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.
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.
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.
High schools and colleges have debate teams and courses in rhetoric and persuasion, but rarely, if ever, offer classes or extracurricular activities that teach careful listening. You can get a doctorate in speech communication and join clubs such as Toastmasters to perfect your public speaking, but who strives for excellence in listening? The image of success and power today is someone miked up and prowling around a stage or orating from behind a lectern. Giving a TED talk or delivering a commencement speech is living the dream.
The cacophony of modern life also stops us from listening. The acoustics in restaurants can make it difficult, if not impossible, for diners to clearly hear one another. Offices with an open design ensure every keyboard click, telephone call and after-lunch belch make for constant racket. Traffic noise on city streets, music playing in shops and the bean grinder at your favorite coffeehouse exceed the volume of normal conversation by as much as 30 decibels, and can even cause hearing loss.
This past week was hectic and one day was sunny and clear and I needed some silence! I headed to our local reservoir and went for a walk — the only sounds the distant tapping of a few woodpeckers and the rustle of dry leaves as gray squirrels chased one another.
I really enjoy interviewing people, key to my work as a journalist, but — obviously — it demands close and careful and sustained attention, because I don’t use a tape recorder. I don’t want to waste unpaid hours transcribing or paying $1/minute to have someone else do it nor ever fear that the recording didn’t work.
A pen and notebook are fine with me, and force me to pay very close attention, not only to someone’s words, but their silences, pauses, hesitations, sighs, laughter.
My interviews are usually 30 to 45 to 60 minutes and after an hour, I’m tired! More than that gets really tiring — but it also creates a better bond, deeper conversation and, typically, better results in the form of great quotes or insights.
We’re rarely brilliant from our very first sentence!
A bit more from the essay:
How you listen can work like a self-fulfilling prophecy: If you’re barely listening to someone because you think that person is boring or not worth your time, you could actually make it so. Moreover, listening to other people makes it more likely other people will listen to you. This is partly because it’s human nature to return courtesies, but also because good listening improves your chances of delivering a message that resonates.
Listening is a skill. And as with any skill, it degrades if you don’t do it enough.
I also coach other writers, in 60-minute sessions by phone, Skype or face to face. They, too, are a challenge because my role is to help, quickly! I’m both diagnosing and prescribing solutions on the fly. I love it, but whew! Listening so intently and responding helpfully is serious work.
It’s fair to acknowledge that listening and paying attention are tiring, and so it can be tempting to tune people out, nodding but not really there. I’ve realized that journalism is a good fit for me because so much of it is experiential, and why studying interior design — as I did in the ’90s — was so joyful: it was tactile!
I didn’t have to just sit still and listen.
But I also listen carefully wherever I go, whether to silence in the woods or music on the radio or the distant honking of passing geese.
We’ve also had some recent moments in our 20-year marriage that have revealed how differently each of us listens and hears, and what very different language we choose to express how we see the world.
And, thanks to my recent healthcare story, I’ve received some very long and critical — albeit polite and smart — private emails from a reader, an American living in Canada. I could have dismissed her, or not replied, or been defensive but we actually exchanged several very long and thoughtful emails, even though we’re politically quite different!
We chose to listen to one another.
In today’s headphones-on, “lalalalala I can’t hear you!” deeply divided culture, that’s now a radical act.
Where do you listen most closely — and what do you gain from doing so?
I bet some of you remember life before Facebook, Reddit, Tumblr, Pinterest and Twitter.
It was a time of social interaction that was, de facto, personal. We spent time sitting with someone, or walking with them or dancing or fishing. Not sitting at a keyboard and staring into a screen.
So we’re basically talking to total strangers and trusting in their goodwill and intelligence to respond civilly and calmly.
These days, that feels like more of a gamble.
I do see a lot of good thanks to social media.
You, for example!
Knowing that people still find value here — after ten years! — is heartening indeed. I really value the conversations and insights and humor and global perspective you bring.
I enjoy Twitter and have also made new friends from it, meeting them face to face, people I really enjoyed after months of tweets-only.
But a few downsides are increasingly diminishing my pleasure in using social media, and competitiveness is the primary driver.
In my business, of journalism and coaching and writing non-fiction, the LOUDEST voices seem to win, There’s a tremendous amount of chest-thumping, crowing over enormous success. Frankly, even with decades of my own accomplishment, I find it intimidating and exhausting.
