“I know a lot of people doubt me. I don’t listen to those people”

By Caitlin Kelly

I love these guys!

Have you heard (of) them?

Check ’em out — sixth-grade boys from Brooklyn, Malcolm Brickhouse, Jarad Dawkins and Alec Atkins who play heavy metal. Their band is Unlocking the Truth and they’ve already played two of Manhattan’s toughest crowds — Times Square and the Apollo Theater in Harlem.

English: The Apollo Theater in Harlem, New Yor...
English: The Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York City (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

They’ve been teased and bullied for their funky hair and black nail polish, but there’s no denying their talent, chutzpah and quiet confidence.

They met in kindergarten and have been playing music together since. When they played Times Square — for 10 hours at a time! — they’d pull in $1,600.

That’s $160/hour or more than $50/hour per musician. Not bad for mid-career or fresh college grads.

Pretty damn awesome for sixth-graders, I’d say.

But what I most admire is their belief in themselves and their willingness to put it out there, literally, before strangers with no vested interest in cooing at them or praising them for…breathing.

I see too many kids spoiled rotten, like the *&#@*)_$ eight-year-old girl who decided to change her socks and shoes three times (?!) last week beside me, in an expensive Midtown restaurant. Her extended foot practically hit my plate.

Her mother did nothing, said nothing.

Kids that like make me want to throw furniture.

Kids like this make me want to cheer.

English: Broadway show billboards at the corne...
English: Broadway show billboards at the corner of 7th Avenue and West 47th Street in Times Square in New York City (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

From PRI’s Studio 360:

Brickhouse and Dawkins have been playing music together since kindergarten. Although hip-hop is the dominant music at school and in the neighborhood, they come to metal honestly. “My dad used to take us to watch wrestling shows and we used to watch animated music videos,”

Brickhouse tells Kurt. “The background music was heavy metal. I was surrounded by heavy metal.” Their originals have lyrics (about “drugs, and relationships, and stuff — and being free”), but no one in the band will sing them.

The trio’s debut EP will be released later this summer and young as they are, the members see a long future in rock. Brickhouse says he’ll be banging out vicious licks “until I die”, while Dawkins is more pragmatic; “I’ll retire at about 70 years old.”

Here’s a video of them and story from The Huffington Post.

The (price of the) unconventional life

By Caitlin Kelly

Many of Broadside’s readers are in their teens and 20s, in college or university, or probably headed there. Some are thrilled at the prospect of acquiring more formal education, possibly all the way to a Phd or professional degree.

Diagram of the gown, hood and bonnet used in g...
Diagram of the gown, hood and bonnet used in graduation/presentation ceremonies of Ph.D’s. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Others, like me, are wary of school, chafing in classrooms, weary of authority. Wondering how else — is it possible? — to acquire the credentials and skills they’ll need to make a living.

This recent blog post, by a student at Brown, one of the U.S.’s  most prestigious and costly universities, asks some serious questions about what “success” looks like:

i have a goal. it’s farfetched, extremely open-ended, and it might be fleeting. my goal is to refocus. my goal is to revisit this idea of being human and reinterpret the meaning of success. success has looked only one way for as long as i’ve known the word: a big house, lots of
money, a nice car. success has been the american dream. as a child of babyboomers, i’ve seen the american dream take hold and manifest itself in a lifestyle that is hard to say no to. it’s a lifestyle of security and certainty. but what i’ve learned is that this lifestyle, as enabling as it may be, has forgotten a lot of things that i find extremely important. it has forgotten how to be simply human and has focused on how to be monetarily prosperous. i’m down with the good life, don’t get me wrong. i’m just thinking that i might have a different path in mind for myself. know i have something else that’s ticking inside of me, and it can’t just sit at in cubicle and work for 8 hours then to go home to frozen potstickers and minute-maid lemonade. it wants to run wild, rampant, and ridiculously free.

I appreciate her passion and her questioning of what constitutes the “good life.”

By the time a student has been admitted to Brown, or any other super-competitive school costing $30-50,000 a year, they’ve likely been groomed from infancy to focus solely or primarily on the achievement of visible, conventional goals.

Everyone they’ve known — in prep school, at summer camp, in their SAT prep classes, on their sports teams — is expected to head in the same direction.


How about….sideways?

Surculture, Subculture, Mainstream
Surculture, Subculture, Mainstream (Photo credit: cesarharada.com)

The problem is, if your parents/friends/family have all bought into the same dream — moremoremoremoremore — it’s lonely and weird to step off the track, let alone figure out a way to do so and not live in a box beneath a bridge.

