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.

Who are you turning to?

Jose, 2020, photographing the judging of the Pulitzer Prizes, Columbia University, New York

By Caitlin Kelly

I’m really lucky.

In a pandemic dragging into its second year, and with no real end in sight, I’ve still been able to turn to trusted friends, some opf whom are still in great shape, some not so much, to share our thoughts and fears.

One is a delighted first-time grandmother. One struggles with a lot of physical pain. One is single and lives alone and is just very lonely. One recently sold her home and moved into Manhattan, savoring city life.

My husband — we met 21 years ago next month at a midtown Manhattan French bistro for our first date — has been amazing. But I realize he’s not a Swiss Army knife, capable of meeting my every emotional and intellectual need.

I fear we’re going to burn ourselves out if we try to “soldier on” alone.

I fear we’ll burn out our spouses and partners who are by now also feeling claustrophobic and, in a very snowy cold winter, are also succumbing to cabin fever — no cafes or gyms or libraries or restaurants or pals’ homes to flee to.

I had a two-hour conversation last night, so gratefully, with a friend in California who is a long-time pro in the book publishing industry. The latest agent for my book proposal, of course, fell through, and she was both tough and loving in what she suggested should be my next steps.

Tough and loving is pretty much my MO as well.

Who are you turning to these days for comfort and joy?

Who’s turning to you?

The challenge of intimacy

By Caitlin Kelly

If there ever was a time challenging our traditional ways to be intimate with others — from hugging a friend to cheek-kissing a new acquaintance to long conversations face to face, let alone sex with someone new — this pandemic is it.

It’s really difficult to eschew all emotional, physical, sexual contacts for months in person, soon to be years, even when we know it’s the only safe option.

And, odd as it may sound, reporting and journalism can be very intimate emotionally as people share stories, sometimes things they’ve never told anyone else. Face to face is much better for this — body language, sighs, eye-rolls…harder to parse otherwise.

Of course medicine and therapy are very different without in-person contact.

I had lunch this past weekend with a dear friend who lives in the next town; we met in the large, airy parish hall of the church where we first met and where she does volunteer work, so she had a key!

She sat very far away and I sat on a sofa and we caught up. And it was so so good to see her. She is always so elegant! I show up in matching olive green leggings and a fleece and she’s in palest cashmere.

I’ve been working hard since November 1 to lose weight through intermittent fasting 16/8 and it was nice to see her agree there’s a difference in my size and shape — she knows what I normally look like.

That’s intimacy — the trust it takes to be vulnerable and to share our weakest and most scared moments, not just the performative WOOHOO of social media.

But another friend, a much newer one, has withdrawn and I admit I’ve struggled with that. I miss her friendship, even though we only met two years ago. She has two teenagers and works, so she is busier than I, I know. But the few times we’ve gotten together recently, with our husbands, were enjoyable.

I finally told her I was pretty much giving up — having tried repeatedly to make contact. Her reply was a terse and impersonal two sentences that she has had some health issues.

The only way to grow a friendship is to share, good and bad.

So I’m sorry this one seems to have withered, temporarily or permanently. But I’ve really learned the hard way that true intimacy means both people have to want it.

I enjoy much of my life in suburban New York, but, as I’ve blogged many times, it is lonely as hell.

I work alone at home and now, thanks to COVID, all social activities and events are verboten.

I have no kids or grandkids, the two obsessions of almost every woman I’ve met here, over decades. Or work. Or both.

Friendship, here, feels very low on people’s list of priorities. I just don’t spend much time trying now.

So I’m even more grateful for those who do connect now by phone and Skype and Zoom — like C in London and my college bestie, Marion, in Kamloops, BC or Leslie in Toronto, or Melinda and Alec in San Francisco.

It’s ironic, and sad, that the people with whom I share the closest emotional intimacies live so far away.

One of my Twitter followers said it perfectly:

Burdens shared makes for lighter burdens and deepened trust.

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.

Have you seen “Borgen”?

