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Map Inset: Kansas – A Video Essay

This video-essay and the accompanying essay on the process of crafting this piece were published by Electric Literature!

A woman, a dog, the open road & the things we carry to the middle of nowhere

A video essay? A photo essay in video form? A lyric essay in filmstrip form? Whichever way, we’re definitely not in Kansas anymore.

How Did We Get Here? Notes on Craft & Process

Once upon a bleak set of years, I did nothing but drive back and forth across the country. I had no job, no house, no partner, no plan, and, in the wake of various concurrent losses, I no longer had faith in my own desires.

On one of these junkets, I pulled over at a roadside rest stop in Kansas. The landscape reminded me of Andrew Wyeth’s painting, Christina’s World, and so I tied the dog to a picnic bench, set up a timer shot, and somehow spent hours trying to reenact the painting. At some point later on, I tweaked the color on a single shot, posted it to Facebook, and promptly forgot that this particularly lonesome day (and its attendant series of photos) had ever happened.

Christina’s World by Andrew Wyeth

When I first sat down to write about these dog days of roaming, I went poking around an old back-up drive and discovered the forsaken photos I’d taken that day.

The images are poorly lit and lackluster, and they certainly don’t get into the logistical grit of the drama going on in my life at the time, but, true to the old creative-writing adage show-don’t-tell, the photos manage to conjure the emotional truth of the story without explicitly stating a thing.

The isolation is clear in the landscape. The repeated attempts to get the perfect shot reveal a mounting desperation. The light changes; the sun fades. The sheer number of shots belies the fact that I had nowhere to go and no burning desire to get anywhere.

I wrote a brief essay-ish sort of piece, almost as if captioning a contact sheet, but it was difficult to read on a small screen, so I tried to find a form that would function in service of both image and text.

Video essay? Slideshow narrative? Lyric filmstrip? I’m not sure what to call it, but even with the rudimentary skills I was able to work up in the crash course of a 14-day software trial, as is often the case with revision, this exercise in form furthered my own understanding of the story at hand.

Some shots were taken in such rapid succession that by setting them in video sequence, it’s almost as if I’m reset in motion. This animated humanity and my voice on the audio track, bring to the project an intimacy that I find both strange and pleasing. This pit stop in Kansas marks what I can only hope is the loneliest I’ll ever be; the dog was the only one to hear my voice not just for those hours in the field, but for days. By offering a belated chance to both speak and move, the multi-media form seems to do more than just capture the experience I had with the dog the day we got stuck in that field; it somehow seems to release us from it.

“This Land Is Your Land” by Woody Guthrie

“This Land Is Your Land” by Woody Guthrie

POETS OFF POETRYSONG OF THE WEEK | MONDAY, DECEMBER 14TH, 2015

I just spent 11 days driving across country with my 81-year-old mother. She grew up in the Bronx and has spent her whole life in New York City, squelching her more artistic desires to cater to our family—but, for a brief time in the early ’60s, she considered herself a folkie.

With my dad recently dead and without any offspring to offer as distraction, it seemed that the best thing I could do was drive my mom around the entire country instead. I had my iPod on shuffle and one of the first questions she asked me was what I liked about dissonance. I couldn’t answer very well, so I referred her to Matt Hart’s amazing essay on Noise and I downloaded the 24 episode Smithsonian Folkways Collection (free on iTunes U).

I had not actually listened to Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” since nursery school, but for eleven days, we listened again and again. Forget the rockets’ red glare; forget Donald Trump’s presidential bid; forget, for a moment, everything fucked about our country and all the ways we’re forced to live on the fringes of it. As we went driving that ribbon of highway there was nothing so real, plain, and true as Guthrie’s anthem to all the small, beautiful creatures moving—just momentarily—through an astonishing vastness that’s also ever in motion.

Merrill Feitell

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=whttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wxiMrvDbq3sxiMrvDbq3s

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Merrill Feitell‘s first book, Here Beneath Low-Flying Planes, won the Iowa Prize for Short Fiction. She is Fiction Editor for Forklift, Ohio and lives in southern California, where she is currently at work on a novel and a series of essays about driving x-country with her dog. Visit www.merrillfeitell.com for more info.

Pop-Ups: In Your Face Yet Not Annoying

Pop-up ads that aren’t annoying? Dream the impossible dream and it might come true…

Given the direction to cook up some “un-annoying” pop-ups, I overhauled our pop-ups and direct-response emails by turning to brand voice, persona, and personification, relying on character to reinforce brand identity, showcase products—and to be endearing about it.

