Cognitive overload!

By Caitlin Kelly

I bet you’re hitting it as well.

Right now, I’m juggling:

Dealing with administrative/tedious tasks to access services at two Canadian government websites

Same with a navigator for healthcare who needs a lot of detail from me (like how can I possibly know in advance which hospitals and doctors I want?!)

Worried about a younger half-brother recently diagnosed with cancer; it looks treatable but he has already had major surgery and face a lot of aggressive chemo

Worried about two very over-burdened friends, one with an elderly mother and one whose job is from hell

Trying to find an editor to make a commitment — sight unseen –– to a series of stories I want to produce to win one of two highly competitive fellowships. This obstacle is extremely unfair to any freelancer, forcing us to force editors into commitments months in advance, and both of the places I plan to apply insist upon it.

Polishing the fellowship application.

The war in Ukraine

More COVID spreading with the latest variant

Climate change, as this New York magazine story reminds us:

Yes, there is a war going on, not to mention an ongoing pandemic, an inflation and energy crisis, and plenty of other, more quotidian concerns besides. But many of the same figures calling, screamingly, for attention in 2018 are doing the same this time around. U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres has ushered the new report into the world with familiar fire-and-brimstone rhetoric. “Nearly half of humanity is living in the danger zone — now,” he said. “Many ecosystems are at the point of no return — now. Unchecked carbon pollution is forcing the world’s most vulnerable on a frog march to destruction — now.” The report itself concluded with a similar flourish: “Any further delay in concerted global action will miss a brief and rapidly closing window to secure a livable future.” In his introductory remarks, Guterres underscored the point: “Delay means death.”

Life, mid-pandemic

By Caitlin Kelly

Nope, we are not “post” pandemic!

I now keep masks in my purses and the car and almost every pocket. I do not like wearing a mask, especially going 100 rpm in spin class, where it’s mandatory.

I wonder when (if!) we will ever be free of them.

But I also think we’re going to keep getting hit with variants for years and we will need to keep getting vaccinated and paying attention.

We are lucky and grateful to not have gotten this disease.

So, here’s how life is for me and Jose these days:

— I’ve booked flights and hotels for a month’s stay in California in June. I cannot sit here one more minute dreaming of all the travel I’ve missed for the past two years! I’ll be celebrating my birthday with friends, then doing a solo driving trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles, meeting up in each place with friends who live there.

Work has been a variety of things: coaching other writers, doing three Zoom webinars with a younger friend in Tennessee (we each made decent money when 35-47 people showed up at $25/head), sold my first story to the Financial Times, and blogging for two design websites.

Entertaining! I have so so so missed having people over, so I had two colleagues up from New York for tea. It was a perfect afternoon, with little sandwiches and treats and two kinds of tea all served from my 19th c tea set. We’re seeing friends in the city next week at their new apartment as well.

Culture! I’ve seen two plays recently and two concerts. The weather is less punishing and, as mandates ease up, it just feels safer.

Inflation. So fun. This week’s groceries (including non- food items like cleaning products, paper products and a bunch of roses) $290. For two people. Gas has jumped to $4.49 gallon where we live, up to $6 a gallon elsewhere. Nothing to be done but deal with it.

Fear. Fear of, oh you know, nuclear annihilation. Where are our passports? Is there anywhere safe while Putin remains in power?

Grief. Ukraine.

Social life starts again. Sort of.

Professional events. We’re attending an industry dinner soon (dressing up!) and I’m speaking May 1 at an annual journalism conference.

Of course, we know dozens of people who have gotten COVID, thankfully none who died.

I lost my beloved breast surgeon to long COVID as she got it before the vaccines were even available.

I fear, seriously, for the millions who are now suffering from long COVID and whose lives are radically changed and worsened, from brain fog and crippling fatigue to heart issues and more. No government seems to have realized its impact, and I see people being denied disability benefits they need to survive when they can’t prove the problem.

Between war and climate change and inflation and COVID — how are you doing?

Aaaah, far niente! The joy of being lazy

My favorite clock — in a Zagreb cafe

By Caitlin Kelly

I always thought I was ambitious and driven — and I am! — but hoo, boy, living in the United States, and especially in New York, can make people working 24/7 feel lazy, slow and — the worst insult here — “unproductive.”

