How does one become creative?

In 1845, a young girl made this sampler…early creativity

By Caitlin Kelly

Back when I started this blog — 2009 (!) — one of my first and best-read posts was about the endless American fetish for “productivity” when creativity is really what drives most innovation, and certainly the arts.

As every blogger knows, blogging demands creativity! Ideas, some skill and the eternal optimism there might actually be an audience out there for us.

As readers here know, I only moved to the United States at the age of 30, so its cradle-to-grave obsession with work and being seen as obsessed with work — above all other pursuits (family, friends, health, a spiritual life, etc,) struck me, then as now, as weird. Yes, I know about the Puritan work ethic. But we’re not all wearing shoes with buckles or moving around by horseback and making our own soaps and clothing either…

In a country whose minimum wage pushes millions into poverty, millions will never find the time and energy and encouragement to savor creative pursuits, even for their own pleasure — cooking, knitting, crocheting, embroidery, woodworking, making music or visual art. American capitalism makes sure only the well-off have the leisure to do it without sacrifice — I still get a payment every year from Canada’s Public Lending Rights program, a sort of royalty system that pays authors for the library use of our books. It’s not a large amount, but is deeply meaningful to me, both because it democratizes access to our work and sends a powerful message to creators — you matter!

I don’t have children, but I do see the tremendous pressure American children face — to pass endless state tests, to do terrifying “active shooter drills”, to get into fancy and costly colleges.

None of which seem likely to foster creativity.

So I’m always in awe of creative people, some of whom manage to keep producing their work in the face of some serious odds.

Here’s a 9:07 video of actor Ethan Hawke talking about creativity; it’s gotten 5.2 million views.

“We’re educating kids out of creativity” says Sir Ken Robinson on this 2006 TED talk; it’s 19:12 minutes long and has received 74 million views, with lots of laughter and insight. “We need to radically rethink our idea of intelligence,” he says. Worth it!

Here’s one unlikely and interesting example of creativity — a book out May 16, 2023 from a San Antonio nephrologist whose Twitter threads on medicine were moving and powerful. Social media networks like Twitter, Instagram and YouTube have fostered and spread all sorts of creativity, from high schoolers to seasoned professionals.

We recently visited friends who worked with my husband at The New York Times for decades, one a photographer renowned for his portraits and his wife, a photo editor. Her father was an architect and her mother a textile designer; his father and grandfather were bakers.

I grew up in a home filled with all sorts of art — Inuit prints and sculpture, 19th c Japanese prints, Mexican masks, a Picasso lithograph — and all three of my parents (father, mother, stepmother) worked in creative fields: journalism, TV and film-making. So it feels natural and felt inevitable I’d work in some creative capacity, as I’ve done since my teens when I sold three photos as magazine covers in Toronto while still in high school.

But creativity requires many things some people never have:

  • silence
  • solitude
  • uninterrupted time to think deeply
  • a physical space in which to paint, draw, print photos in a darkroom, weave, sew
  • access to needed tools and materials
  • the disposable income to buy needed tools and materials
  • a larger culture that admires and celebrates creativity, whether family, school, neighborhood, country
  • skill sufficient to make something you might want to keep or sell
  • time, energy and spare income to learn and perfect those skills
  • good health and mental focus
  • encouragement!

My favorite book on the subject is the 2003 book The Creative Habit by American choreographer Twyla Tharp.

She is ferocious! No awaiting the muse!

When, how and where does your creativity emerge?

Have you been encouraged along the way?

By whom?

The ole cultural code-switch

By Caitlin Kelly

One of the pleasures/ challenges of changing countries a few times is learning a whole new vocabulary and set of cultural/political/economic/historical references.

This always strikes me when I visit Canada, where I lived ages 5 to 30, and feel comfortable sharing references there that my American friends would never get — the same issue applies when I cross the border and head back to New York.

