20 questions for you

By Caitlin Kelly

For those of you willing to play along…Here’s the last batch, from October 2017.

I’ll go first — and am curious to hear your answers!

 

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The Met Opera House, Lincoln Center, New York

 

What are some of your passions, hobbies or interests?

 

I love fine antiques, (preferably 1850 or earlier), especially silver, porcelain and textiles,  which I own and use. I love to cook and entertain. I read a lot, mostly journalism and non-fiction. Travel is my favorite activity, whether to a New York City park or museum or somewhere much further. Also mad for delicious and elegant fragrances, like those made by Hermès, L’Artisan Parfumeur, Byredo and Antonia Bellanca, whose scent Tiempe Passate, which I wore for a while, is almost impossible to find.

And movies! Whether in a theater or on Netflix or on television, I usually watch two or three every week — maybe because my father, who’s still alive and healthy at 89, was an award-winning film-maker; here’s his Wikipedia entry.

 

What were you known for in school?

 

Being in trouble and winning prizes for best-in-class academically and for writing.

Scariest moment?

 

A safari in Kenya when we were left alone in the dark by our guides, who drove off with the vehicles, light and guns — and we were surrounded by wild animals. A recent health issue.

Best job?

 

As a reporter and feature writer for the Globe & Mail, Canada’s best national newspaper.  It offered great adventures — from covering and meeting Queen Elizabeth to sailing aboard a Tall Ship.

 

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Stuffed animals or dolls or…?

 

Wayyyy too many stuffed animals, some of whom still share space with us.

 

Do you have siblings? Are you close to them emotionally?

 

I have three half-siblings, a brother 10 years younger, one 23 years younger and a half-sister I haven’t met who’s about five years younger. None of us grew up together. It’s complicated.

 

I learned how to canoe at camp -- useful when we went to Nicaragua
On assignment in Nicaragua for WaterAid — Jen Iacovelli in the bow of a dugout canoe

Are you outdoors-y — or, as humorist Fran Lebowitz wrote, is the outdoors what you step through between the restaurant and the taxi?

 

Both? I grew up attending summer camps in northern Ontario, ages eight to 16, (three camps), which involved swimming in very cold water, portaging 65-pound wood and canvas canoes while being swarmed by mosquitoes and black flies and knowing how to build a fire. I love camping out, and even have a tent my husband bought me for a recent late-life birthday, but I admit to an equal affection (OK, much deeper) for room service and a dry hotel martini.

 

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My best friend, my husband, Jose

 

Are you married or partnered? If not, do you enjoy being single?

 

I’ve been with my second husband (both divorced) for 18 years. We’re very different sorts of people — he is very tidy and hyper-organized, not wild about spontaneity and adventure — but we share values and are both devoted career journalists who started our work for national outlets as college undergrads. No kids.

 

What’s your nickname?

Family nickname, Catti. A friend, with whom I served for years on a volunteer board (where I was willing to say what others were not), Little Thorn.

 

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What would we typically find in your fridge?

 

Unsalted butter, half and half, lemons, limes, maple syrup, selzer, low-fat yogurt, fresh fruit and vegetables and far too many condiments. Canadian candy bars unavailable in the States.

 

Do you enjoy entertaining friends and family?

 

Love it! Maybe my favorite way to spend time at home.

Are you a highly social and outgoing person — or happier alone at home?

 

Both! I’ve always been gregarious, but enjoy quiet time on my own.

 

 

ALL IMAGES COPYRIGHT CAITLIN KELLY 2013.
The Grand Canyon — whose profound silence makes your ears ring

Most beautiful place you’ve visited?

 

Toss-up between Corsica, Ireland, Ko Phi Phi, (an island in Thailand) and the Grand Canyon.

 

Secret hope?

 

To write and commercially publish more books. Just found a new agent eager to represent one of my ideas, so fingers crossed. I’d love to win a Canada Council grant — $20,000.

Have you achieved the goal(s) you set for yourself when younger/in university?

 

Yes.

 

If so, what was it/were they?

 

I wanted to become a journalist and author, and have. I wanted to become a foreign correspondent and, in reporting as a Canadian in the U.S., have done this as well.

