January

Pam’s Pictorama Post: This past week I went on a particularly long run in New Jersey, more than four miles. The weather was an agreeable 35 degrees and my morning of meetings started late enough that despite being a bit cold I took the opportunity to explore a bit.

Discovered the local police station nearby recently.

When I first started running there I was afraid of getting lost as I didn’t know the area and there are a lot of dead end streets and cul de sacs to get lost in. It took awhile for me to get the lay of the land and understand where my mom’s house is in relation to a few large roads that will always put me back on course eventually, making it almost impossible to actually get lost I now know. (I have written about running in New Jersey before and one of those posts is here. One of my early posts about teaching myself to run can be found here.)

Wooded area where I run. Looks more wild than it is – there are the backs of houses within sight.

I have written a bit about this area which exists in my mind these days as a sort of ideal small town with more ball fields and playgrounds than I can count. Communal basketball hoops adorn many of the dead end streets and it is easy to imagine a spring and summer rife with kids playing there. It has become my other reality or parallel universe now that a spend more time with my mom at her house.

There is a charming middle school at the end of my mother’s block, Knollwood it is called, and each morning when I run there I see kids in various states of readiness migrating toward it to start their day. They come on bikes or walk, alone or a few together, sometimes running or pedaling hard as it gets later. Cars and buses are dropping them off on the other side, but that isn’t usually what I see from the side of the school I approach.

The houses here range from new build large and obviously affluent, to bungalow and Cape Cod small, like my mom’s. They indicate a fair amount of disparity in wealth I think as I run by them, but somehow they manage to knit together a community, homes almost universally cheerfully neat and tidy looking.

If I head further in one direction I know that beyond the woods where I start these runs that the homes will grow larger and further apart in the town where I grew up. As I go in the other direction the homes get smaller and closer together and older. This area forms a literal meeting point of three towns and each has a different flavor.

The suburban street near mom.

As I survey my surroundings (to an unlikely soundtrack of Billie Holiday which I am stuck on for no identifiable reason), I ponder how mindfulness can be uncomfortable and how sometimes forcing yourself to be in the moment is so much harder and more painful than escaping it. For me and with my personal history January is the most terrible of months, stinking with the memory of illness and death. Accepting that and not trying to escape it is hard. Despite a determined brand of personal optimism, I tend to skirt the beginning of each year warily, more just getting through it than embracing it as a new beginning.

This year has its own challenges and this week packed a wallop of January-ness my way along with some sodden snowy rain. The anniversary of my sister’s death, two more resignations at work, spending time (mostly reliving the past) with my mom who is not well – it has been a rocky road and I will be glad when the 31st passes, hopefully gently, into February. A tsunami of these issues clamor for attention in my brain and only the gentle repetitious pounding of my sneaker clad feet can help me unsnarl these thorny thoughts.

Flowers in memory of my sister Loren, brought by a friend earlier this week.

As I make my way over, up and through this neighborhood I think about it. The word liminal keeps looming in my mind so I examine it. Liminal, the space between things, the moment on a threshold. We all are existing in that liminal space right now as we try to figure out what the world is going to look like, needing to let go of what was and embrace this unknown next thing. That space is a bit of a respite from the drive forward, but you know you are going to have to take the plunge so there is little comfort in that perch, like standing above icy water before diving in. By its nature it is an uncomfortable place to be.

I think I understand the desire to leave for a new job and to assign all that was bad about the past two years to what employed your hours during that time. I can see that a new job might be a fresh new page to draw on and a way to reinvent yourself and push into the new world. So I try not to resent the further dwindling of my work team and the demands it will make on me and the remaining folks, but I admit it is hard.

One of the endless playing fields I run through on my NJ mornings.

My own style however is to dig my heels in and have a real look at myself, marshal my reserves, retrench. It is only by facing what is hard that we can actually resolve it. One of my expressions is the only way through is through – a self-evident but annoying truth. I see signs of reluctance in myself that I need to square off, face and resolve. I remind myself that there is a steeliness I can call on when needed and it is called for now. I use it and add on that extra mile.

