I’m now at my third hotel since March 3…and this one is the best, thanks to a great rate on hotels.com, a gorgeous Fairmont in D.C., and I have two days’ leisure after a whirlwind three days at the Northern Short Course conference nearby, an annual meeting of photojournalists at all levels of skill and experience.
I spoke yesterday on pitching and had a decent audience — maybe 50 people — and made a few really interesting potential contacts for future paid work.
I started my journey with a long drive south on March 3 from New York to the town of Middleburg, Virginia, home to the oldest inn in the U.S. — 1728 — the Red Fox, and stayed there for two nights.
The area is very beautiful, a real 18th-century landscape mostly because extremely wealthy landowners have bought and held enormous estates for riding and fox-hunting. The town (pop. 637) is full of tack shops and saddleries.
Here’s the inn:
I found a nearby Civil War battlefield and savored solo sunshine and silence on one of Virginia’s oldest bridges, (1802.)
The conference was excellent, with presentations from highly accomplished photojournalists. Celeste Sloman showed us the work from her New York Times project (and book) documenting the women of the 116th Congress.
Eman Mohammed showed her powerful images of conflict, but also quieter and more intimate moments as well.
I have only two days off in D.C., but had a great dinner with friends at 2Amys, which makes amazing wood-fired pizza.
Today is sunny and warm and I’m headed to the National Gallery for a show of Degas.
It feels very good to finally savor some downtime away from all the anxiety of daily life — and yes, I am couching and sneezing into my elbow and washing my hands a lot!
Two of my favorite journalism assignments in 2018 involved a six-hour drive from my home in New York to farms in Quebec, near Montreal. I worked in French and learned a lot, quickly, about agriculture, thanks to Messieurs Bachand and Bousquet.
A city girl, I’ve never lived on or worked on a farm, but I love one farming concept deeply — the fallow field.
The field left to recharge, empty, after being over-planted.
Welcome to my brain!
I started writing for a living as a full-time undergraduate at a demanding university, juggling term papers and exams with assignments for national magazines and newspapers.
I didn’t take a break until I was 30, completely worn out and — very fortunately — financially able to do so for three blissful summer months while living in a small town in New Hampshire.
I haven’t written much lately.
Many people dream of “being a writer”. The part often overlooked is the tremendous hustle required to sell that work.
I send out pitches for stories to various editors — five last week, three this week — and wait for replies, whether a paid/work/yes or a no…meaning more pitching and still no income.
I look daily for story ideas and, with some, do initial unpaid pre-reporting to see if there is a saleable story; one I’ve been chasing for six months and which (yay!) prompted an immediate “I’m intrigued” reply from an editor I’m dying to write for.
My latest book proposal is now with two editors at major New York City publishers, so I also await their decisions. I may apply for another fellowship, the application due June 26.
It’s been eight years since Malled was published.
I’ve recently attended two local networking events, as I’m long overdue getting out to meet local businesses that might be able to use my writing, editing, blogging and coaching skills. I enjoyed both events, but whew! It’s also tiring being charming to strangers.
Instead of writing all the time, I’ve been reading a lot (even fiction! Station Eleven, by fellow Canadian-in-NY Emily St. John Mandel), and going to the gym and shopping for some new summer clothes for a June vacation in Jose’s hometown, Santa Fe, New Mexico.
It’s disorienting to write less, mostly because that’s where the money eventually comes from!
But I’ve also been coaching other writers (details on my Welcome and About pages here), a nice income-producing break from word production.
It’s a rare day I don’t have my trusty little black transistor radio on beside me. I listen to BBC World News when I have time, (it’s an hour), and many NPR shows, from All Things Considered, Fresh Air and The Takeaway, (now hosted by old friend Tanzina Vega, who worked with Jose at The New York Times) to fun weekend shows like The Moth, This American Life and even silly ones like Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me.
I’ve been working alone at home since 1996 so the radio is a steady companion. We’ve even sent a gift to Jeff Spurgeon, host of the morning show on WQXR, New York’s classical music station — a tiny plastic T. Rex — an in-joke he appreciated after he once joked about dinosaurs in the Hudson River; (probably historically accurate!)
Our new car has Sirius XM so I love listening to CBC as well.
Reading the Weekend Financial Times
The FT is a very specific read, as one wit dubbed it: “the hometown paper of the global cosmopolitan elite.”