 

If not, are you OK with that?

 

 

Do you struggle with/manage a chronic medical condition?

 

Osteoarthritis. I have a replaced left hip (Feb. 2012) and my right knee is a mess. This now prevents me from running, jumping and other fun activities.

 

 

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Do you follow a spiritual or religious tradition/faith?

 

Nominally Anglican/Episcopalian. Not a regular church-goer, but very fond of a good sermon and have many favorite hymns, like All Things Bright and Beautiful.

 

 

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Sept. 18, 2011. Jose and I tie the knot!

What makes you laugh loudest and most often?

 

My husband. Thank heaven.

How much information is just too much?

By Caitlin Kelly

 

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While this blog, on paper, has 20,000 followers, fewer and fewer are arriving and commenting.

I could take it personally, (and maybe I should!)

But I think we’re all overloaded: Twitter, Reddit, Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, et al are sucking the life out of us and reducing what little attention we have left to give —  beyond that for work, family, friends and life.

The New York Times ran two recent stories addressing this.

One, by their tech writer, discussed whether reading news in print, i.e. much more slowly and in lesser volume, was a wiser choice.

It was.

Avoid social.

This is the most important rule of all. After reading newspapers for a few weeks, I began to see it wasn’t newspapers that were so great, but social media that was so bad.

Just about every problem we battle in understanding the news today — and every one we will battle tomorrow — is exacerbated by plugging into the social-media herd. The built-in incentives on Twitter and Facebook reward speed over depth, hot takes over facts and seasoned propagandists over well-meaning analyzers of news.

You don’t have to read a print newspaper to get a better relationship with the news. But, for goodness’ sake, please stop getting your news mainly from Twitter and Facebook. In the long run, you and everyone else will be better off.

And this, admittedly by man with a highly unusual life — no need to work and no need to interact with anyone every day:

Right after the election, Erik Hagerman decided he’d take a break from reading about the hoopla of politics.

Donald Trump’s victory shook him. Badly. And so Mr. Hagerman developed his own eccentric experiment, one that was part silent protest, part coping mechanism, part extreme self-care plan.

He swore that he would avoid learning about anything that happened to America after Nov. 8, 2016.

“It was draconian and complete,” he said. “It’s not like I wanted to just steer away from Trump or shift the conversation. It was like I was a vampire and any photon of Trump would turn me to dust.”

It was just going to be for a few days. But he is now more than a year into knowing almost nothing about American politics. He has managed to become shockingly uninformed during one of the most eventful chapters in modern American history. He is as ignorant as a contemporary citizen could ever hope to be.

I get it.

I have online subscriptions to The Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal — and never use them.

I read The New York Times and Financial Times seven days a week, plus about 20 weekly and monthly magazines. Plus Twitter and Facebook and some blogs.

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Plus television and radio.

And I feel increasingly angry and powerless by “knowing” about so much I can do little or nothing to change:

— that the U.S. has a President who lies every day and has sex with porn stars (and lies about that)

— that Yemeni citizens are dying of cholera

— that hundreds of Syrian children are being killed as I write these words.

There’s only so much impotence one can tolerate.

There’s only so much noise one can stand.

There’s only so much “news” one really needs.

I’m reaching my limit.

 

How about you?

Pleasure matters

By Caitlin Kelly

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I was struck recently by a social media post by someone I know who works in a demanding healthcare specialty. She had treated herself to a fantastic day trip to a nearby natural wonder and a gorgeous splurge of a breakfast.

Alone.

What struck me most was the sense this was something, perhaps, to apologize for.

That taking —- making — time to care for herself and her soul was somehow suspect or self-indulgent.

I think being consistently kind to ourselves is essential and something too often overlooked or dismissed as silly, by others and worse, by ourselves. Women are so heavily socialized to take care of everyone else’s needs first and foremost that, when there’s a lack of time or money — and there often is — we get the short end of the stick.

I’m not someone who advocates self-indulgence or hedonism, (and who draws the line?) but I’m absolutely committed to what is now called self care.

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For me that’s everything from playing my beloved vinyl on a Sunday morning to making home-made meals I can enjoy during the week, with my husband and on my own.

