Without the Net

The other evening our usually dependable Wifi sputtered during a meeting. I was able to get back on it, but yesterday we woke to the realization that we didn’t have Wifi. After two calls to our provider, RCN, our “box” was declared dead (well, dying, it has a few meager lights blinking) and a technician requested for later today. It was also, as it would happen, Kim’s birthday and so thoughtful wishes are piled up, as I write, in the world online, an internet connection away.

Kim, who is immersed in the latter stages of his next book spent yesterday tracing off pages which will then be tightened and eventually inked. (A post with the specifics of Kim’s process can be found here. It is a great favorite!) I still had online access, via my phone (and my ipad which decided it could operate off my phone) which meant I could do some work including attending meetings with my little Italian Felix toy avatar in my stead.

I have my own policy of trying to be on camera for most Zoom meetings, at least at the beginning of each, and I try to stay on for all meetings with staff. I think it is more humanizing even if I am just in from my run and admitting that I only make it to even nominal make-up about once a week these days.

Nonetheless, the lack of Wifi slowed me down mightily – if you are reading this it means either I posted it via my phone (a skill set that may well be beyond me), or the technician has come and restored us to full function. It makes me realize how much I depend on the internet for casually adding things to these posts as well. My fingers twitch to check references and add links and photos.

In case the day needed more complications, I had an appointment to get a new phone. Like many people, I beat the heck out of this thing over the past 18 months. The screen is cracked from dropping it from the elliptical at the gym, years ago now. (There was a time when I didn’t take my phone into the gym, preferring to listen to a tiny and somewhat finicky ipod instead, but when my dad was began his decline and was hospitalized I started bringing it with me to workouts. It bounced off the moving machine hard and it is lucky it didn’t hurt someone.)

It has been giving me warning signs that it is breathing its last (screens turning into strange shadow screens, no longer holds a charge) and so while making another change to my account recently (prophetically changing my date plan), I committed to a new phone. Suffice it to say, given the day that yesterday was, after more than an hour at the Verizon store, I left sans phone transfer complete – alas, I must return later today.

Evermore than even a year and a half ago however, I am tethered to the internet like it is a favorite child!

Simultaneously, this week I was encouraging my office to help inform a return to work plan and being met with recalcitrance, fear and assorted resistance which evinced an insurmountable level of exhaustion in me. Like many managers, the decision about a return to the office is an institutional one and Wynton Marsalis has made his feelings very clear throughout this period – we will not be an organization that operates remotely. We need to be together and to see each other as humans again as soon as is safely and reasonably possible.

My first work-out at the gym. Man, I swear the weights are heavier here than at home!

Like a good manager, I have been trying to gently exercise the muscle of in-person meetings and discussing our return. Our policy is to return to the office in person two days a week over the summer and then moving to full time mid-September. Having to decide on dates was like ripping the band-aide off for many folks though. It is hard to balance their variety of concerns, an institutional mandate while keeping any of my own feelings to myself. I am impatient with my own impatience.

The day finally concluded with Kim and I eating some excellent Vietnamese food which greatly restored me. Then, with the premiere of a concert for our virtual season, our full Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, with the founder and head of the Equal Justice Initiative, Bryan Stevenson. It was a great marriage of spoken language and jazz and spoke very directly to the topics of freedom and inequality and history. (Freedom, Justice and Hope is available on-demand until May 26 and you can purchase tickets to watch it here). It is in my opinion by far the best concert we have produced for online viewing and I am so proud of my colleagues who created it and how far we have come. It left me with the very real hope that we will come out of this period with a new way of continuing to reach audiences far beyond those in our hall and on our tour destinations.

Afterward, I watched the first part of a PBS documentary on the Metropolitan Museum. Long-time Pictorama readers know that I spent most of my career, thirty years, there before leaving for my current gig. (I wrote about my departure in a post called Leaving the Met which can be found here.) I gather that the documentary was originally meant to follow the museum through its 150th Anniversary Year. Instead it is half about that and half about how 2020 played out with the pandemic and the closure of the museum, the ultimate re-opening and then grappling with the new re-emerging world.

