Pam’s Pictorama Post: As most of our readers know, I work for a well known performing arts organization and you may remember that last year I missed our opening weekend, pushed late into November to avoid inevitably Covid related early fall issues. My mom landed in the hospital and needing to be with her trumped even our long-awaited post pandemic opening. So for me, although I attended concerts later in the season last year, this was my first opening weekend since the fall of 2019. While it lacked the heavy emotion of last year, last night was more than suitably festive and, despite masks still dotting our landscape, came close to feeling like at least the return to a new normal. There was a real joy in the room.
For me it also marked the launching of many colleagues who joined the organization recently and wonderful to see them each fully assume their new roles. (I have written some about the interview process and the overall state of the office here and here.) Like the slow forward movement of a mighty ship, the gears slowly turned and it was something close to full speed ahead by the end of the evening. For my folks the weeks and months of getting to know the organization and about our supporters was like the musicians and their hours or practice and rehearsal.
An evening like this is marked with a certain expected stress and mishap as is the nature of our business. Tickets gone missing (and a supply chain issue with ticket stock having made us crazy), introductions needing to be organized and executed, catering issues. (Last night a vegan sandwich made with beets appeared – which oddly looked remarkably like corn beef. They were enormous – and well, made with beets. Ultimately we had them quartered which made them more approachable and in the end they were surprisingly good.)
I was endlessly pleased to see my folks embrace their new roles, talking with guests, moving the reception along seamlessly. Our fundraising work bounces back and forth between the administrative and in person, a delicate dance really between the two. It is a a miracle when it all meshes into a successful evening like last night and fascinating to see the new people embrace their roles, each in a different and singular way. The trained singer who came to us to be back in this milieu taking obvious pleasure in the music and in meeting the musicians, the talented and personable young man who has taken a flyer on working for an arts organization for a totally different experience finding his voice. Our events manager fully in charge and in his glory after a few spring trail runs.
Mixed in of course remains a core group of hard working and great long-standing colleagues who have stayed through it all and helped introduce the new people to their roles while continuing to keep things afloat, as we have for months and really years now. It was a moment to glimpse the future and how a new team will work together and for all the bumpy starts see how the road ahead will shape up. It is just the start of the season, but I return with a new sense of swing to my step.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: So I sat down this morning with all good intentions of ignoring Father’s Day entirely. Having bared my soul on the subject of our mutual Deitch Studio illness yesterday, I was thinking more along the lines of a toy post today. However, for whatever reason with the sun streaming hard into the windows early this morning I was out of bed and drinking coffee at an obscenely early hour when I got the idea of reading some previous posts. My Dad, Elliott Butler, died back in ’18 and I wrote a post that remains remarkable even to me that year about bringing him ice cream. (That post can be found here.) It was however the one from June of ’19 that really struck me.
I find myself dividing life into the before time (pre-March 2020) and the new time after. It certainly isn’t that there weren’t problems and concerns in the before time, but somehow reams of them got shelved over the past two years as we negotiated a world that at first was rocked by a pandemic and has continued roil and roll upside down.
I haven’t had the time, energy or inclination to spend a lot of time looking back or digging through the concerns of late ’19 or early ’20. I remember being crazy busy with work, traveling too much and feeling vaguely like it was spinning a bit out of control. My first thought upon being told to go home for an undefined period was that I would at last get enough sleep – and I did.
However, looking back on my post of June ’19 I reflected on one of the last cogent conversations I had with my father the year before who had had one of those strange lucid moments in a sea of not knowing where he was or what was happening, where he looked up clear eyed and asked if I thought my job (still relatively new at the time) was going to work out. Just a year in at that point, I gave him the honest answer that it was tough going and the jury was still out. (That post can be read here.)
He was always very interested in my career. Working in an office, raising money for cultural organizations was all very foreign to his work life of news, constant action and cameras, but he always wanted to know about it. We shared a love of travel which our jobs supplied in good measure though, and he was proud of me and what I did, if occasionally confused by what my work actually consisted of daily.
When I read the post I remembered the conversation well. There has been so much water under the bridge since then, but I guess the main thing is that he would have gotten a kick out of what I have achieved at my job over the past few years. It has been a rough ride, but somehow our performing arts organization stayed solvent, everyone paid despite some severe belt tightening and a lot of asking for and receiving help.
Three years since that post and I have a level of assurance about my work that was lacking back when he and I spoke that day. I pointed out that the thing about a challenge is there is the very real chance of failure. It was wavering in early summer of ’18 and I was still struggling a year later evidently. The tide started to shift though and luckily I wasn’t found wanting when the bottom fell out in spring of ’20.
The fight is never ending at a job where you bring in money and my exhaustion has returned after the pitched battle of these past years, although has different causes, and it hovers over me while I try to negotiate the new world. However, while the struggle remains I think I can say that the verdict is in and I have been successful which would have pleased him.
