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Friendships: some true, some toxic

In aging, behavior, domestic life, life, love, Uncategorized on December 21, 2016 at 1:58 am
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THE BREAKFAST CLUB, Judd Nelson, Emilio Estevez, Ally Sheedy, Molly Ringwald, Anthony Michael Hall, 1985. ©Universal Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

From the smart digital publisher Aeon:

But even our easiest and richest friendships can be laced with tensions and conflicts, as are most human relationships. They can lose a bit of their magic and fail to regain it, or even fade out altogether for tragic reasons, or no reason at all. Then there are the not-so-easy friendships; increasingly difficult friendships; and bad, gut-wrenching, toxic friendships. The pleasures and benefits of good friends are abundant, but they come with a price. Friendship, looked at through a clear and wide lens, is far messier and more lopsided than it is often portrayed.

The first cold splash on an idealised notion of friendship is the data showing that only about half of friendships are reciprocal. This is shocking to people, since research confirms that we actually assume nearly all our friendships are reciprocal. Can you guess who on your list of friends wouldn’t list you?

As longtime readers here know, I’ve often blogged about friendship.

Like here, here and and here.

One reason friendship is so compelling to me is coming from a family that’s always riddled with anger and estrangements that go on for years, sometimes permanent. That’s deeply painful.

We all need love. We all need intimacy. We all need people willing to listen to our woes, cheer our triumphs, attend our graduations and bar/bat miztvahs, our kids’ weddings, to visit us in hospital or hospice — and someone, finally, to attend our funeral or memorial service.

A woman in our apartment building, (which is only made up of owners, some here for decades), recently died of cancer. She was prickly and cantankerous and had no family.

A note recently went up from friend of hers in a public space here to thank every single neighbor who showed up for her, took her meals, drove her to medical appointments — proxies for a loving family when she needed it most.

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Jose…

Another reason I so value friendship is having lost a few, and mourning the memories and histories now lost to me, shared with those women, like a New Year’s party in Jamaica with (!) live shots fired into the air around us or the day her friend let me helm his yacht — running it aground in Kingston harbor.

Like you, I treasure my friends and feel bereft when I lose one, although time and hindsight has helped me see that losing three of them has not inflicted long-term damage and, in fact, freed me to find much healthier, more egalitarian relationships.

I discovered that one of them had been lying a lot. That was enough for me.

Some of the friends I’m so grateful for:

Jose. My husband. We’ve been together 16 years and it’s the deepest and best friendship of my life. Even when I’m ready to change the locks, furious, I’ve never lost my respect or admiration for him.

N. She’s been through a hell of a lot, including early widowhood and a trans-national move. Her sweetness and optimism are refreshing, and consistent. My blood pressure drops when I’m around her.

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S. Who else would give me a stuffed octopus?! A fellow journalist and college teacher of journalism, her calm, wise advice helped me through some of my toughest classroom moments.

P. I haven’t had an adult pal-across-the-street since the mid-1980s when I lived on the top two floors of a Toronto house and made a friend living in a communal house across the street. Proximity makes it so fun and easy to meet for a coffee or an adventure shopping for Italian food in the Bronx. She’s got one of the biggest and most generous hearts of anyone I know. Also, funny as hell.

L. One of the very few close friends I’ve made at church, mostly a WASPy, frosty crowd. She’s an amazing mom, an attentive and loving listener, a font of calm wisdom.

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The view from D’s apartment, which she sometimes lends me…

D. Oh, what we’ve seen, and survived! Both of us divorced, both of us career journalists still (!) in the business, both of us who’ve become New Yorkers who came from elsewhere. In a deep, long friendship, there’s so much shared history. She’s my oldest friend in New York.

M. More than family, she took me into her Toronto home year after year, hosting and celebrating birthdays like Jose’s 50th, and nurturing me for three weeks after my terrifying encounter here with a con man. Now she’s recently re-married, at 70. Yay!

MS. Young enough to be my daughter, this talented photographer is beautiful, smart, hard-working, adventurous. I admire her drive and skill, and so enjoy her visits. She’s slept on our sofa many times.

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 A cup of tea at the Ritz in London…where C joined me

C. This astonishing young woman, also half my age, is a treat: whip-smart, emotionally intelligent, resilient as hell. She and I share a global perspective from life lived in various countries and some similar family issues. So happy that she and her fabulous husband are in my life.

