A friend, an esteemed friend I’ve known through the business since the early 80s, sent me a note on Monday. Though it was just an email—a mere collection of inconsequential pixels, really—you could smell in those pixels the rancid sense of sadness that can come, unfortunately, with age.
That’s not fair really. My friend wasn’t sad because of her age. She was sad because of how the industry is treating her because of her age. How the industry is treating her because (like me) she gets in before nine—and can’t really abide people who get in at 10:47 and then complain how busy they are. How the industry is treating her because she cares more about the real-market-efficacy of her work than she does about a for-profit-awards-industrial complex. How the industry is treating her because of the way she calls bullshit on the bullshitters, and refuses—as much as it’s possible today—to stoop to use meaningless jargon.
“I’d rather be pilloried,” she wrote “than to go to a scrum.”
Reading that, I did that most old-fashioned of old-fashioned activities. I picked up my phone and called hers. Imagine that, having a genuine talk with someone—not a series of misspellings called, in today’s patois, a text conversation.
“Beth, what’s going on?”
“George, I think I’ve had enough. Enough of everything I don’t need to enumerate.”
“No, you don’t,” I agreed.
“I think it’s time, in the words of Huck Finn, ‘I light out for the territories.’”
I laughed at that.
“You mean the Hamptons,” I asked. Beth had a small place not far from the water.
“No, I’m not ready to retire,” Beth said. “I have more energy than anyone I know. Outside of you, of course.”
“Of course,” I of coursed. “So what?”
“How do I start a freelance business? How do I get people calling?”
“Beth, you’ve been working for the last 35 years for some of the biggest brands in the world. You’ve won scores of awards. I think I read something by Rory Sutherland last week or the week before where he said, “everyone over 50 in advertising is great,” on the basis of survivorship alone.
“Yeah, I read that,” she said. “And that’s great that he feels that way. But how do I get things going for myself? I’m tired of working for the man when I’m older than the man I’m working for by 20 years.”
“I dig,” I said anachronistically.
“Can you let your readers know? Post something on your blog,” she asked.
“Sure, though I don’t suspect it will do much good. No one reads this digital rag. No one who’s in the position to hire you, anyway. It’s mostly idlers, neer-do-wells and fellow members of the lumpenproletariat.”
“Look. Just do it and spare me the modesty.”
“Sure,” I said. “So long as I get 10% of everything you make. You know, finder’s fee.”
“Five percent. That’s fair.”
“You old people drive a hard bargain,” I said as I hung up the phone.
Consider it done, Beth.