The allure — and falsity — of Instagram

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all images: Caitlin Kelly

 

By Caitlin Kelly

Are you a big Instagram user?

I only started posting — usually three to four images a day — about a month or so ago. My long-term goal, possibly, is to sell my images to interior designers and stagers, people who furnish and decorate homes for sale. I began my career as a shooter, and have sold my work to The New York Times, Time and the Washington Post,  so we’ll see.

 

My work: @caitlinkellynyc.

 

I’m enjoying it for a few reasons, which are very different from my frequent use of Twitter and (sigh) Facebook, whose behavior has proven so deceptive and appalling it’s difficult to use it now in any good conscience.

 

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What I like about Instagram:

 

Non-political. It’s not filled with people ranting endlessly, let alone arguing with others, about their specific causes.

Global. I’ve been stunned (and delighted) by literally instant responses to my images, from a 13-year-old fellow baker in Britain to an auto body shop in Brazil to an Istanbul photographer.

— Not just photos, but photos of some of my favorite passions: pilots and their airplanes (especially women!), vintage clothing, jewelry and flowers.

Creative inspiration. Photos of places I long to visit; interior design; terrific art and ceramics, like the guy from Australia who hand-painted exquisite blue-on-white tall vases. I found a young British art student, Kat Thomas, (katt_artt)  whose work is spectacular.

— Playful connection. I snapped a pair of studded black leather boots on a red carpet at the Met Opera in Manhattan, then spotted an almost identical image, by an Italian man, of his cool studded black boots on a red carpet. I suggested he check out my picture, and he did. Silly? But fun!

It’s sharpened my own gaze. Thanks to the camera in my cellphone, an IPhone 7, I’m forever seeing, appreciating and capturing beauty around me, night or day, rain or shine. On a recent foggy, rainy morning I hastened to get out to our local reservoir to snap some images. I’m so glad I did because by afternoon, skies were clear and the mood was gone.

 

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What I dislike:

Selfies. Just stop. Seriously. I don’t get why people keep posting image after image after image of themselves! When someone follows me, and I see nothing but selfies, I’ll never follow back.

Endless self-promotion. Yes, Insta is a great place to promote your product or brand. But enough!

Too much photo manipulation. I’m old school! I began my career shooting film, so when I see images that have been heavily manipulated and filtered, I often flip away fast.

Too much lifestyle content, posed and perfect. Many of the most popular sites are perfectly posed and lit, whether of people carousing (usually white, thin, young people) in trendy/cool places or of food or tourist-y moments. Insta is a place for people to escape into fantasy, but it’s also feeding some tremendous envy and resentment.

Why can’t I ditch my messy life today and live on a Greek island, too?

 

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Do you use and enjoy Instagram?

 

A week in the writer’s life #MissingAZero!

By Caitlin Kelly

 

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What a week, kids!

Here’s some of it:

Negotiated with three different teams of PR people to set up a phone interview with (shriek!) shoe designer Manolo Blahnik. They shift the time of the interview, meaning I have to suddenly shift three competing events in my day to accommodate. This is all very normal in the world of celebrity PR, which is why I generally avoid it. (They called me from London and he was so nice! What a thrill!)

Pitched a new-to-me editor on a story that would require, ideally, a trip to a distant and remote Canadian destination. It’s a great story, but so few outlets have the budget for travel now, (let alone pay enough or offer enough space for a longer piece), and the ones that do are focused on luxury and high-net-worth readers — which attract lucrative ads from companies like Gucci and Vuitton. One reason there are so very few stories about the poor and struggling — you can’t sell ads against those pieces.

Pitched another new-to-me editor whose ideas are quite different from mine. “We’re getting closer,” she said. Not sure how much more energy I want to pour into a speculative project.

Checked the pay rate from The Independent, a British newspaper, when an editor called out online for op-eds. $150. #MissingAZero! Our health insurance costs $1,400 a month.

 

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So much wasted time!

