“Travel becomes a way of life and a comfort zone”
“Travel becomes a way of life and a comfort zone”
By Caitlin Kelly
This is the warehouse for NYC’s food bank. As you enjoy your meal today, remember how many cannot, without help.
Today is American Thanksgiving, a day when friends and family gather to celebrate.
Here are some things I’m grateful for:
This blog now has more than 15,900 followers worldwide, and more join every day. It’s a place we continue to have lively, civil, moving conversations about our lives. Those of you, like Ksbeth, Rami, Steve, Charlene, Matthew, Grace and Leah who have been here for years, I’m honored you return here.
I enjoy writing it and hearing from you, and am so glad you make time to visit, read and comment.
As someone who spent the fall of 2011 on crutches, so bad was the pain in my damaged left hip, (since replaced), and who has spent months on end in physical therapy attending to both knees and my right shoulder pre and post-surgery, I’m so grateful to be strong, flexible and healthy.
Without good health, we have nothing.
Jose is a treasure. We met online when I was writing a story about internet dating for Mademoiselle magazine and 200 men replied to the personal profile I put up on one of the sites. He was in the mix. Ironically, we both work in journalism in New York but we would never have met any other way. It’s now 15 years and it feels like minutes.
We’re staying this week with dear friends in suburban Maryland, a four-hour drive from our home. They’ve welcomed us many times and it’s a blessing to know their home is open to us. In a world where work comes and goes too easily, where family can be complicated and moral support gets you through it all, deep and sustained friendship is one of my greatest joys.
Jose and I now both work full-time freelance. That means, every single month, we need to earn multiple thousands of dollars in income to pay all our bills. If we’re ill or tired, we can take time off, but there’s no paid sick leave or vacation. No one pays into a 401k to help save for our retirement now.
Everything is up to us. So having a strong network of people who know and respect our skill and hire us to write, edit, teach and take photographs is key to our ongoing success.
We’ve been careful and frugal. Having a financial safety net allows us to take time off when needed and the creative risks we need to to compete effectively with people decades younger.
We talk constantly about our ideas for work, travel, our home, new projects to work on individually or together, whether our blogs or creating new workshops. I’m grateful for a partner who is fun, funny and full of ideas. I am fortunate to have friends who help me refine mine and who share theirs.
I’m fortunate to have grown up in a home bursting with creative talent. My father, still alive and healthy at 86, was a film-maker and someone who makes art in multiple forms: engraving, etching, oil, lithography and silver. My late stepmother wrote for television and my mother was a journalist and editor. It was simply normal behavior to have tons of ideas, sell them to make a living and know that a percentage would be rejected or not very good. When I took the Torrance Test of Creative Thinking for a story, I scored in the 98th percentile. I guess it rubbed off!
Paris, January 2015
As regular readers of Broadside know, we live to travel, and are gone usually several weeks each year to Canada, other parts of the U.S. and, in better years financially, to foreign lands. This year has been fantastic in that regard, with trips to Maryland, Ontario, Quebec, Maine, London, Paris and Ireland. Because we’re now both freelance, and have friends generously welcoming us into their homes, as long as we have work and wi-fi, there’s no need to stay put in New York. Beyond grateful to be able to keep my passport handy.
We live on the top floor of an apartment building with a spectacular view, facing northwest, of the Hudson River and the opposite shore. Every morning we’re greeted with a fresh bit of beauty, whether the rising sun creating a line of demarcation across the hills, sparking every window into a “ruby moment” as it reflects the sun, or fog so thick we can barely see the trees.
We live and work in a one-bedroom, so we have to be tidy and organized, but love that our balcony is our refuge/office/spare room when the weather is good.
I really enjoy our town, Tarrytown, NY, 25 miles north of Manhattan, a place so pretty films and television shows are made here — a few days ago HBO was filming a show with Sarah Jessica Parker.
We’ve enjoyed many fun versions of this holiday over the years — spent in frigid, dark-by-2pm Stockholm, others with friends in D.C. and N.Y, getting to know them and their relatives better.
Our own families living very far away from us, we’re lucky to be invited to join others’ celebrations.
