Indiana is eternity. The passage of each season here is but a retelling of the poignant past that is both its present and future. Like your favorite book, you know its beginning, its climax, its end and its twists before you perfunctorily push past the love-worn binding. Its story, not so distinct from others, is the cyclical resolution of creation with destruction and destruction with creation. Life there is not so much an expectation, but a luxury afforded by God’s magnanimity and maintained by due diligence to the traditions of subsistence. Those deferential in their practice rest comfortably in their personal niches of eternity and take solace that their progeny will inherit those carefully carved places after them. To the lilting percussion of swaying cornstalks and the tacit timbre of the cricket’s song, these dramas play out their predictable plots to audiences so inured by the repetition that their dispositions are as impervious to the lapse of time as the state’s dense evergreen forests.
Terre Haute is a town quite literally at the crossroads of this pocket of perpetuity. From a French trading port strung along the banks of the Wabash, the small city grew to become the hub of American motor travel in the 1930s, sitting squarely on the intersection of the Old National Road and the new Highway 41. The toxic onset of the Great Depression, Ike’s postbellum Interstate Highway System and a destructive fire would kill the town’s inchoate industry and consign its fate to irrelevancy in the decades to come.
About 12 miles north of this Crossroads of America, in an unassuming red brick Ranch-style house amid a 20-acre farm is where my story began. As a child, I donned John Deere- emblazoned ball caps and reveled at playing in the mud like any good Hoosier boy. But to say I grew up your archetypal Tom Sawyer would be a tad too romantic. I was fortunate to be born the product of perhaps the truest love story conceivable. My father was the town’s first African American police sergeant, never submissive to the arcane prejudice of an idealistically isolated town. He met my mother, a 19-year-old Caucasian elementary education major nine years his junior amid the boiling racial tensions of the late 1970s. Despite the austere ramifications of their marriage, I was born into am incredibly welcoming family the summer of 1995.
Little me was admittedly enamored with the bucolic diversions of stereotypical Midwestern life. Some of my earliest and fondest memories are set to the backdrop of fishing ponds, campfires and backyard barbeques. Despite living in the age of media glut, my diet of television was restricted by the geographic inaccessibility of cable television (so yes baby boomers, I do know what it’s like growing up with only three channels). Instead, I passed the time watching VHS recordings of Golden Age Disney films and Desilu sitcoms.
Perhaps it was the early exposure to the rose-tinted naiveté of mid-century media that sparked my love for the past. At age 6, I traded in my dungarees for a peak-lapel tailcoat, vintage sailor suits and hats… lots and lots of hats. I was most certainly Frank Sinatra’s youngest fan at the age of 3 and continued to gravitate towards and eventually start my own business singing American standards and jazz. When most boys were swinging from the monkey bars like Spiderman, I was lost in the forest tracking Creek Indians with Davy Crocket or waxing heroic in bad Spanglish like Zorro. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the “cool” things for boys my age like Star Wars, Xbox, and basketball, but my heart was always with what others would tell me were outdated narratives.
This inextinguishable love for the past carried me through middle and high school wearing trilby hats and double Windsor knots amid contemporaneous ridicule and praise from peers and teachers. An avid bookworm and cinephile, the stories whose worlds captured my imagination made me ever dissatisfied with fate for marooning me in a cornfield when I fancied myself as an Upper-Westside Cosmopolitan or an “Oxford man” like Gatsby. I felt I was meant for a more diverse, purposefully focused lifestyle, and it was this discontentment that inspired me to study how others of commensurate stead had risen from corn-belted obscurity to influence. I looked to the stories of Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Edison, Orson Welles and above all, Walt Disney.
Disney, the company, had always meant something special to me as it had for many others of my generation. I had avidly watched their films and piously made the annual pilgrimage to Orlando since times immemorial. However, it was not until middle school that I truly understood what the company and above all its founder represented to me- hope. I obsessively devoured every book, article and documentary about Walt, inanely searching for all the parallels between him and myself. However, after studying his trajectory I realized that the twenty-first century demanded something with which he had never contended– higher education.
At my parent’s insistence (and much to my own chagrin I might add) I ended up at a small, but respectable Indiana school called Ball State University. After struggling to find a major that really gelled with my interests in multidimensional storytelling, I decided to try and adapt what I thought Walt Disney would have done had he attended college – make something up. Over a period of about a month I constructed a totally new program that I would end up calling Narrative Brand Promotions. Rather than a standard marketing or public relations degree, this major would focus on applying the many elements and techniques behind popular storytelling to businesses and brands in markets with increasingly impatient, entertainment-driven consumers.
Perhaps more important than the major itself was the experience of designing something for myself and seeing it through to the end. Despite my original reasons for taking this path, structuring the degree required insightful introspection about who I wanted to be, not how I could be like Walt or any other starry-eyed savants of yesteryear. It challenged me to envision a program with longevity and educational benefits that would not only meet my goals, but the broader objectives of potential employers. It steered me towards pursuing the actuality of dreams, not fear of what they should be and taught me how to optimize opportunity in all situations.
Who is the self-indulgently multisyllabic protagonist of this strange story? I am Jared Wells, and I am proud to introduce myself as the newest addition to the IDEAS team. Fresh out of college, I have escaped the eternal cornfields and found myself amid a welcoming collection of creative minds who embody the kinds of thinker that I aspire to be. After only about a month here I have realized just how much left I have to learn about the challenges of storytelling, the audacity to express your ideas, the courage to be wrong and the obligation to keep fresh perspective. I am doing something I never thought I would be doing – single-handedly representing the experience of my generation from which I have often felt so distant. However, the shared spirit of impatient innovation that catalyzes our discovery and visions of progress gives me the confidence and the pride that I am more of a millennial than I give myself credit for.
What has this Hoosier boy gotten himself into? Only time will tell for sure, but from copywriting to experience design I am excited to err, sweat, learn, laugh, bicker, play and explore the untold stories of the bright Florida firmament with the most endearing and inspiring team of genius weirdos I have ever met. So, stay tuned ‘cause this kid’s just getting started.