Friday, 6:40 p.m.
Like most Americans this night, I've poured myself a generous cocktail and settled in to refresh myself on the circumstances surrounding President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's famous Four Freedoms speech on the eve of another war of indeterminate length, January 6, 1941.
Of course, we're all going straight to the FDR Library for context (the server is must be heaving under the strain):
The famous Four Freedoms paragraphs did not appear in the speech until the fourth draft. One night as Hopkins, [speechwriter Samuel] Rosenman, and Sherwood met with the President in his White House study, FDR announced that he had an idea for a peroration (the closing section of a speech). As recounted by Rosenman: “We waited as he leaned far back in his swivel chair with his gaze on the ceiling. It was a long pause—so long that it began to become uncomfortable. Then he leaned forward again in his chair” and dictated the Four Freedoms. “He dictated the words so slowly that on the yellow pad I had in my lap I was able to take them down myself in longhand as he spoke.”
A toast, tonight: To FDR and to his speechwriter. May their Four Freedoms, which they claimed were "a vision of no distant millennium," not be forgotten by us, on the cusp of some other kind of war, as a vision of some distant past.
Friday, 4:41 p.m.
I wrote to one of my colleagues just now on Slack, "No one will ever know what this was like. (Because we won't even remember.)"
"That would be nice," she replied.
Friday, 11:17 a.m.
I come from writers, who had one friend each. Whenever our phone rang, my dad shouted, "Who could that be?!"
And so I never imagined—and was not parentally prepared for—a life as rich with friends and warm acquaintances as mine has become, due to my more outgoing nature, and my role as a professional convener of people.
It has caused me stress over the years, a feeling of dread: What if all these people needed to communicate with me at once?
But that fear was always misplaced—my life was always full but never quite overflowing.
Now, that fear has come to fruition, and I lie awake thinking of all the people I want to reach out to, to see how they're doing. But often haven't the time, can't summon the energy, can't bear to hear another set of painful circumstances.
I offer Writing Boots, and this expression of regret.
And: If you need me, I am here.
Friday, 10:35 a.m.
I keep telling speechwriters in my flock that they help CEOs communicate for a living, and this is one moment when CEO communication is crucial to our society's survival. As Richard Edelman and Jeffrey Sonnenfeld put it in Fortune, "With shattered confidence in the government, Americans often look to CEOs for faith in our system and often found it. It is the public actions of CEOs rather than the private-session White House gatherings of select financiers and biotech leaders that can rebuild public trust."
Some speechwriters appreciate my repeating this over our Zoom calls.
Other speechwriters look to me like I've never heard the joke about the two Irish guys and the Indian scalps.
(Two Irish guys come ashore in New York in 1880 with little to their name. They go to the first bar they see and ask the barkeeper how to make a living in America. Barkeeper tells them they can get $1 for every Indian scalp. But the catch is, you've got to go a long way west to find Indians. The Irishmen spend their last pennies on a mule and ride tandem out to Wyoming, where they find themselves in a box canyon. Hearing some shouts above, and they look up to see the entire rim of the canyon lined with a few hundred Cheyenne warriors. And one Irishman turns around and yells over the war whoops echoing through the canyon, "We're gonna be rich!")
It's hard to do a Trump impression. Every one of us tries, and we all end up sounding like Alec Baldwin or Stephen Colbert. This obscure New Jersey comic is the first guy I've seen actually do it. I hope he gets filthy rich at the same speed Vaughn Meader got forgotten.
Thursday, 4:05 p.m.
Yesterday a friend said he and his wife had had a terrible day at home with the kids. I felt sorry for him. Today I have emerged from my office only to holler at my daughter. This person, grown up; this person, still inside. I'm sorry, Honey.
Thursday, 3:47 pm.
On my cell phone, an emergency alert: Effective immediately Chicago lakefront, adjacent parks & beaches and the 606 trail that I run on every day are closed, per Mayor Lightfoot, and I don't mean Gordon.
Thursday, 9:51 a.m.
Just put to bed the eighth issue of our every-weekday Executive Communication Report: Coronavirus.
Got a note yesterday from a subscriber:
Just wanted to thank you for these daily emails. They are so helpful. Even when I don't specifically take action from them, they inform my recommendations to leadership throughout the day. And for someone who is often at least two decades younger than everyone else "in the room," the tactics and wisdom you share is especially invaluable. Thank you (and please keep them coming).
That is not the first time during this slo-mo nightmare that I've been made to feel grateful for having been around for a minute. Of course I feel as helpless as anyone in the face of this—but I also feel occasionally helpful, too.
And I'm grateful for that, because it's helping me get through.
Thursday, 12:22 a.m.
As my publisher said the other day, writers touch their faces! Or they smoke cigarettes. Those are the choices.
Wednesday, 4:41 pm.