Wherever you are today, I hope your Thanksgiving is a happy one!
By Caitlin Kelly
“I don’t believe in storage lockers” — prop stylist/blogger Chelsea Fuss
If you’ve never seen Chelsea’s blog, go!
I’ve been following it for years, for which she’s won all sorts of awards. Fuss worked in Portland, Oregon for 14 years as a props stylist and lived like a nomad for a bit, (no husband or kids.) Now, at 37 — an age when some of us are deeply mired in conventional-if-bored-to-tears work and domesticity — is happily re-settled in, of all places, Lisbon.
I enjoy everything about her blog, and her spirit of adventure. She really has the perfect name for a woman who creates lovely images for a living!
I also share her values: a devotion to connection, to beauty, flowers, travel, quiet, making a pretty home, wherever you live, that welcomes you without spending a fortune.
I loved her comments here, on another woman’s blog, readingmytealeaves.com:
When you spend your day driving around town in a cargo van buying $1000’s of dollars worth of props from Anthropologie and West Elm [NOTE: chic chain-store shops, for those who don’t know them] for photo shoots, those products start to mean very little. I am very detached (possibly to the extreme) from possessions! There are very few stores I walk into and find myself ooh-ing and aww-ing. As a prop stylist, after a while, you’ve seen it all. What’s really special are the one-off pieces, the heirlooms, the perfectly weathered linens, or the family postcard with old script that tells just the right story.
As I sort through my stuff, organizing/ditching/selling/donating/offering for consignment as much as I possibly can, it’s a powerful time to reflect on what we own, what we keep and why.
Even as I’m pitching, Jose and I are treating our home to a few nice new pieces: framing a lovely image by the talented pinhole photographer Michael Falco (a gift); a striking striped kilim we’re having shipped from Istanbul that I found online, rewiring and adding a fresh new white linen shade to an early pale grey ginger jar lamp we recently found in Ontario and a spectacular mirror, probably mid-Eastern in origin, I found dusty and grimy in an antique shop in North Hatley, Quebec.
So…how can I possibly advocate less stuff?
Because we live in a one-bedroom apartment, with very limited closet space. I’ve lived here for decades, and we both work at home now and don’t plan to move into a larger space any time soon, so a constant attention to add/pitch is crucial to our sanity and tidiness. (Yes, we do have a storage locker and keep some things in our garage as well: out of season clothing, luggage, ski equipment, etc.)
I grew up in homes where my parents’ primary interests were travel and owning fewer/better quality objects than piles ‘o stuff. My family home, and ours today, was filled with original art, (prints, paintings and photos, some of them made by us, Eskimo sculpture, a Japanese mask and scroll) and a few good antiques.
I’m typing this blog post atop a table my father gave us last year, which is 18th.century English oak.
It boggles my mind to enjoy and use every day in 2015 an object that’s given elegant service for multiple centuries. I prefer, for a variety of reasons, using older things (pre-1900, even 1800, when possible) to new/plastic/Formica/mass-produced.
Many people inherit things from their families and cherish them for their beauty and sentimental attachment. Not me.
I own nothing from either grandfather, and only a vintage watch and a few gifts from one grandmother — she was a terrible spendthrift who simply never bothered to pay three levels of tax on her inherited fortune. Her things were sold to pay debt; if I want to see a nice armoire she once owned, it’s now in a Toronto museum.
So…no big emotional draaaaaaama for me over stuff. I’ve bought 99% of what I own, as has my husband.
I’m also of an age now when too many of my friends, even some of them decades younger, face the exhausting, time-sucking, emotionally-draining task of emptying out a parent’s home and disposing of (keeping?) their possessions. One friend is even flying to various American cities from Canada to hand-deliver some willed pieces of jewelry, so complicated is it to ship them across the border.
When my mother had to enter a nursing home on barely a week’s notice four years ago, we had to clear out and dispose of a life’s acquisitions within a week or so. Most went to a local auction house.
It was sad, painful and highly instructive.
Today I’m lucky enough to enjoy a few of her things: a pretty wool rug by my bedside and several exquisite pieces of early/Indian textiles; she lived in a one-bedroom apartment so there wasn’t a lot to deal with.
