When we met, I was then six years divorced from my first husband, a psychiatrist I’d met in Montreal when I was a newspaper reporter and he was finishing med school at McGill. Our two-year marriage was miserable and he’d simply walked out.
I was lonely and isolated in the suburbs of New York, where all people do is work and raise kids.
I’d had a few boyfriends, one who broke my heart (after making me laugh harder for our six months together than anyone ever had), one a ship’s engineer, one a tech whiz, one an architect. It had not been dull.
Then, thanks to writing a magazine story about online dating, (he saw and answered my profile, which read “Catch Me If You Can”) Jose and I met for dinner at Le Madeleine, a midtown Manhattan French bistro, in early March. We had emailed and spoken by phone. He looked great. I wore a turtleneck and a blazer, typical WASP wear.
He ended the evening with a flourish — taking off his red silk Buddhist prayer shawl, scented with 1881, (a gorgeous cologne), wrapping me in it and sending me home on the commuter train.
His move-in day to my apartment was….9/11. He arrived a week later, (and the Pulitzer prize the Times won for photo editing [that he worked on]) that day is a lovely part of our home.
We finally married in September 2011 in a historic church on Centre island in Toronto’s harbor.
Here are 21 reasons we’re still together, laughing, hoping for 21 more:
He’s funny as hell. You wouldn’t think so, from a former New York Times photographer and photo editor, working in a fairly stuffy stiff environment. We laugh almost daily.
He smells good.That cologne! I’ve since kept him in other classic fragrances like his favorite Grey Flannel, Dior’s Eau Sauvage and Hermes Rocabar.
I love his style. Classic. I did get him out of pleats. My father is a super-elegant guy who cleans up well. So does Jose.
He somehow tolerates my weird family. It’s just not a Hallmark card, that’s for sure. His patience with them far exceeds mine.
But he has also stood up for me against them, when necessary.
He’s seen me through five surgeries. Not fun! Always calm.
He’s seen me through (early stage) breast cancer. There was a lot of crying until we learned it was contained and gone.
He has good ideas about how better to do my writing work.
He has good ideas about his photography and photo editing work.
His work ethic is insane.
He hugs a lot.
He says I love you often.
I see the world differently through the eyes of an American who is Hispanic. This has taught me a lot.
He had a loving, calm childhood, which informs our marriage. Mine was not often that.
We plan our next meal before we’re done with the current one. We do love great food!
He brings me breakfast in bed.
His Buddhism, and basic personality, keeps him calm and generally very un-flappable.
He still surprises me, in good ways.
We’ve both had to do plenty of apologizing and forgiving. That’s new for me, coming from a family that didn’t do much of it, at all.
We love to travel together, near and far — so far to Mexico, Paris, Canada, his native New Mexico, Ireland, Arizona, D.C.
What’s nice is that I could probably double the length of this list.
We did have a very tough few years at first — we were, when we met, two very stubborn, driven mid-career journalists; both long divorced; in some ways very very different personalities (he’s the detail guy. Me, not so much.)
We initially fought a lot and we both have tempers and a stock of harsh words.
Charlotte Bronte’s words, from an exhibit at the Morgan Museum in New York
By Caitlin Kelly
This is my ongoing series, a peek behind the curtain of a full-time writer.
I thought I had an agent!
I was wrong!
That agent (the fourth to see it) took three weeks to even read it — the previous one called my proposal “too narrow” — said he was interested, but when I pushed back on some of his ideas backed out and said we “don’t share a vision.”
Oh, and he read my 26,000-word proposal so carelessly he failed to notice I’ve already published two books.
For God’s sake — three weeks’ wait for this level of incompetence?!
So the search continues.
The good news is that I know a lot of fellow authors and some kind enough to offer editorial and agent contacts.
But it’s an ongoing slog, to be honest.
Rejection is really disspiriting and really tiring.
Rejection means trying over and over and over to make yet another new contact — and wait and hope — who might be excited about my work. I’ve also asked a few friends for their advice on how better to position and market this idea. One kindly offered to read over the proposal as well.
I found a potential agent who sold a book fairly similar to mine; the agency only accepts referrals. (We know one of their authors so I have asked them for a referral. I feel shameless at this point, but needs must.)
