One brick at a time…

By Caitlin Kelly

It’s too funny that these bricks lie in the driveway of my apartment building in suburban New York, since Toronto is my hometown. I have no idea how they ended up here, but they have long been a comfort on homesick days.


Today is my birthday, and a time to reflect on the current state of the union, as it were.

Things are good!

I’m blessed with a loving husband, good friends and health, food in the fridge, money in the bank and work lined up for the next few months. I feel — for the moment! — really relaxed from a terrific two-week vacation in which I made a dozen new friends and colleagues, a bonus. I re-connected with old friends — two lovely women half my age in Tucson. I found some pretty new clothes and had a road trip alone.

But the brick thing is a good analogy.

It’s taken many years to assemble this little wall aka my life. Brick by brick. Short of a Harry Potter wand, you can’t simply will an entire wall, or building, into instant existence. It comes slowly, each brick something you choose (some are defective), lay carefully into place, chink with mortar, align with the others already there. It takes time, and devoted attention, and skill and persistence.

My life has been like that. My 20s were a terrific time for career and friendships and travel — but utter misery romantically.

I moved to Montreal, met the man I would marry (the first time), and had a fantastic apartment cheap — but hated the long frigid winter, missed my Toronto pals and didn’t much like the paper I worked for. The bricks just wouldn’t line up!

Then, after moving to New York, I checked a new bunch of boxes in my early 30s: get married, buy an apartment, re-start my career in journalism.

Then the husband bailed, three recessions hit journalism and I lost my best friend to…who knows what? Our friendship just blew up, never to be re-constituted.

It was a lonely, broke, frustrating few years. I thought they would never end.

Brick by brick.

But I made a few new friends, (and lost a few more along the way). I found a new agent, then another. I got two books published. Built up my reputation as a writer. Did a bunch of volunteer work. Met my second husband.

It is a much slower process than one might prefer. We live in hasty, impatient times — if a website fails to load, or amuse us, within seconds — gone! On-line dating offers us endless (we think) romantic options. When life refuses to race along accordingly, we get pissed and angry and whiny and resentful. We want it all now!


I just hope the next year(s) continue to offer me bricks, mortar and the health with which to keep building…

33 thoughts on “One brick at a time…

  1. Nemesis

    OccasionalFelicitations, Ms. Malled!

    By the way, what does it feel like to be Sweet16 and NeverKissed, you JournalisticChanteuse, you.

    PS – Dearth of prior commentary owing to TimeConstraints imposed by Battling HobGoblins&Woe in DistantTroubledLands.

  2. And you have worked as hard as a bricklayer building that life which sounds pretty solid to me. In Tucson, at the train depot, there is a little tiny railway museum with a little tiny yellow vehicle out front which was used to service the line. It was made in Lancaster, Ontario, on the St. Lawrence, almost into Quebec. My country follows me. Best wishes for the best birthday and many more years of a good life.

  3. ianprichard

    Happy birth, Caitlin. Glad the trip was good – it was fun reading about it (minus the injury, of course).

    This brick by brick post couldn’t have come at a better time. The last few days – weeks, actually – have been crazy busy for me, and filled with success for some of my friends and colleagues. And while I’m happy for them, I find myself constantly fighting that “I want to be there, too, already!” feeling. And I have to remind myself that all those years I was fucking about through my mid 20s, they were working and writing and working and writing and working – laying them bricks.

    I have to remind myself, but I don’t always do such a good job of it. So, thanks for stepping up to the plate and reminding me for me.

  4. Happy Birthday!
    Yes, we have to build the wall of our
    life brick by brick. Now you can continue on a strong basic. I hope you’ll do it well 🙂

    Living with a high sensitive ADHD girl aged 15, who is just building her wall, and which is not stable, I’ m witness of this gripping and hard process.
    In times she thinks nothing will work- I’ll tell her your analogy . Thanks.

    Time to to time rewiev my own process….helps me although not to loose my resilience….

    Greetings !

  5. happy belated birthday caitlin. i believe that life ebbs and flows like a river, everything unfolds in its own way and in its own time. love the brick symbolism. best, beth

  6. I can’t believe I missed this yesterday. Happy Birthday!!! 🙂 Your post and the journey of your life is so inspiring. Brick by brick, like the yellow brick road…. Enjoy your weekend!

  7. Happy Birthday {belatedly} 🙂

    You know, I can thankfully say I have never wanted it all NOW. If I had, I would have been rather disappointed…so its a good thing. Right now my bricks are…em…like an old ragged pile of rocks lying in a crooked line along some farmers field.

  8. Happy birthday! And you’re right. It takes many years to build a life – piece by piece. Sometimes two steps backwards for every three forwards. Persistence pays off. It also creates depth that just doesn’t exist in those who have ‘it all’ handed to them on a plate.

    I have a personal take on this. Back when I was in my early 20s,I discovered the hard way that university was filled with exclusive in-crowds who played favourites. Those who said the right thing to the the right lecturers got all the funding, publishing opportunities and so forth. These ‘anointed ones’ wrote books, fielded jobs, got grants, and apparently turbo-launched their careers. I didn’t. But I persisted with my intended career. Today? I toted up my book list this week – 51 titles either published or contracted, built up over 30 years. Plenty of ups and downs, but always pushing forward. I’d got to the point by 2002 where I was able to ring up the managing editor at Penguin NZ, cold, get put through to him, offer him a book – and after a few gyrations, sell the title to him.

    And the ‘chosen people’? Nowhere to be seen. There is every advantage to step-wise, steady progress.

  9. Happy Belated Birthday. Is the last image of cake? Seriously…it looks like chocolate cake and frosting. Mmmm. I hope it was your birthday cake! I really could take a bite out of those bricks…pitty if they were real and I lost some teeth in the process!

      1. Yes and no….Don’t forget —- it is a terribly costly place and we save a lot for retirement so we have not done all the very fancy spots. I have been to La Grenouille (Dad took me), which is amazing and we did eat at Blue Hill Stone Barns twice, ironically just up the road from us in the ‘burbs. But there are quite a few of the Big Name places we have not tackled. Often I prefer smaller places I know well, like Red Cat on 10th. Avenue.

      2. I think Mike and I will be in NY this autumn, so perhaps we’ll have to get some recommendations! And even meet up with you if you’re keen…

  10. Thank you for this reflective post. My fella and I are saving up to buy our first home later this year (if the IVF doesn’t bankrupt us). So hopefully we’ll have our own “bricks” soon. Your post reminded me that I need to take stock of all the things there are to be grateful for.

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