An English major and his magazines.

Ella Kelley recently sent me a great article by a U.Va. professor about why every college student should be an English major.  Check it out here: http://chronicle.com/article/The-Ideal-English-Major/140553/

When I was in college, it felt that the three logical concentrations for me were English, journalism and philosophy. I thought journalism was too much of a “trade school” and I thought the English majors were generally smarter than the journalism majors.  (I was kind of right about that.)  I also knew I was nowhere near smart enough for the philosophy classes.  So I landed in English classes with lots of books to read, few of which would ever be finished. I was a poor excuse for an English major. I’m a slow, lousy reader. I don’t understand poems and I’m not smart enough to enjoy or even read literary writing. There were things I loved in my English classes, but too much was over my head.  No book ever changed my life.  I don’t have a treasured memory of some childhood book I’ll never forget.  (Our son Jason was an English major.  He actually wanted to be a Theater Tech major, but Yale didn’t offer that at an undergraduate level, so he figured English would at least give him a good grounding in plays.  He was a better reader at 10 years old than I ever was in my life.)

I regret now how stupid I was about some of these things.  For some reason I felt books should give the same kind of easy enjoyment you get from movies or tv.   The books I loved most did that:  they were the contemporary best sellers.  You didn’t have to work to get anything out of them.  I loved studying Shakespeare because I liked the way he brought language, psychology, philosophy and human behavior together in the creation of interesting, complicated characters.   But I didn’t particularly like reading Shakespeare or watching the plays; the language was too much of a stumbling block.  To this day I think Aaron Sorkin, Vince Gilligan, David Chase or David Simon should translate the tragedies and histories into modern English.  (That’s done sometimes, of course, but usually not very well.  I bet these guys could do it well:  aren’t Tony Soprano, Walter White and Jimmy McNulty Shakespearean in their complexity?)

 I hate it that I was years past my college days before I developed a deep curiosity about life.  I shouldn’t have majored in anything.  I ended up in a career that didn’t require any specific undergraduate study.  (Today it’s harder to get into advertising without a master’s degree.)  I should have been inspired by and given a basis for thinking about a wide range of subjects—English, yes, but also science, history, philosophy, business, governance, religion, journalism, civil rights and many more.  At the end of four years, let’s not pretend I was an expert in anything.  It would have been far more exciting to be a beginner in everything.

People should “major” (in school or in life) in the topics they love intellectually–the things that pique their curiosity and encourage self-examined lives.  That could be most anything.  In his essay on “The Ideal English Major,” Professor Mark Edmundson makes an awfully good case that literature classes can put you on a path to being a better human being.  While I’m not sure most of us could accomplish that in a four-year program, it’s exactly what we should be doing with our lives.

I  confess that I haven’t read any of the literary greats he names in the essay since my collegiate years.  (One exception:  I do read and recommend John Jeremiah Sullivan, but he’s mentioned in a different context.)

As I said in my “Book report” post a couple of weeks ago, I mainly read newspapers and magazines.  I think the best writing in the world right now is in long-form tv (Breaking Bad!) and The New Yorker.

It can be a little balky at times, but I love the Next Issue magazine app.  My favorite N.I. titles are New York, Rolling Stone, The New Yorker, Time, Vanity Fair and Wired.  I can usually find something to love in Bloomberg Businessweek, Esquire, Fast Company, GQ and Newsweek.   I can sometimes find great things in Popular Science or Sports Illustrated.  I’ve gone to Entertainment Weekly for the back-of-book reviews since the magazine was launched, but lately I’m more likely to go to Rotten Tomatoes first.  (I probably shouldn’t admit this, but Next Issue makes it easy to skip the ads in magazine.  Which I do a lot.)

The Atlantic, The Economist, The New York Times Sunday Magazine and Harper’s aren’t available through Next Issue so I read those the old fashioned way.  The New York Review of Books is fabulous; it’s just hard to add another newspaper/magazine to my list.

