Avoid a predator — read “Dirty John”

 

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By Caitlin Kelly

This is a must-read for any woman dating people she doesn’t know well or hasn’t met through people she completely trusts.

If she’s easily prone to being quickly wooed, beware!

It’s a new six-part series, and podcast, from the L.A. Times, by Christopher Gofford, and took more than a year to report.

It’s the true story of a multiply divorced California woman, a financially successful interior designer — desperately lonely — who was targeted by John Meehan, a con man.

It’s terrifying, compelling and an essential read to understand that:

— such men exist

— such men seek out victims and select them carefully

— such men groom their victims, love-bombing them with gifts and cards and “kindness”

— failing to ask why they’re so “kind” to someone they barely know is imprudent

— such men quickly insinuate themselves into their victims’ lives

— such men are sociopathic and vicious when exposed

— such men are professional liars and who, really, will others believe — them or you?

 

I know this because I’ve also been a victim of one.

 

In December 1997 I met a charming, handsome, intelligent man who — within a few weeks of meeting me — brought a pot of home-made soup to my door, bought me gifts and told me repeatedly how much he loved me.

He pretended to be a successful lawyer, a partner in a three-person downtown New York City law firm, complete with engraved stationery, business cards and other “evidence” of his false identity; in Chicago (where his exploits made front page of the Chicago Tribune) he’d posed as a doctor, using a business card with impressive initials that anyone who knows medicine would instantly know was fake.

He kept proposing marriage, sending dozens of emails and cards attesting to his immediate attraction and devotion, as did John Meehan, a standard MO for con men. (I found this weird and excessive, not romantic.)

It took me longer than it should have — (lonely and insecure = vulnerable) — to flee his clutches, at which point, like Meehan, he began threatening me and my family. Not with physical harm, as Meehan did, but in my case called my local district attorney to lie about me; as someone who lives in the U.S. as a resident alien (i.e. not a citizen) he knew this could make my solo life difficult. And knew, even irrationally, I feared that.

I was terrified by his screaming phone calls, and stayed at a friend’s home for a few days.

As did Meehan’s victim, I hired a detective, a former NYPD policeman, who quickly discovered and told me the sordid truth.

By that point, the guy had stolen and opened my mail, activated my new credit card and used it, forging my signature — all felonies.

The police and district attorney all laughed in my face. It was “only fraud” they said.

“No harm done,” they said.

Because “my” con man was careful to steal only a certain amount from each of his many victims, the banks didn’t care — it’s a cost of doing business to them.

Because the amounts were small enough, (typically $1,000 or less), the credit card companies also wouldn’t chase him and prosecute — and the costs of this fraud is built into our interest rates.

Because the women he victimized were so embarrassed and ashamed or police disbelieved them or DAs wouldn’t take on their cases, he was rarely arrested, prosecuted and convicted.

Because the women he chose to steal from should have known better, should have asked tougher questions, should have dumped him fast, their friends and family — like mine —  were furious at our stupidity and gullibility.

These men (and women!) lie for a living.

Like Meehan, the man I was victimized by is now dead. Thank God.

A book I highly recommend to every girl and woman is The Gift of Fear, written by a security expert, with a one page checklist of warning signs. It clearly explains how the way women are socialized to be “nice” and compliant can endanger us.

 

I urge everyone to read this series or listen to the podcast — and share it with women you know and care about.

 

It’s highly instructive and shows how to spot the warning signs of a similar predator.

If you recognize them, please flee, fast.

They’re out there.

20 questions for you

By Caitlin Kelly

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More than 18,900 people have now signed up to follow Broadside — and I only know a very few of you.

So, to get to know some of you a bit better, here are 20 questions I’d love some of you to answer.

Pick whichever ones suit you, some or all…

Thanks for playing!

I’ll go first!

 

1. Favorite city/place: Paris

 

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High above Paris — silence!

 

2. What do you see out your bedroom window?       Treetops and the Hudson River, facing northwest.

 

3. How many languages do you speak? English, French and Spanish

 

4. Where were you born?       Vancouver, B.C.

 

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Our view of the Hudson River

 

5. Where do you live now?     Tarrytown, NY

 

6. What sort of work do you do?     Writer and writing coach

 

7. What makes you most angry?             Arrogance/entitlement

 

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My gift to Jose

 

8. Who do you most admire?                   Those who fight for social justice

 

9. What’s your blog name and why do you blog?   Broadside is a play on words. I like to hear what readers worldwide have to say. It’s a place for me, as a professional writer, to write for pleasure, not income.

