Archive for the ‘culture’ Category

Some of my recent reading…and yours?

In books, culture, entertainment on August 4, 2016 at 12:57 am

By Caitlin Kelly


Not a day goes by that I’m not reading for hours — newspapers, magazines, websites, blogs…

But books.

Aaaaaaah, books!

That’s what I read for pure pleasure.

Here’s some of my recent reading:


Kicking the Sky, Anthony de Sa


Loved this book. Loved!

I grew up in Toronto and, like anyone who knows their hometown or city well, I know its history when I was a teenager there and its urban peculiarities.

Toronto was stunned, in 1977, (I was in my second year at University of Toronto), by the murder of a young boy, a Portuguese immigrant named Emmanuel Jacques. He was raped and murdered and left on a rooftop.

It was ugly and terrifying and the city had never seen anything quite like it, at least not in recent memory.

Toronto is, then as now, very much a city of immigrants, and the Portuguese community was clustered in a few streets downtown. The women would scrub and wash their sidewalks, something I’d never seen anywhere else in the city.

This novel, by a man who grew up in that community himself, is so detailed and nuanced, so filled with moments you know he lived. It’s also set along an alleyway filled with garages, so  much a part of Toronto as well.

His characters are indelible, his intimacy with the subject and the city and the backstory utterly compelling, told through the eyes of a 12 year old boy, Antonio Rebelo.

Although the murder is grim, his characters are not — and I highly recommend it.

(If you like or are curious about other novels set in Toronto, I also really enjoyed Cat’s Eye, by Margaret Atwood and In the Skin of a Lion, by Michael Ondaatje, better known as the author of The English Patient.)


The Killer Next Door, Alex Marwood


Wait, more murder and mayhem?


Not even sure where or when I bought this book, as it’s not my genre at all. But it’s very very good and very very scary.

Marwood, a London-based journalist, sets her novel in a seedy London boarding house filled with transients, one of who is very much up to no good.

Her characters, and their individual histories, are wholly believable, and if you know London a bit (as I do), you can totally picture this street and the characters’ English reticence that pervades every scene.

She also describes so well the cultivated anonymity of people who need a huge city to disappear into…until it happens to them in a way they hadn’t planned on at all.



Inside, Alix Ohlin


Whenever I go back to Canada, usually two or three times a year, I drop into a bookstore to see what’s on the shelves there, always finding fiction and non-fiction I just won’t see in an American bookstore, and prominently displayed.

I normally don’t read fiction, as I so often find it disappointing, but am enjoying this one, interlocking portraits of four people.

I enjoy reading stories set in places I know, allowing me to fact-check the work for veracity and detail while being able to picture scenes easily — this 2012 book is partially set in Montreal, where I’ve lived twice, and New York, where I’ve lived (nearby) for more than 20 years.

Her writing is clear, simple, unadorned, but she paints a picture of people who are complicated and private, trying to know themselves and one another, sometimes succeeding, sometimes not.

The New York Times review was savage — but this one, from the Rumpus, was not.


Alligator Candy, David Kushner

Oh, this is a tough one.

I don’t, I promise, automatically reach for books about murder! (Trying to fathom what this inadvertent pattern of mine is saying about my current tastes.)

Yet here’s another, this one a powerful memoir by the older brother of a young boy who was snatched in the woods of Florida, and killed, on his bike, on his way to buy candy.

Jonathan was 11, and it was 1973 — again, a resonant time for me, as it was my adolescence, too, although far from the pine woods of Florida.

I found the book too long and sometimes repetitive, but, like de Sa’s novel, Kushner captures so well a lost sort of innocence, when kids roamed freely outside and they — and their parents –thought nothing of it.

And…on a totally different subject, I’m also reading The Genius of Birds, a new book of natural history by Jennifer Ackerman.

It’s a great read and I’m learning a lot. Our suburban New York balcony is in the tree-tops and we’re happily surrounded by birds, so I’m very curious to learn more about them.

We have swallows fluttering past each morning and evening, hear jays and robins and woodpeckers and crows — and once even had a red-tailed hawk land on our balcony railing. It was amazing!

Last year’s favorite book, by far?

The Goldfinch, a work of fiction by Donna Tartt, which I received as a birthday gift. MUST read that book, (and yes it drags at the end.)


What are you reading right now?


Anything we should pick up?

Pay attention!

In behavior, culture, domestic life, life on July 28, 2016 at 10:20 am

By Caitlin Kelly


They’re asleep, encased in glass and plastic — don’t be like them in the real world!

Whether your children or grand-children or sweetie or spouse. They want, need and deserve your undivided focus.

Whether to the current Presidential campaign, (if you live in the U.S. and are able to vote, certainly.)

Whether to the people around you on the road as you drive — no texting!

Whether as you walk around your city or town, playing Pokemon Go or reading something on your phone, forcing everyone else to dodge you.

Whether you leave your grocery cart sprawled in the middle of a parking lot because…be considerate.

Whether you yammer away in a public, shared space on your cellphone reallyloudly, Face-timing or speaking to someone.

Whether — as someone did yesterday in our small, congenial town several times — you open a cafe door into a cool, air-conditioned space — carelessly leaving the door wide open to the 90-degree-plus air outside, as you enter and exit.

Utterly oblivious to the needs of those around you.

We share the world with others.

Please pay attention to them as well.