I also coach fellow writers and had three clients this week, repeat clients, which means a lot. My coaching isn’t cheap — $250/hour — so I know I need to bring value! I’ve booked two more clients for early March, both of whom found me through Twitter.
But wait….how can I possibly justify coaching others when I’m such a failure (so far!) selling my book?
Apples and oranges! My experience helps writers at all levels, sometimes polishing a personal essay or helping them think of new markets or sharpening a story pitch. So this very frustrating book slog doesn’t dent my confidence and nor should it.
This is the only way to survive writing for a living — retaining optimism and confidence and that of others.
I have yet another New York Times story in the can, (more than 100!), edited and with photos taken, so I’m just waiting for it to be published. In the meantime, I pitched four different Times editors — the Kids’ section, the Well editor, the Letter of Recommendation (NYT Magazine) and Styles. Three were rejected and still awaiting the fourth reply.
I’m still blogging for the Lustgarten Foundation, which funds pancreatic cancer research, so I get to interview scientists. It’s a bit intimidating but also really challenging and interesting.
My friend Abby Lee Hood, in Nashville, convened a Google hangout and 22 fellow freelance writers and some radio people showed up from London and Amsterdam and Seattle and L.A. It was great! We are all so lonely and so isolated. There were perhaps three or four of us older than the rest — most were in their 20s and 30s, some even younger. But we have lots in common. I so enjoyed it.
I’m trying to read for pleasure and have started or am in the middle of four books. The one I’m most enjoying is Lab Girl by Hope Jahren, which manages to make even obscure science compelling. I will also ad that her chapter describing mania, from the inside, is one of the most powerful things I’ve ever read; my mother was manic depressive and I witnessed several episodes. They were completely terrifying.
And this payment arrived!
The United States has no such system, but Canada and other nations pay authors a sort of royalty for library use of our books. The way most commercial publishing works means many authors — like me — will never ever see a royalty for our work. We got paid an advance of four or five figures (some get six!) and have to “earn out” with sales, but with each sale netting us a few dollars, never the cover price. It really is just a fancy and costly way to buy mass distribution.
So it’s deeply satisfying to know Canadian readers are still finding value in my work since Blown Away came out in 2004 and Malled in 2011. I did deliberately choose subjects that fascinated me but I also knew would hold longer appeal than a few years’ trendiness.
The amount I get annually is very little in relative terms — about $500. Some authors earn thousands from it.
And it’s worth 20% less because of the Canadian dollar.
In a pandemic dragging into its second year, and with no real end in sight, I’ve still been able to turn to trusted friends, some opf whom are still in great shape, some not so much, to share our thoughts and fears.
One is a delighted first-time grandmother. One struggles with a lot of physical pain. One is single and lives alone and is just very lonely. One recently sold her home and moved into Manhattan, savoring city life.
My husband — we met 21 years ago next month at a midtown Manhattan French bistro for our first date — has been amazing. But I realize he’s not a Swiss Army knife, capable of meeting my every emotional and intellectual need.
I fear we’re going to burn ourselves out if we try to “soldier on” alone.
I fear we’ll burn out our spouses and partners who are by now also feeling claustrophobic and, in a very snowy cold winter, are also succumbing to cabin fever — no cafes or gyms or libraries or restaurants or pals’ homes to flee to.
I had a two-hour conversation last night, so gratefully, with a friend in California who is a long-time pro in the book publishing industry. The latest agent for my book proposal, of course, fell through, and she was both tough and loving in what she suggested should be my next steps.
Tough and loving is pretty much my MO as well.
Who are you turning to these days for comfort and joy?
We’re coming up on a year of the pandemic and I can’t see getting access to a vaccination for months — even as Jose and I newly qualify.
I’ve been trying for months to find an agent who wants to represent my book proposal. I’m extremely frustrated at how slow this process is and how it feels like begging for attention — it is — even after having already sold and published two books with major publishers.
The fantasy is that agents are cool, smart, helpful.
Some are just…really rude. Like the one I was referred to a few years ago, at a fancy New York City agency. I described the book I hoped to produce and he warned me not to be…shrill. For Christ’s sake.