Canada

poutine

pouding chomeur

Tourtiere

a two-four

pogey

RRSP

GIC

a riding

Mounties (and stuffed teddy bears that look like them)

an MP

Public Lending Rights Program

The Canada Council

OSAP

OAS

CPP

NDP

The Privy Council

portage (verb and noun)

how to pronounce Yonge Street

Truth and Reconciliation Commission

peace, order and good government

QC

Crown land

post-secondary education

Two Solitudes

cultural mosaic

Order of Canada

to deke

Tim Horton’s

CBC

Je me souviens

Hochelaga

Upper/Lower Canada

Getting screeched

Algonquin Park

Queen Victoria’s birthday holiday

wearing a poppy pin on November 11

In Flanders Fields poem

Banting and Best

U.S.

Emmett Till

Lincoln bedroom

The people’s house

GOP

the Dems

gerrymandering

Final Four

NCAA

CD

Medicaid

Medicare

SNAP

WIC

ACLU

NPR

the BQE/LIE/ Route 66

co-pay

deductible

pre-existing condition

District Attorney

SAT/ACT

AP classes

a full ride scholarship

Pell grants

FAFSA

life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness

a Hail Mary pass

calling an audible

the thrice-folded American flag presented at military funerals

OK, what did I forget?

Do you have a shadow life?

I love having this Inuit print over our bed. A daily taste of home and its distinct arts.

By Caitlin Kelly

Not sure what else to call it.

Maybe a ghost life.

I don’t mean you’re haunted.

It’s a conversation I’ve had with other people who chose to emigrate, leaving a country behind where they likely grew up and were educated, leaving behind easy access to their childhood home(s) and earliest memories. In my case, leaving behind a thriving career as a reporter and writer, since I moved to New York at 30 — with no job, no connections and no American educational credentials, (in a city where Ivy League degrees proliferate.) It took me six months to find my first job, as senior editor of a national magazine, aided by my French and Spanish skills.

I’ve now lived in New York longer than I lived in my native Canada.

Some of my Canadian friends, some who stayed home their whole lives, have risen to stunning heights of achievement, one of whom runs the CBC; she and I used to argue ferociously as university freshmen in our philosophy class. Maybe not surprisingly, we followed oddly similar paths, from Toronto to Montreal to New York, and I kept bumping into her along the way.

If you spend your entire career in the same Canadian city, you don’t have to re-invent or explain to Americans that U of T is not Texas but Toronto…

Interviewing GP Dr. Margaret Tromp, President of the Society of Rural Physicians of Canada, in Picton, Ontario, Sept. 2019.

I recently met up with a fellow Canadian who’s also lived in New York for decades, also a writer and editor.

And, as we did, I guess predictably, we wondered what would life be like had we never left — who (if anyone) would we have married? Where would we be living? Would we, as most of my friends now do, head for the cottage every weekend between May and October? Would we attend our high school and university events and reunions? Would we have regretted not leaving and trying for our American dream?

There are no do-overs!

And yet she and I actually own our own NY homes, apartments, in a place people assume is only for millionaires — we were both very lucky to buy ours decades ago and each of us aided by an inheritance. There is nothing anywhere in our native Ontario now we could afford to buy, including in remote northern towns. That decision to stay in NY, alone, has proven a lucky and fortunate one.

We don’t regret our move, and both love living here; unlike many parts of the United States now, New York City and environs remains largely diverse, liberal, full of work opportunities and interesting, high achieving creatives. People are not legally allowed to own or carry guns; (there has been a frightening uptick in stabbings and shootings in the city, especially on public transit.)

Lacing up my skates atop Mt. Royal, Montreal in Feb. 2019, our last visit

I left Canada for a variety of reasons:

  • I could, thanks to my mother’s American citizenship. I was able to easily obtain a “green card”, to become what’s now as an alien (!) I renew the card every decade.
  • Canada has only a few major cities, and I’m usually a pretty urban person. They’re very different in character, history and climate and the only truly affordable one, Montreal, has brutally long winters and, even for a bilingual Anglophone reporter, limited longterm job prospects.
  • Half my family — my mother’s side — is American, some highly accomplished. I was always intrigued by them and their lives. Ironically, I never see any of them and am only in touch with one cousin, in California, in her late 80s.
  • I wanted to see if I had the skills to compete in a larger, tougher place. Canada, with only 38 million people, has the population of New York State — and one-tenth of the U.S.
  • I had always wanted to live in New York; I’ve lived, instead, in a small historic town 25 miles north of it, its towers visible from our street and easily reached within 45 minutes’ train or drive. Works for me.
  • I was bored of Toronto and its intensely vicious media gossips. I knew I couldn’t take another few decades genuflecting to the same half dozen people in power. New York journalism has plenty of its own drama, but — as I like to joke — I’ve clawed my way to the bottom of the middle. I have enough access to the people I want, but I remain powerless enough to avoid attack, slander and sabotage. A few people even lied and gossiped about me in Toronto; if that was the price of local success (as it was), thank God I had good options to leave and never return.
  • I wasn’t emotionally close to my father and his wife or to my mother, so no need to stick around for emotional reasons.

We head back to Canada today for a visit to Charlevoix, a region on the north shore of the St. Lawrence — ironically with lots of local advice from a fellow Canadian I knew when we were both baby reporters in the 80s, who became a U.S. network news reporter for decades. Then four days in Montreal, seeing friends and eating at our favorite restaurants and savoring sights both new and deeply familiar — I lived there for a year at 12 and for 18 months at 30 as a reporter for the Gazette.

I love speaking and hearing French, seeing familiar foods in the grocery stores — butter tarts! Shreddies cereal! — and once more being around people with whom I can share political and cultural references, even specific words, without explanation. Because, for anyone who’s an immigrant, there’s a lot your friends, neighbors and colleagues in your new country will never understand or even ask you about.

We’re very fortunate that Canada’s border is within 5.5 hours’ drive so, when and if I want to go back, it’s easy. That, or a 90-minute flight. I do miss it and I miss our friends especially.

Have you lived outside your native land?

Is this a question for you as well sometimes?

Welcome to Usetaville

Our apartment building in Cuernavaca, Mexico where I lived at 14

By Caitlin Kelly

At a certain point in your life — after a few decades on earth, and especially if you know a specific location really well — you still see, and fondly remember, so many things that “used to” be there, hence usetaville.

In our Hudson Valley town, this includes long-gone antique stores, including the just-closed E-bike shop that used to be an antique store, the art gallery that used to be Alma Snape flowers and the photo studio that was once Mrs. Reali’s dry cleaners.

There’s a growing tree across our street I’ll never like as much as the towering weeping willow that once stood there, also long gone.

Of course, change is inevitable!

Businesses come and go — so many killed by the loss of customers in this pandemic — and in cities where every inch of real estate has commercial value, almost everything is up for grabs…the former three-chair hair salon I loved for many years is now part of the growing empire of two very successful local restaurateurs and the lovely cafe across Grove Street, formerly Cafe Angelique, has been a Scotch & Soda (a Dutch owned clothing chain) for a long time now. Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village of New York City, once a treasure trove of cool indie shops, is legendary for its rapid store turnover.

I enjoy reading the writing of British Airways pilot Mark VanHoenacker, who wrote recently in The New York Times about going back to see the interior of his childhood home in Massachusetts; he now lives in London.

A childhood home — if we lived in one house or apartment long enough and especially if our family has since moved out — may enclose a nearly undimmed set of early memories, as if its walls formed a time capsule we sealed behind us as we left. And if the possibility of retracing my flight from this Pittsfield house has both troubled and fascinated me for many years — if it’s what recently compelled me to write “Imagine a City,” a memoir and travelogue, and if even now I can’t decide whether to climb this darned staircase — well, my favorite stories remind me that I’m not alone as I grapple with the meaning of return.

I recall a scene from Marilynne Robinson’s novel “Home,” a modern rendition of the parable of the prodigal son, in which Jack — like me, the son of a clergyman — writes a letter: “Dear Father, I will be coming to Gilead in a week or two. I will stay for a while if that is not inconvenient.” After Jack walks into the kitchen for the first time in 20 years, his sister tells him, “The cups are where they always were, and the spoons.” I think, too, of Henry James’s Spencer Brydon in “The Jolly Corner,” who after 33 years abroad returns to his childhood home in New York and an encounter with a ghostly self who never left.

