Almost 40% of Americans have “no faith” in the media

By Caitlin Kelly

From a recent conference held in New York, with some of the industry’s top leaders…

Typical of such summits, the people speaking were largely white, upper middle class and already perched high in the industry…not necessarily the best place from which to enact meaningful change. By the time you’ve hit the heights, so to speak — like any industry, really — you’ve climbed the greasy pole and know how many ways you can slip back to the bottom: pissing off your advertisers or publisher, to start with. I’ve been working in journalism since I was 19, freelance and staff — a senior editor at three national magazines and a reporter and feature writer for three big dailies. I enjoyed my career, but I’m mostly out of it now, and not subject to the exhausting chase for clicks and views. The Washington Post recently hired a social media coach (!) to work with their reporters. This is, for me, a fresh hell. Not enough any longer to produce terrific stories…

An excerpt from that conference, as reported by The New York Times:

“The media” pops up on your smartphone and is thrown onto your front porch. It is transmitted on television sets and is featured in glossy magazines. It’s so varied in so many ways but is similar in one respect: Many Americans don’t trust it.

According to a recent Gallup poll, trust in mass media has hit a near record low: Only 34 percent of Americans have a “great deal” or “fair amount” of confidence in the media, while 38 percent of Americans have none at all...

“We do need some level of news, but there are so many people that just need basic information,” argued Sarah Alvarez of Outlier Media, a news organization focused on low-income Detroiters.

“You can’t do a big investigation if you are not covering the city council every day,” said Sara Just of “PBS NewsHour.” You can’t find out who the corrupt mayor is if you are not there every day.” The disappearance of that kind of local journalism, she said, is what “worries me the most. That’s not going to be the for-profit center, but it is how we find out what’s going on.”

Jeffrey Goldberg, whose publication, The Atlantic, put up a paywall shortly before the pandemic, argued for a subscriber-funded model: “Our industry made a mistake 20 years ago by giving away quality journalism for free — we trained readers to expect something that took work, time and energy and funding and we gave it away. And we have to stop doing that.”

As some of you may know, George Santos — a lying sack of garbage — not only recently got elected as a Republican Congressman from Long Island, despite a barrage of lies about his work, education, life and but now sits on two committees.

Only one small local newspaper noticed what a grifter he is but there was no other media interest in following up.

I found this analysis by Dame insightful and, sadly, spot-on:

We live in a golden age of national media startups. Every week another group of bright-eyed and bushy-tailed media personalities launches another cleverly branded news site to solve all of American journalism’s problems.

So why do all these sites sound the same?

Why do political news sites, begun with lots of fanfare about how different and innovative and disruptive they plan to be, end up covering the same stories covered by every other established media source?

Why are they all obsessed with whatever Donald Trump spews onto his private social accounts? Why do they listen every time GQP Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene speaks? Why do they report on what senators say on Tucker Carlson’s show, on each other’s podcasts, on Chuck Todd’s Status Quo Fetish Hour?

Why do they all move in a pack, chasing the same ball, like 5-year-olds playing soccer for the first time?

Because — as any honest journalist knows — the few who rise to a position of any power or influence, let alone a job with a liveable salary – has already been co-opted. When a year at one of the fancy journalism schools will cost more than a year’s salary and the industry is already highly insecure, only a brave (or trust-funded few) can even still afford to buy entree to the industry or stick around very long.

So those who become staff journalists can start to look and sound the same….as does their reporting.

Pack journalism dominates — one person chasing all the others to match a story (no matter how tedious!) for fear their managers (as as they will) ask why they aren’t covering it?

Not IF they should at all!

It’s lazy and easy to sneer “fake news” when you dislike what you hear or see.

I rarely see anyone ask…what’s the upside for this worldview?

It’s also pretty obvious that those sneering “fake news” have rarely, if ever, even met or spoken to anyone, anywhere, who actually works in journalism — bringing any genuine curiosity about what it’s like to produce news or features.

We all have some idea what doctors or lawyers or cops or teachers do all day but few of journalism’s most toxic and virulent critics really have a clue about the ecosystem of news production — which is why such attacks leave me unmoved.

