A perfect day on Arthur Ave. in the Bronx

By Caitlin Kelly

It’s a place I would guess few tourists venture to, a few blocks in the Bronx, but a place that on our recent weekday holiday visit was bustling. The people sitting next to us at lunch had come in, as we did, from Westchester County (30 minutes’ drive north) and as far away as Stratford, Connecticut, on the coast.

It’s best known as Little Italy, not to be confused with the other Little Italy, in Manhattan.

Here’s its website.

Teitel’s

This stretch of just a few streets offers unique pleasures — like a bar outside the fish market where you can slurp down fresh oysters and clams as you stand in the sunshine. There are several bakeries and we bought a sourdough baguette and a round loaf studded with meat.

Teitel’s is a legend, tiny and crowded, with walnuts and olives and cheese and meat and dried cod and almost anything edible you can think of; we bought walnuts, achovies and cold cuts.

We started the day with a bite and cappuccinos at Egidio’s, an old school pastry shop with plenty of seating and acres of yummy treats and admired a small dog named Anchovy.

So many cannolis!

Slurping fresh clams and oysters on the sidewalk

We bought branzino, my favorite fish, and shrimp, and settled in for lunch at Enzo’s, each with a glass of Montepulciano.

Then it was time to cross the street to the indoor retail market where — of course! — you can watch experts roll and cut and trim huge bags of tobacco into cigars.

Having lived in Toronto, with its huge and amazing St. Lawrence Market, and Montreal, with its Atwater Market, and Paris with Rue Cler and many other food markets, I really miss this lively and interesting European way of food shopping — the butcher, the fishmonger, the baker, the fresh pasta store, the cheese store, the liquor store. It’s bustling and social and fun, the absolute opposite of the huge and booooooring suburban supermarkets all owned by multi-national conglomerates, not by the grandchildren of immigrants who founded these individual stores, some more than a century old.

I hadn’t been back there in probably five years and it was happily, very little changed.

You can enjoy a great afternoon in only a few blocks, increasingly laden with food and drink and savoring it all with joy.

Almost 40% of Americans have “no faith” in the media

By Caitlin Kelly

From a recent conference held in New York, with some of the industry’s top leaders…

Typical of such summits, the people speaking were largely white, upper middle class and already perched high in the industry…not necessarily the best place from which to enact meaningful change. By the time you’ve hit the heights, so to speak — like any industry, really — you’ve climbed the greasy pole and know how many ways you can slip back to the bottom: pissing off your advertisers or publisher, to start with. I’ve been working in journalism since I was 19, freelance and staff — a senior editor at three national magazines and a reporter and feature writer for three big dailies. I enjoyed my career, but I’m mostly out of it now, and not subject to the exhausting chase for clicks and views. The Washington Post recently hired a social media coach (!) to work with their reporters. This is, for me, a fresh hell. Not enough any longer to produce terrific stories…

An excerpt from that conference, as reported by The New York Times:

“The media” pops up on your smartphone and is thrown onto your front porch. It is transmitted on television sets and is featured in glossy magazines. It’s so varied in so many ways but is similar in one respect: Many Americans don’t trust it.

According to a recent Gallup poll, trust in mass media has hit a near record low: Only 34 percent of Americans have a “great deal” or “fair amount” of confidence in the media, while 38 percent of Americans have none at all...

“We do need some level of news, but there are so many people that just need basic information,” argued Sarah Alvarez of Outlier Media, a news organization focused on low-income Detroiters.

“You can’t do a big investigation if you are not covering the city council every day,” said Sara Just of “PBS NewsHour.” You can’t find out who the corrupt mayor is if you are not there every day.” The disappearance of that kind of local journalism, she said, is what “worries me the most. That’s not going to be the for-profit center, but it is how we find out what’s going on.”

Jeffrey Goldberg, whose publication, The Atlantic, put up a paywall shortly before the pandemic, argued for a subscriber-funded model: “Our industry made a mistake 20 years ago by giving away quality journalism for free — we trained readers to expect something that took work, time and energy and funding and we gave it away. And we have to stop doing that.”

As some of you may know, George Santos — a lying sack of garbage — not only recently got elected as a Republican Congressman from Long Island, despite a barrage of lies about his work, education, life and but now sits on two committees.

Only one small local newspaper noticed what a grifter he is but there was no other media interest in following up.

