Dancing for your life…street version

 

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By Caitlin Kelly

Loved this, from The New York Times dance critic:

One day, before the coronavirus pandemic, a river of pedestrians — half manic, half clueless — was feeding onto the escalator at the West Fourth Street subway station during rush hour. Blocking the escalator entrance were people gazing at their phones. Once they finally stepped on, they planted themselves on the left. It was a mess.

You stand on the right; you pass on the left. This is the choreography of everyday life.

I found myself directing people where to stand and when to move. As the bottom half of the escalator started to organize itself, I noticed that something similar was happening toward the top. I recognized the voice up there: It belonged to Ori Flomin, a dancer, teacher and choreographer. We saw each other and giggled.

“Of course,” he said, “we are the ones arranging people in space.”

 

I started studying ballet at 12, and took ballet and jazz classes five nights a week in my 20s. I only stopped a few years ago thanks to my messed-up knees.

Dance, for fun or in a studio, has long been a way to stay in touch with my senses and sense of balance and rhythm and grace. I’ve never really understood people who “hate to dance” but I know there are many of them! Once you learn to parse a piece of music — a waltz or a mazurka, have your body remember allegro and adagio and what it should do in response — it’s a permanent muscle memory.

And understanding how your body moves within space — and especially in relationship to other bodies — is key to dance, even if all you ever do is take a dance class. You still have to navigate your spot at the barre or leaping and spinning across the floor. You swing your legs in grands battements, careful not to knock anyone while focused on staying strong, centered, elegant.

Spatial awareness is a very real quality we all need to cultivate right now in shared spaces to avoid endless transmission of COVID-19.

Heedless selfishness is now, we all know, lethal.

Those days are gone. Or soon will be; on April 1 — no joke! — New York governor Andrew Cuomo declared every New York City playground closed.

But the ambitious, driven, rushrushrush sort of people who live in New York City — a massively dense city to start with — are also used to being shoved and jostled, in the subway, in line-ups, pretty much anywhere.

So learning to literally keep your damn distance, every day, everywhere — to step out of an elevator with anyone else in it (a la Devil Wears Prada!) — is a new challenge.

Add to this the relentless American individualism that somehow insists each person’s own comfort and safety matters far more than anyone else’s…good luck!

 

6th floor life

 

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Our view

 

By Caitlin Kelly

The number 6 has always been a good one for me — my birthday is the sixth day of the sixth month.

We live on the sixth, top floor of our building — the third time I’ve had that spot in an apartment, first as an undergrad in Toronto, attending University of Toronto, and later in Montreal, in a gorgeous 30s complex called Haddon Hall; I dream of actually getting that apartment back! Two bedrooms, great views, perfect condition, working fireplace, tall ceilings….sigh. All for $600 a month, mid 1980s.

My ongoing decision to live on the highest floor of a building, far away from any access to it, is the result of a terrifying experience in my second year at university, when I lived in a studio, alone, at the back of an alley on the ground floor, in a sketchy downtown Toronto neighborhood.

The kind of place, if anyone had been paying attention to my welfare, someone would have said: “No way! Not a safe choice!”

But no one  paid attention and it was affordable.

One night I yelled out the window at people making noise. A few nights later (I really don’t remember), a man tried to pull me out through the bathroom window — as I was taking a bath, directly below the window.

I was wet and slippery and the window too small and narrow.

But that was the end of that apartment.

I spent the summer, recovering emotionally from this attack, in a shared sorority house on a quiet and lovely street, surrounded by other women.

My next home was the 6th floor studio at the back of a six-floor 60s building, with a balcony, overlooking a park.

No one could possibly get at me.

No one ever did.

It was a great little apartment, only one long block north of campus, so I could zip home and change clothes in fall and spring as the temperature shifted. It gave me back the confidence I could live alone, safely, and enjoy my independence again. I was already writing for a few national magazines and would sit at my desk, tapping on my pale turquoise manual typewriter, staring out over the park’s treetops, like a bird in my own little nest.

