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Better blogging, interviewing, essays — webinars May 10, 17

In Uncategorized on May 7, 2014 at 11:58 am

Are you ready to sharpen your interviewing skills?

Grow your blog’s audience and boost engagement?

Craft sharp, memorable personal essays?

BUSINESS OF FREELANCING

My next webinars on May 10 and May 17, which I teach by Skype, have satisfied students from Australia, New Zealand, London and across the U.S.

One student saw her blog’s page views and followers increase 644% after the class.

Another says:

After launching a new blog for my upcoming book Pilgrimage through Loss, I found myself with a lot of questions and desiring strong professional guidance on how to further develop this…Caitlin’s specific guidance, information on growth, hints on excellent tools for gathering pictures, and critique of my present blog entries met my need exactly.  She’s practical, informative, fun to work with, and offers helpful insights from her own years of blog experiences.

I also coach individually whenever it suits you — by phone, Skype and/or email.

Each 90-minute class is $125:

Better Blogging

May 10: 10:00 to 11:30 a.m. ET

You’ll learn more than 30 practical, simple, affordable actions you can take to boost your blog’s engagement, views and followers. A great blog is still a writer’s best marketing tool. Broadside has been Freshly Pressed six times, chosen as one of 22 on “culture” by WordPress worth reading and grows daily — today at 10,241 followers worldwide.

BETTER BLOGGING

You, Inc: The Business of Freelancing

May 10: 1:00 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. ET

I’ve spent much of my professional life as a full-time freelancer, writing for local, regional, national and international clients, including Marie Claire, Smithsonian, Cosmopolitan, Ladies Home Journal. I also write frequently for The New York Times and on-line clients include HGTV.com, Quartz.com, reuters.com, Rewireme.com, Investopedia.com, BBC. com and the Harvard Business Review blog.

Learn to Think Like a Reporter

May 10: 4:00 pm to 5:30 p.m. ET

If your mother says she loves you, check it out! I’m a veteran of three major dailies, including the New York Daily News. What’s a stake-out? A nut graf? A lede and kicker? This is the stuff you need to know.

Conducting a Kick-Ass Interview — new webinar!

May 17: 10:00 to 11:30 a.m. ET


I’ve interviewed thousands of sources, from an Admiral to convicted felons, Olympic athletes, cancer survivors, duck hunters and ballet dancers. How to best structure the interview? Tape or take notes? What’s the one question every interview should end with? My 30 years’ experience as an award-winning reporter and frequent New York Times writer will help you ace the toughest interviews.

PERSONAL ESSAY

Crafting the Personal Essay

May 17: 1:00 pm to 2:30 pm ET

From The New York Times to Elle and Marie Claire — to Thought Catalog, Salon, the Awl and Medium — the marketplace for personal essay continues to thrive. How to sell this challenging genre? How to blend the personal and universal? Every essay, no matter the topic, must answer one key question, which we’ll discuss in detail. Having published my own essays in the Times, Marie Claire, Chatelaine and others — and winner of a Canadian National Magazine award for one — I’ll help you determine what to say and in what voice.

Finding and Developing Story Ideas

May 17: 4:0 p.m. to 5:30 pm. ET

We’re surrounded every single day by dozens of salable story ideas. Recognizing them — and developing them for sale — is the art we’ll discuss in this webinar. Every non-fiction book (as with fiction) began with an idea. Developing it into a 30-page book proposal means “saving string”, collecting the data you’ll need to intelligently argue your points. This webinar will help you better perceive the many stories already swirling in your orbit and figure out who’s most likely to pay you (well) for them.

Please email me with any questions at learntowritebetter@gmail.com or call me in New York at 914-332-6065.

Sign up and further details are here.

I look forward to working with you!

 

It’s Black Friday, and retail workers deserve more

In behavior, books, business, culture, life, Money, Uncategorized, US, work on November 29, 2013 at 12:48 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

Today, thousands of Americans rush out to start their holiday shopping. It’s called Black Friday because it’s the beginning of the season that pushes retailers into the black — i.e. profitability.

While shoppers clamor for more product, more discounts and even more hours in which to spend their money, please pause to remember the hard-working people who serve them, since 70 percent of the American economy is created by consumer spending.