I found this analysis by Dame insightful and, sadly, spot-on:

We live in a golden age of national media startups. Every week another group of bright-eyed and bushy-tailed media personalities launches another cleverly branded news site to solve all of American journalism’s problems.

So why do all these sites sound the same?

Why do political news sites, begun with lots of fanfare about how different and innovative and disruptive they plan to be, end up covering the same stories covered by every other established media source?

Why are they all obsessed with whatever Donald Trump spews onto his private social accounts? Why do they listen every time GQP Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene speaks? Why do they report on what senators say on Tucker Carlson’s show, on each other’s podcasts, on Chuck Todd’s Status Quo Fetish Hour?

Why do they all move in a pack, chasing the same ball, like 5-year-olds playing soccer for the first time?

Because — as any honest journalist knows — the few who rise to a position of any power or influence, let alone a job with a liveable salary – has already been co-opted. When a year at one of the fancy journalism schools will cost more than a year’s salary and the industry is already highly insecure, only a brave (or trust-funded few) can even still afford to buy entree to the industry or stick around very long.

So those who become staff journalists can start to look and sound the same….as does their reporting.

Pack journalism dominates — one person chasing all the others to match a story (no matter how tedious!) for fear their managers (as as they will) ask why they aren’t covering it?

Not IF they should at all!

It’s lazy and easy to sneer “fake news” when you dislike what you hear or see.

I rarely see anyone ask…what’s the upside for this worldview?

It’s also pretty obvious that those sneering “fake news” have rarely, if ever, even met or spoken to anyone, anywhere, who actually works in journalism — bringing any genuine curiosity about what it’s like to produce news or features.

We all have some idea what doctors or lawyers or cops or teachers do all day but few of journalism’s most toxic and virulent critics really have a clue about the ecosystem of news production — which is why such attacks leave me unmoved.

I agree that mainstream American journalism needs to be a lot better, but few wake up in the morning determined to print or broadcast something they know to be false.

Believe it or not, like many journalists, I’m disappointed by too much of it every day.

Not because it’s “fake news” but because it’s:

  • repetitive
  • overly focused on crime, violence, sentimentality and military
  • boring
  • ignores most of the world beyond the U.S.
  • rarely addresses the roots of complex issues like poverty and homelessness
  • doing a lousy job covering and explaining the urgency of climate change
  • sucking up to corporate interests

I have no illusion all journalists are good guys! Some are inevitably lazy, unethical, rushed, underfunded, poorly trained and edited.

But it doesn’t mean journalism is unimportant to democracy, regardless of its flaws. If you can’t access basic, verifiable, mulitply sourced facts about corrupt politicians or dangerous medical issues, to name only two key issues affecting us all — good luck!

A few more thoughts about our responsibilities:

Untrue assertions make their way to mainstream news consumers in several ways. Common tactics sources use include false equivalence, whataboutism, bothsidesism and good old-fashioned lying. Well-meaning journalists play a role by allowing sources to give “their side” of an argument — true or not — out of a belief that fair, ethical journalism requires them to do so.

False equivalence refers broadly to situations where a source makes an assertion that two things that share some similarities are equal despite significant differences between them. Comparing Trump supporters’ Jan. 6, 2021, protest in Washington, D.C., to protests following the death of George Floyd is an example. The Floyd protests didn’t turn into a deadly riot that overtook the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to overturn a presidential election.

Whataboutism is a form of false equivalence in which a source responds to an allegation by claiming that someone else did something similar or worse without addressing the substance of the allegation.

Two journalism films are worth your time no matter how much you want to dismiss my defense and protestations, the 2015 film Spotlight, which won the Oscar for Best Picture, about an investigation by the Boston Globe investigative team of three reporters that uncovered 249 abusive Catholic priests and 1,000 victims….many more exist worldwide, as evidenced by the long list in the film’s final credits, from Igloolik, Canada to Argentina.

At its best, this is what journalists do.

Also, the 2022 film She Said, about two New York Times journalists who uncovered decades of abuse by former movie mogul Harvey Weinstein — now in prison for those crimes.

Both are slow moving and procedural but also show the internal hierarchies of power at each paper and how they impeded or helped the reporters and the emotional and physical toll that such reporting on difficult issues affects us.

Because it does.

How cynically — if you even consume news or journalism — do you view the industry?

