What motivates you?

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Do you long to see your name in lights?

 

By Caitlin Kelly

I spend wayyyyyyyy too much time on Twitter.

Partly because it’s social for me.

Partly because I need to remain visible in my industry as someone sparky and worth working with.

A common hashtag there is #MondayMotivation, which assumes (sadly) we all need a good poke in the ass to feel motivated on the first day of the work or study week.

But we’re not all motivated by the same issues.

 

It’s assumed, in American capitalism, everyone wants to be rich and famous.

More money!

More fame!

More power!

In other nations, with much more generous family policies — like paid maternity leave —  some people just want to be home with their children or to care for ailing relatives or friends.

So do many Americans, even if current public policy and stagnant wages keep them yoked to the wheel.

 

 

Caitlin Kelly Health Care Story

I chose journalism for a variety of reasons:

— I love meeting new people and hearing their stories. I’m given immediate access to smart, accomplished people, from Olympic athletes to C-suite executives. I also meet and speak with people of very different backgrounds.

— I love telling stories.

— I learn something new with every interview and every story.

— It’s really satisfying to know that some of what I write helps my readers to be better informed.

— I love the enormous audience that some media outlets allow us still in which to tell a story and possibly share helpful information.

In my non-work life, I’m motivated by a few impulses:

— I like connecting people, for work, for friendship, for romance!

— Endlessly curious, I live to travel.

— I like to feel useful and helpful in whatever way I can.

— I like to learn.

— I’m nurtured deeply by beauty, whether in art, nature, great design, music.

What motivates you?

 

The lost art of listening

 

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By Caitlin Kelly

Great essay, in The New York Times.

An excerpt:

High schools and colleges have debate teams and courses in rhetoric and persuasion, but rarely, if ever, offer classes or extracurricular activities that teach careful listening. You can get a doctorate in speech communication and join clubs such as Toastmasters to perfect your public speaking, but who strives for excellence in listening? The image of success and power today is someone miked up and prowling around a stage or orating from behind a lectern. Giving a TED talk or delivering a commencement speech is living the dream.

The cacophony of modern life also stops us from listening. The acoustics in restaurants can make it difficult, if not impossible, for diners to clearly hear one another. Offices with an open design ensure every keyboard click, telephone call and after-lunch belch make for constant racket. Traffic noise on city streets, music playing in shops and the bean grinder at your favorite coffeehouse exceed the volume of normal conversation by as much as 30 decibels, and can even cause hearing loss.

This past week was hectic and one day was sunny and clear and I needed some silence! I headed to our local reservoir and went for a walk — the only sounds the distant tapping of a few woodpeckers and the rustle of dry leaves as gray squirrels chased one another.

Bliss!

I really enjoy interviewing people, key to my work as a journalist, but — obviously — it demands close and careful and sustained attention, because I don’t use a tape recorder. I don’t want to waste unpaid hours transcribing or paying $1/minute to have someone else do it nor ever fear that the recording didn’t work.

A pen and notebook are fine with me, and force me to pay very close attention, not only to someone’s words, but their silences, pauses, hesitations, sighs, laughter.

My interviews are usually 30 to 45 to 60 minutes and after an hour, I’m tired! More than that gets really tiring — but it also creates a better bond, deeper conversation and, typically, better results in the form of great quotes or insights.

We’re rarely brilliant from our very first sentence!

A bit more from the essay:

How you listen can work like a self-fulfilling prophecy: If you’re barely listening to someone because you think that person is boring or not worth your time, you could actually make it so. Moreover, listening to other people makes it more likely other people will listen to you. This is partly because it’s human nature to return courtesies, but also because good listening improves your chances of delivering a message that resonates.

Listening is a skill. And as with any skill, it degrades if you don’t do it enough.

I also coach other writers, in 60-minute sessions by phone, Skype or face to face. They, too, are a challenge because my role is to help, quickly! I’m both diagnosing and prescribing solutions on the fly. I love it, but whew! Listening so intently and responding helpfully is serious work.

