The Veteran View

Okay, I’m not the young buck on the scene anymore.

No longer the smart-mouthed kid, or even the too-hip-to-live aging-well culture warrior.

I’m not even officially “middle aged”, unless I live to be 100.

I’m now… gasp… the grizzled veteran who’s not just seen it all… but maybe seen too much.

When the hell did that happen?

I was talking with one the true young bucks of the Web age today, a brilliant guy in his early thirties. Because of the timing of the Web’s maturation into a viable marketing vehicle, I get to talk to a LOT of people in their late twenties-to-mid-thirties these days. They were born at the right time.

Now, I can get along with almost anyone. My range of close, intimate friends goes from certified senior citizens all the way down to kids just getting started as adults. I’ve never put shallow age limits on who I call a friend — I rate the substantial stuff higher.

Still, when I’m talking with someone twenty years younger than I am about a joint venture to an online market… it’s just weird. I find myself wondering just what, exactly, I’m bringing to the table.

After all, they’re the Web-head techies. And they’ve studied marketing and advertising for years… most of them started early, at ages where I was still a wet-behind-the-ears party-hearty moron.

I guess the fact that it was sometimes my work they were studying brings a small bit of ironic balance to the scene.

So they’re sort of “going to the source”. I don’t enjoy being a “source” necessarily, since that reminds me how long ago it was I was a vibrant young rookie, ready to choose off the world with one hand tied behind my back.

But there you have it.

And, to be fair to myself (and all the other veterans out there still slugging it out on the advertising front lines)… I also bring the sometimes heavy hand of EXPERIENCE to every discussion.

Talent is a good thing.

But, push come to shove… honest experience can take you further. You gotta hone talent. With experience, all you gotta do is remember the lessons.

And believe me, there are lessons to be learned from every scrap of adventure that happens to you.

I’m a walking encyclopedia.

So… how would you like to hear a bit of insight from “The Voice o’ Experience”?

Here it is: A long, long time ago, I had my heart broken in two. I was right out of college, and everything I was and ever thought I’d be was tied up in a girl I’d been living with and loving for several years.

Things went south in a hurry and in a blur. If you need details, you’ll have to get me drunk… and you’ll need an hour to hear the short version.

If you’ve ever had your heart broken, you know the drill.

If you haven’t… count your blessings. And stop taking love for granted, you fathead. Most people plow through relationships just daring life to snarl back.

Trust me on this: The bite is worse than the bark.

The pain I felt is unlike anything else I had ever experienced, or ever would experience. My heart still pumped blood, but it felt ice-cold. There was an emptiness in my gut that radiated out to my toes… so I felt like a walking zombie, wading through a dream.

I really thought the pain would kill me. It was that intense.

When, a couple of years later, I realized I wasn’t gonna die from the heartbreak… I considered doing a Kurt Cobain. There were some truly grisly moments… but mostly I just descended into a lifestyle of debauchery and risk and flipping off Fate. Daring it to bring the axe down.

It was Existential City to the max. I kept journals that read like someone peering into Hell. I wrote poetry and songs that caused listeners to wince and ask me if I was all right.

I was cold. Lost. Alone. And clearly depressed.

It went on for almost two years. And after than, the ragged edges of my state-of-mind still weren’t quite right. I had nightmares for a decade, off and on.

And you know what?

Tonight, driving home from an errand, I heard a depressing love song from that time. (“What A Fool Believes”, by the Doobie Bros, if you must know.)

Music often lights up my memory banks to the point of physical sensations. I went right back to those damaged years, and remember viserally how I felt, the emptiness in my gut, the sense of hopeless loss.

And I smiled.

After a couple of decades of perspective, I no longer see that period of youthful grieving as a depressed mess.

In truth… between the mini-bouts of self-pity and loathing… I was still enjoying life back then. There was a twinge of sadness that hung over me like a bad odor — people often said I was the most brooding friend they had… and yet those same people, most of the time, were laughing with me during our adventures.

I smiled tonight… because I remembered not only the pain… but also the LIFE. That staggering joy of breathing deep and digging into the feast as best I could.

I ate big chunks of life back then. In retrospect, I wish I’d had an uncle like the “me” of today to offer guidance and reassurance and some decent frigging advice… but I wouldn’t BE “me” today without having travelled that long, grueling journey alone and clueless.

You’ll hear successful people speak ruefully of the best times of their lives being the struggle, and not the reward. It’s the years of working against adversity, risking it all, standing elbow-to-elbow with your comrades as the sparks fly that make you feel so wonderfully and urgently alive.

Somewhere along the line, I learned to enjoy the ride, despite the hurt and uncertainty. My time here on earth has been far from perfect, but I have been blessed. I don’t really believe in angels… but if there is one hovering over my shoulder, I’d like to publicly thank her for getting me through all those close calls.

I hope she doesn’t take it personal that I doubt she’s even there.

And here’s the main point: Dude, what I went through almost killed me. And yet, my only regret is that those times are gone.

If I live as long as some of my luckier relatives, I’ve maybe got 10,000 days left. It isn’t enough, but I’ll take ’em. Every single one, with all the hurt and grief that are sure to arrive with many of them.

If you’re young, and you’re wondering when the fun starts… stop wondering.

You’re in it. This is your movie, running right now.

Take a deep breath. Feel the machinery purring beneath your breastbone, and go outside, right after you log off, to feel the blush of autumn on your cheek.

Listen to some music, closely, before you go to bed.

Taste something sweet. Kiss someone sweeter.

Let me be a Voice of Experience for you, just this once. Whatever you’re going through will pass. Things will go good, and then bad. Good. Bad. Good, bad, good, bad…

And the roller coaster will just go on. Be happy you still have a role to play. Maybe there’s reason behind everything, maybe not. At the end of the day, it doesn’t much matter.

If you’re not having the grand adventure you desire, there are ways to put some new drama, comedy and tragedy in motion in your life. I can personally tell you a dozen ways to shake out the jams tonight.

But that’s advice for another time.

Right now, I’ve still got an ancient movie reel whirring in my head, starring a much younger, much sillier, and much more lost John than the one you currently have the pleasure of knowing.

I love the guy.

And I’m real happy he decided to hang around to see how Act Two developed.

Stay frosty, y’all.

John Carlton

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  • Matt Gallant says:


    This is the hardest hitting blog post I’ve ever read.
    My mind is blown. I was with you on with every word.

    Also, I really want to thank you for sharing your wisdom with us.You know what they say? 54 TO 82 is the WISDOM YEARS! I’m happy to be “tapping” into your wisdom. I hope you keep doing this for many, many years.

    Thanks to you I’m living my dream life.

  • Andy says:

    “There is nothing so exhilarating, so mind-blowing, as to experience other lives through the same sensibilities, the same curiosities, the same inclinations, preoccupations, moods and responses as one’s own – to say nothing of finding one’s half-formed thoughts expressed and confirmed. Reading a novelist who is the same sort of person as oneself (plus genius) is like going on a world tour without leaving home.”

    Stephen Vizinczey wrote that, and it applies to your stuff, John. Thanks for expressing and confirming many of our “half-formed thoughts.”

    For those of us getting old enough to feel the passing of time – sonofabitch, it flies! – share some of those ideas about “shaking out the jams” and reactivating those grand adventures.

  • J says:

    Phenominal. I feel luckier to be alive just by reading that. Definitely printing this off.

    Really moved me.

    Thank you.

  • Karen Callahan says:


    Wow,I am blown away…

    I feel like I have just re-experienced my past. I remember the song, the guy, and being lost in the abyss.

    I too recovered, and went on to accomplish much. I had a great job, met a new love, now have 2 kids, a dog, a cat, gerbils, hamsters…well, you get the picture.

    So, much to be thankful for–

    Seemed perfect, and then I was forced out of my job. Quite a shock/adjustment for me after 20 years…those bastards!

    It has taken me about a year to drag myself out of the ditch, again, but I made it.

    You know…life presents many challenges to all of us.

    I am hoping that the next period of my life will be as interesting and rewarding as the past.

    Thank you for sharing your story.


  • Andrew says:

    And the beat goes on… Man, if that doesn’t sound familiar to me, I don’t know what does. If I didn’t know better, I’d say I was traveling in well worn shoes. The heartbreak, the years of sadness and self pity. What a bunch of shit it all is. But, I survived as well, only to be struck with a daily living hell illness called Type 1 Diabetes. Up to 12 injections a day.

    But you know what, it’s all good. Because it’s made me be more disciplined about my life than I ever was up to that point back when I was turning 33. Now I’m 41. I know, it doesn’t make sense, but it happened. And I wake every day with a greater thankfulness for life and also my wife and daughter. Although, I do get pretty grumpy and down on the “unfairness” of it all, but them’s the cards I was delt. So I gotta’ play ’em.

    And as the others have said, that was one hell of a touching post. Guts, whining and all. And I also believe it couldn’t have happened any other way. Because if it had, you wouldn’t be who you are today. And we all wouldn’t have such a masterful teacher to follow in the footsteps of. Thanks John for the blog.

    Andrew, aspiring and inspired copywriter

  • Harlan says:

    Hey John, what are you drinking these days? Your posts and the last rant are just first rate. Some of your best stuff.

    Keep it up.

  • Aliza says:

    Spectacular result will be obtained by no mean but simply for hard working….keep on doing this incredible work.

  • Victor Manteca says:

    Life must be adventurous if you want to enjoy it.

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