 

10. Dog, cat or other sort of pet person?                   Dog (although currently dog-less)

 

 

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Banana bread!

 

11. What are some of your creative outlets?           Photography, writing, drawing, cooking, interior design

 

12. Number of countries visited? (or states or provinces)       Forty countries, 38 U.S. states, seven Canadian provinces

 

13. What did you study at university and why?                  English literature, French and Spanish, with the goal of becoming a foreign correspondent

 

14. Deepest regret?                         Our family’s unresolved estrangements. Never getting a staff job at a place I dreamed of.

 

15. Unachieved goal(s)?                 I’d like to publish at least two or three more books.

 

16. Typical Saturday morning?    Coffee, reading The New York Times and Financial Times (in print), listening to favorite radio shows like On The Media, Studio 360, This American Life and The Moth. Spin class.

 

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A bejeweled coat in the window at Prada — I love fashion!

 

17. Do you play a musical instrument?        Acoustic guitar, but haven’t touched it in decades.

 

18. Do you have a motto?             Chase joy.

 

19. Biggest accomplishments?      Re-inventing my career/life at 30 in New York City in a recession, with no job, friends or family here. Surviving a crazy childhood. Winning a Canadian National Magazine Award.

 

20. Favorite song?                         Impossible to choose just one!

My Sharona, The Knack

Rock the Casbah, The Clash

Sisters of Mercy, Leonard Cohen

All The Diamonds, Bruce Cockburn (written in Stockholm in 1973)

and this entire album, Wildflowers by Judy Collins (1967)

 

 

 

 

 

What makes “home” home for you?

By Caitlin Kelly

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A walk along the Palisades, on the western shore of the Hudson River

 

One of the great essayists is Pam Houston, a 55-year-old American, whose most recent story is a lovely paean to her Colorado ranch, the one she bought and paid for, alone, through her writing and teaching — hardly well-paid pursuits.

She’s a woman and a writer I admire, (and have never met), someone with a deep hunger for adventure and who has chosen, and savored, an unconventional life.

This, from Outside magazine:

It’s hard for anybody to put their finger on the moment when life changes from being something that is nearly all in front of you to something that happened while your attention was elsewhere. I bought this ranch in 1993. I was 31, and it seems to me now that I knew practically nothing about anything. My first book, Cowboys Are My Weakness, had just come out, and for the first time ever I had a little bit of money. When I say a little bit, I mean it, and yet it was more money than I had ever imagined having: $21,000. My agent said, “Don’t spend it all on hiking boots,” and I took her advice as seriously as any I have ever received.

I had no job, no place to live except my North Face VE 24 tent—which was my preferred housing anyhow—and nine-tenths of a Ph.D. All I knew about ownership was that it was good if all your belongings fit into the back of your vehicle, which in my case they did. A lemon yellow Toyota Corolla. Everything, including the dog.

The entire essay is a great read about how we find/make a home. Here’s a bit more:

I had no way to imagine, in that first moment of seeing it, that the view out the kitchen window—of the barn and the corral and the Divide behind it—would become the backdrop for the rest of my life. That I would take thousands of photographs of that same scene, in every kind of light, in every kind of weather. That I would write five more books (and counting) sitting at that kitchen table (never at my desk), looking, intermittently, out at that barn. That it would become the solace, for decades, for whatever ailed me, and that whenever it was threatened—and it would be threatened, by fire, flood, cellphone-tower installation, greedy housesitters, and careless drunks—I would fight for it as though I had cut down the trees and stripped the logs myself.

I feel a bit this way about my one-bedroom suburban apartment, bought at the same age as Pam and one, like her, I’ve stayed in since then.

Between September 1982 and June of 1989 I moved from Toronto-Paris-Toronto-Montreal-New Hampshire-New York. I had won a fellowship, had a great newspaper job, made new friends, took another newspaper job, found a man I wanted to marry and followed him from my native Canada to the U.S.

But it was a lot of moving and adjusting and I was worn out by it all. Anyone who’s moved around a lot, let alone changed countries a few times, knows it can be wearying.

We ended up here, my first husband and I, because he found a medical residency position nearby, and friends had suggested this as an attractive town. I knew nothing of New York state, nor the suburbs, having primarily lived in large cities — Toronto, Montreal, London and Paris.

My New York view, straight northwest up and over the Hudson River, is only now blocked in summer as lush treetops block my sight-line. But the view is spectacular in every season — with snow, fog, rainstorms sweeping downriver and enormous barges pushed by tugboats heading north.