I spend real money at our local florist, sometimes as much as $25 a week, to fill our apartment with blooms and greenery, whether fragrant eucalyptus or bright gerbera or the tiny purple orchids that come all the way from Thailand. To me, it’s an investment in daily joy and beauty.

I go to a spin class at the gym to burn calories, manage stress, to enjoy the music and see familiar faces. It offers me a low-key social life and human contact when I work alone at home, now 11 years into that isolating workstyle.

I make play dates with friends, meeting them face to face for a coffee or lunch or a concert or ballet performance, creating memories we can share years later. I went to a fantastic Iron & Wine concert this week at Town Hall with a dear pal and made her spit with laughter over Manhattans at the bar in Grand Central. Priceless!

I love to travel, so am always looking a few weeks and months ahead at where we might be able to afford to go, and for how long. It refreshes me, whether seeing old friends back in Toronto or meeting new ones, as I did this summer in Berlin and Zagreb.

I commit a few hours each week to my favorite television shows. (Poldark!)

And this year — for the first time in my life — I’m driving a brand-new car, a luxury vehicle we’ve leased. Despite my initial trepidation, it is sheer bliss: quiet, beautifully designed, with intelligent and helpful technology. Our other vehicle is 16 years old, dented and scraped and, no matter how much money we drop at the mechanic, always has the check engine light on; freedom from that anxiety alone is a form of self care for me now.

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It can feel weird, even guilt-inducing, to put yourself first, to say no, firmly (and mean it!) to others’ demands on your limited time and energy.

But without adding even the smallest pleasures to our days, and to our lives, we can end up stewing in resentment and self-denial.

No one really benefits from that.

How do you feel about aging?

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I met this guy — fellow Canadian, actor/comedian Mike Myers — recently at a party in Manhattan. We’re near the same age, still working, still laughing!

 

This is a powerful video, and one worth watching — 11 minutes of a recent TED talk in Vancouver by activist Ashton Applewhite.

In it, she raises the essential unfairness of treating people who are older — whether they’re in their 40s, 50s — or 80s — as “other” and as lesser, people with less economic, physical, emotional and spiritual value to the larger culture.

And, as many women know, or soon learn, getting older is often a disaster in North America. If you’re still working, you’re supposed to pretend to be much younger and get every bit of cosmetic/surgical aid possible to make sure you appear that way.

I work in a field dominated by people in their 20s and 30s, eager to make their name, get ahead and claim a spot.

I also work in an industry — journalism — divided against itself in some deeply unhelpful ways. Digital media have claimed the lion’s share of audience and ad dollars, leaving “legacy media” (i.e. newspapers and magazines) with shrinking staff and budgets.

That also means many newsrooms and offices are hemorrhaging people like me and my husband, professionals with decades of experience and insight into how to do these jobs with excellence, integrity and efficiency.

Yet, now hundreds of newbies are also crying out for mentors, and finding none.

Because those of us who would have become their mentors by working together have been bought out or fired, blocked by age discrimination from acquiring the new jobs we need, dismissed as being “digital immigrants”, both illegal and unfair.

It’s a pervasive prejudice that weakens every workplace that indulges in it; diversity of age, wisdom, skills and experience also matters.

And I hate the word “seniors”, as if an entire group of people were an undifferentiated mass of old. We don’t call younger people “intermediates” and, usually only within an athletic context, do we call them juniors.

Enough!

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I also live in an apartment building where everyone owns their home, and a building dominated by people in their 70s, 80s and 90s. It’s always been like this, even when I was 30 and moved in there.

Some people would hate this and flee as soon as possible — all those walkers and canes and even, very occasionally, wheelchairs. All that white hair! All that…age.

It’s not an unusual sight to have an ambulance pull up or to get to know someone’s aide.

It’s never really bothered me.

Consider the alternative!

I lost both grandmothers the year I was 18 and never even met either of my grandfathers so I enjoy talking to people a few decades further along than I am, seeing how they cope and enioy life, whether off on a cruise to Alaska or just sitting with me beside our shared swimming pool in the sunshine.

Several are still working.

They know my name. They commiserate when my arthritic knee puts me back in a brace or physical therapy.