 

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826NYC + The Brooklyn Superhero Supply Co.

Back in Brooklyn, I had the good fortune of living just down the street from the gutted storefront that would become 826NYC and the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Co., a non-profit writing center.

I first started helping out by writing mission statements, web copy, press releases, and fundraising appeals—and, of course, before long I was inventing Superhero products by the dozen, naming them, writing product descriptions, and spray mounting labels onto empty cardboard boxes, stocking the store until the wee hours to prove that, indeed, art had the power to invent a new world.

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Collective effort went into most of the store signage; Scott Seeley and I concocted the original roster of Secret Identity Kits. I wish I had more pictures but somewhere in my parents’ basement, I have a prototype label for the never-released “product” Sticky Foot: For Better Shimmying and Climbing. Get me some of that, I say!

Putting Yourself Out There: Brand Seeking Love

Brand Persona Looks for Love on Social Media + Shipping Boxes

It’s just like mom always told you: If you really want to meet people, you’ve got to put yourself out there.

These Product Personal Ads went out every day of the week—riding shotgun on Poppin’s shipping boxes and cavorting across the internet to work the social media scene.

 

 

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How better to support the brand’s “work-happy” slogan than slapping the happy on the outside of the box too? Not only does the UPS guy get a chuckle, but you further establish brand iconography and endearing product personification at the same time.

By tethering the wit to actual product characteristics, I was able incorporate trustworthiness, credibility, and workplace savvy into the straight-up sass of the brand voice, dimesionalizing it and priming it to take on the office expertise that Poppin then introduced into its storyline.

Brand to the Bone: Small Print Matters

When you’re dealing with a company with a brand voice that’s absolutely crucial to its appeal, it’s often worth the effort to brand to the bone.

If you’ve bothered to cultivate an illusion of camaraderie between your brand and the consumer, bureaucratic-speak can come as an illusion-shattering jolt, forcing a sudden awareness that you are, indeed, just another business with a bottom line.

But by sustaining the beloved brand voice even through bureaucratic text, even the nitty-gritty logistics are fun to be around—and consumers may even come to trust the brand more if its character is consistent no matter what it’s talking about.

The ultimate bonus to all of this trust? Forgiveness. If a brand voice has established trust, the brand can more safely deliver the inevitable not-so-great news.

For example, the charm of the “disclaimer/apology” sent along with touch-up paint to all purchasers of the Ping-Pong Conference Table was successful because Poppin’s workplace savvy was already well established—as was its good nature. Both are apparent in the copy, and the brand is forgiven for this (and any) gaffe—because, after all, it’s only human.

Side Effect: The Pleasure of Reading…

Not only does voice consistency build trust, by engaging consumers in text blocks presumed boring  (SEO-savvy product specs, error messages, and disclaimers, for example) shoppers may be inspired to cruise the site just to read around it, prompting impulse buys and repeat visits you just can’t prompt with pop-up ads.

Longform Content: Creative Nonfiction / Text-Image Essay

Map Inset: Kansas – A Video Essay

A woman, a dog, the open road, and the things we carry to the middle of nowhere

A video essay? A photo essay in video form? A lyric essay in filmstrip form? Whichever way, we’re definitely not in Kansas anymore.

How Did We Get Here? Notes on Craft & Process

Once upon a bleak set of years, I did nothing but drive back and forth across the country. I had no job, no house, no partner, no plan, and, in the wake of various concurrent losses, I no longer had faith in my own desires.

On one of these junkets, I pulled over at a roadside rest stop in Kansas. The landscape reminded me of Andrew Wyeth’s painting, Christina’s World, and so I tied the dog to a picnic bench, set up a timer shot, and somehow spent hours trying to reenact the painting. At some point later on, I tweaked the color on a single shot, posted it to Facebook, and promptly forgot that this particularly lonesome day (and its attendant series of photos) had ever happened.

Christina’s World by Andrew Wyeth

When I first sat down to write about these dog days of roaming, I went poking around an old back-up drive and discovered the forsaken photos I’d taken that day.

The images are poorly lit and lackluster, and they certainly don’t get into the logistical grit of the drama going on in my life at the time, but, true to the old creative-writing adage show-don’t-tell, the photos manage to conjure the emotional truth of the story without explicitly stating a thing.

