Inertia…or action?

By Caitlin Kelly

IMG_20170912_211441175

Sidewalk closed, use other sidewalk…

 

From The New York Times:

Habits are powerful. We persist with many of them because we tend to give undue emphasis to the present. Trying something new can be painful: I might not like what I get and must forgo something I already enjoy. That cost is immediate, while any benefits — even if they are large — will be enjoyed in a future that feels abstract and distant. Yes, I want to know what else my favorite restaurant does well, but today I just want my favorite dish.

Overconfidence also holds us back. I am unduly certain in my guesses of what the alternatives will be like, even though I haven’t tried them.

Finally, many so-called choices are not really choices at all.

I finally hit bottom on two issues this week, and finally acted to try and deal with them, instead of just stewing and whining.

I live in a town north of New York City, whose main street is increasingly jammed with traffic, including 18-wheel trucks. Pedestrians have been struck and injured while in the crosswalks, which is illegal.

It’s getting worse and worse and worse.

The other day, I watched, enraged, as two drivers, in broad daylight, once more drove right through the crosswalk as I was crossing — and saw me looking right at them.

I gave them both the middle finger and went directly to the police station where I filed an official request for how many summons they issued in 2017 for this violation. (My guess? Fewer than a dozen.)

To my delighted surprise, the chief of police called me the next day and we discussed the 60 (!) summons they’d issued and how to potentially reduce the problem. I was so glad I’d done something.

I also called a friend in Canada to ask his advice and help potentially finding me and my husband full-time staff jobs there — because Canadian residents don’t have to pay for healthcare.

That alone would save us $2,000 every month.

I left Canada in 1988 and have no burning desire to re-patriate; we don’t want to sell our New York apartment and can’t rent it under co-op rules, which is a huge deterrent.

We love our town and region and would miss our life here.

I can return to Canada as a citizen, and we have yet to discover whether Jose has the right to live there with me, let alone work.

But we’re now so burdened with health insurance costs that are rising and rising and rising, and despite all our hard work, we feel increasingly frustrated and angry with our financial struggle.

We’re both full-time freelancers, living in a one bedroom apartment.

There’s no fat to cut.

 

Even if we choose to stay in New York, and we might, (and might have to), I already feel better for:

1) admitting these issues are driving me to my wits’ end rather than just bottling it up, as usual;

2) asking for help, which I’m always reluctant to do;

3) talking frankly with my husband about how badly this stress is affecting us individually and our marriage.

 

I was inspired by a New York Times column with the wise words:

 

Fury isn’t strategy

 

For me, 2018 is going to be a year of strategy and action.

 

How about you?

The horror, the horror

By Caitlin Kelly

Do you know Joseph Conrad’s work,“Heart of Darkness”, published in 1902?

These are the dying words of Kurtz, a central character in the book, whom the narrator finds deep in the heart of Africa; the 1979 film “Apocalypse Now”, starring Marlon Brando as U.S. Army Special Forces Colonel Walter E. Kurtz echoes the book in its themes, setting and use of names.

The book and the film are dark, despairing, exhausting — and powerfully unforgettable.

But these two words are resonating in my head much of the time now, thanks to what often seems a global parade of incompetence, greed, conflict, misery and despair.

These include:

— The shelling/retaliation between Israel and Gaza

— The epidemic of Ebola spreading through West Africaphoto(48)

— The shooting of an unarmed 18-year-old black man, Michael Brown (only the latest)

— The beheading of fellow freelance journalist James Foley by ISIS

— The New York Times reports that beheadings are now “routine” in Syria

— The nightly newscasts with images of yet another out-of-control wildfire consuming thousands of acres of Western U.S. forests and many people’s homes and businesses

Yet another American multi-national moving into another country in order to save on corporate taxes

There are risks to those who cover these stories, beyond the need to wear Kevlar body armor in Iraq or head-to-toe coverings when working around Ebola. There is also PTSD and secondary trauma for journalists and their editors and compassion fatigue for viewers and listeners.

I am also well aware — and would love some new re-definition of “news” to make misery less compelling somehow — that the mass media are utterly complicit here. By the time you, readers and and viewers, see and hear our/their versions of the world, they have been massaged, edited and sometimes bitterly debated.

Or not.