I also see, increasingly, a sort of competitive victimhood, with millennials and Gen X vying for the title of whose life is most miserable — and it’s all thanks to those greedy Boomers. (My generation, of course.)
There is no legitimate argument to deny the challenges these two co-horts face. There are many and they intersect: high student debt, low wages, intermittent work, climate change…
I read some of those threads on Twitter, where even the calmest and most reasonable objection or alternate point of view is blocked for being unkind and invalidating — when it’s an alternate view.
I don’t dare mention on Twitter that Boomers like me have weathered three recessions, each of which slowed our careers and damaged our incomes. Then the crash of ’08.
This “lalalalalalalalala I can’t hear you” equivalent online is a disaster.
There’s little point in “connecting” with an enormous global audience, potentially, only to whine and rage and stamp your feet insisting your life is the worst ever.
For you, it is.
I get that.
But until or unless we can cultivate modesty and empathy, compassion and a clear understanding that we each see the world through our own filters of age, race, income, education, political views, sexual preference, gender identity, cultural norms….it’s a dialogue of the deaf.
Love this waffle-weave throw we brought home from Paris
By Caitlin Kelly
It’s a privileged point of view, because for so many people, just affording the necessities of food, fuel, medication and clothing — for themselves and their families — is tough enough.
But once you’ve passed that point, if you’re fortunate enough to do so, the questions arise:
What do I need?
What do I want?
Can I afford it?
I think about this a lot because I’m extremely frugal, willing to splash out on two items consistently — our home and travel. We have no one financially relying on us, which eases the situation, but we both work full-time freelance, which means we have no utterly reliable income; even an anchor client of many years can suddenly cut their budget or disappear.
So living on credit, and paying “later” is not a smart choice. Last spring, two steady clients bringing me $700+ a month went bust.
We recently went to a less expensive health insurance plan at $1,484 a month. Madness! But this is the American drill of the self-employed: you either pay a fortune every month or you pay a lot and still face enormous “deductibles” and “co-pays”, bullshit ways for health insurance companies to screw us even worse.
A co-pay is charged when you actually use the service — see a physician or go to the ER. Imagine paying an additional fee every time you used a frying pan to cook or drove your car to work!
Experiences beat things!
So, we just have a lot less “disposable” income as a result of the putative “liberty” of self-employment.
It certainly curbs our spending; as a couple, we splurge on eating out maybe once a week and occasionally seeing a play or a concert.
As for buying things? Luckily, we have 99 percent of what we need, maybe even 120 percent!
Our SUV is now 20 years old and we have to get rid of it because its repairs are breaking us and our leased new car is done October 1, so we’re scrambling to plan for that.
I also spend more per-item, always preferring better quality I’ll enjoy and use for at least five to 10 years than shopping all the time — helped by scoring thick cashmere and designer brands at consignment shops and flea markets.
We also live in a suburb, where the only places to buy anything are gas stations, grocery stores, bakeries and drugstores. That makes it simpler.
When I want to shop — and I don’t really enjoy on-line shopping and refuse to use Amazon because of its corporate greed and how poorly it treats warehouse staff — I have to get in a car and drive somewhere or take a train into New York. Spending becomes a highly deliberated decision, not a quick impulse.
My planned purchases for 2020?
Some new fragrance; a few new pairs of shoes; replacing several worn-out frying pans, new dishtowels. Some replacement make-up and skin products.
My go-to store for clothing and accessories (also Canadian)
If money really improves, I have my eye on a stunning ring on this website…I love everything on offer and jewelry, for me, is something I treasure and wear every day.
I’m most hoping to be back to Montreal, am speaking at conferences in D.C. and Ontario (so may shop while away) and, key, really hoping for a month away this fall in England and maybe a week in Paris.
It was a decade of some major triumphs and some really tough challenges…probably like yours as well!
Here are some of mine:
I began working as a retail sales associate in September 2007 for The North Face. I worked one day a week at $11/ hour, no commission. In the holidays, I worked three days a week to make more money, still no commission — even when selling a $400 ski jacket.
I wrote about it for The New York Times, which drew the attention of an agent who helped me polish a sample chapter about this experience. We sold the book to Portfolio on Sept. 11, 2009 and I was sitting at the counter of diner on Lexington Avenue when she called to give me the news.
Now, with a book deal in hand, I took much more detailed notes — not easy when you work under the watchful eyes of security cameras. I would scribble down dialogue or an event on a yellow layaway card and tuck it into the pocket of my uniform sleeve.
