Art of the Living Dead, Chapter 26
There is a chance that you might want to know how this book came about. Perhaps you are asking yourself what kind of a disturbed mind produced these words. Here’s how it happened…
I started writing Art of the Living Dead after about a year working for Zila, a dental technology company. I had designed a new identity for Zila and the company’s image was improving — at least visually. Our logo was clean, our photography was sharp, and our marketing materials had been completely transformed. We had new brochures that described our products better than ever before. Our redesigned website had launched and our online presence was stabilizing. We were weeks away from launching a new design of our flagship product, the Rotadent electric toothbrush. From the outside everything looked great. And then it all imploded.
In August 2013, Zila laid off a good portion of the company, something like 75 of its 150 employees. This was accompanied by the obligatory statements from management like, “This doesn’t change our commitment to excellence,” and “We are creating a more nimble company that will be poised to perform better in the future.” Beneath these platitudes everyone knew that the company was in trouble. As I looked around I tried to figure out how it happened. What was wrong with that place that prevented it from being successful?
Aside from our fewer numbers, nothing really changed at Zila after the layoff. The pride I had in my design work turned to guilt as I realized that the slick corporate image I had created was masking very serious problems. Our products failed regularly. Customer service was terrible. Our sales were suffering. Leadership was non-existent, and it was going to take more than clever marketing and good design to turn the ship around.
Then the recommendation engine at Netflix suggested a movie called World War Z. The film resonated with me in a way that I couldn’t put my finger on at first. When I went to work the following day it hit me. Zombie movies aren’t a horrific escape from reality, they are actually a reflection of reality. Inspiration struck and I started to write.
Luckily, although my professional life was grim, my personal life was healthy. My wife, Betsy, was pregnant with our third child and aside from the natural chaos of raising strong-willed boys, life was easy. The zombie revelation was coalescing in my mind, and I casually announced to Betsy that “I am writing a book. It is going to be a non-fiction book about zombies.” I think she laughed, but just as she has done with all my crazy undertakings, she has been quietly supportive, never discouraging me or questioning my ambition. It is a cliché but true, I couldn’t have written this without her.
As I kept writing, to my surprise the words came easily. It was therapy, and as Zila continued to degenerate, the chapters filled and I gained momentum. Out of the ashes of challenging circumstances, I created my art.
My final comment about creativity is to point out that art doesn’t require ideal circumstances. I had wanted to write a book for years, but when I imagined the task I envisioned a cabin in the woods, isolated from society, where I would produce my novel in peace. My plan was to save enough money that I could afford to retire to this cabin for a few months. If the frustration of my job hadn’t spurred me into action I would still carry that fantasy. It would have forever remained out of reach, and my book would never have been written. What I had convinced myself was ambition was actually complacency in disguise. What fueled me to complete my book was not financial success or professional liberation. No, it was the unlikely mix of professional inadequacy, frustration, and depression.
By February, days after my third son was born, Zila’s inevitable collapse happened. It came in the form of an acquisition. Zila’s assets were sold to a company called Denmat and the brand that I had helped create ceased to exist. Zila’s employees were released with healthy severance packages and all-in-all the transition to obsolescence was handled well. I, along with a handful of co-workers, was kept around to tie up loose ends. I essentially finished this book in June, just as my time at Zila ended. The apocalypse was over.
Today I am writing the final words from a different place. After leaving Zila I took a job working for company called TrainingPeaks. The transition from Zila to TrainingPeaks is not unlike the reanimation of a zombie corpse. I have rejoined the living. My heart beats, my mind spins, and my body moves with purpose and intention. It feels good to be alive again.
I am more optimistic than ever. Art is being created. The living will prevail. Doomsday will be avoided.