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Archive for the ‘life’ Category

Who should we mourn?

In aging, behavior, family, life, love, news on April 6, 2016 at 12:23 am

By Caitlin Kelly

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In the past few months, three famous people have died, two of whose deaths widely elicited public scorn, derision and relief: Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, former Toronto mayor (and admitted drug user while in office) Rob Ford.

The late Pritzker Award-winning architect Zaha Hadid was by all accounts a brilliant tough cookie — who one acquaintance of mine immediately dismissed as a woman who only created properties for the world’s wealthiest.

I wonder about the wisdom of this.

I asked a friend in her 30s what she thought, a fellow journalist, a thoughtful person.

“They’re celebrities. They don’t feel like real people to us.”

I wonder about this as well.

There are people — serial killers, perpetrators of terrorism and genocide — whose deaths, natural or murdered, we don’t grieve. Those boundaries seem clear enough to me.

There are people within our own families, people who perpetrated sexual, physical and/or emotional abuse, whose deaths we might also greet with a sigh of relief.

Here’s a powerful essay, from Bust, by a 26-year-old woman whose abusive mother died, and how that felt for her.

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I attended a funeral about a decade ago, of a man whose widow and adult daughter share an apartment hallway with us. We have never socialized and likely never will; we’re very different sorts of people. We say hello in the hallway and parking lot.

But when their father and husband was dying a horrible death of cancer, we helped them connect with a hospice and, when he died, we went to his funeral.

I was stunned to see how empty it was. I doubt more than a dozen people were there, and this for a local man.

I wondered, then as now, why so few people cared enough to come and pay their respects; I’ve attended funerals that were practically standing room only, filled with people utterly distraught at their loss.

Why did this man’s death go so un-mourned? What had he said or done (or left unsaid or un-done?)

For public figures like Scalia, Ford and Hadid, we have access to reams of information about them and their work, their public behavior and accomplishments, sometimes their struggles.

Those who knew them best might not feel comfortable sharing more intimate details, so we’re left with broad outlines.

Many people loathed Scalia and Ford for their misogyny and for holding power over so many lives while espousing values they disagreed with.

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They were also human.

They left behind people who loved them deeply and respected them.

Do they, too, deserve to be mourned?

I say yes.

What do you think?

 

Why being “productive” is a waste of time

In behavior, business, culture, domestic life, life, Money, U.S., work on April 2, 2016 at 11:56 am

By Caitlin Kelly

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Attending the ballet and staring at the ceiling — OMG, wasting time!

If there is an obsession I really hate, it’s “being (more) productive”, i.e. making sure that every minute of our every day is spent doing something, preferably as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Do more!

No, do even more. Better!

I live near New York City, a place where if you’re not working reallyhardallthetime — gobbling lunch at your desk with no break in your day — you’re seen as some witless, gormless slacker.

It’s hardly a point of view confined to New York, but it does feel very American, with a deep-rooted and long-established cultural emphasis on making lots and lots and lots of money and never wasting time because…you could be making more money!

All of which strikes me as sad and weird.

This mania for measurement began, as some of you know, with Taylorism and Fordism, ways of manufacturing, (to profit corporate owners and their shareholders), more quickly and efficiently, named for the men who created these systems.

Here’s a great video from the website Aeon, on the topic.

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Time or money? Which do you value more? Must we always choose?

As the video wisely points out, you simply can’t quantify intellectual output the way you can time with a stopwatch how long it takes to install a windshield or weld a joint.

The other essential problem with focusing all our energy on being more productive is that we are not machines. We are not industrial creatures, made of metal and oil.

We need to rest, to think, to reflect, to stare at the sky.

Constantly pumping out goods or services guarantees burnout and resentment.

It’s like dancing with fog, really, if you try to make creative work more efficient.

How long does it take to produce an idea?

A good idea?

An idea that isn’t shot down?

An idea that actually earns a profit?

And must that profit be purely monetary to have value?

What if your idea, instead, saves a life or soothes a colicky baby or gladdens your neighbor’s heart?

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Here are a few things you can’t do more productively:

 

Kiss

 

Die

 

Be born

 

Pray

 

Create a work of art

 

Meditate

 

Comfort someone

 

Be generous

 

Breathe

 

Four spring days in New York City…

In beauty, cities, culture, life, travel, U.S., urban design, urban life on March 30, 2016 at 1:08 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

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The view north from her apartment, East 81st. Street.

Thanks to my friend D, who lent me her apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan while she was out of town, I just enjoyed four days wandering the city, staying overnight.

What a luxury!

I’ve been living near New York City since 1989 but have never lived in it; paying a ton of money for a very small amount of room doesn’t appeal to me.

But, having grown up in Toronto, Montreal, Paris and London, I’m used to — and really miss — the energy of living in the middle of a major city with ready access to culture, museums, shopping and restaurants.

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These are glass circles inlaid into the sidewalk, to allow for illumination below. At night, they were lit up. You’ll find these in Soho, downtown, and they’re often purple as the magnesium in the glass has changed color over the years.

Not to mention the pleasure of not driving everywhere, which I consider the worst curse of suburban life. It’s polluting, isolating and expensive. And makes you fat.