Its real estate pages — larded with country estates in every corner of the world and enormous penthouses in Paris and New York — can leave you somehow concluding that five million euros/pounds/dollars is actually a bargain, considering. Its glossy magazine, with classic fuck-you British snottiness, is called How to Spend It, and typically features a watch at $300,000 or a $20,000 gown.
But the paper itself, and its arts section, is a delight. Its columnists include a few thoughtful sparky women (albeit an Oxbridge-y crowd) and so many book reviews of books you’ll never seen mentioned in the American press. I appreciate a non-American perspective on business, politics, art, design…everything.
Trying out a new recipe
I have a whole shelf of cookbooks and endless binders filled with recipes I’ve clipped on paper from magazines and newspapers over the years. Few things are as fun as leafing through them and searching out an old favorite, (leek-tomato quiche from the Vegetarian Epicure Part Two), or trying something new. I always mark down the date I first tried a recipe and whether we liked it.
Entertaining gives us a chance to try even more!
Introducing people who’d be a good fit
This is the best. I recently connected two of my favorite younger friends — one in London and one in St. Louis, as one grappled with an issue I thought the other might have some wisdom on. They have other things in common as well; my connections aren’t random!
Another friend was visiting Shanghai and one of my freelance colleagues was teaching there, so I made the introduction from my home in suburban New York — even though, normally, they both live in New York City. Done!
Seeking treasure at flea markets, consignment shops, thrift shops and antique stores
Discovered this fab 1940s diner on Long Island on a road trip
I’ve done many over the years — across Canada with my Dad at 15 and with him driving all around Ireland; from Montreal to Charleston, S.C. with my first husband and, most recently, from our home 25 miles north of New York City to north of Bancroft, Ontario — solo. I did it in four four-hour legs, which helped! I’ve done solo road trips through Arizona, and through some of Texas while researching my first book.
This combines multiple sources of happiness: travel, new sights, seeing old friends, listening to the radio, getting out of town. And, when we have a nice new car as we do right now, the sheer pleasure of a quiet, well-designed automobile.
Have you ever noticed how we now spend our lives in thrall not only to technology — but to dozens of its ruthlessly dictated speeds?
I thought of this when I visited The New York Times building, a stunning white-column-covered tower in midtown Manhattan.
First, like many lobbies now, you have to be buzzed through a set of metal gates by their security guards.
Then you choose a dedicated elevator that will tell you which floors it will take you to — but those doors close quickly! You have to pay close attention and move fast.
We do this every day now, accommodating our pace to that of computers, cellphones, (maybe even a landline, still!), escalators and elevators.
Crossing Manhattan’s busy streets means facing a timed light, even if you need to cross six or eight lanes of traffic. If, as I often do, you’re struggling with arthritis or an injury affecting your mobility, those seconds fly by.
Only if you live in a rural area or don’t spend much time in urban settings can you avoid this tyranny by tech.
I won’t romanticize the rural life — where some students are up in darkness to meet the school bus (more life-by-appointment) — or where farmers’ lives are dictated by the needs of their livestock or other animals.
I do often wonder what life was like in the pre-industrial 19th. century and before, before electricity and artificial light and kerosene and gas, when the only illumination was candles, often reflected in as many mirrors as possible.
When the only noise might be the ticking of a grandfather clock.
When our rhythms were primarily dictated by light and darkness, cold and warmth — not the 24/7 demands of a global economy where someone, somewhere can expect us to do something for them right away.
When a long journey consisted of stagecoach or carriage rides, punctuated with real rest stops and fresh horses.
Candle Hour has become a soul-level bulwark against so many different kinds of darkness. I feel myself slipping not just out of my day but out of time itself. I shunt aside outrages and anxieties. I find the less conditional, more indomitable version of myself. It’s that version I send into my dreams.
At night, by candlelight, the world feels enduring, ancient and slow. To sit and stare at a candle is to drop through a portal to a time when firelight was the alpha and omega of our days. We are evolved for the task of living by candlelight and maladapted to living the way we live now. Studies have noted the disruptive effects of nighttime exposure to blue-spectrum light — the sort emanated by our devices — on the human circadian rhythm. The screens trick us into thinking we need to stay alert, because our brains register their wavelength as they would the approach of daylight. But light on the red end of the spectrum sends a much weaker signal. In the long era of fire and candlelight, our bodies were unconfused as they began to uncoil.
I love the writing of fellow Canadian Carl Honoré, whose career focuses on urging us all to slow down.
“What is a weekend?” — The Dowager Countess of Grantham, Downton Abbey
Ohhhhhh, blessed Saturday morning…with spring around the corner and the forsythia (too soon!) already blooming.
