Saturday, January 10, 2009

February 2007: Three Year Anniversary

A miscellany of warm thoughts during a very cold spell

In the February letter, I mention Aram Kevorkian. He is the Armenian lawyer, born in Philadelphia, educated at Harvard, and lived most of his life in Paris. He was lawyer to William Saroyan amongst others. Aram Kevorkian began his own monthly letter that started out as a legal letter but quickly turned into something more and something very special.

He passed away in December 2003 before I ever met or even heard of him. I only learned about him after he passed on and a few of his letters came my way via e-mail. I was most touched and impressed by his writing and intellect. I knew immediately what to do with my daily writing: begin my own letter, an e-letter, in my own voice. It has been one of the best things I have ever done. As I stated in last year’s letter, I think of him every month just before I depress the “enter” key to distribute the letter.

While I never met Aram. I have gotten to know his daughters Anoush and Corinne. They gave me a book of a compilation of Aram’s monthly letters. I just unpacked it this weekend and put it on the bookshelf in the den of my new home.

Corinne lives in New York. She is a lawyer like her father. We met for coffee one day and a wonderful chat. This past summer, she invited me to her weekend home in Northwestern Connecticut as Anoush was visiting from Paris. It was a glorious summer day, the drive was scenic, and a real pleasure to spend some time with Anoush, Corinne, their loved ones and friends. Of course, I captured the moment in a photo: Corinne on the left, Anoush on the right. There is a resemblance to their Father, don’t you think?

February 1: It seems like just yesterday, that I prepared the first e-letter and sent it off to 40-50 friends and family. I am now starting my fourth year and sending it to 275 people. It could be over 300 because I have a bunch of e-mails from Colgate people as well as a plastic bag full of business cards and handwritten scraps of paper from other friends that should be put on this list. With the new job and the new house making time a scarce commodity, writing the letter each month has been a higher priority than increasing the mailing list. I will get around to it.

I thought I would try to get this month’s letter completed in the first few days of the month. This would provide some time to actually tend to the distribution list. To do this, I thought I would type my daily entries instead of handwriting a page each day and then editing the best of them into a letter.

While working in New York and commuting by train, I was able to dedicate the first moments of the day to writing. I used to go to the Starbucks on the corner of Park Avenue and Forty-Eighth Street every morning. The city was just waking up, the Starbucks was quite empty, and it was a good time to sit, sip coffee, listen to my iPod and write my daily page. When I traveled, I still tried to write the first thing in the morning.

Now, with the car based commute in Chicago, I have not found a similar groove. Because of the new job, the days seem more hectic. I have not missed a day of writing, but I have written in the morning, at noon, and at night. I am typing this entry at 7 pm in my office. Yesterday, I wrote a page on an airplane from Knoxville to Chicago at about 5 pm. Only during the weekends am I fairly certain I will be able to write in the mornings.

This month, my plan is to write 500 words a day directly into my laptop. In four days, I will have 2,000 words. With a bit of editing, my anniversary issue will be done. It sounds like a plan. Let’s see how it turns out.

I still like the idea of handwriting my page everyday. It is more personal. To me, handwriting is real writing. It even makes more sense now, that I am actually working for a company whose primary products are pens and markers. There, however, is a real potential for irony here. I may be so busy making sure the pens are properly forecasted, warehoused, orders filled, and shipped to customers that I may no longer have the time to hand write every day but end up typing my journal entries such as I am experimenting with this month.

February 2: Speaking of pens, I wrote about my choice of pens in the First Anniversary letter. I wrote about how I like fine pens and whereas most lovers of fine writing instruments like fountain pens, I preferred ball points. I touted the Caran D’Ache brand as my favorite. I used my Caran D’Ache pens the great majority of the time, I would guess about 80% of the time. They are just very well made, with a fluid and precise refill making them a pleasure to write with.

I have a collection of pen’s with three Caran D’Ache beauties augmented with a few Watermans, Crosses, Waterfords, Rotrings, and some minor brands. Waterford, Rotring, Parker, and the minor brands use what is called the Standard Refill. The Standard Refill is the Parker refill. It was first popularized in the famous Jotter which debuted in the early 1960’s. I guess it became the Standard Refill once the patent ran out and anyone could copy and produce the design.

