Moving across borders for love

By Caitlin Kelly

I fell in love in September 1986 when I opened my downtown Montreal apartment door to a tall, bearded, blue-eyed medical student from New Jersey, whose name, (which I won’t reveal) is shared with a cocktail. (No, not Tom Collins!)

But the week before we met, and we were soon seriously discussing marriage — a first, for me — he had accepted a four-year residency position in New Hampshire, a 3.5 drive south.

Statue of Liberty National Monument, Ellis Isl...
Statue of Liberty National Monument, Ellis Island and Liberty Island, Manhattan, in New York County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Oh, and in another country.

I was extremely lucky. As the unmarried child of an American citizen, my mother, I was able to get a green card quickly and easily and move to the United States legally to join him. Even more unlikely, I found a three-month, well-paid journalism job in the  same small town as his program.

English: the forests in new hampshire in autumn
English: the forests in new hampshire in autumn (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But after it ended, reality hit. Hard.

I had no friends, family, income, history or job prospects. He was rarely home, and when he was home was exhausted and grouchy. The huge gang of lovely friends he’d made in Montreal? Gone and not replaced with anyone new.

Instead, homesick and bored, I commuted those 3.5 hours north every Monday for three months to teach journalism back in Montreal.

After 18 months of miserable, lonely, broke, isolated and career-threatening rural life, we moved to suburban New York.

We married three years later — and he walked out two years after that.

Anyone who moves to a foreign country for love takes an incredible leap into the unknown.

I know that several Broadside readers have, or are about to, done this. I also know it’s worked out well for two of them, and I have my fingers tightly crossed for Ashana.

But good Lord it’s scary!

Maybe not for other people.

It was for me. I remember, as if it was yesterday, feeling like a raindrop falling into the ocean. At 30, I was leaving a country in which I’d built a good national reputation as a journalist. I was leaving behind dear friends, a culture I knew intimately and liberal social and political values I mostly shared.

I was leaving behind a country whose entire population is that of New York State, barely 10 percent of the United States. How could I ever re-establish an identity or a career?

Seal of New York.
Seal of New York. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Before I married the first time, (worried on several counts), I consulted a local lawyer — $350/hour in 1992 — to ask what, if anything, I would get in alimony or support if we divorced. Zip! Nada! Rien!

Wow. Since I was very far from home and wasn’t working and didn’t have a place to run back to in case…

Good thing I asked, and demanded a pre-nuptial agreement that allowed me to stay in my home and re-establish myself financially after two years of not working.

Had I not made that scary cross-border leap, I would not have published two books on complex national American issues, written 100+ stories for The New York Times, met my lovely second husband or enjoyed my river-view apartment.

But…it’s been quite a bumpy ride. I’m lucky I still have dear friends back in Toronto and other parts of Canada I’m in close touch with, and visit a few times a year. I am rarely homesick, but I do miss some cultural touchstones and a shared history.

I also still struggle mightily with the power here of the religious right, their relentless assault on women’s reproductive freedoms and laissez-faire American capitalism, which enriches so many so effectively — and buries millions more in low-wage jobs and medical fear and debt.

Have you changed countries for love?

Would you?

How has it turned out?

70 percent of Americans hate their jobs — how about you?

By Caitlin Kelly

Now here’s cheerful news. This by Tim Egan in The New York Times:

Among the 100 million people in this country who hold full-time jobs,
about 70 percent of them either hate going to work or have mentally
checked out to the point of costing their companies money — “roaming the
halls spreading discontent,” as Gallup reported. Only 30 percent of
workers are “engaged and inspired” at work.

At first glance, this sad survey is further proof of two truisms. One,
the timeless line from Thoreau that “the mass of men lead lives of
quiet desperation.” The other, less known, came from Homer Simpson by
way of fatherly advice, after being asked about a labor dispute by his
daughter Lisa. “If you don’t like your job,” he said, “you don’t strike,
you just go in there every day and do it really half-assed. That’s the
American way.”

The American way, indeed. Gallup’s current survey,
covering two years, is a follow-up to an earlier poll that found much
the same level of passive discontent from 2008 to 2010. Even in an
improving economy, people are adrift at work, complaining about a lack
of praise, with no sense of mission, and feeling little loyalty to
their employer.

Not surprisingly, the primary reason that people hate their jobs is their boss — who ignores them, bullies them, or undermines them. Sad, considering how many of us spend most of our time at work.

I was very lucky, in my first newspaper job at the Globe and Mail, to have the best boss ever. None has ever matched his rare combination of high standards, praise when warranted, low-key style and, best of all, someone who kept offering me terrifyingly difficult and unfamiliar assignments — which always ended up on the front page of that national paper.

New York journalism? Not so much, sorry to say.

