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:
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.
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.
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!
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
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?
I know a younger writer who — ho hum — has produced five books and four children in less than a decade.
Laura Vanderkam is happily and lucratively obsessed with the notion of time management, which isn’t as compelling to me. (But it’s clearly working for her!)
I do love her stance on a default phrase we often use — “I’m too busy”.
No, she says, the words you want, and want to mean, are “It’s not a priority.”
The things you devote the most of your time to become, de facto, your priorities.
It’s where we invest the bulk of our energy, money and attention. Our hopes and dreams.
We sacrifice other things to make sure these are, and remain, a central part of our life.
It might be your pet(s) or children or partner or your job.
It might be a passion project.
It could be competing in triathlons and beating your own personal record, time and again.
It might be setting up a charitable foundation, as several people I know have done.
It might — as several friends of mine are facing — be recovering, far more slowly than they’d hope, from surgery, illness or accident, losing hours and hours to maintaining or trying to regain their health and strength.
Sometimes life makes sure whatever we think is a priority…isn’t anymore.
I think about this a lot because, like many of you, my life is filled with so many simultaneous things I hope to accomplish personally, professionally, intellectually, physically — from losing at least 30 pounds to publishing several more books.
So I make time to take a jazz dance class on Monday and Friday mornings which leaves my sweat in puddles on the floor and am finishing up my third book proposal, with a publisher already asking to see it.
I want my marriage (my second, 15 years in) to keep thriving, which means paying attention to my husband and his needs.
So we have both chosen to stay freelance (which means a sort of financial tapdance many can’t tolerate) so we can now sit and eat a mid-day meal at home together or travel much more often and widely because, as long as we have work and wi-fi, we can still earn a living.
I love to travel and am always planning the next journey, whether a road trip, a visit to a friend out-of-state or another flight across an ocean.
So I try to stay healthy enough to work hard, then take breaks. We nurture our relationships, so we have places to stay and friends to visit. We save money so we can afford flights, car rental, meals and lodging.
I want to make enough money to enjoy some real luxuries, whether beautiful new clothing, well-made accessories, regular massages.
Yet I also want to keep enough of a savings cushion I never have to fear poverty.
(That’s an ongoing conflict for me!)
I want to do work that deeply challenges me intellectually, no matter how much that can scare me.
What if I fail?
I now co-chair a volunteer board, The Writers Emergency Assistance Fund, (which sends a grant of up to $4,000 within a week or so to a needy writer who meets the criteria), so I’m testing and growing my leadership skills.
It’s already proving a real challenge to manage all the goals we’ve set for ourselves.
But which of all of these is most important and why?
How about you?
What matters most to you — and are you putting that first in your life right now?