How journalism happens

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Written by a documentary film-maker, daughter of the late, great NYT journalist David Carr

 

By Caitlin Kelly

It’s ironic — we each have more access now, thanks to the Internet, to thousands of media sources from across the globe than ever before.

Yet I see such tremendous ignorance of what journalism is.

What we do. Why we do it. What we earn. Our many constraints and challenges.

So, as we close out this decade, this is my stake in the ground, a sort of Media 101. (If this is all overly familiar, sorry!)

 

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Where does a “news” story come from?

The textbook definition of news means it’s new (something we haven’t seen or heard before); it affects the outlet’s audience (whether local, regional, national or global); it affects someone wealthy or powerful (a sad metric, but often used); it marks a significant change from prior experience; a natural disaster; a major crime.

It also, ideally, covers all levels of government. Ideally, also we cover major issues like income inequality/poverty, health, education, environment, etc.

Do journalists pay their sources?

No. This is common in some British tabloids, but not in North America, where it’s taboo. It demands cooperation from sources, yes, but it means (ideally!) that money doesn’t buy access or coverage.

Do sources pay to be in a story?

No! There is now the absurd belief — based on “journalism” like Forbes’ blogs — that you just pay to play. I’ve been offered payment many times by sources to write about them. Unscrupulous journalists accept, creating the fantasy this is normal. It is not.

 

 

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How do I know who or what to trust?

This is now a huge and troubling issue — I recently attended a powerful and sobering event at the New York HQ for Reuters, with terrific panelists addressing this very question.

The first speaker, who flew in from London, showed the audience five videos and asked us to vote on whether they were fake or real. Some were fake, and so carefully created it was really difficult to tell.

In an era of such deceptive deepfakes, question carefully!

 

Who writes the headlines?

Not the reporters! Every outlet has a series of editors above the reporters and they will oversee the headlines and write them. No reporter writes their own headlines; freelancers can and do suggest one when pitching, and some will be kept.

Same for book titles; I named my first book and my editor (thankfully!) named my second.

Who writes the captions for photos?

Editors. Sometimes the photographer.

 

How much do reporters make?

Hah! So much less than people imagine. In 2019, the American average was $40,081. To put this into context, I earned $45,000 as a reporter for the Montreal Gazette  — in the 1980s. If you’re fortunate enough to get hired by a major national outlet, like Reuters wire service or The New York Times, you might get $90,000 or more.

How much do TV reporters make?

A lot more, depending if regional or national. Those working at the national level — sometimes more experienced and skilled — will make more. Locally, $56,455.

 

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How much do authors make?

Some, millions. Some, pennies!

There are many, many tiers of book publishing, from academic houses to small indies to the mega’s like Simon & Schuster or Harper Collins, able to offer enormous advances to those they think worth the investment — like Michelle and Barack Obama, who got (reportedly) $65 million.

An “advance” may be divided into three or four parts: one on signing the deal, one on acceptance of the manuscript; one on publication and one (!) a year or more after publication. Hardly “advance”!

Every payment will likely lose 15 percent off the top to the agent who sold it.

Every book sold means more money, right?

Nope.

If your advance is $100,000, you must “earn out” that sum before getting another dime from the publisher.

And the game is rigged, since every book sold does not give the author the cover price!

We get eight percent of the retail price.

So this belief that a TV or radio or podcast appearance means a huge boost to our income from our books is wishful fantasy.

What exactly do TV and radio producers do?

There are “bookers” and producers who find and pre-interview people they think will be good on-air. You may have noticed a predominance of white men. People with no discernible accent.

 

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How do people actually end up getting interviewed by the media?

A variety of ways. Some have in-house communications departments or PIOs (public information officers) to handle requests formally. Some have a public relations firm pumping out press releases all the time! Some know a journalist or producer personally.

If it’s a major news event, like a shooting or natural disaster, we speak to as many people there as possible — traumatic for them, often.

 

How do you get access to documents?

