The Saturday Read – ‘Sweetbitter’ by Stephanie Danler

Who will you become? That’s the question we should ask when we consider a new job, but often the promise of a new opportunity obscures the answer until we find ourselves caught in the rip tide of the unconsidered.

The Saturday Read this week is ‘Sweetbitter’, a novel by Stephanie Danler perfectly captures what it’s like to be 22, taking your first job in New York City.

“Let’s say I was born in late June of 2006 when I came over the George Washington Bridge at seven a.m. with the sun circulating and dawning, the sky full of sharp corners of light, before the exhaust rose, before the heat gridlocked in, windows unrolled, radio turned up to some impossibly hopeful pop song, open, open, open.”

There it is. That moment when we shed one identity and begin to sculpt the new. This is the magic of the author’s prose; transforming the familiar.

Set to debut as a six-part STARZ series on May 6, I encourage you to snag a copy and read this book while imagination is still your own and small screen images can’t get in the way of literary transport.

“…nobody remembers what it feels like to be so recklessly absorbent.
When you can’t see in front of you life is nothing but surprises. Looking back, there were truly so few of them.”

I’m not sure why we rely on non-fiction to inform our knowledge of life@work. Best seller lists are full of management philosophy exuding from ivy covered walls and concrete corporate towers. But it’s the fiction writers who add a touch of imagination and humanity to the workplace, who are the true management gurus.

“I don’t know what it is exactly, being a server. It’s a job, certainly, but not exclusively. There’s a transparency to it, an occupation stripped of the usual ambitions. One doesn’t move up or down. One waits. You are a waiter.”

‘Sweetbitter’ is a book about work and the communities we build around us to manage the connection between self and the enormity of place, in this case, New York City. It’s about expectations colliding with reality in a spot where following your dream invites on-going comparison to an alternate career path.

“We called them the Nine-to-Fivers. They lived in accordance with nature, waking and sleeping with the cycle of the sun. Mealtimes, business hours, the world conformed to their schedule. They were dining, shopping, consuming, unwinding, expanding while we were working, diminishing, being absorbed into their scenery.”

On the last night of her paperback book tour last June, the author read from the novel and shared her own career narrative with a group of readers at independent bookstore, Pages in Manhattan Beach, California.

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She alluded to similarities with her main character, Tess, and her early career working as a waitress in Seal Beach and later in NY at the Union Square Cafe. “At age 22 you are in the stream of experience, nothing is premeditated; autonomy without consequences. After six months at the Union Square Cafe I was no longer a writer.”

She pursued a successful path in the restaurant industry until she was confronted with “a hinge moment – the crushing feeling in your chest” when you realize your current commitment @work is delaying your dream job.

She applied to graduate school, went back to serving tables, took notes and spent 12 hours on Tuesdays creating a manuscript – ‘Sweetbitter’.

“That is the story of how I stopped waiting tables.”

One more thing, Stephanie Danler is obsessive about poetry. And that’s the strongest argument to read the novel before viewing the series. The book is beautifully written, in one instance transforming the cacophony of random dinner conversation into a poem.

If you’ve ever been a server, this book may stir a memory or two. A restaurant is where many of us started out, absorbing and ignoring life lessons on the fly. It was our workplace and Ms. Danler was one of us.

 

 

 

 

Can we apply the architecture of March Madness to job search?

Let’s say you’re totally undecided (confused, terrified, ambivalent) about your next career move. All you know is you’re not happy with your current options. Where do you begin?

Try categorizing your interests using the bracket system. Instead of four regions, fill in four career fields that might interest you. Next, identify sixteen possible employers in each field. Once you have your potential employer roster identified, begin your research.

This may be a good time to develop a parallel list of contacts: a bracket representing your network. Use the same four career categories and identify folks who have broad expertise in the profession. In this ‘exploration’ phase you are aggregating data about industry trends, market leaders, and potential for growth.