Of course, there’s no way I read everything in the magazines.  I skip the fashion and celebrity stuff (unless the celebrity is one of the senior citizens I like—Springsteen, The Rolling Stones, Dylan, etc.)  And I’m pretty random about the real life horror stories of violence, rape, murder, torture and war:  I do get a steady diet of those things, but I get frustrated that I can’t keep them straight.  (This week it’s Syria, right?  Chemical weapons and absolutely no solutions?  Now where is Syria, exactly?  Asia?  Europe?  Africa?  I thought it was inexcusable that the world did nothing while a million Rwandans lost their lives to genocide.   Is that what we’re doing now in Syria?  What does “doing something” mean?  Does it mean more people will die?)

I try to read things that challenge my basic liberal beliefs, but it’s hard.  It feels like all the good guys—and certainly all the smart guys—believe in science and facts.  Can’t we tell the journalists who are trying to get it right?  Aren’t they the ones writing for the magazines I love?

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Bringing an idea to lip-smacking life.

According to a McKinsey study, for every 10,000 business ideas, two survive to become market leaders.  I’m in awe of people who can bring ideas to life.  So I’m especially and inordinately proud of my daughter-in-law Carley.  With some not insignificant help from Jason and Ginny (and Ella, of course), the bakery she started in Beacon almost two years ago is up, running, expanding and delicious.  If you’re in NYC, it’s worth the trip up the Hudson to visit the Dia museum and Ella’s Bellas.  Check it out:  http://newyork.cbslocal.com/video/9235032-toni-on-new-york-a-gluten-free-bakery-in-beacon/#.UhpEqhz8JhI.email

 

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Book report

Luke Sullivan asks me what I’m watching or reading these days. We’ll start with reading.

When people ask me what books I’m into, I usually answer, “I don’t read books.” That’s not quite true. Last week I read “Difficult Men,” I’ve read most of a good-but-not-great biography of Doc Pomus*, I’m probably going to finish David Carr’s amazing “The Night of the Gun” and John Meacham’s Thomas Jefferson bio. (Thank you, Bruce Kelley.) So I read a few books. But if you tell people you only read three or four books a year, they think you’re stupid. If you tell them you don’t read books at all, they think there’s a principle involved. (I can’t imagine what that principle would be. As a former English major, it would be very embarrassing to admit I haven’t read a novel in years.)

I confess that I usually avoid trying to read books by friends. They’re friends: I find myself noticing the writing too much. That said, two of my all-time favorite books (no kidding) are Luke Sullivan’s Thirty Rooms to Hide In and Kathy Hepinstall’s House of Gentle Men. They’re surprising and exquisite. Nobody writes sentences better than Kathy. And Luke can get you all choked up while he’s making you laugh. These books are major accomplishments. (To my other author friends: If the good Lord gives me the time, I’ll get to your books. Promise.)  Yesterday Gene Trani, president emeritus at VCU, brought me a copy of his new book about Harrison Salisbury, the legendary New York Times writer and editor.  I’m a journalism junkie, so I’m already diving in.

Partly because I’m cheap, partly because I’m the slowest reader in the history of the world and partly because I have a short attention span, I do read the free samples of a lot of books. Right now I highly recommend the free samples of Last Ape Standing, The Philosophers’ Breakfast Club, Bruce, The Moral Landscape, A Universe From Nothing and The Life You Can Save. I’ve also been on a kick lately of getting into old Jimmy Breslin and David Halbertram stuff. It’s amazingly relevant.

