What is big? How I got into advertising.
It was about 30 years ago that I applied to the Texas Creative Program at the University of Texas and began my journey to advertising mediocrity. The application was pretty simple. It was one question and you could answer it however you wanted as long as you could put it on an 11X17 sheet of paper and turn it in on time. It changed every semester, but the question was always some kind of open-ended existential type of query that forced the candidate to demonstrate their ability to think in the abstract.
My year the question was: What is big?
That’s a toughie for a 20-year-old kid with a public-school education to take on. I danced around it with a couple of short stories that paid little attention to answering the actual question. I placed both stories under the headline: Big is relative. And then (listen closely because here’s the really brilliant part) I found a really cool wizard that I placed in the middle of the lay-out. I knew even then, as a young and enthusiastic but undisciplined creative, that nothing is cooler than a bad ass fucking wizard.
That’s how shitty I was when I first started. But luckily, it got me into the program and I got better.
Also, luckily, the 30 years of life I’ve lived since doing that piece have given me a much better perspective to look back on that question with. Which makes me kind of want a do-over.
What is big?
Shit, man. Big is all around me these days. Big is bigger than I thought it was going to be. No one explained properly to me how big things could get in life. Which leads me to believe that they need to give some serious thought to creating a mandatory training program to prepare the young people of today for the bigness of the big they will face tomorrow.
That would be a big help.
Because, in life, big can be a really huge pain in the ass.
Getting a job is big. If you don’t get a job, you won’t get health insurance, no one will date you and your parents will be up your ass twice as much as they were when you were a kid. I know this because I’m a parent now and I’m pretty far up my kids’ asses. But in ten years or so, if they don’t get the fuck out of my house, they’re going to see exactly how big of an asshole I can be.
Falling in love is big. At first it completely consumes you and is all you can think about. Then, as it should, it scales down into a more manageable day to day operation. But one that requires constant attention, maintenance and emotional toil. And one day, you might come home and whoever you love could say something like: if we’re not engaged by the summer, then I’m moving out and getting my own place. How you handle what comes next requires some very big decisions with very big consequences and sometimes a very big legal bill.
Having a kid is big. Having two kids is big x two. Being on the hook for every possible thing they need whenever and wherever they need it is a massive weight to carry daily on one’s shoulders. Not to mention the sheer enormity of the concern you have for their health and well-being on literally a minute-by-minute basis. Being a parent is terrifying from the moment you pee on a stick until… well… forever. I still worry my parents and I’m 50 fucking years old. Jesus, why can’t I give these poor people a break? I have a wife and two children but to my parents I’m just a big kid who still needs help every now and then because at times I'm prone to being a big fuck up.
Money is big. I don’t aspire to be, nor have I ever been, enormously wealthy. Every single morning when I wake up and turn on my computer, one of the first things I do is check my bank account. First, I want to make sure that my many, many hundreds of dollars haven’t been stolen overnight by a hacker and secondly, I need to see what I’ve got to work with that day. I make about twice the median income for US households, have no debt and I still live paycheck to paycheck every month. I don’t even have cable anymore. I drive a fucking a Jetta. My house costs $100,000 less than the median average. I don’t gamble. I don’t play golf and I don’t do enormous amounts of cocaine so I don’t know how those people are even getting by. They must be big into coupons or something.
The world is big. A lot of people say it’s small but that’s just to make themselves feel safe. Like it’s a cozy little community we all share and somehow everyone knows each other or is connected in some way. Which is a lovely thought but in reality, there are such vast rifts between different people over the most basic tenets of right and wrong that one can only conclude such enormous dissimilarities are the result of a total lard ass of a planet. A big planet with big problems. Big woes. And gigantic donkey dick sized assholes who driven by greed, God or Donald Trump have absolutely zero interest in helping one another make it a better place.
Have a Coke and a smile?
And finally, life is big. It’s the only thing we have in common. We’re all born. We all take that first big breath. We all stumble our way past those first big steps. And at the end of the day we all lay down and sleep. We close our eyes. Slip into unconsciousness. And then, no matter who you are, where you’re from or what you think a woman can do with her uterus—we all dream. When the dream is over, we wake up and that’s when the shit gets real for all of us. Because as far as we know, this is the only life we get. It’s your one big chance to do something of merit and substance. Take advantage of all the big opportunities that are out there. And get ready for whatever it is that comes next. The big unknown.
Big is relative.
It’s really not that bad. I can see where I was trying to go. There’s a lot you can do with it. And it’s true. My big is going to be very different than your big. And it would be so huge if we could all just come to terms with that somehow and learn to manage it a little better. If nothing else, maybe we can all just agree not to put a fucking wizard into the equation. That way, at least, we don’t turn the whole thing into a big piece of shit.