Back in September, my friend and ex-colleague, Debra Fried wrote a wonderful post for Ad Aged. Since this blog is a solo operation, I most often deny myself the pleasure of getting praise for someone else's work.
But when Debra's piece ran, Ad Aged's metaphorical phone rang off the hook. I was a little embarrassed. I did nothing outside of press the "Publish" button.
Yesterday, Debra sent me a note with another post attached. Would I care to publish it? Did King Kong have a thing for Fay Wray?
If you like Debra's post as much as I do, drop Debra a line of thanks. Thanks, Debra, for writing today's piece.
Advertising for all its frustrations is an amazing business. The amount of talent in the industry is staggering. Imagine if agencies could unleash it like this blog gets to. People might enjoy advertising again.
The Purge is Real.
The pile of clothes I’ve thrown onto my bed seems to look back at me as I stare it down. I reach for a sweater, and can feel a kick of adrenaline. My closet purge is on.
Normally, I’d be doing this on a weekend, but it’s Wednesday. The first non-working weekday of my adult life. I examine a beautiful coffee-colored shrug, and indeed, give a little shrug. I’ll keep it, not because I’ll wear it, but because I should.
A little black shift gets plopped atop the Yes’s. There was a time, when I worked on luxury and beauty accounts, that my art director partner and I wore nothing but black sleeveless dresses with strands of gold chains. When people commented on how we dressed up, in the Creative Department of an advertising agency where most people wore jeans, I’d say, “I’m just lazy – it’s one piece - no matching, no thinking.” Which was true.
Well, half true. I was lazy when it came to matching, but not when it came to working. I loved advertising. I adored working with my teams. And lived for shoots, followed by days in edit rooms, eating salads and french fries (mainly the latter) while obsessing over every one of the 30 seconds we’d created. I secretly loved my title – Executive Creative Director –a phrase that seemed to say, “rebellious, yet important.” I worked late, on weekends, and on more vacations than I should have. It never occurred to me not to.
I grab a bunch of hangers, heavy with jeans, and throw them onto the bed. I smile at the dark blue pair I bought the night before a shoot in Maine. Even I knew I couldn’t trek through snow wearing a dress.
It was on that shoot that it hit me that I was older than most of my colleagues. Of course, I knew they were younger - I was their boss. But only when members of the film crew offered me an arm, or said, “you ok?” as we climbed steep hills, did I realize I wasn’t just a little older; I was 20 years older. Still, as we stood in a semi-circle, our eyes trained on the monitor, wearing clear ponchos that made us look like condoms, my laughter was as young as theirs.
I pull a cream-colored cardigan from its hanger. I’d worn it with a black pencil skirt and pointy shoes that hurt my feet, but looked so right, the day I pitched and won a big account. Keep. I finger the raw silk of a celery-green dress I’d gotten at a sample sale. I’d worn it to present a campaign called “By Women, For Women,” to a bunch of women who it was definitely not for. So much so, that the lead client stopped the meeting, saying, “We don’t want to go this route. You need to fix it and come back.” And walked out. Afterward, I gasped, in the women’s room, to see that the celery-colored silk beneath my arms had become a very dark olive. Even with my arms pressed to my sides, the sweat seeped out, like butter, leaking over the edges of pancakes.
I kept the dress, convinced that someday, I’d get the bad juju out, just as the dry cleaner had done with the stains. I sigh and let the silk slide through my hands, into the No Pile. Maybe letting go becomes more possible once you’ve been let go.
I study a tan linen dress. The one I was wearing the day I was put into the No Pile. I’d dressed for a remote meeting that morning; one in which I thought I was going to share work with a new boss. About an hour before it began, the invitation was updated to include a name I didn’t recognize. My eyes widened when I checked her title. Head of Human Resources. I tried to think of all the reasons she’d be invited to a creative meeting and came up with exactly one.
I ran to the front of the apartment, where my husband was drinking coffee.
“I’m getting fired,” I said.
“Oh, please,” he answered, without looking up from the paper.
I explained further and he looked me in the eye in a way that made me queasy. I had heard about these “quick catchups” from friends, at least ten of whom had been laid off in the past two years. I was the only one left. Last Woman Standing. I used to joke that I was jealous of them, but I never really meant it.
I spent 26 years at a job that fit like a favorite pair of jeans. But lately, slipping into those jeans had become harder than I liked to admit. I struggled some mornings, and wished I could let the seams out. But that would have hurt my pride. So, I did what came naturally. I held my breath and wriggled my way in. And worked harder. And pretended the fit was still perfect.
The tan linen dress is luminescent, lighting my face, the way Coco Chanel said pearls were supposed to. Somehow, I couldn’t help but take a bit of solace in feeling I looked pretty in my grid square, as I heard the words, “we’ve come to a parting of the ways.” They couldn’t see that I was bunching the hem of the dress between my fingers as I nodded that yes, I understood it was cost, and not performance-related.
At the end of the meeting, the HR woman said to reach out with questions and popped off the screen, leaving me staring at my oddly radiant face. I dragged the cursor to the red button, where it hovered over the word that so aptly described what they’d just spent 40 minutes telling me to do. Leave.
I pile the No’s into a giant shopping bag. Decisions are hell in the making, but such sweet relief, once reached. The empty hangers swing lightly on my finger, like unfettered ingenues on the first day of spring. I hang them, then look at the bed, where my linen dress lies in a heap.
I hug it to my face, smelling a hint of the fragrance I’d innocently dabbed onto my neck that morning. The cuffs are eagerly rolled up, ready for action. A work dress, on its first morning without work.
The bag of No’s sits on the floor, bursting with a past, that only yesterday, was my present. My closet looks fresh and open. I gently drape the dress over my arm, the two of us, together in limbo. And since I don’t know what else to do, I hang it in the coat closet, where it sways; a misfit, amongst the serious wool and well-intentioned cashmere. My loyal, hardworking, elegant soldier of a dress did nothing to deserve this purgatory, yet it's the best I can do. Because purges aren’t easy. And some hurt more than others.