Some use a Freedom of Information Act — FOIA — to get at them. It’s been in American law since 1967, the legal right to access any document from any federal agency.

Sometimes we get them offered to us by an internal whistle-blower.

 

How are freelance writers paid?

Bizarrely, by the word. Sometimes a flat fee. These range from $150 to $10,000 or more. No rules. No guidelines. It’s every-man-for-himself. So a story of 500 words at .50 cents per word will pay less than a magazine piece at $2/word for 3,000 words.

We are not paid until the story is accepted — and that can take months. It’s a huge problem.

Stories also get “killed” — not used and maybe not even paid for, maybe 25 percent of the original fee.

 

A glossary:

 

Hed

The headline.

Sub-hed

A sub-heading within the body of a story, often used to break up copy and keep the reader moving.

Pull-quote or call-out

A phrase or quote that’s memorable, meant to entice the reader into the story.

Dek

A brief description of the story.

Lede

The first sentence or paragraph. Crucial!

Kicker

The final sentence or paragraph. Crucial!

Graf

A paragraph.

The 5 W’s and H

Who, What, When, Where, Why and How….every story should answer these.

B-roll

Images to illustrate a TV story or video that aren’t the main event. Sometimes shot in advance.

Nut graf

High up in a story, the graf that explains why the story is even worth reading.

Explainer

A detailed story to explain a complicated issue.

Presser

A press conference.

On the record

Everything you say is now for permanent, public consumption. (Off the record means it’s not — but only if you preface your remarks with this phrase, not afterward.)

Writing is lonely! Solutions…

 

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There are some great words in there somewhere!

 

By Caitlin Kelly

Sure, some people can write well in a noisy and crowded coffee shop.

Not me.

For truly focused, uninterrupted work, I need quiet, either at home alone or at a library.

Writing really means often wondering — does this sentence/paragraph/chapter even make sense?!

So I’m fascinated by two recent reports of writers meeting face to face to help one another thrive, one in Hollywood and many others more private.

The one in Hollywood is called Rideback.

From The New York Times:

Mr. Lin is betting that Rideback will strengthen and accelerate the creative process. It is a Hollywood twist on WeWork, the shared office space company. Mr. Lin said he was also inspired by Pixar’s “brain trust” sessions, in which directors and writers candidly critique one another’s work, and by “The Medici Effect,” Frans Johansson’s 2004 book about the ignition of the Renaissance.

“If you put a bunch of creative people from different backgrounds into one space, something magical will happen,” Mr. Lin said. “Studio lots used to be just that. You would walk around and everyone would be there. But studio lots aren’t as much fun anymore. They can feel corporate.”

Mr. Lin has 15 employees of his own. They work on the Rideback campus, where they are focused on finding a way forward for the “Lego” series, most likely with a new studio partner. (Universal is one option.) Other front-burner projects include an “Aladdin” sequel and a television spinoff; “Lethal Weapon 5,” with Mel Gibson and Danny Glover signed up to return; movies based on Cirque du Soleil shows; and a remake of the TV series “Walker, Texas Ranger.”

 

 

Writers also meet face to face with trusted peers:

 

Writing is often considered a solitary act, but some writers have figured out a way to make the process more collaborative even before editors, agents and other publishing professionals get involved. Zhang’s group, which includes Alice Sola Kim, Karan Mahajan and Tony Tulathimutte, has been meeting about every month since most of them were undergraduate students at Stanford University. Their sessions are highly structured, with deadlines for submitting drafts and detailed manuscript notes, while other groups gather more informally to talk about their careers, commiserate over deadlines or gossip about the publishing industry.

“You will feel like writing is very lonely and very difficult and very frustrating and that you don’t really know what you’re doing,” said the Chicago-based writer Mikki Kendall. But in a writing group, “you can talk to other people in that place and that are feeling their way out.”

