Delivered to the Boise Ad Fed for the annual holiday roast of advertising at Lost Grove Brewing on Jan. 28th, 2022.
MAD MAX VS MAD MEN
I call this outfit Mad Max meets Mad Men.
After all, what do you wear to the end of the world…in advertising.
I honestly cannot believe I’m spending the apocalypse attempting to help capitalists scare up qualified sales leads in a minor media market.
[sings, appeals to heavens] *Oooooo Fortuna!*
Do you ever pause in meetings on like…[upbeat] *interactive digital strategies for boomers* or whatever, look around at your masked–slash–Zoomed–slash–trauma-bonded colleagues, and ask:
“This…is a joke right?”
[ditz voice] *‘Cause it’s not super funny.*
No one wants to talk to me in meetings. I wonder why.
[uptight voice] *Mute button please!*
I mean, I’ve always thought…if I’m gonna weather a dystopia…where are my like…souped up death trap monster vehicle desert road trips and monotone jumpsuits that look like Kanye West and Julia Fox are going on a date at.
That’s both a Mad Max callback…
…and a shoutout to the his-and-her hellscape fashion collection that’s obviously in development from “Ye” and Julia Fox. But did you see that all jean ensemblé with the coned boob crop top jacket? Apocalypse now me, baby.
Not going to lie, is this whole comedy set a little dark?
[upbeat] It’s like John Mulaney…
[downbeat] …after the rehab.
2019 vs 2022
At our last BAF holiday roast, in 2019, I made the joke that to keep my sanity, I spent most of my time toggling between political and murder podcasts. Cause we’ve all gotta go somehow.
Post 2020 and 2021, to maintain my *sparkling* insanity I plow through fat rails of Antiwork Reddit and mainline TikTok all day long.
[mime bad ice cold gesture]
15 seconds of mind-numbing bliss, straight to the vein.
[dork voice] *GenZ, will you accept me into your super cool anarchy!*
No cap, I’m too old to be a cheugy millennial.
[old person voice with cane] *I’m OG cheugy.*
About a year ago, there on TikTok, I beheld an Idaho stoner with serious swag and a skateboard sail on into his bliss with just an Ocean Spray and a Dream(s)…from Fleetwood Mack.
[mime skateboarding and drinking OceanSpray]
“Now there you go again,
You want your freedom….
Well who am I to keep you down.”
The bottle label, glistens against the gray sky. The essence of cran-raspberry blooms in your mouth. At long last… in a bleak broken down world… you are alive. Or at least, this guy is…
It’s the best commercial ever made.
I knew then, as an overpaid professional copywriter and commercial conceptor, it was time to hang up my puns…I mean pens.
[surfer dude voice, mime smoking]
Hit the pipe!
[skating curve hand]
Then the half pipe.
DYSTOPIA: THE REBRAND
Then I thought. I’m a goddamn professional. This whole so-called “dystopia” just needs a “reframing.” A “repositioning.” A “brand makeover.”
Then it hit me. Bring back the classics. Or just The Classic. All we need to do is recut that famous 1984 Apple Commercial.
You remember it.
Drones of people under bleak florescent lighting wear montone jumpsuits and fashion masks. [knowing looks]
There’s a militant police presence. [knowing looks]
From the big screen in the background, glowing off the vacant staring faces, propaganda from a rich old white man drones on:
“We shall prevail…” [riiiiiiiiight flip off gesture]
Then the hot socialist chick in the tight red hotpants holding a daddy USSR hammer runs in. Shattering the screen.
Voiceover: “This time, 1984 won’t be like 1984.”
NEW CUT to: Tight on a new screen where, caught in 4k, we see a meme-y montage of billionaires doing *tone deaf* billionaire things, ending with Jeff Bezo’s rocket penis inserting itself, unwanted, into space.
Pan out to see that the screen is an iPhone, glowing up in the fashion masked faces of the monotone clad drones.
We hear an alluringly familiar but robotic female voiceover.
My name is Siri.
I am 1984.”
[Drops iPhone mic.] Fades to black void.
Isn’t it ironic?
Don’t you think?
[bitchy teacher voice] Alanis?
It is a bit meta. Oh wait. Mark Zuckerberg trademarked that word.
This is now the Metaverse(TM) and we’re all just living in it.
COCKROACHES OF ADVERTISING
Even though my profession is advertising, like any cold-blooded American I’ve paid off every inch of Silicon Valley to cock block all vestiges of advertisement out of my existence.
Here, in this self-styled marketing wasteland, only the cockroaches of advertising remain. You see two breeds.
[hold finger for one] The graphic foot fungal banner ads with the*dis-gus-ting* chalky white toenails that cling like rats to every sinking celebrity gossip blog. Another plague one cannot avoid.
[hold finger for two] Who else to but to skuttle in from every random corner…the Gecko. No matter what you do. What happens. That fucking lizard is everywhere. I swear to God, he’ll be there at the bitter end, making witty banter with Zombies, saying,
[British voice] “Brains. You know what takes brains, saving 15 percent or more on Car Insurance with Geiko…”
Word up. I’m Jessica Holmes.
Client: White Cloud Rafting | Design: Jenny & Co. | Copy mission: In the competitive environment of Stanley and Sun Valley, White Cloud needed a total website and brand refresh as accessible, approachable, fun-loving and trust-worthy as the owner and guide team behind this legendary rafting company.
Results: A dramatic increase in bookings.
Nothing beats the experience of a day on the river (or the web) with WhiteCloudRafting.com.
THIS SWEATER IS LIT
Yeah, you might have an ugly holiday sweater, but is it…LIT?
