Archive for the ‘Emotions’ Category

Blue Skies, Green Hell

Tuesday, November 17th, 2015
Blue Skies Green Hell

Blue Skies Green Hell

In the first edition of Prepare for the Worst, Plan for the Best: Disaster Preparedness and Recovery for Small Businesses (then titled Contingency Planning and Disaster Recovery: A Small Business Guide), I wrote of the power of emotion in recovering from disaster. And that includes reliving your experience of a major disaster when other events trigger those memories. So for those of us who were in the World Trade Center or elsewhere in Lower Manhattan, the media coverage of the terrorist attacks in Paris can be quite stressful. There are too many similarities between our experiences; for example, you see psychologists on the television news advising parents as to what they should say to their children who are struggling to understand what happened.

So I decided to follow my own advice and take a break. Not long after 9-11, I visited an arboretum in New Jersey and found the respite afforded by the beauty of nature to help deal with the stress of my experience. This evening, I joined the ladies of “Read Read Wine” at the Biltmore Hotel in Providence, Rhode Island to welcome author Marilyn Lazzari-Wing, author of Blue Skies, Green Hell.  We had an engaging conversation with the author over wine and dinner. “Read Read Wine” members describe the group as a “wine club with a reading problem”.

Blue Skies, Green Hell tells the story of a whirlwind romance that began when the author visited her sister in Venezuela where she received a marriage proposal from Frank Lazzari at their very first meeting. Lazzari was setting up a bush pilot service and so did not have time for a more conventional courtship. The author accepted the proposal; two weeks later, the couple was married. Together, they challenged the odds of flying single engine aircraft over Venezuela’s vast wilderness to deliver supplies to remote and otherwise inaccessible communities. The book is an account of their adventures in the air and on the ground.

But what I found even more engaging than the book was the author herself. Marilyn Lazzari-Wing is a force of nature. At 86 years young, she is eager to continue learning and even returned to flight school to refresh her pilot’s license. She has an infectious joy and zest for living. And I want to thank her and the ladies of “Read Read Wine” for a great evening of conversation and wine and a respite from what was an otherwise stressful week. I recommend this book wholeheartedly. And if you survived a disaster, you may find the news media reports of the events in Paris to be overwhelming at times, so take care of yourself. Everyone needs a break from time to time to recharge so we keep our stamina to help others.

San Andreas, The Movie

Sunday, May 31st, 2015
San Andreas Movie

Summer Blockbuster

It’s the week-end and time for a (not-so-relaxing) movie. San Andreas is expected to be a summer blockbuster and who can resist a movie about a severe earthquake with such an impressive cast and special effects? I loved the actor Paul Giamatti when he played Ben Bernanke in “Too Big To Fail” and loved him even more in the role of the seismologist in this movie. His advice to “Drop, Cover, Hold On” will probably reach more viewers, and maybe save lives, than all of the disaster preparedness public service announcements broadcast to date.  In recent meetings with insurance company clients, this movie became a topic of discussion when one person remarked that fewer than 10 per cent of Californians have earthquake insurance, a figure that is unlikely to change despite the movie’s likely success at the box office.

But we all agreed that the movie both entertained us while raising awareness about the key hazards associated with earthquakes, such as the fires. The 1906 San Francisco earthquake caused gas pipes to break, thereby starting widespread fires.  The movie plot captures the follow-on fire risk, helpful for those of us who didn’t learn about the San Francisco earthquake in our grammar school history classes.  The movie also shows the fear resulting from the series of aftershocks that follow the earthquake. Earthquake survivors are often stressed out for never knowing how severe the next aftershock will be or when the aftershocks will end. The movie also shows how the earthquake at the San Andreas fault triggers seismic events as far away as Nevada. The special effects and the actors were fantastic.

Perhaps we could persuade the producers to make a sequel? “San Andreas Part 2” could star Dwayne Johnson as he tries to rebuild his life and his local community, following the earthquake. The recovery process goes on for years, leaving him emotionally drained. He finds that half of the small businesses he used to patronize have permanently closed as they could not resume operations following the disaster. And he raises awareness about the vulnerability of our small business economy to severe natural hazards. Actually, the sequel idea is not so far-fetched. In real life, the actor Dwayne Johnson is reported to support charities and causes aiding members of the armed forces. Military veterans are the most entrepreneurial group, as many start their own businesses after completing their service. With such star power, the sequel could raise awareness about the long-term economic consequences of earthquakes, maybe even drawing on the experiences of small businesses devastated by natural hazards.


Powerful Words from Dr. Oliver Sacks

Friday, February 20th, 2015
An Inspiration

An Inspiration

Every now and again, we have to stop work, look up from our desks and take stock of what is important. The op-ed written by Dr. Oliver Sacks in yesterday’s New York Times calls us to do exactly that, as Dr. Sacks shared that he had recently been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Oliver Sacks, M.D. is a professor of neurology at New York University School of Medicine and a prolific author. I have read many of his books: Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, An Anthropologist on Mars, Oaxaca Journal, The Island of the Colorblind, and Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood. His book, Awakenings, was made into a movie starring Robert DeNiro and Robin Williams. As Dr. Sacks lives in Brooklyn, I was able to attend one of his local lectures, at which time he kindly autographed each of a dozen or so of his books I brought with me, one copy for me and one for my dad.