You can’t help but stay in city-shape, thanks to climbing all those subway stairs and walking long cross-town blocks.

(There’s also been a recent, terrifying and unresolved series of slashings and stabbings in and near the subway here, making cabs and walking and buses even more attractive.)

Walk even a few blocks in New York City, and notice all the  details as every building, old or new, has some sort of decoration — glazed bricks, carved gargoyle faces on either side of the entrance, lacy wrought-iron over the glass doors, windowboxes filled with daffodils and ivy.

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You also see the city as it’s lived, not jammed into a throng of fellow tourists.

As I stopped into Cafe Anneliese for my morning coffee, several uniformed police officers emerged, arms piled high with pizza boxes.

At 9:00 a.m.? Turns out the 19th precinct was having a bake sale.

Those are the sort of intimate details you’ll never see wandering midtown or Times Square.

Some of my observations:

So many people!

 

Turns out New York is now the biggest and fastest growing it’s been since the 1920s. Some eight million people now live here.

I never quite grasped the density that entails, but walk just a few long blocks filled with 10, 20 and 40-storey apartment buildings and you start to get the picture.

So many kids!

 

In these four days I realized, because we don’t have children, how little daily exposure to them we have; suburban kids are either in school, being driven somewhere, at some organized activity or at home.

They’re not, at least in my town, playing on the street or swarming a playground.

In the city, I saw them sitting on the bus, (like the four-year-old girl wearing silver leather boots!) and subway and sidewalk, running through the park, chattering to their mom or, as one little girl was, fast asleep on her nanny’s lap.

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So many dogs!

 

If you’re a tourist in New York City, you might not even notice all the dogs. But if you live here, even for a few days in  a residential neighborhood like the Upper East Side, it’s dog city! I had a great time watching all the dog-walkers with their furry charges.

Met two gorgeous fox terrier puppies, one wire-haired named Tulip, one smooth-haired named Panda.

I was also impressed at how spotless the sidewalks were; people definitely seem to be picking up after their pets.

So many tourists!

 

I barely heard a word of English in four days, and in a variety of neighborhoods. Instead, I overheard Chinese, French, Spanish, German, Portuguese and an Eastern European language I didn’t recognize spoken by four young women, all wearing black, sitting beside me at the bar of an Indian restaurant on Bleecker Street.

One of our games is “guess the tourist”. They don’t need to be holding a map or guidebook for us to know who you are:

1) You’re wearing nice clothes. On weekends, certainly, everyone who lives here is wearing what I wore: leggings, athletic shoes and a jacket or T-shirt. i.e. not an outfit or shred of elegance. It’s all about comfort.

2) You move realllllllly slowly. Jesus, people, move it!

3) You stand still, blocking the exits and entrances to subway stairs, stores and restaurants — or spread your entourage across the entire sidewalk. Please don’t! We move fast and hate it when we can’t.

4) You’re wearing an I Love NY or FDNY T-shirt or sweatshirt. Or, like the young German couple on the uptown 6 train, scrubbing their hands with sanitizer.

So many flowers!

 

This year — hello, global warming?! — the trees are already blossoming: cherry, magnolia and others bursting into white and pink glory about two months too soon. The parks are filled with daffodils and tulips soon to join them.

Not to mention all the flower shops and corner delis filled with plants and flowers to take home.

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Al Dente, a pretty, quiet Italian restaurant at 80th and Amsterdam

 Some of the many activities I enjoyed (all of which you can too, as a visitor here):

Ate well:

Surya, (Indian on Bleecker Street); Virgil’s (barbecue, on 44th St.), Al Dente, (Italian, corner of 80th and Amsterdam, UWS), Patisserie Claude (West 4th, West village.)

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Got a haircut:

At Hairhoppers, my go-to salon for the past 16 years, on Grove Street in the West Village. With only three chairs, it’s tiny and fun, always an unlikely mix of age, gender and kinds of people. On various occasions, I’ve sat beside a Grammy-nominated musician, a Brooklyn museum curator and an I-banker off to the Bahamas.

Alex is the owner, Benny his assistant. My cut was $100, (I can hear you gasping), but I know what rent he pays — and it’s a fair price for terrific work.

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Enjoyed a park

You might not think of parks, beyond Central Park, when you think of New York. But the city has far more green space than Paris, and many lovely pockets of greenery and silence around the city, like Carl Schurz Park on the Upper East Side, topped at its northern end by Gracie Mansion, the elegant official home of the city’s mayor.

In an overwhelmingly residential neighborhood, it offers the city at its best — clean, manicured, right on the East River so you can watch the barges and police boats and DEP crews zipping past.

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Downtown, before my haircut, I sat for a while in Sheridan Square’s park, marked with several life-size white statues that commemorate a piece of history for the city’s gay population, the Stonewall Inn, which sits just outside the park.

Be sure to just sit still for a while and savor the incredible variety of people who work, live and play here.

Chatted with a stranger

One morning at the corner coffee shop, we got into a conversation with an older woman sitting beside us. Turns out — of course! — she and my husband knew someone in common.

Even in such an enormous city, it happens.