I agree that mainstream American journalism needs to be a lot better, but few wake up in the morning determined to print or broadcast something they know to be false.

Believe it or not, like many journalists, I’m disappointed by too much of it every day.

Not because it’s “fake news” but because it’s:

  • repetitive
  • overly focused on crime, violence, sentimentality and military
  • boring
  • ignores most of the world beyond the U.S.
  • rarely addresses the roots of complex issues like poverty and homelessness
  • doing a lousy job covering and explaining the urgency of climate change
  • sucking up to corporate interests

I have no illusion all journalists are good guys! Some are inevitably lazy, unethical, rushed, underfunded, poorly trained and edited.

But it doesn’t mean journalism is unimportant to democracy, regardless of its flaws. If you can’t access basic, verifiable, mulitply sourced facts about corrupt politicians or dangerous medical issues, to name only two key issues affecting us all — good luck!

A few more thoughts about our responsibilities:

Untrue assertions make their way to mainstream news consumers in several ways. Common tactics sources use include false equivalence, whataboutism, bothsidesism and good old-fashioned lying. Well-meaning journalists play a role by allowing sources to give “their side” of an argument — true or not — out of a belief that fair, ethical journalism requires them to do so.

False equivalence refers broadly to situations where a source makes an assertion that two things that share some similarities are equal despite significant differences between them. Comparing Trump supporters’ Jan. 6, 2021, protest in Washington, D.C., to protests following the death of George Floyd is an example. The Floyd protests didn’t turn into a deadly riot that overtook the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to overturn a presidential election.

Whataboutism is a form of false equivalence in which a source responds to an allegation by claiming that someone else did something similar or worse without addressing the substance of the allegation.

Two journalism films are worth your time no matter how much you want to dismiss my defense and protestations, the 2015 film Spotlight, which won the Oscar for Best Picture, about an investigation by the Boston Globe investigative team of three reporters that uncovered 249 abusive Catholic priests and 1,000 victims….many more exist worldwide, as evidenced by the long list in the film’s final credits, from Igloolik, Canada to Argentina.

At its best, this is what journalists do.

Also, the 2022 film She Said, about two New York Times journalists who uncovered decades of abuse by former movie mogul Harvey Weinstein — now in prison for those crimes.

Both are slow moving and procedural but also show the internal hierarchies of power at each paper and how they impeded or helped the reporters and the emotional and physical toll that such reporting on difficult issues affects us.

Because it does.

How cynically — if you even consume news or journalism — do you view the industry?

Twitter in free-fall…what I’ve loved, hope not to lose

By Caitlin Kelly

I’m not sure how many of you use Twitter or appreciate it or have been following the nightmare takeover by Elon Musk whose every move as its new owner reeks of weird desperation and feudal overlord vibes.

Here’s the latest on it from The New York Times:

A taste:

The order for immediate layoffs, the ensuing panic and the about-face reflect the chaos that has engulfed Twitter since Mr. Musk took over the company two weeks ago. The 51-year-old barreled in with ideas about how the social media service should operate, but with no comprehensive plan to execute them. Then he quickly ran into the business, legal and financial complexities of running a platform that has been called a global town square.

It’s really depressing!

OK, it’s really depressing for those of us — many of us writers and journalists — who have relied heavily on the site for years as a great place to promote our work and our skills.

I found two of my favorite assignments ever there, one a profile of a senior energy executive for a Finnish company (referred to an editor in Helsinki by a Twitter pal in London) and a time writing blog posts about, of all things, pancreatic cancer research, also for a woman who found me solely thanks to my posts there.

I’ve never blogged about either topic and would never have put my hand up for these assignments — but they were fascinating and well-paid and I’m grateful!

But my love for Twitter (which I know is a hellscape of trolls and bots if you end up in the wrong corners) is also based on the global connections and some new friendships I’ve made there, as have so many.

And, yes, I’ve blocked some truly obnoxious people, usually men who can’t tolerate the idea of a woman who dares to disagree, even politely, with them.

One of my dreams has been to get my first book back into print, revised and updated. Thanks to Twitter, I recently contacted an editor whose house might be a good fit — that just wouldn’t have happened for me otherwise. I wouldn’t have dared and I wouldn’t have known the etiquette.

