How to thrive unmothered

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By Caitlin Kelly

The word mother, like the word  husband, is a noun and a verb.

Some are better being a noun.

Some aren’t given the tools to do that job well.

Some are distracted by mental illness or  addiction.

Some end up incarcerated.

Some lose their children because the children, or the state, removes them.

Many people learn to thrive unmothered.

I left my mother’s care at 14 and moved in with my father and his girlfriend, later wife, who was 13 years older. I was 14 and she was 27.

Neither of us were equipped for this.

So, what happens when you’re not classically nurtured by another woman related to you?

 

You figure stuff out on your own

You read magazines and watch TV and listen to the radio and to podcasts. You talk to other adults.  I was a teen and young adult long before the Internet or YouTube. But opening myself early to the world meant learning to pay attention and what was important.

 

You learn to ask others for help  — and know when you need it most

No crying wolf! When you know your requests are falling into the ears of people with their own lives and jobs and families, you know not to be a whiny pest but ask when you need them most. If you’re healthy and solvent (and if not, it’s much harder), you can manage a lot by yourself and grow massively in self-confidence as you do.

 

You’re fine challenging authority — because classic maternal authority isn’t there

Many people live in fear of what their mothers will say or do if…they say or do something that might offend or scare or anger her. When  your mother isn’t around and your stepmother isn’t very interested, you get on with it, unimpeded.

 

 

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You have to suss out what it means to be pretty or attractive or well-dressed

This was a big challenge, since I was taken shopping twice (both times with great success) between the ages of 14 and 20, once for a prom dress and once for a winter coat. But no one ever showed me how to wear makeup or what to do with my eyebrows or what stockings went with which shoes. It just wasn’t in the cards. So I learned to develop and trust my own taste, and work within a budget.

 

And how to cook!

My stepmother was an amazing cook but never taught me. I have a pile of well-used cookbooks, and recipes entertain often and  make very good meals. I take a lot of pride in this.

 

Managing money well is essential

I has money from my maternal grandmother, which for four years of university was all I had to live on  — $350 a month when my rent was $160 and annual tuition $660. It took me a few months to save the $30 I needed to buy a leotard, tights and slippers to take a ballet class. Wants had to wait behind needs. No one was there to bail me out and I knew it.

 

You learn to stand up — and fight for — your own needs

There’s no one calling ahead to smooth  your path or help you battle whatever shows up. I learned very young to figure out what I need and to ask other adults for it — whether professional, medical, financial. That would be my job as an adult anyway. It just started early.

 

The world is full of “other mothers”

From Guillemette in Paris to Marcia in Toronto to Salley in D.C., I’ve found deeply loving women friends whose kindness and affection and loyalty have felt maternal to me. Salley was the witness for my second wedding, which my mother did not attend. Barbara sat with me for a whole day’s worth of hospital tests and Catherine, in Dublin, sent flowers after my breast cancer surgery.

 

When you can’t rely on your mom, you rely on  yourself

Most things are quite manageable on your own. Many skills can be learned or, if  you have the money, hired.

 

 

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The terrific team at radiation, Phelps Hospital, November 2018, at the end of my treatment

 

The kindness of strangers is astounding

I’m always amazed and grateful at the kindness I’ve experienced, especially when traveling alone. When  you haven’t been nurtured much, you forget — or never know — that many others have, and are happy to share their love with you as well. That generosity and acceptance, let alone affection, always surprises me, and always  delights me.

 

Friends are family

The truest lesson of all. If you can open your heart and arms — and without a loving mother you have to — there are so many people happy to take pride in you and your work and your character, to laugh and cry with you, to take you to the hospital, to visit you after surgery, to send you flowers and cards and remember your birthday.

It doesn’t have to be your mother.

Some more memories…

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at home with Roo

By Caitlin Kelly

Before we were estranged, we weren’t.

Obvious, right?

Like me, she had dear friends all over the world, but she was never a joiner. She never stayed for coffee hour after church.

So, sorry to say, there are not enough people to gather for a funeral or a memorial.

Some memories to share:

She and my father love(d) to be rabble-rousers and rule-breakers, so I remember — before they divorced when I was six or seven — one of them, maybe her, choosing to get arrested for non-payment of parking tickets.

 

In the 60s, anything went, so she decided to wear sarees and sandals — in WASPy Toronto, a definite outlier amidst the cashmere-and-pearls mummies at my prep school.

