It’s a matter of trust

By Caitlin Kelly

From Seth Godin’s blog:

Traditional con men do their work one person at a time. It’s a laborious process, earning trust and the benefit of the doubt before ultimately ripping someone off.

Toward the end of my dad’s life, shameless/shameful phone salespeople did just this and stole his trust, his time and his money.

Like most things, industrialists want to do it faster and bigger.

Scammy direct mail used to be obvious even at a distance. The labels, the stamps, the typography–it all signaled that this wasn’t personal.

And the occasional phone salesperson, calling from a boiler room–we could tell.

Now, as data acquisition continues to scale and become ever more granular, the hustle is getting more personal.

It’s in an uncanny valley–almost real, but not quite. And of course, the distance keeps getting shorter.

So the mail merge, the phone spam, the faux intimacy of a stranger. They continue to blur the lines between personal and personalized.

The end result is going to be a shrinking of our previously-widening circle of trust.

The benefit of the doubt is priceless. I have no patience for people who want to take it away from us.

I think about trust a lot.

I grew up in a family much more comfortable expressing anger, verbally, or not discussing feelings at all. I spent my childhood between boarding school and summer camp, surrounded by strangers, some of who were horrible, some of whom became dear friends.

When you’ve seen that people don’t want to listen to you, or misuse and twist what you’ve shared with them, trust isn’t something you later just quickly hand over to everyone!

I’ve learned this the hard way.

So it’s left me very wary.

In my 20s, I made the fatal error of telling a few coworkers II thought were friends something potentially damaging to me personally who, of course, used it against me. I left Toronto and never went back.

In my late 30s, divorced and lonely and my self-confidence at a very low ebb, I met a charming, handsome man through a personals ad — remember those?!

He said he was a lawyer and had a business card and personal stationery that seemed legit and spent a lot of time on the phone arguing with his “partner.”

He was just a con man who had already rooked a bunch of women in Chicago, done time for his crimes, and was now picking off fresh prey in New York and a few other states at once.

It became the most frightening experience of my life because the police laughed at me when I realized what a victim I’d become and the district attorney laughed because “no harm was done.”

Riiiiight.

The breast cancer diagnosis I got in June 2018 (early stage, no chemo) finally broke me open. I had to trust a whole new medical team to be kind and gentle and skilled — from the tiny black dot tattoos they put on your skin to guide the radiation machine to the techs who lay me face down there daily for 20 days.

Journalism is an odd business — because my role is to win trust fast from total strangers.

How un-natural!

But I’ve learned how to do that and I’m good at it. Mostly it requires empathy. Really listening carefully without judgment.

There’s also now a very deep and widespread mistrust of journalists, which really upsets me. The monster who screamed FAKE NEWS at us for four years made sure of that.

So we’re really at a crisis point when it comes to trust.

I’m not at all sure how we re-build it.

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.

So glad of a badly needed break!

A newly renovated restaurant became our hangout. Great breakfasts!

By Caitlin Kelly

Poor Jose hadn’t unchained himself from the computer in a year.

My last break, three solo days in Pennsylvania, was in October, but I unwittingly landed (!) in Trump country before the election and cut short my holiday to head home.

So we were overdue for a chance to flee our one-bedroom apartment where — like so many of you — we’ve been working for a year.

Although we are both full-time freelance, which means no one gives us paid time off, we know we need it every bit as much as those who have salaries and paid holidays and paid vacation. We have to self-fund every minute we’re not working but without it, burnout and resentment looms! In a non-pandemic year, we would normally have already visited my native Canada a few times (by car) and probably gone to Europe or planned a trip there.

So the easiest option was to stay in-state and go back to a place we tried for a few days last summer and enjoyed.

We drove 90 minutes north to the town of Woodstock, NY, pop. 6,000, something of a hippie haven, with lots of shops selling tie-dye T-shirts and esoteric books. But also nestled in the Catskill mountains and we have two good pals who live up there who each met us for an an overdue catch-up.

The tower of Woodstock Town Hall, reflected in early wavy glass of the apothecary across the street

We stayed at a funky 1950s era motel that’s since been renovated and this time splurged on a large room that backed onto a rushing creek. Such a soothing sound!

The sky was full of stars we could actually see and we woke to lots of birdsong.