As you progress with your data gathering, you will begin to eliminate some organizations in favor of others. Once you get to your ‘elite eight’ employers, schedule your in-depth information interviews.

As you talk to people you will begin to establish a realistic assessment of ‘organization fit’, and evaluate your chances for success.

The ‘elite eight’ forms your target list. By the time you have narrowed your selection to eight, you should feel comfortable that each employer presents a realistic starting point in the next phase your career.

As with any selection process, you don’t have total control. The employer extends the offer and you have the choice to accept or continue to pursue other options.

Add a little ‘March Madness’ to your job search, and some fun to a typically stressful routine.

A new definition of success for the ‘gig economy’

How do we find meaning@work, when work is a 24/7 hustle? An article in the March/April issue of the Harvard Business Review offers some answers. ‘Thriving in a Gig Economy’ builds on research published by McKinsey in October, adding results of interviews with 65 gig workers.

As more folks opt for independence@work, new models emerge beyond the stereotype of ride-hailing service employee. The McKinsey survey of 8,000 respondents across Europe and the US found “up to 162 million people in Europe and the United States—or 20 to 30 percent of the working-age population—engage in some form of independent work.” This is no longer a trend, but a significant employment sector, attracting new members daily out of choice or necessity.

Authors of the HBR article: Gianpiero Petriglieri, Susan J. Ashford and Amy Wrzesniewski discovered commonalities among those who chose the ‘gig life’.

“We found remarkably similar sentiments across generations and occupations: All those we studied acknowledged that they felt a host of personal, social, and economic anxieties without the cover and support of a traditional employer—but they also claimed that their independence was a choice and that they would not give up the benefits that came with it. Although they worried about unpredictable schedules and finances, they also felt they had mustered more courage and were leading richer lives than their corporate counterparts.”

Ownership is the shared value of gig workers, productivity the measurement, uncertainty the trade-off, and work identity – it’s continually evolving.

“…the price of such freedom is a precariousness that seems not to subside over time. Even the most successful, well-established people we interviewed still worry about money and reputation and sometimes feel that their identity is at stake.”

What does success look like in this new workplace?

“Our conclusion is that people in the gig economy must pursue a different kind of success—one that comes from finding a balance between predictability and possibility, between viability (the promise of continued work) and vitality (feeling present, authentic, and alive in one’s work). Those we interviewed do so by building holding environments around place, routines, purpose, and people, which help them sustain productivity, endure their anxieties, and even turn those feelings into sources of creativity and growth. “There’s a sense of confidence that comes from a career as a self-employed person,” one consultant told us. “You can feel that no matter how bad it gets, I can overcome this. I can change it. I can operate more from a place of choice as opposed to a place of need.”

 

 

 

 

 

The Saturday Read ‘Sourdough’ by Robin Sloan

Before the migration of the nerds, San Francisco was famous for its’ bread, sourdough bread, dating back to the time of the gold rush. Food and a magical ‘sourdough starter’ serves as the career catalyst for Lois Clary, software programmer and heroine in The Saturday Read this week: ‘Sourdough’ by Robin Sloan. 

This is a novel about work; how we find it and what we become. It’s the story of ‘career’ in the twenty-first century when success in Silicon Valley is defined by levels of exhaustion and the unexpected ‘side hustle’ offers a promise of something better.

Lois is working at Crowley Control Systems in Michigan when she is recruited from her “stubby LinkedIn profile”.

“Here’s a thing I believe about people my age: we are children of Hogwarts, and more than anything, we just want to be sorted.”

And so it begins, as a cautionary tale for those who transfer ownership of career choice to the great algorithm in the sky, relocate to an alternate universe and join the tribe of the “Dextrous’ (employees of robotic firm, General Dexterity).

“We are on a mission to remake the conditions of human labor, so push harder, all of you.”