Meanwhile, I am planning on having a run (he would have thought the running thing was crazy, but would have secretly been sort of proud of it) and most certainly some ice cream with a tip of the hat to him later today.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: So in the week that was, Deitch Studio finally fell prey to Covid. Not surprisingly, despite being an avid mask wearer and careful in general, I of course was the one who brought it home. Our return to office has had me in most days in the prior week or so, traveling on the subway and all – although in reality I have been matriculating through the world for a long time for work. The office, our club for dinner, breakfast meetings, lunches with donors.
Mom had it a few weeks back despite our extraordinary efforts to protect her. With her existing health problems that was very scary. She was sick and sicker at various times and I am grateful that she pulled through and now even her cough has receded. I am also deeply grateful to her caretakers who stayed throughout despite personal risk to them and their families.
Anyway, when we least expected it I woke up with full-on symptoms after a day in the office and an evening out for work. I tested negative, but began isolating. I was six days from a dinner for 85 people, our first of its kind since January of ’20. Of course in a one-room apartment there really isn’t much isolating to do, let’s be honest.
We’ve all heard varying levels of sickness from friends and family. I would say for me day one was more or less like being hit by a two by four. Blinding headache, sore throat, laryngitis and a deep rattling cough developed nicely through Day One. I didn’t test positive until the evening of Day Three. As others have said, it was strange to see a positive test after literally years of negative ones. It was definitive too, not a wishy washy second line but a dark one.
The good news is that I progressed rapidly toward better daily. That Friday night I missed the last concert of our season and the festive closing receptions which my staff executed nicely. They sent photos.
On Monday morning, Day Four, I called both my GP and my rheumatologist (I have written a bit about my psoriatic arthritis and exercising in spite of it and that post can be found here) and true to form, the rheumatologist got back to me within the hour. He had me off to the ER for a monoclonal infusion immediately. (My GP was to get back to me around 5:30 PM. Not sure she agreed with the decision of the other doc, but seemed to have the sense to realize that arguing about it now was too late.)
I ate something and grabbed an extra layer of clothing despite the heat. We all know that any trip to the ER is not fast and once in their clutches you stay and will wait what seems to be endlessly before being spit back out. (And they keep it freezing cold – is that really to kill germs as someone suggested?) I was there almost exactly a year ago when I broke two fingers running. (A post about that misadventure can be found here.) Kim walked me over the ten or so blocks; I felt up to it and figured even with a mask on and an open window no one had it coming to them to have me in their cab.
As expected, folks keep a healthy distance from you in a hospital when you tell them you are Covid positive. (The admitting guard put on gloves to take my paperwork from me.) However, the doc who saw me cheerfully informed me that he had just gotten over it so feared my germs not. I was quickly approved for the infusion and sent to wait in a closet room which was at least twice as big as the tiny one I sat in for four hours with my hand, but they were storing furniture in this one. Kim went off to work some once I was ingested by the bowels of Lenox Hill Hospital.
I sat with a port in my arm, waiting, while sitting in on two seating meetings for the dinner and helping to make some plans for it to happen without me, while I continued to sit in my closet. Some of you have read of my staffing woes and in addition to an entirely depleted staff those on the job are entirely new and have never seen an event in our hall. (A post can be found here.) There was no question about going to the dinner, even if I was better I would still be contagious. Other guests were dropping out, staff too, as the virus eddied around; my boss went down with it within days of me.
While I was sick and working from home I read an article in the NYT discussing how the sick day has disappeared and also how stupid it is to keep working while you are sick. I had time to ponder that, but I was leaving my colleagues in enough of a lurch by not being able to be there for this dinner. The least I could do is what I could manage from home, the seating and all the preliminary work could be done. (In addition my beloved Executive Assistant fell and broke her kneecap this week! Definitely worse.) Eventually my meetings ended, read my e-book for awhile, I got the infusion, was observed for another hour and eventually sent home.
I continued to improve over the next days although there was no dramatic change from the infusion that I could tell. By Wednesday I might have gone to the dinner if it wasn’t Covid, although that probably would have been a mistake, but I was feeling that much better. The dinner went off without a hitch and thanks to the miracle of cell phones and real time video it was almost like being there, even allowing me to double check seating and sight lines for our guests.
Thursday allowed me to collapse a bit, although I tuned in for some follow up from the evening before, sent some emails to guests who had texted or emailed their well wishes for my recovery. I sent love and thanks to my colleagues for carrying it all off so brilliantly.
I had lost much of my sense of taste and smell by then. Then Kim began coughing and round two began. He had the good sense to test positive immediately. We spent yesterday trying to reach his doc even though he also seemed to improve. In the absence of his doctor getting back to him and it being Saturday we are wandering over to Urgent Care later today.
I am eyeing the good weather and wondering if I might try my first run as well. New running shoes showed up yesterday.