It is serendipitous that with an almost lifelong obsession with writing instruments, pens and pencils of every ilk, that I would end up working for a company that actually makes and designs them. Among the nice pens that I own, Waterman, Parker, and Rotring are our brands. Needless to say, my pen collection has almost doubled in the four months I have been here and they are either freebees, hand outs for a specific meeting, or purchased at manufacturers cost. I even bought two fountain pens, one a Waterman and the other a Parker. I use them to pen personal notes of thanks, congratulations, and sympathy. I like the Waterman very much. I have a few interesting Rotrings, a couple of Parker Sonnet Ball Points, and countless other pens from our everyday writing category (think Papermate and Uniball).

Something surprising has happened, however. With pens of all sorts around, at most reasonable prices, it is like sensory overload. Nothing seems real special any more. At work, which is where I spend most of my time, I always, and quite appropriately, use our products. My Caran D’Aches lay neglected in my desk drawer. I use them on the weekends, if at all.

There is one pen, a family of pens and pencils, that I am using more and more: The PhD. This pen is made in Japan and is both thick and ergonomic. It was branded as Sanford when it first came out, but now carries the Papermate brand. I never liked the look of it when I used to see them in the stores. It was among the small sample of pens I received when I joined Sanford. I used it out of curiosity and over a few months am now using it like 40% of the time. The PhD mechanical pencil is the only pencil I use. I have a set in my briefcase.

I guess it is not too surprising that with being around pens all the time, they have become less important. The points of difference and design subtleties just do not seem so important anymore. I do, however, still carry a fine pen in my shirt pocket.

February 3: It is Saturday morning, the temperature is 6 degrees Fahrenheit. It is a bit hard to make a case for global warming today, here in Chicago, despite the fact that yesterday, the news was rife with reports from Paris at a conference on global climate change. The scientists at the Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change Conference issued a report that was not really a huge surprise. The excessive use of fossil based fuels was indeed contributing to the warming of the planet. With warming, the ice caps melt and the oceans rise. The coastlines change, devastating storms will become more frequent, and flora and fauna will be in a state of flux. The scientists warned that we needed to change to avoid these consequences.

I am glad the news was released during this cold spell. If it had been released in early January when the temperatures was in the 70’s in New York City, the reaction in the media to the news would have been more spectacular. It would have been all people were talking about.
There is some debate regarding the findings. Some scientists believe the report was too conservative, holding back on the pace of the warming and the consequences. There is a smaller group of scientists that question if we are simply not witnessing a gradual climatic change that takes place in millennial cycles. This cycle is harder for scientists to detect since our primary temperature measurements only go back a few hundred years.

Me? I think there is something to this. The theory of the greenhouse effect has been around for a long time and has always had credence with me. It also seems that the winters are not as wintry as they used to be in both the Midwest and Northeast US where I have lived.

I believe in the ozone hole over the South Pole. A few years ago, I was in Uruguay. It was spring there, fall up North, The weather was cool. My friend Luis Brito and I drove to Puente del Este, the renown vacation beach and resort town for both Uruguay and Argentina. At the end of the day, we noticed that my right side, forearm and face were sunburned. The same for Luis, except it was his left side. We had gotten this reddening simply from sun exposure while driving in hi car. I found that amazing. Luis mentioned that he had sensed how much easier it was to sunburn in his part of the world since evidence of this ozone hole became part of the news.

If this Global Warming problem is real and I suspect it is, it will not be so easy to solve. We will need a technology breakthrough to improve how automobiles operate. Or, we will need to back away from the incredible freedom individual cars provide and invest more heavily in mass transit. The problem in the US is our urban/suburban sprawl. Efficient mass transit must be easily accessible. This requires greater population density then we currently have. I do believe such solutions are possible, especially if there is money to be made from them.

