What (other) blogs are you reading? Recommendations, please!

By Caitlin Kelly

I recently culled my list of blog subscriptions — from a fairly crazy 87 — to a still-unmanageable 46.

I enjoy blogs’ wide variety of voices and experiences. Many of my faves are written by women, some living overseas or in places I fantasize about — like the mountains of Colorado.

Now I’m looking for a few new ones to explore — so please give me some of your recommendations?

Some of the blogs I now read are purely or mostly visual — about art, interiors, design or photography — a refreshing break from words and also creatively inspiring. (I’m not as interested in traditional girly stuff like fashion , food, make-up, beauty or parenting as I am in design, ideas, history, urban life, labor, education, writing, work and relationships.)

The blogs named below are also visually appealing: they’ve chosen an attractive theme, use lots of photos and most of them consistently include useful links, all elements I really appreciate as a reader and have tried to do here for you as well.

They’re clearly written for an audience, and I’m glad they’re there.

Here are a few of my favorites:

The original Stumptown Coffee Roasters located...
The original Stumptown Coffee Roasters located at 45th and Division in Portland, Oregon. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

{frolic}

This daily blog, written by Portland florist-turned-stylist Chelsea Fuss, is a charmer. She recently posted from her travels to Chile. The photos are lovely and she often includes multiple links to food, clothing, stationery and other items.

Small Dog Syndrome

It sounds odd to find and hire someone without ever meeting them, but Cadence Woodland, who writes this witty, worldly blog, became my assistant in January 2013 after I read her blog, loved it and knew she would be a terrific fit. She was then living in Utah and has since moved to London, so her recent posts are full of the joy and fear of looking for work and new friends in a new city. She manages to be both Mormon and feminist, an intriguing combination.

Éléments de costume pour bébé, France, XXIe si...
Éléments de costume pour bébé, France, XXIe siècle, présentation dans la devanture d’un magasin. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One quality, the finest

As a fellow Francophile Canadian living in the tri-state area (NY, NJ, CT), I really appreciate the spirit behind this lovely and informative blog, written by Patricia Gilbert, who teaches high school French. Every day, she highlights a French word, idiom or aspect of French culture, whether a current show in Paris or a singer or a painter. I have learned beaucoup from her blog. Like me, she also hopes to retire to France.

Looking at Glass

Another daily blog, written by another Patricia. I so enjoy her choices — every possible use of glass: in architecture, furniture, crafts.

Colorado Meadows
Colorado Meadows (Photo credit: QualityFrog)

Gin Getz

She’s currently in Patagonia, but usually lives in the mountains of Colorado. Her photos of the landscape there, often taken on horseback, are elemental, stark and beautiful.

Apartment Therapy

As someone obsessed with design — interior and exterior — I love this popular, super-fun and helpful blog. It’s exhaustive in its coverage, but whatever you’re looking for is likely in there somewhere. Despite the name, it’s not only about apartments, but addresses every issue of domestic life, and is also international. I like its focus on smaller, lower-budget homes, not blingy mega-mansions. It includes many photo renovation stories as well.

Under the counter or a flutter in the dovecot

The name alone! Writer Nigel Featherstone lives in a small cottage, with his chickens, in rural Australia. His work has a dreamy quality I always appreciate.

Mindful Stew

High school teacher Paul Barnwell lives in Kentucky, where he writes thoughtfully about a wide range of educational issues.

Fit and Feminist

Another athletic/feminist Caitlin! I really enjoy her take on women, our bodies, exercise, sports, fitness and body image.

Kristen Lamb’s blog

I’ve been reading her blog for a few years, even though it’s largely aimed at fiction writers and those who will likely self-publish. Kristen — who lives in Texas — is a pistol! She’s funny, blunt, personal and calls it as it is. I starred commenting fairly consistently on her posts, and one day (!) this fall my phone rang — and there she was! She invited me, on the basis of my own work and credentials, to teach a non-fiction class at her recent on-line conference, WANACON. I really enjoyed it, got good reviews and may do it again. Her blog, which has a stunning 29,000 followers, is helpful, smart and full of good cheer.

What are some of your favorite blogs?

What do you most enjoy about them?

Three Manhattan streets, three different worlds

By Caitlin Kelly

Manhattan, an island 13.4 miles long and 2.3 miles at its widest, contains — as American poet Walt Whitman wrote in 1855 in another context — multitudes.

English: Grand Central terminal in New York, N...
English: Grand Central terminal in New York, NY Français : Vue extérieure nocturne de la gare Grand Central Terminal sur l’ile de Manhattan, à New-York (États Unis d’Amérique). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I visited three of them this week.

Midtown/49th Street:

Anchored by several iconic buildings — the New York Public Library, Grand Central Terminal and the Chrysler Building — this is a neighborhood devoted to sober-suited commerce. GCT, opened Feb. 2 1913, is the commuters’ cathedral, thronged daily by thousands of workers streaming in on Metr0-North Railroad from the northern and eastern suburbs of Westchester, (including my husband, Jose), and Connecticut.

The station — which every tourist must see! — is a magnificent bit of Beaux Arts design, with enormous gleaming metal chandeliers, marble stairs and the famous central information booth topped with a clock.

Grand Central Terminal (Manhattan)
Grand Central Terminal (Manhattan) (Photo credit: Nouhailler)

The ceiling is a stunning peacock turquoise, studded with tiny lights and painted with gold constellations.