Then the one this year, also referred by a friend, who hadn’t even bothered to look at my work or realize I had already published twice before.
The lack of respect is appalling, fed by the thousands and thousands of people desperate for a book deal. It’s not pretty.
There are a few ways to find an agent. If you have friends who write in your genre, and are generous, several will offer you a referral to theirs, who may or may not want your book or not be a fit. Or you go find books similar to yours and see who the agent was the author thanked and try them. Or…cold pitch strangers.
None of which is quick or easy or fun.
I’ve also been facing a battery of medical tests to determine why my blood has excess iron. Turns out I have a genetic mutation that causes it but still have to have an MRI of my liver to make sure there isn’t another reason as well. The solution to the former is 16th century — blood-letting!
And I have been trying and trying and trying to lose weight, starting with intermittent fasting November 1. I see my GP Feb. 23 and will see what progress, if any, this has made for my health.
Add to this pile ‘o stress the loss or fading of several friendships.
I know COVID has affected many people, if not their health, their attention span or ability to spare time for others. But it’s hard to go through this much stuff all at once without people to talk to, so I’ve been over-burdening my husband. I very rarely cry, but it’s been a time of tears here recently.
And none of this, objectively, is terrible.
No one but me cares if I sell this damn book
Only my GP cares if I lose weight.
The liver issue won’t require surgery.
And we are very lucky to have work and savings and no one else dependent on us, as so many are.
But I’m cooked.
Only after writing it all down, getting it out of my head, did I realize that trying to manage three damn difficult things at the same time — each of which is slow as hell and anxiety-producing and the successful outcome of which is, to some degree, beyond my control — is so tiring.
Yes, I’m impatient!
I work my ass off and I’m generally used to succeeding,
I loathe failing.
Like everyone, I hate medical surprises; I had no clue my liver was weird. No symptoms. This all showed up thanks to a routine blood test.
I really hate grovelling to find an agent — meeting repeated rejection — watching everyone crow on social media about their book, movie and TV deals.
Who are our sources and how do find and choose them?
By Caitlin Kelly
Every time you consume media — in any form — you’re also at the end point of a lot of editorial decisions made while invisible to you, the end user.
We know that a wooden table was once a tree.
We know that a cooked meal was once a pile of ingredients.
But most non-journalists don’t know, and some of course don’t care, how their information arrives to them in the final state that it does.
I’ve been a journalist for decades, staff and freelance, writing often for national magazines and for The New York Times.
It may come as a surprise to you — or not! — that we’re not told by our bosses who to quote or to interview. Maybe interns or those very new to reporting, but, apart from a friendly suggestion, I’ve never been ordered to speak to anyone specifically as a source for a story.
This is good and bad.
It’s good because it assumes we bring sufficient intelligence to the work. It assumes we know how to do our jobs without micro-management and supervision — editors and producers are busy!
It’s good because it lets us just get on with our work without endlessly seeking and getting some official approval or green light to proceed. (Our bosses are busy!)
Despite the very persistent belief that we are told what to do and what to write at the behest of our (pick one! left/right-wing managers and corporate owners) we’re usually not.
But it’s bad in a few specific ways:
— It allows laziness
We will reach for the sources most easily found, certainly on a tight deadline, and those are often people we know or people who have already gained plenty of public attention. Just because someone is well-known doesn’t mean they’re smart, credible or the best person to explain a specific story. It often means they have the money, or their organization does, to hire a public relations firm ($5,000 to $10,000 a month retainer normal) to make sure their voice is loud(er/est.)
Pre-Internet, we had to work a hell of a lot harder to find and build networks of sources: no email, no texts and no instant results from Google or Bing. Now it’s the quickest option to return to someone already much-quoted.
— It allows persistent, if unconscious, bias
We tend to choose to work with/hang out with/consult people who make us comfortable. They look like us and sound like us and went to the same schools or live in the same sort of place. That means automatically and unconsciously screening out many good possibilities. Every time I start to report a story, I try to seek out BIPOC and LGBTQA voices and people living in very different ways/places from me.