 

Asked three fellow journalists, two good friends, one an acquaintance, to participate in a book project. I anticipated their eagerness to help, and instead was met with resentment by one and silence by another and reluctant agreement by a third. Disheartening.

Invested half an hour interviewing a guy whose social justice work might make a great story — if I can find someone to buy it. Asked him where he attended university, (since successful alumni profiles are often an easy sell.)

The editor of his college alumni magazine says, yeah, we use freelancers — and offered $250 for a story.

The editor of a story I submitted more than three weeks ago, (who I had to email three times to follow up), asked me to hold it for another few weeks for a timelier story to run first. The only acceptable answer? “Sure” — which means another month before I get paid. I only get paid after it’s used.

 

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Back to Montreal!

 

I set up a meeting for early May near Montreal to interview a farmer, my second such assignment for a farming magazine. Glamour! In fact, it’s a lot of fun and I’m delighted to get outdoors, work face to face, and get a paid trip back to Canada.

I taught my final two writing classes, of four nightly classes, of this semester at the New York School of Interior Design, where I studied in the ’90s. The class only had four students enrolled and one never even showed up. Another skipped the last class and didn’t do the work. I found this depressing. The one diligent student, luckily, was terrific. She worked really hard and is a lovely writer. But seriously?

Honored to be included with other women journalists, and called both smart and generous in this piece, which ran on a very high profile site in our industry, Poynter.com, on how to survive tough times in journalism.

Read this deeply depressing article on Columbia Journalism Review, about how frequently editors simply “kill” stories — and pay a fraction of the agreed-upon fee when they do. This deeply cuts the income a freelance writer relies on, and is a practice I know of in no other business.

In my 30-year career, I’ve had very few stories killed, (thank heaven) but it hurts. The last one, January 2015, cost me $900 in lost income. What we often end up doing, (angrily and quietly), is taking a financial hit to retain the working relationship. The editor keeps collecting their salary while we scramble to replace income we expected to earn — that we’re not going to receive.

From the CJR piece:

My ultimate hope, as a person from a family with deep roots in organized labor, is that one day freelance writing will be sold through a kind of union hiring hall, similar to that utilized by unions in the building trades. But that goal will entail a lot of self-help: holding other writers, particularly academics writing solely to burnish their “brands,” accountable for writing for exposure; sharing information about pay rates and editorial practices; and ensuring that all commissioned stories, however small the offered rate, come with contracts that specify detailed procedures about kill fees.

The sad truth of my business is that few work well with others, sometimes instead cutting their own very best deal — and the hell with everyone else. I rely on wide, deep networks of people to be honest with me about what they’re getting paid, or not. Only then can you discover (to your horror) how badly you might be getting screwed — and how much better you need to negotiate.

Coached a fellow writer by phone, my happiest and easiest income of the week, $225 for an hour of my advice. (Interested? Details here!)

 

The best part?

 

Took a hooky day! I visited one of my favorite museums in New York City, the Neue Galerie, a gorgeous Beaux Arts mansion on East 86th. Street bought by Ronald Lauder, (he of the Estée Lauder cosmetics fortune.) It contains, among many other items, a legendary  portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, painted in 1907 by Gustav Klimt, for which Lauder — in 2006 — paid a staggering $135 million. I went to see a powerful show of German and Austrian art before and after the rise of Hitler.

The show ends May 28; if you can get to it, go!

Having recently watched the TV series Babylon Berlin, which I blogged about here, I’m a tad obsessed with the Weimar Republic and want to learn more about it.  Treated myself to a cake and coffee in the museum’s popular and elegant Cafe Sabarsky, one of the prettiest rooms in New York. Bought three books on the Weimar period — ready for the next two weeks’ break, visiting friends and family in Ontario.

 

 

How far to “open the kimono”?

By Caitlin Kelly

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We’ve all got hidden nooks and crannies…

 

I just finished reading a new memoir, The Skin Above My Knee, by a woman I met through a local writers’ group, Marcia Butler. She was, for years, a skilled professional oboist and her candid and powerful memoir describes in detail both coping with her difficult family and her highly successful musical career.

