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Archive for the ‘family’ Category

When your family holidays….aren’t

In aging, behavior, children, domestic life, family, life, love, parenting, seniors on December 14, 2013 at 12:45 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Christmas card, ca. 1880 Featured on the Minne...

Christmas card, ca. 1880 Featured on the Minnesota Historical Society’s Collections Up Close blog. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here’s a beautiful post by a young woman, chosen for Freshly Pressed, about how she’s spending the holidays, without the traditional closeness of family:

We were browsing the greeting card aisle at Target the other day, looking for something to send my parents for Thanksgiving. The more I skimmed the contents of each card, the more discouraged I became.

Because it hurts to know millions of people all over the country will be sending cards that say things like, “Holidays are a time to appreciate loved ones…” or even better, “I’m so thankful to be spending this day with you…”

But I didn’t pick a card like that. I was relegated to a small selection of cards that read more along the lines of “Hope your holiday is __________.” Fill in the blank with words like blessed, enjoyable, and joyful. These are the neutral cards meant for acquaintances, distant relatives, or coworkers. All of the formality but none of the tenderness.

I just want to talk about this. I want to speak into the hearts of the people who struggle during the holidays as much as I do. Whether you’re estranged, cut off, or alienated the endless routine of the holiday season can sometimes be too much to bear.

That post cut me to the heart — as I, too, had just searched the card racks in vain for a birthday card for my mother, one without all the glitter and butterflies and saccharine emotion that has no relevance to our relationship.

We no longer even have a relationship.

My mother’s last card to me was several years ago, filled with anger. She now lives in one small room in a nursing home in a city that takes me 7 hours flying time to reach. I’m her only child, and she wants nothing to do with me.

The details are too complicated and grim and personal to get into here, although long-time readers of Broadside read a post that once explained some of it.

Christmas lights on Aleksanterinkatu.

Christmas lights on Aleksanterinkatu. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you are fortunate enough to have a family that looks forward to spending time with one another, happy selecting gifts you know will please them, eager to cook festive meals and welcome them to your table — be thankful.

And please include those of us who don’t have a place to go to, as one friend did for me, one brutal Christmas Day some 15 years ago. My mother had come to New York to spend it with me, but Christmas Eve, (which already had some old and very painful memories for us both), had once more turned into a holocaust.

On Christmas Day, alone, I had nowhere to go and no one to be with.

My friend Curt, home from California visiting his parents in Pennsylvania, said: “Come!”

This season is a painful, aching one for many. We may be too shy or too proud to explain why we’re not going “home” for the holidays, the nasty details a thorn in our souls every day as it is.

And some people are grieving, this being their first Christmas without someone they adored — like this blog, written by a talented artist whose wife Leslie died six months ago. This post is heartbreaking, but describes what it feels like to approach Christmas for the first time as a widower.

The first Christmas after my husband left, in 1994, was deeply painful, but I got through it thanks to a dear friend and (yay!) a terrific new beau who reminded me there might actually be life worth living as a divorcee.

Luckily, I’ve spent the past 13 Christmases with my second husband, who thoughtfully chose Christmas Eve, (at midnight, snowing, after church) to propose, so that evening would newly represent a happy choice, not frightening old memories.

Home is where someone who loves you welcomes you with open arms, no matter who opens that door.

Please let your home be that place for someone feeling lost and lonely this year as well.

Does Dasani’s NYT homeless story leave you angry? Sad? Indifferent?

In behavior, children, cities, culture, domestic life, education, family, journalism, news, parenting, urban life, US on December 12, 2013 at 1:11 am

By Caitlin Kelly

It’s a story that took a year of reporting and writing to produce, prompting more than 600+ comments after the first day — by 5:30 p.m. yesterday, more than 1,713 readers had weighed in.

English: The New York Times building in New Yo...

English: The New York Times building in New York, NY across from the Port Authority. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The New York Times is running a five-part series on Dasani, an 11-year-old African American girl living with her siblings in a squalid New York city shelter that has sucked up millions of tax-payer dollars already.

Her parents take methadone, do not work and have seven other children sharing a 500 square foot room.

Dasani is smart, capable, liked by her teachers, and burdened by caring for her brothers and sisters. She, like them, has nowhere clean, quiet and comfortable in which to do her homework. Their room has no desk. One wall has a hole where mice run freely.

Here’s an excerpt from the first instalment:

Dasani is among 280 children at the shelter. Beyond its walls, she belongs to a vast and invisible tribe of more than 22,000 homeless children in New York, the highest number since the Great Depression, in the most unequal metropolis in America.

Nearly a quarter of Dasani’s childhood has unfolded at Auburn, where she shares a 520-square-foot room with her parents and seven siblings. As they begin to stir on this frigid January day, Dasani sets about her chores.

Her mornings begin with Baby Lele, whom she changes, dresses and feeds, checking that the formula distributed by the shelter is not, once again, expired. She then wipes down the family’s small refrigerator, stuffed with lukewarm milk, Tropicana grape juice and containers of leftover Chinese. After tidying the dresser drawers she shares with a sister, Dasani rushes her younger siblings onto the school bus.

Dasani guards her feelings closely, dispensing with anger through humor. Beneath it all is a child whose existence is defined by her siblings. Her small scrub-worn hands are always tying shoelaces or doling out peanut butter sandwiches, taking the ends of the loaf for herself. The bond is inescapable. In the presence of her brothers and
sisters, Dasani has no peace. Without them, she is incomplete.

I spent more than an hour reading the comments, which came from social workers, past and present; from New York schoolteachers; from the formerly poor and homeless able to escape a difficult past; from the fed-up-with-generational-welfare crowd.

