The comfort of the familiar

From 1963, one of the first Canadian Inuit silkscreen prints made

By Caitlin Kelly

I love novelty and new adventures, exploring places I’ve never been, meeting people for the first time. I really crave it and miss it…Covid made this much more obvious to me since it denied so much of this, and still does.

But, like many/most people, I also take tremendous comfort in the familiar, maybe much more these days — of climate grief, political vitriol, daily mayhem and violence, inflation — than ever.

I’ve now lived in the same one-bedroom apartment for more than 30 years.

I find this truly astonishing, as I changed homes/residences between August 1982 and June 1989 so many times: Toronto-Paris-Toronto-Montreal-New Hampshire-New York. It was overwhelming and exhausting, even though my Paris year was the best of my life, still.

I hate moving!

I also was lucky enough to be able to buy this apartment with my first husband, and afford to remain in it, in a place — 25 miles north of Manhattan, its towers clearly visible from our street — where rents are routinely punishingly high. Having a fixed mortgage and maintenance costs allowed me this privilege.

Our next-door neighbor on one side moved in with a shy five-year-old daughter, now a stylish, confident 15-year-old. The other neighbor, Flo, died there, and now her grand-daughter — and 4-month-old daughter — lives there. It’s been a real joy to see new lives and friends arriving.

My maternal great-grandmother’s pastel portrait…basically life-size!

I recently inherited a few items from my late mother, including the images above, and a few smaller decorative items. It’s so lovely and comforting to have that visual continuity. I’d never inherited objects before so I’d never appreciated that element of it.

I love this 177-year-old sampler that for years belonged to my late mother. I have no idea where or when she found it, but it hung in

every one of her homes. I very lightly bleached it and reframed it in acid-free paper with special glass to protect it. Now it hangs in our kitchen.

I love our street. It’s hilly and winding, with a low-level condo complex across, only one private home and lots and lots of trees. It’s normally extremely quiet — and we have terrific Hudson River views. I can’t think what better view we could acquire.

Nor has it changed one bit in all those years.

I love our town, a mix of million-dollar condo’s and projects (subsidized housing.) It’s a mix of old school townies, born and raised here, and a stampede of Brooklyn hipsters.

I like our county, stretching between the Hudson to the west and Long Island Sound to the east.

I like knowing where things are and that some of them are still there.

I like knowing the guy who owns the hardware store, the one his great-grandfather founded. And the former commercial photographer from Manhattan, who came north after 9/11, and who first opened a gourmet store, now a thriving restaurant and whose wife added a busy BBQ joint.

I like knowing the names of the waitstaff at our local diner and hearing their news.

It’s that sort of town.

I’m also lucky to have deep friendships, still, in my hometown of Toronto, so there’s always a loving welcome awaiting, even decades after I left for good. That’s comforting.

I also find it comforting to watch some of the same movies over and over, so much so I know some dialogue and theme music by heart — the Bourne movies, The Devil Wears Prada, Almost Famous, The King’s Speech, All The President’s Men, Billy Elliott, Casablanca, Spotlight and others. I also re-watch some TV series I love, now enjoying the three-season Babylon Berlin on Netflix for the third time — Season Four starts October 8 and I am super excited! And Derry Girls returns October 7.

Not to mention my older favorite music, from my 80s vinyl and my new favorite radio station, Kiki Lounge (132) on Sirius XM, with some of the most unlikely covers — like (amazing!) Dolly Parton’s version of Stairway to Heaven.

I was deeply struck — as maybe some of you were — by the death of Queen Elizabeth. As I’ve written here, I spent two weeks covering a Royal Tour of Canada and met her. To suddenly lose her after 70 years was a shock.

The familiar is comforting. Change can be tiring and disorienting (even if welcome.)

What do you cherish in your life that’s comforting in its familiarity?

Welcome to Usetaville

Our apartment building in Cuernavaca, Mexico where I lived at 14

By Caitlin Kelly

At a certain point in your life — after a few decades on earth, and especially if you know a specific location really well — you still see, and fondly remember, so many things that “used to” be there, hence usetaville.

In our Hudson Valley town, this includes long-gone antique stores, including the just-closed E-bike shop that used to be an antique store, the art gallery that used to be Alma Snape flowers and the photo studio that was once Mrs. Reali’s dry cleaners.

There’s a growing tree across our street I’ll never like as much as the towering weeping willow that once stood there, also long gone.