What have you kept from your early years?

This little bear used to sit deep in my uniform shirt pocket during my years at boarding school. Invisible comfort and companionship.

By Caitlin Kelly

I read very few newsletters — already inundated by Twitter, two daily newspapers, a dozen monthly magazines and, when I have an ounce of attention left, books.

But I really enjoyed the latest one from an American journalist, Anne Helen Peterson, on the boxes her mother kept for her from her teens — a time, she writes, so much more memorable to her than her 20s and 30s.

She writes beautifully about what it felt like to go through those boxes and reconnect with her much younger self; I’d guess she’s in her mid to late 30s.

An excerpt:

That big plastic storage bin was allowed to sit undisturbed because my mom lives in a small town in Idaho with a basement approximately the size of my current house — as is the Idaho way. But now she is moving to a place with NO BASEMENT, and some tough decisions have to be made. By me.

I spent the day after Christmas pouring out the contents of these envelopes, taking pictures with my camera and, as an old friend of mine used to say, with my heart, and allowing that heart to be towed in so many unanticipated directions. Because turns out: I was an excellent archivist of my teen self.

The corsages, sure, but that’s classic memory book stuff. I’m talking about movie stubs and campaign pins, about 9th grade English notebooks and printed-out (and pencil-edited) drafts of college admissions essays.

All archives are, to some extent, narratives: edited stories of the self or others. What I kept then was a story of myself that felt precious and still, at that point, untold. I wasn’t saving in the hopes of someone else discovering who I was. I think it was much more a case of ensuring my future self’s attention. The artifacts were the grammar that made the story readable.

I envy her terribly!

I lived with my father and his girlfriend (later wife) ages 14 to 19. I have very few artifacts of those years: my high school graduation yearbook, some photos. I struggle to think of much else.

My family of origin was never one to keep stuff for others…my father sold the house we lived in and went to live on a boat in the Mediterranean when I was 19 and in my second year of university. I took my wooden trundle bed and wooden desk to the studio apartment I moved it with me. And my stereo!

I really treasure the photo below.

I was maybe six or seven and sitting in the backyard of the last house I shared with my parents before they divorced. It was a big house on a beautiful, quiet street — Castlefrank — in one of Toronto’s nicest neighborhoods, Rosedale. I never lived anywhere like that again.

Luckily, my husband Jose (a photo archivist for the USGA) was able to take this one precious very faded color photo and bring it back for me.

My mother left behind several thick photo albums, but, typical of our relationship, I know very few of the people in them. She never spoke much about her life to me. I do have images of her — slim, gorgeous — modeling for the Vancouver Sun, and a spectacular photo of her that I love.

Cynthia being glamorous.

My stuff? Not much. I moved a few times and only years later found a set of excellent encyclopedias that had been in storage while I was boarding school and camp.

I still fondly remember some items from my teenage-dom — a thick caribou skin rug my father brought back from the Arctic which shed horribly, a poster and a fantastic embroidered sheepskin coat, wildly bohemian and wholly out of place in my white, suburban-ish high school. But I own none of these.

Oddly, a little embarrassedly, I still own and treasure a few stuffed animals from my childhood — like the elephant I found in my London hospital bed after my tonsils were removed. Faded but much beloved, she sits in our bedroom still.

Baby Elephant!

Because I moved around a fair bit and neither parent even had a basement — let alone the willingness to store any of my stuff in it — I’ve definitely lost some very precious teenage things, like a green and white Marimekko notebook in which I wrote my prize-winning poetry and some songs. That one really hurts. I had a storage locker here in New York, but I lost track of the payments for it — and they sold everything in it.

Do you still own treasured items from your early years?

Who, if anyone, will want or value them later do you think?

A matter of trust

By Caitlin Kelly

It’s foundational to everything we do, from earliest childhood to later years — we (have to!) place our trust in medicine and health procedures, in the men and women who pilot airplanes and drive subway trains and schoolbuses, in the chefs and cooks who prepare our meals when we eat away from home — and the health inspectors whose role it is to make sure it is safe.

If you live in the U.S. and follow news — which some of you don’t — a big story of late has been a shocking, relentless barrage of lies from a newly elected Republican congressman from Long Island, George Santos.

From The Daily Beast:

The perplexing series of alleged lies from George Santos, the Republican congressman-elect from Long Island under investigation by countystate and federal prosecutors, have continued to roll in this week—with each “embellishment” as shocking as the last.

