June 28, 2013

Didn't feel too old on this job interview

This past week, I went to visit a press institute that trains and employs women as journalists in developing countries around the world. The institute was started about six years ago by a 25-year-old woman. It is a nonprofit that has a board of directors --made up of experienced newshounds -- and it has content sharing partnerships with major international media outlets.

I actually wasn't interviewing for a paying job but went to talk about doing some volunteering work -- a few hours a week over the next few weeks and maybe longer, on a specific project. At some point, the volunteer position might involve mentoring a reporter out in the field somewhere in Africa or Asia, as she covers gang rapes of village women by roving bands of soldiers -- yes, that ancient warfare strategy--or attempts by women to launch small businesses in countries where they usually don't have much economic power. 

I'm excited about this volunteer opportunity. I get to use my journalism experience, as well as my experience working as a journalist overseas; I was a correspondent and an editor at at English-language daily in Thailand for three years. Working on issues unique to countries in other parts of the globe will definitely take me out of my local news/suburban California mindset.  

But another delightful bit of self-discovery occurred during this meeting: I didn't leave the meeting with this young, creative, entrepreneurial executive director, or after meeting some of her young, creative entrepreneurial staff, feeling old or that my skills were out of date.

I also didn't go into the interview feeling intimidated, though in previous months I might have.

The institute's offices are in one of those rehabilitated buildings in San Francisco's Presidio--a building that was part of the former Letterman Hospital. The building now house all sorts of very groovy and PC nonprofit organizations, law offices, design firms, tech startups, and of course, George Lucas' Letterman Digital Arts campus.

Lots of young and trendy-dressed 20 and 30somethings were milling about, walking from one building to another, toting backpacks or waiting to catch buses to their cool Mission District apartments or to their South of Market lofts. Oh, that was sort of my life once, long ago, before I became a 35-year-old mom and left the city, then became a 40something-year-old mom and wife and magazine and news  editor. Before my hair started to show streaks of gray, and the wrinkles deepened around my eyes. Before I started to gain a few pounds around my middle, or I started to have problems with teeth cracking and needing root canals.

Before I learned I had a heart condition--a slow heart beat, a form of arrythmia or irregular heartbeat, that if, untreated, makes my heart stop beating.  I suppose I almost died back in October 2011. I needed to have emergency surgery to implant a pacemaker to keep my heart beating on a regular pace. I faced that level of mortality sooner than I thought. When I turned 50 in January, I went through a gloomy period of feeling like, time is running out. And I was besieged by regrets, of expectations not met.

Of course, I could live another 40 years, but how much fun will those be if I wind up decrepit and poor? I suppose I'll keep writing, for as long as I have a working laptop or whatever device for writing that will replace what we use now.

As indicated, I have gone through the past year or so feeling old and useless. I haven't gone through menopause yet, but I'm been suffering through enough wild mood swings this past year to realize that the "change-of-life" is just around the corner. So, once I "stop bleeding," as the pagan goddess worshippers would put it, I become a "crone." Doesn't that sound awful?

But in the goddess worship world, crones are women to be honored and respected.

Alas, but not in our world. Yes, I need a change of attitude, and embrace the goddess within. Sorry, that will take some time.

Well, at least I didn't feel crone-like his week meeting with the executive director of this press institute.  She mentioned several times that they have a young staff, so I asked, without explicitly bringing up age, "why me? What can I offer your organization?"

Again, without explicitly mentioning age, she said I have experience -- valuable experience as a news reporter and editor -- that her organization needs. This experience gives me an understanding that might be lost on less experienced (younger) reporters. The understanding tells me that stories--to be taken seriously--need to offer the highest standards of reporting, punctuation and style.

That sounded good to me. Reassuring even. I left the meeting not necessarily feeling younger, or proud of having such experience that comes with age. I left feeling, for the first time in a while, unburdened by any sense of age.  Just feeling, well, like me. At this place in time.

Top photo shows Joan Crawford as the "old maid" editor from the 1959 film The Best of Everything. The somewhat more flattering photo above comes from an ad from the Dove soap "Campaign for Real Beauty" from 2007. 

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