What I like most about the platform is how real (or not) you can be. I post serious stuff about writing and travel and sometimes about politics. I retweet art and photos. I’m just me. I’m not there to be fake or hard sell although some are.

This week I got into a lovely and sentimental conversation with two other Canadian women (strangers!) about our much beloved childhood hamsters — one even shared a photo. I love this stuff.

Social media was designed to be social.

Some of my many treasured Twitter finds:

— an archeologist in Berlin whose main work is based in Turkey at Gobekli Tepe, a Neolithic site. I think we connected through a Twitterchat. When I finally visited Berlin in July 2017 we met for lunch.

— A prolific mudlarker in London, Laura Maiklem, who routinely posts images of treasures like a Tudor shoe. She’s gained more than 200,000 social media followers.

A fantastic daily stream of Canadian paintings, in every medium, from every era. It began in 2018. So cool!

— Photos of 18th century clothing from various historians.

— pictures of various ancient mosaics from several female archeologists.

— inside dope on aviation from professional and amateur pilots, a group of #avgeeks.

— a Dutch woman who (!) is knitting me an amazing hat

— Gorgeous landscape photography, much of it from Scotland and England.

— I also really enjoy two weekly Twitterchats, where I meet up with fellow enthusiasts from around the world; #TRLT, for The Road Less Traveled, which draws people from Vancouver to Malawi. And #FreelanceChat, which assembles freelancers for a lively conversation and which teaches each of us new tips and insights.

I know a lot of people have already left Twitter and fled to Mastodon.

I haven’t yet, It feels really unwieldy and not nearly as easy to find and spark this sort of cross-disciplinary conversation.

Have you been a Twitter fan?

Have you left?

Have you joined Mastodon?

My 2 weeks with Queen Elizabeth

By Caitlin Kelly

I admit — we were in the middle of a restaurant lunch yesterday when we learned that Queen Elizabeth had died.

I burst into tears.

I know for many people the monarchy is something hated and archaic. I get it.

For a Canadian who grew up, initially, with photos of Her Majesty on our classroom walls, then later on our stamps and currency, the Queen was a daily part of our lives, even if only her image.

As a young reporter for the national daily Globe and Mail, she became a part of my daily life in person when I was chosen to cover a Royal Tour of the Queen and Prince Philip.

It was the oddest sort of high profile assignment as it meant my stories would run on the front page most days — yet there would be little to say beyond what she wore, what she might say and who she met. It was both thrilling to be chosen and terrifying, especially as this was long before cellphones or the Internet or light, quick laptops. I would have to file for up to five daily editions, racing to meet each deadline with no easy access to a telephone or even a place from which to send my story or even to sit down and write it.

This made for some seriously weird moments — like the big old house in small-town New Brunswick where I begged to use their kitchen table to write, and, when an older gentlemen entered his own kitchen, muttered “Globe and Mail, on deadline!” Then I had to kick the lady of the house off her own telephone to commandeer the line, unscrew the handset, attach alligator clips, and transmit my story in time. The gentleman was a judge who would be attending a formal dinner with her that evening.

Or the hotel lobby gift shop whose pay phone I needed to use.

Or the small-town rural home whose front door I banged on in desperation…scaring the hell out of its poor owners as I begged yet more strangers for their help and to use their phone.

Each day was long and tiring, often with multiple events, and I think we were working 12-15 hour days, whipped.

We must have eaten, but I don’t remember when or how or what.

We traveled in a huge press pack, with Time and Newsweek and BBC and CBC all jammed into press planes or buses. Sometimes we flew in a Lear jet (a first!) and observed the “purple corridor” — the elapsed time between when Her Majesty’s plane took off and ours was allowed to.

We were all technically competing with one another for…no real news!

It was very odd to watch her turn her charm on and off like a spigot on walkabouts — we’re so used to politicians and celebrities who crave our attention, admiration, votes and money that to observe someone with multiple castles, the wealthiest woman (at least then) in the world up close — becoming cool/distant when she felt like it, was quite disorienting.