There is a lot of divisiveness around this illness, the vaccines etc. I can only say both that I was extremely grateful during the worst of this that I had gotten vaccinated and gotten the booster. (I wouldn’t have gotten the booster if it hadn’t been required for work to be really honest.) Man, I don’t want to think about this being that much worse than it was. The first wave of it must have been truly horrifying, but for me it wasn’t reduced to a few days of a common cold either.
Weirdly there is a lot of guilt attached to Covid. Who gave it to me? Who did I end up giving it to during a contagious period without symptoms? Just plain disappointment at getting it after avoiding it so long. It’s all wrong headed, but I still felt that way. Also, I found it oddly depressing as well. I almost wonder if it is a chemical aspect of the illness, an overwhelming sort of hopelessness and despair in the first few days. Others have agreed. I mention it in case others experience it.
For now that is our tale of illness and hopefully now recovery. With any luck, this will be the last you hear about it and we can be back to photos, toys or maybe a nice new jewelry acquisition starting tomorrow.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: This morning I took read my post from last Memorial Day weekend. I was in New Jersey for a concert for work. Despite being in a tent the extraordinary downpour had largely soaked us all and it had essentially been a cold and sodden mess. As it was still one of the first times I was hearing live music I more or less forgave the weather. It was also one of the first times I was seeing my mom as during the first year of the pandemic I treaded softly in the pre-vaccine, no home test days of last spring.
I had however returned to New York via ferry, somewhat exhausted from my exertions both physically and emotionally. I got up tired on Monday morning, Memorial Day, went running, fell and broke two fingers. (I wrote about it here and here.)
It was chillier, unlike this weekend which has already turned warm enough that I am puzzling through had to stay hydrated during my runs in the growing heat and humidity. I was still wearing my heavy sweatshirt when I fell – I was grateful that I thought to take it off so it didn’t need to be cut off once the huge bandage was on my hand.
Of course I thought about this while running yesterday – giving the lumpy sidewalk where I fell a jaundiced look as I went by. Falling kept me off of running for a few months. When I stopped I was running about three miles I think and it took me awhile to get back to that distance, especially since it was full on summer heat by then. The ring finger on my left hand is still recalcitrant and I think I will need to break down and have my wedding band refitted to that finger as I think that finger and the knuckle is permanently enlarged. (I had been told the swelling could take up to a year to go down.)
Given time I run six miles now, some days cutting it short to get to an early meeting. I tend to think that is where I am topping out, at least for now, as it is hard to find the time to run longer than that four or five times a week. (Then again, it never occurred to me that I would be running that far either so who knows?)
I will focus on getting a bit faster for awhile. I have never had the urge to run fast actually which is good as I know I never will. I have a short stride for a tall person and I have always been more interested in distance, the long haul. However, I am very slow so I can pick up the pace a bit. Not killing my middle aged self in the heat is a bigger problem though and for the summer mornings I cannot get out as early as I should I need to be careful. Investigating what and how much to drink when.
Mom has had some health issues and since Thanksgiving I make more regular and longer trips to stay with her in New Jersey, vaccinated now and endlessly tested. Although I am a devoted homebody and miss Kim and the kitties, I enjoy the time with her too. (A few of the posts I have written about my time there can be found here and here and one on running in Jersey here.) Whichever place I am in I find hard to leave. It is just the way I am. Running while I am there is one of the things that grounds me though. I am a person who responds well to routine and set about creating them wherever I am.
One of my routines is that since Christmas I have treated myself to coming and going to Jersey via @rideswithcash, a dog and driver duo based in Monmouth County. This has allowed me to come and go at odd hours which fit into my work schedule better and generally saves some wear and tear on me. Jeff is lovely and great about making time for me. The mainstay of his business is folks going to and from the airports, although I guess there are other needs like mine too. The bonus is of course having Cash, his lovely Australian Shepard, sitting with me along for the ride. Petting that beautiful pup has soothed me through some otherwise stressful trips as I fret about mom or work.
This spring Cash was joined by a sibling sis – Penny! Well, of course fluffy Penny is about as cute as anything could be. She flirts and plays and chews and is generally adorable. I am not sure Cash has totally bought into Penny yet, but I am sure he will over time. I haven’t made a trip with both of them yet so we’ll see about that, maybe as early as this evening.
Meanwhile, a year has brought us through an intact if somewhat abbreviated concert season at work. We will be wrapping with a final concert and surrounding events in a few weeks. Variants come and (sort of) go and attendance at events waxes and wanes accordingly although ticket sales for concerts has remained strong.
Our offices officially went to a three day in-office schedule in April. Although we try to bring everyone in on Wednesdays so we can plan meetings, it still feels very empty most days. We are still rebuilding staff which is a slow process and of course other days people might be out or taking vacation days before the end of our fiscal year. Rebooting what was our office culture is hard and I can only imagine that we need to embrace what a new version will be. We are impatient, but only time will help puzzle through that.
I wrote recently about the interviewing I have been doing recently for a myriad of open positions. (That post can be found here.) I wish I could report that the positions are all filled, but not yet to date. A newly fully staffed team will be a large step forward in creating a new work paradigm. In the short term however the interviewing process is like having another job.