The isolation is clear in the landscape. The repeated attempts to get the perfect shot reveal a mounting desperation. The light changes; the sun fades. The sheer number of shots belies the fact that I had nowhere to go and no burning desire to get anywhere.

I wrote a brief essay-ish sort of piece, almost as if captioning a contact sheet, but it was difficult to read on a small screen, so I tried to find a form that would function in service of both image and text.

Video essay? Slideshow narrative? Lyric filmstrip? I’m not sure what to call it, but even with the rudimentary skills I was able to work up in the crash course of a 14-day software trial, as is often the case with revision, this exercise in form furthered my own understanding of the story at hand.

Some shots were taken in such rapid succession that by setting them in video sequence, it’s almost as if I’m reset in motion. This animated humanity and my voice on the audio track, bring to the project an intimacy that I find both strange and pleasing. This pit stop in Kansas marks what I can only hope is the loneliest I’ll ever be; the dog was the only one to hear my voice not just for those hours in the field, but for days. By offering a belated chance to both speak and move, the multi-media form seems to do more than just capture the experience I had with the dog the day we got stuck in that field; it somehow seems to release us from it.

Finance, Science + My Secret Math Life

I worked at BusinessWeek Magazine for just shy of a decade, proofreading articles under deadline pressure for grammar, style, and consistency of content.

Believe it or not, I was also the person who checked the math on BW’s corporate scoreboards, compiling and cross-checking data for quarterly rankings using Bloomberg terminals, a pocket calculator, and my own personal brain. I was also entrusted to compile data and copyedit the magazine’s monthly round-up of top-selling business books.

As you’d imagine, poring over BW for so many years rendered me fluent in biz-speak, equipped to write and edit business content—and to help brand a variety of financial institutions, products, and services (work I often took on as a consultant for Joe Viverito and BrandmakerExpress in New York).

That said, my business savvy is difficult to flog on my website because— even after nine years as a magazine proofreader/copyeditor—you don’t leave a copydesk with portfolio clips.

But here’s what my BusinessWeek boss, Larry Dark, had to say about me on LinkedIn:

Similarly, I’ve been deep in the trenches of editing in the sciences, but I never thought to hold onto the marked manuscripts for future use in a portfolio slideshow. Fortunately,  Google has revealed that some of the ICIMOD scientists I’ve edited have credited me in their published research—Thanks, scientists!—and many of these articles engaged issues of economics and financial development.

The Development of REDD+ Safeguards in the Hindu Kush Himalaya,  International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), Kathmandu, Nepal May 2017.

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A Multi-dimensional Assessment of Ecosystems and Ecosystem Services at Inle Lake, Myanmar, International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development, Kathmandu, Nepal and Forest Department, Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation, Myanmar, July 2017.

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And, as far as presenting complex material in laymen’s terms, I wish everyone everywhere could come take my creative-writing workshop, The Mechanical Physics of Narrative. Physics for poets—for real!

The Story Is In The Juju

There’s a whole lot of story behind the story of Juju Supply Co., which offers up a stunning jewelry collection—along with the galvanizing reminder that the objects we keep close have the power to harness our focus, transform our attitudes, and inspire us to keep going, no matter what we’re going through.

The company’s backstory spans decades and enough drama to convince anyone to keep a totem at the ready, so it was a challenge to boil down to a mission statement and quick copy sound bytes to beckon a new breed of jewelry shopper. I’m truly honored to have been a part of it!

I also loved helping come up with copy for Juju’s social media staple, 5 Questions—and there’s no better treat than reading a new set of answers.

 You definitely must check out Juju Supply Co.

JujuScreen Shot 2018-06-09 at 6.31.15 PM

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Targeted Marketing: Word Choice

 

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You Talking to Me?

Here’s a story about targeted marketing:

Once upon a time, Poppin was about to host a breakfast event at its new showroom—a meet-n-greet with Kelly Hooey, founder of Women Innovate Mobile. I was asked to give the invitation copy a quick once-over before it was sent.

The draft I received was focused entirely on style, hot looks, and staying on trend.

At the time, I didn’t know anything about Women Innovate Mobile, but its name and the mere fact that guests were being baited to the gathering with the chance to meet its founder didn’t quite jibe with the Dress-Your-Desk copy, which seemed to have been repurposed from Fashion Week.

When In Doubt, Google.

So I googled.