Retail workers also deserve more:

– More money (most earn minimum wage)

– More respect (until you’ve served them, it’s hard to believe how rude and nasty some shoppers can be)

– More hours (store managers scrimp on paid hours because every other cost is already spent)

– More opportunities for raises, bonuses and promotions into a decent wage. (No worker adding profits to the bottom line should be so fiscally punished)

Here’s my op-ed in today’s New York Daily News, America’s sixth-largest newspaper and the last newsroom in which I worked as a reporter.

An excerpt:

In a time of growing income inequality, no one should assume that retail staff are uneducated or have no higher ambition than folding T-shirts for hours. RAP also found that more than 50% of them either have a college degree or are working toward one.

Some, like our store manager Joe, who fought with U.S. Special Forces in Mogadishu, have served their country overseas. And some enjoy retail work and consider it a meaningful career choice.

For others, it’s a stopgap, a place to earn a wage while awaiting a better-paid opportunity. One multi-lingual young lawyer I know recently made the move from folding T-shirts at the Gap to working at a major investment house, the fortunate culmination of a lengthy and frustrating job search.

These workers deserve and demand more respect and better economic treatment.

Walmart

Walmart (Photo credit: matteson.norman)

As some of you may know, a frenzied crowd of shoppers trampled a 34-year-old Walmart associate. Jdimytai Damour — in his first week on the job on Long Island, NY — to death in 2008.

Walmart has yet to pay the $7,000 fine levied by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration:

Sitting on appeal with a review commission, the case of Jdimytai Damour’s death highlights how corporations can choose to fend off modest penalties over workplace dangers for years on end, according to occupational health experts.

For a company with sales of $466 billion last fiscal year, the $7,000 fine from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration represents little more than a single store’s rounding error. Walmart would have vastly outspent that sum simply in legal fees devoted to fighting the penalty. But the world’s largest retailer is less concerned with the monetary fine than with the broader implications of the case. A negative ruling could compel Walmart and other retail companies like it to take additional safety precautions for workers or face new liabilities.

“It’s not about the penalty,” said Celeste Monforton, a former OSHA analyst who’s now a lecturer at George Washington University. “It’s this interest in seeing how far Walmart can push back against the decision.”

I’m aware that for some people — including readers here — Walmart offers low prices and may be the only shopping choice in their area. I will never ever shop there.

I worked part-time, from 2007 to 2009, at an upscale mall near my home in suburban New York selling for The North Face, costly outdoor clothing manufactured — as most apparel now is — in low-wage nations across the globe, from Peru to China. I earned $11/hour, with no commission, for a job that demanded devoted attention to 14 simultaneous tasks, from spotting shoplifters (no store security staff) to scrubbing the toilets. We were given daily sales goals. The lowest was $400, the highest — during the holidays — $6,000.

malled cover LOW

It was the hardest job I’ve ever done. I’m glad I did it. I’ve never seen the world the same way since then.

It showed me a sort of corporate brutality I could never (naively) have imagined had I not stepped behind the cash wrap. Shoppers assumed we were stupid, uneducated, unable to get or keep any other sort of work, when many of us had lost much better-paid jobs in the recession. Or we were going to college, and/or supporting a family.

My second book, “Malled” My Unintentional Career in Retail” details my experience, as well as that of hundreds of others nationwide.

Yet the word most industry experts use to describe these workers?

Disposable.

Retail work is the largest source of new jobs in the U.S., yet most of them  — part-time, with very few hours and no benefits — pay such low wages that workers end up using food stamps to supplement their meager incomes. Enough already with corporate welfare!

LAST CHANCE TO SIGN UP FOR THIS WEEK’S WEBINAR — “CRAFTING THE PERSONAL ESSAY”. CLASS SIZE IS SMALL, SO EVERY STUDENT RECEIVES INDIVIDUAL ATTENTION.

THERE’S PRE-CLASS READING FOR THIS ONE, SO IF YOU’RE INTERESTED, DON’T DELAY!

DETAILS AND SIGN-UP HERE.