English: The ceiling of the Grand Central Term...
English: The ceiling of the Grand Central Terminal in New York City (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This time of year, it also contains an indoor holiday market, whose vendors are carefully vetted and chosen. I look forward to it every year, and have gotten (and received) terrific, budget-friendly gifts from them.

New Yorker Chrysler Building, oberer Gebäudete...
New Yorker Chrysler Building, oberer Gebäudeteil, vom östlichen Teil der 42. Straße aus gesehen. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Walk up Madison Avenue and it still feels like the 1940s, as you pass every possible iteration of elegant male garb: Brooks Brothers, Paul Stuart, J. Press, Mens Wearhouse, Pink shirts, Alden shoes.

I love Brooks Brothers, and have been shopping there since my early 20s when I’d fly in from Toronto and stock up on their cotton shirts. It has  the prettiest ladies’ room I’ve ever seen. Paul Stuart clothing is mostly for the wealthy/creative crowd — network television producers or the heads of ad agencies, but it is spectacular, with shoes like these men’s bitter chocolate suede loafers ($625) or these wool socks, in 10 terrific colors, for $44.50.

A picture of a display in Brooks Brothers
A picture of a display in Brooks Brothers (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Those few blocks have changed dramatically, not in outward appearance, but in their inhabitants — I once worked for the magazine in what was then the Newsweek building, a venerable magazine now dead. The headquarters of Conde Nast publishing were at 350 Madison when I first met editors there; now in their own building at 4 Times Square, they will move downtown to the newly-finished Freedom Tower, (built to replace the Twin Towers destroyed on 9/11.)

This is a part of town where the powerful meet one another in their private clubs, these few blocks a tightly-knit world of wealth, power and restricted access.  Those open only to graduates of Yale, Princeton, Harvard and Cornell all lie within steps of each other.  The Harvard club spans an entire city block, north to south. Step inside its doors (if you dare!) and you’ll viscerally understand the meaning of entitlement.

But walk along West 44th. Street to marvel at the windows of the New York Yacht Club, which resemble the rear windows of a galleon.

Two landmarks face one another at 49th and Fifth Avenue — St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Saks Fifth Avenue. Saks’ shoe department even has its own zip code, and offers a dizzying array of high-priced footwear. One pair of gem-encrusted, six-inch stilettos by Louboutin were offered at $3,200. The people-watching is great, from Russian oligarchs picking up multiple bags-full to the bare-legged beauty in her leopard coat and Gucci heels.

Uptown/70th. Street

The Upper East Side is a sphere of unapologetic wealth, law firm partners who use “summer” as a verb, (on Nantucket, the Hamptons, Martha’s Vineyard or Rhode Island,) of gleaming black Escalades ferrying hedge funders south to Wall Street and their quiet blond children to private school and their size 2 mothers to yoga or a hair appointment.

The streets are quiet, clean, manicured, filled with elegant townhouses, including that of soon to be ex-mayor Michael Bloomberg, at 17 E. 79th.

My former school, The New York School of Interior Design, is on 70th. street, and Neil’s Coffee Shop, 50 years old, sits at the corner of 70th and Lex, a great place for a burger or a cup of coffee in a classic china cup.

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I loved NYSID. Classes were small, mostly female and the rigor of studying interior design seriously was sobering indeed. We had to memorize every floor, wall and furniture style from ancient Egypt to 1900 for a class called Historical Styles. (We, of course, nicknamed it Hysterical Styles, as we struggled to remember the difference between a cassone and a bergere.)

I whiled away a sunny afternoon among the one-per-centers — the woman calling Fed Ex to price the cost of overnight shipping her workout gear from San Francisco, the bright blond in a black mink shawl with a too-tightly-stretched face, the father and son carrying lacrosse sticks into their $114,000 Mercedes SUV, the weary sigh of a woman waiting a second too long for the valet to bring around her car.

I stopped into Creel & Gow, which sells quite extraordinary objects — like this diorama of a walrus.

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Love this description of the UES, from the blog, Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York:

One of the things I like about the Upper East Side is that it remains so much itself. It’s not trying to be another neighborhood and it’s not trying to be cool. It’s filled with all kinds of tacky, expensive shops, and none of them are ironic. The rich people there, walking around in full-length furs, look like New Yorkers, and not like Europeans or Midwesterners trying to look like Europeans in New York.

There are also lots and lots of ancient white ladies toddling around, complaining about life, with their hands heavy with diamonds and their eyelids painted pink. They have great faces, and you can watch them go by from the window at Neil’s.

Essex Street

This is where it all began, where wave after wave of European immigrants landed in the narrow streets and crowded tenements of the Lower East Side.

Graffiti, Lower East Side, NYC
Graffiti, Lower East Side, NYC (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today, the LES is hipsterville, dotted with places like Babycakes, which sells vegan, gluten-free cupcakes, cookies and madeleines (made beneath the original pressed-tin ceiling) or candle-lit restaurant Dudley’s, where I perched at a curved marble-topped bar and enjoyed a tart cocktail made by a handsome red-haired bar-tender from small-town Ohio. There is even a small hotel here, The Blue Moon.

But come here for one of the city’s most moving recreations of urban life, the Tenement Museum, which powerfully explains the daily experience of the immigrants who lived here at the turn of the 19th. century.

