Friday, 3:10 p.m.
Oh, but we're going to end this week on a high note.
Justine Adelizzi is head of exec comms and senior speechwriter at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. She writes:
Last year, I quit my job in DC. And when I went to say goodbye to my former boss, he asked me about the woman I was moving to the Bay Area to write for. So I told him about how she wanted to give a speech on a question I'd noticed written on her white board during our interview: "Can leaders be vulnerable AND strong?" So he laughed, and said, "Of course not! That'll be a pretty short speech."
It's actually about a 43 minute speech. And we came up with a very different answer. About five months of effort went into this, and it's both the hardest and best thing I've ever worked on. It was supposed to be delivered at SXSW last month, but I'm really happy it's finally coming out today. And I'm super proud to work with an amazing leader who's brave enough to deliver this kind of message, at a moment when it feels like the world needs it most.
This is Mary C. Daly, president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, sharing her personal journey toward becoming a "3D Public Servant."
In 11 years as editor of Vital Speeches of the Day, I've never published a speech more vital than this.
Friday, 1:28 p.m.
When we offered the "hugely popular" G.I. Bill 70 years ago:
Was that also, first-come, first-serve in the "first round" and "we understand that many of you are disappointed, and are frustrated" and "we will do better, starting in the next few days"?
My WWII dad, in the last years of his life, used to lean forward occasionally and tell me in my ear. "You know, Buddy," he'd say, not in the tone of an opinion but as a matter of fact, "we've become a real half-assed country."
"Exhausted," is more like it.
Friday, 3:42 a.m.
Can't sleep, and at this moment "trying to sleep" seems like something only a 1950s Republican dad would do. (I've never had to try harder than I have during coronavirus, not to be a 1950s Republican dad.)
[As Fran Lebowitz recently said: "It is a very startling thing to be my age—I’m sixty-nine—and to have something happen that doesn’t remind you of anything else."]
So I'm drinking heavy and watching the Thanksgiving football game from 1980.
Thursday, 12:40 p.m.
On the phone with a literary-minded friend, I heard myself refer to this as "an overly meaningful period."
"You probably ought to write that down," she chuckled.
Thursday, 11:46 a.m.
I check in on my daughter and find her sitting on her bed, just gaping at her laptop.
"I'm having a hard time focusing, and not being sad."
"Well, focus—and not be sad!"
Thursday, 10:30 a.m.
Back when Trump was elected, a dad friend of mine said that one reason it was so upsetting was because Trump represented “everything we tell our kids not to be.”
So now, deep into quarantine, he tells me: “When my kid acts selfishly, I go bonkers. If one acts like a pig at the dinner table or doesn’t flush (or misses the toilet). If one acts like a pig at the dinner table or doesn’t flush (or misses the toilet). I’m like: Who are you? Donald Fucking Trump? I'm not even kidding.”
Thursday, 7:57 a.m.
In my continuing effort to cheer up my 16-year-old and get her to treat her mother and me not as co-wardens at a low-security federal prison, I may have hit on something yesterday.
As she and I walked home grimly from our daily session of tennis-as-anger-management, she complained that her mother and I "take it personally," as she put it, that she's sad and sullen all the time.
I told her that we don't feel blamed by her—but that when she pouts from room to room, our own pain feels ignored by her, which does feel like an insult.
Searching for what I meant by that, I said, experimentally, that it seems to me as if she believes the following:
She's missing out on Every Great Thing from her soccer season to Lollapalooza—to her flowering youth itself. (And boy, do I remember that feeling; when I was her age, my mother was very sick with depression. And you know what her problems seemed like to me? It seemed like a turd on my brand new shoe. And though I did my best not to make a face, I also did my best to scrape it off. This was my time.)
Meanwhile, her old parents are pretty much doing what we normally do—I'm working in my office all day, exercising every day, reading and drinking bourbon at night. And her art teacher mother is even better off, not having to teach those maniac kids all day and getting to nap whenever she wants. And—and!—we're also forcing our daughter to stay home every single day and night, no rambling around town with her friends and scaring us, no sleepovers at all. Isn't that what we wanted all along?
At the end of each of those sentences, I looked in her eyes to see if she objected to my characterization of her attitude. Nope.
The only time she protested was when I said that her mother and I also are missing these good years.
"What good years?!" she said.
