Journal

Journal entry by Kelly Leonard

Saturday 5/23


Blessedly, we had sun and warm weather for the first part of the day. Nick was out of the house at 7am for work while Anne and I sat outside reading in the garden with Benchley for most of the day. At about 3pm, the skies darkened. There’s a tornado watch and severe thunderstorm warnings in the Chicago area. Because, of course there is.


I’m almost done with the Manji book. She has a very interesting section on multiculturalism: 


“A society that revels in multiculturalism resembles a room full of folks buzzing around with identity cards stuck to their foreheads. The first thing you see is their labels… Labels can deceive. That’s because they represent groups, not individuals, and groups are where complexity goes to die.”


The book is a call to see complexities in each other; to reach out and across to those we disagree with and to recognize the personal and institutional barriers that we erect and hide behind when we feel aggrieved. When we see ourselves as victims first, it is very hard to create any space for those kinds of conversations. 


There is really only one area in my life that I can claim any sort of victim-hood and that’s as a father who lost a child. But “victim” isn’t the word I would use. It’s a tragedy and a trauma. It’s pain is both foundational and unnatural. The fact of it is counter to what should be. 


A memory popped up again on Facebook - 14 year old Nora, proudly holding a cup of hot chocolate with a cookie on top. These memories, I’m realizing, are emotional booby traps for me. I went to settings and disabled them from popping up on my Timeline, reminding myself that I do have some control in this area. 


“It has been acceptable for some time in America to remain "wound identified" (that is, using one's victim-hood as one's identity, one's ticket to sympathy, and one's excuse for not serving), instead of using the wound to "redeem the world," as we see in Jesus and many people who turn their wounds into sacred wounds that liberate both themselves and others.”


  • Richard Rohr


After the storms, the sun came roaring back and just as we started to settle in to watch a movie together (The Trip to Greece), thunder shook the house. It’s kind of the perfect metaphor: toggling between serenity and commotion. 


I posted a story on Facebook about how a recent study showed that a very high percentage of the tweets pushing for a full re-opening of our country were actually bots. In response, a guy I went to grade school with (in the wealthy enclave of Kenilworth, Illinois) posted that it was all lies and liberal propaganda. My first instinct was to fight him on the point. But I had just finished this book and so, instead, I just posted “it appears we disagree.” And we ended up having a polite exchange. Could it be this simple? Is our pathway out of this tribal mess a call for kindness and inquiry? We know that science says that people deeply desire to be seen. What if we choose to see them; and not just for the boxes we put them in, but for their full messy, contradictory selves, what happens then?


“To learn to see- to accustom the eye to calmness, to patience, and to allow things to come up to it; to defer judgment, and to acquire the habit of approaching and grasping an individual case from all sides. This is the first preparatory schooling of intellectuality. One must not respond immediately to a stimulus; one must acquire a command of the obstructing and isolating instincts.”


  • Friedrich Nietzsche 


Sunday 5/24


Although we had sun today, it was incredibly muggy. I tried writing outside, but had to move inside and put the air conditioning on. 


Looking at the swarms of people out and about this Memorial Day weekend makes me feel that by early to mid-June, we may see another nationwide shutdown when new cases of Covid-19 spike in every place where human beings couldn’t show an ounce of restraint and herd mentality took over. 


“Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I'm not sure about the universe.”


  • Albert Einstein


We got invited to a physically distanced cocktail hour in the backyard of our neighbor’s and I was even reluctant to attend that, but it’s a very small group and they are setting up chairs that are well spaced so we’re going to go for a drink. 


We got a message from a friend who just had a miscarriage. I wish I had been curious and compassionate enough to have made myself more aware of that particular trauma earlier in life. In fact, it wasn’t until after Nora died that a new friend who had gone through that experience showed me (through her incredible grace) the complexity of that grief.


I know why we shy away from other people’s tragedy, but there is a gift to be found in taking the time to see someone’s hurt and sadness. I don’t think you need to linger there and, in fact, that would make a fetish of the experience. But the seeing and the knowing can only make you a more useful human being - to yourself and to others. 


Almost 100,000 deaths in the United States alone from this virus as we sit here on Memorial Day Weekend. Nearly 350,000 deaths worldwide. These numbers should shock all of us. Radical steps have been taken and should be taken in response. And yet… 


The social scientists tell us it’s easier to connect to one person’s tragic death than it is to mass numbers. How about both?


“The relatively new trouble with mass society is perhaps even more serious, but not because of the masses themselves, but because this society is essentially a consumers’ society where leisure time is used no longer for self-perfection or acquisition of more social status, but for more and more consumption and more and more entertainment…To believe that such a society will become more “cultured” as time goes on and education has done its work, is, I think, a fatal mistake. The point is that a consumers’ society cannot possibly know how to take care of a world and the things which belong exclusively to the space of worldly appearances, because its central attitude toward all objects, the attitude of consumption, spells ruin to everything it touches.”


  • Hannah Arendt


Monday 5/24


I’m contemplating putting an end to the public journaling. 


I know the writing has been a cathartic and clarifying act for me, but something has been changing for a while now. It’s not clear exactly what the change is, but I sense that it has something to do with protecting my internal connection with Nora. That it’s time for she and I to be still with each other, unshared with anyone else. Uncommented upon. Simply felt. 


I have no interest in counting the days. It doesn’t help and it just cements the thing that is already hard to the core. The grief journey is complex. There is no ending, only an occasionally competent management of it. I’m fine and I’m not fine. And it’s fully clear that this will be my state moving forward. 


“It is perfectly true, as philosophers say, that life must be understood backwards. But they forget the other proposition, that it must be lived forwards.”


  • Soren Kierkegaard


I taped my podcast with Scott Barry Kaufman and it was great connecting with a friend and talking through all these interesting ideas of self-esteem, connectedness and transcendence. Scott reminded me of a quote in the book from Rabbi Harold Kushner which was in response to losing his son. The rabbi said:


“I am a more sensitive person, a more effective pastor, a more sympathetic counselor because of Aaron’s life and death than I would ever have been without it. And I would give up all of those gains in a second if I could have my son back. If I could choose, I would forgo all of the spiritual growth and depth which has come my way because of our experiences. . . . But I cannot choose.”


And that’s the truth of all of this. It’s not my choice. None of it ever was. Which doesn’t mean I am surrendering my agency. It simply means I can’t control what happened, I can only control how I respond to what happened. I needed so much help, so I asked for it. Proportionately, I am in no way as deserving of the incredible gifts I received - to be so seen and cared for by so many, even complete strangers. If I were to have broken apart completely in light of all that support, the tragedy would have been mine alone. 


But I didn’t break, at least not completely. 


Tuesday 5/26


Anne and I were able to sit in the garden last night after a dinner of sushi that we had delivered to the house. It’s time. I’ll be doing my last public post on Caring Bridge on Friday. I’ll likely continue writing and posting on Medium when I have thoughts I’d like to share.


Since I changed the memory notification on Facebook on Saturday, a picture of Nora has popped up as a memory every single morning. I went back into the settings this morning and the button is clearly marked that says “None: we won’t notify you of memories.” 


I’m taking this as a sign that it’s the right time to stop. Nora’s telling me so.


Anne has a cousin who is dying of Covid-19 in the hospital right now. Alone. And there’s another editorial in the Chicago Tribune decrying the economic toll and why we need to open up our businesses faster. With such low regard for the human toll, I can’t understand what values these people were raised with. And let’s say they just open up everything, do you sincerely believe that people are going to return to it all business as usual?


My friend sent me a note with a study that shows how much happier people are when they cut off social media and the news. It’s very tempting right now.


I’m not depressed, but I honestly don’t have a name for how I have been feeling. 


Wrestling with acceptance.

Grief fatigue.

Displaced reckoning.

Vivid remembrance.

Connecting with my loss.

None of those are quite it, but those words all live in the edges of my waking world right now. Maybe it’s because we’re leading into the months when we began to lose her. It feels like summer today and I’m swimming in a kind of peaceful sorrow. 


“The first step to the knowledge of the wonder and mystery of life is the recognition of the monstrous nature of the earthly human realm as well as its glory, the realization that this is just how it is and that it cannot and will not be changed. Those who think they know how the universe could have been had they created it, without pain, without sorrow, without time, without death, are unfit for illumination.”


  • Joseph Campbell


Wednesday 5/27


“A meaningful life can be extremely satisfying even in the midst of hardship, whereas a meaningless life is a terrible ordeal no matter how comfortable it is.”


  • Yuval Noah Harari


Woke up in a better space today. Another memory came up on Facebook this morning, but it was a picture of Anne and her sister Julie happily sitting in our garden.


I had a handful of really great conversations yesterday. My interview with Irshad Manji was moving for me in a number of ways. It turns out that she’s a long time listener to the podcast, so she was fully aware of my situation. And we just spoke very honestly and openly about the pains we have had and are having. I told her that it felt like I had just made a new friend and she said, “you have!”


It can be very hard to make sense of a world that is so violent and divided on one hand and so filled with breathtakingly beautiful people with amazing minds and full hearts. Harold Ramis used to give the advice to budding comedians that you need to find the funniest person in the room and stand next to them. I think that serves each of us in life: when you need to find your meaning and your purpose, find the person who lights up the room with their well intentioned genius and stand next to them.


I’m not looking for perfect, because perfect doesn’t exist. But I am looking for people who sincerely want what’s best for others and have given it some real thought. It’s not enough to have good intent if you haven’t done the intellectual work to understand how that good intent can be used in the most productive and powerful ways to make our world a better place; or, at least, to improve our interactions with other human beings (which will have the same effect). 


For my part, it’s time to truly slow my mind down, listen and breath. I need to find my peace with the spaces between the words. I’ve never been good at sitting still. 


“At a certain point, you say to the woods, to the sea, to the mountains, the world, Now I am ready. Now I will stop and be wholly attentive. You empty yourself and wait, listening. After a time you hear it: there is nothing there. There is nothing but those things only, those created objects, discrete, growing or holding, or swaying, being rained on or raining, held, flooding or ebbing, standing, or spread. You feel the world's word as a tension, a hum, a single chorused note everywhere the same. This is it: this hum is the silence. Nature does utter a peep - just this one. The birds and insects, the meadows and swamps and rivers and stones and mountains and clouds: they all do it; they all don't do it. There is a vibrancy to the silence, a suppression, as if someone were gagging the world. But you wait, you give your life's length to listening, and nothing happens. The ice rolls up, the ice rolls back, and still that single note obtains. The tension, or lack of it, is intolerable. The silence is not actually suppression: instead, it is all there is.”


  • Annie Dillard


Thursday 5/28


“I have always believed, and I still believe, that whatever good or bad fortune may come our way we can always give it meaning and transform it into something of value.”


  • Herman Hesse


In therapy last night, Fred said that ever since I had the dream with Nora she could see that I was on a new path. She asked if I could answer the question, “What meaning can you draw out from all of this?” I said that this entire journey through diagnosis, care, loss and grief - there only seemed to be two choices: a complete unraveling into endless despair or a calling to love, strength and possibility. I remained convinced that Nora never lost her sense of meaning and purpose. I haven’t lost mine. 


I went to the Advocate Health Clinic on Clark Street to get my labs done. You pull your car up and a nurse comes out and asks you a bunch of questions and then takes your temperature. I was fine, so she put a red sticker on my shirt and told me to park and come in. They have all the seating set up so people are six feet away from each other. Everyone was wearing masks and the nurse who took my temperature did the same for every staff member who came in as well. I was in and out in 40 minutes and will await the results to then set up a virtual appointment with my heart doctor. 


My heart.


Figuratively and literally broken. 


And still…

There is so much work to do. So many conversations to be had, so many insights to glean and we have so many messes that need to be cleaned up. We have books to write and dogs to pet and, surely, more pain to endure. Anne’s cousin passed away yesterday from Covid-19. We’ve surpassed 100,000 deaths in this country alone and nearly 360,000 worldwide. One minimizes this global pandemic to their peril. Over 40 million people have lost their jobs in this country. Minneapolis is burning. Clearly, there is no more business as usual.


My heart… is being tended to by nurses and doctors and friends and co-workers and family. We can’t do this alone. None of us can, no matter how brave, how strong or how smart. And it’s hard. So hard. 


This all started for Nora and it ended up being for all of us. She would have wanted it that way.


“She discovered with great delight that one does not love one's children just because they are one's children but because of the friendship formed while raising them.”


  • Gabriel Garcia Marquez


Friday 5/29


Nora,


We miss you so much. Every second, every minute, every hour of every day. We wish we had you bustling and complaining and joking and growing and lovingly here with us, but you had grander things to do. Your universal duties took precedence over your earthly ones. I know I speak for your many fans and friends when I ask if you can help us do things better here in the mortal realm? Can you help us be kinder to one another? Can you help each of us to see that those with whom we disagree are humans too? Can you help us re-imagine the world as it should be, not as it is?


Or maybe that’s asking too much, given how much you’ve already helped us by living a gloriously short and meaningful life. 


I kept writing in the journal after you left us and I’ve decided to stop updating it as of today. About 400,000 times people logged in to hear about you, your legacy and, honestly, how hard it has been to be in a world where you aren’t. 


The daily public writing will stop, but the daily private love will not. I love you, Bean. And I know you know. It’s the last words I said to you and the last words you said to me. 


It was an honor to be your Dad.


You probably know that I cry more than I used to, but you also know that I’m taking care of myself more than I used to. That balances itself out, right? Your Mom and Brother still tell “Nora stories” and Benchley still sits on the couch waiting for you to come back from puppy school. We haven’t touched your room. It’s just too much to bear. But we know we’ll have to at some point. Any advice on that front? 


Although we are made worse for not having you in the world with us now, we were made so much better by having you in the world at all. You are a star. 


Everytime I look at the moon, I can feel your smile. 


Love you. Get some sleep.


Dad


#TeamNoraForever






























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Journal entry by Kelly Leonard

Saturday 5/16


It’s a little chilly out, but sunny - so we’ve been sitting in the garden most of the day. Anne and I agreed to play a virtual Dungeons & Dragons game tonight with some of our old Second City friends in LA. We’ve never played before. I’m going to be Merton, a cleric and Anne is Woollcot, a wizard - not even sure what that means. 


I’m reading a fascinating book by our friend Scott Barry Kaufman called “Transcend: The New Science of Self-Actualization.” He’s basically reimaging Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Fun fact: Maslow never presented his theory in the form of a pyramid - some advertising guy did and it stuck. 


Scott was the person who introduced us to the idea of post-traumatic growth, never imagining I would need to swim in those waters someday. Funny how we can feel impervious to some kind of sufferings and not others. I always worried about the safety of my kids, but mostly about getting hit by a car or being hurt by other individuals. I never dared to imagine that one of them would get cancer. 


From the book:


“In recent years psychologists have begun to understand the psychological processes that turn adversity into advantage, and what is becoming clear is that this ‘psychologically seismic’ restructuring is actually necessary for growth to occur. It is precisely when the foundational structure of the self is shaken that we are in the best position to pursue new opportunities in our lives.” 


And:


“While rumination typically begins as automatic, intrusive, and repetitive, over time such thinking becomes more organized, controlled and deliberate. This process of transformation can certainly be excruciating, but rumination, in conjunction with a strong social support system and other outlets for expression, can be very beneficial to growth and enable us to tap into deep reservoirs of strength and compassion we never knew existed within us.”


Scott then goes into a long section on how artists and creativity are so often linked to people who experience great pains or disadvantages. 


Writing has been by rumination and my refuge. 


It has helped me make meaning of what’s happened and what’s happening - even if that meaning is still opaque in some ways. This is “my outlet for expression” and so many of you make up my “strong social support system.” I cannot tell you how much it means to me that so many of you continue to reach out through social media, letters in the mail and other reminders that you see us. This being seen is essential for all human beings, but those of us touched by tragedy require it at unimaginable levels. We can only begin to heal when we know our hurt is visible and tended to by anyone who has the kindness and courage to sit and see us. 


I had to put something in Nora’s room and after I dropped it on her bed, I stood in the center of the room and took in all of it. I didn’t need to rush out, but I knew I couldn’t stay. I tried to conjure her in my mind and heart and tell her how much I loved her and missed her. She knows, was what came back to me. She knows and she feels the same. Wherever and whenever she is. 


“I believe it will have become evident why, for me, adjectives such as happy, contented, blissful, enjoyable, do not seem quite appropriate to any general description of this process I have called the good life, even though the person in this process would experience each one of these at the appropriate times. But adjectives which seem more generally fitting are adjectives such as enriching, exciting, rewarding, challenging, meaningful. This process of the good life is not, I am convinced, a life for the faint-fainthearted. It involves the stretching and growing of becoming more and more of one's potentialities. It involves the courage to be. It means launching oneself fully into the stream of life. Yet the deeply exciting thing about human beings is that when the individual is inwardly free, he chooses as the good life this process of becoming.”


  • Carl Rogers


Sunday 5/17


Our D&D game got pushed a week when we got the news that Fred Willard passed away. Anne and I talked about how we couldn’t think of another single comedian who was that brilliant and that kind who didn’t alternatively have a dark and brooding side. Fred had a great run and now he is back with his wife Mary who passed away two years ago. 


It’s grey and rainy and a small pond has developed in our back patio. I got rid of a bunch of old clothes and drove over to one of those donation bins that pop up in the corner of various parking lots around the city. I truly hope that they go to people in need and are not part of some lazy scam. Speaking of which, I was listening to an NPR story about a right-wing documentary that is coming out that pushes the idea that wearing masks will actually give you a greater chance of getting sick from Covid 19. Scientifically untrue, but since when does science, data and facts matter. 


