I was pushed into blogging in the summer of 2009 by my then-agent, as we were trying to sell my second book (which we sold on September 11, 2009), and even then “having a platform” was becoming a publishers’ demand — i.e. bringing with you a built-in audience for your work.
I didn’t want to blog and was fearful I’d have anything useful to add. There were, then, 400,000 (!?) blogs on WordPress, and who knows how many now?
The ensuing ten years have proved both personally and professionally interesting, much of which I’ve chronicled here.
— 2011, got married on Centre Island in Toronto harbor, with 25 dear friends.
— 2012, finally got my destroyed left hip replaced
— 2012, won this exclusive about Google teaching meditation for The New York Times, the fruits of six months’ negotiation
— 2013, renovated our kitchen, which I designed
— 2014, back to Paris and London, where I met the fabulous blogger behind Small Dog Syndrome, Somehow we survived a week of me and my too-large suitcase and her and her husband in their very small flat. Whew!
Hotel Flora, Venice
— 2017. I took a six week vacation, most of it solo, traveling from NY-Paris-Berlin-Budapest-Zagreb-Rovinj-Venice-London. Bliss!
— 2018, diagnosed in June with DCIS, a very early form of breast cancer.
It means a lot that some of you keep reading and commenting, year after year.
It’s heartening to know my words are of value beyond the monetary price put on them for my paid assignments.
Love this bookstore kitty! Sometimes my best ideas come to me from taking a hooky day, fleeing the apartment and computer
By Caitlin Kelly
By this, I mean ideas for blog posts and for journalism and non-fiction.
Broadside now has more than 2,000 posts, beginning on July 1, 2009, when I chose to make reference to my native Canada, as it’s Canada Day.
Since then, as longtime readers know, I’ve touched on a wide range of subjects; the two posts readers choose every day (!?) are about my meeting Queen Elizabeth aboard the Royal yacht Brittania at the end of my covering a Royal Tour as a Globe & Mail reporter and what it was like to be sent away to boarding school when I was eight, the youngest child at my Toronto school.
My theory about why those two are so steadfastly popular, day after day, year after year — both are highly specific life events many are curious about and few, certainly meeting the Queen, will experience.
I blog a lot on writing, journalism, travel and how and why people behave as they do, inspired by pretty much anything: an overheard remark in a cafe, a walk in the woods or a conversation with my husband.
My goal, here, is to engage you and, when possible, spark a bit of lively conversation.
Some of my journalism work arrives as assignments, i.e. an editor chooses me to write a story for them. But much of the time it’s up to me to gin up some fabulous idea and sell it to someone with a decent budget, for me usually no less than $1,200 to $1,500. I do occasionally write for less, but it has to be quick and easy.
Our recent trip to Santa Fe gave me some fresh ideas
As someone who loves to travel but hates turbulence, I did a lot of deep research on it for this piece (again) for The New York Times’ travel section. I got the idea because, as they say in journalism, three’s a trend — and I’d noticed three recent reports of commercial flights having to divert from their original destination because of turbulence.
And, because so many journalists get fired — 1,000 lost their jobs recently across a number of digital platforms and print media — I pitched this fun piece about the long-standing friendships that often evolve and last for decades from these crazy workplaces. It ran on the website for the Poynter Institute, which teaches journalism skills to working professionals. It came about because my very first staff job, in my 20s, led to a friendship with the now only remaining staff photographer for the Globe & Mail — when the building we’d worked in together was torn down (of course) for new condos, Fred grabbed a souvenir white brick for me.
I’m still trying, so far without success, to sell a fantastic story from rural France, about a family run manufacturer in business 155 years.
In the past week — whew! — I pitched five story ideas: one came out of a personal experience (what’s called a “service piece”, not very alluring but of service to the reader through practical tips) to Real Simple magazine; a personal health-focused essay to Self; a big deep dive (i.e. lots of original reporting) to American Prospect; two ideas to The New York Times Magazine and another to a Times editor in the Metropolitan section.
I also did six interviews by phone for my first story for cjr.org, the digital side of Columbia Journalism Review; the idea came out of a new book my former book editor tweeted about.