Is compassion a limited resource?

In aging, behavior, culture, domestic life, journalism, life, news on July 25, 2016 at 12:43 pm

By Caitlin Kelly


Have you reached your limit?


Some people I know — usually smart, curious, globally engaged — are shutting off the news, signing off of social media.

They’re exhausted and overwhelmed.

They just can’t listen to one more killing, whether of an unarmed black American man, or a police officer, (armed but unprepared for ambush), or of people gathered to watch  fireworks in Nice or music at Bataclan or shopping in a Munich mall or in a cafe in Kabul…

They can’t hear another video of despair, of crying, moaning, screams of terror.

It’s not, I think, that we don’t care.

At least, I truly hope that’s not why.

For some, it’s caring too much.

It’s also a feeling of powerlessness and, with it, a growing loss of hope.

What will change?

How and when?

What will make a difference?

It feels too grim, too unrelenting, too much to process or comprehend.

Compassion fatigue is real.


Here’s a poem that might resonate, written by a man fed up with the materialism he saw around himself…

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon,
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. –Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.

That’s a sonnet by William Wordsworth, written in 1802.

We live in divided times.

We live in increasing fear of ‘the other’, the people who dress, behave, worship and vote differently than we do.

Is it safe now (where? at what time? for how long?) to board a train (axe attack in Germany. head-on collision in Italy) or airplane (they’re about to give up looking for MH 370)…

Who can we trust, and should we?

It becomes easier and easier to mute, block, unfriend, ignore, turn off and turn away and turn inward, abandoning our best selves, our impulse to compassion.

That’s what scares me most…

I loved this story from my native Canada, a place where individual families (including one I know) are sponsoring entire refugee families from Syria, people as different from them in some ways as can be.

It’s worth reading the link, in its entirety — a bunch of strangers determined to help.

Compassion in action:


When Valerie Taylor spotted a family of newcomers looking lost in the hustle and bustle of rush hour at Toronto’s main Union Station on Wednesday, she offered to help them find their train. What she didn’t know was that some 50 people would do the same, on a day that would turn out to be one of her most memorable trips home ever.

Taylor, a psychiatrist at Toronto’s Women’s College Hospital, said she was heading home on Wednesday after what had been a hectic few days. The heat was blazing, she was tired and looking forward to getting home, when she spotted a family of seven with two baby strollers and several heavy bags.

They looked confused, she said, and a young woman was trying to help them.

Taylor went over to see if she could lend a hand.

“Are you new here?” she asked. Only one of the children, who said he was 11, could speak English.

“Yes,” he said. They had just arrived from Syria four months ago, he told her, and were looking to get to Ancaster, about 85 kilometres southwest of Toronto, to spend a few days with family there.

‘People started trying to problem-solve’

Taylor was headed in the same direction and offered to take them to the right train. To their surprise, strangers began to take notice and to help carry the family’s bags up the stairs and onto the train, some riders even making room to give the family a place to sit, Taylor said.




Six days of silence

In behavior, culture, education, Health, life, religion on July 20, 2016 at 4:02 pm

By Caitlin Kelly


Five years ago this week, my husband — then fiance — decided to take me to a silent Buddhist retreat.

It was a birthday gift, one he thought might prove calming and healing.

I went in like a sulky five-year-old, arms crossed, dubious.

I emerged with a lot of new insights — if you’re interested, search my archives for July 2011 and you’ll find them, as I posted every day, a bit stunned by how powerful my feelings were and how much they changed over that week.

I’m not a Buddhist, but have spent time at various sanghas with Jose, who is, so was already familiar with the language, precepts and rituals like mantras, chants and prayers. I also knew and was friends with his lama, Surya Das, so wasn’t intimidated by him or his presence. Had every single bit of it been unfamiliar, it might have been even more challenging.

It’s never a bad thing to withdraw and retreat from the insanity of “normal” life and this was an opportunity to do so, and one — I admit — I would never have undertaken on my own.


A play is on in New York City right now, Small Mouth Sounds, premised on exactly this thing — a group of people attending a week-long silent retreat —  and it addresses the emotional turmoil so many people bring with them into the meditation hall.


In a week of silence, your heart speaks very loudly indeed.


Every morning, as we nestled once more into our cushions or chairs for the morning teaching, more and more were empty as people fled, unable or unwilling to stay.

Even those who stayed rebelled, some driving off-campus in their cars to a local bar or standing deep in the woods, yammering on the cellphones — both a violation of the rules we agreed to when we arrived; 75 of us had come from across the globe to do this thing, knowing it would be difficult, and craving that discipline.

I emerged from it dazed, sharpened, newly and exquisitely aware of the daily noise we barely even notice, and had never been conscious of before: cars, sirens, animals, neighbors, airplanes overhead, people talking on their cellphones or listening to music too loudly through headphones.

Jose and I drove to a local bar — where two enormous television screens blared…something. Instead of it feeling, as it usually would, like background noise it was suddenly alien and very much in the foreground. We felt assaulted and exhausted by it.

I missed the precious, glorious, cocooning silence we’d bathed in all week.

I missed the inter-generational community we had created in our silence, sometimes with just a raised eyebrow or shy smile.

I missed sitting in the retreat’s luxurious garden, alone for an hour, my only companion a very bad bunny eating everything he could reach.

