A Tiny Trip to the Future

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today’s post is a contemplative work/life missive by way of warning to my readers. (Toys, photos and Felix to return shortly.) We haven’t had one of these in a long time. And while I have posting a bit about things like setting up my office in the apartment, (some of those posts can be found here and here) I have not written about my job since New York shutdown, our concert hall closed and tours canceled, almost a year ago now, last March.

Toy cafe in Shanghai

In the past I have written occasionally about my work at Jazz at Lincoln Center, often reporting in from trips with the orchestra to far flung places (some of those posts, from trips to Shanghai, London and South Africa can be found here, here and here), but I have not written much about our quarantine times professionally. (The photo above of the outside of our hall was taken in June on my first trip to midtown since March.) Frankly, I figured I didn’t have anything to add to what everyone was probably struggling with in their own way, living their own version of quarantine imposed issues and addressing them in your work life. Also, it has been exhausting to live it and I have not had much time for reflection. I will start though by saying that I know I am very lucky to be able to work from home (be it ever so humble), and of course to have a job at all. I think about both those things often. (For those of you who might be new to Pictorama and in case you haven’t figured it out yet, I work for the Jazz at Lincoln Center orchestra and Wynton Marsalis, fundraising for the organization.)

As we march toward the one year mark, one that seemed impossible and I among those who refused to accept as even a possibility last spring, new rhythms and routines have of course been established. The work day starts very early here at Deitch Studio and I have adjusted to Kim’s program. It is rare that I am not at the computer and having my first look at the day around 6:00. Some mornings find me working out in a nearby park, jogging and doing some of the exercise that is hard in our confined space, working off early pandemic pounds. Other mornings might instead mean lifting weights here in the apartment – trying to make it possible for Kim to work in on the mat between rotations. (My posts about teaching myself to run and working out at home can be found here and here.)

Dawn recently at Carl Schurz Park, the site of my outdoor workouts.

If Wynton has calls he is making during the day ahead, to thank people or sometimes to ask for a gift, he gets his notes from me early. Sometimes there is an official briefing on the schedule, other times a spontaneous call early after reading my notes. (When I was walking instead of running sometimes I could multi-task and do a call then, but talking is beyond me while trying to run.) Then the long day of being at my “desk”, an ancient drafting table, commences. (I have recently ordered a new desk chair, one with arms, which will hopefully relieve what is now a chronic aching lower back.) Kim is subjected to a never-ending litany of calls and meetings, which he is required to endure my end of, my office now used to mutterings that occasionally come from his side of the room. Him now deeply versed in my work, where we stand to goal and each and every gain and setback daily. Wynton’s voice via the phone has at times seemed like another resident of the apartment.

Cookie and Blackie nearing dinner time recently, Kim, out of view the object of their scrutiny.

The work day continues, with a break to eat a quick lunch which Kim and I try to do together, until about six o’clock when Kim usually knocks off work and Cookie and Blackie get their (long awaited; by then they are on my desk and staring hard at the back of Kim’s head) dinner. I usually start our dinner around then, we eat together and then sometimes I drift back to work for awhile, or it might be another good time if Wynton and I need to talk. Sometimes there are events, me in front of Kim’s work table on Zoom doing a welcome and introductions.

Like everyone else, my days are now spent clad in variations of comfortable clothing. There are evening “events” such as online concerts and conversations, and those demand rare forays into applying make up (I really thought I had forgotten how at first), putting on a nice top and maybe even a pair of earrings. I, who always dressed for work and a roster of evenings out, who rotated a beloved array of rings on multiple fingers daily, and faithfully applied make-up every workday, I have embraced the soft trouser (think sweat pants; the Addidas ones are for dressy events although no one sees them) paired with a hoodie, or the workout clothes from an interrupted or abandoned exercise session earlier in the day.

I have worn variations on these moccasins for years, but never wore through a pair before.