As I’ve said here, I have no close relatives and poor relationships with my own parents.

As I age, I have slightly less energy than a decade ago, but it means I’m more thoughtful about when, how and for whom I work.

Drama is something I eschew.

I go to spin class and lift weights. I pray, daily, for continued good health.

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Love this Swedish TV show about a cop who’s definitely not young

 

Jose and I are also very lucky to have friends in their 20s and 30s, people whose company we really enjoy and who seem to genuinely enjoy ours as well.

They don’t just pump us for contacts and job help, but we talk about politics and travel and books and music and money — all the things friends talk about.

It’s a great pleasure to watch our younger friends navigate life and, when asked, (and sometimes when not!), we’ll share our own experiences and strategies. Since we have no children or grandchildren, we really value this emotional connection with those younger than us.

It’s also a benefit of older age  to have left much of early adulthood’s angst and anxiety behind.

We’ve been lucky and careful, and have saved enough to retire. I just pray for a few more decades to enjoy it all.

Here’s a lovely “Vows” column from The New York Times, about a couple who recently married at 98 and 94.

They met at the gym:

“Age doesn’t mean a damn thing to me or to Gert,” he said. “We don’t see it as a barrier. We still do what we want to do in life.”

 

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Remember this famous image? President Kennedy in the Oval Office…

Aging is a great privilege denied to so many!

 

Do you feel uncomfortable around people much older or younger than you?

Do you work with people much younger or older than you? How is it?

 

 

 

Remember unmediated life?

By Caitlin Kelly

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If my European journey taught me anything — or reminded me more powerfully than ever before — it’s to live, and savor, an unmediated life.

By which I mean, one experienced firsthand, feet-first, immersed in all of it.

Not, as has become normal/affordable/easy for me — and so many of us — a world and its wonders seen and heard only through a screen or scrim, whether social media or explained by the traditional mass media of newspapers, magazines, radio and television.

The soft, smooth cobblestones of Rovinj — a small seaside town in Croatia — were silky beneath my bare feet, the light snaking around corners as the sun moved through the sky, every hour offering a different tableau.

I’d have known none of this without my (grateful!) physical presence.

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Ironically, I follow several cool, adventurous people on Twitter whose lives are devoted to professional exploration, including aviation and wildlife photographers and three archeologists.

I love seeing what they find, but this is also, I realize, a little weird.

I need to go find this stuff myself!

Sadly, it’s now considered normal — starting in infancy — to spend hours consuming others’ visions and impressions and analysis of the world, instead of gathering every sense impression ourselves. (As I write this on our balcony in the early morning, I hear traffic on the bridge, a passing train and birds in the trees. The air is fresh and cool, the sun gilding the balcony’s outer edge.)

Plato’s cave, and our addiction to shadows, pales in the face of this.

I work alone at home in the suburbs of New York, with no kids or pets to distract me. I  work full-time freelance, which means I have no boss or coworkers with whom to share ideas or jokes or talk about our weekends.

Most of my friends here are too busy to actually get together in person, which all combines to create isolation, and so I’ve slipped into the tempting bad habit of feeling connected to the world through consuming social media — instead of socializing face to face.

If I want to actually be with someone, it takes me an hour each way, and up to $25 in train fare or parking fees, to go into Manhattan.

But if I don’t, I’m essentially a self-imposed shut-in, which is  — my six supersocial weeks in Europe reminded me  — a terrible choice for mental health.

My time in Europe, literally, exposed me to hundreds of strangers, some of whom became new friends, like an archeologist and travel blogger and translator, all of whom live in Berlin, all of whom had only been Twitter and blog pals before they became real, corporeal human beings sharing space with me, laughing and joking and hugging hello.

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Zagreb

 

I was also struck by people’s gentleness with me, like the man on the busy, crowded Tube stairs in London, watching me slowly and painfully climb beside him, who asked: “Are you OK?”

People can be perfectly nice on social media, but they’re not beside you.

They’re not — as two young men did — ready to carry your heavy suitcase up (!) three flights of stairs.

In Croatia, I sat for hours in a cafe with three new friends, talking and talking and talking.