A new, gorgeous bridge has just opened, spanning the river, as elegant as a Calatrava.

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The walkway along our town’s reservoir

The apartment, on our building’s top floor, is generally quiet — on a curving, hilly residential street lined with ancient stone walls — and regular sounds are crickets, hawks overhead and leaves rustling. We even hear coyotes now.

The town has a large reservoir whose landmarks — if you can call them that — are three small black turtles sunning themselves on the rocks and a cormorant who spreads his wings to dry, and looks like an out-take from a 17th-century Japanese print.

On the eastern bank of the Hudson River, we have the prettiest commute possible to New York City, and the haunting sound of train whistles as Amtrak rockets back and forth to upstate, Vermont and Canada,

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The left is before; the right is after. I designed our galley kitchen

Our town has massively gentrified in the past decade or so, losing its two diners and its restaurant prices have gone crazy-high. Parking has become difficult to find.

But its combination of ethnicities and income levels, its handsome 19th century buildings and high-tech firms doing 21st century bio-engineering, make for an interesting mix.

I can be in midtown Manhattan within 30 to 40 minutes — or sit by the river here and watch the sunset; it’s a 5.5 hour drive to the Canadian border, and about the same distance to D.C., where we have good friends.

What our town, Tarrytown, NY, doesn’t have is any sort of interesting nightlife, or news-stands or much in the way of culture. But I save a fortune by not being tempted daily to spend money in a large city full of amusements and distractions.

I often wonder if or when we’ll move. We’re not able to rent our home, (a co-op with annoying house rules), so that’s a limiting factor.

My dream has been to move back to France, probably Paris, at least part-time. But we’ll see.

It’s not always easy to find a place that meets all your criteria: shared political ideals, a lovely landscape, enough good jobs, a decent climate, friendships, culture, ready access to the outdoors, quality medical care — and affordable housing.

And, these days, some protection from fire, hurricanes and flooding…

 

How about you?

 

What makes your home feel like the right place for you?

 

That trouble-making student? Ask why first

By Caitlin Kelly

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If you’ve ever been a “trouble-making” student — or have tried to teach one — this recent op-ed might resonate:

 

The Department of Education estimates that 7 percent of the student population — nearly 3.5 million students in kindergarten through high school — was suspended at least once in the 2011-12 academic year, the last for which these data are available. Despite the Checkpoint Charlie climate in many urban high schools, where students are herded through metal detectors when they enter the building, suspensions are rarely prompted by violence. Ninety-five percent are for “willful defiance” or “disruption.”

African-American students are hit hardest. They are more than three times as likely than their white classmates to be suspended or expelled. As a result, as early as middle school, many black students have concluded that when it comes to discipline, the cards are stacked against them. They stop trusting their teachers, and their negative attitude becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. They fall behind when they’re suspended, and many drop out or are pushed out…

In short, this kind of discipline is a lose-lose proposition. What’s to be done? Enter empathy.

 

This one hit me hard.

I’m white, female and grew up with privilege.

None of which exempted me from being in a lot of trouble, and eventually asked to leave the private all-girl school I’d been attending since fourth grade, when I was eight, which was when I went into boarding.

I spent every summer at summer camp, all eight weeks, so my life between the ages of eight and 14 was largely spent, (except two years living with my mother at home), surrounded by strangers and subject to their rules.

At the end of Grade Nine, I was told I would not be welcome there again.

If you’ve ever been suspended, expelled or told to leave a school, you’ll also know the feelings of rage, shame, humiliation and possible loss I felt then.

I loved our uniform, (a Hunting Stewart kilt and tie), and the rambling Victorian buildings of campus, its ancient chestnut trees and long afternoons of playing sports in the sunshine.

I would lose contact with some close friends, girls whose names I remember clearly decades later.

I lost my place as someone whose intelligence, and writing, had been winning prizes, respect and recognition for years.

None of which, of course, was ever discussed.

My bad behavior never included drugs or alcohol or physical fights — it was all very WASP-y and Canadian.

Instead, I talked back to teachers.

My bed and dresser, (we were marked every morning on neatness on a sheet of paper at the entrance to our shared bedrooms), were always a mess.

I once thew an apple core across the room, aiming at a waste basket below — instead it hit ancient paper wallpaper, leaving a tell-tale stain. I was 13 at the time.

I was excoriated for my deliberate vandalism.

It was nuts.

I’ve since taught at four different colleges and have had a few tough students.

