The other skills you need for successful self-employment

By Caitlin Kelly

People who choose self-employment often focus on the freedom — No office! No boss! No politics! No commute!

Freelancers Union Logo
Freelancers Union Logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But successfully running your own show requires a wide range of skills beyond the specific product or service — dog-walking, gluten-free cupcakes, general contracting, writing — you’re hoping to sell.

Here’s a great post from one of my favorite blogs, Freelance Folder, on this topic, which lists 17 separate skills with a link to even more:

Communication skills. Freelancing is all about clear communication. As a freelancer, you must express your ideas and requirements to prospective clients, current clients, and other freelancers.

The first one can be a real toughie.

Once you’ve established a good working relationship, and a track record, with your clients, you’re usually good to go. You probably speak the same language, emotionally, so you click naturally in your communication style.

But to steadily earn a good living will also mean working with many people quite different in their style.

Would-be clients are busy with competing demands and may not communicate quickly, clearly — or at all! I see many emails from fellow freelancers asking when, if and how often to follow up with a pitched idea so we can close the sale (or not), find out the fee and budget our time for the work and the income for our expenses.

Follow up too often and you’re a stalker. Not often enough and you’ll starve because you can’t keep enough work coming in.

Whenever I start working with a new client, I ask a few questions about their communication style: do they prefer phone or email? Are specific days or hours in the day off-limits? How long, typically, does a pitch take to get approved?

When I work with The New York Times — which is almost weekly — I know from experience that my emails often end up in their spam filter due to my email address. So I know to call and leave a voicemail message to follow up.

Estimating skills. How long will a project take? Successful freelancers need to be able to answer this question so that they can schedule their time effectively and still earn a profit.

This is also a difficult one, no matter what you do for a living.

I recently blogged about knowing your CODB, your cost of doing business. So you know what you must make to cover your expenses — but what about short and long-term savings, retirement savings, attending a few conferences every year to upgrade your skills and meet new contacts?

Illustration from "Living Up to Your Empl...
Illustration from “Living Up to Your Employment System” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So when someone quotes you a price, or vice versa, never forget all those other costs, not just the short-term gain of that payment.

The challenge of estimating is that it’s one-sided! We know how long we might need to do the work…but what about your client?

Does the work require reviews/edits/approval from several other people? How long will that take? (Can you negotiate partial payment up front?) Are they known in the industry as challenging or difficult?

Ask around so your “estimate” isn’t naively and stupidly optimistic.

Interpersonal skills. The stereotype is that freelancers work alone and don’t need interpersonal skills, but that’s a myth. Freelancers interact with prospects, clients, and other freelancers.

Oddly enough, this might be the most essential skill of all. The (mis) perception of freelance or self-employed people is that we “don’t play well with others.” Which isn’t true at all — if we didn’t, we’d never find or retain satisfied clients!

From the very start of your freelance life, you’re going to need other people to help you: for advice, insight, feedback, moral support, sometimes a shoulder to cry on or to toast your latest coup. Almost every single day, by phone, email or social media, I’m asking for, or giving, advice to someone.

At this point in my career, 30 years into it, virtually all my work comes from established clients or personal referrals to new ones from people they know, like and trust.

So play nicely, ladies and gentlemen! Never steal ideas, backbite, gossip.

And don’t be nasty, even if you’re feeling really shaky and insecure.

Networking Freelancers
Networking Freelancers (Photo credit: solobasssteve)

So, go out often — at least once every month — to industry parties and events and panels and conferences. Bring a genuine smile, a well-designed business card and a generous spirit.

And look professional! At a recent NYC roof-top event I attended, a woman around my age was wearing chipped red nail polish. Seriously? You need a great/recent haircut (and/or color), polished shoes, fresh mani/pedi (do it yourself, but do it!)

We make snap decisions about people within seconds of meeting one another. Make sure they’re positive.

Do not — I beg you — use the phrase “I’d love to pick your brain”. Ever!

Of course you would.

You think it’s flattering. It’s not, really. Because our brains are already spoken for. Instead, be classy: offer to pay us a consulting fee, make a useful professional introduction or buy us a good meal. Don’t be cheap and assume it’s our job to mentor you because you’re needy. It’s not!