Out of your PJ’s, you slackers! Yahoo orders workers back to the office

In behavior, blogging, books, business, culture, journalism, life, news, Technology, Uncategorized, US, work on February 26, 2013 at 2:31 pm
Telecommuting

Telecommuting (Photo credit: ScottMJones)

You can hear the sighs from here.

Marissa Mayer, Yahoo’s new CEO, has ordered all remote workers, those at home in their bunny slippers and sweatpants, back to work in the office.

You know, where they can make sure you’re being productive:

A memo explaining the policy change, from the company’s human resources department, says face-to-face interaction among employees fosters a more collaborative culture — a hallmark of Google’s approach to its business.

In trying to get back on track, Yahoo is taking on one of the country’s biggest workplace issues: whether the ability to work from home, and other flexible arrangements, leads to greater productivity or inhibits innovation and collaboration. Across the country, companies like Aetna, Booz Allen Hamilton and Zappos.com are confronting these trade-offs as they compete to attract and retain the best employees.

Bank of America, for example, which had a popular program for working remotely, decided late last year to require employees in certain roles to come back to the office.

Employees, especially younger ones, expect to be able to work remotely, analysts say. And over all the trend is toward greater workplace flexibility.

Still, said John Challenger, chief executive of Challenger Gray & Christmas, an outplacement and executive coaching firm, “A lot of companies are afraid to let their workers work from home some of the time or all of the time because they’re afraid they’ll lose control.”

Excuse my language, but I call bullshit.

Every time a company wants employees all perky and visible and audible and crammed into cubes they insist it’s all about the innovation.

Yeah, right.

I worked for a martinet at my first New York City magazine job, who insisted I be at my desk “and working!” by 9:00 a.m. sharp, even though taking a slightly later train in from my home in the suburbs meant arriving at 9:15 or so.

It’s a power game, a way to demonstrate — just in case you forgot! — who’s in charge of your life.

I’ve been working, alone at home, since losing my last staff job, at the New York Daily News, the nation’s sixth-largest newspaper, in June 2006. Alone for almost seven years, working — yes, even as I type this — in sweat pants. Yet I’ve managed to produce a well-reviewed memoir, dozens of newspaper and magazine stories, edit others’ work, consult, fly around the country on well-paid speaking gigs.

Productive? I dunno. Look at my retirement savings account. I’d say so.

Every morning I get up and no one anywhere, tells me what to do or when to do it or how to do it. I have not one penny of income guaranteed to me. I have to hustle it up every single month, a minimum of $2,000 a month, just to meet my basic bills.

Any one of you who works in an office knows this — just because an employee’s butt is in a chair in some manager’s clear sightline doesn’t mean they’re not lazy, ass-kissing or politicking or backstabbing.

Innovative? Collaborative? Cooperative? You wish!

With a phone call or email to the right colleague — whether in Nova Scotia or California — I can get serious, smart help and advice. At the Daily News, despite every effort to be collegial, I was ignored by colleagues and managers alike.

New York Daily News front page on August 9

New York Daily News front page on August 9 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My husband commutes every day to The New York Times, at Eighth Avenue and 41st Street. It costs him about $600 a month to go to work in an office: $200+ for his train pass; $200 month for the taxis that take him to and from the train station in our town (too far to walk); $200+ for subsidized cafeteria meals at work. Plus commercial laundering of his shirts.

He also has six meetings every day; putting out a newspaper like the Times, like many enterprises, does require incessant discussion and teamwork.

Yes, some workers are indeed quite incapable of self-discipline and do better work under others’ supervision. Some workplaces really do thrive on having lots of smart people in the same building to rub brains and bump into one another in the hallways and suddenly come up with some fabulous, profitable new solution.

But mostly they want to Own Your Ass.

I spent a day last spring at Google reporting this story for the Times. It was a little creepy — OK, a lot– how much they wanted their hip employees, hoodies and all, to be there 24/7, providing them with free food, laundry rooms on-site, even a hair-stylist.

In the 21st century, long past the Industrial Revolution that took us away from artisanal work and attached us all to machines inside large buildings, here we are again.