Walked

This is the single best way to enjoy New York City.

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There’s such great architecture almost everywhere; (walk 42d Street from the East River to Fifth Avenue to see Tudor City, the Chrysler Building, Grand Central Terminal and the Public Library. Be sure to go inside GCT and the library.) If you love the Bourne films as much as I do, you’ll recognize Tudor City– an elegant series of apartment buildings and a park — as a key scene in one of them.

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Took the bus

The subway? Fuhgeddaboutit!

Buses are by far the best way to see the city without getting crushed, trampled or having your I-phone grabbed out of your hand. If you have mobility issues, buses easily accommodate travelers using wheelchairs and walkers, by “kneeling”, lowering almost to pavement level and with a special lift for access.

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Saw a few shows:

I had never been to Le Poisson Rouge, a concert venue on Bleecker St. near NYU. For an admission fee of $10 and sipping a $10 glass of Malbec, I listened to two of the three bands on that evening. Really enjoyed it.

I discovered that show by reading The Skint, a daily listing of affordable fun events and a must-read for everyone hoping to enjoy New York on a budget.

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Attended Easter service at one of the city’s greatest churches:

Nope, not St. Patrick’s Cathedral but St. Bart’s.

My parents, a New Yorker (my mother) and a Canadian from Vancouver (my father) married at the spectacular church of St. Bartholomew on Park Avenue, so I’ve long felt an attachment to it. The entrance has five mosaic-filled domes overhead and deeply sculpted entrance doors.

Its location — a block north of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel and a few blocks from all the major banks and (once) investment houses — locates it in the center of New York power and money. It was founded in 1835 but the current building went up in 1918.

I hope this offers you some inspiration for your next visit here!

 

 

A life-changing week — without easy access to water

In culture, domestic life, education, journalism, life, travel, urban life, world on March 23, 2016 at 1:33 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

In a good way!

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On assignment in rural Nicaragua…

Two years ago this month, I was returning home to our apartment in suburban New York from a week that radically altered my views on work, on luxury, on life.

With a multi-media team — a photographer from Cuernavaca, Mexico (where I lived as a 14-year-0ld), a blogger from Brunswick, Maine and a communications officer from New York — I spent a week working with WaterAid in Nicaragua, a country I had never been to before.

On paper, the whole thing sounded a bit crazy, putting together a team of people ranging in age from 20s to 50s, who had never met or worked together, and jamming us into a rickety van we needed to push occasionally to work 12-hour days in 95-degree heat.

 

Best week of my life.

I had gotten to know the comm’s person, Alanna, and knew she was fun, smart and warm. That was enough for me, so whoever else she had chosen would be fine. And they were. We had many hours together, traveling in a very small plane (so small they weighed each of us, not just our baggage!) and by van.

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Our WaterAid team

We met up in Managua, a three-hour flight from Atlanta. We flew from there to Bilwi, a town on the eastern coast, of 40,000 people.

We quickly learned that our hotel’s showers and toilets and sinks with running water were a rare luxury there — that almost half the population had none of these things. They had a pipe in their front yard with water supplied by the city, if they had it at all. Or they walked a mile or more to the nearest well.

It was really hot, about 90 degrees every day all day. When you sweat that much, you need to drink a lot of water and you really want to bathe and clean off at day’s end. Now, I realized, these were luxuries I had taken for granted for decades. My whole life.

We drove into the countryside, a two-hour journey each way, to watch local villagers building their own toilets and sanitation projects so I could write about them for WaterAid and Rodrigo could make photos and videos. Jen and I did a Twitterchat later in the week to explain what we were seeing; it gathered a staggering response.

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Reporting in Bilwi, Nicaragua for WaterAid; Jen beside me, Dixie in the background

To conduct interviews, we worked in Spanish and in Miskitu, for which we had a translator, a local academic with the delightful name of Dixie. Tall, gentle, Dixie was our right hand.

One night we all stayed in the home of one of the women we were writing about, Linda. The house was all made of wood, with a corrugated tin roof and wide open windows, without glass but with curtains. The floors were soft and smooth beneath our bare feet, meticulously clean and free of insects.

 

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Linda’s home

We brought our own food, which Linda and her family cooked for us on their clay stove. Their home has no electricity or running water, so they cooked by the light of flashlights and headlamps.

We slept together in one large room on narrow cots with sleeping bags and mosquito nets, lulled to sleep by the sound of someone speaking in Spanish from the transistor radio hanging from a very large nail on the balcony.

In the morning, Jen and I traveled with Linda and her mother in law and her daughter across a river to collect vegetables from their plot there. We walked through the forest to reach the river, followed the whole way by a very large, very friendly and very determined turkey, one of the many animals living beneath their home.

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Our host, Linda Felix, paddling her canoe

As we reached the river’s edge, Linda’s mother in law, wielding a very sharp long machete casually reached behind herself, lopped off two lengths of bamboo, cut their ends at an angle and dropped them into the wooden dugout canoe for us — seats!

We were accepted without demands or interrogation. Welcomed into their home and treated as guests with kindness and respect. For most of us, there are few moments in life when you connect across culture, language, nationality, age, education. They are deeply moving. Unforgettable.