Self Employment Tax Form - Schedule SE
Self Employment Tax Form – Schedule SE (Photo credit: Philip Taylor PT)

A few of my tormentors bosses here:

— The woman editor-in-chief at a medical trade magazine who shouted curses at everyone, even across our large open-plan office space. She stood Tokyo-subway-rush-hour close to me, her pupils strangely dilated — (heavy anti-psychotic medication? need of same?) — and shouted at me. One day I closed a phone interview with a brief chat, while she shrieked, (and he could hear every word): “I told you never to have personal conversations at work!” I finally asked a co-worker how she put up with it all. Her secret? Anti-depressants.

— The male editor-in-chief of another trade magazine who came into my small, narrow office to verbally hammer me with his disappointment in my work. I told him truthfully, as calmly and politely as possible, I was doing the best I knew how.  He’d hired me into a senior job for which I simply did not have the skills, as my resume made clear. “Define best!” he snarled.

— The male editor who, when I asked him to have lunch to discuss how I was doing in my new job, about six months in, sneered: “I don’t take lunch. When I want to speak to you, I’ll let you know.” (I was then 48.)

I’ve now been self-employed since 2006.

Do you have a boss from hell?

What — if anything — are you doing about it?

Have you ever had [or been] one?

Can you save more than $5.09/day? You’d better start!

By Caitlin Kelly

If you want to scare the shit out of almost any American — those who don’t have a defined-benefit pension guaranteed to them — which knocks out most workers, ask them how much money they have saved for their retirement.

retirement
retirement (Photo credit: 401(K) 2013)

The median figure, among those aged 55 to 64, (i.e. an age group, traditionally, potentially planning/hoping to retire within a decade or less), is a mere $63,100.

The median among all Americans is a staggeringly low $10,890, (minus the value of a home and/or vehicle.)

When New York Times writer Jeff Sommer recently wrote that $1 million wouldn’t do much, more than 600 readers weighed in with comments, prompting him to tackle the subject again the following week.

My math works like this — if, when (if) you graduate from college at 22 and start working immediately, you begin saving $5.09 every day, some $36.00 every week, or $144 every month, every year without a break — and with no accrued or compound interest from investing that money — you’d end up with the $63,100 median figure.

Surely we can do better?

For some people, right now, saving $5.09 every day, all seven days of every week, is impossible. Their living costs cannot be trimmed in any way, and/or their wages are too low.

Many fresh graduates, and older workers, are unable to find paid work in this economy. They are stalled, frustrated, broke, angry. Some carry enormous debt burdens of homes underwater or student loans they cannot discharge through bankruptcy. Some people are very ill, or have very ill family members for whom they must add the cost of care and the time it takes — i.e. unpaid labor — to do this as well.

But…for the rest of you, snap that wallet shut!

The culture that most Americans live in is one that continues to glorify and fetishize spending lots of cash, (or credit, mostly), acquiring tons of shit that’s new and shiny and cooler than everyone else’s — whether an Ipad or Ipod, phone, car, house, vacation, clothing, whatever. You can blow easily thousands of dollars on a freaking baby stroller, if that somehow seems essential to you.

Television and social media and the internet bring very rich peoples’ lives into our own. We can press our greasy little noses against the impenetrable glass wall of their luxuries and whine: “Why not me?”

You can go broke even trying to keep up.

saving and spending
saving and spending (Photo credit: 401(K) 2013)

I’ve been lucky. I grew up in Canada, a nation that still chooses — with much higher rates of taxation — to heavily subsidize college education. My annual tuition, from 1975 to 1979, (yes, really) was $660 a year. I was able to put myself through university and graduate debt-free.

I’ve also been able, since my second year of university, to sell my writing, photography, editing and translating skills to others — and had the developed skills, delivered on or before deadline every time, to make them want more of my work.

I’ve been fortunate, since the age of 22, to be able to share housing on four occasions, which helped cut my living costs in two expensive places — suburban New York and Toronto.

I’ve been grateful for good health, so I have never lost months or years to debilitating illness(es) and treatments that would have prevented me from working.

But that’s one side of the ledger — the getting side.

I’m also cheap as hell, when necessary, and it was necessary for years on end, especially when single paying $500 a month for health insurance, and facing three recessions in my industry.

I’ve chosen to stay in a one-bedroom apartment for 25 years. Would I prefer a second or third bedroom or bathroom? A backyard and fireplace and verandah? Hell, yes. But did I want to assume a much larger mortgage payment and longer repayment term? No. Nor the stress of fearing potential homelessness. Ever.

I’ve been saving 15 to 25 percent of my income every single year for years.

Our ironing board recently broke. I paid $4.30 at our local thrift shop for another one. Score!

When my income bottomed out to a terrifying degree in 2007 to 2009, I took a part-time retail job ($11/hour no commission) and bought my clothes and shoes from consignment shops.

Until my ex-husband moved in, I had no television. Until my second husband moved in — when I was in my early 40s — I did not have cable or a cellphone ($200/month saved right there.) I drove a used, paid-for car, as we still do.