Plus ca change, mes chers…

Where does a New York Times story come from? Idea to print…

In blogging, books, business, journalism, Media, Uncategorized, work on June 3, 2012 at 1:15 am

My notebook

For those who don’t work in the media, it can be a bit of mystery how a story, (short of politics or a natural disaster),  becomes a piece in a magazine, newspaper or broadcast.

I’ve been writing, freelance and staff, for national publications since college, so the process of:

1) coming up with an idea; 2) selling to an editor; 3) reporting it; 4) writing it; 5) revising it; 6) arranging art is pretty routine.

Here’s how my latest story for The New York Times Sunday business section came about and took shape.

Here’s the story.

The idea

I sit on the board of an American writers’ group, WEAF, that makes emergency grants to writers of non-fiction so I’m aware that freelancers, too, need financial aid they cannot get from unemployment insurance, paid sick days or any other form of standard financial help — and have access to resources others might find useful. I had never read a story about this. The U.S. still has millions of people struggling financially, many of them self-employed artists, who rarely receive coverage as the businesspeople we are.

Selling it to the editor

I’ve written only two stories for this specific editor at the Times, but I’d also written for 20 years for 10 other editors at the paper so he could easily check my credentials and personal reputation before relying on me. It takes trust to hand an assignment to a new writer.

Reporting 

This is the part I love: deciding who to talk to, how to find them and trying to do it efficiently. I don’t have weeks or months to produce a story of 1,800 words. I have, at most a week, and that’s a five-day week of about four or five hours a day as I juggle other work.  So I need to find sources offering me all of these story elements: anecdotes, color, a great story or two to illustrate my point, data points and statistics or surveys or polls. It’s like making a movie: I need tight and medium close-ups and long establishing shots; i.e. I need at least two sources with the wisdom and experience to give me an overview of the issue.

On this story, I found several of my best sources just by reading my Facebook news feed; I have 552 friends there, not thousands.

I never use a tape recorder because I can’t spend additional time transcribing.  I take good notes — that’s my notebook in the photo above with some of the notes for this story.

Writing

I write very fast. I can write 1,000 words in an hour and have written as much as 3,000 within two days — while a 3,000-word story is a very different animal (structure, pacing, tone, etc.) than even one of 1,200 words. This piece was assigned at 1,200 to 1,800 words. I get paid by the word, (weird, but still a common journalism practice in the U.S. and Canada), so of course I’m happier if it runs longer.

Art

It might be a chart or map, photo or illustration or combination of these. From the start of this story, like everything I work on, I’m also thinking about its visual components and suggesting these to the photo editor. (In this section — my husband!)

The better the art, often the better play (i.e. story placement and more space) I can get. I began my career as a photographer, and have sold my images to places like Time and the Times, so this is an easy and fun piece of it for me.

I also considered age/racial/income/geographic diversity? The Times is a national publication, (international, really) so ideally my story sources and images reflect the diversity of our readers.

Revising

Stories for the Times typically go through several revisions. Every question they ask of me must be answered to the editors’ satisfaction, whether the wording or placement of a quote, an unclear phrase, questionable numbers.

Each new version of the story is sent back to me as a playback to read, review and make sure it is still accurate. If I hate a change they’ve made, this is my time to fight for it, and I sometimes do. While time-consuming, it insures the copy is clean. Copy editors, by nature and profession, are extremely methodical and insanely nit-picky. I think of them, gratefully, as airplane maintenance crew — tightening every screw and bolt to make sure the thing can fly safely.

I’ve had more than 100 pieces in the paper and not one has needed a printed, public correction.

(When editors don’t do this, your final version of the piece can have errors edited in -- like the story in which my stepmother became my stepfather instead.)

And, yes, even after 100 stories in the paper, and decades of doing this for a living, I still get excited and a little nervous when it hits print and goes up on the web. Showtime!

Old Friends…

In aging, behavior, domestic life, life, love, men, Uncategorized, women on May 31, 2011 at 2:01 am
Map of Toronto

TO, or Tronna, as natives are wont to call it...now known as the GTA.Image via Wikipedia

Sat on the park bench like bookends.

So goes the gorgeous 1968 song by Simon and Garfunkel.

In Toronto for a week, I’m basking in my past, catching up with men and women who have known me since I was thin(ner!) and bouncing off the walls with ambition (still am) and had not yet been married or divorced.