As T.S. Eliot wrote, in Burnt Norton, in 1935: Humankind cannot bear very much reality.

magnolia

The world is, obviously, filled with beauty and grace and joy, with people who get up every morning and give their best to those around them.

But, really, my dears, this wears me down.

Then what?

Tune out? Become more politically active? Stop caring? Care more? Write a letter to the editor? Blog it? Blog it again…and again…and again…?

Write a check to a charity?
Rant to others on social media?

Or just…not care?

How about you? How do you respond — if at all — to the world’s madness and brutality?

 

The dragonfly’s visit — and what it meant

By Caitlin Kelly

The other day, a dragonfly got trapped in our small dining room, where I work on my laptop. He buzzed and banged against the window but couldn’t get out. I opened the balcony door but he didn’t budge.

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It was not a great day.

After feeling triumphant over winning a Big Women’s Magazine as a new client and getting nice feedback on my work, I received their all-rights contract, the now-normal land-grab that means they own everything in a story.

Given that most of my stories only earn between $1,000 and $2,000 apiece, that’s a lot of territory to claim for very little money. There are a few ways to make good money in freelance journalism:

1) earn $5,000+ per story on every story, (tough to do)

2) re-sell your material, in various iterations, to as many places for as much money as often as you can.

3) crank out a ton of copy asfastasyoupossiblycan.

An all-rights contract, in my view, is restraint of trade and a PITA way to limit my income. The serious cash  comes from better-paid media — re-use by television or film options or rights and/or books; I earned $5,000 from CBS’ television option for a possible sitcom derived from “Malled”, my book about retail.

With little stomach for the email argument with my editor, (and their legal department) that followed, I requested a different contract, knowing that many publishers have them, but will only offer one if pushed to do so.

They agreed, noting the exception. (Which means more such arguments probably lie ahead.)

It is wearying, every day, year after year, to defend the value of your ideas, trying to win the highest possible market valuation for them.

Publishers are increasingly greedy and their legal departments strong-armed. Many editors won’t fight for you, but simply drop you for someone who never fights back in order to protect their intellectual property.

The publisher for “Malled” has also passed on my new book proposal, which was disappointing.

The whole week felt like one long, exhausting argument with the world, over money, over revisions, over what to do next, over how to do it better — or whether I should even be doing it at all.

My lovely husband came home to find me in tears, an extremely rare occurrence in our 13 years together.

He looked up this website, which explains the significance and symbolism of the dragonfly:

To the Japanese, it symbolizes summer and autumn, admired and respected all over, so much so that the Samurai use it as a symbol of power, agility and best of all, victory.

In China, people associate the dragonfly with prosperity, harmony and as a good luck charm. Amongst Native Americans, it is a sign of happiness, speed and purity

And then there’s this:

Maturity and a Depth of character The dragonfly, in almost every part of the world symbolizes change and change in the perspective of self realization; and the kind of change that has its source in mental and emotional maturity and the understanding of the deeper meaning of life.

  • Power and Poise
    The dragonfly’s agile flight and its ability to move in all six directions exude a sense of power and poise – something that comes only with age and maturity.
    The dragonfly can move at an amazing 45 miles an hour,  hover like a helicopter fly backwards like a hummingbird, fly straight up, down and on either side. The awe inspiring aspect is how the dragonfly accomplishes its objectives with utmost simplicity, effectiveness…with 20 times as much power in each of its wing strokes when compared to the other insects.
  • Defeat of Self Created Illusions
    The dragonfly exhibits iridescence both on its wings as well as on its body…the end of one’s self created illusions and a clear vision into the realities of life…self discovery and removal of inhibitions.
  • Focus on living ‘IN’ the moment The dragonfly normally lives most of its life as a nymph or an immature. It flies only for a fraction of its life and usually not more than a few months. By living in the moment you are aware of who you are, where you are, what you are doing, what you want, what you don’t and make informed choices on a moment-to-moment basis.

Gently, using a newspaper and a strainer, he captured the dragonfly and safely released him on the balcony.

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Message delivered.

What sets your hair on fire?

By Caitlin Kelly

Leaf Blower Vac
Leaf Blower Vac (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I flipped my script the other day.

Totally lost it.

My temper, that is.

