More notes on freelance life

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By Caitlin Kelly

It happens to all of us.

This time, it’s The Pool, a popular and terrific five-year-old UK website aimed at women, now “in administration” (i.e. bankrupt) and screwing lots of furious freelancers out of the payment we earned and are owed and rely on.

Here’s a story about what happened.

But here’s the tricky part:

You don’t think to check the records at Companies House in case an outwardly successful, much-loved, well-read website is in fact £760,000 in debt, has an outstanding personal loan of £40,000, borrowed £250,000 against the company’s assets and lost £1.8 million in the previous financial year. As a freelancer, you can’t possibly be aware of office politics, or worrying signs such as the fact that the entire board bar one resigned in August 2018. None of the staff tell you. Why would they? Maybe they don’t know.

Besides, they need your copy. They keep commissioning you, right through the Christmas period and into early January, only stopping — or so it seems — once they are outed first on Facebook and then on Twitter by a mounting number of freelancers who haven’t been paid.

I’m out about $300 — a hit we can afford to take (reluctantly!) because we have savings and a fairly low overhead. But many others relied on The Pool for our due payments — to pay for rent, food and other necessities.

Creditors don’t care why we’re suddenly and unexpectedly short.

They just expect to be paid on time.

 

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I learned young to be wary of others’ glossy appearance or promises of payment.

I’ve been selling my photos and writing as a freelancer since I was 19, when, one summer, I sold my photos on the street in Toronto. I was so flattered when a smooth, well-dressed, charming woman ordered a large color print of my work — and sent me a rubber check. She assumed I was ill-equipped to fight back.

I sent her a lawyer’s letter and got paid in full, quickly.

I see too many people now desperate for emotional or professional validation — “I’m a writer! I got published!” — when some of those commissioning this material are shysters or going broke and no one tells us this — until, suddenly, we’re all screwed.

As soon as I started to fear (and hear rumors of this disaster at The Pool) I might not get paid, I Googled the company and found everything I needed to know; senior editors quitting months ago en masse, financial chaos, huge debts.

No one selling their skills to strangers — basically what we do when we work without a steady, secure salary and benefits –– can afford to be wilfully ignorant about the ethics and financial health of their clients. It’s why finding and using reliable networks of writing peers is crucial — intel!

 

Everyone who wants to freelance needs savings!

 

 

 

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In other recent freelance writing news…

— Was excited to write about a cool new Montreal company last year — it, too, just went bankrupt. I successfully re-pitched as “What happened to this great idea that sucked up $17 million in investments?”

— Was coaching a young writer for about six weeks but that work (and income) abruptly ended when the student ran out of money.

— Picked up a new anchor client (i.e. steady income!), and now scrambling to meet weekly deadlines for them.

—  Made the error of politely disagreeing on Twitter with a highly opinionated science writer who went batshit on me until I blocked her. Later, privately, a writer who knows her (and her shitty temper) reached out to comfort me. Both were strangers.

— Interviewed a fellow journalist/author via Skype about his new book, gobsmacked by the opulence of the room he was sitting in. Was this a luxury hotel? Was that his living room? Good Lord, what am I doing so wrong?!

— Last fall I’d hoped to pitch a great little story perfect for The New York Times’ Metropolitan section, one of the few sections left there I haven’t written, for but my radiation treatment/exhaustion scotched that. I finally traveled to Brooklyn to interview middle school students for it, with Jose as my chauffeur. It’s so comforting to have him help me!

— Finally emailed an editor with whom I feared we’d had a rough ending last fall. He wrote back immediately to say, No, not at all. Whew!

— Have a new book idea. Will have to see if it’s even worth writing a proposal.

— Sent an unsold book idea to a colleague and now await news if her agent is willing to read it or even rep it.

 

The usual hustle!

Five frosty days in Montreal; travel tips!

By Caitlin Kelly

It’s six hours’ drive from our New York home, door to door.

I lived in YUL for two years in the late 80s when I was a feature writer for the Montreal Gazette; I’ve returned four times in the past two years, twice for work and twice for pleasure. If you’ve yet to visit, it’s well worth your time and money, especially with the Canadian dollar at 75 cents U.S.

Even in winter!