My iPad’s given up the ghost, so I haven’t been able to download books (i.e., free samples) for a couple of weeks. I’m interested in Zealot

Mostly I read magazines and newspapers. (Someone recently said, “I’m not book smart, I’m magazine smart.”) Like all old liberals, I can’t imagine life without the New York Times. I check the website several times a day.  I still prefer the paper. I go through every section, except Home, Dining and Thursday Style. (The Sunday Style section on the other hand usually has one or two good stories plus Modern Love, which knocks me out just about every week.) When I’m on the website, I rarely go to the science sections, which is probably my favorite section in the print paper. The Wall Street Journal has Neanderthal opinion pages, but the paper still does some things extremely well—business, books, the Friday and weekend sections. (Men’s fashion news in the Journal is a hoot. Can you imagine the typical Wall Street guy’s reaction to this sentence from a recent article: “The ascent of street style marked the death of the elegant and understated suit, and opened the gates to burgundy velvet Doc Martens, double-layered silk scarves and chinos rolled halfway up the calf, cuffs crinkled for that extra dash of insouciance.” Yeah, right. I’m sure that’s how Lloyd Blankfein shows up at Goldman Sachs every morning.) There’s usually something fun in USA Today—and even the world’s slowest reader can get through it in ten minutes.  And I get The Richmond Times Dispatch every day.  Obviously, with four daily papers, I’m always hopelessly behind.  But just trying to keep up is rewarding.  I’m constantly amazed at what’s going on in the world.

I’ll do separate posts on magazines and video.

*The reason I’m reading the Doc Pomus story is because of the wonderful legend about his wedding night. Pomus–the lyricist or one of the lyricists for “This Magic Moment,” “Viva Las Vegas,” “Little Sister,” “Can’t Get Used to Losing You” and many more of my favorite songs–had polio as a kid and spent his life in a wheelchair. The story is that as he sat in his wheelchair watching his new bride dance with his friends, this is what he wrote on one of the wedding napkins:

You can dance
Every dance with the guy
Who gave you the eye
Let him hold you tight

You can smile
Every smile for the man
Who held your hand
‘Neath the pale moonlight

But don’t forget who’s taking you home
And in whose arms you’re gonna be
So darlin’
Save the last dance for me, mmm

Oh I know
That the music is fine
Like sparkling wine
Go and have your fun

Laugh and sing
But while we’re apart
Don’t give your heart
To anyone

But don’t forget who’s taking you home
And in whose arms you’re gonna be
So darlin’
Save the last dance for me, mmm

Baby don’t you know I love you so?
Can’t you feel it when we touch?
I will never, never let you go
I love you oh so much

You can dance
Go and carry on
Till the night is gone
And it’s time to go

If he asks
If you’re all alone
Can he take you home
You must tell him no

‘Cause don’t forget who’s taking you home
And in whose arms you’re gonna be
So darlin’
Save the last dance for me

‘Cause don’t forget who’s taking you home
And in whose arms you’re gonna be
So darlin’
Save the last dance for me, mmm

Save the last dance for me, mmm
Save the last dance for me.

If the story isn’t completely true, it should be.

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Richmond

For most of the past 35 years—my years at the company—The Martin

Agency hasn’t had many Richmond-based clients.  In fact, most of that time, we haven’t had any.   For very selfish business interests, we often turned down the opportunity to compete for local business with other Richmond agencies.  We wanted the advertising community in the city to grow.  If Richmond had more agencies, recruiting would be easier. Who wanted to move a family to a one-agency town?  What if it didn’t work out for some reason?

 

We also wanted Richmond to become more of a creative center.  Back in the ‘80s and ‘90s, we’d often lose young single people to bigger, livelier cities.  (One reason we have so many long-time employees is that families with kids loved it here.) 

 

Things are changing.  Richmond’s making better use of the river and its outdoors.  The restaurants have improved mightily.  There are now more screens showing independent films.  For better or worse, we are per capita one of America’s most tattooed cities.  That’s got to say something about something.

 

In not-very-scientific-but-well-publicized surveys this year, Richmond was named America’s #1 outdoors city and the most likely successor to Austin as America’s weirdest city.  (Weird = good and creative and, well, weird.) It’s not unusual these days for the new people to chide the old folks for apologizing for the city.  “This city’s great,” they tell us.