But if we’re lucky enough to acquire some items we really enjoy, parting with them can feel difficult.
Maybe better to keep them to a minimum?
Check out this amazing 650 square foot NYC apartment with handsome multi-functional pieces and built-ins.
How do you feel about owning/cleaning/ditching your possessions — or those of others?
By Caitlin Kelly
If you’re lucky, there are places you find in your travels that you enjoy so much you keep returning, sometimes for decades.
For us, since the year 2001, right after the attacks of 9/11 — which I wrote about and of which my husband edited horrific images for The New York Times — it’s been a town of 750 people about 90 minutes south of Montreal, North Hatley, Quebec.
I first came there in the mid 1980s with my first husband, back when we lived in Montreal and wanted a weekend’s break together. I went horseback riding in deep snow, galloping along in a black coat feeling like an out-take from Dr. Zhivago.
Jose, (my second husband,) and I came here after 9/11, desperate for a respite, a calm, beautiful place in which to recharge and flee the widespread fear we all felt then. A place we did not have to get to by airplane.
I like that we can drive to it easily, within about 6.5 hours from our home in New York.
I like that it’s in Canada, my home country.
I love hearing and being able to speak French, to read La Presse at the breakfast table, as well as my two former employers, the Montreal Gazette and The Globe & Mail.
I can buy items impossible to find in the U.S., like Mackintosh toffee or Shreddies cereal.
We stay in a resort that’s enough of a splurge we usually come every two years and stay for 3 or 4 nights. The place, Manoir Hovey, now owned by the second generation of Staffords, began as the summer home of an American businessman and later was turned into a hotel.
We just went for our seventh visit.
I love its sense of history and timelessness.
The walls of one public room are lined with a stunning array of artifacts — tomahawks and scythes and early ice tongs. A birchbark canoe made in 1923 hangs from the ceiling.
Two of its cabins are named for two of Canada’s key historical figures, Wolfe and Montcalm.
The wood paneled hallways, lit by stained glass lanterns, have photos of the Canadian ski team here — in 1959. There are early maps of the area and photos of women in white linen in canoes on the lake, probably from 1905 or so.
There’s an enormous bellows hanging on an exterior wall, a terrific artifact of earlier eras and a cosy pub area that feels like an out-take from a 1930s movie.
Like many of their guests, we keep returning, happy to see familiar faces and enjoy a place we know well.
I grew up in a family where, as an adult, my parents’ home wasn’t always open or welcoming to me and to my husband. We needed to find a place we loved and would want to return to whenever we could afford it; when the Canadian dollar drops to 74 cents U.S. (as it has now), that helps!
And so, over the past 14 years, we’ve been back in all four seasons, whether stumbling down the Manoir’s icy driveway in midwinter or kicking through autumn leaves. I’ve canoed here, even close to a few beavers.
We spent New Year’s Eve here once, and met a very dramatic red-headed ballerina, with hair to her waist, and with a house in the south of France some admirer — of course! — had given her.
Guests range in age from 20s to 70s, and conversations are in both French and English; I speak French, and love to hear it all around me. We chatted with a young couple celebrating their 10th anniversary, and he, an engineer working at Bombardier, regaled us with stories of their latest aircraft design.
Breakfast and dinner are included in the price, so you just settle in, whether beside the fireplace in the library in winter or a pale gray lawn chair on the dock in summer.
It’s my perfect combination: elegant but not stuffy, welcoming but not overbearing, timeless but refreshed as needed. (And no, no one paid me to say so!)
We do hope to hold a mid-winter workshop there in February 2016 — one for photographers and one for writers.
Details to come!
The town of North Hatley is tiny, but has two great grocery stores, a few good restaurants and an affordable antique store and barn so packed with treasures you can barely move; our apartment is filled with lovely things we’ve found there over the years, from a wooden-framed Mideastern mirror to a tiny carved wooden squirrel signed by its maker to a classically Quebec souvenir — a catalogne. Ours is pure white, and covers my desk.