A friend of mine runs her own company, an investment fund, literally managing millions of other people’s money. She drives a Mini Cooper, not a Mercedes or Lexus or Range Rover, the vehicle people expect.

“That’s how I got a million dollars,” she says, with a knowing smile.

We plan to be mortgage-free by 65. We have no children. We will have multiple income streams, one of which is our savings. Adding to them is a non-negotiable part of our life, as automatic, necessary (and boring!) as brushing our teeth.

Here’s an interesting, helpful and smart post from Dailyworth.com about how to face up to the reality that we all need to save (more!) money and invest it as wisely as possible.

Are you saving for retirement?

If not, why not?

If not, how do you plan to pay for your living costs in your 70s, 80s and beyond? (People insist they will keep working. Find me the employer willing to hire a 75-year-old.)

My Grand Canyon photos — and some stories to go with them

By Caitlin Kelly

The Grand Canyon is 277 river miles long, a mile deep and up to 18 miles wide. It was declared a national park in 1919 — and today receives five million visitors a year. You can visit the South Rim, (the most popular), which is dotted with hotels and two campgrounds, restaurants and shops, or the North Rim, which is 1,000 feet higher — and therefore even cooler. Altitude is about 7,000 feet, which can leave you breathless from even simple activities.

At the bottom lies the Colorado River, along which veteran boatmen take brave souls.

Many visitors, though, never venture below the rim, preferring only to snap a few photos or walk around the rim, which is easily done through a system of free buses allowing you to walk as little, or as much, as you like.

In 1994, I hiked down Bright Angel Trail to Plateau Point — stupidly, doing the last, unshaded section, alone at noon — by then 100+ degrees. It was the first time I truly understood hyperthermia, how the body literally cooks. In desperation, I began pouring my bottles of water over my head. I sat in the creek at Indian Garden for 30 minutes, soaking my clothes completely and trying to cool my core temperature.

Then I looked up at the rim and thought, “Not possible.” Eight hours later, I emerged, the straps of my backpack crusted white with the dried salt of my sweat. I would urge every visitor to hike into the Canyon, intelligently. Nothing compares to the experience of being inside it, not just looking at it from a safe, noisy, crowded distance.

Note: all images here are mine, and copyright!

If you are afraid of heights, don’t stand close to the rim! The edges are rocky, slippery and unprotected.  People have fallen to their deaths.

ALL IMAGES COPYRIGHT CAITLIN KELLY 2013.

The canyon is the result of billions of years of erosion, with multiple layers of rock. The white layer is Kaibab limestone.

ALL IMAGES COPYRIGHT CAITLIN KELLY 2013.

This is Bright Angel Trail, on a nice, flat bit! It is the most-used trail and is also used by people riding on mules, so look out for fresh dung! Hikers must step aside when they meet a mule and give them right of way. I shot this image late afternoon, in late May, so there is some shade. Hiking in direct sun, and 100-degree temperatures — the temperature rises as you descend into the canyon — is doubly tiring. Drink a lot of water!

I didn’t take as many photos as I thought, but Jose and I like this one the best of all. Several challenges make photographing the Canyon difficult — there is often dust; the scale is enormous; it’s hard to pick a spot that includes some sense of scale (which is why I framed this with weathered, gnarled branches.) The small silvery curve on the left-hand side is the Colorado River, far below.

ALL IMAGES COPYRIGHT CAITLIN KELLY 2013.

ALL IMAGES COPYRIGHT CAITLIN KELLY 2013.

This sunset image was taken from Hopi Point, one of the overlooks on the South Rim. It is one of the two most popular spots for people to congregate, and the views are excellent. But too many people are rude, noisy and distracting — if you really want to savor a sunset in solitude and silence, do not pick that spot! The sun sets around 7:30 (late May) and rises by 5:00 a.m.

ALL IMAGES COPYRIGHT CAITLIN KELLY 2013.

One of the most amazing and lovely aspects of the Canyon is the terrific abundance of wildlife. This shot was taken with a small Canon G7, not a telephoto lens — i.e. I was barely a few feet away from this squirrel. But — very serious warning! — the single most common injury here is squirrel attacks. If you are bitten, you will need five injections from the lovely folks staffing the GC Clinic: plague, tetanus, rabies and two others. Do not feed the damn squirrels!

ALL IMAGES COPYRIGHT CAITLIN KELLY 2013.

Meeting the other

By Caitlin Kelly

Here’s a recent blog post by American author and business guru Seth Godin:

It might be someone in a different state, religious, atheist, straight, gay, in a developing country, a lawyer, a politician, struggling to pay the bills, ill, recovered, in recovery, a dedicated athlete, a computer programmer, angry at the system, an insider, an inventor, from a very different political stance, a pilot, unemployed, a millionaire, an inventor, a tax cheat, a gun owner, a rabble rowser oran adult without a driver’s license.