 

What’s most exciting these days are the number of people who have undertaken personal initiatives to push the city forward.  This morning The Richmond Times Dispatch printed my encouragement to those people.  (http://www.timesdispatch.com/opinion/their-opinion/to-richmond-do-it-all/article_56d329f5-0e86-573a-83aa-b333539abdf4.html)  The sidebar story was a q-and-a session with me.  Publisher and friend Tom Silvestri posed the questions.  (http://www.timesdispatch.com/opinion/their-opinion/to-richmond-do-it-all/article_56d329f5-0e86-573a-83aa-b333539abdf4.html)

 

The Civil War will always haunt this city, but it’s encouraging to see my hometown looking forward instead of backward.

 

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Killing.

If you believe people have an inalienable right to life, you really shouldn’t kill them.  If the right’s inalienable, by definition you can’t take that right away—and the person who has the right can’t give it up.

If everyone has an inalienable right to life, you couldn’t drop bombs on people, you couldn’t kill them, and you couldn’t sentence them to death.  You couldn’t shoot a gunman who is about to shoot a child.  (The gunman may or may not share your belief in the inalienability of the child’s right—but that doesn’t change your attitude about the gunman’s right.)

So let’s be honest.  We believe that people usually have an inalienable right to life, but we will make exceptions.  Osama, Muamma, Adolf, get in line.

The problem is, we make too many exceptions. The death penalty is just the most obvious example.  Sometimes we’re also too trigger happy when we’re pursuing bad guys.  We shouldn’t endanger nearby civilians when we’re chasing specific evildoers.  It’s got to be wrong to blow up a house with two people in it when only one person is being targeted.  Heck, isn’t wrong to blow up a house with ten people in it if you’re only after nine of them?  If innocent people lost their lives in a police raid on U.S. soil, the police would have to answer for it.  Collateral damage in military action should be viewed under the same microscope.

It’s often argued—correctly, I think—that we overuse and misuse the word war.  Most military actions these days are much closer to police actions than full-scale warfare.  Our troops have been in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Libya—but generally speaking we’re not at war with the people of those countries.  We’re after specific criminals, terrorists, thugs, “warlords” and murderous religious fanatics–and sometimes the gangs that willingly support them.

The lives of our troops and police units matter too.  We should do everything in our power to make sure their lives are saved and their “inalienable” rights are protected.

I’m not sure how I feel about the Bush and Obama kill lists.  I’d be a lot more comfortable if they were “arrest” lists.   Shouldn’t arrest and trial always be the goal in police actions—whether domestic or international?  I don’t lose any sleep over Osama bin Laden’s death, but I am a little bothered by my suspicion that the brave forces who carried out the assault might have been encouraged to end the drama once and for all that night.  Doesn’t even the most evil of scourges deserve a day in court?

My faith is tested mightily by the actions of our leaders, but let’s say for the sake of argument that there are people who belong on kill lists and that we should be planning ways to execute them.

If drones live up to their hype, shouldn’t we use them whenever possible?  If they’re more accurate and create less chance of collateral damage and present no danger to the teenager with the joystick who’s sitting in a bunker in Boulder controlling them, what’s not to like?  (It’s even argued pretty persuasively that they’re less expensive than manned executions.)  Why would it ever be better to put a law enforcement officer in harm’s way?  The goal here isn’t to be “fair” to the target.  The goal is to kill the miscreant before he does any more damage.

All bets would have been off, of course, if the early reports had been right that drones were actually increasing the number of collateral deaths.  But the opposite seems true.  According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism in London, just three of the 152 people killed in U.S. drone strikes through the first half of 2012 were civilians.  (New York Times, 7/14/12.)  Three is three too many, but it does seem like a huge improvement over previous casualty reports.

I know a lot of people see the use of drones as inescapably evil.  I must be missing something.  The thing that matters to me is that we make sure we’re right and our cause is just before we decide to alienate anyone from his right to life.

I have no idea how I got on this subject.

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Recommended reading from Jason.

[Important correction added. Please note the correction in my section on Ella Kelley two thirds the way down the page in bold.  Ella, please forgive me.  I can only imagine how bad it feels to be called a Republican these days.]