We also splurged on our first massages in a year (everyone masked) and ohhhhhhh, such sore muscles!

I slept 12 hours one night and only made it up to 11:00 p.m. one night, watching a favorite old (1981) movie on my laptop, Time Bandits.

Built in 1860 for painter Frederick Church, Olana is amazing. The interior is closed for now so I walked the grounds with two local friends.

The Catskill Mountains, seen from Olana, facing west

I took my ice skates and made a reservation to use them but instead just enjoyed a long lazy morning reading and savoring the sunshine and silence and the very high cathedral ceiling of our room (our mid 1960s apartment has 8-foot ceilings.)

We had a couple of good meals.

We each bought a pair of Blunnies, Blundstone pull-on boots I had long coveted.

I bought a bright and pretty spring-like coverlet for the bed.

I read some magazines that have been sitting around for a few months for which I rarely seem to have attention.

We loved the croissants and muffins and breads from Bread Alone, a somewhat legendary New York bakery.

It was good to sit still and stare at the woods.

It was good to be out of the apartment and our town.

It was good to not watch TV for five nights, for a badly needed change.

It was good to come home, once more, with a large shopping bag full of new books.

It was good to take some photos at sunrise, wandering a quiet town.

We came home feeling gratefully re-charged.

Work? Play? How much of each?

An amazing panel of journalists discussing the prevalence of distorted/false news

By Caitlin Kelly

An interesting piece, and book review, from The Atlantic:

Even the present-oriented hunter-gatherers, it turns out, had to develop communal strategies to quash the drivers of overwork—status envy, inequality, deprivation. When a Ju/’hoan hunter returned with a big kill, the tribe perceived a danger that he might think his prowess elevated him above others. “We can’t accept this,” one tribesman said. “So we always speak of his meat as worthless. This way we cool his heart and make him gentle.” This practice became known among researchers as “insulting the hunter’s meat.”

It was not the only custom that aimed to discourage a destabilizing competition for status and avoid a concentration of power. The tribe also “insisted that the actual owner of the meat, the individual charged with its distribution, was not the hunter, but the person who owned the arrow that killed the animal,” Suzman writes. By rewarding the semi-random contributor of the arrow, the Ju/’hoansi kept their most talented hunters in check, in order to defend the group’s egalitarianism. A welcome result was that “the elderly, the short-sighted, the clubfooted and the lazy got a chance to be the centre of attention once in a while.”

Reading about these strategies, I felt several things at once—astonished by their ingenuity, mind-blown by the notion of ridiculing exceptional achievements, and worried that my failure to imagine taking comparable pains to protect leisurely harmony meant that my own brain had been addled by too many years in productivity mode, too many twitchy Sunday evenings.

I think about this a lot, as readers here know.

I’ve been working for income from my first part-time job at 15 as a lifeguard. I started writing for income at 19 and was selling my photos at the same age, sometimes from a street corner in Toronto, sometimes to the dubious tough guy old photo editors of Time Canada (sold!) and Maclean’s, Canada’s national newsweekly.

So working hard and competing for jobs and work with many others is normal.

Leisure — rhymes with pleasure! Treasure! Not so much.

Living in hyper-competitive, expensive New York/the U.S. makes rest problematic —- many workers don’t even get paid sick days or vacation days. Freelancers like me and Jose only earn income when we work. Social media makes an ongoing performative fetish of productivity (truly a word and idea I loathe!), never legacy or creativity or beauty.

Some people have wisely created passive income streams (like owning and renting out property) but that’s always intimidated me.

I lived to age 30 in Canada, and in Toronto, an intensely work-focused place. I moved at 30 to Montreal to escape all of it, choosing a regional newspaper much less prestigious (and less competitive) than the Globe & Mail.

I was burning out and I knew it.

The balance between work and rest, ambition and chilling out, climbing a career ladder or even stepping off it is an ongoing challenge. Americans, especially, are taught from earliest childhood to compete really hard and then to work really hard.

Then….die.

I very rarely see anyone legitimately exhort them to slow down, rest, recharge!

I’m nearing the end of my career in the next few years, really not sure when or how to stop. We are OK for retirement income.