Of course, change is inevitable!

Businesses come and go — so many killed by the loss of customers in this pandemic — and in cities where every inch of real estate has commercial value, almost everything is up for grabs…the former three-chair hair salon I loved for many years is now part of the growing empire of two very successful local restaurateurs and the lovely cafe across Grove Street, formerly Cafe Angelique, has been a Scotch & Soda (a Dutch owned clothing chain) for a long time now. Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village of New York City, once a treasure trove of cool indie shops, is legendary for its rapid store turnover.

I enjoy reading the writing of British Airways pilot Mark VanHoenacker, who wrote recently in The New York Times about going back to see the interior of his childhood home in Massachusetts; he now lives in London.

A childhood home — if we lived in one house or apartment long enough and especially if our family has since moved out — may enclose a nearly undimmed set of early memories, as if its walls formed a time capsule we sealed behind us as we left. And if the possibility of retracing my flight from this Pittsfield house has both troubled and fascinated me for many years — if it’s what recently compelled me to write “Imagine a City,” a memoir and travelogue, and if even now I can’t decide whether to climb this darned staircase — well, my favorite stories remind me that I’m not alone as I grapple with the meaning of return.

I recall a scene from Marilynne Robinson’s novel “Home,” a modern rendition of the parable of the prodigal son, in which Jack — like me, the son of a clergyman — writes a letter: “Dear Father, I will be coming to Gilead in a week or two. I will stay for a while if that is not inconvenient.” After Jack walks into the kitchen for the first time in 20 years, his sister tells him, “The cups are where they always were, and the spoons.” I think, too, of Henry James’s Spencer Brydon in “The Jolly Corner,” who after 33 years abroad returns to his childhood home in New York and an encounter with a ghostly self who never left.

I haven’t been back to my earliest childhood home — on Castlefrank Road in Toronto — in many, many years. It was very big house with a long deep backyard and I still remember well my playmates who lived on either side of us. But I left it when my parents split up when I was six or seven and we moved into an apartment downtown. As a teenager I lived with my father for four years in a white house on a corner, easily visible when driving in Toronto, but have never asked to see it again inside.

So many changes!

I suspect these sorts of memories are very powerful if you spent a decade or more in the same home and if you liked living there. When we visit Montreal, our hotel windows overlook Peel and Sherbrooke — my home for a year at 3432 Peel Street in a brownstone — gone! My visits to Ben’s delicatessen a few blocks south — gone! But — hah! — the glorious Ritz Carlton is still there; we used to have Friday night dinners there when my mother hosted a TV talk show.

I lived for all off four months in an apartment in Cuernavaca, Mexico with my mother — and decades later went back to see how much it had changed, including the empty field next to it.

Not at all!

I had some difficult moments living there, but it was very good to revisit the place and see it again.

I’ve been back to my high school and university campus, both in my hometown of Toronto, and even once revisited my former summer camp, the one I attended every year ages 12-16 and loved.

Our town also holds a few 18th century buildings, including a stone church from 1685, the second oldest in New York state.

Do you have specific places that you remember well — now long gone?

Have you ever revisited your childhood home(s)? How was it?

My 2 weeks with Queen Elizabeth

By Caitlin Kelly

I admit — we were in the middle of a restaurant lunch yesterday when we learned that Queen Elizabeth had died.

I burst into tears.

I know for many people the monarchy is something hated and archaic. I get it.

For a Canadian who grew up, initially, with photos of Her Majesty on our classroom walls, then later on our stamps and currency, the Queen was a daily part of our lives, even if only her image.

As a young reporter for the national daily Globe and Mail, she became a part of my daily life in person when I was chosen to cover a Royal Tour of the Queen and Prince Philip.

It was the oddest sort of high profile assignment as it meant my stories would run on the front page most days — yet there would be little to say beyond what she wore, what she might say and who she met. It was both thrilling to be chosen and terrifying, especially as this was long before cellphones or the Internet or light, quick laptops. I would have to file for up to five daily editions, racing to meet each deadline with no easy access to a telephone or even a place from which to send my story or even to sit down and write it.

This made for some seriously weird moments — like the big old house in small-town New Brunswick where I begged to use their kitchen table to write, and, when an older gentlemen entered his own kitchen, muttered “Globe and Mail, on deadline!” Then I had to kick the lady of the house off her own telephone to commandeer the line, unscrew the handset, attach alligator clips, and transmit my story in time. The gentleman was a judge who would be attending a formal dinner with her that evening.

