Synchronicity is beautiful and elusive. The threads in our lives seem disparate, sometimes for years. And then one day you realize you were building a tapestry all along. You just couldn’t see it until you took a few steps back. Today I took those steps. And it’s there. It was always there.
Maybe that’s the trick. Maybe every once in a while we have to pick our heads up, move away from our work, and look at it from another angle to really recognize and appreciate what we’ve got.
I can’t stop thinking about yesterday’s news out of Minneapolis and Central Park. I’m devastated for George Floyd, Christian Cooper, their friends and family, the entire black community, our country. White people, we cannot look away. These videos are heartbreaking and they are far from unique. This is not a black issue or a police issue. It’s a human issue.
Every racist thought, off-hand comment, joke, word, and act adds up to this. Imagine the outrage if this was a black officer putting his knee into a white man’s neck. Imagine if you were George Floyd or if he was your son, brother, husband, or friend. It’s an awful mental exercise to imagine that but this is the reality of black Americans.
We need more supports for the black community. We need more hate crime legislation. We need massive reforms in our city governments at every level and in every agency. We need more bias training in our society and schools. Each of us needs to take a long hard look at our own bias and correct it.
This weekend I spent some time looking through economic reports the way that I’ve looked through health reports in the past few weeks. Economics was one of my college majors and I have an MBA so I actually enjoy reading financial reports as much as I enjoy reading novels. I know this is yet another pastime that makes me an absolute weirdo, but hey, I gotta be me!
What the future of our economy looks like is as certain as the date when we’ll have a vaccine (aka – no one knows), I’m thinking about the following questions and ideas for my own future. I hope that they help you through this time of reflection as much as they’re helping me.
1.) What do I actually care about doing with my time?
2.) With a blank slate, what would I actually put into my life by choice? Not by momentum, not based upon my experience. Just me and the potential blank slate that’s our economy now. What would I do with that if I could do anything with it?
3.) If we may experience economic fits and starts for the next 5 years as some economists suggest, can I see that as something freeing? Can this be a reminder that the time will pass anyway, so I might as well do what matters most to me?
4.) The future is so uncertain now that how my life and career unfold from here is largely up to me and my actions. These days, as difficult as they are for so many reasons, really matter. They might matter more than any other days I’ve ever lived. Like it or not, this is a turning point for all of us so what do I want my life to turn into now and how do I make that a reality?
5.) I’ve had a few points in my life that clearly marked a then and a now. My father’s death. My apartment building fire. When I went into intensive therapy. Starting my own business. The publication of my novel. My education decisions. My life before and after each one of these events was radically different. They spurred meaning in my life that didn’t exist before, even if at the time they were tragedies. And now this virus has, too. It’s changed everything, and will continue to change everything. How do I direct that change as best I can to make it matter, to make it mean something?
On the surface these ideas might not look like economic thoughts, decisions, or ideas. They might look fluffy or contemplative or even spiritual. Here’s something that’s always stuck with me from my studies of economics: economic systems are not built on cold hard facts. They’re invented, by us. They’re largely driven by sentiment. And yes, that sentiment is usually created, at least in part, by data. But that’s not the whole story. The data is never perfect. It’s aways open to interpretation.
A lot of economics is gut, emotion, and prediction. A lot of it is fear, hope, uncertainty, and confidence (or lack there of). Economics is much more art than science, much more interpretation than unbiased facts. And like public health, it’s driven by our individual actions aggregated into collective actions. Deciding what role do we want to play now in how we build back may be the most important decision we ever make.
Yesterday I did something that boosted my mood: I accepted this masked, socially-distanced life for at least 2020 and into 2021. In all the reports and data I’ve read, I don’t have any confidence in this ending this year. If things improve sooner, the worst that will have happened is I’ll have over-reacted, stayed safe, and be happily surprised that it all worked out better than I expected. This decision is not about my personal comfort with risk. This is about science, data, and the fact that risks I take put everyone at risk. Public health is comprised of the individual health of everyone who is a part of the public.
I’m very lucky that I can work from home and that live in a city where just about anything and everything can be delivered. (And I make sure to tip well on all deliveries!) I understand my situation is a privilege and a responsibility to do everything I can to safely help and protect others. I woke up more optimistic than in recent weeks. This acceptance gave me a sense of peace.
This doesn’t mean I’m not sad at all—I miss my friends and family terribly. I needed to accept this new reality to prepare myself mentally, emotionally, physically, and financially. Maybe there will be times when I can do very socially-distanced walks with friends who live nearby. Maybe I will at some point be able to take a test and if it’s negative I can rent a car to see my family for a short visit. It would be wonderful to do that; it’s just not something I’m expecting to be possible this year.
I understand that other people will make other choices. I wish they wouldn’t but I can’t stop them. All I can do is make choices for myself and let my choices be an example that others might consider. I’m not a lawmaker. I don’t have employees I’m responsible for. I’m not a parent (except to darling Phin who has been an absolute champ through all of this!) I’m just an individual who can decide how to live my life. And of course, I can and do make donations to nonprofits doing fantastic work, check in on people I love, and vote. That’s what I can do, and it matters.