 

No one stared into their phones.

No one stared into their laptop.

No one was rushing off to something more important.

 

What we were doing — just being together, enjoying one another’s company and conversation — was more important.

 

 

Are you living life firsthand?

 

 

 

The challenges of (in)dependence

By Caitlin Kelly

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I’ve been gone from my home near New York City since June 2 and won’t be back from Europe until July 19; apart from two weeks with husband and friends, and 3 days with others, I’m on my own.

 

It’s been humbling to realize how many things and people I now rely upon to stay safe and healthy:

 

Electricity/wi-fi

 

Without which I can’t charge all devices and keep up with English language media.

 

Google!

 

Without its instant access to all the data I need in each new-to-me place, I’m not sure how I’d survive. (Unlike many of you, I’m not using my phone 24/7 with all the cool apps available; I don’t want to spend my life, on vacation, still attached to a screen. I also fear its theft or loss and overage fees.)

Whether how many forints to the dollar or a map of the city with tremendous detail or train schedules, it’s become essential.

 

A phone

 

I hate carrying and using a cellphone but was deeply grateful for it, (and an overseas plan) when my husband, after weeks of severe stomach pain, was at the doctor’s — our shared GP. I called him to hear the diagnosis, (thankfully, nothing serious), as he was in our doctor’s office.

With a six-hour time difference, communicating can be challenging — and worrying about my sweetie was horrific.

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Maps

 

Yes, really. I like a paper map I carry in my purse or pack. You have to quickly orient yourself, especially as a woman traveling alone, especially at night. It’s unwise to appear befuddled or lost.

Mobility

 

Hah! So much for that….While in Berlin, I rented a bike for 8 euros for a half day. Riders there whizzed past, with little to no warning — (no friendly, “Passing on the left!” or a ringing bell?!) — and I kept jamming my very damaged right knee as I jolted and stopped the bike to avoid getting hit or falling.

OUCH!

Now that knee, (bone on bone), is once more swollen and painful, and I’m wearing my brace and icing it and finally, in Budapest, was able to buy anti-inflammatory meds. But it’s put a damper on a six-week trip that, de facto, requires lots of walking and stairs. Taxis are expensive!

 

Language

I speak fluent French, so Paris was easy. Berlin is filled with people who speak excellent English and many words are pretty easy to figure out from context (they also offer English menus!) Hungarian and Croatian? Not so much! I felt absurdly proud in Budapest as, returning from dinner, my friends and I figured out which subway line to take, and had to change lines along the way.

 

Safe and Reliable Transportation

 

Without which, no travel!

Whether it’s a taxi, tram, subway, airplane or train, I need it to move at speed — and safely. My train journey from Budapest to Zagreb included a detour that had all of us moving into buses for a bit — track work — then transferring to a regional/commuter train for our final 20 minutes. It was handled efficiently, which was great.

As I was writing this post, I read (with horror), about a New York City subway derailment.

One friend recently flew all the way from our suburban New York town, Tarrytown, to the annual Leonard Cohen celebration on the Greek island of Hydra; the first leg of her very long return journey began by donkey!

 

Books

 

I don’t use a Kindle, so have been carrying a few books.

The first — A Little Life (loved it)  — got me to Berlin (left it at the hotel for a local friend); the second, an excellent biography of Angela Merkel got me through 10 days in Berlin. Now reading The Tender Bar, a memoir, with two more left.

When you’re alone, you need something to read!

 

Friends

 

I’m loving my journey and so glad I’ve taken so much time away from work.

But, I admit it, I miss my friends! Evenings are more challenging when you travel alone — I end up pretty pooped, (esp. with a sore knee), and don’t venture out very far again after a day of walking/limping.

So I’m still tweeting and Facebooking and emailing, even finally catching up with a photographer living nomadically, a longtime friend of the blog  who’s now home in Singapore.

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Husband

 

I’m a big baby, it turns out — I miss my husband!

Jose and I have been emailing a lot and have Skyped several times, to our mutual joy. Even 17 years into our marriage, I miss him terribly; we work in the same field, share many interests and normally talk to one another a lot.

I traveled alone at age of 23, for four months in Europe, and have traveled alone many times since. I do love it.