Or the hotel lobby gift shop whose pay phone I needed to use.

Or the small-town rural home whose front door I banged on in desperation…scaring the hell out of its poor owners as I begged yet more strangers for their help and to use their phone.

Each day was long and tiring, often with multiple events, and I think we were working 12-15 hour days, whipped.

We must have eaten, but I don’t remember when or how or what.

We traveled in a huge press pack, with Time and Newsweek and BBC and CBC all jammed into press planes or buses. Sometimes we flew in a Lear jet (a first!) and observed the “purple corridor” — the elapsed time between when Her Majesty’s plane took off and ours was allowed to.

We were all technically competing with one another for…no real news!

It was very odd to watch her turn her charm on and off like a spigot on walkabouts — we’re so used to politicians and celebrities who crave our attention, admiration, votes and money that to observe someone with multiple castles, the wealthiest woman (at least then) in the world up close — becoming cool/distant when she felt like it, was quite disorienting.

A dapper Glaswegian security man in a tweed jacket followed behind the Royal entourage, holding out his hands to keep us at bay like wild animals.

“You need a whip and a chair!” I joked.

“I could use the whip,” he replied, with a flirtatious twinkle in his eye. (I later bought one and gave it to him as a joke at our final party.)

I broke a few controversial stories and ended up being the brunt of some serious bullshit from competitors who had not matched my reporting. At a crowded mess hall somewhere in Manitoba, the legendary BBC TV reporter, Kate Adie, saw my distress and whispered in my ear: “The higher your profile, the better target you make.” She later mentioned me and that event in one of her memoirs.

A few specific memories:

— The stunning jewels of a tiara she wore to a dinner

— a brooch with an emerald the size of a baby’s fist

— a small suitcase in the back of a car, with a large red cardboard tag: The Queen

— being given a small piece of paper each morning with the official language we were to use to describe her clothing; eau-de-nil, not “light green.”

At the end of it all, we were invited aboard the royal yacht Britannia for drinks. That was amazing enough, and then we were each presented to Her Majesty.

It was brief, but memorable.

What would you do with a windfall?

Sigh. The N.S. house that got away — where I had hoped to invest my money.

By Caitlin Kelly

The word dates back to the 15th century — fruit blown from the trees, no need for the labor of picking it.

These days, it’s a bit of luck, often financial, that appears when we least expect it.

I’ve been lucky enough to have a few of these over the years, like a five-figure copyright settlement for misuse of my work (and many others!) by Canadian publishers.

A four figure sum, a dormant bank account, also in Canada, I had no idea existed.

The greatest was a surprise inheritance from my late mother, who died in 2020, after a decade of no communication with me, her only child. I would never have expected she would leave me a dime, but she left a decent sum, to my shock and gratitude, and five pieces of art I really love and wondered if I would ever own.

That money paid, in part, for my trip to California in June, one of the best vacations of my life, allowing me to explore a place I had long dreamed of, to connect with 11 friends out there and even with a cousin I hadn’t spoken to in years.

I bought myself a very good watch, an estate piece (i.e. previously owned by someone else) and love wearing it.

I still haven’t figured out what to do with the rest of this inheritance, which is a pleasant dilemma, for sure. The markets are a mess, so investing it feels like not a great choice. It’s not really enough to buy appealing North American real estate. I would never touch crypto or bitcoin, so for now I look at affordable properties in far-off places like Brittany.

If you’ve never had much money to manage beyond the basics of survival, it’s overwhelming to figure out what to do, who to trust, where to use it (or not) and how soon. Financial literacy is a learned skill — many people don’t know what a fiduciary is — someone managing your money who by law must act in your best interests, not their profit.

If you suddenly came into some serious coin — $10,000 or more (and even $100 can make a huge difference for many people, especially in an era of rampant inflation) — what would you do with it?

We often fantasize about winning the lottery, but it’s a hell of a responsibility!

What’s missing?

By Caitlin Kelly

Whether by innate voracious curiosity or decades of working in journalism, my first instinct in response to almost everything I read, hear or watch is to ask….what’s missing?

It’s essential in that work to pay really close attention not only to what’s offered…but what isn’t being said? What does a long pause or silence in an interview mean? Why does almost every American national TV news report lack any useful or meaningful context? I routinely shout at the TV screen in frustration!

