Bodily Liquids

Recently, another far more cerebral copywriter than I am asked me, “What kind of a writer are you?” 

I stared at her blankly, not knowing how to answer. I’ve never been a copywriter with a secret screenplay, collection of comical Haikus or coming-of-age zombie novel in the works. Since I primarily write ads, my words come in short sentences and 30-second time blocks.

And unlike a lot of writers I know who are voracious readers, I don’t pour over Hemingway or even the #1 reco on Oprah’s book list. Nope, I read, “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!” and “Geronimo Stilton, Mouse Detective.” Out loud.  I also enjoy Allure and Food & Wine magazine, in luxurious three to four minute bouts of solitude, while sitting on the toilet.

Don’t be jealous. 

Just some of the Important Books I do not own.

Just some of the Important Books I do not own.

But then a very astute, inspired answer came to me:

“I want my writing to make people cry or pee.” 

Actually, my first answer was “I want to make liquid come out of other people’s bodies.” But I had to quickly rephrase that, for obvious reasons. That’s E.L. James' territory. And nobody’s reading that stuff for the amazing literary quality. 

(Okay, yes, I did read the entire Shades of Grey series. But as an approaching middle-aged suburban mom, I had to read them so I’m up on popular culture. Had to.)

My intellectual writer friend was super impressed, as you can imagine.

I’m kidding. She wasn’t.

But that’s okay. Because by answering her question, I have become more aware of what I'm putting down on paper. The best kinds of writing elicit emotions from the reader (or listener or watcher.) They connect on a visceral level. Otherwise, it’s just words bouncing off your brain. So if I’m always shooting for emotional extremes, to hit someone’s funny bone or yank at their heartstrings, I’ll occasionally get there. Because, let’s be honest - tears and pee aren’t easy to achieve. Unless we’re talking babies, weddings or jumping on a trampoline after giving birth to two 10-pounders. Or so I’ve heard.

So even if my writing doesn’t always reach bodily liquid territory, I’m at least hopefully creating a chuckle. Or a knowing sigh. Or a smirk. I can live with a smirk.

But to me, tears and pee mean ultimate success. 

Pretty sure that’s a Hemingway quote.

No, you push it.

More than just the title of the Salt N’ Pepa’s classic that I did some SWEET dance moves to in high school, the phrase “Push It” has been the bane of my creative existence.

In fact, if I had a dime for every time I’d been told to “Push It” during the course of my career, I wouldn’t be doing the majority of my shopping at Marshall’s fine discount clothing retailer, where You Never Pay Full Price for Fabulous ®. I shop there a lot, apparently.


I get it. “Pushing it” is what makes good work, better. “Pushing it” also makes scientists, or innovators or philanthropists or anyone better, really. Except maybe that guy in charge of guarding the button to blow the world into smithereens. Not good advice for that guy.

“Pushing it” is what most successful people spend their whole careers doing. Going beyond the obvious. Driving themselves to come up with something newer or more insightful.  Fine tuning and crafting what they’ve already done to make it more impactful.

I have heard this phrase repeatedly from several amazing, talented creative directors whom I greatly respect and admire.

And there are times when it has been just the kick in the butt I needed to send me into a quiet, rage-induced self-doubt spiral. No! I mean, into a brand new way of thinking about things!

But the rest of the time (99.2%), it just pisses me off.

Because telling a creative to “Push It” is non-specific. It is a request to improve things, without knowing the subjective and very specific idea of what would be funnier or wackier or more poignant or better in the mind of the person delivering the critique.

Plus, everybody has a different definition of “better.” Everyone’s version of the perfect poop joke is unique.  And beautiful, I might add.

In my mind, when someone says “Push It”, it insinuates I have not “pushed it” to begin with. Now, I admit I can be sensitive about this, and those close to me are nodding too enthusiastically in agreement right now. Shut up, those friends. Because being told to “Push It” is a huge affront to someone who crafts every word they type. Seriously, even texts. It drives my husband nuts. This sentence alone required 23 revisions.

Now, I absolutely believe in the intention behind “Pushing It.” I believe that you shouldn’t settle, and that there is always room for improvement.

But telling a creative to “Push It” is the equivalent of telling a high jumper who can’t quite clear the bar to just “jump higher.” Wouldn’t it be more helpful to suggest he change his approach, or adjust his position, or… I just reached the end of my high-jump knowledge, so this is where that metaphor ends. But you get the idea.