PHMT. We met on a rooftop in Cartagena, Colombia when I was in my early 20s. I promptly fell hard! “I’m gay,” he said. Oh. OK. Let’s just be great friends! And we are. He finally stopped being cool to Jose when Jose and I married — knowing, finally, I was back in good hands, as he was so deeply protective of me for years. That’s friendship.

MO. Ohhhhh. We call ourselves the Pasta Twins, a play on each of our names, Marioni and Catellini. We met in freshman English class at University of Toronto, a very serious, very po-faced venue, when we rolled our eyes at one another. College pals know us in ways no one else ever will. We dated the wrong men, (like the gggggorgeous male best friends we met at a party, both of whom shattered our hearts), and fought for our independence from difficult fathers. Our adult lives could not be any more different — she’s the proud mom of three grown daughters and lives very far away now — but our love continues.

Wishing every one of you the blessing of friendship, now and for years to come!

Some of our holiday traditions — yours?

In aging, behavior, culture, domestic life, family, life, Uncategorized on December 11, 2016 at 12:37 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

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For some people, the holidays are a time of dread and loneliness, for others a riot of celebration.

We’re spending this Christmas at home. My mother and I have no relationship and my father (again) and I are estranged; last year we drove up to Ontario and had a lovely time with him and my half-brother and sister-in-law.

It’s been a difficult year financially — lower income and much higher health insurance costs have made this a low-budget holiday for us.

We might go next door for Christmas dinner to the Castle, (yes, it’s a castle!), a gorgeous hotel. It’s a rare, elegant treat, as cooking a whole turkey only for two seems a bit much.

A few of our holiday traditions:

— sending cards, with a letter, to about 40 friends.

— covering the back of our apartment door with every holiday card as it arrives

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— savoring a fresh-cut pine tree, covered with winking lights and ornaments we’ve enjoyed for years (that smell!)

— scattering fresh pine boughs atop our cupboards and armoires

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— hanging a  wreath on our apartment door

— listening to a holiday mix-tape Jose made a few years ago

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— enjoying these delicious German biscuits, which my late granny introduced me to

— attending a Christmas church service, belting out all my favorite carols

Christmas Eve has been a less-lovely memory for me since I was 14 and had a terrifying experience that night in Mexico. (I’m fine now.)

So Jose re-branded it by proposing after midnight church service, as the snow was hissing all around us.

What are some of the ways you enjoy the holiday season?

Truth matters more than ever now

In behavior, blogging, books, business, culture, journalism, Media, news, Uncategorized on November 27, 2016 at 6:35 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

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It’s hard to express how horrified I was by this NPR interview with a happy and wealthy — and unapologetic — producer of fake news.

He makes shit up and earns $30,000 a month from it.

Here’s more.

Just give that thought a few minutes.

It makes my head spin and turns my stomach with rage and frustration.

You step into an aircraft — and assume that its pilots are well-trained, well-rested and sober, that the maintenance crew has been diligent and attentive.

You consume a meal at a restaurant — confident that your food is free of rodent droppings or chemicals.

How to slow or halt the production line of massively lucrative “fake news” sites?

As someone who chose journalism as her profession at 19, married to a photojournalist who did the same, this is no abstract issue to us.

It is absolutely foundational to my belief system and everyone who studies, teaches and works within fact-based journalism.

Some of its most basic tenets:

You talk to real people — and verify their identities.

You review long, tedious complicated documents, whether court records, committee proceedings, internal reports, and make sense of them for your audience, who need and deserve clear, cogent summaries of what we find. Jargon and obfuscation are efficient ways to hide all kinds of abuse. Our job is to find it and expose it.

You get yelled at, threatened with lawsuits by people with wealth, power and $1,000/hour lawyers at their beck and call…and you keep digging.

You go in person, regardless of comfort, weather or fear, to scenes of natural disaster and political upheaval — whether Venezuelans fleeing a country in meltdown or those protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Contrary to all economic logic, your goal is not to rake in huge piles of cash pumping out falsity — but to uncover, analyze and explain a complex and confusing world to those who share it with us, no matter their age, income level or race. At its idealistic best, it is inherently democratic.