It might be a lack of diversity in sourcing — very common.

It might be sadly clear that the “news” item was simply a rewritten press release, also known as a “puff piece.”

It might be the reporter, editor and producer were too lazy or ignorant to dig deeper — like (!?) a recent report on the national nightly news from CBS that urged listeners to get vaccinated against polio (a good thing) but failed to even mention how polio is spread.


Or it might be the creators knew there was a minefield beneath the flowers — and decided to just let things lie.

This was immediately obvious to me while recently watching a new documentary about Leonard Cohen, a renowned Canadian singer/songwriter who died in 2016, but who has millions of fans worldwide. His life never lacked for drama — partnered with very beautiful women, one (Suzanne Elrod) who bore him two children, Lorca and Adam, spending six years in a Zen monastery outside Los Angeles, emerging to discover that a longtime friend and manager, Kelly Lynch, had robbed him blind, pocketing some $5 million of his earnings. She only got 18 months in prison — and he went out on tour at 79 (!) to make back his losses, which he did.

Here’s the thing:

I love his work.

I know many of his songs by heart.

I admire his art.

But to produce a documentary that doesn’t even speak to his children, or explain that maybe they wouldn’t speak on camera (!?) struck me at once as a huge oversight. It could not have been in error.

The film includes many musicians talking about their admiration for Cohen and his influence on them, from Judy Collins to Brandie Carlisle to Glenn Hansard.

As someone from an accomplished family, and parents who were devoted to their work, this hit hard. I’ve long wanted to write a book interviewing the adult children of highly successful parents, and not just “celebrities” like the Kardashians. I know that being the child of famous and successful parents can come at a very real emotional cost.

A little more candor here would have done the trick for me.

Work should be fun! (Really?)

By Caitlin Kelly

Long loud harrumph.

Thumps cane for emphasis.

No!

Ok, yes, of course, often, maybe, if you’re really lucky, much of the time.

But always, every damn day of a 40+ year career?

Unlikely and foolish to desire.

The tedious cliche is “that’s why they call it work.”

The opposite fantasy is “love what you do and you’ll never work a day in your life.”

Ask anyone who’s been in the working world for a decade, let alone 20, 30 or 40 years.

This is also, I know, somewhat stiff-upper-lip generational — and I think an insistence work be “fun” is really proxy for a lot of other frustrations: carrying massive student debt for decades, low wages, terrible/non-existent promotions and raises, toxic managers, coworkers and/or customers (hello, foodservice and retail!)

As I’ve written here many times, I generally enjoy my work as a writer of journalism and content marketing, coaching and teaching. But there have been many times I was utterly miserable, even for a full year — like my last staff job as a reporter at the New York Daily News — where I was consistently ignored or bullied. It was torture.

It was a steady, decent paycheck at a then-respected newspaper, then the nation’s sixth-largest.

But happy? No, I was not happy. Fun? No, it was not, ever, fun.

When I worked for a few months in Toronto at Canadian Press, the national wire service, I had to write up every weekend’s accidental deaths across the province, slugged (named) Fatalities — aka Fats. NOPE. Not fun.

As a trade magazine editor in New York, I had a terribly low freelance budget and a highly demanding boss. Not a fun combination.

I do not subscribe to the belief that all work is, or should be, drudgery. But accepting that even the coolest-looking work has downsides and frustrations is more realistic. Even the best-known and wealthiest musicians and film stars have had work that failed to find an audience, auditions that were a disaster, spent years in the trenches working away before hitting the big time. Fun? Probably not.

I think we’re fortunate if we can find work that:

pays decently

offers kind, fun, funny, smart co-workers (even one of these!)

decent management

respect for the work we do

offers room for growth, internally or a boost to our next job elsewhere

helps other people live better/safer lives

I admit that, at its best, journalism has been amazing fun for me, many many times.

But it’s not a well-paid career.

It’s not a secure career and getting fired or laid off is pretty normal, even if expensive and annoying.

Forget a pension.

It’s often insanely competitive, even within your organization. So there’s plenty of stress and anxiety as well.

What’s the most fun job you’ve ever had?