“In the months that followed, I had the sense of some vital resource dwindling, and I tried to ignore it. My colleagues had been toiling at this pace for three years without a pause, and I was already flagging after a single San Francisco summer? I was supposed to be one of the fresh-faced ones.
My face was not fresh.
My hair had gone flat and thin.
My stomach hurt.
In my apartment on Cabrillo Street. I existed mostly in a state of catatonic recovery, brain flaccid, cells gasping. My parents were far away, locked in the frame of a video chat window. I didn’t have any friends in San Francisco aside from a handful of Dextrous, but they were just as traumatized as I was. My apartment was small and dark, and I paid too much for it, and the internet was slow.”

Sound familiar? Can you imagine a call for take-out might transform your life? Did you know there was a Lois Club? For Lois Clary, these human connections are career turning points.

“I needed a more interesting life.
I could start be learning something.
I could start with the starter.”

We follow Lois on her adventures ‘underground’ at the ‘Marrow Fair’, interacting with a diverse group of artisans, connecting the dots of technology and food, robots and recipes.

“At General Dexterity, I was contributing to an effort to make repetitive labor obsolete. After a trainer in the Task Acquisition Center taught an arm how to do something, the arms did it perfectly, forever. In other words, you solved a problem once, and then you moved on to more interesting things. Baking by contrast, was solving the same problem over and over again, I mean, really: chewed and digested. Thus, the problem was perhaps the point.”

The lesson for the rest of us? Get out there, build relationships, get a more interesting life, solve problems, like your work. (You don’t need a career guide, just a great novel – Sourdough)

Innovation and invention are everywhere.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A new question

On February 2, 2015 ‘Workthoughts’ joined the blogosphere with a question, Why work?

“As children we are open to any work possibility. We haven’t learned the value society places on work and workers. Our exploration of the world of work begins with the folks who keep us safe. We imagine ourselves as those fictional superheroes, donning capes and masks, scaling buildings to save the city or the planet from threat.

Throughout our years of formal education we gain additional information about work and workplace options. By the time we are in high school, our academic performance and test scores have segmented the class into college bound and not.

As we progress through education we acquire the biases of our community and culture, strongly influencing our choice of work.

We begin our careers as interns; apprentices excited about an opportunity to finally realize a long held dream. Along the way we translate that experience into a full time job and begin our careers acquiring skills and learning the culture of the organizations we join.

We become engaged in our communities, raise families and continue our education.

At some point the momentum of our career trajectory outruns our initial dreams and values, and it’s important to ask, why work?”

Other questions emerged over the past three years, but all seemed subsets of the original. This one, posed by writer Meghan Daum, captured the uncertainty of our current workplace moment: “How do we measure fulfillment in work and where do we find it when the traditional channels have given way to a round-the-clock hustle?”

This may be the defining ‘future of work’ career question.

To respond, we need new definitions of success, more inclusive portraits of achievement; focus on the work itself, not the consequences. There are new constructs, locations, timelines and contracts. Relationships and expectations @work are more fluid. Everything is changing.

“We get surprised in real life because we can’t know everything there is to know. For one thing, we’re stuck in our own heads, in a single point of view.” Jincy Willett

As we begin year four, @workthoughts will continue to share the surprises and examine life@work through the lens of current reporting, research, poetry and ‘The Saturday Read’.

 

 

 

 

 

Are we missing a mentoring moment?

Before we turn into our best imitation of dysfunctional men@work, can we catch a breath and consider that we are on the same side?

Earlier this week a young journalist posted an account of an alleged sexual assault involving a visible Hollywood actor on a women’s news and lifestyle site.

Immediately the lines were drawn. Apparently those lines categorize ‘second wave feminists’ vs. the emerging ‘fourth wave feminists’. (My hair is hurting just writing this.)

Bottom line, both men and women are concerned that the momentum of #MeToo and #TimesUp will collapse with a published fictional account of workplace harassment.

It may happen, someone will fabricate, and when they do, we’ll deal with it. But we’re not there.

Again. We’re on the same side. Each of us has a role to play in this; as a leader or a participant in achieving the goals of workplace equity and safety.