Yes, it’s cold and windy. But if you’ve got warm outerwear, you’re all set. And if you need to buy some, Montreal offers plenty of fantastic and colorful options beyond the default of black nylon, like this red jacket from my fave Canadian brand, Aritzia or this cherry-blossom digital print wool scarf from 31-year-old Montreal brand Mo851.

One of the pleasures of shopping here is finding European brands and styles I can’t find in New York.

NB: City sidewalks can be appallingly, life-threateningly ice-coated — in a nation where lawsuits are rare(r) than the litigious U.S., it’s Yaktrax or bust! Walk like a penguin to be safe; lean forward and take small, slow shuffling steps, with your hands out of your pockets for balance.

Jose and I really enjoyed our break.

A few highlights:

 

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L’Express

 

L’Express

This classic  restaurant on Rue St Denis has been in business since 1980.

I love its simplicity: glossy burgundy walls, those globe lamps, a skylit back room whose walls are covered with beautifully framed images of its staff, a photo taken annually.

Food is classic French, the bread — so many baguettes they arrive in Ikea shopping bags — dense and chewy. I loved my PEI oysters, a glass of Sancerre and cacio and pepe. Jose loved his octopus salad and sea bass.

 

Arthur Quentin

Ooooooh. This store is filled with temptation for anyone with strong domestic urges: linen tablecloths and napkins, lovely china (French brands like Gien), glassware, Emile Henry cookware, spoons, teapots. Even something as basic and essential to making  a great vinaigrette as a small glass bottle with a lid. Also long in business  — since 1985! We splurged, buying everything from a glossy green crackleware teapot to new bowls, spoons and even a saucepan.

 

La Brise Du Sud

This shop offers a fantastic selection of bathing suits for men and women, and cover-ups and some of the prettiest lingerie I’ve ever seen. 3955 rue St. Denis.

 

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Dessert at Leméac

 

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Another simple room, another long-established locus of chic. This 18-year-old restaurant is on Laurier, in Outremont, an upscale French neighborhood. Delicious French food and great people-watching.

 

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This looks like a scene from Blade Runner! This is one of the views from BotaBota of a legendary piece of Montreal history and architecture, Habitat, built for Expo ’67

 

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One of the outdoor pools, by night

 

Bota Bota

Imagine a former ferryboat made into a spa. In the harbor. This place is amazing. You can go and just enjoy the waters — steam room, hot tub (on the roof watching CN freight trains rumble by and planes soaring into the blue), cold tub, showers, lots of spots to sprawl out and relax in silence. They offer a wide range of services (I treated myself to a hot oil massage and a scrub.) In its restaurant everyone sits in their white terry bathrobes, enjoying a cocktail, snack or a meal.

 

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Love this view, from our hotel room, 16th floor, looking north on Peel Street

 

Hotel Omni Mt. Royal

Have stayed here four times and love the nostalgia of seeing the condos across the street that replaced the brownstone where I lived for a year when I was 12, at 3432 Peel Street. Ask for a high floor (we like the 16th) with a mountain view and you’ll see the enormous cross atop Mt. Royal glowing in the distance. The location is terrific, with lots of shopping two blocks south on Ste. Catherine and plenty of nearby bars and restaurants (and the subway.) Rooms are elegant and spacious. I love the small dining room, which makes it feel much more intimate than a hotel with 299 rooms. Tip: For $15, with your Omni hotel key and ID, you can nip across Peel Street to the fantastic Montreal Athletic Association (admire its classic stained glass windows) and take classes or use their facilities; at 130 years old, it’s Canada’s oldest athletic club. 

 

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How gorgeous is this? Note the two enormous memorial walls listing all the soldiers working for the bank killed in WWI

 

Cafe Crew

This was once a bank. Three years ago it became a co-working space and cafe. With its coffered painted ceiling, inlaid marble floor and enormous chandeliers, its original 1928 elegance, all 12,000 square feet of it, is stunning. My grain bowl was delicious!

 

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Me, lacing up!

 

Skating at Beaver Lake

If I miss one part of my Canadian life, it’s outdoor skating on free rinks. It’s such great exercise and a fantastic way to get some sunshine and fresh air. This rink was so much fun! I brought my own skates (you can rent them) and you can get there by bus without a car. The age range was three to 70, and so civilized to have wide wooden benches to plop onto for a breather.