Now that the temperature here has plummeted, the connective tissue between these disparate worlds — the status-agnostic subways and buses — is filling up with the homeless, of which New York has a shocking 50,000. They sit with their cardboard signs, pleading silently or asking out loud, apologizing or not.

In the eight years that billionaire mayor Michael Bloomberg — who often weekended in the Caribbean — was in power, the number of homeless New Yorkers rose by 65 percent; 21,000 children slept in shelters in January 2013, a new and sorry record.

It has become, increasingly, a city divided.

Cubicle, bullpen, office, cafe or kitchen table — where do you work best?

By Caitlin Kelly

English: cubicle
English: cubicle (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here’s a heartfelt plea for the end of open-plan offices, from Fast Company:

Every workspace should contain nothing but offices. Offices for everyone. Offices for the junior associate and the assistant editor, and offices for the vice president and the editor-in-chief. Take those long tables, the ones currently lined with laptops at startups, and give them to an elementary school so children can eat lunch on them. We’ll have to do away with all those adorable communal spaces, but they were always a little demeaning, a little not-quite-Starbucks. We won’t need them now that we all have our own meeting place.

Peace and quiet and privacy and decency and respect for all. We people who spend more waking hours at work than we do at home, we people who worked hard to be where we are, we deserve a few square feet and a door…

Employees in cubicles receive 29% more interruptions than those in private offices, finds research from the University of California, Irvine. And employees who are interrupted frequently report 9% higher rates of exhaustion.

As someone who has worked in huge, open newsrooms with zero privacy — the New York Daily News, the Montreal Gazette — in one with cubicles, The Globe and Mail and in (yay!) several magazine jobs with a real, private office with a door that I could (and did) keep closed, this is an issue dear to my heart.

When New York’s new mayor, Bill de Blasio takes office, he’ll be re-structuring the famous bullpen created by his predecessor, Michael Bloomberg.

English: The RedBalloon office - an example of...
English: The RedBalloon office – an example of an open plan ‘Bullpen’-style office. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We all know what powerful effects our workspace can have on us, for better or worse. At best, they offer plenty of natural light, clean and attractive decor and furniture and spaces for public and private communication.

Newsrooms, sadly, are often the ugliest, dirtiest and meanest places imaginable.

I worked at the Daily News for a year. The newsroom is impossibly large — with one section of it stretching an entire city block, between 33d street and 32d street. The only daylight came from a high row of clerestory windows.

I arrived on my first day to be greeted by a computer keyboard so encrusted with food and drink I could barely stand to touch it, a broken, dirty chair and a desk drawer filled with a smelly, dirty pair of men’s sneakers.

My desk was jammed up against those of three other reporters, those on the I-team, the investigative reporters.

In the first few months, three of those reporters managed to avoid saying hello, smiling or pausing to chat with me. I once made the fatal mistake of trying to chat up one of the paper’s stars, who stared resolutely ahead and pretended I didn’t even exist. The photo editor, a legendary bully, dressed me down there at full volume, knowing a new reporter would hardly welcome everyone in earshot knowing she was in trouble.

And a reporter who sat behind me was so routinely toxic and inconsiderate of everyone sitting around him that a red-faced, irate co-worker sitting next to me once came close to punching him.

Not exactly a calm, supportive work environment.

My husband works at The New York Times, whose offices are eerily quiet. Most reporters and editors have small cubicles, with small glass-doored private conference rooms available when needed, and round tables for impromptu meetings.

English: Newsroom of the New York Times
English: Newsroom of the New York Times (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I now work alone at home in our one-bedroom apartment, typing at a desk or a table, and have done so since June 2006. We have no kids or pets, so it’s normal for me to spend the entire day not speaking to another soul — unless it’s for work. Lonely? Yes. Focused, certainly!

I often write with music in the background or NPR’s talk shows. Even during our recent kitchen renovation, having missed the demolition part, I found it easier to be home and working (available for quick consultations with the workers) than to go elsewhere. I actually enjoyed the company.

I rarely work in a public space like a cafe (noisy, crowded, the electrical outlets usually already claimed) or restaurant (if the food is good, let’s focus on it.) I occasionally head to the library for a change of scene but, after school gets out and the teens pile in and chatter loudly, I flee home for silence.

The one cool helper Jose bought me is a MiFi, a credit-card-sized personal Internet hotspot. With it, I can connect from anywhere — a moving Amtrak train, inside the car, on a park bench.

When I worked for others, I loved having an office with a door. I hate fluorescent light so I always turned it off and used a desk lamp instead. I got a lot done without interruption, as I do today.

Each workspace offers its own challenges, though. I really miss the buzz of a productive newsroom, chatting with smart, fun colleagues, learning from tough editors.

Do you better tolerate isolation or interruption?

What sort of workspace do you work (best) in?

SPEAKING OF NEWSROOMS, I HOPE YOU’LL SIGN UP FOR MY NEXT WEBINAR — LEARN TO THINK LIKE A REPORTER — 4:00 p.m. EST SUNDAY NOV. 17.

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Scheherazade 2.0

By Caitlin Kelly

She’s the legendary woman who saved her own life, night after night, by telling a story to the king who would otherwise kill her:

The king lay awake and listened with awe as Scheherazade told her first story. The night passed by, and Scheherazade stopped in the middle of the story. The king asked her to finish, but Scheherazade said there was not time, as dawn was breaking. So, the king spared her life for one day to finish the story the next night. So the next night, Scheherazade finished the story and then began a second, even more exciting tale which she again stopped halfway through at dawn. So the king again spared her life for one day to finish the second story.