So this weekend to kick off this new acceptance I’m doing a lot of self-care, consciously naming what I’m grateful for, and finding new ways to make a difference.
“When you write, you lay out a line of words…Soon you find yourself deep in new territory.” ~Annie Dillard
On Sunday I took an online nature writing class and we did an exercise I wanted to share with all of you. Not only is it helpful for science writing, but it can really help with any piece of writing—first draft to tenth draft! Here’s how it goes:
1.) Place a small item in the middle of a piece of paper. This can be anything – a leaf, an acorn, a shell, a coin, a photograph. Anything at all.
2.) Begin to map the ideas, associations, and memories that come to you observe and think about this item. Follow trains of thought for as long as you’d like, connecting the flow of ideas with arrows or lines to form a type of web or mind map if you’d like. There are no wrong answers. Take 10-15 minutes for this.
3.) Choose one point on the web that is outside of the center, a few steps removed from your item, and write for 5 minutes with that point as your starting place. (You don’t need to write directly about your item, but you certainly can!) Now choose a different point on the web and begin writing from there. (You can do this as many times as you’d like).
4.) Finally, spend 10-15 minutes writing a reflection that begins with the center of your web, with your natural item. Drawing both on your web and on your previous shorter writings, see where your imagination takes you.
My favorite times during my childhood were at my grandmother’s house in West Hartford, Connecticut. We’d go at least one weekend a month and during my summers growing up, I’d spend extra time there with my sister. My Uncle Joe, and all my aunts and uncles, were a part of those times. He and my Aunt Lorraine, his wife, took us to Mystic Seaport and it remains one of my favorite childhood memories. All the beautiful animals and lunch by the water giant ice cream cones. I remember his deep voice and laugh, his love for baseball, and how much he loved his family—especially his daughter and grandchildren, my cousins.
Uncle Joe was as kind and loving as he was brave, tough, and smart. He was in the Navy during World War II on a ship in the South Pacific. After he came home, he became an engineer and worked hard all his life. He could fix literally anything. He took such excellent care of my grandmother, who was his older sister. To be honest, I think he was her favorite person. He visited her several times a week every week during her whole life. Checked on her. Helped her with anything she needed. She loved having him visit. That was just the kind of person he was. He helped everyone, and everyone loved having him with them. He was a wonderful role model.
We lost him this week, the last member of his generation in our very tiny family. My grandmother’s birthday is this coming week. She would have been 101, and I miss her every day. I’d like to think that somewhere, for her birthday, she’s getting to be with her favorite person again. RIP, Uncle Joe.
Yesterday I needed to actively do something to help in the COVID-19 efforts so I made this 30-second video to show the beauty of people caring for their communities and neighbors by wearing a mask. Please, wear a mask and save a life. Thank you.
Happy Mother’s Day to Mother Earth, the original mother of every being, and to moms and caregivers everywhere, across all species, who give life, love, and care to others.
One thing that’s helping me chart the days now is writing at least one good thing that happens every day on a paper calendar I keep on my fridge. It’s a good reminder for me that even though a lot of life is paused, we can make good things happen, even if they’re small. It’s also a shorthand diary and something lovely to look back on to remember this time.
For all those wondering about how New York is reopening, Governor Cuomo laid out his plan to ensure safety. (Something similar is happening in all our neighboring states.) He’s using data, science, and health officials to drive decisions. I’m very grateful to him for his leadership, thoughtfulness, and his ability to put his ego and emotions aside to listen to experts. There is no other place I’d rather be now. Here’s New York’s plan in his words:
1. Businesses and industries will open in a phased approach. Phase 1 includes construction, manufacturing and select retail (with curbside pickup). Phase 2 includes professional services, finance and insurance, retail, administrative support and real estate/rental leasing. Phase 3 includes restaurants, food services and hotels. And Phase 4 includes arts, entertainment, recreation and education.
2. Upon reopening, businesses must implement new safety precautions to help lower the risk of spreading the virus. These include strict cleaning and sanitation standards, restricting nonessential travel, adapting the workplace to allow for social distancing, and requiring masks to be worn if employees are in frequent contact with the public. Read all the requirements here.
3. The special enrollment period for health insurance will remain open through June 15, 2020. New Yorkers without health insurance can apply for a plan through NY State of Health.
4. New York continues to lead the country in testing. To date, more than one million New Yorkers have been tested for COVID-19. That’s more than any other state (or foreign country). We are working tirelessly to increase testing capacity even more.
5. The number of total hospitalizations continues to fall. Yesterday, total hospitalizations fell to 9,647 from 9,786 the day before. How quickly we bring this number down depends on all of our actions, which is why we must remain vigilant and continue taking precautions to protect ourselves and others.
6. Thank you to New York’s National Guard for their efforts to increase the state’s testing capacity. The National Guard has made nearly 300,000 testing kits to collect samples, 60,000 of which are being sent this week to labs and hospitals across the state.