It’s fair to acknowledge that listening and paying attention are tiring, and so it can be tempting to tune people out, nodding but not really there. I’ve realized that journalism is a good fit for me because so much of it is experiential, and why studying interior design — as I did in the ’90s — was so joyful: it was tactile!

I didn’t have to just sit still and listen.

But I also listen carefully wherever I go, whether to silence in the woods or music on the radio or the distant honking of passing geese.

We’ve also had some recent moments in our 20-year marriage that have revealed how differently each of us listens and hears, and what very different language we choose to express how we see the world.

And, thanks to my recent healthcare story, I’ve received some very long and critical — albeit polite and smart — private emails from a reader, an American living in Canada. I could have dismissed her, or not replied, or been defensive but we actually exchanged several very long and thoughtful emails, even though we’re politically quite different!

 

We chose to listen to one another.

 

In today’s headphones-on, “lalalalala I can’t hear you!” deeply divided culture, that’s now a radical act.

 

Where do you listen most closely — and what do you gain from doing so?

The social media dance

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Let’s keep it civil!

 

By Caitlin Kelly

I bet some of you remember life before Facebook, Reddit, Tumblr, Pinterest and Twitter.

It was a time of  social interaction that was, de facto, personal. We spent time sitting with someone, or walking with them or dancing or fishing. Not sitting at a keyboard and staring into a screen.

So we’re basically talking to total strangers and trusting in their goodwill and intelligence to respond civilly and calmly.

These days, that feels like more of a gamble.

I do see a lot of good thanks to social media.

You, for example!

Knowing that people still find value here — after ten years! — is heartening indeed. I really value the conversations and insights and humor and global perspective you bring.

I enjoy Twitter and have also made new friends from it, meeting them face to face, people I really enjoyed after months of tweets-only.

But a few downsides are increasingly diminishing my pleasure in using social media, and competitiveness is the primary driver.

In my business, of journalism and coaching and writing non-fiction, the LOUDEST voices seem to win, There’s a tremendous amount of chest-thumping, crowing over enormous success. Frankly, even with decades of my own accomplishment, I find it intimidating and exhausting.

I also see, increasingly, a sort of competitive victimhood, with millennials and Gen X vying for the title of whose life is most miserable — and it’s all thanks to those greedy Boomers. (My generation, of course.)

There is no legitimate argument to deny the challenges these two co-horts face. There are many and they intersect: high student debt, low wages, intermittent work, climate change…

I read some of those threads on Twitter, where even the calmest and most reasonable objection or alternate point of view is blocked for being unkind and invalidating — when it’s an alternate view.

I don’t dare mention on Twitter that Boomers like me have weathered three recessions, each of which slowed our careers and damaged our incomes. Then the crash of ’08.

 

This “lalalalalalalalala I can’t hear you” equivalent online is a disaster.

 

There’s little point in “connecting” with an enormous global audience, potentially, only to whine and rage and stamp your feet insisting your life is the worst ever.

For you, it is.

I get that.

 

But until or unless we can cultivate modesty and empathy, compassion and a clear understanding that we each see the world through our own filters of age, race, income, education, political views, sexual preference, gender identity, cultural norms….it’s a dialogue of the deaf.

And here’s a powerful plea about how to better handle other’s bereavement and grief on social media.

 

 

My decade: 2009-2019

By Caitlin Kelly

Another one gone.

It was a decade of some major triumphs and some really tough challenges…probably like yours as well!

Here are some of mine:

 

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2009

 

I began working as a retail sales associate in September 2007 for The North Face. I worked one day a week at $11/ hour, no commission. In the holidays, I worked three days a week to make more money, still no commission — even when selling a $400 ski jacket.

I wrote about it for The New York Times, which drew the attention of an agent who helped me polish a sample chapter about this experience. We sold the book to Portfolio on Sept. 11, 2009 and I was sitting at the counter of diner on Lexington Avenue when she called to give me the news.

