Dark, grey afternoons…

For all the misery and inconveniences really bad weather creates, storms have a unique appeal to me. They are fascinating creations. In the most dire of circumstances the devastation they leave behind is nothing short of incomprehensible, humbling and frightening.

On the other hand, bad weather has a way of fine tuning me to a mode that captures and enables the ephemeral: in one moment, a gentle falling rain suddenly becomes heavy, rampant, even vindictive in the force and quantity of water that dowses everything.

No sooner than the rain pummels the landscape, the water is then swept away, transitioned to a drizzle that moves ahead of a foggy veil suspended just behind the now gentle shower. I think of the various weather possibilities as moods, from the bright sunny days [hope, optimism, gratitude, e.g.] to the dull grey of a threatening sky ready to let loose its worse [depression, angst, regret, e.g.]. Weather figuratively produces such an array of moods.

Dark, grey afternoons carry a weight [wind, water, ice, snow, heat et al] that can lay to waste your surroundings as well as your inner landscape. Yet when I pick up my camera or take pen and journal to hand, I remind myself that things change. Storms have their beginnings and an end. And what happens in between can—and will—wreak havoc on the most carefully laid plans and intentions.

Events, like storms, are markers in time. And having a marker delineates a “before” and “after.”  What were you doing just before the storm hit? Where were you? We often have a stronger temporal sense of change whenever nature throws us the worse. Similarly, we celebrate when the change is for the better; some days are referred to as “picture-perfect…like a perfect postcard if you will.

The prologue to dark, grey afternoons can be a harbinger of bad stuff yet to arrive.  Still, I look at these harbingers for what they are: a dramatic dance of fleeting light, of varied grey swatches which masks greens, yellows and blue, of movements brought on by high wind speeds and even a gentle breeze.

Weather, in all its forms, is a fulcrum on our impressions of just how good or bad our day is doing.

 

 

Aftermath

The uncertainty of these times has made it very certain that the new choronovirus will be with us for a good while. Eventually—and hopefully—we will find the means to return as close to “normal” wherever possible, hopefully within next year. Figuratively, we’re running a marathon, an endurance race where—as many of you already know—demands stamina, pacing, patience and the willingness for self-sacrifice.

Our home these past 3.5 months has been a sanctuary for our daughter, two boys, a new born and our son-in-law. From quiet, predictable routines to a household filled with activities, remote schooling, and more, altogether this was a period of joyful noise and scattered stuff in, out and around the house.

The boys were constantly in motion. The desire to explore, imagine, to experiment and be inventive was nothing short of  remarkable. And while the boys did their best to pick up after themselves, they were far better engaging their playfulness, their devil-may-care personas, as evidenced by the scattered clothes, toys, and more, left on the deck, out in the lawn, on the slip’n slide water game or in the breezeway. The breezeway of course is the equivalent of an “airlock” that space that serves as a buffer to the kitchen that lies beyond.
And yet, clothing, LEGO toys in various stages of disassembly, wet sneakers et al, found their way onto the runner that marks the outer circle of the kitchen.

As of this writing, the house is once again quiet, sometimes much too quiet. Just before the 4th of July holiday, they returned home, to their own spaces and routines.  It is as it should be. As much as we enjoyed our time together, all good things must come to an end.
The organizing, cleaning and picking up of stuff continues. I refer to the many pieces scattered around as shrapnel. To walk barefoot across the lawn is an exercise in uncoolness. The edges of a LEGO block, a broken piece of plastic, a spoon forgotten, all became suitable reminders that wearing footware during the clean-up phase should be mandatory.

It’s true that having grandchildren can be a terrific life stage. You love them to pieces, you revisit your own escapades from the past, your marvel at how your own parents managed the rambunctiousness of our youth. Whether it’s an afternoon or 3.5 months, those kids need to return to their parents, routines, friends and all that is their life beyond ours.

 

 

“This will take some getting used to….”