If there is a word I loathe, it’s “productive”, and wrote one of my most popular and controversial early blog posts about it.

It assumes our only value in the world is financial — making lots and lots of money and proving to everyone how hard-working you are, when many of us, so many, would have preferred more available parents or friends or relatives to just hang out with for a while. I mean, working way beyond financial need or your work’s requirements to keep proving to someone (who?) you are a valuable person.

We are.

No one, I assure you, no one, dies whispering regretfully they wish they’d been more productive.

They mourn lost or broken relationships, the travel they never enjoyed, the loss of health and strength.

I love to look at beauty

I was too driven for my native Canada but am far too European for the U.S. — because I nap almost every day, vacation as often and for as long (pre-COVID) as affordable, and keep urging others to lay down tools and rest.

So I loved this piece in The New York Times on the unfashionable joys of being lazy:

America in 2022 is an exhausting place to live. Pretty much everyone I know is tired. We’re tired of answering work emails after dinner. We’re tired of caring for senior family members in a crumbling elder care system, of worrying about a mass shooting at our children’s schools. We’re tired by unprocessed grief and untended-to illness and depression. We’re tired of wildfires becoming a fact of life in the West, of floods and hurricanes hitting the South and East. We’re really tired of this unending pandemic. Most of all, we are exhausted by trying to keep going as if everything is fine.

Increasing numbers of people are refusing to push through this mounting weariness: There are currently 10 million job openings in the United States, up from 6.4 million before the pandemic.

This trend is being led by young people; millions are planning to leave their jobs in the coming year. Some middle-aged people decry the laziness of today’s youth, but as a chronically sick Gen X parent, and as a rabbi who has spent much of my career tending to dying people as their lives naturally slow, I am cheering young people on in this Great Resignation.

I have seen the limits of the grind. I want my child to learn how to be lazy.

I also like this, from Seth Godin’s blog:

In our fast-moving world, it’s easy to get hooked on personal velocity. What’s in your inbox? Did someone follow you in the last ten seconds? Where’s the beep and the beep and the beep from your last post?

Perhaps we talk faster, interrupt, talk over, invent, dissect, criticize and then move on to the next thing. Boom, boom, boom.

Don’t want to fall off the bike.

But life isn’t a bike. It works fine if we take a moment and leave space for the person next to us to speak.

Are you going fast without getting anywhere?

Come join our pitch slam! Dec. 15, 6-7 ET

By Caitlin Kelly

On December 15, between 6-7pm ET, my friend Abby Lee Hood and I are offering a Zoom pitch slam — $25.

If you have been pitching (some of?) your ideas fruitlessly, this is a great and affordable opportunity to get smart, kind, helpful feedback from two busy full-time freelancers; I’ve sold more than 100 stories to the very demanding editors of The New York Times and Abby writes for a wide variety of outlets, some in their native Tennessee (i.e. local and regional news) but also for the Times, Teen Vogue, Washington Post and more.

Pitching isn’t easy!

So this webinar, which will be recorded, offers everyone a chance to either pitch their idea and get our candid-but-kind feedback or just watch, listen and learn.

Here’s the sign-up!

Hope you will join us!

Other people’s lives

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

By Caitlin Kelly

Social media can be social — meeting and getting to know new friends and colleagues solely through LinkedIn or Twitter or TikTok or blogs or Insta or Twitter — and/or, passively, it can offer us a peek into other worlds, wholly different from our own.

Given that we’ll have to stay physically distant from so many people for so many years — yes, years with this goddamn pandemic — virtual life and relationships are the safest and best many of us have now.

Travel? Also difficult to impossible; we recently lost $2,000 for non-refundable airfare and hotels after cancelling two much-anticipated vacations.

So, yes, I’m loving images (however enviously!) from Greece and Morocco and Kenya and Cornwall and the Hebrides…

Last week, Abby Lee Hood and I did a pitching workshop aimed at helping other freelance writers write better pitches — a pitch is a sort of a sales document for a story we might want to write. They’re not easy to do well and we got 47 people to sign up, which was fantastic. It went very well and people were still buying copies of our Zoom video days later.

I’ve yet to meet Abby, who is non-binary and has tattoos and owns a small pig, a three-legged cat, an albino hedgehog and a dog. They live in small-town Tennessee, a state I’ve never been to.