Work has been my identity for a long, long time! Journalism, at its best, can do tremendous good — righting wrongs, taking the corrupt and lying powerful to account, sharing stories that help people improve their lives. I love being part of that.

And, I have to admit, it’s a thrill to produce work published to enormous global audiences.

The larger questions yet to be resolved without work are what sometimes are the basics of a good job/career — your tribe, the people with whom, if you’re lucky, you share values and ethics, in-jokes, jargon, institutional memory.

I’ve never been a joiner or club sort of person. Same with Jose. I need a lot of intellectual stimulation to not be really bored. Neither of us has hobbies — likely the inevitable result of being too work-focused since the age of 19!

Nor, like most of our peers, do we have children or grandchildren.

So we’ll see.

Be glad you live elsewhere

By Caitlin Kelly

I know many Broadside readers don’t live in the United States.

Right now, I wish I did as well.

Almost 40,000 Americans died two days ago of Covid.

Almost 10,000 people died in just my (largely affluent) suburban New York county.

The President cheers and laughs and lies and urges his base to wreak even more mayhem.

I won’t waste your time or mine trying to parse the insanity and violence and physical destruction and looting of the Capitol.

I listened this morning to a reporter, and former research librarian Brandy Zadrozny, explaining the utter bullshit these people believe and advocate.

This from a recent NPR interview:

ZADROZNY:

Trump’s referring to – we call it a misinformation pipeline or, really, a feedback loop. And what it is – is, you know, over the last four years, he has built a really impressive machine. And what it does – it’s, you know, made up of social media, of cable news sites like Newsmax and OAN, talk radio and websites on the Internet that are all sort of under his influence. So the president can make some outlandish claims, and then all of these websites and news outlets parrot those claims back and then expand them with more conspiracy theories. And then the president can say, look at all of this proof, look at all of these people that think this, as evidence for his original claims.

Here’s a 2017 article predicting this firestorm.

Americans, romantically perhaps, call the Capitol “the people’s house”, as they do with the White House.

Not now.

I can’t even express my despair and disgust.

Back in a few days after my blood pressure drops, with less-miserable news.

A fun NYC day (albeit COLD!)


By Caitlin Kelly

There’s only so many pandemic months I can stand to live a cycle of apartment/gym/grocery store. Living in a small suburban town with virtually everything amusing closed for months is lonely and isolating!

So, occasionally, I drive the hour into Manhattan, find street parking (sometimes unpaid, when lucky) and wander a bit, savoring fresh air and sunshine and funky old buildings and stonework and little old ladies moving slowly down the block, hipsters in plaid coats and so many dog-walkers!

Carved red sandstone, exterior of an apartment building on Leroy Street

I parked this time on Leroy, a short north-south street in the heart of Greenwich Village, all residential, a mix of five and six-story walk-ups and several brick houses built in 1813.

Imagine! Who walked these streets then? What did they wear? Where were they going?

I was headed a block north to my favorite city street, Bleecker, an odd street that manages to run both north-south on its western edge (right?) then straight across to terminate at the Bowery.

Robert de Niro grew up there.

Herman Melville lived there.

Even singer Dua Lipa lived there for a year.

The legendary John’s Pizza.

Here’s its Wikipedia entry.

The pandemic has closed many places, but a few great ones remain — so I hit Rocco’s Pastry and Murray’s Cheese, stocking up on delicacies like sfogliatelle and Brie. I ate brunch outdoors — the only way right now to eat there since indoor dining is banned again and it was cold! Like, 30 degrees cold.

Safely distanced, this is the only way to dine in New York right now, regardless of weather

So I read my Sunday New York Times and covered my coffee with its saucer to keep it hot and wore my lined leather gloves as I ate my baked eggs.

Ludlow Street

I drove southeast to the East Village and parked, again at no cost, on Ludlow Street, just to explore a different neighborhood a bit. I didn’t walk very far but was happy to see two great shops on Rivington are still there, Economy Candy and Edith Machinist, a terrific vintage clothing store. I also found out there’s two-hour metered parking for $10.75 on that street — a garage can easily cost three or four times that much.

I sat for a while on a park bench, soaking up some sunshine, watching locals wander by. It’s not a cool, trendy, hip part of the city, but a weathered neighborhood where people live who don’t work on Wall Street and flee to the Hamptons.