“It’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words.”


  • George Orwell


After my workout, I went to town on cleaning the house: vacuuming, dusting, throwing out garbage, cleaning countertops and the bathrooms. Benchley hates the vacuum. Just the sight of it sets him on edge. So there was much barking to accompany my efforts to get rid of all the dog hair he was shedding (I had to dump out the vacuum three times and the majority was dog hair). I dusted off a bunch of pictures of Nora. She was the goofiest looking baby who turned into the most beautiful young woman. With her gone and Nick out of town, the house is so quiet. I don’t mind a quiet house, but I’d rather they were both here. 


There are two questions I’ve been getting a lot of lately: one is when interviewers ask me if I’m okay talking about Nora and the other is questioning whether it's appropriate to use humor in moments of crisis and grief. Both questions surprise me because two things I know for sure is that not talking about Nora and not laughing would be, by far, the most unhealthy things I could do to myself. 


One of the very important things you need to figure out after you’ve lost a child, is how you reincorporate them into your day to day lives moving forward. You talk about them as a way of figuring out how to talk about them. Almost everyday of this pandemic, Anne and I bring up the fact that Nora would have been the worst to deal with during this. We would have been fighting like cats and dogs about her wanting to go out, not wanting to wear a mask, being bored… so bored… the most bored. 


And this makes us laugh, because that’s equally important as a simple survival tool for being human. The radioactivity that people put around comedy has always confused me, even before it became one of my core fields. Laughter brings shared connection. And in loss, connection is what pulls you out of the abyss and back into the world, a little worse for wear, but back. 


“We can also find moments of comfort in positive reminiscences of the lost loved one. These positive states do more than propel us out of sadness; they also reconnect us to those around us. Laughter in particular has a contagious effect on other people, and in our research we’ve shown this to be true even during bereavement.”


  • George A. Bonanno


Monday 5/18


Very busy Monday. I’m thankful for that, but it’s nearly 7pm and I didn’t have any time today to reflect and do some writing. 


I was interviewed by a relatively new friend from the Applied Improvisation Network and it was a terrific conversation. In talking about how our work meets the present moment we’re in, we decided that improvisational practice will help all individuals with the kind of rugged empathy they will need to rebuild and reimagine the world moving forward; that the kindness to come is filled with dirt and grime and more than a few bruises. We are in for a fight to make the world a better place and it’s a fight worth having. If not now, when?


I also had an interesting conversation this morning with our core creative team at Second City Works about storytelling. So we get hired to teach storytelling to a variety of our clients and it dawned on me that “storytelling” means something very different to different people. Some people mean presentation skills, some mean sales effectiveness, some mean persuasion, some mean messaging. I always turn down people who want me to deliver keynotes on storytelling and I finally figured out why - because I DON”T KNOW WHAT YOU MEAN! 


So this was a revelation and I think it could help me finally to give those talks, because the first thing to know about storytelling is that it doesn’t matter what I think it is, it matters what my audience thinks it is.


Which led one of my colleagues to suggest that storytelling has traditionally been a function of the patriarchy. True. Whose stories have been told for eons? 


If someone I didn’t know were to walk up to me on the street and ask, “What is your story?” I wouldn’t know what to say until I understood the full context of who they were, why they were asking me that question and, most importantly, what they expected to hear. So storytelling starts with putting your focus on the audience, on their needs, their interests, their desires. 


The audience comes first. 


“A man who tells secrets or stories must think of who is hearing or reading, for a story has as many versions as it has readers. Everyone takes what he wants or can from it and thus changes it to his measure. Some pick out parts and reject the rest, some strain the story through their mesh of prejudice, some paint it with their own delight. A story must have some points of contact with the reader to make him feel at home in it. Only then can he accept wonders.”


  • John Steinbeck


Tuesday 5/19


I felt less like changing the world and more like hiding from it this morning. Maybe it’s the bleak weather; maybe it’s the numbing repetition of these days and weeks; maybe it’s the endless question of what next looks like. A lot of emotionally frayed conversations taking place today and a lot of people I was talking to felt more on edge. I was lucky to end the day on a positive note, talking to our friends at Gilda’s Club about helping them host a virtual gala next month. 


It’s especially hard when you are struggling a bit to be surrounded by others who are also struggling. It creates an anxious space. It’s as if we are connecting through our worry and that doesn’t feel like healthy connecting. I don’t think we can ignore the darker feelings - they are real and they are valid. But I think we need to find better frames with which to acknowledge what’s difficult and know that better days will be here. And that better day could be tomorrow.


“I’ve found that it’s of some help to think of one’s moods and feelings about the world as being similar to weather.


Here are some obvious things about the weather:


It's real.

You can't change it by wishing it away.

If it's dark and rainy, it really is dark and rainy, and you can't alter it.

It might be dark and rainy for two weeks in a row.


BUT

it will be sunny one day.

It isn't under one's control when the sun comes out, but come out it will.

One day.


It really is the same with one's moods, I think. The wrong approach is to believe that they are illusions. Depression, anxiety, listlessness - these are all are real as the weather - AND EQUALLY NOT UNDER ONE'S CONTROL.

Not one's fault.


BUT

They will pass: really they will.


In the same way that one really has to accept the weather, one has to accept how one feels about life sometimes, "Today is a really crap day," is a perfectly realistic approach. It's all about finding a kind of mental umbrella. "Hey-ho, it's raining inside; it isn't my fault and there's nothing I can do about it, but sit it out. But the sun may well come out tomorrow, and when it does I shall take full advantage.”


  • Stephen Fry


Wednesday 5/20


I woke up in a better place this morning. Anne was up for most of the night. This is what happens. At least the sun is finally out. 


I’m reading the book “Don’t Label Me: How To Do Diversity Without Inflaming The Culture Wars” by Irshad Manji. She cites the work of psychologist Jennifer Richeson: “Her experiments shed light on what takes place in many hearts and minds as folks become aware that we’re all going to be minorities soon. The more Americans learn about this inevitability, Richeson says, the more attitudes swerve towards conservatism. But not only among white Americans. ‘When you expose Asian Americans, black Americans to similar information about the growth in the Hispanic population, they also show a shift to more support for conservative policy positions.”

Right now, our world feels like a circular firing squad. People are “protesting” for their “right” to endanger the most vulnerable members of our society because they want a haircut and a sit down dinner at the Olive Garden. Politically, our government is unwilling to acknowledge that this pandemic has shown us that we can no longer operate under business as usual guidelines. 


People make really shitty decisions when they are operating out of fear.


Just as the futurist Bob Johansen warns us that categorical thinking is dangerous because it doesn’t allow us to understand the nuance of any given situation, Manji says that, “...even when labels are factual, they don’t innocently describe someone.” She goes on:


“I’ll be specific. There are some conservatives whose bias is to bomb Muslims into oblivion. They interpret my “Muslim” label to mean that I’m a stealth jihadist. Then there are particular atheists who take it on faith that as a Muslim, I’m a dupe of superstitious cave dwellers. Either way, I’m not an individual in my own right. I’m an involuntary avatar of other people’s projections.”


By the way, Manji talks extensively about how liberals do this to conservatives: “...diversity’s enthusiasts are committing the same stale mistakes. We’re attaching labels to individuals as if those labels capture the sum of who they are. Moreover, we’re labeling ourselves to the point of extinguishing our own humanity.”


I get that it’s hard to see and work through difference. It’s hard for all of us. I’d like to think that in times of great trouble, more of us err on the side of seeing the humanity in each of us rather than clinging to the need for an enemy as a way to bolster my place in my tribe. We’re all guilty of doing that. I’ve done it and I regret it. 


I was looking for something and came across a bunch of the lunch boxes Nora used over the last five or six years. “This lunchbox is the property of Eleanor Leonard,” read one of them in her decisive handwriting. None of the bullshit really matters.


Thursday 5/21


I didn’t let Wednesday break me. Anne and I attended a Zoom memorial for our friend Michael that was lovely and sad. We ordered take out from one of our favorite Lincoln Square restaurants, Bistro Campagne, which was amazing and got to sit outside for a little while. 


I pick Nick up from the airport tonight. It seems as if he had a lovely week with his girlfriend in New York, but we’re happy to get him back. Benchley feels strongly that there is not enough petting and cuddling when it’s just Anne and myself. 


It ended up being a busy day, which cuts both ways: it’s good to be busy, but it’s a different kind of busy where I make more mistakes than I want to and by the time 5pm hits, you feel like you ran a work marathon. But I have the work and I am sincerely grateful for that. 


Going through all of this, you can’t help but ponder your own life and your own mortality. I wish for a Heaven that I don’t really believe in. I want Nora to have a place to play with her dogs Jack and Django; be doted on by all her grandparents - even and maybe especially by the ones who never met her on earth; and I can smile thinking of her doing bits with her Uncle Kyle. 


It’s getting late and I’m so tired.


“I am comfortable with the idea of mortality, or at least I always have been, up until now. I never felt the need to believe in heaven or an afterlife. It has been decades since I stopped believing-a belief that was never more than fitful and self-serving to begin with-in the possibility of reincarnation of the soul. I'm not totally certain where I stand on the whole "soul" question. Though I certainly feel as if I possess one, I'm inclined to disbelieve in its existence. I can live with that contradiction, as with the knowledge that my time is finite, and growing shorter by the day. It's just that lately, for the first time, that shortening has become perceptible. I can feel each tiny skyward lurch of the balloon as another bag of sand goes over the side of my basket.”


  • Michael Chabon


Friday May 22


“Stop worrying about your identity and concern yourself with the people you care about, ideas that matter to you, beliefs you can stand by, tickets you can run on. Intelligent humans make those choices with their brain and hearts and they make them alone. The world does not deliver meaning to you. You have to make it meaningful...and decide what you want and need and must do. It’s a tough, unimaginably lonely and complicated way to be in the world. But that’s the deal: you have to live; you can’t live by slogans, dead ideas, clichés, or national flags. Finding an identity is easy. It’s the easy way out.”


  • Zadie Smith


This is a problem I have and it’s a problem most of us have. We don’t live with enough grace. We demonize those that don’t agree with us and we are overly assumptive about everything. We don’t ask enough questions. We go for the either/or when we really need to be going for the both/and. 


I’ve had low level unhappiness for most of this week. And I know I’m not alone in this.


Maybe we’re at a particular arc in this pandemic when we all feel done with it and we know that we are in no way near being done with it. We are stuck with things being less than ideal and, if we allow ourselves to go there, we ache at the loss of life, loss of jobs. 


So much loss. 


But I need to do better, for me and for everyone. I let myself be inspired by conversations today and I reconnected with a couple of people who I care about and haven’t talked to since this whole thing started. 


To cope with the loss is to find the meaning; and I find my meaning in being connected. 


I had a couple of great conversations today that I’m allowing to inspire me. The sun is out - and even if it’s the last time we will see it for a while, I’m heading out to enjoy it with a cocktail and a playlist that’s simply called “okay.”


“We need to bridge our sense of loneliness and disconnection with a sense of community and continuity even if we must manufacture it from our time on the Web and our use of calling cards to connect long distance. We must “log on” somewhere, and if it is only in cyberspace, that is still far better than nowhere at all.”


  • Julia Cameron


#TeamNoraForever

 

Journal entry by Kelly Leonard

Saturday 5/9


I’m alone in the house. Nick is working 7am to 3pm for our neighbor, Melissa, who runs the Green City Market. He was thrilled to get up early and have a full day of work. Anne is running errands, picking up soil and groceries. It’s cold but sunny, so I did one of my favorite things and grilled a bunch of meat for lunch. Benchley is napping at my feet.


It. All. Feels. Normal.


It’s not normal. And the fear that I’m feeling and you’re feeling is absolutely, 100% real. To deny your fear is to deny reality. It’s not a good idea. I’m interviewing Robert Chesnut next week, he’s the Chief Ethics Officer of Airbnb - a former prosecutor who was on the team that handled the Aldrich Ames spy case. I’m early in the book, but he points out the difficult and obvious point that ethics only becomes important when the decision you make might not benefit you materially. That ethics is at work in the actions we take which are often based upon the purpose, meaning and value we understand and embody within the moment and context of the situation at hand. We are not good or bad. We do good or bad things. This is why guilt isn’t a bad thing, necessarily. Guilt is what we feel when we know we did something wrong and it’s good, because you then know you did something wrong. Shame is the emotion you want to avoid, because when we feel shame we will tell ourselves stories that justify our unethical acts. 


That guy who ran the red light, he’s an asshole. But I’m running a red light because I’m in an emergency. 


So this is all terribly scary. And we just have to move forward anyway.


“Of course, determining what you truly care about is only half the process of walking your why. Once you've identified your values, you then have to take them out for a spin. This requires a certain amount of courage, but you can't aim to be fearless. Instead, you should aim to walk directly into your fears, with your values as your guide, toward what matters to you. Courage is not an absence of fear; courage is fear walking.”


  • Susan David


We got a surprise physically distanced visit from one of our dearest friends, sitting on our deck while she sat on our patio in the backyard. Hopefully this experience will teach all of us how incredibly valuable it is to have simple in person contact with your friends. Nick got his grades and he’ll be graduating Cum Laude with honors in his major. We don’t know if or when there will be a ceremony, but we are so proud of his accomplishments in college. He was pretty exhausted by the end of his work day, but grateful to have the work. 




Sunday 5/10


It’s Mother’s Day. We got flowers and a card for Anne and a number of people sent her cards and tokens of acknowledgement on this first Mother’s Day without Nora. We didn’t make any special plans. We didn’t talk about it very much. 


I can’t recall if I wrote about it at the time, but a couple months or so after Nora died we were informed by the hospital that someone on staff had accessed Nora’s records at a time when they were not currently one of her primary caregivers. We know who it was and there was nothing nefarious going on. This person had been one of Nora’s favorite caregivers and she had just been checking on her status. She got let go by the hospital. We all understood the situation, as unfortunate as it was for all parties. Yesterday, we got a letter in the mail from the hospital informing us that they found out that a second person had accessed Nora’s records when they were not on her caregiving team and this person had also been terminated. We don’t know who it was, but I suspect it was a similar situation - a staff member who had cared for Nora in the previous week or month who was just checking to see how she was doing. 


It makes me profoundly sad to think that someone lost their job because they cared for our girl. I understand the privacy issues with regard to a person’s medical data, but there is a level of trust you have to hold onto when you are giving an entire caregiving team the responsibility of caring for your child. It was not uncommon for nurses and CNA’s who were not assigned to us, to drop by our room and check in with Nora and us. These visits, though small in the moment, were huge in the scope of our experience at Lurie Children’s Hospital. 


This letter arrived the same day that we received the book we would have been given at the memorial service to recognize Nora’s name going on a plaque on a wall at the hospital. It’s a children’s book called “See Me In The Wonder,” and I managed to look at three pages before I had to close it and put it under some other paperwork. I just couldn’t take it. So I went upstairs to work out.


A podcast I was listening to while on the exercise bike suggested that you say the words “let go” out loud as a way to move past your anxiety or your grief. I did and it helped. It snuck me back into the present. I stopped thinking about the Nora I used to have and I was able to think about the Nora I still have. 


Such loss in our world. Such loss in the world.


“Lost really has two disparate meanings. Losing things is about the familiar falling away, getting lost is about the unfamiliar appearing. There are objects and people that disappear from your sight or knowledge or possession; you lose a bracelet, a friend, the key. You still know where you are. Everything is familiar except that there is one item less, one missing element. Or you get lost, in which case the world has become larger than your knowledge of it. Either way, there is a loss of control. Imagine yourself streaming through time shedding gloves, umbrellas, wrenches, books, friends, homes, names. This is what the view looks like if you take a rear-facing seat on the train. Looking forward you constantly acquire moments of arrival, moments of realization, moments of discovery. The wind blows your hair back and you are greeted by what you have never seen before. The material falls away in onrushing experience. It peels off like skin from a molting snake. Of course to forget the past is to lose the sense of loss that is also memory of an absent richness and a set of clues to navigate the present by; the art is not one of forgetting but letting go. And when everything else is gone, you can be rich in loss.”


  • Rebecca Solnit


Monday 5/11


Yesterday was hard. We broke out the good caviar we had been saving and a bunch of french cheese, italian meats and Anne made rosemary crackers for the first time that we’re really quite good. We tried to focus on the good memories and that worked until it didn’t, especially for Anne. The thing is, you don’t stop being a mom or a dad - even when your child is no longer with you - and that’s one of the cruelest aspects of this journey. 


The forecast this week calls for a lot of rain. In the immediate sense, this feels like an unrelenting pile on to an already unreasonable burden. When we’re able to go outside, feel the sun on our faces, we can connect to the larger part of the world. But in the broader sense, the water is what gives life to the garden we want to sit in. You can already see the vines crawl up the trellises; our trees filling out and roses peeking out from the wet soil. 


Like all things, there’s bad and there’s good. Two things at play, always. 


“In some aspects losing a child is like a wall, but instead of getting over it, you must carry the wall with you, wherever you go, for as long as you live.


The wall is immovable.


You can’t go anywhere until you learn to move the wall.


You are just stuck in the same place, forever.


You can tug and tug all you want, there are days that the wall will not move.


And there are days that it moves ever so slightly.


Over time I have realized that in order to move forward, knowing that I must bring this wall with me, that the best way to do so is to metaphorically flood the soil near the wall with water, and have the wall float with me, instead of me having to carry it.


Every act of love and kindness turns to water.


Water and love can penetrate and move anything.


It just takes time.


I need to turn my wall into a raft.”


