COVID-19 No. 3: Welcome to the New Normal

TODAY WAS THE FIRST DAY of the rest of my life.

As it was for you, of course.

After a week in professional limbo — two days concluding the last job, three days off while the world wobbled, a weekend wondering what was coming next — I reported to work yesterday and had a great (if bizarre) first day. Among other valuable learnings, I found out I was to head home the following day and ply my trade from there for the foreseeable future.

The foreseeable future, then, started today.

Three-plus years of self-employment a lifetime ago conditioned me to the solitary professional life. But this new normal chuckles and offers a gleeful twist — professional solitude, sure, but in a household rattling with a high schooler, a junior high schooler, and a working spouse.

And my conclusion is … bring it on. It’s wonderful to have my peeps around, and thank goodness for the work.

The months-long understaffedness of the team I joined combined with the rampant uncertainty fostered by the coronavirus have plunged my immersion into ever-deeper waters. There will be no gradual ramp-up. This is higher education in mid-March, neck-deep in yield season, during an extraordinary time when we are charged with tamping down the panic and demonstrating our value over the long term, long after COVID-19 has exhausted itself.

No big deal, right?

The work, though. The couple of hours I spent in Zoom meetings and on phone calls today, my second day on the job, the urgency of things that needed to get done … well, talk about a distraction. Having a job to do, no matter where I was doing it, cleared out the uncertainty and fear, at least for a few hours. Walking a couple of miles at lunch with my family helped, too, as did shutting down at the end of the day and making dinner.

Fajitas, by the way. Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

Many public authorities are mumbling about re-evaluating the situation after two weeks. I have to think that we are at least a month, if not two, away from things regaining a whiff of normalcy. And that will be trying. Two cooped-up teenagers — one a graduating high school senior — will not be denied.

At the same time, we — all of us — had a good day. The adults did their jobs. The children studied, took breaks, studied, took more breaks, assisted around the house, and mostly kept their chins up.

Gritty was there for us.

And tomorrow, we’ll wake up, log on, and hit it again.

Because we’re the lucky ones — because we can. | DL

COVID-19 No. 2: Weirdest First Day Ever

SO YOU KNOW HOW STRANGE the first day at a new job is, right?

The awkward opening dance with HR. The introduction to new colleagues whose names blur together. IT’s transition of the computer in your new office from the last person to you. Having to ask where the damn restroom is.

Now imagine the first day at a new job amidst a global biomedical crisis the likes of which no one has seen in a century.

Welcome to your first day, newbie!

The good news is that it was a fantastic first day. My new job is intriguing as hell, my new coworkers are bright and talented and engaging, my new institution is proudly putting its stake in the ground, and my new working locale is vibrant, diverse, and exciting.

The bad news is … all of those things. Who wants to hit the brakes when a great ride is just getting started?

Philadelphia’s mayor is wisely shutting down what he can, and my new employer’s president is wisely encouraging remote work by all who can do so. These are the right moves, short-term sacrifices to increase the chances of long-term well being.

But for a new guy excited by new opportunities, eager to come in and crush it, and thrilled by how fun and interesting the first day was, the prospect of having to set all of it aside to work from home for the foreseeable future is disappointing. Such is professional life in the coronavirus era — I get that. A significant part of the work I do, though, is grounded in relationship building, and the best way to do that is face to face, across a desk or over coffee or having lunch. If you’ve figured out a way to do that while confined to your home office, well, do let me know, won’t you?

My work is in higher education, which observers have called primed for disruption for a few years now. This new reality — extended spring breaks, remote-only classes, barren campuses — isn’t what they had in mind.

But reality it is, and reality doesn’t care if it’s your first day on the job.

Like my new college and my new university, I’ll roll with it. I’ll make it work. I’ll accept that unprecedented challenges can be overcome with ambition and resolve.

And when it’s over, when I can meet new colleagues in person rather than via Skype or Zoom, I’ll enthusiastically shake their hands, buy them coffee, and listen to their stories. | DL

COVID-19 No. 1: Some Introductory Thoughts

THERE IS NO SHORTAGE of admonition or advice regarding the new coronavirus and COVID-19, the respiratory illness it causes, but as a writer, I found one piece of counsel most interesting and compelling.

Document this time.