A few readers simply shrugged — the entire United States, not just New York City, is deeply pockmarked by poverty now, with the second-highest rate of child poverty in the developed world.

As one commenter said…wait. This story will soon be only one of many. She is hardly unique.

Reader reactions, predictably, are mixed:

outrage at the shelter’s squalor; dismay at the parents’ inability or unwillingness to work, earn money and set an example for their children; anger at the tens of thousands of tax-payer dollars supporting a couple of adults who have made repeatedly poor choices, including producing more and more children they have no way to support; disappointment that the U.S. allows children like her to live in such appalling conditions; confusion as to what can be done to alleviate this kind of poverty.

As I’ve blogged here before, I was a Big Sister in 1998 for 18 months to a 13-year-old child whose family was also deeply dysfunctional.  (For readers outside of North America, Big Sister/Big Brother is a national program that matches volunteers — usually middle or upper middle class, employed and well-educated — with struggling youngsters. The idea is to foster relationships that will help poor children and teens survive and thrive.)

I found the process deeply frustrating, as much because I expected far too much from it and because, I thought, the organizers expected far too little.

My “little sister”, like Dasani, was bright and very likeable, apparently eager to flee the clutches of poverty.

But, sadly also highly unlikely to do so. I saw frightening and destructive behaviors within her family I’d never before encountered en masse — abandonment, laziness, welfare dependence, neglect and passivity — that boded ill for her future.

The desire to flee poverty can also create an impossible choice — between the bosom of a chaotic family a child knows well, and a larger world they don’t. You’re not going to get very far saying “axe” instead of “ask” a question.

I saw this play out with my “little”. The more I tried to find her better options, (even, yes, a scholarship spot at a private school barely 30 minutes drive from her family), the more they shrugged it off.

I admit it. After 18 months, I burned out and walked away.

Children need consistently healthy role models if they’re going to succeed and avoid the pitfalls of addiction and/or teen pregnancy. Dasani’s mother teaches her to fight — physically — which, as the Times reports, gets her suspended from school.

The series’ pathos has left some readers eager to “help” — but what, exactly, can they do?

Donate to charities? Pay even more taxes? Volunteer individually with a child on their own? Foster a child or several?

What do you think?

What — if anything — would change (for good/better) a life like hers?

33 fab holiday gift ideas

In beauty, culture, design, domestic life, entertainment, family, Fashion, life, love, Style on December 8, 2013 at 3:03 am

By Caitlin Kelly

For some people, holiday gift shopping is hell — you have no idea of your recipients’ sizes or favorite colors or you’re on a super-tight budget and/or the thought of a crowded mall makes you want to give up before you start.

English: Gift ideas for men - wrapping paper e...

English: Gift ideas for men – wrapping paper example. Please source http://www.giftideasformen.com (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Take heart, Broadsiders!

Every year I make a list for you of fun, lovely practical gift ideas for men and women of all ages. A few are big splurges, but I’ve sought out a variety, many chosen for their combination of charm and affordability.

Enjoy!

From Plumo, one of my favorite fashion online retailers, this watch, with an owl on its face, $122.  And these great socks, with chartreuse hares on a field of blue, $38.63; they also come with foxes or crows.

I didn’t expect to find housewares at this new site, Saturday by Kate Spade. But this simple, black pitcher is gorgeous and large enough to hold a bunch of tall flowers or a lot of martinis; $75.

And, maybe for the same kitchen or dining room, here’s a great little black and white cotton rug, in an array of sizes, starting at $33. This site, Dash & Albert, has a huge selection of terrific colors.

Downton Abbey

Downton Abbey (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

O’Brien’s boots! Any of you who are addicted to Downton Abbey will crave these terrific Edwardian-era black leather boots; $298.

Love these ceramic, printed measuring spoons, with imperial and metric; $25; add this gaggle of gold-edged geese — ceramic measuring cups. Adorbs! $36

It is a sad fact that many American schoolteachers — and their students — don’t have enough of the supplies they need. This site allows you to choose what to give and where.

As someone who loves to entertain and set a pretty table, I love this colored flatware, in a variety of colors, from tortoise to deep blue; $150.

Love this linen tea towel – made by a Broadside follower, Edinburgh-based designer Niki Fulton — of an industrial crane in the harbor, bright pink on black; $13.26.

You probably know Zara, the fast-fashion Spanish retailer. But do you know Zara Home? I love their unusual designs and colors, and splurged this year on a duvet cover and shams on sale. The quality is excellent! I adore this duvet cover, in a dusty grey and soft red paisley, (the sort of thing you’d pay three time as much for an antique version if you could even find it), $89-109.

The worst thing about flying? Tough to choose! But an overweight bag is a nasty surprise. Here’s a portable luggage scale. (We have one. It works!) $12.

I use Windex and Q-tips, but here’s a computer keyboard brush that looks like something from a Victorian hotel. Steampunk! $24.

I use candles and votives in every room of our home. I love their gentle, flickering light — a lovely way to wake up slowly on a cold winter’s morning or soothe yourself during a long bath or illuminate an intimate meal. This set of three, in white ceramic, resemble sea urchins, from one of my favorite catalogs, Wisteria; $19.

Oh, admit it…you’re dying for a little (maybe a lot of) cashmere. Feel less guilty if you buy it for your brother/father/sister/bestie (after getting one for yourself.) This V-neck sweater, a classic, is a delicious heathery teal; $225.