Can you see them? Understand them? Ask them about what it’s like to be them? Would you miss them if they were gone?

I grew up in Toronto, a city known for being diverse multi-culturally. I knew few people beyond my own circle but my life since then has exposed me to many more sorts of people.

Moving to the U.S. and living in three other countries — Mexico, France and England — has put me in situations and around others with some very different behaviors and attitudes, toward government’s role in our lives, toward women, toward the importance of work or education or family.

At 25, I spent eight months living in Paris and traveling across Europe on a journalism fellowship with 28 others from 19 countries, from Togo to New Zealand to Ireland to Brazil. It was a fascinating year, fraught with cultural misunderstanding. The four Canadians, one Irishwoman, two Britons, one New Zealander and four Americans all had quite different notions of proper spoken and written English!

The man from Togo — who worked for his government, (i.e. not even a journalist in our North American definition), was deeply offended that we did not always shake his hand hello or spend 10 minutes chatting with him. In his culture, this was very rude. In ours, haste = efficiency. Lessons learned, for both of us.

When I moved to Montreal in the mid-1980s, I found that being Anglophone was enough to make some people hate me. That was weird. Instructive, certainly. At press conferences, everything was done in French and only at the very end were Anglo journo’s allowed to ask our questions in English, (which everyone else spoke.)

Growth-in-Social-Networking-in-developing-coun...
Growth-in-Social-Networking-in-developing-countries (Photo credit: Analectic.org)

I read Seth’s list and thought, yes, I do know people in 21 of his categories — but not a millionaire, inventor or politician.

Queen of United Kingdom (as well as Canada, Au...
Queen of United Kingdom (as well as Canada, Australia, and other Commonwealth realms) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the things I enjoy most about being a journalist is how it forces you into meeting people, on almost every assignment, who are very different from you. For me, that’s included Queen Elizabeth, a female admiral, convicted felons, two Prime Ministers, scientists, computer programmers, Olympic athletes, an Inuit village, an Italian construction worker, a French truck driver and a Dutch politician.

If you’re not insatiably curious about the world, and open to hearing other points of view, journalism is not for you! You can’t just cover your ears and go lalalalalalalalalalalala.

If you’re not working in journalism, travel helps — especially international — if you actually talk to people beyond the hotel staff and cab drivers and make a point of meeting people there beyond your conference or classrooms.

Volunteer work helps.

Jose and I negotiate multiple differences in our marriage: he’s American and I’m Canadian; he grew up the son of a Baptist minister and my family did not attend church; he is Hispanic and I’m a WASP.

It makes for some interesting moments — but we’re also alike, both workaholic career journalists who love to eat and travel and read and listen to music and laugh. So for all our differences, (which I initially thought made us unworkable as a couple), we share essential values.

As technology and growing income inequality help us tribally sub-divide into ever-narrower niches — only consuming media that echoes our political point of view, for example — we often have no idea how others think and feel, or how essential some issues are to them that we find silly or unimportant. It’s too easy to hang out in echo chambers of people who sound and look just like us.

Then what do we do about it?

Godin points out in that blog post that blogging is a great way to “meet” the other, whether that’s someone much richer or poorer materially, someone whose political views are not your own or simply someone for whom $10 is a day’s — or week’s — wage, not the price of a (cheap!) Manhattan cocktail.

When I traveled the U.S. to write my first book, about American women and guns, I ended up being a guest on NRA radio, (asked to explain those lefty-liberals in the Northeast) and on NPR (asked to explain gun-owners to the horrified lefty liberals.)

A funny position for a non-gun-owning Canadian!

I’d rather hear another viewpoint (politely!) and debate it intelligently from data (not red-faced emotion) than live in unopposed, cocooned silence. That’s easy, and has become comfortingly normal for many of us.

How about you?

Slut-shamed at the American border

Welcome to the United States of America
Welcome to the United States of America (Photo credit: Kai Strandskov)

By Caitlin Kelly

This is one hell of a post, by University of British Columbia student Clay Nikiforuk, from rabble.ca:

What do you do when you’re detained by powerful officials, everything you say is presumed deceptive, arbitrary “evidence” is held against you, and you’re treated like a moral deviant? And what if its 2013, you’re a woman, and the “evidence” is that you possess condoms? It happened three times in two weeks — being detained by U.S. border officials on my way to or through the States…

I was detained, yelled at, patted down, fingerprinted, interrogated, searched, moved from room to room and person to person without food, water or being told what was going on for what seemed like forever. Just as I thought they were tiring of me and going to refuse me entry but at least let me back into Aruba, a ‘Bad Cop’ type took me to a distant, isolated office and yelled at me that I was full of shit. He had found information online that in the last couple of years I had been modelling and acting. This, he concluded, was special code for sex work, and I was never going to enter the U.S.A. ever again. I tried not to laugh and cry at the same time. I told him I’m currently writing a book on the sociology of sexual assault.