 

I don’t belong to any such group, but I do belong to at least six on-line writers’ groups — and have done so online for many years, still close friends with a few people I only initially knew that way. One, a writer now living in California, and I shared a room at a Boston writing conference never having even met in person, launching a long and treasured friendship.

It really cuts the loneliness to be able to talk your ideas and challenges through with people at the same level of skill and experience and, if you’re lucky, those a few steps beyond you, willing to be generous.

One such group (many are private Facebook groups), is small — only 200 — and only those with a decade’s experience can join. I know, even if I don’t like the answers, I’ll get a quick and candid reply from someone else who’s been around the same block a few times.

 

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Writing books makes me really happy — but also very nervous!

 

The challenge of all writers’ groups, in any form, is the classic writers’ combo of insecurity and ego. I’ve seen several such online groups explode in outrage and vicious bullying. It can get weird and ugly quickly.

And to share, let alone publish your work — poetry, fiction, non-fiction, essays, journalism — demands the courage to have a voice, to put it out there for comment, criticism and potential disagreement. That opens you up, de facto, to potential hurt.

So I have what I consider a bit of a brain trust; to gather feedback on a recent story of 5,000 words — my longest and most complex in a decade — I enlisted the fresh eyes and expertise of three people whose judgment I trust. One is a man half my age who’s very good; one is a woman my age whose writing I deeply admire and the third is a professional book editor. These “first readers” are so helpful and so important.

After revising your work over and over and over and over — you’re tired! You have blind spots. The material has become so familiar you’re likely to miss places that it’s still confusing to someone who has never read it at all. So these trusted peers are so valuable.

I’ve done this for others, of course, helping to review their stories and book manuscripts. I’m honored to do it.

If you’re lucky and talented and persistent, you will find a peer group and they will help steer you through.

Movies, movies, movies

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THE BREAKFAST CLUB, Judd Nelson, Emilio Estevez, Ally Sheedy, Molly Ringwald, Anthony Michael Hall, 1985. ©Universal Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

 

By Caitlin Kelly

Three in a day.

No big deal!

Yesterday, another gray, rainy day here, meant movie day. We are incredibly lucky to have an art house theater — a former vaudeville theater from the 1920s — renovated and a 15-minute drive north of us, offering an amazing array of documentaries, series, events and features. Annual membership is $85 and tickets are $10 (only $8 two years ago.)

Some weeks I’m there several times.

I also watch on TV and streaming.

I don’t watch horror or kids’ films. Not much into animation — but recently re-watched the 2003 animated stunner Triplets of Belleville — which was nominated for the Oscar for Best Animated Feature (and lost to Finding Nemo.)

I enjoy foreign films — and have raved here before about some of them, like Capernaum.

 

I love movies!

 

My father made documentaries and feature films for a living so this is a world I grew up in and knew and respected. I didn’t want to make them myself, too in awe of the tremendous skills and the huge teams needed: greensman, Foley artist, ADR, grips, gaffers, make-up and hair and costumes.

Not to mention the cinematographers and directors.

 

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LOVE!

 

I find film utterly immersive, a dream state, and when I write, try to use similar ideas — tight close-ups, establishing shots, scenes and dialogue.

I love being in a theater (a quiet one!) with some popcorn, ready to disappear once more.

Here are the three films I saw yesterday:

 

63Up

In 1964, a Canadian film-maker named Paul Almond made a film about 14 British children, meant to show how class affects them. It became a series,with fresh interviews every seven years, and offers a sometimes sad, sometimes moving look at how we age and change — or don’t. The 14, typical of Britain then perhaps, includes only one black boy and all the rest are white.

One man suffers mental illness and homelessness. Several marry and divorce. Almost all have children and grand-children. I hope it continues and is well worth a look.

 

Knives Out

A who-dun-it filmed in an astonishing mansion, with a rapacious family fighting over their inheritance from their mystery-author father, played by Canadian actor Christopher Plummer. Daniel Craig, best known for playing James Bond, here plays a southern detective, with a weird drawl. It’s an amusing film, but too long and not one I would see again.