A dapper Glaswegian security man in a tweed jacket followed behind the Royal entourage, holding out his hands to keep us at bay like wild animals.

“You need a whip and a chair!” I joked.

“I could use the whip,” he replied, with a flirtatious twinkle in his eye. (I later bought one and gave it to him as a joke at our final party.)

I broke a few controversial stories and ended up being the brunt of some serious bullshit from competitors who had not matched my reporting. At a crowded mess hall somewhere in Manitoba, the legendary BBC TV reporter, Kate Adie, saw my distress and whispered in my ear: “The higher your profile, the better target you make.” She later mentioned me and that event in one of her memoirs.

A few specific memories:

— The stunning jewels of a tiara she wore to a dinner

— a brooch with an emerald the size of a baby’s fist

— a small suitcase in the back of a car, with a large red cardboard tag: The Queen

— being given a small piece of paper each morning with the official language we were to use to describe her clothing; eau-de-nil, not “light green.”

At the end of it all, we were invited aboard the royal yacht Britannia for drinks. That was amazing enough, and then we were each presented to Her Majesty.

It was brief, but memorable.

Women — time to speak up!

By Caitlin Kelly

The editor in chief of the Financial Times, Rouala Khalaf, (probably the most male of the big newspapers — and boy are they male, especially at the very top) — recently implored more women to write to their letters page.

I was thrilled to have my letter published there, verbatim, a few months ago.

I can see why so few women do:

— It’s intimidating! Letters to the FT routinely arrive from Lords and CEOs and deans of elite universities. How dare we add our voices?!

— Fear of looking stupid or uninformed.

— Fear of professional reputational loss (see above!)

— Too busy working/parenting/caregiving

— Modesty…why listen to us?

As you know (cough!) I’m fine expressing my opinions publicly, here and on social media and in classrooms and at conferences and in letters pages, including those of The New York Times and Newsweek.

I was basically raised as a boy, to be smart and competitive, not sweet and submissive as so many girls and women still are, so this never scared me, even if maybe it should.

I am very careful on Twitter not to discuss the most divisive topics — abortion, guns, politics — in any detail. Women are trolled and harassed and get death and rape threats when they do. No thanks!

So, when and where should we speak up?

— Protest marches

— School board meetings

— City council/town hall meetings

— at industry conferences, either as a speaker, moderator or audience member

— your blog, and others’

— social media

— writing and publishing essays and op-eds

— voting

— call-in radio shows

— as a member of an organization or group or community

I know, it can feel scary to invite argument or ridicule or dismissal!

But the more we stay invisible and inaudible, the more we allow this behavior to dominate and silence us.

Now that the landmark abortion law Roe v. Wade is in danger, and so many U.S. states ready to ban abortion, it’s no time to sit back and shrug. Our many bodily rights to autonomy are being erased daily.

Our voices matter.

Define “freedom”

By Caitlin Kelly

It’s been a month from hell for many Canadians — watching truckers clog the Ambassador Bridge and destroy normal life in the national capital for thousands more living in the city center. Not to mention an arson attempt — including locking shut the building’s front doors — on an Ottawa apartment building.

For those readers here who are not Canadian, this thuggish bullying behavior (still felt by First Nations and Inuit) has come as a tremendous shock to the system, in a country where we are socialized heavily to be polite, civil, calm. To discuss issues, not block millions of dollars of global trade because you feel like it.

It has really struck at the heart of what Canadians, at best, like to think of themselves — and I was born there and lived there ages five to 30. We are generally well-educated, thanks to much more affordable university than the U.S., and with a stronger system of public education. We are proud of being less aggressive and violent, not shooting one another daily, our children not subjected to “active shooter drills” in school.

So persistent aggression is simply…not what we’re used to.

The pandemic and Trump and the GOP and reams of disinformation and misinformation and about zero media literacy have added up to a new and toxic form of “freedom” — spitting and coughing viral load onto others for amusement; punching flight attendants in the face for daring to insist every passenger wear a mask; screaming abuse at retail clerks for asking shoppers to wear a mask. (Data point — the Canadian Olympic women’s hockey team at Beijing 2022 beat the Russians wearing masks.)