  • John A. Passaro


Tuesday 5/12


I had an early taping for an upcoming webinar this morning. I know we’re lucky that we have a big enough house that the three of us have spaces we can retreat to if we need a reasonable amount of quietness. I ran into a neighbor yesterday who said he has to do therapy in his car because there just isn’t enough quiet space in his house. So I need to remain grateful for my situation and mindful that most of the world doesn’t have the same advantages we have. 


That being said, this is fucking hard.


Anytime I lose my temper a bit or make a mistake or find myself unable to do something that other people find very easy (like scanning a document from our home computer), I end up ruminating needlessly. Feelings of unnecessary helplessness are among the most useless feelings - especially in a time like this when I’m not really helpless at all. But I also can’t deny that the feeling is real. 


I guess this is the theme that keeps showing up, day after day: that we’re fine and we’re not fine and that’s the normal state of things. 


“If you are depressed you are living in the past.

If you are anxious you are living in the future.

If you are at peace you are living in the present.”


  • Lao Tzu


Wednesday 5/13


I dropped Nick off at the airport this morning - it only took 18 minutes to get there and almost no one was at security or the various gates. He’s flying to New York to surprise his girlfriend. Her parents concocted the idea as part of their graduation celebration. We were all supposed to be in Saratoga Springs this week to watch them graduate. Initially, we weren’t sure about having him travel during the pandemic, but everyone is taking all the proper precautions and Nick has had so much taken away from him this year, the minute we bought the plane tickets, he had something to look forward to. Tending to our mental health is crucial all the time, but even more so now. And we want to help provide him some joy. He sent pictures of LaGuardia - which was deserted. 


It’s relatively warm and sunny, so Anne worked outside for most of the day. I delivered a virtual keynote and started work on some upcoming webinars that I’ll be delivering over the course of the next two months. 


We’ve been doing this series of shows over Zoom on Wednesday’s at 12:30pm. They all have a theme and today’s was agility. And, of course, there was a major tech screw up - but our host pivoted and made the moment work. This is a perfect example of how everything seems to be working right now. Everyone is scrambling to make their thing work or find a new thing that they can, hopefully, make work. Our agility is being tested throughout these days and weeks. Many of these changes are huge uprootings of the way we’ve all done things; some changes are smaller and more nuanced. 


This moment requires us to escape categorical thinking or fostering for one second that the life we’re going back to will be just like the life we left. And it’s not that this wasn’t always coming, it was. Machine learning, the wealth gap, climate change, historical and systemic racism and sexism - it was catching up to us anyway, this virus just knocked it into the playing field more clearly. 


It’s changing. It’s changed. And we can change with it. We have to. 


“In my darkest night,

when the moon was covered

and I roamed through wreckage,

a nimbus-clouded voice

directed me:

“Live in the layers,

not on the litter.”

Though I lack the art

to decipher it,

no doubt the next chapter

in my book of transformations

is already written.

I am not done with my changes.”


  • Stanley Kunitz




Thursday 5/14


It’s pitch black outside and the rain, thunder and lightning are in full effect. It’s also warm. So I had the glass door on our third floor open during my workout this morning and could see, hear and feel the storm slowly move from a light rain to a full on storm. The metaphor is too easy here. 


Nick is happily ensconced in New York with his girlfriend for a week, so it’s just Anne, me and Benchley. The house is quieter and when Anne started to hug me in my chair before she went upstairs to work out, I heard a phone right. She thought it was the radio and then realized it was her phone. I asked her who was calling her at 8am and she looked at the phone and said, “Nora.” 


Of course, she probably hit the phone by accident when she was hugging me. Or, Nora called. 


We just really miss her. 


Friday 5/15


Fred had me do a writing exercise in therapy. I picked a topic: “The Present,” and I had one minute to write down any words that I associated with that topic. No self judgement, just whatever words came into my mind. I wrote:


Now

Moment

Here

Focus

Attention

Serenity

Peace

Honesty

Listening

Truth

Hearing

Seeing

Believing

Understanding

Still


She then asked me to write a poem using just those words. I wrote this:




Listening hearing truth

Serenity

Now still

Understanding moment

Believing peace

Honesty

Here

Focus

Attention


The most surprising words, to me, that I included were believing and peace - which I wouldn’t have thought I would associate with “the present,” but they came to mind. In the context of the poem, however, they represent the hard truth that I’m constantly wrestling with: believing that peace will be possible in my life and in our lives. 


Personally, it’s hard to envision a time and a place where some part of me won’t ache for losing Nora. And in the larger context of what’s happening in our world, it’s becoming increasingly hard to imagine our society making the kinds of changes we need to make in order to keep all people safe, fed, healthy - free from hate and greed and avarice. 


So to move forward, I have to stay as present as possible. 


This.Is.Hard.


All of it. The micro and the macro. What’s in front of us and what left us. The Facebook memory I was greeted with today was from six years ago, a bespectacled Nora Leonard peeking out from behind the Ithaca flag at the Waldorf Pentathlon. That feels like so many lifetimes ago. But it also feels like Nora calling us again; reminding us that she will always be with us even though we can’t see it. We can’t see her. But we have her. This little war we’re in with ourselves - trying to shed our grief but hold onto our girl - all so we can live as we need to live now. 


“Thomas Merton wrote, “there is always a temptation to diddle around in the contemplative life, making itsy-bitsy statues.” There is always an enormous temptation in all of life to diddle around making itsy-bitsy friends and meals and journeys for itsy-bitsy years on end. It is so self-conscious, so apparently moral, simply to step aside from the gaps where the creeks and winds pour down, saying, I never merited this grace, quite rightly, and then to sulk along the rest of your days on the edge of rage.


I won’t have it. The world is wilder than that in all directions, more dangerous and bitter, more extravagant and bright. We are making hay when we should be making whoopee; we are raising tomatoes when we should be raising Cain, or Lazarus.


Go up into the gaps. If you can find them; they shift and vanish too. Stalk the gaps. Squeak into a gap in the soil, turn, and unlock-more than a maple- a universe. This is how you spend this afternoon, and tomorrow morning, and tomorrow afternoon. Spend the afternoon. You can’t take it with you.”


  • Annie Dillard


#TeamNoraForever

Journal entry by Kelly Leonard

Saturday 5/2


I dreamt about Nora last night. It’s the first time since she died that I can remember a dream I had about her. I don’t recall all of it, but I know I wanted to make sure she was safe in her room, so I went in and she was half asleep and said something like, “I’m fine.” I kissed her on her forehead, told her I loved her, she said “I love you, too.” I left the room and closed the door. I woke up right after this. Not a jolt to awakeness, but a slow crawl with the weight of this dream realizing I was back in the present world. 


It’s Saturday. It’s lovely outside. I’m sitting on the patio where the garden continues to grow and I’m steeped in this mix of sadness and delight: sad that I don’t have my child in the world anymore but delighted that I had her at all and got to speak to her - albeit in a sleep state. It’s a weird thing to be contentedly on the edge of tears. 


It’s such a contrast to be sitting out here and thinking of our loss and our luck while, as the song goes, the world spins madly on. 


You don’t have to be a great intellectual or dark state theorist to understand that the modern industrial state essentially functions as a way to protect the power and money of the ruling elite class. And it’s just stunning to watch as some of the most stepped on constituents of this country - poor white people - throw themselves into the fire to protect their right to be spat upon. I had to turn the news off. 


“Ever since the Cognitive Revolution, Sapiens have thus been living in a dual reality. On the one hand, the objective reality of rivers, trees and lions; and on the other hand, the imagined reality of gods, nations and corporations. As time went by, the imagined reality became ever more powerful, so that today the very survival of rivers, trees and lions depends on the grace of imagined entities such as the United States and Google.”


  • Yuval Noah Harari


I’m anxious about these next few months, both personally and for the larger world. May, June, July and August - the last months we had Nora with us and the weight of those cruel and sometimes sweet memories. My thoughts will be going back in time as time pushes forward. And what will the present world look like? What work will we have? There is so much necessary change that needs to be made. Are we up to it?


I want to go back into my dream. Where I get to kiss my girl and tell her I love her. I want her to feel safe in her room in her home - instead of what it actually is: a closed door to a room that we can’t bring ourselves to face. The material remnants of her life once lived. A teenage girl’s second floor catacomb. It's the most complicated and gut wrenching space in our house; in our lives.


“We all know that if we are to live ourselves there comes a time when we must relinquish the dead, let them go, keep them dead.


Let them become the photograph on the table.


Let them become the name on the trust accounts.


Let go of them in the water.


Knowing this does not make it any easier to let go of them in the water.”


  • Joan Didion


Sunday 5/3


“When we play together, we feel physically attuned and experience a sense of connection and joy. Improvisation exercises also are a marvelous way to help people connect in joy and exploration. The moment you see a group of grim-faced people break out in a giggle, you know the spell of misery has broken.”


  • Bessel Van Der Kolk, “The Body Keeps Score”


A dear friend sent me the Van Der Kolk book and I read the first half of it, but never finished it. I finished it today and, of course, there’s a whole section on using improvisation as a way to treat your trauma. But it’s not just the improv stuff, I found this point on desensitization really useful:


“Maybe the issue is not desensitization but integration: putting the traumatic event into its proper place in the overall arc of one’s life.”


Particularly in our unsettled now, I recognize there is no cure to be had for our grief and trauma. There is only an uneasy nearness to the part of our story where she stopped and we didn’t. And with that, a mixture of all the feelings at once: sadness, guilt, denial, acceptance, grief, resilience. 


It baffles me when people discount art or artists in times of crisis. In these times most of all we need our stories and storytellers to help us make some sense of the senseless; to give us insight into our feelings and provoke our feelings so that we can know we're still alive, albeit scarred and forever changed. I could not have survived the last two years without comedy, theatre, literature, music, art, dance - all of it. Art was and is essential to healing. The writers, most of all, have helped me give expression to the pain and find passage into the integration. My arc. My story. But the stories that others have shared with us.



“No matter what, nobody can take away the dances you've already had.”


  • Gabriel Garcia Marquez


“It was the time of year, the time of day, for a small insistent sadness to pass into the texture of things. Dusk, silence, iron chill. Something lonely in the bone.”


  • Don DeLillo


“Things are sweeter when they're lost. I know--because once I wanted something and got it. It was the only thing I ever wanted badly, Dot, and when I got it it turned to dust in my hand.”


  • F. Scott Fitzgerald


Monday 5/4


“The world is so big, so complicated, so replete with marvels and surprises that it takes years for most people to begin to notice that it is, also, irretrievably broken. We call this period of research “childhood.”


There follows a program of renewed inquiry, often involuntary, into the nature and effects of mortality, entropy, heartbreak, violence, failure, cowardice, duplicity, cruelty, and grief; the researcher learns their histories, and their bitter lessons, by heart. Along the way, he or she discovers that the world has been broken for as long as anyone can remember, and struggles to reconcile this fact with the ache of cosmic nostalgia that arises, from time to time, in the researcher’s heart: an intimation of vanished glory, of lost wholeness, a memory of the world unbroken. We call the moment at which this ache first arises “adolescence.” The feeling haunts people all their lives.


Everyone, sooner or later, gets a thorough schooling in brokenness.”


  • Michael Chabon


It really isn’t a burden to have to stay at home - not when you have resources, people and pets you like. But the personal psychological impact doesn’t distinguish between the have and have-nots. To go from drinks on a sun-lit patio late Sunday afternoon to a cold dull Monday morning with Zoom calls on the hour, almost every hour, is less than an inspired way to start the week. 


This was a hard day, harder for many, many others, but hard, nonetheless. So many people are losing their jobs and many of my closest, dearest friends are joining those ranks week after week. I know that we shouldn’t let work be the sole definition of who we are. But when you work in the Arts, you have likely made the decision to meld your identity, your passion and your dreams into your daily vocation. Artists aren’t defined by their work, their work is defined by them. It is a cruel kind of injustice to have the place where you put your whole self taken away from you. 


However, I’ve seen the blistering resilience of individuals who never let the losing of a job stop them from pursuing their work. It’s not that it was easy, it wasn’t. But they pushed past the shock and the hurt and found what’s next. For so many of us, what’s next is hard to even imagine. We don't even know when or how. I guess I just want to tell my friends that I believe in them.


“We are always falling in love or quarreling, looking for jobs or fearing to lose them, getting ill and recovering, following public affairs. If we let ourselves, we shall always be waiting for some distraction or other to end before we can really get down to our work. The only people who achieve much are those who want knowledge so badly that they seek it while the conditions are still unfavorable. Favorable conditions never come.”


  • C.S. Lewis


Tuesday 5/5


I had such bad nightmares last night that Anne had to wake me up. 


Maybe it’s because my industry is being incredibly realistic about its chances of safely opening our doors for customers to engage with us in person, but this re-opening of the country that is being talked about has the tinge of a national human sacrifice. That men of wealth and power came to the realization that those that will die from this virus are not the people they golf with, so it’s all good. Is that too cynical? 


The part of the nightmare I remember, the one where Anne woke me up, was getting pulled out of my car by some sort of “official” in the midst of a massive escape. Car after car trying to get out and away, but I wasn’t going to make it. 


So everything’s going great over here. 


This was also a wall to wall work day and it was just about 2:30pm when I was about to slam my head into that wall, when I got looped into a wonderful Twitter thread by my friend Francesca. Folks were nominating others to list their 5 word reflective practice. Some of the entries included:


Make it discussable; then discuss (Amy Edmondson)

Forgive and remember painful mistakes (Bob Sutton)

Curiosity and judgement can’t co-exist (Francesca Gina)


Mine was “See all obstacles as gifts.”

I crave simplicity these days. Everyone wants more time, more words, more certainty - and we don’t always need more. Sometimes we need five words to put us back on the right path. I had a playwriting teacher who told me that if you can’t tell me what your play is about in one sentence, you don’t have a play. She was right. 


There is a remaking in order. We need to remake our culture to be kinder and more generous and a place that values difference. We need to remake ourselves into wonderful mistake-makers who need to guide one another to our better words and wiser decisions. This doesn’t need to be complex.


“If we make one criterion for defining the artist the impulse to make something new, or to do something in a new way - a kind of divine discontent with all that has gone before, however good - then we can find such artists at every level of human culture, even when performing acts of great simplicity.”


  • Margaret Mead


Wednesday 5/6 and Thursday 5/7


The sun makes such a huge difference. Even though I was back to back to back to meetings for the last two days, work got done and it felt like we were moving things forward. I was able to reconnect with some friends and then I had therapy Thursday night.


It was a really powerful session. I told Fred about my Nora dream and then we moved onto some other things that happened in the week. I have been thinking for a little while now that I might need some sort of change with regard to my weekly sessions with Fred. So we talked about how I might have worked my way through talk therapy. We discussed how very different the sessions were now compared to the first couple of months and even as compared to our last few in person sessions. Maybe I move to sessions every other week or I explore different kinds of therapy, such as somatic experiencing therapy - which is a more body-oriented kind of therapy. I was talking about all of this with a great sense of calm and reason. And then we came back to the dream.


Fred pointed me there: “In your dream, maybe Nora was telling you that she’s alright and you’re alright?” 


Sitting in my bedroom, next to my window open to the end of a beautiful, sunny spring day - connected by wires I can’t see to my therapist through a screen - everything opened up in a twin fit of wonder and agony. She’s okay now. I’m okay now. 


To be broken and put back together in the same moment; I’ve literally never felt this emotion before. We basically cried our way through the next 15 minutes until the session ended. 


None of this means I won’t get sad anymore. I’m sad now, typing this. But for the first time since Nora died, I experienced a kind of peaceful solemnity. I wasn’t worrying about her, for her. I just missed her. 


I don’t know what this means in the greater arc of my own narrative. I suspect it won’t have a giant impact on my day to day life. But a change has occurred and I’m so curious if others who have been on this journey had a moment where they could let go in order to carry on. And if that letting go felt, as it did to me, like a kind of cementing of our eternal bond. Nora and I are connected beyond time and space. We always were, I just needed the time to catch up to her. 


“and here you are living

despite it all.”


  • Rupi Kaur


Friday 5/8 


I received a message on LinkedIn from an acquaintance. She lives in Andersonville and walked by Waldorf and saw Nora’s picture and the announcement that this was going to be the future home of “Nora’s Sun and Moon Park.” She asked why we were using the sun and the moon as part of the name. I told her how, when Nora was little, Anne and her friend Mary said that if Nora channelled her energy for good rather than evil, one day she would call us from the moon saying she found the cure for cancer. And that we knew the space would be a source of play during the day, so that’s why we tied them together. She responded:


“The Chinese characters of Sun and Moon combined together is the word for Bright, as shining upon the future, as one learned and understood, as in "Yes, And" when the sun and moon co-exist.”


She sent a link to a fuller explanation of the characters. One of the other meanings of the combined sun and moon is a generic term for “a sacrifice to the gods.”


All the things.


On Wednesday, I was talking to Nick and he said to Benchley, “Hey buddy, tomorrow is bacon day.” He thought it was Friday. 


Time is increasingly hard to track when we’re all stuck in one place. One of the reasons I am sticking to my daily schedule is so that I can create a rhythm of work and rest that helps guide me through the days and nights. Then this morning, I got a newsletter from Casper ter Kuile, who Anne and I met at the Aspen Ideas Festival. It was all about time:


“Between 1793 and 1805, France adopted a ten-day week. 


Rejecting the existing seven-day cycle, the move was part of the wider process of 'decimalization' in which varying measures were brought into a consistent system of 1's, 10's and 100's. (It also marked the introduction of the centimeter, for example.)


The purpose behind the change? To secularize time. 