This morning I viewed video and print accounts of an escalation in a divisive argument between a cable news anchor and the author of the original sexual assault story.

My question: Are we missing a mentoring moment here?

If an experienced professional in any field recognizes the potential of the office ‘newbie’, it’s their responsibility to guide, support and challenge that individual to ensure they have the resources to contribute. And when they go ‘off script’, engage in a constructive conversation.

I believe the 22 year-old online writer has received more unsolicited feedback this week than ever before in her career. Many influential ‘second wave feminists’ have been both supportive and critical. Although painful, what an amazing moment in a career when your work gets this level of attention.

How does this scenario end?

Time for the mentors to step up and for the ‘newbie’ to listen. If it were me, I would make the call and invite the new kid on the block to lunch. And if I was the newcomer, I would put on my listening ears, soak up all the wisdom of the ‘second wave feminists’ and become the best voice I could be for ‘fourth wave feminism’.

We’re on the same side. This has to end well.

The week@work: smart people, perfectionists & the future of work

Have you ever worked for a person who’s an expert in one field and automatically believes that expertise extends to all other areas of competence? You know, the person who’s constantly reminding you where they went to college?

This past week@work, the first of the new year, stories ranged from the definition of genius, to a new study on millennials and perfectionism, and an analysis of the ‘real’ future of work.

James Fallows shared his experience with ‘How Actual Smart People Talk About Themselves’. The article was inspired by a series of tweets, but the message is one all of us can translate to our behavior@work.

“Here are three traits I would report from a long trail of meeting and interviewing people who by any reckoning are very intelligent.

They all know it. A lifetime of quietly comparing their ease in handling intellectual challenges—at the chess board, in the classroom, in the debating or writing arena—with the efforts of other people gave them the message.

Virtually none of them (need to) say it.

They know what they don’t know. This to me is the most consistent marker of real intelligence. The more acute someone’s ability to perceive and assess, the more likely that person is to recognize his or her limits. These include the unevenness of any one person’s talents; the specific areas of weakness—social awkwardness, musical tin ear, being stronger with numbers than with words, or vice versa; and the incomparable vastness of what any individual person can never know. To read books seriously is to be staggered by the knowledge of how many more books will remain beyond your ken. It’s like looking up at the star-filled sky.”

“The clearest mark of intelligence, even “genius,” is awareness of one’s limits and ignorance.”

One of those ‘smart people’, who traveled across the star-filled sky, Astronaut John Young, died this past week at the age of 87.

john-young-astronaut.jpg“Mr. Young joined NASA in the early years of manned spaceflight and was still flying, at age 53, in the era of space shuttles. He was the only astronaut to fly in the Gemini, Apollo and shuttle programs. He was also chief of NASA’s astronauts office for 13 years and a leading executive at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

When he was honored by the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum upon retiring from NASA in December 2004, after 42 years with the agency, Mr. Young played down his accomplishments. “Anybody could have done it,’’ he told The Orlando Sentinel. “You’ve just got to hang in there.”

I imagine being an astronaut requires a certain level of detail – being precise vs. being perfect. Kimberly Truong reports on a concerning trend for our workplace future, ‘Yes, Millennials Really Do Struggle With Perfectionism More’.

“According to a new study released in the journal Psychological Bulletin, millennials are more likely than previous generations to put pressure on ourselves — and others — to be perfect, possibly to the detriment of our mental health.

In every phase of our lives, we’re actively being encouraged and rewarded for striving towards perfection, whether that means getting high enough S.A.T. scores or racking up a certain number of Instagram likes or followers. Millennials, it seems, have more metrics to measure success — and therefore failure — than their parents.

Of course, there’s no such thing as “perfect,” which means it’s nearly impossible to strive for perfection and feel anything but disappointment and self-doubt. The question is: Can millennials step out of this vicious cycle?”

The last article of this first week of 2018 is Danny Vinik‘s analysis of ‘The Real Future of Work’.