And don’t become the whiny/negative/raggedy/sloppy person whose calls we dodge and emails we delete.

If you’re self-employed, what skills do you find most essential to your success?

A stubborn goat, a shooting star and an empty 175-year-old inn

By Caitlin Kelly

Never a dull moment, kids!

A map of Prince Edward County
A map of Prince Edward County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On day two of our vacation, we decided to visit the final day of the Picton County Fair, in Prince Edward County, about two hours east of Toronto.

It was one of those perfect fall afternoons — hot sunshine with a cool breeze.

We saw:

— a lawnmower race (Jason plowed into a hay bale)

— a collection of antique tractors, including one from 1926 and this one from 1953

picton01

— the entries in the flower and food competitions

— some fantastic quilts, embroidery, crochet and hooked rugs

— a huge red $175,000 tractor

— a very stubborn goat who, when it was time to parade around the ring for the 4H contest, dug in his hooves, bleated and simply refused to budge

picton 02

— some gorgeous vintage automobiles, including this one

picton fair detail

Watching the four young girls posing with their goats was fascinating, as they moved, kneeling in the sawdust, from one side of their animal to the other, rearranged their goat’s legs for the best pose, and awaited the judge’s decision.

It takes a lot of poise and training to wrangle a small stubborn beast, and I admired their dedication. In New York, the girls would have been the ones preening and posing, nervously subject to dismissal.

Here, instead, they were in charge.

And we really liked the judge’s decision to hoist the stubborn one and move him into the ring to get on with it, already. He could have left its owner crying at the entrance, but he didn’t.

I loved seeing all the skills people here are proud of, whether growing a 74 pound pumpkin or hooking a rug…I couldn’t do any of them!

It’s humbling to be reminded how little city-folk generally know about how to care for animals or vegetables or fruit or how to create lovely things for your home. Instead, we buy stuff from enormous corporations, most of it made by low-wage labor in some distant Asian sweatshop.

The inn we chose is simply amazing, a square white building built in 1838 and moved to its current location a few years ago in numbered pieces, then re-constructed by a local historian.

20130909093604

A pair of Toronto lawyers have poured Godknowshowmuchmoney into renovating it, to perfection. It’s a little austere, but serene, all in calm, neutral colors: rust, cream, olive, black.

It has only four guest rooms, but we were the only people here for all three nights.

So we had this exquisite place all to ourselves: wide plank floors, some original glass in the windows casting bubbled and swirling shadows, a formal oil portrait in the hallway. I love looking out at the trees through ancient glass, wondering what others were thinking when they did so a century and a half ago.

The only sound we can hear is wind rustling the crisping leaves, blown from Lake Ontario across the street.

The front door handle is small, round, brass — even opening the door transports you to a different time and way of moving through space.

I imagine being a woman of the period, alighting from our carriage, and sweeping in with a wide, bustled skirt to a home with no electricity, wi-fi or telephone.

And the stars here are glorious, the Milky Way blessedly once more visible.

I even saw a shooting star.

Re-visiting your past

By Caitlin Kelly

One of the challenges of becoming an expatriate — which I did, leaving Canada in 1988 for the U.S. — is leaving behind much of your personal history: the schools you attended, the playgrounds where you skinned your knees, the parks and ravines you walked through with your family, favorite shops, restaurants, libraries or street corners.

I lived in Toronto ages five to 30, so most of my formative and defining memories lie there: first boyfriend, newspaper job,  apartment.

Toronto viewed south from Bloor
Toronto viewed south from Bloor (Photo credit: Small)

It happens when you live far away, even across the country.

Re-visiting my past remains, however silly or nostalgic, important to me. Some of the memories are painful, and I want to re-make them with a happier overlay, while others are pure joy, like once more taking the ferry across Toronto’s harbor, to the islands there, the sun glittering off the water and the gulls circling overhead.

Bliss!

Another well-traveled path I take, and will do so on our current visit north, is down the terrazzo hallways of my old high school.

I’ve been going back there for years as a guest lecturer on writing, speaking to senior students. I was badly bullied there for a few years when I was a student, so it’s a sweet vengeance to be welcomed back as a successful alum.

It’s odd to be there as an adult, not as the eager, excited, nervous young woman I was then, dying to start university and get on with my writing career.