I do question the projection of what will happen and at what rate. Without in depth inside knowledge, I am fairly certain the models while complex are probably based on a few key assumptions. The world, the real world, may not operate as predicted. The assumptions might not be valid. The problem is that if the model is wrong, we will not know to which extreme it erred until the good or bad things happen. I am just glad it is really cold today.

February 4: After typing in my short piece on Global Warming, I ventured into Lake Forest’s downtown to mail some packages. I stopped by Kiddles Sporting Goods to see if the bike shop in Connecticut had shipped my road bike to them. They had not and, truly being 6 degrees, it mattered not. I won’t be looking for that bike until it warms up, probably March or April.

After Kiddles, I stopped by Starbucks for a coffee. Sitting within earshot of me was a table of six discussing, of all things, Global Warming. There were two couples about my age and two adult sons of either or both couples. They were debating what should be done. It should come as no surprise that they did not conjure up any Nobel Prize winning ideas. In fact, given the difficulty of the problem and the general penchant for coffee house conversations to drift, they did not stay on Global Warming very long. In discussing Global Warming, someone mentioned that with the economic emergence of China the number of automobiles will significantly increase in the near term. The speaker noted that this will only exacerbate the Global Warming problem. Someone asked why so much industry was moving to China, and voila, the discussion moved from Global Warming to Labor Economics and drawing contrasts to post World War II Japan and China today.

But today, especially around Chicago, there are very few thoughts about Global Warming, Labor Economics, or the bitter cold. The talk and buzz is all about the impending battle for Professional Football Supremacy: Super Bowl LXI. This game pits the Chicago Bears against the Indianapolis Colts (in my senior moments, I still refer to them as the Baltimore Colts). The city is, as expected, Bears crazy. There are shirts and hats everywhere.

People ask me who I am for. Well, I grew up in Detroit where basically for all of my life, they Lions were awful. I was a lukewarm fan, but except for disappointment there was nothing to get passionate about. In 1990, I moved to the New York area. In that year, the New York Giants were great and won the Super Bowl. It was not very hard to let the Lions go and become a Giant fan. Now, with moving to Chicago, the Bears are poised to do the same thing. I guess I can be both a Giants and Bears fan.

I believe this is the first time that a Super Bowl is being played in February. The game is in Miami, a good place to play a football game at this time of year, though a lot of Bear fans would prefer to have the teams battle it out at Soldier Field in these arctic conditions. In fact, they opened up the parking there for tailgate. Tailgating with the temperatures in the single digits? That would definitely qualify one as a dedicated and crazed fan.

February 5: Providing a continuum from yesterday’s writing. The Bears lost the Super Bowl in a game where the difference was in the quarterbacks and that the Colts simply executed better i.e. better prepared and coached. The coldest cold spell in eleven years continues on. It was the coldest day so far with the thermometer in my car registering -13 degrees F or -25 degrees C!

Well it is the fifth day of February and I will have the draft of my e-letter today. This is unprecedented and all because I decided to write my daily entries directly into my laptop and the nature of my February or Anniversary Letters.

The February 2004 letter explained how and why I got into this project. The next two February issues were Anniversary issues that were kind of a hodge-podge of thoughts and topics, but centered on the idea of daily writing, how and where I write, and reflecting on those that made this letter come into being.

First, let me reflect on and thank Marilyn Zavidow. She is a talented editor and proposal writer for a well known Human Resource consulting firm. She is an even better singer/songwriter. Check out her credits, sample her music, and look at her beautiful album cover photo at

She is responsible for naming this letter, The Other Side of Fifty. We rode the train together from Westport, CT to New York City in the mornings. She was my train buddy. She looked at all the lame ideas I had for titling this project and rejected every one of them. Then she closed her eyes, thought about it for a few moments and came up with the title. To compliment this moment of marketing wizardry, she then took one of my proposed titles, Musings and Meanderings, and made it the subtitle, A Monthly Letter of Musings and Meanderings. My February Letters do Muse and Meander more than other months. I miss the morning train rides with Marilyn.

Thanks again to one and all for your tremendous support and encouragement.

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