For those of you who were following the story of Stormy, the kitten mom found in her backyard a few months ago, I have news to report. (Her rescue origin post can be found here.) After gaining a bit of strength and familiarity with the house, Stormy left her lofty perch in a large dog cage where she was protected from the hustle and bustle of other kits and has joined the kitty pack in the house.
On my recent trips she has hidden herself entirely during the day and I have at best only caught a glimpse of her at times. However, she has a distinctive meow and I hear her when the lights go off at night, leading a feline rampage through the small house, up and down the stairs, skidding on the bathroom rug at the top before heading back down.
Stormy’s special partner in crime is another adoptee from the backyard, a gentleman puss named Gus. Gus, who looks a bit like he is made from spare parts, has made no secret of the fact that he is quite smitten with Stormy and follows her around devotedly although her hiding even eludes him at times and I will find him waiting for her to emerge.
Well, the big news is that my mom woke up the other night to find Stormy curled up on her lap! She did not stay for pets although she evidently acknowledged mom before hopping down. It is a rather remarkable step however. I often wonder how she can be such a friendly cat, clearly used to being handled when we found her so very small and starving. Did someone have her and lose her? Put her out? We’ll never know her story, but despite my initial reticence about keeping her I am of course glad we did.
So, after those updates and bits of reflection I am off for that run (early) and then packing to head to New Jersey for a few days. I have promised to get the new gas grill working and some other daughterly duties. For those of you who follow my running journal on Instagram, see you from Jersey!
Pam’s Pictorama Post: This morning I sit down to write my 871st post on this blog. For those of you who follow Pam’s Pictorama you know that with little exception, posts have appeared here on Saturday and Sunday morning (some exceptions for time difference during travel, once for illness in the family) pretty much like clockwork since the summer of 2014. While there are exceptions (notes taken in advance, work travel) when they were written in advance, the general “rule” is that I write them each weekend morning before otherwise starting my day. I drink coffee, look at the window, chat with Kim while I do it – pay attention to a needy cat if necessary – while writing.
I launched Pictorama while recovering from foot surgery, bored in bed and needing a project, I thought I would use it to organize my collection of early photos. (I didn’t do that – they are still not really organized as I sit here in 2022 although it has grown like topsy.) At the time the collection was mostly photo postcards of people posing with giant stuffed Felix dolls (some above), but I have always picked up old photos from here or there. I want to publish them as a book and still hope to figure that out.
My avatar, Felix on a scooter, is oddly one I do not own although I write pretty much exclusively about my own collection. It is an Italian version of the toy I continue to chase but fall short of acquiring to date.
Pictorama immediately expanded to include my burgeoning toy collection – again, largely but not entirely devoted to Felix the Cat items from the 20’s and 30’s – my other great love. Cats are an underlying theme for both the photos and the toys. Of course there are real cats and Cookie and Blackie make routine appearances and more recent guest spots have been for mom’s cat’s, particularly Stormy and Hobo Kitty, who were just featured yesterday in a post here. I dig out memories, do light research on the background and history of objects, consider the object. It has evolved into what it is.
Over time other bits of Deitch Studio daily life slip in. Posts have been devoted to the reveal of our holiday card each year and to Kim’s extraordinary series of Valentine’s he draws for me annually. Some of his books have been launched (a two-part series on Reincarnation Stories can be found here and here) as well. Over recent years a series of posts has been devoted to my professional life, fundraising and the challenges, changes and triumphs there. Apartment life (studio apartment living before tiny houses existed) and renovation has demanded my attention and been shared with you.
Tales of my childhood, pets and people I have known, tend to be an underlying theme for many of the posts. I try not to repeat myself – I am sure I fail occasionally. I will just hope that a good story is worth repeating.
Working out and most recently running has become another area I devote space to. At first writing about it helped ensure I would push forward and keep it up; keep me honest. It was not an easy habit to develop and no one is more surprised than me when I started to top out at over six miles recently. Persistence pays off. Meanwhile, a year ago next week (Memorial Day) I fell and broke two fingers while running and you all had a front seat for that as well as the recovery.
During the first months of Covid I devoted space to redeveloping my cooking muscles, baking in particular. I probably owe you all a post about the dieting I had to do to lose that pandemic weight subsequently – running alone did not do it. Dieting has inspired fewer recipes, but I will get back to recipes. I continue to cook – soup in particular remains a favorite here.
This week my readership crossed the 400 mark and so I started thinking about you all. I know from the likes and comments some of you who favor certain posts. I wonder if any of you crossover to other posts now that you are here – did you start by favoring the work related posts and then discover that cats were great too? Or did you find one because of work out posts and then stay for toys? Or do you only read the ones in the areas you follow? I have found that the readers who come for the book reviews seem to have a long read around. Most of those have come via Goodreads. (My review of the children’s book The Story of Ping, found here, remains one of the most read posts, although not the most likes. That may go to a post about a tin Krak-R-Jak box that sits on my desk which can be found here.)