First, a cinnamon bun from the amazing Riviera Bakehouse, our local bakery filled with delicious things.
Music, next…The Animals, live at Wembley Stadium, from 1983. A little vinyl to get the blood moving. Great stuff, like Boom, Boom and O’ Lucky Man and House of the Rising Sun.
An egg and bacon with Jose (my husband.)
The opening and skimming of the weekend newspapers, tweeting out the good bits, deciding what to read first — being a New Yorker now, it’s often the Real Estate section, to examine the latest insanity. After living here a while, you see a listing for $1.5 million and think that’s not such a bad price. (Insurmountable for us!)
Savoring the silence, only the clock ticking in the kitchen and a jet far overhead. Weekday traffic on the nearby Tappan Zee Bridge normally noisy.
Perhaps we’ll go out for a burger at one of our local restaurants, now that our town, Tarrytown, NY, has become — thanks to the $$$$-real-estate-induced exodus from Brooklyn — hip. It’s all McLaren strollers and Mini Coopers now.
Maybe go out for a long walk through the Rockefeller estate, a lush and quiet public 750 acres a 10-minute drive north of us. Or along the Hudson’s western shore.
I love our half-urban, half-rural existence. Technically, we live in a suburb of New York City, but our town is lively and fun, economically and racially diverse. In 40 minutes’ drive or train ride, I’m in midtown Manhattan or, heading north, can reach the gorgeous town of Cold Spring, right on the river, to meet a fellow writer for lunch.
Recently I heard someone say if you want to see where your priorities really lie, look at two things: your calendar and your bank statement.
If you believe your priorities are what truly matters to you, look no further than those two places to confirm or deny your hunch.
Let’s do an experiment. Take a look at your calendar, and take an inventory with me. How much of it is work related? How much of it is spent in social engagements? With family? Doing hobbies? Self improvement?
And how much white space do you see?
We have become a culture that is severely uncomfortable with white space. We don’t like being left alone with ourselves, and that’s because it’s not always fun.
To Dr. Brown, co-author of a book called “Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination and Invigorates the Soul,” the discussion begins with defining the term. He describes it, among other things, as a voluntary activity that can take us out of time or at least keep us from tracking it carefully. It is spontaneous and allows for improvisation.
Another crucial component, according to Dr. Brown, is play’s capacity to elicit diminished consciousness of self. Or, to put it in layman’s terms, it gives us license to be goofy. In an interview, Dr. Brown provided the most familiar example: how almost every person makes faces and sounds when meeting an infant for the first time.
“If you take a look at relatives looking at the bassinets, turn your camera back on their faces,” he said. “What you see is nonsense. There is this deep, innate proclivity for nonsense, which is at the core of playfulness.”
Finally, play is also purposeless, at least in the moment.
We’re now at the end of a break for the holidays in Canada, staying with my father at his house in a small town — with nothing to do.
The town is filled with very beautiful old houses and has a gorgeous waterfront trail along the edge of Lake Ontario. But there’s no movies (my drug of choice!) or theater or museums.
It’s forced Jose and I to…be still.
So what have we done?
Organized photos, talked at length with friends on the phone or gone to see them in person for a long lunch, read entire books start to finish, slept, cooked a terrific Moroccan lamb stew for friends who came for the afternoon, browsed several bookstores and bought new books (yay!).
I binge-watched an entire season, 13 episodes, of Frankie and Grace on our computer.
I’ve written multiple blog posts and planned several new ones — Q and As with some fantastically creative and successful people I hope you’ll find inspiring — freed from the production line of life as a journalist. Planned a possible vacation next July and decided against one in Spain this spring.
Lit a scented candle bedside every morning and at night. Enjoyed the rumbling and whistles of passing trains. Savored the skeletal beauty of bare trees and bushes against a wintry gray sky.
Played gin rummy. Talked. Sat in silence to watch the jade green waves crashing against a snow-dusted beach. Emptied my email in-box. (OK. not so playful!)
Took bubble baths in my Dad’s old claw-foot tub.
I loved the Times’ story about planning for play because it’s so deeply unAmerican to even breathe a word of…laziness. Rest. Downtime.
The entire culture is one of non-stop doing, not mindful being.
It’s one reason we keep coming back to my native Canada for breaks; Canadians, in general, value a more balanced life, and love to be outdoors even in winter. In my decades living near New York City, a place of frenzied ambition, I’ve always felt like an outlier for wanting — and carving out in my life — a lot of room for play and relaxation.