On 7/21/13 8:45 PM, Jason Hughes wrote:

http://m.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2013/07/privilege-is-like-money-reflections-from-france/277559/

On Jul 21, 2013, at 10:33 PM, I wrote:

I’m not sure I get all of what he’s saying—most of what he writes strikes me as obvious, so I’m probably missing something.  (It’s interesting that Coates connects his article to a 2008 article by David Carr, whom I know slightly.  I’m reading Carr’s book now.  Pretty amazing.)

 I do absolutely love this line by Coates:  “We talk about a culture of poverty as a way of damnation, but not as a way of comprehension.”

Even at our most empathic, we underestimate how much poverty frames everything for the poor. I’m sure it’s true that a person with money can’t possibly understand the world the same way a person without money understands it.  (Who’s being obvious now?)

Listening to Obama on Friday reminding us how different the world feels if you’re part of the underclass, I couldn’t help but be frustrated at how glacially slow we’re moving.  Yes, our kids are better than us—more accepting, less judgmental.  But they’re still living their lives at separate tables in the lunchroom.  

 

We just saw Fruitvale Station.  Pretty powerful.  Oscar Grant was last year’s Trayvon Martin.  They were both shot and killed for being black.  

 

On a more encouraging note, read this: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/14/magazine/what-does-it-take-to-stop-crips-and-bloods-from-killing-each-other.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

 

The cops in L.A. seem to be getting crime reductions on a par with the NY cops—and they’re doing it with far less profiling.  Hope that trend continues.

 

 (I know I’m taking a chance cc’ing your mother on this note, but I don’t think we’re disagreeing on anything here.  If this correspondence does get testy, let’s remember to delete her.)

 

Great seeing you last week.

 

Love,

Me

 

Larry responded with this:

Mike

 

Reads like the beginning of another great Unfinished Thinking blog.

 

Larry

 

Meanwhile, I’d been engaged in another exchange with good friend Ella Kelley, who claims to be a Republican. [Oops. My mistake. Ella has corrected me here.  She writes:  My thinking is chronically unfinished.  I try to think of it as open-minded.  I am not a Republican, by the way.  Conservative, as that applies to the topics we just covered:  opportunity, expectations, responsibility, independence.  It doesn’t apply to abortion or civil rights or death penalties.   Dependence on strangers is for Blanche Dubois, not for those who can do better for themselves.  I hope we will treat the underclass with the respect and expectations that will bring them out from under.]   She was responding to some of my recent blog posts.  She wrote:

 

… As for your 7/18 blog, well said.  When arguers hear  “sensible,” “reasonable,” “fair,” “unfair,” “improve,” heads will nod.  But I’m afraid we won’t make real progress as long as people want to oppose each other and each other’s ideas.  To respond “but that’s not reasonable” or “that’s not my idea of unfair” can send the argument back to the emotional, a bad place to be when we have so much work to do.  Still, with your breadth of observation, maybe the country will move closer to your vision by next year.  I hope so.

 

As for abortion, it should go away as a political topic.  Like prohibition, we can’t have laws on the books that the majority of Americans oppose.  And we won’t.  Both sides on this one use vulnerable and inconsistent arguments (like, it’s ok if the pregnancy resulted from incest or rape, as if that embryo is suddenly not God’s creation or “it’s in the woman’s body so it’s her right to choose, but not to choose to use heroin while she’s pregnant.”)  The arguments don’t hold up, but the fact of American preference, by both men and women, does.

 

Hi, Ginny.

Love, Ella

 

Ella also wrote:

 

… No one is much interested these days in talking about the news of the day. Perhaps the issues are too big or the results too elusive.  But I’ve receded a bit further, waiting for trials and murders and non-extraditions and coups to be over. That’s a lot of novel-reading time.