And so the King kept Scheherazade alive day by day, as he eagerly anticipated the finishing of last night’s story. At the end of 1,001 nights, and 1,000 stories, Scheherazade told the king that she had no more tales to tell him. During these 1,001 nights, the king had fallen in love with Scheherazade, and had three sons with her. So, having been made a wiser and kinder man by Scheherazade and her tales, he spared her life, and made her his queen.

Anyone who hopes to earn a living as a writer — whether of books, blogs, journalism, fiction, marcom, advertising — knows the sort of daily pressure she felt.

You gotta have a fresh story!

Here’s a recent New York Times piece about Contently, a new intermediary between people who want to tell their corporate stories and the writers who might have the skill to do so. The site offers access to 27,000 (!) writers — 8,000 of whom have been deemed “pros” because of their experience. (FYI, I ‘m not a Contently user or provider.):

Three young men — Joe Coleman, Dave Goldberg and Shane Snow — started the company in 2010 after the rise and crash of so-called content farms. They believed there was room for a company that enabled high-quality stories told on behalf of commercial clients, what is now known as branded content.

Over the years, this content has had an unsavory reputation — most have been infomercials masquerading as editorial content. But the bar has been raised by companies like Red Bull, whose incredibly popular extreme sports videos almost make it seem like a media company that sells beverages on the side.

Contently, which grew out of the TechStars incubator program in New York, developed a roster of writers and journalists for hire and a software application that helps companies tell their own stories as well. Three years later, the company has raised $2.3 million in financing, developed a roster of 27,000 writers, grown to 24 employees and has 40 Fortune 500 companies among its clients. Some of its customers include American Express, Anheuser-Busch and PepsiCo.

When you walk into the Contently office in SoHo, as I did on Tuesday, you can’t help noticing the large slogan on the wall: “Those who tell the stories rule the world.”

Let’s be accurate, if pedantic.

Those with the money to pay people to tell the stories rule the world.

The actual tellers — those “content providers”, even the elite 8,000 (is that possible?) — are contemporary Scheherazades, running faster than ever before to pay their bills, to stay alive financially another day.

It's all content, baby!
It’s all content, baby!

Contently pays its writers between 50 cents a word and $1/word.

Let’s put that into context:

If you’re hired to produce 1,000 words at 50 cents a word, you’ll earn $500. At $1/word, $1,000. Few content buyers want a 10,000 word opus, no matter who you are.

So if you were able to get $1,000 worth of work every single week, (no vacation, no sick days, no holidays), you could potentially earn $52,000, year before taxes.

I suspect that competing against 7,999 others, even in the cool kids’ labor pool, would likely mitigate against a steady five-figure income.

The other dirty secret of becoming a “content provider”, (which is what all journalists are, too, really), is that a wage of 50 cents to $1/word is what top journalists were paid in the 1970s, when I started writing for a living.

I think we all know that gas, groceries, health care and most other costs of living are not what they were in 1979 or 1985 or even 1998…

Before the crash of 2008, the top magazines were offering $3/word or more — so a 3,000-word story could net you a nice $9,000; I once snagged a $6,000 check from Glamour for a 2,000-word story at that rate.

These days? Most experienced writers I know are working twice as hard for half the income, many re-inventing ourselves in every possible direction to earn additional revenue.

I spoke this week to a friend who’s been working for four years as a staff editor — these days a good long run —  at a national magazine I subscribe to and had hoped to do some freelance work for. Their parent company, Hearst, is moving the entire operation from New York City, (where most employees have a partner or spouse working as well), to a regional Southern city to save money. My friend’s wife has a terrific staff media job, one not easily re-acquired in that other city, that’s for sure.

The editor in chief has already quit. I suspect most of the staff will as well. I’ll be very curious to see what the new staff produce, while crossing my fingers for those about to lose their jobs.

Disruption, change and flux are the order of the day.

So, sit back, relax.

Let me tell you a story…

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Ten ways to blog better — (but 20 more you missed!)

By Caitlin Kelly

Broadside now has more than 8,060 readers worldwide, adding new followers daily.

Here are are 10 of the 30 tips I shared yesterday with the students in my webinar, “Better Blogging.” I hope you’ll sign up for the next one. I also do individual coaching; if you’re interested in learning more, please email me at learntowritebetter@gmail.com.

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Please use photos, videos, drawings — visuals!

I wish more bloggers consistently added quality visual content to their posts. Often, a well-chosen, quirky or beautiful image will pull in a curious reader more quickly than your very best words.

Every magazine or newspaper, and the best blogs and websites, uses illustrations, maps, graphs and photos — chosen carefully after much internal debate by skilled graphics and design and photo editors and art directors, each working hard every single day to lure us in. A sea of words is both daunting and dull. Seduce your readers, as they do.

Think like an editor

When you write for an editor, (as every journalist and author does), your ideas, and how you plan to express them, have to pass muster with someone else, often several. Their job is to ask you why you think this story is worth doing, and why now. (Just because you feel like hitting “publish” doesn’t mean you should.)

Who is this post — and your blog — written for? Have you made your points clearly?

Would your next post get past a smart editor or two?

Your readers are busy, easily bored and quickly distracted

All readers resemble very small tired children — they have short attention spans and wander off within seconds. Grab them fast! Keep them reading to the very end using “golden coins”. (Tip No. 30!)