 

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Looking a little hesitant! I hadn’t skated in a year but I did warm up and speed up.

 

A fantastic guidebook is 300 Reasons to Love Montreal. This is a true treasure, with so many recommendations and so much to learn about this city. I dog-eared dozens of its pages!

 

19 years together — 19 reasons why

By Caitlin Kelly

Happy Valentine’s Day!

It was a chilly March evening when I first met my husband Jose at a long-gone French bistro, Le Madeleine, a midtown New York Times hangout — since he was then working there as a photo editor.

I’d been divorced since 1995, after a miserable two-year marriage, and seven years together, to an American physician I met when he was in his final year of med school at McGill in Montreal. We had no children and I didn’t want any.

I’d since been dating men I met through crewing on sailboats or online, with mixed success. One shattered my heart. One proposed at a Benihana. One wanted me to move with him to Houston.

I was writing an article about the then new world of online dating, one most people were too embarrassed to admit to needing. I did, and signed up to compare four services for Mademoiselle magazine.

Jose answered my ad — one of more than 200!

 

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Here’s how we’ve made it through 19 years:

 

PEPSI. Not the soft drink, but a helpful acronym when dating to determine potential longterm compatibility: professional, emotional, physical, spiritual and intellectual. You don’t have to hit all five, but it’s a useful way to analyze an attraction.

— Shared professional ambitions. We’re both driven, successful, award-winning journalists.

Shared goals. We want to be as financially secure as possible, so save as much as we can. I’m more of a saver, but he’s the one who knows when it’s time to throw out 30-year-old kitchenware or to book a vacation.

— Shared work ethic. Huge. I see smart, hard-working women who put up with lazy men unable or unwilling to get shit done. Get a job! Keep the job! Clean the damn toilet!

It’s not a competition. Journalism is a brutally competitive business and it has been hard for me, at times, to earn barely a third of his Times salary. But now we’re both full-time freelance, hustling hard every month to find and keep clients, and whatever we win, we win and celebrate together.

— Lots of laughter. He doesn’t strike people as hilarious but he is. We laugh together every day.

— He cleans up well. Sue me. I really appreciate a man who smells great, (1881 cologne on our first date; swoon!), is well-groomed, whose trousers are the right length, who knows how to rock a vintage trenchcoat.

— He comes to church with me. I’m not a devout Christian by any stretch, but he’s the son of a Baptist minister, aka a PK (preacher’s kid.) He knows that having a spiritual life can be really helpful to life and to a strong marriage.

— I appreciate his Buddhism. I’ve met his lama, Surya Das, and members of his sangha, and we did a week-long silent Buddhist retreat the summer before we married.

 

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— Mutual respect. We say please and thank you all the time, for the simplest things, like taking out the garbage or buying groceries, all the tedious admin. of life. When we’re both working at home, in a one-bedroom with no office, we know to ask: “Can I talk to you?” in case we’re interrupting.

— Yes, we’ve fought. We fought hard and mean for the first few years, so much so that various couples counselors warned us to chill out or we would surely destroy what good we had. It took us a long time to settle down and trust one another, after our own bad/brief marriages, and after years of professional stress and emotional betrayals.

Travel.  A major source of shared pleasure. We’ve been to Paris many times, to Ireland and Mexico and Ontario and Quebec and British Columbia and D.C. and to his hometown, Santa Fe, and much of New Mexico.

— Calm. On 9/11, Jose was supposed to move from Brooklyn into my apartment some 30 miles north. Not that day! Instead, he helped the Times win its Pulitzer for photo editing those images. He does not freak out.

— Resilience. We’re both strong people and resilient. We don’t whine. We don’t indulge one another in pity parties. Shit happens and we deal with it. He accompanied me to every cancer-related appointment, sitting in the room with me and the doctor. He does not crack or flee.

— Food. We do love to cook and eat and eat out and eat well. Sometimes it seems this is what we talk about most, (except news.)

— Asking for help. We’ve done couples counseling and it’s helped. No marriage is going to be 100% conflict-free. Individual therapy also helps sort out whose demons are whose.