Back to fake news for a moment.

Let’s start with the ethical quicksand of lying for living.

Let’s move on to the gullibility/laziness of the people consuming this toxic bullshit and thinking it’s true.

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Then let’s pause to consider that some of the most reliable (yes, they’re biased, I get that) news organizations are cutting back their staff — outlets like the Wall Street Journal and New York Times. 

Every passing year means losses in advertising income and a shift to consuming news in digital form.

I’ve written for both papers, (and many others), and easily acknowledge that both have tremendous weaknesses as well as strengths.

But the bottom line of journalism  is this: if what you are telling your audience is untrue, you are not a journalist.

 

You are, moreover, destroying whatever shreds of faith remain in what we do produce.

If you read/watch/listen to “fake news” and take it to be truthful, you’re making economic, social, professional and personal decisions based on lies.

Maybe it affected your vote.

Maybe you didn’t even bother to ask if the source of your “news” is legitimate.

A recent study of 7,800 students, asking them to discern real news from fake, found that 80 to 90 percent could not.

 

Here’s one quick clue…look for the name of the writer. Then Google them. Look for their LinkedIn profile, website, blog, resume.

Dig, dammit!

Real journalists have public, provable, verifiable track records of accuracy. We’re not that difficult to find.

This trend is Orwellian, Huxley-esque.

In an era of stunning, growing income inequality, as utterly unqualified billionaires are soon to make up the Cabinet of the United States, it’s a matter of the deepest urgency that Americans know what is going on.

The rise of “fake news” is coinciding with a sharp drop in pay for writers like myself, pushing the most desperate into 17-hour days and seven day weeks, into cranking out…lots of words.

Are they accurate?

Deeply sourced?

Reported firsthand?

Probably not.

Every time you swallow another fake news story — and compulsively share it on social media — you enrich a liar, an immoral charlatan delighted to make rubes of everyone within reach.

The most recent story I produced for The New York Times took weeks of digging and reporting, fact-checking and review — it went through 12 versions before appearing for public consumption.

The reason it took so long? It was reviewed by multiple editors, male and female, asking me more and more questions, challenging me repeatedly to check my facts and my assumptions, to review my choice of language and tone.

If I got something wrong, (real journalists’ worst nightmare), it would be hastily corrected — with a public, permanent note to let readers know that.

That’s journalism.

The payment? Nowhere near what you might think or expect.

So why bother?

Pride of craft.

Because truth matters.

Now more than ever.

It’s a question of character

In domestic life, family, life, love, men, Uncategorized on October 14, 2016 at 1:52 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

“Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.” “The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.” — coach John Wooden

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Exactly.

This week, thanks to the media, (yes, of which I’m still a member), I saw two powerful examples of character in action.

The first, which I won’t belabor, was that of Presidential candidate Donald Trump, mocking and dismissing the 14 women who have come forward to share publicly a private and humiliating and angering moment they say happened to them in his presence when he groped them.

We weren’t there, so only he and they know what happened.

But it’s how someone behaves in private — and behaves consistently — that defines the essence of their character.

It’s what you do and say to people, usually people with much less power than you have, (i.e. you can lose your job, your home, your friendship, your marriage if you fight back or tell anyone what shit they’ve subjected you to).

Some people wield that power like a billy club, swinging it with a smirk — over and over and over.

We also live in an unprecedented era of personality, where The Famous boast of, and monetize, their millions of followers on Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, as proof of their popularity.

Oh, how we rush to buy their music and books and line up to vote for them, cheering til we’re hoarse.

We literally idolize them, projecting onto them every possible good quality we so long to see and feel in our broken world.

Yet we have no idea whatsoever who they really are.

I watch a show called Project Runway on Lifetime, a cable channel here, and have for years. It begins every season with a group of 12 or more ambitious fashion designers — some of whom have auditioned repeatedly for years to get on the show — who will be whittled down week after week by competing in a variety of difficult challenges.

Last night’s episode was an astonishing and moving reminder of character, that quaint, old-fashioned, Victorian notion of behaving with integrity and honor.

When it came time for the losing team to name one of their fellow team members to send home for good, four of the six said something unlikely and unprecedented: Send me. I screwed up.

