What defines you?

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Time off matters a lot to me!

 

By Caitlin Kelly

 

My past two posts here have been about two talented, driven American journalists — photographer Peter DaSilva and the late Marie Colvin. I’d say Peter, with whom I’ve also had a personal friendship for years, is to some degree defined by his attention to detail and compassion, while she was clearly driven, among other things less visible, by ambition and adrenaline.

As the decades pass, as work becomes less (one hopes!) an uphill climb and plateaus out to a succession of accomplishments, large or small; as one begins and grows one’s family (or doesn’t), our essential values and character become ever clearer to ourselves and to others — the words or phrases used to sum you up.

 

Are they what you want(ed)?

 

I think about this a lot, maybe because I work as a journalist and my role, often, is to observe a stranger and make some decisions about who they are and why they are that way.

I’m endlessly fascinated by what people do and how they enact their values — or don’t.

 

A few things that define me:

 

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A passion for story-telling

Whether here or in print or through the photos on my Insta account or sitting around a table with friends, I love to find and tell stories. Maybe it’s the Irish in me.

 

A momma-bear instinct to protect people I care about

Do not ever mess with someone I care about. I don’t have children, but those I love get a fierce loyalty.

 

 

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An endless desire to travel and explore new places

I have already been to 40 countries and have so many more experiences I’m eager to try: Morocco, Japan, Greece and the Amazon, to name only a few.

 

Never a very political animal

Journalists are expected professionally to remain fair and objective, and so can’t be seen favoring one side or another (although I tend to be liberal.) I can’t vote in Canada since I left years ago and can’t vote in the U.S. as I’ve chosen not to become a citizen. I pay fairly careful attention to political issues but generally don’t have a dog in each fight.

 

 

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A lover of luxury

Guilty! I wear cashmere and silk, drink champagne when there’s an occasion, and my favorite words ever just might be “Taxi!” and “room service.” Growing up watching my maternal grandmother run through her huge inheritance gave me absurdly expensive tastes, impossible to satisfy on lousy journalism wages. Challenging!

 

 

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Also cheap as hell

Which is how one can afford some luxury, even if not earning a huge salary or income; I’ve stayed in the same unexciting 1960s building, in the same one bedroom apartment, for 30 years. I don’t love either of these things but I do love our view, our town and a 38-minute train commute to midtown Manhattan. Staying put and not splurging on a larger home and all its furnishings and maintenance and taxes and repairs has helped me save for retirement and travel, my two key priorities.

 

I work to live, not live to work

I wrecked my 20s being a workaholic and made several people quite miserable as a result — whether some of my editors, friends or boyfriends. It was all I cared most about. By 30, I was a burned-out wreck.  I enjoy the work I do, but would happily stop tomorrow, having done it since I was 19. I have so many other interests — music, books travel, art, design, sports — and have accomplished enough in my career I don’t feel compelled to add notches to my belt nor be (uuuugggggghhhhh) “productive”, the great American obsession.

 

Zero tolerance for the pompous, whiny and entitled

None.

 

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Voracious reader

I never leave home without a book or magazine or pile of unread newspapers. Reading is my oxygen.

 

What are some of the qualities or values that define you?

It’s a question of character

By Caitlin Kelly

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

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Exactly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yet we have no idea whatsoever who they really are.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He told his bosses and we went.

His decision to be a mensch was instant.

And invisible to everyone but me and his bosses.

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

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

Just — help, support, strength.

Character.

 

The Case For Courage

I gave this pin to Jose on our wedding day. (Copyright Marie de Jesus.)

I think courage is, these days, an under-rated quality.

People who encourage us aren’t merely hissing “Great job!” for every breath we take.

When we truly need to find our inner strength, we need someone to encourage us — to breathe some of that holy fire into our shaky lungs.

We think of the courageous as those fighting in war (they are) or those facing very bad diagnoses or anyone stepping off the cliff of the known and familiar and secure.

A courageous woman is someone who, however reluctantly, her vows shattered by years of abuse or neglect, leaves a terrible marriage, maybe with nothing ahead but weeks or months on a relative’s sofa or a homeless shelter or a women’s shelter. A courageous man decides to marry after years of bachelor freedom, aware of his new responsibility to his bride, her family and to himself.

A courageous teenager steps up when s/he sees someone being bullied and, whenever possible, puts an end to it.

A courageous teacher sees the pilot light of potential in a struggling, sullen or silent child.  A courageous politician is willing to take a stand, take a hit, take a fall for making the right choices, not simply the easiest or those guaranteed to win media attention or large donations.

I am hungry to learn more about men and women of courage. I am weary of a culture that far too often celebrates, rewards and deifies cowardice and greed.

Here’s a lovely post by Canadian blogger Josh Bowman about a fellow Canadian who inspired him as a teenager, and who still does. In it, he talks about Craig Kielburger, who at the age of 12 decided to create an international campaign to end the use of child labor.

He didn’t do it to burnish his resume or to get into the right college; (Canadian universities don’t use essays anyway, just good grades, to decide whom to admit.) He did it out of a blazing sense of compassion. He makes me proud to be a Canadian.

So does this little girl, who I’ve also blogged about, Alaina Podmorow, who did the same for girls when she, too was very young. She still is!

In 1957, the late President John F. Kennedy won the Pulitzer prize for his book, Profiles in Courage, about political leaders he admired. I was thrilled when three women recently won the Nobel Peace Prize:

The 10 million kronor ($1.5 million) award was split three ways between Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, peace activist Leyma Gbowee from the same African country and democracy activist Tawakkul Karman of Yemen — the first Arab woman to win the prize.

Role models!

I hate the overused word “hero”. I dislike its bombastic pomposity. I doubt many of us want to be, or feel we are, heroes.

But we can all, every single day, be courageous.

Who do you look to as examples of courage?

Here’s a video of a wonderful song by Greg Greenway that sums it up, “Do What Must Be Done.”