I missed the soothing simplicity of our days, from the waking early-morning hand bell rung down the long corridors to our meals eaten together at long wooden refectory tables, the only sounds the clinking of cutlery on china.

Here’s my first entry:

The retreat offers three teachings a day, the only time we’ll be allowed to speak. The food will be vegetarian. There will be no cocktail hour, or wine at dinner, both something we usually enjoy daily at home.

Steak? TV? Three daily newspapers? No, no, no. Ah, the things I cling to.

We’re taking my softball glove and ball, and my bike. I’m taking my camera and watercolors, and plan to write a speech due August 10 in Minneapolis.

I’ll sit in the teachings and meditations and chanting as much as feels comfortable. He and I will share a room, and plan to write notes back and forth. It will be very odd — and difficult — not to talk to him. We typically talk several hours a day and I really enjoy it.

So it’s already a powerful meditation on the loss of that comfort. We may whisper to one another in our room. We’ll see.

I’ve been the butt of jokes for weeks now. “Buddhist,vegetarian, silent — I can’t think of three words less likely to describe you,” said one friend.


 Have you ever taken a silent retreat?


Would you?

Alex Wroblewski, NYT photo intern — and talent!

In art, beauty, culture, journalism, news, photography, the military, work on July 14, 2016 at 1:08 pm

By Caitlin Kelly


Alex and I have been friends for a few years. We met through the New York Times Student Journalism Institute, a program offered annually to ambitious and talented young journalists. My husband taught him and we stayed in touch, with Alex coming to stay with us in New York.

This summer he’s one of three photo interns at the Times, a coveted opportunity to show his skills once more. He also won the White House News Photographers Association student award for 2016.

I so admire his work, and work ethic, that I asked him to share his ideas and some of his work with Broadside:

Sunday, June 22, 2014. | Alex Wroblewski / Sun-Times

Sunday, June 22, 2014. | Alex Wroblewski / Sun-Times; Chicago

Tell me a bit of your history…where were you born? Raised? Did you move around a lot as a child or teen?

 I was born and raised in a small town in Wisconsin called West Bend and had a pretty quiet childhood growing up… I started skateboarding in my early teens and my friends and I would shoot photos and videos of each other jumping down stairs and the like, which is how I got into photography originally.

What sort of work do/did your parents do? i.e. where does your creative spirit come from?

My father worked in a factory for 25 plus years and my mother had worked odd jobs before a decade plus career working at Walmart and in other pharmacies as a technician. My dad is still working 50-60 hours a week today but has an office position which I think he enjoys more, and my mom was still working in a pharmacy at a hospital before she passed away from cancer.

She went to work the same day she would do chemotherapy, driving herself to both. She was incredibly hard working, so is my dad, and I think that’s where my work ethic comes from.

My creative spirit early on came from skateboarding and the films and photographs I’d see from the street/skateboarding world. Music eventually became a big influence, I remember getting into The Beatles/Bob Dylan/Jack Kerouac and just the whole scene in the sixties, the photographs had such a unique look, everything from that era.


July 25, 2014. | Alex Wroblewski / Sun-Times

July 25, 2014. | Alex Wroblewski / Sun-Times; Ferguson, Missouri

I remember having this John Coltrane poster on my wall forever, just collecting photos like that. And eventually I got interested in other types of photography, with photojournalism being a big one, and eventually I decided to go to school for it.

Where did you attend college and why?

I went on and off part time at a community college, but was never sure what I wanted to go for but eventually settled on photography with some encouragement from my Mom, who always wanted me to go to school but never pressured me to do so. I had moved to Los Angeles after high school with some friends to go skateboarding.

I worked in a factory for the summer to save for LA and then ended up working at Starbucks in  L.A. to pay the bills, and would shoot video and photos of my friends skateboarding in my free time.

In 2009 I started going full time to Brooks Institute in Ventura, California for visual journalism, where I bought my first serious camera, a Canon 50D. However I would only stay at school for a couple of months, it just became too expensive and there were few scholarships, so it wasn’t long before I moved back to Wisconsin.

I eventually went back to college in 2013 after freelancing at the local paper, the director of photography and a mentor of mine at The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel told me that it would be important to have a bachelor’s degree to get a full time job at a news organization, something I have and still inspire to do. If all goes well I will have my degree by the end of spring 2016.

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Mourners in Baghdad, April 11, 2015


Did you enjoy it – how has it helped (or hindered) you?

College has opened up the doors to many opportunities, and I’ve been blessed to meet some amazing people, that I would not have had working odd jobs forty hours a week, however it has also been without some serious debt, but again, I could easily have stayed at whatever dead end job with no opportunities… so I am thankful that I had a Mom and Dad that were willing to cosign my student loans so I could go back to school and pursue a career in photojournalism.

And not every school is expensive, I could have gotten a BA for less but the faculty and location was really important in my decision, Chicago has a great journalism scene here, and Columbia had both a strong reporting/writing program, and photo. I went for reporting/writing to learn something different since I had been freelancing as a photographer, and wanted to learn a different skill to fall back on. And at that point of deciding I was really interested in the reporting side as well.

 When and where did you first get interested in the work you do now?