In Montreal, that high perch proved, sadly, less secure as our building was broken into repeatedly, thieves assuming that renters were wealthy, which we weren’t. I got so scared I went to the police for advice since my bedroom was at the very opposite end of the apartment from the front door — no escape. They had little comfort to offer except that burglars were likely unarmed. I lived there for 18 months while working as a reporter for the Montreal Gazette.

When my first husband and I bought this suburban New York apartment, the first attraction wasn’t its great view of the Hudson River, or the lovely grounds — it was all we could afford! I was lucky enough to have a decent down payment, thanks to an inheritance from my maternal grandmother. The place was a bit gross, thanks to wall-to-wall filthy beige carpet that stunk so badly of cat urine even the realtor stood on the balcony while we looked it over.

In the decades since, by far the longest time I’ve ever lived in one home, (the longest before that was maybe three or four years, in childhood/adolescence), I’ve repainted each room and hallway multiple times. The living room morphed from a mushroom beige/gray faux finish to a brilliant Chinese red to the pale yellow/green we last did in 2008. The bedroom went from a faux-finish crisp blue and white to aqua to apple green to Skimming Stone, a lush, warm gray from my fave, Farrow & Ball.

I really love the quiet perch of a top floor.

We’re literally in the treetops and red-tailed hawks soar close by daily, one even landing on our balcony railing once.

Our river view, looking northwest, is now obscured by tree growth, but fine in the winter. We watch barges gliding upriver and storms heading south.

In these perilous times, home up here once more feels like a nest, safe and enclosing.

And impossible, we hope, to breach.

 

 

Tough love for tough times

 

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By Caitlin Kelly

As someone with a green card, I can’t vote — so my enthusiasm for how New York’s governor Andrew Cuomo is handling this crisis will carry no political weight.

But every morning now, at 11:30 a.m. EDT on weekdays and noon on weekends, we watch his 30-minute press conferences, live, and listen to another 30 minutes of questions from reporters and his replies.

Jose , (my husband), spent eight years in the White House Press Corps as a New York Times photographer, covering Presidents Reagan, GW Bush, Clinton. He’s heard plenty of political spin and is not easily impressed, but is a huge fan of Cuomo’s handling  of the COVID-19 crisis — and New York City is the hardest-hit city in the United States.

Unlike the joke in the White House, Cuomo — another born-and-bred New Yorker — doesn’t bullshit or blather on about how great he is.

Nor does he insult the press corps, whose job it is to question every elected official and keep them accountable, as 45 does, most recently telling two veteran reporters: “Don’t be a cutie pie” and “Be nice. Don’t be threatening.”

During the conferences, Cuomo’s team also shows viewers clean, clear graphics with the numbers of infected, where, in the hospital, recovered — and dead. He explains who is most likely to die from the disease and why.

We live in a small suburban town, so density and crowding are less pressing for us than in the five boroughs of New York City.

Yet the state’s patient zero lives in a suburban town on the other side of our county. He went to synagogue (infecting many), traveled into the city by commuter train (more) and went about his business there (more again.) He’s alive and out of the hospital.

In the past few days, the National Guard equipped the enormous Javits Convention Center on the western edge of Manhattan as a hospital with 3,000 beds.

The Javits Center is an amazing facility,” said Semonite, [Gen. Todd Semonite, the head of the Army Corps of Engineers.] “Every 10 feet there’s a great big steel door in the floor, you open it up in there is all the electrical; there’s cold water, there’s hot water and there’s a place for sewers, so you can actually do things like sinks, right in the middle of a convention center to be able to make that happen.”

The hospital will be staffed by 350 medical personnel from FEMA and 600 medical personnel serving with the two Army hospitals.

Non-COVID-19 patients will be transported from hospitals in the New York City area to the convention center, just as they will be at the 1,000-bed Navy hospital ship the USNS Comfort when it is operational in New York Harbor on Tuesday.