Just chatting.  I hope it’s a good day at casa Hughes

Love, Ella

 

A fellow cancer patient, Ella also sent me this:

 

,,, I’m doing ok despite bad reports from the labs. One encouraging one last week will carry me through, head deeply in the sand. I feel fine. On drag and dying I’ve been thinking it’s difficult to comprehend that all will go on. Not just people but places, movies, art, books, food… All without going through the filter of our minds. Will a movie be good if you don’t see and assess it?  Will a new novel be one my daughter should read if I haven’t judged it worthy?  Of course, I know the answers.  Not for the first time I’d like to believe we might get one more chance after.  So much easier that way.

 

I send you an especially warm hug,

Ella

 

I responded to Ella:

 

Ella:

 

You vastly underestimate the impact you’ve made on people.  

A number of people—especially our kids—will read new books and see new things through the filters we gave them.  

And while I’d greatly prefer to live on in my apartment, I know I will live on inside Ginny and inside Jason’s family.  

Besides, you and I aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.  We should both be a little embarrassed for getting all these people worked up about us…

 

Love,

Me

 

She replied back to me:

 

You are right, Mike, three times in one brief note.

We’re watching “42” with Emily and Connor, and I don’t mind that my filter says it’s mediocre. It’s far more important that we are horrified and a bit skeptical about how awful we were 60 short years ago.

Good night. E

 

Which reminded me of the exchange with Larry and Jason.  So I wrote to
Ella:

 

Funny.  While you’re watching 42 with your kids, I’m having the exchange below with my son.  And I attached the Atlantic correspondence. 

 

Ella’s follow-up:

 

That’s a most interesting exchange.  Thank you for letting me in on it.  Our four kids and I have begun a weekly exchange based on an article one of us chooses. I am careful to be temperate as they find their way.

 

Since Coates rarely ventures beyond the personal anecdote, I wonder what he would say to my own self-referential anecdotes:  moving to the 6th arrondissement as a new college graduate with $200 my parents had scraped together without privilege, or history of privilege, and then no heat, shared beds, brown rice while we did what we could to last a year.  If Coates can barely pronounce arrondissement after two years in Paris, that tells you a great deal about his privileged, removed, self-involved life. He would no doubt dismiss my anecdotes and those of millions like me as “blind” or “atypical.”  Why should we trust that his life is the one that is true?   He claims poverty frames everything for the poor.  It may now, but it didn’t two generations ago.  Why has that changed?  I have some theories, but no certainties.

 

As always, with love and respect, Ella

 

The next morning Ella had second thoughts:

 

Bruce tells me I now talk to myself.  I do, as I did today, as I mulled over the Atlantic column and my own reaction. Forget my self-involved message which was as inappropriate as Coates’s.  

 

I wonder what his message is and to whom he’s writing. He disavows responsibility for his success, attributing it to some casual crossing of paths.  Is the corollary that we shouldn’t try for success, for improvements, for the attainment of our goals?  Should we just hope for individual progress, cross our fingers and find friends who know people of privilege?  Is he writing out of embarrassment for his success and influence? I wonder what he’s telling his son and ours.  

 

The next generation will do better if we raise them to believe in themselves and not in the favors of a few privileged members of society.  

Now I’ve read the encouraging NY Times articles about gangs.  It fits with human nature: ask more of people, not less; give them responsibility; raise expectations; invite them into control over their futures, and we will do better as a society. 

 

For more encouragement since you mention separate tables in the lunchroom: when Connor was in middle school and I explained that idea to him, he looked at me with a bit of dismissal:  “That’s kind of old fashioned, Mom.”  I hope he’s right.

 

Ella

 

P.S.  It must be challenging to get messages in so many forms from so many people.  Of course you should not respond, but settle in with Ginny and watch something.  We’re trying Under the Dome.  

 

On Jul 22, 2013, at 8:51PM, Mike Hughes <mike.hughes@martinagency.com> wrote to Larry, Jason and Ella:

 

Unless one of you objects, I’m going to put this whole exchange (which I love) on my Unfinished ThinkingII blog Tuesday night.

 

Ella’s response:

 

I suppose that’s ok.  I don’t usually go public, and I suspect my comments will be a foil for those who disagree.  But if you see usefulness, go ahead.