I attend a church with some very wealthy parishioners, so I’ve seen some of their assumptions of what their children will do. One woman, whose husband and daughter were safely ensconced as corporate attorneys, had a son, 28, who had not even — facepalm! — finished college.

He was not an addict, in prison or chronically ill but unfocused, and had traveled the country doing a variety of odd jobs.

English: This is a diagram depicting the perce...
English: This is a diagram depicting the percentage in US who have no health insurance by age. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But her dismay at his wandering was intense, and, to my mind, bizarre. I finally met A., assuming he was a gormless wreck. He was funny, smart, observant, charming, curious about the world. I immediately saw he’d make a terrific journalist.

When I mentioned my idea to a church friend, she gasped in horror, sniffing: “You can’t make a living as a  writer!”

I was furious — and told her how much this reaction offended me.

This, while I was coughing up $1,200 a month for my apartment and an additional $500 every month for market-rate health insurance — a yearly sum of $20,400 before car insurance, gas, groceries, dentist’s, haircuts and the rest of life.

Yes, it’s far from the $150,000 to $300,000+ that a young banker or lawyer can earn. The sort of work that young ‘uns from wealthy precincts are de facto expected to choose.

But it is a living.

It is a life.

If you want to pursue creative, non-corporate work, you will pay the price. You will earn less, far less, than many people you know or meet. You may never own a home, of any shape or size. You may never own a vehicle, or a new one. You may find yourself shopping for most things in thrift or consignment shops or on sale.

To lower your living costs, you might share space with others, or live in a rural area or work several part-time jobs.

It’s fine. It’s a choice.

But it’s a way of life you will rarely, if ever, see fetishized on television or in popular media. It is not a life filled with designer luxury goods or vacations in places your wealthier friends have ever heard of. Your social circle might be much smaller, filled with people who truly share, understand and live the same values as you.

And you may also feel very out of step with your co-hort; many people my age now own multiple homes. They drive $90,000 vehicles and run major companies or organizations.

I recently contacted a young editor about freelancing — the daughter of one of my high school friends.

If I had stayed at that newspaper, my first staff reporting job, I might be her. I might well be her boss.

Yes, that felt extremely disorienting.

But I also relish my creative freedom, deeply grateful for a husband whose union-protected, full-time office job frees me from cubicle life. I’ve had well-paid staff jobs, in offices in Manhattan buildings, working for name-brand publications.

I didn’t especially enjoy them.

Working hard, with steady clients, I make a decent income, enough to save 10-20 percent every year and still enjoy some of the things I love: fresh flowers, pedicures, travel. It’s still far less than I made in 2000; my industry is a mess and pay rates are lower than they were then.

But one-third of Americans are me, now — working freelance, contract, temp. Millions of Americans, certainly my age, will never have a job with a paycheck again. Here’s a searing New York Times story today; make time to read some of the heartbreaking 125 comments and take them to heart.

We have no “benefits” from an employer, no paid sick or vacation days. We have no access to unemployment insurance if our work dries up.

The choices we make affect our lives, now and later. The decisions we make have consequences.

Make them, freely.

But know their costs.

Want to study writing/blogging with me? Please take my brief survey!

By Caitlin Kelly

This has been an idea of mine for a while — offering my services to you as a teacher or one-on-one coach.

As some of you know, I’ve taught feature writing at New York University’s School of Continuing Education, where I created a class still being taught there, legal and ethical issues in journalism, and to undergraduates studying journalism at Concordia University in Montreal and Pace University in New York.

With more than 30 years’ reporting, writing and editing experience, my credentials and awards are on my website.  

My magazine work includes More, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Ms., Marie Claire, Ladies Home Journal, Family Circle, Smithsonian, Sports Illustrated, Art & Antiques, Town & Country and many more.

Thanks to my staff work as a reporter for the Globe and Mail, Canada’s national daily newspaper; the Montreal Gazette and the New York Daily News, the 6th-largest newspaper in the United States, I can help you quickly gather useful sources and produce lively, accurate copy, whether 500 or 5,000 words.

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

I’ve written two well-reviewed non-fiction books on complex national issues, both of which required many original interviews — 104 for my first book, about women and guns. Where do non-fiction book ideas come from and how do you develop one? Let me tell you how to “save string.”

I’ve interviewed everyone from Olympic athletes to Prime Ministers to convicted felons — and can teach you how to talk to anyone within minutes, put them at ease and gather great information and quotes. How do you structure an interview? When do you lob the hardball questions? People think interviews are easy. They’re not! But they are essential to every non-fiction project.

I’ve sold my personal essays to The New York Times, USA Today, Marie Claire and others; one of which won a Canadian National Magazine Award. Let me help you shape yours!

