Wednesday 13 July 2016

When one door shuts...

Image result for ageismI knew the second our eyes met that I was doomed.

The young woman glanced up from her iPhone 6, caught my eye, frowned slightly (ever so slightly) then kept glancing around, her eyes boring into the younger women gathered in the foyer around me. She had a kind of pleading, desperate look about her.

Trying not to frown in response (lest the crow's-feet scare her further) I wedged my lips into a bright smile, hid my old Samsung mobile phone in my handbag, and strode confidently across the room towards the leather sofa where she was now perched.

"Amber?" I called out as I narrowed in.

The website editor looked up at me and blinked a few times before it hit. "Christina?" she asked, dubiously. I nodded, extending one hand to shake hers. "Oh! Right. Sorry, I didn't see you there, please take a seat."

As she waved me into the chair beside her, I wondered whether I should save us both the time and simply turn around and walk away. Then I internally slapped myself for being so defeatist, sat down and attempted to redazzle her with my extensive resume.

I say 'redazzle' because Amber was already familiar with my work. We had met via email the month before and "awed" by my extensive writing experience (which includes editing national magazines, freelancing for 15 years, and running bureaus in London, NY and LA), she had given me four internet articles to write in just two weeks. I did them promptly, there were no complaints and that's when I let my guard down. I suggested we meet in person. I was coming to town and thought it would be lovely. But as soon as I saw the trendily dressed 20-something glance straight past me in the foyer of her office block I knew I had misstepped.

The woman was polite, she was responsive, she promised me more work. And then, after just ten minutes, she began to fiddle nervously with her iPhone and made her excuses. I thanked her for her time, returned home and proceeded not to hear from her. As I feared I wouldn't. 

Such is the life of an ageing female* journalist. 

Why am I so negative I hear you ask? 

You do the maths: 
Before meeting me in person = 4 freelance articles in 2 weeks
After meeting me in person = 0 freelance articles in 12 weeks (and counting)

"She was startled by my age," I told a friend who rolled her eyes in reply. "No, seriously, she seemed almost shocked to be chatting to a 40-something about writing for her hip new website. She was polite enough but she couldn't get rid of me fast enough and has not replied to a single email since I returned home. Not even a 'thanks anyway'. She's blocked me, dumped me. Thrown me on the scrap heap."

"Oh you're being pathetic," my friend scoffed. "Maybe she's just busy."

"For three months? I think not."

I don't blame Amber, not really. I was a young editor once. I probably dismissed older people, too, without even realising I was doing it. When I was 21, 30 seemed ancient, so to sit across from a 48-year-old must have felt prehistoric.

I wonder how 50-, 60- and 70-somethings do it, and I take off my hat to those who've survived and flourished in an industry that's hard enough no matter what your age. To them I must sound like a classic 'cry baby', and I apologise for that. I know I'm not old, not AT ALL, but in Amber's eyes I was well past my prime. It's all relative, isn't it?

Of course my defeatist attitude would not have helped. I understand that, too. Perhaps I had given up before I even sat down, but a decade of dwindling job offers and gradually quietening phones has done that to me. And I am not alone.

It IS harder to find work as you get older, especially in young industries like the internet and dying industries like journalism. But I don't hold it against Amber and I don't hold it against the industries because the very thing that has been killing off my traditional writing work, has enabled my new career as a fiction writer. And for that I am eternally grateful.

Thanks to the 'world wide web', I can self-publish my own books from home. I can reach out to my own audience (hello there!), promote my own work, and make a really lovely living without leaving my living room.

It has nothing to do with my age or my looks or how funky my phone is. I don't need the Ambers of the world to get ahead in the indie publishing world, and it's a liberating feeling.

So it's swings and roundabouts. When one door shuts... and all that.

I write this blog, not for a pity party but as a reminder to all that while age shouldn't matter, it probably does. But it must never hold us back. My short-lived career at the hip website may be over, but there's a silver lining: I now have more time to focus on my fiction, and you can guess who's getting slaughtered in my next crime novel (cue sinister laughter now).

The upshot of aging

Readers at Amazon and Apple and Nook don't seem to care what I look like or what I'm wearing or what mobile phone is in my daggy handbag. They just want great stories, and here's the kicker—the older I get, the better my stories become. That's the great thing about getting older: your writing matures right along with you.

So thanks for all your support over the years, dear readers, and happy reading everyone, no matter how old you are.

xo Christina
*NB: I don't know whether this is a phenomenon exclusive to women, I sincerely doubt it, but I'd love to hear from men on that score. In fact, I'd love to hear from ALL of you - men and women, old and young. Just drop a comment below and let me know if you've ever experienced ageism at work or in life.

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