Among the new claims under scrutiny in the last 24 hours: Santos’ high school education, his claim to be half-Black, a claim that his family’s Jewish last name was Zabrovsky, and that “9/11 claimed” his mother’s life after she’d “fled socialism” in Europe.

Basically everything he told voters is a lie. And…he will still be sworn into office.

HOW?

I think about trust all the time because trust in journalists — my career since university — is very very low.

This causes endless problems if voters believe a pathological liar like Santos — but not the reporters who uncovered those lies.

It’s a problem when people shriek “Fake news!” when they hear things they don’t want to, like COVID running rampant still.

It’s a problem when we keep sending our hard-earned tax dollars to governments that don’t do what they said they would, further eroding our trust in them, which, for Americans especially, seems subterranean at best.

From the moment a writer proposes a story, there’s a level of trust between them and their editor, whether they’re on staff or freelance. A staffer can be disciplined, suspended or fired for lying while a freelancer can lose access to a coveted market; The New York Times, for which I’ve written more than 100 stories, periodically sends every freelancer its long and detailed ethics code, and those who break it are out.

But there are legendary stories of lying reporters and their names are known to those of us in the industry, like Janet Cooke and Stephen Glass and Jayson Blair, all of whom were — of course — much lauded for brining in powerful stories and every ambitious editor wants material like that. Until they turn out to be false.

Every time I ask a source to speak to me, they generally agree quickly and kindly, which, in itself is a sign if trust that I’ll behave professionally; my website makes clear I have a long and solid career in place as testament to that. Only once, and it was interesting, was I told “oh hell no!” when I tried to get sources, by an agency that helps teens on Riker’s Island accused of crimes. Only after pleading my case to them face to face did I win the interviews, which are in my first book “Blown Away: American Women and Guns.” I’m proud of having won these stories, as they were untold and powerful and I’ve never forgotten them — and I’ve done thousands of interviews in my career.

That took trust.

We live in an era of easy, quick and profitable manipulation — of words, ideas, images. A few years ago the news agency Reuters invited a group of New York journalists (arguably pretty savvy) to listen to a powerful and frightening presentation about how easy it now is to alter images, whether video or still. It was deeply sobering to know how much energy is spent trying to sort out the garbage. My husband, Jose, is a photo editor for The New York Times, and it’s also his job — like every news editor now — to sniff out fake images. Staff photographers and longtime freelancers have earned their trust, Many photos arrive through a photo agency like the AP, Getty and and Reuters, to name three major ones — by the time they’re looked at for publication, they’ve been vetted by many editors who’ve already vetted their photographers.

Trust requires a long unbroken chain.

In 1997, as I think I’ve written here before, I became the victim — one of many! — of a skilled and determined con man who had duped many people in Chicago, done time and moved to New York where he picked up again. I won’t get into all the grim details, but it was a lesson for me, for anyone, in what behaviors inspire our trust and why.

He was physically attractive.

He dressed well.

He was very intelligent and engaging.

He was (of course!) initially charming — later creepy and threatening.

I fell quite ill the day before I was to fly from New York to Sydney Australia alone, hoping to research my first book — he brought me a pot of homemade soup.

How can one — when should one — mistrust kindness?

Read The Gift of Fear, a must-read book for every girl and woman — which includes charm and niceness as warning signs.

Are you wary by nature or experience?

10 things I’ve gained from using Twitter

By Caitlin Kelly

I know…we were all supposed to have fled to Hive or Tribel or Mastodon or somewhere…oh yeah, Post, where I’m wait-listed.

No question, since Elon Musk bought Twitter, a lot of great people have fled for other platforms. For now, not me.

I started using Twitter in 2014 and still use it daily.

As one wise social media expert says — social media only amplifies who we really are. If you’re a jerk in real life, you’re a bigger, louder and more visible jerk on social media.

Here are 10 things I’ve found of value:

Access to extraordinary archeology finds, whether mosaics, Roman ruins or the oddments found on the Thames foreshore by mudlarkers liker Laura Maiklem. I’m passionate about material history, and not just that owned by royalty or the wealthy, the stuff that tends to fill museums. Laura finds things like 16th century pins or Tudor shoe soles. Amazing!