As it turns out, Women Innovate Mobile offers seed funding to women-founded mobile start-ups. Thus, the event was an opportunity for innovative and ambitious women to network and appeal for funding—while checking out Poppin’s equally innovative furnishings, should they wish to appropriately overhaul their office digs.

Stylish as any of these women may be, a fashion-centric invite was entirely beside the point. It had nothing to do with the way these women brand themselves.

So I gave the invite a complete overhaul, trumpeting innovation and accomplishment in lieu of the Dressy-Bessy approach.

Fortunately, I had already invested a good amount of time exploring various possible Poppin positionings and developing language specific to each target—from entrepreneurs to academics; from fashionistas to industrial architects; from start-up companies to stately institutions; from office managers to office Romeos; from students to CEOs hoping to boost employee morale.

If the tone and attitude—and the persona’s range of knowledge is consistent—skewing a piece of collateral toward a specific segment doesn’t mean that your brand’s character has suddenly gone spineless and pandering, like a teenage social chameleon.

With a good grip on the brand and its spectrum of positioning possibilities, I’ve been able to work vocabulary to suit the specific segment addressed while always maintaining the signature sass and savvy intrinsic to Poppin’s brand voice.

The Moral: Know Thy Audience—and Stay True to Thy Brand.

Where to Next, Tommy Bahama? (Look, mom! We’re on TV)

 

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Video Intro: Where to Next?

Look, Mom! We’re on TV!

It’s no secret that we moved to Los Angeles so the dog could be discovered and made a star.IMG_8696 When the lovely people of Pasadena Advertising asked me to work on the team featured in the AMC series, The Pitch, my first thought was to do the work and dodge the cameras—but the PADV office is dog-friendly and the Beast said: This could be my big chance!

Suffice it to say that we both signed waivers, got blowouts, and went to work.

The Pitch is a reality show wherein two agencies are pitted against one another in competition for a hefty account. In reality, of course, blow-outs are for the weekends and comprehensive campaigns aren’t 8 days in the making. And in reality, it’s an hour-long commercial for the client, but who cares! It was a blast.

The client was Tommy Bahama, flogging their women’s sportswear line. The direction was basically as follows:

• No Jimmy Buffet
• No Margaritaville
• Maintain the spirit of their slogan “Make life one long weekend.”

I was partnered with the amazingly talented art director Janina Lovern. We both understood that whether or not we were targeting actual Women of Leisure, that the brand expresses a sort of roaming and tousled dock-side entitlement, less prim than Lily Pulitzer; more vineyard-touring and yacht-sunsetting than garden party; but a sort of Money-Not-Messy Fuck-All-I’m-Very-Comfortable vibe. Go-Ahead-and-Wonder-Where-I-Got-My-Money-and-How-Old-I-Actually-Am.

This Ain’t No Life of Leisure

Janina and I did some major off-camera brainstorming; I went home and did my standard Sharpie wordplay brain dump and came up with a bunch of great language including the line: Where to next?

While I loved idea: Leisure looks good on you.  or Doesn’t leisure look good on you?leisure is such a crappy, awkward word, and so, on Real Live Actual Television, you can see me offer up: Where to next?, which ended up being the seed around which our campaign was built.

The campaign (chronicled by Pasadena Advertising here) was completely comprehensive and the team really went to town designing the web site, branded content catalog, display advertising, and a packing app—all of which brought dimension to the concept of Where to next?—really cultivating an aspirational appreciation of leisure, even if the next where is just a baby shower in your own backyard.

It doesn’t take a genius to see that the producers teased out the most reductive storyline possible: Aging Mom-n-Pop Pasadena Advertising v. (Get this…) The Neuron Syndicate! Suffice it to say, we did not win—but our work was definitely better. Even the web critics agree. Just google it! (The Pitch, Season 2; Episode 4, Tommy Bahama)

And, yes, the Beast made the final cut—though he was disappointed it wasn’t a speaking part.

Let’s Talk Shop: B2B Marketing

 

Though Poppin initially geared its collateral toward the office fashionista with messaging about extending your style all the way to work place, the focus shifted toward B2B accounts. With this shift, I began writing materials that spoke directly to CEOs interested in boosting morale; HR reps in need of “New Hire Attire”; and various niche groups interested in increasing productivity with a workplace that made work feel good. In addition to touting bigger ticket items, such as furnishings, Customization was also a big campaign geared toward our B2B audience.