In retrospect, I was naive about the kind of agency CBP has become in the Trump era. Though I’ve reported several magazine stories in Mexico, none have been about immigration. Of course, I knew these were the guys putting kids in cages, separating refugee children from their parents, and that Trump’s whole shtick is vilifying immigrants, leading to many sad and ugly scenes at the border, including the farcical deployment of U.S. troops. But I complacently assumed that wouldn’t affect me directly, least of all in Austin. Later, I did remember reading a report in February about CBP targeting journalists, activists, and lawyers for scrutiny at ports of entry south of California, but I had never had a problem before, not in a lifetime of crossing the Texas-Mexico border scores of times on foot, by car, by plane, in a canoe, even swimming. This was the first time CBP had ever pulled me aside….
Cooperation didn’t earn me any leniency. Next up was a thorough search of my suitcase, down to unscrewing the tops of my toiletries. That much I expected. But then a third officer, whose name was Villarreal, carefully read every page of my 2019 journal, including copious notes to self on work, relationships, friends, family, and all sorts of private reflections I had happened to write down. I told him, “Sir, I know there’s nothing I can do to stop you, but I want to tell you, as one human being to another, that you’re invading my privacy right now, and I don’t appreciate it.” Villarreal acknowledged the statement and went back to reading.
That was just the beginning. The real abuse of power was a warrantless search of my phone and laptop. This is the part that affects everyone, not just reporters and people who keep journals…
Around the three-hour mark, I became completely passive. Confinement in a blank room is a soft form of torture, especially if you suffer from a crippling caffeine addiction, as I do. They were “fresh out” when I demeaned myself by meekly requesting coffee. For a long time, I sat slumped in the chair with a mounting headache while Moncivias finished typing up his report on me. He would pause, carefully consult something on my phone, and then go back to typing. This went on for another hour.
It was around 4 p.m. when Moncivias finally finished up and informed me, anticlimactically, that I was free to go. I couldn’t wait to get outside because the detention area was freezing. No wonder Spanish-speaking migrants call CBP detention la hielera — the icebox. I took my phone and laptop and silently packed up my luggage, which still lay disemboweled on the desk, underwear and all. Pomeroy was gone by this time. As I was walking out, I said to Moncivias and Villarreal, “It’s funny, of all the countries I’ve been to, the border guards have never treated me worse than here, in the one country I’m a citizen of, in the town where I was born.”
“Welcome back to the USA,” Moncivias said.
If you care about press freedom — hell, any civil rights — make time to read all of Seth Harp’s story.
Two of my favorite journalism assignments in 2018 involved a six-hour drive from my home in New York to farms in Quebec, near Montreal. I worked in French and learned a lot, quickly, about agriculture, thanks to Messieurs Bachand and Bousquet.
A city girl, I’ve never lived on or worked on a farm, but I love one farming concept deeply — the fallow field.
The field left to recharge, empty, after being over-planted.
Welcome to my brain!
I started writing for a living as a full-time undergraduate at a demanding university, juggling term papers and exams with assignments for national magazines and newspapers.
I didn’t take a break until I was 30, completely worn out and — very fortunately — financially able to do so for three blissful summer months while living in a small town in New Hampshire.
I haven’t written much lately.
Many people dream of “being a writer”. The part often overlooked is the tremendous hustle required to sell that work.
I send out pitches for stories to various editors — five last week, three this week — and wait for replies, whether a paid/work/yes or a no…meaning more pitching and still no income.
I look daily for story ideas and, with some, do initial unpaid pre-reporting to see if there is a saleable story; one I’ve been chasing for six months and which (yay!) prompted an immediate “I’m intrigued” reply from an editor I’m dying to write for.
My latest book proposal is now with two editors at major New York City publishers, so I also await their decisions. I may apply for another fellowship, the application due June 26.
It’s been eight years since Malled was published.
I’ve recently attended two local networking events, as I’m long overdue getting out to meet local businesses that might be able to use my writing, editing, blogging and coaching skills. I enjoyed both events, but whew! It’s also tiring being charming to strangers.
Instead of writing all the time, I’ve been reading a lot (even fiction! Station Eleven, by fellow Canadian-in-NY Emily St. John Mandel), and going to the gym and shopping for some new summer clothes for a June vacation in Jose’s hometown, Santa Fe, New Mexico.
It’s disorienting to write less, mostly because that’s where the money eventually comes from!
But I’ve also been coaching other writers (details on my Welcome and About pages here), a nice income-producing break from word production.
I sold my first images — three covers — to a Toronto magazine while still in high school and went on to sell my photos to Time, The New York Times, Washington Post and others.
I see beauty everywhere, all the time. I could spend all day photographing the world.
But I wonder how many people now — staring into their phones — even see the world around them. I shout “DON’T WALK INTO ME!” at anyone phone-staring while ambulating.