 

Here’s a New York Times piece about Cuomo:

 

To the surprise of many who did not associate the name “Andrew Cuomo” with the word “empathy,” the governor has become a sort of national shrink, talking us through our fear, our loss and our growing stir-craziness.

“This is going be a long day, and it’s going to be a hard day, and it’s going to be an ugly day, and it’s going to be a sad day,” he told officers from the New York National Guard on Friday, charging them to fight this “invisible” and “insidious” beast and “kick coronavirus’s ass.”

Because New York is at the epicenter of the epidemic in the United States, with 519 deaths and 44,635 confirmed cases, as of noon Friday, Americans have their eyes on the state. Cuomo knows this. “New York is the canary in the coal mine,” he said during one of his passionate televised pleas for the president to provide more ventilators.

It is more than passing strange that in this horror-movie moment, with 13 people dying on Tuesday at Elmhurst Hospital in Queens and a refrigerated truck parked outside to collect the bodies, the nation’s two most prominent leaders are both Queens scions. Both men grew up in the shadows of their fathers, the hard-working sons of European immigrants.

The Trump family is a model of bad nepotism — noblesse oblige in reverse. Such is their reputation as scammers that congressional Democrats felt the need to put a provision in the coronavirus rescue bill to try to prevent Trump-and-Kushner Inc. from carving out a treat of their own.

And, from New York magazine:

Cuomo, most definitely, is not a fan of Trump:

“Government, presidential elections, it was tweets, it was all one-liners, it was all personality, character, celebrity. That’s what politics had become. And all of a sudden you have changed the lens,” he said while an aide brought him a large Dunkin’ Donuts coffee. “Government is about real capacity and real consequences and really knowing what you’re doing and real leadership. Elect the people who know what they’re doing, because you elect somebody because they are a celebrity, or because they have a great slogan, and then you ask them to perform. What do they say?’ ‘I never told you I could perform. I told you I was good looking. I told you I tweeted a lot. I told you I had a great slogan. I never told you I was competent.’ And by the way, it’s really serious. It’s not about celebrity and slogans. That is a stark shift. This is government at wartime.”

 

And, in a lighter vein, this from Michelle Collins, in Marie Claire magazine:

 

But the one thing I do have to look forward to every day like clockwork has been New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s daily press briefings at 11 a.m. (Sometimes he’s late, and starts them at 11:30. I’ve started referring to this waiting time as “Cuomo FOMO.”) Like a velveteen gravity blanket for my soul, the second I see this man’s perfectly weathered face and tousled curls, the moment his Pacino-like accent fills my living room with its mafia-like authority, my blood pressure drops, my breasts seem to perk up on their own, and a tingly feeling of optimism washes over my imprisoned body as I think to myself… I think we’re gonna be okay.

Also: I think I’m in love with New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.

 

Trying to be normal

 

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By Caitlin Kelly

So we’re doing some of our usual silly banal things, like watching Jeopardy and playing gin rummy and tossing a softball into our battered leather gloves then sitting for a while on a bench in the sun — far away from anyone on our building’s property.

They are comforting and familiar and we need them so so badly.

We haven’t yet, thank God, lost anyone we know to COVID-19 but our minister has it and two of our parishioners, (who are recovering.)

Those of us old enough to remember it, the only time, domestically, that feels like this was the 1980s and the AIDS crisis, which I covered for The Globe & Mail and the Gazette in my native Canada.

Thank God, we still (for now!) have the same smart, tough, wise, no-bullshit public health expert today that we turned to back then, Dr. Anthony Fauci.

But, no matter where you live, we’re all grappling with a sort of life that makes no rational sense right now:

— millions out of work

— no idea if, how or when the economy will recover

— millions still at work endangering their lives and those of others, whether healthcare workers, first responders, police, grocery staff, delivery staff, to care for us

— the world’s richest nation with so few ventilators, let alone trained ICU staff, that triage is going to become brutal for everyone

— a “leader” who babbles and lies and and sneers at and insults any journalist who dares to challenge or question him

 

We are lucky, so far, to be healthy.