But…I miss my sweetie.

Some things worth saying

By Caitlin Kelly

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Thank you!

I really appreciate what you did for me

I admire your strength

I love your sense of humor

I’m not sure how you do it — but good for you!

I don’t know how I’d get all this done without your help

You’re such a terrific friend

I love you

I’m really sorry I hurt your feelings

This is a tough assignment — so we’ll be sure you get the compensation you need for doing it

What can I do to help?

When can we get together?

Your teaching really pushed me — I learned a lot in your class

I enjoyed our time together

I’m so sorry for your loss

I made an error in judgment — I won’t let it happen again

How are you?

This must be a tough time for you

You did an amazing job on this project

What can I bring?

Sure, I can help — what time do you need me there?

You’re going through a rough time right now, but I’m here for you

Let’s meet for lunch tomorrow

Your resilience is an inspiration to me

I’m so glad we met

I’ll drive you to your appointment

I can take care of the kids this weekend

I’ll sit with you during chemo

What have you said recently to lift someone’s spirits?

What do you most need to hear right now?

Pushpushushpush = success! Maybe not…

By Caitlin Kelly

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It’s a deeply American belief that if you never ever ever give up you’ll eventually get what you want.

It’s charming in its meritocratic faith — but it’s also often bullshit.

Some doors, for all sorts of reasons, stay shut, locked and barred to us, whether social or professional.

Maybe not forever, though.

Patience, it turns out, really can be a virtue. (Oh yeah, and tenacity, in it for the long haul.)

I recently broke through to a market I’ve been wanting to write for for, literally, a decade or more. I wanted it soooooo badly, and wrote to the editor in chief several times, even as every new one arrived.

I had all the right experience and credentials.

Crickets.

Then (yay!) someone who works on staff there followed me on Twitter and I asked, nicely, for an introduction to someone higher up the ladder. She did it. Now I have an assignment I’d finally given up ever attaining.

Sometimes it’s best to just lay down your tools and walk away.

We’re taught from childhood that winners never quit and quitters never win.

But sometimes it’s wisest to retreat and re-think strategy, to ask ourselves why we even want this thing we think we need so desperately.

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Patience — such a Victorian ideal in this era of instant everything —  can produce results.

I won a New York Times national exclusive, a story about Google, (and I don’t cover tech nor live anywhere near Silicon Valley), by waiting six months after learning about it. During those months, my contact and I exchanged more than 100 emails, as the negotiations were so delicate and protracted.

Here’s the story.

Sometimes you just have to wait:

— For the right person to get the hiring/budgetary authority to appreciate you and your skills. That might take months, even years.

— To develop the emotional intelligence to handle a situation you’re sure is yours right now. Maybe you’re really not quite ready for it.

— To nurture social capital, and its referrals to the players who can help you achieve your goals. Trust takes time!

— To polish the social skills required to network well with senior people in your field or industry. Not everyone will respond to your texts or emails just because you’re in an unholy rush. Buy and use high-quality personal stationery. (It works, I know.)

— To acquire the requisite technical skills to add real value to whomever you’re approaching. Just because you want it rightnow! doesn’t mean you’re offering what they need. Your urgency is not theirs.

— To realize, by thinking about it calmly for a while, that a golden opportunity is…not so much.

— To accumulate the savings you need to be able to ditch a crappy marriage or live-in relationship, a nasty job, abusive internship or freelance gig. Once you have a financial cushion, (or, as we call it in journalism, a fuck you fund), your choices become true options. You don’t have to rush into a decision, or stay miserably stuck in a bad situation.

— If you’re mired in endless conflict and confrontation with someone, withdrawing for a while, (maybe even years, if social/family),  might be the best option while you decide what’s best for you, not just for them. It takes time to reflect deeply and to process difficult or painful emotions.

What success(es) have you gained by waiting and being patient —  even when you didn’t want to?

 

Caitlin Kelly, an award-winning non-fiction author and frequent contributor to The New York Times, is a New York-based journalist. Her one-on-one webinars and individual coaching, by Skype, phone or in person, have helped writers and bloggers worldwide; details here. Contact: learntowritebetter@gmail.com.