 

On both side of the river, we climbed steep sandy banks to reach the vegetable crops. By the time we returned to the house, the sun was so hot that I feared heatstroke, heading to the well to throw buckets of water over me.

The time we spent in Nicaragua — working as a team, meeting and interviewing and getting to know some of the local people — also could not have been a greater contrast to my work at home in New York.

It was a week of easy cooperation (not relentless competition.) Open-heartedness and kindness (not resentful close-fistedness.) Bottles of ice-cold water and comfortable beds to keep us going, comfortably (not the standard annoyance of being ignored or rejected by busy editors.)

And what joy to be part of a team of smart, passionate, funny and warm professionals. I work alone at home, and have done so for a decade. This was a great break from isolation and total self-reliance.

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When we parted ways in Managua, we were teary. Two years later, Jen and and Alanna and I remain friends, in close contact still. Their country director, a fellow Canadian named Josh, came all the way out to our home to visit when he came up to New York.

I cried several times over this experience, which shocked me — I never cry.

But what I saw and felt there deeply touched me, both the ridiculous contrast between our easy life here and the penury we saw in Nicaragua. And also for the kindness and camaraderie I felt that week.

Journalism is very often a brutish business and its people too often gruff and dismissive, no matter what level of experience or skill you offer. They rarely praise or thank. They fight you over every penny you need to earn or to do the job well, and more than 24,000 of us have been fired or laid off in recent years.

To be treated as…valuable? Enjoyable? That was a blessedly unfamiliar feeling.

I now look for different kinds of work and deeper relationships with people whose values I admire.

I also turn off the water when I brush my teeth.

650 million people worldwide lack access to safe water.

Imagine being one of them.

 

 

It’s Saturday and…

In behavior, domestic life, life on March 19, 2016 at 3:05 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

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Our view of the Hudson River

“What is a weekend?” — The Dowager Countess of Grantham, Downton Abbey

 

Ohhhhhh, blessed Saturday morning…with spring around the corner and the forsythia (too soon!) already blooming.

First, a cinnamon bun from the amazing Riviera Bakehouse, our local bakery filled with delicious things.

Music, next…The Animals, live at Wembley Stadium, from 1983. A little vinyl to get the blood moving. Great stuff, like Boom, Boom and O’ Lucky Man and House of the Rising Sun.

An egg and bacon with Jose (my husband.)

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The opening and skimming of the weekend newspapers, tweeting out the good bits, deciding what to read first — being a New Yorker now, it’s often the Real Estate section, to examine the latest insanity. After living here a while, you see a listing for $1.5 million and think that’s not such a bad price. (Insurmountable for us!)

Watching my smart personal finance friend, and columnist for Slate, Helaine Olen on MSNBC, warning about how broke we’re all going to be in retirement.

Hanging, finally, all our photos and art to make a gallery wall.

A little housework.

Listening to some of my favorite NPR shows on WNYC, Radiolab at noon, This American Life at 1:00 and The Moth at 2:00. You have to tear me away from the radio, still my favorite medium.

Enjoying the flowers I bought yesterday, a weekly indulgence — these cost $32 and are worth every penny to me.

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Choosing recipes for the week, and food shopping.

Deciding whether it’s too cold to join my softball team for a game. Maybe just for lunch! Here’s my NYT essay about them.

Savoring the silence, only the clock ticking in the kitchen and a jet far overhead. Weekday traffic on the nearby Tappan Zee Bridge normally noisy.

Perhaps we’ll go out for a burger at one of our local restaurants, now that our town, Tarrytown, NY, has become — thanks to the $$$$-real-estate-induced exodus from Brooklyn — hip. It’s all McLaren strollers and Mini Coopers now.

Maybe go out for a long walk through the Rockefeller estate, a lush and quiet public 750 acres a 10-minute drive north of us. Or along the Hudson’s western shore.

I love our half-urban, half-rural existence. Technically, we live in a suburb of New York City, but our town is lively and fun, economically and racially diverse. In 40 minutes’ drive or train ride, I’m in midtown Manhattan or, heading north, can reach the gorgeous town of Cold Spring, right on the river, to meet a fellow writer for lunch.

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

Here’s a mug for sale with the Countess’ immortal words…

What does your Saturday look like?

Ohhhhh, Canada! For Americans hoping to head north

In behavior, cities, domestic life, immigration, journalism, life, politics, U.S., urban life, US on March 13, 2016 at 4:00 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

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Lake Massawippi, Quebec

It’s become something of a new anthem in itself…”I’m moving to Canada!” if Trump (or whichever Presidential candidate most terrifies/disgusts/depresses you) wins the nomination, or Presidency.

 

Not so fast!

 

I left Canada, where I was born (in Vancouver) and raised (in Toronto and Montreal) in 1988 to take a temporary editing job in Lebanon, New Hampshire.

Why there? I was madly in love with an American, a physician doing his medical residency at Dartmouth College after studying at McGill; we met when he was in Montreal. We later married — and divorced.