I’ve not had the challenge of fighting, shouting and blatant disrespect of me or other students — so I wouldn’t presume to say how to manage that.

But I will say this — if a child or young adult is behaving like a monster in class, they’re quite likely plagued by demons outside of it.

They might be being bullied.

They might have parents or siblings with substance abuse issues.

They might be being abused.

You can be sure they are deeply unhappy and may well have no one who cares enough to get past their rage and rebellion to find out why. I still wish someone had done that for me.

You will only know if you care enough to ask them, kindly.

In my case, it was parents who were rarely there, off traveling the world for work or pleasure, or just not particularly interested in knowing I was troubled, just as long as I kept winning academic prizes and keeping my grades high enough to get a bursary.

I was sick to death of being ignored.

Instead of empathy, I was shouted at by ancient, furious housemothers, increasingly disdained by fed-up teachers, shunned by scared fellow students, and moved from bedroom to bedroom to bedroom as punishment.

My worst punishment made me very happy — a room all to myself.

I was later bullied for three years in high school, and didn’t much enjoy my four years at a very large and deeply impersonal university.

As a result, I pretty much hate school.

Also not fond of (useless) authority figures, most of whom insist on obedience with no interest in empathy.

What a waste.

 

Have you been the bad boy or girl?

Have you taught one?

How did it turn out?

How has it affected you long term?

 

The challenge of making new friends

By Caitlin Kelly

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THE BREAKFAST CLUB, Judd Nelson, Emilio Estevez, Ally Sheedy, Molly Ringwald, Anthony Michael Hall, 1985. ©Universal Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

This story hit home for me, recently reprinted:

After 30, people often experience internal shifts in how they approach friendship. Self-discovery gives way to self-knowledge, so you become pickier about whom you surround yourself with, said Marla Paul, the author of the 2004 book “The Friendship Crisis: Finding, Making, and Keeping Friends When You’re Not a Kid Anymore.” “The bar is higher than when we were younger and were willing to meet almost anyone for a margarita,” she said.

Manipulators, drama queens, egomaniacs: a lot of them just no longer make the cut.

Thayer Prime, a 32-year-old strategy consultant who lives in London, has even developed a playful 100-point scale (100 being “best friend forever”). In her mind, she starts to dock new friend candidates as they begin to display annoying or disloyal behavior. Nine times out of 10, she said, her new friends end up from 30 to 60, or little more than an acquaintance.

I like living in New York, and our town’s proximity to one of the world’s liveliest and more interesting cities.

But it’s one of the loneliest places I’ve ever lived.

I’ve found it tougher than I expected to find and keep friends here, maybe because…

 

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One of the best weeks of my life, working in rural Nicaragua — now still friends with these three

Not enough time together

New Yorkers face the longest commutes of anyone in the U.S., robbing them of leisurely moments for friendship. It takes time to get to know another person well.

Not enough spontaneous time together

Between work, family and commuting, all of which have rigid schedules, “Hey, let’s meet for a drink!” can take weeks, even months to plan.

– Few shared memories

I arrived in New York at 30, with my deepest ties back in Canada, to friends from childhood, high school, university, a newspaper job, freelancing. They remain, decades later, my most intimate friendships.

— Unresolved conflict

I lost three close New York friends within a few years. That still hurts. In contrast, I’ve had full and frank conversations with my Canadian pals — and they with me — and remained friends.

Here’s a list of 23 reasons (!) women can break off a friendship, from the parenting website Cafe Mom.

No wonder it can feel so tenuous!

 

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— Money differences

Journalists don’t earn much!

One casual friend finally told us his annual income was $500,000 and I was stunned; thanks to his humble style I had no idea. We live (modestly) in a very affluent region, and many people out-earn us by enormous sums. When one person, or couple, has to keep choosing pizza or ramen and the other can drop $200 a night on cocktails, how much can you enjoy together?

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— Political differences

Since the election of President Trump, many American relationships have been torn asunder.

— Professional differences

I’m nearing the end of a long and successful career, in a competitive industry, like my husband; I’m a writer and he’s a photographer and photo editor. Professional envy and competitiveness can, and do, make us cautious about what we share about our current clients and projects.

— Children

We have none. At our age, younger friends are obsessed with child-rearing and our peers with their grand-children, We’re never invited to join child-related events, even if we’d enjoy it. That cuts out a lot of socializing.

 

I do very much value my pals in far-flung places — L.A., London, Berlin, British Columbia, Seattle, Oregon, Alabama, Maine, rural Ontario. I just wish we could hang out more often!