I’ve never seen the show’s host and mentor ,Tim Gunn, so moved and so impressed with the behavior of the man chosen to leave, who had also volunteered to take one for his team.

If you’ve watched previous seasons, (yes, I’m a serious fan!), you’ll recall moments when there was a virtual stampede, (remember Ashley Nell Tipton?), to toss someone else under the bus.

It was ugly to see and, yes, revealed character.

I’ve now been with my husband for 16 years, married for five.

The decisive moment for me was a revelation of his character, in a time of fear, unplanned expense and chaos, when so many other men, no matter how handsome or charming,  would have wobbled or slithered away from the challenge or left me, once more, to pick up the pieces as her only, overwhelmed child.

My mother, living alone in a small town, had been been found — the door broken in by police after worried neighbors called them — lying in bed for days, unable to move.

A stroke? We had no idea. She lived, as she still does, a six-hour flight plus two-hour drive from us.

I called Jose, then working in one of the most senior and responsible photo editing jobs at The New York Times, and said, “We have to go. Tomorrow.”

He told his bosses and we went.

His decision to be a mensch was instant.

And invisible to everyone but me and his bosses.

It cost a fortune I didn’t have that he paid for — last-minute airfare, meals, car rental.

When we got to my mother’s house, he took her stained mattress to the balcony to scrub it clean. Not a word. No complaints. No whining.

Just — help, support, strength.

Character.

 

Better blogging, interviewing, essays — webinars May 10, 17

In Uncategorized on May 7, 2014 at 11:58 am

Are you ready to sharpen your interviewing skills?

Grow your blog’s audience and boost engagement?

Craft sharp, memorable personal essays?

BUSINESS OF FREELANCING

My next webinars on May 10 and May 17, which I teach by Skype, have satisfied students from Australia, New Zealand, London and across the U.S.

One student saw her blog’s page views and followers increase 644% after the class.

Another says:

After launching a new blog for my upcoming book Pilgrimage through Loss, I found myself with a lot of questions and desiring strong professional guidance on how to further develop this…Caitlin’s specific guidance, information on growth, hints on excellent tools for gathering pictures, and critique of my present blog entries met my need exactly.  She’s practical, informative, fun to work with, and offers helpful insights from her own years of blog experiences.

I also coach individually whenever it suits you — by phone, Skype and/or email.

Each 90-minute class is $125:

Better Blogging

May 10: 10:00 to 11:30 a.m. ET

You’ll learn more than 30 practical, simple, affordable actions you can take to boost your blog’s engagement, views and followers. A great blog is still a writer’s best marketing tool. Broadside has been Freshly Pressed six times, chosen as one of 22 on “culture” by WordPress worth reading and grows daily — today at 10,241 followers worldwide.

BETTER BLOGGING

You, Inc: The Business of Freelancing

May 10: 1:00 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. ET

I’ve spent much of my professional life as a full-time freelancer, writing for local, regional, national and international clients, including Marie Claire, Smithsonian, Cosmopolitan, Ladies Home Journal. I also write frequently for The New York Times and on-line clients include HGTV.com, Quartz.com, reuters.com, Rewireme.com, Investopedia.com, BBC. com and the Harvard Business Review blog.

Learn to Think Like a Reporter

May 10: 4:00 pm to 5:30 p.m. ET

If your mother says she loves you, check it out! I’m a veteran of three major dailies, including the New York Daily News. What’s a stake-out? A nut graf? A lede and kicker? This is the stuff you need to know.

Conducting a Kick-Ass Interview — new webinar!

May 17: 10:00 to 11:30 a.m. ET


I’ve interviewed thousands of sources, from an Admiral to convicted felons, Olympic athletes, cancer survivors, duck hunters and ballet dancers. How to best structure the interview? Tape or take notes? What’s the one question every interview should end with? My 30 years’ experience as an award-winning reporter and frequent New York Times writer will help you ace the toughest interviews.

PERSONAL ESSAY

Crafting the Personal Essay

May 17: 1:00 pm to 2:30 pm ET

From The New York Times to Elle and Marie Claire — to Thought Catalog, Salon, the Awl and Medium — the marketplace for personal essay continues to thrive. How to sell this challenging genre? How to blend the personal and universal? Every essay, no matter the topic, must answer one key question, which we’ll discuss in detail. Having published my own essays in the Times, Marie Claire, Chatelaine and others — and winner of a Canadian National Magazine award for one — I’ll help you determine what to say and in what voice.

