ross martin

January 4th, 2014 • Ross Martin

A Search For Who To Learn From

In the next to last poem he ever wrote, A Thanksgiving,  W.H. Auden pays homage to the voices without whom, he reckons, "I couldn't have managed / even my weakest of lines." 

It's quite a list:

     – Hardy, Thomas and Frost, for inspiring his early adolescent verse

     – Yeats and Graves for a young lover, discovering the center of the universe isn't exactly him

     – Hitler and Stalin, who "forced" questions of divinity

     - Kierkegaard, Williams and Lewis, who guided the poet "back to belief"

Then comes the poet's turn towards his own uncertain future, as the aging Auden, already a beloved master, asks: "Who are the tutors I need?"  A question the most profoundly accomplished among us never stop asking.  

We're each on our own desperate, unending search – not just for wisdom, but for the sages generous enough to share it.  Not just a search for learning, but a search for who to learn from.

Sometimes it's awkward, like that afternoon I spent in my office with inventor Dean Kamen, who I was dying to meet and learn from.  Turned out, Dean was far more interested in excoriating me for my ineptitude at effecting global change than anything else.  Unpleasant as it was, Dean is our generation's Ben Franklin, and I continue to learn from him.

My own list of teachers is long and quite an array.  Filmmakers, poets, artists, musicians, curators, an evolutionary biologist, a few bankers, countless entrepreneurs and investors, journalists, philosophers, bloggers, my parents, an uncle….

I make time every month to consult individually with a smaller set, what I call my Council of Elders, a group of advisors who've been through what I'm experiencing many times over, and who've come out the other side with a perspective I'm decades from achieving on my own.

Here's Auden's poem (written the year he died, the year I was born), in its entirety:


A Thanksgiving

When pre-pubescent I felt
that moorlands and woodlands were sacred:
people seemed rather profane.

Thus, when I started to verse,
I presently sat at the feet of
Hardy and Thomas and Frost.

Falling in love altered that,
now Someone, at least, was important:
Yeats was a help, so was Graves.

Then, without warning, the whole
Economy suddenly crumbled:
there, to instruct me, was Brecht.

Finally, hair-raising things
that Hitler and Stalin were doing
forced me to think about God.

Why was I sure they were wrong?
Wild Kierkegaard, Williams and Lewis
guided me back to belief.

Now, as I mellow in years
and home in a bountiful landscape,
Nature allures me again.

Who are the tutors I need?
Well, Horace, adroitest of makers,
beeking in Tivoli, and

Goethe, devoted to stones,
who guessed that — he never could prove
Newton led science astray.

Fondly I ponder You all:
without You I couldn’t have managed
even my weakest of lines.

                                             – W.H. Auden, 1973

December 14th, 2013 • Ross Martin

Heroes In The Off-Hours

Creatures of Times Square, they're just like us.  They count their cash…


they check the mirror…



they experience moments of sadness…


they comfort one another…


they adjust themselves… 


 they facetime with friends…


and then they head home…




December 8th, 2013 • Ross Martin

The Sneaker Life


(Artist unknown, London, 2013)

December 6th, 2013 • Ross Martin

What Life Insurance Meant To McDonald's, JC Penney & Stanford

It's that weird time of year when people seem to make financial plans.  Including life insurance?  Guess so, but is there really any time of year when people think about life insurance?

Life insurance isn't exactly top of mind; USA Today calls it "the most ignored in fianncial planning."  Dare you to try and find a life insurance salesman under the age of 50.

I recently looked up the nice older gentleman who sold me my life insurance policy 15 years ago, when I was running my own production company in Los Angeles.  I gave him a call…

…he's no longer with us.

Life insurance is still pitched today exactly as he pitched it to me:  "This here, young man, is a sound financial planning tool."

I bought some for the same reason Forbes says everyone else buys it: I really love my wife, I always will, and I want her to be taken care of if I depart sooner than we anticipate.

After I bought it, I forgot about it.  For like a decade.  I can't be the only one.

What got me to sit up and look more closely at the value of life insurance, recently, was when my brother-in-law — the youngest life insurance salesman I've ever met — walked me through the list of companies that wouldn't exist today had their founders not leveraged their policies to give them a second life:

Ray Kroc borrowed against his life insurance policy to cover payroll and finance the first Ronald MacDonald advertising campaign


Stanford University owes its founding to the life insurance Leland Stanford collected when his 15 year-old son died in 1884


 JC Penney might need some help again these days, but it made it through the Great Depression thanks to James Cash Penney's ability to borrow against his life insurance policy to meet payroll and keep operations flowing

I'm betting most of us, even the children of economists, weren't raised to ponder life insurance as an instrument of business entrepreneurship.  And yet, when you think about it more broadly, is there a more compelling bet both for and against oneself, than life insurance?

Surely the idea of buying life insurance now to one day leverage in one's business to cover payroll or finance debt is odd.  But in some ways,  "Two things of opposite natures seem to depend / On one another….," as the most famous life insurance salesman of all time, and the only one to win a Pulitzer Prize, Wallace Stevens, once wrote.

I'd imagine Kroc, Stanford, Penney and many 21st century entrepreneurs might recognize themselves in these lines from Stevens' Notes Toward A Supreme Fiction:

We reason of these things with later reason

And we make of what we see, what we see clearly

And have seen, a place dependent on ourselves.

December 5th, 2013 • Ross Martin

Happy Holidays

I had some fun making a video for my team as a warm-up for our holiday party, tonight.  I'm so proud of everyone at Scratch for their incredible work this year — our biggest and best ever.  This represents the first time I've ever been turned into a Belgian action star from the 90's…


December 1st, 2013 • Ross Martin

Figurative Sidewalk Stain


(Artist unknown, Brooklyn, 2013)