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?

Routines and rituals

By Caitlin Kelly

We eat by candlelight every evening
We eat by candlelight every evening

I’m writing this post with two different streams of music coming into our apartment.

In the living room, our new favorite station, TSFJazz, which we discovered during a taxi ride into Paris on our last trip there, in December 2014.

It’s terrific! We listen to it now as a default choice and I love hearing French all day (I speak it) as well their broad array of choices.

On Saturday mornings, I listen to a reggae show on WKCR, the radio station of Columbia University, learning new-to-me phrases like “large up” (to praise or remember.) On a cold, gray winter’s morning, what better way to start the weekend?

I love rituals and routines, for the rhythm they add to my life.

In a world where things change so often and so quickly, I increasingly appreciate unmoving touchstones.

My daily pot of tea, usually at 4 or 5pm
My daily pot of tea, usually at 4 or 5pm

From age 8 to 16, I attended boarding school and summer camp, each with decades-old routines and rituals, some of which I loved, (we sang en masse after every meal at camp), and some of which I hated, (we had to be back at boarding school by 6pm Sunday evenings to listen to yet another missionary talk about their good deeds overseas.)

What I did enjoy about that ritual was the closing song of every Sunday evening, the lovely hymn, Abide With Me,…fast falls the eventide, the darkness deepens, Lord with me abide…

I can still remember the timing of the school’s bells: 6:55 wake-up; 7:10 out for a walk around the block; 7:25 head to the dining hall for breakfast. Each afternoon someone would bring back to our boarders’ house a huge green basket filled with cookies for our afternoon snack.

For special occasions, like graduation, a bagpiper arrived in full regalia, another ritual I cherished.

Each one of these shaped our days, weeks and months, adding form and familiarity to the inevitable craziness and changes of growing up.

I like how, as an adult, we can create our own rituals and routines, for ourselves and our children. It’s comforting to have things we know we can look forward to, like the Saturday morning pancakes my husband makes.

Jose bought this book -- I look forward to reading it!
Jose bought this book — I look forward to reading it!

A few of ours:

We drink our morning coffee from a thermos, a habit of my parents when I was growing up, which seemed eminently sensible for people who like consuming a lot of caffeine over many hours.

The reassuring red of a British bus, post-box and phone booth
The reassuring red of a British bus, post-box and phone booth

I still plan ahead using a red leather Filofax, a beautiful and sensual way to store the information I need to stay organized.

I love cutting recipes out of magazines and newspapers, sticking them with a glue stick onto a piece of paper I three-hole-punch and put into a binder. Of course, I could do it all on-line and clear my home of all those cookbooks and stained bits of yellowing paper.

But I won’t.

After every game played with my co-ed pick-up softball team, now into our 15th season, we always head to the same local pub. We know the menu off by heart and have eaten everything on it a bazillion times. But it’s where we go.

We eat dinner at home by candlelight, and an overhead light dimmed low. I love the gentle mood that candles create.

Every afternoon at home, I get in touch with my British/Canadian/Irish roots and put on the kettle to make a fresh pot of hot tea. No sad little bag in a cup! I have a selection of herbal, Constant Comment, Earl Grey and fruit-flavored teas. Such a soothing, comforting way to take a break, relax and re-hydrate.

I tend to avoid mentioning religion here, but I also love the rituals of the Episcopal church services I occasionally attend: the liturgy, Nicene creed, the collect, my favorite hymns. In an ever-shifting world, there’s something grounding and, yes, deeply comforting to know what we will say and do collectively.

Every weekend, we dive into three newspapers (yes, in print), the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times. Our favorite, by far, is the FT and its magazine supplement entitled (yup) How to Spend It, filled with ads for custom-made yachts and editorial images of $100,000 jewels, an amusing peek into 1%-world. The paper, though, is filled with terrific writing on books, travel, food, gardening.

I’m reluctant to fully unpack and put away our suitcases after a great trip — until we’ve planned our next one.