Like one of the people featured in the Times story, we’ve chosen to remain in a one-bedroom apartment and drive an old, paid-for car in order to be able to work less.
There are times I’d kill for more space or a shiny new vehicle. But the time and freedom we gain by not having to gin up an additional $500 or $1,500 every single month for years to come to pay for them?
Our priorities are retirement, (so we have saved hard and lived fairly frugally to do so), and travel. Without children, we also have the means, and the time, to focus on our own desires and how to pay for them. Selfish or not, it gives us a life we enjoy and value.
Anyone who’s been reading Broadside for a while knows I’m a high-octane person. But recharging, for me, is every bit as essential as rushing around.
How about you?
Do you make time, and deliberately set aside money, to just relax?
Every month, Elle Decor magazine asks a designer about his or her must-haves. For some, it’s a name-brand pen or vehicle, or a luxury brand.
Here are (some of!) mine:
Newspapers and magazines, in print
Every weekend, I read four newspapers, all in print: The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times. I love taking an afternoon on the sofa to leaf through them, clipping books I want to read or shows I want to see. (I also look at the Guardian and Globe and Mail online.) By subscription, we receive about 20 magazines, from Wired and BloombergBusinesweek and Foreign Policy to lighter fare like Monocle, House Beautiful and Vogue. Yes, there are stacks everywhere. Otherwise, I’d never remember to read them!
No matter what the season, our apartment always has fresh flowers. For about $20 a week, I get enough beauty to make multiple arrangements for the living room, bedroom, dining room — even a few blooms in the bathroom! As we head into cold, dreary winter, even more essential.
A mixture of scents, including L’eau de l”Artisan, Bulgari’s The Vert, Opium and Prada Iris.
My 21-inch-deep bathtub
Bliss! With scented bubble bath (love Algemarin!) or oils, no better place to relax in solitude.
8-10+ hours’ sleep every night
Can’t run at my usual pace without it. If I skimp, it’s naptime.
My passport (and green card)
I treasure my Canadian citizenship, but am grateful for the legal right to live and work in the U.S.
The view from our top-floor apartment of the Hudson River
It hasn’t changed in decades. On July 4, we can even enjoy fireworks from five towns at once!
A ready stash of quality stationery
Nothing nicer than a thick, heavy piece of elegance with which to write a thank-you or condolence note; personalized is even better.
Earl Grey tea, poured into a bone-china cup with a saucer
Vacation is over and we’re heading home to New York today. I’ve been gone from my home for an entire month, and alone for the past two weeks.
Some things I enjoyed most:
— Watching a minor-league baseball game. My ticket was $8, for one of the best seats in the stadium.
— Attending the 9:30 a.m. service at the local Episcopal church. It was a tiny A-frame, whose screened windows faced the grass of the Champlain exhibition grounds. Seagulls squawked. A man played banjo for Amazing Grace. The peace — the part of the service when everyone greets one another — went on, charmingly, forever.
— Eating at the bar of a dive-y pub a very good cup of home-made corn chowder and a cold local ale. Watching the NBA draft and a baseball game on two TVs at the same time.
— Not turning on the television once in two weeks of house-sitting. Didn’t miss it a bit.
— Reading fiction, which I almost never do. Loved “The Art of Fielding”, a new first novel by Chad Harbach and “Cannery Row”, the 1945 classic by John Steinbeck. Harbach’s book has sold 250,000 copies and he was paid $650,000 for it, after a decade working on it in broke obscurity. I really liked his book, despite the hype.
— A phenomenal blood orange martini and salmon with chive risotto on a splurge night.
— Washing my car with a hose in the driveway, (forbidden at our co-op.)
— Watching two hot-air balloons soaring over my head at dusk, the roaring of the gas flames audible and mysterious. Even the little dog was impressed.
— Meeting someone at a party on a farm in Vermont whose grandparents came from the same small tiny Breton town, Concarneau, where my mentor is buried.
— Having a small, playful, cuddly dog to accompany me on road trips, to hog the bed at night and whose silky ears I will miss terribly. On the car trip home from Montpelier, in the dark, she laid her head on my shoulder.
— Lying in the sunshine reading.
— My first few Zumba classes. Ouch! Now I get why people so enjoy it. Planning to continue them at home.
— Playing endless games of Scrabble on the Ipad.
— Missing the hell out of my husband, with three weeks apart to remember all the things I love and none of the stuff that annoys me.
