the cutest turned-up nose, a friendly clear smile, and blue jeans that
fit her so, well, nicely. With nineteen years and surging hormones
under my belt, I had a major crush on the young woman in my college German
class. After months of longing and with a bad case of the jitters, I one
day maneuvered myself into walking her to her next class. After we reviewed
the latest meteorological data, I asked what her major was. “Business,”
she said. “Wow,” I complimented her: “you’ve got to be smart to get into
It was true. Enrollment was packed in the business school; admissions were competitive. I knew also that students had to declare an emphasis within the business major, such as accounting or management. With my heart pounding in close proximity to her pretty face and cute cotton blouse, I managed to act suave and cool as I asked what her emphasis was within the business program. “Marketing,” she told me, with some excitement. “Oh,” I replied spontaneously, “what is it that you want to market?” “I don’t know,” she shrugged, “I just want to go into marketing.” Then she said goodbye and went to her class.
I wandered away with an odd mix of disappointment and the exhilaration of new freedom, as the weight of infatuation was instantly lifted from my shoulders. She just didn’t seem to have the reflective and philosophical nature that turned me on then, and that still turns me on today.
I wonder if it would have made a difference to her if she had been marketing solar panels or well-made wheelchairs, versus marketing machine guns to the Indonesian generals who with the blessings of Henry Kissinger were slaughtering thousands of East Timorese people at the time. I hope that would have made a difference to her, but I never did find out.
Hearing about “marketing” reminded me of my high school job as a box-boy in Albertson’s supermarket. During my stint in the grocery business, disposable diapers were introduced and marketed to the American public in a big way. The dominant brand was Pampers. Massive shelf space was suddenly devoted to this new product, and thousands of disposable diapers immediately started flying through the checkstands en route to baby’s bottom, trash, and landfill. I saw the power of marketing.
In the aftermath of September 11, we Americans have been told not that we need to sacrifice something for our country, but that we should go shopping, to “stimulate the economy.” A friend of mine observed that this idea is probably being greeted with considerable scorn in those parts of the world where people have virtually nothing.
Beyond a certain crucial level of basic human needs for clothing, shelter, food, and water, I don’t think there’s much correlation between material possessions and happiness. I’ve seen the happy rich, the unhappy rich; the happy poor, the unhappy poor. Happiness comes from someplace else altogether. But a lot of marketing hinges on the implied claim that if only we buy this or that new possession, then we’ll find true contentment. Marketing thus fans the flames of a consumer society that’s burning up the earth.
Perhaps handicapped by such thoughts, I’m now practicing sales and marketing myself--it must be my karma. But I have a product that I deeply believe in, my new book--In the Clear: A Worldview in Essays.
In my head I carry some “limiting ideas” about sales work, ideas that I need to abandon or overcome. Unless you put me in a group of disabled people (where I feel totally comfortable and become Mr. Social), I see myself as quiet and shy. Tooting my own horn or elbowing my way into another person’s day seem like inconsiderate acts--acts of which Miss Manners would never approve. But it seems like those acts are required in sales and marketing. That makes it hard to move forward, but standing still isn’t much fun either. Moving beyond one’s “comfort zone” is never easy, but it’s usually worth it. Tiny accomplishments can feel like Himalayan peaks successfully scaled.
Anyway, the book came out beautifully. The cover is gorgeous, thanks to some talented friends of mine. The content ranges from the life cycle of bumblebees and dying at home with hospice care, to high school football, medical insurance, Mad Cow Disease, and the World Trade Organization. During the work, the book took on a life of its own and grew into a cohesive whole that is much more than a simple collection of my articles.
A friend in the book business tells me that major publishers have in the past decade steadily reduced the variety of titles that they offer. This is undoubtedly cost-effective for those publishers, but current economics thus pushes for the homogenization of American thought. Local books and self-published books may prove to be crucial for a vibrant and reflective culture.
In the Clear is a good one! Get out to Blake’s Books, to Northtown Books, or to the Booklegger, and pick up a copy! Support independent local bookstores, tell a friend, and help me give this book the jump-start that it needs. Thank you!
Click on the book cover for a preview of it's contents and ordering information:
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