I enjoyed lunch, also outdoors, eavesdropping — a much missed habit! — on five guys, mostly in their 20s and 30s, clearly all really good friends, joking and laughing at the next table.

I so miss city energy.

So even if “all” I can enjoy — no ballet/opera/concerts/theater — is a sunny day walking, I’m happy with that.

There’s no “Latino” vote

New Mexico

By Caitlin Kelly

This is a smart and powerful argument why the Democratic party needs to wise up fast — with mid-term elections within two years for both Senate and House seats.

Their abysmal failure to speak intelligently to — and listen carefully to — millions of Hispanic/Latino voters cost them a state they expected to sweep and didn’t, Florida.

As a white middle-class Canadian who grew up in two of the most racially and ethnically diverse cities — Toronto and Montreal — these persistent blind spots are both annoying as hell and depressingly consistent in American politics, at least at the federal level.

Expecting a wildly heterogeneous group — whose birthplace or ancestry maybe as disparate as Chile, Mexico (whose many regions are also wildly different from one another), Argentina, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic or even Spain — to somehow share aspirations, beliefs, education and other values is naive at best, desperately ignorant at worst.

There is tremendous racism (thanks to millions of undocumented Hispanics in the U.S.) and wilful ignorance, a toxic combination when formulating intelligent policy and trying to win votes.

I’ve seen it firsthand in a few terrible moments with my husband — a Pulitzer Prize winning photojournalist mistaken for (of course!) a day laborer.

Both are important jobs but never ever ever assume who anyone is based on the color of their skin!

Here’s Isvett Verde, a New York Times staffer:

Journalists and pundits who have spent some time in Latin America or interviewed a few Spanish speakers (and now fancy themselves experts) have suggested that machismo, and a desire to be closer to whiteness, is what drove these voters to support the man who promised to build a wall to keep caravans of Spanish-speaking brown people out. That may be true, but it’s far from the whole story.

I’m a Cuban-American from Miami, and I’m not surprised that around 52 percent of Cuban-Americans in Florida voted for Mr. Trump. No one who was paying attention could be. In the weeks leading up to the election, Cubans in Miami composed a salsa song in support of Mr. Trump and organized Trump caravans hundreds of cars long.

It may sound ridiculous, but some of those voters are genuinely afraid of socialism, and he leaned into that. “We will never have a socialist country,” he promised. He understood that for Cubans and Venezuelans, the word is a reminder of the dysfunctional governments they left behind.

I know this firsthand because I live it — as a partner of 20 years with Jose Lopez, born in New Mexico and whose father was born in Mexico. Jose worked for 31 years as a photographer and photo editor and teacher within a bastion of American media power, The New York Times, where a former very senior colleague once said — to his face — “A preppy Mexican!” — when Jose wore khakis, the dull-but-safe East Coast uniform.

It was decades ago….but really?

What bullshit.

Nor does Jose speak Spanish, which I do fluently enough to have worked in it.

Nor is he Catholic — his father was a Baptist minister and he is Buddhist, his sister Baha’i and one sister Catholic. Yes, even within one family, diversity. All three siblings married non-Hispanics. One has lived and worked all over the world.

I lived briefly in Mexico as a teenager and have been back many times, although not recently. I’ve also visited Peru, Colombia, Nicaragua, Cost Rica, Venezuela, and Spain.

It’s pretty obvious none of these countries resemble one another beyond a shared language — and even then, not really! I learned to be very careful with local idioms; the verb “coger” can mean quite different things!

I want to see — demand to see — a much much smarter parsing of what it really means to live and work and pay taxes and vote in the United States as someone of Latino or Hispanic heritage.

Exhaling…

By Caitlin Kelly

This isn’t an issue I’ve read a lot about, but here it is….

If you, as I have, have spent time with a narcissist, subject to their twisted and exhausting manipulations and rage and gaslighting, the past four years of Trump’s presidency have been very very triggering.

That experience leaves you with a sort of PTSD. I cannot tolerate being shouted at or verbally abused — very rare now, but has happened a few times in recent years from others — and will shake for hours afterward when it happens.

To have that toxic piece of filth, and his lying, cold, grifting family GONE?

And a woman of color as our Vice-President!

I can breathe.

I can breathe.