I left Toronto in 1986 for Montreal, New Hampshire and New York, where I’ve lived ever since. I go back two to six times a year to catch up with old colleagues and friends like:

Vicki, who I met in Grade Four, whose backyard contains what’s left of Pickles, my late hamster

Joe, my dreamy crush in high school, all blond bangs and deep blue eyes

Sally, (who shared my deep crush on Joe), my best pal from high school, at whose lakeside house I’m writing this from, and with whom I re-connected at our 1995, 20-year reunion

Marcia, who met me when I was afire, even at 20, with journalistic ambition: she was the head of public relations for the National Ballet of Canada and (yes) got me a part as a walk-on in Sleeping Beauty. I did all eight performances at Lincoln Center, with Nureyev on-stage as the Prince. It made a great story, especially when I came on-stage about 20 bars too soon on opening night!

Peter, an architect with whom I fell madly in love on a Cartagena rooftop when we were both there on holiday in our 20s. He’s gay, so we became, and have remained, dear friends

Stephen, who desperately wanted to marry me when I was 26, and lived with me ages 22-25, but married someone else instead and is now divorced and a PI living in the countryside. It was great to catch up on all those lost decades

Ken, my former squash partner from University of Toronto, now a lawyer and newly, at midlife, a Dad and husband

I’ve also loved physically passing by my past…

the streetcar rumbling past Maclean-Hunter, the downtown magazine publisher for whom I started my writing career, while still an undergraduate, for a magazine called Miss Chatelaine (hence the kd lang song title!)…the Chinatown restaurant where my Dad made a film in the 1960s…my old apartment building a block from campus, and a block from my Granny’s old apartment building.

And, while Toronto is a city of 3 million or so, the degrees of separation are few:

My sister-in-law — in her early 30s — met Stephen at my U of T Malled event and knew him from rally car racing.

A man I met for a business lunch has a former philosophy professor of mine as his father-in-law

The photographer who took my photo for a story by Canadian Press works with my sweetie on freelance stories for The New York Times

What’s it like now when you visit your hometown?

Did you leave it?

A Woman On A Beach, Alone

In behavior, business, domestic life, family, life, Media, nature, travel, Uncategorized, women on May 20, 2011 at 11:37 am
Woman at the beach. Porto Covo, southwest coas...

Image via Wikipedia

There’s a new poster at Grand Central Station, the terminus for commuter trains into Manhattan, of a woman wrapped tightly in an orange towel.

It’s an ad for Hyatt, and it’s unusual for several reasons. It shows — counter-culturally — and to my delight:

– a woman alone

– a woman wrapped up in a towel

– a woman who is not a size 4

– a woman by herself on a deserted beach

– a woman who is not accompanied/validated by a husband, partner, gal pals or children

She is staring at the ocean. She’s lost in thought: no tech toys, no earbuds, no distractions. No fruity drinks with little paper umbrellas in them.

The photo shows us a woman comfortable in her own skin, in solitude.

It’s how I love to be, and many of us wish to try, but are perhaps too committed to others’ needs or too afraid of going somewhere all alone. What if it’s scary or dangerous or expensive?

For me, it’s a photo of a woman living her very own life.

Very cool.

Trying To Remember, Hoping To Forget

In animals, behavior, domestic life, family, Health, History, life, travel, Uncategorized on March 12, 2011 at 1:03 am
Build a clock

Image by lisibo via Flickr

Today marks the 14th. annual USA Memory Championship, which pits high school students against one another to see whose brain retains the most. It’s held in Manhattan and open to the public.

What? You forgot?

I recently finished a three-week trip and my camera kept reminding me that its memory card was full, so — on the fly — I’d ruthlessly edit images I didn’t think worth keeping to capture a few more.

Memory is one of our most precious attributes.

One of my favorite films (and also my sweetie’s) is After Life, a Japanese film from 1998 about memory and how precious it is to us. The film’s premise is that, after you die, you will be forced to choose only one memory of all those you have accumulated. Which would you choose?

My mother was diagnosed this year with dementia, and I know it will likely worsen, so memory has become more of an obesssion with me. How much longer will she remember her life, her travels, her friends?

