The writing life, of late

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My big story, January 2020 — three months’ reporting, 30 sources.

 

By Caitlin Kelly

Thanks to Twitter, of all things, my recent writing work has been plentiful, interesting and decently-paid.

I have no explanation for it, certainly in a year of enormous job loss for so many, but this year is proving far better than 2019 for me in steady work income.

I make my living writing journalism, content marketing and coaching other writers ($250/hour) through phone, Skype or, in happier times, face to face in New York City.

Recent work has included producing a series of blog posts, like this one, for the Lustgarten Foundation, the world’s largest devoted to fighting pancreatic cancer, after its communications officer found me on Twitter and asked if I’d like to do some writing for them.

Another Twitter pal, based in London, recommended me to his editor in (!) Helsinki, which produced this piece, a profile of a corporate executive at a Finnish energy company. I know, sounds snoozy! But she was a lot of fun and I really enjoyed the project.

Chasing money is an annoying part of my work, and that’s sucked up a lot of energy as well, with late payments from several sources — some $5,000 worth. No one wants to be a nag or a pest, but the bills don’t wait! Before the crash of 2008, I had a $20,000 line of credit with my bank and that made late payments less stressful — the bank killed it, with no warning or explanation, that year. Managing cash flow is every freelancer’s greatest challenge, since the economy remains tediously predicated on a 1950s model of payment showing up in our bank accounts on a regular, predictable and consistent schedule.

We wish!

I keep trying to add more energy to my book proposal, but reporting is only best done face to face — and that now feels largely impossible. Very frustrating. It’s an idea focused on New York City, so I need to start making calls to see if anyone will even meet with me now.

Awaiting news of a grant application for $11,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts for another book project.

Still reaching out to new-to-me editors I’d like to write for at a few sections of The New York Times, Domino magazine (print) and the Weekend FT.

Also emailed a new content marketing opp — a magazine published for a major car manufacturer — and spoke by phone for 45 minutes with another potential client.

So much of a writer’s work, working for income, is seeking, finding and vetting new would-be collaborators. Do you like them? Are they ethical? Do they pay well? Do they pay quickly? Does the content actually interest me enough to commit to doing it well?

It’s a highly competitive business, but you have to know your value and always be your own best advocate.

I had a long conversation recently with a 26-year old freelance writer who’s fed up, as we all are now, with common (appalling) pay rates of $400 for a reported story — which would easily have paid $1,000 or more a few years ago.

 

Freelance journalism, as she said to me and I’ve said to many, has become an expensive hobby.

 

Which is ironic and terrible, since we need smart, deep analysis now more than ever — and it’s increasingly concentrated in the well-paid hands of a few staff writers. This is not good.

And this looks like it’s not going to change anytime soon.

I easily made two to three times my income in the 90s producing only journalism, as pay rates were much higher and demand as well. Some people, with specialized skills or very strong editorial relationships, are still making very good money, but if you want a glamorous, high profile clip from Conde Nast or Hearst the contract will be brutally demanding of all rights and expose you to total liability.

No thanks!

Content marketing requires the same skills — interviewing, research, reporting, writing, revising. But the end user is different, and the tone can reflect that and, some won’t carry my byline, like the Lustgarten posts.

As long as the pay is good and quick, management smart and the work interesting, that’s a lot!

 

The three A’s that matter most

By Caitlin Kelly

You might argue that three C’s matter more: compassion, conscience, commitment.

I’m going with agency, autonomy and authority.

As a writer — and author of two books — I love that the word authority starts with the word author. You have to stand up intellectually and be counted. It’s risky, for sure. But that’s where authority comes from, actually knowing your stuff, not just performing it on social media, preening. Maybe you’ve heard of the 10,000 hours theory — that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master a skill.

 

 

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I’ve been writing for decades, and each story, probably, from start to finish, might take 20 hours (at most, maybe 10 at best, for reporting/interviewing/writing/revising.)

So that means producing 1,000 stories before I could legitimately say, yeah, I’m excellent at this — which by now I surely have.

But here’s an interesting story that says — nope, wrong!

I recently went down a three-hour rabbit hole — three videos, about an hour each, of British writer, actor, poet Michaela Coel, who created the hit new HBO series “I May Destroy You” based quite a bit on her own life as an emerging artist and her own experience of being drugged at a bar then raped.