Open your arms to change, but don’t let go of your values. -Dalai Lama

Modern life has been tossed into a blender of our own making. Whatever comes of that mix will be unrecognizable. It’s a blend never before seen or experienced, though to some degree, many of us hope that what pours forth is something that has meaning and value.  It could be something we’ve longed for across time immemorial, and yet I’d like to think that most of us are hopeful of what’s been created.

At present, uncertainty unceasingly hovers over us, as if poised to pour change across social, educational, medical, cultural, environmental, financial and governmental policy mores. And like other things we’ve thought of and created, none of it will ever be perfect. No one can please everyone every time.

The work-in-process strategies and machinations will take some getting used to. In fact, everyone should tune-up their listening skills.  As the saying goes, We have one mouth and two ears, and good listening is always important. We’ve been challenged with practices to keep the new coronavirus at bay and confronted with racism and ideological thinking and approaches that touch the far left, to the center, to the far right. A virus—whether new or old—is looking for a host regardless of your ancestry and your present location in this world. Like COVID-19, racism is a virus  that must be eradicated, that and along with other –isms which undermine our empathy, our ability to tolerate, our desire to compromise and our willingness to see that, indeed, the glass is half full.

Eleven weeks has kept many of us quarantined regardless of age, fitness level and overall hierarchy, whether familial or professional.  I’m still adjusting my return to work, as several safeguards are in place: my office door stays closed, open areas in the office space require a mask, wipes and hand sanitizer are located along travel routes.

All of this will take some getting used to. Like many, I miss the energy and engagement of being around people. It’s just part of being human. Though I enjoy journaling, writing letters, taking photos as such, nothing can replace a good conversation, the sight of an expression [good or bad, preferably the former] and the sounds of laughter, exclamations, even the cacophonies that make Life all the more interesting.

Be well. Stay healthy.

“Those Were the Days”

Once upon a time there was a tavern,
Where we used to raise a glass or two.
Remember how we laughed away the hours,
And think of all the great things we would do.
Those were the days my friend,
We thought they’d never end.
We’d sing and dance forever and a day.
We’d live the life we choose,
We’d fight and never lose
For we were young and sure to have our way.

Songwriters: Boris Fomin, Gene Raskin

Ever an optimist, it is possible that you’ve heard the song, Those Were the Days as sung by Ms. Mary Hopkin. It was one of the first singles produced by Apple Records and Paul McCartney in 1968. My recent postings and our current new normal [or is it our current abnormal?] made me think of this ballad. And not only about changes that have taken place, but of many things unlikely to occur in the same way as before.

We are at summer’s threshold. We’ve evolved to accept crowded places, an expectation of more time spent with family and friends and to be part of those timeless happenings and celebrations that define this time of year: graduations, picnics, time on the beach, attending ball games, concerts & performances inside and out, barbecues, pool parties and a lot more.

And then there are the country fairs.

This unique piece of Americana born of traditions in farming and agriculture, will never be the same.  To heed social distancing at these and other events is not going to happen. It’s part of our social DNA, to see a flurry of activities and to be part of the atmosphere or happenings. It’s standing in line if not for the anticipation of getting into an exhibit or performance—or something savory to eat—but to avoid losing your place in that line.

It’s a place to experience sensory overload. Merchandise of all kinds court you with such promises as having something fun-for-the-kids; of having the last mop you’ll ever need or the complete knife set that rarely needs sharpening. Then there are the culinary pieces de resistance: fried dough that could work as trash can covers, cream puffs the size of softballs or that deep-fried turkey leg that can double as a hammer in a pinch.

This year will be different for most everyone. The crowds can never be as large as before. Perhaps reservations need to be made to limit the number of visitors. Adjustments are already in place, yet still changing. We’re armed with masks, hand sanitizers and wipes and a growing awareness of our personal space and limitations. It may not be all bad, but much of what’s currently unfamiliar, even uncomfortable, will become all too familiar.

