How I Lost My Writing Moxie

There was a time that I wrote for Fortune 100 companies, edited books, dashed off Op-eds and made a good living.

I now use the two-fingered style of typing.

I don’t remember how this catastrophe happened.

Yes, I’ve grown older.  But I just can’t put my finger on the shift from powerhouse writer to the need for Grammarly.

It turns out that it was my hearing was a big part of-of my problem.

According to Betterhearing.org, any people are aware that their hearing has deteriorated but are reluctant to seek help. Perhaps they don’t want to acknowledge the problem, are embarrassed by what they see as a weakness, or believe that they can “get by” without using a hearing aid. And, unfortunately, too many wait years, even decades, to address the effects of hearing loss before getting treatment.

But time and again, research demonstrates the considerable effects of hearing loss on development as well as negative social, psychological, cognitive and health effects of untreated hearing loss. Each can have far-reaching implications that go well beyond hearing alone. In fact, those who have difficulty hearing can experience such distorted and incomplete communication that it seriously impacts their professional and personal lives, at times leading to isolation and withdrawal.

I knew my hearing was an issue when I visited an audiologist who asked if I had ever been in a rock band.  The answer was “No.”

I thought I was okay. So I left it for a few more years.  And then I lost my job.

The Effects of Untreated Hearing Loss

Studies have linked untreated hearing loss effects to:

  • irritability, negativism, and anger
  • fatigue, tension, stress and depression
  • avoidance or withdrawal from social situations
  • social rejection and loneliness
  • reduced alertness and increased risk to personal safety
  • impaired memory and ability to learn new tasks
  • reduced job performance and earning power.
  • diminished psychological and overall health.

So do yourself a favor and get your hearing checked.  I burst into tears when I was fitted for my hearing aids. I could hear everything.  I had missed so much.

Advertising Gods

(Or, How a Wide-Eyed Kid Crossed the Murky Puddle and Got to Know the Advertising Gods of the Day)

Late one evening in a conference room on an upper floor of Ogilvy & Mather’s old New York building on 47th and Madison, I bumped into David Ogilvy. Well, I didn’t actually bump into him. I turned around to see an elderly gentleman shuffling into the room and realized I was looking at perhaps the best-known advertising guru of the twentieth century. I had been preparing the room for a meeting of leading travel agents better known as the American Association of Travel Agents, or ASTA, which was to happen the following day.

Being in my early twenties, and having met HRH Prince Phillip a year or two earlier, (that’s another story for another day), I was quite unfazed.

He asked me what I was doing there so late. I explained in my best south-eastern English, tinged with a bit of what Americans would call a Cockney accent, that I was hanging posters and generally getting everything ready for the meeting the next day. He looked around the room and seemed to come to a decision, no doubt an educated decision given the millions of meetings he had attended during his career. “Yes,” he said. “You’ve done a good job. Very good.” He walked around the room, picked up one of the conference folders and flicked through it. “Well done, um, what is your name?” “Fiona,” I replied. “Ah, a good Scottish name,” he said, with a smile. “Yes, sir.” Except I wasn’t Scottish, but when David Ogilvy proclaims you have a good name, it would seem quite ill-mannered to disagree.

This little conversation lasted all of ten minutes, but I know advertising executives who would have given their right arm, and possibly an ear as well, to have that much time with the legendary creator of The Man in the Hathaway Shirt fame.

The meeting went well the following day. O&M had the TWA account back then, (before Carl Icahn killed the once popular airline for ever).

Our fearless leader at the time was Tim Elliott … my all-time favorite boss.  He had replaced Max Bisset, who had a famous sister.  Yes, I met Jacqueline Bisset too.

Tim had the good sense to recognize my talent and created a “way-through” job as account executive.   Only two of us had this opportunity in the entire O&M company at the time.

A few years later, Tim went on to head up the flagship office in New York of FCB Worldwide as managing director. He was a legend.

I must say that working in an international ad agency in the ‘80s involved copious consumption of alcohol. One day a week it was almost compulsory to stay late and consume pizza and lots of beer and cheap red wine. I gather it was some kind of team-building exercise. Years later, after I had stopped drinking, I had to admit it was a dumb idea. But to an impressionable young lass from across the Briney, it seemed the thing to do.

My lasting regret was that I ignored Tim’s advice to always keep in touch with friends. You know … birthday and holiday cards. The “Hi, how are you” phone calls. I should have listened.

I missed the opportunity to say goodbye before Tim’s untimely death on December 30, 1999 because I had ignored his advice.

“Buttocks,” and “Steaming piles,” were two of Tim’s favorite exclamations. I brought him a fake “steaming pile” of dog poo once. He kept it on his desk.

You can read more about Tim here, if you’re interested. He really was one of a kind. He usually moved the objet d’art to a more prominent location on his desk if he had an important visitor.

Tim was responsible for my transfer to Adams and Rinehart, a corporate public relations agency recently acquired by O&M. Jonathan Rinehart was not enamored with my skills as a writer, but he agreed to take me on – no doubt with a little push from O&M’s star ad executive.