I haven’t been back to my earliest childhood home — on Castlefrank Road in Toronto — in many, many years. It was very big house with a long deep backyard and I still remember well my playmates who lived on either side of us. But I left it when my parents split up when I was six or seven and we moved into an apartment downtown. As a teenager I lived with my father for four years in a white house on a corner, easily visible when driving in Toronto, but have never asked to see it again inside.

So many changes!

I suspect these sorts of memories are very powerful if you spent a decade or more in the same home and if you liked living there. When we visit Montreal, our hotel windows overlook Peel and Sherbrooke — my home for a year at 3432 Peel Street in a brownstone — gone! My visits to Ben’s delicatessen a few blocks south — gone! But — hah! — the glorious Ritz Carlton is still there; we used to have Friday night dinners there when my mother hosted a TV talk show.

I lived for all off four months in an apartment in Cuernavaca, Mexico with my mother — and decades later went back to see how much it had changed, including the empty field next to it.

Not at all!

I had some difficult moments living there, but it was very good to revisit the place and see it again.

I’ve been back to my high school and university campus, both in my hometown of Toronto, and even once revisited my former summer camp, the one I attended every year ages 12-16 and loved.

Our town also holds a few 18th century buildings, including a stone church from 1685, the second oldest in New York state.

Do you have specific places that you remember well — now long gone?

Have you ever revisited your childhood home(s)? How was it?

Travel dreams

Big Sur coastline, California

By Caitlin Kelly

My California trip, solo, for the month of June, was a dream come true, something I had longed to do for many years.

Like you, perhaps, I still have some specific travel dreams, so it’s always a question of budget and time. I’m also not wild about any flight longer than six or seven hours — and now the places I haven’t yet seen are almost all long-haul flights, which means I’d likely stop halfway and stay for a day or two then take another four to six hour flight onward.

I’m really fortunate to have already visited most of Canada (except PEI, New Brunswick, Yukon, NT and Nunavut.) I’ve been to 33 of the 50 U.S. states — and not desperate to see the rest (OK, Colorado and Alaska, probably.) Have been to 41 countries, from Fiji to Peru to Turkey to Kenya, but (help!) there’s still so much more to see.

I occasionally read travel magazines, but am also a big fan of a weekly travel Twitterchat, #TRLT, which stands for The Road Less Traveled, and is run by a tour guide in Nairobi, Shane Dallas. It draws people from Dundee, Vancouver, India, and even Uzbekistan and Malawi. I learn a lot from it, and love sharing stories with people whose idea of a vacation is usually pretty adventurous and not just expensive luxury.

He lets us ask the questions, every week on a theme, which makes it more fun and democratic.

As readers here know, I’m pretty independent and not one for group trips or official tours. I would be highly unlikely to take a cruise unless it was a very small ship (and probably then our of my budget!) I hate being around large crowds (especially now with COVID and every emerging disease.)

My happiest vacations, and I tend to plan them carefully, usually combine spending some time in gorgeous landscapes/scenery with a chance to be active there, a hike or out on/in the water with, when possible, some sophisticated city time with shopping and a few great meals and some culture, whether a museum or gallery or concert.

I tend to be a high-low traveler — I’ve camped in a small tent at the Grand Canyon (not in it), have stayed in super elegant hotels like the Gritti Palace in Venice, had tea at the Ritz in London and cocktails at the Hemingway Bar at the Ritz in Paris, but was equally thrilled in Big Sur with a tiny room and shared bathroom and a burger and fries while staring at the San Gabriel Mountains at sunset.

It’s all about the experience!

My best trips, so far, include 21 days in Thailand, five separate visits to Ireland, many visits to various parts of France, (loved Corsica!!) and a great three-week, five-city Mexican adventure way back in 2005.

I speak good French and decent Spanish, so I love being able to use them.

Here are some of my dream trips:

Wadi Rum, Jordan

If you’ve seen the films Lawrence of Arabia and The Martian, you’ve seen the rust red landscape of Wadi Rum. Even the name! I’ve been following a WR tour guide on Twitter and now have a better idea what it could cost and how one even gets there. It’s easier to start planning (or not) once you do some research.