The existing calendar was seen by the French Revolutionary government to embody a story - a religious story - which it rejected. The seven-day week actualized the narrative of Genesis, the mythic creation of the world by God in seven days. 


It seems absurd to think of a week lasting ten days, now. But seven is equally arbitrary! There's nothing in the natural world that dictates seven - it's an artificial unit of time which conveniently fills the gap between natural lunar-months and solar-days.


Time is constructed.


Clocks don't keep the time, they keep a time.”


I think it’s really valuable for us to be reminded of all the constructs that surround us because we so often mistake them for some concrete, literal truth. “It’s always been this way,” is a phrase that is seldom if ever true. The faction in this country that is cajoling in magical thinking that this virus will either just go away or that the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people is a tradeoff we have to accept, are stuck in their fixed mindsets. They are stuck in their illusion of time. 


Breath. Be in the now. Fiercely present in the moment. This is what change looks like.


“Forget about enlightenment.

Sit down wherever you are

And listen to the wind singing in your veins.

Feel the love, the longing, the fear in your bones.

Open your heart to who you are, right now,

Not who you would like to be,

Not the saint you are striving to become,

But the being right here before you, inside you, around you.

All of you is holy.

You are already more and less

Than whatever you can know.

Breathe out,

Touch in,

Let go.”


  • John Wellwood

#TeamNoraForever

 

Journal entry by Kelly Leonard

Saturday 4/25


“When you're young, you always feel that life hasn't yet begun—that ‘life’ is always scheduled to begin next week, next month, next year, after the holidays—whenever. But then suddenly you're old and the scheduled life didn't arrive. You find yourself asking, 'Well then, exactly what was it I was having—that interlude—the scrambly madness—all that time I had before?’”


  • Douglas Coupland


I was feeling restless, so I decided to go out for a long drive. I was considering either going south to experience how empty the streets of downtown Chicago might be or I would go north, and visit the streets of my childhood. Nostalgia won out and I headed to the northern suburbs of Chicago. When I got to Kenilworth and Winnetka, I started to ruminate on this: what if what happened to Nora had happened to me? What if I got sick in the summer of my sophomore year of high school and didn’t live past 17? All the experiences I would have missed out on. Of course, Nora would never have been born - or, at least, I don’t think she would have. I really don’t know how all of that works. 


A Nora-less world is a world made less in itself. 


The whole drive was a mixture of angst and memory and a kneading regard for a world in which we inject so much planning and meaning that is not and never was there. The world didn’t decide that I should live and Nora should die. It just happened. A disease happened. And now, as we live out some sort of nightmare scenario from a post-apocalyptic television show, it becomes even more reflexive to attach a grand design to what is simple entropy. 


I didn’t feel better after the drive; but I didn’t feel worse.


“When we pick up the newspaper at breakfast, we expect - we even demand - that it brings us momentous events since the night before...We expect our two-week vacations to be romantic, exotic, cheap, and effortless..We expect anything and everything. We expect the contradictory and the impossible. We expect compact cars which are spacious; luxurious cars which are economical. We expect to be rich and charitable, powerful and merciful, active and reflective, kind and competitive. We expect to be inspired by mediocre appeals for excellence, to be made literate by illiterate appeals for literacy...to go to 'a church of our choice' and yet feel its guiding power over us, to revere God and to be God. Never have people been more the masters of their environment. Yet never has a people felt more deceived and disappointed. For never has a people expected so much more than the world could offer.”


  • Daniel Boorstin


It was cold and rainy all day, which makes it much easier to fall into darker musings. So I did some breathing exercises, put on a soothing playlist on Spotify and just tried to focus on the work in front of me: doing laundry, reading a new book about decentralized organizations and improvisation (next week’s podcast taping), and running out with Anne to get bread and our weekly curbside pickup at the grocery store. 


Sunday 4/26


The sun is out. Even though it’s still a bit cold, I put the cushions out so I could work and read outside. The world sounds normal sitting here. Birds are chirping, families are strolling their way down the block, all the clicks and ticks of everyday life are expressing themselves in this anything but normal time. 


It’s very weird to be reading a book in which I’m extensively quoted. Devin Marty wrote “The Decision Making Employee: How To Succeed In A Decentralized Organization,” and I’m taping an interview with him later this week. He ties together the ideas he learned around decentralization with the rules of improvisational theatre. He quotes a TEDx talk I gave in which I offer that most people have some level of imposter syndrome. I know that I do. I also mention in the talk that if you meet someone who doesn’t, you should run away from them. And I added, “I think you know who I’m talking about.”


Ceding the need to be right is essential in improvisation and it’s essential in life. The thread that I can tie between my greatest failures is when I was over-confident and under-informed. 


Charles Duhigg has a fascinating and troubling article in the New Yorker that examines why Seattle fared so much better than New York City in responding to the Coronavirus. In short, Seattle took the lead of the scientists and New York City did not. Duhigg writes:


“Epidemiology is a science of possibilities and persuasion, not of certainties or hard proof. ‘Being approximately right most of the time is better than being precisely right occasionally,’ the Scottish epidemiologist John Cowden wrote, in 2010. ‘You can only be sure when to act in retrospect.’ Epidemiologists must persuade people to upend their lives—to forgo travel and socializing, to submit themselves to blood draws and immunization shots—even when there’s scant evidence that they’re directly at risk.


Epidemiologists also must learn how to maintain their persuasiveness even as their advice shifts. The recommendations that public-health professionals make at the beginning of an emergency—there’s no need to wear masks; children can’t become seriously ill—often change as hypotheses are disproved, new experiments occur, and a virus mutates. The C.D.C.’s Field Epidemiology Manual, which devotes an entire chapter to communication during a health emergency, indicates that there should be a lead spokesperson whom the public gets to know—familiarity breeds trust. The spokesperson should have a ‘Single Overriding Health Communication Objective, or sohco (pronounced sock-O),’ which should be repeated at the beginning and the end of any communication with the public. After the opening sohco, the spokesperson should ‘acknowledge concerns and express understanding of how those affected by the illnesses or injuries are probably feeling.’ Such a gesture of empathy establishes common ground with scared and dubious citizens—who, because of their mistrust, can be at the highest risk for transmission. The spokesperson should make special efforts to explain both what is known and what is unknown. Transparency is essential, the field manual says, and officials must ‘not over-reassure or overpromise.’


Communication is difficult when there are literally no stakes involved. 


In times of crisis, transparency is imperative - as is the understanding that facts do change. What was right yesterday may not be right today. It’s always bugged me that politicians get dinged for being “flip-floppers” when they alter their position on something as new information comes forward or cultural attitudes change. I don’t want your consistency, I want your honesty. 


Yesterday was supposed to be the day we went to Lurie for a memorial service as Nora’s name is being added to a wall at the hospital. I just remembered today when I stumbled upon the letter asking us if we wanted to receive the children’s book they were going to give us as a gift. I sent an email saying we would like a copy of the book and noticed the date.


Nothing is certain. Nothing is promised. All we have are the skills we’ve developed, the relationships we’ve built and the framework with which we decide to encounter a world that can be so blisteringly beautiful and desperately tragic in the same, simple breath.


“I can live with doubt and uncertainty and not knowing. I think it is much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers that might be wrong. If we will only allow that, as we progress, we remain unsure, we will leave opportunities for alternatives. We will not become enthusiastic for the fact, the knowledge, the absolute truth of the day, but remain always uncertain … In order to make progress, one must leave the door to the unknown ajar.”


  • Richard Feynman


 Monday 4/27


Ugh.


Anne and I talked about how the days and weeks have become this amorphous blob. We are missing the markers of time that carry us through our waking and sleeping hours - leaving for work, going out for lunch, end of the week drinks, weekend activities. Now you wake up and stay in the same place. You finish your workday in the same place. You finish your week and start your week in the same place. 


The. Same. Place.


To try to shake me from the Monday dread, I moved my home office to the front porch. We had sun most of the day, until some afternoon rain. But it was warm enough and I was surrounded by windows and I put on the Christmas lights. It made a difference. Plus I sold a keynote, so that felt like progress. 


At one point a mom and her little girl - probably 4 or 5 - came into our yard to look at and talk about the flowers. We have tulips that are blooming and the woman was naming the other plants for her little girl. I was on a call, but I loved hearing this tiny human moment coming from outside. 


On at least three calls today, these words were said: everything has changed. 


It’s true. 


And it’s profound and none of us knows quite how all of this will play out. But it is important to remember that there was always change, we just weren’t always conscious of it. Going through the cancer journey with Nora and losing her brought all of that into sharp relief: change is present throughout and it is so swift and severe that we need to protect ourselves from acknowledging, sometimes, that it is there at all. 


“You swallow hard when you discover that the old coffee shop is now a chain pharmacy, that the place where you first kissed so-and-so is now a discount electronics retailer, that where you bought this very jacket is now rubble behind a blue plywood fence and a future office building. Damage has been done to your city. You say, ''It happened overnight.'' But of course it didn't. Your pizza parlor, his shoeshine stand, her hat store: when they were here, we neglected them. For all you know, the place closed down moments after the last time you walked out the door. (Ten months ago? Six years? Fifteen? You can't remember, can you?) And there have been five stores in that spot before the travel agency. Five different neighborhoods coming and going between then and now, other people's other cities. Or 15, 25, 100 neighborhoods. Thousands of people pass that storefront every day, each one haunting the streets of his or her own New York, not one of them seeing the same thing.”


  • Colson Whitehead


Tuesday 4/28


Somewhere i have never traveled


somewhere i have never traveled, gladly beyond

any experience,your eyes have their silence:

in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,

or which i cannot touch because they are too near


your slightest look easily will unclose me

though i have closed myself as fingers,

you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens

(touching skillfully,mysteriously)her first rose


or if your wish be to close me,i and

my life will shut very beautifully,suddenly,

as when the heart of this flower imagines

the snow carefully everywhere descending;


nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals

the power of your intense fragility:whose texture

compels me with the color of its countries,

rendering death and forever with each breathing


(i do not know what it is about you that closes

and opens;only something in me understands

the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)

nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands


  • e.e. cummings 


This was the poem on our wedding invitations, which we celebrated 24 years ago today. I can’t imagine a life without Anne. We have had such a rich life together - sharing successes, facing steep challenges and weathering unfathomable loss. I know it seems odd now, but we were a very unlikely pair when we started dating. 


So our anniversary day will be spent in different rooms in our house, but we’ll be sharing duck cassoulet from Alinea for dinner tonight. 


I remain astounded by the level of collaboration and innovation that is happening at The Second City. I feel terrible for the fact that we can’t have our larger community participating in all of it. 


What we know is human beings crave connection and if they can’t have it live and in person, they will need to get it in all the other ways. And it can’t just be limited to a phone call or a Zoom session. We will need to find unique ways that we can connect. I feel that it is worthy work to be part of the team looking to foster those unique connections between people when they need it most.


“A few years ago I heard Jerome Kagan, a distinguished emeritus professor of child psychology at Harvard, say to the Dalai Lama that for every act of cruelty in this world there are hundreds of small acts of kindness and connection. His conclusion: "To be benevolent rather than malevolent is probably a true feature of our species." Being able to feel safe with other people is probably the single most important aspect of mental health; safe connections are fundamental to meaningful and satisfying lives. Numerous studies of disaster response around the globe have shown that social support is the most powerful protection against becoming overwhelmed by stress and trauma.


Social support is not the same as merely being in the presence of others. The critical issue is reciprocity: being truly heard and seen by the people around us, feeling that we are held in someone else's mind and heart. For our physiology to calm down, heal, and grow we need a visceral feeling of safety. No doctor can write a prescription for friendship and love: These are complex and hard-earned capacities. You don't need a history of trauma to feel self-conscious and even panicked at a party with strangers - but trauma can turn the whole world into a gathering of aliens.”


  • Bessel van der Kolk


Wednesday 4/29


We had an incredible anniversary meal from Alinea last night. Our friend sent us flowers, I had roses delivered to Anne, and our tulips just exploded out front and in the back - so it’s nice to have our space filled with the most lovely signs of spring. It would be great if the rain would let up. 


Working from my front porch helps a little. With three sides of windows, the natural light - even on a grey, rainy day - is better than being all the way in the house. We’ve kept Toto (the giant stuffed giraffe) and Bottles (the Coke bear) on the front porch to greet all the kids who walk by the house each day. These were both gifts for Nora - she named them - and she loved that they became a “thing” to see on our front porch. 


At this point it feels like I’m just coping on an hour by hour basis. People are scared, cranky, fearful, sad, confused - and some are just completely in denial. As if this whole thing will go away: poof, like a miracle. I mean, our President said that. T.S. Eliot said, “If you aren’t in over your head, how do you know how tall you are?” Which is fine for those of us who have resources (mental, financial, emotional). But not everyone has those resources and my heart aches for those many, many people. 


“Facing it, always facing it, that’s the way to get through. Face it.”


  • Joseph Conrad






Thursday 4/30


Anyone else up at 3am? I woke up, assuming it was near 5am, but when I looked at the clock it was 1:30am. My mind just spun for the next hour and a half - going over every highly charged emotional moment in my life, while I performed every trick I knew to try to go back to sleep: counting backwards from 200, doing deep breaths, trying to focus on a single happy moment. I gave up a bit before 3am and came downstairs and brewed a pot of coffee. 


I’ve never felt so personally abandoned by a set of my political leaders in my lifetime - and that’s a life that lived through Watergate, Iran-Contra, The Iraq War, Flint, you name it. All the evidence is there for our eyes and our ears - denying this global pandemic was anything more than a lesser grade flu; claiming it was a plot by the Democrats; telling us that everything is fine now and if old people or sick kids die, well, that’s just collateral damage that we have to endure so rich people can golf. Fuck them and their death cult and death cultists. 


“Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. ”


  • George Orwell


Bernie Sahlins, co-founder of The Second City, once told me, “All politics are personal.” The context of this was within the kind of scenes that we could create at Second City - that you could use the language of our daily lives as a way to shine a light on the people we elect to protect us. I don’t for a minute believe that we’ve only been let down by Republicans. Democrats have been protecting the ruling class at the expense of everyone else for decades. But right now, our lives are on the line and the BBC, which is playing in the kitchen, is reporting one story after another that is as frightening as anything I was wrestling with an hour ago in bed, unable to sleep. 


Reported US Coronavirus deaths by date:


Feb. 29: 1 death

Mar. 29: 2,425 deaths

Apr. 29: 60,967 deaths


Okay. Enough emoting on everything that’s bad. Need to find the pond. 


Working out helped a lot. My head felt clearer and I regained a sense of accomplishment. I think that’s an important thing right now: celebrating your little accomplishments, no matter how minor or trivial they may seem. When you’ve gone through trauma or you’re going through trauma, you can begin to see the world through a thin layer of impossible despair. Everything gets colored by what has been taken from you. It can manifest itself in anger or depression or, for me, a loss of my own rooting. 

I’ve lived most of my life with the deepest feeling of being rooted: the youngest of six kids, a job I’ve been at for over 30 years and our family of four. When the rootless feeling comes, I just have to try and focus on what I have accomplished that I can be proud of - even if it’s making it through one day to the next.


“Better is possible. It does not take genius. It takes diligence. It takes moral clarity. It takes ingenuity. And above all, it takes a willingness to try.”


  • Atul Gawande


Friday 5/1


“Justice has always been a human ideal, but it is not fully compatible with mercy. Creative imagination and spontaneity, splendid in themselves, cannot be fully reconciled with the need for planning, organization, careful and responsible calculation. Knowledge, the pursuit of truth—the noblest of aims—cannot be fully reconciled with the happiness or the freedom that men desire, for even if I know that I have some incurable disease this will not make me happier or freer. I must always choose: between peace and excitement, or knowledge and blissful ignorance. And so on…


If these ultimate human values by which we live are to be pursued, then compromises, trade-offs, arrangements have to be made if the worst is not to happen. So much liberty for so much equality, so much individual self-expression for so much security, so much justice for so much compassion.”


  • Isaiah Berlin


There is a thing that has been gnawing at me in various responses to the pandemic - and not just in political circles. I’ve seen this thinking in business and education - even in response to our entertainment and art.


It came to me during a philosophy podcast I was listening to this morning (Philosophize This!) during my morning workout. The host was spotlighting the work of Isaiah Berlin, a British philosopher and political theorist who was fairly controversial in his day though commonly admired as brilliant. Berlin offered that the argument between relativism and absolutism, was a limiting one. He contended that pluralism - the doctrine of multiplicity - was a better starting point when discussing the human condition. The idea that two ideas can co-exist at the same time - free of any sort of value judgement - requires one to be ever tolerant of difference, especially when it comes to traditionally oppressed people.


The opposite of pluralism is totalitarianism. 


To not understand pluralism is to swim in the waters where the guiding light is that there is one truth at all times for all people.


I see this when handfuls of white men with guns descend into the offices of state capitals; I see this when businesses demand that they should be open for good or shut for good; I see this when public opinion writers are so hemmed into their categorical thinking that if the art they are seeing doesn’t fit to the form they always knew, it must not be art. 


Every decision we make has consequences - unintended or not. What’s good for one person, just might not be good for another. And what’s so revealing in this moment is that in crisis, we reveal our own philosophy of the world. The fixed mindset crowd will sacrifice the vulnerable in order to protect what they consider to be their earned everything. Pluralists get that this is incredibly complicated and will attempt to thread the needle as best they can: invent, reinvent, change, adapt. Berlin writes:


“To preserve our absolute categories or ideals at the expense of human lives offends equally against the principles of science and of history; it is an attitude found in equal measure on the right and left wings in our days, and is not reconcilable with the principles accepted by those who respect the facts.”