— Forgiveness. A cliche, but a powerful element. We’ve done and said hurtful things and, no doubt, may do more, although much less often than we once did. When you (re)marry at mid-life, you can arrive with a fair bit of baggage.

— Accepting our very real differences. He craves security and routine, preferring the known and familiar. I long for novelty and new experiences. I’m a prog-rock girl and he grew up loving heavy metal. I’m more social, but we both love to entertain at home.

— Knowing our time together  is always limited. My breast cancer diagnosis and his 2018 new use of insulin were a wake-up call to our mortality and fragility. We try not to waste a minute.

Bonus:

He’s just great company! Also, the most loving and giving person I’ve ever met.

 

I made an unprecedented move. Scary!

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Being ferocious? For others, yes…

 

By Caitlin Kelly

Yes, I’m bold and direct and outspoken and have plenty of opinions.

But they’re usually in defense of an abstract idea, or a principle or a policy. Rarely, if at all, in defense of myself and my behaviors and choices.

How can this be?

I grew up in a weird way — sent to boarding school at the age of eight, where I was often in trouble and shunned and punished for it — with only 2.5 years living at home with my mother. Then ages 14 to 19 with my father and his girlfriend (later wife) who was 13 years my senior, too old to be a loving sister and too young to be a nurturing mother.

It was tough.

So I learned to get on with it, to not show or share my true feelings, and — when I did — to be very careful. If I dared to disagree with these people, I could be met with rage or estrangement, sometimes both.

I was never abused physically, but verbal abuse can really leave deep scars. I still remember an argument with my father I had at the age of 20, another from six years ago, in which I was utterly excoriated.

This week, in a rare and very scary moment for me, I wrote a long email to an editor — obviously someone I hoped to work with — challenging his knee-jerk suspiciousness of me as  a “new” freelancer.

New to him.

I know, thanks to lots of therapy, that when I start to shake, (let alone cry), something is hitting me really hard and in a very deep place that has never healed — the automatic assumption I’m shitty, stupid, incompetent, wrong. That my opinion, however valid or well-argued, is going to just be ignored in favor of theirs.

Standing up for others’ needs and concerns? I do it all the time, happily and ferociously. It’s one of the reasons I still love being a journalist. I thrive on finding and telling stories that show social justice and offer some sort of hope to readers.

It’s a real privilege and one I value.

When it comes to the people I love — look out! If they’re dissed or dismissed, I’m a momma bear.

But standing up for myself?

Hard as hell.

 

How about you?

 

A mid-winter walk

 

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By Caitlin Kelly

When it’s bitterly cold for long weeks, it’s easy to stop going out for a walk. But then cabin fever sets in…

These are woods near our home, in a town 25 miles north of New York City, with a paved trail a mile long that runs beside a reservoir, whose landmarks — officially, watermarks, I guess — can include several white swans, enormous flocks of geese who rest on the ice mid-migration, and, in the summer, multiple small black turtles and a cormorant who stands on a rock to dry out his wings.

In the winter, though, the woods are silent. I can only hear planes overhead and traffic circling the reservoir and the gurgling of a stream. No scurrying squirrels or chipmunks or birdsong.

It’s a more austere world, the remaining leaves bleached, bare branches etched against the sky, thick fungi crowding a log.

And, of course, the Rockefellers (yes, those ones, who live just up the road) affected our landscape, as did millionaire Jay Gould.

Here are some images, full of subtle beauty:

 

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No idea why that little structure is there!

 

 

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Love the reflections

 

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That little bit of down, memory of a bird…

 

 

IMG_3711The patterns of the ice were amazing — shifting with the water’s movements

 

 

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Where do you find community?

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This was the Fireside Conference, three days in northern Ontario, with the most fun, smart, eclectic group I’ve ever met. I miss that!

 

By Caitlin Kelly

Many people opine now about how lonely we are, staring into our screens alone at home instead of bowling with friends or joining a choir or a knitting club or…

I grew up in a Toronto boarding school, ages eight to 13, which was, technically, a community in one respect but I rarely felt welcomed and was often in trouble and shunned accordingly. Finally in Grade Nine, I was told not to return.

Ages 8 to 16, I attended three summer camps, the last one being perhaps the closest to my ideal community, combining a lot of personal freedom to explore, to test my athletic and artistic limits (and thrive in both), to make deep friendships, some of them still strong today, and to feel completely valued even though I was a quirky little thing.