It’s disturbing how little we notice of the subtleties: the changing light season to season, how it gets low and yellow in fall; the specific bright green of spring vegetation, the minuscule worlds beneath our feet in any forest.
My daily joy is my Instagram feed, with spectacular images from around the world — Scotland, Finland, Italy, many by talented amateurs (check out Grant Kaspo’s stunning photos of Scottish mountains, in all seasons and hours) but also by legendary pro’s like fellow Canadian Gary Hershorn, who I met a long long time ago when we both worked in Toronto and now live within an hour’s drive of one another near New York City.
Recently asked by an awestruck Insta follower, “How do you do it?” Gary replied “You just have to look.”
I’m now in that fabulous place where I’m at the top of my game professionally —- and fewer and fewer terrific work opportunities, certainly full-time jobs with affordable health insurance, are available to me because of my age.
Speaking by phone, I recently had a new/potential PR strategy client — a man — ask me directly: “How old are you?”
I was a bit stunned and finally, laughing, replied: “Over 45. That’s enough.”
I could have said over 50 but imagine….all those extra years!
The Democrats vying for 2020 run a remarkable age gamut. Mr. Buttigieg is the youngest and Bernie Sanders, at 77, is the oldest. The prominent female candidates cluster more in the middle: Kirsten Gillibrand is the youngest at 52, and Elizabeth Warren is the oldest at 69, with Kamala Harris (54) and Amy Klobuchar (58) in the middle. But whether a youngish candidate is bright, brilliant and promising or inexperienced, off-putting and ruthlessly ambitious depends on whether the young thing in question is male or female…
Unfortunately for women, age poses an unsolvable problem: They are seen as too young and inexperienced right up until they are branded too old and tedious. Ms. Warren, for example, finds herself put in the same “old” category as Mr. Sanders and Joe Biden, even though both men are nearly a decade older than she is.
Men who are more or less the same age as Ms. Warren — Sherrod Brown (66), John Hickenlooper (67), Jay Inslee (68) — are not lumped in with the white-hairs. If women in their 40s are “in a hurry,” and women in their 50s are old news, and women in their 60s are just old, when, exactly, is a woman supposed to go to the White House?
I probably use social media more often than most women in their 30s or 40s — who are already swamped climbing the career ladder, commuting and/or parenting.
Yet, here we go, also in the NYT:
“We don’t want to lean out of that, we want the Cami-stans to want to pick it up,” one editor piped in. (For those over the age of 40: a “stan” is a kind of superfan.)
Seriously, enough with this bullshit.
Like anyone north of 40, let alone beyond, doesn’t read?
Watch TV, YouTube, Insta?
I have no kids or grand-kids, so if I want to talk to someone decades my junior, it’s going to be social and/or professional, not familial.
Luckily, I still have friends in their 20s, 30s and 40s and really enjoy their companionship. I’m delighted when they choose to hang out for an afternoon or catch up for a long phone or Skype chat. I offer advice when asked (and sometimes when not!) but our concerns are hardly wildly different — where’d you get that fantastic lipstick? How’s work? How’s the new house? What are you reading these days? Mammos hurt!
Friendship, in my world, need know no boundaries.
Work, illegally and so annoyingly, does.
I don’t Venmo (I use PayPal) but I actually do know what it is.
The next time you assume someone older than you is de facto ignorant of a word or phrase or reference, ask.
Then be pleasantly surprised — or have a useful conversation in which you share your knowledge.
Life for anyone but the very rich — the physical experience of learning, living and dying — is increasingly mediated by screens.
Not only are screens themselves cheap to make, but they also make things cheaper. Any place that can fit a screen in (classrooms, hospitals, airports, restaurants) can cut costs. And any activity that can happen on a screen becomes cheaper. The texture of life, the tactile experience, is becoming smooth glass.
Which is a terrible paradox.
Without a screen, your phone or computer, I couldn’t be communicating right now with you and with readers arriving at this blog (!) from the most unlikely of places — New Zealand, Nepal, Romania, Zimbabwe, VietNam, Yemen, South Africa.
Without a screen, I wouldn’t be earning our monthly living costs by reading on-line, setting up interviews by email then writing on a laptop and hitting send.
Without a screen, I couldn’t use Skype to chat with friends, and coaching fellow writers and doing PR strategy, with those living outside my town.
And yet…I get lonely and bored if all my interactions are thus mediated.
I get out into nature.
I regularly meet friends for a meal or a coffee.
We throw dinner parties.
A new-to-me weekly meditation group of women.