By Caitlin Kelly

I know, I’m very late to this party!

This 30-episode, three-season series, was released in 2010 and so many people had recommended it, I finally bit.

Loved it!

Certainly in a time of relentlessly restricted travel — when the very idea of getting on a plane, let alone crossing the Atlantic — is impossible, it’s been a real treat to visually re-visit Copenhagen with each episode. So many cyclists (none wearing helmets?!) Canals. The fluttering Danish flag.

I was there once, for 10 days, on my amazing European journalism fellowship. I loved it, even though it was so expensive I could barely afford to eat, given the small size of our travel budget and the very high costs of everything.

The series — which sounds dull as dishwater — revolves around two worlds, Christiansborg Palace, or Borgen (The Castle), seat of all Danish politics, and TVI and Expressen, a TV station and a “red-top” (tabloid) newspaper. The key characters include Birgitta Nyborg, who becomes prime minister in the first season; Kasper Juul, a troubled press secretary — which they, without irony, call “spin doctor”, Katrine Fonsmark, a tall, blond TV reporter turned spin doctor, other politicians and Birgitta’s husband and two children.

As a journalist, I sure enjoyed the many newsroom scenes and the bossy news director, Torben Friis. As someone who grew up in Canada, a multi-party political system, I enjoyed the endless horse-trading in an eight-party system to gain and hold power.

The show covers a wide range of political and personal issues — the massive invasion of privacy Birgitta’s teenage daughter faces when she goes away for in-patient psychiatric treatment or Birgitta’s breast cancer/radiation (the exact same as mine), the back-and-forth affair between Kasper and Katrina, and so on. There’s an episode about prostitution and one about pig farming. It’s also, if politics or journalism interest you, an pretty good look behind the scenes of how each product is actually made — lots of arguments!

Have you watched it?

What did you think?

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.

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.

The new COVID-era etiquette

Only solitude is 100 percent safe

By Caitlin Kelly

Canadians have just had their Thanksgiving and Americans are already geared up for Hallowe’en and their Thanksgiving, let alone other holidays and the (large) family gatherings usually expected and anticipated.

Not us.

Jose’s parents are long gone, his nearest sister lives a four-hour drive away and my only close relative, my 91-year-old father, is in Canada, where my American husband is banned and I face a 14-day quarantine. I haven’t seen him in more than a year and haven’t crossed that border since late September 2019, when it was no big deal.

Every social gathering — let alone professional — is now so fraught with menace and fear, caution and basic human desperation for a damn hug!

This week we are joining two friends, outdoors (bringing a blanket!) for a two-person birthday celebration at a Manhattan restaurant. This weekend, we’re meeting three people, also outdoors, for lunch.

The grilling!

Who will wear a mask and when and for how long?

Who have they met with and how recently and under what circumstances?

Do we trust their friends — who we have never met?

We live in downstate New York, where daytime temperatures are still in the 60s or 70s but night-time plunging to the 40s, hardly a comfortable temperature for sitting anywhere for very long.

It’s wearying.

Our family’s first and only grandchildren are twins born in D.C. in May — and my father still hasn’t seen them. Nor have I, since my half-brother refuses all contact after a 13-year estrangement.

Millions of people have now lost loved ones to COVID and never had the chance to say good-bye.

Forget weddings and other groups….the latest NY crisis was the result of (!?) a Sweet 16 party, after a wedding in Maine had the same effect.

Our local church is now, finally, open again physically, with an indoor service (limited, it’s a small space) and outdoors at 4pm on the lawn. What I miss more than anything is belting out my favorite hymns…now a dangerous thing to do.

Yes, it’s hard and lonely to never see anyone.

Yes, it’s annoying and difficult to negotiate these times, especially with government “guidance” that shifts daily.

Needs must.

Has COVID changed your priorities?

By Caitlin Kelly

No one would ever dare suggest that a lethal virus is a good thing.

No one could have imagined that more than 200,000 Americans would already have died — and many more now suffer serious long-term effects.