Finding and Developing Story Ideas

May 17: 4:0 p.m. to 5:30 pm. ET

We’re surrounded every single day by dozens of salable story ideas. Recognizing them — and developing them for sale — is the art we’ll discuss in this webinar. Every non-fiction book (as with fiction) began with an idea. Developing it into a 30-page book proposal means “saving string”, collecting the data you’ll need to intelligently argue your points. This webinar will help you better perceive the many stories already swirling in your orbit and figure out who’s most likely to pay you (well) for them.

Please email me with any questions at learntowritebetter@gmail.com or call me in New York at 914-332-6065.

Sign up and further details are here.

I look forward to working with you!

 

It’s Black Friday, and retail workers deserve more

In behavior, books, business, culture, life, Money, Uncategorized, US, work on November 29, 2013 at 12:48 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

Today, thousands of Americans rush out to start their holiday shopping. It’s called Black Friday because it’s the beginning of the season that pushes retailers into the black — i.e. profitability.

While shoppers clamor for more product, more discounts and even more hours in which to spend their money, please pause to remember the hard-working people who serve them, since 70 percent of the American economy is created by consumer spending.

Retail workers also deserve more:

— More money (most earn minimum wage)

— More respect (until you’ve served them, it’s hard to believe how rude and nasty some shoppers can be)

— More hours (store managers scrimp on paid hours because every other cost is already spent)

— More opportunities for raises, bonuses and promotions into a decent wage. (No worker adding profits to the bottom line should be so fiscally punished)

Here’s my op-ed in today’s New York Daily News, America’s sixth-largest newspaper and the last newsroom in which I worked as a reporter.

An excerpt:

In a time of growing income inequality, no one should assume that retail staff are uneducated or have no higher ambition than folding T-shirts for hours. RAP also found that more than 50% of them either have a college degree or are working toward one.

Some, like our store manager Joe, who fought with U.S. Special Forces in Mogadishu, have served their country overseas. And some enjoy retail work and consider it a meaningful career choice.

For others, it’s a stopgap, a place to earn a wage while awaiting a better-paid opportunity. One multi-lingual young lawyer I know recently made the move from folding T-shirts at the Gap to working at a major investment house, the fortunate culmination of a lengthy and frustrating job search.

These workers deserve and demand more respect and better economic treatment.

Walmart

Walmart (Photo credit: matteson.norman)

As some of you may know, a frenzied crowd of shoppers trampled a 34-year-old Walmart associate. Jdimytai Damour — in his first week on the job on Long Island, NY — to death in 2008.

Walmart has yet to pay the $7,000 fine levied by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration:

Sitting on appeal with a review commission, the case of Jdimytai Damour’s death highlights how corporations can choose to fend off modest penalties over workplace dangers for years on end, according to occupational health experts.

For a company with sales of $466 billion last fiscal year, the $7,000 fine from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration represents little more than a single store’s rounding error. Walmart would have vastly outspent that sum simply in legal fees devoted to fighting the penalty. But the world’s largest retailer is less concerned with the monetary fine than with the broader implications of the case. A negative ruling could compel Walmart and other retail companies like it to take additional safety precautions for workers or face new liabilities.

“It’s not about the penalty,” said Celeste Monforton, a former OSHA analyst who’s now a lecturer at George Washington University. “It’s this interest in seeing how far Walmart can push back against the decision.”

I’m aware that for some people — including readers here — Walmart offers low prices and may be the only shopping choice in their area. I will never ever shop there.

I worked part-time, from 2007 to 2009, at an upscale mall near my home in suburban New York selling for The North Face, costly outdoor clothing manufactured — as most apparel now is — in low-wage nations across the globe, from Peru to China. I earned $11/hour, with no commission, for a job that demanded devoted attention to 14 simultaneous tasks, from spotting shoplifters (no store security staff) to scrubbing the toilets. We were given daily sales goals. The lowest was $400, the highest — during the holidays — $6,000.

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It was the hardest job I’ve ever done. I’m glad I did it. I’ve never seen the world the same way since then.