Speaking of cashmere, they call this thing a snood; I call it a cagoule. Either way, it’s a cozy, gorgeous way to wrap your throat from chilly gusts; in three soft colors, $108.

Can you resist a small fox door knocker? I can’t! $24

Do you know the Moomins? They were one of my favorite children’s books, by Finnish author Tove Jansson. A Moomin mug is sure to start your day with a smile; $22.

I love my Lamy fountain pen; this one is a sharp, matte black. $28.

These gold-plated Herve van der Straeten clip-on drop earrings are divine! Bold but organic. $376.

I serve on the volunteer board of the Writers Emergency Assistance Fund, and am proud that we’re able to help non-fiction writers facing financial crisis. We have absolutely no administration costs so every penny goes directly to the people who need our help. We can give up to $4,000, which we send out within a week of receiving and approving an application. Writers, no matter how talented or experienced, often live a somewhat precarious life financially. Please keep our culture thriving with a donation to WEAF!

If you’ve ever been to the Paris flea markets, you know what fun (and madness) they can be. I always score a few fab finds. Here’s  the next best thing - a hardcover book with lots of photos and stories about them, from the elegant publishers Assouline; $75.

Scarf mavens, unite! I want this one, quite desperately, a mineral print in tones of blue, turquoise and brown, on silk, exclusively from one of my favorite shops in the world, Liberty of London; $120.

Beautiful department store.

Beautiful department store. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I do love the elegance of a silk pocket square; this one, in deep blues and blacks, is also from Liberty; $56.

Have you ever tasted tamarind? Here’s one of the world’s best gourmet/spice shops, Kalyustan’s, on Lexington Avenue in Manhattan. Delight your favorite foodie or cook with a basket filled with exotic, hard-to-find ingredients — and hope for a dinner invitation!

Y’all know I’m a big fan of sending lovely thank-you notes. Check out these letterpress thank-you cards, made by a woman in Silicon Valley; $15.50

This creamy, dreamy soap, with a tangy citrus-y smell, is the signature fragrance of the five-star hotel Le Sireneuse on Positano and…swoon! We’ve been using it for the past month in our bathroom and the whole room smells divine. Eau d’Italie, a box of three bars; 36 euros.

And speaking of lovely scents, my favorite is Blenheim Bouquet, a man’s fragrance created in 1902 by the British firm Penhaligon’s. It’s crisp but rich, and I wear it year-round. “Reserved Victorianism, telegraph style. But fresh. Colonial lemon/lime meets Scarborough fair. Splendid, old boy,” says one reviewer; $136.68.

Shameless plug here; my latest book, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail”, or a one-on-one coaching session on any aspect of writing, journalism or publishing — or perhaps a headshot by a Pulitzer-prize winning photographer who has photographed three Presidents (aka my husband, Jose)? Just the ticket for an ambitious pal (or one for yourself.)

Who doesn’t want a baby elephant? Sponsor an orphan through the Daphne Sheldrick Foundation. From $50.

This squid’s dangling arms — designed by a Swedish kite-surfer — offer a fun, funny way to gather and keep your shampoo, conditioner and body wash in one place; $36.

Loneliness — the new epidemic

In aging, behavior, cities, culture, domestic life, family, life, urban life, US on November 27, 2013 at 12:24 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Loneliness

Loneliness (Photo credit: FotoRita [Allstar maniac])

 

Powerful piece in The Globe and Mail:

In Vancouver, residents recently listed social isolation as their most pressing concern. More Canadians than ever live alone, and almost one-quarter describe themselves as lonely. In the United States, two studies showed that 40 per cent of people say they’re lonely, a figure that has doubled in 30 years. Britain has a registered charity campaigning to end chronic loneliness, and last month, health secretary Jeremy Hunt gave a speech about the isolated many, calling attention to “a forgotten million who live amongst us ignored, to our national shame.”

It is the great irony of our age that we have never been better connected, or more adrift.

The issue isn’t just social, it’s a public-health crisis in waiting. If you suffer from chronic loneliness, you run the risk of illness, and premature death.

“This is a bigger problem than we realize,” says Ami Rokach, a psychologist and lecturer at York University in Toronto, who has been researching the subject for more than three decades.

“Loneliness has been linked to depression, anxiety, interpersonal hostility, increased vulnerability to health problems, and even to suicide.”

The holiday season is a time of year when feeling unconnected, or disconnected, can be more painful than ever.

As someone who’s been working alone at home — with no pets or kids for company or distraction — since 2006, I know how isolating this form of employment can get. Yes, I can go to the library or a cafe to be surrounded by people, but that’s not the solution. They’re not friends.

I realized the other day where my community lies, and it’s not at all what I would have answered if you asked. It’s the YMCA in my small town. I go there three or four times most weeks, taking classes in jazz dance and choreography or using the work-out room. I also sometimes take pool aerobics. So every visit now means running into one of my teachers or a fellow student or a neighbor.

It feels really good.

Loneliness is something I’ve fought for years since I moved to New York in 1989, jobless, knowing only two people, my fiance (now my first husband) and a high school friend of my mother’s. To my dismay, she never bothered to invite me for coffee or, even though she worked in the same industry, make an introduction to anyone. It was very tough indeed.

Getting divorced five years after arriving here was also difficult. I had only one deep friendship, with a woman (sadly) since gone from my life.

Only in the past four or five years have I felt at home here, thanks to finally having found several good friends. No matter my professional achievements, it was a long, long time of feeling disconnected and unwelcome. When you live in a suburb, and don’t have kids or hobbies, it’s tough to find and nurture new friendships. And New Yorkers endure the nation’s longest commutes, their spare hours devoted tend to work or family.