It was moving for me to see many former colleagues as well as some objects I know like they had spent years in my own living room, so they too are like old friends. But overwhelmingly for me it was so touching to see the conservators, curators and other colleagues I had worked with for so many years. I was graphically reminded that yes, despite our discomfort, Wynton is right. In the end it comes down to the people. People make organizations like these great and that will suffer if we do not make the effort to come back together again to work with each other in person. When I interview people I always ask them, what will you miss most about where you work now and almost to a one they say it is the people.

Me and Eileen Travell, Met buddies and long-standing friends, having our first post-pandemic in-person meal earlier this week! Sheer bliss to see her again. It helps to do some of the nice aspects of getting back into the world as well.

In her remarks, Carolyn Riccardelli, one of the conservators, kept coming back to the metaphor of the conservation work that had been done on the Tullio Lombardi statue of Adam. Many years ago, it famously fell spontaneously from its base and smashed into an almost infinite number of pieces, fragments, and some reduced to dust. Like a crime scene, the pieces were photographed in situ and logged where they fell to aide reconstruction. That reconstruction took ten painstaking years (it has been documented in a video called After the Fall and can be found on their website here) and is back on display. It looks flawless, but of course as part of the team who restored it, Carolyn must see her years of handiwork beneath the surface every time she looks at it. She talked about how sometimes you just need to move forward, even if you have no idea how you are going to do it, making progress and claiming small victories until finally, you are there.

Shown at top: Tullio Lombardo (Italian, ca. 1455–1532). Adam, ca. 1490–95. Italian, Venice. Marble. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Fletcher Fund, 1936 (36.163)

Gone Gray

Pam’s Pictorama Post: My hair went gray when I was thirty. It started with an interesting streak in front which grew in rapidly over time. My maternal grandfather, Frank Wheeling (aka Poppy), went gray in his twenties so I suspect it is his genes at work – most of the rest of that generation in my family never had more than a few strands even as they reached very advanced ages, my father’s mother not withstanding as I believe she did dye her hair as part of her weekly visits to a salon where she had her 1940’s updo style managed weekly.

I have never dyed my hair. Despite hitting my twenties during the height of the punk era I have never done anything except shave it down to a crewcut periodically and that usually reflecting more function than form – such as anticipating a lack of showering facilities while camping in Tibet. Not only have I never dyed my hair a radical color, I have never highlighted it or dyed it at all. I don’t have anything against it, I just never did it and so when I started to go gray the question of dying it was a bit bigger, dye never having been a go to, nor something I had ever played around with. I always figured that it would be easy enough to try if I changed my mind, but acknowledge it would be a huge pain to grow out and as it became more and more gray the fact that it would be a significant commitment of time and money (not to mention the reality of heavier, more chemical dyes) to maintain became clear.

Me in London at age 21. This was taken by a friend for a photography class. Not shaved short but soon after the very first time I ever cut it short at all.

Also, as I can be about such things, I was curious to see how it would grow in and what it would look like. I always figured that dying was something I could decide to do (although certainly it would have been pretty radical after a point) so there was no compelling reason to rush to do it. So, I just didn’t. My hair guy, David Smith (he opened his own salon pre-pandemic, Smith and Morgan on West 80th Street) always liked my gray and never encouraged me to dye it – despite the fact he would have made a ton of money over time if I had, which always made me love David a little more. I met David just before my wedding, a good friend recommended him when the person I had been seeing shutdown abruptly and until he opened his own place I followed him across a variety of locales on the westside of Manhattan.

David Smith’s current domain, Smith and Morgan at 205 West 80th Street.