My name is on a wall, lettered in gold in elegant Gothic script, with all the others who won Ontario scholarships, awarded to those with the highest averages in their graduating year. It’s comforting to see my name there, to feel remembered — even if my classmates’ children have already graduated from those same classrooms.

In May 2013, I returned to the Grand Canyon for a four-day trip, camping alone in a tent. I was excited beyond measure to get back there — my last time was June 1994, and I hiked 12 hours in a day, climbing out exhausted and crusted with the salt of my evaporated sweat.

English: view into Grand Canyon from South Rim...
English: view into Grand Canyon from South Rim, Arizona, USA Deutsch: Blick in den Grand Canyon vom Südrand, Arizona, USA Français : vue dans le Grand Canyon du bord sud, Arizona, États-Unis (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But I wanted to return for another reason, to make that 90-minute drive back to Flagstaff knowing I was coming home to a loving spouse; when I returned from my previous trip, my then-husband walked out for good.

For decades, I’d associated one of the best journeys of my life with one of its most unexpectedly painful moments.

In May 2008, Jose and I traveled to Mexico, back to Cuernavaca, to the apartment building where my mother and I lived when I was 14. I used to walk up the hill to my school, where two tall, narrow windows offered an extraordinary view — one of Popocatapetl, the other Iztaccihuatl, two volcanoes far in the distance.

I used to look out my second-floor window into a field, and assumed it was long since built up and paved over. But it was still a field and our building, at the corner of Copales and Naranjos, appeared unchanged as well.

I wanted to wave to my 14-year-old self, with her waist-length blond hair, listening to Creedence on her record player, and say: “It’s going to be OK. Really.”

My mother suffered a breakdown while we were there; the details too arcane for this blog, but it abruptly and permanently ended my time in her custody, making that apartment and the field and the hill the last place that I lived in her care.

Down the road is a small waterfall, its cul-de-sac filled with plant nurseries. I bought three small pottery palomitas there — unglazed doves — that hang on our balcony in the summer, small, happy memories re-created.

20130905123318

And, when Jose and I went to visit his hometown, Santa Fe, New Mexico, we visited the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. It has a small courtyard with an apricot tree — the one his late mother used to make jam from.

The museum now stands on the land where his late father’s Baptist church, and their home, once stood.

“This used to be my bedroom,” he said, standing before some exquisite and priceless canvas.

I didn’t know quite what to say.

How sad to never be able see your old haunts.

English: A Areal map of Santa Fe, New Mexico d...
English: A Areal map of Santa Fe, New Mexico during the Railroad era in 1882. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here’s blogger Dara Clear, eloquent as always — who traded his native Ireland for Australia:

Each one of of us is Homer’s Odysseus, journeying, probing, questing but perhaps ultimately compelled to return to Penelope, to that place of safety, familiarity and love. I am not being literal here, I am not saying we are all the male hero archetype who dutifully returns home to the stoic wife after his manly adventures. My suggestion is that on a profound, primal, ancient level, we are all borne on the same unstated dynamic that is best described as the journey and the return.

We set out on our voyages understanding, or maybe just suspecting, that the journey and its concomitant adventures and challenges, will not be indefinite. There will be an end. There will be a settling. And there will be a return. The return becomes whatever the traveler determines to be home. And home is the place of belonging.

Home can also be the opposite of that, highlighting the sense of not belonging, the sense of otherness. Home then, embodies a strange paradox in that it can be understood as both happy assimilation into place and tribe as well as being one’s concept of defiance, individuality and difference.

From this interpretation we can see how identity is closely connected to home. Are we a product of, or a reaction to where we are from? And what happens if you are dispossessed of a birthright as indelible as belonging? How do you keep your identity if you have no place to which you can return?