“Are you looking to be sexually assaulted?”

I blinked at him. I couldn’t breathe.

“Was that meant to be funny?”

“No, it wasn’t.”

“Ah, no. I’m definitely not.”

“Well, it sure seems like you are.”

“… How so?”

He wouldn’t elaborate.

This post raises a whole host of questions about power, sexuality, female agency and abuse of power. I also had my own issues with it because she admits — brave? foolish? — that she was traveling with her lover, a married man. Not my thing. I hate adulterers, frankly; my first husband was one, as was his partner (now his second wife.)

She had initially entered the country by bus. Bad choice!

But the larger point remains: whose fucking business is it, when women cross the U.S. border, who we’re fucking, when and why?

Are young, unmarried men subjected to the same sort of interrogation?

I’m betting that’s a “no.”

ARIZONA BORDERS AND CITIZEN SAFETY...
ARIZONA BORDERS AND CITIZEN SAFETY… (Photo credit: roberthuffstutter)

I’ve also lived through a much milder version of this, as a young, single Canadian regularly crossing the American border for a year or so to visit my then beau, (later first husband), an American I had met when he was at med school in Montreal and who was then doing his residency in New Hampshire.

I did not then know how to drive, at 30, nor did I own a car. I did not understand that, in the United States, traveling anywhere by bus shrieks — at least to border officials — of poverty, desperation and an apparent lack of any economic choice.

To me, as I’m sure it was to Clay, also a well-educated Canadian woman, it was just a damn bus, an affordable, efficient mode of transportation, with no coded message implied.

Wrong!

The offices of The Gazette newspaper on Saint ...
The offices of The Gazette newspaper on Saint Catherine Street, Montreal, Canada. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was also making, for a young journo, a healthy wage as a staff reporter at the Montreal Gazette, a large regional newspaper. I had a laminated press pass with my photo on it. No matter!

Every single time I crossed the U.S. border and showed it to prove my full-time, staff job in Canada I was subjected to nasty and aggressive interrogation by U.S. border officials — surely the only reason I was dating an American man was to marry him, rightaway so I could escape my hideous, unemployed life in Canada.

Riiiiiiiiiiiiight.

I climbed back into the bus every time shaken, crying, humiliated and angry. This bullshit was sexist, ugly and routine, and — luckily — something I’d not been subjected to before.

This was the country I’d be moving to to marry? Jesus!

Like Clay, I was young, single, female. These interrogations scared the shit out of me. How could they not? Would I lose the right to see my sweetie? Lose the privilege of crossing that border then, or forever? What records were they keeping and how could they affect me?

I moved to the United States, with a green card as a permanent legal resident, in July 1988 — after submitting to an AIDS test.

And yes, I learned how to drive and bought my first car, stat. The hell with the bus.

Have you ever faced this sort of experience?

Can a Freelancers’ Union really help us?

Freelancers Union Logo
Freelancers Union Logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Interesting story in The New York Times about the Freelancers’ Union, a New York based group with 200,000 members:

SOON after landing a job at a Manhattan law firm nearly 20 years ago, Sara Horowitz was shocked to discover that it planned to treat her not as an employee, but as an independent contractor.

“I saw right away that something wasn’t kosher,” Ms. Horowitz recalls. Her status meant no health coverage, no pension plan, no paid vacation — nothing but a paycheck. She realized that she was part of a trend in which American employers relied increasingly on independent contractors, temporary workers, contract employees and freelancers to cut costs….

Ms. Horowitz’s grandfather was a vice president of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union, and her father was a labor lawyer. So it was perhaps not surprising that she responded to her rising outrage by deciding to organize a union…The Freelancers Union, with its oxymoronic name, is a motley collection of workers in the fast-evolving freelance economy — whether lawyers, software developers, graphic artists, accountants, consultants, nannies, writers, editors, Web site designers or sellers on Etsy.

I’m not a member of the FU (Hmmmm, nice abbreviation!), but I applaud her efforts.

Turns out that 87 percent of her members earn less than $50,000 — 29 percent of them make less than $25,000 a year.

God knows, freelancers/temps/contract workers need all the help we can get.

In the same edition of the Times, there’s a fascinating interview about the many powerful emotions we often feel at work. This one really resonated for me:

Certainty is a constant drive for the brain. We saw this with Hurricane Sandy. The feeling of uncertainty feels like pain, when you can’t predict when the lights will come back on and you’re holding multiple possible futures in your head. That turns out to be cognitively exhausting. And the more we can predict the future, the more rewarded we feel. The less we can predict the future, the more threatened we feel. As soon as any ambiguity arises in even a very simple activity, we get a threat response. So we are driven to create certainty.

I get up every day with no idea where my income is going to arrive from in three months from now. I usually work three months ahead — i.e. with enough income lined up to count on that my basic bills will get paid in that time and it buys me time to go line up the next batch. I live by the salesman’s motto: ABCAlways Be Closing.