 

The Favourite

 

This really is one of my favo(u)rite films so I watched it on TV for maybe the third or fourth time.

Set during the reign of Queen Anne, who suffered the unimaginable loss of 17 children, it’s the devilish tale of a scheming fallen aristocrat, Abigail Masham, up against brilliant, witty Sarah, Lady Marlborough. As the Queen, Olivia Colman is stunning — and won the Oscar for Best Actress in 2018 for it.

Set in early 18th-century England, it’s a feast of gorgeous cinematography (with a lot of fish-eye lenses, adding visual distortion to the emotional weirdness), music, costume, sets and make-up. Nicholas Hoult is Lord Harley, and deliciously awful.

It’s a moving, sad, gorgeous tale of power and attraction, of love and flattery, of how easily a weak, ill Queen rejected her best ally and friend for a sneaky underminer.

And based on historical fact!

A rough week

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So tired of financial thin ice

 

By Caitlin Kelly

By December 15, any American who doesn’t have health insurance has to sign up for it.

If you want to change plans, same.

I had to make four separate calls to get the information I needed. We are keeping our plan — now going up to $1800 a month.

There are no bargains.

 

If your plan costs less per month (and I’m talking $800 a month, not $200 to $400), you’re hit with huge “deductibles” — more money to pay out of pocket.

A plan that would offer dental “coverage” would limit us to basic care, and charge us a $25 co-pay every time we actually used it.

This is absurd, and our dentist is fine letting us pay over time. No co-pay.

American health insurance, when you work for yourself and it’s not subsidized by an employer, is a crippling cost. We’re reduced now to using retirement savings for it…wasting our hard-earned money to stave off potential bankruptcy.

I’ve recently been told to add two new medications, so a comprehensive plan is essential.

Having grown up in Canada, this “system” is just barbaric. But I left Canada seeking better work opportunities, and until recently, this was true.

Journalism, now, is in free fall.

Freelance pay rates are one-third of the 1990s.

And this is not the time or place to suddenly re-train for some whole new career. Just not going to happen.

Plus this week offered a nasty surprise financial disclosure that stunned me, not in a good way.

Not feeling the holiday spirit at all right now.

 

My favorite medium

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My poor little radio! Still working, even after (!) it fell off a shelf into a bucket of soapy water last week

 

By Caitlin Kelly

A writer…Must be print!

Nope.

 

Radio.

 

I grew up in Canada, where the CBC was huge; we now listen to it on the Internet, and it makes me homesick!

At boarding school, always sharing a room with three or four others, we’d get into radio wars, turning up our little transistors as loud as possible to drown out competing music.

Guess whose radio got confiscated?

As a teenager living in Toronto with my father, the CBC nightly news show, As It Happens, dominated every dinner.

I didn’t own a television in my 20s. In the days before cable and hundreds of streaming services — and with plenty of friends to hang out with — it wasn’t interesting.

So radio has long been my low-cost, portable stalwart companion.

When I was a reporter at the Globe & Mail, Canada’s national newspaper, I’d listen to the news before heading to work — and hear my own stories reported again: “rip and read radio” we called it.

One of my favorite memories was arriving in Salluit, Quebec, at the Arctic Circle in December, on assignment for the Montreal Gazette. The tiny village had disliked a previous story of mine (poorly edited!) and no one wanted to speak with me now.

I had 24 hours there and the flight had cost $5,000.

So I went into the particle board shack that was their local radio station and a local man interviewed me in English, then translated my replies into Inuktitut and broadcast them to the village.

It worked, and people at the village hall that evening shared a powerful story with me of government mismanagement. Not the original assignment, but much stronger.

I recently re-watched the terrific The King’s Speech, the 2010 film about King George VI having to give a radio speech despite his stutter.

Then there’s Van Morrison’s classic Caravan, a radio-themed song, off of Moondance.