Now, with a book deal in hand, I took much more detailed notes — not easy when you work under the watchful eyes of security cameras. I would scribble down dialogue or an event on a yellow layaway card and tuck it into the pocket of my uniform sleeve.

I quit that job on December 18, 2009, grateful by then to be earning $450 a month blogging for a website.

 

2010

 

My left hip is in agony, with severe arthritis. It hurts to walk even a few steps. I even resort to using short crutches for three months to get some relief. A surgeon gives me steroids to reduce the inflammation — and they destroy the bone in my hip. Now I will need full hip replacement.

 

I turn in my book manuscript in the summer of 2010 and get “notes” from the editor, who says “I really like Chapters 11 and 12.” I panic, and think I can’t possibly fix all of it. But I do.

 

 

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2011

 

In April, my second book is published and, luckily, wins nice reviews from People, Entertainment Weekly, USA Today and others.

I get married, for the second time, in a small wooden church on an island in the harbor of Toronto.

 

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Me, a cover girl — even at size 16

 

Hey, I’m a cover girl…in Arthritis Today! I’m given an outfit to wear (and keep!) and a whole photo crew jams into our small apartment. The photographer (of course!) who flies in from Atlanta to NY is the husband of a friend of mine.

 

2012

 

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The day after surgery…

 

 

Hip replacement gives me back my mobility.

 

2013

 

Finally — our renovated kitchen! My design. Seven years later, still loving it.

 

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The left is before; the right is after. I designed the kitchen myself

 

My book is published in China!

 

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Malled’s Chinese version

2014

 

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Pratt’s library — with one of the many sculptures dotting the campus

 

I get a teaching position at Pratt Institute, a private college in Brooklyn. I have to be up at 6:00 a.m. to get there by 8:30 and wait 90 more minutes before my class to avoid the worst of rush hour traffic. I teach a blogging class and a freshman writing class. The pay, for an adjunct, is good — $4,500 per class, $18,000 for the calendar year.

Knowing we have a solid income to rely on, I spend a month in Paris and London, three of those weeks staying with friends.

 

 

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One of the best weeks of my life, working in rural Nicaragua — now still friends with these three

 

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Our van, 95 degree heat, 12 hour days. It was a lot of fun, actually!

 

 

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On assignment in Nicaragua for WaterAid — Jen in the bow of a dugout canoe

 

In March, all expenses paid and a healthy fee for writing three stories, I fly to Nicaragua with a multi-media team from WaterAid. We work for a week in 90-degree heat and long days. It’s by far the most fun I’ve had in a long, long time, thanks to the high energy, skills and warmth of our team.

Not to mention the dugout canoe!

2015

 

 

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Time to just sit still and enjoy the beauty all around us

 

 

After 31 years as a photographer and photo editor — covering the White House for 8 years, two Olympics, Superbowls and more — my husband retires from The New York Times. He is not retired, but has chosen to take their buyout offer.

 

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Our amazing local bakery, Riviera Bakehouse in Ardsley, NY, made this great cake — on two days’ notice. I wrote the headlines; (Arthur was the publisher; Zvi, a colleague)

 

In June, we rent a cottage in Co. Donegal and visit friends in Dublin, taking a three-week break in Ireland.

 

 

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I loved seeing these gorgeous shawls — so much better to take a photograph than buy and regret…

 

2016

 

New curtains for the dining room! The floral.

 

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2017

 

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Istria, Croatia

 

 

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Budapest

 

Thankful for decent savings, and celebrating a milestone birthday, I spend six weeks, mostly alone, in Europe visiting Paris-Berlin-Budapest-Zaghreb-Rovinj-Venice-London.

 

2018

 

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48 seconds a day for 20 days. The radiation machine

 

Just in time for my June birthday, I’m diagnosed with early stage breast cancer, but will not need chemo. The summer disappears in a blur of tests-anxiety-decent results, then surgery (and decent results), then infection, then radiation.

My husband gets a diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes.

 

 

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I finally go to the Met Opera and am dazzled by its beauty.