How often do we even hear, on radio or TV, someone speaking English with a very heavy accent (probably sub-titled) — while we keep choosing and privileging people easier to listen to?
How often, if ever, do you see someone with a visible disability, like a wheelchair, being interviewed for a story totally unrelated to health?
–— It can be a real problem if our editors push back
It’s only happened to me once and cost me an editorial relationship at The New York Times (i.e. income.) I was writing a story about what life is like when one half of a couple is ready to retire but the other is not. Instead of the usual anodyne tale I knew they wanted (he golfs, etc.) I found a gay couple whose affluent life was suddenly up-ended when one of them suffered serious health issues and the younger partner had to get a government job for the health benefits. I found and offered a real story of real struggle and real adaptation. Not wanted.
— We automatically self-censorand choose sources our bosses will like
We know who our employer’s ideal market/audience/demographic is and it’s our role to speak most directly to them. At The New York Times, as with some others, there’s too often a default to affluent voices, if not the wealthy.
This also means that women over 40, let alone 60 or 70, remain basically invisible and inaudible because women’s magazine’s demo’s (the very narrow demographic appealing to its advertisers) is 18-35. You heard that right. There have been very, very few magazines that acknowledge and feature older women (36 is older?!) and they’re long gone, like Mirabella and MORE. If you read AARP magazine or its tabloid bulletin, all older women and men (50+) are presumed to care about are money scams, Medicare and aging celebrities. UGH.
— It’s a problem when we’re not paying close attention
One way a lot of reporters now find sources is through a service called Help A Reporter Out, or HARO. I’ve used it many many times. It’s a request list sent out three times a day to PR firms, universities, government, agencies and individuals.
It boasts one million sources — and 75,000 journalists and bloggers use it.
At best, you might get 100 replies. But, at its noisy and narcissistic worst, many replies are also demands for links to people’s books, websites, products and services — pay to play. When you need to produce many stories quickly, (and luckily I rarely do, as a freelancer), you don’t have the luxury of a lot of time to make sure your sources are diverse, even if you know you should, and even as diversity and inclusion are now a hiring and management focus for many employers.
Most of my stories are 1,000 to 1,200 words, leaving only so much room to choose who to include — while aiming for a mix of gender, race, age, expertise and geography. My recent Times Styles story included nine sources; I would normally include maybe six at that length.
And I was taken to the woodshed in a furious Tweet for not interviewing a person of color beyond an Iranian woman.
What if you were a reporter here who didn’t speak fluent French?
— It de facto privileges people who dominate social media (TikTok, Insta, YouTube, FB, Twitter, etc.)
Many people, for lack of Internet access or savvy or language skills or confidence or time — or fear for their personal safety — can’t just promote the hell out of themselves all the time. Those who can will therefore more easily command the lion’s share of our distracted and divided attention.
That includes overworked reporters, editors and producers. Easy access to a source who’s readily available often beats the 5th or 8th or 15th un-returned text, email or call (if anyone has the time and persistence to even do it.)
— It really (further) alienates and pisses off our diverse audiences who still don’t see themselves represented in our work
This is a big one.
If you’re not a cisgender white man or white woman, nor someone with a platform/organization/PR firm/ready access to journalists, it’s less likely you’ll ever get quoted or interviewed.
This creates lousy and lazy journalism. And ongoing deep frustration for every BIPOC or LBGTQA reporter or producer wanting to include voices that are quieter or less-consulted. Too often, a journalist turns to a known/respected/trusted Big Name policy analyst, think tank or academic voice to explain an issue, when someone whose own lived experience remains silent and invisible.
— The voices we hear from most also bring their own strong biases and opinions
It’s often too easy to defer to the demands for audience from the powerful and wealthy, always happy to sue and bringing threats of retaliation. Not a good idea.
Loved this Guardian story about people who choose to live in the 1930s, 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s — estehtically, anyway.
And I recently did a lot of global reporting — speaking to people in Seattle, DC, Ontario, Genoa, L.A., Stockholm, London, Finland and Philadelphia — about a hobby they all share, historical costuming. (The man in Philly does it for a living!)
It means making and wearing clothing of much earlier eras and centuries, finding patterns and appropriate fabric, and wearing the correct undergarments to create the correct silhouette. (No sports bras allowed!)