It showed me a sort of corporate brutality I could never (naively) have imagined had I not stepped behind the cash wrap. Shoppers assumed we were stupid, uneducated, unable to get or keep any other sort of work, when many of us had lost much better-paid jobs in the recession. Or we were going to college, and/or supporting a family.

My second book, “Malled” My Unintentional Career in Retail” details my experience, as well as that of hundreds of others nationwide.

Yet the word most industry experts use to describe these workers?

Disposable.

Retail work is the largest source of new jobs in the U.S., yet most of them  — part-time, with very few hours and no benefits — pay such low wages that workers end up using food stamps to supplement their meager incomes. Enough already with corporate welfare!

LAST CHANCE TO SIGN UP FOR THIS WEEK’S WEBINAR — “CRAFTING THE PERSONAL ESSAY”. CLASS SIZE IS SMALL, SO EVERY STUDENT RECEIVES INDIVIDUAL ATTENTION.

THERE’S PRE-CLASS READING FOR THIS ONE, SO IF YOU’RE INTERESTED, DON’T DELAY!

DETAILS AND SIGN-UP HERE.

Out of your PJ’s, you slackers! Yahoo orders workers back to the office

In behavior, blogging, books, business, culture, journalism, life, news, Technology, Uncategorized, US, work on February 26, 2013 at 2:31 pm
Telecommuting

Telecommuting (Photo credit: ScottMJones)

You can hear the sighs from here.

Marissa Mayer, Yahoo’s new CEO, has ordered all remote workers, those at home in their bunny slippers and sweatpants, back to work in the office.

You know, where they can make sure you’re being productive:

A memo explaining the policy change, from the company’s human resources department, says face-to-face interaction among employees fosters a more collaborative culture — a hallmark of Google’s approach to its business.

In trying to get back on track, Yahoo is taking on one of the country’s biggest workplace issues: whether the ability to work from home, and other flexible arrangements, leads to greater productivity or inhibits innovation and collaboration. Across the country, companies like Aetna, Booz Allen Hamilton and Zappos.com are confronting these trade-offs as they compete to attract and retain the best employees.

Bank of America, for example, which had a popular program for working remotely, decided late last year to require employees in certain roles to come back to the office.

Employees, especially younger ones, expect to be able to work remotely, analysts say. And over all the trend is toward greater workplace flexibility.

Still, said John Challenger, chief executive of Challenger Gray & Christmas, an outplacement and executive coaching firm, “A lot of companies are afraid to let their workers work from home some of the time or all of the time because they’re afraid they’ll lose control.”

Excuse my language, but I call bullshit.

Every time a company wants employees all perky and visible and audible and crammed into cubes they insist it’s all about the innovation.

Yeah, right.

I worked for a martinet at my first New York City magazine job, who insisted I be at my desk “and working!” by 9:00 a.m. sharp, even though taking a slightly later train in from my home in the suburbs meant arriving at 9:15 or so.

It’s a power game, a way to demonstrate — just in case you forgot! — who’s in charge of your life.

I’ve been working, alone at home, since losing my last staff job, at the New York Daily News, the nation’s sixth-largest newspaper, in June 2006. Alone for almost seven years, working — yes, even as I type this — in sweat pants. Yet I’ve managed to produce a well-reviewed memoir, dozens of newspaper and magazine stories, edit others’ work, consult, fly around the country on well-paid speaking gigs.

Productive? I dunno. Look at my retirement savings account. I’d say so.

Every morning I get up and no one anywhere, tells me what to do or when to do it or how to do it. I have not one penny of income guaranteed to me. I have to hustle it up every single month, a minimum of $2,000 a month, just to meet my basic bills.

Any one of you who works in an office knows this — just because an employee’s butt is in a chair in some manager’s clear sightline doesn’t mean they’re not lazy, ass-kissing or politicking or backstabbing.

Innovative? Collaborative? Cooperative? You wish!

With a phone call or email to the right colleague — whether in Nova Scotia or California — I can get serious, smart help and advice. At the Daily News, despite every effort to be collegial, I was ignored by colleagues and managers alike.