What I found most interesting about her comments in all three, one of which is the McTaggart Lecture, delivered in 2018 to the great and the good of the British TV industry, was how essential it’s been for her to insist on her own sense of agency and autonomy as she has created.

Her lecture is powerful and honest and makes clear that learning how to navigate the arcane and byzantine world of profitably selling your ideas and retaining some control over them is damn hard, and no one really teaches you.

The word agency has multiple definitions; here are five.

It’s fascinating that you hire an agent/agency to represent you in many endeavors, certainly creative — music, film, writing,  art — and in so doing must also surrender your own sense of agency to them, always relying on trust and knowing they’ll claim 10 to 15 to 20 percent of your earnings for the privilege. Which is why I’m loving the three season French TV series “Call My Agent” (10 percent in French), as it lays bare the hustle and drama and chaos behind the scenes of a Parisian talent agency.

Like Michaela Coel, who’s quite adamant about the need for transparency in an industry premised on little of it, I want to see the process, not only the shiny finished object.

How to re-charge your creative juices

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By Caitlin Kelly

If you live and work in the United States, as I do, you will daily — hourly! — be exhorted from every direction to be (more!) productive.

It’s a Taylorist industrial model and has nothing to do with creativity.

An early blog post of mine (2011) — chosen for Freshly Pressed — challenged this:

 

Shutting down the production line for a while — silence! solitude! no immediate income! I’m wasting time! — can feel terrifying.

It’s absolutely necessary.

But we don’t talk about the downtime, the quiet moments of connection and insight that can, when allowed to blossom quietly unforced by another’s schedule, birth wonders.

Whenever I’ve taught or lectured on journalism, I crush a few young dreams when I make clear that traditional news journalism more resembles an industrial assembly line than an artist’s studio.

360 people liked it.

Nine years later, with so many of us working from home (or living at work!), it’s even harder to carve out the time, privacy, silence, solitude and lack of income-producing pressure to just think.

Uninterrupted.

Not worn out.

Not grieving.

Without free and unstructured time to ponder, noodle, make connections you’ve never seen or noticed before, how is it even possible to create?

Only in conversation last week with a friend we visited upstate for a few days did I realize how much we have in common and how that shared passion fits perfectly (!) into my potential book proposal — because hanging over the toilet in the cramped bathroom of his rented 235-year-old country house is a gorgeous lithograph of the topic I want to explore and which he knows very well.

These serendipitous moments can only happen when we step out of the grooves of everyday life.

I also love reading books that inspire or offer new and helpful ways to think and behave. Not a fan of woo-woo, but practicality!

An older business book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, includes my favorite chapter — Sharpening the Saw —  finding ways to stay sharp and refreshed and use your strengths.

The title is goofy, but there’s a lot of smart stuff in it, even if you work at home in leggings and not in some corporate environment.

I sometimes read business books as well and have found smart ideas in the Harvard Business Review.

 

Here are some of them:

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The Tharp book– by the American choreographer — isn’t new but is excellent. She is not one to sit around waiting for inspiration since no working artist can afford it. Much discipline!

 

Time to get cracking! I’ve written many book proposals, but it never hurts to read up again.

 

Have heard a lot of good things about Big Magic.

 

Uncommon Genius is a brilliant idea — go out and interview winners of the MacArthur “genius” prize about how they think and work.

 

Daily Rituals is good fun — dozens and dozens of creative folk, including those from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, in all kinds of fields, and how they work (or don’t!)

Where and how do you find creative inspiration?

Soldiering on

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By Caitlin Kelly

One of my favorite films is Dr. Zhivago, with an unforgettable scene of a long line of exhausted, worn-out soldiers trudging forward.

To “soldier on” means to keep going, doing something that’s difficult, not giving up when you’re tired and discouraged and just fed up.

(It’s also a non-profit group dedicated to ending homelessness for veterans.)

It’s now been five months since COVID began to dominate our lives — with more than 137,000 Americans dead, thousands more soon to join them.

It’s been a long time to readjust, albeit immediately, to a world we never wanted: terrified of catching a disease that, if it doesn’t kill you, can radically damage your health for years to come. A world where parents, somehow, have had to school their own children or supervise their online learning in addition to earning an income in a full-time job.