And here is Chris Colin’s story from Afar, (a terrific American travel magazine), about going back to West Texas:

There is—I don’t think this would offend anyone—nothing here. The main drag runs past the county courthouse, the old jail, Silverton’s two eateries, and the gas station, which holds a freezer that doubles as the town’s grocery store. The rest of Silverton is shuttered businesses and silent residential streets. The edges of town bleed into the farms and wastelands of Briscoe County…

Silverton may be thimble-size, but the thimble contains multitudes. Nearly every human is kin, for starters. On Main Street one afternoon, Tom waved to an old lady sitting on a front porch, then decided to circle back around and park. It was his mother. We stood on the porch and discussed the tornado that ripped down the street years ago, 21 people killed…

During my week in Texas, my days were spent roaming 21st-century Silverton with my great-uncles. By night I lost myself in its late 19th- and early 20th-century history. I grew up hearing of this microscopic town as a mythically happy and industrious place. My great-grandmother Bethel lived to 98 and told us stories about weekend-long dances, epic horseback rides to school, and the joy of putting on her Sunday best just to stroll Main Street.

Do you ever re-visit places from your childhood or past?

How does it feel when you go back?

The kitchen renovation: Part Two

By Caitlin Kelly

It still hasn’t begun!

The apartment has been in chaos for weeks, as we excitedly (and too early) emptied all our cupboards in preparation for the work to begin. But because we live in a co-op apartment building, we have to submit a ream of paperwork and get it approved before any hammers can swing.

Here are the “before” photos, and a description of how we got to the decision to do this, and what we chose.

It will probably start next week, when we are (blessedly) far away from the noise and dust of demolition for a bit.

But I’ve already learned a few lessons useful to anyone considering a reno.

Each one ends in “ive”!

Proactive

Every single item that is going to be bought, re-used or replaced in your new room needs to be measured carefully and ordered, sometimes weeks or months in advance, so it’s right at hand when the workmen arrive and are now on a timeline.

English: Electric cables in old apartment building
English: Electric cables in old apartment building (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Insensitive

To mess! Our living room and hallway are now a staging area, full of boxes of our stuff and boxes of the new items yet to be installed. The place is going to be nuts for a while. Focus on how gorgeous it will be when it’s all done.

Attentive

Make a punch list of every single element going into the new room or space and what is needed to have it safely and legally installed. This includes: lighting, outlets, faucet, tile, counter-tops, flooring, appliances, paint, primer, grout, hardware, etc. With so many details, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and forget something along the way.

Keep checking in with your suppliers and contractor to make sure they, too, are on top of everything and have agreed — in writing — to your explicit wishes. If there are points of disagreement, you’ll need a paper trail.

Decisive

This is one of the most tiring pieces of committing to a renovation project, endless, daily, sometimes several times a day, decisions that must be made quickly  — and permanently. (Change orders are really expensive and your contractor may hate you for making them, or — worse — bail since s/he always has a list of other clients awaiting his crew’s attention as well. Make a plan and stick with it.)

After designing our kitchen’s entire color scheme around the cream enamel panel of the Italian stove we’d chosen that color was discontinued by the time we ordered it. Shriek! I had to suddenly decide what to do, (fine, stainless steel, boring), and not freak out or rethink all the other choices and start again from scratch.

I don’t have time to do all of this twice. Most of us don’t.

You have to decide on a budget and then make every decision to fit within it, (or exceed it, and decide how you’ll handle that additional cost.) It’s tiring! And since most of us have never studied design and rarely spend tens of thousands of dollars (even thousands) within a few weeks, it’s a lot to handle.

Assertive

If you really want something to happen a certain way, or want a very specific product or material, say so!

No one can, or wants to, read your mind and it’s up to you, (or the architect/designer you’ve hired), to be very clear and specific with your contractor about what you have in mind. Don’t hand-flap and sigh and walk away in frustration. Some things will fall through. There will be some surprises, and almost all of them add expense — yours!

I went through three contractors to find the one we’re now working with, for the second time. The first two seemed to take personal offense at my custom designs. It’s your home, your taste and your budget. Trust your contractor to offer smart and helpful options, but don’t be afraid to say no if it really isn’t what you want.

A stainless steel countertop
A stainless steel countertop (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Responsive

This is the other half of being decisive. In the middle (!) of writing this post, my husband called to ask me to read yet another email and write yet another email to the contractor. Gah! Has to be done.

I’ve probably answered half a dozen emails, so far, from the contractor and I do so promptly. We’re all busy and all juggling multiple projects. You should also expect this from him/her as well.