I quit that job on December 18, 2009, grateful by then to be earning $450 a month blogging for a website.
My left hip is in agony, with severe arthritis. It hurts to walk even a few steps. I even resort to using short crutches for three months to get some relief. A surgeon gives me steroids to reduce the inflammation — and they destroy the bone in my hip. Now I will need full hip replacement.
I turn in my book manuscript in the summer of 2010 and get “notes” from the editor, who says “I really like Chapters 11 and 12.” I panic, and think I can’t possibly fix all of it. But I do.
In April, my second book is published and, luckily, wins nice reviews from People, Entertainment Weekly, USA Today and others.
I get married, for the second time, in a small wooden church on an island in the harbor of Toronto.
Hey, I’m a cover girl…in Arthritis Today! I’m given an outfit to wear (and keep!) and a whole photo crew jams into our small apartment. The photographer (of course!) who flies in from Atlanta to NY is the husband of a friend of mine.
The day after surgery…
Hip replacement gives me back my mobility.
Finally — our renovated kitchen! My design. Seven years later, still loving it.
My book is published in China!
I get a teaching position at Pratt Institute, a private college in Brooklyn. I have to be up at 6:00 a.m. to get there by 8:30 and wait 90 more minutes before my class to avoid the worst of rush hour traffic. I teach a blogging class and a freshman writing class. The pay, for an adjunct, is good — $4,500 per class, $18,000 for the calendar year.
Knowing we have a solid income to rely on, I spend a month in Paris and London, three of those weeks staying with friends.
In March, all expenses paid and a healthy fee for writing three stories, I fly to Nicaragua with a multi-media team from WaterAid. We work for a week in 90-degree heat and long days. It’s by far the most fun I’ve had in a long, long time, thanks to the high energy, skills and warmth of our team.
Not to mention the dugout canoe!
After 31 years as a photographer and photo editor — covering the White House for 8 years, two Olympics, Superbowls and more — my husband retires from The New York Times. He is not retired, but has chosen to take their buyout offer.
In June, we rent a cottage in Co. Donegal and visit friends in Dublin, taking a three-week break in Ireland.
New curtains for the dining room! The floral.
Thankful for decent savings, and celebrating a milestone birthday, I spend six weeks, mostly alone, in Europe visiting Paris-Berlin-Budapest-Zaghreb-Rovinj-Venice-London.
48 seconds a day for 20 days. The radiation machine
Just in time for my June birthday, I’m diagnosed with early stage breast cancer, but will not need chemo. The summer disappears in a blur of tests-anxiety-decent results, then surgery (and decent results), then infection, then radiation.
My husband gets a diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes.
I finally go to the Met Opera and am dazzled by its beauty.
We revisit my husbands’ hometown of Santa Fe, NM for an eight-day vacation, badly needed and totally restorative.
I get a magazine assignment that’s the most difficult-but-welcome of the past decade. I travel far and wide and spend three months on it, nervous as hell about the final product.
“First-rate” and “great work” are the editor’s reply.
Meet Johann Sebastian Bach, who in 1721 presented six concertos — now named the Brandenburg Concertos, named for the Margrave for whom they were written — to a local official he hoped would offer him a job.
The Margrave did not hire him and it’s possible he never even heard them.
The 1946 Christmas film, “It’s a Wonderful Life”, directed by Frank Capra and starring James Stewart and Donna Reed, is equally hailed as a great of the film classics.
It failed at the box office and the original story met with such rejection that its author decided to self-publish and send it to 200 friends instead.
At museum shows of the legends Michelangelo, Charlotte Bronte and the Japanese print-maker Hokusai — whose Great Wave is one of the most familiar of all images — I learned the more nuanced truth of these lives, of penury and struggle, their lost and cancelled commissions.
It’s tempting to think that all the great art and music and literature we still enjoy today was produced from warm homes filled with good food, with healthy children and wives and husbands. In fact, there was much sorrow to endure.
Bronte’s dress and boots
Bronte suffered the early death of all her siblings, married late (37) and died the following year.
Bronte’s writing desk
I so admire anyone who chooses the creative life.
My father made films and documentary television shows. His second wife wrote and edited television scripts. My mother worked as a print and radio journalist.
I get it!
We lived its ups and downs, emotionally, intellectually and financially. Rejection can feel annihilating, most often wielded by people with salaries and pensions, unwilling to take creative risks themselves while harshly judging those of us who do.