This blog grows daily, now with more than 6,000 followers worldwide. I’ve been Freshly Pressed six times, a goal for many of you. Let me help with that.malled cover LOW

Feel free to email me at caitlinvancouver@yahoo.com.

I’d like to start teaching this fall, but would like to get a sense how many of you — if any! — have interest in this, and in which topics.

If so, please take this survey! The results are for my use only.


In your first post-grad job? Read this!

By Caitlin Kelly

Here’s a powerful, no-bullshit list written by Jason Nazar, founder and CEO of Docstoc, who is 34. In his blog post for Forbes, an American business magazine, he offers 20 tips for people in their 20s, like:

Congratulations, you may be the most capable, creative, knowledgeable
& multi-tasking generation yet.  As my father says, “I’ll Give You a
Sh-t Medal.”  Unrefined raw materials (no matter how valuable) are
simply wasted potential.  There’s no prize for talent, just results.
Even the most seemingly gifted folks methodically and painfully worked
their way to success.

I like a lot of what he says.

When you’re looking for your first, or second or third, job, it’s easy to forget or not even realize how utterly different the world of work is from school, which is why internships can be a useful glimpse into the “real world.”

In school, you have very clearly defined parameters of success and failure.Whoever else is attending your college or university appear to be your primary or exclusive competition, for grades, for profs’ attention, for campus resources.

But if your classmates are not economically or racially or politically or religiously diverse, you’re in for one hell of a shock if you relocate to a different place, or several, to earn your living.

Who are these people and why do I have to do what they tell me?

In school, if you attain a fantastic GPA and some awards, you’re the bomb.

In school, yes you are.

But in school, short of wasting tuition money and/or flunking out, there are no terrible consequences to failing or missing deadlines or getting wasted or showing up to class late and/or hungover or high.

The real world is much less forgiving of stupidity and a lack of preparation.

In school, most students hang out with their peers, i.e. people within their age group. Adults end up being annoying things to please (profs) or placate (parents) but not people you may spend much time trying to understand, cooperate with or relate to as a fellow professional.

If you’ve never worked with (or managed) someone 10, 20 or 30 years your senior, how’s that going to feel?

All these new adults — not your parents or their friends or professors or people who are inherently interested in (or deeply invested in) seeing that you succeed — don’t care. And they expect a lot. All the time. OMG!

As Nazar also writes:

You Should Be Getting Your Butt Kicked – Meryl Streep in “The Devil Wears Prada” would be the most valuable boss you could possibly have.  This is the most impressionable, malleable and formative stage of your professional career.  Working for someone that demands excellence and pushes your limits every day will build the most solid foundation for your ongoing professional success.

The Devil Wears Prada is one of my favorite films ever.

I’ve seen it so many times I can recite dialogue from it, like Priestly’s hissed dismissal: “That’s all.”

It’s about an ambitious young journalist in New York, (so I can identify with that bit) but is also about the price of being ambitious and what it means to sacrifice your friendships (or not) or your sweetie (or not) or your ethics (or not.)

Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep) and Andrea Sac...
Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep) and Andrea Sachs (Anne Hathaway): pre-release still photograph from the film The Devil Wears Prada; this also is the novel’s redesigned cover. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The boss in the film, Miranda Priestly, is insanely and insatiably demanding, but I get it and know why. And having a boss like that is basically boot camp for the rest of your career.

If you freak out and cry and think you can’t do it — whatever it is — you’re pretty much useless. Find someone to help you. Read a book. Watch a video. Take a class, or three. Find a mentor.

Resourcefulness will probably be your most valuable skill, no matter what sort of work you do.

The truly useful/valuable employee memorizes a two-word phrase — “On it!”

I also really like this tip:

Your Reputation is Priceless, Don’t Damage It – Over time, your reputation is the most valuable currency you have in business.  It’s the invisible key that either opens or closes doors of
professional opportunity.  Especially in an age where everything is forever recorded and accessible, your reputation has to be guarded like the most sacred treasure.  It’s the one item that, once lost, you can never get back.

It’s temptingly easy to think: “I’m young. It doesn’t matter. No one will notice or care or remember.”

Not true!

Take every opportunity to leave an impression as a chance to make it lasting and positive. That doesn’t mean sucking up or being a phony.

My current part-time assistant, C., has been stellar for the six months or so we’ve been working together. She never whines or complains, gets on with things and I routinely throw her into all sorts of situations for which she has zero training or experience. I know she can do it well — and she does.


In return, she knows she can count on me for a kickass reference to anyone she needs.