And there’s no end in sight.

I live in New York, now one of the few states that flattened the curve because we listened early to the directions of Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Is it fun to isolate?

To stay home most of the time?

To avoid all social gatherings?

To postpone medical, dental and grooming appointments?

Let alone to miss culture-in-person — dance,  music, museums theater, movies.

Hell, no!

And the single greatest problem with being a soldier right now is the stunning lack of leadership, of a general with a clue, with a strategy and tactics. We’re fighting the virus with very few weapons — masks, social distancing, ventilators, proning, remdesivir — and losing what feels like an endless battle.

Still.

I often deeply wish that the veterans of WWII were not so old, the few left alive, to share more widely and consistently the shared sense of sacrifice and solidarity that somehow got them through it all.

The enemy, Nazism and genocide, was clear(er) then and the fight, however long and expensive and bloody, was one most people agreed was essential to win, no matter the personal sacrifices. It was a matter of pride, then, to share the sacrifice, to know what you were doing to help really mattered and your colleagues, friends, family and neighbors largely agreed.

Not to whine that a mask contravenes your liberty — just like blackout curtains or rationing once did as well.

Today, somehow, a lethal virus is still not as clear an enemy — and thousands refuse to believe it even exists, like the 30-year-old whose last regretful words were: “I thought it was a hoax.”

 

But soldier on we must.

Oh la la! New must-see: “Call My Agent!”

By Caitlin Kelly

It’s the best!

You can find three seasons of this terrific French series on Netflix, its original name “Ten Per Cent” — the amount each agent recoups from their clients at the Paris-based ASK talent agency.

 

Formidable!

 

I haven’t laughed so much in a long time.

 

The agency, owned by a man named Samuel who dies unexpectedly while away on holiday, thereby tossing the agency into chaos, infighting and intrigue:

 

Who’s Camille and why does she keep stealing glances at Mathias?

Will Mathias be able to buy out the owners’ widow’s shares?

Will his team agree?

Will shark/agent Andréa ever find true love — and does she even want it?

Will Sofia, the ambitious receptionist, finally launch her acting career?

 

The characters are fantastic — Gabriel, Andréa, Arlette and Mathias as agents, Noémie, Camille and Hervé as their loyal assistants, Sofia the receptionist. And Jean Gabin, a feisty little white terrier who manages to steal many scenes, always with Arlette.

Recurring characters include Mathias’ wife, his former mistress and a parade of gay women whose hearts Andréa keeps so carelessly and selfishly breaking.

And — so cool! — major French actors and actresses who simply play themselves, with a new one in every episode, Nathalie Baye, Isabelle Huppert, Guy Marchand, Jean duJardin and many more.

The drama and laughs are never-ending as the agents try to out-scheme one another, as Mathias is wooed by a competing agency, as Camille, new to Paris at 23, finds her professional footing — and so many screw-ups!

My father made films for a living and I love movies, so I really enjoy this funny/serious inside look at all the many many things that can go wrong trying to find the right actor or script or director, wrangling a set, how to manage a sex scene between two actors who loathe one another…

It’s also a poignant look at actors’ fragile egos and their very real need for steady, career-building projects, even when they actually don’t already know how to ride a horse or speak French Canadian French or swim or dance hip-hop (all of these are real plot-lines!)

You realize how many skills some have to learn, fast, to win a coveted role or work with a great director.

And see the personal heartbreak of an extra whose only two lines of the whole film get cut.

It really shows the work and hustle and negotiation that makes entertainment even possible.

Plus — Paris!

 

It’s just paper and words

 

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By Caitlin Kelly

It’s been three long months of COVID-19 isolation for me now.

None of the usual pleasures and distractions of visiting a cinema, museum, ballet or opera. No bars or restaurants.

No travel.

A good long time to reflect.

And a good time to purge enormous piles of paper, most of it the notes for previous articles I’ve written or the magazines in which those stories appeared.

I filled multiple enormous garbage bags with it, and ruthlessly tossed out several fat files with notes for my classes teaching writing, as I’ve done at several universities and schools.

It’s not Art or Literature.

It’s just journalism.

I enjoyed producing it and the money I earned from it paid plenty of bills — groceries and gas and health insurance and clothes and dental bills and haircuts.

