The kindness of (blogging) strangers

By Caitlin Kelly

So this little box arrived on my doorstep, with a return address in Los Angeles and $11.25 (!) in postage.

It rattled deliciously.


My granola!

Improbably and very generously, Niva, who writes the terrific blog, Riding Bitch, had sent me some of her home-made granola — yes, really — all the way from L.A. to N.Y., a six-hour plane ride. She’d mentioned on her blog that she’d made too much.

I, of course, said: “Send me some?”

And she did.

Too funny. How completely bizarre, and lovely, that blogging made two women connect enough to send cereal winging its way across the vast fruited plains of the big ole United States.

This is the fourth present I’ve been sent by blogging pals, each of which was deeply touching and completely unexpected.

Elizabeth Harper, a fellow ex-pat, an American now living in Cornwall, who writes Gifts of the Journey, saw this bar towel and sent it to me across the Atlantic.


Danielle, a young American lawyer who writes I Heart the Brazil, from Auckland, sent me (!) a gift card to my favorite New York City indie bookstore, Posman’s. Which I promptly spent, and am still loving the books I bought with it.

And C., who writes Small Dog Syndrome, (and who’s been working as my [stellar!] part-time assistant for a few months), sent a box of calming tea from her then-home in far-away Utah. More than anyone, perhaps, she knows when I’m on my absolutely last nerve. (Of course, this might have been a gently — ahem — worded suggestion I chill the hell out.)


It’s hard to express how touching and lovely this is.

I’ve been writing for a living since 1978, with my work published in books, newspapers, websites and magazines and read by millions of readers — but only blogging has created this sort of sweet global bond, one that prompts us to email or call or send stuff to people we haven’t (yet!) met face to face.

It’s an interesting high-wire act, this calculated exposure, this calibrated intimacy — putting it out there into the blogosphere and awaiting a response. Blogging, more than any other medium, allows us to express some deeply private thoughts and emotions, which, and I’ve seen this for many years, emboldens others to say “Really? Me, too!”

Journalism is usually too structured and commercial a product to allow for this sort of authentic expression.

Whenever I get a paid assignment I consider myself a tailor — someone wants a suit made in gray gabardine or navy pinstripes in size 42 tall. Got it. They do not want me to come back months later with some wildly bohemian and personal Vision of a suit. They just want a suit, their suit, by X deadline, in X size.

Even my most personal of personal essays — one of which won my National Magazine Award for humor — was written for a specific audience, (Canadian women), and might well have read differently if edited by Americans for their readers. Ironically, the same idea was roundly rejected by Woman’s Day, a big American women’s mag.

This essay, written for The New York Times about my apartment building neighbors, was also created for a specific readership.

When I write for this blog, I have no idea who I’m talking to!

Well, to some degree, I do…There are regular commenters: an artist in Arizona, a student in Ohio, a professor in Massachusetts, a mother of six in the States and another mother of six in New Zealand. There’s a florist in Ecuador, a medical student in Lebanon, a celebrity’s relative, a 17-year-old in Ireland, a Maltese movie festival.

But I have no idea what will make y’all happy. I just put it out there and hope for the best.

Getting eyeballs is great.

Receiving pressies is pretty damn cool.

Thank you!

46 thoughts on “The kindness of (blogging) strangers

  1. We should all give you gifts since you give us your gift. Don’t be surprised if I ask for your address someday. I read the essay for the NYT (the other one, too) about living in a building with mostly older people. I live in a neighborhood like that. But I wasn’t so smug about being a bit younger when I watched a woman well into her 80’s playing with her ipad. I hardly know what an ipad is.

  2. It’s so refreshing how appreciative you are of such a small gift (as the Posman’s gift card — not the granola!). šŸ™‚ I am certainly appreciative of all the information you provide (for free!) on your blog from writing and blogging tips to life tips to general entertainment. If every person that you’ve helped, inspired, taught something to, or just brought a smile to their face expressed their appreciation with a dollar, you might just be able to retire (but I have a sneaking suspicion, you still probably wouldn’t). šŸ™‚

  3. What a pleasant surprise!! I love the blogging community–even the occasional personal email from fellow bloggers reminds me how truly positive this unique group of very different people can be.

    Enjoy the granola! It looks delicious =)

  4. Jessica Slavin

    You write for smart people enjoying this odd sense of intimacy and intellectual and emotional engagement being created in this blogging world. People who love good writing and the insights of your perspective. Reading your blog is like a cross between a chat with a clever friend over coffee and reading a NYT feature that would be too interesting and genuine to make it into the paper. I am so glad I found you! Unfortunately I rarely get packages into the mail. :-/

  5. I appreciate the fact that you generate warmth as well as great subject matter when you write. This isn’t some faceless person writing for the masses, but rather for a few select friends.It feels like an intimate circle and one it’s a pleasure to be part of. I’d start writing your Wish List if I were you since it’s quite possible the gifts will continue to come from friend to friend..

