’ve just settled. The writing comes more easily now than it did in January. But is it better? Have I embraced my most recent projects with the same intensity and curiosity that characterized my approach to earlier assignments? Has getting it done taken precedent over doing it well? Is comfortable synonymous with complacent? I don’t know, exactly.

What I do know is that some projects, much like some workouts, are more challenging than others. I know that sophomore slumps are real. And I know that meaningful self-evaluation is a necessary exercise in jumping this most recent hurdle. Perhaps the way to achieve something different is to forge our own gauntlet, to challenge ourselves to meet a higher standard. Perhaps we’re complacent only when we stop asking questions.

Disenchantment, then, is a misnomer: in freeing ourselves from the illusion of the new and exciting, we reach a place of greater honesty and a better vantage point from which to view the playground. We’re a little smarter, a little more experienced, and our eyes are open to the magic in the everyday.

So, here’s to disenchantment. And magical storytelling. And sweat angels. Here’s to the projects that are worth it.

How One Brand Ignited A Spanish Revolution

I have just returned from a life list vacation. Four days in Barcelona, four days in Madrid, four days in Valencia. I was overwhelmed with the immersion in history a trip like that provides; it’s simply impossible to wrap your head around tour-guide comments like during the Roman Empire and in the 8th century, after the Moor conquest. And yet history was there, in crumbling city walls and decaying columns and guarding gargoyles of every attitude and style. It was there—not a homework paragraph in a World History book, but carved in stones you could reach out and touch, rubbing your hands along the ancient surfaces.

 

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one of a thousand streets in the ancient city of Barcelona

 

There is this aged history you see and feel and know in all three of the cities we visited. What I found surprising—and, quite frankly jarring—is the contrast between this history and a distinctly 20th century art form wildly prolific there.

 

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Graffiti. Graffiti is everywhere. Graffiti is so profuse in these cities and along the rails as you travel by train it overwhelms the senses and seems to somehow leave Spain’s remarkable beauty in shadow.

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When I first arrived in Barcelona, I made my way through the city thinking:  Obviously the Spanish embrace graffiti as art. What a great example of the wonderful, easy-going European attitude! But it didn’t take long until a growing irritation began to color my thoughts.

How on earth did they let it go this far?

 

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Here’s what I have learned.

  • In Spain, graffiti is illegal and considered vandalism.
  • The graffiti movement is a counter-cultural revolution that began in the first years of Spain’s transition from a dictatorship to a democracy during the early 80s. According to Skate and Urban Street Culture Barcelona, “Young people began to write their names everywhere, on walls in the street, in the metro, wherever. The materials they used were from a view of nowadays rather rudimentary. Among them were ‘Edding’ felt-tips, shoe polishes and paint sprays. Also they made their own utensils, adapting for example pens with a wider tip using gasoline burners to create this effect or they prepared the nozzles of the sprays to achieve a wider marking style. During this time it was more common to steal the equipment from big warehouses, car shops or stationers. Today there are still some artists remaining that practice this kind of style.”
  • “The art form changed” in 1994 when a new type of paint spray can was developed specifically for graffiti writers and introduced by a company called Montana Colors.

According to the Montana Colors website:

In the early ’90s, graffiti was considered, by all of the American and European spray paint companies, to merely be an act of vandalism. It was of no interest to any of the companies, because it wasn’t yet considered to be profitable. At that time, the discovery of this passionate cultural revolution was what propelled the founders of Montana Colors to lay the groundwork for the creation of the first spray paint made especially for graffiti and, in that way, fill that hole in the market.

Today, Montana Colors is a major brand. Again from the website:

All brands have a path and a record in history, as well as an appellation of origin which guarantees its authenticity. Ours began 18 years ago in Barcelona, at a time when, after the launch of our first spray product, the word spread across Europe, and writers and artists from France, Germany, Switzerland, and Italy began to arrive to fill their car trunks with Montana and bring it back to their countries. From that moment up until now, the Montana Colors brand has expanded to a presence in more than 30 countries in the world and to 15 official points of sale: Montana Shop & Gallery, in cities such as Barcelona, Madrid, Valencia, Seville, Montpellier, Brussels, Amsterdam, Nottingham, Lisbon, Montreal, Tokyo, Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro, and San Paulo.

The root of the proliferation of graffiti in these ancient Spanish cities comes down to two things: (1) personal statements of rebellion and independence following a dictatorship, and (2) the introduction of a product that “filled a hole in the market.”

And if that’s not a statement about the cultural power of branding, I don’t know what is.

Sold by the box.

I honestly lost count. Fifteen? Maybe twenty. But cut me a break — I mean there was fit, color, style, function, price, and retailer. Let’s not even get into brand. Hunting a new pair of dress oxfords was hardly my idea of fun.

But one pair got me. Upon trial, they certainly seemed closer to right than any of the others. That helped. The thing is, it wasn’t the only reason I swiped my card.

At the bottom of the shoebox laid a manifesto. My feet were busy thinking, so I took a moment to read it.

In those few seconds, I forgot my feet, and I forgot shoes. My imagination flipped on, and my head went to another place, to another thought, to another feeling. No other pair had encouraged such departure. With each previous, my focus remained fastened to the shoe from lace-up to “no thanks”.

Without that little head-trip, would I have purchased on product alone? Maybe so. But the imaginative journey undoubtedly facilitated a simpler, quicker, and more confident decision to buy.

Is your marketing escorting imaginations or blocking them? Here’s what I know. The product I bought shared similar features to a lot of products I denied. Only the product I bought sparked a vision.

Meet the Interrobang

One of the greatest aspects of being a writer is the creative latitude you magically attain when you receive your writing license in the mail (<- see?). In all seriousness, what’s appealing about writing is the fluidity of the English language.

Each year more words are added to dictionaries and it’s often a big news occasion. So while some unfortunate words are emblazoned on the vernacular until eternity (I cannot bear to link to twerk), we get useful new ones like hackable, food coma and protoplanet.

Punctuation even gets a little jolt every now and again, too. Ever heard of an interrobang? You mean you haven’t?! An interrobang is just perfect for those applications that call for a question mark but also demand the emphasis of an exclamation point. Thus, interrobang.

In the olden days of typesetting, some type families contained a unique glyph: the two different marks superimposed upon each other. Today, we just type them out side by side and I kinda dig it in the proper application.

What do you mean there’s no bacon left?!

Why haven’t you sponsored our bowling team yet?!

When is use of the font Papyrus ever okay?!

One of the most enjoyable things about writing is the vastness of your available canvas. It’s an endlessness that permeates the profession from finished product to tools to medium.

Language is in a constant state of evolution. How cool is that?!

Simply Brilliant: theSkimm

With so much information flying around, it pays to communicate clearly and simply—whatever your forum. For my money, nobody does it better than theSkimm.

Founded by NBC staffers Carly Zakin and Danielle Weisberg, theSkimm is a daily e-digest of the world’s most important news stories, offered in bite-size, easy-to-digest chunks. The subscription base is largely “busy women who want to keep up on current events and cocktail party conversation but who are short on time,” although I suspect a broad male readership exists.

Here is how theSkimm covered the situation in Ukraine today:

Sign up for theSkimm here. Or at a minimum, let theSkimm’s straightforward writing style inspire your next piece of communication.

Your customers will thank you.