More simple pleasures

By Caitlin Kelly

The comforting, rasping sound of my husband shaving

The insistent ratatatatatatatat of nearby woodpeckers

The first bike ride of spring

Birdsong

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Trees and bushes finally exploding into starbursts of white, pink, yellow and purple blossom

A freshly-painted room

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New buds

Sandals!

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Holding a tea party for female friends, using my new-to-me early 19th. century tea-set

The sun finally hitting our balcony — giving us a much-loved additional outdoor room

This Moomin mug — what a fun way to start  my morning

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This Moomin mug also makes me happy!

Backlit forsythia — everywhere!

Discovering a gruff local businessman has a softer side, meeting him with his two French bulldogs

Gorgeous, enormous canvases by a local artist on display at our local coffee shop

A kid’s lemonade stand at the end of his suburban driveway

Reading on a park bench in warm sunshine

Watching river traffic — boats and barges — on the Hudson River

Putting away heavy, bulky winter clothing and slipping back into cotton and linen

The joys of a small(er) life

By Caitlin Kelly

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I found this essay intriguing, originally published on the blog, A Life in Progress (and which garnered a stunning 499 comments):

The world is such a noisy place. Loud, haranguing voices lecturing me to hustle, to improve, build, strive, yearn, acquire, compete, and grasp for more. For bigger and better. Sacrifice sleep for productivity. Strive for excellence. Go big or go home. Have a huge impact in the world. Make your life count.

But what if I just don’t have it in me. What if all the striving for excellence leaves me sad, worn out, depleted? Drained of joy. Am I simply not enough?

What if I never really amount to anything when I grow up—beyond mom and sister and wife? But these people in my primary circle of impact know they are loved and I would choose them again, given the choice. Can this be enough?

What if I never build an orphanage in Africa but send bags of groceries to people here and there and support a couple of kids through sponsorship? What if I just offer the small gifts I have to the world and let that be enough?

It was a friend of mine, someone I met in freshman English class at University of Toronto decades ago, who posted it on her Facebook page.

She is often wearied by the insane pace others have set for themselves and keep setting.

It can feel like a race.

This always felt like our theme song, from Michelle Shocked:

Leroy got a better job so we moved
Kevin lost a tooth now he’s started school
I got a brand new eight month old baby girl
I sound like a housewife
Hey Shell, I think I’m a housewife

Hey Girl, what’s it like to be in New York?
New York City – imagine that!
Tell me, what’s it like to be a skateboard punk rocker?

I wasn’t exactly a skateboard punk rocker, but I did leave Canada — dear friends, family, thriving career — for New York.

When two paths diverge sharply, one to crazy, restless ambition (mine), one to settled domesticity (hers), raising three daughters, and a steady job in a smaller city, it often breaks a friendship.

One life looks too sharp-elbowed, the other ordinary and mundane (M’s word choice — I showed her this post beforehand.)

Social media can make these comparisons somewhat excruciating, with all the dark/messy bits of either choice edited out.

Life is more complicated than that.

I chose to leave Canada for New York when I was 30.

When people ask why, I answer with one truthful word: ambition.

It hasn’t all turned out as I hoped. The man I moved to be with, my first husband, proved unfaithful and soon walked out on our marriage.

Three recessions severely slowed my career progress.

Jobs came and went.

Friendships I hope would last for decades imploded.

Shit happens!

But I’ll never forget the heart-bursting joy when I exited the Sixth Avenue headquarters of Simon & Shuster clutching the galleys of my first book.

BLOWN AWAY COVER
My first book, published in 2004. As someone who grew up with no exposure to guns, I was deeply intrigued by this most American of obsessions

Or how cool it was to compete for four years in nationals in saber fencing.

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I now have a happy second marriage and a home in a town I love.

I have an agent, and work, and ideas and friends.

No kids. No grand-kids. No family homestead.

Do I regret my ambition, and its costs? No.

Choosing a quieter life limned by one’s own family, town or community is a choice.

Choosing a life of ambition-fueled drive, another.

Each brings its own satisfactions and joys.

Which sort of life have you chosen?

Are you happy with your choice?