The nostalgic scent of sun-dried pine needles, the typical smell of camp, to this day soothes me deeply.

Today, finding mid-life face-to-face community feels elusive. I attended little formal education in the U.S. (a few years part-time at design school) so I have no alumni networks. We have no kids.

My right knee is now bone-on-bone, so I’ve been forbidden to jump or run, (foregoing my coed softball team of 15 years.)

I can’t read music so unable to join a choir. (Yes, I could learn.)

My passions are specific and nerdy — like antique textiles — so other than online, where to find fellow enthusiasts? I am completely enjoying my Instagram feed, where I follow textile designers, collectors and dealers, learning a great deal from each of them.

I belong to at least a dozen online writers’ groups, but none offer what I deeply crave — really smart high-level discussions of craft, great ideas, inspiration. It’s often a moan-fest/brag-fest, and too many are just too young and inexperienced.

 

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Church? Not really. I love the physical space (our church was built in 1853), but I’m not a good fit within a wealthy, clique-y crowd.

Politics? Journalists are professionally expected to stay out of politics.

Neighbors? We live in an apartment building where (I counted!) I know almost half of our residents, by face or name (there are 100 apartments) but socially…No. Most are in their 70s, 80s and 90s, many quite ill and frail.

The rest, as is everyone here, obsessed with work and family.

I’m very grateful for a husband who is excellent company, but he’s not my everything, nor should he be!

So it’s a challenge…

Oddly, or not, the closest I’ve got is my three-times-week spin class, where I’ve made a good friend and know I am welcome and known. I like our town very much, and I “know” many locals by sight, (and vice versa), certainly independent businesses like the third-generation-owned hardware store and a few local restaurants. But to me, that’s not the same.

Where do you find true, lively, inspiring community?

 

Back to the ballet!

 

 

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By Caitlin Kelly

Aaaaaah, the glories of Lincoln Center!

Jose and I treated ourselves to tickets for the winter season, and what a joy it was to settle back into those red plush seats below that gorgeous floral-shaped ceiling.

The first evening offered three Balanchine pieces, the first, his first, from 1928, Apollo. It was…the work of a young choreographer. It felt very much of the period. I’m glad I saw it — what else (beyond some classical music) — of the 1920s are we still consuming culturally?

The second piece, Orpheus, which I loved, was from 1948. Like the others on the evening’s program, it’s a ballet with no sets and very simple costumes, to music by Stravinsky. The minimal set was by now legendary designer Isamu Noguchi.

Orpheus, as all you Greek myths geeks already know, is the heart-breaking story of Orpheus descending into Hades to reclaim Eurydice — only if he refuses to look at her until they are back in the earthly word. But he looks, killing her instantly, forever.

The third ballet, pure form, is from 1957, Agon. Loved it. It’s everyone’s first ballet class; the girls in black leotards with simple blacks, the boys (as adults are called throughout their ballet careers), in black tights and tight white T-shirts.

It demands the fiercest technique — no gorgeous costumes or tricky lighting or elaborate sets to distract the eye. There were some wobbly moments of partnering, which made it a bit more human.

 

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The Koch Theater, Lincoln Center, one of my greatest pleasures of living in New York

 

We had terrific seats in the orchestra, ($79 each, to me an absolute bargain for the value) and had a great time people-watching; such elegance! Ladies in floor-length furs, young girls in sparkly shoes, a pair of stylish young Parisiennes in the row in front of us.

I came home so excited to be back in the world of ballet, a world I entered as a young girl, taking classes with vague and unrealizable hopes of joining more seriously; I tried out a few times for Toronto’s National Ballet School and lived a block away from it in my early 20s, watching the fortunate few enter and exit those hallowed halls, walking with the dancer’s distinctive head-erect, shoulders-back, feet-turned-out gait.

In my 20s, I was fortunate to become a regular reviewer of the National Ballet of Canada (free tickets!) and was even flown from Toronto to Newfoundland to write about their life on tour, to help me produce an essay for their 35th anniversary program. Later, thanks to their PR director, I performed as an extra in eight performances of Sleeping Beauty at Lincoln Center — and have even been in its rehearsal rooms.