“Over the past two decades, the U.S. labor market has undergone a quiet transformation, as companies increasingly forgo full-time employees and fill positions with independent contractors, on-call workers or temps—what economists have called “alternative work arrangements” or the “contingent workforce.” Most Americans still work in traditional jobs, but these new arrangements are growing—and the pace appears to be picking up. From 2005 to 2015, according to the best available estimate, the number of people in alternative work arrangements grew by 9 million and now represents roughly 16 percent of all U.S. workers, while the number of traditional employees declined by 400,000. A perhaps more striking way to put it is that during those 10 years, all net job growth in the American economy has been in contingent jobs.

IMG_9942.jpgThe repercussions go far beyond the wages and hours of individuals. In America, more than any other developed country, jobs are the basis for a whole suite of social guarantees meant to ensure a stable life. Workplace protections like the minimum wage and overtime, as well as key benefits like health insurance and pensions, are built on the basic assumption of a full-time job with an employer. As that relationship crumbles, millions of hardworking Americans find themselves ejected from that implicit pact. For many employees, their new status as “independent contractor” gives them no guarantee of earning the minimum wage or health insurance.”

Maybe unemployment statistics from the Labor Department aren’t the right metric to view our economy. The December report, out last Friday, showed an increase of 148,000 jobs in the final month of 2017. “Elise Gould, senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute, argues that ten years after the Great Recession, the economy has still not returned to 2007 benchmarks or the healthier levels of economic indicators in 2000.”

 

 

Photo credit: The Telegraph

The Year@Work: 2017

The workplace took center stage in the global news of 2017. This was the year of the journalist, women@work, side-hustles and maintaining focus. It was also the year that we, as a society questioned expertise.

Two quotes summed up 2017 for me:

“I want one day without a CNN alert that scares the hell out of me”
Cecily Strong  (2/12 SNL skit )

“How do we measure ‘fulfillment’ in work, and where do we find it when the traditional channels have given way to a round-the-clock hustle?”
Meghan Daum (9/15 NYT Book Review)

It was a year of constant distraction, disruption and fake news. The workplace became a refuge, and activism an essential ‘after hours’ pursuit. Low unemployment rates held, while wages stagnated. The income inequality gap widened.

An overheard conversation on the street this week: “I haven’t had a day off since September 1, with the three jobs I’ve been juggling.” This is the new American workplace.

The year@work was the year of the journalist. Although many were bullied and threatened, the coverage of workplace issues was stellar. For this year in review, I recommend some of the best writing of the year, suggest a book from the new genre ‘UpLit’ and share a few random thoughts.

IMG_8149.jpgWomen@work
On a cool Saturday morning in January we headed downtown to join a protest march. The plan had been to park the car and take the light rail. There were no parking spaces. There are always parking spaces. Something was different.

What was different was this wasn’t a march, it was a ‘standing in place’ because there were too many people and nowhere to go. In downtown LA the crowd was a mosaic of SoCal demographics. It wasn’t a ‘woman’s march’, it was a ‘families march’ in support of women. I think that may be the one thing the press missed this year.

IMG_8191.jpgAt the time many were skeptical.  The Los Angeles Times reported: “New protest era may be emerging, but sustaining unity could prove difficult.”

Yes, it has been difficult, but subsequent elections on local, state and federal levels demonstrated an ongoing commitment to civic engagement. The gig economy has a new ‘side-hustle’ and it’s called involvement.

I believe the seeds for #MeToo were planted on January 21, 2017.

Workplace Harassment

On February 19, former Uber employee, Susan Fowler posted a blog about her experience as a software engineer. “It’s a strange, fascinating, and slightly horrifying story that deserves to be told while it is still fresh in my mind, so here we go…”

On December 11, Ms. Fowler was named the Financial Times’ Person of the Year.
“Women have been speaking up for many, many years, but were very rarely believed, and there were almost never any real consequences for offenders,” Ms Fowler told the Financial Times. “This year, that completely changed.”