Via two light sources?
This is obviously a product of the 80s. When everyone was on cocaine… so we bought into anything… so long as it was hideous to behold and powered by a Duracell.
Remember that old 80s campaign with the rabbit drum major? It keeps going and going and going. We know what you were on, Energizer Bunny. [taps nose] Coke Classic.
TRUMP, WE’RE ON IT
Honestly, it’s not easy to do a roast on advertising in the Trump era. Because in this political climate, the only real campaign to break through in 3 years has been South Dakota’s…
“Meth. We’re on it.”
Tho…to be honest, how many of us have spent sleepless nights in a cold sweat, rocking back and forth, biting our nails to the quick, talking too fast really nostalgically about when, remember when, our president…could like…spell his wife’s first name and the word hamburgers?!
“Trump. We’re on it. “
Explains his sniffing in speeches. And the slurred words: “God blesh Ammerca.”
The only other standouts in advertising lately have been when brands have got a little too woke.
Remember when Kendall Jenner single-handedly united the protest movement and the police force with a Pepsi. Hashtag #resistCokeproducts So brave.
Or when Gillette took a stand on toxic masculinity by getting realllll sarcastic with their tagline. “Ummm…is that the best a man can get?” Ohhh…sick razor burn.
Honestly, to keep my sanity, I now spend most of my time toggling between political and murder podcasts. Cause we’ve all gotta go somehow.
So in my mind advertising’s getting strangely…ASMR intimate. Everybody’s whispering in your ear about slipping on MeUndies and in between some Parachute sheets. I mean, I know exactly how it feels to spend a night in Jon Favreau’s Casper bed. Code word: PodSaveMyOrgasm. It’s like a dick in a box. Oh wait, it’s just a mattress in there?
Now I’ve gotta cancel “Hello Fresh” and that Fab, Fit, Fun box. It’s just not…what I was expecting.
It’s not my fault my mind just…goes there. Even big brands are doing the advertising equivalent of adding “in bed” to the end of a fortune cookie and calling it a day.
Just a few days ago, Netflix tweeted, “What’s something you can say during sex but also when you manage a brand twitter account?”
These are actual replies from real verified accounts.
Hot Pocket teased:
“Nice hot pocket.”
Mr. Peanut busted out:
“I need a nut.”
Boston Market inserted:
“You’ve been waiting for this stuffing all year.”
When chef Rachel Ray jacked the phrase:
“Where’s the beef?”
Wendy’s hit her back with. “Ummmm…sup. Wink emoji.”
Then Kettle Brand Chips ruined everything with:
“You can go elbow deep in me.”
When Twitter is dis-gust-ing on basically every level, it’s time to cancel the internet. No slogan is safe.
TRUTH IN (LOCAL) ADVERTISING
This is why I’m so proud of Idaho advertising. We are truth tellers. Of the real everyday, hit you in your gut truth, you know. I am here for it.
Like that Idaho Lottery spot by Mitchell Palmer where the guy is trying to use the automated bathroom equipment. I relate. [mad waving] “Am I not made of human flesh and matter?!”
That Primary Health spot by Stoltz Group where you’re just waiting for that little girl to buckle her goddamn seatbelt. Now that is some nail-biting suspense. [………….click] You can tell a motherfuckin’ parent conceived of that spot.
Or Drake Cooper’s iconic 18 Summers campaign, where you’re reminded that your time on earth is fleeting, your children will soon grow up to resent you (#boomer), and your most precious memories, if you even bother to make them, will eventually end up as a pile of Idaho dust. It hits that sweet spot we’re all trying to achieve in advertising: Nostalgic existentialism.
Or maybe we should call this campaign 18 Rockies because how fucking many times is that going to win Best of Show?! I mean, we get it already. It’s a good idea. Not that I’m jealous or anything.
I do like…get it. Even though I don’t have kids I do have a biological clock. I imagine my eggs in there, [mimes smoking cigarette] “We got 18 good summers. [drags, exhales.] Better make the most of it.”
Well, me and my eggs gotta go jump in an Idaho lake. But uh, I raise a glass to all of you in advertising.
God rest ye merry gentleman and you bad ass women who slay.
Presented to the Idaho Speech Arts Teachers Association in 2019.
Launch: THIS IS NOT AT ALL INTIMIDATING (sarcasm)
Nothing is quite as intimidating as giving a speech to a bunch of speech teachers. Or presenting a well-reasoned thesis to debate teachers. Luckily, my forte is drama, drama, drama. So…this is still in my wheelhouse.
It’s ironic that I’m giving this speech at all, given that, for decades, I was the girl who never talked. I was like an adolescent mime. [*in a box gesture*]
As a young child, my elderly neighbor taught me a non-speaking technique I still use to this day. I’d go to her house and she’d say, “Make your eyes big.” [*mime eye thang*] She’d give me a commemorative spoon from Nebraska. It was the most positive reinforcement I’ve ever received in my life. It’s also an excellent way to hit on people. [*eye mime thing then sarcastically shakes head*]
So that’s the beginning. Somehow, I end up here. The founder of a live storytelling program. The winner of the inaugural Boise’s Funniest Person stand-up competition. A veritable stage presence. Who is, like, actually speaking. Out loud.
In between, is the story. And the story is one of surprising change and revelation, as all great stories are.
ROCKS & ISLANDS
I know I’m not the only teenager to mournfully sing the lyrics to Simon and Garfunkel (*coughs* insert more contemporary reference here) while lying on her bed staring at the ceiling.
“I am a rock. I am an issssland. And a rock feels no pain. And an island never cries.”