 

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The lights on the front of each balcony look like jewels and the gold is covered with a sort of netting effect. The proscenium looks like it’s made of thin gold chains laid together

 

Here’s a fantastic series of short films I found on Youtube about NYC Ballet, from 2014. If you love ballet, you will learn a lot about what happens everywhere but on-stage.

I now have a much better sense of NYCB dancers and some of their unlikely trajectories and backstories.

Interestingly, Peter Martins — subject of one of the videos and its long-time director — is gone, having retired in January 2018 after 24 allegations of bullying and sexual harassment by former dancers and dance students.

 

 

It is a brutal world.

It is a beautiful world.

 

 

How it feels to get seriously scammed

 

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Where’s Sherlock Holmes when you need him????

 

By Caitlin Kelly

Not good, guys. Not good at all.

Here’s a recent and truly shocking scam perpetrated in a world I know somewhat, that of photographers and other creatives:

It all started with an email from Wendi Murdoch. She claimed that she had found us through a personal recommendation from a senior editor at Conde Naste Traveler. We had just finished talking with Conde Nast Traveler about doing some Instagram featured work on both my (https://www.instagram.com/humminglion/) and Zory’s (https://www.instagram.com/zorymory/) accounts, so the timing made sense. Flattered, I kept reading her pitch about needing some up and coming photographers to help capture the essence of China for an upcoming exhibit centered around the Beijing Winter Olympics in 2022.

I had a rough idea of who Wendi Murdoch was: a Chinese American art philanthropist and shrewd businesswoman who made waves with an expensive divorce from media tycoon Rupert Murdoch.

The photographer flew from San Francisco to Jakarta — of course on her own dime and time — and ended up losing $7,500.

 

How can anyone be so stupid? So gullible?

 

Hah! Read a new book, Duped, by veteran journalist Abby Ellin about the liar she almost married. Ellin is nobody’s fool, but was also — and who hasn’t felt this way? — lonely and ready for romance with a handsome and accomplished man who wanted to marry her.

Her gut told her some of his stories felt really unlikely, but (and I know this feeling too, as a fellow career journalist), some stories are both unlikely and true. And no one really wants to keep cross-examining a man who professes love to you.

In 1998, I answered a personal ad in a local weekly newspaper from a man who said he was a lawyer. His “housekeeper” was on the phone with me, as was his (real) mother, Alma.

Here’s his story in the Chicago Tribune, where he deceived many local women before moving to New York and starting again; there, he pretended to be a doctor.

I dated him for four months before (thank God) randomly meeting a former NYPD detective-turned-private-eye who discovered within a day what a bad guy he really was. It was a terrifying experience as this guy stole my mail, used my credit card, forged my signature in front of me…and became so frightening I slept for a week at a friend’s house.

Best of all?

The cops wouldn’t take my case and the district attorney literally laughed it off as “no harm done.”

 

How do these creeps operate so effectively?

 

– Use some elements of checkable truth that victims will recognize and find comfortingly familiar

— Flatter victims by admiring something about them

— Learn their specific weaknesses and fears and exploit those

— Count on victims getting blamed for their stupidity and being too embarrassed to alert police and push for arrest and conviction

— Make sure much of it is deniable as a “he said/she said”

— Manipulate their emotions by confusingly flipping from loving and attentive behavior to aggressive and threatening, throwing victims into mystified anxiety and fear

— Threaten victims with retaliation

— Count on victim’s discomfort with appearing cynical and untrusting, even when red flags are flapping!

 

 

Have you ever been the victim of a scammer?

Money, money, money

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Storms can descend any time — without warning

 

 

By Caitlin Kelly

There’s an American expression I’d never heard before I moved to the U.S., a “come to Jesus” meeting, defined by one online dictionary as:

 

Any meeting in which a frank, often unpleasant, conversation is held so as to bring to light and/or resolve some issue at hand

 

Few subjects are as fraught with emotion, for many of us anyway, as money.

Here’s a great/long/helpful New York Times column on when, how and why to discuss money effectively.

My husband and I recently had yet another CTJ meeting about our finances, our budget and how — again — we might try to trim our expenses and boost our earnings. We both work full-time freelance, I as a journalist, writing coach and editor, and he as a photographer and photo editor.

