My Thoughts Entering Phase 2 of Lockdown in Italy

Last Monday, May 4th, Italy started Phase 2 of our lockdown. I woke up early that morning to the sound of cars outside my window. After living with silence for well over two months, the gentle whir of the few cars passing by woke me up. Never before had I realized how that sound was the background soundtrack of my mornings.

Just as the restrictions came upon us in stages, so will their removal. This phase allows for a very limited set of businesses to start work again. The rest of us, however, are allowed out only to exercise and visit our loved ones, one at the time (you can imagine the lively discussions as to who could fall into this group. Does your lover count? Your second cousin? Your drinking buddy without whom you couldn’t get through life?).

Like a child anxiously waiting for Christmas morning, I was beside myself with the anticipation of getting out for my morning power walk. And it was glorious, being able to walk around the streets as far and as long as I wanted.  I felt as though I were breaking free.

There were fewer people than I thought, although, admittedly, it was early in the morning.  But there was still a percentage of the people who were out without masks, or rather, often wearing their masks on their chins, running, or strolling and chatting in little groups as if all was good.  At first, I just ignored it, but the more people I saw like this, the more anxious I became, trying to work out routes with not too many people around. The majority of the people were all in masks, just trying to get fresh air, but still….

Each day more and more people have ventured out. Many that I spoke to shared my feelings: joy of freedom tinged with apprehension. After living in a cocoon for 10 weeks, was it going to be OK to venture out?  Were we being paranoid or cautious?  Milan’s mayor, in quite colourful and forceful language, had to threaten people that he would close back up the Navigli area, a favourite spot for “aperitivi”, because of the partying crowds, many of whom were unmasked.

I know that, like me, the whole population is much more emotionally ragged than we were two months ago. After months of isolation and self-restraint, the impulse to indulge, just a little, is pushing us. We all want to just hurry up and move on.

I remind myself that like most transformations, this transition process is iterative. At the beginning of lockdown, I had to spend time going within and anchoring myself.  I find that I’m now repeating the process as I enter the next round of the cycle.  How do I go out (literally and figuratively) into the world? How do we move forward personally and collectively without leaving collateral damage?

I have always found Italians to be resilient and able to withstand even the toughest ups and downs.  It is this spirit that I am relying on – the conviction that, in the long run, “tutto andrà bene” – it will all work out.  We all have to work towards it; I certainly will.

But for now, I’m staying home a little while longer.

All the best,

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Moving Forward While Staying in Place

How the world has changed. Outside, spring is re-painting our landscape. Inside, mirroring the foliage, people are itching to push out of their buds, to unfurl into the world. But not yet. Still not possible. In my area, the lockdown rules are slightly relaxing, but we still have shelter in place orders.  Good news (GREAT news, actually) for me: our condo garden has opened up, as long as people stay sensible, keep social distance and mask up.

It’s hard to reconcile the contrast of vibrant spring days together with the worry of how/when we are going to unlock ourselves and re-emerge into the world.

Unlike other countries which might be more disciplined on a collective level, here we are known for our cheerful individuality and creative force which, on one hand, has brought so much beauty and talent to the world, but on the other hand, often translates into heated temperaments and lack of discipline. To minimize chaos, we are all going to have to navigate new rules, and they need to be understood and accepted by all. I worry how this will happen in a methodical way.

What we all share right now is that we are in different stages of our grieving: for the collective loss of a world we knew, but also for individual losses we each carry – of routine, of celebrating milestones, and unfortunately, of the people that are not with us anymore. Now almost two months into lockdown, everyone I know – friends, colleagues and clients – carries with them a sense of heaviness, of malaise. Many are having difficulty sleeping. Many feel emotionally fragile.

The topic that keeps coming up for me these days is one of polarities. For me, a skill that has always been important, but in times of long and sustained crisis is indispensable, is the ability to accept and reconcile polarities. How can we start living into the notion that two opposite feelings or experiences can be true at the same time?