I saw it on Twitter, proof that social media really can be used for good instead of evil, and more than one account I follow shared it. The thought is that once all of this is behind us, historians will want a record of how ordinary people lived through it. Not the rampant, immoral public deception of a presidency incapable of the barest modicum of decency and honesty, but the everyday experiences of the rank and file — women and men with jobs and schooling, kids and parents, siblings and friends, mortgages and rents, all of us trying like hell to muddle through this.

I am an off-and-on journaler, someone who almost always finds benefit in emptying a kinetic mind onto paper yet has failed to make it a regular practice. If there were ever a time to document daily happenings in hopes of quieting the noise, this would seem to be it. If it happens to serve history, so much the better.

And so this is the first in what I intend and hope will be a regular recording of … what? Each day’s situation, perhaps, its feel, its activities, and one person’s reflections on fear, hope, frustration, and, perhaps, optimism. For even as my fellow Americans react in some truly awful ways to a situation unseen in the lifetime of anyone currently alive, I choose to believe that good will come out of it.

In the late summer and autumn of 2001, when some reacted to evil with evil of their own, there was also grace, compassion, wisdom, and unity. These were the smaller, quieter moments, acts often outside the public eye, which made them that much more meaningful and important. It may be irrational optimism, but I think that when this time in history is accurately recorded, we will read of similar selflessness, courage, and honor.

We’re all in this, friends. Let’s help each other out and see it through with grace and good health, shall we? | DL

Back to Back, or Why I’m Especially Thankful Today

SEVEN WEEKS AGO today, I woke up for the first time in months without feeling as if my left leg were being crushed by a vise grip.

You wanna talk thankfulness? Today’s the day to do it, right?

Well, I’m crazy grateful for science, and medicine, and higher education, and simple human compassion, all of which combined to relieve a suffering I had never before experienced and would wish only on the worst of people.


This was me, three-and-a-half years ago.

A third injection after the two described in the link served to reduce the inflammation in my spine enough to eliminate the sciatica in my left leg. Life returned to normal. Eventually I began working out again, and even dug into a couch-to-5K to get back to running. I gutted my way to three miles every other day, finished a few 5Ks, and got my strength back thanks to the 7-Minute Workout.

This past spring, I started to notice a twinge in my left leg when I ran. It was mild enough to tolerate — which is to say, I opted for the middle-aged route of willful ignorance.

But the pain got worse. Months later, I can recall the run that compelled me to throw in the towel, to acknowledge that I hurt too much to keep going. Back to the GP I went. Back to physical therapy I went. Back to the MRI facility I went, to learn that the same problematic disc was again herniated. Back to the pain doc I went, to endure two more rounds of epidural injections in my spine. They were as delightful as the needlework I underwent in 2015, but were far, far less efficacious. I even tried acupuncture, and I’m a Western medicine kind of fella.

The pain continued to worsen.


If you’ve never suffered from chronic pain, I envy you, and hope you appreciate your good fortune. The tissue of the L5-S1 disc had again breached its rightful place between two vertebrae and was touching the sciatic nerve on the left side, radiating blazing hurt from the top of my hamstring to mid-calf. Constantly. With no relief.

The mental bandwidth expended to deal with such pain is enormous. I found myself forgetful and clumsy, two traits previously foreign to me, and emotionally shattered. The hurt was all-consuming. It was all I could think of.

Finally, finally, FINALLY, after all options had failed, the medical system sent me to a surgeon. He cut into only about 30 percent of patients who came to him, he told me.

And your herniation, he told me, is twice as big as the ones I usually see.

Two-and-a-half weeks later, a nurse slid a needle into the top of my left hand and wheeled me into an operating room. Someone dropped a mask over my mouth and told me they were just trying to get the fit right, and of course within five seconds I was out.

During the hour I was under anesthesia, the team cut a two-inch incision at the base of my spine. They entered my back, swept aside the curtain of muscle, and rummaged around to the spinal column. One of them snipped off the problematic piece of disc that was playing footsie with the nerve. One of them sewed up the incision.

Six hours after arriving at the hospital, I awoke in the recovery room. Outpatient back surgery — is it any wonder I’m grateful?

In the seven-plus weeks since my procedure, I have reveled in my relief. Friends and colleagues tell me I look utterly different. Dragging a leg behind me when I walked and forcing a significant portion of my brain to process constant pain apparently rendered me pale, drawn, and haggard. I’m brighter and sharper, they say, and that’s just how I feel.