And we’re both at an age when no one is likely to offer us a well-paid, full-time job in our industry and we do apply.

Survival is wholly on us.

 

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I love living on the Hudson River

 

Money is a proxy for power, influence, access, status.

It’s how many people — especially in the United States — measure success. If you aren’t flaunting your wealth, you must not have any. Loser!

It also buys food and gas and housing and medical care and clothes and shoes and school tuition and books and music and beer and trips to visit people we love.

We live (in a one bedroom apartment) in a very wealthy area, wealth-adjacent as it were — one man in our small church wrote a personal check for $250,000 to buy the new organ. The women here who stay at home full-time focusing all their Ivy educated energy on their children chirp at me: “Are you still writing?” as if my life’s work, albeit in a poorly-paid creative field, were a hobby, like macrame or raising chickens.

I grew up in a family that had a lot of money, at times. My father and his second wife worked in film and TV, the household income dictated by the whims of whoever they were trying to sell their talents to. We had, as I’ve blogged here before, cotton years and cashmere years.

My maternal grandmother, whose father was a Chicago real estate developer and investor, inherited a massive sum in the 1960s — and spent it as if it were something radioactive to be gotten rid of as fast as possible. Hence, I witnessed, with a mixture of awe and envy, an extraordinary solo life of gold-topped canes, lush furs, raw silk custom-made muumuus with matching turbans, enormous jewels and limousines everywhere. When she died, in 1975, my mother had to sell everything to pay off death duties to the Ontario government and decades of unpaid income tax to the Canadian and U.S. government.

I own only two objects that were Granny’s — a 60’s-era gold ring and an antique pocket watch. Interestingly, Jose’s only family object is also a pocket watch, and a small black native American piece of pottery.

Jose grew up the son of a Baptist minister in Santa Fe, NM, in church housing, and attended four years of state university on a church-supplied scholarship.

I was lucky enough to have a monthly income at 18, thanks to that grandmother, just enough to live alone and pay my own way through four years of university, (plus a lot of freelance work.) I’ve had decades thinking/worrying about money every day and how best to manage it.

I’ve had staff jobs, two of them well-paid,  but knew they would never last. They just don’t, in our industry, especially if you don’t schmooze or flatter those in power.

 

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A cafe table in Montreal, one of our many pleasures…

 

For me, money is a tool: when there’s enough left over, you travel and renovate and buy a decent used car for cash and buy the best clothes and shoes and household goods possible because it can, and will, disappear overnight, and often without warning.

 

So you also save and save and save and save and save!

 

I lost income in 2018 producing two (unsold) non-fiction book proposals, then six months’ dealing with breast cancer diagnosis and treatment.

We do have decent savings, some of which — again — we’re going to have to access to survive 2019.

Our single greatest cost?

No surprise here for any American reader: $1,700 a month for our health insurance plus another $2,000 in co-pays (out of pocket payments) for specific medical visits.

It is more than our monthly mortgage payment —- and is non-negotiable. Even if we lived in a hut in the woods, we’d still need it.

 

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Both my parents grew up rich, and each promised to eventually leave me some of their money but one lied for decades and spent every dime on herself.

 

How does money — or the lack of it — play out in your life?

 

 

 

A few notes on personal style

 

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My feet, in Birkenstocks bought in Berlin, on the cobblestones of Rovinj, Croatia

 

By Caitlin Kelly

Now that the U.S. Congress has its highest-ever number of elected women — yay! The New York Times recently commissioned color portraits of each. Given the nature of politics, where everything is fodder for argument or criticism, most of the women chose safe-but-snoozy gem-toned jackets, the default option of TV reporters and anchorwomen everywhere.

Except for one, whose image leaped off the page.

Damn! I was immediately intrigued by her confidence, and wondered who voted for her as well. Those boots! That lilac-highlighted bob! That Miyake-esque dress! That muffler!

Intriguingly, she represents a wide swath of Connecticut, not a place I’d expect to elect a woman with such awesome style.

 

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Rep. Rosa di Lauro of Connecticut; NYT photo by Elizabeth Herman or Celeste Sloman

 

I love personal style!

