Had a conversation this week with a friend facing some serious health stuff. She’s not getting the support she needs and someone who should be there for her is instead adding to her very considerable stress by not being useful and making needed changes.
No one wants a backpack filled with stones.
I won’t be more specific but it was clear to me — as someone who’s had health issues (that oh-so-American euphemism for cancer) since June 2018 — that the minute you get a shitty diagnosis (or lose your job or face the loss of a loved one), your life is now weighted down in ways that may appear invisible to others but are very, very heavy and something you (mostly) alone are carrying.
Shame — especially in the U.S. where being “unproductive”, ill and needy is somehow taboo — adds yet another damn boulder.
Unless you can drop the backpack — and ask for help and count on getting it — having to listen to anything stupid, thoughtless or callous (and there’s plenty of it out there, from friends, family and medical staff) only adds another few stones.
No one wants that pack.
No one wants to carry it, sometimes for months or even years.
In tough times, their pack is already filled with grief and fear and physical pain and exhaustion and guilt and anxiety.
Carrying it isn’t much of a choice, even as others call you “brave” and “tough” and call out “you can fight this.”
If you know someone facing tough times, please do anything you possibly can to lighten their load.
Vancouver, Canada. Lived in London ages two to five, Toronto five to 30, (with brief stints in Mexico, [6 months] Montreal [1 year] and Paris [one year.])
Happiest childhood memories?
My parents split when I was about seven, and I was their only child, so summer camp was my happiest place. I loved canoeing and sailing and making close friends and being outdoors all the time. I felt welcomed and valued.
Where did you attend college/university?
Victoria College at the University of Toronto.
Just because….Yes, it’s Mike Myers and it was Fleet Week 2017
What did you study and why?
I was an English major (surprise!) but also studied French and Spanish for many years there.
Did you enjoy it?
Not that much. I was broke, living alone in Toronto and also freelancing to stay afloat. The school is enormous and pays little attention to undergrads so I had to be very self-reliant. The campus is beautiful and our professors were top-notch so I did get a good and demanding education. I appreciate that rigor and this prepared me well for the world of work.
Where do you live now — and why there?
I ended up in Tarrytown, NY — a town of 10,000 people on the eastern shore of the Hudson River, 25 miles north of Manhattan — thanks to my first husband, a psychiatrist then in residency; we transferred from New Hampshire. There were only 2 spots open that year, one a 10-minute drive from Tarrytown. I love it: economically and ethnically diverse, lots of restaurants and cafes, a 3rd-generation-owned hardware store, a great gourmet store, lovely walks along the river, a historic Main Street often used for film and TV, like Mona Lisa Smile (with Julia Roberts) and The Good Shepherd (with Matt Damon) and the HBO series Divorce (with Sarah Jessica Parker.) Also, 38 minutes by train into Grand Central Terminal.
We love to visit Montreal, a city I’ve lived in as an adult and as a child
What are some of your favorite ways to spend free time?
Reading — our apartment is filled with books, newspapers and magazines. Listening to music and radio (NPR, TSF Jazz). Some television, but mostly Netflix. Movies! Talking to friends, preferably face to face. Entertaining. Travel. Looking at old things at antique shows and flea markets. Many forms of culture — galleries, museums, ballet, theater, concerts. Being outdoors in nature. Paris!
Do you have any idols or role models?
Hmmmmm. Not really. There are some people I admire, but everyone’s fallible.
Why did you choose to become a journalist/author?
I love meeting new people from all walks of life — in my work I have met Queen Elizabeth, convicted felons, Olympic athletes, an admiral. I love telling stories. I enjoy knowing some of my writing has helped others.
Hokusai — The Great Wave off Kanagawa
Breughel, Odilon Redon, Egon Schiele, Klimt, the German Expressionists, the Nabis and Fauves. Some of Canada’s Group of Seven. I love Japanese prints by masters like Hokusai and Hiroshige.
Gerald Durrell, Thomas Hardy, Muriel Barbery, Tom Rachmann.
Best place you’ve ever been?
Tough call! Four-way tie: Machu Picchu, Corsica, Ireland and Thailand.
Worst place you’ve ever been?
A really nasty hotel in Granada and another one in Copenhagen.
A terrible illness. Losing my husband Jose.
Making others’ lives a little happier. I love connecting people.
What’s the view from your bedroom window?
Gorgeous! The Hudson River and its western shore.