I came to the U.S. on an H1-B, a visa that’s difficult to get — the employer must advertise the position and be demonstrably unable to fill it with a qualified American. I initially came for three months, but had long wanted to come permanently, able to do so thanks to my mother’s American citizenship, which allowed me to obtain a “green card”, and become (o’ infelicitous phrase!) a “resident alien.”

I’ve lived in New York, in a suburban town near Manhattan, since 1989. It stuns me sometimes to realize it’s been so long, but I’m still here.

Like many Canadians, blessed with a terrific university education, (and zero debt upon graduation, thanks to low tuition costs), I felt, and was, able to compete with sharp-elbowed Americans all grasping for the various brass rings of publishing and journalism.

Here’s my recent story for Money.com about the savings one can realize by choosing to attend college in Canada.

I craved a larger place to test out my skills. (It’s not easy!)

My maternal grandmother and her antecedents were all American, as are many cousins, some of them highly accomplished, one an ambassador, another an archaeologist. I was curious to know more about the culture that had shaped them.

Canadians are deluged by American media so it’s not as though we don’t hear about the place, all the time.

I was also tired of constantly being mistaken for an American, a very odd experience from fellow Canadians, where being openly ambitious is a no-no.

Not in New York!

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New York — where I’ve lived since 1989

Canada is usually routinely invisible to American news outlets. We’re used to it.

But now that the 2016 Presidential election campaign has become a bizarre and frightening circus, many Americans are wondering if that nation to the North — the one they typically ignore in quieter times — is a better option.

 

Here’s my story for Salon and an excerpt:

While Canada recently welcomed 25,000 Syrian refugees, don’t be too quick to assume there’s an equal welcome for thousands of panicked Americans eager to flee a political scene they find abhorrent.

Read the Canadian government website for potential immigrants and you’ll find a list of exclusions, from health and financial problems to a DUI conviction. Yes, some of you will be able to obtain work visas, but many Canadian jobs pay less than you’re used to – and taxes are higher. You’ll also wait longer for access to some medical care.

Before assuming Canada is a default lifetsyle option, read its newspapers and listen to the CBC. Read our history and some of our authors, not just the ones you know, like Margaret Atwood or Alice Munro. Talk to people who live there. In other words, before you reassure yourself that if it comes to a Trump inauguration, you can pack your bags and head to Vancouver (maybe not Vancouver – CRAZY expensive to live there), you might want to take a minute to acquaint yourself with some specific attributes of that country to the north

 

I wrote the piece from a place of mixed emotions.

In some ways I miss Canada terribly — my oldest and dearest friends, my personal history, a political climate that doesn’t demonize women for wanting reproductive freedom or gays for wanting to marry.

I miss a shared culture and its references.

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Not to mention Justin Trudeau, our new 44-year-old Prime Minister.

But I also left for reasons.

This is the challenge of every ex-patriate and immigrant; we leave a place we know well and possibly love, throwing our fresh hopes onto a new land and its values, political and economic.

For the first time since moving here, I’ve wondered about moving back, even for a year. My American husband loves Canada and has portable skills. We’ll see.

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How about you?

 

Is moving to Canada an option you would ever consider?

 

Why?

 

Out for a walk

In beauty, life, nature on February 29, 2016 at 10:43 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

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Only a few weeks ago!

 

Are you — fellow Northern Hemisphere folk — feeling as cabin feverish as I am?

In mid-winter, it’s either gray or rainy or windy or bitterly cold or the streets are too icy.

But today….aaaaah.

Today was a blessed 57 unseasonally warm degrees and out I went to enjoy the walk along the reservoir.

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Our view of the Hudson River

One of the things I love most about living somewhere for a long time is getting to know a landscape intimately, like the face of a dear friend or the hands of your sweetie.

I’ve walked the reservoir path, a paved mile in each direction, shaded the whole way by tall trees, for the past 27 years now, in all four seasons, alone and with my husband and, a long time ago, with my lovely little terrier, Petra, who died in June 1996.

Here’s some of what I saw, heard, smelled and savored today:

 

The stream is starting to rush again as the snow and ice melt

 

Trees are showing the tiniest bit of bud

 

Winter-weathered leaves rustle gently in the breeze, the soft creamy beige of a very good camel hair overcoat

 

The white flash of a swan’s bum as it digs into the lakebed

 

The tang of woodsmoke from someone’s chimney

 

Soft emerald moss, tossed like a velvet duvet

 

Strengthening sun gilding the edges of the forest

 

Vines clinging to weathered granite

 

The soothing lapping sound of water on rock at the lake’s edge

 

Two Canada geese honking overhead

 

 

A jet heading southwest

 

A tiny Yorkie in a pink coat running very fast

 

Warm sun on my cheeks

 

 

The writer’s week

In behavior, books, business, journalism, life, Media, work on February 23, 2016 at 5:06 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

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An ongoing, occasional series, a glimpse into the life of a full-time freelance writer and career journalist…

It’s been a week!

And it’s only Tuesday

I spoke yesterday to a class of freshman students at New York University, invited by a friend, Sarah Dohrmann, a highly accomplished writer who’s been published in one of the Holy Grails of American journalism, Harper’s; here’s her story about Moroccan prostitutes.