Freedom has become weaponized into others’ fantasy we owe them deference, obedience, admiration, when all they’re doing is having the sort of public tantrum any weary parent hopes will fade after toddlerhood.

I am also really fed up watching fellow journalists — often trying to do a TV stand-up out in public — being shoved, shouted at and insulted for doing their job.

It’s incredibly selfish for anyone refusing vaccination to suck up ICU and ER and OR skills when others are getting sicker and sicker or dying for lack of access to the care they need.

People who were mature enough to care for themselves and their neighbors.

Living with pain

By Caitlin Kelly

Some of you, I know, live with/in chronic pain. It’s exhausting and demoralizing and you measure your available energy in “spoons”, a word I learned from Twitter.

I have a severely arthritic right hip now, and it hurts whenever I do basically anything — get into the shower, roll over in bed, stand up. Like many people with arthritis it diminishes my appetite for exercise, which makes it worse. I just suck it up and rarely take painkillers. It is what it is. I have to bear the pain until I get the damn thing replaced.

I’m used to living in pain.

My husband has recently suffered a kidney stone whose 24/7 pain has been driving him mad.

But it’s been a real education for a man who has enjoyed superb health his entire life since childhood: no surgeries, broken bones or hospitalizations.

I’ve spent a lot of time inside the hammering sounds of an MRI machine and when my left hip was destroyed by a course of steroids meant to help me (!) the pain became so relentless I went on crutches for a while; it was replaced in February 2012.

Living with any sort of pain — mental, physical, emotional — is a challenge for everyone, but especially for those whose lives have, so far, been pretty pleasant and unscathed.

It can seem like a personal affront: how dare you inconvenience me!?

But, as the cliche says, you only develop resilience by going through some serious shit, and usually coming out of it aware that millions of us are also carrying some burden of pain, but often quietly and invisibly.

Witness the national meltdown chronicled in The New York Times:

In Chicago, a customer service agent for Patagonia described how a young woman became inconsolable when told that her package would be late. Another customer accused him of lying and participating in a scam to defraud customers upon learning that the out-of-stock fleece vest he had back-ordered would be further delayed by supply-chain issues.

In Colorado, Maribeth Ashburn, who works for a jewelry store, said that she was weary of being “the mask police.”

“Customers will scream at you, throw things and walk out of the store,” she said.

I flew only once in 2021, in late November, on a flight on Air Canada to Toronto from New York, then to Halifax, and back. Thank God, everyone wore their masks and were polite and calm — since more than 5,779 incidents of rage erupted on American domestic flights, 4,000 of them related to wearing a mask.

I have zero patience with this!

Every flight, I guarantee you, also contains people who are weary, grieving, scared to fly — and the last thing they need is the terror and anxiety (and delays) created by selfish aggressive babies, aka fellow adult passengers with no self-control.

I recently witnessed, at the local pharmacy in our suburban New York town, a similar adult tantrum — by a grown man raging at the clerk for limiting his purchase of at-home COVID tests to only four. Hah! Good luck finding any anywhere now.

As some of you know, I worked retail at $11/hour for 2.5 years at a suburban upscale mall, for The North Face, and, yes, I saw and felt some of this behavior there as well; I wrote about it in my book, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail.”

Americans cherish the weird fantasy that anyone can become President or a billionaire, maybe both! But their consistent contempt for low-wage, customer-facing work — retail, hospitality, etc. — is really ugly, as if lower-paid workers deserve to be treated like shit because…they don’t (yet) have a better-paying and more prestigious job.

If we can’t get our collective act together — and behave like the adults we are — 2022 is going to be even more of a shitshow; we’re already losing so many burned-out, talented healthcare workers, sick of being yelled at, spat on, now even scared to leave the hospital in their scrubs.

When things get rough — or, as the British would say, go pear-shaped — it’s an adult choice to use your strength and maturity to not whip others with your misery.