Which of your friendships is the longest and how did you meet?
A friend from high school, but closer to my pal from freshman English class who lives very far away from me in Kamloops, British Columbia. There’s a great 1988 Michelle Shocked song, Anchorage, that eerily sums up our differences quite accurately but we still love one another.
How do you handle conflict?
Ugh. I’ve had a lifetime of it — between challenging parents, a tough step-mother, being bullied in high school and at work. It depends. Like many people, I may swallow my anger for many years — then explode. If someone’s driving me nuts, these days I just withdraw and fade away. If it’s an annoying freelance client, I find another. There’s always another.
What do you hope your legacy will be?
That people remember me — and some of my writing — with love, respect and a smile.
Been standing on my own two feet for a long, long time
By Caitlin Kelly
I read this story and wanted to weep….at how crazy this is:
Bribing SAT proctors. Fabricating students’ athletic credentials. Paying off college officials. The actions that some wealthy [American] parents were charged with Tuesday — to secure their children a spot at elite colleges — are illegal and scandalous. But they’re part of a broader pattern, albeit on the extreme end of the continuum: parents’ willingness to do anything it takes to help their grown children succeed.
As college has become more competitive and young adults’ economic prospects less assured, parents have begun spending much more time and money on their children — including well after they turn 18. Modern parenting typically remains hands-on, and gets more expensive, when children become young adults, according to a new survey by Morning Consult for The New York Times.
A significant share of parents, across income levels, say they’re involved in their adult children’s daily lives. That includes making doctor’s appointments, reminding them of school and other deadlines, and offering advice on romantic life, found the survey, which was of a nationally representative sample of 1,508 people ages 18 to 28 and 1,136 parents of people that age. More than half of parents give their adult children some form of monthly financial assistance.
I often wonder how I might have turned out if this sort of behavior was normal in my life.
Here’s my college experience:
— Lived at home in Toronto with father and his girlfriend, 13 years my senior, for my freshman year. No additional responsibilities, got terrific grades.
— In November of sophomore year, father announces I need to move out and find a place to live as they are selling the house to live on a boat in the Mediterranean. This is many decades before email or cellphones.
— I get $350 a month from my grandmother to live on. This pays my rent on a studio apartment ($160/month, terrible neighborhood), tuition ($660/year), food, phone and answering service, books. Everything, basically. The monthly income from my maternal grandmother wasn’t enough so I started freelancing at the age of 19 to supplement it.
— My mother was traveling the world alone for years, also far far away. I saw her maybe once a year when she flew me to wherever she was. Sort of fun, mostly weird.
— During my university years, I lived alone, was attacked in my apartment while taking a bath, moved, moved again, suffered some health issues, started writing for national magazines. And attended and graduated from the most demanding and least nurturing (53,000 students) school in Canada.
— In those three years, I had no relatives to check in on me. Just friends. That established a lifelong pattern for me; friends as family.
So, you know, this kind of intense parenting strikes me as completely nuts.
The only reason I was able to get people twice my age to give me ongoing well-paid assignments was being responsible, meeting deadlines, delivering excellence. Was I mature enough to handle all this alone? Well, I had to be. I had no choice.
The New York Times quotes a survey finding that 74 percent of American parents are making medical appointments for their college-age children, the same percentage reminding them not to miss deadlines for tests and classwork.
I mostly loved my independence in those years. I dated all the wrong boys, made some great friendships, wrote a lot for our weekly student newspaper, led a student exchange with UNC-Chapel Hill that was life-changingly great. Jump-started my career.
Workism is among the most potent of the new religions competing for congregants.
What is workism? It is the belief that work is not only necessary to economic production, but also the centerpiece of one’s identity and life’s purpose; and the belief that any policy to promote human welfare must always encourage more work.
Homo industrious is not new to the American landscape. The American dream—that hoary mythology that hard work always guarantees upward mobility—has for more than a century made the U.S. obsessed with material success and the exhaustive striving required to earn it.
No large country in the world as productive as the United States averages more hours of work a year. And the gap between the U.S. and other countries is growing. Between 1950 and 2012, annual hours worked per employee fell by about 40 percent in Germany and the Netherlands—but by only 10 percent in the United States. Americans “work longer hours, have shorter vacations, get less in unemployment, disability, and retirement benefits, and retire later, than people in comparably rich societies,” wrote Samuel P. Huntington in his 2005 book Who Are We?: The Challenges to America’s National Identity.