Woo me with a fab headline

Magazine editors sweat over coverlines, the teasing short sentences they choose to put on their magazine covers, hoping to make you buy their edition over that of their competitors. Newspaper editors know they need powerful, succinct or amusing headlines to catch our eye and pull us into a story.

Have you ever studied some of the best heads? “Headless body found in topless bar” is a classic. This is an excellent headline as it immediately made me read the post — it’s bossy, very specific and focused on a place I know well. Sold!

Here’s a link to how to write great heads —  and another.

Break your posts into many paragraphs, and keep them short

Don’t force readers to confront a huge unbroken block of copy! It’s lazy and editorially rude. They’ll just click away, irritated. (I see this on too many blogs.)

Post more frequently

A blog that only pops up every few months is the sign of someone who just isn’t that into blogging. Yes, it’s a lot of work. Yes, it takes time. Once you’ve found an audience, your readers want to read more of what you have to say! Don’t disappoint them.

Or less

Some bloggers, giddy with the delicious freedom of being able to hit “publish” after every thought flitting through their head, post constantly. Do your readers really have that much time or interest?

We’re not writing for ourselves, but our readers’ pleasure.

Your readers probably don’t live nearby, and may not get your points of reference

While you assume we know the cafe/restaurant/politician/streets you’re referring to, we probably don’t. Remember that your readers — and potential new followers — are coming to you from all over the world. Which is incredibly cool! But consider  including links or a helpful brief explanation so we feel included, not shut out by our (natural) ignorance of what’s super-familiar to you.

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)

Edit, copy-edit and proofread

Lightning — not lightening.

Palate — not pallet.

Spell-check will leave plenty of terrible errors in your posts. Read each one over carefully at least three times before hitting “publish.”

Introduce yourself

Is your “about” page still empty? Why?

In a world jammed with competing voices, why should readers choose to listen to yours?

Who are you? Where do you live? Have you any specific experience or credentials that add authority to your posts?

The best “about” pages include an attractive photo of you, some fun facts and a few paragraphs that give us a taste of your voice and point of view. It’s your very own editor’s page or movie trailer, and ideally makes us eager to dive into your archives.

I love the one here, at key and arrow, written by a young couple in Austin, Texas — it’s quirky, charming and informative. (Their logo and header are also terrific.)

PLEASE SIGN UP FOR THE NEXT WEBINAR — LEARN TO THINK LIKE A REPORTER — 4:00 p.m. SUNDAY NOV. 17 AT 4:00 P.M. EST.

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A NYC Saturday: Muscadet, an Irish play, a ship in the bay

By Caitlin Kelly

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Love those almond ears!

Perfect Saturday afternoon…

Lunch at La Bergamote, on West 52d: crepes, salad, a glass of my favorite white wine, a shared pastry for dessert.

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Then we walked around the corner to see a play, “Maeve’s House”, a 90-minute one-man monologue about an Irish writer, Maeve Brennan, once known for decades for her work in The New Yorker.

Yet she died, after a decade of poverty and ill health, in 1993. So much for the writers’ glory we all strive so hard to attain.

The theater at the Irish Arts Center, at the western edge of Manhattan, is small and intimate, the barman wearing a shawl-collared Aran sweater and a linen shirt, his black hair pulled high into a small topknot. My last name is Kelly and my great-grandfather was a schoolteacher in the small town of Rathmullan, Co. Donegal. I rarely seek or claim my roots, but it was lovely, in Manhattan, to hear that lilt all around us.

The stage was set with only a wooden bench, divided like those in the subway, and another seat. The only backdrop was a tall painting that looked like city towers — but was made up of words, written vertically. Perfect.

The actor, Eamon Morrissey, is 70, and his focus and stamina were amazing.

As we walked to the car, at 3:45 p.m., we heard a loud horn sounded five times — from the Carnival Splendour, the massive cruise ship at anchor in the Hudson, literally at the end of a midtown city block. Imagine what it’s like to glide out of the harbor, past the Statue of Liberty, at sunset I’ve yet to take a cruise but I love seeing these behemoths docked.

As we drove home, north up the West Side Highway, kids were out playing soccer, handball, basketball, skateboarding. Cyclists and joggers braved the chilly November air. The trees are still wearing their fall colors of crimson, orange, russet and brilliant yellow.

In the middle of the river, a tiny black and white tugboat — six stories high — looked like a wedding cake, or perhaps a Chinese pagoda, its nose tucked into the back of an enormous barge.

Saturday in New York City…

Crash, burn, recover

By Caitlin Kelly

When was the last time you failed?

The sort of shit-storm tempting you back into bed for a week, whimpering?

Crash
Crash (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some recent challenges include:

— An editor killed my story — which cost me $2,200 in budgeted-for and relied-upon income.

One of the dirty secrets of journalism is that, no matter your skills level, some of your stories get “killed” — i.e. they are commissioned, a contract signed, a fee and deadline agreed upon and the editor can simply flap his or her hand and decide “it doesn’t work.” You don’t get to stiff the airline of its fee if the plane is dirty, crowded or late. You don’t get to pay your plumber, dentist or barber a fraction of their fee because…you feel like it. It’s almost always a surprise and it’s expensive and very few of us can just re-fill a four or five-figure income hole in a flash.