It’s an amazing obsession, and demands a lot of patience and skill and meticulous attention to detail. It’s mostly enjoyed women, and mostly white women — something they’re well aware of! I did include an Iranian-American.
One of the women I spoke to is a mechanic in Finland. One is an Army wife in Ontario. One is a jewelry appraiser in Stockholm.
All were a joy to speak with! I could have spent hours geeking out with Jenny Tiramani, a legendary costume designer who worked for years at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre — and who founded and runs London’s School of Historical Dress.
Here’s the piece, my first sale to the Styles section of The New York Times, for whom I write fairly often:
Here’s the start:
It’s a world of corsets, stays and chemises. Of weskits, bum rolls, breeches and hoop panniers. For actors, wearing period costume has long meant literally stepping into the past: lacing soft modern flesh into antique shapes and learning how to use the toilet without peeling off multiple layers.
“Bridgerton,” Shonda Rhimes’s racially diverse Netflix series set in 1813 England, has suddenly ignited new interest in Regency fashions. But a global community of hobbyists has been designing, making and wearing clothing from the 19th century and earlier for many years. Long a private obsession fueled by films like “The Leopard” and “Pride and Prejudice,” social media has widened the conversation, with fans of all ages and backgrounds worldwide now trading notes on how best to trim a sleeve or adjust a straw bonnet.
Pre-pandemic, they gathered in Los Angeles at Costume College, an annual conference, at Venice’s Carnival and the Fêtes Galantes at Versailles. Some lucky Europeans, like Filippa Trozelli, find themselves invited to wear their historical clothing to private parties at ancient local estates.
As someone who loves vintage/historical textiles — and who wore an Edwardian day dress for her first wedding — I totally get the appeal of this obsession. I love the notion of time travel, of swishing through a garden in yards of silk or meeting up in Venice with equally obsessed pals from around the world.
I had long wanted to write about this subculture, as I follow several of the women on Instagram, but never had a “peg” or “hook” — i.e. what relevance would it have now? Thanks to Bridgerton, it does!
— A great selection of teas, loose and bagged: Earl Grey, Irish breakfast, orange spice, pomegranate, Constant Comment, PG Tips
— A lovely teapot to make that second cup. No sad bags in mugs, American-style!
— a hot bath scented with eucalyptus oil
— an aptly named, very good red wine
— a scented candle, bedside
— votive candles to light upon waking
— a cozy bathrobe and slippers in which to lounge in style; (mine is a burgundy cashmere with burgundy sheepskin slippers. Bliss!)
— games! Chess, Bananagrams, gin rummy.
I bought these in July. Have only read five of them so far!
— lots and lots of unread newspapers, magazines and books
— looking at French real estate on-line and fantasizing about une vie francaise
— a bowl of clementines
— a finger of single malt
— or a Mimosa!
— baking something delicious: apple crisp, muffins, a Bundt cake
— fresh flowers or green plants
— ironed linen or cotton napkins
— a tablecloth with a table pad underneath
— a duvet under which to snuggle and snooze
— a nap!
— a lovely scented soap. Our go-to is the classic Maja, made in Spain.
— two boxes of comfort
Absolutely no embarrassment to have two boxes of beloved stuffies nearby. The tiny black and white bear I’ve had since childhood; same for the white one with the fabulous pin. The sheep is from Ireland, the loon from Canada, the alligator from Florida. The little rhino saw me through breast surgery in 2018. The elephant I’ve had since my tonsils were removed in London, maybe age four
One of the many challenges of working in a smaller country — Canada has 38 million people (one-tenth of the U.S.) — is sustaining a long, thriving career when you’re going to keep bumping into the same people over and over and over.
The way he was fired was messy — a coworker using a shared laptop found a tweet by Khan about Don Cherry, a legendarily loud-mouthed national hockey commentator (and one whose racist opinions annoyed Khan, and many others) — and dropped a dime on him to management.
Khan was fired, but an arbitrator (who I worked with at the Globe & Mail decades ago) decided the CBC had erred in firing him and even awarded him damages.