Without a wealthy family or partner (and some have this) it can mean many years of financial struggle, and the endless hope of recognition.
No one needs a new novel or oratorio or painting!
So I gave my husband — a freelance photo editor and photographer this book for Christmas.
One of my favorite sources of inspiration is Tharp’s first book, The Creative Habit; she’s a choreographer, but the challenges she faces, and her wisdom and practical advice, are just as fitting to many other creative efforts.
If you’re working to create something new, keep going.
By December 15, any American who doesn’t have health insurance has to sign up for it.
If you want to change plans, same.
I had to make four separate calls to get the information I needed. We are keeping our plan — now going up to $1800 a month.
There are no bargains.
If your plan costs less per month (and I’m talking $800 a month, not $200 to $400), you’re hit with huge “deductibles” — more money to pay out of pocket.
A plan that would offer dental “coverage” would limit us to basic care, and charge us a $25 co-pay every time we actually used it.
This is absurd, and our dentist is fine letting us pay over time. No co-pay.
American health insurance, when you work for yourself and it’s not subsidized by an employer, is a crippling cost. We’re reduced now to using retirement savings for it…wasting our hard-earned money to stave off potential bankruptcy.
I’ve recently been told to add two new medications, so a comprehensive plan is essential.
Having grown up in Canada, this “system” is just barbaric. But I left Canada seeking better work opportunities, and until recently, this was true.
Journalism, now, is in free fall.
Freelance pay rates are one-third of the 1990s.
And this is not the time or place to suddenly re-train for some whole new career. Just not going to happen.
Plus this week offered a nasty surprise financial disclosure that stunned me, not in a good way.
My poor little radio! Still working, even after (!) it fell off a shelf into a bucket of soapy water last week
By Caitlin Kelly
A writer…Must be print!
I grew up in Canada, where the CBC was huge; we now listen to it on the Internet, and it makes me homesick!
At boarding school, always sharing a room with three or four others, we’d get into radio wars, turning up our little transistors as loud as possible to drown out competing music.
Guess whose radio got confiscated?
As a teenager living in Toronto with my father, the CBC nightly news show, As It Happens, dominated every dinner.
I didn’t own a television in my 20s. In the days before cable and hundreds of streaming services — and with plenty of friends to hang out with — it wasn’t interesting.
So radio has long been my low-cost, portable stalwart companion.
When I was a reporter at the Globe & Mail, Canada’s national newspaper, I’d listen to the news before heading to work — and hear my own stories reported again: “rip and read radio” we called it.
One of my favorite memories was arriving in Salluit, Quebec, at the Arctic Circle in December, on assignment for the Montreal Gazette. The tiny village had disliked a previous story of mine (poorly edited!) and no one wanted to speak with me now.
I had 24 hours there and the flight had cost $5,000.
So I went into the particle board shack that was their local radio station and a local man interviewed me in English, then translated my replies into Inuktitut and broadcast them to the village.
It worked, and people at the village hall that evening shared a powerful story with me of government mismanagement. Not the original assignment, but much stronger.
I recently re-watched the terrific The King’s Speech, the 2010 film about King George VI having to give a radio speech despite his stutter.
Then there’s Van Morrison’s classic Caravan, a radio-themed song, off of Moondance.
My favorite Saturday routine is listening to This American Life at 1:00 pm ET, followed by The Moth, on NPR. The first is a set of three related true-life stories, the second story-telling before a live audience by regular (coached) people. I enjoy “appointment radio” — when, of course, everything is now easily listened to by podcasts.
I also enjoy WKCR’s reggae Saturday morning show, followed by Across 110th St., with funk and blues; it’s the radio station for Columbia University.
Then our favorite, TSFJazz, from Paris, which plays a phenomenal range of music, with and without lyrics.
I work alone at home, without kid or pets, so the radio is such a welcome companion, whether music or talk show while television requires me to sit still in one place; I can enjoy the radio lying in bed or the bath or doing some housework at the same time.
In our car, we have Sirius XM, with its enormous array of stations — from Canadian comedy to my current favorite, Channel 163, Chansons, which only plays French music, a mix of country (!), folk, hip-hop, pop. It’s helping me stay fresh with my French vocabulary and introducing me to so many great new performers.
I love this one, Courir, by Gaspé musician Guillaume Arsenault.
That tiny crystal pyramid on the shelf? Jose’s Pulitzer!
