Last week I took part in an experiment called 48hrmag. It's a project similar to the 48hour Film Festival, but instead of the film model - in which a group of people submit a themed film - the 48hr Mag team announced a theme, gave contributors 24 hours to submit work, then spent the next 24 hours designing, editing and printing the magazine to ship.
So on Saturday 8 May at 7am (which was 12 noon PDT), I awoke to find an email from the 48hr Mag team detailing the first theme: hustle.
"Hustle is where the quick-witted trickster meets the Protestant work ethic. It's virtuous labour and the con artist's graceful swindle. It praises the ratty and rough morality of making money, and the glory of giving it all you've got.
Hustle is the aging athlete who replaces ability with sweat equity. The reporter who beats the world to break a story. The entrepreneur living on credit cards and couches. It was also a popular folk dance in America at the end of the 2nd millennium.
Most hustles straddle the border between the legal and illicit: the grey market, the game, The Kennedys. The people clawing their way up or clambering down.
Hustle is Janus-faced, holding together meanings that want to fly apart. It still echoes its original 18th century usage, when it referred to "the act of shaking together" (usually dice in a game of chance). And that's just what we're doing now.
48 Hour Magazine bounces collective ingenuity against wild improbability, hoping for a hot roll. And yes, we also chose the theme because we've got two days to make a magazine that's worth a damn and the only way that's going to happen is with raw, ruthless hustle.
We want you to get right to the marrow of the word. Let's do it."
Writers, photographers, artists and designers from all over the world submitted their work to the 48hr Mag office in San Francisco; I was among the first 400 submissions, most of which were prose. When I last checked the 48hr Mag twitter, something like 1283 submissions had been received; God knows how many were received all up.
Following is the piece I wrote; I hope you enjoy it. I didn't make it to print, but to be honest, I don't care. I'm just happy I got to contribute at all. A+++ idea, would trade again.
God it feels good to be writing again.
PS: My friend Amie over at amieweexxx sent Hustle an artwork. Check out her piece HERE.
Do these seem like random words to you? They are. But what do they mean to you? What other words spring to mind when I say them aloud?
For my brother Cameron, “mound” changed his life. Well, “mound”, and me.
Cameron is a very boring, very stuffy man who works as an advertising creative. I loathe advertising creatives – their overblown egos offer me precious little in terms of intellectual stimulation, and their topics of conversation leave a lot to be desired. On my regular lunch dates with Cameron, conversation tended to revolve around the next big project, pitch or swindle; I had taken to packing a magazine into a leather-bound file and reading it while he prattled on. This magazine proved fortuitous when I one day looked up from my file to find Cameron yelling at me.
“Are you even listening? Give me a hand here, Ethan. Give me a hand!”
Sensing he knew I hadn’t been listening, I had to think fast. I glanced back down at my magazine, spotting a word in the middle of the page. A devilish grin grew across my face, but I masked it before glancing back up at Cameron. I stared directly at him with an intensity that was almost comical, then leaned across the table. With wide eyes and a booming voice, I shouted,
Cameron returned by glare with an incredulous look. “Mound?”
“Yes, Cameron! Mound! What comes to mind when I say the word mound? Play with me here.”
“Mound? Okay, mound. So like, pitcher’s mound. Ground. Dirt. Soil.”
“Good,” I replied matter-of-factly. “Soil?”
“Soil. Growth. Plants. Trees.”
I couldn’t believe this was actually stimulating conversation with this hapless git.
“Trees?” I said. “What do you think when I say trees?”
“Trees. Life. Green. Breeze. Air. Breath!”
With these words buzzing around his head, Cameron went away and created the most successful advertising campaign his company has ever had. That campaign turned a small local car company into an international success, and Cameron into a millionaire. Spurred on by a word – just one tiny spark of inspiration – I helped Cameron and his company turn the recession into a success, almost overnight.
You’d think my work here would go unnoticed. You’d think that one innocuous conversation couldn’t change this everyman into a modern-day success. Well if you thought that, you’d be wrong.