 

When she left my father, we moved from a large house in one of Toronto’s nicest neighborhoods to a two-bedroom apartment, a two-story walk-up, in a basic (safe) downtown area. But, typical of her style, she had a wooden playhouse made for me and put on our balcony.

She threw great, stylish birthday parties for me, usually at a local hotel.

 

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Not a flattering pic, but years ago on our New York balcony

 

She had endured a moneyed-but-strange childhood — including a governess and a mother who kept changing husbands (six? eight?) the way some people change their shoes.

We moved to Cuernavaca so she could study with Ivan Illich. We lived in a basic neighborhood and I walked up the hill to school. We had no phone and didn’t know anyone — so when she had a manic breakdown on Christmas Eve I ended up on my own for two weeks with another 14-year-old friend, visiting from Toronto.

She never discussed her childhood or adolescence. I tried. 

She traveled for years alone, even through Latin America. She taught me to shove a chair beneath the door handle, if needed, to stay safe in your hotel room.

 

She never enjoyed cooking. We used to joke that dinner was ready when smoke poured out of the kitchen.

 

Born American, always a fervent progressive, she wept the day Robert Kennedy was assassinated — my 11th birthday. I couldn’t understand why she was crying on my birthday.

Whenever I gave in to some sort of panic, she’d reply with her own solution: “What am I going to do? Jump out of my skin?”

 

As she traveled, always alone, she’d import me once a year to wherever she was — so I visited Costa Rica, Colombia, Peru and Fiji all in my early 20s. Fun, sometimes. Peru was the best, including a fffffffreezing midnight train ride through the Andes and sunrise at Machu Picchu. Loved the blue starfish in Fiji. 

 

She never re-married and had few romantic relationships. I think intimacy wasn’t enjoyable.

She endured some terrible health issues, including thyroid cancer at 30, breast cancer in her 60s and a brain tumor at 68, a massive meningioma that had likely been growing for a long time, maybe decades. The Vancouver neurosurgeon who performed the six-hour surgery told me it had made her irritable and moody because of its location — so I’d been arguing with a tumor for years?!

When she had the brain tumor, but before we knew for sure when she was taken many miles south to Vancouver for tests, she was taken to a small regional hospital and we flew from NY to see her. Jose was then national/foreign photo editor for The New York Times (a huge job) but took a week off to go with me — and he had never met my mother before. He cleans up nice, and in his khakis and crisp white button-down, came into her room.

“Holy cow!” said Cynthia — maybe the only woman I know who could flirt while battling a big-ass brain tumor.

She traveled the world with a small stuffed mouse with a string tail — her mother’s nickname for her.

 

 

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Worn, but well-loved

 

When I went into the hospital in  London, age maybe four?,  to have  my  tonsils removed, I was told I was there to have a baby elephant…and she’s still in my life.

A mass of contradictions, Cynthia Blanche von Rhau.

 

Yes, I will miss her.

Sudden death — my mother

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A long ago image, one of my favorites

By Caitlin Kelly

I found out Sunday and immediately knew, seeing the nursing home’s name on caller ID, what this was.

A call I dreaded, but knew was inevitable at some point.

She had not been ill, although she had many health issues — COPD, a colostomy, survivor of multiple cancers. She was 85.  I am her only child and we had been estranged, again, since 2010, for many reasons. Her alcoholism was a major one for me. I was worn out competing with it.

She was also bipolar and her manic episodes, certainly when I was in my teens and 20s,  were terrifying, often resulting in hospital stays around the world as she traveled. I was 19, living alone and attending university, and would find calls on my answering machine from consular officials, from the Americans (she was) and Canadians (I am) asking me what to do.

I knew?

It was a lot.

She had been in a nursing home since 2011 when she became too ill to live independently. She lived, at the end, in Victoria, B.C. as far as one can get from my home in N.Y., another obstacle to visits, even if wanted.

Which we often didn’t want.

She had previously lived in many places, including Roswell, NM, Woods Hole, MA, Toronto, Montreal, Bath and Gibsons. B.C. where she joined the volunteer sea rescue crew, bouncing around in a Zodiac and tending her garden.

In Victoria, she had a dear friend locally who will  take her things for now, and who is executor of her will. She will be cremated and I’ll likely go out in a few months to take her ashes back to the part of mainland B.C. she wants them shared. Sadly, there are not enough people to make a funeral or memorial.