Creative/Innovative

Very few of us have an unlimited budget or space or timeline for The Perfect Renovation. How can you work most creatively within your space and budget?

Our kitchen is really small, (eight feet long, galley kitchen, no outlet for a stove hood), and our pantry is literally a narrow, tiny closet. We may not buy a microwave, which some people would insist is a must. Not for us; I’ve never owned one so feel no compulsion to have one just because we’re getting a new kitchen. It’s just as cramped as it was before!

We also moved a china cabinet from one room to another and are changing its purpose — we’ll use it to hide ugly cans and bottles and supplies, while we transfer pretty plates, glasses and platters to our new open shelves.

We were also able to reduce the quote by offering to prime and paint our cabinets and walls and by bartering my husband’s photography skills for the contractor — who always needs professional images for his website. That alone saved us $2,000.

Obsessive

I feel like I’m now surgically attached to our measuring tapes! I know the height of the sconces, the height of the legs for the holders for our platters, the width of our shelves…

Expensive

Oh, yeah. Assume that whatever you’ve budgeted is an amusing-but-naive attempt. Unless (lucky you!) you are a multi-skilled DIYer (electrical and plumbing work? tiles?), you’ll be paying other people considerable coin to bring their skills into your home. Tiles, stone, flooring, lighting, cabinet handles…it all adds up.

Sighed our contractor: “Those TV design shows make me crazy! They never include the true costs of this stuff. I have to keep explaining this to clients every time.”

Agreed our saleswoman at our tile/stone vendor, “You know Houzz? Forget it! Clients come in here wanting exactly what they saw in a picture there, but a lot of it is custom work. They have no idea that how expensive it is.”

Any other tips you can offer?

Related articles

The expectation of attention

By Caitlin Kelly

Do you expect to be listened to?

I’ve been writing for a living since 1978, when I was still an undergraduate at the University of Toronto, and started writing for national magazines and Canada’s national newspaper The Globe and Mail.

I spent my teens attending summer camp, where every month we’d put on a musical, some fab creation from the 1950s like Flower Drum Song or Hello Dolly. I almost always won the lead.

Flower Drum Song
Flower Drum Song (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Every Sunday evening, we’d put on a Talent Show and I’d get up with my guitar and a song I’d written that day to sing it to 300 people.

It only struck me — reading Sue Healy’s brilliant blog about writing, (and she’s a former journalist) — that, as a default position, I expect to be able to hold and keep people’s attention.

Before you all un-follow, with snorts of dismay and derision, let me explain why this is a huge advantage, especially for ambitious writers and bloggers.

Newer writers seem to fear rejection, or fear that whatever it is you hope to convey just isn’t all that interesting.

Pshaw!

You have to assume someone does want to hear/read you, that you have the talent and guile and charm and story to woo and win them for 20 or 30 or 100 minutes.

OK, maybe five, on the Internet!

Journalism offers phenomenal preparation for other attention-seeking work, whether dance, music or more writing. You have to produce something every day, sometimes every hour. (I once had to write a television news story in the two minutes of a commercial break.)

You have to crank out a ton of stuff, certainly if you work for a daily paper or, worse, a wire service or web site.

Some of it is really shitty. Some of it is amazing, stuff you read decades later with pride. You will also see other writers (grrrrr) win front page and fellowships and awards and make the best-seller list.

You, oh misery, do not.

But you must wake up the next day and re-assume the same confident stance, that your work and your ideas are worth the attention of others. What’s the alternative? Lying in bed weeping in the fetal position?

Not you!

I was lucky, in some ways, to be an only child, never competing for my parents’ attention with a crowd of siblings. I had a sort of brassy self-confidence I’ve never really understood, although I’m damn grateful for it. I rarely worry about putting my stuff out there (even if I should!)

The standard American cliche is “stepping up to the plate” — i.e. home plate, where you stand in order to hit a baseball or softball. As someone who still plays softball (and can hit to the outfield), I know how nervous it can make you.

Everyone’s watching! What if you miss? What if you can’t even make it to first base? What if you hit a fly and someone catches it?

NOTICEME
NOTICEME (Photo credit: Beadzoid)

But what happens when you hit a single/double/triple — or home run? Huzzah!

If you’re still feeling nervous about blogging, or sending your creations into the world for approval/sale/attention, just do it.