One of the things I most enjoy about this relationship is that, on some levels, we’re very different — different religions, 30 years apart in age. But she’s fun, funny, worldly. That goes a long way in my book.

My husband and I both started working freelance — while full-time undergrads — for national media, he as a photographer for the Associated Press, I as a writer for magazines and newspapers. Paid.

We put ourselves in harm’s way by competing, as very young people, with those who had decades of experience and awards and real jobs. But that’s how you learn to compete and cooperate effectively at the highest levels.

If you’re just starting out, or have been working for a while, what advice would you offer to someone just joined the work world?

Why write a (nother) non-fiction book?

By Caitlin Kelly

New Paperback Non-Fiction - Really?! 07/366/20...
New Paperback Non-Fiction – Really?! 07/366/2012 #366project (Photo credit: pgcummings)

From American business author/blogger Seth Godin:

The goal in blogging/business/inspiring non-fiction is to share a truth, or at least
a truth as the writer sees it. To not just share it, but to spread it and to cause change to happen. You can do that in at least three ways: with research (your own or reporting on others), by building and describing conceptual structures, or with stories that resonate…

A more heavily-researched approach to writing [is] exhausting, but the work is its own reward…

The biggest takeaway for anyone seeking to write is this: don’t go looking for the way other authors do their work. You won’t find many who are consistent enough to copy, and there are enough variations in approach that it’s obvious that it’s not like hitting home runs or swinging a golf club. There isn’t a standard approach, there’s only what works for you (and what doesn’t).

I read Godin’s blog every day. His advice here is spot-on.

I’ve written, and published commercially with two major NYC houses, two well-reviewed works of non-fiction.

“Malled: My Unintentional Career in Journalism” was just published in China, which is pretty cool, and a first for me. Now I’m seeking someone to read it and compare it to my original to see if they censored my section about appalling labor conditions in Shenzhen, China where they make parts for Apple and others at Foxconn.

After two books published by major commercial houses, I’ve lost my innocence about how bare-knuckled a business publishing is, that’s for sure. I have no illusions — which many  yet-to-be-published writers naively and deeply cherish — like the publisher will: 1) be my new BFF; 2) that they will pick up the costs of designing and maintaining my website; 3) send me on a book tour.

The only way I got my own book from China was having it sent by a photographer there my husband knows, who did us a personal favor and Fed-Exed two copies; my publisher still hasn’t sent me any.

But I still really love the process of writing books, if not the selling of books. Trying to tell any truly complex story in an article is like trying to shoe-horn an elephant into a matchbox — articles are too short, too shallow and pay poorly.

You can’t dive deeply or widely enough, even in a 5,000-word+ story, (which very few people assign now).

You need to write a book.

This week I finally sent in the proposal for my third non-fiction book to my agent. I’m nervous as hell. I hope she likes it. I hope she doesn’t require more work on it as I’ve already spent about a year creating it (in addition to all my other paid work.); it’s about 10,000 words.

The real challenge will be finding a publisher to pay me enough to actually make writing it worth my time financially. Let’s say — hah! — I got a $100,000 advance, a sum extremely difficult to attain.

If I did, and if we could negotiate it into three payments, (also difficult now) — on signing the contract, on my delivery of the manuscript and publication — I’d get about $28,000 to start out with, (after the agent’s 15 percent cut, always taken off the top.)

From that, I also have to fund all travel costs and research; (I’ve already started looking for researchers.)

Many non-fiction writers have full-time jobs and/or teach as well. Few writers can actually support themselves, and their families, only by writing books.

So….why write another?

Surely the world is full of books already?

Not this one!

Cross your fingers, please.

Are you an adult yet? How will you know?

By Caitlin Kelly

Toilet paper Español: Papel higiénico
Toilet paper . Yes, you actually have to go to a store and buy it! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Are you an adult?

Here’s a new book, with 468 tips from a 28-year-old, about how to become one:

Ms. Brown, a 28-year-old advertising
copywriter in Portland, Ore., has set out to become a kind of Dear
Abby/Martha Stewart/Yoda for millennials.

Her new book, “Adulting: How to Become a Grown-up in 468 Easy (ish)
Steps” (Grand Central Publishing), is meant to help her peers navigate
the rocky shoals of maturity, to guide those 20-somethings who are just
figuring out that radio silence is not an acceptable breakup technique,
and food does not spontaneously manifest itself in the refrigerator.

“One of the most jolting days of adulthood comes the first time you run
out of toilet paper,” Ms. Brown said. “Toilet paper, up until this
point, always just existed.”