I am a stew of emotions, as anyone who’s read this blog for a while knows.

Cynthia had, in many ways, an amazing life, blessed with Mensa-level intelligence, beauty and enough inherited money she didn’t have to work after her 40s.

She traveled the world alone, even to remote Pacific Islands, and made friends in Australia, England and in Canada, where she moved from New York when she married my Canadian father — at 17. They met in Eze-en-Haut, France at a party, and barely knew one another before marrying at St. Bartholomew Cathedral on Park Avenue in New York City — two wealthy, charming, strong-headed people…who made me!

They were quite the pair and we moved to London from Vancouver while my father worked for the BBC making films. She was adventurous all her life.

She never attended university but worked as a radio reporter, TV talk show host and magazine editor and writer.

She met her lifelong best friend, an East Indian travel agency owner in Toronto, Molly, when she interviewed her for a story.

She had a wardrobe of wigs, sometimes changing her hair color several times a week.

Her black mink had a brilliant emerald green silk lining.

She was glamorous as hell — and also fiercely independent and private.

I knew very little of her.

I was sent to boarding school at eight and summer camps ages 8-14 when I left her care to live with my father. We had lived in Toronto, Montreal and Cuernavaca together.

I never lived with her again after that.

Because she always lived so far away, or vice versa, we saw one another maybe once a year. As she traveled, she would import me once a year to wherever she was at the time: Peru, Colombia, Costa Rica, Fiji.

Some years went by with no visits, due to rancor.

The closest we were, emotionally and physically, was the year I was 25 and living in Paris on a journalism fellowship and she was living, as always alone, in Bath. We saw one another more often then.

 

She taught me to play gin rummy.

To travel safely as a woman alone.

To set a pretty dining table.

To fight hard for what you believe in.

To talk to anyone interesting, anywhere.

We played ferocious games of jacks — her long fingernails, she knew, a competitive advantage

Some photos:

 

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Ooohhhhh, we were competitive!

 

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Love this one

 

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That’s me, maybe age five or six, in Toronto.

Renewing my green card

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I love the timeless beauty of the Hudson Valley, where I live. Here, looking south.

 

By Caitlin Kelly

I won’t post the image here, obviously.

But it is green-ish — a pale image of the Statue of Liberty, a copy of my fingerprint (they take your biometrics), my photo (in black and white), my signature, gender and other details.

It also has a code that tells officials how I won this legal status — the drop-down menu of options as you go to renew it is very long. Last time I came back from Canada, the officer commented he rarely sees my category.

It’s a truly precious document.

I was born in Vancouver, Canada, lived in London, England ages two to five, then Toronto ages five to 30, with residence in Mexico, Paris and Montreal along the way.

But I was forever being mistaken for American — which every Canadian knows is not a compliment: too loud, too bossy, too driven, too direct. Walks too fast. Talks too fast. Wants too much.

Canadians prize quiet modesty and indirectness. They loathe conflict and are ambivalent or reluctant about celebrating heroes, money or celebrity — which is why Harry and Meghan chose wisely to move to Victoria, British Columbia. Most Canadians just don’t care.

My mother was born in New York and lived in a few places in the U.S., but she never liked it much and was glad to flee permanently to Canada. The irony is that I now live near her birthplace and she, in Victoria, near mine.

 

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I love this elegant NYC restaurant, Via Carota

 

Why did I want to move to the U.S., and to New York?

My one word answer remains unchanged after all these years — ambition.

Canada is small, and offers limited opportunities for a big career in journalism and publishing, Even in a recession, and I’ve weathered three of them in New York since arriving in 1989, there are a lot of decent opportunities here and, key, people willing to hire me, staff or freelance.

There are many things about the U.S. — as you know if you read this blog regularly — that deeply trouble me: racism, violence, guns, sexism, income inequality. Not to mention current electoral politics.

But I’ve always been surprised by — and much appreciated — the willingness here to give me chances to prove myself. I am privileged, for sure: well-educated, white, able-bodied. And this is a country where money talks, so when people choose me, I know they do so with the confidence I’ll help them make more and not let them down.

 

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Downtown Montreal has re-purposed some gorgeous bank buildings into cafes and co0-working spaces

I get it. I almost welcome the nakedness of this transaction.