 

We are lucky, so far, to have continued freelance work.

 

We are lucky to live in a quiet suburb with places we can go out for a walk safely without dodging dangerous/selfish crowds of people.

 

We are lucky to live in New York, a state massively whacked by this disease, but led by a governor, Andrew Cuomo, who is calm, empathetic, tough. His daily 11:30 EDT press briefings (available on CNN) are a morning ritual for us now.

 

From The New York Times:

The governor repeatedly assailed the federal response as slow, inefficient and inadequate, far more aggressively than he had before.

Mr. Cuomo was once considered a bit player on the national stage, an abrasive presence who made his share of enemies among his Democratic Party peers. He was too much of a pragmatist for his party’s progressive wing, too self-focused for party leaders and too brusque for nearly everyone.

But now, he is emerging as the party’s most prominent voice in a time of crisis.

His briefings — articulate, consistent and often tinged with empathy — have become must-see television. On Tuesday, his address was carried live on all four networks in New York and a raft of cable news stations, including CNN, MSNBC and even Fox News.

 

How are you doing?

 

What are some of your coping mechanisms?

Why now’s the perfect time to watch Babylon Berlin

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By Caitlin Kelly

 

A frightened world!

The economy in chaos!

Bitter nostalgia for lost glories

The rise of a silent-but-deadly threat soon to destroy the world as we knew it (in this case, Nazism, not COVID-19)

 

It all rings a little too close to home right now…

This three-season series has long been one of my favorite shows ever — and the most expensive European TV series made.

And for those newly hungry for fresh viewing content, these three seasons offer 28 episodes.

In 1929 — a year with plenty of fiscal and political nightmares — a Cologne detective named Gereon Rath moves to big bad Berlin to work with their vice squad, soon aided by Charlotte Ritter, a young woman sharing a squalid flat with her parents, grandparents, sister and brother-in-law and baby and younger sister. To earn money to keep them alive and housed, she works nights as a prostitute in the basement of Moka Efti, an enormous nightclub owned by the Armenian, a local crime boss.

The show offers many sub-plots and terrific characters, from the Berlin boarding-house owner, war widow Miss Elizabeth, to a braid-headed, firebrand, female Communist doctor to the creepy rich son playing profiteering games with wily Russians.

There’s Svetlana Sorokin, who’s desperate to get her hands on a train car filled with gold and who — of course — sings at Moka Efti disguised as a man with black hair and moustache. Greta Overbeck’s work as a housemaid to a wealthy, Jewish Berlin politician drives a major plot point.

There’s a driven journalist, (of course!), much trading of favors and access, the enormous gap between the wealthy and the desperate.

Every element is visually powerful: the impeccably Art Deco dining room of Moka Efti, with its room-length aquarium filled with pulsating jellyfish, gorgeous period automobiles and clothes, interiors filled with period furniture, wallpaper, lighting.

If you’ve ever been to Berlin — I finally spent 10 days there in July 2017 — it’s very cool to see elements of it: from its cobblestone streets to the subway to one of the many lakes where Berliners spend long sunny summer days swimming and boating and relaxing.

Sadly, the show also now feels much more relevant now with its themes of social unrest, widespread fear, no reliable political leadership, undercurrents of racist, nationalist fervor.

 

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More on Liv Lisa Fries, who plays Charlotte Ritter.

 

From The New Yorker:

 

The show plays as part period drama, part police procedural, and part mystery thriller, but there is always an undercurrent of foreboding, drawing on our knowledge of what’s to come. Hitler’s name is heard only once in all sixteen episodes; Nazi Brown Shirts first appear in one of the last. The opening lines of the show’s haunting song “Zu Asche, Zu Staub” (“To Ashes, to Dust”) capture the era’s troubled Zeitgeist: “To ashes, to dust / Taken away from the light / But not just yet / Miracles wait until the last.”

Here it is:

 

I hope you’ll check it out — and enjoy!

 

 

 

Getting through this

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We need this tree’s determination to thrive. Split rock, as needed.