This year, Jose is working on Thanksgiving but I’ve been adopted for the holiday — strolling only three doors down a warm, dry hallway on my floor to join friends for their Thanksgiving meal tomorrow.

I love this smart, creative solution. (Yay, Canada!)

The Vancouver Foundation has another answer: It is giving out grants of $500 to people who will organize a community event that brings strangers together – a knitting circle, an origami workshop, a pumpkin-carving jamboree. Mr. McCort attended one gathering recently, and was struck by an unfamiliar sight: “No one was on their phone, or checking email. There were a hundred people, just talking and making new friends.”

Do you feel lonely?

What do you do to try and alleviate it?

THIS WEEK’S WEBINAR IS “CRAFTING THE PERSONAL ESSAY”; 4:00 p.m. EST Nov. 30. I HOPE YOU’LL JOIN US!

DETAILS AND SIGN-UP HERE.

How it feels to be 14, 15 and 27: three recent films

In aging, behavior, children, culture, domestic life, family, film, life, love, movies, parenting, women on November 23, 2013 at 12:08 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Do you remember how it felt?

These three recent films, all of which I enjoyed, powerfully explore what it really feels like to be young, confused and figuring stuff out…

The Way Way Back

If your parents divorced when you were young, (as mine did), you may have spent your childhood and teens being subjected to a series of boyfriends or girlfriends of a sketchy, dubious or downright nasty sort. This film stars Steve Carrell, (of TV’s The Office), as Trent, a bully who’s dating 14-year-old Duncan’s mother, a weak-willed mess, (Toni Collette). Off they all go to his summer house in Massachusetts. There, they meet his wildly drunken neighbor and her teen daughter and a flirtatious wife married to another of his pals. For Duncan, it looks like it’s going to be a really long summer.

But he finds a new family when he wanders into Water Wizz, a local water park, and starts to see how funny and lovable he really is. He’s befriended there by its manager, Owen, who looks like a deadbeat goofball, but proves to be just what Duncan most needs — someone who can gently tease him into becoming his best self. Honest, smart and poignant, this film reminded me how it felt to be marginalized by your family, who really have no idea who you are underneath that teen prickliness, while a bunch of erstwhile strangers bring out the best in you.

blue-is-the-warmest-color-poster

Blue is the Warmest Color

If you’re not ready for its famous seven-minute sex scene between two young lesbians, maybe this isn’t your movie.

But the rest of the film — which won three awards at Cannes, shared between the two leads and the director, a first — is well worth the three hours (!) it devotes to this coming-out story of young Adele, who falls for sly, knowing, upper-class Emma after spotting one another crossing a street in Lille.

Adele is completely 15 — starved for life, affection, attention. She eats spaghetti off her knife while her parents watch TV at the dinner table. Emma, with her blue-dyed hair, is five years her senior, a university art student already confident in her powers, artistic and sexual.

Who hasn’t fallen for the knowing, powerful, self-assured version of who we think we’d like to be? Does it ever work out? Adele is obsessed. But Emma moves further and further our of her orbit, strategically mapping her way into the byzantine world of artistic success — thrilled when she introduces her young lover to a potential gallery owner, leaving a good impression.

Emma pulls away, breaking Adele’s heart. She cries easily and copiously — I kept wanting to hand her a Kleenex as globs of mucus run down her face. But that’s young love.

I liked this movie a lot, and the graphic sex scenes felt almost irrelevant after a while because this is really a film about what it feels like to grow into yourself, and the inevitable losses that come with it.

The truly taboo word here? Class. Adele is working-class and proudly and happily becomes a kindergarten teacher, a profession in which she blooms, to the dismay of Emma’s wealthy, languid posse. Emma’s world is elegant, littered with arty pretensions — her friends argue Klimt versus Schiele at a dinner party. Eager to please, Adele not only does all the cooking for them, but the cleaning up. That power imbalance is something every younger lover knows all too well.

Frances Ha

My favorite image of this film — which is shot in black and white — is the final one, a surprise you’ll need to wait for.

This story, of Frances Halladay, a 27-year-old modern dancer living in New York, limns the challenges of making money doing what you love, of friendship strained by your BFFs new love, the ever-shifting sands of self-confidence. It, too, is full of youthful yearning — for artistic success, for the safe solidity of the friend who never leaves, for financial security, for love, for an apartment all your own you can finally afford.

For many of us, the 20s are a time of self-discovery and self-invention. Who are we? Will anyone ever love us? What happens when our best friend marries — and it’s someone we don’t even like? Can we make a living doing what we most enjoy? If not, then what happens? What happens after that?

Much as Frances is a little irritating in her relentless naivete, her goofy sweetness and optimism are also charming. I ached every time her heartless little shit of a room-mate Benji calls her “undateable” and she too-quickly agrees. Few films have reminded me so effectively of the clash of hope and fear that our 20s can offer.

Which films bring back your most powerful feeling of being a teen or young adult?

Do you fight with the people you love?

In behavior, domestic life, family, life, love, men, parenting, women on November 19, 2013 at 12:06 am

By Caitlin Kelly

English: Fight

English: Fight (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Thought-provoking post here from Jezebel; (read the comments as well, lots of good stuff in there):

What is a fight anyway? A disagreement, sure, but predicated
on what? Miscommunication typically. Unrealistic expectations. Actions by the
other person that are perceived as selfish or thoughtless or simply not in line
with whatever one person in a relationship thinks are the perceived agreed-upon
values, stated or otherwise, of the relationship.