For the record, I went to Paris with a friend, not parents. 2 unprivileged girls from Queens with supportive families and a lot of dreams. And voila!

I love that you’re engaged, writing and posting. E

 

I still haven’t heard back from Jason.  I’m curious about his take on the Atlantic column and on the rest of the exchange.

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Dear me.

Marlene Paul is the force of nature behind Art 180, one of the greatest ongoing acts of creativity and activism in Richmond’s history.  Check it out at http://www.art180.org  Marlene asked if I would contribute to one of their upcoming projects–a collection of letters we would write to ourselves as 15-year-olds.

She gave me permission to preview my entry here.

Dear me at 15,

You are, unfortunately, a poor athlete and a worse dancer.  The good news is, you will discover some sports can be fun even if you’re lousy at them: don’t wait until you’re 25 to discover that.  And you should get out on the dance floor now.  Don’t let your inhibitions keep you from the fun.
While you’re not as handsome as your mother tells you you are, you’re not as ugly as you think you are.  Attractiveness is not a competitive sport.  Be yourself.  You’ll be fine.

Talk to people about the things they’re interested in.  Then add to the conversation the things you’re interested in. 

Stay close to George Douglas.  He’s going to be a very good friend for a very long time.  And Patti?  She’ll be the best sister anyone ever had.

Make a note to start getting chest exams when you’re in your early 30s.  Have the doctors pay special attention to your left lung.  This could save you some hassle when you’re in your 50s and 60s.

Don’t be stupid, but don’t be quite so much of a goody two-shoes.

You think some things about high school are pretty dumb.  You’re right.

Get into some serious discussions with Dad.  You won’t have him around forever, and you two could have a really good time together.  (Don’t give in an inch to him on politics:  I’m 65 now and I can confirm that you’re right about everything—politically speaking—and he’s wrong about everything—politically speaking.  But that won’t get in the way of the love you feel for each other.)

Be ahead of these curves:  treat women as equals.  Support civil rights and gay rights.  Make friends with misfits:  they’re going to make life a lot more interesting for everyone. 

You don’t sweat the grades now in high school.  You won’t in college either.  That’s fine.

Right now you think there’s no reason for anyone ever to give you a job.  And you think there’s no reason a good woman would ever want to marry you.  Wow, are you in for some wonderful surprises.   

Love,
Mike Hughes
Age 65

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Responding to “a silly kerfuffle”

I’ve written way too many emails over the years, but this one I sent to the agency staff back in 2011 got the biggest and best response.

      At this company we’re not merely accepting of the wide range of humanity—we applaud it.  If you’re good and talented and hardworking, if you’re respectful of the people you deal with, we’ll roll out the red carpet for you.  We want different voices to come together here to create new things, new strategies and new executions.
         At this point in history and in Richmond in particular, we do need to be public about our support for some types of workplace and community diversity so that there is no hesitancy or question about our commitments.  Thank goodness we no longer have to point out that it’s fine with us if you’re Presbyterian or if you’re from Kentucky or if you’re a Democrat.  On the other hand, we probably do still need to be clear and public with the fact that it’s fine with us if you’re African American or Hispanic or handicapped or Muslim or gay.  Heck, we probably still have to make the point that there’s a place for you in the top ranks of business even if you’re . . . a woman.
         There’s been a silly kerfuffle in Richmond lately about the Federal Reserve displaying a rainbow flag, a symbol of gay pride.  We have been asked to show our support for the gay community by displaying a rainbow flag here.  We’ll do that for all the reasons I cite here.  (Well, since we don’t really have the right kind of flagpole, we might put up a poster or something—but you get the idea.)
         We’re not unaware that there is a political circus around this kind of act—a circus that’s ginned up by politicians of every political stripe. We know some people will think we’re walking a tightrope here.  Nevertheless we celebrate and acknowledge LGBT month the same way we celebrate and acknowledge the Christmas season, Black History Month and the 4th of July—even though we’re not all Christians, African Americans or even Americans.
         We celebrate people.
 