They are 27. I am…much older.

What on earth would we have in common?

A lot!

As we’ve gotten to know one another, we found we both share some similar issues with our families of origin. We both have high ambitions for our work. We both hustle hard for assignments. And we also share some fundamental life values.

I’ve found them to be a deeply generous person, rare these days it seems.

So I hope our workshop, beyond its obvious goal, also modeled that sort of inter-generational friendship for a few others.

Some of the many lives I enjoy witnessing, between Twitter and Instagram, include:

Three women archeologists

A male archeologist in Berlin who works on Gobekli Tepe, a famous Neolithic Turkish site; I met him on one of the travel Twitterchats I participate in

A Canadian Arctic marine biologist

A Chilean photographer

A photographer in Queretaro, Mexico

A Canadian mother of two young boys in Australia whose nature photos are amazing

A Scottish mountain climber

A nephrologist in San Antonio, Texas who writes as Doctor T on Twitter

A French illustrator

Several interior designers

Several artists, one a young British woman whose work is spectacular but who posts rarely

A London-based dealer in antique and rare textiles

Several European female commercial airline pilots

A mudlarker in London

A few economists

And (sigh) several Facebook groups about buying a home and living in France, a dream of mine for a long time.

Do you have favorite blogs or social media folk you really enjoy?

Taking a short break

By Caitlin Kelly

Having been basically mugged on Facebook this week by someone determined to professionally sabotage me, I’m a little sour on social media right now.

It was real shock to me, and has left me sickened by how vicious someone can choose to be.

So with July 1 (Canada Day) and July 4 coming up, I’m laying down tools for now.

See you in a week or so.

Stay cool!

This writer’s week

By Caitlin Kelly

Whew!

It seems obvious that writers write, certainly when every word adds income — and our health insurance alone (God bless America!!) is $1,500.00

The truth, as every freelancer knows, is that before I write a word about anything, I also spend a lot of time, probably 80 percent, just finding and getting the work and negotiating payment and conditions. For one recent story, I had to read and sign a nine-page single-space contract.

This week involved no writing, but lots of meetings:

— My web designer, now living in Asia and who I’ve been working with since 1995, suggested my writing skills to a client of his, a physician in Virginia, to help refresh the copy on his website. I spent half an hour speaking to the doctor, a specialist, to find out if we might be a good fit. I was a little nervous, as he might have been as well. These initial conversations are something of a mutual audition. Do we speak the same language? Do we each have a sense of humor? Did we enjoy it? I also had to name an hourly fee and rough estimate of how much time I thought it would take, not knowing if this would be acceptable. It went great, so onward!

— A former coaching client who’s become a friend needs new freelance writers so we skedded a call to discuss.

— A new design website needs copy focused on antiques, something I know well and have studied many times, hence a call to talk about some ideas.

— I’m working on a very cool story for The New York Times, (I’ve written more than 100 for them), but it’s moving very slowly. My key source lost his mother very suddenly, so I stayed away for a while. This is a story where I think personal introductions to sources will prove more fruitful. There are different ways to find and approach people, some better for some stories than others, and some just take a lot more time to pull together. None of this time is paid for, just built into the one fee we get per story.

— A calm and civil conversation with the editor I had walked away from mid-story. I’ll get a kill fee, 25 percent of the original, instead.

— Emailed an editor in England I’d hoped to be working with on a story in July, but she warned me of changes at the company.

I recently did a Zoom webinar with Jose and counted up the number of clients I worked with in 2020 — 19.

This year, already, 19!

I enjoy this variety, but I admit it’s tiring adapting to 19 different people and their needs and their individual style.

I’ve had one boss before in many staff jobs. It’s a bit easier!

Boundaries matter

By Caitlin Kelly

For some people, including me, setting and keeping tight boundaries around our time, energy, bodies, and psyche presents a real challenge.

I grew up in a bossy, often angry family that rarely, if ever, asked: “How do you feel?”

It wasn’t deemed relevant. Or I guess they assumed I’d speak up, which I rarely did.

I left my mother’s care at 14 when she was suffering from mental illness and not doing a great job with it. The stress was too much for me.