To be frank, there is a very real prejudice against being young and having naturally gray hair (yes, some folks are dying their hair gray now which is a bit different) and I am only just getting old enough now where it is less of an issue. People immediately assume you are older than you are and sometimes express outright confusion over a younger face and gray hair. At its worst I have on occasion been met with a certain kind of aggression, as if my deciding not to dye my hair was a statement about other people’s choices. It seems to annoy some people. I am a bit confounded sometimes when people talk about it – after all I think my choice of hair color is a bit personal and I have trouble imagining the same person asking someone why they dye theirs brown or blond for instance. And, I will admit that there was a time when I thought if I were to look for a new job that I might consider dying it. In the end, it has become very much a part of who I am and in my case it would seem false to change it. As Popeye would famously say, I yam what I yam!

My sister Loren hated that I was letting my hair go gray. She would bully and rage about it in the way only she as my older sister could. Frankly I considered dying it when she was in treatment for cancer and bored, sick. I was looking for ways to entertain her – I know, it sounds crazy, but I thought about it. She would tell me that when her hair grew back it was going to be dark brown again (during a pause in treatment it had grown in completely gray) and only she and Lady Clairol would know the truth about the color. If she had lived I don’t know if I could have held out against her indefinitely. (I have written about Loren a few times and two of those posts can be found here and here.)

A high school photo of my sister I took a picture of recently.

By the same token I have enjoyed many random compliments from strangers – literally sometimes getting stopped on the street – about my hair. Love your hair! Great hair! Occasionally it was another woman with naturally gray hair and we would give a sly smile between us and pass a compliment. Other times women would opine that they didn’t think theirs would grow out as nicely and I always admit that if I hadn’t liked the way it grew in I probably would have dyed it. My hair had the good grace to come in with streaks of gray against the dark brown. In addition, the texture changed for the better once it was mostly gray. It had always been thick, but slippery, heavy and difficult to keep up or back. I enjoyed manageable hair for the first time as the gray grew in.

Enter Covid however and suddenly many women have let their dyed hair grow out and are reemerging into the world as gray. It was of course a great time to let your hair grow out – or have a baby I guess. (Newborn down the hall this week! Evelyn Grace Deitch – yep, we have a Deitch down the hall! Pronounced Deetch however.) While some of the gray-goers are friends and colleagues, I see many women making the transition to gray on the elevator or in the street. I get the feeling they are checking out my hair, taking notes as such.

Pandemic Pam recently. As you can see, my hair isn’t getting a lot of attention.

While I have no advice about growing out dyed hair I do have some about living with gray hair. Until Covid I was very careful about trims and keeping my hair tidy figuring that it was such a standout feature that I needed to pay extra attention to it. Early on David showed me how to mix a bit of baking soda in clearing shampoo (for example Bumble & bumble makes what they call a clarifying shampoo, theirs is called Sunday Clarifying Shampoo, which is designed to clear out old product from your hair, Neutrogena makes one too) and leave it in for about twenty minutes before washing out. This is drying so I would do this once or so a month to keep the gray white. (I have started using a sea salt scrub instead which is a bit less trouble. The one I currently use is by Christophe Robin. Although during these Covid days I use very little hair product so it is less of an issue.) Oribe makes Silverati (disclosure – it is crazy expensive) which is in a class of colored shampoos to bring out highlights, specifically of gray in this case and goes alongside a group of purple shampoos which are designed to counterbalance the yellow in gray hair. All of these work to a greater or lesser degree, but in my opinion, nothing like the scrubs to brighten the color.

Kim and I at a wedding a few years ago.

I am also a bit maniacal about products and styling and pre-pandemic I would joke that there wasn’t a styling product that I couldn’t be induced to try and had settled into a routine of potions as part of my hair care. Meanwhile, although gray wasn’t an issue for me I have let my hair grow crazy long during the months at home. I have only had it cut once since the onset of lockdown and that is now getting to be close to a year ago. I wear it up each day and it is easy to forget about although I do feel like an aging Rapunzel when I take it down. I will also confess that in a sheer contradictory way, I thought about dying my hair during the lockdown out of sheer boredom. I thought it would be fun to emerge as a totally different person. Maybe that’s what women growing their gray in is all about. We are all deciding what our post-pandemic reset is going to be and what it will look like.

Featured photo by my good friend photographer @EileenTravell!