And a big part of all this confusion is usually this weird concept of
unspoken agreements. Can I just say right here and now that the concept
of unspoken agreements is super baffling? The thing where someone does
something and you’re supposed to know it means X or Y whether they say
so or not and return the thing to them you didn’t know they did in the
first place because it’s all supposed to be understood?

I bet more relationships have ended by failure to mind-read than almost any other crime of the heart.

So it goes without saying that lots of fights could be avoided by talking
more, by improving communication, stating/negotiations and expectations, and by
lowering expectations. But we are mere mortals over here, not Deepak
Chopra. Fights are happening. Deal with it.

Some people go through life (medicated?) never having a fight with anyone, ever. Over anything.

I’d love to be one of them, but it’s highly unlikely.

Jose, my husband, and I have been together 13.5 years. We had our first fight before our first date.

Yes, really.

But, once we met, we were together after that first night.

We laugh often and loudly. We wince at the thought of ever losing one another. We’re both stubborn, hard-headed and opinionated. We also love each other deeply.

But we’re not averse to verbal fisticuffs, an issue we struggle with still. We were both badly bullied when were younger and neither of us were trained or socialized to beat the shit out of our tormentors. Instead, we learned to verbally annihilate them. We got really good at that.

And both of us are tough, competitive career journalists, a profession that best rewards aggressive winners, not calm, gentle, cooperation.

We also grew up in completely different emotional environments. His parents never fought (in front of him.) My family yelled a lot. I hated it, but it was what we learned. So taking the gloves off, so to speak, comes too quickly, a habitual behavior that’s tough to break, no matter how essential to do so.

English: A fight in ice hockey: LeBlanc vs. Po...

English: A fight in ice hockey: LeBlanc vs. Ponich. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When Jose and I first fought, there was an underlying meta-fight, like gasoline poured into flame, of his disbelief, outrage and shock that we were fighting at all. For me, it was business as usual. It took a long time for me express my needs more calmly.

Like every couple, we also carry ghosts of old hurts, sometimes arguing ferociously not with one another, really, but with an unresolved bit of business from our past.

Everyone in a lasting intimate relationship must find a way to negotiate through conflict.

I really liked this recent post from another blogging Caitlin at Fit & Feminist, which addresses how grouchy and (regretfully) argumentative we can get when we’re really just hungry:

A couple of weeks ago I found myself embroiled in a bit of an interpersonal snafu.  I was trying to broach a sensitive subject with care and delicacy, hoping that I could not only get my point across but that I could do so in a way that was diplomatic and fair.

The problem is, I tried to do this while I was hungry.  And so instead of being careful and delicate, I struggled to find the right words to convey what I wanted to say, and then finally, I became frustrated and blurted out exactly the wrong words required by the situation.

After I finally got to eat something, I realized what I had done, but it was too late – the damage had been done.  And not only that, but the damage had radiated outward in a domino effect of fuckery, and I found
myself spending the next couple of hours engaged in a desperate attempt to put band-aids over all of the social wounds my hunger-fueled carelessness had wrought.

It occurred to me later that if you could go back over the past several years and catalog all of the times I had really stepped in some big piles of shit with other people, then dig deep down to find the underlying causes of it, nine times out of ten your excavation will lead you to an empty, rumbling, pissed-off tummy.

Here’s one of the best songs ever about a remorseful lover (successfully) rushing to the train station to re-claim his sweetie who’s about to leave him after a fight, recorded in 1996 by British singer-songwriter Richard Thompson:

She’s sitting on the train, the train’s gonna to leave
Bags in her hand, tears on her sleeve
Banging on the window with all of my might
But she won’t look to the left or the right
We had a fight and it wasn’t pretty
Now she’s leaving, ain’t it a pity
Going to wait tables, down in the city
Hold that red light one more minute
6:18′s got my baby in it
Train don’t leave, heart don’t break
Train don’t leave, heart don’t break

And here’s a brilliant post from American business guru Seth Godin about the corrosive effects of tantrums at work.

As readers here know, from a recent string of critical comments, I have little stomach for fighting with strangers. Fighting with intimates is stressful enough.

Do you fight with the people you love?

How does it turn out?

The unliked life: How long can you stay off of social media?

In behavior, children, culture, domestic life, entertainment, family, journalism, life, love, Media, parenting, Technology on November 4, 2013 at 1:13 am

By Caitlin Kelly

I recently took a week-long break from blogging here, the longest since I started this in July 2009.

I got a lot done in real life, mostly work-related, with a few meetings with new contacts and possible clients.

It was an interesting experience to turn away from the putative gaze, and potential approval, of Broadside’s readers. I know that some bloggers like to post every day. I just don’t have that much to say.

More to the point, I try hard to maintain a balance between my life online and my life…in real life.

Social media is ubiquitous, and for some wholly addictive. We all like a hug, even if it’s virtual. We all like an  ego-stroke, and getting dozens, or hundreds?

How can that be a bad thing?

I still prefer being liked in person — last week over half-price cocktails with my friend Pam, trading notes about high-end travel with a new client, wooing a local PR agency, hanging out with my husband.

English: Infographic on how Social Media are b...

English: Infographic on how Social Media are being used, and how everything is changed by them. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here’s a fascinating/sad story from Bloomberg Businessweek about a camp created for adults who need to digitally de-tox:

It’s Digital Detox, a three-day retreat at Shambhalah Ranch in Northern California for people who feel addicted to their gadgets. For 72 hours, the 11 participants, who’ve paid from $595 for a twin bed to $1,400 for a suite, eat vegan food, practice yoga, swim in a nearby creek, take long walks in the woods, and keep a journal about being offline. (Typewriters are available for anyone not used to longhand.)
The ranch is two-and-a-half hours north of San Francisco, so most guests come from the Bay Area, although a few have flown in from Seattle and New York. They’re here for a variety of reasons—bad breakups, career
troubles—but there’s one thing everyone has in common: They’re driven to distraction by the Internet.