For years we’ve made a trip to one of the largest country fairs in New England, a sortie that has become part of our own tradition. On a weeknight, we head to West Springfield for “The Big E” aka, the Eastern States Exposition. My wife and I head to a favorite Polish food stand to order the inimitable Polish Plate: galumpki, pierogies, and kielbasa, all chased down by a “pint” of Dinkel Acker Pils, a German beer crafted from heavenly made hops.

And after that, it’s a walk across the grounds to burn off a few [very few] calories, only to add a bunch more when we stop for a homemade blueberry pie a la mode. All of this adds up to an entertainment feast. Certainly many things are always there, often the same vendors and merchants. But what makes each year different are the recollections of many other visits to the Big E aside from our annual beer with dinner.

It’s about our daughters coming with us during the toddler to tween years. Then came the teen years when it became apparent we were no longer cool, the two escaping with a fistful of tickets for rides and the arcade at the fair’s Midway.

It’s about people-watching, of getting lost in a crowd knowing that similar dreams and fears are as common as balloons, stuffed animals and kettle popcorn. Summer is as much about the quiet and solitude found in the woods as is the cacophony of gatherings and festivities that confirm our sentient selves and how we’re all connected.

Those were the days.

 

 

 

 

Reliant on Memory

Broadway–2007

There are days that seem to fly by, while others feel like time has come almost to a standstill. I mention this because it doesn’t seem like 7-weeks have gone by since the new coronavirus forced us into a different way of working and living.

Manhattan Third Avenue 2007

Yet being removed almost two months from what was normal, there’s this juxtaposed sensation that it feels like forever and a day since we went about our usual routines. Time is relative, which simply means that when you’re waiting for something you want, it doesn’t come soon enough, whereas the opposite holds true for something you want nothing to do with.

I have read that the sense of smell is the strongest of our five senses in prompting a memory. It’s also—if memory serves me—the most accurate.

A quiet pause in NYC 2018. Photo credit: R.A. Centeno

Scientifically, that may hold true, but for me, sound and image are stronger drivers in resurfacing a memory. Music has a way of putting you back in a time and place with an immediacy that’s uncanny. “Wow. I remember when this song came out.” There may be some inaccuracies about say, the year or even the place, but whatever was important then, resurfaces as part of your remembering.  Pieces may be foggy, but as other pieces emerge from that fog, the memory works to become a bit sharper.

Philadelphia 2018

There is a hint of nostalgia in all of this. I do wonder about the new normal and what it means not only for me, but for people I care about. I think retrospectively, of how moments in my past somehow provide a lift. The thoughts, the sensations, or whatever visceral vestige flows free from memory, are but markers of what has been, or what might’ve been.

Mimes, Hartford, CT 2015

Whether you sketch, photograph, perform, paint, sculpt, watercolor, write letters, fill a journal, fill a scrapbook, to be memory reliant means you need to be confident with your recollections. Doing any one of these activities, produces an invaluable form of connection. It’s why I love to write [journaling and letters] and to take photos [iPhone, various cameras] because these all help to anchor where I’ve been and to some degree, where I might be headed.

Family, Friends, Life-NYC 2019

Indeed, cherished memories are important for our overall wellness, but let’s remember to do things now, to remain connected yet in touch, so that such moments become screen clips thoughtfully stored in our memory albums.

Enlightenment

Generations of my wife’s family are interred in a local cemetery, a cemetery that honors among others, veterans, the ordinary, the extraordinary and in particular, the residents who lived in one of the 4 towns that were evacuated in order to create the Quabbin Reservoir.  The reservoir was built to provide potable water to those living in and around Boston.

Anyway, MJ’s family lived in the town of Prescott, which like the other towns in Dana, Enfield and Greenwich now lie about 151-feet [46-meters] beneath the water’s surface.