By Caitlin Kelly
They came to us in a sad way, one we think about every time we sit in them.
In our co-op apartment building, we have many older folk — in their 80s and 90s — and some are long-married. One of them, always elegant, always together, went out one Friday afternoon for lunch.
On the drive home they were struck by a drunk driver, a woman. The wife was killed and her husband died later at the hospital.
Their children held an apartment sale to dispose of their belongings — so we went downstairs and found a pair of wing chairs, something Jose had wanted for many years. A good quality wing chair is easily $500-1,500+ so this had remained out of reach.
We got both of these for $450.
The upholstery is not 100 percent my taste, but neutral enough to work with our current color scheme. I’d like to change it to something else, but it will be costly.
Jose and I sit there and talk, sometimes for a long time. There’s something lovely and formal and intentional about sitting side by side in an elegant chair.
This post will make you extremely happy you don’t live anywhere near New York City.
I guarantee it.
Let’s stipulate from the outset — as lawyers say — that I generally enjoy amazing New York parking karma. In a city that has removed some 60,000 street parking spots in recent years for bike lanes and rental bikes and who knows why, I’m usually able to find a spot on the street, without a meter or any payment necessary, often, blessedly, right in front of the exact place I need to be.
To park, even on the street, can easily run $10.75 for two hours, and a parking garage (with its 18%+ tax) can pull $30 (at best) to $50+ from your pocket. That’s a fortune!
So, free parking is much prized.
Story One: scene, The Bronx, next to the Bronx Courthouse
Pouring rain. I’m late. I’m meeting someone to interview them for my then-job as a New York Daily News reporter. I’m also meeting a freelance photographer, a genial guy named Phil I’ve met before. So I’m frazzled.
I hate being late.
I see a parking spot!
I nose in and grab the spot…but oooohhhhhhh shit. It now appears I’ve unwittingly stolen a spot from someone who had been waiting for it. Part of me just doesn’t give a damn: I’m late, my damn News job is always in jeopardy, it’s pouring rain and I have no idea where else to park!
Then it gets ugly — she starts screaming at me. She’s an old lady. I am alone. I scream back, saying some…hmmmm…intemperate things. She shrieks for back-up and, like some really bad scene from West Side Story, windows in apartments all above us slam upward. Oh, shit.
Now she’s wielding a tire iron.
I call the cops. They arrive. I am shaking with fear. The cops, God bless them, are calm and kind. They listen to both of us.
She finally moves her car out of the way so I can escape.
Phil shows up with my interview subject. I burst into relieved tears. “Oh, the old lady with the tire iron,” Phil teases me kindly. “That’s Caitlin’s usual story.”
Interview subject and I head to the nearest bar — at 11:00 a.m. — and have a whisky.
Story Two: Ardsley, New York, a suburban town north of Manhattan
I’m rushing to a meeting with a tutoring agency, with the alluring possibility of earning some extra, needed income.
I’m driving on a very narrow, traffic-filled road and have to make a quick, sharp left-hand turn into a narrow alley that appears to have parking. I move to the very rear of the alley, literally facing a swamp.
This is not a town I know well at all.
There’s no indication this is not public parking — and that my car will be towed away.
I emerge from a terrific and successful meeting to find a tow truck and two men very aggressively — and with NO explanation why — attaching our car (leased, cannot get damaged!) to their effing truck.
I lose my shit. I’m screaming. I’m shouting.
They curse me, shout at me, keep pushing their attachments onto my car.
I push the driver — a burly guy in his 50s — to get away from my damn car, (yes) and he curses at me and tells me he’s calling the police.
He demands instant payment of $150 cash to get his truck and its claws off my car. We have an amused audience of a construction crew — and another old lady who called the tow company because it’s her laundromat and I’d used one of her spots.
I hadn’t even seen the laundromat itself (hidden behind construction) — let alone her small warning sign, posted ONLY on the construction hoarding right at the street edge of the alley as I turned quickly out of traffic and did not see it.
There were no other signs anywhere to indicate that my car would be towed.
Cops come, two cars, show zero interest in what happened.
Truck leaves with my cash.
I eat lunch at a local diner, trying not to have a heart attack.
I go to Village Hall and tell the story (including my shitty — albeit terrified and utterly confused — behavior) to two blessedly kindly clerks before crying my way home, exhausted.
And, no, it’s not really possible to live in a New York suburb without a car.