Stunning works of art. One of my treasured follows is Canadian paintings, with a wide array of art, curated by an elementary school teacher who remains anonymous. Alexandra Epps posts from London and even the man whose artwork graced the cover of Elton John’s album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Ian Archie Beck. posts his lovely contemporary work as well.

Stunning wildlife and nature photography, from Scotland, Iceland, Namibia and more.

Birders! My feed recently was filled with amazing close-ups of a saw-whet, a barred owl and a great horned owl — all in Manhattan’s Central Park.

A better appreciation for the many challenges of people with chronic illness and disabilities. There’s a lot of conversation there. Hence I learned the word “spoons” and its meaning.

I’ve made friends far away — like an archeologist in Berlin I had lunch with in July 2017 on my first visit there, and an editor near London who sent me to a colleague in Helsinki (!) who assigned me a great story. I “know” a farmer’s wife in Saskatchewan, an Australian living in France, a marketing maven in Guatemala. Not sure how I might ever have encountered them otherwise.

I recently set up a three-way, three-nation Zoom with two Twitter pals — one in England and one in Montreal and me in NY — to practice our Spanish!

Amazingly — a gorgeous box of homemade shortbread, made using a 100 year old mold — arrived this week from a Twitter pal in Ontario. YUM!

The most up-to-date information on COVID, through a network of health care workers and virologists. The government has basically given up. I see highly informative threads on matters like long COVID, handheld devices to measure a room’s Co2, and boxes used for filtration.

Almost daily I see work opportunities, some full-time and many for freelance work.

I really enjoy Twitterchats, although I only participate now in two, one for freelancers and one focused on travel. They meet every week on the same day at the same time, drawing fellow enthusiasts. The travel one, run by a man living in Nairobi, draws people from Vancouver, Dundee, Malawi, Kazakhstan! I always learn about a place I’d like to visit (like Jordan) and am able to share many of my own travel tips, having been to 41 countries and lived in five.

Thanks to direct messaging, I’ve been able to access some information I need and couldn’t really have gotten with a cold email. I’ve found it socially and professionally helpful.

I’ve been lucky — rarely trolled or bullied. And I don’t hesitate to mute or block!

Do you use Twitter?

Has it been useful to you?

A few things about me

My mother edited a food section of a national magazine for a while — this was a story about kids in the kitchen. We were ordered (!?) to have a flour fight. Dazed with joy, I’m in stripes, probably age eight,

By Caitlin Kelly

One of my weekend reads is HTSI, the glossy oversized magazine that arrives with the Financial Times.

Every issue starts with a series of questions, asked of someone interesting and creative.

For fun, I’ll do one here using their standard questions.

My personal style signifier is scarves. I have a huge collection, from two beloved Hermes carres to linen, cotton and four crinkled silk mufflers bought probably 20 years ago from Banana Republic: dark brown, rose pink, fuchsia and cream.

The last thing I bought and loved a rutilated quartz ring at a crafts fair, a gift from my husband.

The places that mean a lot to me are Paris (have had three birthdays there and spent my 25th year there on an EU journalism fellowship)l Ireland (have been five times, home to my paternal great-grandfather, a teacher in a one-room schoolhouse in Donegal), Thailand, New Zealand and Corsica, so overwhelmingly beautiful I wept then the plane took off. My hometown of Toronto is sprawling and ugly, but filled with memories.

I have a collection of brown and white transferware china; silver lusterware china, antique textiles. I use all of them.

The best souvenir I’ve brought home is a huge black and white Sempe drawing/poster of Paris in the early morning. I never tire of it.

I’ve recently discovered how much endless patience it takes to sell a book proposal!

The best gift I’ve received was a pair of diamond huggie earrings, which Jose gave me on our wedding day in 2011. I wore them daily — until they disappeared entirely a few months ago. Heartbroken.

In my fridge you’ll aways find coffee, cottage cheese, pesto, fresh ginger, lemons, limes and unsalted butter.

The last item I added to my wardrobe is a pair of burgundy leather loafers. New shoes!

The very small bear

An object I would never part with is a very small stuffed bear I’ve had since early childhood.

The one artist whose work I would collect if I could is Egon Schiele. Like Klimt, he died far too young, both killed by the Spanish flu.

The beauty staples I’m never without are fragrance, mascara, Weleda Skin Food.

An indulgence I would never forgo is travel, As often as possible, as far away as we can afford. Also, fragrance!