I host an annual women’s tea party, using an early 19th. century tea-set.
I go to the gym at least three times a week, as much to be social in spin class and afterward as to exercise.
This way of life is often described as “the simple life”. Looking at it head-on, it’s far from simple. This life is actually quite complex, made up of a thousand small, simple things. By comparison, my old urban life was quite simple, made up of a thousand small, complex things. I found industrial life too simple, and thus repetitive and boring. With all of its apps, switches, electronic entertainment, power tools, websites, devices, comforts and conveniences, there was almost nothing left for me to do for myself, except that one thing that earned me the cash to buy my other needs and wants. So as Kirkpatrick Sale once wrote in Human Scale, my wish became “to complexify, not simplify”.
How about you?
Are you trying to lessen your screen time these days?
Vancouver, Canada. Lived in London ages two to five, Toronto five to 30, (with brief stints in Mexico, [6 months] Montreal [1 year] and Paris [one year.])
Happiest childhood memories?
My parents split when I was about seven, and I was their only child, so summer camp was my happiest place. I loved canoeing and sailing and making close friends and being outdoors all the time. I felt welcomed and valued.
Where did you attend college/university?
Victoria College at the University of Toronto.
Just because….Yes, it’s Mike Myers and it was Fleet Week 2017
What did you study and why?
I was an English major (surprise!) but also studied French and Spanish for many years there.
Did you enjoy it?
Not that much. I was broke, living alone in Toronto and also freelancing to stay afloat. The school is enormous and pays little attention to undergrads so I had to be very self-reliant. The campus is beautiful and our professors were top-notch so I did get a good and demanding education. I appreciate that rigor and this prepared me well for the world of work.
Where do you live now — and why there?
I ended up in Tarrytown, NY — a town of 10,000 people on the eastern shore of the Hudson River, 25 miles north of Manhattan — thanks to my first husband, a psychiatrist then in residency; we transferred from New Hampshire. There were only 2 spots open that year, one a 10-minute drive from Tarrytown. I love it: economically and ethnically diverse, lots of restaurants and cafes, a 3rd-generation-owned hardware store, a great gourmet store, lovely walks along the river, a historic Main Street often used for film and TV, like Mona Lisa Smile (with Julia Roberts) and The Good Shepherd (with Matt Damon) and the HBO series Divorce (with Sarah Jessica Parker.) Also, 38 minutes by train into Grand Central Terminal.
We love to visit Montreal, a city I’ve lived in as an adult and as a child
What are some of your favorite ways to spend free time?
Reading — our apartment is filled with books, newspapers and magazines. Listening to music and radio (NPR, TSF Jazz). Some television, but mostly Netflix. Movies! Talking to friends, preferably face to face. Entertaining. Travel. Looking at old things at antique shows and flea markets. Many forms of culture — galleries, museums, ballet, theater, concerts. Being outdoors in nature. Paris!
Do you have any idols or role models?
Hmmmmm. Not really. There are some people I admire, but everyone’s fallible.
Why did you choose to become a journalist/author?
I love meeting new people from all walks of life — in my work I have met Queen Elizabeth, convicted felons, Olympic athletes, an admiral. I love telling stories. I enjoy knowing some of my writing has helped others.
Hokusai — The Great Wave off Kanagawa
Breughel, Odilon Redon, Egon Schiele, Klimt, the German Expressionists, the Nabis and Fauves. Some of Canada’s Group of Seven. I love Japanese prints by masters like Hokusai and Hiroshige.
Gerald Durrell, Thomas Hardy, Muriel Barbery, Tom Rachmann.
Best place you’ve ever been?
Tough call! Four-way tie: Machu Picchu, Corsica, Ireland and Thailand.
Worst place you’ve ever been?
A really nasty hotel in Granada and another one in Copenhagen.
A terrible illness. Losing my husband Jose.
Making others’ lives a little happier. I love connecting people.
What’s the view from your bedroom window?
Gorgeous! The Hudson River and its western shore.
Which of your friendships is the longest and how did you meet?
A friend from high school, but closer to my pal from freshman English class who lives very far away from me in Kamloops, British Columbia. There’s a great 1988 Michelle Shocked song, Anchorage, that eerily sums up our differences quite accurately but we still love one another.
How do you handle conflict?
Ugh. I’ve had a lifetime of it — between challenging parents, a tough step-mother, being bullied in high school and at work. It depends. Like many people, I may swallow my anger for many years — then explode. If someone’s driving me nuts, these days I just withdraw and fade away. If it’s an annoying freelance client, I find another. There’s always another.