But why cling to all this paper? Proof I existed? That someone read my work?

I’ve been writing for a living for more than 40 years, published many, many times, in Canada, the U.S., even in Ireland and France. At the tail end of any writing career, and I hope to stop in the next few years, it’s inevitable to look back — even at the 2,000+ posts here! — and think…what was all that about?

Did it help anyone?

How?

I did receive some very powerful emails after both of my books, from grateful and appreciative readers. My last book — I remembered as I found the issue buried in one of my drawers — was named in People magazine (a big deal here) as one worth reading.

But the fact of being a writer-for-sale is that only the best-selling authors or screenwriters ever make enough income from one book or TV series that they can afford to slow down or even stop.

The nature of being a writer also means — it’s hard to stop!

 

We enjoy winning and keeping your attention.

We love finding and telling stories to strangers.

We see story ideas everywhere.

We like the recognition that what we’ve created has some emotional or commercial value.

 

 

Stay or go?

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By Caitlin Kelly

I’ve been very lucky of late to find an editor who likes my essays, so she bought this one on the  topic I have come back to many times — too many! — on this blog: whether to remain living in the U.S. or return to Canada.

Here’s a bit of it:

And so I left behind a perfectly good country, one with excellent and heavily subsidized university education, cradle-to-grave healthcare, a wide, deep social safety net, and a Constitution that promised “peace, order and good government” rather than “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

For years, Canadians had often guessed I was American, which is a veiled insult that means too bossy, too direct, too nakedly ambitious. I wanted faster decisions and a wider playing field, not the endless foot-shuffling of risk-averse fellow Canadians and a career limited to a handful of major cities.

I’d thought American was more egalitarian than it is, but that turned out to be silly idealism. When I dared suggest to someone at Dartmouth that I audit classes there, since we were in the middle of nowhere for the next four years, pre-Internet, the university administration refused. How about part-time study? Also no.

As I began to try to make sense of my new home, I read two seminal works of the early 1990s that explained the shadowed side of John Winthrop’s 1630 vision of America as a much-admired “city on a hill”: the first was Alex Kotlowitz’s There Are No Children Here, about two boys growing up in a decrepit Chicago housing project during the 1980s; the second was Jonathan Kozol’s Savage Inequalities, a study of two school districts, divided by wealth and class, which were allotted wildly unequal resources by the American way of funding education through housing taxes. This was a key difference between my experiences in Toronto and Montreal.

In Hanover, a local social worker told me about the grinding poverty she saw on muddy backroads, the battered trailers with plastic on the windows, while Dartmouth’s most privileged students raced their shiny sports cars through town and dropped enormous sums in its few stores. There is poverty in Canada; this is particularly true for the shamefully neglected Indigenous people. But the shocking inequality of the United States, where the three wealthiest Americans collectively own more wealth than the bottom half of the population (while the middle class struggles to pay for healthcare and university tuition), is absent; Canada has its billionaires and millionaires, but they tend to be more discreet about their good fortune.

First American lesson: Prove you’re rich! Income inequality be damned.

 

I really enjoy the quality of life and the kind of professional opportunities that living in the U.S. — near New York City — has given me.

I would never have had these things had I stayed in my home country.

Canada is both geographically enormous — and really small!

 

 

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Montreal harbor — with the legendary housing Habitat, from Expo 1967

 

If you have (as I have) lived in a few of its major cities and have no wish to keep moving just to find a new job with a slightly different perspective, then what? I had lived in Toronto (a really ugly and expensive city) and Montreal (a charming city but with very limited prospects for an ambitious Anglo journalist). Vancouver was too far away (and also has very costly housing) Ottawa and Halifax and Calgary too far away or too small.

My half-brother, 23 years younger, married an American and has long lived in D.C. and recently became a first-time father, of twins — so now we have American citizens in the family.

And my husband, Jose Lopez, is also American, as was my first husband.

I know it hurts my Canadian father, who had a very distinguished career as a film-maker there, that we both have professionally and romantically dismissed Canada, even though we visit. I suspect many immigrants to the U.S. feel some of what I do — pride and pleasure in our accomplishments here (it’s HUGE) — but also something of a tug to our homeland.