Her only child?

Here’s a new book, wildly and widely reviewed, about memory, “Moonwalking With Einstein” by Joshua Foer.

And what of hideous memories, the ones we so badly want to forget but which, so annoyingly, seem the hardest to get rid of? For me, these would include the night my husband walked out of our brief marriage, for good; the night my beloved red convertible was stolen; watching my Mom (who came out fine) heading into a six-hour neurosurgery…And our memories shift our perceptions, altering how we create and recall new ones.

I stayed on this trip at a resort hotel whose motto is that they create memories, an interesting idea. I brought home several from that trip, perhaps the most indelible being a dog-sledding expedition of about 90 minutes that took us along a tree-lined trail, across a barren, wind-swept frozen lake, alongside a river whose waters were so clear and blue we could see all the way to the bottom.

The dogs kept looking back at us as if to make sure we were still there. Wind clawed at my cheeks so viciously I feared imminent frostbite. A winter sky was as white and impenetrable as the snow on the Rocky Mountains around us.

Unforgettable…

I hope.

What is your most powerful memory and why?

What I Found Behind The Fridge

In Uncategorized on July 28, 2010 at 10:25 pm
The Lovely Fridge

Image by shrff via Flickr

Because that’s how I live….a handwritten note from the year 2000 from Jean Harris, legendary for shooting and killing her lover, the famed inventor of the Scarsdale Diet. I had written to her asking her for an interview for my book about women and guns.

She wrote me back, hand-written in blue ink on her personal stationery, to say she would not participate: “Since leaving prison, [prisoners'] children are the center of my concern — the future, not the past. The future can still be touched, maybe even changed. The past is over.”

I hadn’t moved the fridge since I moved in 20-something years ago. A new one moves into its spot tomorrow after the carpenters cut the counter and cupboards to fit it.

We bought a sexy new fridge this week, a Fisher & Paykel — which I will also enjoy using because I wrote about that company when I was in Auckland in 1998 writing a feature about the value of sponsoring major yacht races, as they did for the Volvo round the world race, (then called the Whitbread.)

This is likely my penultimate T/S post. I am hating this week, frankly. I hate endings and goodbyes. I’ve been on the phone and FB and email with some of my T/S pals, Claudia Deutsch and Nancy Miller and Fran Johns and Jeff McMahon, even Paul Smalera, who left in March when he got a great online editing job. I hope to be working with him soon as a freelancer.

I will miss this community’s easy camaraderie, for all the “independent” journalist party line. Independence gets lonely.

I’ll post tomorrow night where this blog is migrating.

Balcony Life: Helicopters, Turkey Vultures, Stars

In Uncategorized on June 26, 2010 at 11:21 am
Red-tailed Hawk

Image via Wikipedia

The true sign of summer at our home, a one-bedroom apartment with little closet space, is when we start living on our balcony, a space 12 feet wide by six feet. For such a small amount of real estate, it makes us feel like millionaires.

We’re on the top floor, the sixth floor, with uninterrupted views of the Hudson River, a few miles to the west. Every weekday (grrrrr) it’s the damn helicopter of David Rockefeller thudding to and from his enormous estate just up the road. Last night it was a police helicopter, its searchlight sweeping the horizon and capturing us in its beam. Every day, since flight paths were changed, we have a steady stream of  private and commercial jets, some flying way too low for our comfort.

But it’s the birds that make it most interesting. I was deeply engrossed in a newspaper story a few years ago when I heard a “whoosh!”

Whoosh? A red-tailed hawk had swooped so close I heard the wind through its feathers. Same thing happened this morning as the sweetie read the paper and a turkey vulture overflew the roof. “Maybe I should move around a bit more,” he said nervously.

One of the sweetie’s specific talents is rescuing the tiny sparrows who fly into our windows and stun themselves. If we get to them quickly enough, a few drops of water and a little careful attention, and off they fly.

A few summer ago, a hawk landed on the balcony railing. I’d written a story about raptors, even having one perch on my arm, so I knew their eyesight is extraordinary. This one stared into my eyes for minutes. Neither of us moved. The sweetie, with quick reflexes, managed to find and focus his camera in time to capture its image.