The idea for “Adulting” (which has just been optioned for television by
J. J. Abrams, executive producer of the “Lost” series) was refined when
Ms. Brown worked as a reporter for the Statesman Journal in Salem, Ore.,
consulting her Facebook friends for a column about what skills or
possessions they should have by the age of 30.

It’s an interesting progression, this growing up thing. I know some people in their 60s and beyond who still don’t have a very good grip on maturity while I recently met a 21-year-old, deeply serious, who worries terribly about others — and felt like someone a decade older in this respect.

I moved out of my father’s house in the first semester of my second year of university and found a tiny apartment.

Living alone there, I learned how to shop for clothes and food on a minusucle budget. Who to bring home and what would likely happen if I did. I learned to do my own laundry, find freelance clients for my writing and photos, how to haggle with cheap-o landlords and landladies.

As a freelancer, even then, I learned how to juggle the competing needs of my professors and my clients — not surprisingly, perhaps, the clients usually won!

When my mother, traveling alone, had health problems alone in places like Germany, Italy and India and ended up in trouble, I had to field calls from the Canadian and American consulates there asking me what to do with her.

So, truthfully, I have limited patience for people who find adulthood or independence frightening or overwhelming, who can’t understand the need to buy toilet paper or cook a meal or know how to figure stuff out.

And yet, here’s another new book that describes the very real struggles that working-class young adults are having as they try to gain traction in this crummy economy:

In a working-class neighborhood in Lowell, Mass., in early 2009, I sat across the table from Diana, then 24, in the kitchen of her mother’s house. Diana had planned to graduate from college, marry, buy a home in the suburbs and have kids, a dog and a cat by the time she was 30. But she had recently dropped out of a nearby private university after two years of study and with nearly $80,000 in student loans. Now she worked at Dunkin’ Donuts.

“With college,” she explained, “I would have had to wait five years to get a degree, and once I get that, who knows if I will be working and if I would find something I wanted to do. I don’t want to be a cop or anything. I don’t know what to do with it. My manager says some people are born to make coffee, and I guess I was born to make coffee.”

Young working-class men and women like Diana are trying to figure out what it means to be an adult in a world of disappearing jobs, soaring education costs and shrinking social support networks. Today, only 20 percent of men and women between 18 and 29 are married. They live at home longer, spend more years in college, change jobs more frequently and start families later.

The markers of adulthood to me aren’t then the usual: college-grad-school-marry-procreate-own real estate-get a job-get-another-job.

Not everyone has those dreams. Or can afford them.

They’re things we all can do, even in our teens — like writing thank-you notes on paper; bringing a gift when you stay with someone; going to a funeral for someone you didn’t know to show respect for their family, which you do.

Knowing how to cook a healthy, affordable meal and serve it to others, lovingly and gracefully.

Understanding the importance of volunteering your skills and mentoring others when you can.

Knowing how to handle your own money intelligently and responsibly — your credit score, low-interest credit card (singular), your taxes and savings.

Helping someone prepare for major surgery and helping them heal after it. Going to chemo with them or helping them choose a wig when their hair falls out.

In an economy when one-third of us are working for ourselves anyway, defining ourselves as an adult by “getting a job” is an outdated metric.

And, again from The New York Times, the putative value of getting an English degree — which arguably will never get you a decent job:

STUDYING the humanities should be like standing among colleagues and students on the open deck of a ship moving along the endless coastline of human experience. Instead, now it feels as though people have retreated to tiny cabins in the bowels of the ship, from which they peep out on a small fragment of what may be a coastline or a fog bank or the back of a spouting whale.

I was an English major, a choice I don’t regret. But I graduated with no debt.

Has that choice helped me as a writer? Frankly, no. I didn’t enjoy college much. I found it impersonal and bureaucratic and have never gone back for a graduate degree as a result.

What being an English major did teach me, by attending a ferociously demanding school, University of Toronto, was how to think, how to frame an argument, how to discuss ideas with passion and focus out loud with other smart, determined people.

So, those are life skills I’ve been using ever since. Chaucer and 16th. century drama? Not so much.

When, how and where did you learn your life skills?

What do you consider the markers or milestones of adulthood?

Twenty things that make me happy

By Caitlin Kelly

I’ve spent much of my adult life striving, mostly professionally, often socially. I left my native Canada, and a thriving career and dear friends, to follow a man I married, (who walked out after two years of marriage). I’ve survived three recessions since 1989 and four orthopedic surgeries since 2000.

Would I ever have a calmer, steadier life?

Recently, I’ve felt…happy.


Dare I even write those words? I feel like I’m tempting fate.

But things have been lovely of late.