If you know and love the Armand Gamache mystery novels written by Louise Penny, you’ll feel right at home in this gorgeous part of the world. She lives nearby and her books perfectly describe the area, known as the Eastern Townships or les Cantons de L’est.
Do you have a place you love to return to?
What draws you back?
By Caitlin Kelly
Button up your overcoat, when the wind is free, Oh, take good care of yourself, you belong to me!
— Ray Henderson lyric, 1928
After a few decades of running around — and four orthopedic surgeries within 12 years — I’m finally treating my body with a little more respect.
I grew up in Canada, but now live in the U.S., and near New York City, the epicenter of a workaholic, gogogogogogogogogogo culture, one that solely encourages and rewards “productivity”.
We’re all exhorted daily to move faster, do more, sleep less, earn more money, get the promotion.
Vacation? Hah! Even the few Americans who get paid vacations beyond 10 days a year are too scared to take the time off.
The notion of actually nurturing our souls, bodies and minds is anithetical to the industrial mindset of production. There’s no profit (for anyone else) in it!
On my last day of work at the American ad agency, something strange happened: I was smiling. A weight had been lifted, and I felt like a prisoner about to be freed. And despite my fear that no one would hire me, I soon found a job in Zurich doing exactly what I had been doing in the United States: copywriting for an ad agency.
My job title was the same, but I worked part time — and for a higher salary than I had received working full time in the United States. When I was politely asked to work additional days beyond the ones specifically mentioned in my contract, the agency paid me for that extra work.
Not only that, but instead of two weeks of vacation, I had five. And I was encouraged to use every single day of it, guilt-free. Once, when I went to Spain for “only” 10 days, my Swiss colleagues chastised me for not going away long enough.
Instead of worrying about working weekends and holidays the way I had in the United States, I planned trips like the rest of my colleagues: Paris. Prague. Zermatt. For the first time in my working life, I was living, too. Because of this, my creativity flourished. I had both time and money, and because I had real time off, I was more productive when I was at work. In my spare time I wrote blogs and essays and I swam in the lake.
I’m firmly and decidedly out of step with American values in this regard.
In 2015, I’ve spent 3 weeks in Europe in January, another three weeks in June in Ireland, 10 days in Maine and 10 days in Ontario.
Because my husband and I are, as of this year, now both full-time freelancers, (he’s a photo editor and photographer, I write for a living), we can work from anywhere there’s wi-fi and can take as much time off as we can afford.
We’re not wealthy and we live a fairly frugal life, with a small apartment and a 14-year-old car. Nor do we have the financial responsibilities of children or other dependents.
We’ve had terrific careers and won awards and the respect of our peers and while we still need to work for income…it’s time for us.
I’m not fond of the word “self-care” but it’s a concept I believe in strongly, especially for women who are socially encouraged to give everyone else their time, energy and attention — but often feel conflicted or guilty when they stop long enough to take equally thoughtful care of themselves.
Self care can take many forms:
— massage, manicures, pedicures, facials
— dressing well
— a barbershop trim or shave
— regular medical and dental checkups
–– cooking or baking something delicious, especially “just” for yourself
— a pot of tea in the afternoon, possibly with a biscuit or two (no sad little teabag in a cup!)
— drawing, painting, taking photos, nurturing your creative self
— doing yoga
— playing music
— singing, alone or with others
— keeping a calm, clean, lovely home, (or at least a dedicated space within it)
— the company of dear friends
— reading for pure pleasure
— visiting a gallery or museum
— wearing a lovely scent
— taking a luxuriously long bath or shower
— spending time in nature
— silent solitude
— listening to music
— unplugging from all devices and social media
— attending a religious service
— volunteer work
— coloring (have you seen the latest trend — adult coloring books?)
— cuddling and/or caring for your pet(s)
–– handiwork like knitting, crochet, quilting, sewing embroidery — or woodwork
Do you take good care of yourself?