Two other stories of note broadened the narrative of women@work in Silicon Valley:
‘The Ellen Pao Effect Is What Happens After Lean In’Jessi Hempel for Wired, September 20, 2017
‘Why is Silicon Valley So Awful to Women?’Liza Mundy for The Atlantic, April 2017

fearless girl.jpgOn October 5 the first major story on workplace harassment in Hollywood was reported in The New York Times.  Since then, some of the best journalists have both reported and reflected on the relationship between men, power and women@work.

Here’s a sampling of the best:
‘Harvey Weinstein Paid Off Sexual Harassment Accusers for Decades’Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey for The New York Times, October 5, 2017
‘From Aggressive Overtures to Sexual Assault: Harvey Weinstein’s Accusers Tell Their Stories’Ronan Farrow for The New Yorker, October 10, 2017
‘Your Reckoning and Mine’Rebecca Traister for The Cut, November 12, 2017
‘The Cost of Devaluing Women’Sallie Krawcheck for The New York Times, December 2, 2017

rose reading room.jpgThe questioning of expertise

At work, you know the value of the expertise you bring to your organization. You may be a generalist, a specialist or a combination. You bear the scars and carry the laurels of hard won achievement, and you are compensated for your talent. Colleagues ‘pick your brain’ to complement their own skill set. Customers rely on your advice.

That’s why ‘How America Lost Faith in Expertise’ by Tom Nichols is required reading.

“I fear we are moving beyond a natural skepticism regarding expert claims to the death of the ideal of expertise itself: a Google-fueled, Wikipedia-based, blog-sodden collapse of any division between professionals and laypeople, teachers and students, knowers and wonderers — in other words, between those with achievement in an area and those with none.

A modern society cannot function without a social division of labor. No one is an expert on everything. We prosper because we specialize, developing formal and informal mechanisms and practices that allow us to trust one another in those specializations and gain the collective benefit of our individual expertise…The relationship between expert and citizens rests on a foundation of mutual respect and trust.”

IMG_8367.jpgThe gig/side-hustle career

The world of work has changed. We’re not going to time-travel back to a magical place where work fit neatly into single employer; 9-5, five-day a week increments. Whatever you choose to label the current paradigm, it’s a patchwork of assignments, for a variety of employers: some resulting in valuable skill development and others providing the means to an end. And it’s exhausting.

Jia Tolentino examined the consequences of our new work/life for the New Yorker.
‘The Gig Economy Celebrates Working Yourself to Death’ March 22, 2017. “It does require a fairly dystopian strain of doublethink for a company to celebrate how hard and how constantly its employees must work to make a living, given that these companies are themselves setting the terms. And yet this type of faux-inspirational tale has been appearing more lately, both in corporate advertising and in the news.

“There’s a painful distance between the chipper narratives surrounding labor and success in America and the lived experience of workers.”

IMG_9786.jpgUp lit: A new genre emerges in publishing

In the September article for the NYT Book Review, Meghan Daum reviewed three memoirs.“I’ve always believed some of the best material comes from the workplace…it’s the job site, the place where our skills are honed and our labors converted to currency, that truly defines not just our proficiencies but our element.”

I would agree.

Danuta Kean reported for the Guardian: ‘Up lit: The new book trend with kindness at its core’ “A bruising year dominated by political and economic uncertainty, terrorism and tragedy has, publishers say, kickstarted a new trend they have have branded “up lit”…bookbuyers are seeking out novels and nonfiction that is optimistic rather than feelgood.”

One of her favorites was also mine. ‘Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine’ by Gail Honeyman, a perfect example of how fiction can outdistance non-fiction when it comes to our relationship to work and our colleagues.