Working in a free-market, winner-take-all capitalist country like the U.S. is…instructive if you’ve lived in any other country that treats workers as slightly more than fuel. I grew up in Canada, ages 5 to 30, and spent a year in France at 25, so I have experienced (and enjoyed) life and work in two other nations that actually provide social safety nets, paid vacation and even paid maternal leave.
To arrive in 21st. century American work culture is to feel one’s been catapulted back to some feudal era — except even serfs got something. Women are still fighting every day for better wages. Age discrimination is rampant. Unions are the smallest and weakest in a century.
Wages remain stagnant for many of us despite record corporate profits.
Time….or money? If you want more private time, it’s likely to cost you income
Yet Americans are exhorted daily to work harder! Be more productive! Longer hours!
If you’re struggling financially — as many are — work is what you have to do, and a lot of it to just survive. But once you’re past survival, then what? Oh, right. Work more, because…
Because it’s the only identity many Americans are truly comfortable taking pride in.
Being a parent? Good luck with that! A fortune in childcare, daycare and skyrocketing higher education costs. Hobbies? Who’s got time? Private passion projects? Quick, turn them into financially profitable side hustles.
Being creative artistically or musically? Quick, get an Etsy site or YouTube channel. Monetize every breath!
When I recently announced on Facebook that I’d be addressing a photography conference — and had begun my career as a shooter — one friend expressed (admiring) astonishment that I had “another skill set.”
I have plenty! But this is so deeply unAmerican. Every thought, action, book, conference,meeting must — de facto — provide financial profit to someone or, it seems, you’re just wasting time.
American work culture leaves no room, no time and — most toxic and crucial — no respect for those things. Patting your dog or making a fantastic meal for your wife or spending two hours consoling a heartbroken friend?
In seeing his community, I became acutely aware of the feeling that I did not have my own. I had friends and a loving family. But as Annie Dillard wrote, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” And I spent my days focused on optimizing myself: Endlessly working and improving, on a permanent quest to do as much as possible in the unforgiving confines of 24 hours. It was the only way I knew how to be. Compete. Excel. Win.
I had never considered there might be a cost to a life of high-octane, high-reward competition.
I spent my own 20s making myself and many people around me nuts with my white-hot ambition and professional drive. By 30 I was fried. Since then, I’ve worked to live, amassing enough money to pay for the things we need (including retirement) — but also taking as much vacation as we can afford. Some years that’s a few months’ worth, albeit in two or 3-week increments.
Even that’s considered weird since even many Americans who get paid vacation are too scared to actually use it (OMG you’re….relaxing?!) or too broke to go anywhere.
Nor do I work nights and weekends or when we go away to rest and recharge.
I know most of my competitors do. I also know how tired and resentful they are.
It’s still a social taboo, to cut off contact with a parent or child and/or a sibling, sometimes for months or years, and sometimes forever.
Divorce is now almost banal in many cultures — but not estrangement from your family of origin, held up in most cultures as sacrosanct, the place they have to, and always will, take you in.
But that’s not true for many people, and I’m one of them.
My mother and I gave up our strained relationship in 2010 — 2011? — and while I send an annual Christmas card and letter, no reply. Having run through a large inheritance, she lives in a charity nursing home a seven hour flight away. I’m her only child, but a local woman my age made sure to be cruel to me, and triumphantly replace me.
The details are too tedious, and yes it hurts sometimes, but how much energy can you keep wasting on a relationship? Alcoholism and poorly managed mental illness, both in my mother, destroy many relationships. If one person isn’t willing to work with the other toward a tenable relationship, it ends.
And the break may come when things don’t look that bad to an outsider — but there’s been one final straw and decades of forbearance just explode. With the agency of adulthood, you’re done.
I recently had yet another fraught phone encounter with my father, one of too many over the decades. We’ve had years when we simply don’t speak or visit.
There are calm and affectionate periods when it all looks like it will be OK….and then it’s not.
When every encounter feels like incoming warfare, flee!
I know why. I’ve read books and done therapy.
It’s difficult to dismiss your parents for good. They’re the only ones we get. As it is, one of my two half-brothers cut me off 11 years ago and didn’t invite us to his recent lavish wedding. (There are four adult children in our “family” — from four women, two wives, two affairs. It’s no Hallmark card.)