Isn’t everyone? Checking e-mail in the bathroom and sleeping with your cell phone by your bed are now
considered normal. According to the Pew Research Center, in 2007 only 58 percent of people used their phones to text; last year it was 80 percent. More than half of all cell phone users have smartphones,
giving them Internet access all the time. As a result, the number of hours Americans spend collectively online has almost doubled since 2010, according to ComScore (SCOR), a digital analytics company. Teens and twentysomethings are the most wired. In 2011, Diana Rehling and Wendy Bjorklund, communications professors at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota, surveyed their undergraduates and found that the average college student checks Facebook 20 times an hour.

Twenty times an hour?

This is just…sad.

There was a time when being with other people meant actually being in the same room — and that meant possibly having to walk, run, bike, fly, cab, drive or climb to access their companionship.

You know, make an effort.

We also used to live lives that we decided were intrinsically satisfying or they were not. We didn’t spend hours seeking the approval of thousands, possibly millions, of strangers — people who we’ll never meet or have coffee with or visit when they are in the hospital or attend their wedding or graduation.

There is genuine affection on-line, I know — but I wonder how many of us now do things now just to see how much they are “liked”.

Much as I enjoy social media, I’m old-fashioned enough to want to be in the same physical space as the people who “like” me and want to hear, first-hand, what I’m up to and how I really feel. There are many things I’ll never post here or on Facebook, where my “friends” include several high-level professional contacts for whom a brave, competent face remains key.

To me, face to face “liking” is truly intimate — like the seven-hour (!) meal at Spice Market that Niva and I shared when she came to New York and we finally put faces — and lots of laughter — to our names for the first time. (She writes the Riding Bitch blog.)

We had a blast.

It was much more fun than endlessly hitting a “like” button.

SPEAKING OF SOCIAL MEDIA — DON’T FORGET TO SIGN UP FOR MY NEXT WEBINAR, BETTER BLOGGING, ON SUNDAY NOVEMBER 10 AT 4:00 P.M. EST.

DETAILS AND REGISTRATION HERE.

What do you remember of your childhood home(s)?

In aging, beauty, behavior, children, culture, domestic life, family, life on October 26, 2013 at 1:10 am

By Caitlin Kelly

English: Carl Nielsen outside his childhood ho...

English: Carl Nielsen outside his childhood house at Nørre Lyndelse, Funen, Denmark in 1927 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This writer, a columnist for the weekend Financial Times, Harry Eyres, is one of my favorite writers. He recently wrote a poignant piece about emptying his childhood home and finally leaving it for the last time:

Strangely, I dreaded the loss of the house from a very early age. I had nightmares about it.

Leaving a
house you love is hard. Relinquishing a house where you grew up from
your earliest childhood, where you spent your first springs, summers,
autumns, winters, every one of whose corners, cupboards, creaking
staircases, floorboards and smells became almost like an extension of
your being, is harder still…

We bade farewell to the house on a perfect golden September day,
which started misty and hazy and rather mysterious before the sun broke
through. Some people had told me that it would be easier to leave the
house when it was empty, as it would have lost many of its most personal
connotations, pieces of furniture, even curtains. But I did not find it
so.

The house seemed just as beautiful as ever to me on the day of our
departure. In some ways even more beautiful, as being emptied of
furniture can restore a certain youthfulness and sense of possibility to
a dwelling. The upstairs spare room, which had become a sort of dump
before I cleared it out, hadn’t looked so inviting for decades.

We, three generations and a stalwart family friend, had a sunny
picnic on the raised terrace outside the front door, sitting on the low
wall rising up from the hydrangea beds, as there were no longer any
chairs.

I’ve only lived in a few houses with my parents, at least those I can recall.

There was one in London, when I was very small, then one in Toronto, a big brick house with a deep backyard and my bedroom at the very top, where I lay in bed and listened to the radio. I knew my mother was climbing the stairs when I heard her ankles popping. There were brilliant yellow forsythia bushes outside the kitchen window I used to call “for cynthia” — my mother’s name.

When my parents split up, and I was about seven, that was the end of that house. I miss it still.

I didn’t live in another house until eleventh grade, when I moved in with my father into a white brick house on a Toronto corner. There was a lilac tree just outside the kitchen door and a huge park behind our yard where our dog would get out and run in circles really fast, usually whenever I was having a party and it was the last thing I wanted to deal with.

Since then, after leaving that house when I was in university, I’ve never owned one nor have my parents stayed very long in any of theirs, usually only for a few years, scooping up a healthy profit, and moving into yet another. I watch the houses come and go, envious they’ve even owned a house, let alone several. I wonder if I ever will.

My father had a 200+ year-old house in Athenry, just outside Galway City, for a few years, that’s now a nursing home. I loved my few brief visits there, scything the lawn and staring out through its ancient, rippled glass panes.

When I return to visit Toronto, I often drive past that white brick house. It doesn’t look much different, even all these years later.

Jose’s childhood home was torn down and is now the Georgia O’Keefe museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The only remainder of his life there is a tiny courtyard and the apricot tree from whose fruit his late mother once made jam.

Do you remember your childhood home?

Is it still there?

What makes someone a New Yorker? Are you one?

