Inside The Ivory Tower


During my senior year of college, I took a course entitled, “The Cultural and Intellectual History of Europe from 1780 to Today.” Despite the long and boring title (and the fact that we were expected to read all of 12 books in three months), it became one of my top five favorite courses I ever took. The things I learned in that class really stuck with me and changed how I see the world. One of those things was the concept of the Ivory Tower.

Throughout the semester, my professor led me and my fellow students on a crusade to discover the critical thinkers and power players of the intellectual explosion in Europe during those pivotal years. We read Karl Marx and George Orwell, studied the Spanish Civil War, and analyzed wartime poetry and political essays. Each time we met a new great thinker, my professor would mention something he called the Ivory Tower. You see, all these great thinkers spent time secluded from the world/culture/society physically or intellectually before they stepped out into the real world and made their mark. They worked in their “ivory towers” until their thoughts and ideas forced them to action. They’d stew over ideas for new governmental systems and dream up new ways to treat workers and wallow in their own suffering. Their time in the Ivory Tower was valuable, pivotal even. But there came a time in each of their lives when they had to stop theorizing and dreaming and thinking and get out there and live it. And they changed the world.

I really locked onto the idea of the Ivory Tower. I’ve found that it is as meaningful today as it was back in the nineteenth century. After all, we all have our own ivory towers inside of our heads. It’s where we ponder and scheme and dream and think. But there comes a time when we can’t think or plan anymore. We have to go out into the world and make our dream a reality. We have to write that novel. Or start that small business. Or apply for that position. Or join that protest. We have to break out of the ivory tower or else let our dreams gather dust on the shelf.

For the past several years I have felt like I’m trapped in my own Ivory Tower. While I don’t compare myself to great world-changers by any means, I do feel like I can accomplish much more than what I’m doing right now. Right now I’m just reading and thinking and deciding what I think about the world. But shouldn’t I be doing something about it? But something else my professor taught sticks with me. The Ivory Tower isn’t a dungeon: it’s a thinktank. It’s a place where no idea is stupid or plan too lofty or dream too unrealistic. It’s a place to play, learn and experiment. It’s a playground of sorts. A gift. We just shouldn’t stay there forever.

Now, I’m trying to enjoy my time in the Ivory Tower. I pray that when I leave it, I’ll be ready to change the world in my own way.

What are you doing in your Ivory Tower? Have you left it? I’d love to hear about your brain journey.

Hard Smell

Advertising, Everyday

I wonder how hard it was to sell the first deodorant. These are the things that I think about, go figure.

Today, most of us couldn’t imagine living without the sweet smell of antiperspirants, but there was once a time when it didn’t exist and people were oblivious to the fact that they all reeked–or at least silently tolerant of their smelly brethren. I mean, people used to only bathe once a week, if at all. And let’s not forget about the lack of proper air-conditioning. People used to suffer through the heat, working outside, in heavy fabric, creating moats of sweat that trailed away from their aching bodies. The stench must have been thick and impermeable. Yum.

You might think that it would be an easy sell. A guy walks into a store and declares a solution to the incredibly overwhelming odor that people suffered every day. Who could say no? But there are a few things that might have made it awkward…

Wikipedia doesn’t shed light on the gender of the person we all owe our noses to because apparently the name on the original patent was lost, which sucks (mostly for them, but a little for me because now I have to make assumptions). However, we do know that the patent was submitted in the late nineteenth century. Good work, historians. Needless to say, that man–or woman–had to get a test-subject. That means that the anonymous inventor had to tell people that they smelled bad. Oh they could have tried it out on themselves, but a true inventor knows that eventually they would need to broaden their experiment to include other subjects. And that must have been awkward, because, let’s be real here, everyone was probably pretty used to the rankness of their world and stopped noticing. How would you like to be the person he picked?

After the first deodorant passed the test and Dr. John Doe did a little happy dance, the next obvious step would have been marketing. Now before you go all “she’s sexist” on me for making our smell savior a man, please remember the historical context of my imagination and assume (see, here come the assumptions) that a woman probably had a harder time securing a patent than a man. Then again, maybe that’s why the name was conveniently “lost”… This could turn into a far more interesting story on the early beginnings of women’s rights, but I have already written Dr. John Doe’s name twice and don’t feel like going back and changing it. So there.

Continuing on. Even if the Doc started selling the roll-on salve out of his garage, he would have had to used some form of advertising to get the word out. I can imagine it now, hand-printed flyers with “Do you smell bad?” printed in big, bold letters. He could even use his first test subject as the face of the campaign. I’m sure people were begging to be the first person in line to declare their lack of personal hygiene–I know I would be. Or maybe Dr. John created a special section in the back of the pharmacy that worked like a speakeasy. He could have created a bunch of really fun passwords that his customers had to whisper at the counter and embarrass themselves in front of everyone else. Maybe there was a secret hand gesture. Or maybe not.

Whatever actually happened is lost to history. But, one thing is for sure, it would have been an interesting time to be in the perfume market.