New York Daily News front page on August 9

New York Daily News front page on August 9 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My husband commutes every day to The New York Times, at Eighth Avenue and 41st Street. It costs him about $600 a month to go to work in an office: $200+ for his train pass; $200 month for the taxis that take him to and from the train station in our town (too far to walk); $200+ for subsidized cafeteria meals at work. Plus commercial laundering of his shirts.

He also has six meetings every day; putting out a newspaper like the Times, like many enterprises, does require incessant discussion and teamwork.

Yes, some workers are indeed quite incapable of self-discipline and do better work under others’ supervision. Some workplaces really do thrive on having lots of smart people in the same building to rub brains and bump into one another in the hallways and suddenly come up with some fabulous, profitable new solution.

But mostly they want to Own Your Ass.

I spent a day last spring at Google reporting this story for the Times. It was a little creepy — OK, a lot– how much they wanted their hip employees, hoodies and all, to be there 24/7, providing them with free food, laundry rooms on-site, even a hair-stylist.

In the 21st century, long past the Industrial Revolution that took us away from artisanal work and attached us all to machines inside large buildings, here we are again.

Plus ca change, mes chers…

Where does a New York Times story come from? Idea to print…

In blogging, books, business, journalism, Media, Uncategorized, work on June 3, 2012 at 1:15 am

My notebook

For those who don’t work in the media, it can be a bit of mystery how a story, (short of politics or a natural disaster),  becomes a piece in a magazine, newspaper or broadcast.

I’ve been writing, freelance and staff, for national publications since college, so the process of:

1) coming up with an idea; 2) selling to an editor; 3) reporting it; 4) writing it; 5) revising it; 6) arranging art is pretty routine.

Here’s how my latest story for The New York Times Sunday business section came about and took shape.

Here’s the story.

The idea

I sit on the board of an American writers’ group, WEAF, that makes emergency grants to writers of non-fiction so I’m aware that freelancers, too, need financial aid they cannot get from unemployment insurance, paid sick days or any other form of standard financial help — and have access to resources others might find useful. I had never read a story about this. The U.S. still has millions of people struggling financially, many of them self-employed artists, who rarely receive coverage as the businesspeople we are.

Selling it to the editor

I’ve written only two stories for this specific editor at the Times, but I’d also written for 20 years for 10 other editors at the paper so he could easily check my credentials and personal reputation before relying on me. It takes trust to hand an assignment to a new writer.

Reporting 

This is the part I love: deciding who to talk to, how to find them and trying to do it efficiently. I don’t have weeks or months to produce a story of 1,800 words. I have, at most a week, and that’s a five-day week of about four or five hours a day as I juggle other work.  So I need to find sources offering me all of these story elements: anecdotes, color, a great story or two to illustrate my point, data points and statistics or surveys or polls. It’s like making a movie: I need tight and medium close-ups and long establishing shots; i.e. I need at least two sources with the wisdom and experience to give me an overview of the issue.

On this story, I found several of my best sources just by reading my Facebook news feed; I have 552 friends there, not thousands.

I never use a tape recorder because I can’t spend additional time transcribing.  I take good notes — that’s my notebook in the photo above with some of the notes for this story.

Writing

I write very fast. I can write 1,000 words in an hour and have written as much as 3,000 within two days — while a 3,000-word story is a very different animal (structure, pacing, tone, etc.) than even one of 1,200 words. This piece was assigned at 1,200 to 1,800 words. I get paid by the word, (weird, but still a common journalism practice in the U.S. and Canada), so of course I’m happier if it runs longer.

Art

It might be a chart or map, photo or illustration or combination of these. From the start of this story, like everything I work on, I’m also thinking about its visual components and suggesting these to the photo editor. (In this section — my husband!)

The better the art, often the better play (i.e. story placement and more space) I can get. I began my career as a photographer, and have sold my images to places like Time and the Times, so this is an easy and fun piece of it for me.

I also considered age/racial/income/geographic diversity? The Times is a national publication, (international, really) so ideally my story sources and images reflect the diversity of our readers.

Revising

Stories for the Times typically go through several revisions. Every question they ask of me must be answered to the editors’ satisfaction, whether the wording or placement of a quote, an unclear phrase, questionable numbers.