In behavior, books, cities, culture, domestic life, family, journalism, life, travel, urban life, US on October 24, 2013 at 1:31 am

By Caitlin Kelly

No one should come to New York to live unless he is willing to be lucky.

  • E.B. White, Here is New York (1949)
New York City

New York City (Photo credit: kaysha)

Few cities continue to have the gravitational pull of New York City.

A new book, a collection of 28 essays, all by women, reflects on when and why they came to New York City — and why some of them later chose to leave.

Here’s an audio interview with them from WNYC’s Leonard Lopate show.

I moved to New York in June 1989, alight with ambition, optimism, high hopes for a stunning career — yadayadayada. Take a number!

English: A 4 segment Panoramic view of the Gra...

English: A 4 segment Panoramic view of the Grand Central Terminal Main Concourse in New York City, New York, United States. Taken with a Canon 5D and 24-105mm f/4L IS lens. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last week, in conversation with an editor who once sat atop the masthead of a Very Big Magazine, she called me “so talented.” She’s a sweetheart and I may well be talented, but my years here have since toughened me up to well-meaning flattery. It’s lovely, of course, but it doesn’t pay the rent.

“Sweetie, everyone in New York is talented,” I replied.

What does make someone a New Yorker?

Do you have to be born and raised here? Some say yes, but I disagree. Millions of us have arrived here from distant towns, cities and countries, whether to study, take a job, marry a sweetheart, see how we stack up against the toughest competitors in our field.

New Yorker Hotel building from below

New Yorker Hotel building from below (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I had worked in my native Canada in journalism for years and was doing well there.

But the thought of 30 more years doing the same thing amidst the same people? Not for me. One Toronto magazine editor, without exaggeration, held the same prestigious, powerful and much-coveted job for more than 20 years. That sort of stasis struck me as really boring. The place was just too small.

It’s an interesting experience trading your Big Fish-ness in a much smaller pond to the guppy-ness of arriving in a place where the greasy pole of fame and fortune looms into the stratosphere.

I admit it — I’ve never lived in the city itself but in a small town 25 miles north, a 38-minute express train ride. The sort of place snotty New Yorkers dismiss, incorrectly, as “upstate.”

I have a great apartment for a much lower cost. Would I live in the city if given an affordable choice? Maybe. Maybe not.

But I’ve seen myself change in some  basic ways since I moved here, as do many who choose to come here…

So, what makes a New Yorker?

— We’re direct

There’s a sort of conversational bluntness here that’s shocking to me, even today. I was at the movies recently and an older woman I don’t know snapped “Make sure no one takes my seat.” How about “Please?” Typical. For better or worse, strangers here often address one another as others rarely do in more formal/polite places, with the familiar tone of old friends — or despised relatives.

— We’re here to make money

Why else choose to stay in/near a city where the costs of living are so crazy-high? Where simply driving to the airport to pick someone up can snatch $13 from your pocket in tolls and parking? Surviving on ramen and free shows gets old after a while.

– We’re street smart

With people getting shoved onto the subway tracks more often than any of us would like, you learn fast to guard your wallet and your personal space and not to stare anyone in the eye. You learn not to engage potential psychos.

— We walk fast

When I visit other cities, everyone is walking sooooooo slowly. Tourists are the bane of our existence, clogging the narrow, crowded sidewalks, sometimes four abreast. Move it, people!

– You can cry in public and no one will notice

That’s possibly a mixed blessing, but I’ve cried in public here a few times and, just as we studiously ignore celebrities, observers will pretend everything is OK.

— We talk fast

If someone else has time to make small talk with the bank clerk or grocery store bagger, we’re tapping our foot and sighing.

— We’re not mean, just in a hurry

Being brusque doesn’t mean we’re cold or unkind, although it can certainly look that way to a newcomer or visitor from a slower-moving, more social place.

— Our bullshit meters are highly sensitive

We’ve heard just about everything in our years here. We watch our local and state politicians being sent off to prison for corruption or sexual crimes on a depressingly regular basis. So if something sounds soooooo amazing, we immediately look for the fine print.

-– We’re driven

People come here to succeed professionally. (You can do much better more quickly in many other places.) That means climbing over the thousands of other smart, ambitious, highly-educated people who also want that job/promotion/grant/fellowship. We know how tough it is. We’ll do whatever it takes to achieve our goals.

— We relish the mix of people here

Rockettes, cops, artists, editors, actors, Wall Streeters, lawyers, NGO types, UN diplomats. They’re all here.

– We put up with the longest commutes in the U.S., some up to two hours each way

The cost of Manhattan being sky-high for rentals or ownership, thousands of “New Yorkers” live far outside the city limits, traveling in every day to work by car, bus, bike, train or ferry. Some, like Mr. Rockefeller (yes, that one, the billionaire whose enormous estate lies 10 minutes drive north of me) come in by helicopter.

– Income Inequality ‘R Us

Indeed. Just stand at the corner of Madison and 42d at rush hour and watch the endless parade of gleaming, spotless, black Escalades taking the 1% crowd home to the Upper East Side. See the Town Cars idling outside the restaurants and shops. Then cross Park Avenue at its northern end and you’ll see a cliffs’ edge plunge from the plutocracy to deep poverty.

— We treasure anonymity

If you want to be left alone to just get on with it, whatever it is, you can do that here without small-town nosiness, gossip or scrutiny.

— We expect open-mindedness

Whatever your religion, (or lack of same), your gender or sexual preferences, (or combination of same), your political views (or lack of same), it’s all good. This is not a place where (most!) people will dismiss you for not attending church every Sunday or voting for a specific party.