It is an utter nightmare for many Americans to have a President like Trump. It is very frightening to imagine four more years of him, while also having little optimism about how much better Joe Biden would do.

 

 

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I love old diners, anywhere! This is on the North Fork of Long Island, NY

 

You choose to leave your home country, initially, for all sorts of reasons — education, marriage, adventure, a job, a fellowship.

You choose to stay elsewhere for a host of others.

I lived in Mexico at 14, in France at 25, and moved to the U.S. at 30.

Moving away is always a little scary, but — for me — so was the prospect of spending my life in a city I didn’t like much, and which still is the professional hub of my industry.

And the truth is that, being gone for decades, means re-entry can make you feel like a stranger in your original homeland.

 

Have you lived outside of the country of your birth?

If you returned, what brought you back?

 

And if you would never go back — why not?

Where will you go?

Listening well

 

Caitlin Kelly Health Care Story
Interviewing GP Dr. Margaret Tromp, President of the Society of Rural Physicians of Canada, in Picton, Ontario, Sept. 2019.

 

By Caitlin Kelly

I listen for a living.

Most people think I write for a living, and, yes, the product I sell is an article or story or blog post for publication, for a company or for a journalism outlet.

But before I have anything to write about, I’ve listened carefully to strangers who have to place their trust in me to get it right, make their views known without distortion and communicate it all compellingly to even more strangers.

It’s a challenge!

I really enjoy it, but it can be difficult. My current project means speaking to a source in Europe and using a video interface, which can freeze or drop words or whole sentences. Add to that an accent and a complex topic, and away we go!

My interviews have sometimes been extremely delicate, like the young black women I spoke with for my first book about American women and gun use. Each had been arrested for a gun-related crime (not murder) and each had her own reasons for owning and using one.

My job was simply to listen quietly, non-reactively, kindly, without judgment.

I suspect it may have been a rare occasion for them to simply tell their story and just be listened to — not to a cop or a judge or a social worker, let alone a middle-aged, white stranger.

The photo above is fairly typical of me when I’m really focusing hard; I’m not looking at the speaker (not to be rude!) but really thinking.

 

An interview, journalistically, is a terrific experience but it’s not conversation in any conventional sense. It has elements of that — nods, laughter, echoing back what someone just said, asking a clarifying question, even swearing — but it’s also a controlled interaction where the writer must stay in the driver’s seat, even if done delicately and invisibly.

 

I recently did my first transcription for a fellow journalist, whose interview was with a major pop musician. Oh, I felt for them! The replies were often mumbled or mono-syllabic. I was as tired at the end of making sense of it as they probably were as well.

To conduct a really good interview requires both intellectual acuity (make it interesting for them! ask smart and incisive questions and follow-ups) and emotional sensitivity (don’t rush them!) 

 

 

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I did a series of interviews in Edmonton, Winnipeg and Toronto, years ago, for Chatelaine, a national women’s magazine, which meant asking sources — all women — to revisit an extremely painful experience, a side effect of a drug, Mirapex, all had taken for their Parkinson’s disease or for restless leg syndrome.

The side effect was an excess of dopamine over-stimulating the brain’s pleasure centers, and the women had unwittingly become compulsive gamblers, terrifying their families and confounding their physicians.

Between their emotion and the disease, they shook and/or cried through the interviews and one’s family raged about her behavior — without really understanding, medically, what was even happening or why. It was one of the most difficult stories I’ve ever reported and I apologized to each beforehand and thanked them afterward for how exhausting it was for them to share their stories.

Sometimes, I feel more like a therapist than a journalist.

 

When I listen for work, I bring tools to the table with me:

 

empathy

compassion

curiosity

cultural sensitivity (what’s taboo, what’s likely to elicit passion or emotion or silence)

prior research (to know what to ask)

patience (not every word or sentence is riveting)

editing as we go (see above!)

attentiveness to their pauses, hesitations, laughter, emphasis, repetition

Here’s a recent and interesting New York Times piece about how to listen well:

 

Start out by talking about something the other person likes, or maybe doesn’t like, and finding out why that is. It could be music, art, books, films, food, favorite childhood toys or even other people. The point is to explore one another’s affinities, attitudes, beliefs and opinions — but never argue about them. As the Polish-born social psychologist Robert Zajonc wrote, “We are never wrong about what we like or dislike.”