I know one reason — the endless crisis/problem-solving/emotional dramas/fear and pain of the past few years are gone. My left hip, which caused me 2.5 years of 24/7 pain, was replaced 18 months ago. My mother, whose crises seemed endless, is now in a nursing home. Work, finally, seems to be much more solid than the terrifying, scraping pennies-from-the-sofa-cushions dips of 2008-9.

Here are some of the things that make me happy:

— Our town’s reservoir, whose landmarks are a cormorant who stands very still and spreads his wings in the sunshine, white swans, duck bums in the air, Queen Ann’s lace and orange lilies by the roadside. Best of all — turtles! There are about a dozen of them, all black and round, who line up along some rubber tubing at the water’s edge.

Queen Ann s Lace 02
Queen Ann s Lace 02 (Photo credit: Macomb Paynes)

— The flowers on our balcony, orange and purple and white and yellow, adding beauty to every day.

— My husband’s kisses.

— My dance classes, jazz and modern. It’s such a delicious relief to leave words and speech behind, to sway and bend and spin and twist with others. To stretch, still touching my palms flat to the floor. I love using a corporeal vocabulary I’ve known for decades: chassees, plies, tendues, battements, ronds de jambes.

— A surprise check at the exact moment I need it.

— An unexpected assignment, two of which showed up this week.

— A full refund, many years later, for a spendy skirt I bought at Nordstrom.

— The pool at our apartment building. On these 95+ degree days, it is such a blessing to plunge in and cool off.

— Freshly-baked banana bread, hot from the oven, that I made.


— A full pot of tea, poured from a white china teapot.

— A big bunch of white flowers.


— Fresh corn.

— Our new tent, which I can put up, alone, within minutes.

— Outdoors antiques fairs and flea markets, where I always find something fantastic — an Edwardian necklace, a Moroccan lantern or some vintage crochet edging.


Mother of pearl, metal, glass beads and ebony, $55. Score!

— Throwing a party. Tomorrow we’re having about two dozen friends over to celebrate Malled’s publication in China.

— Making new friends.

Flo and Friend 1908
Flo and Friend 1908 (Photo credit: dottygirl)

— Discovering the most unlikely connections with a new friend, like the woman my age with whom I went for lunch to talk about work. She had been a professional ballerina, and danced in productions with Nureyev. I had performed at Lincoln Center in Sleeping Beauty with him in the lead. The odds?!

Lincoln Center
Lincoln Center (Photo credit: Glyn Lowe Photoworks)

— An hour+ long phone chat with a friend who’s known me for decades.

— Helping younger journalists who ask me for advice.

— Having our suburban NY street thick with bushes full of ripe raspberries.

How about you?

What makes you happy these days?

One woman’s life reporting on Syria — for $70 per story

By Caitlin Kelly

English: Bastion of the Citadel of Aleppo, Syr...
English: Bastion of the Citadel of Aleppo, Syria Français : Bastion de la citadelle d’Alep, Syrie (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This story, from the Columbia Journalism Review, is going viral among my journalist/writer/foreign correspondent friends.

It is written by Francesca Borri, an Italian woman who has been reporting from Syria as a freelancer:

People have this romantic image of the freelancer as a journalist who’s
exchanged the certainty of a regular salary for the freedom to cover the
stories she is most fascinated by. But we aren’t free at all; it’s just
the opposite. The truth is that the only job opportunity I have today
is staying in Syria, where nobody else wants to stay. And it’s not even
Aleppo, to be precise; it’s the frontline. Because the editors back in
Italy only ask us for the blood, the bang-bang. I write about the
Islamists and their network of social services, the roots of their
power—a piece that is definitely more complex to build than a frontline
piece. I strive to explain, not just to move, to touch, and I am
answered with: “What’s this? Six thousand words and nobody died?”


But whether you’re writing from Aleppo or Gaza or Rome, the editors
see no difference. You are paid the same: $70 per piece. Even in places
like Syria, where prices triple because of rampant speculation. So, for
example, sleeping in this rebel base, under mortar fire, on a mattress
on the ground, with yellow water that gave me typhoid, costs $50 per
night; a car costs $250 per day. So you end up maximizing, rather than
minimizing, the risks. Not only can you not afford insurance—it’s
almost $1,000 a month—but you cannot afford a fixer or a translator.
You find yourself alone in the unknown. The editors are well aware that
$70 a piece pushes you to save on everything…But they buy your
article anyway, even if they would never buy the Nike soccer ball
handmade by a Pakistani child.