Morocco

My parents went, a cousin lived there and a friend who works nomadically lived there for a while. Not sure I would do it alone, but it has long intrigued me, especially the deserts, mountains and design esthetic.

Japan

I’ve been fascinated by Japan since I was small and my father went there to make a film about it. Many of my friends have visited and loved it. I’ve read a few books about it. I admit I’m intimidated by a 13 hour flight from NY to Tokyo and the reputed high costs of lodging. My only visit to Asia so far was to Thailand in 1994.

Namibia

Again, inspired by friends and their photos. So dramatic! (Have been to Kenya, Tanzania and Tunisia.)

Greece

Have never been — still! Especially interested in Crete and Corfu, but also the smaller islands.

Patagonia

Have you seen images of Torres del Paine? Whew!

Mongolia

I once did film research about it. Such an unusual place.

The Amazon

Fort Smith, Northwest Territories

Amazing aurora borealis and canoeing the Nahanni River.

Gros Morne, Newfoundland

Fjords!

Cornwall, Yorkshire and Northumberland, England

So gorgeous and rugged. I confess that watching the BBC series Poldark did it for Cornwall and All Creatures Great and Small for Yorkshire.

The Inner and Outer Hebrides

A young friend grew up there and returns frequently.

Iceland

I feel like I’m the only person left who hasn’t visited!

What are some of your dream trips and why?

A few post-vacation epiphanies

By Caitlin Kelly

The very best vacations — yes, always a luxury! — return us to normal life with some fresh ideas and insights, some new ways of thinking or behaving.

Maybe we tried a new form of exercise (hiking, biking, surfing, snorkel or scuba, kayaking).

Maybe some new foods.

Maybe we altered our daily rhythms, getting up much earlier to savor sunrise and cooler temperatures or staying up really late to enjoy local nightlife.

My month away, solo, driving coastal California, gave me much-needed solitude but also some fantastic opportunities to get to know my friends better, through long conversations, un-rushed, over a good meal or just sitting in the shade.

The best decision I made — and one I am keeping up now that I’m home: much less exposure to the news, especially the useless national nightly news on. American television which (apart from the PBS Newshour) is a tedious and predictable gorefest of violence and sticky sentimentality.

I didn’t watch TV news or listen to radio news once and my mood and outlook are much improved!

Yes, the world is going to hell. I do know that.

But marinating in it every day isn’t doing me any good either.

If it’s that crucial I will see it (and do) on Twitter.

I didn’t expect to, but I fell hard for California, and was checking real estate prices everywhere, both for purchase (hopeless!) and rentals, and am now looking for a way to rent for a month or more in L.A. and maybe also in Monterey, my two favorites.

I dropped my normal routines of spin class two to three times a week, and that felt good.

I’ve always hoped to retire to France, probably only part-time, so this new love of California is interesting — but French real estate, depending on the area, is so much more affordable, (and the euro is now on par with the U.S. dollar.) So we’ve got pleasant decisions at some point.

My best takeaway was just being out there all alone for a month. I’ve been traveling the world alone since I spent four months, at 22, visiting Portugal, Italy, France and Spain (most of it in Spain and Portugal.) It’s never scared me and I’ve never had a bad experience despite people insisting I’m “brave” to travel alone at length as a woman.

Refreshing my much-valued sense of independence was a great joy — but so was the lovely home and husband awaiting my return!

I hope you’ll all be able to take a restorative break.

California, concluded. Lots of photos!

By Caitlin Kelly

I loved stumbling into a farmer’s market in a suburban mall parking lot.

OK, I cried. It’s hard to drive an L.A. freeway while crying!

But it was painful to leave California and its stunning beauty and weather — I didn’t have even one rainy or cloudy day in 29 days in June, and I faithfully wore sunscreen but came home quite tanned!

Chinatown, San Francisco

I loved seeing 11 friends, in North California and in Southern California, some of whom I had never even met in person (Twitter, online writers’ groups, Facebook) and others I’ve known for decades. I “wasted” two sightseeing days (one in San Francisco and one in Los Angeles) with friends — just sitting for hours catching up and, of course, with lots of discussion about our work and goals in journalism. No “sight” could possibly have pleased me more.