But I’ve started to notice some changes in how we think and behave that, oddly and maybe shockingly, feel better for some of us — while hurting others! — than how we all lived, unquestioningly, before.

Shared and public places are much less crowded

Thousands of small businesses have closed. Disney laid off 28,000 employees and airline staff, from cleaners to veteran pilots, are out of work.

So it’s not kind to be happy about that. But if you, like me, loathe crowds of all sorts, even before they were potentially life-threatening, this is a huge relief. Our town YMCA recently finally re-opened and the pool has four lanes, open now only one swimmer at a time. (Normally, five, which I would find really uncomfortable. Having someone tap my foot to pass? NO.)

Since my beloved spin class is long gone, I’ve started doing three pool visits a week and sometimes have it all to myself. I would never have experienced our old, overcrowded Y as luxurious — but this is.

I miss such fun, silly, spontaneous moments — like meeting Canadian comedian Mike Myers at a Canadian consulate event in Manhattan

We’re being very , very selective about our relationships


In normal life, we tend to include a lot of people — face to face or through social media — who we may not especially like or admire. It’s a sort of social lubrication, necessary to get things done smoothly and efficiently, even when it’s basically pretty insincere.

In a time of terrible political division, with millions refusing to wear masks it’s really not a wise use of our limited energy to argue with anyone anywhere.

We need every ounce of it for ourselves and families and pets and true loved ones. This is a good thing! Conserve energy.

Now, certainly, seeing anyone in person means de facto assuming risk — even if you’re both masked or outdoors and well-spaced. Is this relationship worth it now?

Why?

Fewer relationships can also make for deeper emotional connection

I’ve noticed this. By the time I make a phone date or set aside time to be with someone face to face, why make chitchat? I’ve never been a fan of it, anyway, and now, with COVID’s sudden and invisible lethality/mortality so much closer to all of us, it’s no time for performative intimacy.

We’re being very clear and direct about what we need and expect of one another

I have a friend of many years, a fellow Canadian who runs her own successful business, and who has invited us many times this year to their country house. Much as I appreciate her generosity, I just won’t go and keep saying so.

I finally wrote her a very blunt — not angry — email explaining why: she interacts, for her work, with a lot of people. Many of them are very wealthy and rich New Yorkers (like many wealthy people) do what they please. So I don’t trust their choices, which may affect my friend and me and my husband.

Luckily, Jose and I are fine…This is him earlier in 2020 photographing the Pulitzers at Columbia University in New York City

Lousy relationships and marriages are under an intense new microscope when we have nowhere to flee

There are few experiences more miserable than being confined to (small) quarters for months on end with someone you really don’t like or love.

Here’s a New York Times essay about Coronavirus divorce:

In regular times, we’re always in motion, we’re always hustling, we’re always consuming, striving, climbing, struggling to get from A to B. And if you are unhappy with your relationships or your marriage, there’s a thousand ways to distract yourself: travel, work, socializing. I’m told that some people golf.

Now, all of a sudden, everyone has to be still. There’s no place to go but inward.

We’re all seriously re-examining our choices, whether about where we work, who we work with/for and how (hard) and where we really want to live now

This is huge.

City dwellers are fleeing to suburban or rural areas, desperate for outdoor physical space and the ability to distance from others. On my recent four-day visit to small-town Pennsylvania — about a 90 minute drive from Manhattan — every real estate listing I read said “pending” and a local told me her realtor friend was working 70-hour weeks.

American life — with no unions, low wages and a relentless capitalist drumbeat of DO MORE FASTER NOW — is typically really exhausting. The pandemic is now forcing millions to think, behave, work and relate differently, and for many months yet to come, whether managers or workers or the self-employed.

Some are planning to leave the United States.

Yes, it’s really hurting some people — mothers of small children especially are at their wits’ end, (one crying on-air on a recent national TV show after being fired by a boss who said “Figure it out” while managing a one year old and four year old at home.)

If nothing good comes of this massive upheaval, maybe it’s some long overdue change.