With new communication technologies there is this temptation to
believe that speed is information. But it is based on a self-destructive
logic: The content is now standardized, and your newspaper, your
magazine, no longer has any distinctiveness, and so there is no reason
to pay for the reporter. I mean, for the news, I have the Internet—and
for free. The crisis today is of the media, not of the readership.
Readers are still there, and contrary to what many editors believe, they
are bright readers who ask for simplicity without simplification. They
want to understand, not simply to know. Every time I publish an
eyewitness account from the war, I get a dozen emails from people who
say, “Okay, great piece, great tableaux, but I want to understand what’s going on in Syria.”

Many kinds of reporting, especially war reporting, (and photography and video and audio) — must be done firsthand.

It can’t be done, contrary to the fantasies of some journalism students who have to be shoved out of their classrooms into the world to talk to real people face to face, by Googling everything!

It’s often terrifying and exhausting. It often leaves the journalists (and their fixers and translators) who do it with PTSD; the terrific Dart Center helps them heal after such work.

Great reporting, of the sort Borri is doing and describing, is damn dangerous. It killed legendary American reporter Marie Colvin. It killed legendary New York Times reporter Anthony Shadid, who died — of all things — of an asthma attack in reaction to the dander of the horses he needed to ride to get into Syria.

The photographer with him, Tyler Hicks, as soldiers expect to do and reporters do not, carried his dead body back to civilization.

We cannot, must not ever accept, only the official/sanitized/biased reports offered up by the military or rebels or the government or corporate flacks.

Everyone, everywhere has an agenda.

The reporter’s primary job is to witness, describe, analyze, explain. They/we are more essential than ever in a world of spin , sound bites and soi-disant journalists who “publish” their point of view without an ounce of training or ethics.

But risking your life for $70 a story? It’s a fucking obscenity. Her editors and publishers should be ashamed of their cheapness — I bet they blow that much money each week on their morning espressos.

I do admire her spirit and her dedication.

Would you do it?

What do you think of her choice?

How sports preps women for leadership and power

By Caitlin Kelly

I don’t normally look to the sober-sided Financial Times for career advice, especially on the value of sport(s) for women who aim high professionally. But here’s Gillian Tett:

English: Dilma Rousseff with her running mate ...
English: Dilma Rousseff with her running mate for the 2010 Brazilian presidential election, Michel Temer. Português do Brasil: Dilma Rousseff, candidata a Presidência da República, com o companheiro de chapa Michel Temer. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In recent months Ernst & Young, the American consultancy, has been analysing sporting activity among senior female executives and leaders. And it has discovered that the higher the executive level, the more
likely it is that a woman played sport at high school or college. Most notably, some 19 out of 20 women who sit in the “C-suite” – holding the title “chief something” – were sporty as a teenager; indeed, seven out of 10 still play sport as a working adult, while six out of 10 played sport at university. One in eight C-suite executives played sport professionally. However, among the middle levels of working women, athletic skill was lower: just a third of mid-level women, for example, played sport at university..

A few examples:

IMF head Christine Lagarde (a former member of France’s synchronised swimming team), Condoleezza Rice (a keen figure skater in her youth) and Hillary Clinton (school baseball). Or Dilma Rousseff (the Brazilian president, who played volleyball to a high level), Indra Nooyi (the CEO of PepsiCo was a keen cricket player), Ellen Kullman (CEO at Dupont, who played basketball to a high level at college)…

Secretary Rice meets with newly appointed Afgh...
Secretary Rice meets with newly appointed Afghan Foreign Minister Dr. Rangin Dadfar Spanta. State Department photo by Hamid Hamidi (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Girls who play sport at school learn at a young age that it is acceptable to compete aggressively. They also discover that success does not depend on looking good and that it can be acceptable to take pleasure in winning. ..Being an athlete is one of the few socially accepted ways for teenage girls to compete, without peer criticism.

I’m such a huge fan of girls and women being athletic!

I’ve been sporty since childhood — when I had no choice in the matter, because we did sports after school every day at boarding school and all day long at summer camp.

Some of the sports I’ve played, and some I continue to play:

softball, hiking, cycling, downhill and cross-country skiing, kayaking, canoeing, ice skating, fencing, golf, tennis, squash, badminton, volleyball, basketball, swimming (competitive), diving, snorkel, horseback riding, sailing, solo and in a racing team (12 f00t to 60 foot boats).

I also studied ballet from the age of 12 to my late 20s, jazz dance in my 20s, and I still do a jazz dance class every Monday morning.

I include yoga and any form of dance in the same  category of “sports” — requiring discipline, flexibility, training, practice, strength and determination to master them.

For all the endless paranoia/obsession about the size and shape of our bodies, what we really need is to be strong and limber, at 5, 15, 45 or 65.