The sun came out today and it warmed up for most of the day. I had a really inspiring conversation with two colleagues and some more paid work found its way to us. It’s beautiful and it’s terrible. I miss my girl.


#TeamNoraForever

 

Journal entry by Kelly Leonard

Saturday 4/18


When I’m on the exercise bike, I can normally see the roof of Swedish Covenant Hospital. But the blooming trees are just starting to obscure the view, which I don’t mind one bit. The sun was out and the temperature rose enough that I could put the cushions out on the patio and Anne and I spent almost the whole afternoon outside. I’m reading Bob Johansen’s “Full Spectrum Thinking.” Bob is a futurist who I have had on the podcast twice already. I’m fascinated by his work. As he puts it, “I live ten years in the future, which can be very useful for future insights but isn’t so great for living right now.” The basic premise of the book is that in the coming world, we have to be extremely wary of those who operate with a fixed mindset; people who cling to certainty. Things like the speed of information, the growing wealth gap and cyber threats, will make it necessary to have the broadest spectrum of thought.


He writes about the importance of ‘clarity filters’ that can screen out the lies, falsehoods and disinformation that will only become more rampant in the coming years.


“”While the term ‘clarity filter’ may be unfamiliar. Clarity filtering is ancient. The village elder was a clarity filter, as were shamans, priests, and other voices of authority who people trusted to help them make sense out of the world around them. Today, our own personal medical doctors often play the role of clarity filters to help us treat illness and make healthy choices. Clarity filters are trusted sense-makers.”


I know that the truth was never the truth. I mean, the United States still celebrates Columbus Day, politicians still push for “Trickle Down Economics” and the “Placebo Effect” is a real thing (https://www.health.harvard.edu/mental-health/the-power-of-the-placebo-effect).


In many ways, it’s those who crave certainty the most that are the most culpable to the convenient lie. In our yearning to make sense of the world, we can often grab the nearest explanation and claim it as fact. 


Sitting outside, warm sun and cool breeze - Benchley napping next to me on the patio sofa - I can see the garden coming alive. Tulips are taking shape, cat mint and hostas are beginning to burst from the soil. I wish i had a better word than bittersweet to describe the feeling of seeing the garden grow in the sombre shade of grieving for my child. Not that “bittersweet’ Isn’t an apt descriptor for the feeling, it is. But it doesn’t fully convey the complexity of the emotion. It lacks both the sharper edge and the root awe that live in this single moment. 


One of the hardest aspects of this journey is the recognition and acceptance of my own contentment in a world where my daughter no longer lives. 


“The search for contentment is, therefore, not merely a self-preserving and self-benefiting act, but also a generous gift to the world. You cease being an obstacle, not only to yourself but to anyone else. Only then are you free to serve and enjoy other people.”

  • Elizabeth Gilbert


I woke up at 3am and couldn’t get back to sleep. 


All the normal angst, none of which is soothed by reading the morning newspapers or listening to NPR as it plays in the kitchen as a kind of under-scoring to the global pandemic.


I have to finish my reading today, finish a draft of an article I’m writing for a tech magazine about Second City’s response to the crisis, and one of my podcast guests asked to re-record the end of our conversation together (that is a first). Benchley turns 5 on Tuesday and right now he is snoring at my feet as I write. 


I’m reminding myself to stay in this moment and not linger in what may or may not be in the future. The sun is out, we have amazing food in the refrigerator, we’re employed and Nick’s about to graduate college with honors. 


Do we think this pandemic will finally make us reconsider the modern idea of work as it relates to income, healthcare and what it means to be a citizen of the world? It doesn’t need to be set up this way and with so many millions out of work right now, it shows us that this was never a sustainable structure for anyone but the most privileged. Thank god we’re finally having serious conversations around universal basic income. Great thinkers were talking about this concept decades ago.


“We should do away with the absolutely specious notion that everybody has to earn a living. It is a fact today that one in ten thousand of us can make a technological breakthrough capable of supporting all the rest. The youth of today are absolutely right in recognizing this nonsense of earning a living. We keep inventing jobs because of this false idea that everybody has to be employed at some kind of drudgery because, according to Malthusian Darwinian theory he must justify his right to exist. So we have inspectors of inspectors and people making instruments for inspectors to inspect inspectors. The true business of people should be to go back to school and think about whatever it was they were thinking about before somebody came along and told them they had to earn a living.”


  • Buckminster Fuller


Nick and I are stoked to watch “The Last Dance” on ESPN tonight: the behind the court documentary of the last Chicago Bulls championship season. I put together a playlist of music from 1997 & 1998 - not a particularly deep year for good music, which you can tell because of the prevalence of Cake and Smash Mouth on the charts. In 2003, I took Nick to Washington, DC to see Michael Jordan play in one of his last games in the NBA. I remember almost every detail of that trip and it remains a milestone moment in my life. Anne and I were married at my parent’s house the day of a playoff game that the Bulls won and we managed to watch the last quarter while the reception was happening downstairs. Those Bulls championship years are wrapped up in all my adult beginnings: first marriage, first big job, second marriage, first child. It is impossible for me to untangle the thrill of that basketball caravan from how I entered adulthood.


It’s interesting to be with Nick, just a few months away from the age I was when I started working at Second City, entering a much different world, a much scarier world. I don’t know what this beginning will be like for him, but I trust his ability to navigate for himself inside an ever-changing environment. He’s had a lot thrown at him and he’s still standing. 


“Life is, in fact, a battle. Evil is insolent and strong; beauty enchanting, but rare; goodness very apt to be weak; folly very apt to be defiant; wickedness to carry the day; imbeciles to be in great places, people of sense in small, and mankind generally unhappy. But the world as it stands is no narrow illusion, no phantasm, no evil dream of the night; we wake up to it, forever and ever; and we can neither forget it nor deny it nor dispense with it.”


  • Henry James


Monday 4/20


Really hard to get the engines running on Mondays. The sun was out again and although my work kept me inside for most of the day, I did manage a half hour on the back patio at lunch time to rest my brain and drink in the sunlight. I got a lovely note from an upcoming podcast guest who had heard about Nora. She wrote: “I hope that people are kind with you and for you,” which I thought was a lovely expression of care. And it makes me think of the times when I was unkind, which has its own way of insidiously gnawing into the moments of your day. And this is a good thing. I’d much rather feel bad for my missteps than feel nothing at all, or worse - to take some joy in making someone else feel less about themselves. 


“To be kind is more important than to be right. Many times, what people need is not a brilliant mind that speaks but a special heart that listens.”


  • F. Scott Fitzgerald


Nick’s graduation present came today - a new computer. He’s extremely pleased with it and said it’s the fastest computer he’s ever worked on. He can finally use the Zoom background feature which came in handy during his Chekhov class when he put the Russian flag behind him. Anne was transferring more of her lectures to the digital format and Benchley spent the day dreaming of the extra treats he will be getting for his birthday tomorrow. We decided to order carry out from Community Tavern for dinner. We last went there for my birthday on August 6. 


Tuesday 4/21


I gave Benchley a little bit of pork shoulder in his breakfast this morning. When we brought him home as a puppy, Nick was on a class trip and Anne and I had a workshop we had to deliver in Cleveland. So my niece Tory stayed with Nora at our house and tended to our new puppy. This is definitely part of the reason they had such a strong bond. We found some great pictures of them together.


After breakfast, I went to look for a jacket or hoodie and was digging around where we keep our coats and found a grey Second City hoodie that I totally forgot was there. When I reached into the pockets, I pulled out a parking pass for the Ravinia Festival and a piece of paper with two addresses on it. The last time I wore this hoodie was when I took Nora to Ravina to see Phillip Phillips for her birthday with two of her friends. 


I’m not used to these sad surprises. I don’t know that I ever will be. And I don’t quite know what to do with them. This morning, I did remember that we had a good time at the show and I know Nora liked the idea of getting older and doing more cool things like going to concerts. Which, of course, made me dwell on her passing. Even after so many months, it doesn’t always feel real. Sometimes I have the sense that I might have just been in the worst nightmare ever and I’ll wake up and hear her coming out of her room, attached to her phone, moving down the stairs to greet the day. 


“There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are messengers of overwhelming grief…and unspeakable love.”


  • Washington Irving


Wednesday 4/22


Yep. Wednesday’s seem to be a consistently unwelcome day during the week. It doesn’t help that I’m on deadline to get edits done on the article I’m writing for builtin.com and my calendar today has meetings every hour of the day - a couple of which are conversations I really don’t want to have. I feel like I need a mantra of sorts. The psychologist I interviewed the other day has a code that she lives by: “To cultivate hope wherever I go.”


Mine might be: “Find the gratitude in all of it.” Which is hard when you look at the numbers:


22 million unemployed in the US. 

826,240 coronavirus cases in the US.

45,373 reported deaths due to coronavirus in the US.


And you know that last number is likely much lower than the actual number of deaths. I have a friend who clearly had the virus but tested negative. The nurse told her that they were getting many false negatives with the current testing. 


My work day is ending - the calls I was worried about went fine. I got to connect with a friend and I bought toilet paper and paper towels when I made a quick Jewel run to restock a few things. Most people are very conscious of physical distancing, but not everyone, and I don’t understand why they haven’t made the aisles one way. Working in improvisation all these years, the ability to pivot is ingrained. Any sort of change is hard for people. When there's massive change, that only makes matters worse. There’s a kind of muscular empathy that one needs to be agile in the face of all this uncertainty. Nietzsche wrote, “You must have chaos within you to give birth to a dancing star.” Improvisers wrap themselves around the unknown and defuse the tension through accepting it and using it. 


“Disorder is inherent in stability. Civilized man doesn't understand stability. He's confused it with rigidity. Our political and economic and social leaders drool about stability constantly. It's their favorite word, next to 'power.'


'Gotta stabilize the political situation in Southeast Asia, gotta stabilize oil production and consumption, gotta stabilize student opposition to the government' and so forth.


Stabilization to them means order, uniformity, control. And that's a half-witted and potentially genocidal misconception. No matter how thoroughly they control a system, disorder invariably leaks into it. Then the managers panic, rush to plug the leak and endeavor to tighten the controls. Therefore, totalitarianism grows in viciousness and scope. And the blind pity is, rigidity isn't the same as stability at all.


True stability results when presumed order and presumed disorder are balanced. A truly stable system expects the unexpected, is prepared to be disrupted, waits to be transformed.”


  • Tom Robbins


Thursday 4/23


“So we are wired for anxiety, for fear, for worry, for rumination. Fair enough. Because as a species that protects us, right? It helps us anticipate danger. It helps us face danger. We're also hardwired for love, gratitude, generosity, kindness, contentment, serenity, passion, creativity. We're also hardwired for positive states. But because the fear and anxiety stuff tends to be stickier, we forget about the good. So the metaphor I like to work with is to build in the swamp and the pond. So the swamp refers to metaphorically all the things that make our days difficult. And the swamp was present every day before Coven-19. It will be present every day after Coven-19. So ordinary swamp stressors are like traffic, too much email, not enough time to get work done. My 17 year olds pissed at me, you know, yada yada, yada, yada. Fair enough. But the pond is always also true. So when I, no matter how big a group of students I'll have in a class, I'll say, tell me some one thing you appreciate about the day. And it doesn't take them long to come up with the cup of coffee, the blue bird, my wife gave me a hug, my daughter sent me a text, I got a promotion at work. There's always the pond as well. So resilience rests in that capacity to notice the swamp, manage it, work with it, do your best to heal it and put most of your focus and energy and attention toward the pond.”


  • Dr. Maria Sirois


This is the space, I’m finding, where most of us are living. Struggling to be in the pond while we are invisibly, magnetically pulled towards the swamp. 


A reminder: to be afraid, to catastrophize, to surrender - that’s the easier choice - which means that it’s rarely the best choice. 3 deep breaths, stretch, music, wine - you don’t only have the internal forces of your positive mindset to get yourself through this. And we all have to talk more about what we need, where we are and not be afraid to make some new rules for ourselves. Anne made fun of me for suggesting we do a weekly family meeting - not because she thought it was a bad idea - but because she consistently wanted us to do family meetings and the rest of us never wanted to. I strongly suggest marrying someone who is smarter than you.


Speaking of which, next Tuesday is our 24th wedding anniversary. 


We would normally go out for a fancy dinner. So, instead, we’re carrying out a fancy dinner from Alinea. Here’s the description of the main course from their confirmation email:


“Duck Confit Cassoulet


Confit of duck leg, white beans, pearl onions, garlic sausage, and bread crumbs

This iconic peasant dish, originating in the southern French city of Toulouse, is made of duck

leg confit, pork sausage and ham, onions, carrots and slowly braised white beans to form a

hearty casserole that is topped with toasted bread crumbs. In the traditional process of

preparing the dish it was once common to deglaze the pot from the previous cassoulet in order

to give a base for the next one. This has led to stories, such as the one given by Elizabeth

David, citing Anatole France, of a single original cassoulet being extended for years or even

decades.”


It is nice to have something to look forward to.


Friday 4/24


Looking at the weather today and for the week to come and it looks like a lot of grey, rainy days. Really not something we need in our little world right now. Nick’s new computer keeps shutting itself down and we may have to exchange it; Anne’s got a ton on her plate right now; I’m busy, but okay - keeping on my tasks as best I can. But I have to admit that all of it is getting to me a bit. Out of nowhere, I started crying while working out this morning. First time that’s happened. I was thinking about Nora, but I know it was also just a kind of sad exhaustion at the state of our world and the world at large. 


In a number of conversations today, people were sharing that this was a difficult week for them as well. I don’t know why, but it all felt more swamp than pond. As Randy Pausch said in The Last Lecture, “No matter how bad things are, you can always make things worse.” This is the trap we sometimes lay for ourselves. 


Which is why we have to be here for each other. We need to share our good and share our bad. We have to wrestle with the anxious troubles of our brothers and sisters when they lack the strength to wrestle themselves. And we will need a respite in return. When we are so weary from worry that every move feels laden with effort. 


I miss Nora. All the time. And the world right now is a scary place. And I’m seeing artists step up to the moment to make us laugh, make us feel safer and bring us tiny moments of digital awe. 


“Everything that is tearing us down today will become a memory, and this memory will be shared as an anecdote or a story or a poem or a play or a warning. It will be shared with another human being, who will then understand that he is not alone in his sadness. This is why we show up for others and tell our tales and listen to others. The great congregation meets daily, and you are someone’s angel today.”


  • Tennessee Williams


#TeamNoraForever

 

Journal entry by Kelly Leonard

Saturday 4/11


Where do I start this post? A very fine human, a good friend of mine let me down in my professional capacity. I want to note that this person never let me down in my personal capacity. I responded on social media and it became a thing. 


Ugh. I hate this. I am now trying to balance my responsibility as a leader in a business with my loyalties to my friends. 


This is all new. Every bit of it. And we don’t need to attack each other. But we do have to hold each other responsible when we misstep. When we put up a frame that negates our impossible task, we do a disservice to innovation. We must do better. And we will, if we applaud the progress along the way. I think about my Dad in these moments. Roy Leonard would be so proud of what we are doing amid this chaos. In my perfect world, Anne, Nick, Nora, and I would be in quarantine with Roy and Sheila right now - watching old movies, playing with the dogs in the backyard, telling stories. My mother loved the troubled ones. For some reason, she delighted in being the mom who was cool with the “crazy kids.” Nora was a crazy kid. She loved our girl’s craziness, she lit up when Nora played, a goofy and grinning girl. 


At what point do we all understand that the rules have changed and that our lives depend on us making the transition to the new norms?


Nick had a jogger run right past him on the sidewalk - taking no precautions to move six feet to the side of him; we’re seeing groups of people in the park, The slowness to move on this is literally killing people. 


As for our federal government. This quote says it all: 


 “In an ever-changing, incomprehensible world the masses had reached the point where they would, at the same time, believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and that nothing was true. ... Mass propaganda discovered that its audience was ready at all times to believe the worst, no matter how absurd, and did not particularly object to being deceived because it held every statement to be a lie anyhow. The totalitarian mass leaders based their propaganda on the correct psychological assumption that, under such conditions, one could make people believe the most fantastic statements one day, and trust that if the next day they were given irrefutable proof of their falsehood, they would take refuge in cynicism; instead of deserting the leaders who had lied to them, they would protest that they had known all along that the statement was a lie and would admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness.”


  • Hannah Arendt


I’m tired. I’m going to bed.


Sunday 4/12


“Easter Contemplations


It does not concern me

If this life is all I have.

I do not need a resurrection

Or reincarnation

Or to live with the gods.


It is enough to live

With you here

In the days of your presence.


When my breathes

Are complete,

Lay me by your side

In the dust.

As in life, so in death.

Let us become one

With each other again.”


  • Eric Overby


It’s Easter Sunday. Anne bought a ham. We are not a religious family. Both Anne and I grew up in the Catholic church but, like so many of us, moved away and apart from that faith once we became adults. I remember conversations early in our marriage when Nick was born about whether we should expose him to faith rituals - which we both deemed useful in many regards. I think Chicago Waldorf filled that niche for him. The music, the stories, the art - the expressions of wonder, awe and angels - all of this created a connection to the mysterious and ineffable. The talk of crossing the rainbow bridge allowed for something so sad to also be quite beautiful. 