Summer’s simple pleasures

By Caitlin Kelly

As summer winds down — please, no more 95 degree days! — a few pleasures we’ll miss in the frigid days of winter:

Peaches so juicy you have to eat them over the sink

Gardens bursting with color and produce

Farmer’s markets

Bare arms

Showing off a pretty pedicure

Camping

Stargazing without freezing!

Summer corn

Dressing in a T-shirt, shorts and sandals or a simple dress. No layers! No fuss!

Enjoying your patio, balcony, verandah or backyard

Longer days

The soothing breeze of a gentle fan

The squeak/slam of a screen door

For fortunate children, time away at summer camp, making new friends, learning new skills

Splash pads!

Lounging by a pool

Hanging out on the beach with a great book or a few friends

Visiting an amusement park

Eating ice cream with slightly less guilt about all those calories

Jose’s fabulous gimlets!

Snoozing in the sun

The gentle clinking of ice cubes in every drink

Making and enjoying sun tea

The gentle rustling of wind in the trees

The scent of sun-dried pine needles

Bouquets cut from your garden

Plunging into a cool lake from the sun-warmed wood of a dock

Barbecues

Vacation

A great bathing suit or pair of swim trunks

Tanned toes!

Getting to know your neighbors at the apartment pool

Outdoor movies in city parks

Rafting down a river

Pretty sandals

Snoozing in a hammock

Making s’mores over a campfire

A cool breeze

Spending the day in your bathing suit or swim trunks

Living in Birks

I loved these Birks! Bought them, my first pair, in Berlin. Those gorgeous gleaming

cobblestones are in the coastal Croatian town of Rovinj, known as little Venice

And, of course, spectacular sunsets

What will you miss about summer?

Travel dreams

Big Sur coastline, California

By Caitlin Kelly

My California trip, solo, for the month of June, was a dream come true, something I had longed to do for many years.

Like you, perhaps, I still have some specific travel dreams, so it’s always a question of budget and time. I’m also not wild about any flight longer than six or seven hours — and now the places I haven’t yet seen are almost all long-haul flights, which means I’d likely stop halfway and stay for a day or two then take another four to six hour flight onward.

I’m really fortunate to have already visited most of Canada (except PEI, New Brunswick, Yukon, NT and Nunavut.) I’ve been to 33 of the 50 U.S. states — and not desperate to see the rest (OK, Colorado and Alaska, probably.) Have been to 41 countries, from Fiji to Peru to Turkey to Kenya, but (help!) there’s still so much more to see.

I occasionally read travel magazines, but am also a big fan of a weekly travel Twitterchat, #TRLT, which stands for The Road Less Traveled, and is run by a tour guide in Nairobi, Shane Dallas. It draws people from Dundee, Vancouver, India, and even Uzbekistan and Malawi. I learn a lot from it, and love sharing stories with people whose idea of a vacation is usually pretty adventurous and not just expensive luxury.

He lets us ask the questions, every week on a theme, which makes it more fun and democratic.

As readers here know, I’m pretty independent and not one for group trips or official tours. I would be highly unlikely to take a cruise unless it was a very small ship (and probably then our of my budget!) I hate being around large crowds (especially now with COVID and every emerging disease.)

My happiest vacations, and I tend to plan them carefully, usually combine spending some time in gorgeous landscapes/scenery with a chance to be active there, a hike or out on/in the water with, when possible, some sophisticated city time with shopping and a few great meals and some culture, whether a museum or gallery or concert.

I tend to be a high-low traveler — I’ve camped in a small tent at the Grand Canyon (not in it), have stayed in super elegant hotels like the Gritti Palace in Venice, had tea at the Ritz in London and cocktails at the Hemingway Bar at the Ritz in Paris, but was equally thrilled in Big Sur with a tiny room and shared bathroom and a burger and fries while staring at the San Gabriel Mountains at sunset.

It’s all about the experience!

My best trips, so far, include 21 days in Thailand, five separate visits to Ireland, many visits to various parts of France, (loved Corsica!!) and a great three-week, five-city Mexican adventure way back in 2005.

I speak good French and decent Spanish, so I love being able to use them.

Here are some of my dream trips:

Wadi Rum, Jordan

If you’ve seen the films Lawrence of Arabia and The Martian, you’ve seen the rust red landscape of Wadi Rum. Even the name! I’ve been following a WR tour guide on Twitter and now have a better idea what it could cost and how one even gets there. It’s easier to start planning (or not) once you do some research.