On one hand we are asked to stay physically distant, to limit interactions. On the other hand, we need to connect with others. I strongly believe that this is a time to go deep within, to enter an inward reflective state. At the same time, I also believe we need to feel part of a bigger community and to hold space for each other, to bear witness to each other’s lives.

In myself I can feel the battle raging between needing to hear news, updates, and to express myself, but also not wanting to be drawn into the world of ranting and raving. I want to disengage from things that drain my energy, and don’t give me more clarity.

I also feel the tension between letting go and taking action. Part of me wants to shut down, let go of control and just stand with the flood of emotions. But an equally strong part of me wants to be more purposeful in where and how I spend my energy, in a way that is more aligned with my values; to behave today in a way that I will look back on and feel comfortable with, if not proud.

And finally, how do I merge the gratefulness I feel for what life has given me with the sense of helplessness we all share? I am immensely grateful that I am (relatively) unscathed. I have a roof over my head and food on my table, the economic stability to withstand months without income, and a network of friends and family around the world with whom to share my burden. I also feel helpless in the face of so many frightened and worried people who have lost livelihoods, health and family. I feel powerless that my support is limited to micro actions, and that many in power, all over the world, aren’t always making what I consider sound decisions.

But in the end, I think that all of this is OK. I cannot but remind myself of the Chinese concept of yin and yang, the cosmic duality – opposite and complementing energies which combine to create a whole; or yoga practise, which is comprised of opposing poses to balance the body.

It’s the same for us: we need to practise holding and being comfortable with different and conflicting thoughts and emotions at the same time. Every one of us is longing to move forward, with strength and steadfastness. We want to somehow catapult our way out of loss and closure and shutdown.

Perhaps, in times of challenges, the best way to do this, in the words of my High School friend Alex, is to look for ways to engage with the world – not with single mindedness, but with open-mindedness.
All the best,

P.S. If you’re in the mood, this is a beautiful Brandi Carlisle song that resonates for me in these times “You can dance in a hurricane, But only if you’re standing in the eye”

My thoughts: 5th week in home lockdown in Milan, Italy in a time of Coronavirus

Sirens. This is the sound I hear the most. The streets are now dead but the sirens are constant and unrelenting, their monopoly only interrupted by the church bells which ring every hour.

If you have read my previous posts*, you know how quickly the story has changed and evolved. Today, it looks like the trend seems to be slowing down. New infections are slowing, as are the number of deaths. The collective exhale is palpable.

There is still confusion – there was a decree (quickly withdrawn in Lombardy) that allowed parents to walk outside with little children. Like so many, we watched aghast. This was quickly clarified in its limitations, but confusion still lingers.

And by now many of us know people who have died because of the coronavirus. They died alone, without any loved ones around, with no one to send them off, as funerals are now not allowed.

There are lots of words to describe how we are feeling: scared, exhausted, worried, fragile, angry, overwhelmed. But loss underlies everything. We have lost people in our community and continue to do so, we have lost our old life and don’t know if it will ever come back, we are losing businesses, many of which were family owned, we are losing life milestones because of cancelled graduations, weddings, births, funerals. Many have lost dreams, the careers they were to start. Each one of us has our own stories of loss.

And as many larger-than-life tragedies, the poor and the weak are hit disproportionately. The homeless, the refugees, the huge cadre of service and hourly wage workers who are now struggling to pay the rent, for food, utilities. As this virus spreads around the world, I just cannot get my head around the magnitude of suffering for people who live on the streets, work for nothing and for whom we have no real solution.

For those of you reading this from the US, I feel for you. It’s going to be tough; it’s going to be supremely difficult. But there is a light at the end of the tunnel. A week ago, in Italy, we didn’t see any light. Now we are starting to see signs of a distant glimmer.

We also now have some data. At first, many weren’t sure if we could trust the numbers out of China, now we understand how this curve is fairly standard, and how it takes shape with vs. without interventions. We know what works. (Stay at home, people!). And regardless of how accurate China’s numbers really are, the truth of the matter is that they now have people are starting to walk around, albeit with a mask, but out and about.