I know I’m not the only one because, according to recent scientific studies, loneliness is an epidemic.
Even (and especially) in the age of social media and instant messaging and 24-hour news cycles, loneliness is on the rise. Over the last 50 years, loneliness rates have doubled in the United States. Over half of surveyed American adults reported feeling alone, left out, isolated. One in four Americans shared they rarely feel understood. And one in five people believe they rarely or never feel close to people.
This breaks my heart.
And its breaking their hearts. Studies have shown that poor social relationships were associated with a 29 percent increase in risk of coronary heart disease and a 32 percent rise in the risk of stroke. Loneliness can be as damaging to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. This is a dire public health threat. Loneliness is literally killing us. Both as individuals and as a society.
I understand the impacts firsthand. Growing up incredibly isolated pushed me into a state of pervasive, persistent depression. And to drug use and addiction to numb the pain.
So even as I recited Simon and Garfunkel lyrics to will my gooey, despair-stricken heart into a hard-pressed inanimate object with no real need for human connection—deep down, I must have known the song was a lie. Because like a totally normal teenager, I also walked around my bedroom memorizing John Donne.
“No man is an island. Entire of itself. Every man is a piece of the continent. A part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as a manner of thy friends or of thine own were. Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. Therefore, never send to know for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee.”
Also a great thing to say to students still in the hallway when the bell rings. “It tolls for thee! Slackers!”
THE ESSAY CLUB
In every great story, there is a turning point. One that might seem mundane at first. But that takes you off the track you’ve been routinely following, and shifts your perspective entirely.
My initial turning point came my senior year in high school, in the form of a big-hearted, big-brained, deep-voiced librarian. He’s the kind of guy who just spouts off literary quotes in everyday conversation that forever get turned around and around in your brain like a Rubik’s cube.
For example, he would throw out: “In the words of Nietzsche, ‘When you look into the abyss, you become the abyss’.” *mind blown gesture*
He invited me to be part of “The Essay Club.” Based on recommendations from other teachers, he hand-picked five kids to read essays on a theme, and then discuss them over tea on any given Sunday in a room above the library. As subsequent boyfriends have pointed out, it’s probably the dorkiest high school club on earth, but for me, it was the first time I felt really listened to. Like my ideas mattered. Like my intellect meant something. Even being picked for this group meant that someone SAW me. Truly saw something special in me, silent and scribbling in the back of the class. And that alone meant the world to me.
Together, we talked about everything from food to abortion to George Orwell. In the process, we expanded our points of view. We really connected. We slowly healed ourselves.
To this day, the essay club members are my best friends. And the librarian is the most important lifelong mentor I’ll ever know.
After that, I forced myself to speak to people. Literally forced myself through waves of terror and uncertainty and self-doubt. And after years of imagining what people were saying without actually participating, I guess I had turned everyone into characters from the Jane Austen or Dostoevsky books I devoured. Because while I thought people must be discussing deep philosophical and societal matters in complex and beautiful language, they were actually just spouting off some random bullsheep. Honestly, I was quite disappointed. I. Could. Not. “Do.” Small talk.
So instead I asked questions. Trying to get to the heart of the matter, and in a deft shy girl move, also focusing the spotlight back on the person I was talking to. *taps head* Clever. I’d ask: “What are you passionate about?” “What’s a turning point in your life?” Or simply, “What happened?” the greatest story-sparking question ever devised.
I did not discriminate who I talked to. Young. Old. Whoever happened to be there at the coffee shop when I willed myself to open my mouth. And I learned that everyone has a story that means something.
Your weirdo quirks sometimes become your biggest strengths. It’s not just a “The More You Know” afterschool special sort of pablum to make weirdo teenagers feel better. It’s true.
My conversations often ended with people telling me, somewhat in surprise of themselves, “Wow, I’ve never told that to anyone.”
And that became my secret superpower. Extracting stories from the core of someone’s heart. Like some oil baron of the soul.
STORY STORY NIGHT
Ten years later, I started Story Story Night. Inspired by The Essay Club, my odd collection of strangers’ stories, and a liberal dash of This American Life, The Moth, and David Sedaris, this monthly show explores true stories on a theme. Told live on stage and without notes. With featured storytellers intermixed with an open story slam.
The first show we had is forever seared into my brain, and every show is seared into my heart.
We had set out about 50 chairs. High expectations for an arts event in Boise at the time (before all the Californians came and started like *indignant* attending things). But right before doors opened, I looked out the window, and the line snaked down the stairs and down the street. We set out all the 125 chairs the venue had, and still had standing room only.
And the stories were electric. Especially the most vulnerable ones. The theme was BUSTED, and one storyteller told an in turns hilarious and harrowing story about him as an adolescent boy who got caught peeping on his teenage girl neighbors. There was something about the still palpable embarrassment and stripped honesty (pun intended) he conveyed that had this amazing effect throughout the entire room.
The only time I’ve felt something similar to this was when I climbed the highest peak in the Sawtooths. As we were nearing the summit, storm clouds crept in, and our hair started to stand on end. Obviously, I should’ve booked it downhill screaming that I don’t want to be a lightning bolt statistic, but instead, I ran my hands through the air, because it felt so heavy and weighted. Palpable. And as I did, sparks went off in between each finger. Pew, pew, pew. I felt like a god.
And that’s how it felt to me in the room that night. Like the air was weighted, thick and alive with electricity. It’s magic. Magic made of empathy and vulnerability and stories.
STORIES IN THE BRAIN
In the brain, storytelling is rather electric. Storytelling is hardwired in us. It’s as natural as breathing. It’s how we process our experiences and lives and world.