Many of you are in different time zones and I frequently wake in the morning to your likes and comments, or even the occasional late night ping from my phone tells me someone liked something. It is always cheerful and encouraging. Thank you! I like to hear from you.
At first readers came almost exclusively from Kim’s extraordinary Facebook page which I felt privileged to guest spot on each weekend. (Others find me when searching for him on the internet as well.) Early on a friend suggested the title sub-header, All Pam All the Time, and I liked it as a nod to alert folks that Pictorama, while resident here at Deitch Studio, was a distinct subset that is from my perspective. Sadly, we’ve been locked out of Kim’s Facebook page for a few months now. My own nascent page recently taking its place with Kim weighing in as he likes instead.
Pictorama led me over to Twitter and then Instagram among other outlets. Instagram became a source for jewelry, photos, toys and interesting stuff as well as numerous online friends who come from across the United States and the world. Instagram Stories is primarily a journal of my runs these days and IG is probably second only to WordPress itself for leading new folks here. (I can be found as @deitchstudio.)
While writing of WordPress, please know that I have a love/hate relationship with it. Things morph and get changed which I never figure out, such as where the ability to add accent marks disappeared to one day. Occasionally they get harder and then much easier – such as the posting of video snippets which was quite arduous, then impossible, now easy. Links necessitated a work around, until suddenly they are possible again.
In all fairness, WordPress offers the chance to attend online sessions where I could learn more, but life is too hectic it seems. I always mean to, but never have. Meanwhile, while having a look around today I discovered a cache of comments I don’t believe I ever saw – they were direct inquiries rather than ones tied to posts. I spent some of this morning writing to folks to apologize for the oversight. They are tucked away and hard to find however even now that I know they exist. The myriad mysteries of the site.
I hope to see you next week for post number 872. A new Felix photo is winging its way to me even as I write. Thank you again for being such a very nice audience!
Pam’s Pictorama Post: It is another sub-genre post, musings on my work life. Today I am deeply in thought about the week that was and will share a few thoughts about it as my mulling about it is occupying my brain this morning.
To start I will mention that we are back in our office on a hybrid schedule and because it is early days there is a certain amount of confusion and new patterns to be built. We recently had a staff meeting with half the office on Zoom and only my cell phone to tie them in.
Meanwhile, my office computer chose yesterday to flat out die – only a red flashing light came on. (My liaison in Technology emailed me red=dead in response to my hopeful inquiry about resuscitation.) I guess sadly the long days of disuse still counted against its useful life. I’m glad that my laptop continues to chug along at home, taped together and challenged at charging though it is. The current lean state of the staff is more evident with the new schedule and there are some days when it still feels like when I would go in during the height of the pandemic, largely alone.
Like many folks these days, over the waning days of the extended pandemic period, a number of my colleagues have migrated to other states, different careers and new paths – Etsy businesses were formed and consulting gigs found. Therefore, like so many others, I have been looking to build a new team and in the process start to reimagine who we are and what we will be. I have gone down blind alleys that didn’t pan out and cost me time and energy as my own group becomes understandably impatient with the attenuated process. Ghosts of former colleagues inhabit the space as we forget we won’t see them at those desks any longer.
Nonetheless, I am determined to be as thoughtful about each role as I would be if it was the only one I was filling this year and with several to fill, I am working hard to find the right combinations of skills and personalities to complement the existing team. Several months of groundwork is beginning to culminate in a tsunami of finalists and I find myself across the table (quite literally as most of my final in-person interviews are being done in an array of eating establishments across the city), from a long line of great people who are interviewing me as much as I am interviewing them.
If it wasn’t already a period of reflection on where we’ve been and where we want to go their probing questions have me considering it with determined frequency. Frankly these folks have mostly already vetted me, my management style and approach beforehand so our conversations go deeper. How has the team managed during these rough years and how are we pulling out of it? Where will we head now? How much travel do we anticipate?
I have some answers but my crystal ball falls short at others – yes to a hybrid office schedule, no idea on how much travel but probably some whereas it had been a lot. (Some of my tales of work related travel around the country and the world can be found here, here and here.) What are my goals and what keeps me at my job? The conversations focus me and rededicate me in an unexpected way. I am rebuilding and reimagining as we speak. The candidates are all savvy and have researched the organization and its finances online. People are looking to make the right move.
Small kindnesses extended to people over the course of my career have come back to me more than tenfold. Perhaps it is where I am in my own career or the comparably large number of people I need to hire, but it is almost overwhelming.
For every informational interview I extended, sympathetic ear I lent, each hand up or a place at the table I might have been able to provide, all these years later candidates tell me that they are sitting across from me now because they or someone they respect remembered it. I am touched by the number of people who are willing to vouch for me in this way and am grateful that my career at the Met gave me the opportunities it did. (I wrote about working at the Metropolitan Museum in a post that can be found here and a recent post dedicated to an early mentor of mine can be found here.)