I had 12 days — June 10 to 22 — completely alone, which never for an instant was lonely or boring; I’ve been traveling the world alone since I was 22, so I am not only used to it but really enjoy it.

I found these period Russian icons at Fort Ross so beautiful

Jose and I, like many people (and those with small children and pets) have been working in a one bedroom apartment since March 2020 and COVID — making the normal free options of our local large library impossible.

I needed out! I craved solitude! I wanted adventure and independence!

My late mother’s beloved Mousie, a perfect travel companion — at Julia Pfeiffer State Beach,

Big Sur

I stayed in six different kinds of lodging, none of which was disappointing — two renovated/attractive motels, one with a gorgeous, lush interior garden, free breakfast, laundry and a pool — and savored the luxury of a five-star hotel for my final five nights, The Langham in Pasadena. Its nightly price was less (!!) than my motel in Santa Barbara and worth 100 times the value: valet parking, multiple restaurants, pool, spa, concierge…you name it. My room had a fantastic view over their enormous gardens and the city below.

Looking down from impossibly twisty Route 1, Big Sur

Isn’t he great? The most treasured object in the Asian Art Museum, San Francisco

I loved the foliage!

I was also a terrible tourist — in Los Angeles, arriving with ambitious plans — I didn’t visit a single museum or sight. I did see glorious Union Station, had dinner at Musso & Frank, (open since 1919), and visit multiple neighborhoods: Little Tokyo, Hollywood Boulevard, Santa Monica, Pasadena, the Arts district. I loved seeing how people just live, driving around different neighborhoods; most middle class houses are small and one-level, but many have spectacular gardens and often are painted in delicious colors: deep blue, mustard, pale pink, olive, soft gray.

Couldn’t find(?!) a cake at the grocery store, so I had a birthday pie! Dinner at Canadian friends’

home in Oakland.

I was also a terrible non-hiker. With daily temperatures at 90 degrees or more, it felt like an unhealthy choice and, warned about ticks and rattlesnakes, thought better to return with proper hiking boots! I did a few flat hikes (2 miles) and that was good.

My tiny perfect bedroom at Deetjen’s

Big Sur, looking south

At the astonishing Monterey Aquarium

I can’t wait to go back.

Surprises

By Caitlin Kelly

One of the challenges of travel is choosing to enter and navigate unfamiliar territory — whether cultural, linguistic, meteorological, historical, political or geographic. It can make for some lovely, serendipitous discoveries along the way or that sinking feeling of whyyyyyyy?!

You always arrive with limited time and energy and a budget you hope won’t destroy you financially for months to come — unexpected costs and some splurges.

Some of this trip’s surprises, almost all pleasant:

The incredibly low price of taking Caltrain, the commuter rail of the Bay area — $1.75 one way, versus $15 one way for the same sort of system, Metro-North, in New York.

The relative ease of finding street parking in San Francisco.

Having pals notice my Facebook and Twitter posts saying “I’m in California” and reaching out to meet up for a meal — like my cousin who I hadn’t seen in decades!

That a small hotel room isn’t the issue if it’s quiet, safe and charming. It’s why I’ve avoided all chain hotels on this trip but also because even the usual reliables got such very very mixed reviews as I was making my decisions.

That today’s monstrous-sized vehicles, especially in any parking lot more than a decade old, let alone one from the 1960s or earlier, make parking and maneuvring safely a nightmare, sometimes with mere inches of clearance.

Gas prices in California (taxes) are about $6.69 a gallon, $2 more per gallon than New York.

No rest stops?! This has been the worst shock of all, when faced with 3-5 hour drives between locations. You really have to stay well hydrated with heat and glare….but there is nowhere to use a toilet except stopping, turning off the highway and hoping to find something clean nearby. (A local friend says they do exist, but not on the roads I took.)

That so many people from very very far away swooped into California to make their fortunes…like Russians?! Also, Sir Francis Drake?!!!