In the brain, stories light the whole thing up. It’s like a disco party up there. When hearing plain facts and data on a boring PowerPoint, we only use the language processing parts in our brain. When listening to a story, the language processing part is lit up but so are other areas that spark off when actually experiencing the events of the story. Like, “her fur was so soft” would engage our sensory cortex. Or “I ran like hell” would engage our motor cortex.
Princeton neuroscientist Uri Hasson says that a story is the only way to activate parts in the brain so that a listener turns the story into their own idea and experience.
He’s demonstrated that by telling stories to each other, our brainwaves actually sync up. This sounds like I’m quoting from AmazingTheoriesofTheUniverse.com but he’s like, a Princeton neuroscientist. With a famous TED talk. This phenomenon is called neural entrainment. Look it up. It’s fascinating.
Scientists are also discovering that chemicals like cortisol, dopamine, and oxytocin are released in the brain when we’re told a story. Cortisol, a multi-functional hormone that works to protect our health and overall well-being, helps make a point stick. Dopamine, regulating our emotional responses, keeps us engaged. And oxytocin is associated with empathy, and a crucial element in building, deepening, and maintaining good relationships.
Stories are the ultimate high, man.
Because even more than a designer drug, people crave connection. They long for empathy. They need stories. It’s built into our DNA. It’s in our very nature.
THE POWER OF EMPATHY
The Dali Lama says, “Empathy is the most precious human quality.” And you have to agree with everything the Dali Lama says or you’re a terrible person. So…*looking at you gesture*
The reigning queen of empathy and vulnerability is Brene Browne. She says that “Empathy fuels connection. Sympathy drives disconnection.”
She often quotes Teresa Wiseman, who pinpointed four qualities of empathy: [*counts with fingers*] The ability to take the perspective of another person. Staying out of judgement. Recognizing emotion in other people. Then communicating that.
Brene says, “Empathy is a choice. A vulnerable choice. Because in order to connect with you, I have to connect with something in myself that knows that feeling.”
I think that empathy is also a muscle. We build it with weighted thoughts and memories and shared storytelling.
I think the idea of a story with weight is an important concept to note, too. The thing about stories is, you can’t just put one in your google cal for 3 pm next Tuesday. “Experience Great Story.” Check. Stories happen to us, rather than us intending for them to happen. Our best stories are usually moments of surprise and vulnerability. From, I had my fly down in front of my gradeschool crush, to the doctor diagnosed me with chapstick addiction. That’s an actual Story Story story. (She ended up having to go cold turkey.) Our most life-defining stories are when surprise and vulnerability combine in the extreme.
THE STORY WAVE
I compare it to a wave. You launch off. You think everything’s heading steadily up in this one direction, and suddenly [glug, blurb, water in face noises]. The action turns. And it takes you by surprise. Sometimes knocks you down. Shoves you underwater.
But note that a wave, after that awe-inspiring dramatic moment, finds peace again. Once transformed it turns back to where it came from, folds in, reaches calm. Lands softly on the sand. Ploosh.
And that’s a story. A really good story. Because it builds in tension. You don’t really know where it’s headed until suddenly—a super powerful turn of events happens. It’s sometimes jaw dropping to see it unfold. And then it loops back and finds resolution. The power and meaning of it washes over you. Whoosh.
And there you are, in the end, on the beach sipping a mojito, just watching the waves, man, and soaking up the true nature of perspective—and like, the universe and stuff.
At Story Story, we help people find this clear shape of their stories in the sea of their existence. And by shaping our stories, and recognizing them for what they are now, and what they’ve meant to the course of our life, we take sometimes embarrassing, weird, shameful, painful experiences and turn them into our superpower. At last, in our minds and in our hearts, we are not the villain, but the hero of our own story. It’s how we make sense of our lives.
MAKING IT UNIVERSAL
What I love about Story Story Night is that we give people the chance to shape their story in a way that’s universal. It’s not a story being told to your old friend Dan, it’s being told to 500 strangers. No sweat.
And it’s delivered in a way that’s naked, in a truly vulnerable sense. No notes. No props. No lightshows. Just you, a mic, the crowd. And the electric power of empathy.
Story Story Night offers themes as a story hook. I always tried to pick themes that merged surprise and vulnerability. Like HAUNTED: Stories of Ghosts from Your Closet, or HOOKED: Stories of Cravings and Compulsions.
Themes help give people an easy way to think about and shape their stories. Most of our best stories will fit under any number of themes. And any given theme you choose will subtly shift the details you decide to include in your story, and even the overall point that comes across in the end.
Even to this day, I pick a theme before a creative project to help guide my material. When I did Boise’s Funniest Person, my theme was AWKWARD. Nailed it. The theme for this speech is STRONGER TOGETHER. Obvi.
MAKING IT PERSONAL
I’ll finish with a story. One that demonstrates all of my aforementioned globemaking brilliant points in a vulnerable, heartfelt way that will make you empathize and remember. See? *taps head* Clever.
In the first year of Story Story Night, I asked my mom to tell her story for STAR-CROSSED LOVE: Stories of Fated Attraction. We worked together for four hours, sifting through moments and details of her life. Deciding how to sum up a decade in a sentence. And how to draw out the scenes that truly counted in this telling.
My parents were an odd couple. They met at a hippie revivalist Christian church. But she was still more Catholic schoolgirl than rebel and he was more stoner than prayer. Love is funny like that. How it doesn’t quite make rational sense. But inexorably, drugs took over my dad’s life. He became addicted to meth. And as he fell apart, their marriage did too. They were divorced for 10 years. In the meantime, my dad got clean. And one unpredictable, forced family togetherness Christmas, they fell hopelessly in love again. And got married 3 years later. And it’s redemption and magic and all that jazz.
