Well, shaken or stirred
drama ensues, playwright drinks
what precedes the how
Well, shaken or stirred
drama ensues, playwright drinks
what precedes the how
All the world’s a stage
And all the men and women corporate players
They have their exits and their entrances
And one copywriter in their time plays many parts,
Their acts being many stages. At first, landing page writer,
Whining and sucking up to search engine’s demands.
Then the musing copywriter, with a wonder
And unsure morning face, creeping like snail
battling the block. And then the reviewer,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful look
of enduring unendearing copy. Then a soldier,
The editor—full of strange rules, wired like a DJ,
Unperturbed, irritable, excited all in quick succession,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the manager’s good books. And then a senior,
In fair round belly with experience underneath,
With eyes bloodshot trying shoes of formal cut,
Full of wise wit and modern puns;
And so they play their part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and pushback chair,
With spectacles on nose and munchies on side;
The youthful curiosity well satisfied, in a world growing
bigger than ad copy, evolving into testing,
Turning toward marketing, managing social
media and listening. Last scene of all,
That topples this strange eventful history,
Is second copywriting and mere simplicity,
Sans typos, sans click-baits, sans vanity metrics—well, almost.
It’s been almost five years since I started working as a copywriter. And during that period, I’ve had to play many different roles within my team. I was wondering how a copywriter is also a content marketer, a social media manager, advertising writer, script writer, technical writer, creative writer, and so much more, when I remembered one of my all-time favourite poems. The connection seemed only too obvious.
After working in the tech industry for five years, I now know that it’s the only viable way of surviving the future. Sure, I’ve always known it, but a smaller part of my heart never accepted it.
That small part of my heart is the entire part of my being.
It’s the part that gravitates towards all things non-technical. The one that got away from science classes, math sessions, and chemistry experiments. The one that inhaled fresh prints, old parchments, and coffee dregs, revelling in poetic licenses. I’m a hopeless romantic—the latest Java Script breakthrough doesn’t excite me; the oldest of Shakespeare puns do.
What’s my place in the tech world then?
I can write. Ah, yes, the hipster glasses, the grande coffee cups, the iPhone with multiple notebook apps, and the whine and the wine.
Stereotypes aside, I found my way into a tech company because I wanted to write. But I soon saw that technology grew faster than I can comprehend. We’re now in the era of chatbots waking us up with inspirational quotes and sharing over two-thirds of links on Twitter. Social media has redefined itself from human-to-human interaction to human-to-bot interaction.
All this, even without the slightest interference from the world’s largest tech company. What happens we bring them into the equation, though?
I don’t applaud scientific humans. Our minds are fascinating. The signals we communicate to and from others form our essentials.
I’m all for convenience and getting things done faster, but that small part of my heart—the one that makes my being—cherishes the little things that make humans, human.
The rush of adrenaline, the veins pulsating with blood, the mild exaggerations in prose, the excited squeaking of the voice, the racing heartbeat, the elevated tension, and the undeniable climax—that’s what we’re made of.
To experience the smartest of technology being smarter, more human-like than humans themselves is more than just an achievement. My pencil-wielding hands, poetry-laden mind, and puny self finds it an unacceptable abomination.
It’s hard for me to digest this transformation—this spurt of growth, this advancement in human intelligence. I don’t understand why we try so hard to invent replacements for ourselves. But I realise that this is the way we live now, and I, too, will learn to live with it.
But—hey—the heart doesn’t want what it doesn’t want.
The moment I landed in Portland, I saw how the clouds shrouded the sky. It was a Saturday morning and rain was forecast for the whole of the following week. Portlanders rejoiced at the news of rain, I heard from my friend, because raging fires in the gorge had brought about smoke into the city. What a wonderful way to start my vacation, I wondered, with fires on one side and rains on the other.
Nevertheless, Portland was promising. My friend had helped me find a place to stay and as he escorted me from the airport to my host’s house, he explained Portland is accustomed to constant rain. Not only does the city get rains throughout the year, but they’re also unpredictable and often short lived. Although it dampened my spirit a little bit, I’d soon come to appreciate, and even enjoy Portland’s weather.
After lunch, my friend and I parted ways as he went home and I to explore. The sky cleared up, bluish hues visible amidst greyish clouds. It was a good sign. It’s a good day for a walk in the park, I mused heading to Washington Park.
As I flipped through the brochure of the park, I evaluated what was worth my time and money. Turns out the entire 410 acre-park was well worth my while. The free park shuttle service took tourists from one attraction to another, and although I’d thought I’d walk the distance, the park was far bigger than I imagined it. Cruising along the roads in the shuttle, I saw trees lining up either side of well-paved roads designed for driving. The Washington park isn’t just a small area with some grass, but instead, a massive collaboration of museums and smaller gardens.
I’d been to plenty of rose gardens in India and despite being bored of roses, I still went to the International Rose Test Garden. Entrance free. When I stepped inside I saw it was bigger than any other garden I’ve been to. It seemed smaller on one side, and as I walked the aisle observing the various types of roses, smiling to myself at the cheeky and often weird names, the garden extended well beyond my expectations. Rows and rows of roses were in bloom, looking up at the passers by teasing to photograph them. Young couples and older tourists alike leaned in to smell the roses and click pictures. All around me were people curious and enchanted by the approaching rose-blend sunset. Walking along a line of roses, I came upon a board I hadn’t expected.
