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.

 

 

“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.

 

 

 

 

“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.

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.

Newport International Polo

If one would be literal about the sport of Polo, it could be more accurately described as “Field Hockey on Horses.” For  the cognoscenti, it’s known as the sport of kings.

The Newport International Polo Series just finished its season at the end of September. While polo is often touted as a high-brow event, the match I attended was that and surprisingly much more than I expected: family, dogs, picnics, lively conversation, kids playing about, grown ups playing Bocche Ball, a game of catch, etc. all away from the playing field.

A congenial atmosphere on the grounds made it easy to enjoy the match and for the neophytes among us, a chance to learn more about a sport that demands much from horse and rider.

An entertaining task—and fun for many—was the half-time tradition of the divot stomp.

 

 

 

 

Face-to-Face

I suppose any season is good for “time travel.”  Case in point: The Hancock Shaker Village in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Throughout New England and other parts of the country, living museums provide a chance to feel what we could only imagine.

Such places serve to remind us of what we have. Or what we’ve lost.

On a particular Saturday evening, I was reminded of the power of conversation. The Shakers traditionally have family dinners, meaning you sit at a table–often a rather long one–and enjoy supper together.  This particular night came via the Food for Thought series, a HSV summer event whereby one sits and enjoys a gourmet farm-to-table dinner and conversation. From June thru August, an author is invited to dine, discuss and engage about a recent book that she/he has published.

Traveler, award winning writer, bestselling author, Mr. Simon Winchester.

The narratives can be compelling. Unsurprisingly, there’s the conversation of getting-to-know a bit more about a person, not the least being the author who’s about to recount a journey of research, writing, editing and more.

Like the author, the guests had their own experiences to share. Most were familiar [snippets of life’s journey from a father-mother-engineer-lawyer-financial manager-medical doctor, e.g.], and others were fascinating to hear and talk about. In attendance was a young student of epidemiology, and I should have talked with him beyond his academic CV [Princeton, then John Hopkins].  It would’ve been fascinating to hear more about the rise of diseases and other ailments that can quickly wreak havoc on populations around the world.

The beauty of talking face-to-face is that beyond the words you hear, you’re also emotionally involved. Expressions, gestures and tone each hint at nuances that can be missed when engrossed with email and text messages.

I enjoy the various digital communication platforms and they can be timely if not helpful. However, there’s still something to be said about connecting with people face-to-face. And that kind of connection can make such a difference in your comings and goings day in, day out.