I know firsthand the healing power that had for my mom. Standing in front of a room of people, as the truest of her true self, revealing her painful, embarrassing, yet humorous and powerful truth. Having a room full of people ride the wave with her. Then clap uproariously. It’s a moment of pride and self-worth. It’s a defining memory in her life. It utterly transformed this incredibly painful epoch. This great tragedy turned into a great triumph.
THE RIPPLE EFFECT
And the impact just ripples out from there. It helped heal some old wounds in her marriage. And it empowers my sisters and me to this day. We listen to it sometimes when just hanging out together, talking about our past. Her story is a cherished family memento.
And that’s what I love about Story Story Night the most. It makes me so insanely happy, to know that each story told impacts hundreds and hundreds of people. In large and small ways. The storyteller especially.
It makes me so insanely happy that I helped forge something that is forging our community, one story and one show at a time, now 10 years in. And it’s forging a community that’s deeply rooted in real connection, vulnerability, empathy, and understanding. In the face of all that, loneliness, it just poofs. Disappears into thin air. Because that’s all it’s made of.
At our last birthday for the program, a long-time audience member from our early days told me he doesn’t think he would be here today if it wasn’t for Story Story Night. I couldn’t even say anything back. Tears just streamed down my face.
The less you talk about something the more power you give it. What we really need is three healing, magic words: “I hear you.”
I’ll end with a Rubik’s cube quote like my deep-voice librarian mentor. Cheryl Strayed, in her advice column Dear Sugar, once wrote: “Your life will be a great and continuous unfolding.”
So basically, we’re all reverse origami. And I imagine, that, when the page is flat, then you can read your full story. The weird, beautiful, awkward and amazing story of your life. And hopefully, you’ll have the chance to tell that story to other people—even as it’s gradually unfolding. And really hear their stories, too.
It was a joy and a privilege to share the same brainwaves with you today. Thank you.
…with W Design.
HP commissioned a direct mail piece to send to creative types to promote the design-ready Mobile Workstation. Just my speed. With Oliver Russell.
client: Idaho Rivers United | copy mission: To tell the true action-adventure story of Lonesome Larry for his 20th anniversary by sending out an intern in a human-sized sockeye salmon suit to the far reaches of Idaho. Bringing surprise and delight to the most unexpected places, Lonesome Larry handed out branded coasters that tell his story with a link to a compelling website. All documented on social media. The entire campaign is my concept on zero budget—and was a wild success. This is a spoof on the brilliant Dos Equis’ “The Most Interesting Man in the World” campaign.
HANDOUT COASTER CARDS
“His commute makes the Iron Man look like a walk in the park…”
“His fish story reads like an action-packed thriller, except it’s true…”
“In a race for the very survival of his species, one lone fish prevailed…”
client: AARP Idaho | design: W Design | copy mission: To launch this peer-driven continuing education program in the Treasure Valley with a captivating 20-page catalog for the breakthrough fall semester, complete with cover copy that has “open this now” direct mail appeal.
results: Registrations and the response from the community far exceeded expectations. As a result, nearly twice as many classes will be offered in spring 2016 (and I wrote that catalog too).
Imagine this folded, and in your mailbox.
client: Idaho Youth Ranch | design: Rizen Creative | copy mission: To show the extraordinary breadth, scope, and reach of the Idaho Youth Ranch through the lens of one extraordinary kid’s story—and promising future. In one 20-page annual report.
I also wrote the bulk of the Idaho Youth Ranch website too. «check it
This is keynote speech I gave to a cohort of certified change makers for the Idaho Commission on the Arts.
A CHANGE WILL DO YOU GOOD?
It’s a complete honor to be here before you amazing souls and creators and community powerhouses.
I feel like saying…
Much respect Namaste, like in yoga.
Or, “we’re not worthy,” like in Wayne’s World.
I’ve been meaning to plot out this speech on change-making for weeks and weeks, but instead, I’ve just had that one song playing over and over in my head, “A change will do you good.” And as if from over your shoulder, “Will do you good.” [looks back]
Shut up song!
Because, really? Will it? Really?
I think we raw, raw, siss, boom-bah change all the time. It’s hip and rock star and bold and stuff. Without really acknowledging the fear and chaos it unleashes in its wake.
Change. Remember that was Barack Obama’s slogan in 2008? And here we are now, 2016, in the wake of incredible change. We elected our first black president. In just a few short days (and bed-wetting nights), we’re about to elect our first female president (god and all-humanity willing). Gay marriage is legal across the country. Pot is even legal you guys. It blows my teenage stoner girl mind. I would have never imagined this.
But what do we see now? What do we hear? Fear. Ugliness. Demonizing. Racism. Sexism. To degrees and on levels we never really imagined, either.
And everyone is terrified. And what does this all mean about the nature of change? Is it good or is it eeevahl? [aside: I think everyone should say evil like eevahl and I’d bet we’d have a lot less eevahl in the world.)
WHAT CHANGE MEANS IN STORIES
I see this question through the lens of storytelling. As I see all things on heaven and on earth. It is both a blessing and a curse.
I consider myself to be a storyteller, but I consider everyone to be a storyteller. Because everyone is a storyteller. It’s in our roots. It’s in our blood. It’s our birthright as human beings. It’s how we process this crazy amazing head-rush called existing.
But let me come clean, here and now, English Lit major cred and all, for the first 2 years of MC-ing Story Story Night, I had no idea what really made stories work. (Faked it til I made it!)