The reason the landscape here so resembles that of Mexico’s…it was Mexico before 1846.

There is much less history here in some places — beyond indigenous of course — than on the East Coast, where my town contains New York’s oldest church (1685.) The Santa Barbara Mission dates from 1786. It is making me re-think history.

I do poorly with a lot of heat or hours of direct sunlight, so my good friend Merrill very thoughtfully took us hiking at two coastal sites — very very windy but cool.

I was actually disappointed by the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, having seen, everywhere, much more beautiful and unusual plants in private or commercial gardens. I didn’t explore the whole 78 acres so I may have missed some true treasures.

I had no idea what astonishing plants and flowers grow here. I stop, stunned. almost every day by a cactus or tree or flower.

I had to backtrack two hours’ driving to Morro Bay for whale-watching but found the village (10,000 people) more intriguing than shiny, prosperous Santa Barbara. I enjoyed SB (and got a haircut and pedicure and did laundry there) but Morro Bay is marked by a huge mysterious 23 million year old volcanic rock that dominates the skyline.

I loved humpbacked whale-watching. How amazing to be surrounded by them, smelling their exhaled breath (fishy!) and watching them surface then dive. Their dives leave a telltale flat pool — a flukeprint!

I didn’t expect to like Morro Bay as much as more chi-chi Santa Barbara but I liked it a lot…a working fishing village. I especially loved waking to the barking of harbor seals and the low constant tone of the foghorn.

During my true alone time — June 10 to 22 — I’ve enjoyed some good conversations along the way with strangers: a gay couple from my area of NY; a woman whose job it is to find and chase people distributing illegal hazardous material; a young college graduate in search of life advice and a pastor of a tiny congregation who planted his church 30 years ago. I love hearing people’s stories!

Churches that are enormous windowless industrial looking boxes.

I certainly knew California is known for produce and agriculture — but not for cattle ranches, many of which I’ve seen along this trip, some more than 100 years old. It feels very Old West in so many places.

I’m enjoying this break but I miss my bed and my routines and my husband.

Now down to my final five days, and headed to Pasadena and Los Angeles, where I’ll be meeting up with several friends I know through social media.

Onward!

California, cont.: heading south on Route 1

In the 19th century, Fort Ross was run by Russians…some material remnants of their church

By Caitlin Kelly

My next stop south after Santa Rosa was the small town of Monterey, which I liked a lot…very easy to get around and I soon found the gorgeous main post office with its tiled WPA murals and a very good French patisserie next door! I mailed home some stuff I’m not using or wearing. I loved my pretty, large hotel room and the hotel restaurant (Casa Munras) served excellent tapas.

I really liked Monterey’s legendary Aquarium! Simply stunning, although not cheap — $50 admission and wayyyyyy too many children, infants and strollers. I immediately threw on a mask as the crowds were noisy and intense.

But what wonderful sights! The place is very large, with two floors, and everything from a HUGE octopus to jellyfish to sea turtles to sea otters, puffins and penguins. I loved that we could watch their three sea otters then stand on the balcony and use their powerful telescopes to watch them in the wild, floating nearby in kelp beds.

I also heard some distinctive bellowing — sea lions! It’s such a thrill to see these creatures in the wild…at the harbor.

I spent a few hours in Carmel, an extremely elegant small town with amazing shopping and the prettiest residential streets, many shaded by old-growth trees; a 10 minute drive from Monterey.

I loved this tiny room! So pretty, even though very very small, at Deetjen’s.

The Santa Lucia Mountains of Big Sur, late afternoon.

I then drove south on Route 1 — extremely twisty hairpin roads on very steep hills! — to Big Sur and Deetjen’s, a small hotel/inn created decades ago by a Norwegian man who made everything there out of wood. I absolutely loved it and my minuscule room, maybe 40 square feet?, called Petite Cuisine…as in, yes, it was a former kitchen so half the room was an old sink. But the room had plenty of charm, with three floral paintings, soft curtains, a quiet and efficient fan and the prettiest duvet. I shared 2 tiny bathrooms in that second-floor section with four other rooms.