— My book proposal didn’t sell

My agent was upbeat and excited. They always are, at the start. But after the rejections piled up, it became clear to both of us this was a no-go. Editors who loved it, and there were a few, couldn’t sell it to the rest of their staff. I spent a year gathering the information and sources for it, and months writing and polishing it. Tant pis, mes chers, tant pis.

— Another editor decided to turn a 2,000-word story with five sources into…captions

That’s a really crappy first in my career. They’re going to pay the original fee, but there’s another piece to that story — having to explain to my patient and helpful sources I interviewed back in August that all the time they spent being interviewed by me is basically wasted. I was so gobsmacked I didn’t argue the point with the editor. Preserving that relationship has meant sucking up a lot of frustration.

— We got whacked with a surprise income tax bill, a big one

We married in September 2011 and my new husband changed the witholding of his income. To…not enough. Holy shit. Add that pile of debt to the kitchen over-run.

— Journalism’s fees remain stubbornly low, stagnant or falling

Everywhere in journalism today, writing has really become just one more commodity, like gas or orange juice. Cheapest wins. I have to fight harder with every single editor on every assignment for a decent contract and higher fees. I hate feeling embattled. It doesn’t build great client relationships, but feeling taken advantage of doesn’t work either. My costs are rising almost every month, but my income will only rise as much as I position myself and argue effectively for my value.

On the plus side of the ledger:

— My individual coaching and webinars have found favor

This is a new venture and one I’m enjoying. When I lost that $2,200 overnight, I vowed to make it up through my own efforts. The hell with snotty editors. I’ve almost done so, thanks to the enthusiasm of students in Chicago, Connecticut, Brooklyn, upstate New York, New Zealand, Australia, Virginia and San Francisco. Thank you! I’ve missed teaching and the pleasure of helping others. One student told me she was having “aha!” moments. I hope you’ll sign up, too!

– I made a contact with a Very Big Magazine’s top editor, one I’ve wanted to write for for a decade

Some magazines feel like Everest, even to someone with a lot of great experience. They’re career-changers. They pay a lot of money. At a recent lunch with someone I met at a party, I discovered she’s related to a top editor there and I was bold enough to ask for an introduction and she made it.

— Reaching out to new clients in PR has shown me there’s some significant enthusiasm out there for my skills

Of the first three local agencies I contacted, two showed immediate interest.

— I’m trying out new ideas and new markets

Next week, I’m meeting with a younger writer who’s broken into corporate writing and making boatloads of cash from it. It’s an interesting lesson in networking with people much younger, as we’re all working in slightly different says, some more lucrative and less visible, some more prestigious but poorly-paid.

— My agent likes my new book idea

Book ideas are difficult. You have to be able to create a narrative arc with 80,000+ words and be able to persuade a publisher to pony up an advance you can actually live on. But from the embers of the still-cooling rejected proposal came this more focused, more positive iteration of one of the ideas in it. Now I have to go…sigh…write another proposal.

People love to think that writing is a cool, fun easy way to make money. You stay home in your PJs, crank out some copy, then head off to Bali for a few months.

I wish!

The reality is a constant hustle and scramble: for new clients, new markets, negotiating better pay and treatment, finding and wrangling sources for your stories…

Crashing is nasty, (and inevitable.)

But there’s no time to sit and snuffle.

Bills, baby, bills!

Why bother with college?

By Caitlin Kelly

Academic
Academic (Photo credit: tim ellis)

Why stay in college?

Why go to night school?

Gonna be different this time…

— Life During Wartime, Talking Heads

It’s been an interesting exchange here this week. Said one commenter:

The questions to ask aren’t why are you applying for a job with me when you didn’t go to/finish college, ( under the assumption ( as you put it ) that they never had any desire ) but why didn’t you, and why do
you you believe you can do this job without the degree?

It’s all perception based. Your perception ( likely based on experience ) is that one without a degree can’t process high volume data or intake complex scenarios and send them back out in some semblance of order. But it’s a flawed one, just as the pay grade issue is. But it is what you’ve come to expect. Just as people without degrees have come to expect to take low paying jobs.

It’s the system as it stands.

So…let’s discuss.

If you — as many Broadside readers are — are a current college student, graduate or undergraduate, or someone teaching them — what’s up with that? Why did you  choose to attend college? Not this or that one.

Govt. Rizvia Islamia Degree College, Haroonabad
Govt. Rizvia Islamia Degree College, Haroonabad (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Any one at all.

I attended the University of Toronto, Canada’s most competitive and highest-ranked. I needed good grades to get in and I had to produce at a high level to keep my grades high enough to stay. It was not a place to dick around, skip class, show up hungover or say stupid things in front of smart, ambitious peers.

I liked that. I wanted to be honed and sharpened. It never occurred to me (lack of imagination?) not to attend a competitive and demanding university.

Maybe because no one in my family had a college degree.

Not my mother, who worked as a national magazine journalist and television talk-show host and film-maker. Not my father, an award-winning film-maker, nor my stepmother who made a very good living writing for television. Several — long loud laugh! — have vastly out-earned me, with my fancy schmancy B.A in English.

Do I regret my four years on campus? No.

Did they prepare me for a career in journalism? Not really.

I’ve written about young, smart people who leave college — the Thiel fellows. I’m fully aware that the U.S. has an atrociously low rate of graduation from college, with one-third of students dropping out without graduating.

I’ve hired a number of assistants over the years and their education matters, but not as much as their work ethic and ability to pick up and use complicated information quickly.

Here’s a 24-page policy paper by Anya Kamenetz, of the policy group Third Way, with her proposal for a $10,000/year college degree.