She also reveals that both her parents are now dead, so discussing their behavior, abusive and deeply rejecting, could have no immediate consequences.

In journalism, we call disclosure “opening the kimono” and, especially when writing personal essays, it’s a challenging decision to know what to say and what to withhold from public, permanent view.

Now that everything can be quickly and widely shared online — and snarled at by trolls — it’s even more daunting to decide how much to tell millions of strangers about yourself, sharing things you might never have told anyone before, not even a best friend or therapist.

Our stories can resonate deeply, informing and educating (and amusing) others. While reading Marcia’s book, there were several moments when I had experienced the exact same thing at exactly the same age. That was a bit spooky!

I’ve had a life filled with fun adventures — meeting Queen Elizabeth aboard her yacht Brittania, visiting a 500-member Arctic village, traveling eight days across Europe with a French truck driver, performing at Lincoln Center in Sleeping Beauty as an extra.

But, of course, I’ve also had many moments of fear and panic — dating a con man who had done jail time in another state, a quick and ugly divorce from my first husband, bullying at the hands of several bosses. Without the dark(er) bits, it’s all saccharine sunshine.

I too, come from a difficult family and have had many years of estrangement from both parents and a step-sibling.

So, which stories to include, and which to delete?

Which to highlight in detail and which are just…too much?

I recently had lunch with two women, highly accomplished journalists with awards and tremendous track records of professional achievement. One, a good friend who has known me for 13 years, is urging me to write a memoir, and I’m considering it.

But both women freely admitted that they would not. They’d each be too uncomfortable revealing the woman beneath the professional veneer, however truthful that exterior is.

Once something is out there for public consumption, you can’t control how readers will react, whether with compassion and admiration or scorn and derision.

I read a few blogs where the writers share much more intimate detail about their lives.

Not sure this is where I want to go next.

 

How much do you share in your public writing, like books, articles and blogs?

 

Have you ever regretted over-sharing?

 

What happened?

10 ways to be a great friend

By Caitlin Kelly

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Spend time with them — face to face!

 

Friendship is one of life’s greatest pleasures. It’s also, as we get older and leave behind the built-in possibilities of making friends in high school, university or graduate school, sometimes much harder to grow and sustain.

People become consumed by work, family obligations, long commutes. They move away and change jobs or careers, weakening easy access and shared interests.

But it’s also been medically proven that having a strong network of people who truly care about you improves our health and longevity.

 

1) Listen

Sometimes all we really need is a safe place to vent our feelings — whether joyful or angry. It takes time and energy to really pay close and undivided attention, but it’s the greatest gift we can offer.

 

 

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2) Show up in person

Because so much of our lives now are lived on-screen and only through texts and emails, some people think that’s plenty.

It’s not.

People really need us to be there with them in person, for a hug, a smile, a hand to hold. I skipped a friend’s pricey Jamaica destination wedding but went with her for chemo and the day she had her eggs extracted in case they were damaged by her cancer treatment. (She had traveled 40 minutes by train to my town, and trudged up a steep hill in a blizzard at 6:00 a.m. to accompany me to surgery.)

Weddings and parties are fun and easy — hospital bedsides, wakes and funerals less so. Go for the hard times too.

 

3) Call

Some people hate and avoid using the telephone. But texts and emojis are useless when someone needs to be heard. We miss a lot if our only communication is through a screen.

 

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4) Send flowers

I know you mustn’t send flowers to a Jewish funeral. Other cultures have issues with the number, type or color of a bouquet. But, if they’re culturally and religiously appropriate, they can be a welcome and cheerful addition to someone’s desk or bedside.

5) Mail a card or letter

On paper, with a stamp. Twenty years from now no one will lovingly cherish an email as much as a beautiful card or a long, chatty letter.

6) Stay in touch

It’s so easy to be “too busy” and, if you’re parenting multiple small children and/or care-giving and/or working, yes. But it’s really not a heavy lift (especially with Skype or FaceTime) to check in with people you care for, even every few weeks or months.