 

2019

 

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We revisit my husbands’ hometown of Santa Fe, NM for an eight-day vacation, badly needed and totally restorative.

I get a magazine assignment that’s the most difficult-but-welcome of the past decade. I travel far and wide and spend three months on it, nervous as hell about the final product.

“First-rate” and “great work” are the editor’s reply.

Whew!

 

And you?

Highlights?

Disasters?

 

The creative life has never been easy

 

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The bright lights of Broadway

 

By Caitlin Kelly

Imagine needing a job.

Imagine having 20 children to support.

Meet Johann Sebastian Bach, who in 1721 presented six concertos — now named the Brandenburg Concertos, named for the Margrave for whom they were written — to a local official he hoped would offer him a job.

Today, these much beloved pieces resonate still.

The Margrave did not hire him and it’s possible he never even heard them.

The 1946 Christmas film, “It’s a Wonderful Life”, directed by Frank Capra and starring James Stewart and Donna Reed, is equally hailed as a great of the film classics.

It failed at the box office and the original story met with such rejection that its author decided to self-publish and send it to 200 friends instead.

At museum shows of the legends Michelangelo, Charlotte Bronte and the Japanese print-maker Hokusai — whose Great Wave is one of the most familiar of all images — I learned the more nuanced truth of these lives, of penury and struggle, their lost and cancelled commissions.

It’s tempting to think that all the great art and music and literature we still enjoy today was produced from warm homes filled with good food, with healthy children and wives and husbands. In fact, there was much sorrow to endure.

 

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Bronte’s dress and boots

 

Bronte suffered the early death of all her siblings, married late (37) and died the following year.

 

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Bronte’s writing desk

 

I so admire anyone who chooses the creative life.

My father made films and documentary television shows. His second wife wrote and edited television scripts. My mother worked as a print and radio journalist.

I get it!

We lived its ups and downs, emotionally, intellectually and financially. Rejection can feel annihilating, most often wielded by people with salaries and pensions, unwilling to take creative risks themselves while harshly judging those of us who do.

Without a wealthy family or partner (and some have this) it can mean many years of financial struggle, and the endless hope of recognition.

No one needs a new novel or oratorio or painting!

So I gave my husband — a freelance photo editor and photographer this book for Christmas.

 

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One of my favorite sources of inspiration is Tharp’s first book, The Creative Habit; she’s a choreographer, but the challenges she faces, and her wisdom and practical advice, are just as fitting to many other creative efforts.

 

If you’re working to create something new, keep going.

The world needs it.

You need to make it.

 

A rough week

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So tired of financial thin ice

 

By Caitlin Kelly

By December 15, any American who doesn’t have health insurance has to sign up for it.

If you want to change plans, same.

I had to make four separate calls to get the information I needed. We are keeping our plan — now going up to $1800 a month.

There are no bargains.

 

If your plan costs less per month (and I’m talking $800 a month, not $200 to $400), you’re hit with huge “deductibles” — more money to pay out of pocket.

A plan that would offer dental “coverage” would limit us to basic care, and charge us a $25 co-pay every time we actually used it.

This is absurd, and our dentist is fine letting us pay over time. No co-pay.

American health insurance, when you work for yourself and it’s not subsidized by an employer, is a crippling cost. We’re reduced now to using retirement savings for it…wasting our hard-earned money to stave off potential bankruptcy.

I’ve recently been told to add two new medications, so a comprehensive plan is essential.

Having grown up in Canada, this “system” is just barbaric. But I left Canada seeking better work opportunities, and until recently, this was true.

Journalism, now, is in free fall.

Freelance pay rates are one-third of the 1990s.

And this is not the time or place to suddenly re-train for some whole new career. Just not going to happen.

Plus this week offered a nasty surprise financial disclosure that stunned me, not in a good way.

Not feeling the holiday spirit at all right now.

 

Two chairs

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That tiny crystal pyramid on the shelf? Jose’s Pulitzer!

 

By Caitlin Kelly

They came to us in a sad way, one we think about every time we sit in them.