It was a tribute to the greatest playwright the world had ever seen. Much like the Shakespeare Garden in the Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, this one, too, hosts a collection of all the plants the Bard referred to in his works. Unlike the one in the Golden Gate Park, however, this one was larger, and had a more welcoming glow. There sure were more people interested in the garden in Portland than there were in San Francisco.
Without meaning to, I spent a long time in the Rose Test Garden. Although I would’ve liked to see the other sights in the park, I don’t regret my time with the roses. For as I was walking along, the sun began to set. It flaunted the sole positive effect of the fires in the gorge. The smoke clouded the sky so that the sunset became a fiery glow itself. It gave off a stunning view through thorny rose bushes. Shameless in admiring it, I was rooted in silence. When I came out my reverie, I know I had little time for the rest of the park.
Heading out of the rose garden, I walked a short distance to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. I didn’t know what to expect. But what I saw made me feel as if someone inflated a balloon within me. With every step I took towards the centre of the memorial, my heard swelled in inexplicable joy and pride. It was a large round memorial with marble stones lining the way and the names of veterans inscribed on it. It named soldiers who’d died trying to protect the they loved and people they’d never heard of alike. It gave off a sense of responsibility that I as an observer and as a walker in the memorial should assume. With goosebumps all over my skin and a light head, I trotted off about to head back.
Sitting in the shuttle and flipping through the brochure, I saw something called Hoyt Arboretum. A “museum of living trees,” the description read. How could living trees live inside a museum? Perhaps it’s a marketing writer’s way of attracting tourists. But when the shuttle stopped at the information centre of the Arboretum, I decided to check it out anyway. A shack, it was locked with a sign announcing they’d closed for the day. It didn’t seem big, and sure enough I couldn’t see how they’d fit a museum inside such a small space.
I went around the building and saw walking trails extending on all sides, leading deeper into the park. On my right was The Oak Trail. I followed that path, not sure what I’d find. With nothing but oak trees on either side of me, I walked on. The trail seemed safe and paved. But the entire area was deserted. Confused but also thrilled that I’d ventured into one of my wildest desires, I retraced my way back to the information centre. Going the other way around it, I found a different trail extending in front of me—the Redwood Trail. Walking down the trail, I began to understand. Hoyt Arboretum was a collection of tree-spotting trails that could get any hiker high.
I almost laughed out loud in joy as I skipped my way through the trail. I stopped caring about taking pictures—I was too busy breathing in the scent of natural goodness. Walking around the different trails, I realised there were over 15 different trails that veined throughout the park. Half a day doesn’t do justice to the Arboretum. It needs the attention and dedication of an entire day, I wondered as I wandered towards the train station. I didn’t cover much ground, but as I look back now, I’m glad I went to the Arboretum even for a short while. I didn’t get all of it, but I did get a taste of it that would last me a lifetime.
I adore poetry. I try writing poetry, too, from time to time, but I fail almost every time. I still try, though. It’s such a disciplined and sensual form of art that I know I want to get it right some time or the other. How much command over the language a poet must have to express limitless vision in limited words.
It all started when I read Tennyson’s Charge of the Light Brigade. From there, my craze only magnified as I read Wilfred Owen’s Anthem for Doomed Youth and Dulce et decorum est. Those three war poems changed the way I see words and respond to their lure—it’s weird how war is always the starting point of enlightenment.
Once I understood the underlined meaning in these poems, I wanted more. I was addicted, and was desperate to quench the dryness that these poems left in my throat.
I had read poetry before, of course. I had read some of Shakespeare’s sonnets, and yet, these poems were different. Reading Shakespeare requires effort sincere effort and interest. These poems, though, thrust themselves at me. I didn’t have to know the details of war to understand its effects as told by Tennyson and Owen. They inflamed a strong passion in me for simple, yet well-articulated words.
For instance, this one in particular:
“Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.”
Which translates to: “It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country.” Ah, the intensity of those words—coming from a soldier nonetheless, who knows what he’s talking about better than anyone else ever would. But what makes it even better is the placement of the phrase: “The Old Lie:”
“The Old Lie: Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.”
The entire poem walks us through a vivid description of the war zone, and then, we get to the end where the poet claims that all the bullshit stories we tell young soldiers are empty words; lies. Poor Owen, he must’ve believed them all, like the rest of the lot. What a great poet he turned out at the hospital, before recovering and heading to the battleground again.
But that’s the power in good poetry: When said “write”, a writer writes, but a writer who said it right, writhes the emotion out of readers.
Wilfred Owen was one such writer. He made me, the reader, feel what he felt. The pain, the anguish, the heartbreak, and the loss of hope—I felt them all because the poet put them in such an artistic narrative. And that’s why we should read good poems, because like John Keating says, we need science and business to sustain, but we need poetry to live.
And what would we do if not live?