The CEO of CBC? Of course, a woman who shared my freshman year philosophy class at University of Toronto — cold as ice and imperious as hell even then. I kept running into her, when I moved to Montreal, when I moved to New York. UGH!
It’s one reason I’m so glad I fled Canada at 30 and never had to go back. The circles are just too small.
The second firing blew up big and fast — after The New York Times fired Lauren Wolfe, a part-time copy contract copy editor (known as a casual) for tweeting about her delight at Biden’s win. The Times’ social media rules are strict, and forbid anyone working for them, even freelancers, from expressing their political opinions online.
The drama landed up on the front page of an Italian newspaper. She had to keep asking her Twitter followers not to suddenly cancel their NYT subscriptions in protest and collected money via Venmo.
It blew up after a friend of hers, Josh Shahryar, outraged, tweeted a long thread about their friendship and her work — it got 50,000 likes, 7.5 quotes and 20,000 re-tweets.
Her firing, like Khan’s really hit several nerves at once:
— Both journalists really are completely disposable, no matter their skills or experience. Wolfe had done tremendous and difficult social justice reporting and Khan had only called out someone, Cherry, already very well known for his racist bullshit.
— I’ve worked with some real assholes. But having a coworker rat you out to management? Ugh. Khan, like Wolfe, was a journalist and also a human being expressing a widely shared opinion.
— It felt really hypocritical for major corporations to pillory two individuals when much worse internal behavior, by stars and staffers, has been tolerated for many years. And some of those people have not even been fired. If you’ve never heard about Jian Ghomeshi, for many years a celebrated CBC radio host, it says plenty about who exercises real power, with impunity, and who does not.
— It feels equally unfair to expect journalists (not copy editors, admittedly) to promote their work on social media but pretend to have no personal feelings about the work or that of their employer.
— Being freelance or on contract is very tough — the working definition of precarity. Nothing is guaranteed. You have no union protection, even as staffers committing appalling errors in ethics or judgment keep their jobs. Forget about even collecting unemployment. Wolfe, unlike many freelancers, lives alone and has no one to turn to for financial backup. (Although The Guild, the NYT’s union, says it is investigating.)
— The only way these two journalists — both without staff backing — got real help and redress was thanks to third parties (an arbitrator at CBC and the Guild at the Times.) Otherwise, see ya later!
— The way Wolfe was treated, given her passionate and proven commitment to social justice reporting, seemed especially shitty. This is a woman at midlife and mid-career who had made some harder and less lucrative choices.
This defense was written by fellow journalist Jill Filipovic:
Instead, conservatives (and a very few self-identified leftists) say Lauren’s tweets evince unconscionable institutional bias on behalf of the paper.
The Times, like most mainstream news outlets, tries to be fair-minded and balanced; that often manifests as criticism of a politician being ok, but praise being professionally inappropriate. The job of a journalist is to be adversarial to those in power: not supportive of any particular politician, and antagonistic to all of them. From that frame, you can see how these tweets would have raised some eyebrows internally at the Times. At worst, though, that makes Lauren’s tweets a misdemeanor worthy of a talking-to, not a firing offense.
It’s also worth taking a step back and asking whether the fundamental job of a journalist — being unrelentingly tough on and adversarial to those in positions of power — also requires being only a critic. Is there room for expressions of relief, humanity, and empathy within the constraints of fairness?
…This isn’t the first time the right has come for a journalist, and it won’t be the last. The highest-up folks at our most respected media outlets need to demonstrate the same kind of backbone they expect from their reporters. They need to refuse to give in to the outage mobs that derive their power from institutional cowardice.
Then there’s this — an excerpt here from a very rare cri de coeur from Jennifer Barnett, someone who played at the highest levels of American magazine journalism — and finally, at 44, just bailed, worn out:
I had the plum job. The top of the masthead of one of the most prestigious and respected publications with more than a 150-year-old history. I left because I blew the whistle on my boss for doing something unethical then abusing the staff and undermining the editorial process during which time I was assured he would be fired but instead he was promoted and after threatening me privately in his office, he marginalized me to the point of being completely invisible. In addition to being my boss at this prestigious publication, he was also the president of the principal organization in the United States for the editorial leaders of magazines and websites. Literally every editor of every publication was beholden to him.