It was all worth it and was (at midweek prices) the least expensive room ($100/night) of this entire trip. I loved everything about Big Sur and have only seen such astonishing beauty in 3 other places: Corsica, Ireland and Thailand.

The Santa Lucia Mountains slope very steeply there to the turquoise Pacific, crashing against jagged rocks beneath wind-twisted cypress trees. There are dozens of roadside mailboxes…residents living very high above the road or very low below it. Lucky them!

Here are some of the many hikes and beaches locally…I visited two of them and hope to do others on a return visit.

I treated myself to an elegant and delicious lunch just north up the road at the Post Road Inn, where rooms are –yes — $1,000 a night. And another night I had nachos and beer at the Taphouse, and tried to avoid the predations of the Stellers’s jays, who are both very distinctive and quite confident!

It’s hard to explain how deeply seductive and alluring Big Sur is…like the other landscapes that have moved me to tears, it feels utterly timeless and wild. You simply cannot go fast! Road signs warn that if you have five vehicles behind you you must pull off into one of the many “turnouts” and let them pass — like a school bus and the garbage truck! Two local elementary schools are named (!) the Apple Pie School and Captain Cooper’s; older students have a long (gorgeous!) bus ride south to Cambria or north to Carmel.

On the road south I pulled over to see a beach covered with sea elephants. Amazing!

I’m now in Santa Barbara for three days, then back to Morro Bay hoping to see whales, then the final leg — Laguna Beach and Pasadena. Can’t wait for the Santa Monica Airport flea market the morning of June 26! The one I’d hoped to visit near San Francisco was rained out. The two sights here I plan to see are the Botanic Garden and the Santa Barbara Mission — then a visit to nearby Montecito, home to wealthy celebrities like Oprah Winfrey and Harry and Meghan.

I was last in Santa Barbara as a university student, visiting my late great-aunt whose lovely house faced the ocean on one side and a lemon grove on the other.

I’ve also been tending to basic maintenance after 17 days on the road: doing all that sweaty laundry at a laundromat, and getting a haircut and a pedicure. Feels so good!

The re-connection tour

By Caitlin Kelly

This week, I’m back in Toronto — where I lived ages 5 to 30 — and Jose is in Pennsylvania visiting his sister and brother-in-law. He’s having a great time.

I hadn’t been back in 2.5 years, and usually visit once or twice every year, so it’s been too long. COVID obviously made it difficult to impossible. I’m very lucky to be able to stay with a friend as Toronto hotels are now prohibitive as well.

I’m catching up with people from my past — one, even a very good friend from high school, one I met later in life, one I’ve known since my early 20s, one a fellow former journalist against whom I competed (!) covering a Royal Tour in the 80s. One is the former partner of one of my half-brothers, someone I adore.

These are all people with whom I have a lot of shared history and culture and experiences.

I miss them!

I do love my life in New York — but America right now is such a dumpster fire of violence and racism and misogny and people in politics who are so toxic I can’t even bear to look at them.

(Canada also has plenty of issues as well, no question.)

When you leave your country of origin — even one speaking the same language as your new country — you do leave a lot behind. People don’t get your musical or literary or TV references. They don’t know your national anthem. They can’t even name the capital of your country. They’ve never heard of your alma mater, only the only Canadian one they’ve heard of instead.

Americans are deeply incurious!

It’s so comforting to be with people who “knew you when”:

— as a driven/ambitious high school student

— same in university

— same in my 20s!

But who also know your family and/or their complicated history and how it affects you still.

It’s so comforting to just pick up again, even after 2.5 years, without much preamble. I stay in fairly close touch with a few of them through phone calls and emails. This was also a relief as a recent visit in NYC to friends there felt more strained and distant.

Because Canadians probably move around a lot less than Americans, I know people will still be here, not gone to a distant city — Toronto is the center of many industries and if you don’t speak good French, Montreal can be more difficult.

It’s been a glorious time to be in the city — every lilac bush fragrant, every tree in white or purple or pink blossom.

I get around only by bus, a 40-minute ride from midtown to my friend’s quiet street, and their home, literally a block from the edge of Lake Ontario.

I needed this.