Which means not just having coffee, sending emails, taking meetings or chatting to potential clients, but closing the deal — agreeing to a set fee, terms and deadline. Working retail, which I did for 27 months selling clothing in a mall, was extraordinarily helpful to me in this respect. I used to be too scared to ask for the sale. Not any more!

Now I’m much better at sussing out the tire-kickers and time-wasters.

Time Selector
Time Selector (Photo credit: Telstar Logistics)

Here are some of the many issues that face freelancers:

— How much will they pay me?

— Is this a lot less (or more) than that they are paying others at my level of skill and experience? (Networking and joining an industry-focused freelance group is essential to determine this.)

— Do I have a contract, and one with terms acceptable to me? If not, how much of it can I negotiate?

— When will I get paid? Some companies are playing truly nasty games — like 90 days after submission. Three months!? I work on 30 days, after which I start sending emails and phone calls.

–How many times will I need to sue in small claims court or hire a lawyer to write a threatening letter on my behalf? (Did it, it worked, from Kansas City to Vancouver.)

— How will I meet my monthly financial commitments when payment arrives late (or not at all?) A line of credit and low-interest credit cards, plus whatever savings you can scrape together.

— Who is the point person who will make sure, internally, that I do get paid? (Both my editors quit one company recently, leaving my payment much more vulnerable. Luckily, it did arrive and within six weeks.)

— When and how can I ask for a higher rate?

— What is the lowest fee I’ll accept, and why am I bottom-feeding?

— How soon can I fire this PITA client?

— Where can I find my next 5,10, 15 new clients?

—Which conferences, events and meetings are really worth investing my hard-won time and money in to meet collegial veterans and learn important new skills?

I grew up in a family where no one had a paycheck. My father made documentary and feature films and television news series. My stepmother wrote television drama. So whatever we earned was whatever our skill, talent and tough negotiation won for us.

Nothing was guaranteed. Just like “real” jobs — which you can (and many do) lose overnight with no warning at all.

I hate the stress of not knowing my annual income will be. I know what I hope to earn, but will I make it? The joy/terror of freelance work is that it’s all up to me.

But, having been summarily canned from a few well-paid jobs and having been badly bullied at a few as well, I know how stressful that is, too.

Do you work freelance?

How’s it going?

Related articles

What do you expect? Too much — or too little?

For those who celebrated Christmas, it’s often a time of dashed — or dazed — expectations. Some people were lucky to receive any gift at all, while others sulked at getting the “wrong” ones. (Jose, as always knocked my socks off, with a historic photo of Betty Ford, taken by photographer David Hume Kennerly, as my biggie.)

That photo was taken on January 19, 1977, when I was in my third year of university, working already as a freelance photographer and journalist, selling to national publications. I was living alone, on very little money.

At 20, I knew to expect to do a lot of stuff for myself.

What we expect is a fundamental question.

It drives how we see the world and react to it, whether we hunch instinctively in a defensive posture or spring forward with a hopeful smile and the confidence it will all work out, somehow.

Burning Money is Financial Crime and Waste in ...
(Photo credit: epSos.de)

Jose was born to a Mom who never expected his arrival when she was 49, but deeply valued her surprise baby.

So what we each grew up expecting from the world — from work, lovers, friends, family — was in some ways very different. I’ve shown him he can ask for much more than he thinks he deserves, and he’s taught me how to be happy with much less than I think I need to be happy

I like this new blog, The Broke Girl’s To-Do List, for its tart, pull-your-socks-up-ness and its attempt to lower expectations, especially those of frustrated fesh grads in a horrible job market:

I know you didn’t go to college to wait tables, serve coffee, or assist customers in a clothing store (I didn’t either). The hardest part of being a Broke Girl is learning to be humble. You need to continue making money somehow to support yourself- or at least to maintain your savings. Unfortunately, that might mean taking a job you never thought you would need after college.

I know that it might feel like a step down, especially at first. However, these are hard times, and your finances can’t afford for you to hold out for too long.

I am not saying that you need to give up and “settle,” if that’s what taking this kind of job would mean to you. I am encouraging you to remember that 1) doing nothing while continuing to search for dream jobs will look a heck of a lot worse than making productive use of your time and 2) you need to be saving money. Can you tell I’m a big fan of saving money? Maybe it’s because of the whole my-father-is-a-finance-guy thing. But seriously, long gaps of emptiness on a resume look way worse than making an effort to contribute to society, even if it’s not the task you want to be doing.

We have got to stop taking ourselves too seriously, ladies. Tons of hard-working, intelligent men and women are out of work right now as well. Who are you (and frankly, who am I?) to think that you are above anything?

This recent New York Times story really showed how much our expectations, for good or ill, can shape our lives. It follows the lives of three Hispanic girls who all went off to college with high hopes, yet none has yet graduated and some carry shocking debt.