I was interested in photography first and then sort of fell into journalism, I was reading a lot about the Iraq war and then got my hands on Eugene Richards, James Nachtwey, and Annie Liebovitz books at Brooks Institute…

So that was really inspiring from the photography side, but with journalism it was NPR that really made me fall in love with the news. Audio is a really different way to “experience” a story, and something about it just clicked where I developed an appetite for consuming not just NPR but reading whatever newspaper I could get my hands on as well.


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Tikrit, Iraq, April 2015

Who, if anyone, encouraged or mentored you the most?

I’ve been fortunate to have several mentors over the past few years who I still keep in touch with, including Jackie Spinner, a professor at Columbia College Chicago who is part of the reason I chose that school… Jose Lopez, who I met at The New York Times Student Journalism Institute who has always been beyond encouraging, and many friends and colleagues whose advice and support have been invaluable.

What lessons did they teach you that have proven most useful?

I think what I learned most from them is how to work in the industry itself, it’s a small world and very competitive. Getting to learn the ropes the past couple of years, I could always reach out to them with whatever question I had. But theirs and others encouragement, I found equally important. Getting positive feedback on your work is always motivating to do more and think of new ideas and push yourself.

You’ve traveled the world…what gives you the confidence to do so?

I have always been interested in traveling, meeting new people, and learning about new cultures, I suppose from a lot of the skateboarding videos and magazines I’d see/read when I was younger. With street skateboarding the pros would travel the world, and many professional skaters were from different countries as well so being exposed to that made me want to travel.

My parents didn’t travel much, but were always encouraging and supportive and I’ve always worked odd jobs to save money to get myself places and when it came to journalism, I have been able to work on spec. [i.e. without a previous assignment] for the most part.

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Near Tikrit, Iraq, 2015

Other people look at a creative life, and a somewhat transient one, as scary and unpredictable. How does it feel for you?

I really love having a creative outlet, but like many careers that are based on creativity it can feel really stressful and unpredictable. I find that being so passionate about photojournalism makes it much easier to spend so much time and effort without a monetary return, to eat sleep and breathe it, and just being obsessive about it is okay with me because its something I really love.

I know I will not become wealthy as a photojournalist, but as long as I’m doing something I enjoy and can live off of, is what’s important.

Where do you find creative inspiration? Do you have any role models or people you especially admire (in or out of your field?) Why them?

I find a lot of inspiration in friends, colleagues, mentors and other photographers I look up to. Seeing their work and whatever new projects they’re working on inspires me to go out and shoot. I feel that you can learn a lot not just taking pictures but looking at other peoples work, it gives you a different outlook or different way of thinking that can sometimes help you get outside of “your box.”

I also find inspiration in the art, music, and film world, anything that gets me thinking in a new way.

July 25, 2014. | Alex Wroblewski / Sun-Times

July 25, 2014. | Alex Wroblewski / Sun-Times; a woman hit by tear gas has her eyes rinsed; Ferguson, Missouri

What advice would you offer to people who wish they had your life? (i.e. creativity, freedom, travel, etc.)

Don’t give up. Hard work pays off. For me it’s been a long road but has been truly rewarding knowing I’ve been persistent. And spend time or surround yourself with people who are positive and will challenge you. And be sure to spend time with family.

A week in D.C…

In cities, culture, design, History, life, travel, U.S., urban life on June 25, 2016 at 11:04 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

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Union Station, Amtrak station in D.C.

Have you ever been to Washington, D.C.?

I’ve been coming here since I was 12 — even though I grew up in Canada — as I had cousins living near the capital, (whose father ended up being the U.S. ambassador to several countries.)

It’s such a different city from New York!

Manhattan is a grid — avenues and streets. Dead simple!

Not D.C., with its circles (roundabouts) and hub/spoke configurations and sections like NW and streets with letters and streets with numbers…I actually got lost a bit walking only a few blocks and had to use a statue of Hahnemann as my landmark (albeit one of three statues all within the same two blocks!)

A fellow journalist on my fellowship pulled out her phone and said “I’ll use GPS” and the voice said “walk southwest” and we had no idea what southwest was.

I asked the hotel doorman instead.

And, in summer, when the temperature at midnight Saturday was still 74 degrees, walking around in the 88-degree sunshine can be exhausting.

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The scale of the city is meant to awe, and it does, certainly anywhere near the White House, The Capitol, the Library of Congress and its many monuments.

My hotel was a block from 16th street and, as I stared down its length it terminated in a building I was sure had to be a mirage.

But it wasn’t.

It was the White House.

If you’ve ever watched the (great!) Netflix series House of Cards (the American version), the cityscape will be familiar, even eerily so.

But you’ve also seen these iconic buildings in films and on television, possibly for decades. To stand in front of one, let alone walk into it, is both disorienting and amazing.

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I was there a few days after the Orlando attack; this was a memorial service outside the offices of the Campaign for Human Rights


It’s a city filled with men in dark blue suits, white shirts and polished black shoes, all wearing a lanyard or ID badge. The subway cars are filled with soldiers in uniform, a rare sight in other cities. The streets throng with eager young interns, many of them long-legged blondes wearing expensive clothes.

Here, you walk past places you normally only read about — The Brookings Institute or Johns Hopkins University or the National Geographic Society — (where I was lucky enough to meet with two editors and hope to do some writing for their travel magazine.)

The place vibrates with power.

It feels like everyone is either lobbying or being lobbied or about to be.

But it’s also a city filled with serious, intractable poverty.