I have worn out one pair of sneakers, the only shoes I wear these days, and I found recently that I had worn through my moccasin slippers which I wear in the house. Wore right through them and we started finding little diamonds of the soles around the apartment. The replacement, below, arrived yesterday and I am wearing them, quite contentedly, now. My feet resist the discussion of eventual progression back to hard shoes. I have coaxed my feet into snow boots on a few occasions as needed.

The photos over Kim’s desk which are now a frequent background for my greetings on Zoom evenings.

Earlier in the pandemic, Wynton was doing a live show, Skain’s Domain, on Monday night and each week kicked off with a night of 90 minutes of interviews followed by just regular folks who had logged on asking questions and telling stories. (A sample posted on Youtube can be found here.) It was usually about music, but politics and world events would creep in. People welcomed a chance to just be with other folks, even if it was more time on Zoom, late in the evening. It ran until the summer when we decided to take a break.

I won’t go into the details, but suffice it to say that a performing arts organization that once earned more than half of its revenue from concerts, touring, a jazz club and hall rentals, which suddenly found fundraising as its only means of income (and many of its expenses still pressing) has struggled mightily. That means me and a somewhat dwindling but devoted staff have been very busy for the past eleven months. As a fundraiser it is the challenge of a professional lifetime like I thought I would never have and that can also be exhilarating if exhausting. Someday I might write about that part of it, perhaps after I am not in the thick of it.

Wynton has, not surprisingly, been a great leader under these extreme circumstances. Although he has driven the organization hard and at times the staff almost to the point of breaking, as a result we have remained disciplined and continued to produce and remain in the public eye, despite the obvious limitations. He encourages, nags and at times if needed will even taunt us into action. A steady flow of online content, live shows, education programs, new music and archival concerts have been marshaled into being. My colleagues, who I always realized were amazing professionals each in their own field, have been incredible. I reflected the other day that among the very few people I have seen in person in the last eleven months (other than Kim and cats) have been folks from work. The absolute joy of in-person encounter leading to jumping up and down in excitement since hugging them was not possible.

Chateau Le Woof where I met a colleague for a outdoor drink this summer.

Needless to say, there is no victory lap here though and like everyone else, we remain unsure of where we even are in this process – halfway through? Almost there? My mantra has been not to look ahead, but keep my shoulder to the wheel, easier not to speculate beyond immediate needs. The race, clearly a marathon, continues.

This week however I found myself required to live in the future for a bit and it was interesting to go there. I have been writing proposals for an audience development project, one to take place after we return to our hall, whenever that turns out to be. For the purposes of the request we are assuming we are back, playing live music in January 2022. The request is to help underwrite the cost of concerts so we can offer deeply subsidized tickets for a returning audience, re-engaging with post-pandemic live performance in a hall, and also use the opportunity to grow our audience. Around each of these concerts would be an Open House style festival with school kids, families, local mid-town vendors and restaurants. All kinds of people together in a space – mingling and enjoying music.

In the process of writing I realized that, while of course I reflect occasionally on what I call the time before I have yet begun to construct a vision of what the time after might actually be. I mean, I suppose we all have some vague idea about aspects of it – what will a commute look further than ten feet across a room look like, how will we arrange swing shifts in the office, will we ever sit in conference rooms again. (How much will I travel for work? Will I ever return to purchasing nice clothing and make up?) But to really imagine a time when we are gathering inside in groups again and listening to live music, all presumably without fear of infection, is both hard and liberating. Can we just throw off more than a year of how we are now living and working? Surely there will be residual changes from it, but moments of living in that time in my imagination has helped the future start to take root.

Cookie basking in the desk light on my makeshift work space recently.

I am by nature a planner. I like to anticipate and know where I am going and how I will get there. I have had to release my grip on the need to know over this time which has not been easy for someone a bit compulsive like me. Still, suddenly it seems like maybe it might be time to start to let the future, the after time, to cultivate that glimmer in my mind and let it grow.

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