They struggled, but were unwilling or unable to ask for help:

Each showed the ability to do college work, even excel at it. But the need to earn money brought one set of strains, campus alienation brought others, and ties to boyfriends not in school added complications. With little guidance from family or school officials, college became a leap that they braved without a safety net.

The story of their lost footing is also the story of something larger — the growing role that education plays in preserving class divisions. Poor students have long trailed affluent peers in school performance, but from grade-school tests to college completion, the gaps are growing. With school success and earning prospects ever more entwined, the consequences carry far: education, a force meant to erode class barriers, appears to be fortifying them.

“Everyone wants to think of education as an equalizer — the place where upward mobility gets started,” said Greg J. Duncan, an economist at the University of California, Irvine. “But on virtually every measure we have, the gaps between high- and low-income kids are widening. It’s very disheartening.”

The American narrative can really be confusing as hell — Do it yourself! Don’t ask for help! All it takes is hard work! Only losers fail! — but those who do best in this country are often those who don’t hesitate to ask for help or more money or more time to finish a paper or negotiate a higher starting salary. So you’ve got to figure out for yourself how to navigate the corridors of power and influence, even if you’ve never seen them before.

Jose and I mentor a few young Hispanic women, students of journalism, several of whom have turned to me for guidance and advice about how to negotiate the balance of love and career, as they face significant pressure from their parents to marry and have children, career — even college — be damned. I’m honored they trust me enough to ask my advice, and I encourage them to kick professional ass as hard as possible, knowing full well this sometimes places them in direct conflict with their culture’s expectations of obedient or admirable Latinas devoted more to family than anything else.

What do you expect from your world these days?

What does it expect of you?

Has that changed in recent years?

Why or how?

Related articles

How about Plans C, D and E?

University College, south side, University of ...
University College, south side, University of Toronto….My alma mater, (Victoria College, actually.) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I think many of us have a Plan B — or are already living it.

But how many of you have thought far enough ahead about plans C, D and E?

Here’s a recent blog post chosen for Freshly Pressed by a woman who’s 40, in Toronto, the hometown I left in 1986. In it she discusses how it feels to face a life she did not plan for:

Life sure hasn’t gone the way I planned. That’s an understatement. I thought things would be different. As a kid, I used to think that life got easier as you got older. Now here I am pushing 40 and boy was I wrong about that. The older I get, things seem to get more complicated and every decision I have to make feels like the weight of the world.

Being a grown up is hard.

Hell, yes!

I am now at an age that feels absolutely geriatric, 55. Ahead lies a diminishing number of years on this earth, and physical decline. Cool! If I don’t have a few back-up plans (what if I get really sick? what if my husband dies?), I’m toast.

I’m writing this post sitting in a hotel room in Washington, D.C. I came by train from New York on Sunday to compete Monday for a fellowship that, if I win, offers $20,000 for six months to research an issue of interest to me. There are 14 finalists and they’ll pick maybe six.

I have to plan on not winning. Not to be negative, but realistic.

I have so many other ideas I can barely keep track of them all: writing (and I hope selling) two more non-fiction book proposals; three assignments from The New York Times and another which I hope will send me on my next trip; a conference I hope to create next fall; rustling up people to donate their talent for a fund-raiser; planning travel for 2013…

My point is that “planning” your life is truly a fool’s errand, no matter how comforting it appears. You can aim for goals, and likely hit many, if not most. But some you are going to miss.

If you do not grasp this reality, young, you may face a life of tremendous frustration and bitterness.

Some dreams will be snatched out of your grasp. Some people will disappoint you and betray you and lie to you and disappear. Some things are just shitty luck: infertility and/or miscarriage; accidents; disability or chronic illness. You still have to deal!

Here are some of the twists and turns my life took after I chose to leave my hometown of Toronto, age 30:

— Took a newspaper job in Montreal. Hated it! The winter was brutally long, cold and snowy. The crime rate was crazy, and frightening. The paper’s management were…not what I wanted.

— Moved to a small town in New Hampshire to follow the man I planned to marry, an American. I tried harder than I have ever tried in my entire life to make friends, and it proved impossible. He was doing medical training, so he was either gone, exhausted or emotionally withdrawn.

Moved to New York City to make it as a journalist. I was promised a month’s try-out, paid, at Newsweek International. When I called to confirm my start date (after we had moved to NY and bought an apartment and he had changed training programs) they said “Oh, we have an internal candidate. We don’t need you.” I insisted and still did not get the job.

And that’s only the first five years!

My life since 1989 has included a two-year marriage to the doctor; three recessions, four orthopedic surgeries since 2000, losing a few staff jobs, three days in the hospital with pneumonia, dating a convicted criminal…and writing two terrific books, finding a lovely new husband and enjoying my new left hip.

None of this was planned.