So I did set a boundary and a major one, early. But every time I hear the Cat Stevens song, Father and Son, it wrings my heart — the father pleading, “Stay, stay” and the son replying “I have to go.”

Sometimes you just do.

But it also matters when it comes to work.

Americans – with the worst/cheapest/nastiest labor policies possible — are used to working like dogs, not taking vacations or sick days, working in “at will” states where you can be legally fired for no reason at all.

So setting boundaries is just very difficult in a culture that expects us to be on and eagerly available pretty much all the time.

Last week, I walked away from a writing assignment worth $1,250 with a new-to-me editor at a major website.

I’m not thrilled about this. I have done this three times in my career, when the stress outweighed the income.

That’s a significant loss of income for us and was only possible because we have savings.

It’s not a habit of mine to bail on work!

But nor is it a habit to work with editors or others who are unpleasant or disrespectful.

I could have stayed.

I could have kept working on this story.

These days, decades into my career, I make my mental health the priority.

Setting and keeping a boundary can mean changing the dynamics of a relationship, or ending it entirely.

It comes at a cost, and has consequences, sometimes those we don’t expect or can’t foresee.

But who counts more?

Working more…or less

By Caitlin Kelly

Longtime readers here know this is something I think about a lot.

The New York Times ran an editorial on this, urging Americans to seriously consider working less:

Search online “work too much” and you’ll get screenfuls of information about the harmful medical, mental and social consequences of spending too much time on the job, going all the way back to that old saw first recorded in the 17th century, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”

It should be “makes Jack a dead boy,” says the latest contribution to the literature of overwork, this one from the World Health Organization and the International Labor Organization.

A new study by the two groups says that working 55 or more hours a week is a “serious health hazard.” It estimates that long working hours led to 745,000 deaths worldwide in 2016, a 29 percent increase over 2000. Men accounted for 72 percent of the fatalities; the worst concentrations were in the Western Pacific and Southeast Asia, and particularly among 60- to 79-year-olds who had worked long hours after the age of 45.

Reading this book is enough to set one’s blood to boiling…but so many Americans are still too scared, too poor and too disorganized (i.e. no union) to do a thing about their terrible hours, conditions and pay.

But there’s also a peculiarly American insistence, beyond financial need, to keep proving to everyone all the time how productive you are, as if there’s some Powerful Person standing somewhere with a clicker to clock every minute you ever worked and you’ll be rewarded by….not dying?

As if working all the time for money, to burnish your professional reputation, to boost your income or status, is the only thing worth attaining or achieving.

What about:

Family?

Friendships?

Caregiving?

Travel?

Leisure?

Hobbies?

Volunteer work?

Education?

If Covid’s terrible damage to millions — destroying their long-term health or killing them — wasn’t sufficient warning that our time here is limited and we have many other ways to spend our time, what is?

Saying goodbye to a beloved MD

By Caitlin Kelly

She is closing her practice at my suburban small hospital and headed back to the West Coast, from where she was lured to run multiple programs here.

I’m devastated.

She’s my breast surgeon and, as anyone who’s faced that cancer knows, there are few physician relationships as intimate and frightening.

From the minute we met, I liked her a lot.

My first words (surprise!) were: “No disrespect, but please don’t ever bullshit me.” And I brought my husband Jose to most appointments with me as well.

She’s a bit younger than I am, and such a badass!

Her fashion sense is something else — Frye boots, pleated skirts, sometimes a pastel shift.

And she always wears funky socks in the OR with her scrubs.

The day of my surgery, July 6, 2018 (a lumpectomy), she arrived with her team, one of whom was a Glamazon with fabulous braids and manicure. Damn!

She reminded me she was wearing her lucky monkey socks — and even a monkey band-aid on her shin.

I know, I know, some patients would never ever want to be joked with pre-op. But she knew me enough to know that a good laugh was the best medicine for me then.

I never doubted that her sense of humor could in any way diminish her skills.

As someone who jokes a lot, I know that only a truly confident woman feels safe enough to be that publicly playful.

Our relationship hs been an unusual one in that we would also have quick personal conversations at every meeting and I got to know her a bit. She read and much admired my writing.

Imagine a physician as a friend.

Now she’s moving on and I am truly bereft.

But so lucky and grateful to have had what truly has been her medical care.