She and I met for the first time last summer through a group of women writers who joined an on-line group and some of whom have trekked out to lunches and dinners to meet one another face to face. So fun!

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Jose (my husband, a freelance photographer) bought this book — I look forward to reading it!

One of the toughest challenges of working freelance — i.e. with no fixed income or employer — is how lonely it can be. Many of us, as I am writing this blog post, are at home in our sweatpants or gym clothes. Maybe in a co-working space (which costs precious income) or in a coffee-shop or library for a break from midwinter cabin fever.

So making a new friend, and someone with whom you can really share the ups and downs of our field, (and frank details of the places we’ve worked or want to work or think we want to work) is a joy.

It’s also the only way to make a living at this level of the game. Sarah and I are peers, with credentials and experience. We’ve won prestigious fellowships and traveled the world. We’ve taught writing at New York City colleges.

We’re still figuring it out.

 

When you work for yourself and have creative ambitions — like winning a fellowship (or another and another), or a writer’s residency or selling a book (or your second or third or eighth) — you’re constantly juggling short-terms needs for income with longer-term needs for growth and learning.

 

How many conferences to attend? Who’s speaking? Who will I meet there? Is it worth it?

How much time can I afford to “waste” on a passion project for whom no one has assigned an economic value (yet)? When will I sell it and to whom? What if no one ever buys it?

Should I take (keep) a part-time job to stay afloat? For how long? Doing what?

 

That same night I attended an event designed to teach me how to better make use of LinkedIn. It was a firehose of data and exhausting, although I met some nice new people and learned a lot.

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The late, great NYT media writer David Carr, a lively and funny speaker

I’m also in the middle of pitching several stories to several outlets and fielding requests for more details on them — among them The Wall Street Journal and a major national magazine I don’t want to name yet.

I feel like the hotel clerk in an old-fashioned hotel, the kind with real metal keys and numbers engraved on them, or a sorter in an old post office, popping letters into the right boxes. Deciding who to pitch, when and why is an art, not a science, and it requires skill, nerve, research — and self-confidence.

Rejection is normal.

 

If you want to crawl into bed in the fetal position when your work is rejected, cowboy up! Not an option.

 

Figure out what didn’t work and move on.

Freelancers live like Sheherazade, spinning tale after tale after tale to save our lives, to simply earn enough income to pay the mortgage/rent/groceries.

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My husband’s retirement cake; I wrote the headlines (Arthur is the publisher; Zvi a former colleague)

We also teach, online and in person; I offer individual webinars ($150, skedded at your convenience) and coaching at $225/hour. Details here!

 

 

Our health insurance bill recently jumped — from an impossible $1,500 per month to a WTF $1,800 month. So this week I’ll also be ditching a plan I like and trust, but which is killing us financially, for one I hope will give me what I need most.

Peace of mind.

I’m also trying to figure out what to do about a book proposal I wrote in December but is stalled; my agent isn’t happy enough with it to send it out. And no one wants to read a proposal without an agent’s imprimatur.

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On assignment in Nicaragua for WaterAid — blogger Jen Iacovelli in the bow of a dugout canoe. This is where I was two years ago. Hungry for my next adventure!

I’m also endless revising and fact-checking my latest story for The New York Times, for whom I’ve been writing for many years; some clips here.

Readers have no idea how heavily edited — and questioned and challenged, by multiple tough editors — each of their stories is. It takes a lot of time and energy, even after I interviewed eleven sources and, oh yeah, wrote the story.

Next month, I’ll once more be a finalist judge for Canada’s National Magazine Awards; I won mine in 1998. I speak fluent French, so some of them might be en francais.

That’s another way we give back to our industry, an honor when asked.

In addition to my daytime work, this week includes a variety of social and professional evenings out as well.

One is an event where an editor I need to meet face to face, (and who I’ve already written for), is speaking. Another is a new-to-me market, invited by a friend who’s already well-known to them and who generously asked me along.

The third is a retirement party for a friend, colleague and neighbor who’s leaving The New York Times.

We’re a tribe.

Without it, we’re toast.

 

 

 

Our attachment to objects

In antiques, art, beauty, behavior, culture, design, domestic life, life on February 14, 2016 at 1:48 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

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Silly, perhaps, but I get such pleasure from using my red leather Filofax!

Why do we form our attachment to certain objects?

Whether something inherited from a beloved ancestor or a gift from a friend or our partner or spouse or something we buy that we’ve always wanted or have saved hard for.

I was listening to the terrific NPR radio show Radiolab as I drove into Manhattan recently to attend the Winter Antiques Show, arguably the best show in that city each year, and probably one of the world’s best places to look at — and buy –museum-quality objects of every possible material, design and period.

 

Radiolab’s episode was all about why and why we become emotionally attached to certain objects or why some of them fill us with awe.

One of my favorite travel moments was finally seeing the Bayeux Tapestry in Bayeux, Normandy, France. As someone passionate about early textiles, I had long wanted to see it in person, and so we did. Amazing! It’s actually embroidered on linen, 230 feet long, created in 1070.