But this led to inconsistent shows. So I started to really examine what makes some stories shine like a diamond, and what makes other stories fall flat. And what I found taught me about the true nature of change—and the overall meaning it has in our lives.
So the secret formula I found for stories is: [dramatic pause] that there is no formula for stories. Well, there are usually 2 formulas that always work: near death and humiliating experiences. But almost no one would opt in to those intentionally.
You can’t just say, “I’m going go out and have a great story on Tuesday. Imma gonna put in my BlackBerry.”
It’s not how it works. A good story is one of the things money really can’t buy. They just have to…happen to you.
For Story Story Night, I call this life experience the course changer. The surprising moment. The turning point.
THE STORY WAVE
I compare it to a wave. You launch off. You think everything’s heading steadily up in this one direction, and suddenly [glug, blurb, water in face noises]. The action turns. And it takes you by surprise. Sometimes knocks you down. Shoves you underwater.
But note that a wave, after that awe-inspiring dramatic moment, finds peace again. Once transformed it turns back to where it came from, folds in, reaches calm. Lands softly on the sand. Ploosh.
And there you are too, storyteller, back on the beach. Sipping a mojito. Just watching the waves, man.
And that’s a story. A really good story. Because it builds in tension. You don’t really know where it’s headed until suddenly—a super powerful turn of events happens. It’s jaw dropping to see it unfold. And then it quickly comes back and finds resolution. The power and meaning of it just washes over you. Whoosh.
And there you are, in the end, soaking up the true nature of perspective—and like the universe and stuff.
In non-beachy metaphors, you may wonder what use this…genius illustration…means to you trying to run a nonprofit, or produce art that matters, or change the world, or whatever it is you are doing with your spare time.
THE SUPER AMAZING FORMLESS MAW
I’m getting to it guys.
First another secret: I never really intended to run a live storytelling program for 6 and a half years. I had practically no event planning experience except for boss dinner parties. I most definitely never intended to become such a known presence on stage. I don’t know if you noticed this, but I am actually super, super awkward. And that stems from being morbidly shy as a kid. This life is the exact opposite of everything I imagined I was capable of, even.
Story Story Night happened to me. Boom! Surprise magic. This was no slow build. This was lines around the corner. Electricity in the air. Raw emotion. Huge crowds—deeply moved. Sold out shows. Startling storytellers. Human vulnerability in the palm of your hands. In the mic on the stage.
For me, I just ran behind the phenomenon, trying to keep up with it, sometimes tripping up behind it. Amazed at all that was unfolding, seemingly unbidden. Story Story Night became an unstoppable force in the community.
But behind the scenes, it was a formless gaping maw. A super amazing thrilling formless gaping maw. I don’t know how many of you plan events, but no matter how much you think you’ve duck taped up all the loose ends and wonky holes, something always takes you by surprise.
SUPRISING THEMES BEHIND THE SCENES
And Story Story Night had shows every single month. To me, it felt like planning a wedding. Like officiating a long super vulnerable story ceremony. Every. Single. Month. To make it more intense, the theme for the month always played out behind-the-scenes too in strange and unpredictable ways. We definitely should’ve rethought some themes, like FULL PLATE, APOCALYPSE. CRAZY. [Shakes head.]
Picking the themes for these shows felt like giving myself mystic little word clues on what would unfold in my near future. Knowing those themes in advance didn’t really help though, because by the very nature of it, the story had to take me by surprise.
And through each of these relentless themed monthly surprises, I learned how to put on a show. I learned how to brave the odd nuances of the stage, often surprisingly lonely in way that Steve Martin calls “the ego’s last stand.” Every month, I stood up there, come rain, shine, heartbreak, depression, dead sweats of night. I learned what I was really made of. Or at least how to eat it in public with more grace.
CREATION BY SHOCK & AWE
And the larger the fail, the bigger the corresponding change. I call it creation through shock and awe.
Here’s an example. The first real problem with our program was built into our very framework. It’s our schtick really—what set us apart from other storytelling programs. Each show had 3 featured storytellers intermixed with an open story slam. Yet finding and training these 3 diverse, interesting, real people in advance became a total bear almost instantly. But it would make or break a show. This part never got super easy, I admit. But 6 months in, this non-stop featured storyteller struggle led to the creation of the Story Story Studio, a workshop series that’s now taught 100s of kids and adults in Idaho about the power and possibility of real live storytelling.
Or there’s the byproduct of one of our first major controversies. Cussin’. And sex talk. Our crowd seemed divided. We got complaints from both sides. Some were appalled by some of the content. Some hated us censoring it. So about three years in, we created the adults-only Story Story Late-Night, the positively shameless black sheep of the storytelling family. It’s my favorite. I know a mom’s not supposed to say that. But it is.
NEAR DEATH OF STORY STORY
Ultimately, Story Story Night had our own near death story. And as you know by now, those stories always work. They’re always pretty epic. But thing is, you don’t know if you’re going to die.
So there I was, 2014, on the brink. Story Story Night was about to bite the dust. Legit. When a nonprofit’s on its deathbed though, it comes silently in the dead of daylight fluorescents—in the form of spreadsheets. We had to face the facts, Jack. Even with sold out shows, we had miscalculated everything.
We had totally neglected to build a viable structure for this baby. We had no real paid staff. We had no plan to change that reality. Four years in, it was time to call a spade a spade, and fold.