I got onto the 54 bus heading down rapidly gentrifying 14th Street — now all cafes and bars and high-end furniture stores, (the pawnbroker now closed, the liquor stores still in business) — with a woman clearly homeless, carting all her clothes and belongings with her, even in broiling heat.

A woman with a paper cup held the door at a convenience store two blocks from my hotel (charging $259/night) and Union Station, which is one of the most beautiful, clean and well-organized train stations I’ve seen in the U.S., had many homeless as well. It’s a shocking and strange feeling to be in the center of political power, the gleaming white dome of the Capitol easily visible, and see the effects of the nation’s thin and fraying social safety net.

These are some images of my week here, the longest time I’ve ever spent in the city; (only 3 days of which were leisure, the rest spent in a financial planning fellowship with 19 other journalists.)


IMG_20160618_210328574I attended the 95th annual White House News Photographers Association annual dinner, cheering for my friend Alex Wroblewski, who won Student Photographer of Year


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Love this shop — Goodwood — on U street at 14th. Gorgeous and affordable antiques, furniture and vintage-looking clothing and jewelry. (Sort of like a real-life Anthropologie.)

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Had lunch at the counter at this fun, enormous eatery — Ted’s Bulletin — on 14th street.

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Gorgeous, minimalist men’s and women’s clothing at Redeem on 14th Street


The D.C. Metro is in terrible shape — slow, needing a ton of repairs, but it’s still working. The stations always make me feel like an extra in Blade Runner!


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This was a real thrill for  me — I met with several editors there and hope to write for National Geographic Traveler.


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The Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress


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This is why I went to the Library of Congress — a powerful and moving show about the Danish journalist, photographer and social reformer who received essential political backing from Theodore Roosevelt, first as New York’s mayor, then governor — then U.S. President. Riis, an immigrant, was key to illuminating the appalling poverty in New York City during the Gilded Age (late 1890s.)

Real journalism still matters — and it costs

In behavior, blogging, books, business, culture, education, journalism, Media, news, television, work, world on June 7, 2016 at 2:01 pm

By Caitlin Kelly


The late David Carr, NYT media columnist — much missed. Brilliant, no bullshit.

It costs lives.

This week, once more, journalists across the world are mourning the deaths of two more tribe members, David Gilkey, a photographer for National Public Radio (and a veteran of several U.S.newspapers) and his interpreter Zabihullah Tamanna.

The two men, travelling in a convoy with other NPR staff, were killed in Afghanistan on assignment when their Humvee was hit by rocket-propelled grenades.

To most people beyond professional journalism, it’s just another story flashing by in your Twitter feed or something glimpsed, possibly, on Facebook.

I listened yesterday to the heartfelt tributes on National Public Radio by Jason Beaubien and Kelly McEvers, who worked closely with Gilkey; McEvers, who worked for many years in the MidEast, could barely choke out a sentence.

It takes tremendous courage to step into the theater of war to cover it as a journalist, (and, as Gilkey also frequently did, starting in 2007 for NPR, to record the aftermath of natural disasters in places like Haiti and the Philippines) — to pick up a camera or microphone and start gathering facts to share with the rest of us, sitting safely and calmly at home on our balcony or in our cars or on a sofa patting our dog or cuddling a child.


The CBC’s logo — one of the many news sources I follow

These jobs — yes, chosen freely — demand sacrificing any sort of personal life, sometimes for many years.

You go, at once, where the story is, where you have to be, for as long as your editors want you there. Forget celebrating other people’s birthdays with them or anniversaries or attending their weddings or graduations or the birth of your children.

Reporters’ risk their physical and mental health, even if “only” at risk of secondary trauma, a very real effect of witnessing death, violence and destruction firsthand.


There’s no other way to tell these stories well.


Like PTSD, secondary trauma leaves scars for years, and it often goes unnamed, unrecognized and untreated, because admitting it to yourself — or your colleagues, let alone to your bosses — also means admitting you’ve got deep and complicated feelings about what you’ve witnessed and recorded and transmitted.

Feelings are something we often postpone having about tough stories.

They’re messy and can slow us down.


I covered the unity march in Paris in January 2015 — I love breaking news!

If you can spare the time or have the interest, please take 25:03 out of your life to listen to this smart, impassioned commencement speech to the 2016 graduates from UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism by Rebecca Solnit.

Here’s a print version of it.

An excerpt:

Break the story is a line journalists use to mean getting a scoop, being the first to tell something, but for me the term has deeper resonance. When you report on any event, no matter how large or small—a presidential election, a school board meeting—you are supposed to come back with a story about what just happened. But of course we swim in stories like fish swim in water; we breathe them in, we breathe them out. The art of being fully conscious in personal life means seeing the stories and becoming their teller, rather than letting them be the unseen forces that tell you what to do. Being a public storyteller requires the same skills with larger consequences and responsibilities, because your story becomes part of that water, undermines or reinforces the existing stories. Your job is to report on the story on the surface, the contained story, the one that happened yesterday. It’s also to see and make visible and sometimes to break open or break apart the ambient stories, the stories that are already written, and to understand the relationship between the two.