Canadians are a different breed. Much more averse to risk. Slower to commit and quick to scuttle away from conflict.

In a smaller country, failure sticks and is more difficult to erase, deny or flee. I get it.

So I feel more at ease, in some ways, and certainly in New York, than I ever did in Toronto or Montreal.

I miss elements of my life in Canada and I really miss the deeper quality of those friendships.

And boy I do miss its cooler emotional temperature and impulse to discretion — sometimes I want to holler, here: “Enough! I don’t want to hear all your damn feelings!”

I find it exhausting and unwelcome.

I’ve also been fortunate here: owning an apartment, finding a loving, hard-working and accomplished husband and a few friends.

I’ve luckily ticked many of my life boxes, and have — still — some serious professional ambitions yet to satisfy, like hoping to write and sell two more non-fiction books.

I also came here because I had some cool American relatives and ancestors, like a Chicago developer, or the bullfighter, or the archeologist or the diplomat or the small aircraft pilot with the almond farm.

I found them all so intriguing.

So, for $540, my new green card will buy me another American decade.

I pray to be alive and healthy when it expires.

 

Have you left your native country to settle permanently abroad?

 

Are you happy with how it turned out?

 

Managing anxiety

 

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By Caitlin Kelly

I know, for some people, it’s a chronic and debilitating issue.

There are days I think I’m going to explode.

Being asked by my doctor to monitor my blood pressure every morning is making me much more aware how chronically anxious I am, even from the moment I wake up.

This is not good!

So I’m trying to do more deep breathing.

Keeping up with my three-times-a-week spin class, which I enjoy a lot and which burns off a lot of stress.

Taking more and longer naps, even if I don’t sleep but just snuggle under the duvet and stare out into the cold, gray, cloudy winter sky from the warm safety of bed.

 

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It’s odd…some things that make people feel really really freaked out don’t bother me at all; I recently read a tweet by someone much higher profile than I who literally ran off stage at an event to vomit with a panic attack.

Public speaking has never scared me.

But it’s time to really examine why I feel so stressed.

Part of it is very real — our monthly living costs are high and we have done everything we can to reduce them. So, working freelance means paid projects we rely on can — and do — fall through. That means making sure we always have accessible savings (which, thankfully, we do.)

Part of it is just the sheer exhaustion of constantly having to manage so many relationships — professional and personal — and the inevitable conflict and misunderstanding that often comes as a result of much (too much!) online conversation. If I piss off the wrong person, I can lose valuable friendships and clients, so I too often feel now like I’m walking eggshells to avoid that.

Part of it is knowing we have zero family support or back-up, whether emotional, financial or physical. I no longer have a relationship with my mother (her only child) and my father and I have a very stormy one. My 3 half-siblings are not people I know or like, and vice versa. Jose’s parents have been dead for decades and we very rarely see his two sisters who live far away. Whatever happens, it’s all on us.

Part of it is what happens after you’ve gotten a diagnosis of any form of cancer; mine in June 2018 for DCIS, stage zero, no spread, surgery and radiation. But I live every day in fear of recurrence.

Part of it is not having quite as many supports as would be ideal, really close friends who live nearby. I have three or four close women friends where I live, but the other day, really in a panic over a work issue, I had to call one who lives in Toronto, a woman I’m lucky to see once a year but who knows me very well. At my age, most women are retired, and at leisure and/or traveling and/or obsessed with their grandchildren, so I have very little in common with them — more with peers decades younger still in the work trenches yet also at a very different stage of life and facing very different challenges.

Part of it is just my general fears about my health and how to strengthen and preserve it as I age. I’ve stopped drinking alcohol to lose weight. I’ve added another day of a different kind of exercise. I’m trying to eat less meat and smaller portions.

Part of it is age. We are not able, now to get another well-paid full-time job in our chaotic industry because of rampant age discrimination. That keeps us in the financial precarity of freelance work and extremely expensive health insurance.

 

 

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We stayed overnight in this house in a Nicaraguan village with no electricity, indoor plumbing or running water.

 

And I know — believe me! — having lived in and traveled to and worked in much poorer places (like Nicaragua, March 2014), that these are all “first world problems” — worries relatively very small indeed in comparison to those of millions of others, abroad and domestic.

 

I took six weeks off in the summer of 2017, a massive splurge of savings. It was worth every penny to travel, alone, through Europe.

When I came home I remarked to a friend that my head, literally, felt different.