For Jose, it’s an hour of quiet time every morning, listening to music, reading or just thinking, before I wake up. Plus his cup of hazelnut coffee.

Every year, the Rockettes perform their Christmas show here, a beloved tradition for many New Yorkers
Every year, the Rockettes perform their Christmas show here, a beloved tradition for many New Yorkers

What are some of your favorite rituals and routines?

Which habits are you trying to break?

By Caitlin Kelly

Sunset in Donegal -- at 10:15 pm
Sunset in Donegal — at 10:15 pm

One of the best things about taking vacation — and the longer, the better — is shedding some bad habits (ideally!) while savoring the pleasures and challenges of a new or different environment.

So much easier to do when I’m not triggered by the same old patterns into the same tired behaviors.

For example:

I’ve been working alone at home in an apartment in the suburbs of New York for nine years. It’s lonely!

Hence a growing reliance upon social media for interaction that doesn’t require me to get dressed, get into a car, drive somewhere and….enjoy my life.

It’s become, as they say, thin gruel.

It’s too easy, too time-consuming and, most of all, increasingly frustrating because it doesn’t, at least for me, deepen intimacy, which is one of my joys in life.

Habits do make life easier; we don’t have to stop and think through why we’re making a specific decision. We just do it.

It was a great break for a week in Ireland to rent a cottage with no wifi or cellphone access. I didn’t miss it a bit! Badly burned by a huge data-usage bill from social media use when in Canada, I left my phone at home in New York this time. Jose dropped and broke his.

Instead we read, slept, took photos, drew, went for walks, talked at length to one another. Connected, with friends and with nature and with ourselves.

When we did have access to wifi by going to a nearby pub, we limited it to an hour or so a day to catch up on email, (some of it for work as we’re both freelance), and social media.

But it provoked some self-reflection on my part to realize how much time I’ve been wasting on “connecting” with others through social media, not face to face.

In fact, social media offers an easy way to procrastinate. It does almost nothing for my income. It rarely makes me much happier.

One habit I intend to keep -- a daily pot of tea
One habit I intend to keep — a daily pot of tea

The question?

What new and healthier habit can I — must I — now create to replace it?

Another habitual behavior of mine, is a default position of feeling anxious. It’s wearying and no fun and it’s been a habit of thought for decades. It comes from a very real place — when you work freelance, your income is precarious!

But it’s also exhausting.

As one wise friend says, “Don’t borrow trouble.”

My media habits need a shake-up as well, so I recently signed up (yes, on Twitter) to follow a French magazine and a Spanish newspaper, both to find story ideas and to expand my worldview far beyond the terribly limited one offered by American media.

On vacation, between jet lag and different light, we were up both much later and much earlier than usual — the summer sky was full light by 4:30 a.m. and remained light until 11:30. I took some of my best photos, walking barefoot on gravel in my nightgown, at 6:00 a.m., catching the light on dew in thick spiderwebs, a sight I never see at home because I never get up that early.

And yet I saw one just like it the other day on our front lawn. Why not start getting up early here?

Habit.

I need to broaden my horizons at home, not only when traveling.

Like…when I have a free day, I’d normally stick at home or head into Manhattan.

Habit.

Last night I behaved as though I were still on vacation — i.e. adventurous enough to try something I’d never done at home before. (Why is that?)

I went to our commuter train station and bought a ticket heading north an hour to a renowned concert venue to hear Cherish The Ladies, a terrific all-female band playing traditional Irish music.

It required a taxi to and from the station and a change of trains — would any of that be possible at 11:00 after the show? Fingers crossed!

Instead, I said hello to the pianist we’d met in Dungloe in a pub; she dedicated a song to me from the stage and mentioned my town and a dancer with them drove me home — as he turned out to be a next door neighbor.

Talk about positive reinforcement for breaking a habit!

Loved this recent story about a young Vancouver woman, and blogger, who declared a ban on shopping for a year — and lived well on 51 percent of her income. She’s eloquent and inspiring on how much of her shopping was habitual and, in some ways, mindless.