Quickly moving off that shaky ground, I told her that an older person's hope is harder to see, and also harder to explain. Just as an example, I told her about my company, where my colleagues and I used to spend our staff meetings talking about ambitious growth plans, burgeoning relationships and Great Big Ideas. Now, we're talking about cash reserves and the Paycheck Protection Program and how to help our also-troubled customers the best way we know how.
Yes, I'm sitting in the same office every day, I told her. But the view from there is very different—all day, every day. And it's hard on me—just like her mom's diminished new life—you try teaching art over the internet to children who have no supplies—is hard on her.
That was enough for the day, for me.
One of the wisest beefs my wise dad had was against parents who diminish their children's problems—a playground bully or a mean math teacher or a pimple on prom night—as not adding up to having to hold down a job and pay the mortgage, and other grown-up "responsibilities."
I've always taken my daughter's problems every bit as seriously as I take my own—more so, often, because though I've paid my mortgage hundreds of times, and this is the first time she ever ripped the skin off her toe, got a D, found out a boyfriend was cheating.
But as she gets older, she also needs to walk in our shitty old shoes, if just one mile, and only every once in a while.
Wednesday, 2:50 p.m.
Over the last day or so, I've had what passes these days for a rollicking debate—but which really is a subdued and cautious and respectful conversation—with another writer with whom I have many friends in common.
It's just that our enemies are all different.
I don't know how much we learned from each other, but I appreciated the conversation. Have been feeling on eggshells these days with everyone—family, colleagues, friends—because as I wrote last week, "every straw is everybody's last."
To the list of things to look forward to post-coronavirus—the taqueria and the tavern and parties and plans—let's add: arguing again.
Wednesday, 10:29 a.m.
It's not that there aren't still many, many reasons not to pick up a delicious carton of Marlboro Lights the next time I'm out. It's that I find myself reciting them to myself, for the first time in a long time.
Wednesday, 9:31 a.m.
As long as there are PR pitches, there will be shit to blog about. (Click to enlarge.)
Tuesday, 8:59 a.m.
Here's a preview-excerpt from today's Executive Communication Report: Coronavirus, which I publish every weekday for people who do communication for CEOs:
The new, stakeholder-driven purpose of a corporation: The rubber meets the road. Yesterday saw the first but surely not the last major story judging the corporate response to coronavirus against the new Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation articulated last year by The Business Roundtable and signed by almost 200 CEOs. “Big Business Pledged Gentler Capitalism,” the New York Times headline reads. “It’s Not Happening in a Pandemic.” CEOs “who signed the celebrated document, promising to elevate worker interests” economics writer Peter S. Goodman writes, “are now resorting to furloughs.”
"Their actions expose the reality that the rhetoric of the Business Roundtable did not alter the decisive question of American capitalism—where the money goes," Goodman writes. "In the run-up to the crisis, many companies used cash to buy back their shares and pay out dividends, rewarding shareholders, while leaving themselves with fewer resources to aid workers when disaster struck.
Marriott, whose CEO Arne Sorenson was widely lauded for an emotional video in which he choked up as he discussed the difficulty of laying people off, comes in for particularly harsh criticism in this piece.
Mr. Sorenson said he was forgoing his salary—$1.3 million annually—for the rest of the year, though he said nothing about his stock-based compensation, which exceeded $8 million last year, or the cash incentive plan that brought him $3.5 million, according to a company statement.
Twelve days later, the company paid its scheduled dividend to shareholders. On April 8, Marriott filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission proposals that its board would present for approval at a meeting of shareholders next month. Among them: a 7.7 percent salary increase for the chief executive, plus a cash bonus of up to 200 percent.
Sorenson is a co-chairman of The Business Roundtable’s task force on COVID-19.
Though the BRT didn’t make him or any of the other CEO Statement signatories available for the Times story, its spokeswoman Jessica Boulanger defended corporate America’s overall response to the coronavirus crisis as “an impressive demonstration” of “voluntary measures to support their customers, employees, suppliers and communities during the crisis,” adding: “For those large firms whose viability has been imperiled by the crisis in specific industries like air travel and hospitality, they’ve had excruciating choices to make, which they have done with caring and candor. None can support any of their stakeholders if there is no viable business on the other side of the crisis.”