Clearly, there are many professions that will simply never credential anyone without a college degree, let alone specialized study: engineers, accountants, physicians, dentists, nurses, architects and lawyers among them.

English: Taken from a scan of a degree awarded...
English: Taken from a scan of a degree awarded by the college. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But all those young ‘uns finding themselves — at an annual cost of $15,00 to $50,000 a year for an American college degree? Would their time be better spent elsewhere?

Doing what?

For how long?

For some, a vocation — carpentry, HVAC, hairdressing, animal care — is the better choice, for a variety of reasons.

I don’t care what someone does to prepare for employment as long as they can clearly and persusasively explain their choice.

If you have hiring authority, and an applicant has no college education at all — and no desire to acquire one — would you interview them?

Would their decision affect how you view them as a potential employee?

LAST CHANCE TO SIGN UP FOR ‘BETTER BLOGGING’, MY WEBINAR SUNDAY NOV. 10 AT 4:00 P.M. ET; REGISTRATION CLOSES 4:00 NOV. 8. SIGN UP HERE.

The endless fight for a living wage: is $15/hour really too much?

By Caitlin Kelly

The federal U.S. minimum wage remains $7.25. Five states have no set legal minimum at all; six pay more than $8.00/hour.

(The minimum wage in Australia is already $15.00.)

In an era of almost $4/gallon gasoline and rising costs for food, health care and other necessities, the fight to win a living wage continues.

Official seal of SeaTac, Washington
Official seal of SeaTac, Washington (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The city of SeaTac, in Washington State, is fighting this battle today.

From bbc.co.uk:

Supporters of Proposition 1 say $15 an hour is a “living wage”.

Detractors say that it would see businesses close and lay off some of
the 6,300 workers who would be impacted by the raise.

SeaTac covers just 10 sq miles (26 sq km) and has a population of just 30,000, with only 12,000 registered voters.

But what everyone agrees on is that tiny SeaTac has suddenly become a battleground for one of the biggest issues confronting the US economy – income inequality, or the widening gap between the rich andpoor, which has risen to its highest level since 1917.

“Coming out of the recession, we’ve seen job growth come out of the low-wage service sector,” says Prof Ken Jacobs, head of the University of California-Berkeley Labor Center.

The battle is pitched — desperate workers struggling to make ends meet against employers who insist they cannot possibly pay more.

Or that workers simply offer little to no skills, certainly none they value at that price.

The state of New Jersey — with 50,000 workers employed at minimum wage — will raise its lowest legal wage January 1 to $8.25/hour.

Like every argument, this one contains a blend of truth and perception, of assumption and received wisdom.

One of the issues is really thinking harder about what constitutes a “skill.”

Here are my thoughts, quoted recently in U.S. News and World Report, about what it’s like to work retail.

I worked a low-wage job from September 2007 to December 18, 2009 when the economy fell off a cliff and I desperately needed additional income. I sold costly outdoor clothing and accessories for The North Face, in an upscale suburban mall in New York, a 10-minute drive from my home. I earned $11/hour with no commission, few bonuses and a 30-cent raise in that time.

I typically sold $150+ worth of merchandise every hour; my best day ever, I sold more than $500 worth per hour.

And the company’s “reward” for selling $25,000 worth of its merchandise, virtually all of it sourced from low-wage factories in Peru, China and elsewhere? A gift card for the same merchandise worth $25.

You can exhort your workers and plaster mission statements to your walls, issue edicts, wave your hands…It’s tough for any worker to get excited — or “engaged” as the workplace gurus like to call it — when you’re toiling for pennies and earning significant profits for the person who relies on your labor.

Let alone a major multi-national corporation whose top executives now stagger home bent double with the bags of cash they’re netting — now typically 354 times the wage of their average worker.

When you can’t even pay your bills, no matter how hard you work, work loses much of its meaning.

And all of its dignity.

In January 2009, our store manager cut all our hours. I was only working one seven-hour shift, then cut to five hours, one of which paid for the cost of parking at the mall. We were told “the company can’t afford more.”

That month The Wall Street Journal reported that the parent company of The North Face was sitting on millions in cash — money it used in 2011 to purchase a competitor, Timberland for $2 billion.

The assumption being that no one working a low-wage job would notice this odd and striking definition of “can’t afford.”

I did, and wrote about this in my book about my time there, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail”, which was published in China in July 2013.

malled cover HIGH

I do realize what happens when you pay workers poorly — they quit! I’ve been hiring part-time assistants for more than 15 years, when I paid a college undergrad $12/hour for her skills. Jess was amazing: smart, funny, a quick learner and a ferocious work ethic.

That was a lot of money then, and for some workers, it still is. I’d have simply felt embarrassed offering her less; I recently heard from an undergrad at a prestigious American university that a professor offered them $7.25/hour, which I find appalling and abusive.

When I pay $10/hour I can find smart and talented people  — but only for a few weeks, a month or so at most. They leave quickly, as they must, to make more elsewhere. At $15/hour I was able to keep the skills of someone else this year for more than eight months.

Hoping to replace her, (as she now seeks a full-time job), I recently interviewed someone who came highly recommended…and who wants $25/hour.

That’s my breaking point. So, for now, I am mostly assistant-less, and feeling that loss in my reduced productivity.

The pricing of our labor is a delicate dance. But tight-fisted employers who insist that low-wage workers have “no skills” are lying to themselves and to their weary workers.