 

By Caitlin Kelly

It’s not a joke or a hoax.

It’s forcing everyone to re-think every element of our lives: work, relationships, employment, money, access to government aid, education, worship, mourning, celebrations, trust in government, the safety and reliability of medical and hospital care.

Many people have died. Some are very ill. Some wonder — without easy access to testing — if they’ve even been infected with COVID-19, its now official name.

 

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It’s forcing Americans, especially, to behave in ways that run counter to how they’ve been socialized for decades — i.e. to behave as individuals, to behave as they please, free of most government interference, (but also government aid.)

Writing in this week’s New York Times, Donald McNeil says:

Is that what some countries are missing? This sense of collective action and selflessness?

That is absolutely what many Americans are missing — that it’s not about you right now. My parents were in the World War II generation and there was more of a sense of, “Hey, we did something amazing; we ramped up this gigantic societal effort.” It was this sense of we’re all in this together.

We’ve got to realize that we’re all in this together and save each other’s lives. That has not penetrated yet and it needs to penetrate because we all have to cooperate.

 

 

When you grow up not giving a damn about “the other” — people unrelated to you or you’ve never met and why would you even consider universal healthcare for the “undeserving”? — a pandemic throws this thinking out the window.

The nation’s addiction to capitalism and for-profit healthcare and limited government has also led to this crisis — you can’t keep an economy centered on consumer spending alive when no one is shopping or traveling or buying a house or a car.

The wealthy? They’ve already hopped aboard their private jets, and are safely ensconced in their third or fifth home, like the guy writing to The New York Times who fled New York for his house in Rhode Island.

In a time when Americans have never been more divided racially and economically and politically, this virus doesn’t care.

 

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Like it or not, ready or not, we’re all intertwined now

 

People may look, sound, earn and vote just as you do — and still be carrying and widely spreading this lethal virus.

I finally went out for a walk yesterday on our town reservoir path — lots of people (safely distant!) walking, running, biking. It felt great to be out of the apartment and moving.

It’s no fun being stuck indoors all the time.

It’s really hard not to get irritable and snappish if you share a small space with others.

Yes, people are really disappointed by cancelled parties and weddings and kids’ sports and graduations.

But seriously?

Stay home and be responsible.

We have to buck up.

 

I wish,  more than anything, we could still hear the wise and seasoned voices of those who survived WWII, who knew the kind of shared terror we’re only now beginning to feel — and who can share the mental strength and stamina they all needed to get through it.

 

Here’s my new theme song, from one of my favorite bands, The Talking Heads:

 

 

Ten ways to enjoy working from home

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Step into our office!

 

By Caitlin Kelly

 

Welcome to my life!

 
As the world  suddenly learns the words “social distancing” and every crowded place is closing, many people who have always worked away from home are now…working at home.

While The New York Times laments the lost joys of office life, I deeply disagree.

 

An excerpt:

Steve Jobs, for one, was a famous opponent of remote work, believing that Apple employees’ best work came from accidentally bumping into other people, not sitting at home in front of an email inbox.

“Creativity comes from spontaneous meetings, from random discussions,” Mr. Jobs said. “You run into someone, you ask what they’re doing, you say ‘Wow,’ and soon you’re cooking up all sorts of ideas.”

 

Sure…if your workplace is full of smart, motivated, helpful co-workers.

Is yours?

My last staff job, sorry to say, was a shitshow from start to finish. I was hired by someone who soon left, leaving me vulnerable to management that wanted nothing to do with me and frosty co-workers.

It was the worst experience of my life.

So I never spent much energy looking for another office job.

I’ve been working alone at home, with no pets or children, in a suburban one-bedroom apartment since 2006. I occasionally spend the day working at our local library, which is large, sunny and gorgeous.

 

Here are my ten ways to enjoy working from home if this is all new to you:

 

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— Wake up (more) when it suits you.

Even if you have to be on the clock for your employer by 9:00 a.m. you’ve lost all the mad rush to get ready/showered/dressed/shaved and the cost and annoyance of a commute.