I am pleased to report that the first senior position was filled yesterday. I am so excited about the new team member and the new partner he will be! Building on his skills gives me a benchmark for the others now as I move forward.
Therefore, as you try to balance long work days against those requests that always seem to come at the wrong moment, I encourage you to take a deep breath and find the time to sit on that panel or committee, or talk to that person. Whatever area you work in I am sure it too has a community with a long memory like mine and, like all aspects of life, what we put out in the world comes back to us in many ways. As I sit across from these talented folks and talk to them about their careers and hopes for the future I am refueled and very grateful for the opportunity to do so.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today I am pausing to post about one of my mentors who died earlier this month at the age of 89. Her name was Judy and although it saddened me deeply to hear of her passing I know the past few years have not been good to her, pandemic even not withstanding, and she must have hated that.
She had left her beloved Manhattan, whose sidewalks she had pounded for years and whose museums, theaters and concert halls she had frequented, for a retirement community out of state and near one of her daughters more than ten years ago. I saw her subsequently but her health during the years of her retirement has not been great in general despite having been a very robust senior. We had kept in touch through cards and occasional calls until my calls seemed to confuse her about 18 months ago.
As long-standing Pictorama readers may know, I worked at The Metropolitan Museum of Art for thirty years before taking my current position about five years ago. (My post dedicated to leaving the Met can be found here.) For several decades of that time I worked under Judy until, after her semi-retirement, she spent another several years working for me in one of those twists which I use as an example of management challenges I have faced when asked. As it happens, she did not actually hire me, but inherited me when she took up her position at the Met. My previous assignment was winding down and she was coming to start a new program. I remember thinking I would stay long enough to give it a try and see if I liked it which we joked about decades later.
There are many things I could say about her wit, intellect and elegance. Always ready to discuss politics or the latest production of a play, she was a remarkable woman and an enormous influence on me. Her voice continues in my head today pertaining to certain things and we were so close for so many years that an avalanche of condolences have come my way since news of her death was made known.
An attorney turned fundraiser, Judy had exacting standards which fit well into an organization which prized itself on world excellence. It created a high bar that I in particular as the person working most closely with her, assumed quickly. Whether it was a point of grammar (it was an office where grammatical discussions ensued on a regular basis and worn copies of Chicago Style would cross reference with a book of Met style and occasionally someone would site The New Times) or where page numbers should appear in a document, she had definite opinions. Pre-computer I sat with a thesaurus and a dictionary on a shelf over my desk which I would refer to continuously. (They remain there although mostly ceremonial at this point and of course inaccessible there over the past two years of working from home.)
It should be noted that a graduate of Smith college she had worked at different jobs (I believe she wrote for the early television show Omnibus), but was newly enrolled in law school when she was unexpectedly widowed. She was left with two young daughters and chose the difficult path of completing law school to support them. When I met her, Judy had left the practice of law and found her way into the newly developing area of fundraising called planned giving which focused on the tax advantages of philanthropy and estate planning.
Ours were careers that would span the dawn of the computer age and my early office eventually boasted one of the two fax machines for the Museum (that thing was loud and it used strange heat activated paper), followed by and a series of nascent computers and early attempts at email where I think we all had AOL accounts briefly. (I also transitioned from messages taken on note pads for that purpose to voice mail over the years!) We worked through a period where she hand wrote documents (on lined legal pads of paper) and I typed them on a word processor before we graduated to all having personal computers. Her handwriting was unbelievably neat or this would have been more of a chore. I rarely if ever had to ask what she had written, even when she was editing a document.
Within a few years our work and systems burgeoned and I was ambitious and took on all opportunities to turn my hand to additional areas. Therefore, in addition to my work with her I was running a growing annual giving program and special events such as dinners and receptions for exhibition openings, while we continued to work together on estate giving, creating complex contract templates and proposals. She was somewhat proprietary over my time and well, me. However she understood and applauded my ambition, and Judy knew that the best way to keep someone like me was to give me a lot of variety to learn from and keep me busy. I continued to work with her because I did learn from her and understood how valuable that was.
It wasn’t long before Judy evolved into den mom and chief confessor extraordinaire to the entire office and even a swath of the Museum. Given the closeness of my relationship (I used to quip that I spent many more waking hours a day with her weekly than with my now husband Kim) I would be tempted to say that she was a second mom to me, but she understood that I already had a wonderful mom who I am very close and our relationship was very close but definitely different.
When she retired I accepted the mantle of office good cop and chief sympathizer to a large degree although not a mom myself, never quite rising to the level of den mother. (Running my own office now I am keenly aware that I don’t get to be that person any longer as I am now required to be bad cop as well and keep the show running. I do miss my primarily good cop role at times.)