Here in Italy, we are also starting to see some recovery. We see news of people in their 80s getting better, of a 101-year-old that recovered.

So yes, we’ve lost a lot and we need to really absorb the loss and fear and uncertainty. Cocoon. Do whatever it takes to process the avalanche of feelings. For me, what I needed changed over the weeks.

But here’s the thing: if our heads stay steeped only in the loss, we will never be able to move forward. One day, we will start stepping out into a new world. And we need to begin, now, to prepare mentally, physically and practically for all the hard work rebuilding will take. I know, first-hand, how easily emotions can overwhelm us. But I also know that we can either let the loss consume us or use it to fuel our own regeneration.

I heard someone say: in times of crisis it’s not all about HOW you are, but WHO you are.

So, I keep asking myself: Who am I in this situation? Who do I want to be?

When I look back one day, I want remember being centered, compassionate, kind, humorous (OK, that one will be more difficult for me ). I want to have shown up for my people and the people who need me. I want to have helped reflect, ground, stabilize and, when the time comes, ready to build again.

*This is the 4th segment of my blog on life in coronavirus times. To read the first three installments, go to rosecartolari.com

My Thoughts: Third week in home lockdown in Milan, Italy.

There is so much uncertainty swirling around me. Swirling around the world. It’s easy to feel adrift and foggy. But these few things I know to be true:

  • 475 people died today. A total of 35,700 infected. We are almost four weeks into lockdown and still the numbers are rising.
  • There are still people, up to 40 percent some reports say, still going for walks and wandering around town. I feel like shouting: WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE? WHAT IS SO HARD TO UNDERSTAND?
  • I look at my home country and I hear that there are still millions running around questioning if this is even real. And again, I want to shout: WILL YOU EVER LEARN FROM OTHERS? DON’T MAKE THE MISTAKES WE MADE. STAY THE F&$K AT HOME!

I know. I know. I know mental resilience is key here. Balanced thinking. Zoomed out thinking. But sometimes, I get overwhelmed and it’s hard to find the empathy, the positivity.

When that happens, I think of all my people around the world who have reached out to hug me and surround me with their love – through emails, phone chats, messages.

And I see resilience everywhere – sung from the balconies, shone out with lights in the evenings, and in the afternoon applause in courtyards and piazzas across the country.

I see it in the hundreds of healthcare workers rushing, breaking beyond expectations to help.

I hear it in the reports that tell us that for the first time in a long while, the skies have cleared from pollution in Wuhan, swans and clear water are back in the canals in Venice.

And I look out my window to the vibrant cherry blossoms and the magnolias unfurled. To bright unblemished skies. And I think – they don’t even know the world is in crisis?

So what do I make of all these juxtaposed thoughts, feelings, messages? How do I move forward? I’m not sure what to do. But for right now, I think I will

  • Invest in myself. Go Inward; Build core strength
  • Stay “safely” social: In some ways, I find have connected more deeply and in a less rushed manner than before, when I never had time.
  • Shine my light: We all impact others and others impact us. How do I want to show up in the world? A light in the darkness, or a blown-out candle?

Musings from an Italian Coronavirus Red Zone (Part 2)

20200310_163214To my tribe around the world – thanks so much for reaching out and checking in. What times we are all living in!

When last I wrote about this, Monza (my town) was in a yellow zone, still able to move around, although in a limited manner.  Now, all of Italy is in a red zone – complete lockdown of 60 million people, not just for now, but for at least a few weeks. The number of infected, and worse, dead, because of the disease continues to rise.

I would venture to say that, for me, the biggest difference is how we all for the first time, at the individual level, have started to realize that the stay at home directive is one of resilience and capacity of the health system. As many of you know, I am a big fan of the Italian health system, which is high quality, fair (for the most part) to all, and human focused.