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Are you finding it more difficult as you age to find and enjoy new friendships?

 

How do you feel about aging?

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I met this guy — fellow Canadian, actor/comedian Mike Myers — recently at a party in Manhattan. We’re near the same age, still working, still laughing!

 

This is a powerful video, and one worth watching — 11 minutes of a recent TED talk in Vancouver by activist Ashton Applewhite.

In it, she raises the essential unfairness of treating people who are older — whether they’re in their 40s, 50s — or 80s — as “other” and as lesser, people with less economic, physical, emotional and spiritual value to the larger culture.

And, as many women know, or soon learn, getting older is often a disaster in North America. If you’re still working, you’re supposed to pretend to be much younger and get every bit of cosmetic/surgical aid possible to make sure you appear that way.

I work in a field dominated by people in their 20s and 30s, eager to make their name, get ahead and claim a spot.

I also work in an industry — journalism — divided against itself in some deeply unhelpful ways. Digital media have claimed the lion’s share of audience and ad dollars, leaving “legacy media” (i.e. newspapers and magazines) with shrinking staff and budgets.

That also means many newsrooms and offices are hemorrhaging people like me and my husband, professionals with decades of experience and insight into how to do these jobs with excellence, integrity and efficiency.

Yet, now hundreds of newbies are also crying out for mentors, and finding none.

Because those of us who would have become their mentors by working together have been bought out or fired, blocked by age discrimination from acquiring the new jobs we need, dismissed as being “digital immigrants”, both illegal and unfair.

It’s a pervasive prejudice that weakens every workplace that indulges in it; diversity of age, wisdom, skills and experience also matters.

And I hate the word “seniors”, as if an entire group of people were an undifferentiated mass of old. We don’t call younger people “intermediates” and, usually only within an athletic context, do we call them juniors.

Enough!

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I also live in an apartment building where everyone owns their home, and a building dominated by people in their 70s, 80s and 90s. It’s always been like this, even when I was 30 and moved in there.

Some people would hate this and flee as soon as possible — all those walkers and canes and even, very occasionally, wheelchairs. All that white hair! All that…age.

It’s not an unusual sight to have an ambulance pull up or to get to know someone’s aide.

It’s never really bothered me.

Consider the alternative!

I lost both grandmothers the year I was 18 and never even met either of my grandfathers so I enjoy talking to people a few decades further along than I am, seeing how they cope and enioy life, whether off on a cruise to Alaska or just sitting with me beside our shared swimming pool in the sunshine.

Several are still working.

They know my name. They commiserate when my arthritic knee puts me back in a brace or physical therapy.

As I’ve said here, I have no close relatives and poor relationships with my own parents.

As I age, I have slightly less energy than a decade ago, but it means I’m more thoughtful about when, how and for whom I work.

Drama is something I eschew.

I go to spin class and lift weights. I pray, daily, for continued good health.

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Love this Swedish TV show about a cop who’s definitely not young

 

Jose and I are also very lucky to have friends in their 20s and 30s, people whose company we really enjoy and who seem to genuinely enjoy ours as well.

They don’t just pump us for contacts and job help, but we talk about politics and travel and books and music and money — all the things friends talk about.

It’s a great pleasure to watch our younger friends navigate life and, when asked, (and sometimes when not!), we’ll share our own experiences and strategies. Since we have no children or grandchildren, we really value this emotional connection with those younger than us.

It’s also a benefit of older age  to have left much of early adulthood’s angst and anxiety behind.

We’ve been lucky and careful, and have saved enough to retire. I just pray for a few more decades to enjoy it all.

Here’s a lovely “Vows” column from The New York Times, about a couple who recently married at 98 and 94.

They met at the gym:

“Age doesn’t mean a damn thing to me or to Gert,” he said. “We don’t see it as a barrier. We still do what we want to do in life.”

 

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Remember this famous image? President Kennedy in the Oval Office…

Aging is a great privilege denied to so many!

 

Do you feel uncomfortable around people much older or younger than you?

Do you work with people much younger or older than you? How is it?

 

 

 

Self-indulgence, self-denial, self-care

By Caitlin Kelly

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Which of these best describes your default choice?

I know a few people who immediately choose the first, justifying their expenditures — sometimes far beyond their budget or means — with “I deserve it” and “I work hard” or “It’s only X$/euros/pounds.”

I watch those people from a distance, warily.

Not spending money can be a monumental challenge for some. Or not over-eating or drinking or smoking.