Planning

Pam Pictorama Post: It is pre-dawn here and a soft rain is occasionally ticking against the window. Despite a late night at work (Big Band Holiday concert) I woke early and chafed a bit at my self-imposed rule that I won’t run in the dark as part of me wanted nothing more than a slow run through the park at 6:00 am. It sorts out my brain like nothing else and in an effortless way I will never really understand, but am grateful for when I can employ it. However, instead, I sit down and write and think maybe that run will come later.

Recently in the process of interviewing someone, I was asked about my own plans for the future, where I expect to be in five years. I laughed to myself and thought, after the last more than twenty months of the pandemic, how can anyone actually ask me what I think I will be doing in five years? I sure as heck didn’t think I would be doing what I have been for the last twenty or more months with a basis of operations from our one room here at Deitch Studio, but the question has gnawed at me a bit.

Big Band Holiday concert last night.

I was reminded of when I graduated from college. I formulated a very specific plan which roughly involved getting a job cooking in a very good restaurant here in New York City, applying to graduate school for painting and then using that restaurant experience to land a good job and work my way through said graduate program, probably somewhere in the mid-West like Iowa, and then most likely teaching art and trying to sell my own work. (Yes, I had a lot of energy then!)

I achieved the first step on the ladder and landed the job in a restaurant cooking with a rising young chef star, Jean-Georges Vongerichten. I won’t go down the tributary of my cooking career for now, but only note that it ended abruptly with a fall down a flight of stairs which put me out of commission for that kind of physical work. Over time painting gave way to photography and these days this blog is most of the creativity I employ on a regular basis.

The Met one recent morning as I walked to Columbus Circle for work.

After the fall, so to speak, I took a job in the bookstore at the Metropolitan Museum. I was eventually hired out of the bookstore into the administrative offices and, for the most part, stayed there contentedly for the better part of the next thirty years. (I wrote about this on my departure from the Met about four years ago and that post can be found here.) I had never imagined working at the Met and I had never considered (or remotely thought about) fundraising as a career. And once firmly and happily ensconced at the Met I never imagined leaving.

I have tried to make considered choices and planned my career with some thought however. I developed a broad base of skills (such as annual giving, events) and ultimately specialized deeply in the areas that most people avoided – tax consequences of gifts, charitable estate planning and back office operations for example. (My best single piece of advice to people starting out is always raise your hand for the job no one wants – that and for goodness sake, dress appropriately for any interview.)

A holiday Matt Wilson Tree-O at Dizzy’s Club earlier this week.

I embraced the opportunity to manage staff over time and took on overseeing a fair amount of hiring and on-boarding and compensation for that office. However, I always deeply enjoyed working with the individuals who supported the work of the museum and at least half my time was always devoted to that.

I had assumed I would retire from the Met. My decision to leave and run an office for a performing arts organization in many ways surprised no one more than me and it was a huge shift that left me reeling at first. However, the skills I had built up working at the museum have served me well.

Meanwhile, I think we can all safely say none of us expected the world to shift the way it did in March of 2020. It has been exhausting and exhilarating in turns. I feel as if I have grown decades of professional experience crammed into the past two years, approaching my work with a new efficiency as well as renewed urgency. I have often said that from that perspective I wouldn’t have missed it, but much like falling down that flight of stairs all those years ago, the path I thought I was on certainly veered wildly in another direction. We see a lot of folks making radical life changes as a result of the pandemic – changing where they live, where and how they work.

Big Band Holiday last night.

Recent months have allowed a return to seeing some of our supporters and friends in person. Last night was my first in the hall for a concert (I wrote about planning for and then missing our opening concerts in November in a post here), although I have been in our club venue on many evenings. A shift in staffing has meant that I am spending more time with folks and welcoming them in person. It is nice to be doing more of that again.

I have yet to respond to the question about where I expect to be in five years – neither to the person who asked nor in my own mind. I consider it for a bit this morning as the misty morning finally comes to light out the window.