(But do not, I beg you, be all foot-shuffling and hand-wringing and ‘I don’t know what to blog about.’ Don’t be boring. Take a risk!)

Yes, some of your work will be ignored and rejected. My third book proposal goes out this week, (shriek), and has already been rejected by the people who published “Malled.” I asked my editor why and received a short, polite and helpful reply.

In the old days, I would never have asked.

My first two books, when their proposals were sent to major publishers, each received 25 rejections before the 26th. said yes. Both have won terrific reviews and been bought by libraries world-wide.

So I anticipate, (albeit pre-cringing at how nasty some of the rejections can be), more of the same. I hope not. But it happens. Rejection is the cost of doing this business.

This essay, about my divorce, won the Canadian National Magazine Award for humor — after being laughingly dismissed by an editor at one of the U.S.’s biggest women’s magazines.

Focused attention has become one of the world’s most precious resources.

But, oh, the joy when you’ve won it!

And again.

And again…

It’s Labor Day: What does work mean to you?

By Caitlin Kelly

The radio plays Aaron Copland’s breathtaking “Fanfare for the Common Man.”

Cover of Supply Chain Management Review
Cover of Supply Chain Management Review (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The front page of The New York Times carries this incredibly depressing-but-important story about how clothing factories overseas — the ones that probably made the T-shirt I’m wearing as I write this post — are lying, cheating and faking their “safe” inspected factories:

As Western companies overwhelmingly turn to low-wage countries far away from corporate headquarters to produce cheap apparel, electronics and other goods, factory inspections have become a vital link in the supply chain of overseas production.

An extensive examination by The New York Times reveals how the inspection system intended to protect workers and ensure manufacturing quality is riddled with flaws. The inspections are often so superficial that they omit the most fundamental workplace safeguards like fire escapes. And even when inspectors are tough, factory managers find ways to trick them and hide serious violations, like child labor or locked exit doors. Dangerous conditions cited in the audits frequently take months to correct, often with little enforcement or follow-through to guarantee compliance.

Dara O’Rourke, a global supply chain expert at the University of California, Berkeley, said little had improved in 20 years of factory monitoring, especially with increased use of the cheaper “check the box” inspections at thousands of factories. “The auditors are put under greater pressure on speed, and they’re not able to keep up with what’s really going on in the apparel industry,” he said. “We see factories and brands passing audits but failing the factories’ workers.”

Still, major companies including Walmart, Apple, Gap and Nike turn to monitoring not just to check that production is on time and of adequate quality, but also to project a corporate image that aims to assure consumers that they do not use Dickensian sweatshops. Moreover, Western companies now depend on inspectors to uncover hazardous work conditions, like faulty electrical wiring or blocked stairways, that have exposed some corporations to charges of irresponsibility and exploitation after factory disasters that killed hundreds of workers.

I wrote about the horrible working conditions at Foxconn, the enormous Chinese company whose workers make Apple products (yup, writing on one right now) and who flung themselves out of windows in despair.

I talked about this in “Malled”, my book about retail labor. It was published last month in China, with a new cover and title.

I have several Chinese-speaking friends who have offered to compare the translation to my original — to see if that bit was censored.

It’s a crappy day here in New York — gray, cloudy, hot and humid. It’s an official holiday. Time to relax, recharge, reflect on our role as “human capital” the new euphemism for the old euphemism for human beings toiling for pay — “labor.”

But we are both working, albeit from home.

Jose, whose full-time job as a photo editor for the Times keeps him busy enough, spent all day yesterday on an income-producing side project.

I spent the day with a friend, deep in conversation. Turns out, even with a decade+ age difference between us, despite living on opposite coats, we both spend much of our time figuring out how to make our work-lives both more emotionally satisfying and financially useful to our needs.

Time Selector
Time Selector (Photo credit: Telstar Logistics)

Recent polls are shockingly sad — some 70 percent of Americans hate their jobs. A Gallup poll of 150,000 workers found many of us actively miserable in the place where we spend the bulk of our days and energy.

This is nuts!

I grew up in a freelance family. No one had a paycheck, pension or guaranteed income, working in print, film and television. No one taught on the side. It was balls-to-the-wall, full-on creative entrepreneurship, for years, decades.