In our co-op apartment building, we have many older folk — in their 80s and 90s — and some are long-married. One of them, always elegant, always together, went out one Friday afternoon for lunch.

On the drive home they were struck by a drunk driver, a woman. The wife was killed and her husband died later at the hospital.

Their children held an apartment sale to dispose of their belongings — so we went downstairs and found a pair of wing chairs, something Jose had wanted for many years. A good quality wing chair is easily $500-1,500+ so this had remained out of reach.

We got both of these for $450.

The upholstery is not 100 percent my taste, but neutral enough to work with our current color scheme. I’d like to change it to something else, but it will be costly.

Jose and I sit there and talk, sometimes for a long time. There’s something lovely and formal and intentional about sitting side by side in an elegant chair.

We think of that couple. We miss them.

But we cherish their chairs.

 

Another widow

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By Caitlin Kelly

He’d come through heart surgery and we were all relieved.

Then he died.

Sadly, his widow lives very far away from us and we’re not close enough friends that we would fly cross-country.

But our hearts ache for her, a funny and kind woman who helped me through some very tough times, long-distance, in 2014-2015.

This is the sixth woman I know who has been widowed in recent years — all of them younger than 70, many in their 40s or early 50s, with or without children.

Two died of that brute, pancreatic cancer. Two of heart attacks. One was a 40+ year relationship that began in high school, another a happy second marriage.

It’s the moment every happily married woman (and her children) dreads. We think it will happen, hope it will only happen, when we, or they, are old and wrinkled and have enjoyed decades together.

But sometimes we are robbed.

I’ve now been with Jose, my second husband, since we met through an online dating service in March 2000. We married in September 2011.

I cannot imagine my life without him.

Yet one has to.

So he created what we call the “red binder” — which I wrote about this year for the website considerable.com. It describes how to create this binder, which is meant to ease in all practical aspects, what to do after your partner or spouse dies: passwords, PINs, pensions, bank accounts, car leases and loans, mortgage details.

All of it.

Much as I know a lot about our finances and the details of our shared life, like many couples we also divvy some stuff up, so he handles some and I handle some.

Here’s the story.

 

Have you been widowed or become a widower?

How did you cope?

 

Define “successful”

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I’ll be back for 2020 as well…

 

By Caitlin Kelly

So there I was last Sunday, wearing my black dress and chartreuse silk scarf, all dressed up to attend an annual holiday party in Manhattan at the home of a man I’d met a few times at conferences. He’s had a career studded with highly visible and well-paid success, including becoming the first digital director of the Metropolitan Museum.

The room was packed with people, some of whom have Big Jobs at places like CNN and The New York Times and many teach at local journalism schools.

At one point, when it was a bit quieter, we were all asked to briefly introduce ourselves — like many, when I said “freelance writer” I heard some laughter, (kind? unkind? sympathetic?) as this is where so many talents now work — nowhere.

 

 

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A legendary writer and war correspondent — much of her life was spent frustrated by overwhelming, unfulfilled ambition. Makes me feel better!

 

Thanks to social media, other people’s BIG and quantifiable successes are in my face every hour: a book deal, a TV series created from their book deal, an award, a grant, a fellowship. It can feel completely overwhelming as I work, alone, more slowly and quietly.

I do have a major piece of work that will appear nationally in late January — that I worked on between August and October.

But for now…crickets.

People are fired daily now in my industry, with even well-funded and highly regarded places like the magazine Pacific Standard disappearing overnight.

So when you’re surrounded by people with visible, credible “success”, it can feel stupidly intimidating.

So I mostly, I’m embarrassed to admit, sat in the corner of that party, eavesdropping. I really enjoyed the great Indian food, but didn’t engage in much conversation. I’ve never been a fan of chitchat — and a NYC journalism party can present a heinous pecking order.

I don’t have children or grand-children, the traditional default place to park your pride when work fails.