My style icon is Ingrid Berman in Casablanca as Ilsa Lund. Gorgeous gowns. Great jewelry. Fleeing Nazis in style!

My favorite building is Sir John Soane’s Museum in London and the Neue Galerie Beaux Arts mansion in Manhattan.

The works of art that changed everything for me might be the Mexican muralists — Orozco, Siquieros and Diego Rivera. Powerful, filled with images of rage and social injustice.

When I need to be inspired I reach for a reference book on design or visit a museum.

The best bit of advice I ever received was from my late mother, who faced multiple forms of cancer and survived them all — of managing anxiety…”What should I do? Jump out of my skin.” Deal with it.

I have no interest in NFTs, crypto, bitcoin, tedious gossip.

And a few of my own:

My greatest challenge is being patient. Also, our very dysfunctional family of origin.

Big Sur, CA

The best place I’ve visited is hard to choose! Thailand, Corsica, the Arctic, Big Sur and Kenya.

My deepest regret was marrying the wrong person the first time. Caused me a lot of heartbreak and self-doubt.

My greatest weakness might be persistent idealism.

My greatest strength is persistence and determination.

Five things that always make me happy are spending time with my husband, being in a beautiful landscape, heading off on vacation, long conversations with a friend, a deep, nourishing sleep.

What makes me angry is entitlement, the assumption others are there to serve you without question or challenge.

Five essential musicians/composers are Bach, Vivaldi, Joni Mitchell, Richard Thompson, Nick Drake.

Five essential authors: Mark vanHoenacker, Carmen Maria Machado, Balzac, Zora Neale Hurston, Adrian Nicole LeBlanc.

Five favorite museums: the Neue Galerie, NYC;’ The Tenement Museum, NYC; The Gulbenkian, Lisbon; the MFA, Boston.

Five lesser-known spots worth a visit: Andalusia, Charleston SC, Savannah GA, The Eastern Townships of Quebec, Big Sur, CA.

What’s something about you you might want to share?

Twitter in free-fall…what I’ve loved, hope not to lose

By Caitlin Kelly

I’m not sure how many of you use Twitter or appreciate it or have been following the nightmare takeover by Elon Musk whose every move as its new owner reeks of weird desperation and feudal overlord vibes.

Here’s the latest on it from The New York Times:

A taste:

The order for immediate layoffs, the ensuing panic and the about-face reflect the chaos that has engulfed Twitter since Mr. Musk took over the company two weeks ago. The 51-year-old barreled in with ideas about how the social media service should operate, but with no comprehensive plan to execute them. Then he quickly ran into the business, legal and financial complexities of running a platform that has been called a global town square.

It’s really depressing!

OK, it’s really depressing for those of us — many of us writers and journalists — who have relied heavily on the site for years as a great place to promote our work and our skills.

I found two of my favorite assignments ever there, one a profile of a senior energy executive for a Finnish company (referred to an editor in Helsinki by a Twitter pal in London) and a time writing blog posts about, of all things, pancreatic cancer research, also for a woman who found me solely thanks to my posts there.

I’ve never blogged about either topic and would never have put my hand up for these assignments — but they were fascinating and well-paid and I’m grateful!

But my love for Twitter (which I know is a hellscape of trolls and bots if you end up in the wrong corners) is also based on the global connections and some new friendships I’ve made there, as have so many.

And, yes, I’ve blocked some truly obnoxious people, usually men who can’t tolerate the idea of a woman who dares to disagree, even politely, with them.

One of my dreams has been to get my first book back into print, revised and updated. Thanks to Twitter, I recently contacted an editor whose house might be a good fit — that just wouldn’t have happened for me otherwise. I wouldn’t have dared and I wouldn’t have known the etiquette.

What I like most about the platform is how real (or not) you can be. I post serious stuff about writing and travel and sometimes about politics. I retweet art and photos. I’m just me. I’m not there to be fake or hard sell although some are.

This week I got into a lovely and sentimental conversation with two other Canadian women (strangers!) about our much beloved childhood hamsters — one even shared a photo. I love this stuff.

Social media was designed to be social.

Some of my many treasured Twitter finds:

— an archeologist in Berlin whose main work is based in Turkey at Gobekli Tepe, a Neolithic site. I think we connected through a Twitterchat. When I finally visited Berlin in July 2017 we met for lunch.