By Caitlin Kelly
That low, golden, slanting light of autumn
Lying by the pool, snoozing, listening to the symphony of cicadas, planes buzzing overhead and sprinklers
Dinner on the balcony at sunset
Frozen yogurt with sprinkles
Blueberry pancakes with bacon and maple syrup
Watching “Casablanca” for the umpteenth time — “Of all the gin joints…”
Maple syrup — on almost anything
A stash of my favorite Canadian candy: Big Turk, Crunchie, Mackintosh toffee and Crispy Crunch
An icy gold gimlet, (expertly made by my husband)
Our balcony garden
And its shadows
Sitting at an oak table made 300 years ago, wondering who else has sat there over the centuries
Listening to Joshua Bell playing Mozart at Lincoln Center
Having my hashtag go viral — #MissingTheZero — because too many Big Name Publishers are paying us pennies now
Candles flickering, tapers and votives and lanterns
A cotton vintage tablecloth
Savoring a book I like so much I don’t want it to end (The Goldfinch)
A new pair of pretty shoes
Freshly ironed pillowcases
A cool breeze
Lighting a fire in the fireplace
Playing co-ed Saturday softball with the same friends for 15 years
Writing a story I know will make a difference, like this one
By Caitlin Kelly
“On any person who desires such queer prizes, New York will bestow the gift of loneliness and the gift of privacy. It is this largess that accounts for the presence within the city’s walls of a considerable section of the population; for the residents of Manhattan are to a large extent strangers who have pulled up stakes somewhere and come to town, seeking sanctuary or fulfillment or some greater or lesser grail. The capacity to make such dubious gifts is a mysterious quality of New York. It can destroy an individual, or it can fulfill him, depending a good deal on luck. No one should come to New York to live unless he is willing to be lucky.”
― E.B. White,
I arrived in New York, with no friends or family or job or connections here, just in time for the first recession in my industry, journalism. To find my first job here, (which I finally found through an ad in The New York Times), I made 150 cold calls to total strangers.
I cried a lot.
After a terrific few years working for major Canadian daily newspapers, it was rough on my ego, and my aspirations, to realize that what I’d accomplished meant nothing here because it hadn’t happened in the U.S., let alone within the city’s five boroughs.
I finally did find a position, as a senior editor at a well-respected, now-long-gone monthly magazine called World Press Review, at a salary $5,000 a year lower than what I’d earned in Montreal two years before as a reporter for the Gazette.
Welcome to New York!
Why did I want to move here?
I’d been visiting since I was 12, so it was not wholly unfamiliar.
My mother was born here and was married at St. Bartholomew’s, a huge Romanesque pile on Park Avenue, where her grandmother lived. I was legally able to move here from my native Canada because I obtained my green card through my mother’s American citizenship.
As an ambitious journalist, I dreamed of being published and by the major American magazines and book publishers I grew up reading — Vogue, Glamour, The New York Times. I also knew that sustaining a 30+ year career in Canada, with a much smaller set of professional opportunities, wasn’t for me; I’d feel bored and always have wondered, what if…
Reinventing my life in New York was hard!
In some ways, it still is. For every full-time job or freelance opportunity, there are hundreds of ferociously determined and well-prepared competitors. Socially? I still find it lonely, although I’ve made a few friends; people focus on their families or their work and have long, tiring commutes.
If you arrive here without one second of American education — especially elite feeders to the best jobs, like prep schools and the Ivy League — you arrive severely deprived of crucial social capital. You need a lot of talent, drive, skill and luck to shove open some of these very heavy doors.
But the city is also a source of tremendous pleasure for me, even as I live in a small town north of the city, where I own an apartment; I’m easily in town, by car or train, within 40 minutes.
I’ve had some of the best moments of my life here, like picking up the galleys for my first book at the Sixth Avenue offices of Simon & Schuster, and clutching them to my heart in ecstasy. I’d achieved my dream! A book published by one of the country’s biggest houses (Pocket Books.)
What are some of the things I still love here?
Hard to imagine what you can’t find here, whether music, dance, opera, theater, fine art, museums…My favorites are a little obscure, like the Mint Theater, (which revives earlier works and which is housed, oddly, in a midtown office building), and the Japan Society, which mounts small, excellent shows in a lovely, quiet exhibition space in the east 40s.
I have a favorite painting at the Met I like to visit, this painting of Joan of Arc, first shown in 1880, by the French painter Jules Bastien-Lepage.