Each new version of the story is sent back to me as a playback to read, review and make sure it is still accurate. If I hate a change they’ve made, this is my time to fight for it, and I sometimes do. While time-consuming, it insures the copy is clean. Copy editors, by nature and profession, are extremely methodical and insanely nit-picky. I think of them, gratefully, as airplane maintenance crew — tightening every screw and bolt to make sure the thing can fly safely.

I’ve had more than 100 pieces in the paper and not one has needed a printed, public correction.

(When editors don’t do this, your final version of the piece can have errors edited in –– like the story in which my stepmother became my stepfather instead.)

And, yes, even after 100 stories in the paper, and decades of doing this for a living, I still get excited and a little nervous when it hits print and goes up on the web. Showtime!

Old Friends…

In aging, behavior, domestic life, life, love, men, Uncategorized, women on May 31, 2011 at 2:01 am
Map of Toronto

TO, or Tronna, as natives are wont to call it...now known as the GTA.Image via Wikipedia

Sat on the park bench like bookends.

So goes the gorgeous 1968 song by Simon and Garfunkel.

In Toronto for a week, I’m basking in my past, catching up with men and women who have known me since I was thin(ner!) and bouncing off the walls with ambition (still am) and had not yet been married or divorced.

I left Toronto in 1986 for Montreal, New Hampshire and New York, where I’ve lived ever since. I go back two to six times a year to catch up with old colleagues and friends like:

Vicki, who I met in Grade Four, whose backyard contains what’s left of Pickles, my late hamster

Joe, my dreamy crush in high school, all blond bangs and deep blue eyes

Sally, (who shared my deep crush on Joe), my best pal from high school, at whose lakeside house I’m writing this from, and with whom I re-connected at our 1995, 20-year reunion

Marcia, who met me when I was afire, even at 20, with journalistic ambition: she was the head of public relations for the National Ballet of Canada and (yes) got me a part as a walk-on in Sleeping Beauty. I did all eight performances at Lincoln Center, with Nureyev on-stage as the Prince. It made a great story, especially when I came on-stage about 20 bars too soon on opening night!

Peter, an architect with whom I fell madly in love on a Cartagena rooftop when we were both there on holiday in our 20s. He’s gay, so we became, and have remained, dear friends

Stephen, who desperately wanted to marry me when I was 26, and lived with me ages 22-25, but married someone else instead and is now divorced and a PI living in the countryside. It was great to catch up on all those lost decades

Ken, my former squash partner from University of Toronto, now a lawyer and newly, at midlife, a Dad and husband

I’ve also loved physically passing by my past…

the streetcar rumbling past Maclean-Hunter, the downtown magazine publisher for whom I started my writing career, while still an undergraduate, for a magazine called Miss Chatelaine (hence the kd lang song title!)…the Chinatown restaurant where my Dad made a film in the 1960s…my old apartment building a block from campus, and a block from my Granny’s old apartment building.

And, while Toronto is a city of 3 million or so, the degrees of separation are few:

My sister-in-law — in her early 30s — met Stephen at my U of T Malled event and knew him from rally car racing.

A man I met for a business lunch has a former philosophy professor of mine as his father-in-law

The photographer who took my photo for a story by Canadian Press works with my sweetie on freelance stories for The New York Times

What’s it like now when you visit your hometown?

Did you leave it?

A Woman On A Beach, Alone

In behavior, business, domestic life, family, life, Media, nature, travel, Uncategorized, women on May 20, 2011 at 11:37 am
Woman at the beach. Porto Covo, southwest coas...

Image via Wikipedia

There’s a new poster at Grand Central Station, the terminus for commuter trains into Manhattan, of a woman wrapped tightly in an orange towel.

It’s an ad for Hyatt, and it’s unusual for several reasons. It shows — counter-culturally — and to my delight:

— a woman alone

— a woman wrapped up in a towel

— a woman who is not a size 4

— a woman by herself on a deserted beach

— a woman who is not accompanied/validated by a husband, partner, gal pals or children

She is staring at the ocean. She’s lost in thought: no tech toys, no earbuds, no distractions. No fruity drinks with little paper umbrellas in them.

The photo shows us a woman comfortable in her own skin, in solitude.

It’s how I love to be, and many of us wish to try, but are perhaps too committed to others’ needs or too afraid of going somewhere all alone. What if it’s scary or dangerous or expensive?

For me, it’s a photo of a woman living her very own life.

Very cool.