I like working at home, but I do miss seeing colleagues so one thing I've been doing (perhaps annoyingly) is sending my team a daily distraction that is supposed to be entertaining.
In the spirit of being active in the community, a recent daily distraction came from the pet in my home, Izzy. She's a red eared slider turtle.
Our daughter Clair made us adopt Izzy from one of the elementary schools in White Plains when the teacher went out on maternity leave. Clair was in third grade and now is planning to start her doctorate in music arts in the fall so we've had Izzy for about 15 years. Well, Izzy has finally come into her own. She has gone from making her own public service announcement to sharing a hopeful thought now and then which brings me to her message today.
I’ve written about John Giorno before. His poetry and other artwork speaks to persistence. Persistence against odds and persistence in the face of wrongs done, sometimes to each other one on one and sometimes by what the fates allow as in, It’s not what happens, it’s how you handle it. Izzy doesn’t really remind me of Giorno, but she demonstrates the quality of persistence anyway. She hibernates all winter. Her activity is not that much different from when she is not hibernating except, she doesn’t eat. There’s a lot of contemplation, a good deal of sunning on her rock, and the occasional bubble if I surprise her. She knows when its spring and she tells us by splashing around so we know she’s hungry again. She doesn’t really think about being persistent. She just is.
We (humans) behave like Izzy and give the actions we can’t help but do fancy names like the various things we do at work and play from arbitrage to Zen meditation. Our persistence makes the world the place we have created, as maddening and joyous as it can be by turn, and simultaneously too.
I spend a lot of my time contacting people. I reach out to find and connect donors and supporters of Columbia University and in my leisure time I am always thinking of how to connect with people who share my passions. Sometimes they intersect. I keep them separate and distinct, but sometimes a great connection happens of its own accord like with Melissa Marr and her husband/partner Gary Lichtenstein. I met Melissa about ten years ago when I was in my first year or so of working for Columbia. Since then we’ve tried to come up with different ways to use Columbia’s network and alumni resources to create interesting engagement points around art and most recently Gary’s print making studio, Gary Lichtenstein Editions (GLE).
In the span of time from January to April we’ve gone from thinking about engaging GLE with the Columbia School of the Arts (which I think we’ll get back to when we have students on campus again) to exploring how to find alternate opportunities outside the studio for Melissa, to happily forging new connections through the studio. After it was announced that the screen printing industry qualifies as "essential" due to the demand for healthcare related signage, posters and other printed materials. Melissa pivoted immediately and started reaching out to nonprofits who might need their assistance.
Their first collaboration is with Urban Pathways (UP). Urban Pathways works on helping homeless New Yorkers. Per their mission statement of the organization, “ensures that homeless and at-risk New Yorkers have the housing, services and support they need to be self-sufficient.”
Melissa wrote to me that they couldn't be more thrilled with the opportunity to work with UP and have something else to focus on right now besides the crush of bad news about the pandemic’s destruction of lives and livelihoods all around us. Melissa also wrote, “While I'm thinking about it, let me know if Columbia needs anything.”
Columbia is in great shape compared with other nonprofits and higher educational institutions, but we do need our alumni to be persistent. Persistent in their creatively applying their talents to help others and each other. We are working on getting the word out about what Melissa and Gary are doing withing the Columbia community because we can use the good news and because it is important – essential, in fact. work. I think sharing the work that Melissa and Gary are doing is also important beyond our Columbia community, and beyond our New York community because it is all about that persistence I am using Izzy to personify and all about the persistence I read and feel in John Giorno’s artwork.