My husband is a Buddhist, so I’m very aware of all the mature, adult arguments for staying calm, breathing deeply, counting to ten before reacting, (or to 100), that we are all in control (hah) of our emotions and can always choose another reaction beyond anger.

Whatever.

It was a combination, with the usual final straw: endless noise of garbage trucks, leaf blowers and children shrieking plus a delayed assignment I feared might head south, (and with it my budgeted income).

After doing an eight-day silent retreat two years ago, I returned to normal life with a much deeper appreciation of — and deep hunger for — silence. Silence unbroken by, (as I write this, another fucking jet has just screeched over my head, thanks to changed airport traffic patterns since we bought this place), endless, endless, endless noise.

I wait all year, desperate to flee our small apartment, to enjoy the additional 60 square feet of our top-floor balcony, at the treetops, where I work, read, nap. Relax. In New York, we get summer from May to September, at best, and I’m eager to enjoy being outdoors, finally, day and night.

After the umpteenth scream from the kids playing below, (shared space we all pay for), 100 feet below my balcony, whose parents were both deafened and stupid, I called the management company for our co-op apartment building to complain.

When the manager there called me rude and hung up on me, I thought my head would explode.

Only in New York has anyone ever dared to tell me “You’re rude” when I’ve lodged a complaint. Whether I am, (and it’s entirely possible by the time I call, completely fed up), or not, is not the issue.

If you’ve chosen — and I did 2.5 years as a retail associate — to serve others for a living, part of your job is to resolve problems. Politely. You don’t call someone names because you don’t like what they’re telling you.

I can’t stand being interrupted, not listened to when there is a legitimate problem — and being name-called on top of it.

The results are not pretty. Not pretty at all.

I have a temper.

Which any of you regulars here already know!

In our family, anger was too often the primary language, the go-to choice. Instead of actually explaining that something we’d just heard — or acknowledged we’d said — was hurtful, we’d just hop the express train to full-on hostilities. I can still quote verbatim, decades later, some of the  phrases family members tossed my way.

It creates an opposite-but-equal reaction, then as now.

Fuck you!

No, fuck you.

I know my temper, and my very quick rise to rage on occasion, is both a professional and personal liability.

But people who didn’t grow up in the toxic stew of anger have no idea. Emotional armor becomes normal, and a vicious retort your quickest and most reliable/legal self-defense.

I could meditate for another fucking century  — and being disrespected would still make me crazy.

Selfishness — screaming brats in a public space — drives me crazy. The laziness of not disciplining said brats, by their parents or their kids’ friends’ parents, drives me crazy.

A lack of accountability drives me crazy.

We ate out recently in an indie restaurant recently that had done something (blessedly!) radical — posted prominent signs saying “Your children are welcome. We expect them to behave in a manner that allows all our guests to enjoy their meals” (or some variation of that.)

We plan to be return soon.

Here’s a great post by Dara Clear about his anger:

The bottom line is you don’t want fights and conflicts to choose you. It’s a much stronger position to be in when you are in control of your entry point into the fray. But how do we encourage that control when our anger is screaming war cries in our ear, urging us fearlessly into battle? As the cliche has it, let cool heads prevail. When you are under attack are you willing to bypass your ego and consider a non-violent response? Equally, can you still feel empowered if you haven’t raised fist or voice in anger? I think the idea of self-empowerment is at the root of the expression of anger and I would argue that there are people who love their angry selves because it makes them feel so empowered. But we need to get beneath the anger to work out what’s really going on.

This essay, from The Rumpus, is one of the very few I’ve ever read by a woman admitting what rage does for her, that rage is her:

For years, I would say that my father gifted me with rage. This may sound like “I tripped into the door again” dressed up in riot grrl bravado. But I am never sugar and spice and everything nice. I am piss and vinegar and what the fuck do you think you’re looking at?

When a friend needs to get stuff out of her asshole ex’s apartment, she calls me. When a landlord suggests that, instead of asking him to expend “money and energy” on fixing my toilet, I simply turn off the water pressure when I’m not using it, I photograph every code violation (however minor) and call the board of housing. I bankrupt him. When the resident creep in my building mails me a letter saying that he’d like to be my “friend” (quotation marks his), I don’t just knock on his door, I throw my shoulder against it. I tell him it doesn’t scare me that he knows where I live. I know where he lives, too. He doesn’t so much as look at me again.