My favorite Saturday routine is listening to This American Life at 1:00 pm ET, followed by The Moth, on NPR. The first is a set of three related true-life stories, the second story-telling before a live audience by regular (coached) people. I enjoy “appointment radio” — when, of course, everything is now easily listened to by podcasts.

I also enjoy WKCR’s reggae Saturday morning show, followed by Across 110th St., with funk and blues; it’s the radio station for Columbia University.

Then our favorite, TSFJazz, from Paris, which plays a phenomenal range of music, with and without lyrics.

I work alone at home, without kid or pets, so the radio is such a welcome companion, whether music or talk show while television requires me to sit still in one place; I can enjoy the radio lying in bed or the bath or doing some housework at the same time.

In our car, we have Sirius XM, with its enormous array of stations — from Canadian comedy to my current favorite, Channel 163, Chansons, which only plays French music, a mix of country (!), folk, hip-hop, pop. It’s helping me stay fresh with my French vocabulary and introducing me to so many great new performers.

I love this one, Courir, by Gaspé musician Guillaume Arsenault.

Do you listen to or enjoy radio?

 

Two chairs

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That tiny crystal pyramid on the shelf? Jose’s Pulitzer!

 

By Caitlin Kelly

They came to us in a sad way, one we think about every time we sit in them.

In our co-op apartment building, we have many older folk — in their 80s and 90s — and some are long-married. One of them, always elegant, always together, went out one Friday afternoon for lunch.

On the drive home they were struck by a drunk driver, a woman. The wife was killed and her husband died later at the hospital.

Their children held an apartment sale to dispose of their belongings — so we went downstairs and found a pair of wing chairs, something Jose had wanted for many years. A good quality wing chair is easily $500-1,500+ so this had remained out of reach.

We got both of these for $450.

The upholstery is not 100 percent my taste, but neutral enough to work with our current color scheme. I’d like to change it to something else, but it will be costly.

Jose and I sit there and talk, sometimes for a long time. There’s something lovely and formal and intentional about sitting side by side in an elegant chair.

We think of that couple. We miss them.

But we cherish their chairs.

 

NY parking: shrieks, mayhem, cops!

 

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The parking garage below Lincoln Center

 

 

By Caitlin Kelly

 

This post will make you extremely happy you don’t live anywhere near New York City.

I guarantee it.

Let’s stipulate from the outset — as lawyers say — that I generally enjoy amazing New York parking karma. In a city that has removed some 60,000 street parking spots in recent years for bike lanes and rental bikes and who knows why, I’m usually able to find a spot on the street, without a meter or any payment necessary, often, blessedly, right in front of the exact place I need to be.

To park, even on the street, can easily run $10.75 for two hours, and a parking garage (with its 18%+ tax) can pull $30 (at best) to $50+ from your pocket. That’s a fortune!

So, free parking is much prized.

 

Story One: scene, The Bronx, next to the Bronx Courthouse

 

It’s 2006.

Pouring rain. I’m late. I’m meeting someone to interview them for my then-job as a New York Daily News reporter. I’m also meeting a freelance photographer, a genial guy named Phil I’ve met before. So I’m frazzled.

I hate being late.

I see a parking spot!

I nose in and grab the spot…but oooohhhhhhh shit. It now appears I’ve unwittingly stolen a spot from someone who had been waiting for it. Part of me just doesn’t give a damn: I’m late, my damn News job is always in jeopardy, it’s pouring rain and I have no idea where else to park!

Then it gets ugly — she starts screaming at me. She’s an old lady. I am alone. I scream back, saying some…hmmmm…intemperate things. She shrieks for back-up and, like some really bad scene from West Side Story, windows in apartments all above us slam upward. Oh, shit.

 

Now she’s wielding a tire iron.

 

I call the cops. They arrive. I am shaking with fear. The cops, God bless them, are calm and kind. They listen to both of us.

She finally moves her car out of the way so I can escape.