From Mike for the Executive Committee.

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Getting Proustian.

I’m not sure why I did it, but two years ago I filled out a Proust questionnaire.  I’m surprised that I included two politicians among my heroes.  I’m not sure I’d do that today.

 

 

What is your most marked characteristic?
Joy.  I hope.

 

The quality you most like in a man?
The ability to listen.

 

The quality you most like in a woman?
Humor.

 

What do you most value in your friends?
Love.

 

What is your principle defect?
An inability to leave work.  Also I eat too much.

 

What is your favorite occupation?
Reading a good magazine or newspaper story while eating.

 

What is your dream of happiness?
Smart, lively discussion with friends and family.

 

What to your mind would be the greatest of misfortunes?
Losing a child.

 

What would you like to be?
Rich, young, healthy, wise and kind.

 

In what country would you like to live?
The one John Lennon describes when he sings about no countries or religions.

 

What is your favorite color?
The blue in my granddaughter’s eyes.

 

What is your favorite bird?
Tweetie.

 

Who are your favorite prose writers?
Right now, Hitchens on dying.  All time, Twain.  Plus most of the “new journalists.’

 

Who are your favorite poets?
I like songwriters more than poets—but I know that most songwriters aren’t poets.

 

Who are your favorite composers?
I know nothing about classical music or jazz.  I love a number of the pop composers:  Dylan, Lennon, Sondheim, Porter, Leiber & Stoller, etc.

 

Who are your heroes in real life?
My wife Ginny.  My son Jason.  More broadly, Obama, Hillary Clinton, others.

 

What are your favorite names?
Ginny.  Jason.  Carley.  Ella.  Patti.  Mom.  Helen. Hearing these names makes me happy.

 

What is it you most dislike?
Aging. Hate it, hate it, hate it.

 

What historical figures do you most despise?
Everyone hates the usual suspects (Hitler, Stalin, etc.)  But there’s a special place in hell for the charming heroes who helped make bigotry and cruelty culturally acceptable in America:  William Buckley, Ronald Reagan, Roger Ailes, etc.

 

What event in military history do you most admire?
Any decision that eliminated the need for military engagement.

 

What reforms do you most admire?
Civil rights.  Gay rights.  Eliminating corruption or ignorance or smoking.  Do I have to choose one? 

 

What natural gift would you most like to possess?
Musical talent.  I long to be a simple piano-player in a lounge somewhere, singing Sinatra songs.

 

How would you like to die?
Very quickly.  In my sleep.  After a very long, healthy life.

 

What is your present state of mind?
A little overwhelmed.  But good.

 

To what faults do you feel most indulgent?
Eating to excess.  Also, allowing work to take over too much of my life.

 

 

 

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

 

Spending time with smart people who espouse stupid positions. 

 

What is your motto?

 

Seek wisdom.

 

 

 

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Decisions, decisions

A question from an old friend:

These days it’s rare for someone to have such a relatively singular career path, especially one with a single company. Did you ever question your career path? How did you know advertising would be your long term career? Was there ever a moment when you wanted to chuck it all and open a sandwich shop at the beach?

I made my big career decision when I was a reporter for The Richmond News Leader.  I was going to be a magazine editor in New York City.  For the life of me, I can’t remember why I decided to try advertising in Richmond first.  I must have been serious about it because I applied at three different local agencies.  Dave Martin turned me down at one.  Harry Jacobs turned me down at another.  But Larry Kaplan offered me a job writing brochure copy for Reynolds Do-It-Yourself Aluminum.  I worked at Larry’s agency for 18 months, for a Norfolk-based agency for 18 months, for myself as a freelancer for 18 months, then as a partner at Hughes Wynne creative services for 18 months.  Then Harry, who was now working with Dave, called–and I spent 34 years at The Martin Agency.  I occasionally got some awfully flattering offers (actually, not that many), but the years flew by.  I was doing work I love with people I love.  How are you going to find a better job than that?

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