The damage that prolonged estrangement, if you wish otherwise, can inflict on one’s self-confidence is considerable — but no matter if you’re at midlife, being ignored or subjected to abusive language and anger are also corrosive and toxic.
It’s been a long time — 23 years — since the death of my dog Petra, a small black and white terrier mix I inherited from my mother as she went off to travel. I loved seeing the world through Petra’s eyes and wondered what it was like to experience it all from a height of a foot, not my five feet, five inches.
We take so for granted the way we see the world, that everyone else does, too, which of course they don’t. Read any news source today and our political divisions are obvious.
It’s one of the reasons I love to travel, whether a few hours upstate in New York or abroad. People think differently. People see, literally, differently.
One of my favorite assignments of 2017 was meeting a Quebec farmer who took me into one of his fields and explained the function (!) of cornsilk. I’ll never see corn the same way again.
On a current project for The New York Times, I visited a Brooklyn classroom and watched tween girls in hijab confidently wielding power tools. Not at all what I’d expected!
A joy of journalism, for decades, for me, is how often it pushes us into wholly unfamiliar situations — physically, emotionally, spiritually. If you want to work in journalism and can’t imagine a thousand other ways of being in this world — run. It’s not the job for you!
In my work, I’ve met Queen Elizabeth, convicted felons, FBI firearms trainers, crime victims, Billy Joel, a female Admiral. I’ve witnessed the aftermath of a horrific head-on car crash and reviewed ballet.
Using my cellphone camera is helping me see the world anew.
I love to sit at the bar and to eat alone there, two activities I know some women find intimidating and won’t do. This is from one of Manhattan’s best restaurants, Via Carota, and I loved the image in black and white better than in color. When you work in photography you stop seeing beauty per se and look for information — sometimes color is overwhelming and distracting.
As you look at the image, notice what you notice first and why: the drinks and their prices? The quality of the the light? I was most interested in the very rear, the people sitting at the table in bright sunlight. You can even see through the window across the street — to the hair salon where I get my hair done.
Jose and I had just been to the ballet and were leaving the Koch Theater when I noticed this pattern of beaded metal curtains with the lights of a building behind. I liked the juxtaposition.
This was interesting; just as I noticed it, so did Jose. It’s easy to ignore something as basic as the curtains because they’re often functional as well as decorative. I liked the warm tones here as well.
On our recent trip to Montreal, this amazing tiled serpent, coiled around a column, advertises a Mexican tourist agency. I just liked the color and detail without needing the entire image. Sometimes a fraction is much more compelling than the entirety.
Trying to capture the whole serpent would have been more difficult because of too much distracting stuff around it. I like how the shadow bisects the image, and had never seen tile of this shape before.
I love shopping to see what sort of environments a decent designer can create — these were two enormous pillows in Brown’s, a Montreal shoe store. Loved the color, texture and wit.
Chartreuese is one of my favorite colors, anywhere. That graphic black and white, and its scale, are fantastic. I found the pillows more interesting than the shoes!
Nothing special — the doors to the dining room of our Montreal hotel. But I love the texture and light and shadow.
There’s beauty everywhere. You just have to notice it.
I’ve walked past this red wooden bench in our town hundreds of times, and have sat on it it a few times. But I loved it with some snowflakes.
The weathered cracks make this more interesting to me.
Literally, out the bedroom window, looking straight down. This is one of my recent favorites.
This feels mysterious to me. When do we ever look down into or onto a tree?
Look at something you find ugly — why?
Look at something you’ve seen 1,000 times before and notice something new.
Listen to a podcast or radio show or TV show you’ve never heard.
Read an author or genre you’d normally avoid.
Has something ever radically changed your point of view?
The thing most of us crave, (certainly living in the U.S. where falling into or staying in poverty is terrifying), is financial security. No one wants to not be able to make rent, buy groceries, buy a bus pass or gas the car, clothe their kids or pay off those miserable student loans.
So many of us will lunge toward the first job that offers us a steady income because….steady income.
It’s the fortunate few who have the time, energy and fiscal freedom to slow down and decide to focus on what they really hope to creatively accomplish. When you work for others, you de facto work to their needs, budget and deadline.
People have told me I’m an artist…I think I’m more of a tailor. You want your trousers hemmed two inches (intellectually speaking)? I can do that. You want a navy gabardine suit size 42R? No problem. I know how to work quickly and efficiently and give people what they ask me for.