There are stories beneath the stories and around the stories. The recent event on the surface is often merely the hood ornament on the mighty social engine that is a story driving the culture. We call those dominant narratives or paradigms or memes or metaphors we live by or frameworks. However we describe them, they are immensely powerful forces. And the dominant culture mostly goes about reinforcing the stories that are the pillars propping it up and too often the bars of someone else’s cage. They are too often stories that should be broken, or are already broken and ruined and ruinous and way past their expiration date. They sit atop mountains of unexamined assumptions. Why does the media obediently hype terrorism so much, which kills so few people in the United States, and mostly trivialize domestic violence, which terrorizes millions of U.S. women over extended periods and kills about 1200 a year? How do you break the story about what really threatens us and kills us?


I love what she says and believe wholeheartedly in her stance — that so many of the “stories” we write or broadcast are bullshit.

It also takes real professional courage to break away from the pack, to zig when everyone is zagging, and chase down a story you know is essential but that no Big Outlet has (yet) deemed important.

It’s called a press pack for a reason…


I hope, as you consume serious, smart  journalism today, in whatever format on whatever device — paper, phone, tablet, book — you’ll stop and say a prayer of thanks for those who have given their lives to bring it to us.




More simple pleasures…

In beauty, culture, domestic life, life on April 30, 2016 at 12:46 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

An ongoing series of some of the simpler pleasures in my life…Hope they’ll inspire you.

Playing my vinyl, everything from Genesis to koto to Jacques Brel



It’s the weekend! It begins with the weekend Financial Times and the Saturday New York Times.  Yes, we still read on paper .



The weekend FT is one of my favorite reads — global, witty, incisive. It’s very much a publication of the educated upper class and its various tastes and interests but it’s smart and interesting and much more global in outlook than the Times.

The FT magazine is called — without irony or embarrassment — How to Spend It. While 99% of it is directed to the wallets of the 1%, it’s fun to read.



There’s all kinds of beauty in our small suburban town, 25 miles north of Manhattan. You just have to look for it.



Beauty is everywhere — like this Paris cafe

Looking through photos from past journeys while dreaming up the next ones…this image is from a cafe in Paris, taken on our visit there in December 2014.

Every morning and evening we get a different view of the Hudson River from our top-floor apartment on the sixth floor. Some mornings it’s so foggy we can’t see anything but the very closest tree-tops.


Our view



This Moomin mug also makes me happy!


Silly treasure. If you don’t yet know about the Moomins, check it out! They’re a series of storybook characters from Finland.






Travel is our one consistent extravagance…My next trip is to Washington, D.C. mid-June for a three-day journalism fellowship. I’ll probably stay there a few extra days to relax and explore.

We had planned to visit Gros Morne in Newfoundland this summer but have postponed it for a year.


The lilacs are back!

I live for the moment when this spectacular tree, at the very start of our reservoir walk nearby, bursts into fragrant bloom.

Few scents are as intoxicating to me as lilac…you?


I love cooking, and reading through my various cookbooks for inspiration and ideas. This is a favorite, written by the sister of British actor Daniel Day-Lewis.

One of the things I love most about living in New York is ready access to iconic landmarks like these…


I snapped this one from the back seat of a cab traveling from Brooklyn to midtown. This is the Brooklyn Bridge, spanning the East River.

One of the great secrets of that bridge is that it would never have been completed without the intelligence and guts of a woman — Emily Roebling — to whom a plaque is affixed to one of the columns. Her father-in-law won the prestigious and highly-coveted commission to build it but died of tetanus.

His son, Washington, took over — and got sick from going into the underwater caissons too often. Emily took over the management of the final eleven years of its construction.



It really is a cathedral of sorts — Grand Central Terminal. Lots of great shopping and two restaurants under that glorious arched turquoise ceiling. Stop in for a drink and enjoy!




Looks a bit like snow-capped mountains, but it’s one of our two local boatyards, the boats shrink-wrapped during the long winter.



Jose and I have spent decades on this commuter train!

It’s a quick 38 minutes from our town into midtown Manhattan, with a gorgeous ride down the eastern edge of the Hudson River. The train itself is no great beauty, but it’s generally on time, safe, clean and semi-affordable.

I snapped this photo as I got off earlier this week, just as the sun was starting to set.

I hope you’re having a great weekend and enjoying some simple pleasures of your own!

How badly do you want to be a writer?

In blogging, books, business, culture, journalism, Media, work on April 22, 2016 at 1:03 am

By Caitlin Kelly


His play — written in 1777 — is still being performed…He, of course, died in poverty.


For many people, “being a writer” is one of their cherished dreams.

Some do it, through a blog, a self-published book, journalism, a commercially published book, of fiction, poetry or non-fiction.

Some write for digital outlets, at payments of $50, $100, $200.

Some write for major magazines with payments of $8-12,000 or more per story.

There’s a continuum from blog to commercially agented/published book.

There’s a continuum from a 700-word personal essay to 5,000-word reported story.

There’s a continuum from your first paid-for piece of writing, and your last.

Having written for a living since college — more than 30 years — here are some truths about this business, some less palatable than others:


It takes talent


Yes, it does.

Simply stringing together 1,000 or 10,000 words on….whatever amuses you…then trying to find someone who wants it and give you money for it doesn’t guarantee anyone else will find them compelling.

Just because you feel an urgent need to share a story doesn’t mean it’s de facto riveting.


It takes training


You don’t have to spend a fortune to attend journalism school or obtain an MFA, although many people make that choice. By doing so, they put their work in front of others’ eyes, and learn to take (or ignore or filter) feedback and criticism.