This image stops me cold in my tracks — hung in a busy hallway — every time. It’s enormous.
I feel as if she’s standing right in front of me, close enough to touch. I love how dazed she looks, the overturned wooden stool, and the ghostly image of her, in armor, floating behind her, her awaiting future.
I love everything about this painting: its colors, details, mood and subject matter. And am so lucky I can see it when I want to.
Another favorite is a pair of gold Roman earrings at the Met, tiny cherubs riding astride birds, exquisite in every detail.
You must get to Lincoln Center, both stunning visually (the fountain!) and culturally. I recently treated myself to a $65 box seat to see Joshua Bell play Bach and Mozart. Swoon!
Food and Drink:
If you can’t find a decent meal here, (and in Brooklyn and Queens as well), you’re not paying attention, from elegant old-school venues like Bemelman’s Bar at the Carlyle Hotel, Sardi’s, the Campbell Apartment, the King Cole Bar at the St. Regis and La Grenouille to the newest, trendiest spots. (If you can’t afford a meal, you can probably afford a cocktail just to enjoy the atmosphere and history.)
I tend to return to old favorites like Red Cat on 10th., Balthazar on Crosby St;, The Lion on West 9th, Toloache on 50th., and Cafe Cluny and Morandi in the West Village. I love Caffe Reggio and Bosie Tea Parlor for a long chat with a pal over coffee or tea and Grey Dogs, east and west versions, for breakfast.
Buying food is a joy in places like Eataly, Chelsea Market, the Union Square Greenmarket and the city’s many specialty stores, from Kalustyan’s (spices), Murray’s Cheese, Russ and Daughters to Porto Rico Coffee and Tea.
The smallest few blocks here will reward your attention, especially with amazing architecture and fenestration. The shaded and cobble-stoned streets of the West Village are lovely. So are the funky bits of the East Village, East 9th being a favorite for shopping, eating and looking.
The city has many extraordinary churches well worth a visit, like the second-oldest church in Manhattan, St. Mark’s in the Bowery, on East 10th. street.
The parks are an obvious choice and so is the Brooklyn Bridge, especially at sunset; I bet fewer than 5 percent of anyone in New York knows that the Brooklyn Bridge would never have been completed without the skills and determination of a 19th-century woman — Emily Roebling, wife of the engineer, Washington Roebling, whose job it was to design the bridge and who fell ill halfway through the project.
My favorite park is Bryant Park in midtown, filled in summer and fall and spring with folding dark green chairs and tables, plenty of shady trees, even a carousel. In winter there’s a skating rink with cheap rentals and great music.
I attended The New York School of Interior Design in the 1990s, intending to leave journalism and change careers. I didn’t, but now teach writing there. It’s an honor to head back through those huge red doors as a member of their adjunct faculty. (I’ve also taught at NYU [adults] and Pratt Institute.)
Columbia and many other schools are always putting on panel discussions and lectures open to the public, offering tremendous, free opportunities to keep learning.
Sigh. From indie spots like my favorite vintage store, Edith Machinist on Rivington to Saks, Bergdorf Goodman and Barney’s to bookstores, specialty shops, (one selling nothing but umbrellas, for example), and pop-ups. Saks’ shoe department has its own zip code, a fun spot to watch oligarchs and their wives buying bagfuls of $1,500 stilettos and squealing girls from the heartland swooning over their first in-person sighting of Jimmy Choos and Manolos.
Ignore the stuff you can find in any other city, like Big Box and chain stores, and seek out treasures like Bigelow’s, the oldest apothecary in America.
If, like me, you looooooove unusual and exotic fragrances, (men’s and women’s), you cannot miss Aedes de Venustas on Christopher Street. Buy a box of this soap, (3 bars for $42), and sniff it happily all the way home.
For a city so known for modernity and speed and haste, there’s much history here to savor as well. One of the quietest and most out-of-the-way places to visit is this, Manhattan’s oldest house — built in 1765 — the Morris-Jumel Mansion.
Check out the Tenement Museum for a truly immersive feel for NYC vernacular history and the Museum of Immigration on Ellis Island.
