The night after my girlfriend and I watched Hamilton, we were, naturally, re-watching it, when Samara turned to me and read off her phone:
‘You know in the song Dear Theodosia? How Hamilton and Aaron Burr are singing about their kids? Well, neither of them made it to 30. Philip died in that duel when he was 19, and Theodosia was lost at sea ten years later.’
I stopped humming My Shot to look at her and reply: ‘Spooky– well did you know that the guy who played Philip is engaged to the lady who played Peggy?’
She was unaware of this, but told me that Peggy once saved the Schuyler family from home invaders with her quick thinking, by lying that the town had been alerted to their presence. ‘She even had a tomahawk thrown at her!’
‘They began dating during rehearsals,’ I said. ‘Jazzy underscore Joness.’
‘You can see pictures of them there.’ I pointed at my laptop screen. The two actors were cuddled together on a yacht. ‘Jazzy underscore Joness is her Instagram handle.’
‘That’s a nice photo of them,’ she said before turning her attention to Hercules Mulligan’s Wikipedia page – ‘He was such a successful spy that his insider information saved George Washington’s life twice.’
‘Wow – and his name is cool!’
‘Yes, Rob,’ Samara patted me on the shoulder. ‘Hercules is a cool name.’
Proud of my taste in names, I suggested that if we ever had a son, we should name him Theodosia – ‘Theo for short.’ Samara told me Theodosia was Aaron Burr’s daughter, and also the name of his wife. So I claimed it was progressive – that I was progressive – though there was now no way my son would be called Theodosia.
I can’t pinpoint when I regressed to such simplicity, relaying gossip instead of proper knowledge. At some point I went from reading classic literature and watching laconic European films about single mothers, to collapsing on the couch after work and letting Comedy Central’s three-hour cartoon block wash over me.
Four letters may have contributed. C-O-P-Y. Instead of reaching the grand heights of writer, I settled for copywriter. Instead of crafting intimate portrayals of peculiar characters or immense multi-part space operas, I was spending 8-hour days describing refurbished iPhones and near expired bulk-buy chocolates for an online retail shop.
It pays the bills, as they say, and often does allow a generous amount of freedom. For example, I gave a $20 robot toy the backstory that it was a time travelling droid, heir to a royal alien family from the Horsehead Nebula, who journeyed to earth on a cultural exchange program – despite having the ability to destroy stars and travel at light speed, the droid adjusts to man’s simple reality with these Features:
- Flashes its LED eyes
- Records audio
- Lifts small objects above its head
- Several other functions you’d be a fool to miss out on for just $19.99
Another time, working an officially licensed David Warner cricket bat, I described the kit as being of the highest quality moral standard, perfect for when you need to perform, whether whacking it around the stadium or blubbering at a press conference, but you needed to be quick to grab this ethically sound sale, before the stock was sand-papered to zero. This grabbed the attention of a popular cricket commentary team who published it on their Facebook page – my finest moment as a copywriter.
However, there are only so many ways to describe Anorak Hunting Jackets or Rubber Workshop Mats before you feel the fatigue. And working for a commercial entity in constant fear of alienating the money – AKA customers – I have known the choke of censorship. Mothers and Christians prove particularly sensitive. A puffery rich description joking that kids should be taken off Ritalin and instead exhaust their boundless energy by bouncing up and down on our value for money trampolines was considered, by a vehemently concerned mum, to be genuine medical advice that could be harmful. Another time we offered an apology after I called children ‘mongrels’ in an email subject line. There was also the priest who complained when I said a video doorbell would help you avoid the knock from God. And some creationist once demanded we: ‘Take that shit off the website’, when, for some active wear, I claimed that humans didn’t evolve from potatoes, so customers should hop off the couch and stop acting like one.
It’s not that these, or any specific demographics, don’t have any sense of humour, it’s that one or two very vocal individuals don’t have any sense of humour, and the world is forced to succumb to their vociferousness.
It had always been managers shushing me, or co-workers suggesting I don’t describe a toy car as a blazingly hot, fast and furious deal. But recently I’ve caught myself self-censoring. Including here. Above I mentioned that I would watch laconic European films about single mothers. This was an edit. Initially I wrote that I watched laconic European films about single mothers having abortions. It was true; the movie I had in mind was 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days. But I changed it because I don’t want to risk coming across as making fun of such a sensitive topic. A minor difference, but still I’m conflicted, feeling no different than my managers – whose lack of courage I loathed – paranoid about alienating the commodity, the customer, the reader. Now I question if this role has affected my creativity? Is this, as I write, devoid of pizazz and originality? Or am I richer for empathy?
I recently had a customer service email come through at work. I assumed it would be calling attention to an error or whinging about something I wrote on, say, insect repellent – mosquitos matter! Instead a customer just wanted to let the team know how much they enjoyed the description for a set of shot glasses. I had written that these glasses, delivered direct from our warehouse in Hamilton, New Zealand, would get you to rise up – take a shot, till the world turns upside down, so click buy now, you’re helpless to it, you will never be satisfied, till you’ve purchased. I responded that I appreciated the kind comments, then moved the email into a saved folder, and proceeded to describe an iron rooster garden sculpture.