“That’s what it’s like not to be anxious all the time,” she said.

I would like to feel that way again.

 

When the new neighbors are too shiny

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Our town reservoir

By Caitlin Kelly

Oh, this essay!

I loved every word of it, marinated in nostalgia — but not really nostalgia because the author, Jeremiah Moss, still lives in the place, New York’s East Village, whose massive changes he mourns.

An excerpt, originally published in n + 1:

The mothers are coming up the stairs. Holding the hands of their adult children. Daughters, mostly, and one hesitant son. Asking questions like, “Is the neighborhood safe?” The real estate agent, in his starched white shirt and slick hair, replies, “The East Village used to have quite a reputation fifteen, twenty years ago, but now it’s totally safe.” Or did he say totally tame? As in domesticated, subjugated, a wild horse broken. I am listening from inside my apartment, ear pressed to the gap where door doesn’t quite meet jamb, looking through the peephole, trying to see who my new neighbors might be, knowing they’ll be the same as all the rest. Young and funded, they belong to a certain type: utterly unblemished, physically fit, exceptionally well dressed, as bland as skim milk and unsalted saltine crackers. “I work on Wall Street,” I hear one of them call to the real-estate agent. “Awesome!” the agent replies.

They didn’t used to be here.


came in the early 1990s because it made sense for me to be here. I was a young, queer, transsexual poet, and where else would a young, queer, transsexual poet go but to the East Village? Back then the neighborhood still throbbed with its hundred years of counterculture, a dissident history going back to the early anarchists and feminists, up through the bohemians and Beats, the hippies and punks, the poets, queers, and transsexuals too. I had a pair of combat boots and an elite liberal arts education, thanks to a full ride of grants and work-study programs, but not much money.

This is so evocative and, if you know Manhattan, and especially its East Village, it will strike a powerful chord in you as well.

Sadly, it’s really not a place that tourists visit.

Why would they?

It’s residential. Not shiny. Not glossy. Not especially Instagram-able.

Long blocks filled with narrow buildings, walk-ups to tenement-style apartments.

This isn’t the cool, trendy West Village, full of investment bankers and their very thin, very blond stay at home wives and international clothing brands like Reiss and Scotch & Soda.

I’ve always loved the quieter, battered East Village, wandering and taking photos, stopping for a coffee.

And I really hear him — because the town I chose decades ago has also massively gentrified, becoming much trendier than when I moved here. We now have two coffee shops and two gyms, beyond the worn-out Y.

We even have a Japanese restaurant where we watched an angelic 27-month-old with her mother happily slurping her miso soup in silence.

 

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A shop on our Main Street, interior

 

I joke — not really — that it’s become all Mini Coopers and man-buns. Now it also contains women wearing those shearling boot/clogs and artisanal scarves and driving pastel Fiats and married to guys with turned-up cuffs on their dark rinse jeans.

The cool kids priced out of Park Slope, Brooklyn have stampeded north to our funky little river town, the one whose volunteer fire department — still — is summoned by a series of specific fog-horn blasts.

Alma Snape florists is now an art gallery.

Mrs. Reali’s dry cleaners, with the dead ficus tree in the window, is now a photographer specializing in wedding and engagement and baby photos.

The former antiques mall, stretching way back from Main Street, is a gourmet shop and restaurant run by a former Manhattan photographer — one we enjoy, but where we also saw three people, in one day, read the menu and say out loud: “This is too expensive.”

Ours was once a town of battered Saturns and Corollas and Buicks.

Now there are Mercedes and even a Maserati and a Lamborghini.

Like Moss, I stare and think — who are these people?

 

Cards, letters, all on paper. Yes, please!

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Charlotte Bronte’s writing desk

 

By Caitlin Kelly

Sorry to see the closing of all Papyrus stores — an upscale stationery chain.

As someone who loves using and receiving lovely stationery, I found this sad.

I love love love beautiful stationery. I just bought a new Lamy fountain pen.

I have personalized stationery. So does Jose.

We used to have shared personalized stationery and I may order some more. Not something we use a lot, but still good for condolence letters and thank-you notes.

Obviously, I enjoy social media — as here we are! But I love the heft and weight of Christmas and birthday cards, which we still send out. I love opening a drawer and finding a Valentine’s Day card from Jose from a decade ago. History!