"Mom, can Nora come over if she stays on the sidewalk and I stay on the porch?"
Wednesday, 3:56 p.m.
You know I'm writing this book, called An Effort to Understand, right? Well it's a real drag, cuz it sort of compels me to try to figure out what other people are thinking, especially if their ideas seem jarring or unpleasant.
Meanwhile: Over the last week or so I've felt rumblings from my conservative friends online that there are deep and whispered ideas that the current approach to coronavirus is wrong—even viciously wrong.
On a conservative friend's Facebook page, I noted that one of his friends seemed a little less inhibited than most on this view, and I asked that guy for his argument. In his reply, he referenced "think pieces" that are now being published; I asked the guy to send me the best think piece he could find, and he told me to send him the best one I could find "defending murdering the economy."
So I started keeping an eye out for myself.
Presently I ran across "Say 'No' to Death's Dominion," written by the editor of First Things, from the Institute on Religion and Public Life (located on 40th Street, in New York, incidentally).
I thought I'd share a few excerpts from R.R. Reno's piece, which argues that the current approach to controlling coronavirus is an "ill-conceived crusade against human finitude and the dolorous reality of death":
At the press conference on Friday announcing the New York shutdown, Governor Andrew Cuomo said, “I want to be able to say to the people of New York—I did everything we could do. And if everything we do saves just one life, I’ll be happy.”
This statement reflects a disastrous sentimentalism. Everything for the sake of physical life? What about justice, beauty, and honor? There are many things more precious than life. And yet we have been whipped into such a frenzy in New York that most family members will forgo visiting sick parents. Clergy won’t visit the sick or console those who mourn. …
Truth is another casualty of this sentimentalism. The media bombard the public with warnings about the danger posed by the coronavirus, when the truth is that only a small percent of the population of New York is at risk. By an unspoken agreement, leaders, public health officials, and media personalities conspire to heighten the atmosphere of crisis in order to get us to comply with their radical measures.
During the Spanish Flu of 1918, people knew about quarantine methods but instead of bringing life as they knew it to a halt, "bowed their head before the storm of disease and endured its punishing blows, but they otherwise stood firm and continued to work, worship, and play, insisting that fear of death would not govern their societies or their lives.
We, by contrast, are collectively required to cower in fear—fear that we’ll die redoubled by the fear that we’ll cause others to die. We are stripped of whatever courage we might be capable of. Were I to host a small dinner party tonight, wanting to resist the paranoia and hysteria, I would be denounced. Yesterday, Governor Cuomo saw young people playing basketball in a New York City park. “It has to stop and it has to stop now,” he commanded. Everyone must live under death’s dominion.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn resolutely rejected the materialist principle of “survival at any price.” It strips us of our humanity. This holds true for a judgment about the fate of others as much as it does for ourselves. We must reject the specious moralism that places fear of death at the center of life.
Reno admits that he has friends who disagree with him on this.
(Strangers, too. In particular, I would like to know why he thinks our cousins from 1918 were so much more courageous than we. Neither does Reno quite grapple with epidemiologists' projections about the rate of infection with coronavirus.) But I do appreciate reading this other view, especially if it's the best version of one shared quietly by others who are too fearful or contemptuous to express it out loud. Considering this other way of looking at it actually makes me feel less fearful myself.
But yeah, no, I can't wait to finish An Effort to Understand, and get started on the sequel, And I'll Tell You Another Thing, Motherfucker.
Wednesday, 11:25 a.m.
This next statement is going to look so dumb a month or a year from now: I am so fucking sick of this whole thing.
Wednesday, 10:17 a.m.
Two new types of Facebook posts I'm seeing more of that I'd like to see less of.
1. People with no expertise or even demonstrated interest in public health, using only their personal authority to convince people who aren't taking coronavirus seriously enough, to start.
2. People who aren't taking the coronavirus as seriously as everyone else, finding various ways of letting it be known that is their right and also, they are not bad people.
Wednesday, 8:40 a.m.
My pastor and nursing-home chaplain friend, Suzanne Ecklund, writing on Facebook:
My scales began to fall from my eyes the day I called the fire department a year or so ago, thinking they'd be able to help get a kitten out from under the hood of someone's car. I figured they'd be firemen heroes like the ones in my Dick and Jane 1st grade reader. Well. They were morons. And I will never do that again. That has been my experience these past weeks on all levels—from the president down. Morons are in charge. It has been my deep joy and bone-deep responsibility to defy idiots in this time. If I make it through this, I bury my notion that I don't have what it takes and I will lead. People, listen to me: NEVER. TRUST. AN. EGO.
Wednesday, 8:30 a.m.
The world sounds different.
Like you, I'm awake more at night. I live a half-block from Western Avenue, a thoroughfare that's so desolate now, that a motorcycle passed last night, and I could hear it for a whole minute, through my closed windows, over the chirping birds.