Judy was a fairly observant Jew and working with her pulled me closer to my (half) Jewish roots, reminding me of or teaching me about, aspects of the religion. She is, perhaps, the only person I know well who kept kosher. She taught me about the lesser celebrated holidays and some of the details of the better known
Every year at this time Judy would bake endless batches of hamantaschen for Purim. These are butter cookie pockets filled with thick jam in flavors like apricot, prune and poppyseed. Judy had a few recipes up her sleeve (we disagreed on the specifics of making matzoh brie as I remember and sadly I never tasted her potato latke that I understand were excellent), but by her own account didn’t love cooking.
Her hamantaschen production was her annual contribution and she made enough that tins of it would appear in the office each spring and soon it was legendary. In early March people would start to wander by the office with a weather eye for the day they would appear. She always secured a special tin of them just for me, heavy on apricot, and upon her retirement I ended up with it. I cannot see them in stores without thinking of hers. (The tin stayed with me and is the photo at the top of the post. I opened it today and discovered I had squirreled all sorts of Met related bits in it including several tin types and a nice plastic elephant that used to grace my desk.)
She guarded me like a momma bear over the years and I joked with one of her daughters via email that they must have felt like they had a third sister during those decades. I witnessed the wedding of her younger daughter (where I met a friend of hers who is a minister, Liz Wheeler, who ultimately married me and Kim) and waited with anticipation the birth of numerous grandchildren. Family always came first for her and her daughters and grandchildren were truly her proudest accomplishments. In turn, over time, she met my father and sister when they made their way to the Museum periodically and she knew the inner workings of my family and friends intimately as well. She was among those who saw me through the death of my sister toward the end of our time working together.
In addition to being exacting, Judy also had a hot temper and although never in all those years did she lose her temper with me, I did witness a number of remarkable skirmishes over time. Those who know me well understand that I have a hard and fast rule that I will not work for anyone who yells at me. I worked in kitchens early in my career and decided that I had had enough yelling for a working lifetime. There was one occasion, at the end when she was part time and working for me, when she came to me very angry about something and I told her that I thought she was being unfair and why, and maybe it wasn’t really me she was angry at. To her credit she accepted that; it was the closest we ever came to a real argument and I suspect was mostly about the shifting sands of time she was experiencing.
When after her retirement I had taken on a large part of the management and administration for that office and then eventually was lured away from the Met to run my own office, she marveled openly at my ambition. She had never wanted to leave her area of fundraising and was shocked but very proud of my subsequent accomplishments, such as they were.
I got a call last Sunday from a former Museum colleague while out running errands telling me of the paid notice in the New York Times announcing her death. Shortly after the call ended, I looked in a window as I continued on 86th Street and these trays of hamantaschen were on display. I thought to myself that it was like a wink from Judy as she went on her way.
Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Today I am sharing a photo postcard that just wandered in the door this week. It turned up in a search because of the black cat drawing in the upper left corner, but I think it is an image that those of us who were once art students find familiar and that is why I bought it. Although this postcard was never mailed, it is inscribed with “Daydreams” in a neat script and underlined on the back.
Our aspiring artist has his inspiration images pinned up along with what I assume is some of his own work. These drawings largely appear to be exercises in commercial art and perhaps that is how he ultimately made his living. His brushes, which looks a bit large for the art pursued here, are neatly sticking out of a jar. When I look very carefully I wonder if there aren’t two other photo postcards perched under the lamp, at least one that might be this same space depicted previously.
Our artist appears to be mulling, posed artfully and self-consciously, over a photograph of a woman and at his leisure, sitting back in his chair with his feet up. Very natty, our artist is wearing a tie and is neatly combed. The photo documents a space and time well despite the artifice.
There is something odd and somewhat wonky about the printing of this photo and I cannot help but wonder if his friend the aspiring (perhaps not yet entirely successful) photography student from down the hall attempted it. Recognizing that it hails from a time when a photo lit exclusively by a single bulb would have been challenging to execute (film being much slower), perhaps that is part of the issue. However, it is also printed poorly with dark edges from where it was not properly set for printing, an errant over-exposed corner in the upper right. Over decades it has solarized in the way that early prints sometimes do.
It reminds me of studio spaces in I had in college and later the areas I have devoted to drawing in various apartments – some favorite postcards or reproductions pinned up along with some recent work, a work lamp, brushes at the ready. He is neater than me, by far; I generally was covered in black pastel (a favorite medium) or really made a mess earlier with oil paint. My photography work of more recent vintage was executed elsewhere so no pets or humans would be injured by fumes or chemicals in our tiny abode. Kim says this photo reminds him of a young him as well, although I will add he seems a bit disparaging about the prospects of this young man.
My drawing table, alas, has been my work desk, as shown above, for the last two years and sees more action that way than it was for producing drawings. (I wrote about setting up that work space in an oddly popular post that can be found here.) It can’t be seen in the photo, but I do keep some photos around me at my desk as well, among them one I recently acquired of me and my sister as tiny tots, in a long forgotten yard somewhere.