***

Anger is an arrow: a sharp point with a clear path. Once it has struck, there’s a victor. A victim. My mother’s arsenal is stocked with fluttering laughs, “Oh honey” and “please, don’t.” Just be quiet, she says. He’s had a bad day. Don’t bother him. Don’t bang the cabinet.

What makes you totally lose your shit?

Failure is not an option

We shall go on to the end

We will fight with growing confidence

We shall never surrender

— Winston Churchill

Prime Minister Winston Churchill gives the &qu...
Prime Minister Winston Churchill gives the “Victory” sign to crowds in London on Victory in Europe Day. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve been asked many times why, when faced with challenge, I don’t just give up.

Fortunately, I’ve never faced sexual assault, chronic or terminal illness, war, famine or poverty. Some of the people who read Broadside have faced these very real traumas, so I don’t begin to suggest my First World problems are terribly compelling, but resilience and tenacity do interest me.

Who cracks and crumples, hysterical, and who soldiers on?

While at university studying Spanish and starting my journalism career, I volunteered as an interpreter for Chileans who had suffered, and/or witnessed, the rape, torture or death of their loved ones, neighbors and fellow citizens, who had fled to Canada and who were claiming refugee status. In that role, I listened carefully to stories so soul-searing I’ve never forgotten them, even when I wanted to. I went to the dentist with one man to see if the X-rays could prove, (which they did not) that his jaw had, in fact, been smashed by a rifle butt. Another told me, in the detail he had to to prove his claim, about watching his wife and daughters raped in front of him.

My personal challenges have included:

— being the only child of a divorced bi-polar alcoholic mother who suffered multiple breakdowns and hospitalizations, some overseas

— her multiple cancer surgeries

— the loss of both grandmothers when I was 18

— putting myself through college, living alone for three years of it

— being attacked by an intruder in my apartment, at 19

— selling my work to national publications, starting at 19

— three recessions since moving to New York in 1989

— moving to, and adapting to, life in Mexico, France and the U.S.

— getting divorced

— becoming the victim of a con artist

— four orthopedic surgeries since 2000, including full left hip replacement in 2012; 18 months’ of pain and exhaustion before the operation

When single, I didn’t give up for practical reasons —  who would have bought the groceries or made the meals? The laundry and dog-walking? Turning to my family for help was rarely an option, for a variety of reasons.

If you fall to bits, who pays the bills?

I’ve always had health insurance — even paying $500/month for it when I lived alone for six years — and with it, access to medical and mental health help when necessary. I know that’s been a huge advantage for me, as has the freedom from the pressing financial and emotional responsibilities of children or grandkids.

Sent to boarding school and summer camp from the age of eight, I learned young to take care of myself, not to ask for help, not to rely on others for aid or comfort. The hardest part has been learning to ask others for help — and being pleasantly surprised and grateful at how willingly some offer it.

At my absolutely lowest points, I still had my health, some savings, a safe, clean home I could  afford. Maybe having lived in Mexico at 14, or having traveled to a number of developing countries, helped me keep a sense of perspective — I was still deeply blessed with what I had, no matter how tough things looked at the time.

And some people still dearly loved me; their faith in me, and their generosity and kindness, helped me keep it together. One woman, after the con man scared the shit out of me and I seriously considered moving back to Toronto, gave me refuge in her home for three weeks there.

The only time I really gave up, and my body made clear I had no choice in the matter, was three days on an IV in March 2007 , hospitalized with pneumonia. I had never just collapsed, (even when I really wanted to), and allowed others to take very good care of me while I rested and recovered.

Here’s a powerful post by tech entrepreneur Brad Feld about his own physical burn-out:

Finally, I do have a full time job and spent the bulk of my time working on that, so all of this other stuff was the extracurricular activity that filled in the cracks around the 60+ hours a week of VC work I was doing during this time.

I had a lot of time to reflect on this last week after I came out of my Vicodin-induced haze. At 47, I realize, more than ever, my mortality. I believe my kidney stone and depression were linked to the way I treated myself physically over the 90 days after my bike accident. While the kidney stone might not have been directly linked to the accident, the culmination of it, the surgery, and my depression was a clear signal to me that I overdid it this time around.

Do you ever just want to give up?

Have you?

What keeps you going?

Here is Winston Churchill, in his own words.