Now it’s gotten to a weird place where I feel not only uncomfortable spending money but I had to go into a mall to buy a baby present in a mall recently, and I felt almost sick in there because I was surrounded by ads. I felt overstimulated from being inside the mall. I don’t like the energy in there.

I felt this way in the Dublin airport when we were leaving to return to New York, surrounded by shops selling liquor and cosmetics and clothing and electronics….too much stuff! Overwhelmed, and grateful for the things I already own, I bought nothing — maybe a pre-flight first for me.

I loved seeing these gorgeous shawls -- so much better to take a photograph than buy and regret...
I loved seeing these gorgeous shawls — so much better to take a photograph than buy and regret…

Being mindful about what we do, how often and why takes some serious reflection.

It can be painful, and some of our habits, of thought and behavior, can be deeply rooted in emotions we don’t especially want to face or change.

Do you read Seth Godin’s blog? Loved this one:

Stop rehearsing the easy fears that have become habits.

Do you have a habit, or several, you’re also trying to break or shed?

Which habit(s) are you trying to break?

By Caitlin Kelly

One of the best things about a vacation is — for me anyway — coming back to my home and daily life with refreshed eyes and new ideas. I almost always make some changes in how our apartment looks, and some changes in how I conduct my work and life.

Everyday life
Everyday life…Time to get out my guitar again! (Photo credit: loginesta)

Being self-employed as a writer for seven years means I have a lot of freedom in how, when and where I work. But it also means I fall into ruts and routines, like everyone else. If it’s easy and “normal”, I tend to keep doing it. I sit at the dining room table writing on my laptop, (why not at the library? a coffee shop? a shared space? the park?), because that’s what I did the day/week/month before.

A best-selling book, The Power of Habit, addresses this. Once we become habituated to a behavior, it’s comfortable and routine, and demands little thought or creativity. It might be what we drink each morning, (or night), or the clothes we wear or the friends we hang out with.

Here’s a great post by Seth Godin on why being angry is a habit one can choose to break.

One of the things I enjoy most about vacation is the chance to flee habitual behavior and try new things, some of which are simply easier, more affordable or more accessible in places other than where I live, whether horseback riding or finding a store full of used CDs.

I do do a few things, habitually, that I am enjoying and are good for me, like a Monday morning jazz dance class that leaves me drenched in sweat and ready to start my week. At 4:00 p.m. or so, many days, I brew a full pot of tea — no crappy bag-in-a-cup! — and sit down to hydrate and relax for a while.

And every year — no matter how much I would really prefer to blow that cash on a fantastic trip somewhere — I put away 15 percent or more of my income. It has finally begun to add up to something that seems real and worth managing, so the years of self-denial are worth it.

But I have a few habits I need to change:

— checking email too often, out of loneliness and boredom

— dicking around on social media (ditto)

— procrastinating on major projects that require a lot of intermediate steps to get to completion

— wasting time on magazines instead of reading books

— losing two to four hours listening to, (albeit loving!), talk shows on National Public Radio

— sitting for too long at the computer without a break, like…hours!

— not exercising consistently every single week, at least four (ugh) times

Here’s a beautiful, smart post about the power of habit — and how essential it is to wake up our lives while we still have them to enjoy:

One way is to make a conscious effort to break the habit patterns which blunt our perceptions. After all, it was sheer habit which caused the man to throw the magic pebble into the sea. ‘Habit,’ says Samuel Beckett in Waiting for Godot, ‘is a great deadener’. A contemporary Buddhist says that we should try to do some of the following:

 
When in company act as if alone
When alone act as if in company
Spend one day without speaking
Spend one hour with eyes closed
With eyes closed, have someone you are close to take you on a walk
Think of something to say to someone particular. Next time you see them, don’t say it.
Go somewhere particular to do something. When you get there, don’t do it.
Walk backwards
Upon awakening, immediately get up
Get dressed to go somewhere, then don’t go
Just go out immediately, as you are, anywhere
Do what comes next
Walk on!            
What habit(s) are you struggling to shed or change?
How’s it going?