The issue is not the quality of care but a real capacity issue.  We are now in a situation in which hospitals’ infected patients are being triaged because we don’t have enough beds, ventilators and other items to care for those who need it. We simply cannot help all those who need it because the rate of spread has well superseded the capacity. So to all of those who are still wondering if we are over-worrying by asking people to stay at home– look at the math!  (if you PM me, I’d be happy to send you information).

So what’s my take?

Social Media is a powerful weapon, whether intentional or not.  I see “anxiety posts” which often serve to stir up and promote more anxiety. But I also see those who are trying to quell the surge of panic/hyperbole and are voices of reason. For someone in my line of work, it’s fascinating to see this and is a constant prod for me – how am I choosing to behave?  Based on what I feel or based on what outcome I would like to have?

People (and organizations) who are wisely using this time to reflect and renew seem to be the most grounded in these uncertain times. Whether spending time with children, reading books or, in the case of companies, offering a variety of professional and personal growth on-line learning options. We can be wise about how we use our time.

How much technology can help – from smart/remote working to “virtual coffees” (or in my case “virtual aperitivos”!).  Those who are comfortable with and have access to various platforms are benefitting and feel less isolated.

Truth be told, I wonder if the universe is sending us all a message to slow down; to understand that in the grand scheme of things, we are only under the illusion that we have everything under control when really, it’s just busy-ness.  There are so many things bigger than us and our individual projects.

We are truly in VUCA times (high Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity) – these are the times for each of us to reach down inside and get grounded.

My two cents worth. What do you think?

Musings in a Time of Coronavirus

I write this sitting in the warmth of a bright April sun in February. I have just come back from the outdoor Monza market, which was packed. So, I ask myself, what is all the fuss about? 

For those of you reading this from abroad, as a precautionary measure against the highly contagious nature of the coronavirus in our town, Monza has been categorized as a yellow zone. This means that schools and universities are closed, all public places are shut, restaurants, bars and pubs have a curfew between 6pm and 6am, and any form of public or private assembly is discouraged.

Initially people panicked, but now most are settling down and getting on with it. After the raid on supermarkets on Sunday, resulting in bare/empty shelves, things are stabilizing and stores have re-stocked. Hand sterilizer and masks have sold out, but we have our tangerine scented sterilizers from CVS, so we’re OK!

To be honest, it feels like a really long snow day.

But I have been reflecting:

  • How much a crisis brings out the best/worst in people. It really is amazing to see how people react – it’s completely our choice how we gather information and think about our actions.
  • How different Leadership styles come out in a crisis – and how communicating is the gamechanger (or the cause of chaos). From government authorities, to health authorities and “experts”, to fake news – it’s all out there. It gets so hard to differentiate experience and knowledge from the rest. How do we, as leaders, get better prepared for this?  But also, how do we, as individuals, react and behave?
  • How clients who have implemented smart-working are really benefiting from the flexibility of already knowing how to work/collaborate/move forward without all having to be in the office. Other companies are struggling to understand how to handle/categorize employees, particularly those with little kids who are home from school. For the first time, many companies are seeing first-hand how technology really can support humans.
  • The world, in the face of uncertainty, disengages fast. I am seeing this first hand: I have been very excited to moderate and be on the panel of two International events taking place here in Milan. However, they have both been cancelled, because organisations are wary of scheduling major events in Milan, even for April/May. I have had several business trips and one much needed vacation cancelled/postponed because of the uncertainty of quarantining. While flights, buses and trains are still coming and going (in an increasingly limited manner), everyday more countries are imposing restrictions on Italian travelers, and the last thing I would want to do is carry/spread anything or be quarantined outside my home.I feel enormously grateful that I have the resources to withstand the negative economic impact of these semi shut-downs – I worry about all the hourly wage workers who will have to survive weeks of not earning. Italy is a country of small businesses who will feel this hit drastically.

It’s easy to be scared with all the hyperbolic media coverage surrounding us. AND the contagiousness of this coronavirus means we have to take the spread seriously.  It’s a matter of mathematics.  But really, who do we want to be in a time of crisis?  This too, shall pass.