Phil shows up with my interview subject. I burst into relieved tears. “Oh, the old lady with the tire iron,” Phil teases me kindly. “That’s Caitlin’s usual story.”

Interview subject and I head to the nearest bar — at 11:00 a.m. — and have a whisky.

Story Two: Ardsley, New York, a suburban town north of Manhattan

 

It’s 2019.

I’m rushing to a meeting with a tutoring agency, with the alluring possibility of earning some extra, needed income.

I’m driving on a very narrow, traffic-filled road and have to make a quick, sharp left-hand turn into a narrow alley that appears to have parking. I move to the very rear of the alley, literally facing a swamp.

This is not a town I know well at all.

There’s no indication this is not public parking — and that my car will be towed away.

I emerge from a terrific and successful meeting to find a tow truck and two men very aggressively  — and with NO explanation why — attaching our car (leased, cannot get damaged!) to their effing truck.

I lose my shit. I’m screaming. I’m shouting.

They curse me, shout at me, keep pushing their attachments onto my car.

I push the driver — a burly guy in his 50s — to get away from my damn car, (yes) and he curses at me and tells me he’s calling the police.

Awesome!

He demands instant payment of $150 cash to get his truck and its claws off my car. We have an amused audience of a construction crew — and another old lady who called the tow company because it’s her laundromat and I’d used one of her spots.

I hadn’t even seen the laundromat itself (hidden behind construction) — let alone her small warning sign, posted ONLY on the construction hoarding right at the street edge of the alley as I turned quickly out of traffic and did not see it.

There were no other signs anywhere to indicate that my car would be towed.

Cops come, two cars, show zero interest in what happened.

Truck leaves with my cash.

I eat lunch at a local diner, trying not to have a heart attack.

I go to Village Hall and tell the story (including my shitty — albeit terrified and utterly confused — behavior) to two blessedly kindly clerks before crying my way home, exhausted.

 

And, no, it’s not really possible to live in a New York suburb without a car.

 

Another widow

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By Caitlin Kelly

He’d come through heart surgery and we were all relieved.

Then he died.

Sadly, his widow lives very far away from us and we’re not close enough friends that we would fly cross-country.

But our hearts ache for her, a funny and kind woman who helped me through some very tough times, long-distance, in 2014-2015.

This is the sixth woman I know who has been widowed in recent years — all of them younger than 70, many in their 40s or early 50s, with or without children.

Two died of that brute, pancreatic cancer. Two of heart attacks. One was a 40+ year relationship that began in high school, another a happy second marriage.

It’s the moment every happily married woman (and her children) dreads. We think it will happen, hope it will only happen, when we, or they, are old and wrinkled and have enjoyed decades together.

But sometimes we are robbed.

I’ve now been with Jose, my second husband, since we met through an online dating service in March 2000. We married in September 2011.

I cannot imagine my life without him.

Yet one has to.

So he created what we call the “red binder” — which I wrote about this year for the website considerable.com. It describes how to create this binder, which is meant to ease in all practical aspects, what to do after your partner or spouse dies: passwords, PINs, pensions, bank accounts, car leases and loans, mortgage details.

All of it.

Much as I know a lot about our finances and the details of our shared life, like many couples we also divvy some stuff up, so he handles some and I handle some.

Here’s the story.

 

Have you been widowed or become a widower?

How did you cope?

 

30 terrific holiday gifts; 2019 edition

 

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By Caitlin Kelly

Welcome to this annual tradition, my personal selection of 30 gifts for men and women of all ages, except kids and teens.

No tech. No affiliate payments.

Lovely things for home, body, life!

 

Have fun!

 

Here’s a great pair of cufflinks, tiny blue birds, from Liberty of London, one of my favorite stores in the world. $64.74

 

Also from Liberty, this white woven leather handbag is super-chic, minimal, and blessedly free of designer logos. (I have a fairly similar bag in black and get compliments every single time I use it.) Personally, I would have a cobbler add metal studs to the base to help keep it clean. $485.48

 

There are so many ways to donate to charity and all so individual. I have previously here included the Daphne Sheldrick Trust, established in 1977, which works to protect East African wildlife, especially elephants.