 

I grew up among people who did as well. My father had a growing collection of safari jackets and highly-polished leather shoes while his late wife, literally, had garment racks bulging with designer clothing. My mother owned a glossy black mink with an emerald green silk lining and a stunning collection of wigs, changing her hairstyle daily when she felt like it.

If I had all the money in the world, I’d wear The Row (designed by Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen), Belgian Dries Van Noten and Etro.

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One of my Banana Republic scarves, a Ghost bias-cut dress bought in L.A., a silk floral and sequin jacket bought at an Opening Ceremony sample sale. Why are my Dad and I hysterical? It’s my wedding and all we can hear outside the church, on Toronto’s Centre Island, is cows mooing from a petting zoo nearby.

 

My own style? It’s tough when you’re (sigh) larger than a 10, a size most designers ring with razor wire, deeming the rest of us too fat to bother with, while I’m a size 14 to 16 trying hard to get back to a 12.

The basics of great personal style include knowing your body well enough to emphasize the better bits and draw attention away from the rest; wearing clothes that fit you properly and are comfortable without being sloppy; meticulous grooming (hair cut/color, manicures/pedicure, attractive eyewear, discreet make-up, well-polished/ironed footwear and clothing.)

I spent a year living in Paris, and visit as often as we can afford, which has taught me a lot. I don’t find nearly as much inspiration in New York and black is, indeed, our official color.

Style is less about spending a lot money and more about choosing quality cuts and fabrics, knowing what suits you best, wearing it with pride and consistency.

My style? Minimal. European.

My go-tos:

Knits, not too revealing. Recent finds include a Michael Kors top and matching skirt, several sweaters and dresses from Canadian retailer Aritzia.

Scarves.  Silk, wool, cashmere, cotton, Hermès to vintage. When your basics are simple, you need a hit of added color and pattern. My favorites include a violet wool muffler from J. Crew and four silk crinkled ones from Banana Republic, in cream, dark brown, pale pink and fuchsia. (visible in my new Welcome and About photos on this site.)

Good jewelry. Lucky to have a generous husband and I haunt antique shows; I wear my tiny diamond wedding hoops almost daily. Here are a few of my most-worn rings.

 

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l to r: wedding ring, Secrett, Toronto; vintage; new; vintage, found in Truth or Consequences, NM; new, mother-of-pearl and sterling, bought in Alexandria, VA.

 

— Unexpected patterns and colors. While I stick to neutrals for my main pieces, I add color and pattern in scarves, gloves, hats, shoes.

Shopping out of the U.S. I pretty much hate most of what I see from mass-market American retailers: colors, shapes, sizing; sleeves too long, armholes cut for elephants. So, every two or three years, in Paris, I stock up, and every four to six months, in Canada, usually in Toronto and Montreal, where I know the stores. Thanks to the Internet, you’re only limited by budget and what’s available. In Canada, I like Aritizia, Ca Va de Soi, La Senza (lingerie) and Heel Boy and Brown’s, shoe stores. Were I wealthy, I’d buy almost everything from Gravity Pope, another Canadian clothing and footwear retailer. We buy scarves at Diwali in Paris on every visit.

— Occasional full-price the-hell-with-it investments. Very rare, but worth it. In December 2014 I wandered into Barney’s and found an Isabel Marant heathered navy light wool jacket in my size and a dark denim carryall with black leather handles and base. I blew $700 and don’t regret a penny, still using both and loving them. A $250 cardigan from Canadian brand Ca Va de Soi is perfect in size, shape, color and weight.

Thrift, resale, vintage and consignment. Check out The RealReal, Vestiaire Collective and others for high-end stuff. Recent scores include a beige suede newsboy cap and a burnt orange velvet and silk muffler.

My husband is a snappy dresser, slim and able to carry off French looks with ease, like a wrapped muffler with a jacket or blazer. I follow a British professor, Nigel Cleaver, on Instagram and hope to go clothes shopping with him when we get to London later this year; his Insta handle is (!) ignoreatyourperil.

For inspiration, we read the weekend FT’s How to Spend It, which offers insanely expensive ideas, but also some cool stylish ones we can afford. I read Vogue and Porter but don’t follow anyone on Insta or any fashion bloggers.

 

Where do you get your personal style?

 

Are there people whose personal style has inspired you?

Does style even matter to you?