-– We know what we want (even if we can’t afford it!)

The costs of living here are punitively high. This tends to focus you quickly on what you want and what you need to do to achieve it.

— We want to be here, no matter the (considerable) costs

Many of us came from smaller, quieter and far less expensive places. We chose New York.

Some of us are massively entitled

This recent New York magazine article about parents cheating in every way possible to boost their kids’ chances of success is sadly instructive.

– We’re (outwardly) confident

This is not a great place for the tongue-tied, shy or self-deprecating. People assume that if you’re successful, you’re telling us about it and we’re read or heard about you. Or we will soon.

— We brought NYC-specific dreams

Mine was to succeed in journalism and to publish a few books with major houses. The bitterly cold winter’s day in 2002 I walked through the halls at Simon & Schuster, with my agent, surrounded by the framed covers of their best-sellers, felt like a dream to me. That afternoon, to celebrate the imminent acquisition of my first book, I went around the corner to “21″, another Manhattan institution, and ate profiteroles. I went to Saks and bought myself a silver ring to commemorate this huge milestone.

— The people we really need to work with are here

Depending on your field or industry, this still remains the place to be. It’s said that “writers can live anywhere” and while that is technically accurate, there are few other cities where you can so quickly and easily meet and work with the people who can kick your career into high(er) gear.

— 9/11 remains very real to us, not some random historical fact

We lost friends, family, neighbors, co-workers and our fantasy of invulnerability. Thousands of us heard the roar of those planes coming in, and the F-15s that followed, and smelled the bitter tang of the fires after the towers fell and saw the smoke filling the sky. I know Richard Drew personally, the photographer who shot the terrifying photo, Falling Man, of a man falling (or jumping)_to his death. I know people here who are forever traumatized by what happened to them that day. It was also the day my husband was to have moved into my suburban apartment. Instead, he turned his Brooklyn apartment into a photo lab, scanning and transmitting film images to the Times’ midtown offices. (They won the Pulitzer that year for those photos.)

Are you a New Yorker?

What makes you one?

Do you wish you were?

When trying your best to help just doesn’t work

In behavior, children, culture, domestic life, education, family, life, love, parenting, urban life, US on October 22, 2013 at 12:04 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Cover of "Dangerous Minds"

Cover of Dangerous Minds

Here’s a great/depressing piece from Salon.com by a teacher who worked in Texas’ worst school — burned out and gave up:

Before I came to Pearce I knew that many of its students scored poorly on standardized tests; the school was rated “Low Performing” the year before I arrived. The only other non-elementary school in Central Texas rated “Low Performing” was in the Travis County Juvenile Detention Center. I also knew that 80 percent of Pearce students received free or reduced-price lunch, and almost all were African-American or Latino.

Like many attendance-zoned high-poverty schools, Pearce was often a chaotic place where discipline issues, student absenteeism, low parent involvement and high teacher turnover were the norm. Why would a teacher with other options work in such a stressful, violent setting?  I chose Pearce because I was going to make a difference; I would do whatever it took to help these kids overcome classism and racism and escape poverty. Full of youthful enthusiasm and self-flattery, I could change the world by working at Pearce. Why not?

Here is the hard truth about my experience: I didn’t have much of an impact. Sure, I made a small part of the day more pleasant for some students, but I didn’t change the course of any of my kids’ lives, much less the nature of the school. A middle-class teacher coming into a low-income school and helping poor students realize their true potential makes for an excellent White Savior Film, but “Dangerous Minds” isn’t real life. Real life at Pearce is survival.

This piece hit me hard because I, too, tried my best — for 18 months in 1998 — to mentor a 13-year-old girl mired in multi-generational poverty and welfare dependence. Her family was noisy, chaotic, fractured; her mother had simply disappeared five years earlier, leaving C and her half-brother to live with their grandmother and an assortment of relatives.

I was matched with C — and a week or so later her mother turned up. Out of the blue.

The following 18 months proved an eye-opening, sobering and sad wake-up call. I liked C and admired her spirit; she was fun, affectionate, easy-going. I took her sailing, to play squash, to simply hang out at home and have dinner. We had some long frank conversations.

I had hoped — and tried hard through my connections there– to get her accepted on scholarship into a local prep school, a potential escape from the madness of her current life. She loved her visit there and said repeatedly she wanted to go to college.

But “college” seemed like Disneyland, a lovely far-off place she’d heard about and longed to visit, somewhere desirable that others went.

The slogging intermediate steps necessary to prepare for college-level work — consistent application, self-discipline, learning to study, acquiring and perfecting social skills — felt elusive, even invisible to her and her family. I heard no interest from her grandmother in how C might actually get there.

Instead, in front of me, she’d poke C in her belly, demanding: “Are you pregnant?”

My own privilege had, (embarassingly), been previously invisible to me. I didn’t realize that the gut-burning determination to climb the socio-economic ladder just didn’t translate or resonate with this child or her family.

The relationship ended abruptly and badly. We never even said a formal good-bye. No one ever called or wrote to me, and no one from the matching social service organization ever followed up to apologize or explain.

“Oh, that’s one of our most difficult families,” said her social worker, on one of the many times I called them, bewildered and exhausted.

C would now be in her mid-20s and I wonder if she ever did attend college, or graduate. Is she married? Working? Does she have kids? Is she happy? Thriving?

I also, selfishly, sometimes wonder if she ever remembers me.

Sadly, chastened, I haven’t volunteered for a similar role since.

Have you ever volunteered for a position where you’d hoped to make a difference in a child’s life — but burned out and gave up?

Do you regret trying?

Or giving up?

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