Then it flew off, leaving only a few grains of sand from its talons as proof I hadn’t just hallucinated.

Last night I finally slept outdoors on the balcony. The night air was fresh and cool, a few stars visible, the dull rumble of bridge traffic only growing quiet around 2:00 a.m. The morning light streamed across the yellow and orange marigolds and strawflowers, now at my eye level.

Heaven.

House Lust, The Subject of Meghan Daum's New Book

In Uncategorized, urban life on May 5, 2010 at 11:07 pm
ELIZABETH, NJ - JUNE 20:  Members of the publi...

Image by Getty Images via Daylife

She’s been writing funny and revealing stuff about her life for a long time — once famously confessing in The New Yorker that she couldn’t afford to live in Manhattan; that piece became the title of her book of essays,“My Misspent Youth.”

Her new book “Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived In That House” has a title that sums it up.

It’s the American Dream. (That’s one of those phrases Americans — and their realtors — take for granted. There is no corresponding Korean or French or Canadian “dream” of owning your own home, preferably a little colonial with a lawn and a backyard. Other countries don’t allow mortgage interest as a tax deduction.)

Writes Virginia Postrel:

The fantasy of a life transformed is what makes the ads and features in interiors magazines so enticing—no fashion or celebrity magazine glamorizes its subjects as thoroughly as Architectural Digest or Elle Decor—and what gives HGTV’s low-budget shows their addictive appeal. The longing for the perfect life in the perfect environment can make real-estate listings and “For Sale” signs as evocative as novels. This domestic ideal gives today’s neighborhoods of foreclosed or abandoned houses their particular emotional punch. A stock-market bubble may create financial hardship, but a housing bust breaks hearts.

Although Ms. Daum did buy a house in 2004 and watched its value rise and then fall, her self-deprecatingly funny memoir isn’t a tale of real-estate speculation. Rather she uses her lifelong obsession with finding the ideal living space to probe domestic desire, a deeper restlessness than the search for quick profits.

Whether because of alienation or ambition, Ms. Daum’s family, when she was growing up (first in Austin, Texas, and then in New Jersey), shared “a chronic, lulling sensation of being aboard a train that was perpetually two stops away from the destination we had in mind for ourselves.” That feeling manifested itself in a “perpetual curiosity about what possibilities for happiness might lie at the destination of a moving van.” The result was a childhood filled with weekend trips to visit open houses, dinner-time conversations about relocation and, in Ms. Daum’s teenage years, her mother’s sudden move to her own home: “four walls whose color scheme required approval from no one. It wasn’t another man she wanted but another life.” (Ms. Daum’s parents did not divorce.)

I’ve been living in the same one bedroom apartment since 1989. Will I ever own a house? Not anywhere near I live now — a nasty little shoebox with .25 of an acre on a busy street would run me $500,000 with $12,000 a year in taxes. I’m hoping to buy one, or at least rent one, in France in retirement, and living in 1,000 square feet (about the size of an affordable house in my town) allows me the extra cash to fly to France in the meantime.

My Dad has been scouting houses in coastal Maine, trying to figure out what to do with his. I know a house is a major dream for millions of people and you need a space with room(s) for kids and their toys and pets and activities. We lived in a house when I was little, and when I was in high school, but, other than my rental on the top two floors of a Toronto house, and our rented apartment in an old house in rural New Hampshire, it’s been apartment living since then for me.

There are some amazing houses in my town, one, a huge shingled Queen Anne painted the pale pink of strawberry ice cream with green shutters and several with wisteria trees snaking up across their verandahs and eaves. There are one or two I would love to live in, but could never afford them.

I really love our apartment. I’ve re-painted it a bunch of times, especially since attending interior design school. We have astonishing views northwest up the Hudson and I have hawks and geese and crows swooshing so low over my top-floor balcony I can hear the wind through their wings. I love the light and quiet and feel blessed to own my own home. Its small-ish size and manageable mortgage makes me feel safe, even while working in an industry shuddering through insane and terrifying changes.

I basically see a house as a money pit, something that endlessly needs upgrades and repairs, mugging you financially when you can least afford it — new boiler! new roof! new driveway!

How about you? Do you love your house?

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