Tis the Season for Suggestions from Family
Though the holiday season reminds us of many wonderful things, peace on Earth and good will seems shattered for most the minute family walks through the door. If not a visit, the annual phone call to grandmother is stressed by the repeat attempt to explain to her what it is you do for a living. At least you can tell her your phone battery is dying and you need to hang up, but even that brings an explanation as to why a phone needs a battery.
It’s based on love and concern. Keep saying that so you don’t unwrap a shotgun at the dinner table and scream, “JUST WHAT I WANTED!” Ho-BLAM-ho-BLAM-ho-BLAM!
You all know the problem; non-creatives who don’t understand how you can make a living creating, designing, developing web sites, coding or designing logos and such. Sure, old drunken Uncle “touchy” has always wanted you to do logos for his friend who owns Microsoft as a “favor to him” or to paint his company logo, consisting of a slug dressed as a sewer cleaner on the side of his panel truck, but does family understand what we do and why we love it? If they did, I wouldn’t be writing this therapeutic article and pounding on my keyboard as if I wanted to give the keys concussions.
All Grandmothers Are Alike
I don’t care your national origin, culture, creed or color; all grandmothers will never understand what you do and will hound you endlessly to do a cartoon strip of some scrawling you did when you were four years-old. The only thing that stopped my grandmother from angrily arguing why I wouldn’t do a daily comic strip of the “funny little man” I drew when I was four was her dying. I may not have actually been the grandchild who did it, but as a grown-up creative, she thought I should do it so she could boast to her friends, most of whom were already dead or 90% there from massive strokes. Never mind I was making a good living with design, which I loved; I should drop that and spend my time creating a strip because “everyone would love it!”
She got very upset that I refused and had to actually argue explaining the reasons why. A typical argument was her being in disbelief I couldn’t just take the yellowed crayon drawing still on her refrigerator and show it to Charles Schulz and suddenly have a fulltime job being a cartoonist.
As I worked as the art director and writer for MAD Magazine, she told everyone I was a “cartoonist.” When I called her, she would tell me some distant cousin was impressed he/she was related to a “famous cartoonist” and they wanted my email. The arguments were a stroll in the park compared to explaining “@gmail” to her so she could give them my address. Those that managed to get through to me were always disappointed I wouldn’t “draw them” so they could frame it. When they found out I was a graphic designer, I would usually be asked to do a logo for their new business. The fee suggestion would turn them from third cousins into fifth cousins.
They Make Films From This Stuff
In the film, “Art School Confidential,” the main character, who struggles to find his artistic voice in a crazy world of untalented students and underachieving teachers, is eating dinner with his family and his grandmother brings up a friend whose granddaughter paints flowers on the other children’s sneakers for money and asks why he can’t do that. Haven’t we all heard that suggestion?
My saintly sister, in her love and concern for me in these tough times calls me about stories she sees on television about a cartoon book and asks why I can’t do that. She believes it will only take a week for me to do it. I remind her that JK Rowling was turned down 29 times but she seems to feel that process will only take a month or so. There are 30 days, so that gives me 30 chances to find a publisher!
My mother, between her fresh doses of medication will call me when she meets someone successful and ask why I don’t “change my résumé” so I can work as a digital marketing ad placement specialist who earns $600,000 a year.
Is that what this guy makes, mom?” I ask.
“Well, he makes a fortune and is looking for a million dollar house!” she replies.
“Isn’t this the trust fund baby who never has to work?”
“Yes, his family is very rich!”
“Maybe they’re buying the house and he doesn’t make that much money?”
“Why don’t you try it?” she shoots back.
That leads to a long argument where I try to calmly explain professionalism and experience vs. a changed résumé. She gets angry I don’t at least try it. This is the same woman who insisted I travel into New York City every day after school to find a job at an ad agency. She believed if I asked enough art directors, one would hire me part-time and then she could brag to friends that her 13 year-old son worked at an ad agency after school.
If I failed to go on my daily trek, walking into strange buildings on Madison Avenue, asking receptionists if I could talk to an art director, my mother would hit me with my sister. I believe that explains my sister’s current mental problems. It wasn’t until a close family friend who was a well-known leader in the advertising industry found out what she was making me do…by finding me sitting in a corner of an elevator, rocking myself, sobbing and mumbling, that it came to an end when he explained there was no chance at all I would be hired. She argued violently with him but he kept his cool and dispensed every argument she could bring forth. He smiled and winked at me when she gave up and let me work delivering newspapers around the neighborhood like a normal 13 year-old. To this day I think she still believes I was wasting my life in the news industry.
To this day, however, she tells me she is disappointed I never wrote a “funny letter” to Mel Brooks as he might have let me write a movie with him. I’m tempted to create a Mel Brooks letterhead and write a letter from him using the foulest language, turning me down. Let her go around telling people what a foul-mouth jerk Mr. Brooks is!
Happy Holiday, You Underachievers Everywhere!
When you sit down to the family dinner, you know there will be plenty of suggestions. “You design web sites? Why don’t you design one for Microsoft? They’ll pay a lot!”
“”Why don’t you make a site for your cousin Jeffrey’s mental hospital?”
“Cousin Jeffrey is IN a mental hospital! He doesn’t OWN one.”
Christians have it easy. One night and it’s over. Jews get eight nights of suggestions and Muslims get thirty days and they are weak from fasting.
My friend Ahmed shook his head after telling me how an uncle kept suggesting he illustrate the Koran. How does one explain the problems with THAT!?
Our families love us and just think they are helping, so why not help them back? This year, nod politely at their suggestions and tell them you’ll look into becoming the president of web design, if such a position exists and then make suggestions that will help their lives.
After a family member makes a suggestion, based on their emotional/mental problem, suggest the following:
The sexually promiscuous cousin:
“Why don’t you get a job at the hospital trying to find a cure for those sores on your lip?”
The uncle who’s fond of drinking more than his share:
“Why don’t you contact the Mayo Clinic about discovering an artificial liver since yours will give out by the time we have dessert?”
The crazy aunt:
“Why don’t you look into finding a device that will prevent your boyfriends from stealing your money?”
“I actually AM working on that but unfortunately it’s slated to be released long after you’ve died.”
“Speak up! I can’t hear you.” (Keep repeating this over and over).
“Why don’t you find a cheaper source for the crack you’ve been selling to school children?”
“I’d rather work on a device that allows you to steal grandma and grandpa’s money while you’re here at the table, instead of sneaking into their bedroom and taking it from their dresser drawer.”
Remember to argue the point until they throw dessert against the wall and storm off. You will never get any further suggestions and you’re too old to get a check in your birthday card anyway.
Dinner and Therapy
These suggestions may seem harsh to many of you. I understand and won’t tell you to “grow up and grow a pair.” Instead, just lie and tell them you are working on a secret project for a government agency that will “lessen the overcrowding in the world,” then laugh maniacally and finish your meal in silence, quickly looking over your shoulder every thirty seconds. They will never ask you about that project ever again.
Whatever your most holy holiday or celebration may be this year, have a great one and may it be suggestion free.