I found this, from former Guardian columnist Oliver Burkeman’s final column, really smart:

The capacity to tolerate minor discomfort is a superpower. It’s shocking to realise how readily we set aside even our greatest ambitions in life, merely to avoid easily tolerable levels of unpleasantness. You already know it won’t kill you to endure the mild agitation of getting back to work on an important creative project; initiating a difficult conversation with a colleague; asking someone out; or checking your bank balance – but you can waste years in avoidance nonetheless. (This is how social media platforms flourish: by providing an instantly available, compelling place to go at the first hint of unease.)

It’s possible, instead, to make a game of gradually increasing your capacity for discomfort, like weight training at the gym. When you expect that an action will be accompanied by feelings of irritability, anxiety or boredom, it’s usually possible to let that feeling arise and fade, while doing the action anyway. The rewards come so quickly, in terms of what you’ll accomplish, that it soon becomes the more appealing way to live.

Pain is an inevitable part of life.

The new normal

By Caitlin Kelly

Constant change.

It’s exhausting.

Making plans — breaking them.

Planning a vacation — cancelling it.

Thought we were safe? No, not for a long long time.

Powerful essay on Medium about this:

What if the pandemic just never ends? What if the New Normal is not some accommodated version of the old normal, but instead is just…this? What if what we are experiencing now — this constant state of anxiety and change and daily back-and-forth and in-and-out of masks and lock-downs — is what the 21st century will be? What if the economic recovery is DOA or if it somehow only makes things worse? What if this is just the beginning of much larger and more frequent health, climate, political, and economic disasters?

Jose and I were so looking forward to attending a wedding in Memphis, Tennessee in early September. It would have been our first flight in two years and our first visit out of state. We were so excited! The women getting married, a couple we met on Twitter, demanded proof of vaccination, which we were fine with.

Then, proof of negative tests. We cancelled.

I have no objection to their request.

But the pleasure was quickly leaching out of what was to have been a relaxing break. That state now has hospitals so full there’s no room left.

We had planned a month’s driving trip out to Colorado and back in October. Cancelled.

We had already planned and cancelled Hawaii or Paris.

I’m hitting bottom right now.

I admit it — I’ve been spoiled since childhood by travel being a normal and expected source of pleasure, one easily accessible. Not in luxury, necessarily, but always owning a valid passport and a reliable vehicle and having an insatiable hunger to see more of the world.\

One of our Montreal favorites

I’ve already been to 41 countries — and there are so so many places I still want to see!

Morocco, Japan, Namibia, South Africa, Madagascar, the Baltic nations, to name only a few…

And we miss our friends in Ontario and Nova Scotia and Paris and London and Scotland…

I chose to move to the U.S. and, since Biden’s election, my pulse rate has dropped from the daily anxiety of being “governed” by a madman for four years.

But the endless divisions here, and endless fawning media coverage of people who refuse vaccinations — endangering all of us — are tedious as hell. Thanks to them, going basically anywhere is dangerous.

And — most concerning — even the vaccinated can carry a lot of this virus, unknowingly infecting others while showing no symptoms.

Like all of you, we work hard.

Like all of you, we need things to look forward to!

And, as I write this on our balcony, planes soar over our heads, as we’re on a flight path from the local airport.

SIGH.

These days, all we can anticipate is constant change — and disappointment.

A bit more of the essay:

the pandemic has put life into perspective. It has made crystal clear that love and health are what’s important in this life. The rest is what it is. We must be grateful for what we have, find joy wherever we can, and be incredibly patient with, well…everything else. In cultures that have survived war, that made it through bombings and mass killings and attacks, people turn to all that does not change for comfort and hope. As their day-to-day reality changes around them, they find solace in anything that is constant and unifying: their food, their language, their songs, their fairytales, their games, their age-old traditions.

Right now, I have to take solace in what we have and can enjoy that COVID can’t destroy:

our Hudson river view

a town we love living in

a new (woman!) governor who’s a badass

deep and abiding friendships

savings

freelance work

Manhattan, literally, on our horizon, there when we need a break from snoozy suburban life

a home we’ve made beautiful through design, renovation, art

a good hospital 15 minutes north of us

we are both vaccinated and will take boosters when and if they are offered

lovely places to walk and bike outdoors safely

books and music and card games and puzzles to amuse us

How are you holding up these days?

ohhhhh, Canada. Such disappointment

A beloved bistro in Montreal, L’Express

By Caitlin Kelly

As some of you know, I was born in Vancouver and grew up in Toronto and Montreal — moving to the U.S. at 30 to pursue a bigger career.