Maybe my perspective is a result of my unlikely and stringent childhood, shuttling between a strict girls-only boarding school and more permissive but still-regimented girls-only summer camps.

The former offered very little comfort, softness or emotional respite, only a large, shared dark green wicker basket of cookies every afternoon and the chance to watch television in the common room for a few hours one evening a week.

So I’ve always been suspicious, sometimes even disdainful, of people who constantly insist on pampering and spoiling themselves, having seen too much of it in adults who should have been more aware of, and attentive to, their responsibilities.

I do enjoy many pleasures — good food and wine, travel, music, a lovely home — but I can also wear myself out battling internally over how often and how much is too much.

I sometimes find it hard to just be nice to myself.

 

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And, as someone who works alone at home, with no boss or colleagues, no performance reviews except winning repeat business from my clients, it’s all up to me to find and complete enough work to earn my living.

That means no dicking around — I don’t even sit on our comfy sofa until my workday is done, daytime television only tuned to CNN or BBC in the case of huge breaking news.

Self-care, a word I find odd although I heartily endorse its spirit, can be difficult for people who’ve been raised to be stoic and uncomplaining. It can feel like self-indulgence when it’s really just putting gas back into your depleted physical, emotional and spiritual tank.

It’s also deeply unAmerican, (a nation founded by Puritans), to take time off, to slow down, to actually take and enjoy vacations.

It’s so much easier, in an economy driven by consumer spending, to just buy stuff, more stuff, better stuff and newer stuff — which (funny thing!) also takes no time away from remaining “productive”.

It does very little to produce happiness.

And not being perpetually busy here is often seen as evidence of stupidity or laziness — not a smart decision to rest and re-charge.

My six weeks off, unimaginable to some, (and yes, a huge investment), was a great gift to myself.

Many could see it as self-indulgence, and maybe it was!

But here’s the thing….

The money that funded it only resulted from years of self-denial, saving hard, whether an unexpected windfall, (a massive copyright settlement in Canada that won me and many journalism colleagues five-figure sums), or my own income.

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Americans also continue to have frighteningly low rates of savings, for a variety of reasons: health insurance and post-secondary education — hardly luxuries! –— are now big-ticket items, for one.

Low and stagnant wages are another problem.

But if you’re making enough to surpass basic needs, you have to save. And that often means — ideally for a while anyway — doing fewer fun, cool, tempting things, like buying the latest tech toys or phone or putting a vacation or wedding or new something on credit cards.

I’ve also been fasting, (800 cals/day, 2 days per week) since April 2016 and it’s helped me to lose weight; I’ve blogged about it here.

No one wants to go through life forever feeling deprived. But, I’ve seen, if you can stick it out and be patient, results do accrue.

Remember unmediated life?

By Caitlin Kelly

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If my European journey taught me anything — or reminded me more powerfully than ever before — it’s to live, and savor, an unmediated life.

By which I mean, one experienced firsthand, feet-first, immersed in all of it.

Not, as has become normal/affordable/easy for me — and so many of us — a world and its wonders seen and heard only through a screen or scrim, whether social media or explained by the traditional mass media of newspapers, magazines, radio and television.

The soft, smooth cobblestones of Rovinj — a small seaside town in Croatia — were silky beneath my bare feet, the light snaking around corners as the sun moved through the sky, every hour offering a different tableau.

I’d have known none of this without my (grateful!) physical presence.

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Ironically, I follow several cool, adventurous people on Twitter whose lives are devoted to professional exploration, including aviation and wildlife photographers and three archeologists.

I love seeing what they find, but this is also, I realize, a little weird.

I need to go find this stuff myself!

Sadly, it’s now considered normal — starting in infancy — to spend hours consuming others’ visions and impressions and analysis of the world, instead of gathering every sense impression ourselves. (As I write this on our balcony in the early morning, I hear traffic on the bridge, a passing train and birds in the trees. The air is fresh and cool, the sun gilding the balcony’s outer edge.)

Plato’s cave, and our addiction to shadows, pales in the face of this.

I work alone at home in the suburbs of New York, with no kids or pets to distract me. I  work full-time freelance, which means I have no boss or coworkers with whom to share ideas or jokes or talk about our weekends.

Most of my friends here are too busy to actually get together in person, which all combines to create isolation, and so I’ve slipped into the tempting bad habit of feeling connected to the world through consuming social media — instead of socializing face to face.

If I want to actually be with someone, it takes me an hour each way, and up to $25 in train fare or parking fees, to go into Manhattan.