I proved Jonathan wrong about my ability to string a coherent sentence together and worked on the Seagram account, traveling around the country, visiting the plants and writing articles for two of the corporate newsletters, “The Seagram Company” and “On The House.” I also wrote press releases under the watchful and brilliantly talented Bob Kasmire, (who was once speechwriter for Tip O’Niell – Former Speaker of the United States House of Representatives).

Those were the heady days of Seagram Wine Coolers. Fronted by Bruce Willis, of course. I remember the launch party at which Willis was either so drunk, or under the influence of something else, that he almost fell off the stage.

They sent me to Scotland to visit the Glenlivet Distillery, to Canada to write a story about the new Captain Morgan Coolers and to London for a couple of months to run the Adams & Rinehart office while the incumbent took time off.

I even got to meet my favorite football (American) star of the time … number 56 of the New York Giants … THE Lawrence Taylor! He had huge hands!

If there’s one thing I’d care to forget about while I was working at A&R, it’s the night I was assigned to take photos at a gathering of O&M bigwigs, including Kenneth Roman, Bill Phillips, Jay Schulberg and Graham Phillips, and my flash stopped working!

To sum it all up, meeting David Ogilvy in a conference room late one evening didn’t immediately change my life. However, I began to read more about him and recognized the irrepressible belief he had in himself and his work. Tim was the same way. And so am I.

So I’ll close by borrowing something from the gentleman who told me I had a good name.

“Will Any Agency Hire This Man?

He is 38, and unemployed. He dropped out of college.

He has been a cook, a salesman, a diplomatist and a farmer.

He knows nothing about marketing and had never written any copy.

He professes to be interested in advertising as a career (at the age of 38!) and is ready to go to work for $5,000 a year.

I doubt if any American agency will hire him.”

However, a London agency did hire him. Three years later he became the most famous copywriter in the world, and in due course built the tenth biggest agency in the world.

The moral: it sometimes pays an agency to be imaginative and unorthodox in hiring.

Happy times.

 

Life in the 80s on Madison Avenue

(Or, How a Wide-Eyed Kid Crossed the Murky Puddle and Got to Know the Advertising Gods of the Day)

Late one evening in a conference room on an upper floor of Ogilvy & Mather’s old New York building on 47th and Madison, I bumped into David Ogilvy. Well, I didn’t actually bump into him. I turned around to see an elderly gentleman shuffling into the room and realized I was looking at perhaps the best-known advertising guru of the twentieth century. I had been preparing the room for a meeting of leading travel agents better known as the American Association of Travel Agents, or ASTA, which was to happen the following day.

Being in my early twenties, and having met HRH Prince Phillip a year or two earlier, (that’s another story for another day), I was quite unfazed.

He asked me what I was doing there so late. I explained in my best south-eastern English, tinged with a bit of what Americans would call a Cockney accent, that I was hanging posters and generally getting everything ready for the meeting the next day. He looked around the room and seemed to come to a decision, no doubt an educated decision given the millions of meetings he had attended during his career. “Yes,” he said. “You’ve done a good job. Very good.” He walked around the room, picked up one of the conference folders and flicked through it. “Well done, um, what is your name?” “Fiona,” I replied. “Ah, a good Scottish name,” he said, with a smile. “Yes, sir.” Except I wasn’t Scottish, but when David Ogilvy proclaims you have a good name, it would seem quite ill-mannered to disagree.

This little conversation lasted all of ten minutes, but I know advertising executives who would have given their right arm, and possibly an ear as well, to have that much time with the legendary creator of The Man in the Hathaway Shirt fame.

The meeting went well the following day. O&M had the TWA account back then, (before Carl Icahn killed the once popular airline for ever).

Our fearless leader at the time was Tim Elliott … my all-time favorite boss.  He had replaced Max Bisset, who had a famous sister.  Yes, I met Jacqueline Bisset too.

Tim had the good sense to recognize my talent and created a “way-through” job as account executive.   Only two of us had this opportunity in the entire O&M company at the time.

A few years later, Tim went on to head up the flagship office in New York of FCB Worldwide as managing director. He was a legend.

I must say that working in an international ad agency in the ‘80s involved copious consumption of alcohol. One day a week it was almost compulsory to stay late and consume pizza and lots of beer and cheap red wine. I gather it was some kind of team-building exercise. Years later, after I had stopped drinking, I had to admit it was a dumb idea. But to an impressionable young lass from across the Briney, it seemed the thing to do.

My lasting regret was that I ignored Tim’s advice to always keep in touch with friends. You know … birthday and holiday cards. The “Hi, how are you” phone calls. I should have listened.

I missed the opportunity to say goodbye before Tim’s untimely death on December 30, 1999 because I had ignored his advice.

“Buttocks,” and “Steaming piles,” were two of Tim’s favorite exclamations. I brought him a fake “steaming pile” of dog poo once. He kept it on his desk.

You can read more about Tim here, if you’re interested. He really was one of a kind. He usually moved the objet d’art to a more prominent location on his desk if he had an important visitor.