They learn structure and form and voice and genre and narrative. They learn how to create characters.

They learn a crucial element of being a writer — your work is going to elicit reactions, and not always the ones you want or expect.

The world is full of on-line writing classes and your city or town likely has some as well. If you’re truly serious about your  craft, invest some time and money in learning and perfecting it. Attend writing conferences and talk to other writers.




It takes practice


I see many younger writers desperate for instant fame and fortune.

They watch women and men their age, or younger, nabbing big book deals, television series and lucrative movie deals with the naive assumption they too, can have this — and quickly.

We all crave success and admiration.

It might take longer than you prefer. In the meantime, you’re getting better.

It takes social skills aka charm

Maybe some people can bully or bulldoze their way to publishing success.

Charm is an under-rated skill.

Talk to the person in line for coffee at the conference.

Talk to the person who’s friendly to you at an event. You never know who they know.

Be someone people genuinely like, respect and want to help — not Mr./Ms. Needy and Demanding.


It takes skills


If you are fortunate enough to get a story assignment, or a book contract, you’ll need to actually know how to produce the commercial product they are expecting from you.

You are not An Artist here.

You’re a tailor being paid to make a suit to a specific size and shape.

You’re a stylist asked for a bob — who doesn’t dye your client’s hair purple because it just feels like a better choice for you somehow.

We’re hired help.

Stories get “killed” all the time because the end product is weak and boring, and years of work on a book manuscript can be dismissed by your editor as “unpublishable.” It happens.

Being able to sell a sexy version of your idea is only the start.

For a major magazine or newspaper story and certainly for a non-fiction book, you’ll need to find sources, interview them intelligently, research the larger context of your story, write, revise, write and revise.

You need to create a narrative structure and characters we care about.

If all this feels terrifying or insurmountable, work on your skills.


I also coach writers and offer individual webinars; details here.




This gripping memoir by a Canadian writer is one of my recent favorites…

It takes studying the greats

“You can’t write without reading.”

If you’re not devouring a steady diet of excellent work in your genre — and hopefully outside of it as well — you’re toast.

Read tons of terrific writing to try to discern why it works so well.


It probably means finding at least one (probably several) sources of reliable, steady, non-writing income, no matter the source


It doesn’t matter what the work is.

T.S. Eliot worked in a bank.

Poet William Carlos Williams was a doctor.

J.K Rowling survived on public assistance when she needed to.

If you’re hungry and cold and can’t get a decent night’s sleep and terrified of a medical emergency, get a job and build up your savings so that writing isn’t such a high-wire act.

Forcing writing to be your end-all and be-all, both emotionally and financially, can kill you.


Isn’t this cover gorgeous? The author is a 747 pilot for British Airways. Fantastic book!

It takes patience

No one writes a perfect first draft.

No one.


It means being edited

If you freak out at the thought of someone questioning your: diction, structure, tone, opening, middle, closing, length of sentences and paragraphs…let alone the factual veracity of your journalism, go away now.

Just don’t even bother.

Work that appears unedited (yes, here, too!) is rarely as good as that which has faced others’ tough, incisive questions.

A writer needs an editor, often many. Find several you like, trust and respect, and be ready to learn from their demands.

A smart editor is the valuable — essential — intellectual equivalent of a demanding personal trainer.

How badly do you want to improve?


My first book, published in 2004. As someone who grew up with no exposure to guns, I was deeply intrigued by this most American of obsesssions

It means being read

Obvious, right?

That means your mother, sister, ex(es), a lot of strangers.

You can’t predict or control what others will think or say of your most private and intimate thoughts — after you’ve retailed them publicly.

A thick skin is key.

malled cover HIGH

My second book, published in 2011. Some of the Amazon reviews were truly vicious. I stopped reading them years ago…

It means being — publicly –critiqued

Few reviews have been as nasty as this one, which recently ran in The New York Times Book Review, and which prompted much social media discussion among fellow writers about its meanspiritedness:

Now, I write empty, high-minded claptrap all the time. I also delete 90 percent of what I write. About an hour ago, for instance, I cut the entire 215-word opening sequence of this review. A boss of mine once said, of an article I had drafted over several months, that I had done a terrific job of catching myself up to a conversation the world had been having without me. Now I had to delete it, and start over from where I’d ended — from where the world didn’t yet know what it thought. Tillman’s meditations on the Big Questions often read like those of someone trying to catch up to the world’s knowledge while selling that world her notes for $26.


The critic, a well-established man, shreds the first-time author, a young woman.

(Several other reviews were much kinder.)


It means being able to tolerate rejection without panic or despair

Rejection to a writer is like blood to a surgeon — a messy and inevitable part of every working day.


It means being lucky — or not


This is a field — like many in the creative world (fashion, music, fine art) — where the goodies are rarely distributed “fairly”, equitably or when we most crave or need them.

It might be getting a full ride for an MFA or J-school or an awesome advance you can actually live on for a year or more without doing anything else.

Maybe they won the prestigious award or fellowship you’ve tried for multiple times.

It might be winning a stellar review or getting your work optioned for a film or television pilot; (my book Malled was optioned by CBS television, and earned me an additional $5,000 as a result — taken out of my advance.) It was also published in China, and that paltry sum also went toward paying down my advance.

(See a pattern here?)