But if I don’t, I’m essentially a self-imposed shut-in, which is  — my six supersocial weeks in Europe reminded me  — a terrible choice for mental health.

My time in Europe, literally, exposed me to hundreds of strangers, some of whom became new friends, like an archeologist and travel blogger and translator, all of whom live in Berlin, all of whom had only been Twitter and blog pals before they became real, corporeal human beings sharing space with me, laughing and joking and hugging hello.

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Zagreb

 

I was also struck by people’s gentleness with me, like the man on the busy, crowded Tube stairs in London, watching me slowly and painfully climb beside him, who asked: “Are you OK?”

People can be perfectly nice on social media, but they’re not beside you.

They’re not — as two young men did — ready to carry your heavy suitcase up (!) three flights of stairs.

In Croatia, I sat for hours in a cafe with three new friends, talking and talking and talking.

 

No one stared into their phones.

No one stared into their laptop.

No one was rushing off to something more important.

 

What we were doing — just being together, enjoying one another’s company and conversation — was more important.

 

 

Are you living life firsthand?

 

 

 

The challenges of (in)dependence

By Caitlin Kelly

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I’ve been gone from my home near New York City since June 2 and won’t be back from Europe until July 19; apart from two weeks with husband and friends, and 3 days with others, I’m on my own.

 

It’s been humbling to realize how many things and people I now rely upon to stay safe and healthy:

 

Electricity/wi-fi

 

Without which I can’t charge all devices and keep up with English language media.

 

Google!

 

Without its instant access to all the data I need in each new-to-me place, I’m not sure how I’d survive. (Unlike many of you, I’m not using my phone 24/7 with all the cool apps available; I don’t want to spend my life, on vacation, still attached to a screen. I also fear its theft or loss and overage fees.)

Whether how many forints to the dollar or a map of the city with tremendous detail or train schedules, it’s become essential.

 

A phone

 

I hate carrying and using a cellphone but was deeply grateful for it, (and an overseas plan) when my husband, after weeks of severe stomach pain, was at the doctor’s — our shared GP. I called him to hear the diagnosis, (thankfully, nothing serious), as he was in our doctor’s office.

With a six-hour time difference, communicating can be challenging — and worrying about my sweetie was horrific.

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Maps

 

Yes, really. I like a paper map I carry in my purse or pack. You have to quickly orient yourself, especially as a woman traveling alone, especially at night. It’s unwise to appear befuddled or lost.

Mobility

 

Hah! So much for that….While in Berlin, I rented a bike for 8 euros for a half day. Riders there whizzed past, with little to no warning — (no friendly, “Passing on the left!” or a ringing bell?!) — and I kept jamming my very damaged right knee as I jolted and stopped the bike to avoid getting hit or falling.

OUCH!

Now that knee, (bone on bone), is once more swollen and painful, and I’m wearing my brace and icing it and finally, in Budapest, was able to buy anti-inflammatory meds. But it’s put a damper on a six-week trip that, de facto, requires lots of walking and stairs. Taxis are expensive!

 

Language

I speak fluent French, so Paris was easy. Berlin is filled with people who speak excellent English and many words are pretty easy to figure out from context (they also offer English menus!) Hungarian and Croatian? Not so much! I felt absurdly proud in Budapest as, returning from dinner, my friends and I figured out which subway line to take, and had to change lines along the way.

 

Safe and Reliable Transportation

 

Without which, no travel!

Whether it’s a taxi, tram, subway, airplane or train, I need it to move at speed — and safely. My train journey from Budapest to Zagreb included a detour that had all of us moving into buses for a bit — track work — then transferring to a regional/commuter train for our final 20 minutes. It was handled efficiently, which was great.

As I was writing this post, I read (with horror), about a New York City subway derailment.

One friend recently flew all the way from our suburban New York town, Tarrytown, to the annual Leonard Cohen celebration on the Greek island of Hydra; the first leg of her very long return journey began by donkey!

 

Books

 

I don’t use a Kindle, so have been carrying a few books.

The first — A Little Life (loved it)  — got me to Berlin (left it at the hotel for a local friend); the second, an excellent biography of Angela Merkel got me through 10 days in Berlin. Now reading The Tender Bar, a memoir, with two more left.

When you’re alone, you need something to read!

 

Friends

 

I’m loving my journey and so glad I’ve taken so much time away from work.

But, I admit it, I miss my friends! Evenings are more challenging when you travel alone — I end up pretty pooped, (esp. with a sore knee), and don’t venture out very far again after a day of walking/limping.