I took my first staff job, the job (then and now) of my dreams, as a feature writer for The Globe and Mail, Canada’s national daily, when I was 26. “This is the best job you’ll ever have,” a friend working there warned me. I laughed, assuming a lifetime of up-and-onward, in title, status and income.

She was right.

I hope to stop working full-time within the next decade.

Minute Maid Plant, 1950s
Minute Maid Plant, 1950s (Photo credit: StevenM_61)

I want to travel to the many places I still know very little of: Africa, Latin America, Asia. They require $1,500+, 12-16-hour flights. They are not places I want to cram into a week or ten days “vacation.”

I hope to keep writing books, teaching, keeping my hand in. But not tethered to the hamster wheel of non-stop production.

How do you feel about your job?

It’s time to shake your tailfeather!

By Caitlin Kelly

Rock the Casbah
Rock the Casbah (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am a dancing fool.

I take two dance classes (so far) a week, jazz and modern. This fall I’m adding a third one, studying something I’ve wanted to try for decades — choreography.

They’re my happiest three hours of the week — 90 exhausting minutes each. I come home sore, weary and happy.

There, we use a totally different vocabulary — spins, leaps, turns, pirouettes, chasses, contractions — without saying a word. It’s a blessed break from the tyranny of diction. There, our arms and legs do the talking, our heads and shoulders and neck twisting and bending, our wrists to the floor, our toes to the ceiling.

Two of my classmates are also self-employed writers, happy to flee our daily isolation, and the computer and our clients. In one recent class, our teacher had us take turns improvising (shriek) and the rest of us had to follow. It was both terrifying and exhiliarating to make it up on the fly and see what spontaneously erupted when we just…riff.

Not surprisingly, we all moved very differently.

Our teacher stopped to correct us: “Stop thinking! I can see you planning every movement. Keep going. Keep moving. Just…do it!”

I loved her demand that we just dance.

So much of our lives is dictated by others’ rhythms: rushing for the subway car or elevator before the doors slam shut; answering a call or email or text rightaway!; feeding a hungry baby over and over; walking the dog several times a day; having your keystrokes counted by an invisible boss.

We also need to dance to our own tunes.

I have friends addicted to the tango, to tap, to ballet, to swing. I’ve been dancing, and taking lessons, since I was young and hoped against hope to become (like many little girls) a ballerina.

But I didn’t have the skills or the right body shape. I still took five dance classes a week in my 20s, three ballet, two jazz.

dance
dance (Photo credit: Dino ahmad ali)

Even as my left hip was destroyed by arthritis and steroids to heal the inflammation, I kept taking class, my movements shrinking each month as the pain increased. Now, with my new hip, my battements look like the real thing once more.

And even with classmates half or even a third my age, and 50 pounds lighter, I do just fine.

But it’s not just dance class. It’s dancing, anywhere, any time.

If there’s a Rolling Stones album nearby, clear the floor, kids! Same for Stevie Wonder. If it’s “My Sharona” or “Rock The Casbah”….move!

Michael Jackson performing The Way You Make Me...
Michael Jackson performing The Way You Make Me Feel in 1988 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here’s an older list of great dance tunes, from The Telegraph.

And a newer list of 25 from Buzzfeed, with some of my favorites like “You Can’t Touch This” by MC Hammer or “Thriller” by Michael Jackson.

Here are some amazing images of dancers in everyday, non-performance or classroom spots — Pennsylvania Avenue, shoveling gravel in pointe shoes, exulting in a Barnes and Noble, a post-shopping battement.

Here’s a great recent post, chosen by Freshly Pressed, about the body as narrative:

before we learn how to use verbal language as our primary tool of conscious expression, we have our bodies and nothing else. Even after we have learned to use our words, we continue use our bodies as a means of expression until our last breath, even if we don’t know it. The human form is fundamental to our expression, and it will always tell a story, no matter how simple or complex, whether we want it to or not. So it is no wonder dancing predates almost every form of storytelling mankind has devised. It’s a part of who we are. It’s ingrained in our DNA, and yet so many men in the modern world deny it, brand it as feminine.

Do you love to dance?

What are some of your go-to tunes?