My career was over. I was 44 years old.
Not long after I quit, he also left but he went on to be next in line to run the paper of record, and I was volunteering to write the newsletter for the parent organization at my kid’s school. He’s since been fired, or rather resigned, for another major public failing but just last week I was told he’s working with the new editor in chief of the publication I left to write for them. He’s going to land on his feet. At the top.
I rarely tell tales out of school about the shitty men in my industry. There are so so many of them!
And, of course, they hold tremendous power and win the top jobs and keep winning them while many of us just think….are you kidding me?!
Journalism and publishing are not industries for the faint of heart.
Even the present-oriented hunter-gatherers, it turns out, had to develop communal strategies to quash the drivers of overwork—status envy, inequality, deprivation. When a Ju/’hoan hunter returned with a big kill, the tribe perceived a danger that he might think his prowess elevated him above others. “We can’t accept this,” one tribesman said. “So we always speak of his meat as worthless. This way we cool his heart and make him gentle.” This practice became known among researchers as “insulting the hunter’s meat.”
It was not the only custom that aimed to discourage a destabilizing competition for status and avoid a concentration of power. The tribe also “insisted that the actual owner of the meat, the individual charged with its distribution, was not the hunter, but the person who owned the arrow that killed the animal,” Suzman writes. By rewarding the semi-random contributor of the arrow, the Ju/’hoansi kept their most talented hunters in check, in order to defend the group’s egalitarianism. A welcome result was that “the elderly, the short-sighted, the clubfooted and the lazy got a chance to be the centre of attention once in a while.”
Reading about these strategies, I felt several things at once—astonished by their ingenuity, mind-blown by the notion of ridiculing exceptional achievements, and worried that my failure to imagine taking comparable pains to protect leisurely harmony meant that my own brain had been addled by too many years in productivity mode, too many twitchy Sunday evenings.
I think about this a lot, as readers here know.
I’ve been working for income from my first part-time job at 15 as a lifeguard. I started writing for income at 19 and was selling my photos at the same age, sometimes from a street corner in Toronto, sometimes to the dubious tough guy old photo editors of Time Canada (sold!) and Maclean’s, Canada’s national newsweekly.
So working hard and competing for jobs and work with many others is normal.
Leisure — rhymes with pleasure! Treasure! Not so much.
Living in hyper-competitive, expensive New York/the U.S. makes rest problematic —- many workers don’t even get paid sick days or vacation days. Freelancers like me and Jose only earn income when we work. Social media makes an ongoing performative fetish of productivity (truly a word and idea I loathe!), never legacy or creativity or beauty.
Some people have wisely created passive income streams (like owning and renting out property) but that’s always intimidated me.
I lived to age 30 in Canada, and in Toronto, an intensely work-focused place. I moved at 30 to Montreal to escape all of it, choosing a regional newspaper much less prestigious (and less competitive) than the Globe & Mail.
I was burning out and I knew it.
The balance between work and rest, ambition and chilling out, climbing a career ladder or even stepping off it is an ongoing challenge. Americans, especially, are taught from earliest childhood to compete really hard and then to work really hard.
I very rarely see anyone legitimately exhort them to slow down, rest, recharge!
I’m nearing the end of my career in the next few years, really not sure when or how to stop. We are OK for retirement income.
Work has been my identity for a long, long time! Journalism, at its best, can do tremendous good — righting wrongs, taking the corrupt and lying powerful to account, sharing stories that help people improve their lives. I love being part of that.
And, I have to admit, it’s a thrill to produce work published to enormous global audiences.
The larger questions yet to be resolved without work are what sometimes are the basics of a good job/career — your tribe, the people with whom, if you’re lucky, you share values and ethics, in-jokes, jargon, institutional memory.
I’ve never been a joiner or club sort of person. Same with Jose. I need a lot of intellectual stimulation to not be really bored. Neither of us has hobbies — likely the inevitable result of being too work-focused since the age of 19!
Nor, like most of our peers, do we have children or grandchildren.
