A year ago today, I left my much-loved magazine job of 29 years, in tears and in a state of numbness and shock. Although I know nobody is indispensable, I truly thought they were going to have to carry me out feet first. Or, at least, allow me another few years there. But major technology changes which were set in motion a few years before resulted in a massive restructuring of the company and huge amounts of job losses (almost a quarter of the entire company) in pretty much one fell swoop. All in readiness for selling it on. My whole dept went, so it wasn’t a question of not being good at my job (just ask my ex-boss and my old team of regular writers), which is some small consolation, I suppose. The real reason, of course, was to save money. Isn’t it always?!
I didn’t even go to my own leaving do – by all accounts, a mere shadow of how these things used to be. I was also very angry and upset in the days before we left; afraid to open my mouth for fear of what would come out. I talk about it and others in more detail in a previous post on my blog, so I won’t repeat it all here. Look under “L” for “Leaving dos” under my A-Z of magazine life.
People have likened it to a bereavement grieving period, but when will it end? I think I’m feeling better about things, then choke up and start to cry in the middle of a conversation with someone. I try to hide it. I know there are others with far more serious problems and worries. I can’t always hide it, though. A friend told me the other day he can feel the unhappiness coming off me in waves and he doesn’t know what to say to me.
In many ways, the magazine was like a family to us all and the combination of work I enjoyed doing and lovely, caring and supportive colleagues got me through any number of devastating life experiences while I was there. I miss magazine life: my colleagues, our banter, the laughs we used to have (though admittedly they were becoming few and far between in the last few years there), the insider and industry gossip, not to mention all the free books that landed on my desk every day. A huge perk of the job for an avid reader and lifelong book lover such as myself. I even looked forward to going into work on a Monday! How many people can say that? Although we worked hard to constant deadlines and challenges and were never complacent about our jobs, we were cushioned and cocooned to a certain extent and the reality of “out there” has been an unwelcome eye-opener for me.
My ex-boss told me the other day that she misses it all as well – and she was there a lot longer than me and can remember the really, really good old days, when our magazine (and other weeklies) consistently hit the million-plus mark in sales every week and the champagne was cracked open to celebrate. She said she could walk back into the office tomorrow, sit down, switch on her computer and get straight back into the work as though she had never been away. I feel exactly the same. Between us, we had 66 years of experience! No wonder we could pick it all up again right now. Not doing anything is a waste of our talents and expertise and it’s frustrating and upsetting to see how sloppy magazines and books are looking these days – full of errors on just about every page. We all know why: fewer staff to treble-check every word. It’s bad enough with magazines but with books it’s far worse, as they are around forever.
I saw a friend three months after it had happened and he told me that was no time at all in which to try to get over it. When he was made redundant, also from a job he loved, it had taken him three years before he could move on to something else. I don’t have his sort of money, though, so that just isn’t an option for me. But it is something that is on my mind every single day and it has given me many sleepless nights. Which is quite ironic, really. In the last few years of when I was working and it had all become so much more stressful, I had to have sleeping tablets from my doctor because I was having trouble getting more than just a few hours’ sleep every night (she told me to leave my job and I told her I couldn’t, ha ha). I had two alarms clocks on the go. Now, I have those same tablets to help me sleep because I’m NOT working. I am still waking up at two or three am, mind racing back and forth, and having mild panic attacks (more on these later).
I am getting to dread seeing people I haven’t seen for a while. They seem so surprised I haven’t found anything yet. I find myself repeating the same phrases over and over: “No, there’s nothing out there for me atm. Yes, I am on Linkedin. Yes, I go online to look. No, nothing suitable at all. No, I don’t know what I want to do next. I loved my job. I want to keep the skills I worked so hard to get and maintain. It’s happening all over the publishing world. There are fewer and fewer jobs out there. Freelance, you say? But freelance what, exactly?! What I did was very specialised. I think I’ve had my career. I will probably have to do more than one thing to make the same amount of money. No, I’m not sending my CV out into the ether. I know what happens to those. Besides which, they have to be tailored to each job. Please don’t ask me again. I can see the irritation and boredom in your face. Now, shall we change the subject?”
Perhaps not surprisingly, I have become slightly obsessive about people having jobs. By which I mean, when someone was complaining on Facebook about the forthcoming renovations on Buck House, and that the Queen herself should put her hand in her pocket, not the taxpayer, I chipped in with: “Yes, I know but just think of the JOBS all that work will be creating!” Again, when my partner was recently questioning the point of Love Island and shaking his head over its rather incredible popularity, I could only say: “Yes, I agree with you but think of the JOBS that one programme must generate, never mind all the others!”
For myself, I try hard not to feel a complete failure but I know the waters are closing over my head. I feel I’m too young to retire, can’t afford to anyway, yet probably too old to start a new career. I feel inhibited, stuck, paralysed. Unable to move on and think about what I want to do next. I’ve been told to focus on what I do want to do, rather than what I don’t but, truth is, I just don’t know what that is!
I have caught up with friends I hadn’t seen in ages and even made a few new ones. I am lunching. A lot. I joke about it. A lot. I’m becoming quite the expert at it and have discovered many lovely new places to try. I’m happy to travel again, now I don’t have to, and have been going up to town on the train most weeks. It’s bliss, not travelling in the rush hour. I can be a tourist and visit all those places I always said I would have to take time off work to do properly. However, I am not best pleased with myself for managing to get lost so many times. I have lived up here for most of my life, for goodness’ sake! I have also discovered some lovely pockets of proper old London and am pleased to see there are still plenty of those left. What the developers have done to our beautiful riverside is nothing short of criminal, though, in my view.