I love the atmosphere of the city’s classic 100-year-old-plus bars or restaurants, including Old Town Bar, Fanelli’s, the Landmark and the Ear Inn. If you sit in The White Horse, you’ll sit where my namesake — Caitlin Thomas, wife of the poet Dylan Thomas — once sat as well.
You can’t miss the cathedral of commuters, Grand Central Terminal, on 42d Street. It is breathtaking in its beauty and scale, with details from carved marble fountains to gleaming, enormous chandeliers and a brilliant turquoise ceiling with gold-painted constellations. Built in 1913, renovations were completed in 1996.
It’s too easy to forget that Manhattan is, after all, an island. Get to the western edge and enjoy the sunset at one of the many pier-side restaurants and bars. Take a Circle Line ferry around the island. Rent a kayak.
Or jump on the Staten Island ferry and head out as the sun is setting to watch the city light up.
What do you enjoy most about living in — or visiting — New York City?
By Caitlin Kelly
Have you heard of “bitchy resting face”?
A piece in today’s New York Times has, so far, drawn 564 comments on the bizarre notion that a woman’s face is something total strangers can expect to make them feel happier:
RBF is now the topic of multiple “communities” on Facebook, dominated by women.
Plastic surgeons say they are fielding a growing number of requests from those who want to surgically correct their “permafrowns” (again, primarily from women).
The country star Kacey Musgraves recently helped Buzzfeed create a list of 17 more accurate names for RBF (among them, Resting “this wouldn’t bother you if I was a guy” face).
A New Jersey business journal, NJBIZ, even published a special report on the topic.
If you’re an American woman, the larger culture demands you be real friendly! all the damn time — and a woman who doesn’t walk through the world with a big fat reassuring smile plastered on her face is deemed angry, annoyed, frustrated and (wait for it), rude as a result.
I grew up in Canada, a British-inflected nation (see: stiff upper lip, emotional reticence, subdued expressions of feelings) where no one — thank God — expects you to be chatty and charming to every single person you meet. It’s exhausting!
I moved to the U.S. in 1989 and one of the biggest cultural adjustments I’ve made in the 25 years since then is the cultural norm of being genial to strangers. Why, exactly, is never made clear.
It’s just a cultural norm. I still don’t feel compelled to be “friendly” to anyone, and don’t feel compelled to apologize for not doing it. Civil, polite — of course!
Beyond that? I conserve my emotional energy for situations I think require it.
It was much worse in the 2.5 years (Merry damn Christmas, already!) I worked retail as a sales associate for The North Face, working in a suburban New York mall, serving customers who were often extremely wealthy and whose behavioral expectations were off the charts. Surrounded daily by minions they’d hired and could fire in a heartbeat — nannies, chauffeurs, au pairs, maids or their workplace employees — they were positively stunned when we dared to utter a one-syllable word to them.
As in, “No, we don’t have that jacket in your size/color.”
The only way to soften the terrible blow of their delayed gratification was by offering an automatic huge smile and a heartfelt apology — all on low wages. (This is called emotional labor and it is, very much, a thing.)
I wrote a book about that experience; the link is here.
I know I’ve got a severe case of BRF and I’ve even addressed it explicitly in job interviews because when I concentrate hard I don’t always keep eye contact (bad) let alone I fail to smile reassuringly (even worse) at the person trying to decide if I’m likeable enough to hire.
One reason I work freelance alone at home!
I have no doubt my lack of reflexive emotional appeasement helped tank some of my student evaluations this past year when I taught at a very expensive private college in Brooklyn. I don’t smile a lot. I don’t make an effort to ingratiate myself. I have a sense of humor and love to laugh, in the classroom and outside of it.
But sticking on a fake smile to soothe people for no apparent reason? No.
To me, learning is a serious business and those who feel cheated without fake bonhomie are a poor fit for my style.
So to tell women walking down the street, or buying groceries, or chairing a meeting or sitting on a park bench, “Smile, honey!” is a normal grotesquerie for many of us. Because, somehow, if we’re not making you feel better about yourself, we’re failing you.
It’s our face.
Have you been told you’re not perky enough?
How did you respond?