I’ve been full-time freelance since 2006, when I was laid off from a well-paid job at the New York Daily News. I’ve applied for staff jobs since, rarely even getting an interview. I’ve stopped applying for fellowships and had two grant applications refused this fall.

 

So “success” is a moving target for me, and maybe for some of you as well.

 

By necessity, if not desire, I look beyond work, visible accolades and high payment to my thriving marriage (20 years together, nine married); deep friendships across oceans and generations, a lovely home, generally decent health instead.

 

 

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This was my most recent New York Times story, about a sailing program for New York students

 

I’m already booked to speak in 2020 at two major conferences (unpaid, but smart, interesting audiences, one in the U.S. and one in Canada, where I do hope to find paying clients) and we’re planning (let’s do it this year, dammit!) a three to four week holiday in England.

Thanks to a link on the blog Small Dog Syndrome, I found this powerful insight, from American comedian Jenny Slate — who was hired into the cast of Saturday Night Live (never one of my favorite TV shows but considered the pinnacle of comedy success)then later fired.

Her take:

First, I just felt really, really embarrassed and terrible. … Hardly anyone gets kicked out of a cult, because I guess they want you to stay…But suddenly I just couldn’t imagine anything worse than getting fired. And then I just thought: I have to keep going. And no one can ever take away the dream.

And nothing will ever dim the lights of that experience, which was like: getting the job, leaving 30 Rock, calling my parents and saying “I am going to be on Saturday Night Live“? That is what it is. It’s such a beautiful achievement. And it’s real and I did it…

But what had also happened at the time, and what always happens, is that: Until I eventually croak, I will not die. I truly will not lie down. And you can be kicked out of a place; I definitely believe that. But I also believe the opportunity to find self-love and creative fulfillment is not a hallway with one door guarded by a super-old man. Actually, it’s spherical, and you just have to hold it between your legs. Just look down, find your opportunity.

 

 

Yes, verbal abuse causes PTSD

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By Caitlin Kelly

 

This is a must-read for anyone who has suffered repeated abuse, verbal or physical, from anyone in their life.

 

 

Abuse doesn’t always manifest as a black eye or a bloody wound. The effects of psychological abuse are just as damaging.

I entered counseling and was diagnosed with depression, anxiety, andPTSD. The psychological abuse kept me fearful, the depression and anxiety left me incapable of taking the steps necessary to get out.

Although I initially thought PTSD was a bit extreme, it’s been almost three years and certain noises or situations still trigger difficult memories for me.

When my male boss was angry and yelling at the staff one day, I became physically sick. I felt like I was right back where I was years ago, sitting and cowering on the garage floor, trying to placate the anger of a man towering over me.

 

It sticks.

It creates PTSD — post-traumatic stress disorder.

It’s real and it’s serious and you don’t have to be a combat soldier or get your nose broken by your partner.

Just getting yelled at a lot is quite sufficient.

It’s not “just words.”

 

I know.

For reasons I will never fathom, my father does this…and I’m no longer a child nor have I lived under his roof since I was 19.

In 2013, prompted by what he felt was my rudeness, (failing to clear the breakfast table), I was subjected to yet another volley of vicious verbal abuse — in front of my husband and my father’s partner.

He has money and health and, to my mind, no reason to ever be that angry with me, ever. This pattern has been going on for decades. I still remember, years later, other altercations with his ego.

I shook all day. I shook for a long time after that.

Last summer — six years later — a brat of an editor for a major magazine decided I was out of line when I dared to disagree with her scathing opinion of my story. She refused to let me even finish my sentences.

I hung up on her.

And shook for hours.

A best-selling author recently emailed me to say he’s included some of my USA Today essay about being bullied when I was 15 at my Toronto high school.

That was an unexpected honor.

But it’s why I took the risk of writing it — in a culture of “suck it up, buttercup”, as though being told what a piece of garbage you are is somehow…useful.

People must understand what effects this has, often for life.

 

I’m a confident, successful woman with a great life in most respects.

But the minute someone starts verbally abusing me now, that’s it.

I’m gone.