I’m no Phoebe Philo nor the late Karl Lagerfeld nor my favorite fashion designer, Belgian Dries van Noten. Occasionally, yes, I come up with a wholly creative idea and am able to sell it.
Jose recently had an idea that will literally make history. I am so proud of him! We can’t share what it is for a few months, but he realized that a specific annual event of great cultural importance had (?!) never before been documented visually. He knew its administrator and pitched the idea to her and he suggested a budget for it and she said yes.
He spent 31 years as a photographer and photo editor at The New York Times, a place of prestige and power, and it gave him a source of challenge, steady income with a union-protected job and a pension. All good.
Very little creative freedom.
Those outside journalism may fantasize about its creativity but the wage slaves within it know better; too often the thinking is stale and the formulation of coverage cliche. Those who keep coming up with new and interesting and untried ideas — as Jose did many times — can be ignored, dismissed and just give up.
When he took the buyout they offered in 2015, I was scared. How would a guy with a desk for 31 years thrive as a full-time freelancer?
He has, because his creativity is finally being rewarded, both financially and professionally.
At an age when some people have retired and hung it up, he’s tootling along, impressing the hell out of new clients and, best of all, seeing the fruits of his labors.
My visit to Venice (3rd time!) in July 2017…The following July I was in an OR for very early stage (all gone!) breast cancer.
By Caitlin Kelly
So my husband Jose recently won a fantastic award from his peers, The National Press Photographers’ Association — the John Durniak Citation — given annually to the person deemed most giving and nurturing of younger talents, for the best mentor in the business.
And how perfect, then that John himself got Jose his job at The New York Times, where he worked for 31 years and helped the paper win a Pulitzer Prize for photo editing images of 9/11.
It broke my heart, the day before we could announce it publicly, to read that Mrs. Franke, the high school teacher in Santa Fe, NM who first encouraged Jose to get into photography, had just died. I had so wanted to meet her — someday.
For many reasons, we tend to put things off to do “someday”, assuming we have plenty of them left, decades possibly.
But we don’t.
One of my favorite European images, taken in Budapest
The cliche of cancer is how it shakes you very hard by the shoulders, reminding us we have no true idea how many somedays we’ll each enjoy. My breast cancer diagnosis, right before my 2018 birthday, was a wake-up call.
So in 2019, we’re carpe-ing the hell out of every diem!
I’m writing these words from a Montreal hotel room with a fantastic view north to Mt. Royal. on a five-day vacation. We’ve already booked a Paris apartment for my birthday in early June and, (if I get a windfall payment I expect), may take a month off in the fall for England and Scotland.
I hadn’t planned (who does?) to spend $1,300 on co-pays in 2018 (a nice mini-vacation lost) or most of my time in various medical settings or recovering from surgery and treatment.
I’m so glad I was able to take an unprecedented six weeks to visit six European countries in June and July 2017: France, Germany, Hungary, Croatia, Italy and England. It was a birthday gift to myself and thank heaven; if I’d waited til 2018, it would have meant cancelling everything and, without trip insurance, losing a lot of money.
We’re also fortunate enough to have decent retirement savings, so, with our accountant and financial planner’s blessing, we recently took out enough to pay off our apartment mortgage in full, freeing us from monthly anxiety; as two full-time freelancers, our best clients can disappear overnight, while the bills do not.
We’ve seen what can happen to our health, and it’s sobering indeed; Jose began using insulin in 2018 as well.
I’ve always been a saver, typically opting for frugality, so spending money more freely and taking more unpaid time off feels frightening.
The window of when gets narrower with every passing year, until something bad happens and the question has answered itself.
So ask yourself: Do you want to be that person? Who waited until it was too late, and that thing you claimed to want to do you can no longer do because, as Dorothy Parker reminds us “in all history, which has held billions and billions of human beings, not a single one ever had a happy ending.”
If not now, when?
My someday list is is still long, including:
— A visit to Big Bend National Park in Texas
— A visit to Bryce/Zion Parks in Utah
— a horseback/camping vacation
— Visiting Japan, Morocco, Lebanon, South Africa/Namibia/Botswana/Zanzibar/Lamu
It’s six hours’ drive from our New York home, door to door.
I lived in YUL for two years in the late 80s when I was a feature writer for the Montreal Gazette; I’ve returned four times in the past two years, twice for work and twice for pleasure. If you’ve yet to visit, it’s well worth your time and money, especially with the Canadian dollar at 75 cents U.S.