— Savor healthy meals

I eat so much better at home! I know exactly what’s in my food without added salt, sugar, fat and calories. Your late afternoon pick-me-up might be my daily pot of tea or fresh coffee or an apple and cheese or…anything not junky and gooey and full of sugar.

— No eating at your desk!

This is such a gross American habit because everyone’s expected to work all the time. Or, worse, in your car or on the train or bus.

 

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— Take walks, maybe with your very happy dog

You must build in some breaks. Fresh air is a good perk.

— Exercise!

If you can’t use your gym, take a walk or bike ride. If your home is big enough, you can do yoga or workout to exercise videos.

 

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— Avoid the sofa!

I literally won’t sit on it until work is done. In a small space, I have to delineate areas of work and areas of pure leisure (that includes the bedroom.)

— Avoid the TV!

Until your work is done.

— Enjoy music!

Jose and I have a few favorite stations we listen to when working from home. One is TSFJazz from Paris.

 

 

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Zzzzzzzzz……

 

— Naps

As long as you are getting your work done and joining Zoom or Skype or phone meetings as expected, you can probably grab a half hour when needed.

— Comfortable clothing is a real pleasure

Pajamas are not a great idea and sweatpants can feel gross after a while. But there’s no need to keep wearing more formal clothing unless that’s your preference.

When the new neighbors are too shiny

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Our town reservoir

By Caitlin Kelly

Oh, this essay!

I loved every word of it, marinated in nostalgia — but not really nostalgia because the author, Jeremiah Moss, still lives in the place, New York’s East Village, whose massive changes he mourns.

An excerpt, originally published in n + 1:

The mothers are coming up the stairs. Holding the hands of their adult children. Daughters, mostly, and one hesitant son. Asking questions like, “Is the neighborhood safe?” The real estate agent, in his starched white shirt and slick hair, replies, “The East Village used to have quite a reputation fifteen, twenty years ago, but now it’s totally safe.” Or did he say totally tame? As in domesticated, subjugated, a wild horse broken. I am listening from inside my apartment, ear pressed to the gap where door doesn’t quite meet jamb, looking through the peephole, trying to see who my new neighbors might be, knowing they’ll be the same as all the rest. Young and funded, they belong to a certain type: utterly unblemished, physically fit, exceptionally well dressed, as bland as skim milk and unsalted saltine crackers. “I work on Wall Street,” I hear one of them call to the real-estate agent. “Awesome!” the agent replies.

They didn’t used to be here.


came in the early 1990s because it made sense for me to be here. I was a young, queer, transsexual poet, and where else would a young, queer, transsexual poet go but to the East Village? Back then the neighborhood still throbbed with its hundred years of counterculture, a dissident history going back to the early anarchists and feminists, up through the bohemians and Beats, the hippies and punks, the poets, queers, and transsexuals too. I had a pair of combat boots and an elite liberal arts education, thanks to a full ride of grants and work-study programs, but not much money.

This is so evocative and, if you know Manhattan, and especially its East Village, it will strike a powerful chord in you as well.

Sadly, it’s really not a place that tourists visit.

Why would they?

It’s residential. Not shiny. Not glossy. Not especially Instagram-able.

Long blocks filled with narrow buildings, walk-ups to tenement-style apartments.

This isn’t the cool, trendy West Village, full of investment bankers and their very thin, very blond stay at home wives and international clothing brands like Reiss and Scotch & Soda.

I’ve always loved the quieter, battered East Village, wandering and taking photos, stopping for a coffee.

And I really hear him — because the town I chose decades ago has also massively gentrified, becoming much trendier than when I moved here. We now have two coffee shops and two gyms, beyond the worn-out Y.

We even have a Japanese restaurant where we watched an angelic 27-month-old with her mother happily slurping her miso soup in silence.