Wednesday, 7:52 a.m.
The latest possible cure for coronavirus, found in Chicago: South Side Polish Dander. Meet Bonnie.
Tuesday, 12:19 p.m.
Based on the phone calls I've been having today, I would say Coronavirus Distraction Syndrome, a mental disease all its own, has cost me about 30 percent of my listening skills and verbal ability. Just had a call with my book publisher to brainstorm about the cover design, and sounded like a jackhammer operator brainstorming about a cover design.
Tuesday, 7:31 a.m.
Working as every morning on the daily Executive Communication Report: Coronavirus that we've been issuing since last Monday—it's free for the rest of this week, if you'd like to sign up—I came across a pretty disastrous interview with the CEO of Carnival cruises ..
Unavoidably, I was reminded of another interview—a famous Australian spoof in which a senator discusses a ship where "the front fell off": "That's not very typical, I'd like to make that point."
Monday Happy Hour Photo, 4:37 p.m.
Hand-sewn, partially using elastic from never-worn underpants.
Vital Speeches of the Day has been in continuous print publication since 1934. Just got this note from our printer rep, up in Stevens Point, Wis.
Our plan is to still get VSOTD out in the mail tomorrow or 2/25 latest.
Here in WI, our governor is expected to announce plans for a "shelter-in-place" order and close all non-essential business. Some states with this order already in place have kept print houses open, some have not. Today we were "business-as-usual." If that status should change, I will be sure to let you all know.
Monday, 2:38 p.m.
After 9/11, I used to love to ask people about how they experienced the day.
After coronavirus is over, maybe I'll love to ask people how they experienced this day, too.
Monday, 2:24 p.m.
Went on Amazon and ordered Erik Larson's new book about the London Blitz. Says it'll come Tuesday, April 21. And now I know how England felt, in 1940.
Monday, 12:46 p.m.
I've tested myself for asshole-ism, and it's come back positive.
I get annoyed when people want me to do video chats. There's no ducking these! Instead of feeling quarantined, I feel cornered. I actually told a friend yesterday, "I feel video chatted out." (What a jerk!)
And the bigger the group chats, the more crazy-making. But smaller they are, the more of them you have to do!
I may not come out of this a better person. But I'll be a more self-aware of my badness, that's for sure.
Monday, 11:45 a.m.
Family "staff meeting" to discuss need for more structure in days ahead. Schoolwork, exercise, household projects. (Sewing masks?) Teenage daughter mostly silent—not sullen, just sad. "What are you thinking about, Baby?" A shrug. Tears.
John Steinbeck wrote the most wonderful essay about his best friend Ed Ricketts (upon whom he based the character "Doc," in Cannery Row).
One paragraph has stayed with me and I think of it a lot these days. After Steinbeck has established that Ricketts was uncommonly generous with his money and his things:
His feeling for psychic pain in normal people was also philosophic. He would say that nearly everything that can happen to people not only does happen but has happened for a million years. "Therefore," he would say, "for everything that can happen there is a channel or mechanism in the human to take care of it—a channel worn down in prehistory and transmitted to the genes."
Monday, 9:53 a.m.
This brought tears this morning—my first. I knew it would be music that would do what needed to be done. Thanks for sending, Sharon McIntosh.
Monday, 9:33 a.m.
A freelance communication consultant wrote on Facebook over the weekend:
The Corona Virus pandemic, in addition to being a public health crisis, is an economic gut punch. My own consulting practice is going to be "quiet" for a few weeks, but hey, I had a good first quarter, so I need to do something.
As usual, I have conflicting sources of inspiration, ranging from Anne Frank ("No one has ever become poor by giving.") to Hunter S. Thompson ("I am a generous man, by nature, and far more trusting than I should be. Indeed. The real world is risky territory for people with generosity of spirit.")
Therefore, here's the bottom line: I'm setting aside a little money for anyone who needs a little help. If you need a small infusion of cash for food, utilities, insurance co-pays (or your Netflix subscription) because your job has been suddenly shut down, send me a DM and I'll see what I can do via PayPal.
1. Reasonable amounts for reasonable expenses. I'm not wealthy, just solvent (for now).
2. Payback is not expected. I don't lend money. If it comes back, great, but this will not be something that hangs over us as friends.
3. Confidentiality is assured. This is between you and me. If you're trying to help someone else, that's cool, too.
4. There's a limit to my largesse. I've got a number in mind, and when it's gone, it's gone.
That's it. Let's keep it simple. I hope this mess is under control soon and that the damage to the economy is not permanent or irreparable. As you might guess, I have my strong opinions about how we got here, but for now let's just bail the boat and paddle for shore.
Monday, 6:50 a.m.
We are all this woman who my father-in-law spotted in Korat, Thailand over the weekend.