What do you hope your legacy will be?
That people remember me — and some of my writing — with love, respect and a smile.
This time, it’s The Pool, a popular and terrific five-year-old UK website aimed at women, now “in administration” (i.e. bankrupt) and screwing lots of furious freelancers out of the payment we earned and are owed and rely on.
You don’t think to check the records at Companies House in case an outwardly successful, much-loved, well-read website is in fact £760,000 in debt, has an outstanding personal loan of £40,000, borrowed £250,000 against the company’s assets and lost £1.8 million in the previous financial year. As a freelancer, you can’t possibly be aware of office politics, or worrying signs such as the fact that the entire board bar one resigned in August 2018. None of the staff tell you. Why would they? Maybe they don’t know.
Besides, they need your copy. They keep commissioning you, right through the Christmas period and into early January, only stopping — or so it seems — once they are outed first on Facebook and then on Twitter by a mounting number of freelancers who haven’t been paid.
I’m out about $300 — a hit we can afford to take (reluctantly!) because we have savings and a fairly low overhead. But many others relied on The Pool for our due payments — to pay for rent, food and other necessities.
Creditors don’t care why we’re suddenly and unexpectedly short.
They just expect to be paid on time.
I learned young to be wary of others’ glossy appearance or promises of payment.
I’ve been selling my photos and writing as a freelancer since I was 19, when, one summer, I sold my photos on the street in Toronto. I was so flattered when a smooth, well-dressed, charming woman ordered a large color print of my work — and sent me a rubber check. She assumed I was ill-equipped to fight back.
I sent her a lawyer’s letter and got paid in full, quickly.
I see too many people now desperate for emotional or professional validation — “I’m a writer! I got published!” — when some of those commissioning this material are shysters or going broke and no one tells us this — until, suddenly, we’re all screwed.
As soon as I started to fear (and hear rumors of this disaster at The Pool) I might not get paid, I Googled the company and found everything I needed to know; senior editors quitting months ago en masse, financial chaos, huge debts.
No one selling their skills to strangers — basically what we do when we work without a steady, secure salary and benefits –– can afford to be wilfully ignorant about the ethics and financial health of their clients. It’s why finding and using reliable networks of writing peers is crucial — intel!
Everyone who wants to freelance needs savings!
In other recent freelance writing news…
— Was excited to write about a cool new Montreal company last year — it, too, just went bankrupt. I successfully re-pitched as “What happened to this great idea that sucked up $17 million in investments?”
— Was coaching a young writer for about six weeks but that work (and income) abruptly ended when the student ran out of money.
— Picked up a new anchor client (i.e. steady income!), and now scrambling to meet weekly deadlines for them.
— Made the error of politely disagreeing on Twitter with a highly opinionated science writer who went batshit on me until I blocked her. Later, privately, a writer who knows her (and her shitty temper) reached out to comfort me. Both were strangers.
— Interviewed a fellow journalist/author via Skype about his new book, gobsmacked by the opulence of the room he was sitting in. Was this a luxury hotel? Was that his living room? Good Lord, what am I doing so wrong?!
— Last fall I’d hoped to pitch a great little story perfect for The New York Times’ Metropolitan section, one of the few sections left there I haven’t written, for but my radiation treatment/exhaustion scotched that. I finally traveled to Brooklyn to interview middle school students for it, with Jose as my chauffeur. It’s so comforting to have him help me!
— Finally emailed an editor with whom I feared we’d had a rough ending last fall. He wrote back immediately to say, No, not at all. Whew!
— Have a new book idea. Will have to see if it’s even worth writing a proposal.
— Sent an unsold book idea to a colleague and now await news if her agent is willing to read it or even rep it.
While Broadside has more than 20,700 followers, according to WordPress, (which is lovely), the number of readers-per-post remains extremely low — most posts, no matter what the subject, get a maximum of 100 views before I post another one, hoping for more.
I’ve published 2,105, starting on July 1, 2009.
I enjoy blogging and will continue, but I am feeling generally dis-spirited and need a break.
If anyone wants to offer suggestions on how to improve readership of Broadside — more/fewer posts? shorter/longer posts? wider variety of subjects? — feel free to comment here or send me an email; the address is on the welcome and about pages.
I appreciate every one who makes time to read, and especially to comment!
I really value those who return year after year (!) and whose insights make writing this stuff more compelling for me and for other readers,
But I’m going on hiatus until January, probably the first week.