Ageism in publishing

I’ve been thinking about an article posted by a Facebook friend: “The route to literary success: be young, gifted but most of all gorgeous.” The same friend quoted from the Quill and Quire: “Ageism is a dirty little secret in the Canadian publishing world. I know at least a couple of people who generated a great deal of interest from publishers until the acquiring editor asked…how old they were.”

As a writer with a novel manuscript that’s good to go, this gave me pause. One has to work awfully hard on the gifted side of things nowadays, competing in a sea of enormously talented writers, but to have to score on young and gorgeous too? For women writers of my ilk, it’s like trying to sit on a three-legged stool with two of the legs missing.

I don’t know how much ageism — specific or subconscious — actually occurs in publishing. But if it’s there — speaking now as a reader not writer — it profoundly misjudges audiences. There are a lot of us keen older readers, for one thing. I recall that events at Winnipeg’s annual literary festival, THIN AIR, which I attended when I lived there, were filled with women, and many, perhaps the majority, were middle-aged or older.

Further, I and older readers of my acquaintance know there are brilliant, beautiful young writers, some with uncanny depth, and we’ll read them with admiration if they satisfy, but it’s the satisfy factor that matters, some essential integrity in the work apart from everything else. We don’t mind if authors are ordinary-looking, men or women, old or even dead, as long as the words they’ve written shine with at least some extraordinary light.

Our new reality

Conversation early this morning:

He: “Today’s your blog day.”

Me: “I don’t know what to write. I feel like I should mention ‘it’ but I don’t really want to. What does it have to do with aging?”

He: “It’s our new reality.”

Right. So if I’m aiming to be specific and personal here, yes, I guess I probably should. Though it’s not a “new reality” as much as “been there before” (though not for more than 15 years by now) and we’re not at all thrilled to be back, because each occurrence is, in its way, new and unknown and this one rather grimmer than the ones before.image

So what’s this “it” I hate to talk about? Husband H. has been diagnosed with a (new) cancer metastasized to the bones. This is, at the moment, the focus of our lives, the context within which we age and look back on our accumulated pasts and forward to an uncertain future.

One of the songs he likes to listen to as he rests is “Day by Day” (“and with each passing moment, strength I find to meet my trials here…”) That’s our new mantra for the new reality of appointments, scans, biopsy, palliation/treatment meds (about which experts are optimistic), resting, and otherwise carrying on with as much normalcy as possible. Day by day…

P.S. The Ireland trip mentioned here cancelled for now.

On the road

Further to Carolyn G. Heilbrun, mentioned last week, and the notion of being a rememberer. I don’t know if finding things in my journal that I’ve completely forgotten counts as memory, but in this way I “remember” I first read Heilbrun’s book, The Last Gift of Time: Life Beyond Sixty, in August 2002 on the long drive across the prairies from Winnipeg to Calgary to deliver our daughter, our youngest child, to school at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology. It was the hardest “leaving” of my life. I can’t say why I chose to read that book, I was only 52, but maybe it’s because I find it hard to do things at the last minute! 🙂

Anyway, we were on the # 1 highway, the long straight asphalt line of it, and besides the book, I was considering the scope of our journey, the reason for it, and our daughter said, “Technically, I [will] live on this road.” I considered this. Yes, of course, SAIT was on the #1 through Calgary. “I can see it in the distance,” I teased.

This small exchange gives me pleasure when I encounter it now because I know that when we deposited her there and when we left, two in the car rather than three, and parents and daughter weepy with the farewell, we drove back home along the line where she lived, and it was the line of our future and hers, separate but linked, and I can see that we all “survived” it, as parents and children do. I was looking towards sixty as well, perhaps earlier than necessary, but I’m beyond 60 now, and surviving that too. One does, in all kinds of ways.

Carolyn Heilbrun, unmet friend

I’ve read The Last Gift of Time: Life Beyond Sixty by Carolyn G. Heilbrun twice. I’ve been thinking it may be time to read it again. Heilbrun (1926 – 2003) was an ardent feminist, scholarly, opinionated and unconventional, and that’s what I find compelling in her work, being more timid and conventional myself. She makes me think, makes me agree or disagree, inspires me. “Women catch courage from the women whose lives and writings they read,” she said, “and call the bearer of that courage friend.”

41qphFrXRWL._SX320_BO1,204,203,200_By that definition, Heilbrun is what she called an unmet friend. When we first moved to Tsawwassen, for example, I signed up for a couple of Eldercollege courses, six afternoons on Shakespeare’s Richard III, then another round on Sinclair Lewis’ Babbit, and these were fine, they were good, but I recalled Heilbrun saying that rather than dabbling, a course here, a course there, retired people ought to find a “world,” a “work” that “requires strong effort and the evidence of growing proficiency… [the purpose being] to maintain a carefully directed intensity.” I realized I still had a world of work, I wasn’t done with writing yet. That’s where my intensity longed to be.

Heilbrun also said she didn’t want to be a “rememberer.” Memories “can evolve into the ultimate temptation of one’s last decade…to recall grudges, to dwell on ancient wrongs and miseries and betrayals, to allow these memories…to dominate thought and therefore life.” Better to stay in the present, she said, to make friends of the young and not put them off with relishing the past. Unlike Heilbrun, I want to be a rememberer. But since she’s a friend, I’ll listen at least, I’ll consider the caution in her words, try not to put off the youngers in my life.