I carry only a Canadian passport and have long been proud of my country, reveling in adorable videos like this.

Not this week.

Not this month.

Not this year.

A Muslim family was out for a walk in London, Ontario, a regional city. Five went out and one returned — the rest mown down by a racist piece of garbage in his truck, who hated them for being…non-white. Non-Christian.

The sole survivor is a nine-year-old boy, orphaned.

The week prior, the remains of 215 indigenous children, sent away by law to residential school in Kamloops, B.C. were found, re-opening the old wounds of how thousands of these children were torn from their families and made to speak English and deride their native culture.

To become “Canadian” — white and Christian.

See a pattern?

And now a vicious and brutal attack on a gay man in Toronto for daring to be homosexual.

Not sure how I will celebrate Canada Day, July 1, this year.

Not sure I want to right now.

I haven’t been back to Canada since September 2019 because of Covid; the border has been closed ever since unless my travel is “essential” and it’s not.

Canadians so love to congratulate themselves for being polite and civil and compassionate, traditionally welcoming far more refugees and immigrants than the U.S. and many other countries.

Their social policies are generally much more generous than those in the U.S.

And they really enjoy making sure they are so much better than those nasty, violent racist Americans.

Today? I think not.

When I last lived in Toronto, the streetcar I took to the subway was filled with Caribbean Blacks, the bus down Spadina to my newspaper job filled with Vietnamese.

That was just normal life there.

No one noticed. No one sparked violence.

Pay your taxes, get along.

There isn’t a lot useful to say here, really, beyond expressing my horror and deep disappointment in my country of origin. Sadly, I just expect daily racism and violence in the U.S. It’s baked into the DNA here.

Canada is 100 years younger.

It did not have slavery — although its racist policies have destroyed generations of Inuit and indigenous lives.

To see this hatred is deeply deeply disturbing.

I am ashamed for my country.

Feeling blah? Many of us are

By Caitlin Kelly

This recent New York Times piece summed it up well:

the pandemic has dragged on, and the acute state of anguish has given way to a chronic condition of languish.

In psychology, we think about mental health on a spectrum from depression to flourishing. Flourishing is the peak of well-being: You have a strong sense of meaning, mastery and mattering to others. Depression is the valley of ill-being: You feel despondent, drained and worthless.

Languishing is the neglected middle child of mental health. It’s the void between depression and flourishing — the absence of well-being. You don’t have symptoms of mental illness, but you’re not the picture of mental health either. You’re not functioning at full capacity. Languishing dulls your motivation, disrupts your ability to focus, and triples the odds that you’ll cut back on work. It appears to be more common than major depression — and in some ways it may be a bigger risk factor for mental illness.

Maybe like some of you, I’ve been a bit shocked — before reading this story — at how little I have felt the normal drive to work and work and work.

It isn’t just about income, as Grant says:

The pandemic was a big loss. To transcend languishing, try starting with small wins, like the tiny triumph of figuring out a whodunit or the rush of playing a seven-letter word. One of the clearest paths to flow is a just-manageable difficulty: a challenge that stretches your skills and heightens your resolve. That means carving out daily time to focus on a challenge that matters to you — an interesting project, a worthwhile goal, a meaningful conversation. Sometimes it’s a small step toward rediscovering some of the energy and enthusiasm that you’ve missed during all these months.

We are privileged to not have the burdens of massive debt or kids or grand-kids or parents to support. We have savings. A recent lucrative and easy assignment out of the blue paid enough, (rare but lovely!) I could coast for even a few months.

And so I have been.

I’ve been focused instead on some work in our apartment, with managing a sudden and unexpected arrival of my late mother’s belongings and art from British Columbia, with trying to sell a book proposal seven agents have already rejected, (and managing my battered ego as I try to decide whether to just give up or not), and with slowly healing a sprained wrist and knee from a bad fall March 12.

Plus a lot of medical tests and for now, I’m fine.