— Driving up to the ice-cream stand for a huge cup of very good ice cream, for $2.60.
— The Friday farmer’s market, with wood-oven-fired pizza, luscious tomatoes, crusty baguettes and live music.
— The astonishing mist and cloud over the green hills as I drove southeast through rain to an outdoor party.
— Meeting new people who were welcoming and kind and offered amazing barbecue ribs at that party.
— Scoring some great, cheap-o antique finds, like four silver-plate knives for $7 and a lovely transferware cup for $10.
— Snagging some CDs, including the new Patti Smith.
— Introducing myself to local indie book-sellers and asking if they’d stock my book.
— Seeing the Camel’s Hump, a 4,800-foot high mountain southeast of where I stayed, in all sorts of light and weather conditions.
— The river at the end of our street. When I went to its edge, I found a tarp/tent and a very deep large hole dug at the edge of a cornfield. Shriek. Fled…quickly.
— Taking lots of cellphone photos for future visual reference, mostly of anything with patina.
— Going dancing with Jose, shaking my tail feather for 90 minutes, with kids half our age coming up to say “You’re a terrific dancer!” That new left hip works just fine.
I love glam trips to Paris and London, but the past month, doing the rural/small town thing, has been a wonderful and relaxing change. I’ve really enjoyed it.
What are some of the simple pleasures you’ve been enjoying lately?
My favorite weekly read is the weekend FT, and its columnists. One, a 48-year-old executive named Mrs. Moneypenny, bristling with an MBA and Phd, a woman who refers to her three children in print as Cost Centres #1, #2 and #3, says every hour of her business time — and is there any other for the high-flying exec? — is worth 3,000 pounds — about $4,440. She dares not waste a minute and never takes vacation.
But a recent 360 review by her staff suggests she should “waste” some time posthaste:
The general consensus is that the pace at which I work and the number of things I take on alarms my colleagues, who believe it has the potential to be counterproductive. Above all, they fear for my health – and that is a commonly held view, not merely one aired by two or three people. So yes, perhaps I ought to slow down a little. And to show how willing I am to change, the very same week I was presented with these comments I had lunch at the Wolseley with a former Master of the Universe.
Normally, I hate lunch appointments, believing them to be a mammoth waste of time. If you include travelling time, it is likely to take up two hours, or a £6,000 opportunity cost to my business. But this MOTU was too charming to refuse. He pointed me in the direction of John Updike’s poem “Midpoint”, written at the end of his 35th year. I only ever read fiction and poetry when I’m on holiday – doing so at any other time is an extravagance (especially at £3,000 an hour). But after an hour with this guy, I would have tackled Plato in the original had he suggested it. The final lines of the poem read: “Born laughing, I’ve believed in the Absurd, / Which brought me this far; henceforth, if I can, / I must impersonate a serious man.”
I am 48, not 35, and maybe it is time to start being serious.
Laura Vanderkam, another driven urban woman — mother of two small children, sings in a choir, attends church, runs every day — has written a new book called 168 Hours, the number of hours every fresh week offers us, if we would just stop wasting it.
I have mixed feelings about this notion of “wasted” time. I love the Italian phrase farniente –– literally — “do nothing” and aspire to a life with far more undirected time. I also love the British expression for day-dreaming — wool-gathering. We all need time to fantasize and imagine, to stare into the sky and let our weary, overcaffeinated brains….chill.
Last week, the sweetie and I took a vacation and drove to Quebec where we stay at a lovely, small, quiet lakeside hotel. Our plan of “action”? Eat, sleep, read, take photos, repeat. Plus a little antiquing — where the local shopowner remembered me from our last visit 3.5 years ago — and an hour’s canoeing.
This morning, (and it’s 9:11 as I write this on a glorious sunny June Saturday), I’ve: read 1.5 newspapers, watered the plants, made and consumed coffee and toast, blogged, washed the kitchen floor, discussed what paint we need to paint our terrace door. That’s in less than two hours. Yesterday, racing to finish my book, I worked at the computer for about 10 hours — I thought my eyeballs would melt.
I’m whipped and already ready for a nap. (And, no, I have no pets or kids, so my time is my own.)
Rest. Relax. Recharge. Restore. Revive. I think we all need more of it, and less of this boot-camp, finger-wagging instruction in efficiency. I plan to make highly efficient carefully-monitored use of my time when I am dead. I’ll have so much more of it anyway.
Do you waste time? What do you do with it? Do you think we should all be productive and organized all the time?