There’s a chapter in Jamil Zaki’s “The War for Kindness” that really struck me because it was based on his daughter Alma’s health crisis. By all accounts, she is fine now, but that was not the case after her birth. Zaki goes back to the University of California’s Benioff Children Hospital to study the ICU teams. He talks about caregiver burnout:


“Counting on self-care to fix burnout diminishes how serious this condition is. When we’re slick, we turn to professionals for a reason. No doctor would tell someone with internal bleeding to take a bubble bath, or someone with a broken wrist to watch a funny movie and let it pass. When we expect caregivers to get better on their own, we are in essence telling people who are in real distress to walk it off.” 


There’s a reason that most of Nora’s nurses were women in their 20’s - and not many in their 30’s - and, essentially, none in their 40’s (with maybe two exceptions that I can think of). How do you keep going in a profession where children die with frequency? Zaki writes, “One social worker told me that she was pulled toward her profession by the ‘romance of suffering.’ Combine that with the boot-camp-style toughness of caring work, and you end up with a quiet epidemic.”


A quiet epidemic - to go along with our loud epidemic.


In honor of this Christian holiday, I’ll end this post with a quote from the great Trappist monk, Thomas Merton:


“You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith and hope.”


Monday 4/13


I’ll admit that my first thought when I woke up this morning was, “Are we really doing this again?” If my memory is correct, It was four weeks ago today that we started to shelter in place at home. Even in our home comforts - and we have all the comforts once could ask for - there is a kind of sharp ennui that becomes your base state when you are forced to live your life in a confined space, unable to physically connect within your various communities. 


But in glancing at my schedule for the week, I realized that I have work to do - everyday. Yes, there is a threat all around us; a threat that has been created by this invisible virus and the damage it is doing to our livelihoods and lives. But the threat was always there, lurking in various corners of the globe. For those of us who still have the gift of work, we have to focus on what we can do in this minute and the next to fully realize our capability. We need to summon our most creative selves to reimagine our contributions so that they matter in the world that is. And thinking about that, I can’t help but feel that a gift has been given to us.


“This is the real secret of life -- to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realize it is play.”


  • Alan Watts


It was a really productive work day. A colleague shared a post on Medium about the tremendous opportunity we have in our hands right now if we join forces to make the world we want and not the world we have. No one should worry about receiving healthcare or food or shelter; everyone needs to contribute and those who lag, prevaricate or impede shouldn’t be allowed to play until they get their shit together. And we all need to understand that sometimes it’s really hard to get our shit together. Compassion and responsibility, kindness and accountability.


Tuesday 4/14


The sun is shining but the weather report calls for snow. Some things haven’t changed in Chicago.


Yesterday afternoon I attended my first Zoom memorial. Our Second City family came together to celebrate the life of longtime stage manager Craig Taylor. His daughter, Samantha, read an incredibly poignant eulogy for her dad; and it was so good to see so many old friends from across the decades of our theatre. I’ve worked at The Second City for 32 years and Anne has worked there for 34 years. There is nothing perfect about our theatre. In fact, it’s flaws are part of its feature. It’s akin to what Nelson Algren wrote about Chicago itself: “Yet once you've come to be part of this particular patch, you'll never love another. Like loving a woman with a broken nose, you may well find lovelier lovelies. But never a lovely so real.”


I am carrying a load of stress in my upper back and neck right now. I tried to focus on that area in my morning workout and that helped a little bit. This isn’t helped by sitting in the same chair for most of the day going from one Zoom call to the next. I try to take short breaks to walk up and down the stairs, or sneak outside for a bit. It’s becoming increasingly strange to see stir crazy young adults roaming in a tight circle in front of their homes and apartment buildings. I worry for those who suffer loneliness. This pandemic feels unduly harsh for that population. 


“Solitude is fine but you need someone to tell that solitude is fine.”


  • Honore de Balzac


I ran out to the grocery store to get a handful of items and it was not a pleasant experience. Anne ordered masks that we now use when we leave the house and I have some thin gloves I’ve been wearing when I expect there will be an interaction with other humans. Almost no one at the grocery story was following the precautions that the store itself had written up at the entryway - no masks, walking right next to folks - it was impossible to manage responsibly. 


I feel like this is an easy ask. Everyone just needs to slow down and pay more attention. The podcast we’re posting next week talks about this: in groups of people, we go with the norm - even if we know better. If we see a bunch of people acting irresponsibly, we will act irresponsibly because we fear being the outsider. 


We are living in a new normal. We need to act like it. 


“The fear of appearances is the first symptom of impotence.”


  • Fyodor Dostoevsky


Wednesday 4/15


There is half an inch of snow on the ground at 6am - not that it matters in any way whatsoever to us. By 9am, each of us will likely retreat to our three corners of the house to start our days: taking class, teaching class, attending meetings, rehearsals and sales calls. 


New things that I do now: make the bed every morning, make lunch for just myself, run the dishwasher twice a day, wash my hands a lot, use a ring light when making Zoom calls, tape my podcast from home, wear a mask when I leave the house. 


I had a great podcast taping with Jamil Zaki yesterday. We kind of discovered something interesting during our conversation. We were discussing the work of Emile Bruneau, an academic who focuses on conflict resolution. In his studies, when conflicting parties come together to share their stories, the party who has more power and higher status reports feeling better about themselves and with more empathy for their counterpart after the conversation. But, the party with less power and status doesn’t feel better. Basically, the idea is that the party with less power already “understands” their counterpart because they are already driving the narrative. 


So he ran an experiment where he brought together the conflicting parties, but only the group who had less power shared their stories. The party in power just had to listen. In that study, the group that has less status reported feeling much better about the interaction and their empathy from the group in power increased. The higher status group, also reported having more empathy for the lower status group. 


Jamil used a term when discussing this phenomena: “perspective giving.” I noted to him that my college professor wife uses that term when discussing the way that stand up comics execute their work. They have to teach their audience very quickly how to understand their comedic point of view - she uses the term “perspective giving” when discussing this mode of performance.


We both took a beat - realizing that so much stand up comedy is about speaking truth to power; an individual who is taking on institutions, governments, networks and the elite. “Perspective giving” appears to be the province of anyone who is punching up. 


“In essence, you are neither inferior nor superior to anyone. True self-esteem and true humility arise out of that realization. In the eyes of the ego, self-esteem and humility are contradictory. In truth, they are one and the same.”


  • Eckhart Tolle


I think Wednesday’s can be hard for folks in this “shelter in place” world we live in right now. You’re kind of exhausted from the week you’ve had and you know you have to give more. The monotony is a really unhealthy partner to fear and catastrophizing for the future. 


I booked a positive psychologist on the podcast next week by the name of Maria Sirois (pronounced: Seer-Wah). I watched a video she did a week ago about cultivating resilience in these times. She had people right down a list of things they are scared about right now. Then she had them write down a list of things they are grateful for right now. She said, “Every single day there are two realities occurring at the same time.” Maria identifies them as the swamp and the pond.


Our brains are built to send us to the swamp, so we have to build up our resiliency so we can get ourselves to the pond instead. 


“I can alter my life by altering my attitude. He who would have nothing to do with thorns must never attempt to gather flowers.”


  • Henry David Thoreau


Thursday 4/16


Hard end of the day. I had therapy and a well of emotion just tumbled up and out. I wasn’t expecting it and wasn’t quite sure where it all came from. Fred offered that grieving for my daughter while in a global pandemic when we are scared for our jobs and our futures while we have the worst federal leadership in government that you could possibly imagine might be enough of a reason to shed a few tears. More than a few. 


I was talking to Anne later about this and one of the things I miss most is that Nora was really my everyday run around buddy. I have been compared to a shark more than a few times, not in the analogy of danger but in the analogy of always moving. Nora was the same way. So anytime I went on errands, she would tag along - and I was always driving her around to various rehearsals and practices. I really enjoyed spending time with her and it breaks my heart sometimes to sit down at the dinner table that is still set with four place mats and she’s not sitting across from me. She will never sit across from me again. It is a loss unlike anything I’ve ever experienced in my life. The pain is immeasurable. And so, I need to accept it. I need to feel it. And I need to find the good behind the bad. 


Yesterday, I ordered a dozen bagels, nova lox, chive cream cheese, bagel chips and chopped liver from one of our favorite delis. So I treated myself to one of my favorite breakfasts to start this day. 


We successfully delivered a virtual workshop to a global soft drink company that was based on personal and team resilience and it was a smashing success. 


Even though it’s cold, the sun is shining brightly and the leaves are starting to bud on the trees. 


It’s all so broken and beautiful.


“We don’t, not any of us, get to this point clean. No. We’re all dirty and ragged. Rough edges and sharp corners. Fault lines and demolition zones. We’ve got tear gas riot squads aiming straight for the protest lines of our weary souls. Landmines in our chests that we trip over every time we try to hide from the terrifying tremble of our own war torn hearts....But it is your history that delivered you this roadmap of scars. Those healed wounds and their jagged edges are proof of your infinite ability to survive, to knit broken back to wholeness, to refuse that the end is ever really the end. Make friends with your teardown. Do not run from your bar brawl for forgiveness. Sit with the times you’ve fucked up and the times you lost all and the days your redemption was delivered by the hand of the last person you ever expected to give anything but darkness. And through it all know that your walled up and torn down, graffiti-covered heart is still the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.”


  • Jeanette LeBlanc


Friday 4/17


A dull, cold day of snow and rain was waiting for me when the alarm went off at 5am. If the weather predictions are to be believed, it will be 60 degrees tomorrow. 


But so few things are predictable, especially now. 


I know that so many people have found a troubling solace in the prophetic words of George Orwell lately.  But it dawned on me that Albert Camus wrote a book called “The Plague,” which offers so many beautifully written and dark insights:


“The evil in the world comes almost always from ignorance, and goodwill can cause as much damage as ill-will if it is not enlightened. People are more often good than bad, though in fact that is not the question. But they are more or less ignorant and this is what one calls vice or virtue, the most appalling vice being the ignorance that thinks it knows everything and which consequently authorizes itself to kill. The murderer's soul is blind, and there is no true goodness or fine love without the greatest possible degree of clear-sightedness.”


  • Albert Camus


The twin idiocies of Dr. Oz and Dr. Phil attempting to offer a norm out of the potential loss of children’s lives in order to re-open the schools is an abomination. For what reason? For money? For a return to what was? None of this matters anymore and it scarcely did before. The thing about tragedies and plagues is that you come to realize there was never a script. We just assumed that things would stay as they were because that seems like an easier way to live - just go with the flow. But when you face the tragic reality, and you are still standing, you realize that you have the ability to rewrite your present and your future. Nothing great came out of standing still and waiting for someone else to offer a change for the better; nothing was ever invented by the status quo. Civilizations have changed, morphed, evolved, collapsed and been reborn since this giant experiment started. 


This calamity presents a unique opportunity to replace fear with kindness, oppression with equity, and the value of money with the value of meaning. 


Just as I began to learn that I couldn’t waste the meaning of Nora’s life in unceasing sorrow and despair, I discovered that I could hold to her spirit as a kind of talisman to try to be a better human being. I fail at this all the time, but that doesn’t matter as long as I keep trying. Can’t we take the tragedy of this pandemic to do the same, but for all of us? The only thing that is standing in the way is ourselves.


“All of us are in two stories at the same time," said the sandwich lady. "Life and Times. There is our own personal story, and the bigger story of what's happening around us. When both are in trouble simultaneously, when the crisis inside you intersects with the crisis outside you, things get a little crazy.”


  • Salman Rushdie


#TeamNoraForever




















Journal entry by Kelly Leonard

Saturday 4/4


Chores.


We have a very sweet Polish lady who cleans our house every other Tuesday. To keep her safe and us safe, she’s not coming (and we’re still paying her - everyone who can afford to do that should). So, I spent the day vacuuming, scrubbing, and mopping while Anne created powerpoints and recorded a bunch of her lectures. Nick and I went out later in the afternoon in search of an open drive- through Starbucks, but both of the ones near us were closed. While we were out, Anne texted and asked if we could drive to Skokie to pick up a batch of bread and granola. Our friend Melina is an incredible baker and she’s set up an in-home bakery service: you order online and then pick up in her backyard. Because the sourdough came out a little dark, she threw in a cinnamon loaf. 


We also put an order in for a family dinner from Gather, a restaurant in Lincoln Square, that we will pick up curbside on Sunday night. Here’s the Sunday night menu:


Gather Fried Chicken/No Bone/Honey Drizzle/Country Mashed Potatoes/Gravy  


Roasted Sweet Corn/Grilled Cipollini Onion/Butter Glazed


Cole Slaw/Red Cabbage/Shredded Carrot/Garlic Aioli/Apple Cider Vinaigrette


Since both of us still have jobs, we’ve felt it important to try and financially support some of the people and businesses that are trying to keep going through this unprecedented situation. 


“It's literally a new world now, so either we adapt to it collectively as one species or only the privileged healthy will be left to live. And the only way to adapt to a new world is to keep working through mistakes, failures and changes, driven by a sense of community.”


  • Abhijit Nakar


I’m starting to read some reports about how this virus is disproportionately affecting the more vulnerable communities in our cities, which isn’t surprising and should be far more alarming to all of us. When Nick and I were driving around this afternoon, the people who were out and about - mostly without masks - were working people, mostly of color. They drive our buses, serve us our food, keep our lights on - and they are most at risk. 


Unless you’re choosing to re-weaponize Darwin, I don’t understand how we can collectively look away from the reality that our society has decided that some lives matter more and some lives matter less - based on the criteria of chance: the chance of where you were born, when you were born and who you were born to. 


Our dear friend Ai-jen Poo was this week’s guest on the On Being podcast. The taping was done before we knew about the coming pandemic, but the opportunity that Ai-jen talks about seems highly relevant to what we could make possible if only we all demanded it be so.


“I think that this is a once-in-several-generations opportunity to transform and update how we care for one another in this country.”


“The average annual income for a home care worker is $15,000 per year. And I can’t think of any community that I’ve ever lived in where you can survive on $15,000 a year. It’s really quite extraordinary. And they’re there and see employers come home with a pair of shoes that are maybe more than they make in a week, and yet, their job is to care and support and love, and they do so. You can’t actually do your job as a caregiver if you dehumanize the person that is in your charge. And I think that that is so much of what’s needed in this moment. All of us need to understand that we have a profound set of challenges and inequities that we have to deal with and transform, but we have to do it with a boundless sense of compassion and humanity.”


The quote “Never waste a good crisis” gets attributed to a lot of different people, everyone from Winston Churchill to Rahm Emanual, but I think it’s widely true. Perhaps this is our opportunity crisis?


Sunday 4/5 


I just started reading Jamil Zaki’s “The War for Kindness: Building Empathy in a Fractured World.” It was recommended to me by my friend Heather when I asked her to lead me to some of the best evidence-based books on ethics. I went ahead and booked Jamil on the podcast to make sure I read the book. It’s a really great read.


“The modern world has made kindness harder. In 2007, humanity crossed a remarkable line: For the first time, more people lived in cities than outside of them. By 2050, two-thirds of our species will be urban. Yet we are increasingly isolated… As cities grow and households shrink, we see more people than ever before, but know fewer of them… If you wanted to design a system to break empathy, you could scarcely do better than the society we’ve created.” 


Lest you think think the book is a downer, it’s not. The author notes that study after study shows that empathy is a skill to be practiced not a human trait we have or don’t have. 


There’s also various studies in the book that talk about an empathy spike in response to trauma. 


We had a lovely meal from Gather. But the night turned a bit.


It’s hard to explain how one minute you can be relatively content and the next minute your grief rises up in you like a tidal wave. That’s what happened tonight, first for Anne and then for me. It starts with missing her like crazy and then moves into all the rumination around what we all went through. What she went through. I never thought of her as fragile, because she wasn’t. But I can’t help looking at old photos of her and wanting to protect that girl at that time from what was to come later. I went to bed mad: mad that I couldn’t save her; mad that she was denied living her full life; mad that we’re living through this cursed pandemic. Mad. Mad. Mad.


“Anger is the deepest form of compassion, for another, for the world, for the self, for a life, for the body, for a family and for all our ideals, all vulnerable and all, possibly about to be hurt. Stripped of physical imprisonment and violent reaction, anger is the purest form of care, the internal living flame of anger always illuminates what we belong to, what we wish to protect and what we are willing to hazard ourselves for.”


  • David Whyte


Monday 4/6


I shot awake at 2am after a terrible dream and basically tossed and turned until 4:45am when I decided to go downstairs and start the day. I didn’t feel like working out, but pushed myself to do it anyway and earned myself some points of accomplishment. The sun was out and it warmed up so after a busy morning of meetings and writing, I took Benchley for a walk. It’s clearer now that our neighborhood is taking everything more seriously. People are wearing masks, spacing themselves out and many of the runners immediately moved to the street when they saw another person on the sidewalk. 


There is an exhaustion setting in. A kind of bone-tired weariness that comes from all the upheaval in our daily, weekly and monthly rhythms. Add in everyone’s normal issues of trauma, grief, anxiety, depression and you get a grainy concoction of melancholy and uncertainty. Even with the sun shining and warming temperatures, the house feels heavy and we feel weighted within it. 


So I decided to tell myself a different story. I narrated myself out of a bad mood. 


It was that or the case of wine that just got delivered by Binny’s. 


I think it’s important to claim your feelings, speak them out loud and then let them go. Living in the moment is never easy, but it is a better way to live. 


“We spend precious hours fearing the inevitable. It would be wise to use that time adoring our families, cherishing our friends and living our lives.”


  • Maya Angelou


So it’s almost 6pm. I grabbed a glass of wine and put on an old playlist. Anne is making skirt steak and Benchley is laying at my feet. We acknowledge the hard day and give thanks for what we have. I just had to get off Twitter because it’s just too aggravating and upsetting and incomprehensible. Instead, I decided to finish up this post and reframe what’s important in this moment. Being in our house with our family. Just being. 