If it weren’t for my athletic activities, I wouldn’t be able to control my weight, manage my stress, tap into my creativity or relate nearly as easily to the many men and women I meet who are sporty. I can always find someone to go for a hike with or play golf with my husband or take a jazz, modern or ballet class. For many years, I crewed every summer on more than a dozen racing sailboats on Long Island Sound, often trimming jib, a job requiring lightning reflexes and strong arms, shoulders and hands.

I moved to New York when I was 30, knowing no one, with no formal American education, no friends, relatives or a job. To stay busy while re-making my life, I took up saber fencing, coached by a two-time Olympian, and was nationally ranked for four years.

I learned a tremendous amount in  the salle and on that narrow strip, all of which has helped me in life, work and relationships:

How to control my temper (at least during a bout!)

How to stay focused for 20 minutes, crouched in en garde, on a minute object to the exclusion of all distractions

How to compete with confidence against opponents far bigger, stronger, taller and more experienced

How to lose (and not freak out)

How to win (and not gloat)

How to buy a bit of time, even at nationals in the direct elimination round (tie your shoe)

How to control an opponent

How to stay focused and compete effectively even when injured and in pain

How to accept criticism and feedback from my coach

How to initiate an attack quickly and decisively

There is no doubt that my strength, stamina and flexibility still help me stay fit and strong in a crazy business in a difficult economy.

On the crummiest day I know I can still shoot hoops or swing a driver with the young ‘uns. I can hit to the outfield and pop a golf ball 150 yards.

Do you play sports? Do your daughters?

How do you think it has affected them or changed their lives?

File this one under “Heteronormative non-news”

By Caitlin Kelly



The New York Times (yes, for whom I freelance frequently) posted this enormous story (we call ’em ‘heaves’ for a reason), a front-page face-palm over the fact that women at elite colleges (the rest of you, meh) are not having committed sex with their fiances, but are in fact hooking up for fun and…you, know, sex.

Sex (Photo credit: danielito311)

And — because any story about: 1) sex; 2) young women; 3) elite university students; 4) hooking up is going to be fucking catnip for the finger-wagging crowd, the story had gathered a stunning and possibly unprecedented 788 comments within hours.

Here’s some of it:

These women said they saw building their résumés, not finding boyfriends
(never mind husbands), as their main job at Penn. They envisioned their
20s as a period of unencumbered striving, when they might work at a
bank in Hong Kong one year, then go to business school, then move to a
corporate job in New York. The idea of lugging a relationship through
all those transitions was hard for many to imagine. Almost universally,
the women said they did not plan to marry until their late 20s or early

In this context, some women, like A., seized the opportunity to have sex
without relationships, preferring “hookup buddies” (regular sexual
partners with little emotional commitment) to boyfriends.

And this:

But Elizabeth A. Armstrong, a sociologist at the University of Michigan
who studies young women’s sexuality, said that women at elite
universities were choosing hookups because they saw relationships as too
demanding and potentially too distracting from their goals.

In interviews, “Some of them actually said things like, ‘A relationship
is like taking a four-credit class,’ or ‘I could get in a relationship,
or I could finish my film,’ ” Dr. Armstrong said.

One of the things I enjoy about Broadside is that I have readers from their teens to people their grandparents’ age, some of whom are devoutly religious and for whom pre-marital sex is taboo. I get that and respect that.

But this is for/about people who are going to have sex and beyond the really tedious heteronormative strictures of getting engaged/married/pregnant, certainly right out of college — i.e. by your early or mid 20s.

You actually can be pretty, smart, ambitious and deeply ambivalent about wanting to permanently attach yourself to a man (or woman) before you have a clue who you are! That might mean years, even a few decades of sexual experimentation, travel, graduate study, volunteer work, returning home — or all of these.

You might never wish to marry at all.

You might not want to have children.

This hand-flapping over when, where, how and why young women are having uncommitted sex is — to my mind — pretty old hat. Many of us were having, and enjoying, uncommitted sex in the 1970s when I was in college, long before herpes, then AIDS scared everyone into abstinence or commitment for a while.

Now everyone with a brain uses condoms to protect themselves from both (and HPV, chlamydia, etc.)

The notion that young, educated women are incapable of — the term is accurate, if crude — sport-fucking — is absurd.

It may deeply comfort people to assume that all women, everywhere, all the time, from puberty to death, only want to bonk people with whom they are deeply in love and with whom they are really dying to rush to the altar.

For some, sure.

For others, absolutely not.

We’re not that simple.

We don’t want to be that simple.

Just stop it!