 

This is a great French brand, Laguiole. A set of six wooden-handled steak knives, $98.00

 

You can’t beat a short pair of fabulous ankle boots for a hit of style in a long, boring, cold winter. Love these, in three colors, from Anthropologie, (which offers four pages of amazing boot options, short and tall.) $160.

 

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The chic-est winter women I know are those in Montreal and Toronto, and a brightly colored, oversized wrap adds warmth and style to any outerwear. This one comes in five colors, including teal, red and bright yellow. $48

 

I love anything with a patina — the weathering of age and use. This 15-inch-high ceramic vase looks like an amphora dredged up from some Cretan shipwreck, but it’s new. I love its organic simplicity and its scale. $88

 

And these, in two sizes, for candles, look like something from the 18th century with their coppery floral exterior. $18-28.

 

I love, love, love the elegance of UK old-school stationery brand Smythson. How about a tiny, perfect leather notebook marked, in gold script: Small Book, Big Ambition? (So many other great choices here as well.) $60.  Or this jaunty striped 2020 agenda, the perfect size to tuck into a suit pocket. $110

 

A cable-knit crewneck men’s sweater is hardly (as Miranda Priestly might drawl) ground-breaking…but in a cool pale blue? Also in red, from UK brand Boden. $120

 

You’ll love or hate this 8 foot by 11 inch rug — but I love its sharp, graphic black and white stripes. In the right room, it would be terrific. Also in 5 by 7 size for $199. From Ikea. $299

 

This throw, in charcoal gray with caramel stripes, is elegant and simple. It’s polyester, which explains its crazy low price. $4.99

 

This tea towel is so gorgeous I’d even frame it, with fantastic colors, marking an essential piece of American gay history, the June 29, 1969 attack on Manhattan’s Stonewall Inn. $22

 

A splurge, but John Robshaw’s linens are really special. This Japanese-inspired quilt, in crisp blue and white, reversible, is a lovely investment, for full/queen size. $296.25 on sale

 

I recently bought this yummy sandalwood soap from the classic American company Caswell-Massey, (which offers many other products) and am really enjoying it; this one is oversized and soap on a rope. $22

 

A huge fan of transferware, I like these new brown and white bread and butter plates in that style, also perfect for appetizers. $21 each

 

An odd gift, perhaps — but this black oak shelf is minimal and elegant; imagine three or four of them…$135

 

Really lovely and totally useful, a corkscrew that resembles a small bird, from a fantastic museum gift shop, The Morgan Library & Museum in New York City. $14.95

 

Also from the same shop — and do explore their website deeply for a wide array of lovely things — how about a Mad Hatter or Alice in Wonderland tote bag? $24.95

 

Well, you all know how much I love jewelry! But with a very specific aesthetic — not rubies, emeralds, sapphires or diamonds. Not Big Brand Names. This company, which I follow on Instagram, has two shops, in Pennsylvania and Rhode Island, and I want everything! The look is minimal, clean and modern but also very beautiful. Like these oxidized silver pierced earrings in the shape of an ammonite $253.

 

And I’m also a big fan of London-based jeweler Ruby Jack, whose earrings I purchased in 2018 and absolutely love. (These are the ones I bought.) She has much expanded her line, which is sculptural and dramatic, but not weird. She ships internationally (obviously!) and was very helpful. This sculptural silver ring is a knockout. $423.51

 

I love fragrance and wear it daily. Now you can wear the smell of where I live (!) — THVF — That Hudson Valley Fragrance. I smelled it at their Manhattan store and it’s quite lovely, as are their several other options. $110

 

