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American In Paris


Flying Solo–Barbara boldly goes where she's never gone before

Flying Solo – Barbara boldly goes where she’s never gone before

If I’m Talking, Why Aren’t You Listening, the performance piece I co-wrote with my friend Linda Dini Jenkins, got a lot of positive ink, lots of applause and did exactly what I’d hope it would do — get the people who came to see it to recognize themselves in my stories and start writing their own. On the heels of that kind of happiness and not liking where I was working at the time, I left advertising. I was not the right fit. I wasn’t a cool kid, a big risk taker, a tough cookie. I couldn’t say yes when I meant no, didn’t have tough enough skin, couldn’t say hack work was great stuff, etc. I was a hard worker, too approval-driven, too fearful of angering my creative directors and tried to be a good girl in a bad place for me.

A Square Peg. I did some forward-thinking work, and, as often happens in advertising, even when my creative director fought hard for my ideas, the clients said no. Tech advertising was just kicking off back then, and by dint of my skill for turning complex information into fun, ads even a senior decisionmaker could understand, I did some advertising for computers, modems, multiplexers, ISDN networks — real fun stuff — that won clients and some awards and kept everybody happy. Except me. Instead of opening doors for me to the glamor accounts and shooting me up the ladder and pay scale, I was pigeon-holed as she can do the tough and often boring stuff really well.” That left me slogging away and miserable writing business-to-business advertising that made money but none of the cool kids wanted to do.

Finally In A Square Hole. Miseries aside, I made some lifelong friends in advertising, learned about writing to strategy and consumer need and the power of storytelling, and that prepared me for what was next, and that was: telling myself, nothing so meaningless should be so painful, and leaving advertising to go solo as a freelance writer. When I told my successful advertising friends what I was doing, they said I was brave and wise, and they wished they could chuck it in too. 

Even though my friends were patting me on the back and wishing me well, I wondered if they and those people that didn’t like me half as much were thinking: She’s a loser, couldn’t cut it, not like me, and that’s why she had to walk away. I felt a little like that about myself too and would look down at the floor when at parties with the old ad gang, people asked me what I was working on. (Advertising-speak for, who are your clients, what are your production and media budgets, who are you shooting with and have you won any Clios this year?) There were so many negative stereotypes about people who left advertising on their own or were forced out when an account was lost or management changed. 

On To Bigger And Better Things. Working on my own for organizations that I respected and made products I loved and clients that got the point-of-view and ideas I was bringing was where and how I worked best, and out on my own I prospered. That said, it took a long time for me to be able to cover the bills and to realize that leaving advertising wasn’t a failure on my part. It was the right choice for me. When the cash started coming in, I treated myself to a new bag, coat with silver and turquoise buttons and stupidly overpriced sunglasses. Then, Geoff and I went to Paris. I can’t remember who designed the sunglasses I’m wearing in this picture. I do remember they cost what was a fortune for me at the time, but they did make me look like one of the cool kids — even if I knew I wasn’t and still know I never will be.

Hair and Makeup: Three years in to being a freelancer, I was getting some big corporate assignments and interviewing and hobnobbing with some very senior women. It was time for some snazzy, professional credentials — a beautifully printed CV and headshot. Rochelle arranged for me to tag onto one of her cover shoots — a model in a bikini. The morning of, I put on my favorite black suit and Tiffany silver star (subliminal messaging) choker, and about two hours later during a routine dental visit learned I had to have immediate surgery on my upper right jaw. By the time I walked into the photographer’s studio later in the afternoon, my cheek was black and blue, swollen like a baseball and my hair was frizzed and my lips numb. At the photographer’s studio later that day, the hair and make-up artist got out a paint brush and painted and contoured my bruised cheek. He put some kind of pomade in my hair and ta-da! I’d never looked so good in my life. We took the shots — lots of white card and natural light — and after all the pictures were taken, the last thing I wanted to do was go home all glammed up. Geoff was out of town. I called friends. They were busy. Determined to not hide my new look, I went out to dinner by myself and smiled at everyone in the restaurant. Later, back in my apartment, I stared at myself in the mirror and nearly sobbed when it was time to wash my face before going to bed. 

BW 14 circa 94

I never looked so good in a picture before and haven’t since.