In my case, I find I get the “Push It” comment because I am a rule follower.  I like a solid creative brief, and the chaperone that shows up to many of the concepting parties in my head wearing a turtleneck and sensible shoes, insists I follow it.  For instance, if I know the client has not bought something in the past because of a certain sensitivity, I avoid that landmine.  I like things to make strategic sense and all tie up in a nice little bow. I am more comfortable thinking within a box than I am floating in space.

So to break out of this, I’ve realized I need to not worry so much. Tell my creative chaperone to chill the eff out and let me do my thing. Believe strongly in myself. Not in an infallible, cocky “I know better” way.  But in the positive, confident way that reminds me I’ve done this before. I’ve been awesome before.

With this in mind, I’d like to suggest some alternatives to “Push it.” Something encouraging, not insulting. Motivational but not too foofy. This is a working list, but here are some quick ideas. (Could be sharper. Must revise this at least 17 more times.)

 • Relax and give two shits less!

 • Let it go! (may be taken)

 • Encourage your mind to swim naked in an infinity pool of your own best ideas!

Sure, there’s not one stock answer. But it boils down to a simple nuance. To get a better creative product, don’t simply ask someone to “Push It.” Start by defining what better means to you, and show your confidence in their ability to achieve that better thing.

I know you can do it.  I believe in you. (See what I did there?)


Hores and Spaceships

You’re looking at my two favorite pieces of art my kids have ever done.

These are my favorite because I love imperfection. Inappropriate things make me really happy. If I meet another mom who reaches into her purse for a pen and instead pulls out a tampon with a half-eaten Tootsie Pop and a hair band stuck to it, I know we’ll be instant friends.

Not because we can complain about how bad it is, but because we can commiserate about how good it is. How funny it all is.

I am a big believer in sharing the mistakes, comparing the messes, admitting my faults and laughing (sometimes crying) about it all.

A friend and art director partner of mine has four kids. FOUR. Whenever we work together, we spend a lot of time sharing stories. Mostly about how, with the help of our husbands and friends and families, we’re barely holding it all together. Her stories trump mine every time (she has twice as many everythings, afterall.) But we both take solace in hearing that we’re all in this together, each doing the best we can. It’s not a competition, it’s a club.

I love my kids (duh.) And I am left breathless by their beauty and sweetness and budding talents almost every day. But you’ll rarely hear me talk about it.

Because I’d much rather laugh about my daughter’s horrible meltdown at the Halloween party. Or describe the adorable way my son sucks at karate.

The beauty is in the imperfection. The stories are in the screw-ups.

This is why I grow so tired in my job of advertisers worrying about portraying parenthood as negative. Of clients insisting we round the corners on the truth, concerned about alienating moms because we’re reminding them of the chaos in their own lives. Newsflash: THE CHAOS IS REAL. And if we embrace it, laugh about it and move on, we’ve shown that we understand what it’s really like to be a parent.

Aspirational is a popular word. “Don’t show the reality, show what moms aspire to be

Nope, sorry. Calling BS on that one. Because I will never be, nor aspire to be, that mom with no clutter on the counter of my unnaturally clean house and perfect hair and no visible panty lines who smiles in utter delight when she opens her dryer to see her kid has thrown a pack of crayons into it. 

In reality, I would LOSE MY SHIT if my kid threw a pack of crayons into the dryer. Even in the name of “science.”  But after I calmed down and used a lot of stain remover, I would begin sharing the story. With everyone I knew. And it would probably spark an even better story from my friend about how her son finger-painted his nursery room wall … with poop. Or how my other friend’s daughter built her entire first grade project out of champagne corks and cages, cause there just happened to be a lot of them lying around.

I don’t want to hear stories of perfection. Good for you, if you have them, but what I really want to hear about is how you spilled breast milk on your male coworker. Or how your 4-year-old walked in on you and your husband, and you told her you were “wrestling.” Tell me about how you burst into tears after dropping your son off at preschool this morning, because you’d yelled at him for picking up gum off the sidewalk and you haven’t slept well for 3 nights and you think the cat may have peed on the jeans you’re wearing because you haven’t had time to clean the litter box. I will laugh and cry and commiserate with you every time.

Cause that stuff is the best. The imperfect moments are the best.