For your favorite tools nerd — the old-fashioned analog kind — this cotton black and white Hermes scarf with an illustration of elementary mechanics is a cool choice; it’s on their men’s site, but anyone could enjoy its graphic simplicity. $200

 

If you’re offended by curses, this is not the site for you — but this terrific red and white hockey jersey is safe-for-work, made by my Canadian pal Aaron Reynolds, inventor of Effin’ Birds, a mini-empire of sweary pins, T-shirts, mugs, sweatshirts, playing cards, posters and more. I love the baseball shirt he gave me, (moi?!) that says “Listen to My Opinions ” — and we laugh so hard every time we play with his playing cards it’s positively distracting. $60

 

Another talented Canadian, another highly creative friend, Ali G-J of Toronto, makes scarves, tote bags, laptop cases, phone skins, phone cases, pillows and more. This gray and white throw pillow with a pattern of tree branches, made from her own watercolor, is simple and lovely. $64

 

Books are such a deeply individual gift, but I’m going to recommend two that I love and own — fascinating and visually beautiful reference books to savor at leisure: A History of the World in 100 Objects, published in 2010 and What Great Paintings Say.  $20

 

Coffee! There are so many ways to make it, but this is terrific — a stoneware French press, in six gorgeous colors. I house-sat a few years ago for someone who had a similar style and it was efficient and perfect for just a few cups — and without fear of the inevitable shattering of the usual glass container. From Williams-Sonoma, in red, orange, light and dark gray, navy blue and white. $95; Not as pretty, but also in stainless steel $55

 

For your favorite Star Wars fanatic, an R2D2 popcorn maker. Yes, really. $99.95

 

 

Shameless self-promotion!

I sell my images from Instagram — CaitlinKellyNYC — and I also coach other writers of journalism and non-fiction; details here.

 

Some things I’m looking forward to

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By Caitlin Kelly

One of the many challenges of working freelance, as my husband I both do, is having basically no structure at all to many of our days. When he works at The New York Times and United States Golf Association (his two anchor  clients), we know what hours and days are committed.

But without setting up planned pleasures for ourselves, we often just end up working too much and even on official holidays.

So for the end of 2019 and heading into 2020 I’m going full steam ahead and making plans for fun, for culture, for travel.

Yes, it’s expensive — but without joyful things to look forward to, it’s just toil and sleep.

Especially after a breast cancer diagnosis, time is more precious to me than ever.

 

December 2019

 

On the 6th, I’m headed to a service of candlelight and carols with a friend, at Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, maybe with dinner beforehand at La Bonne Soupe, a terrific French bistro in business since 1977.

On the 13th, at home in Tarrytown, The Hot Sardines are playing — and I’ve been following them since the very beginning, having met their Canadian-French singer at a dinner party years ago when she was still a journalist. They tour globally and have had huge success.

On the 17th., we’re off to hear the New York Philharmonic play my favorite music — Bach’s six Brandenburg Concertos — the greatest hits of 1721!

In January, a friend and I have tickets to Porgy and Bess at the Met Opera.

A new colleague at the Times is a balletomane as well, so we’re planning to see some ballet with him in 2020.

I keep looking at sites for cottage rentals and just need to commit; I have been dying to spend time in Cornwall after the end of my favorite BBC series, Poldark, set there at the end of the 18th. century. I want to spend two weeks there, a week in London and maybe even another week elsewhere in the English countryside and October 2020 is the only time we can do it.

Thanks to my breast cancer diagnosis and treatment, the last six months of 2018 really disappeared into a fog of anxiety, tests, surgery, radiation and fatigue.

In 2020, I’m still tethered to doctor appointments and follow-ups in March and also have to renew my green card (which allows me legal residency in the U.S.), which we are told can take six months, so that also limits any international options until the new one is in my hands.

But the more art and culture I enjoy — whether paintings, drawings, concerts, ballet, opera — the happier I am. It’s why I wanted to live here, close to New York City. Not savoring its cultural riches seems silly to me.

What are some things you’re looking forward to?