Morocco

My parents went, a cousin lived there and a friend who works nomadically lived there for a while. Not sure I would do it alone, but it has long intrigued me, especially the deserts, mountains and design esthetic.

Japan

I’ve been fascinated by Japan since I was small and my father went there to make a film about it. Many of my friends have visited and loved it. I’ve read a few books about it. I admit I’m intimidated by a 13 hour flight from NY to Tokyo and the reputed high costs of lodging. My only visit to Asia so far was to Thailand in 1994.

Namibia

Again, inspired by friends and their photos. So dramatic! (Have been to Kenya, Tanzania and Tunisia.)

Greece

Have never been — still! Especially interested in Crete and Corfu, but also the smaller islands.

Patagonia

Have you seen images of Torres del Paine? Whew!

Mongolia

I once did film research about it. Such an unusual place.

The Amazon

Fort Smith, Northwest Territories

Amazing aurora borealis and canoeing the Nahanni River.

Gros Morne, Newfoundland

Fjords!

Cornwall, Yorkshire and Northumberland, England

So gorgeous and rugged. I confess that watching the BBC series Poldark did it for Cornwall and All Creatures Great and Small for Yorkshire.

The Inner and Outer Hebrides

A young friend grew up there and returns frequently.

Iceland

I feel like I’m the only person left who hasn’t visited!

What are some of your dream trips and why?

No more yelling!

If you ever watch the HBO series Succession, here’s one very toxic boss, Logan Roy

By Caitlin Kelly

My favorite place in the suburban New York county where I’ve lived for decades is an indie art film house; some weeks I’m up there multiple times to see a film. I love movies!

Its programming director was recently fired for yelling at his staff, leaving one in tears.

There have always been bad-tempered toxic bosses, but in some places there’s now (happily!) a diminished appetite for them — as several high profile male NPR radio hosts have also learned in recent years, also fired for abusing their staff.

I welcome this, as someone who grew up in an emotionally abusive family and then worked in journalism, one of the most dysfunctional of industries; with a constant oversupply of eager job-seekers, nasty bosses can thrive and rise, thrive and rise, usually without any form of accountability. If they keep losing talented staff, well, hey, whose fault is that?

Having also survived years at boarding school, also being yelled at by old women who were our housemothers, I have little appetite for people unable to hold their damn tongues and be civil. I don’t care how frustrated you are.

I’ve survived quite a few terrifying bosses, one a woman at a trade magazine publisher in Manhattan, who thought nothing of shouting abuse across the room at all of us and, when I dared confront her, stood very very close to me and leaned in further….her pupils oddly dilated. I quit within a month, and with no job waiting and newly divorced.

At the New York Daily News, I dared to ask the photo editor a question in an open newsroom so large it ran from 34th to 33rd street. His idea to humiliate and intimidate me, he yelled at me that I was asking a really difficult question; how to fill out a photo request. What a dick. This was a wholly normal question for a new employee offered zero training. I was then 50 — and quietly told him that being abusive wasn’t going to alter my request. He then ran to my boss to complain about me. Such a FUN workplace!

And, of course, there was another trade magazine boss, a weird little troll who shouted at me for disappointing him when I was editing a 48 page trade magazine with no staff at all, able to offer only extremely low freelance rates that guaranteed careless work from the only writers we could afford.

He came into my very small office and, as I pleaded with him that I was doing my best, snarled: “Define best!”

I was, no surprise, fired a few days later.

I ran into him decades later while riding our shared commuter rail line. As he went to sit beside me, he asked: “Do you remember me?”

“Yes,” was all I said.

Journalism attracts people who are smart and tough and highly impatient, expected to produce flawless results very, very quickly…not a great combo. Then the most demanding rise into management where, sure, they have high standards — but also can get away with shouting and raging with impunity.

I’ve even encountered this toxic arrogance as a freelancer, like a young woman then an editor at the Columbia Journalism Review (ooooh, the delicious irony) who I finally had to hang up the phone on since she was unable to let me finish a sentence.

And, funny thing, she too has since risen in the industry.

I shook for an hour after that phone call — because if you’ve been the subject of a lot of yelling, especially as a child, it really evokes a sort of PTSD.

So every time another abusive manager loses their job, income and authority, I’m thrilled!

Have you been the victim of such bad behavior?

How did you handle it?

My writing life, recently

By Caitlin Kelly

It’s been a long time since I’ve offered an update here on my writing life.