 

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A shop on our Main Street, interior

 

I joke — not really — that it’s become all Mini Coopers and man-buns. Now it also contains women wearing those shearling boot/clogs and artisanal scarves and driving pastel Fiats and married to guys with turned-up cuffs on their dark rinse jeans.

The cool kids priced out of Park Slope, Brooklyn have stampeded north to our funky little river town, the one whose volunteer fire department — still — is summoned by a series of specific fog-horn blasts.

Alma Snape florists is now an art gallery.

Mrs. Reali’s dry cleaners, with the dead ficus tree in the window, is now a photographer specializing in wedding and engagement and baby photos.

The former antiques mall, stretching way back from Main Street, is a gourmet shop and restaurant run by a former Manhattan photographer — one we enjoy, but where we also saw three people, in one day, read the menu and say out loud: “This is too expensive.”

Ours was once a town of battered Saturns and Corollas and Buicks.

Now there are Mercedes and even a Maserati and a Lamborghini.

Like Moss, I stare and think — who are these people?

 

Life, alone

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By Caitlin Kelly

There’s a lot to unpack in this poignant personal essay,  written by a 36-year-old woman living alone in Brooklyn, NY.

An excerpt:

There are the big things, the Christmases, the New Year’s Eves, the motherfucking Valentine’s Days. We won’t be participating in cultural norms on these holidays, we’ll be MacGyvering the single woman’s version of all of them. And we’re good at it, too! Have you noticed the “Galentine’s” cards section at Target this year? The name is repulsive, but the message is great. We’ve versioned a holiday, you guys — they see us!

Birthdays are another fun one. With the exception of my 30th, I’ve been planning my own birthday celebrations for a decade. Nobody’s ever like, “What should I do for Shani for her birthday? I’ve got it, Kitten Party!!” It doesn’t happen. What typically happens instead is I email 10 people, five of them are available, I make a dinner reservation, the end.

If I’m honest, the big things don’t bother me half as much as the tiny ones…For example, who’s your In Case Of Emergency person? Mine is my mum. She lives 1800 MILES AWAY. And yes, I could list a friend, but I don’t like how that makes me feel. Have you ever really been in an “emergency?” It’s terrifying, and I don’t like assigning that potential imposition to a friend.

And I’m a lucky one, I have my mum. Not everyone does. But at a certain point in life, I developed a need to be number one to someone other than a parent. And I’m not.

This essay hit me hard for a few reasons….mostly what she sees as the high cost of independence — a loss of feeling valued and nurtured.

Like this sentence of hers:

I could list a friend, but I don’t like how that makes me feel. Have you ever really been in an “emergency?” It’s terrifying, and I don’t like assigning that potential imposition to a friend.

But how else can we function, those of us who live alone and may do so for decades, by choice or not?

Many of us now live equally far away from our parents or siblings; I haven’t lived in the same country as my parents for decades and my three half-siblings are not people I rely on for anything. I barely know them.

I lived alone ages 19 to 23, ages 26 to 30, ages 37 to 43, (after my divorce and when I met my second husband), a total of 14 years.

So I’ve had a lot of time alone, solo, single, reliant only on myself and whoever stepped up for me.

 

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In those times, like the essayist, I’ve been really ill — I remember finally sleeping in flu-ish exhaustion at the foot of the stairs in my two-story Toronto apartment, the top two floors of a house, with no room-mates to notice or care. I couldn’t face climbing the stairs up to my bedroom again after one more trip to the second-floor bathroom.

Later, with a bad injury to my left ankle, I had to manage stairs into the apartment on  crutches as well, plus walking my dog. There really wasn’t anyone to call.

But I was also, then, in my mid-20s, and ferociously independent, unwilling or unable to ask others for help; when you come from a family uninterested in your welfare, you make the sad — and erroneous — assumption that since they (your own parents!) don’t care, why on earth would a non-relative?

But in my late 30s, with two knee surgeries to recover from, I had to literally open the door — and my suburban New York church brought me meals on wheels for a few days. I still remember who made soup and who delivered it, one now a very good friend all these years later.

 

Love is action!