Historians of the future may have quite the challenge if all we leave them are emojis and texts and emails. Will they exist?

There are many gorgeous options out there — like classic Parisian manufacturer  G. Lalo. How elegant are their pale green, deckle edged cards! They come in eight other colors — including white and a stunning deep pink.

And these, from Papier, lovely marbled notecards.

Toronto, my hometown, has a stunning store, The Japanese Paper Place; I stop in every visit and buy some pens and labels and gift paper. They sell online!

This has been called the best stationery store in the U.S. South…Scriptura. I discovered them when I visited New Orleans…Such lovely things!

Rifle Paper Co. has some fun greeting cards — every time I look at the drugstore selection now I find most of them adolescent and crude or too saccharine.

We keep stamps clipped to the fridge and plenty of lovely papers, so we have no excuse to fall out of touch or stick to social media.

 

Do you write letters or cards on paper still?

 

 

A mid-winter zhuzh

By Caitlin Kelly

How I love this silly design-world word!

It means “to make something more attractive“…and if you live in the Northern Hemisphere (and some of you don’t!) you’re probably pretty ready for a little hit of pretty, fresh and NOT another cold, gray day with months more of that yet to come.

A bit of novelty!

Some suggestions for a mid-winter pick-me-up:

Try a new form of exercise

Whew! I recently took a class of Barre3, a combination of ballet, yoga and isometrics that had me quickly breaking a sweat and re-discovering new/lost muscle groups. I was older than 95 percent of the students — all white, all female (held in a suburban NY town at 9:30 a.m.) and easily 50 pounds heavier.

But no matter. I tried something new and challenging, and I’m going back.

 

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This was a splurge — but five hours’ worth! It was worth every penny

 

Buy some tickets to upcoming events

 

This weekend we’re going to a concert of Baroque music at Columbia University and on Feb. 13 I’m hearing A Roomful of Teeth, a capella group led by the youngest person to win a Pulitzer for musical composition. I also bought a tickets to our local music hall for Natalie Merchant. I need fun stuff to look forward to!

 

New linens

We can always use a fresh new set of pillowcases or dishtowels. I splurged at this website, on sale, for a new set of towels and four French dishtowels.
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Fresh flowers or green plants

After (sob) six weeks of clinging to our fresh Christmas tree before abandoning it, it was time to add some more plant life. This week, lots of yellow tulips.

 

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Both of these are custom-made from new fabric I found online

A cosy throw or set of decorative pillows

Nothing nicer for a nap, on the sofa or bed, than a lovely throw.

We have a few of them — cotton, wool and fleece — always within easy reach. They add color, texture and warmth.

Some favorite places for nice things are the obvious: Anthropologie, Crate & Barrel and Pottery Barn. But there are also cool things at Etsy and EBay and local consignment shops. My cheapo trick for making a new cushion cover — find two napkins and stitch them around a throw cushion.

 

 

 

Indulge in some lovely stationery — and use it!

 

My business card is made by Moo, a company whose products are consistently gorgeous and well-made — thick paper stock, great designs. Every time I hand over my card, I get a compliment, so if you’re self-employed, think about the subtle message your business card (if you use them) is sending: creative, high-quality, unusually lovely. 

And they’re on sale (25 percent off) for the next five days!

I also have personalized stationery and send paper greeting cards as often as possible — for condolence, sympathy, get well, new baby, new home, Christmas cards. There are amazing companies out there to find lovely paper goods, like Rifle, Papier, Paper Source. My favorite stationery store is on Magazine Street in New Orleans, Scriptura, named “the most beautiful stationery in the south.”

Life, alone

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By Caitlin Kelly

There’s a lot to unpack in this poignant personal essay,  written by a 36-year-old woman living alone in Brooklyn, NY.

An excerpt:

There are the big things, the Christmases, the New Year’s Eves, the motherfucking Valentine’s Days. We won’t be participating in cultural norms on these holidays, we’ll be MacGyvering the single woman’s version of all of them. And we’re good at it, too! Have you noticed the “Galentine’s” cards section at Target this year? The name is repulsive, but the message is great. We’ve versioned a holiday, you guys — they see us!

Birthdays are another fun one. With the exception of my 30th, I’ve been planning my own birthday celebrations for a decade. Nobody’s ever like, “What should I do for Shani for her birthday? I’ve got it, Kitten Party!!” It doesn’t happen. What typically happens instead is I email 10 people, five of them are available, I make a dinner reservation, the end.