Yes, we are at the mercy of the new coronavirus and the possibility of becoming ill with COVID-19. However we must put things into perspective, because there are many dealing with far heavier, more costly burdens that pale to what some of us may deem a hardship. The majority of us are dealing with  inconveniences; yet others are fighting for their lives. The residents of the Swift River Valley left homes and homesteads, jobs, family and friends and most certainly a way of life.

Last week there was the amazing story of the Bello family. A couple with 3 young children, the father, Jim, teetering on life’s edge fighting COVID-19. It’s an amazingly powerful, somber treatise about love, faith, and unwavering determination in the face of incomprehensible odds.

If cabin fever makes one feel a bit cuckoo, then get out and do something. Take a drive into the country, take a walk on a trail, visit a landmark, break out the camera, the hiking shaft, the binoculars, the bicycle and more. With the majority of us driving less, you may have heard there’s less air pollution. For the introvert, having so much quiet and alone time could be a godsend. The opposite holds true to the extrovert dealing with social withdrawal.

There are times when we  feel enlightened by some cause, an emotion, an observation, anything from the mundane to the spectacular can prompt this feeling.  Walking through the cemetery renewed a sense of purpose in me, an awareness of who I am and what I should do versus what I can do. To the rest of the world, I am just another being among millions of others. So what?

I suppose relishing my time—essentially doing nothing—allowed me to have a more acute perspective on being mindful.  Perhaps I was due for a spiritual tune-up, and I think got one. A better way to feel enlightened is to think of it this way:  “If you want to feel good about yourself, do something good for someone else.”  My spinning instructor always says that after a class.

Be well. Stay healthy.

“Love in the Time of COVID-19”

With utmost respect for Nobel prize-winning author Gabriel Garcia Marquez, I took creative license with the title of his novel, Love in the Time of Cholera. 

It is astonishing to be living in this odyssey, this vicissitude of life that has changed everything of what we expect from a “normal” day in life. This new coronavirus has upended everything in this world, including love, however my POV is positive.

Pulitzer-winning author, Jeffrey Eugenides wrote the introduction to—and compiled the collection of love stories in—My Mistress’s Sparrow is Dead, an anthology penned by both celebrated and lesser-known authors from the past 120 years. In his introduction, Eugenides writes, “The perishable nature of love is what gives love its profound importance in our lives. If it were endless, if it were on tap, love wouldn’t hit us the way it does.”  However, let me emphasize that his book is about love stories and not love per se. Love stories contain the highs and the lows, the banal and the beautiful, the agony and the ecstasy.

Personally, I’m holding the purest manifestation of love: Charlotte, my month-old granddaughter.

The modern world is constantly demanding our attention, pulling us away from one task to another, often the two coinciding with the same deadline or more likely emphasized with equal “required and immediate attention.”

Each infant is an open canvas awaiting the variegated hues and tones of nurturing, empathy, culture and all that is life.  It’s been said so many times before, but one shouldn’t lose an opportunity to be “in the moment.”  And holding this beloved granddaughter is about as cool as any moment I’ve experienced.

What are your moments of love in this time of COVID-19?

 

April 1, 2020

A good friend sent a text message saying that today—as a way of expressing our gratitude to first responders and healthcare workers—we should set some candles in front of our homes, and light them at 7:00 pm.

I know several healthcare professionals. Two couples are close friends. They’re bon vivants, emphasis on ‘bon’; we enjoy dining out [or in] to catch up, laugh, share and wonder about the vicissitudes that have changed the way we live, think, feel and behave.  The friendships run so deep they’re essentially family.  Actually, any one of these friends could take the place of a hundred bad relatives and acquaintances.

Three of the healthcare professionals on my roster are family. There’s my sister-in-law, an office administrator who works in a practice made up of general practitioners and hospitalists; my brother, an educator and primary care M.D., is up to his eyeballs in northern New Jersey; and my father, a retired vascular surgeon, is hunkered down in Florida.

Like most of us these days, we’re also hunkered down. We’re out of sight. In a metaphorical sense, if the virus can’t “see” us, then it can’t infect us. That’s very simplistic, but you get the idea.