Likes and dislikes develop through experiences, and those back stories are willingly told if you ask questions and listen carefully to the answers. These don’t necessarily have to be long, drawn-out conversations.

 

Even when I interview super-smart eminent scientists, as I did for a recent story, I make time for some casual personal conversation as well. I discovered that one of the leaders in water treatment shared my experiences of flying Nicaragua’s domestic airline — and eating at a great Indian restaurant in Montreal (where he attended McGill, across the street.)

Those fun, personal, quirky moments make even the most serious interview more human and playful.

We talk most easily to other human beings, not robots.

Jose and I talk to one another a lot.

It’s one of my favorite elements of our marriage — because really listening to someone is an active form of love.

Looking forward…

By Caitlin Kelly

 

We’re all living in the subjunctive now.

From Wikipedia (for Spanish):

The subjunctive is used to express desires, doubts, the unknown, the abstract, and emotions.

 

Americans, especially, are a nation accustomed — beyond those in the worst poverty — to a specific sort of aggressive optimism, the “American dream” that life will, through lots of hard work, get better.

A pandemic killing thousands every day has shredded this.

 

How can anyone look ahead with optimism?

How can anyone plan?

How can we make rational decisions without reliable information?

Can we stay healthy?

For how long?

 

It’s a challenge to keep moving ahead when you have no idea if you’ll get your job back or your health insurance or if your children will be back at school or college or university.

German schoolchildren are back in their classrooms.

My French friends are celebrating the end of “le confinement” — while a feckless America lurches deeper into recession and chaos and morons carrying guns storm a…Subway sandwich shop.

How are you coping with this uncertainty?

Will New York City be gone for good?

 

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In true NYC spirit, on a miserably rainy day, these middle-school students went sailing for the first time on the East River, in tiny wooden boats they built by hand

 

By Caitlin Kelly

If you’ve never been there, it’s hard to imagine — a daily crush of energy, talent, ambition and haste.

It’s a city people flock to from across the globe and across the U.S., to study, work or enjoy a great vacation.

I first came to the city, (as suburbanites here call it, as if there were no other!) around the age of 12 or so, to visit my great-grandmother, Blanche, the Countess Casagrande. (Yes, really, thanks to an Italian husband I never met.) She lived on Park Avenue, still the ne plus ultra of Manhattan real estate.

I came back in my early 20s a few times, once to perform as an extra in Sleeping Beauty with the National Ballet at Lincoln Center for a week, other times for pleasure. I met a handsome young man in the shoe department of Brooks Brothers who took me that evening to the town’s most exclusive joint — Studio 54. Of course, we went to Fiorucci first to buy a pretty dress.

Back when Conde Nast — still the publisher of Vogue, Vanity Fair and many other glossy magazines — was at 350 Madison Avenue (next to Brooks Brothers!) I met with editors at Glamour and Mademoiselle, leaving my enormous black portfolio of clippings there for a few days, hoping beyond hope one day to write for them. Amazingly, they read an as-yet-unpublished story tucked into my portfolio’s back pocket which was due to be published in a Canadian magazine, and re-bought it for Glamour.

That, at its best, has been my New York City — a place where even a young (very lucky!) Canadian, even wearing all the wrong clothes! — could quickly sell to a market of her dreams.

 

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Via Carota, Grove Street

 

So my New York is archeological, layered with memories over decades.

Since moving to a NYC suburb in 1989, I’ve spent countless hours in New York City, 95 percent of them in Manhattan; Brooklyn, now impossibly hip, is too far, as we say, a schlep.

So I miss it!

My hair salon — owned by Alex, a man in business for decades, whose three chairs welcome everyone from a Grammy-nominated musician to Brooklyn museum curators to Wall Street executives but also silver-haired seniors accompanied by their aides — is on Grove Street, in the West Village. (That’s Greenwich Village, which no local calls it. Either the West Village or East.)

Across the street from him is Via Carota, admired as one of the city’s best restaurants — and what a delight it is.

Was.

 

Will it be again?

 

That’s the question hitting everyone here, hard.

So many people rely on one another, economically and professionally, from the nannies and chefs and dog-walkers employed by the wealthy to the owners of the 25,000 bars and restaurants and all their staff to the thousands who work in orchestras and theater, not just Broadway.