Sure, I had some hopes: good journalism jobs (check); get married (check, check); write a book (check, check). So I’m happy with this. But so many things have blown up in my face, metaphorically speaking, along the way as well.

If you are not ready — emotionally, physically and financially — to adapt to whatever life throws at you, you’ll waste a lot of time when things go south in a fog of cognitive dissonance, moaning “What happened?” instead of packing your parachute.

Here’s a great blog post by a young woman writer whose blog I enjoy, about being prepared and knowing she’s not a victim. It is a choice.

How has your life turned out?

As you’d hoped and expected? Or…?

Giving thanks for…

English: 1 North Grove Street, Tarrytown, NY, ...
English: 1 North Grove Street, Tarrytown, NY, USA, a contributing property to the North Grove Street Historic District (Photo credit: Wikipedia). This is one of my favorite places in Tarrytown!

Today is American Thanksgiving, a day for eating too much, family squabbles and friends’ doors lovingly opened to “orphans” and “strays”, those of us whose families are too far away or dead or don’t like us very much.t

It’s my favorite American holiday, and it took me a few years living here to figure out why. It’s the one day no one argues over, the one day that everyone — Muslim, Jew, Christian, atheist, Hindu — celebrates with relief that we all made it, relatively unscathed, through another crazy year.

I love how it begins the holiday season, at least for those of us who celebrate Christmas; Canadian Thanksgiving is in early October, which always felt a little early to me.

Every year, newspaper and magazine editors offer a gazillion ways to prepare side dishes. Brine the turkey or roast it? Host, guest or skip the whole shebang? The decisions are all comfortingly familiar.

Jose and I are heading next door to a lovely hotel, in a castle, for our 4:00 meal. No shopping, cooking or cleaning!

Here are some things I’m thankful for this year:

You! Broadside is growing every day, with an array of readers that astonishes me, men and women of all ages and ethnicities, from Australia (hi Charlene and Nigel!) to Vancouver, my birthplace (hi, Rian!) to India, Indonesia, Spain (hola, JPP!) and dozens of other places. I know your time and attention is a rare resource and I’m honored.

My husband, Jose. We’re heading into our 13th. year together. We met online, when I was researching a magazine story about on-line dating and he saw my ad and profile, with the headline “Catch Me If You Can.” We’re very different people in many ways, but we laugh our bums off and work like dogs and I’m lucky to have gotten a good husband on my second try.

The view from our top-floor apartment. We overlook the Hudson River, facing northwest, with a clear blue sky full of jet contrails and military helicopters thudding home to West Point and soaring red-tailed hawks. We see snow and rainstorms sliding across the water and, if we’re up early enough, glittering pink and gold jewels on the opposite riverbank as the rising sun reflects in the windows there. Huge barges glide past every day. On July 4, we can watch six towns’ fireworks at once.

Our town. Tarrytown, NY, named one of the nation’s ten prettiest recently by a major magazine. I love the 127-year-old Tarrytown Music Hall, its oft-filmed Main Street and Goldberg Hardware, still owned and run by the grand-son of its founder. I’ve lived here since 1989, and now run into friends and neighbors everywhere, from my former physical therapist at the grocery store to my dentist at the gourmet shop to my dance teacher at the cafe.

— My work. Journalism has been my world since I was an undergrad at the University of Toronto, so eager to get started, in my first year there, that I showed up at the weekly campus newspaper before classes even began. Through my work, I’ve had the most extraordinary adventures: I spent eight days in a truck with a French-speaking driver going from Perpignan to Istanbul, met Queen Elizabeth, climbed the rigging of a Tall Ship 100 feet to work on a footrope, visited an Arctic village and a remote Quebec commune, and have interviewed everyone from a female admiral to convicted felons, Olympic athletes and the female cop who kept New York’s mayor alive on 9/11. I have been privileged with others’ trust in order to share powerful, compelling stories.

— Supportive editors and agents. I may finally have found my next agent, and this week will finish up my fourth major feature for The New York Times Sunday business section. I need talented people who believe in my skill, willing to tether their own reputation and limited attention to me, to keep moving forward in this competitive and rapidly-changing industry.

— Good health. My mother, at 76, lives in a distant nursing home in extremely poor health. My father just arrived in Hong Kong, after a 16 hour flight, at 83, ready for his latest adventure. I’m fortunate to live in a safe, clean place with easy access to lovely spots in which to walk, hike, bike, golf, kayak, sail, canoe. I have strength and flexibility and my full faculties. I take none of this for granted.

— A new left hip. On Feb. 6, 2012, I had a new artificial hip implanted, a procedure that still awes and amazes me, and which gave me back my life and mobility after 2.5 years of extreme pain. Thanks to Jose’s job we have excellent health insurance and I found a young surgeon I like and trust.

— Friends. Funny, smart, wise, their love and intelligence sustain me.

What are you thankful for this day?