IMG_9162.jpgIt begins: “When people ask me what I do – taxi drivers, hairdressers – I tell them I work in an office. In almost nine years, no one’s ever asked what kind of office, or what sort of job I do there. I can’t decide whether that’s because I fit perfectly with their idea of what an office worker looks like, or whether people hear the phrase work ‘in an office’ and automatically fill in the blanks themselves – lady doing photocopying, man tapping at a keyboard. I’m not complaining, I’m delighted that I don’t have to get into the fascinating intricacies of accounts receivable with them.”

One other recommendation, looking at work from a different life cycle perspective:
‘Lillian Boxfish Takes A Walk’ by Kathleen Rooney.

“Now I don’t work anymore, and the world is uncomfortable.”

The world is uncomfortable, for many reasons. As 2017 merges into 2018 the question remains for all @work: How will we find fulfillment @work in the new year, amidst a shape-shifting environment where the familiar has been replaced by a round-the-clock hustle?

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‘Open A New Window’ – Music & Lyrics by Jerry Herman

The ‘Friday Poem’ this holiday week comes from the 1966 Broadway musical, ‘Mame’: the lyrics to ‘Open A New Window’ by Jerry Herman.

The musical, based on the 1955 novel ‘Auntie Mame’ by Patrick Denis, “opened on Broadway at the Winter Garden Theatre on May 24, 1966. Three years later, it transferred to the Broadway Theatre, where it remained until closing on January 3, 1970. It ran a total of 1,508 performances and five previews.”

This was the play that produced ‘We Need A Little Christmas’, and the lesser known ‘Open A New Window’. Sung by Angela Lansbury to Frankie Michaels playing her nephew, it conveys some of the best ‘mentoring’ advice for the new year.

Open a New Window

Open a new window,
Open a new door,
Travel a new highway,
That’s never been tried before;
Before you find you’re a dull fellow,
Punching the same clock,
Walking the same tight rope
As everyone on the block.
The fellow you ought to be is three dimensional,
Soaking up life down to your toes,
Whenever they say you’re slightly unconventional,
Just put your thumb up to your nose.
And show ’em how to dance to a new rhythm,
Whistle a new song,
Toast with a new vintage,
The fizz doesn’t fizz too long.
There’s only one way to make the bubbles stay,
Simply travel a new high way,
Dance to a new rhythm,
Open a new window ev’ry day!

Jerry Herman 1966 (Original Cast Recording)

 


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The Friday Poem ‘A Copywriter’s Christmas’ by Margaret Fishback

One of my favorite novels of the year was ‘Lillian Boxfish Takes A Walk’ by Kathleen Rooney. The title character was “inspired by the life and work of the poet and ad woman Margaret Fishback, herself the real highest paid female advertising copywriter in the world during the 1930s, thanks to her brilliant work for R.H. Macy’s.”

Macy’s holiday windows have become one of the traditions of Christmas in New York. The Friday Poem this week is ‘A Copywriter’s Christmas’ by Margaret Fishback. The photo above captures the 1933 window display, ‘Around the World At Christmas Time’. The country was in the middle of the Great Depression and FDR was in his first year as president.

A Copywriter’s Christmas

The Twenty-fifth is imminent
And every known expedient
Designed for making Christmas pay
Is getting swiftly under way.
Observe the people swarming to
And fro, somnambulating through
The stores in search of ties and shirts
And gloves to give until it hurts.

They’re eyeing gifts in Saks’ and Hearn’s
And Macy’s, not to mention Stern’s,
While earnest copywriters are
Hitching their copy to the star
Of Bethlehem quite shamelessly,
For they are duty bound to see
That Peace On Earth Good Will To Men
Gets adequate results again.

Margaret Fishback   ‘Out of My Head’ 1933

There was another Margaret at Macy’s in 1933, my great-aunt, Margaret Murray. Her 50 years of service is recognized on a plaque inside the 34th St. Memorial Entrance.

50 year plaque.jpg

Photo credit: Macy’s Christmas display, ‘Around the World at Christmas Time’ 1933 Image courtesy of Landy R. Hales papers, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution