The Donut, The Hole & The Widening Gyre.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre   
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

William Butler Yeats, excerpt from “The Second Coming”

I was born in 1987 in Rockford, Illinois. In that same year, in the same town, two young men founded a company called GrahamSpencer. As their business matured and I grew up, Americans have witnessed the fall of the Berlin Wall, the destruction of the World Trade Center and now the COVID-19 pandemic. This latest tribulation seems to destabilize American life more pervasively than any other in living memory.

We are denied that which makes us most human: the embrace of a loved one, a meal shared with friends, the adventure of being enveloped in a throng of vibrant strangers — maybe watching a ballgame, maybe dancing to some music. Many people are entirely or partially out of work, struggling to pay their bills or grappling with the disappointment of an unsuccessful season. As the physical distance between people becomes mandatory, the distance between our hearts seems to be amplified as well. While those we love are more cherished and needed than ever, those we disagree with can seem shapeless, monstrous and inhuman. 

Surrounded by turmoil, I think it’s natural to deal with a sense of dread. A heightened perception of the fragility of your own body and the systems that your life or your family relies on is what keeps us alert in times of stress. Man survives by his wits, and eons of “survival of the fittest” have bequeathed our species a hereditary anxiety.

When we started publishing individual essays at GrahamSpencer, our team in Northern Illinois was still deep in quarantine. Thankfully, some early efforts have allowed our region to avoid midsummer surges and reactive lockdowns, so my daily life has shifted back to the office, back to video and photo shoots, back to intellectually and physically demanding work. That activity has pushed the anxiety about the state of our world to the periphery, and what I read in the papers counterpoints the experiences I have at work.

I have the privilege of working on a team where we tell stories about worthy brands, businesses and individuals. I may be biased because we are positioned to engage and serve impressive, laudable clients, but I think the best thing I have done for my mental health in 2020 is get back to work. Not for the sheer distraction but because the craft requires me to attempt to imagine a new world.

Perhaps these scripts and shot-lists reflect a better world than currently exists, one selectively edited and fabricated with props and talent and lighting. But maybe we are simply setting a scene where real people at the peak of their strength are shown in their best light. Because we start the story of a company from an often humble inception and fast forward through decades of striving, we arrive at the glossy present with a newfound sense of respect. And in chasing these overarching narratives we dispel the noise and entropy of a contradictory world, at least for a while.

Over the past summer, my girlfriend and I have been pursuing our latest hobby: renovating the farmhouse that my family built over 150 years ago —experiencing the perils of plumbing, the capers of carpentry and the wild adventure of wallpaper removal. The other day we listened to an episode of the podcast “Under the Skin” hosted by comedian-turned-mystic Russell Brand featuring film director David Lynch. During that conversation, Lynch paraphrased a quote that’s been stuck in my mind ever since, a challenge to define your craft not by the obstacles, the naysayers, the negative space, but to define yourself by what you can put into the world through creativity, discipline and tenacity.

“There’s the donut and there’s the hole — and you should keep your eye on the donut. And all the other things that go on, they don’t matter. What matters is falling in love with a story or ideas and realizing those. There’s things going on in the world all the time and some people become obsessed with those, but it’s a little bit absurd. So your job is to stay focused and hope that the ideas keep coming and you’re able to realize them. Let’s keep our eye on the donut: the hole is so deep and so bad — but the donut is a beautiful thing.”

David Lynch, Film Director