My small win?

I’ve become addicted to the NYT Spelling Bee, an online daily challenge making words using some or all of that day’s seven letters. Some days are a lot easier than others — a recent one had 66 words! Whew.

Jose and I recently joined a new gym and it’s huge and spotless and welcoming and I am re-starting my routines, with a set of quite challenging weight exercises set for me by a trainer.

BUT….Here’s a really interesting different POV from artist and author Austin Kleon, arguing we’re dormant instead:

I feel very lucky to be married to a gardener, because gardening gives us rich metaphors for creative work that we don’t get from our business-focused productivity-obsessed culture. (I dedicated the last chapter of Keep Going, “Plant Your Garden,” to seasons and cyclical time.)

Over at Brain Pickings, Maria Popova posted a lovely meditation on a passage from Olivia Laing’s essay about Derek Jarman from her book, Funny Weather:

Gardening situates you in a different kind of time, the antithesis of the agitating present of social media. Time becomes circular, not chronological; minutes stretch into hours; some actions don’t bear fruit for decades.

Gardeners not only develop a different sense of time, they develop the ancient wisdom of knowing when to do things:

To every thing there is a season,
and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up…

a collection of Google Image Search results for dormant plants

It seems to me that the reason that so many of us feel like we’re languishing is that we are trying to flourish in terrible conditions. It is spring outside — or the “unlocking” season — but it is still “Winter in America,” and, as any gardener knows, if you try to wake a plant out of dormancy too soon, it will wither, and maybe die.

Are you languishing?

Dormant?

Maybe….thriving?

Imagine being able to just walk home

By Caitlin Kelly

Readers in England know what this post refers to — the recent horrific and shocking kidnap and murder of 33-year-old Sarah Everard, who walked home alone from a friend’s house but was waylaid, of all people, by a Met policeman, now allegedly her killer.

A public vigil held in in her honor became a site of rage and chaos as London police handcuffed women protestors and dragged them away.

Not exactly what anyone wanted.

Apparently, the constant fear and hyper-vigilance that women of all ages simply take for granted, is breaking news to some men.

Hah!

We spend/waste so much of our lives making sure we are safe — we hope — by choosing a well-lit street or populated subway car, checking our car back seat before we get in.

Parking lots at night? No thanks!

Underground parking garages with no one around? No thanks!

Going for a run or a walk through woods or a forest or at dawn or dusk? No thanks!

Wearing headphones while out in public, just walking? No thanks!

Refusing the attentions, always unwanted, of some random man — Smile, sweetheart! –– can lead to a barrage of shouted filth, sometimes even a vicious physical attack.

This Guardian article expresses it all too well:

almost one in three women in the UK will experience domestic abuse in her lifetime and women are far more likely to be killed by a partner than a stranger – so it’s not like keeping men in the house after 6pm would make women safe….

We’re used to women’s freedoms and women’s bodies being up for debate, you see. We’re used to women being told to modify our behaviour as a reaction to male violence. Women may not be under a formal curfew but you only need to look at the disgusting victim-blaming that went on with Sarah Everard to see that we’re under an informal one. Why was she out at 9.30 at night? Why did she walk home instead of taking a cab? What did she expect? Our freedom of movement after dark may not be restricted by the government, but we often don’t have the freedom to fully relax. We regulate our behaviour automatically; we keep our keys in our hands, we stay on high alert, we pay extra to take a cab because we’re worried about walking home. Street harassment is so common we brush it off as “nothing”; after all, it’s not like there’s anything that we can do we about it anyway. As a recent letter to the Guardian pointed out, “you can be fined for dropping litter in the UK, but not for harassing a woman or girl in public”.

The only time I was attacked was, bizarrely, in my own apartment, in downtown Toronto, never (thank God) on the street. I was not badly hurt, just scared enough to move within a few weeks.

However quaint the notion, most Western women now believe in two words to define how we want to, intend to, spend our lives — autonomy and agency.

My body.

My life.

My power.

My decisions.

But, funny thing, lived in homes and on streets and using public transit and public spaces overwhelmingly designed for the comfort and safety of men.

It’s not “freedom” when you live in daily fear.