So I’m still tweeting and Facebooking and emailing, even finally catching up with a photographer living nomadically, a longtime friend of the blog  who’s now home in Singapore.

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Husband

 

I’m a big baby, it turns out — I miss my husband!

Jose and I have been emailing a lot and have Skyped several times, to our mutual joy. Even 17 years into our marriage, I miss him terribly; we work in the same field, share many interests and normally talk to one another a lot.

I traveled alone at age of 23, for four months in Europe, and have traveled alone many times since. I do love it.

But…I miss my sweetie.

Feelings — and what to do with them

By Caitlin Kelly

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A box full of comforts…

Having them, acknowledging having them, processing them, talking about them, reflecting on them.

Sharing them.

Brrrrrr!

Several bloggers who reveal their painful and difficult emotions, (without becoming maudlin), are Anne Theriault, a Toronto mother of one who has written eloquently about her struggles with depression and anxiety at The Belle Jar and Gabe Burkhardt, whose new blog has described his battles with PTSD.

Ashana M. also blogs lucidly about hers, as does CandidKay, a single mother in Chicago.

Here’s a gorgeous essay about coming to terms with yourself.

It takes guts to face your feelings and try to work through them, certainly when they’re painful or confusing. I’ve found it simpler to just ignore and/or bury them.

Writing publicly about your most private emotions? I’m still deciding how much of it I want to do.

I’ve not struggled with panic attacks or severe anxiety, occasionally with depression. I haven’t been sexually abused or attacked. Therapists — starting in my teens when I was bullied in high school for three years — have helped.

I grew up in a family most comfortable expressing a limited set of emotions, often anger. There was usually plenty of money, and good health and interesting work, so there was no obvious source for it. Material wealth and a sort of emotional poverty are a challenging combination.

No one got hit, but verbal attacks weren’t unusual.

My mother is bi-polar and hated how her medication tamped down her energy and creativity — so her terrifying and out-of-the-blue manic episodes were a part of my life, beginning at age 12 and continuing into my 30s. These included police, consular officials in three foreign countries and multiple hospitalizations, including a locked ward in London.

As an only child, my father (then divorced) usually off traveling for work, I had no backup.

She also drank a lot, and smoked, both of which eventually have ruined her health. No one seemed to care very much, which was both understandable and heartbreaking. She was Mensa smart, beautiful, funny.

We gave up on our relationship in 2011; I live a six-hour international flight away from her.

It’s a source of deep and un-resolvable pain. I don’t write about it because…what good would it possibly do?

I have three half-siblings, each from different mothers; we’re not close.

When people rave about how awesome their family is, I feel like a Martian; I left my mother’s care at 14, my father’s at 19, to live alone.

I hate explaining this. It feels like telling tales out of school, or people react with pity or they just can’t relate to it at all.

Which stops me from writing about it, except for here, something, I suppose, of a trial balloon. I still don’t have the distance, or skill, to make it all beautiful, an amuse-bouche presented prettily for others’ enjoyment.

I wonder if I ever will.

My parents divorced when I was 7, and I spent my childhood, ages eight to 14, shuttling between boarding school and three summer camps. Camp saved me. There, at least, I felt wholly loved: as a talented actress and singer, an athlete, a friend and an admired leader of my peers.

But you quickly learn, when you share your bedroom with strangers, none of whom you chose, to keep your mouth shut. Guarded = safe. There’s almost nowhere completely private to cry, or comfort yourself.

At my private school, no one ever just asked: “How are you? Are you OK?”

The ability to be emotionally intimate is very much a learned, practiced skill.

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Not surprising, then, that I became a nationally-ranked saber fencer!

I also work in a highly competitive field — journalism — where emotional vulnerability can provoke (and has) attack, ridicule, gossip and bullying. A friend in India once defended me there against a lie that took root in Toronto, where I worked, carried overseas by someone who thought this was a cool tidbit to share.

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 Jose

Luckily, later in life, I met and married Jose, a man fully at ease with having and expressing his feelings and hearing mine, a deeply loving person. He was the much- cherished youngest child of his parents, a small-town preacher and a kindergarten teacher. He was a late-life surprise baby, born after the stillbirth of a brother.

A fellow career journalist, working at The New York Times for 31 years in photography, he’s also quite private and cautious about who he lets in close.

I’m so grateful every day for his love and support.

How do you cope with your difficult feelings, of sadness or anger or loneliness?

Do you share them and/or blog or write publicly about them?