“And for what, except for you, do I feel love?

Do I press the extremest book of the wisest man

Close to me, hidden in me day and night?

In the uncertain light of single, certain truth,

Equal in living changingness to the light

In which I meet you, in which we sit at rest,

For a moment in the central of our being,

The vivid transparence that you bring is peace.”


  • Wallace Stevens


Tuesday 4/7


“The sharing of joy, whether physical, emotional, psychic, or intellectual, forms a bridge between the sharers which can be the basis for understanding much of what is not shared between them, and lessens the threat of their difference.”


  •  Audre Lorde


I’m co-writing a piece with one of my colleagues that invokes the work of Audre Lorde into corporate communication. This is either a great idea or a terrible idea. But I’m prone to experiment right now rather than stay idle. Lorde’s work has been really important to me on my grief journey and I think the poetry of her ideas present an entirely practical and inspiring approach to self-care and world-care. And those things are as important as water and air to the ability to thrive as a human being working in the world - right now more than ever. 


The sun came out and it was warm today, so I put out the patio furniture and worked for a few hours outside. Luckily our new fiber-optic internet means that we have connectivity on the back deck. Benchley was snoozing under my feet as I worked on articles, emails and ideation sessions with my colleagues. 


Anne and I went for a walk to Horner Park and back and got to talk to a handful of neighbors as we all stood about ten feet apart. We’re almost a month into this thing and it’s so clear how much we pine for face to face, touch to touch, human connection. The screens are a sorry substitute for the real thing. This is beyond introversion or extraversion, it is in our DNA as humans to thrive in the company of other humans. Without this contact, we develop attachment disorders like those babies in the Romanian orphanage. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced actual loneliness, but I have an insight into what it might feel like and that is a sad, sad place to be. 


 “Once," he said, "people believed that they lived in little boxes, boxes that contained their whole stories, and that there was no need to worry much about what other people were doing in their other little boxes, whether nearby or far away. Other people's stories had nothing to do with ours. But then the world got smaller and all the boxes got pushed up against all the other boxes and opened up, and now that all the boxes are connected to all the other boxes, we have to understand what's going on in all the boxes we aren't in, otherwise we don't know why the things happening in our boxes are happening. Everything is connected.”


  • Salman Rushdie


Wednesday 4/8


Last night, after our workday ended, Anne, Nick and I made cocktails and listened to music sitting on the patio in our garden. It was a welcome break from being stuck inside the house. It’s not going to last, temperatures are about to go back into the 40’s, but for a few hours things felt normal, calm and enjoyable. We topped it off by ordering deep dish pizza from Lou Malnati’s.


Today was spent writing about, hearing about, experiencing and helping to mitigate communication fails. I wrote an op-ed about solving for Zoom fatigue that our publicists are going to shop around. This is how I close the piece: 


“As Eric McNulty and his co-authors from Harvard write in “You’re It: Crisis, Change and How to Lead When It Matters Most,” “Silos themselves aren’t the problem: it’s poor communication and anemic connections between them.” Because our workforces are working at a distance, it is critical that we focus on all the different ways we can bring them together, make them feel seen and make them feel heard. We are all working without a script and we have to build up the muscles to not just survive this new environment, but to thrive within it. It’s time to improvise.”


I also had a couple of long conversations that were focused on the people who are struggling to adapt to all the sudden change. In both cases, I see how an individual’s fear is making them cling to a past that no longer exists instead of venturing into the less known and quite uncertain times we all now live in. Unfortunately, fear is the worst emotion to be making your decisions in. 


My communication fail experience was a Skype call with a London based journalist who had A. clearly not done any homework on the people he was talking to and B. had a connection that was so bad that we could barely make out his questions. I always wonder in those moments whether charging through the call (which is what we did) is better than stopping and saying, we’re not able to have a good conversation here, let’s reset. 


I just got an email from the learning team at Lurie Children’s Hospital. The training sessions that we had started contracting for and were put on hold, appear to be coming back in the form of virtual workshops. This is a particular thrill. We’re extremely proud of the work we’ve been doing to create these and to bring them to Lurie is filled with meaning for me… and our team, I suspect. 


“The world is full of talkers, but it is rare to find anyone who listens. And I assure you that you can pick up more information when you are listening than when you are talking.”


  • E.B. White


Thursday 4/9


This morning we woke to the news that our old friend Michael has passed away. Michael’s wife, Susan, is one of those people who just steps up in every regard. She was an incredible caregiver to Michael and has been a constant source of strength for Anne and myself during Nora’s illness and in the days and months following her death. Please send every prayer you have to her and daughter Sofia Mia. 


Last night I had a fairly uneventful therapy session until the last five minutes. I made a joke about how silly it seemed to me to be investigating my dreams when there’s a global pandemic going on. Fred, of course, then said something like, “You’re dreams are your dreams. They are important. What’s been happening in them?” I reported that it was the usual stuff - I’m always in something akin to a poorly written action movie. There’s always danger, it’s just not always clear why or where the danger is coming from. I’m usually at some great height (I’m scared of heights) and I’ve always lost something - car keys, house keys, wallet - always something I need everyday. To which, Fred said, “So what do you think it means that you’re losing something that you need everyday in your dreams?” Beat. Seems pretty obvious.


And then the tears came and the simplest realization that my recurring dreams are all about not having Nora anymore. Something that I always needed everyday since the day that she was born.


I didn’t have the dream last night. 


“Nights through dreams tell the myths forgotten by the day.”

  • Carl Jung


After absorbing the loss of Michael and taking a depressing walk through the newspapers, I went upstairs for my morning workout. When I started to do my squats, I saw the moon perfectly framed in one of the attic windows. I said, “Hi, Nora,” out loud. 


I don’t think Nora is on the moon, but I don’t think Nora isn’t part of the essence of what the moon now means to me. In fact, I’m fairly certain of it. Her spirit can occupy so many spaces it can be daunting if I linger too long on it. When I was putting out the patio furniture I could see her skinny legs dangling off the chair; when I walk up the back set of stairs, I can sense her coming to help me when I really banged up my toe while carrying some chicken I had grilled for our dinner that night. It was a Monday, so Anne was teaching and it was just her and I. I also made pesto pasta for her that night and she was seriously pleased with the meal. 


As I was writing this, a message pinged at me. It was a note from the former Athletic Director at Chicago Waldorf. He has a short video of Nora being interviewed before a basketball game at the school and asked if I wanted him to send it. She is smiling and laughing and beautiful.


It really doesn’t matter if this is coincidence or connectedness; a sign from the universe or a random moment of emotional entropy. I will always miss her and feel the depths of that hurt for as long as I live. And I can find moments of gratitude that we even got 17 years with that magnificent girl. Living in the gap between sorrow and joy is true for everyone, it’s just more acute for some of us. For now, the moon makes me feel that Nora is at peace. 


“The moon does not fight. It attacks no one. It does not worry. It does not try to crush others. It keeps to its course, but by its very nature, it gently influences. What other body could pull an entire ocean from shore to shore? The moon is faithful to its nature and its power is never diminished.”


  • Deng Ming-Dao


Friday 4/10


It seems impossible to be so exhausted without leaving your home, but I suspect many people are feeling this way. I remain grateful to have my work and astounded at what we’ve been able to accomplish this past month. But spinning through all the change while trying not to be eaten up by the fear and anger that accompany this global pandemic is a kind of emotional acrobatics. Our flexibility is being tested. 


I’m writing this early Friday morning as my schedule today has me booked literally every hour starting at 9am. 


The video of Nora that I posted on Facebook yesterday was both delightful and gut wrenching. I must have watched it over a dozen times. She was so herself in it - funny and present. And then the fact that she is gone forever sinks in and I’m just lost inside the sorrow. It doesn’t last all day anymore; it’s like a persistent ache that never quite leaves you entirely. 


The thing I’m learning is that it is easier to be scared and sad than it is to be courageous and joyous. Courage doesn’t make us immune to fear; courage acknowledges that the fear exists but you choose to move forward anyway. Joy doesn’t discount the reality of loss and trauma; it is a counter-argument bolstered by awe, gratitude and love. 


These days are hard - on our bodies, on our minds, on our emotions - there is no hiding from that reality. But we have a kind of superpower that we tend to forget about, which is that we get to choose the frame with which we see the world. 


“As civilization advances, the sense of wonder almost necessarily declines. Such decline is an alarming symptom of our state of mind. Mankind will not perish for want of information; but only for want of appreciation. The beginning of our happiness lies in the understanding that life without wonder is not worth living. What we lack is not a will to believe but a will to wonder.”


  • Abraham Joshua Heschel


#TeamNoraForever





 

 

Journal entry by Kelly Leonard

Saturday 3/28


I actually slept until 6:30am this morning - I know that’s still crazy early for many people, but I haven’t slept that late in months. I shopped at Jewel last night and it was a much more protected space than one week ago: they’ve set up tape to mark the six feet distance in the checkout lane and large plexiglass squares that separate the cashier from the customer - and you bag your own groceries (Nick said to this: “which Kelly Leonard would rather do anyway.” True). In the aisles it’s a different experience - about half the people were being cautious and keeping the distance and the other half were just shopping as usual.


During one of the creative sessions for our virtual workshops, our friend Piero was talking about the need to set norms - and, in this global pandemic we’re living in - new norms. We make so many assumptions in our everyday interactions that, when put under any level of scrutiny, are almost never 100% correct. We assume intent based on our gut instincts (honestly, your gut instincts are one of the worst ways to measure or understand the truth or probability of something); we assume our experiences and intelligence give us a far greater understanding of the world across all categories - I’ve talked about this before: the Dunning Kruger Effect: The cognitive bias where people assume their cognitive ability is much greater than it actually is. It’s a kind of everyday illusory superiority. 


We live now in a world that has changed in profound ways. We need to be discussing the new norms: What are the new expectations? What was important before that is no longer important? What wasn’t important before that now is? Where does our service matter and where does it not? This is all pure improvisation, absorbing and reacting in real time as we receive new information. 


It’s interesting to see who knows this and who doesn’t right now. 


“Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”


  • George Bernard Shaw


Sunday 3/29


We got sad last night. Anne was talking about how that last thing you want for children to do is to suffer and, of course, Nora suffered terribly. And Nick suffers on his own - losing his only sibling, losing his last semester of college and all that goes with that, losing a plentiful world or work that he was about to enter into. None of it is fair but all of it is true.


In Buddhism this is called Dukkha. Zen priest Norman Fisher explains it this way:  “Dukkha refers to the psychological experience—sometimes conscious, sometimes not conscious—of the profound fact that everything is impermanent, ungraspable, and not really knowable. On some level, we all understand this. All the things we have, we know we don’t really have. All the things we see, we’re not entirely seeing. This is the nature of things, yet we think the opposite. We think that we can know and possess our lives, our loves, our identities, and even our possessions. We can’t. The gap between the reality and the basic human approach to life is dukkha, an experience of basic anxiety or frustration.”


We were also mourning the loss of a longtime work friend who had been suffering in terrible discomfort for many months. While we’re grateful that he’s no longer in pain, it’s hard not to want to hold onto all the souls who make you who you are simply by your shared living. 


We let ourselves wallow a bit in all of this, but brushed ourselves off for dinner and then decided to start watching an episode of “Picard” together each night. If there was ever a time where we needed the soft strength of Jean-Luc Picard it’s now (and if you haven’t checked out actor Patrick Stewart’s daily reading of Shakespeare sonnets on social media, you should). 


I’m reading “Why Bother” by Jennifer Louden who I am interviewing for the podcast in two weeks. This line stood out for me when I was reading today: “Suffering and loss build our connection to each other. They hone what matters.”


I wonder what comes out of all of this in the end? Do we go back to the materialism and the cult of busyness and the lie of politics? Or does the pandemic bring with it a great change and cultural awakening? 


I think, therefore I am is the statement of an intellectual who underrates toothaches. I feel, therefore I am is a truth much more universally valid, and it applies to everything that's alive. My self does not differ substantially from yours in terms of its thought. Many people, few ideas: we all think more or less the same, and we exchange, borrow, steal thoughts from one another. However, when someone steps on my foot, only I feel the pain. The basis of the self is not thought but suffering, which is the most fundamental of all feelings. While it suffers, not even a cat can doubt its unique and uninterchangeable self. In intense suffering the world disappears and each of us is alone with his self. Suffering is the university of egocentrism.”


  • Milan Kundera


Monday 3/30


Not as crazy as last week, but a very busy day. I’m finding that I’m well served by staying in my routine: get up early, get attacked by/feed the dog, drink coffee while I read the Chicago Tribune and then do an hour workout; shower and get dressed as if I were going to a workplace, read the New York Times while I eat breakfast; and then write down our work day schedules for Anne and I on the whiteboard. Move to my office for the day (bedroom or attic) and get to work.


And, thank god, I have work to do. I recognize so many don’t have that privilege or option right now. Imagine how blessed those of us have been if we’ve never had to worry about having a job, paying our bills, feeding ourselves. I’ve seen a few threads on Twitter today with various people reflecting on that and recognizing that those of us who have never been in that position, owe it to the rest of humanity to consider those who have. 


And inside this turbulence I see another thing: that when we are unshackled by conditions and events to do work that has great meaning, so many of us choose a different path - a path with more money but less joy; more status but less love. There were forks in the path of my career when I could have gone a different direction. Disney Theatricals had an offer in front of me at one point that I just knew wouldn’t provide me for the kind of meaning in work that I received at Second City, even if the paycheck and brand were bigger. 


“We are always falling in love or quarreling, looking for jobs or fearing to lose them, getting ill and recovering, following public affairs. If we let ourselves, we shall always be waiting for some distraction or other to end before we can really get down to our work. The only people who achieve much are those who want knowledge so badly that they seek it while the conditions are still unfavorable. Favorable conditions never come.”


  • C.S. Lewis


At the end of the work day, Anne and I had a call with a Mom who is going through almost the exact journey we went through with Nora. We knew of each other, but didn't know each other. She seems awesome and is clearly doing the things she needs to do: being present, hopeful and playful. I hope we were helpful. No child should have to go through what our children went through and no parent should go through it either. It’s not my place to name her, but please say a prayer for this child and her family.


Tuesday 3/31


The rain and grey gloom of this morning didn’t do much for my attitude. On Twitter, Robert MacFarlane posted his word of the day for today:


“Word of the Day: "úht-cearu"––the worries that gather as one lies sleepless before dawn (Old English; lit. "early-morning care").

A feeling bleakly recognisable across centuries; a word that echoes in our current moment.

Cf Swedish "vargtimmen"/"wolf-time".

(Pron. "oot-chair-oo")”


Sounds about right.






Fairly busy day for all of us. Nick had class and was working on a paper; Anne was translating all her lectures to digital formats; I had a handful of meetings and was interviewed for a webinar that will be going out to all the members of the various Soho Houses around North America. 


We talked mostly about how one improvises through a self-sheltering pandemic. One of the things people don’t understand about improvisation (and creativity, in general) is how absolutely important constraints, rules and norms are to success in this arena. This is why practice is so important. Improvisation and spontaneity are two different things. You can’t make a worthwhile something out of nothing by winging it. 


So in these weird, out of sort days, I think it’s important to create your new constraints. checklists and rituals. Give yourself some new boundaries so that you can truly be your best self at a time when it is so easy to be your worst self. 


“The greatest hazard of all, losing one’s self, can occur very quietly in the world, as if it were nothing at all. No other loss can occur so quietly; any other loss - an arm, a leg, five dollars, a wife, etc. - is sure to be noticed.”


  • Soren Kierkegaard


Wednesday 4/1


No April Fool’s jokes this year. 


I’ll admit to feeling a bit blue this morning. When I was working out, I noticed the tiny white rocking chair with the word “nora” written on it facing out in the corner of the attic. I turned it around. It’s not the first time I noticed it, but it was the first time it hurt me too much to keep seeing it. In all honesty, I’ve been so busy tending to myself in pandemic mode, I haven’t been tending to myself in grief mode. Sometimes it’s hard to figure out where each self lives at any given moment. Am I scared and sad because of the global loss of life and economic collapse? Am I scared and sad because my industry and my career is undergoing an existential threat? Or am I scared and sad because I lost my daughter exactly 9 months ago to the day. 


9 months.


“Have you also learned that secret from the river; that there is no such thing as time?" That the river is everywhere at the same time, at the source and at the mouth, at the waterfall, at the ferry, at the current, in the ocean and in the mountains, everywhere and that the present only exists for it, not the shadow of the past nor the shadow of the future.”


  • Hermann Hesse



I did a webinar with some colleagues for NetSuite today and it was really fun. And I realized that what Hesse is talking about is pretty much what we talk about in improvisation when we talk about the need to be present and play the scene we’re in, not the scene we want to be in. When I’m fully tending to my present self, I’m happier, more grateful and more in tune with the people I’m connecting with on a daily basis. It’s not denial of the thing that happened and sadness still occurs, but it’s not lingering in the past or rueing a future that never happened. This isn’t easy and I don’t suspect it's meant to be. And we can only achieve this state if we experiment and practice: find what works for you and do that - create prompts and signals that lead you to things you need to do in order to stay thoroughly and profoundly in the moment. 


“It's only when you're forbidden to talk about the future that you suddenly realize how much the future normally occupies the present, how much of daily life is usually spent making plans and attempting to control the future. Never mind that you have no control over it. The idea of the future is our greatest entertainment, amusement, and time-killer.”