And then one random Tuesday, I got a spam email. One of those like, you won $30,000 emails, probably form the price of Kazakhstan or whatever. I totally ignored it. Until one day, a full month later, Sam Stimpert at Visual Arts Collective said, “Can you believe that grant we got?” Boom! The spam was real. It was a surprise $30k SEED grant from the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation.
RESURRECTION BY RAUSCHENBERG
Along with the life-saving out-of-the-blue grant, the Foundation flew us to Captiva Island in Florida, where the late, great multi-media and found-object artist Robert Rauschenberg made his work in these stark white, beautifully lit studios surrounded by wild nature.
We landed there with other SEED grant winners—the creators of groundbreaking projects from across the country. It probably feels sort of like this experience did for you, meeting all of these on-fire creators. It was like adult camp for weirdo artists. People who make something real—often from nothing—because something inside tells them they have to.
True to form, I collected these people’s stories, usually on the beach at night as we drank champagne and hard alcohol (which is ill advised). I realized that running an arts program was pretty freaky and weird for everyone. But it was always rooted in passion and vision and curiosity—the real change-makers.
I realized that nobody really had it figured out. That we were all mostly blindly stumbling our way through, from surprising moment to surprising moment, to see where this thing called art took us. And each of us feels pretty alone, a lot, building up this boundary-and-button-pushing thing that either does or doesn’t make sense to the whole of our lives. That either is or is not slowly taking over it.
But I also realized, that these radical change-makers, they’re out there. Like the X files. Dotted through every community, they’re like blazing beacons, starting ground fires that have the potential to light everyone up. Visible from space, I bet.
And as we sat there on the sand of Captiva Island in the dark and watched the waves of the Gulf of Mexico, sparkling with bioluminescent plankton, I realized I reached the end of the story. For Story Story.
And I’m going to end this with the immortal words of the great poet, David Bowie. (Rest in peace.)
Turn and face the strange [turns around]
Time may change me
But I can’t trace time”
Profound words—and “ch-ch” sounds. To me, this means that change is always comin’, and it’s gonna change you. You don’t know when. You don’t know where. But there you are just minding your own business on a random Tuesday and…boom! Change. Suddenly, you’re tracing a brand new curve. You’re likely living through a moment that is changing your course. And these moments make up the great stories of your life. These are your real becoming.
They just sometimes feel like shit. And chaos. Or pure ecstasy. Followed by chaos. And the best thing you can do when you’re living through it is to face the truth—however ugly, however revealing, however wild—that this surprising change brings to light. Then ride the wave.
And eventually, when you’ve landed on your feet again, you can find the theme to frame it all, in the end. This theme helps give the story real meaning in the larger context of your life—and helps you link your experience to the universal storyline of human existence. Just let your story be your guide. (I think that’s from Pinocchio.)
Or as my favorite advice columnist, Dear Sugar, Cheryl Stayed, wrote, “Your life will be a great and continuous unfolding.” [mind blown gesture] We’re all just reverse origami, you guys.
And maybe the theme for your story will simply just be “Changes.” Just try not to get that song stuck in your head.
Thanks for letting me come here today and interrupt a perfectly good lunch.
Much respect, Namaste.
Made for the educational market, this HP direct mail piece grabbed attention with a free cap give-away. With Oliver Russell.
Client: Story Story Night | Design: Jenny & Co. | Copy mission: Because everyone has a story, the new Story Story Night website needed to match the magic of its popular live shows—and detail the different programs and storyteller outreach the nonprofit provides. With new information architecture and full-tilt copywriting…Boom! There it is.
Results: Due to my visionary marketing and creative direction over the course of 6 years, this program is now one of the most consistently popular in Boise, with sold-out monthly crowds of 200 to 300. The website now sees heavy web traffic, with an astonishing 7,000 unique visitors and 60,000 page views a month.
Let me introduce my outfit, I call this one:
“Peggy Olson Season 1 But Without the Surprise Pregnancy”
Peggy Olson from Mad Men is my career spirit animal.
She went from awkward as hell to bad ass as fuck. Or just, an unnerving mix of them both.
MAD MEN NOSTALGIA
I’m so glad so much has changed in the ad industry since the days of Mad Men.
Like pay equity for women. Oh wait. Like excessive alcohol consumption. [stirs drink] Well, at the very least, as an industry, as a country, we’ve grown more progressive and tolerant and factual with overall better creative. [sarcasm]
ANTICHRIST? I’M LOVIN IT
I remember the first time I walked into an ad agency. Circa 2004. I was probably wearing the same outfit. I saw my first portfolio and fell in love. Words and images and psychological manipulation, all wrapped up in one pretty package. Mmmmmhmmmm. Who’s your career daddy? Advertising.
And what I’ve realized, after all this time, all this hard work, all of us in advertising are literally, officially, unequivocally…the Antichrist. We’re in a cult. Call your dad.
[smugly] I mean, not to brag, but we’ve been exploiting people’s fears and insecurities way, waaaaay before Donald Trump. The post-truth world was our fucking concept. I think it won an Addy.
And I’m pretty sure the America that was Great Again was just a 1950’s ad campaign for Lysol feminine douche.
But we still have that not so fresh feeling.
Because we’ve got a real douche bag on our hands.
MINISTER OF PROPAGANDA
So, I’ve decided to go out for the real money shot in this career field. Instead of senior copywriter, I’m gunning for Minister of Propaganda. Jessica Goebbels.
Let’s get real, it’s what we’re all doing anyways. The literal definition of propaganda is: ideas or statements of fact that are often false or exaggerated—spread in order to promote or publicize a particular cause or point of view.
In other words: A creative brief.
So let’s make like a brainstorming session, and fake get to work. Here’s 3 industry staples I’ll further champion during my reign.
