by Andy Capp
The first thing I noticed as I pulled up to my apartment building was a man trying to dodge the raindrops. He was running…no, that’s not right. It was more of a trot, head down, shoulders hunched up, arms limply swaying in the breeze his shuffle made. As a child I imagined Chicken Little hustling along the same way, and it struck me as funny because the sky was far from falling at that moment either. It wasn’t a downpour by any means, even sprinkle would be too strong a word. I started laughing. I couldn’t help myself. It was one of those moments when the silliest thing just set me off. I was hysterical, holding my side, tears streaming down my face hysterical. I laughed so hard and for so long that I missed my chance to run to the building myself before the really hard rain began to fall.
It happened on the first day of the second week after my downsizing. For the first time in my life I had a chance to consider the ripple effect of a strike first hand. GM and the union disagree during contract negotiations at a plant, and the union goes on strike. The workers walk off the job and the parts that plant makes are no longer available to other plants, and they are forced to shut down (if they haven’t already shut down in sympathy of the strike). New car and trucks aren’t made, and the available inventory for the dealerships dwindles. That’s when the ripple turned wave crashes onto my little corner of the beach. With no cars or trucks to sell, there’s nothing to advertise. Nichols Media is one of the seven key agencies for GMC/Pontiac in the country. The hit was large. I was among the last in, so I was one among the first to go. There were no hard feelings. I certainly understood the situation. Now here was my situation. I learned all about the grave economics of a strike, and for the first time in my professional life, I found myself jobless.
Now a few words that quit being encouraging the more you hear them/the longer you’re unemployed:
“A talented person like you?! Somebody will grab you up in an instant!”
“ Things always have a way of working out for the best!”
“This just means something better is coming!!”
It’s not that I don’t appreciate my friends and family or their concern. It’s not that I’m feeling bitter or sorry for myself (much). And it’s not that I don’t deep down honestly believe the words and the truths they contain; I know I’ve said them to others myself over the years. The real fear is that my Muse is about to become homeless.
I took my creative freedom for granted when I worked in radio. I might have growled about it from time to time, but there was something so satisfying about taking a last minute production order and turning it into a truly creative piece of audio, on occasion even an award winning one. No idea was too crazy, no notion too “out there.” Whatever came to mind, I wrote it and produced it, and it hit the air (okay, 97% of the time. There’s no accounting for the taste of the 3%).
Then, I thought the time had come to grow and join the “real world of advertising,” and that’s when I joined Nichols and found out the hard truth. In the world of regional car advertising, there were rules and submissions and committees, and I started feeling a bit shackled. I thought of it all as growing pains, and took what comfort I could in still sneaking my wacky notions past the establishment. My Muse still had a home, it just couldn’t dance around the place in its underwear. Now, it doesn’t even have a place to dance.
I need to stay here, for my kids, for my relationship with them. That’s the personal commitment. So what are my professional options? As I write this, there doesn’t seem to be a place “back home,” at KELO. There are other agencies in town, and perhaps there will be something there. But more and more it’s looking as though I may have to get a “real job, ” a job that has nothing to do with the skills and talents I’ve developed and have grown to be passionate about over the years. Yes, it could even be something better, money wise. But how do I tell my Muse that we are parting company, that it has to fend for itself?
The funny thing is, my Muse must be sensing it, and has been working overtime, keeping me awake nights, filling my head with creative ideas for commercials that may never be, frantically scribbling words on my minds note pad for all the goofy voices it knows I do. It screams the words at me again and again. “Go out on your own! Start your own audio production company, for real! You’ve always wanted to; here’s your chance!” It knows what I want. It wants me to forget that I need to survive until the work starts coming in.
The words of Green Day’s song underscore the moment. “Another turning point, a fork stuck in the road.” Maybe I can find a way for us both…a job that pays the bills, but still gives me time to make the dream happen. In an ironic turn of events, the most creative option may be to do something that’s not creative at all.
The rain is still coming down, hard. It shows no sign of stopping. Fighting the urge to look over my shoulder, I open the door and walk, head held high, into the deluge.