 

North American life and culture, whether the shiny faux perfection of social media, the relentless work hours and long commutes that wear us out and steal our time, the competing demands of our own work, studies and/or family, can make it difficult to really be a good friend.

 

To summon the energy and make an effort.

To take the subway or bus crosstown or drive 20 minutes and find parking

To visit the hospital on a bitterly cold winter day.

To pick up a few bags of groceries or some fresh flowers and bring them to a friend.

To plan a party.

To remember a birthday.

Do you live alone?

Do you have people other than family to turn to and rely on?

The lost art of listening

 

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By Caitlin Kelly

Great essay, in The New York Times.

An excerpt:

High schools and colleges have debate teams and courses in rhetoric and persuasion, but rarely, if ever, offer classes or extracurricular activities that teach careful listening. You can get a doctorate in speech communication and join clubs such as Toastmasters to perfect your public speaking, but who strives for excellence in listening? The image of success and power today is someone miked up and prowling around a stage or orating from behind a lectern. Giving a TED talk or delivering a commencement speech is living the dream.

The cacophony of modern life also stops us from listening. The acoustics in restaurants can make it difficult, if not impossible, for diners to clearly hear one another. Offices with an open design ensure every keyboard click, telephone call and after-lunch belch make for constant racket. Traffic noise on city streets, music playing in shops and the bean grinder at your favorite coffeehouse exceed the volume of normal conversation by as much as 30 decibels, and can even cause hearing loss.

This past week was hectic and one day was sunny and clear and I needed some silence! I headed to our local reservoir and went for a walk — the only sounds the distant tapping of a few woodpeckers and the rustle of dry leaves as gray squirrels chased one another.

Bliss!

I really enjoy interviewing people, key to my work as a journalist, but — obviously — it demands close and careful and sustained attention, because I don’t use a tape recorder. I don’t want to waste unpaid hours transcribing or paying $1/minute to have someone else do it nor ever fear that the recording didn’t work.

A pen and notebook are fine with me, and force me to pay very close attention, not only to someone’s words, but their silences, pauses, hesitations, sighs, laughter.

My interviews are usually 30 to 45 to 60 minutes and after an hour, I’m tired! More than that gets really tiring — but it also creates a better bond, deeper conversation and, typically, better results in the form of great quotes or insights.

We’re rarely brilliant from our very first sentence!

A bit more from the essay:

How you listen can work like a self-fulfilling prophecy: If you’re barely listening to someone because you think that person is boring or not worth your time, you could actually make it so. Moreover, listening to other people makes it more likely other people will listen to you. This is partly because it’s human nature to return courtesies, but also because good listening improves your chances of delivering a message that resonates.

Listening is a skill. And as with any skill, it degrades if you don’t do it enough.

I also coach other writers, in 60-minute sessions by phone, Skype or face to face. They, too, are a challenge because my role is to help, quickly! I’m both diagnosing and prescribing solutions on the fly. I love it, but whew! Listening so intently and responding helpfully is serious work.

It’s fair to acknowledge that listening and paying attention are tiring, and so it can be tempting to tune people out, nodding but not really there. I’ve realized that journalism is a good fit for me because so much of it is experiential, and why studying interior design — as I did in the ’90s — was so joyful: it was tactile!

I didn’t have to just sit still and listen.

But I also listen carefully wherever I go, whether to silence in the woods or music on the radio or the distant honking of passing geese.

We’ve also had some recent moments in our 20-year marriage that have revealed how differently each of us listens and hears, and what very different language we choose to express how we see the world.

And, thanks to my recent healthcare story, I’ve received some very long and critical — albeit polite and smart — private emails from a reader, an American living in Canada. I could have dismissed her, or not replied, or been defensive but we actually exchanged several very long and thoughtful emails, even though we’re politically quite different!

 

We chose to listen to one another.

 

In today’s headphones-on, “lalalalala I can’t hear you!” deeply divided culture, that’s now a radical act.

 

Where do you listen most closely — and what do you gain from doing so?