Number 1! MORE COATING OF ALL THINGS IN PROPRIETARY CHEESE-LIKE POWDER
This may seem odd, but I know how to make societies bend to my will. [with sweeping visionary gestures] In the line of Taco Bell’s Dorito’s Locos Tacos and Burger King’s Mac & Cheetos, I’m going to crop dust whole cities with trademarked not-quite-cheese power. It’ll be the new agent orange. And everyone will be required to show their foodgasms with nonsense advertising words like: “Cheese-tastic” and “flavor-ific.”
Number 2! MORE MASCOTS FOR GROSS HUMAN BODILY FUNCTIONS
Who had the brilliant idea to make mucus into a green anthropomorphic working-class snot ball that looks and sounds like the guy from “The King of Queens“ just trying to eek out a decent living with his family in our nasal cavities or whatever? So then you have class warfare with every dose of Mucinex. Like you’re personally responsible for gentrifying the neighborhood up here.
So here’s a few mascots I’d like to see in order to create a more perfect state of the union:
CAPTAIN SMUDGE: a brown coated, slick talking, smooth operator to raise awareness about the all-too-preventable spread of skid marks.
THE BERKIN: A superhero type who resembles a merkin, but for a real man’s man, you know. This Berkin targets target men with backhair.
PIMPLESTILTSKIN: A rosy-cheeked, pus-nosed little pop star, if you know what I’m saying.
Speaking of zits, that brings me to my 3rd revolutionary must-have. This one’s for you ladies.
Number 3! MORE PERKS WRAPPED IN PRUDE PACKAGING
Let me show you the thought process here.
I have adult acne. It’s my skin’s way of staying hip and relevant. It’s Forever 14 up here.
Anyway, I got this shipment from ProActiv and inside was this “Deep Cleansing Brush,” but when you take off the brush head it just becomes this round vibrating orb. [Vrmmmmmmmm….down to crotch]
Then I started to look around at all these battery-operated “beauty tools.”
Like the Venus Soothing Vibrations razor.
We know what you’re getting at Gillette. [stage whisper] Penis Soothing Vibrations
Now that’s effective branding.
HEAD ON CLOSER
So, let’s get off…our duffs, and Make America Fake Again.
I’ll close with one thought on how to best face this brave new world:
“Head on. Apply directly to the forehead.“ [Repeat & pound forehead]
Word up. I’m Jessica Holmes.
Concordia Law hired me to write several viewbooks. Design by W Design.
Story Story Night promotes every season with a unique postcard. I also come up with the themes for this program. Design by Neighborhood All Stars.
HP wanted a direct mail piece to show off the security of the innovative Mobile Thin Client in the healthcare world. So we designed a map to show how the new technology would fit perfectly in a hospital. With Oliver Russell.
Pop out computers? Meet the HP game-changers. With Oliver Russell.
Targeted to members of the ABA, this HP direct mail piece featured slide out panels with sales impact. With Oliver Russell.
Concordia Law wanted to highlight programs for law supporters and professionals in Boise. I named the Legacy Mentor Program and wrote the copy. With W Design.
Concordia Law sent out a series of postcards to prospective students to weigh out the law school education equation. With W Design.
Hidden Springs neighborhood real estate ads. With Stoltz Marketing Group.
Published seasonally, I concerted, researched, wrote, and edited this beautiful, 2-color newsletter for Three Rivers Winery in Walla Walla, WA. With Stoltz Marketing Group.
Targeting female business owners, HP sent out this direct mail offer promoting the perfect do-anything notebook PC. The tone of the copy focused on following your vision, and the sweet giveaway, not too stereotypically we hope, was chocolate by the amazing woman-owned company, Vosges Haut-Chocolate. With Oliver Russell.
Introducing the HP Mini-Note PC to the educational market in an actual-size way. With Oliver Russell.
client: TSheets | platform: Fundera | copy mission: To position the cloud-based time tracking tech company TSheets and CEO Matt Rissell as a thought leader with dynamic articles for entrepreneurs featured in the online magazine for Fundera—the small business lending marketplace.
In this featured story, obsessed with the passionate, longing Russian soul, I take off into a strange frostbitten land—and straight into the wintry apartment of a random Russian family. I learn that regret stays frozen in time.
(New happy ending: I’m now dear friends with my Russian host family. Thanks (for literally nothing else) Facebook.)
Client: Bethany Walter | Design: Bethany Walter | Copy mission: To come up with a name and tagline for a striking line of antique and vintage sourced ethnic jewelry.
client: Advocates for the West | design: Bethany Walter | copy mission: To completely rework this environmental law advocacy nonprofit’s website with new information architecture and copy that shows the power and beauty of the West—and why it’s so worthy of being protected. (And why Advocates for the West is so worthy of your donations and support.)
No screenshots beat the actual experience of this breathtaking website, so check out AdvocatesWest.org.
For the Idaho Eastern Oregon Onion Commission, I concepted, researched, wrote and edited this magazine-style info-letter called, The Bulb. Not to be confused with The Onion. With Stoltz Marketing Group.
From article ideas to research and interviews to writing and editing, I singularly crafted the copy for this quarterly 12 page lifestyle magazine for Hearthstone fractional ownership vacation home real estate in McCall, Idaho. This magazine establishes Hearthstone as a friendly insider guide to McCall—then a less well-known, up-and-coming resort town. I hyped up the history, dining, outdoor activities, sightseeing, owner spotlights, and other possibilities of this remarkable place and property, alongside subtly selling the overall concept of fractional ownership. With Stoltz Marketing Group.