Most recently, I coached two writers in two days, very different personalities working on very different projects. I really enjoy coaching, but sometimes — rarely — I have to conclude I’m not the right person to coach a particular writer, whether our differing personalities, goals or the type of work they want to pursue. As an old-school hard news reporter, having worked for three major daily newspapers, I believe in original reporting, thoughtful interviews and smart, incisive work. Lighter stuff just isn’t really my jam.

When people hire me to coach them — at $250/hour — I’m very aware they’re entrusting me with their hopes for bigger and better sales or new markets. If I really feel I’m not a fit, as I recently did with one writer, I’ll say so and not take on the work. I’ve now helped more than 50 people worldwide; most find me organically through my social media profiles. It’s hardly a full-time income, but a very welcome piece of my annual revenue.

This past week I also began a four-part series with another writer, a first for me. I’m really excited by this new opportunity.

In my own writing, I’ve been doing profiles of grant recipients for a non-profit, of highly accomplished academic researchers working on complex and thorny issues. It’s challenging! I don’t get a byline (i.e. my name on it as the author), but I’m happy to have the work, as it’s well-paid and interesting.

I also recently applied for another job, writing about a local non-profit organization, and we spent a lively hour on Zoom getting to know one another. These initial meetings are uncompensated, as we both need to discover if there’s a good fit between our styles, deadlines and budget. Budget is often a sticking point, as inflation is making me ask for higher rates now. The meeting was terrific and we’re going to re-group in about a month.

I had another hour-long meeting, also by Zoom, also with two principals, about my ongoing work as a design blogger for ZZDriggs, which recently hired two specific experts — aka my new bosses! We had a great conversation and discussed a few ideas; re-grouping in a few weeks as well.

The truth of these meetings with strangers — they’re tiring, really an hour of selling myself to them, truthfully, as someone smart and fun and collegial and skilled and…whew! It’s also a two-way street as, even though I need to earn income, I’m now more cautious about who I work with, having had a few disappointing experiences where I had to walk away and lose the money I had budgeted for.

Jose and I have been working on an idea for a book about how to freelance successfully, as something we’ve done. I hope we can find an agent and publisher.

I’ll also be writing for a trade publication, also about design; I studied at the New York School of Interior Design in the mid-90s while still married to my first husband; a physician, he made a good income, which would have allowed me to start a new career at the bottom. But he bailed after two years of marriage, so I never went into the industry. I loved my training and it’s helping me now, years later, with expertise and authority — two things I can offer as someone deep into my career.

And someone referred me for a science-writing opportunity; I need to find out more to see if there’s a fit.

As a generalist, I really enjoy this odd mix of topics. It keeps me intellectually nimble, which is welcome in a time when so much journalism is tedious clickbait.

I’m doing less and less journalism, which is in some ways sad — but pay rates are abysmal, and contracts hideously restrictive — so there’s little pleasure to be found!

My last published story was February 10 in the Financial Times, which I’m super proud of. But a later pitch to another editor there, of course, was completely ignored. This is quite normal at larger outlets, where one editor has no say over another, so a referral onward internally can mean almost nothing. It’s extremely frustrating!

I found out, after long months of waiting, that I did not win a fellowship I applied for — nine others did. These things are horribly competitive, always. Having said that, I might try for another fellowship, one that offers more money and is less initially demanding (like insisting only people with guaranteed publication can compete.) That’s massively unfair to most freelancers.

I loved my month off, and came home completely refreshed and grateful to just not have to hustle, negotiate, produce or revise for those blessed weeks while Jose’s June freelance photo editing schedule was truly heinous — 15-hour days every day, plus the endless noise of renovations in our apartment hallway and in the apartment below.

There are days I think: “NO more work!” But I have an appetite for luxury, mostly travel, and the income still has to come from somewhere! I’m grateful so many people still want my skills and my point of view; I’m finding a new and much happier way to work when it’s not journalism, which remains a greedy and hierarchical model. My non-journalism clients really appreciate the skills I bring and even some of my ideas, a breath of fresh air when they’re internally stymied or new to the organization. Cooperation! Teamwork!

As I contemplate retirement I also have no hobbies! A friend suggested birding, which doesn’t feel like a fit.

For now, a slower schedule bringing in a decent-enough income is fine with me. It allows time off for travel and brings in the means to do it.