As recently as half a century ago, the science that relieved my suffering didn’t exist. When I consider the thousands of years of humanity that had to endure unspeakable pain, I am humbled. And then there are the countless sufferers of hurt far worse than mine was, without the relatively easy fix that was available to me. Thousands of years from now, the surgery that healed me will be seen as barbaric. Yet it worked. It worked.

For everything that helped my doctors and nurses to reach the point they did, where they could do something to free my soul of the debilitating, punishing effects of endless pain, I am grateful.

I hope you are as thankful, but for less serious reasons.

May you have much to be grateful for.

Happy Thanksgiving. | DL

The Great Gadsby

Or, Why ‘Stand-Up’ In No Way Describes ‘Nanette’


PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE WATCH Hannah Gadsby’s new Netflix special, Nanette. Please.

Especially if you’re a straight white guy.

Even if you’re a woke straight white guy.

It’s that good. And that important.

Gadsby’s much-buzzed show, filmed live at the Sydney Opera House, is a gut-punch tour-de-force. It is trenchant storytelling at its finest, masquerading as stand-up comedy. And it needs to be seen, by all of us.

Don’t get me wrong — it’s not that Gadsby isn’t funny. Far from it. In Nanette she is hilarious, mixing deft self-deprecation with sly skewers of a whole range of people who deserve it. There’s an especially witty bit involving art history, of all things.

So, yeah, Gadsby is funny.

Until she’s not. Then she is searingly honest and courageously, extraordinarily vulnerable, demanding that her audience not only hear her story, but also help her to carry it, because she can no longer do it by herself. When she shares it, you understand why you have to lend a hand. You get why being quietly decent and tolerant just isn’t good enough.

Nanette is, like Gadsby herself, entertaining, passionate, humorous, sad, furious, deeply felt, and smart as hell. It deserves to be seen. She deserves to be heard — and helped.

So please watch it. | DL

The Art of the Matter

ART PRIES US open. A violent character in a film reflects us like a dark mirror; the shades of a painting cause us to look up into the sky, seeing new colors; we finally weep for a dead friend when we hear that long-lost song we both loved come unexpectedly over the radio waves.

Amanda Palmer, The Art of Asking: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help

Take Me Out to the Fall Game

Or, Why September Should be a Hell of a Lot of Fun in Philadelphia


ON THE LAST OF 2018’S DOG DAYS, they’re only three games out of the division lead. There’s a whole month of baseball left to play. But conventional wisdom has it that the Phillies are toast.

The pessimism is understandable. After their surprising surge to the top of the National League East, they’ve become an inconsistent, stumbling team. Losers of 7 of their last 10, the Phils, with a few notable exceptions (hi, Aaron and Rhys!), suddenly look lost.

Inexcusable base running mistakes. Bullpen implosions. Head-scratching managerial moves.

In other words, the usual for a young team that found itself where no one, probably them included, expected them to be — first place — and didn’t know how to play once they got there.

I’ve found my emotions pinballing back and forth since the beginning of the season. There were enough flashes of decent play last year to warrant some modest hope for 2018. The Phillies stumbled out of the gate, with manager Gabe Kapler floating around in his own private Idaho, and I took care to keep my optimism at reasonable levels. Then came the summer run, the sprint to the division lead, and I could envision playoff baseball at Citizens Bank Park. I dared to hope more intentionally and visibly.

The past few weeks have served as a reality check. That’s one of baseball’s defining features — the sample size of games is large enough produce accurate results. In the Phillies’ case, that means their contention in the division race is no fluke; they’re legitimately good enough to be where they are. It also means they may not be quite good enough. Yet.

I’ve made my peace with that, I think. They’ve given us more fun than we had reason to expect this season, and they’re clearly on the upswing. September will bring meaningful baseball, and hopefully more fans, to Citizens Bank Park for the first time in quite a few years.

If they recover their mojo and chase down the Braves, that’ll be great. But if not, 2018 will remain a successful year for the Phillies. They’re young, they’re fun to watch, and they’re talented. General manager Matt Klentak has done a fine job rebuilding a team that had fallen hard from its lofty perch of the late aughts, and there’s no reason to think he can’t or won’t land the necessary supplemental pieces in the off-season. Imagine this year’s team with a consistently big bat in the middle of the lineup, someone to give Rhys Hoskins and friends a little cover, and a consistently big arm at the back of the bullpen.

Be bold, as Kapler likes to say — in September, over the winter, and in 2019.