— A prolific mudlarker in London, Laura Maiklem, who routinely posts images of treasures like a Tudor shoe. She’s gained more than 200,000 social media followers.

A fantastic daily stream of Canadian paintings, in every medium, from every era. It began in 2018. So cool!

— Photos of 18th century clothing from various historians.

— pictures of various ancient mosaics from several female archeologists.

— inside dope on aviation from professional and amateur pilots, a group of #avgeeks.

— a Dutch woman who (!) is knitting me an amazing hat

— Gorgeous landscape photography, much of it from Scotland and England.

— I also really enjoy two weekly Twitterchats, where I meet up with fellow enthusiasts from around the world; #TRLT, for The Road Less Traveled, which draws people from Vancouver to Malawi. And #FreelanceChat, which assembles freelancers for a lively conversation and which teaches each of us new tips and insights.

I know a lot of people have already left Twitter and fled to Mastodon.

I haven’t yet, It feels really unwieldy and not nearly as easy to find and spark this sort of cross-disciplinary conversation.

Have you been a Twitter fan?

Have you left?

Have you joined Mastodon?

How does one become creative?

In 1845, a young girl made this sampler…early creativity

By Caitlin Kelly

Back when I started this blog — 2009 (!) — one of my first and best-read posts was about the endless American fetish for “productivity” when creativity is really what drives most innovation, and certainly the arts.

As every blogger knows, blogging demands creativity! Ideas, some skill and the eternal optimism there might actually be an audience out there for us.

As readers here know, I only moved to the United States at the age of 30, so its cradle-to-grave obsession with work and being seen as obsessed with work — above all other pursuits (family, friends, health, a spiritual life, etc,) struck me, then as now, as weird. Yes, I know about the Puritan work ethic. But we’re not all wearing shoes with buckles or moving around by horseback and making our own soaps and clothing either…

In a country whose minimum wage pushes millions into poverty, millions will never find the time and energy and encouragement to savor creative pursuits, even for their own pleasure — cooking, knitting, crocheting, embroidery, woodworking, making music or visual art. American capitalism makes sure only the well-off have the leisure to do it without sacrifice — I still get a payment every year from Canada’s Public Lending Rights program, a sort of royalty system that pays authors for the library use of our books. It’s not a large amount, but is deeply meaningful to me, both because it democratizes access to our work and sends a powerful message to creators — you matter!

I don’t have children, but I do see the tremendous pressure American children face — to pass endless state tests, to do terrifying “active shooter drills”, to get into fancy and costly colleges.

None of which seem likely to foster creativity.

So I’m always in awe of creative people, some of whom manage to keep producing their work in the face of some serious odds.

Here’s a 9:07 video of actor Ethan Hawke talking about creativity; it’s gotten 5.2 million views.

“We’re educating kids out of creativity” says Sir Ken Robinson on this 2006 TED talk; it’s 19:12 minutes long and has received 74 million views, with lots of laughter and insight. “We need to radically rethink our idea of intelligence,” he says. Worth it!

Here’s one unlikely and interesting example of creativity — a book out May 16, 2023 from a San Antonio nephrologist whose Twitter threads on medicine were moving and powerful. Social media networks like Twitter, Instagram and YouTube have fostered and spread all sorts of creativity, from high schoolers to seasoned professionals.

We recently visited friends who worked with my husband at The New York Times for decades, one a photographer renowned for his portraits and his wife, a photo editor. Her father was an architect and her mother a textile designer; his father and grandfather were bakers.

I grew up in a home filled with all sorts of art — Inuit prints and sculpture, 19th c Japanese prints, Mexican masks, a Picasso lithograph — and all three of my parents (father, mother, stepmother) worked in creative fields: journalism, TV and film-making. So it feels natural and felt inevitable I’d work in some creative capacity, as I’ve done since my teens when I sold three photos as magazine covers in Toronto while still in high school.

But creativity requires many things some people never have:

  • silence
  • solitude
  • uninterrupted time to think deeply
  • a physical space in which to paint, draw, print photos in a darkroom, weave, sew
  • access to needed tools and materials
  • the disposable income to buy needed tools and materials
  • a larger culture that admires and celebrates creativity, whether family, school, neighborhood, country
  • skill sufficient to make something you might want to keep or sell
  • time, energy and spare income to learn and perfect those skills
  • good health and mental focus
  • encouragement!