Time and again I’ve heard comparisons to war, that the very people on the front lines are in a fight unlike any other.  We know that, but we have very little visceral sense of the actualities playing out in crowded hospital rooms, hallways, ICU wards and all the places where the sick and the caregivers are equally overwhelmed. To say we’re being in the moment cannot compare to being there, to be immersed in the chaos unfolding right in front of you.

Whether you believe in karma or life existential, God, or something that is in effect, bigger than oneself, all that’s in motion is connected to each of us. Is it ironic that this pandemic is playing out during humankind’s most pious weeks on the calendar?

A lit candle—a universal and timeless symbol of hope, gratitude, peace, sorrow, love, contrition—is also an icon for life.

 

 

 

 

Quiet

Our Office: 3-weeks into the work-from-home mandate

For many of you seeing this post, the images are pretty droll. But for others, they are vignettes of time standing still. Those who work from home can identify with this temporal bookmark: a stasis of space rendered incomplete by the obvious absence of the worker that usually occupies that space.

We are a small firm, all told 29-strong. The majority of us have been working here for at least 10-years.  Such employment longevity can be unusual in our current modern world, a world measured by thru-put, output, speed and running changes all in an effort to gain some competitive edge or level of differentiation in the marketplace.

I’m a department of one, whereas others have at least 2 workers in their department.  My point being is that I’m only as good as the people around me. So I rely on their perspective, understanding and emotional ownership [if so prompted] of the marketing and advertising concepts, images, copy and other content that shape our brand. They are my soundboards, proofers, editors and contributors.

The spaces presented here have a functional importance, which individually and corporately, make the firm succeed. In the end though, it’s the people that define our culture, indeed all cultures. The latest technologies and operating systems are all well and good. Each of us—replete with idiosyncracies, quirks, things positive and negative—add immeasurably to our collective professional mission.

You won’t see anyone in the photos, but if you look closely enough, you may get a sense of their significance.

Our Planet Is Taking Over

 

In the past few hours, I’ve received news feeds about how the Coronavirus/COVID-19 has produced some benefits. The beneficiary of these plusses primarily go to our planet. And because it benefits the environment, we benefit as well. I’m sure you’ve come across some of these reports on your smartphones or your computer.

Mother Earth has put into motion her own stewardship campaign to save us from ourselves [the hope] and to help save the planet [the ultimate goal].  How it works is pretty straightforward: by reducing human mobility, you reduce the amount of energy used in manufacturing, production, travel and other areas of civilization.  Is this outbreak a means by which Nature looks to heal its own ailments, ailments which we created?

The BBC filed this report early this morning [Thursday–May 19th].

More specifically, there has been a measurable reduction in VOC [volatile organic compounds] as well as many gases—-such as CO, CO2, methane just to name a fews.

And in northern Italy, the space satellite cannot lie. They are also privy to the science that shows a drop in air pollution.

Click here.

Unfortunately, the majority of folks will return to their old and familiar ways. Still, it was nice to learn that for a short time, parts of our planet had a chance to be healthier. Can’t help but think just how much further we would be if each of us attacked pollution, waste and climate change the way we’re attacking the Coronavirus/COVID-19.

Sleet at Sunset

Blame it on the angle of the sun. Or the time of year and of course, the time of day. The light that pours from north/north-west can be dramatic.

Just across the river, sleet swept across the town and highway leaving a hazy curtain. My side of the river, was cloaked in a heavy grey. Street lamps and headlights appeared like fireflies across a sloping field made of concrete, steel and boxy columns.

For a very brief moment, the light outside the office windows looked other worldly. The slow-moving cars on the viaduct above the north end of the city made me think of ants marching, certainly only as fast as the one at the  front of the line.

The sleet finished its drop about as quickly as it started. The sun seared its way through the cloud cover creating a portal all its own. Perhaps not as soothing a sight as a rainbow, but with the sleet falling, certainly rarer and even more captivating.