Even in winter!
Yes, it’s cold and windy. But if you’ve got warm outerwear, you’re all set. And if you need to buy some, Montreal offers plenty of fantastic and colorful options beyond the default of black nylon, like this red jacket from my fave Canadian brand, Aritzia or this cherry-blossom digital print wool scarf from 31-year-old Montreal brand Mo851.
One of the pleasures of shopping here is finding European brands and styles I can’t find in New York.
NB: City sidewalks can be appallingly, life-threateningly ice-coated — in a nation where lawsuits are rare(r) than the litigious U.S., it’s Yaktrax or bust! Walk like a penguin to be safe; lean forward and take small, slow shuffling steps, with your hands out of your pockets for balance.
Jose and I really enjoyed our break.
A few highlights:
This classic restaurant on Rue St Denis has been in business since 1980.
I love its simplicity: glossy burgundy walls, those globe lamps, a skylit back room whose walls are covered with beautifully framed images of its staff, a photo taken annually.
Food is classic French, the bread — so many baguettes they arrive in Ikea shopping bags — dense and chewy. I loved my PEI oysters, a glass of Sancerre and cacio and pepe. Jose loved his octopus salad and sea bass.
Ooooooh. This store is filled with temptation for anyone with strong domestic urges: linen tablecloths and napkins, lovely china (French brands like Gien), glassware, Emile Henry cookware, spoons, teapots. Even something as basic and essential to making a great vinaigrette as a small glass bottle with a lid. Also long in business — since 1985! We splurged, buying everything from a glossy green crackleware teapot to new bowls, spoons and even a saucepan.
This shop offers a fantastic selection of bathing suits for men and women, and cover-ups and some of the prettiest lingerie I’ve ever seen. 3955 rue St. Denis.
Dessert at Leméac
Another simple room, another long-established locus of chic. This 18-year-old restaurant is on Laurier, in Outremont, an upscale French neighborhood. Delicious French food and great people-watching.
This looks like a scene from Blade Runner! This is one of the views from BotaBota of a legendary piece of Montreal history and architecture, Habitat, built for Expo ’67
One of the outdoor pools, by night
Imagine a former ferryboat made into a spa. In the harbor. This place is amazing. You can go and just enjoy the waters — steam room, hot tub (on the roof watching CN freight trains rumble by and planes soaring into the blue), cold tub, showers, lots of spots to sprawl out and relax in silence. They offer a wide range of services (I treated myself to a hot oil massage and a scrub.) In its restaurant everyone sits in their white terry bathrobes, enjoying a cocktail, snack or a meal.
Love this view, from our hotel room, 16th floor, looking north on Peel Street
Hotel Omni Mt. Royal
Have stayed here four times and love the nostalgia of seeing the condos across the street that replaced the brownstone where I lived for a year when I was 12, at 3432 Peel Street. Ask for a high floor (we like the 16th) with a mountain view and you’ll see the enormous cross atop Mt. Royal glowing in the distance. The location is terrific, with lots of shopping two blocks south on Ste. Catherine and plenty of nearby bars and restaurants (and the subway.) Rooms are elegant and spacious. I love the small dining room, which makes it feel much more intimate than a hotel with 299 rooms. Tip: For $15, with your Omni hotel key and ID, you can nip across Peel Street to the fantastic Montreal Athletic Association (admire its classic stained glass windows) and take classes or use their facilities; at 130 years old, it’s Canada’s oldest athletic club.
How gorgeous is this? Note the two enormous memorial walls listing all the soldiers working for the bank killed in WWI
This was once a bank. Three years ago it became a co-working space and cafe. With its coffered painted ceiling, inlaid marble floor and enormous chandeliers, its original 1928 elegance, all 12,000 square feet of it, is stunning. My grain bowl was delicious!
Me, lacing up!
Skating at Beaver Lake
If I miss one part of my Canadian life, it’s outdoor skating on free rinks. It’s such great exercise and a fantastic way to get some sunshine and fresh air. This rink was so much fun! I brought my own skates (you can rent them) and you can get there by bus without a car. The age range was three to 70, and so civilized to have wide wooden benches to plop onto for a breather.
Looking a little hesitant! I hadn’t skated in a year but I did warm up and speed up.
A fantastic guidebook is 300 Reasons to Love Montreal. This is a true treasure, with so many recommendations and so much to learn about this city. I dog-eared dozens of its pages!