Some people live their entire childhoods in one home, maybe in a house, maybe an apartment, maybe a trailer. But it’s home. There’s no doubt.
They feel safe, welcome, happy and well-nurtured there. They can’t wait to get home and miss it terribly when they are away.
For others, it can be a place to flee, for a while or forever.
Here’s an astonishing essay about home and house keys from a writer who — oddly — recently moved into the same small coastal British Columbia town my mother lived in for many years.
It brought up so many feelings for me.
Like this passage:
I first visited my father’s house when I was sixteen; we’d not shared an address for fifteen years. A few months later, I moved in, having nowhere else to go.
I used the keys like a tenant on a month-to-month lease—non-committal, curfew-blind—as did everyone else there: my father; his second wife; his stepson; the woman from church his wife invited to stay; the woman from Mexico his wife brought back to stay.
The whole crew pushed off eventually. My father sold the place and took an apartment next door to his office. I slept in his RV for a December and a January, then left for a commune six-and-a-half thousand miles away.
It was already my observation that you can peg the quality and tenor of your in-house relationships by how you feel when you’re steps from the door, key in hand, about to let yourself in. Are you braced for a hurricane? Ready for the dull emptiness of dead air? Smiling before your foot crosses the threshold? Quiet like a mouse?
My parents split up when I was seven, and sold the large house we lived in in one of Toronto’s best neighborhoods, on a quiet street where I played with the neighboring kids. My mother and I moved into a two-bedroom apartment downtown and I went off to boarding school.
But at 14.5, I also plummeted, with almost no notice, into my father’s home, shared with his live-in girlfriend, only 13 years older — a 28-year-old poorly suited to nurturing a troubled teen. It was often challenging for all of us.
They sold the house we later lived in when I was in my second year at University of Toronto, giving me a month’s notice to move out and find a place to live at 19.
I found a ground-floor studio apartment, at the back of an alley in a not-great downtown neighborhood — the sort of place a more attentive parent would have immediately ruled out. But he didn’t.
I was attacked there, so I only lived there for about eight months, glad to flee.
Between 1982 and 1989, I changed my place of residence a lot: Toronto-Paris-Toronto-Montreal-New Hampshire-New York. That included two apartments in Toronto, a student dorm in Paris, a gorgeous two-bedroom apartment in Montreal, a farmhouse in New Hampshire and then, finally, a one-bedroom, top-floor apartment I bought, thankful to never deal with another landlord or rent increase or cracked window or drafty kitchen, in suburban New York.
I haven’t budged since.
I love this moment when the rising sun hits the windows across the river!
In this apartment, with a stunning view northwest up the Hudson River, I’ve been through plenty: a marriage, divorce, being victimized by a con man; two knee surgeries, a shoulder surgery, hip replacement, early stage breast cancer. Three recessions. Jobs won, jobs lost. Friendships gained, friendships that withered.
A happy second marriage, now almost 21 years!
Bu throughout all of this, it’s been a good home.
I love our street — atop the highest hill in our county. Across the street is a low-slung townhouse development (so never a blocked view) and downhill another two-story apartment complex. Our street is winding and quiet, with old growth trees and stone walls. At the bottom are dozens of raspberry bushes — and yet (!) we can also easily see the towers of downtown Manhattan, 25 miles south.
So, yes, it’s the suburbs, and yes it’s pretty damn boring. But also quiet, clean and beautiful. Our town is so attractive it’s often used for film and television locations. It’s diverse in age, ethnicity and income, unlike many others nearby.
Our town reservoir
So, for me, home isn’t just the physical structure where I sleep and eat and work, but a larger vibe where I and my husband, who is Hispanic and a winner of a team Pulitzer for The New York Times, feel welcome.
I keep trying to envision our next home — whether a second home or selling this and leaving — but haven’t seen anything yet (affordable for us) that makes my little heart sing.
I have always longed to live in a private house again, with a fireplace and a verandah and a bit of land and privacy, although I am also very wary of the costs of renovation and surprise/expensive maintenance. The one downside of living in our 100-apartment building is having neighbors who keep opposing its very badly needed renovations — which could easily boost our apartment’s market value by 50 percent.
Tell me about your home — the residence, your town or city or region.