NYC Copywriter Ch. 2 – Making Enough Rice to Save the Galaxy
The second act of any narrative poses the biggest challenge to the protagonist. By the end of the first act, the hero has answered the call to adventure and crossed the threshold of the homestead, defiantly (or sometimes reluctantly) planting a flag in the ground, declaring victory over the first trial of the monomythical cycle.1 Act two, however, is when things get real.
If we look at the Star Wars Trilogy as a three-act macronarrative (spoilers for a 40-year-old cultural institution ahead) we can see this quite clearly. At the end of A New Hope, the three main characters have accepted elevated roles in their world—Luke embraces his Jedi heritage, Han learns the virtue of action that benefits someone other than himself, Leia assumes the mantle of higher leadership among the survivors the rebellion2—and together they land a crushing blow against the Galactic Empire by destroying the Death Star. But by the end of The Empire Strikes Back, Luke has lost a hand to his evil father, Han is frozen in carbonite, and Leia is seemingly powerless to do anything about it. Times are tough.
To draw a parallel between my life as a copywriter in New York and the lives of mystical laser knights and hard-edged intergalactic princesses in a bombastic space opera, I believe that I am entrenched in the tribulations of my own second act. I’ve planted my flag by establishing myself as a card-carrying citizen of the city (big ups to the Brooklyn DMV for being shockingly efficient), and becoming a senior member of the agency where I work. I’m responsible not just for my own work, but for effectively distributing available work in a way that plays to the strengths of the other copywriters.3 I’ve seen the fruits of my labors out on display in the real world.
But new challenges have arisen. The first—and certainly more benign—is reconciling the former novelty of an exciting new career in a shiny new city as something routine (I’ve actually caught myself involuntarily muttering curses at the tourists in midtown, a New York cliché I never dreamt I would actually embody). More significantly, however, is knowing that while I’ve proven myself as acceptable, I’m still struggling to prove myself as exceptional. What does it even mean to be exceptional? Surely it’s a noble effort to strive to better oneself and one’s work, but is it an egotistical desire to feel that I haven’t really placed my own stamp on anything yet? Is being exceptional anything more than being incrementally acceptable, increasing one’s acuity by degrees? For example, the greatest sushi chefs spend ten years only making rice; before that, they’re forbidden to even touch the fish.
Not far into Return of the Jedi, things start looking up. Luke has built himself a snazzy robot hand, Han is revived by the valiant love of a good woman, and Leia has regained her heroic agency.4 Of course, the film glosses over the characters’ preparation, their own period between films when Luke is making the proverbial rice, not touching the proverbial fish. But what we do see is that they confront their challenges head-on, and prove themselves on the crucible of their narrative trials. Similarly, the ad world can be tough. Sometimes it seems like every time you blow up a Death Star, some sneaky new project comes along to chop off your hand (metaphorically). But every day, I strive to be better than I was the day before, in the hopes that by the end of my own third act, I’ll have made enough rice to save the galaxy.
- If you are unfamiliar with Joseph Campbell’s Monomyth, I can’t recommend his book, The Hero With A Thousand Faces, highly enough.
- Seriously though, she witnessed the destruction of her entire planet only hours before she’s rescued by Luke and Han, and never even stops to shed a tear. The woman is made of stone.
- Rote managerial duties might seem kind of dull on the face of it, but it’s pretty exciting at first.
- Admittedly, and somewhat problematically, she is forced to spend the bulk of the beginning of the film in a skimpy gold bikini before regaining said agency.