Dr. Sacks’ words are always inspiring: whether he is explaining the neuroscience of autism or learning how geographically isolated communities in the Pacific came to have high numbers of color-blind people, he provides insight into the human condition. In his world, our limitations become our unique gifts. The empathy he expressed for his patients makes us long for a time in medical practice when the family physician knew and cared for us as individuals. What I found so powerfully moving about his op-ed was the honest way he confronted the knowledge that he is approaching the time of his death, that he expressed compassion for himself, just as he had done for others, and that what he predominantly felt at this point in his life was profound gratitude – for everything. After reading his words, I felt gratitude, too, for Dr. Sacks’ generosity in sharing his experience with all of us.

Painful Symbolism at the Twin Span Bridge

Thursday, July 8th, 2010
A Critical Route

A Critical Route

Tar balls from the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico have entered Lake Pontchartrain where they have been seen as far away as Slidell, a community west of the Twin Span Bridge. The barges placed at the Rigolets were apparently unable to stop the advance of the tar balls; workers have removed more than 1,500 pounds of the oily waste from the lake. Local officials believe that dispersants pushed the tar balls under water, which then advanced and resurfaced past the protective wall of the barges at the Rigolets. Recovery workers may have to reconsider the benefits of using dispersants to break down the oil in the Gulf of Mexico.

Lake Pontchartrain is a robust ecosystem of water life and residents enjoy fishing and crabbing in the area. But beyond the environmental damage, the presence of the tar balls floating past the Twin Span Bridge must be emotionally upsetting for the symbolism. Rebuilding the Twin Span Bridge after Hurricane Katrina destroyed it was a top priority, as it is critical to inter-state commerce. No doubt Louisianans are reliving their most awful days as the tar balls in the lake float past the bridge.

Not Again!

Monday, April 27th, 2009
An Unwelcome Visitor

An Unwelcome Visitor

In Prepare for the Worst, Plan for the Best: Disaster Preparedness and Recovery for Small Businesses (John Wiley & Sons Inc., second edition, 2008), I wrote (page 190) that “the residents {of Lower Manhattan} who heard the planes crash into the towers were especially sensitive to loud noises. I remember being woken up at 3:30 a.m. one morning by a pair of F-16 planes overhead. As it turns out, the planes were not supposed to fly that route at that hour. The pilots presumably did not appreciate that the residents of Lower Manhattan were probably sleep-deprived and hyper-alert to such sounds. Having spent some time with small businesses on the Gulf Coast, I can tell you that they are going through exactly the same process.” Today, the White House organized a photo opportunity that consisted of a military aircraft chasing a civilian aircraft over the airspace of Lower Manhattan, directly in the vicinity of Ground Zero. You can imagine the reaction that was provoked by that abuse. The White House claims that New York City authorities were given advance notice of this planned exercise, presumably implying that local authorities were responsible for the anxiety that ensued. My colleague photographed the planes with his cell phone, which is the first photograph on this blog entry. The second photograph shows a group of Dow Jones employees, nearly all of whom worked in the World Financial Center on 9-11, outside their office building when a mandatory evacuation had been ordered.



The context of the quote from my book concerns the emotional reactions to disasters, sometimes years after the original event, which is something you have to anticipate. One of my colleagues said it best in an e-mail he sent to our group, so I will quote him directly “The fact that the White House could not be bothered to let the New York authorities know that there would be A FIGHTER JET CHASING A PLANE! AROUND LOWER MANHATTAN really makes me wonder who is keeping Gotham safe when something actually happens. I am sufficiently enraged that I will be communicating in ALL CAPS for the rest of the day.” So I think you get the point about emotions. Actually, all Americans should be angry about this, not just those of us in Lower Manhattan who were subject to more abuse. The White House has some explaining to do as to why taxpayer monies were spent on this “photo op”. Don’t we have an unemployment rate approaching 10%? Haven’t our as yet unborn grandchildren been sold as indentured servants to our foreign creditors? It is not like we have money to burn.

Even in a Disaster, Take Time To….

Sunday, March 29th, 2009
Smell the Flower

Smell the Flowers

…you know how the saying ends. The current economic crisis is a disaster, not unlike a natural disaster in terms of the stress response it elicits. Your coping mechanisms may feel overwhelmed as you are doing more with fewer resources. Perhaps certain of your clients are struggling in this economy or your bank has cut your credit line, constraining your working capital. Under such pressure, often the response is to work harder and harder to keep up. But you run the risk of burnout – a common condition for small business owners. So do not forget the importance of play.

Stuart Brown is a 76-year old psychiatrist and the author of the recently published book Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination and Invigorates the Soul (Penguin). Over the course of his career, he has conducted more than 6,000 play studies and reports that the opposite of play is not work, but depression. He worries that many of us are not finding the time to play as the economy makes tougher demands on our resources. Remember that you will not be able to look after those around you if you are depleted and worn down yourself.