It might well be, (try Googling the ancestors of some Big Name Writers) they’re sitting on a boatload of inherited or family money — like one New York writer whose family name graces a Manhattan concert hall.

Maybe they married a high net worth partner or husband, allowing them to do nothing but focus on work-for-pleasure.

The fact is, this is often — and long has been — a deeply unfair business.

Allowing yourself to marinate in a stew of envy and insecurity won’t improve your writing one bit.

How badly do you really want it?


Some insider views of my New York…

In beauty, cities, culture, design, life, photography, travel, U.S., urban design, urban life, US on April 16, 2016 at 3:32 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

You can always see the famous icons of New York City, on postcards and T-shirts and in movies and television.

It can make you feel like you know the city even if you’ve never been here.

But, like every major city, it’s a place of many facets, most of which tourists will never see.



One of the coolest aspects of New York — and one so easy for pedestrians, drivers and tourists to forget — is that it’s a busy, working harbor.

The East and Hudson Rivers are as crowded with marine traffic as there is vehicular madness on the FDR (highway on the East Side), the BQE (heading out to Brooklyn and Queens) and the West Side Highway.


Every day dozens of tug boats are pushing barges somewhere — or guiding enormous cruise ships through a harbor filled with treacherously narrow and shallow channels.


I spent one of the happiest days of my work life here aboard a tug boat and came away in awe of these workhorses, each worth a ton of money and able to keep the city moving in ways no other craft can.

What many people don’t know is how crucial tugboats were to us all on 9/11, a day of utter terror and chaos. Here’s a story about their amazing, unsung role.

One of my favorite sights is seeing a tugboat at night, its lights stacked high like a mini wedding cake as it chugs along the river.



Broadway is still a real treat.

Despite crazy-high prices and the impossibility of getting tickets for some shows like Hamilton, seeing a performance in one of these classic, small, intimate theaters is well worth doing and can create a lifetime memory.

My favorite? Attending, of all things, Mamma Mia, with my husband’s Buddhist lama (yes, really)…Namaste on Broadway!




And Lincoln Center; this is the David Koch Theater. What a pleasure to wait for the house lights and the jewel-shaped lamps fronting each balcony to dim, the hush as the curtain rises on another ballet.


The railings have lacy, gilded dividers and the diamond-like lights repeat in the exterior and hall interior

The entire building is delicate and lovely and ethereal — very early 1960s with all that white marble and gold — and makes an event there feel, as it is, like a special occasion.



Now this is how to sell clothes!


This is a classic! One of my favorite shopping streets, East Ninth.


There are, still, a very few streets left in Manhattan, (more in Brooklyn now), that are funky and filled with quirky independent shops.

Rents skyrocket daily, forcing many long-time renters and businesses to shut and leave, sometimes to close for good.

The latest?

A gas station at Houston and Broadway, one of a very small handful of gas stations in Manhattan, is soon to be torn down and replaced with….what else?…more million-dollar condominiums.

Hey, who needs gas anyway? Just thousands of working cabbies, to start with.

One of my favorite cafes, Cafe Angelique, (now on Bleecker’s eastern end) had to vacate its spot in the West Village when the landlord jacked the rent to…$45,000 a month.

Find — and support — the indies while you can!



The NYC food bank — which I saw while working on a story about it


Never forget — this is a city of incredible, rising income inequality.


The photo above, of a space that dwarfs airplane hangars, is filled with food, all of it destined for the city’s poorest inhabitants, many of them elderly.

You can enjoy the High Line and Times Square, dear tourists, but it’s only one tiny sliver of New York City.

This group of young men, the topic of a recent documentary, The Wolfpack. The film-maker had to win their trust to move ahead with the project

The film-maker of The Wolfpack literally found her documentary subject on the sidewalk — passing this group of handsome young men — and wondering who on earth they were.

Their story is almost unimaginable, raised inside their Manhattan apartment by a fiercely controlling father.


Rockefeller Center, as seen from Saks Fifth Avenue


If you like shopping, you might enjoy a visit to Saks Fifth Avenue. I like eating lunch there, and enjoying this view.


04 dancer lifted

One of the most fun things you can possibly do — dance at 7am! Daybreaker, in NYC


Or, getting up to dance with 800 strangers at 7 in the morning.


Yes, I’ve done it, several times.



If you keep your eyes peeled, you’ll see all sorts of elegance and beauty in the least likely places. This is a lamp on a private college campus in Brooklyn.



Porto Rico Coffee and Tea, Bleecker Street, NYC


And this tea and coffee shop, here since 1907, makes me happy. I stagger out every time laden with pounds of beans and tea.




The pattern of a metal plate on a Soho street…This is a city that still truly rewards a close look and sustained attention.




The back of a store on Spring Street in Soho. Speaking of quirky…




My birthday month…a facade in midtown Manhattan. Note the twins of Gemini.




A firehouse. How gorgeous is this?!



Nope, not Rome or Florence or Paris…Soho, Manhattan. The cast-iron facades downtown are a terrific reminder of the city’s past, not just the gleaming multi-million dollar condo towers.


And for those who still dream of becoming journalists…Columbia Journalism School.


Columbia Journalism School — there’s a lot they still don’t teach you in the classroom!



I studied here in the 1990s — now I teach writing there!




How can you resist? The city is filled with delicious bakeries and temptations…

If you come, make time to walk sloooooowly and savor all these sights.