If I’m honest, the big things don’t bother me half as much as the tiny ones…For example, who’s your In Case Of Emergency person? Mine is my mum. She lives 1800 MILES AWAY. And yes, I could list a friend, but I don’t like how that makes me feel. Have you ever really been in an “emergency?” It’s terrifying, and I don’t like assigning that potential imposition to a friend.

And I’m a lucky one, I have my mum. Not everyone does. But at a certain point in life, I developed a need to be number one to someone other than a parent. And I’m not.

This essay hit me hard for a few reasons….mostly what she sees as the high cost of independence — a loss of feeling valued and nurtured.

Like this sentence of hers:

I could list a friend, but I don’t like how that makes me feel. Have you ever really been in an “emergency?” It’s terrifying, and I don’t like assigning that potential imposition to a friend.

But how else can we function, those of us who live alone and may do so for decades, by choice or not?

Many of us now live equally far away from our parents or siblings; I haven’t lived in the same country as my parents for decades and my three half-siblings are not people I rely on for anything. I barely know them.

I lived alone ages 19 to 23, ages 26 to 30, ages 37 to 43, (after my divorce and when I met my second husband), a total of 14 years.

So I’ve had a lot of time alone, solo, single, reliant only on myself and whoever stepped up for me.

 

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In those times, like the essayist, I’ve been really ill — I remember finally sleeping in flu-ish exhaustion at the foot of the stairs in my two-story Toronto apartment, the top two floors of a house, with no room-mates to notice or care. I couldn’t face climbing the stairs up to my bedroom again after one more trip to the second-floor bathroom.

Later, with a bad injury to my left ankle, I had to manage stairs into the apartment on  crutches as well, plus walking my dog. There really wasn’t anyone to call.

But I was also, then, in my mid-20s, and ferociously independent, unwilling or unable to ask others for help; when you come from a family uninterested in your welfare, you make the sad — and erroneous — assumption that since they (your own parents!) don’t care, why on earth would a non-relative?

But in my late 30s, with two knee surgeries to recover from, I had to literally open the door — and my suburban New York church brought me meals on wheels for a few days. I still remember who made soup and who delivered it, one now a very good friend all these years later.

 

Love is action!

 

North American life and culture, whether the shiny faux perfection of social media, the relentless work hours and long commutes that wear us out and steal our time, the competing demands of our own work, studies and/or family, can make it difficult to really be a good friend.

 

To summon the energy and make an effort.

To take the subway or bus crosstown or drive 20 minutes and find parking

To visit the hospital on a bitterly cold winter day.

To pick up a few bags of groceries or some fresh flowers and bring them to a friend.

To plan a party.

To remember a birthday.

Do you live alone?

Do you have people other than family to turn to and rely on?

What motivates you?

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Do you long to see your name in lights?

 

By Caitlin Kelly

I spend wayyyyyyyy too much time on Twitter.

Partly because it’s social for me.

Partly because I need to remain visible in my industry as someone sparky and worth working with.

A common hashtag there is #MondayMotivation, which assumes (sadly) we all need a good poke in the ass to feel motivated on the first day of the work or study week.

But we’re not all motivated by the same issues.

 

It’s assumed, in American capitalism, everyone wants to be rich and famous.

More money!

More fame!

More power!

In other nations, with much more generous family policies — like paid maternity leave —  some people just want to be home with their children or to care for ailing relatives or friends.

So do many Americans, even if current public policy and stagnant wages keep them yoked to the wheel.

 

 

Caitlin Kelly Health Care Story

I chose journalism for a variety of reasons:

— I love meeting new people and hearing their stories. I’m given immediate access to smart, accomplished people, from Olympic athletes to C-suite executives. I also meet and speak with people of very different backgrounds.

— I love telling stories.

— I learn something new with every interview and every story.

— It’s really satisfying to know that some of what I write helps my readers to be better informed.

— I love the enormous audience that some media outlets allow us still in which to tell a story and possibly share helpful information.

In my non-work life, I’m motivated by a few impulses:

— I like connecting people, for work, for friendship, for romance!

— Endlessly curious, I live to travel.

— I like to feel useful and helpful in whatever way I can.

— I like to learn.

— I’m nurtured deeply by beauty, whether in art, nature, great design, music.

What motivates you?