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You’re On Mute! Enjoy It. – The Ampersand July 2020

June 30, 2020

Dear Friends & Colleagues,


Among the countless very serious societal, political and economic challenges emerging from the COVID-19 crisis, a lighter by-product is our new and expanded vocabulary.  While “social distancing” and “flattening the curve” are soooo April, our increased dependence on virtual tools have greatly expanded our pandemic lexicon.


Of all the many online collaboration tools, from mLabs to Hootsuite; Mentimeter to Miro to Mural, I expect like us, you’ve leaned most heavily on Teams, Zoom and FaceTime for your face time.


Right up there with “Put it in the chat” and “Wait, I’ll share my screen” is this oft-heard (or is it unheard?) rejoinder: “You’re on mute! ” Who among us hasn’t been accused of starting to say something on a virtual meeting only to learn we’re on mute and no one can hear us (or worse, not on mute and everyone can hear us)?  The best practice that has emerged on crowded Zoom calls is that if you’re not speaking then you’re to be on mute and it has escalated to the level of group shaming lest you forget. To be muted is to be accepted as a responsible Zoom citizen. I think there’s some symbolism here. For life before COVID was anything but muted.


You know that feeling when the car radio is on, but you’re not actually listening to it as opposed to merely hearing it? And then you finally turn it off?  Only then do you realize how aggravating and persistent the din had been. The resulting quiet wraps you like a warm blanket.  Life pre-COVID was noisy. It was hectic, busy, loud and marched at a frantic pace; a cadence that wasn’t fully comprehended until the volume was very abruptly turned off that fateful Thursday in mid-March.


Stick with me here, but I’ve always thought the best measure of a hockey trade is to look back, after the passage of time, and ask the question, “knowing what you know now, would you reverse it if you could?”  What Flames fan wouldn’t have wanted Jarome Iginla back in return for Kenny Agostino and Ben Hanowski?  As an Oilers fan, would I take Milan Lucic back, in exchange for James Neal?  Nope.  Having settled into our new, quieter, simpler routine, it begs the question: would I trade my pre-COVID life for my current one? Yes, of course I would. But unlike the Lucic deal, I had to think about it for a second.


Putting aside, if that’s even possible, which it is not, the obviously tragic death toll and resulting economic ruin wrought by COVID, there is no doubt that the new normal, both at work and at home, though not without its stresses, is simpler. Quieter. Muted, you could say.


Do I miss going to movies and concerts and sporting events?  Of course. Hosting dinner parties, and meeting for drinks, and travelling the world?  Yep. Looking back, though, I shudder when I think about high-fiving hundreds of random Oilers fans back on February 1st as we streamed out of the Saddledome after an 8-3 drubbing of the Flames.  Or the memory of playing roulette at a crowded table in a packed Vegas casino at a firm retreat.  Or cramming into Met Life stadium with 80,000 sweaty New Yorkers for a U2 concert.  Or an Anthony Rizzo walk off homer at a Cubs game in Chicago’s ‘friendly confines.’ A packed subway in Rome. A mid-summer tour of Versailles!  A cruise ship to Iceland. A cruise!?  Odd that many of my happiest memories are the loudest, most crowded ones; the very ones that involved the most risk, when viewed through the COVID lens. Yet, I wouldn’t trade those memories any sooner than I’d send Lucic back to Edmonton.


But I’m learning that being on mute isn’t all bad. I’m starting to realize that a downtown office is like a Hallmark holiday: expensive and largely unnecessary. One piece of a mostly-fabricated and interconnected micro-economy. Cupid is not actually real, but the Valentine’s Day industry is a large, complex revenue-generating web. (Hey, I’m nothing if not romantic). While without my office I am also living without the pricey dry cleaning, fancy lattés, covered parking, expensive (okay, cheap) gas, fancy clothes, high-priced lunches, spontaneous noon-hour purchases and more.  Turns out my Safeway Edwards Premium Blend is pretty good and it turns out that the clients and boards I serve still respect me in a hoodie. From my dining room. With my dog lapping at my feet.


And, selfishly, though a really important time in my three teenage kids’ lives has been stolen from them, at times I feel like I’m the thief as I steal precious time with them. Back deck Moscow Mules with my daughter?  Nightly Brooklyn 99 binges with my two boys?  Long walks — in the middle of the day — with my dog?  Mute’s okay, gotta say.


I recently read a great open letter from Senator Doug Black to the graduating class of 2020.  In it he said:


You have been extended a brief break in time – use it to grow and build your character.”


No doubt, these past few months have been character builders, for sure. But in the grand scheme, we will look back and it will have been a “brief break in time.” And, just as we always inevitably turn the radio back on, soon enough I’ll be back downtown, in an expensive suit, holding an expensive coffee, walking from my expensive parkade to my expensive office, muttering under my breath at all the people who stand, rather than walk, down the down escalator. It’s not a ride people!!


Until then, next time someone on a Zoom call frantically waves their hands and points at their ears exasperatedly mouthing “You’re on MUTE!” just nod quietly and think “yes I am…and it’s okay.”