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Another object, also red, that I enjoy. I found this little robot in the window of a children’s clothing shop in the 7th arrondissement in Paris

I grew up in a home filled with interesting art and objects, from Japanese prints and Eskimo sculpture, (now called Inuit), to a Picasso lithograph to my father’s own handiwork in oil, silver, lithography and etching.

I’ve also been lucky enough along the way to be able to buy some art and photographs and antiques, so our apartment is filled with reference books on art and design and a variety of decorative objects we enjoy using or looking at.

So attending the Winter Antiques Show was a special treat. Admission is $25 and it’s held at the Park Avenue Armory, an enormous red brick building on Park at 67th. It accepted 75 dealers from all over the world, from Geneva to London to California, some of whom wait for years to be allowed into the show.

And what a show!

 

Imagine being let loose in a great museum, able to touch, hold and examine closely the most exquisite objects — whether a fragment of an Egyptian sarcophagus or a 16th century atlas or a piece of porcelain made in 1740.

You can wander about with a glass of white wine or champagne, coming face to face with a boy’s sword from 1300, ($20,000), or an astrolabe made in 1540 for the Spanish king ($1.3 million). I assumed I wouldn’t be able to afford a thing, and many prices were four, five and six figures.

But, despite my worries, it never felt snooty.

Sure, there were women wearing furs and quite large diamonds and lots of cashmere; I wandered about in my black Gap cotton Tshirt and black leggings. I’ve studied antiques at several institutions and bought and sold them at auction, so I know what I’m looking at when it comes to several categories.

For me, it was absolute heaven, and most dealers were surprisingly kind and welcoming,  making time to explain their objects’ design and histories, like a $55,000 blue enamel pendant made by a famous British architect as a birthday gift.

It was originally found at a flea market!

Having bought some good things for low prices at auction and flea markets, I’m also always curious to find out their current market value and learn more about them. Dealers are de facto always passionate about their area of specialty, so no one seemed to mind my curiosity.

I even bought a photograph.

That was a huge surprise, and I hadn’t bought art in ages. But I discovered a Finnish photographer whose black and white work mesmerized me and the price was manageable — less than the cost of three months’ groceries.

Here’s a link to his work, and the gallery I bought it from.

One reason I so enjoy flea markets, auctions and antiques is making my own design choices. My maternal grandmother owned some very good things — but she never bothered to pay tax on her inherited fortune, so when she died almost all of it was sold to pay off those debts.

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This Tizio lamp is one of my favorite possessions. The light it casts is clean, bright and has two intensities. Because the base is so small, it’s versatile. The lamp can also be flipped upwards to cast reflected light instead.

I never saw a thing from either grandfather or my paternal grandmother and almost all my mother’s belongings were also sold quickly when she suddenly had to go into a nursing home.

Jose’s parents left him a few belongings, but we’re not a family buried in heirlooms.

Almost everything lovely in our home, then, is something we’ve bought, and an expression of our aesthetic and taste. My husband is a career photographer, (here’s his blog), so we have a growing collection of images, from one you might know (of JF Kennedy standing at the window of the Oval Office) to an early Steichen.

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These 3 pendants were given to me by my mother, a friend and my late grandmother. They have sentimental value to me as a result.

My favorite objects include:

my Canadian passport, a stuffed Steiff bear the length of my thumb, another small stuffed bear, a few good photographs, two silk Hermes scarves, a photo of my paternal grandfather, who I never met.

What — if any — objects do you treasure and why?

 

Four recent “failures” and what they taught me

In aging, behavior, business, life, women, work on February 10, 2016 at 12:32 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

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We’re not robots. We all need a hand, a hug and some help!

It’s the new black, failure.

Every day I see a new book or article exhorting us all to fail — and enjoy it.

Fail forward!

Like it’s really fun and comforting and the sort of thing you just can’t wait to blog about or tweet about or post an Instagram image of you at the elevator holding your cardboard box with all your shit in it after doing the walk of shame from your desk when they’ve just canned you.

Sorry, right-sized you.

Whatever.

Here’s an interesting blog post about why trying (and failing) is good for us:

Schools, particularly in the U.S., set us up for fixed mindsets, which means there is only one answer or that you believe talent is something you’re born with and it can’t be evolved or changed.

A person with a growth mindset, on the other hand, welcomes a challenge and enjoys doing things they’re not good at because they know they’ll learn.

Perhaps you’re learning how to read analytics and metrics. Or you’re trying to figure out how content and search engine optimization work hand-in-hand. Or you’re moving beyond media relations to do some really hard, but powerful communications work.

Whatever it may be, you have a growth mindset and fear of failure won’t paralyze you.

Talent can be learned. It can evolve and grow.

 

But I’m damn glad it’s 2016, because 2015 really kicked my ass in some new and excruciating ways.

Because four in a year, (and these are only a few of the bigger ones, the ones I’ll even admit to here), is a shit-ton of failure in my world.

Kelly’s don’t fail.

So that’s an issue right there.

I hate the tired phrase “comfort zone” — and yet I wholeheartedly agree with the premise we all need to flee ours, often, to try new things, stretch our wings, learn new skills and behaviors.

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Gone! One of my favorite antiques/vintage clothing shops in NYC. Was their decades of prior success now a “failure” because they closed? Not to me!