 

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We love to have dinner on our balcony, a pleasure we eagerly await all year long

7) Entertain

I know some people hate to entertain, and come up with every possible excuse not to do it. You can always do a potluck or order in, but gathering a group of friends is a great way to make introductions, expanding your circle and theirs. I often hear stories in a group that I’d never heard before one-on-one.

 

8) Reciprocate

This is a biggie for me, and has ended some of my friendships. If your friend(s) are always the first to extend an invitation and you never reciprocate, what’s up with that? A strong friendship is a two-way street.

 

9) Remember their special occasions

Birthdays and anniversaries are obvious, but we’ve all got others.

Only one friend (and it meant a great deal to me) sent a hand-made condolence card when my dog died. It might be your friend’s wedding anniversary or the anniversary of the death of someone they loved dearly and dread facing every year. Let them know you know and are thinking of them that day.

And if you know someone who’s about to become a published author, find out their publication date — it’s a very big deal and one they’ll remember forever.

 

10) Be honest

One of my oldest friends said a few difficult words to me recently. I didn’t enjoy hearing them, but we both knew she was right. She said them lovingly, not in anger, and I appreciated that.

Honesty is crucial to any friendship worth keeping. If all you do is tippytoe around someone’s sore spots or are too scared to confront a pattern that’s destroying your love or respect for them, how intimate is the relationship? Why are you hanging onto it? The deepest friendships can not only withstand loving candor, they rely on it.

What are some other ways to show that we care?

Desperate, furious, American teachers walk out

By Caitlin Kelly

 

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Watch this 3 minute CNN video and marvel at the travesty of American “education.”

In it, teachers in Oklahoma — with master’s degrees and 20 years’ experience — mow lawns, wait tables, cater weddings and drive for Uber to make ends meet.

One needs to use a food bank to eat.

If you’ve been following American news lately, you’ve seen reports of teachers in West Virginia and Oklahoma fighting for higher pay and better conditions in which to teach — like textbooks that aren’t 20 years old and literally falling apart.

From CNN:

Education funding has dropped by 28% over the past decade, the state teachers’ union said. Oklahoma is among the bottom three states in terms of teachers’ salaries.
Last week, Gov. Mary Fallin signed a bill that gives an average of $6,100 raises for teachers, $1,250 raises for support staff, and adds $50 million in education funding.
From The Atlantic:

Thousands of teachers returned to the picket lines on Tuesday in their effort to secure more education funding from state legislators, forcing the cancellation of classes for public-school students in Oklahoma City and Tulsa. The picketing marked the continuation of a strike that kicked off on Monday, when tens of thousands of educators in about a third of Oklahoma’s school districts walked out, affecting 300,000 of the state’s 500,000 students.

The Oklahoma legislature last week passed a bill raising teacher salaries by $6,000 on average and restoring education funding by $50 million, but educators say it’s not enough given the cuts they’ve contended with in recent years. They are asking for $10,000 more per teacher over the next several years and $200 million in restored education funding. The legislature had been cutting education spending for years, with the amount of per-student funding dropping by nearly 30 percent (when adjusted for inflation) over the past decade, according to the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Oklahoma leads the nation in inflation-adjusted cuts to education funding since the 2008 recession.

The great American myth is that the nation cares deeply about “family values” — and the American dream is centered on the belief that each generation will do better economically than the one before.
From Business Insider:

“One of the most notable changes in the US economy in recent decades has been the rise in inequality. A key inflection point in inequality appears to be around 1980. It was during the early 1980s that there was a pronounced increase in the 90-10 income gap and a sharp rise in the income share of the 1%.

“With the advent of a more unequal society, concerns about a possible decline in inequality of opportunity have risen to the forefront of policy discussion in the US. To better understand inequality of opportunity, economists and other social scientists have increasingly focused attention on studies of intergenerational mobility. These studies typically estimate the strength of the association between parent income and the income of their offspring as adults.”

In other words, it’s not so much inequality of outcomes that bothers Americans, but inequality of opportunity. And that, unfortunately, appears to still be rising.