Finding unexpected allies and new friends within the group of writers I used to receive stories from has been a huge bonus. Driving to my house from many miles away to see me and go out for lunch (of course!), or meeting up in town, ditto. Sending me their books and stories to look at because I said I was missing them so much. Sending kind and supportive emails. It’s been a revelation and I am hugely grateful to all of them. You know who you are!
Catching up with my reading pile, which I always joked would only happen when I retired. To fill the void of not getting all the latest releases into the office every week (I know, we were definitely spoiled), I found myself buying loads of new books and ordering lots from the internet, at first, so that every week there were exciting parcels dropping through my letterbox. I’ve slowed down a bit now, though, to enable me to catch up. I still love fiction, of course, but I find that I am more drawn to reading non-fiction books at the moment: memoirs, biographies, collected essays, that type of thing. I have discovered a secondhand bookshop in central London where they sell a lovely mix of old and brand-new, just-published books at really low prices. Also, there are shelves of advanced proof copy books there. These would come into the office on a regular basis and I feel a little pang of remembrance each time I search through them.
One of my writer friends has been a brilliant support, encouraging me to join the monthly group for freelance writers she co-runs in central London, and bullying me into giving a talk there last year. On top of that, this year, she asked me to speak on a panel at the literary festival she runs in the town where she lives. After the panel session, we all had one-to-ones with writers discussing their stories and I really enjoyed doing this. Being a festival virgin, I was nervous as hell at first but would love to do it again – if anybody is listening!
I have to admit that I had always shied away from giving talks, speaking at workshops, etc, and was thankfuI I didn’t have to do any of it as part of my job. My boss ran our workshops and gave talks to writing groups and the like and I was very happy to let her get on with it, much preferring to stay well within my comfort zone and the relative safety of my desk.
Now, however, I have been well and truly pushed out of that zone in so many interesting ways and would be very happy to do more along these lines. And by the way, if anybody wants an experienced judge for story-writing competitions, you know who to ask!
When working, I was always too busy or too tired (all those horribly early starts and sleepless nights) and too laden down with books and manuscripts to even contemplate attending book launches and talks and the like at the end of a long, long day. Ironically, since being out of work, I have been to several of these, from casual, relaxed pub lunches to very smart evening dos in swanky private clubs.
I have also critiqued a few writers’ stories for them for free, to keep my hand in. It felt great to be doing that again and to feel useful. It has been suggested I do this officially and start charging for it but, knowing how little the writers earn from their short stories, what would I charge them to make it worth my while? Just one story can take a good few hours to do properly. I’m not going to make a decent living out of it, I know.
I have offered to help a friend with his first book (for free, again). A bit daunting but all good practise – I hope!
I have written a few blogs for a writers’ website, which I really enjoyed doing and, finally, started blogging myself. I love writing and the first thing I did with my redundancy money was buy a computer set-up at home, which instantly made me feel so much better. I was and am connected to the world again!
The obvious one – no money coming in. For the first time in almost 40 years of working full-time, money isn’t automatically landing in my bank account every month and it’s very, very scary. More sleepless nights!
The lack of identity. I call myself a journalist and I suppose I can add writer and blogger to that as well. But I feel a bit of a fraud for doing so as I don’t feel I’ve properly earned it yet. I was so proud of what I did and of the industry I worked in for nearly 40 years. I had a role. Now, I’m at home a lot more than I was, obviously, but that doesn’t make me a housewife. So who and what am I?
Those days when I don’t have anything in particular to do or anyone to see. I have no plan or purpose. My confidence is at rock bottom and I have to force myself to leave the house or go mad. It’s called cabin fever and, as cabins go, it’s not that bad, but I don’t want to spend all my time in it. Some friends of mine don’t understand why I have to go out every day but we’re all different. Besides, they are both retired and have each other’s company. My partner is still working (thank goodness!) but this means I am on my own all day and often all evening as well and there’s only so much I can stand of my own company. I refuse to go down the road of watching daytime TV, which others do to pass the time. That would be the beginning of the end for me but, as I say, each to their own.
On her retirement, a friend’s mother told her, “Get out of the house every day, even if it’s just to go up the road for a newspaper and a pint of milk. Talk to people. Find a friendly cafe for a coffee or sandwich. Just. Get. Out.” Wise words I have tried to adhere to but some days it’s a lot easier to do than others.
I have learned to plan my days far ahead, so that I have something to look forward to. I am lucky to have good friends to see and do nice things with and I am grateful for their company and am enjoying catching up with so many of them. Ten, or even five years ago it would have been a different story but we are all getting older and several of my friends have now fully retired and others, like me, have left one job and are searching for another, with plenty of spare time in between. I have now devised a Plan B list, as well, for those days when I have no choice but to do things on my own and not be such a wimp about it. It all helps and it stops me from panicking so much.
However, I have always been prone to mild panic attacks and seem to be getting more of these now, often building up to near-hysteria over the slightest, smallest thing – though usually in the privacy of my own home. Ask any of my friends and I think they would describe me as a bubbly, loud, lively person, who likes to chat, dance, sing, play, muck about, have a good laugh and make others laugh with me. People have always said I’m good company. This is just a blip. Normal service will be resumed very soon and, in the meantime, please do feel free to contact me if you fancy meeting up for lunch!