Meanwhile, as I write I sit at the far end of Kim’s long work table as I type this. It is a personal idiosyncrasy that I write my blog sitting at our big computer, not my laptop. I think I have mentioned before that Kim’s work table is a long, wooden table that I think was designed more for dining than for drawing. We bought it at the 26th Street flea market from its maker years ago. The antique table I had assigned to Kim early on had fallen over from the daily use.
I guess Kim’s workspace is a glorified and professional version of this student one, with an enormous pile of finished pages at his right, some favorite books and his lucky dogs in front of him and our mutual collection of early photos lining the walls above. He is not, it should be noted, someone who likes his own work up on the wall around him. His workspace and my mine sit side-by-side these days and are pretty much central to our daily lives with the two cats, here at Deitch Studio.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: As I write this I am preparing to, for the first time in twenty months, introduce a new staff member to my team. With any luck I will repeat this process many times in the coming weeks and months (approximately seven times minimum), but as I sit at home on a rainy Monday and look at the prospect it is challenging.
As it happens, the new hire will report directly to me so there is no layer to help soften the blow. Also, the new fellow has expressed a (reasonable) desire to do some of his work from our offices which, to some degree, still largely languish with feeble use. A group of us have reason to be there throughout the week, but it tends to be spotty at best and I am frequently there with none of my team, but seeing a few other folks from various areas.
Therefore, I will start my day with a Zoom meeting with him and our Human Resources area and then make my way to midtown to meet with him in person. I will introduce him to my leadership team via Zoom from one location or the other. After showing him the office we will probably leave and meet over coffee nearby.
Due to life issues outside of work, I haven’t devoted a lot of time to thinking about how best to introduce and integrate this gentleman into our team. As I sit with my coffee this morning, I am realizing that it will be more challenging than anticipated.
However, despite my own absence from our opening concerts (you can read my posts about being stranded in New Jersey helping my mom who landed in the hospital here and here) I did get him a ticket and assigned another senior team member to sit with him and introduce him around at our pre-and-post concert receptions. I think it was a great night to see us at our best as well as close to our pre-pandemic selves as possible.
I am constantly brought back to how hard it is to be a thoughtful manager under these circumstances. We operate without any playbook and just sort of shoot from the hip. Staff don’t mean to be critical, but they groan under the always increasing pressures and sometimes find fault with my bumbling efforts. More often they seem to appreciate my attempts, but still, my misses are duly brought to my attention.
With any luck we will hire two more people in the coming weeks and work to bring them on board. How to gather the troops so there is a feeling of camaraderie among them and the new folks aren’t just new tiles on a grid?
It is two weeks since I began this post. I met the new staffer in person late in the day to show him the office and have a coffee together. There were a few folks, mostly my fellow VP’s, working that afternoon and so he met a few (duly masked) colleagues.
Our office space was always a sort of joyful beehive of activity as offices go. Music played wafting out from the communal kitchen and sometimes you’d walk past as something so great was on you’d sit and listen and be late for your meeting. Our space is very open with seating nooks where pick up meetings might take place – or lunch shared. Many conference rooms, but few separate offices. People often commented on the personality of the space when visiting. It very much embodies us. Having come from the Metropolitan Museum I didn’t think I could be as fond of a physical place to work, but Jazz at Lincoln Center’s offices do hold a special place in my heart.
As above, the new hire is planning to work part of his time from the office and partly remote so I show him where his physical desk is, although it is not ready for him yet as office support is a bit spotty. Generally I am in the office a day or so a week, depending on my meeting schedule in the area. We have a person (now two – the second hire) who work there a few half days every week to process incoming contributions. Other people make less frequent, but occasional appearances from my team.
I make arrangements for a backstage tour of our hall which has returned to its former luster, glowing gently in Columbus Circle in the evening, our club full to selling out frequently especially as we approach the holiday season. We will make hay this fall as we know people will likely hibernate in the cold months of January and February. I plan to take the three (yes! hired a third!) new people and their managers to Dizzy’s one evening so at least we can have some face time together and they can experience the club.
Due to an emergency trip back to New Jersey I have to delay his formal introduction the day before Thanksgiving. When a week later we are gathered we have the second new person with us as well. In advance I asked the staff to all be on camera to greet the new folks so the folks aren’t facing endless tiles of names and Zoom snowmen.
We spend so many hours on Zoom I do not often ask them to be on camera as I know it is an additional burden. People talk about how it is better for morale, but it is a string I don’t pull often. As I have written before, (some of my work from home posts can be found here, here and here for starters), unless it isn’t possible for some reason I do my best to be on camera with them despite whatever state me, the cats and the apartment are in. I feel like they should have the option of seeing me – for what that is worth.
Today at my request they have to a one complied and for the hour it is almost like a regular staff meeting of yore. However, a few pets make appearances (there is a dog in Connecticut who likes to bark in meetings who I am especially fond of), although it is early in the day for Blackie and he snoozes on the couch instead. And as we push forward I realize that somehow we have already moved into that new world we’ve been talking about.