Can’t wait to see what happens. | DL

Creative Biting, or How Meeting with Some College Students Sparked Something

REGULAR READERS of these missives — all three of you — will recall an almost 15-year history of on-again, off-again blogging. There have been fertile periods, the occasional collaboration, new focuses and themes, and — no small point — friendships made. Blogging has been a rewarding endeavor.

When I mentioned this history to the director of the writing center at the university where I work, he asked if I would meet with some of the student staff who were interested in relaunching its blog as an additional way of helping their peers. I dropped by the other day and had a delightful conversation with eight or so students and the director, a faculty member in the English department. We talked about editorial calendars and engaging content, about guest posters and tips of the week, about posting regularly and tags and categories, about writing with a genuine voice and encouraging the kind of back and forth that made the whole thing so much fun once upon a time.

When I left there were the expected thanks for my time and thoughts. The gratitude, though, went both ways.

My efforts here have been admittedly spotty. I could make all kinds of excuses about being busy, but as has been pointed out, we all get the same 168 hours a week. It’s up to us to determine how we spend them. The ones who create make the choice to spend it creating, just as I make the choice to spend it dicking around on Twitter.

In sharing my experiences and perspective, I could feel the urge returning. The urge to create and share. The urge to make the world better — YES, I KNOW THAT’S CORNY AND I DON’T REALLY CARE BECAUSE IT’S TRUE DON’T @ ME — through the creative work I believe myself capable of.

That urge was fueled by the curiosity of those students, and by the counsel I offered in return. It was if there were a giant neon sign blazing in front of my eyes: “TAKE YOUR OWN ADVICE, BOYO.”

So that’s what I’m going to try to do. Thanks to a group of interesting, funny, smart students who — and this part is important — want to use their talents to help their peers. To make the world better. | DL

Merit Play, or How the Eagles Deserve Every Accolade Being Thrown Their Way

A scene from the Durso household during the Eagles’ blasting of the Vikings last Sunday.

THEY WEREN’T SUPPOSED to be this good this soon, our Eagles. For all of the promise he showed last year, Carson Wentz was still too green. The secondary still had too many question marks. And Doug Pederson was still Andy Reid lite.

Then, of course, the games began, and Wentz played like an MVP, the secondary somehow tightened up, and Pederson proved himself an unexpectedly accomplished play caller who could manage a game and connect with his players. Our Eagles were this good this soon, and it wasn’t a fluke.

Now, of course, the Birds are prepping for the Super Bowl — but that wasn’t supposed to happen, either, not after Wentz suffered a season-ending injury against the Rams in week 14.

The tear of his anterior cruciate ligament broke our hearts and poured cold water on our feverish playoff dreams. These Eagles were now Nick Foles’s team, and without Chip Kelly’s smoke and mirrors, he’d play like the journeyman he ended up being after leaving Philadelphia a few years ago.

Except somebody forgot to tell Pederson, Foles, and the rest of the team.

Foles was dreadful in finishing the Birds’ regular season, but he was able to take snaps in actual games against defensive starters. On top of that, Pederson had a critical few weeks to adjust his game planning to account for Wentz’s absence.

The results speak for themselves. Foles was competent in the Eagles’ narrow divisional win over the defending NFC champion Falcons, and brilliant in their demolition of Minnesota in the conference championship game. The Birds ran the ball well, Pederson called great games, the special teams were mostly solid, and Jim Schwartz’s defense was simply suffocating.

And so the Eagles will play February 4 for the NFL title, and it’s not a fluke. They’ll be in Minnesota on merit.

Just the way we all called it, right? | DL

Takin’ It to the Streaks, or Why I Already Know What I’m Wearing Next Weekend

I told him that a player on a streak has to respect the streak. … You know why? Because they don’t — they don’t happen very often. … If you believe you’re playing well because you’re getting laid, or because you’re not getting laid, or because you wear women’s underwear, then you are! And you should know that!

Crash Davis, Bull Durham

WHICH MEANS that when the Eagles play next weekend in the NFC championship game, I will have to begin the day wearing my black WINNING IS FOR THE BIRDS short-sleeve t-shirt over my white long-sleeve t-shirt with the team’s name and retro logo on it. I will have to watch the first half. Then I will have to change clothes and go out to dinner and keep tabs on the remainder of the game using my phone.

You have to respect the streak, after all. As I’ve mentioned before. | DL