My favorite book on the subject is the 2003 book The Creative Habit by American choreographer Twyla Tharp.

She is ferocious! No awaiting the muse!

When, how and where does your creativity emerge?

Have you been encouraged along the way?

By whom?

The ole cultural code-switch

By Caitlin Kelly

One of the pleasures/ challenges of changing countries a few times is learning a whole new vocabulary and set of cultural/political/economic/historical references.

This always strikes me when I visit Canada, where I lived ages 5 to 30, and feel comfortable sharing references there that my American friends would never get — the same issue applies when I cross the border and head back to New York.

Canada

poutine

pouding chomeur

Tourtiere

a two-four

pogey

RRSP

GIC

a riding

Mounties (and stuffed teddy bears that look like them)

an MP

Public Lending Rights Program

The Canada Council

OSAP

OAS

CPP

NDP

The Privy Council

portage (verb and noun)

how to pronounce Yonge Street

Truth and Reconciliation Commission

peace, order and good government

QC

Crown land

post-secondary education

Two Solitudes

cultural mosaic

Order of Canada

to deke

Tim Horton’s

CBC

Je me souviens

Hochelaga

Upper/Lower Canada

Getting screeched

Algonquin Park

Queen Victoria’s birthday holiday

wearing a poppy pin on November 11

In Flanders Fields poem

Banting and Best

U.S.

Emmett Till

Lincoln bedroom

The people’s house

GOP

the Dems

gerrymandering

Final Four

NCAA

CD

Medicaid

Medicare

SNAP

WIC

ACLU

NPR

the BQE/LIE/ Route 66

co-pay

deductible

pre-existing condition

District Attorney

SAT/ACT

AP classes

a full ride scholarship

Pell grants

FAFSA

life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness

a Hail Mary pass

calling an audible

the thrice-folded American flag presented at military funerals

OK, what did I forget?

10 reasons to watch Babylon Berlin

By Caitlin Kelly

I may have raved previously about this series — the most expensive German TV production ever made (2016) — “with a budget of €40 million that increased to €55 million due to reshoots” says Wikipedia — but am now re-watching it for the fourth time, both savoring the smallest details I missed or misunderstood before and the comfort of favorite scenes and moments.

It’s a neo-noir detective series that starts in Berlin in 1929, during the Weimar Republic, a period of incredible tumult and change.

And Season Four starts next week in Germany — not sure when we’ll have it here.

The many characters are indelible, including:

Charlotte Ritter, young, broke, working her way into becoming the city’s first homicide detective but working at night as a prostitute because she’s supporting an older sister and her deadbeat husband and their two infants, a younger sister, a mother and grandfather — all sharing the same squalid flat.

Gereon Rath, a cop who comes to Berlin from Cologne, both innocent and hardened by his WWI PTSD. He’s a “trembler”, much mocked by a colleague for his ongoing post-war trauma.

Helga Rath, his sister-in-law, with whom he’s been having an affair for a decade, with his soldier brother MIA.

Detective Chief Inspector Bruno Walter, whose heart harbors both compassion and terrible, deadly ambition.

If you’ve never seen it (on Netflix), 10 reasons why it’s worth your time:

  1. To understand the many currents of Weimar Germany — intense nostalgia for The Fatherland, humiliated and broke after WWI, terrible poverty, unemployment, major new cultural changes like cinema and women joining the workforce.

2) To watch Gereon’s face as he takes his first airplane flight, moving from terror and disbelief to wonder. Magic!

3) To appreciate Charlotte’s blend of innocence and optimism in the face of relentless poverty and odds against her, and her toughness and determination.

4) To enjoy the long slow simmer of love between Gereon and Charlotte.

5) The music and sets and costumes! The soundtrack is also available — and it’s so good.

6) If you’ve never been to Berlin, to get to know it a bit through location shooting.

7) To feel as though you’re living their life with them, in all its complexity and fear and small joys — like a sunny afternoon swimming in a local lake (Berlin has more than 50! I spent an idyllic afternoon at Schlactensee.)

8) To travel to Berlin vicariously — without a mask or jet lag!

9) To keep unraveling so many layers of deceit and betrayal — and surprising loyalty and generosity.

10) For sheer pleasure!

And enjoy this terrific blog about the series — lots of inside intel!