These days, people hire me to make them think. I make the uncreative creative. I bring business to business. I make executives executive. Hell, I even advise the advisers. My words change lives. That’s not arrogance, that’s fact. I guarantee that after two hours with me, I’ll have you walking out of our meeting with a notepad full of ideas and a head so packed with inspiration that you’ll be left wondering why you’ve squandered your talents for all these years. I make your inspiration my business – it’s my job to wrangle it out of you.
Cameron was good to me. After that nauseating little tree-hugging ad campaign of his went global, he made sure his company knew where he got his inspiration. I began working with the creatives at his firm, shouting words at them and having them shout ten back. I’d pick any page in my magazine – grab any word that I saw fit – and bark it at them. I couldn’t believe what came over these people.
The word “take” fuelled one of the biggest tourism campaigns our country has ever seen.
The word “stretch” brought a small home wares company untold wealth.
I once threw the word “arch” at a female client and had her vibrating in her seat with excitement. She went on to lead not one, but six specialty campaigns involving beauty products.
You can’t even begin to imagine how “behind” has changed the shape of advertising.
For Cameron’s company, the pull of my words was carnal. These seemingly random magazine phrases seemed to awaken some sort of primal urge in their creatives; by the end of our sessions, they’d be banging on tables, climbing on furniture and screaming. Each word I proposed would induce a slightly different response.
“Square! Triangle! No, no! Round! Smooth! Soft!”
That campaign sold half a million dollars worth of furniture.
“Dark! Unknown! Uncertainty. Black! DAMP!”
Home ventilation systems.
“Thrilled! Amazed! Stimulated! Aroused!”
See? Now we’re getting somewhere.
I played these people like instruments.
I began to get more boisterous. I built up a portfolio of references from the people I helped, and began approaching other advertising agencies to consult them on matters of inspiration. I had no education or training in consultancy, no previous job experience that pertained to the world of advertising, and no overt rhyme or reason why I was so successful at what I did. I relied solely on my track record and gift of the gab to get in front of these people; to get in front of their board of directors and drum up a bit of excitement.
These seemingly innocent words produced the most salacious response. Normal people became ravenously excited – shaking their colleagues by the shoulders, punching the air like they’d just scored a touchdown; scrawling notes on whiteboards like they were writing for the first time. Words became my currency with these people, and this currency soon translated into real life remuneration.
Word spread around town; people started to take notice. I became known as the man who would turn your company around with just a few well-placed words. People called me the word hustler – the guy who would swan in, open his leather-bound file, pluck words from a random page and have you reeling with ideas in minutes. These people’s heads were full and pockets were empty before they even knew what hit them. I was a sensation.
I carried my file with me everywhere. I’d spend my days in the CBD meeting creatives for lunch and stopping well-known CEOs in the street. The work was easy, fun and rewarding – and best of all, it wasn’t even mine. The words on these pages? I didn’t write them, I would just bring them to life and watch men in suits turn into raving lunatics within minutes.
I’ve since branched out from business – I’m now hired by influential people world over to solve their inspiration blocks. I love helping the musicians struggling to write that difficult sophomore album. I work with charities to drum up interest for their next fundraising push. I aid senators with presidential dreams. I hold seminars for struggling writers that start out as speeches and end with fully-grown men hurling ideas at each other like teenagers throw food in a cafeteria – their ties loose around their necks, shirts untucked and eyes wide. They are my orchestra, and I, their conductor.
If only they could read the sheet music.
I’ve read the magazines, I’ve seen the newspapers, I’ve read the blogs. They call me the hustler, but they’re only half right. Sure, I muscle inspiration out of people like a swindler in a card game, but I’m not the hustler in this equation; not by a long shot. You only have to look to my leather-bound file to know that the real hustler here brought these companies the words needed to fuel their business. These words that provoked such carnal responses.
Thanks for everything, Larry Flynt.