They’re also short-changing their customers, who need, expect and deserve good service for their hard-earned dollars.

Here are some of the skills we used in our retail work:

— Maintaining a sense of humor (let alone having one to start with!)

— Listening carefully and for long periods of time to customers to discern their needs

— Speaking to customers in whatever style/tone/speed (even foreign language) best suited them

— Learning and memorizing a wide array of product knowledge: size/price/technical specs

— Lifting, carrying, stacking, folding and hanging goods

— Cleaning and tidying the entire store, top to bottom

— Ringing up purchases

— Watching the sales floor to deter shoplifting

No skill?

Snort.

Try calming a shrieking one-per-center threatening to “call corporate” if you fail to meet her demands.

Try helping a mentally disabled teen sort through all his jacket options to find something he loves that fits

Try explaining to a Saudi prince’s servant which down jacket will keep the princeling warm in his first New York winter.

walmart beijing
walmart beijing (Photo credit: galaygobi)

When Walmart employees suck up taxpayers’ money in food stamps ad Medicaid because their cannot earn a living wage...we’ve got a problem.

A 2004 study by UC Berkeley’s Institute for Industrial Relations found that, in California, the average Walmart employee required over $500 more in total public assistance than workers from comparable large retailers. Families of Walmart workers required 40% more health care assistance and 38% more in other kinds of public assistance (like food stamps, subsidized housing, and school lunches) than comparable families of large retail workers.

In addition, a 2006 report by the Philadelphia Inquirer found that Walmart had the highest percentage of employees enrolled in Medicaid in the state; one in every six of Walmart’s 48,000 Pennsylvania employees was enrolled. Finally, in January of 2012, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services found that Walmart employees and families were the top recipients of Medicaid, food stamps, and cash assistance in the state.

The American worker is being subjected to a fierce game of chicken — who will blink first? Who will cave most quickly to imperial corporate demands, like these, made to the mayor of a small, economically-strapped town in Idaho:

Another economic rescue with Hoku’s glamour and promise is not on the horizon. Mr. Blad, in an interview in his office, said a big employer had recently expressed interest in coming here, bringing perhaps 1,000 jobs. But the company, which he declined to name — a warehouse distributor that does most of its sales over the Internet — has said it would offer $10 an hour, only a few dollars above the minimum wage.

The company even had the audacity to ask for financial incentives, which the city has politely declined. “We would welcome them, and we would value them,” Mr. Blad said. “But I can’t justify taxpayer dollars for a $10-an-hour job.”

What say you?

Are you working for (or paying) minimum or low wages?

If you’re earning so little, do you have an exit strategy?

Want to start producing creatively? Lose the safety net

By Caitlin Kelly

“I was obliged to be industrious. Whoever is equally industrious will succeed equally well.”

— Johann Sebastian Bach (h/t Small Dog Syndrome)

English: Young Johann Sebastian Bach. 1715. Te...
English: Young Johann Sebastian Bach. 1715. Teri Noel Towe seems to demonstrate that the portrait is probably not of Bach http://www.npj.com/thefaceofbach/09w624.html. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

How badly do you really want to be a writer/composer/dancer/artist?

How much are you willing to give up attain that goal?

Sometimes having the choice to not create — i.e. a regular, reliable, steady income — means endlessly postponing the frightening leap into the void, of actually producing work you try to bring to market, to finding an audience, discovering that people are eager for your work — or not.

I started writing for a living when I was at the end of my sophomore year in college, as a full-time undergraduate at the University of Toronto. My parents were off traveling the world, long before the Internet, cellphones or Skype made regular contact easy and affordable. Neither gave me a penny.

I was on my own, living in a small studio apartment in a not-great neighborhood, all I could afford on my monthly income of $350, money inherited from a grandmother.

That was all the money I had available. My rent was $160/month. Then there was food, phone, answering service, clothes…and oh, yeah, tuition and books; $4,200 a year isn’t much money to live on in a major city, even a few decades ago.

So I freelanced, a lot. I missed classes, (and my grades certainly showed it), to chase down paying assignments, both as a photographer and writer. I had a photograph published in Time at the age of 19.  I wrote for the country’s biggest magazines and, surprisingly perhaps, am still in touch with my very first editor who assigned me work when she was editor of Miss Chatelaine, now called Flare.

I had a weekly shopping column in The Globe and Mail, Canada’s national newspaper, in my junior year, paying me $125 a week, a fortune at the time.

But all this blazing ambition, fueled by real financial need, also carried costs, losses I will never be able to recoup.

I barely remember the people I attended college with as I spent much of my time in phone booths (remember those?) contacting editors to line up work or fight for (more) payment. I didn’t drink or party or pledge to a sorority or disappear on spring break to exotic locations. I was too busy working my ass off.

And so I went to the chair of the English department to suggest that, since I was already selling my writing to national publications, I receive class credit for it — given the choice between writing another paper on 16th century drama or paying my bills for another month or two, there was little choice for me.

The reaction was scathing and dismissive, one reason I’ve yet to darken the door of another university.

A highly effective way to make sure you’re actually producing — and not just talking about it all the time — is to actually rely on the income from your work.

I do realize this is impossible for many people — with children to support, and/or a partner; who, as Americans, simply cannot afford market-rate health insurance or have crushing amounts of student debt as well.

But if you never have to test the market, what will finally impel you?

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