  • Erica Jong


Thursday 4/2


“There is a luxury in self-reproach. When we blame ourselves, we feel that no one else has a right to blame us. It is the confession, not the priest, that gives us absolution.”


  • Oscar Wilde


In tele-therapy last night, we discussed why I moved the rocking chair with Nora’s name on it - even though I’ve been looking at it every morning for many, many months. And the answer was guilt. There is really no way around this. Intellectually, factually I’m not to blame for what happened to Nora. But the grip of guilt doesn’t care what’s true. A psychologist writing about guilt said, “Unresolved guilt is like having a snooze alarm in your head that won’t shut off.” Fred made it clear that she’s not telling me to not feel guilt, which would be akin to telling me not to be sad or happy or frustrated or grateful. We are always all those things for we are human. These emotions exist and it’s our job to try best to manage them for their best use. 


So, yes, I have guilt over Nora’s illness and her death. I’m saying it out loud. I think that will help diffuse it.


Because it’s important, also, to realize that guilt need not be a useless emotion. Guilt can inspire us to change, to do different, to do better. Guilt can be a recognition of our remarkable imperfection; the emotional embodiment of how we break and come back together again. 


“Guilt is not a response to anger; it is a response to one’s own actions or lack of action. If it leads to change then it can be useful, since it is then no longer guilt but the beginning of knowledge. Yet all too often, guilt is just another name for impotence, for defensiveness destructive of communication; it becomes a device to protect ignorance and the continuation of things the way they are, the ultimate protection for changelessness.”


  • Audre Lorde


So that was last night and now it’s Thursday. Nick is officially making fun of how many webinars I’ve been doing (yes, there was another one today) and Anne successfully started transferring all her lectures to Keynote and uploading to YouTube. 


The sun is out (this makes a big difference in my mood). 


Our work teams really came together this week and it’s inspiring at how much can get done when everyone is rowing in the same direction - and if there aren’t enough oars - someone is there to take yours when you tire out. Success in a group is so much more fulfilling than individual success. 


This afternoon, a friend was out for a walk and said she saw a beacon of hope and she texted me the photo  - it was Nora’s picture outside of the Chicago Waldorf School.


Friday 4/3


“Resilience is born by grounding yourself in your own loveliness, hitting notes you thought were way out of your range.”


  • Gregory Boyle


This really has been quite a week. But we made it to Friday.


Last night, Second City launched an online improv show that was the perfect expression of the time we’re in: joy, laughter, technical glitches, trolls, racism, sexism, grit and resilience. Despite the handful of cowards anonymously adding their hate speech to the ongoing chat feature, the show provided a well-needed moment of human connection, albeit from everyone’s screens in their own homes. We’re working on a bunch of methods that we can add to the next show so that we can kick out those who feel the need to injure and insult when the rest of us just want to share laughter. They must be in such pain to respond in that way. What hurt them? Who hurt them?


Right now, we are all walking through a fire. And for those of us who wear the burns from past flames and can still smell the smoke on our clothes from fires that came before, are living proof that you can come out the other end. It is far from easy; it’s wrought with pain and struggle; you will be changed and not all of it for the better. But if you cling to the best elements of yourself during a crisis - the elements that instinctively seek to care, support, encourage, delight, give, receive, serve and, above all, love - you will discover resources you never knew you had. 

“They did this to me but I have remained who I am. I am tempered. I am able. Inside myself there's an untouched man. If they came back now, and did everything to me again, they would never reach the untouched man. I've passed the exam I've been shirking all my life. I'm a graduate of pain.”


  • John le Carre


#TeamNoraForever

 

Journal entry by Kelly Leonard

Saturday 3/21


Such a strange day inside many strange days.


I didn’t set the alarm, but woke up at 5:30am anyway. Went downstairs, fed Benchley and made bacon while listening to the “Lovett or Leave It” podcast. I’ve started making to-do lists for each day as it’s so easy to find yourself wandering or getting fixated on some small thing when you're home like this. I have two podcast tapings and a webinar next week - so I needed to finish both books this weekend and tend to my notes on the webinar. It also dawned on me that I have ten or so other podcast tapings confirmed and those books were in my office at Second City, so I emailed my bosses and asked if it was okay if I came in quickly to get them. 


Anne got up early to get her grocery shopping done. Illinois has a shelter in place order that goes into effect at 5pm today and will be in place for the next two weeks. We’re also trying to do what we can to support our friends and community members. One of Nora’s classmates has parents who are tremendous bakers and so Anne ordered two loaves of bread from them and went to Skokie in the afternoon to retrieve them. She didn’t find any toilet paper or paper towels, so after helping her in with the groceries, I went on a search. 


I decided to not go into our local Walgreens and had driven past it when I saw a woman leaving said Walgreens with toilet paper. I did a quick u-turn and found the paper goods aisle with about ⅓ of a stock left - limiting shoppers to two each. I had a really odd sense of accomplishment about this. Whatever, I’ll take what I can get.


I got an email back saying that I had the green light to go get the books in my office, but I needed to re-arm the alarm when I left. More people were out and about than I expected, but Piper’s Alley was eerily empty and quiet when I entered from the third floor garage. I went to my office, loaded the books into a shopping back, re-armed the alarm and left. I have no idea when I’ll be back in that building. 


I’m thankful when I see the pushback on the term “social distancing,” with people noting that we are “physically distancing” but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be socializing. Human beings are social creatures. This apartness is going to be hard for us, even the introverts. But we have phones and computers and other ways to connect with our fellow humans. 


“We human beings are social beings. We come into the world as the result of others’ actions. We survive here in dependence on others. Whether we like it or not, there is hardly a moment of our lives when we do not benefit from others’ activities. For this reason, it is hardly surprising that most of our happiness arises in the context of our relationships with others.”


  • Dalai Lama XIV


We’re testing out some virtual improv shows tomorrow; I see so many other artists finding ways to keep their work in the world, which is so vitally important. Thomas Merton said, “Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.” Those two things are in high order in these frenetic and in-certain days. We need to reach for our best selves but in order to do that we will need to be transported into our restful selves (sleep), imaginative selves (play) and creative selves (art). All of these things work together, they are no more interdependent of each other than each human is to each other. 


We. Are. In. This. Together.


“That even in the darkest of times we have the right to expect some illumination, and that such illumination might well come less from theories and concepts than from the uncertain, flickering, and often weak light that some men and women, in their lives and their works, will kindle under almost all circumstances and shed over the time span that was given to them....”


  • Hannah Arendt


Sunday 3/22


The virtual improv show was a ton of fun - so that’s moving into action mode. Today was pretty much a work day. I’m reading a fairly complex book called “Experimentation Works” by Stefan Thomke for an upcoming podcast taping and there were a bunch of work emails going back and forth. The book is a pretty technical look at running experiments in a variety of mediums: science, manufacturing, digital services - the overall lesson: you want a lot of small experiments; you need to limit the variables; and you need to drown out the noise. We are all living in one big new experiment right now. There are going to be a lot of little failures and hopefully we learn from each of them in order to render this experiment, ultimately, a success. 


It’s snowing outside.


Nick starts classes again tomorrow, on-line. He’ll have four classes a week to finish up the semester. 


“Every person born into the world represents something new, something that never existed before, something original and unique....If there had been someone like her in the world, there would have been no need for her to be born."


  • Martin Buber


I find comfort in the Buber quote because it helps me see the eternal Nora and the purpose and meaning of her short life. She is never far from me these unusual and difficult days. I have to remind myself of all the new normals now. Frankly, it was hard enough crawling through the wreckage and turmoil of losing her and just beginning to reimagine our fractured world moving forward. Now we’re under so many threats. The pandemic may be the source, but it's spawned threats to our livelihoods and our future. In some ways, we’re already calloused from our own calamity that bearing this new burden seems almost quaint. When you’ve lost the most important thing, what could possibly be worse. This isn’t worse. 


But it’s unsettling and can’t be ignored. We just have to keep waking each day and moving ourselves forward, summoning the courage to be wise and kind and effort-full. 


“Confront the dark parts of yourself, and work to banish them with illumination and forgiveness. Your willingness to wrestle with your demons will cause your angels to sing.”


  • August Wilson


Monday 3/23


 “In the face of demoralization, gratitude has the power to energize. In the face of brokenness, gratitude has the power to heal. In the face of despair, gratitude as the power to bring hope.”


  • Robert Emmons


I’m really trying to hold onto things to be grateful for as a kind of running antidote for the existential threat we are all living through. 


Today provided a pretty clear example of what life in this house will be like for the short term. Nick had class and Anne and I had full work days - so we dispersed to different rooms in the house to take our work online. At around 5pm, we all headed downstairs as Anne started dinner and I opened a bottle of wine and put on some music. 


Grateful.


Grateful for my family and friends and co-workers; for a home and the comforts that we enjoy; for the art and wisdom we have at our fingertips; for all the caregivers who put themselves last in order to put everyone else first. 


“We head home: through the gloss of rain or weight of snow, or the plum blush of dusk, but always—home, always under one sky, our sky. And always one moon like a silent drum tapping on every rooftop and every window of one country—all of us— facing the stars hope—a new constellation waiting for us to map it, waiting for us to name it—together.”


  • Richard Blanco




Tuesday 3/24


I took the whiteboard that we used  to keep track of Nora’s daily meds routine and brought it up from the basement and back into its former space - only now we’re keeping track of our schedules and trying to make sure our home internet can handle multiple teleconferences at the same time. 


I’ll admit that I thought of this two days ago, but couldn’t bring myself to revisit the whiteboard - a sad and strange reminder of the last chapter in our lives when we had to create dozens of new rites and practices while pushing past the worry and fear. 


A friend messaged me yesterday and was saying that our family has had to deal with so much and while that’s true, the pandemic only slightly resembles what we went through with Nora’s journey. Elements of now - like the whiteboard - bring a kind of doleful familiarity, but they don’t carry the same essence of being a minute by minute, hour by hour caregiver. 


The caregivers.


All of us have been caregivers at one point or another and it shouldn’t take a global epidemic for us to recognize the incredible selflessness and heroic showing up that comes with being a caregiver. Caregivers, like teachers, should be in the vaulted category that this country has ceded to titans of industry and the inheritors of another person’s wealth. I don’t believe in billionaires. I believe in caregivers.


“Caregiving often calls us to lean into love we didn't know possible.”


  • Tia Walker


Among other things, I did prep for tomorrow’s webinar with Kim Scott. We have over 3000 people signed up to join. This will really just be an extension of a conversation we’ve been having over the last few weeks and you can see it reflected in the best of our leaders and the worst of our leaders. Our best leaders see vulnerability as a strength - they know that nature abhors a vacuum and if it’s bad news to share, they share it. Our worst leaders obfuscate, take no responsibility and don’t share the truth. 


It’s always the harder choice to be vulnerable, to have the difficult conversation, to admit that things are complex and difficult and we’re all just trying to do the best we can and sometimes the best is not enough. 


I want to hear that. I want to hear the truth. 


“Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion against injustice and lying and greed. If people all over the world...would do this, it would change the earth.”

  • William Faulkner


Wednesday 3/25


This was a day of cognitive overload. I was booked solid in virtual sessions from 11am to 6:30pm. No break. On the good news front, the webinar I co-hosted with our friend Kim Scott was very well received and so popular that thousands of potential attendees couldn’t get in - so we’re doing an encore webinar on Friday. 


Here is a new reality I think we need to understand: tele-communication is not the same as human to human communication. We will either have to build up the muscles it takes to switch to this form of communication or we will need to recognize that communication in this virtual form is different and doesn’t follow the same rules. Or both those things.


After an hour of virtual conversation, I’m toast. I can no longer pay attention. Now, to be fair, this was generally true for most of my in person meetings - I don’t think any meeting should last more than an hour - but this is different. Literally, my brain switches into off mode at 60 minutes. 


None of this is helped by bad sleep. I’ve been having nightmares all week and talked about this with Fred in tele-therapy. We surmised that I’m putting my pandemic fears into my sleep brain as I have too much going on during the day to let those concerns get in the way. Checking in with Anne and Nick and they said they also have been having nightmares. I wonder if that’s true for other folks right now.


“I am coming to see that the sensation of the worst nightmares, a sensation that can be felt asleep or awake, is identical to those worst dreams' form itself: the sudden intra-dream realization that the nightmares' very essence and center has been with you all along, even awake: it's just been... overlooked.”


  • David Foster Wallace


Thursday 3/26


Here’s a thing I’m seeing online: when one puts out a message of humor, hope or encouragement, invariably someone responds with cynicism and snark - attacking the moral clarity and the good intent of the person expressing the positive expression. Yes, it happened on a Twitter thread where someone was quoting from me from the webinar - but I also just saw it in response to a mild piece of humor that Scott Simon from NPR tweeted. 


Almost 3.3 million people filed for unemployment this past week. 


There’s a half million confirmed cases of Covid 19 worldwide - and we know that number is much lower than the actual cases because of lack of testing or reporting (looking at you Russia).

It’s bad. Really bad.


And you can choose cynicism - but you don’t actually have to. You can choose to lash out at others - but you don’t actually have to. You can choose to live in the darkest regions of your soul - but you don’t actually have to. 


I say this as someone who has faced the worst loss a parent can face. To cling to cynicism at a time like this is to wave the flag of your own weakness. 


“While skepticism is healthy, cynicism, real cynicism, is toxic.”


  • John Oliver


Another really weird, busy day. I had a great podcast interview with Stefan Thomke who has a new book called “Experimentation Works,” he’s a Harvard business professor and engineer who breaks down why experimentation is so important, where it fails and how culture is a major factor in whether you work at a place that honors experimentation. Two quotes from the book:


“An experiment that fails is not a failed experiment or a waste of time. If anything, a low failure rate indicates that employees are reluctant to take risks.”


“Savoring - delighting in - surprises and actively seeking them out, both as a starting point and outcome of an experiment, is at the heart of an experimentation culture.”


We are living inside a giant experiment right now and if we can all try our best, listen to scientists and not politicians, and put the safety of humans ahead of stock portfolios, we get to come out on the other side of this. Breathe.


Friday 3/27


I was so happy to open my email this morning and see a message from nurse Michelle and pictures of Cora, her sweet Corgi puppy who, it turns out, has a best friend, a 5 month old Bernese Mountain Dog named Fitz. As she said, “It’s funny how somethings are just meant to be.” 


Anne found a thread on Twitter that I think is very important given some of my thoughts this week. It’s from Dan Gardner who writes for the New York Times and is a professor at the University of Ottawa:


“Please remember: The idea that when disaster strikes people panic and social order collapses is very popular. It is also a myth. A huge research literature shows disaster makes people *more* pro-social. They cooperate. They support each other. They're better than ever. But the myth matters because it can lead people to take counterproductive actions and adopt policies. The simple truth is we are a fantastically social species and threats only fuel our instinct to pro-social behavior. An overview here: http://csap.cam.ac.uk/media/uploads.


Incidentally, this point is made, and is forgotten, after every disaster. Remember 9/11? Everyone was astonished that snarling, greedy, individualistic New Yorkers were suddenly behaving like selfless saints. No need for surprise. That's humanity. That's how we roll. Advice for leaders: In a crisis, forget petty calculation. Appeal to people's better angels. Tell them you have nothing to offer but "blood, toil, tears, and sweat." Urge them to come together to work and struggle and sacrifice, as Lincoln and Churchill did, and they will.


Forgot to mention the most dramatic illustration: It was widely believed in the 1930s that mass aerial bombardment of cities would produce panic and social collapse. It didn't. Anywhere. In fact, it created the "Blitz spirit" everywhere strategic bombing was inflicted. Thanks for great responses. Some folks object by pointing to looting, etc., in Hurricane Katrina. No one claims there is *no* anti-social behavior in crisis, but we tend to zero in on it and overlook the vastly more common pro-social behaviour. https://ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2496928/


I should also mention that people who study and plan for disasters are really annoyed by the disaster myth. Like, really annoyed. Here's Dr. Mark Keim, a physician whose career is devoted to disaster assistance. http://disasterdoc.org/5-common-dangerous-disaster-myths/.”


Professor Thomke mentioned this yesterday during our podcast taping: “For better or worse, our actions tend to rely on experience, intuition, and beliefs. But this all too often doesn’t work.” And it doesn’t work because we rarely have enough information to truly understand the actual cause and effect of almost anything and everything. This war on science and intellectualism is rooted in people’s deepest fears and shame at the things they don’t know. Things would be so much better if we all just admitted that we are idiots. 


Ending with gratitude. I am so grateful for my family - for Nick’s wicked sense of humor, Anne’s incredible cooking and Benchley’s utter cuteness. I’m grateful for my work, my colleagues and my friends who are innovating and displaying the “yes, and” mindset within this scary pandemic; I’m grateful for all the artists: listening to incredible music, watching well crafted television and films; and seeing so much hilarious creativity on display in my social media feeds. 


“Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.”


  • A.A. Milne


#TeamNoraForever










Eleanor’s Story

Site created on September 8, 2018

At the end of August, Eleanor Leonard was feeling pain in her back and stomach. What we thought was a pulled muscle turned out to be cancer of the liver and lungs. She started chemotherapy on Friday September 7 - that process will take place every Friday and Saturday for three months. It is most likely that she will need a liver transplant. But we'll get there when we get there. Meanwhile, we are  focused on the process in front of us day by day.


We were able to leave the hospital on Sunday September 23 and bring Eleanor home. 

We have excellent doctors and nurses at Lurie Children's Hospital. Thanks to everyone who has reached out through text and social media. We are blessed to have you all in our lives. #TeamNora


Kelly Leonard, Anne Libera, Nicholas Leonard and Eleanor Leonard 

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