And rent here is so high that many who’ve fled back to their parents’ for the duration — like one young woman who told the Times she was paying $1,800 a month with two room-mates —  may never return.

 

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The Koch Theater, Lincoln Center

 

Here’s an analysis of what the city faces going forward (as we say, fah-ward):

It took just a matter of days to shut down New York City, once the coronavirus took hold. Restarting it will take much, much longer.

The economic impact in the city from the global pandemic has been striking: Hundreds of thousands are already out of work; at least $7.4 billion in tax revenue is projected to be lost by the middle of next year.

And the changes will be felt long after New York begins to reopen its economy.

How New York City, the epicenter of the country’s outbreak, begins to recapture its vibrancy is a question consuming political, business and cultural leaders.

The very features that make New York attractive to businesses, workers and tourists — Broadway, the subway system, world-class restaurants and innumerable cultural institutions — were among the hardest-hit in the pandemic. And they will take the longest to come back.

 

 

The city has lost 13,000 people, so far, to COVID-19.

 

 

So many have died so quickly — 400 to 700 every day for weeks — that hospitals now have refrigerated trucks outside as morgues, with bodies stacked on makeshift bunks three high. That plain wooden coffins, stacked, are being planted on Hart Island, the place for unclaimed bodies.

 

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The annual orchid show at The New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx

 

Friends in the city are traumatized by the constant wail of ambulance sirens.

Beloved neighborhood haunts are closing, like Coogan’s:

 

Coogan’s was the promise of New York incarnate: multiethnic, friendly, welcoming, smart. The premise of the business was the opposite of social distancing.

It opened in 1985 and in time became an Irish place where the bartenders were Dominican-Americans and the waiters African-American and the customers, all of the above and more. So many held court there over the years, it is hard to keep them straight. Did Mr. Walsh still remember the Israeli karaoke singer?

 

There’s the New York City you’ve all seen in films and TV and commercials.

Then there’s the real New York, home to millions, some for generations, others for a few years.

My mother was born there and married my Canadian father — who she met in the south of France — at St. Bartholomew, one of the city’s most beautiful churches, on Park Avenue and enormous. I can’t imagine what it must have felt like, at 17, to walk down that aisle. They moved to his hometown of Vancouver, where I was born.

But New York City always beckoned me; for an ambitious Canadian journalist who could get a green card thanks to my mother’s citizenship, why not try?

I’ve had some great adventures here.

Found two agents who sold my two books to major publishers.

 

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The first time, after a meeting on a bitterly cold winter’s day at Simon & Schuster, (its hallways lined with the framed covers of all their best-sellers — SO intimidating!) I went around the corner to another city institution, The 21 Club, and had a strong cup of coffee and some celebratory profiteroles.

The second time I almost fired my agent after we met with editors at Portfolio, downtown on Hudson Street — she later called with their offer as I sat at the chipped and worn Formica counter in one of my diner haunts, Neil’s, on Lexington. (Which you can see in the terrific recent movie Can You Ever Forgive Me?)

Spent a glorious afternoon, on assignment for the Daily News, aboard a tugboat.

Stood on a Broadway stage to interview a woman for The New York Times making history in the theatrical industry.

 

This is the city I’ve known well, worked hard in, wept a few times in — and mostly enjoyed.

 

It’s layered with my own memories now:

— the office building at 200 Madison, my first magazine job

— Central Park, around which I once roller-skated and where, after winning a softball game with my Canadian team-mates we burst into the Canadian national anthem in French, to the astonishment of our opposition.

— the block on Mercer which held the Coles Center, NYU’s athletic wing, and now (of course) will be condos

— Fanelli’s,the 173-year-old bar a block south of there with its gorgeous etched glass doors and crazy mix of patrons.

When I arrived — with no family, friends, job or alumni network, and a recession — I took up fencing. Of course! The NYU coach,  a former Navy man, was a two-time Olympian. Where else could this happen?

It’s never been an easy place for a newcomer.

People walk fast, talk fast, prize social capital and Ivy League degrees, genuflect to the right addresses and clubs, to money and power.

It’s normally expensive, intimidating, crowded, noisy, dirty…

But what will become of it?