Thursday, April 23, 2020

Looking at rainbows.

Many years ago I was at work. I was in a big conference room inside a big company. There were a dozen people or so talking about something oh-so-important. Everyone was intense and on edge. You could have cut the atmosphere with a butter knife.

Or maybe a spork.

All at once during this barrage of importance, during all these pie-charts and marketing speak, amid all the competing egos and confident assertiveness, my mind wandered.

It wasn’t my fault, really. Minds were built to wander. It’s an essential evolutionary survival skill. Your mind might need to focus on the lion up ahead, but some part of your ontology better be tuned in to the rest of your surroundings, lest you get ambushed by something else from somewhere else.

In this meeting as the words spewed forth like the Krakatoa East of Prolix, I noticed something out of the corner of my left eye. There, rising over the concrete, soot and cacophony of a Manhattan landscape, was a technicolor rainbow, a Lucky Charms rainbow, a Dorothy rainbow.

Without even thinking, which is how I do my best thinking, I blurted, “Look, a rainbow.”

Maybe because I grew up in and around the city, I haven’t seen that many rainbows in my life. I still, at my hoary old age get excited when I see one. For me it’s like being enrolled in an all-boys school and one day seeing a girl for the first time.

“Look, a rainbow.”

Twenty eyes or more looked at me like I raised the Nazi flag at the Weinstein Bar Mitzvah. I insulted their self-importance by remarking upon a rare natural phenomenon. Was I asserting that something magnificent and in a sense holy was more important than PowerPoint? How dare I be a refusenik in the face of commerce.

I remember their looks and their annoyance two decades later.

Just yesterday I had half a dozen phone-calls with long-time friends from the industry. I realize that’s not a valid sample size, and I shouldn’t make too much of anecdotal experiences.

But what I’ve seen since being fired on January 14, 2020 (and what I was seeing even before that) and what I’ve seen since “lock-down,” and what I’ve seen since the bottom has dropped out of our once “essential” industry, is simple, important and sad.

As an industry, as a culture, as humans, as New Yorkers, as Mom and Dads and partners and wives and husbands and friends and lovers, we don’t know something very basic.

We don’t know what to do about rainbows.

We don’t know what’s really important in our lives. We don’t know what’s really crucial to being a good thinker and a good creative. We don’t know how, or how to respect, spontaneity, irreverence, serendipity, even the Serengeti. 

We don’t know how to cry when we’re happy and laugh when we’re serious. Or love friends or help people or lend a hand or tell a joke or a story or hold-open a door or say ‘let’s take a walk outside.’

Maybe we’ve forgotten—now that we are furloughed and furlined and fer-gotten—what we should know for-all-time.

That we are not employee ID numbers, 80% owned, talent to be acquired, job codes, allocated or even dislocated.

We are humans.

Living-breathing-hurting-caring-nice-mean-angry-screaming-friendly-funny-iconoclastic-collaborative-moody-helpful-giving-selfish rainbow-noticing protoplasmic life-forces.

Work is important. Our jobs are important. What we do is important.

But even more so, so are people who stop and notice rainbows and those magical moments when they appear.

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