  6. I’ve got two eyeballs on you. I wish I had four so I could read twice as much or twice as fast.

    If you don’t mind me asking, how did the bloggers go about getting your postal address? There’s a couple of people I’d like to send things to without them knowing anything is up.


    1. šŸ™‚

      We had all been emailing privately, so had had more personal conversations than here. They asked for my address and I gave it to them. Not sure how you’d find an address otherwise…I bet some people have theirs online.

  7. Your comments on the difference between blogging and journalism are spot on – I think I’d lost my love of writing for a while, or struggled to find a place for it in print. But blogs really are liberating! I’m intrigued to know, do you think that perhaps citizen journalism fulfills the role that traditional media is supposed to be fulfilling – in terms of public engagement, variety and freedom of expression..?

    1. Great question! Short answer, yes, CJ is doing that BUT I say that with HUGE caveats and reservations. I think CJ has a very useful role in the ways you describe.

      But I am very wary of civilians suddenly assuming, because they can pound a keyboard and hit “publish” they are de facto “journalists.”

      That’s not a small matter, as we saw here in the States after the Boston bombings when people on social media decided (?!) they just knew who the bombers might have been — naming people, with their photos. They were wrong. One of them ended up floating in the waters off of Rhode Island. Now that people can, and do, comment on traditional journalism online — up to 1,000s of comments on a story — one can argue that this is “engagement.” But it is not, because few journos ever reply; they are hidden by (or choose to hide behind) their institution; i.e. their newspaper or magazine.

      Variety, certainly. Freedom of expression, absolutely….BUT…limits? How many bloggers (5%? 1%?) have a clue about media law, like libel, or any notion of traditional media ethics of fairness and objectivity if/when they decide to report a story on their own (versus, as most of us do) merely analyzing or ranting? I suspect people here trust me because (as they can) I’ve been a working journo for 30 years and still am; i.e. I am publicly bound by standards people recognize and usually agree on.

      If I could pick the one key difference between bloggers and straight journalism, I’d go for engagement — it tears down the fourth wall between writer and audience. Many writers of straight media don’t want it! It’s a hassle and a time-suck. I’ve been really fortunate here to attract no trolls. Other bloggers — esp. women — have been threatened or stalked, and with no institutional back-up or payment (in return for the hassles), what’s the upside?

  8. Thank you for sharing some of your other writing! I love the community that you have in your building – Out here in the single family home ‘burbs w/o front porches we don’t get as much of that these days.
    And in the other piece, you really had me at having to heal several broken hearts at once + the whole dating question. (It took years for everyone to pretty much stop asking…)

    1. Thanks for making time to read it.

      There are times I really hate all the rules of our co-op (feels like boarding school), but I do appreciate the friendships that form organically. One of my best writings gigs this year — worth almost $6K in income — also came out of a poolside conversation here.

      1. I will add the poolside story to my bag of tricks when working to convince people of the power of networking.

        Have you read and of Mary Schmich (Chicago Tribune columnist) stuff? I would love to see a written ‘conversation’ between the two of you.

      2. Networking is currently the single most efficient way for me to find and get great new clients — I may (!) have a Very Big Woman’s Magazine interested in a pitch I sent last week, and the first words in the subject line were “referred by [name they knew and liked.]” The editor replied within an hour. Half the battle now is getting people to feel comfortable with you as their choice — as there are so many competitors for every gig.

        I think, AFTER you have the requisite skills and reputation to be reliable, other people are your best resource for getting work.

        Schmich — a Pulitzer winner. Oh my. šŸ™‚ A “dialogue” could be fun. Feel free to suggest it to her! šŸ™‚

  9. She sometimes culls info from her facebook friends for columns and I am one (several of us had a very lively discussion going during one of the debates last fall – and by that I mean actually intelligent, not bellicose). She is a very real person and I have clipped so very many of her columns over the years… Not sure if I have any pull, but I can suggest…

  10. Beautiful šŸ™‚ Yes, I’ve received some amazing gifts from friends in the blogosphere. Mostly amazing to know we can/have reached each other with words. They can be enough.

  11. Nemesis

    “When I write for this blog, I have no idea who Iā€™m talking to!”

    Friends you haven’t met yet, Ms. Malled [and perhaps, a few you already have].

    Sign me [in more ways than one], Definitely not a ‘Civilian’…

    [NoteToMs.Malled: You and your LatinoToyBoy {I’m allowed – it’s a LensMenThang} are so getting some tickets next year.]

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