For Writing Boots readers, I'd add only this: This coronavirus crisis is going to lay bare corporate interests and economics to the American far more clearly than the last financial crisis did. That was high finance stuff—liquidity standards, bundled subprime mortgages, excess leverage. A decade later, most of Americans still couldn't explain what the fuck happened or who exactly was to blame.
This is regular finance stuff. No customers, no revenue, no work, no jobs. And though in some ways that will make layoffs more understandable—it'll make more plain the fact that many, many Americans rely for their livelihoods and also their healthcare on employers that can't survive even a temporary revenue drop without cutting them loose.
We used to lament how many people live paycheck to paycheck.
I wonder what it's going to mean now that we know their employers do, too.
Tuesday, 7:20 a.m.
I was distracted from my Churchill reading last night when a Facebook thread reminded me:
When I was 14, my dad was sensing that I was drifting away into adolescence. In a slightly desperate effort to bond with me, he gave me a nickname based on my young athletic physique: "Stony." It was lame and it wasn't catching on. But my mom, though addled and distracted with her own problems, tried to play along. So that year my birthday cake said, "Happy Birthday, Stoner."
Tuesday 7:15 a.m.
I'm trying. It's not working.
Courage, you can fake. Jaunty, you just can't.
Monday, 6:55 p.m.
It's not that I mind terribly not knowing the score and basically trusting the authorities and their rough guesses and doing what I'm told.
It's that I miss getting to ever be decisive, imaginative, aggressive. I miss feeling independent, whimsical and—fuck it—jaunty.
I'm going to wear my fucking Panama hat tomorrow, just to see if that helps.
Monday, 10:35 a.m.
Productivity plummeted this morning here at the Chicago headquarters of Pro Rhetoric, LLC., where we received a news release with a note atop that began:
From helping first responders to government, seamless, flexible and ruggedized communications equipment and connections are critical.
I've been reading that sentence over and over for 20 minutes straight.
It's hideous, and yet I can't look away. When have I felt this way before?
Monday, 9:54 a.m.
Incidentally, this is why I don't believe in grounding.
Monday, 7:28 a.m.
After yesterday's burst of Easter Sunday optimism, Monday morning mood futures were down, on fears that was the vodka lemonade talking.
Sunday, 2:15 p.m.
You call it Easter, I call it "Golfmas," Masters Sunday. CBS is replaying Tiger Woods' triumph from last year, which left me in a puddle of greasy, oily old man tears.
I don't need to see that again; starting in 45 minutes, synchronized with my sister-in-law Jeni Davis, I'm watching instead the final round of the 1997 Masters, on YouTube.
That was an Easter-worthy miracle. I was 28 the last time I saw it, and I remember where I was sitting on the couch in our apartment Kenilworth street in Oak Park. I was drinking gin and tonics. My wife watched the whole fucking thing; our upstairs neighbors came down to see the back nine.
It's hard to remember, after all that's transpired since, how perfect this Tiger Woods was.
For you, maybe.
His victory made everything seem possible: Hitting the ball so far that the great (and powerful) Jack Nicklaus said, "He plays a game with which I am not familiar." Making golf look like ballet, and the rest of the golfers look like pro bowlers. And will! The father's! And the son's! Younger than everybody else, smarter than everybody else, harder working than everybody else. Yes, and he was African American—the cooks and the caddies at Augusta National were cheering from the kitchen and the caddy shack—and as unapologetic as Muhammad Ali. "I'm young, I'm handsome, I'm fast, and I can't possibly be beat!"
Even the old farts knew something entirely new was happening. CBS' Jim Nantz opened the Sunday broadcast with these words: "There's a new era about to dawn at the most magical setting in golf."
(Not incidentally: As I write this, my 16-year-old daughter is teaching herself guitar in the kitchen, "When the night has come, and the land is dark. And the moon is the only thing I see …")
I turned in my book manuscript yesterday morning, and I'm proud of it. I mowed the lawn for the first time yesterday afternoon, and I'm pleased with that. Scout and I played tennis this morning and she won.
And this is what I'm doing this afternoon.
Here's what I find, during this coronavirus nightmare: I have as much anxiety and sadness as the next person, day in and day out.
But when I'm happy, I'm as happy as I ever am.
And right now, I'm as happy as I was when I was 28, and everything was possible.
Because today—as I watch this beautiful young artist become what he was meant to be—and as I realize everything got as messy as a mug shot for all of us—everything still is.