So can millions and millions of relieved Americans.

Here is a powerful clip of commentator Van Jones, on CNN.

At the edge of the precipice…

By Caitlin Kelly

Tomorrow — as anyone in the U.S. knows — is election day.

Without doubt, it’s the most frightening and essential we’ve faced in the past century — and I mean going back to 1920.

The choice between two old white men is not appealing.

It is not what many of us wanted.

The choice between four more years of lies, grift, theft, racism and violence incited by the President, and…anything but that…feels stark and fraught with peril.

It is.

I left my native Canada in 1988, eager to start a shiny new life in the United States, grateful for my American mother’s ability to allow me access to a “green card” to become (in that hideous phrase), a “resident alien.”

It’s been a wild, wild ride. I lived for 18 months in small-town New Hampshire with my American boyfriend, then a medical resident, then moved with him to a suburban New York town. We married and he walked out two years later to marry a co-worker and have two daughters with her.

I’ve had great staff jobs — as a magazine editor, as a New York Daily News reporter, as a two-time author.

I’ve generally loved my life here and am in no rush to sell a home we love in a town we love and a state we love.

But this country has become even more toxic for so many.

Tomorrow — and the inevitable days and weeks ahead of arguing and violence and lawsuits and challenges to every vote — is making millions of us very, very fearful.

Yesterday — in the sort of thuggery Americans love to jeer at in other countries — a convoy of Trump supporters blocked a bridge that crosses the Hudson River.

Imagine if you were the dying patient in an ambulance, or trying to reach a fire.

This is blatantly illegal and dangerous.

Egged on by the bully in the White House — who just added yet another fence to his massively encircled home — his worhipers thrive on aggression and rage.

For one, I can’t take another minute of it, let alone four years.

It’s going to be an emotional week.

The power of silence

By Caitlin Kelly

There are only two places I’ve been, so far, where I was surrounded by utter silence — inside the Grand Canyon and on a friend’s ranch in New Mexico, a place so quiet I could hear myself digesting.

Some cultures revere silence and know how much we all need it. The United States isn’t one! People love to talktalktalktalktalktalk and will spill what sound like the most intimate secrets in a quick conversation with a stranger. It’s exhausting and disorienting if you come to the country from a more discreet, reticent culture.

And silence?

Terrifying!

Jose and I did a seven day silent Buddhist retreat in the summer of 2011 a month or so before we married. There were 75 people of all ages and it was fascinating to be surrounded by people with whom not a word was exchanged until the final Saturday evening, when we “broke silence” and found out, verbally, who everyone was.

I admit, we had whispered occasionally in our shared monastic bedroom but mostly relied on Post-It notes to communicate.

I was shocked to see participants walking through the woods — on their cellphones — or leaving in their cars to head into town for…talking?

I blogged about it every day and found the experience healing and insightful. Talking and listening is really really tiring! If you actually pay attention to others, this consumes a lot of energy.

Not talking is very freeing.

Silence imposes discipline.

It forces you into your own head, a place many prefer to avoid.

I was fascinated, when I tell people I did seven days without speaking, (we could ask questions of the teachers once a day), they all said: “I could never do that!”

And I would reply….why not?

Here’s an interesting NYT story about staying silent at breakfast:

Eating in silence is an ancient practice with roots in many monastic communities. “Buddhists, Celtic Mystics, Sufis, Vedic Mystics,” said Ginny Wholley, a teacher at the UMass Memorial Health Care Center for Mindfulness. “Everyone has a component of silence that is an inherent part of the practice.”

Jon Kabat-Zinn founded the center where Ms. Wholley teaches in 1979 as a way to promote and study the benefits of practices like these in a secular setting — in part because it’s challenging. The concept for silent breakfast is simple enough: focus on your food, quietly, and deal with whatever thoughts come up. But it’s more difficult than it seems.

….“One of the funny things about starting a mindfulness practice is that when you quiet the external noise, you start to hear more of the internal noise. If you’re not used to this, it can be incredibly unpleasant,” said Ravi Kudesia, a mindfulness researcher and assistant professor at Temple University’s Fox School of Business. “The key idea here is that it’s better to notice the whispers before they become screams.”

Here’s a list — one of my posts from that 2011 retreat — of all the sounds I heard instead.