Tim was responsible for my transfer to Adams and Rinehart, a corporate public relations agency recently acquired by O&M. Jonathan Rinehart was not enamored with my skills as a writer, but he agreed to take me on – no doubt with a little push from O&M’s star ad executive.

I proved Jonathan wrong about my ability to string a coherent sentence together and worked on the Seagram account, traveling around the country, visiting the plants and writing articles for two of the corporate newsletters, “The Seagram Company” and “On The House.” I also wrote press releases under the watchful and brilliantly talented Bob Kasmire, (who was once speechwriter for Tip O’Niell – Former Speaker of the United States House of Representatives).

Those were the heady days of Seagram Wine Coolers. Fronted by Bruce Willis, of course. I remember the launch party at which Willis was either so drunk, or under the influence of something else, that he almost fell off the stage.

They sent me to Scotland to visit the Glenlivet Distillery, to Canada to write a story about the new Captain Morgan Coolers and to London for a couple of months to run the Adams & Rinehart office while the incumbent took time off.

I even got to meet my favorite football (American) star of the time … number 56 of the New York Giants … THE Lawrence Taylor! He had huge hands!

If there’s one thing I’d care to forget about while I was working at A&R, it’s the night I was assigned to take photos at a gathering of O&M bigwigs, including Kenneth Roman, Bill Phillips, Jay Schulberg and Graham Phillips, and my flash stopped working!

To sum it all up, meeting David Ogilvy in a conference room late one evening didn’t immediately change my life. However, I began to read more about him and recognized the irrepressible belief he had in himself and his work. Tim was the same way. And so am I.

So I’ll close by borrowing something from the gentleman who told me I had a good name.

“Will Any Agency Hire This Man?

He is 38, and unemployed. He dropped out of college.
He has been a cook, a salesman, a diplomatist and a farmer.
He knows nothing about marketing and had never written any copy.
He professes to be interested in advertising as a career (at the age of 38!) and is ready to go to work for $5,000 a year.

I doubt if any American agency will hire him.”

However, a London agency did hire him. Three years later he became the most famous copywriter in the world, and in due course built the tenth biggest agency in the world.

The moral: it sometimes pays an agency to be imaginative and unorthodox in hiring.

Happy times.

 

We, the Wretched Refuse (a.k.a. BRILLIANT, TALENTED UN/UNDER EMPLOYED)

Growing up in southern England, I was exposed to all the myths and rumors about life in America. Everybody had at least two cars, lived in large houses or apartments, and citizens seemed ageless. And had really good dental care. The few Americans I had met (relatives) confirmed my elders’ amazement at how brash, naive and full of themselves, these people from the New World could be. Like overbearing children, it was as if they had some inalienable right to expect the best of everything, without hardship, trampling over the tradition and niceties of an older, perhaps more sedate homeland.

But I made the crossing anyway – all the way to New Amsterdam (New York City).

That was 30 years ago.

Now, I am experiencing the dark-side, the rarely talked about age-phobia of this industrious country.

Being 50-something, I had expected to be fully-employed in a secure job, having accumulated an impressive career in public relations, even if I was looked upon as an elder by those I mentored. I certainly don’t look “old.”

But I am a product of the shifting sands of job security. Laid off, a health-care burden for potential employers (even though I am perfectly healthy), and … sin of all sins … I refuse to dye my hair.

I’ve probably made mistakes in my career. Working for peanuts at a nonprofit, believing a job will last when actually there was a one-year contract clause that I missed in my excitement.

I have always loved the jobs I’ve had, and there’s the rub … I had to love my work because I would not do so well if I didn’t enjoy or care about something I was spending 40+ hours doing every week.

I am not alone in this dilemma of experienced workers cast aside for cheaper, younger employees.

According to a 2013 report from AARP (be aware, I am not endorsing this organization’s political agenda)

“At 6 percent, the January 2013 unemployment rate for the workforce aged 55 and over was little changed from December or January 2012.

“Nearly 2 million people aged 55 and over were unemployed in January 2013, also little changed from December, but 115,000 more than the previous January.

“Average duration of unemployment for older jobseekers fell sharply from 51.3 weeks to 42.2 weeks between December and January. Average duration of unemployment was 56.1 weeks in January 2012.”

I am certain that the average duration of unemployment does not reflect the real story. How many people gave up looking for a job? How many are still unemployed? Who tracks those numbers?

Unemployment across the U.S. is about the same in Europe, between 7-8 percent, with the exception of Germany, which is a little lower. Canada is doing better than us.

America has changed. But so has my other home. Yes, the United Kingdom still has generous vacation allowances (average: four weeks), and a fairly intact safety net for those struggling to make ends meet. We have child benefits, unemployment benefit, free housing, free universal healthcare, working tax credit, disability allowance, bereavement benefit, and many others. Nearly all of these benefits can be claimed for an unlimited length of time. A family of three, for example, could quite comfortably live off the state their whole life without ever working. France, Germany and the Scandinavian countries have even more extensive social safety nets.  Is that sustainable?

 

Check out The Urban Institute’s page on longterm unemployment