It was a chilly March evening when I first met my husband Jose at a long-gone French bistro, Le Madeleine, a midtown New York Times hangout — since he was then working there as a photo editor.
I’d been divorced since 1995, after a miserable two-year marriage, and seven years together, to an American physician I met when he was in his final year of med school at McGill in Montreal. We had no children and I didn’t want any.
I’d since been dating men I met through crewing on sailboats or online, with mixed success. One shattered my heart. One proposed at a Benihana. One wanted me to move with him to Houston.
I was writing an article about the then new world of online dating, one most people were too embarrassed to admit to needing. I did, and signed up to compare four services for Mademoiselle magazine.
Jose answered my ad — one of more than 200!
Here’s how we’ve made it through 19 years:
— PEPSI.Not the soft drink, but a helpful acronym when dating to determine potential longterm compatibility: professional, emotional, physical, spiritual and intellectual. You don’t have to hit all five, but it’s a useful way to analyze an attraction.
— Shared professional ambitions. We’re both driven, successful, award-winning journalists.
— Shared goals.We want to be as financially secure as possible, so save as much as we can. I’m more of a saver, but he’s the one who knows when it’s time to throw out 30-year-old kitchenware or to book a vacation.
— Shared work ethic.Huge. I see smart, hard-working women who put up with lazy men unable or unwilling to get shit done. Get a job! Keep the job! Clean the damn toilet!
— It’s not a competition. Journalism is a brutally competitive business and it has been hard for me, at times, to earn barely a third of his Times salary. But now we’re both full-time freelance, hustling hard every month to find and keep clients, and whatever we win, we win and celebrate together.
— Lots of laughter. He doesn’t strike people as hilarious but he is. We laugh together every day.
— He cleans up well.Sue me. I really appreciate a man who smells great, (1881 cologne on our first date; swoon!), is well-groomed, whose trousers are the right length, who knows how to rock a vintage trenchcoat.
— He comes to church with me. I’m not a devout Christian by any stretch, but he’s the son of a Baptist minister, aka a PK (preacher’s kid.) He knows that having a spiritual life can be really helpful to life and to a strong marriage.
— I appreciate his Buddhism. I’ve met his lama, Surya Das, and members of his sangha, and we did a week-long silent Buddhist retreat the summer before we married.
— Mutual respect. We say please and thank you all the time, for the simplest things, like taking out the garbage or buying groceries, all the tedious admin. of life. When we’re both working at home, in a one-bedroom with no office, we know to ask: “Can I talk to you?” in case we’re interrupting.
— Yes, we’ve fought. We fought hard and mean for the first few years, so much so that various couples counselors warned us to chill out or we would surely destroy what good we had. It took us a long time to settle down and trust one another, after our own bad/brief marriages, and after years of professional stress and emotional betrayals.
— Travel. A major source of shared pleasure. We’ve been to Paris many times, to Ireland and Mexico and Ontario and Quebec and British Columbia and D.C. and to his hometown, Santa Fe, and much of New Mexico.
— Calm. On 9/11, Jose was supposed to move from Brooklyn into my apartment some 30 miles north. Not that day! Instead, he helped the Times win its Pulitzer for photo editing those images. He does not freak out.
— Resilience.We’re both strong people and resilient. We don’t whine. We don’t indulge one another in pity parties. Shit happens and we deal with it. He accompanied me to every cancer-related appointment, sitting in the room with me and the doctor. He does not crack or flee.
— Food. We do love to cook and eat and eat out and eat well. Sometimes it seems this is what we talk about most, (except news.)
— Asking for help. We’ve done couples counseling and it’s helped. No marriage is going to be 100% conflict-free. Individual therapy also helps sort out whose demons are whose.
— Forgiveness. A cliche, but a powerful element. We’ve done and said hurtful things and, no doubt, may do more, although much less often than we once did. When you (re)marry at mid-life, you can arrive with a fair bit of baggage.
— Accepting our very real differences. He craves security and routine, preferring the known and familiar. I long for novelty and new experiences. I’m a prog-rock girl and he grew up loving heavy metal. I’m more social, but we both love to entertain at home.
— Knowing our time together is always limited. My breast cancer diagnosis and his 2018 new use of insulin were a wake-up call to our mortality and fragility. We try not to waste a minute.
He’s just great company! Also, the most loving and giving person I’ve ever met.