I return to work most invigorated after cooking. My recipes have been featured in leading cookbooks and I have completed training at the French Culinary Institute (“FCI”) in New York and both Le Cordon Bleu and the Ritz Escoffier in Paris. At the FCI, I have completed four certificate programs and am about to start my fifth in pastry. I completed a course of study in Artisanal Breadbaking with Master Chef Hans Welke, the basics of culinary training, known at FCI as La Technique I and more advanced culinary training for recipe and menu development, La Technique II, together over 300 hours of training in the commercial kitchens of the French Culinary Institute under the supervision of their master chef instructors. Some of the world’s greatest chefs teach at the FCI, including Jacques Pepin and Alain Sailhac. I also completed a course of study in wine and food pairings at the FCI with Master Somnelier Andrea Immer Robinson.

I suppose this could be my “Plan B”; if everything else fails, I can always find work as a sous-chef. But I see real synergies in the commitment to quality and discpline in classical culinary training and the quality and systems I need to build for my business. Others share my point of view as I have just been scheduled for a photo shoot at the FCI for a feature article on entrepreneurial passions in a major business magazine. I will post it here when it will be published, but you will see that when I am wearing my chef’s uniform, the stress just goes away. Do what you need to do to take care of yourself and manage your creative spirit at this difficult time. The break will refresh you and renew your spirit.

Emotions and Redundancy

Tuesday, January 20th, 2009
Aircraft Lifted Onto the Barge

Aircraft Lifted Onto the Barge

Following an earlier blog entry, over the weekend, the aircraft for USAirways Flight 1549 was lifted by cranes from the Hudson River where it had submerged and was then placed on a barge for subsequent transport to an area better suited for a long-term investigation. You will note that it is directly adjacent to the World Trade Center site, in the residential community of Battery Park City, where I lived on and after 9-11-01. I am viewing these events from a different vantage point, from directly on the Hudson River on the New Jersey waterfront exactly opposite of where I used to live. The emergency workers have been on duty round the clock, with police boats, helicopters and the Coast Guard maintaining a visible presence. While this accident was thankfully unrelated to the events of 9-11-01, for the residents of this neighborhood, the presence of emergency workers has a certain emotional resonance and frankly, I am glad I am more removed from the scene of the action this time. I had written earlier about dealing with emotions following a disaster, so just knowing that the sight of the police boats and Coast Guard craft were likely to provoke a response from me gave me the ability to mute that response. This is an important insight for anyone who has worked through a major disaster and thankfully, this one ended with no loss of human life.

Drawing on another theme of our preparedness messages, the role of redundant systems is critical. Although the investigation into the cause of the emergency landing of US Airways Flight 1549 has just begun, investigators have already revealed that both engines of the aircraft failed simultaneously. When I lived in Zurich, Switzerland, I would often take short, over-land so-called “City Hopper” flights to London or elsewhere for business. Those aircraft were equipped with four engines, consistent with European safety regulations, rendering negiligible the risk of simultaneous engine failure for all. That safety standard exists in the U.S. only for military aircraft and of course, for cargo aircraft, the redundancy required to mitigate the risk of equipment failure is still lower. As small business owners, the lessons we can draw from this accident include (1) the importance of redundancy to mitigate the risk of equipment failure, (2) the critical importance of employee training as demonstrated by the flawless performance of the airplane pilot and (3) the issues surrounding emotional responses post-disaster.

A Somber Day

Thursday, September 11th, 2008
Towers of Light on the Seventh Anniversary

Towers of Light on the Seventh Anniversary

The seventh anniversary of 9-11 was a somber day. I noticed unusually light traffic, presumably because many people decided to take the day off and remain home with family. The morning began with the sound of bagpipes opening the memorial ceremony. At this point, though, I have the sense that the emotion of anger overwhelms the emotion of grief. Ground Zero remains an open pit, political gridlock having stymied the reconstruction effort which has gone way, way over budget. Pedestrian access is limited as Lower Manhattan remains an obstacle course, although the impediments certainly don’t make you feel any safer. A professor at Tufts University in Boston reported being “shocked” by the impediments and loss of public space. Although I suppose for locals, our diminished expectations have led us to accept this without significant protest. After all, there are 9/11-related issues that are much more egregious.

At Ground Zero in 2001

At Ground Zero in 2001

I returned to the exact spot where I stayed from September 11, 2001 through November 2001 following the evacuation and closure of my neighborhood. It is in Jersey City right on the Hudson River facing Lower Manhattan. From that spot, I photographed the “Towers of Light” which went up last night and will remain on reflecting in light the absence of the Twin Towers for 24 hours. I also post for you here the light memorial shown from the ground up at Ground Zero, which photograph I had taken on the first anniversary.

Mostly, though, my thoughts today focused on the future rather than the past; specifically, the approach of Hurricane Ike towards Texas. I did two live radio interviews today and that was the major topic. I am sure that there is something therapeutic for me in reaching out to other small businesses that are experiencing major disasters. Otherwise, the day might have been more difficult. But tomorrow is September 12 and we move forward.