Failure Number One

I was hired to teach two classes a day, one day a week, at a schmancy private college, the kind where the rich kids fly home to Asia on long weekends and everyone dyes their hair purple and septum rings are de rigueur.

I had previously taught at several New York City-area colleges, no novice. I read up on millennials and what to expect.

This was different.

Tuition there runs a cool $60,000 a year, to study high-earning fields like…writing.

I loved the first semester, grateful for lively students who were warm and hard-working. What’s not to like? Half of them arrived each week 20 minutes before class began just to hang out. I really enjoyed getting to know them as individuals, not just a pile ‘o papers to grade.

The second semester was…not that. Suffice to say it started badly and ended much worse. I don’t teach there anymore and I wouldn’t if it were the last income source on earth. An MIA dean made it even more difficult.

Lesson learned: Adjunct teachers, especially of writing and especially in New York City, are more disposable than Kleenex. Without solid institutional support — of any kind! — it’s impossible to navigate complex scenarios you’ve never faced before.

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There’s never enough beer when things are shitty

Failure Number Two

I take on a web-writing assignment for a large charity, excited to work on something I believe in for people whose work I respect. The fee is fine and the people seem pleasant.

But they’ve never worked with an outside writer before and it becomes increasingly clear that they have no idea how to manage my time effectively, both being vague and micromanage-y all at once.

It gets worse week by week until finally it’s one Friday at 5:30 p.m. and we politely and cordially enough call it a day.

I lose $4,000 worth of anticipated income by failing to complete that project, and feel like a fool for not realizing how complex it would be.

Lesson learned: Ask a lot more questions before committing to a project, especially one that’s going to be edited by so many people.

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This little monkey is so NOT my role model. Flee, monkey!

Failure Number Three

I congratulate someone I know, vaguely, on Facebook about a great new managerial role he recently assumed.

Within a month, to my great surprise, he’s hired me to manage two complex, multi-part projects. The potential income is excellent and the content challenging. It does look a little hairy, but I’m a quick learner.

So I thought.

His managerial style proves to be a pendulum between charm and bullying. Our communication is both excessive and insufficient to our needs.

And the writers I need to hire and contract for work are fearful — naturally, given the state of our industry now — that they won’t be paid or paid quickly.

I reassure them, but with no sure knowledge of this man’s business ethics, or that of his employer. Which makes me very anxious indeed; he’s only one client, while my wide network of trusted colleagues is what keeps me working year after year thanks to their referrals. I don’t want to inadvertently screw anyone over!

Within weeks, I’m debating how soon to walk away, but hating the idea of letting down a large team — our initial meeting, (hello, warning sign) included 25 people.

I’m fired.

I’m also hugely relieved — and out at least a month’s income because I’ve been 100 percent focused on this thing, not marketing elsewhere.

Lesson learned: If a job or assignment feels this wrong within days, let alone weeks, it probably is. If someone lashes out at me, I don’t care how much they’re paying. I’m done. I won’t tolerate this kind of behavior at this point in my career.

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Our van, 95 degree heat, 12 hour days. My WaterAid gig in Nicaragua — for all its challenges — was a joy and a pleasure. That’s what I seek.

Failure Number Four

I’m asked to chair a 13-member volunteer committee for a registered charity, a board I’ve served on already for six years.

I’m passionate about the mission. I have a ton of ideas and am really excited to see what we can do to advance its goals and make its value much more visible.

I choose a co-chair to help, as I know some heavy lifting lies ahead.

We have no training in how to actually run a board or a meeting.

We do our best, but are soon, at every step, ignored by half the board or undermined and criticized by three women, all former presidents of it, who have very strong opinions. Nothing we say or do is met with enthusiasm, and some of it with serious opposition.

Not a great start.

I’m soon spending more unpaid time turning to others who run or serve on other boards for advice and help. Demoralized and worn out, I end up in tears.

My husband says — just leave.

We spend weeks crafting our letter of resignation, trying to be polite but honest about why we’re quitting our roles, and the board — to be met with “I’m overjoyed” by one of these women who then sends the entire board a vicious laundry list of our personal faults.

Lesson learned: Walking away is often the only choice. No one can “lead” a group of people who have no interest in supporting your ideas.

Admitting I’ve made lousy decisions hurts.

Admitting to my weaknesses hurts.

Admitting I can’t take on, and master, new projects quickly is less difficult — but I now know for sure that opposition, whether aggressive or passive-aggressive, means guaranteed failure.

Admitting I was unable to rally the support I needed is painful and I’ve spent a lot of time trying to determine what went so wrong.

We all like to succeed.

We rarely, if ever, publicly discuss or admit to fucking up.

But we all do it.

 

I’m guilty of sometimes moving ahead too quickly, leaping before I look deeply enough, perhaps. As a full-time freelancer living in a costly part of the world, we need steady income in the four figures every single month. I can’t sit around twiddling my thumbs waiting for the perfect fit on every opportunity.

But I’m also forever eager to try new experiences, face new challenges and grow my skills and my network. If I stick to my knitting, that can’t happen.

 

Onward!

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