Not possible when teachers can’t even earn a living and students sit in dark, dirty classrooms with broken desks and chairs.
The Republican governments of “red” states where teachers are walking out in protest believe in cutting taxes to the bone — while offering generous perks to employers and corporations.
I don’t have children or young relatives in the American school system, but my blood boils at the inequity of this.
On a radio call-in show this week, one New Jersey teacher — annoyed she had lost $12,000 in income — said she earns $90,000. That earned spluttering disbelief from a teacher calling in from another state where he earns half that amount.
I moved to the U.S. years after completing my formal education in Toronto and Montreal, which, thank heaven, was well funded and excellent.
One of the first books I read when I arrived — and I urge anyone who wants to grasp this issue to read as well — is Savage Inequalities, by Jonathan Kozol.
The book came out in 1988, but rings true today; millions of  American students face a kind of educational apartheid if they live in tightfisted states and low-income neighborhoods where school funding comes from local taxes.
It is deeply disturbing and powerful; he examined the wide and brutal disparities in education funding across the nation.
You want to get schooled?
Watch how poorly and unevenly this country handles education.

Have you seen “Babylon Berlin”? Amazing!

By Caitlin Kelly

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It came to me highly recommended and, if you haven’t seen this new German television series, set in Berlin in 1929, check it out!

It follows the path of policeman Gereon Rath and a young would-be police inspector, Charlotte Ritter. They’re both compelling characters, both haunted — Rath with a morphine addiction thanks to shell-shock from fighting in WWI and Ritter, who shares a filthy, squalid apartment with her mother, grandmother, pregnant sister (and her infant), brother-in-law and younger sister. To make ends meet, she works as a prostitute in a high-end club.

Lest this all sound really depressing, it’s not!

Rath is on the hunt for those who are blackmailing a prominent politician and he’s come to big-city Berlin from more provincial Cologne. Ritter is funny, smart and ambitious, eager to become a policeman as well. Together they must negotiate a difficult city, and a time — the Weimar Republic — legendary for its chaos and confusion.

There’s also a cross-dressing blond Russian named Svetlana and a ladies’ maid named Greta and her Communist beau, Fritz…

The show’s production values are tremendous — it’s the most expensive German series ever made, at nearly $40 million — and it shows. With 70 percent of it filmed on location in Berlin, it’s also fun for those of us who’ve been there to spot familiar sights.

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, the show’s co-creator, Tom Tykwer, spoke about the era; “At the time people did not realize how absolutely unstable this new construction of society which the Weimar Republic represented was. It interested us because the fragility of democracy has been put to the test quite profoundly in recent years… By 1929, new opportunities were arising. Women had more possibilities to take part in society, especially in the labor market as Berlin became crowded with new thinking, new art, theater, music and journalistic writing.” Nonetheless, Tykwer insisted that he and his co-directors were determined not to idealize the Weimar Republic. “People tend to forget that it was also a very rough era in German history. There was a lot of poverty, and people who had survived the war were suffering from a great deal of trauma.”[1]

I read a history of the Weimar Republic a few years ago, which I urge you to do — it really helps to better understand and appreciate what you’ll see on-screen, from old soldiers’ endless romanticizing of the heroes of the Great War — even 11 years later — to the period’s tremendous poverty and social unrest. (One of my favorite films, which I’ve seen many times, is Cabaret, also set in Berlin during that period but BB, with so many episodes, is able to dive deeper. Like Cabaret, it also revolves around a nightclub, Moka Efti, whose dance hall is cavernous and whose basement contains a whorehouse.)

BB is darker, more violent and much more complex than Cabaret — you need to pay close and careful attention to its many characters and plot-lines. But so well worth it!

From its opening sequence, kaleidoscopic and filled with solarized images, to the blaring mass of horns that ends it and starts the show, you know you’re in for suspense and surprise.  If you’re a fan of louche 70s British rocker Bryan Ferry, he, of all people, added songs to the show, (including several Jazz Age versions of his own), and he even appears in one episode singing onstage.